Seeking God

Proverbs 8:1-4, 22-31

Does not wisdom call, and does not understanding raise her voice? On the heights, beside the way, at the crossroads she takes her stand; beside the gates in front of the town, at the entrance of the portals she cries out:”To you, O people, I call, and my cry is to all that live.

The LORD created me at the beginning of his work, the first of his acts of long ago. Ages ago I was set up, at the first, before the beginning of the earth. When there were no depths I was brought forth, when there were no springs abounding with water. Before the mountains had been shaped, before the hills, I was brought forth-when he had not yet made earth and fields, or the world’s first bits of soil. When he established the heavens, I was there, when he drew a circle on the face of the deep, when he made firm the skies above, when he established the fountains of the deep, when he assigned to the sea its limit, so that the waters might not transgress his command, when he marked out the foundations of the earth, then I was beside him, like a master worker; and I was daily his delight, rejoicing before him always, rejoicing in his inhabited world and delighting in the human race.

 

Psalm 8

Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!

You have set your glory in the heavens.
Through the praise of children and infants
    you have established a stronghold against your enemies,
    to silence the foe and the avenger.
When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars, which you have set in place,
what is mankind that you are mindful of them,
    human beings that you care for them?

You have made them a little lower than the angels
    and crowned them with glory and honor.
You made them rulers over the works of your hands;
    you put everything under their feet:
all flocks and herds, and the animals of the wild,
the birds in the sky, and the fish in the sea,
    all that swim the paths of the seas.

Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!

 

FWJ7-Boxed640x480.jpgWhen I was a child, my parents would take us in the summers on camping trips to see natural wonders like the Grand Canyon, Yellowstone, and Lake Tahoe. We would travel in a camper for what seemed like DAYS, and every night we would stop at one of those KOA campgrounds. As an adult, it sounds like the background for a horror movie, but as a kid, it was amazing.

Every night, we would like a fire and roast marshmallows. My mom would inevitably turn in early, done in by smoke and burning sugar. My sister and I would often want to stay out late, our heads craned upwards as we drank in a sky drenched in starlight and punctuated by comets.

Even in the late 80s and early 90s, it was hard to find a place where you could really take in the stars.

There are somewhere in the neighborhood of 5000 stars that are visible to the human eye, but most of us have never really seen them. Urban light, and increasingly, the tendency of humankind to light their houses, their parking lots, their strip malls and churches 24-7 has all but erased the natural light of the heavens. In the last 100 years, humans, especially in industrialized societies like the US, have lost the ability to see, let alone wonder at, the heavens which

tell the glory of God. In order to see the stars that caused the Psalmist to gasp, we need to turn the lights off.

I wonder whether there is a moment, or a place, or an experience that you can point to, where you yourself felt the wonder and awe of a world that is filled with mystery and awe. Where you looked out on all that is created and said to yourself—who am I, that God made me? That God made all this?

Wondering at the mystery of the universe, and our place in it.
-How interesting, that the God whom we know as light is so easily marveled at in the darkness. From the beginning of time, we humans have asked the big questions about the world and our place in it. In the world of philosophy, these questions get their own subfield: metaphysics, the exploration of the fundamental nature of being and the world. As early as Aristotle, humans have looked up at the stars and wondered: what is beyond us? Is there a purpose out there? Is there something bigger than I am?

And for thousands of years, many of us have answered that question by reflecting on the existence of a Creator, a God. For us, the God we know as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

One of the important tasks of metaphysics is to demonstrate proof of your theory. How can you demonstrate that there is such a thing as a God?

For most of our history, the church has affirmed that the proof is right in front of us. In the stars we see and the tiny atoms and cells that we cannot. At the top of Mt Everest with the sherpas and in the Marietta Trench with the fishes. In the dance of existence and createdness.

Where once we marveled at the skies and wondered at its mystery, now we marvel at the complexity of creation that is revealed by the dazzling intellect of the sciences. The intricacy of our bodies shouts the name of our God. The lush biodiversity of rainforests, tropical reefs, temperate forests and even the desert confound our sense of what we know. Every day, we are presented with new reminders that there is much we do not know about this world, that there is much to marvel at. God keeps surprising us.

According to Scripture, it is as though wisdom is crying to us from every corner of the world, just as she has for millennia. Pointing her fingers she cries out—God is here! God is there! God is everywhere.

And if we pay attention, I think perhaps we can make out her voice as she rejoices in the world God has made. For the God whom we encounter in Jesus Christ makes himself known not just in history, but right now, through the continuing and abiding presence of the Holy Spirit. And the Holy Spirit reveals God right here, right now, through the gathered Body of Christ.

What does that look like? How is God at work in our midst?

  •   through grateful, dynamic worship, in church and at home.
  •   the ministry of the deacons
  •   the showering of love and affection upon our members when they are sick and suffering.
  •   the vibrancy of our witness to the power of prayer
  •   engagement in our community, and desire to make a difference
  •   our embrace of the beauty of God’s creation, and of the arts, the gift God has given us for sharing our appreciation for the world God has made.
  •   the warmth of hospitality which reminds us of Christ’s friendly embrace.
  •   the Spirit-filled ministry of countless good people whose quiet actions we will never fully know, but are known to God.

I wonder: what might you add to this list?

And who are we, that God should be at work amongst us?
We are the very substance of God… the imago dei, the created ones. And, thanks be to God, we learn in Scripture that God our Father embraces us with all of our questions and struggles, with all of our confidence and all of our doubt, when we are filled with wonder and when our eyes fail to see.

We are, in other words, not all that different from our ancient brothers and sisters who gazed star-ward and wondered at the mystery of the universe, who sought God in the wisdom of the world and in their community of worship. Like them, we are amazed to find that we are part of the story that God has been writing from the dawn of time, called to participate in the work of reconciliation of all creation begun in Christ that continues through the power of the Holy Spirit.

And all of us, wherever we stand, whatever we wonder at, are encompassed by our trust in the one we know as Father, Son, Holy Spirit. One God, forever and ever.

O Lord, Our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!

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In Praise of Motherliness

Luke 24:44-Acts 1:11

Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you — that everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled.” Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, and he said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. And see, I am sending upon you what my Father promised; so stay here in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.”

Then he led them out as far as Bethany, and, lifting up his hands, he blessed them. While he was blessing them, he withdrew from them and was carried up into heaven. And they worshiped him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy; and they were continually in the temple blessing God.


In the first book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus did and taught from the beginning until the day when he was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen. After his suffering he presented himself alive to them by many convincing proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God. While staying with them, he ordered them not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait there for the promise of the Father. “This,” he said, “is what you have heard from me; for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.”

So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?” He replied, “It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” When he had said this, as they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. While he was going and they were gazing up toward heaven, suddenly two men in white robes stood by them. They said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up toward heaven? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.”

Forty days after Easter, and always on a Thursday, the universal, catholic church pauses to celebrate one of the five great feasts, or holidays, that mark the life of Jesus.   Ascension joins the celebrations of Jesus’ baptism, transfiguration, passion, and resurrection as one of the moments in which the church has traditionally been unified in its witness to the mystery of the Incarnation.

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In the Eastern Church, where prayer has been linked to icons for centuries, the Ascension is most often portrayed in the following way: Jesus, thronged by angels, levitates in the air.  Below him, the disciples gape towards heaven, their postures belying their sense of confusion and awe.  Two angelic messengers stand in their midst, telling them to go ahead to Galilee.  And in the center, her arms raised towards heaven, her gaze directed at the viewer, bearing witness to this holy moment of separation, is the Mother Mary.

 

The Gospel account doesn’t mention Mary’s presence at the Ascension, but I think it is telling that the Orthodox tradition has placed her at the center of Jesus’ departure.  Like any mother, she is has been there for the important moments in the life of her child—she kept watch over Jesus with the women as he embraced his calling in life, traveling the countryside with a message of repentance and new life.  She did not hide when he was arrested, and she wept on the hillside as he drew his last breath.  Wherever Jesus was, his mother was never far behind.  And so it stands to reason that the Holy Mother would be there for the moment when Christ truly does say goodbye to those he loved as his own.

 

How fitting, that today, as millions of Americans shower their mothers and mother-figures with french toast, flower arrangements, and symbols of appreciation, that we have this opportunity to remember the Mother whose hands released the Prince of Peace into the heavens.

 

Mother’s day, as you may be aware, had, like Jesus, its own radical beginnings.  In the 19th Century, women’s movements in the United States had been trying to establish different activities and holidays in favor of peace against war.  In particular, American mothers wanted to ensure that the devastation that the Civil War and other conflicts had visited upon families would not be forgotten.  By working for peace, they hoped to create a world in which war was a memory. As Julia Ward Howe’s proclaimed in her “Mothers Day Proclamation”:

 

We, women of one country, will be too tender of those of another country, to allow our sons to be trained to injure theirs. From the bosom of the devastated earth a voice goes up with our own. It says: Disarm, disarm! The sword of murder is not the balance of justice. Blood does not wipe out dishonor, nor violence vindicate possession. As men have often forsaken the plough and the anvil at the summons of war, let women now leave all that may be left of home for a great and earnest day of council.

 

Perhaps it is no surprise that this holiday was swiftly domesticated by the Hallmark industry.  Far easier to hug your mother and go to brunch than to agitate for peace.

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And yet, that is precisely what Jesus’ life, and this moment of ascension affirms.  For as he ascends into heaven, Jesus reminds his disciples: “YOU will receive power when the HS comes upon you; and YOU will be my witnesses to the ends of the earth.”  Jesus, with Mary, and Julia Ward Howe and Anna Jarvis and mothers everywhere, looks us straight in the eye and says: the Kingdom is in your hands.

 

How many of us have found ourselves in that moment where the training wheels truly have been taken off, and we are on our own?  When it is up to us to decide—will we soar with the eagles, or will we stay grounded?  Will we trust Jesus when he tells us that we can, with God’s help, follow in the Jesus way?  Or will we find excuses to stay silent, to stay home, and thereby clip our own wings

No parent, not even Mary, desires this for their child.  We want our children to soar.  We want them to embrace the destiny that God has for them.  And yet, we also fear what will happen if their wings fail, and the fall to the ground.  Or, that they may fly so far from us that we may never see them again.

 

This moment was clearest for me on the day that I left for college.  At nearly 19, I considered myself incredibly mature.  I was ready to embrace the future.  And so my parents climbed into my dad’s truck, loaded up with boxes of my most cherished possessions, and we started down the I-5 freeway towards the celestial palace that would be my academic home.  Five hours later, we laughed as we labored to cram those boxes into my tiny dorm room at the University of Southern Cal.  We walked through the campus, bought a sweatshirt, ate a meal together.  And then, it was time to say goodbye.  I will never forget how it felt to walk with my family to their car, and to know that I would not be going home with them.  I will never forget how my mother embraced me and then turned away quickly so that I wouldn’t see her tears.  How my father awkwardly shook my hand (something we never did!) so that he could slip me a hundred dollars, and how his eyes shone with tears as he waved goodbye.

Perhaps you have embraced a child yourself, whether one you bore or one whose love found you in another way.  Perhaps you have been embraced by someone who was like a mother to you.  Perhaps you know what it means to let go and to be let go, to fall or to fly, to discover the world for yourself.  To discover who you are.  For most of us, this is simply part of what it means to grow up in the world.

As Christians, let us not forget that this is also what is at stake in Ascension.  That the God who dwelled with us embraces us even as he departs from our sight, not as a punishment, not because he doesn’t love us, but because this next part we can only do on our own.  It is time for us to discover what it means to be Christ’s disciples for ourselves.  It is time to embrace the Kingdom on the power of our own abilities and gifts.  It is time to honor the witness of the Prince of Peace by being like him.

A frightening moment, indeed, but here we are.  Full of the hope and promise of the Kingdom of God.  May we raise our hands with Mary, and may we walk into the future with the confidence of the children of God.

Trust the Holy Spirit

Acts 16:9-15

During the night Paul had a vision: there stood a man of Macedonia pleading with him and saying, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” When he had seen the vision, we immediately tried to cross over to Macedonia, being convinced that God had called us to proclaim the good news to them.

We set sail from Troas and took a straight course to Samothrace, the following day to Neapolis, and from there to Philippi, which is a leading city of the district of Macedonia and a Roman colony. We remained in this city for some days. On the sabbath day we went outside the gate by the river, where we supposed there was a place of prayer; and we sat down and spoke to the women who had gathered there. A certain woman named Lydia, a worshiper of God, was listening to us; she was from the city of Thyatira and a dealer in purple cloth. The Lord opened her heart to listen eagerly to what was said by Paul. When she and her household were baptized, she urged us, saying, “If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come and stay at my home.” And she prevailed upon us.

John 14:23-29

Jesus answered him, “Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them. Whoever does not love me does not keep my words; and the word that you hear is not mine, but is from the Father who sent me.

“I have said these things to you while I am still with you. But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid. You heard me say to you, ‘I am going away, and I am coming to you.’ If you loved me, you would rejoice that I am going to the Father, because the Father is greater than I. And now I have told you this before it occurs, so that when it does occur, you may believe.

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Long ago a man sought the perfect picture of peace. Not finding one that satisfied, he announced a contest to produce this masterpiece. The challenge stirred the imagination of artists everywhere, and paintings arrived from far and wide. Finally the great day of revelation arrived. The judges uncovered one peaceful scene after another, while the viewers clapped and cheered.

The tensions grew. Only two pictures remained veiled.

As a judge pulled the cover from one, a hush fell over the crowd.

A mirror-smooth lake reflected lacy, green birches under the soft blush of the evening sky. Along the grassy shore, a flock of sheep grazed undisturbed. Surely this was the winner.

The man with the vision uncovered the second painting himself, and the crowd gasped in surprise. Could this be peace?

A tumultuous waterfall cascaded down a rocky precipice; the crowd could almost feel its cold, penetrating spray. Stormy-gray clouds threatened to explode with lightning, wind and rain. In the midst of the thundering noises and bitter chill, a spindly tree clung to the rocks at the edge of the falls. One of its branches reached out in front of the torrential waters as if foolishly seeking to experience its full power.

A little bird had built a nest in the elbow of that branch. Content and undisturbed in her stormy surroundings, she rested on her eggs. With her eyes closed and her wings ready to cover her little ones, she manifested peace that transcends all earthly turmoil.

-Berit Kjos (A Wardrobe From the King)

What does it mean to seek God’s peace in the world???

Peace is a slippery word. To imagine a world of peace—for many of us, if we are honest, this sounds like sentimentalism, the sort of naïveté we reserve for the young. That word peace; well, it is far easier to meditate on its opposite—our minds are driven to images of war, conflict, struggle, the absence of peace, really, and the complicated feelings that many of us may have about war and the many good people—soldiers and civilians alike—who are caught in its path.

And many of our cultural images of peace—undisturbed natural scenes, a solitary walk on the beach—are characterized by the absence of, frankly, us. Many religious visions of peace have been relegated by definition to the afterlife, leaving us in the present stuck with this question: is peace really possible?

Too often, the question of what it means to seek peace becomes defined by what peace is not. It becomes an exercise in identifying all of the places where peace is absent, all of the reasons why peace is difficult, illusive, or just plain impossible. And so we never get to the question of what peace actually looks like. Here. Now. Today.

We need to confront this issue, because it is to here, to now, and to today that Jesus speaks these words:

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.

We would do well to remember that Jesus speaks these words to a motley crew of beleaguered disciples hiding out in an upper room. To the core of a faith community that has been shut out of its own temple and the synagogues and condemned by its leadership. He directs his words of peace to an oppressed people living under the thumb of a Roman Empire that achieves “peace” by force, its streets littered with military personnel and its hillsides dotted with crosses. A world that we can identify with.

Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.

The full force of violence and human brokenness churns and roils before Christ’s disciples. And yet, before them also stands the One who has overcome it all—Jesus has faced the darkness of his friends, his faith, and his country, and he has endured. He has walked through the valley of the shadow of death, and emerged on the other side. He has faced the world at its worst, and into that pain and anguish, he sends forth peace.

In the Hebrew, the word peace is encompassed by another word, and that is shalom. And while Shalom is often translated as peace, it is far more than that. Shalom has to do with wholeness and completeness. It is a moral value, a cosmic principle, a divine attribute.

My understanding is that to seek God’s shalom is to manifest divine grace in every sphere of your life. It is to walk through this life holding the question before you always: how would God have me live? It is as much an orientation as it is a destination. And it is the difference between seeing peace as an absence of the Other, and seeing peace as a hymn sung in six-part harmony.

When Jesus offers us the peace of God, he is offering us a gift of a new orientation. A God-shaped compass. God’s peace is an invitation to hold within us the image of something other than the the world that lies broken and bruised before us. To paint a picture of what could be, so that even when the world looks dark, we will have something to guide us. A light in the darkness, if you will.

This does not mean that the pursuit of peace will be entirely peaceful. Jesus never says: I give you peace, now you get to go spend your life doing yoga on the beach and drinking fruit smoothies.

Instead, It may look like Paul’s journey in our lesson from Acts. It looks like a life filled with purpose. For it is God’s shalom that directs Paul’s path, sometimes in unexpected directions. It is the vision of peace that leads Paul and Silas across the sea on an ancient boat and into Europe, the same sea that many refugees today are risking and losing their lives to cross. It is God’s shalom that leads Paul and Silas to the house of a wealthy Gentile woman named Lydia is waiting to embrace the message they have been given.

Or it may look like the witness of faithful people like Oscar Romero, the Salvadoran priest and peacemaker who put his life at risk in pursuit of peace for his people during the Civil War and had this to say of peace:

Peace is not the product of terror or fear. Peace is not the silence of cemeteries. Peace is not the result of violent repression. Peace is the generous, tranquil contribution of all to the good of all. Peace is a dynamism. Peace is generosity. It is a right and a duty. May it be so, and may we pursue peace with the heart of God.

It may look like broken shards of glass and pottery, puzzled together and put in place by many broken hands, some of whom we may never know, until together they create something beautiful, something new, the work of art that Dr. King Jr called the beloved community, created by a loving God for a beloved creation.

May it be so, May it be so, may it ever be so. Amen.

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The Politics of Pastoring

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One of the most frequent questions that people ask me when they find out that I am a pastor (other than the classic “you look so young to be a pastor!”) is this:

Do you talk about politics when you preach???

The folks who ask this question are varied–they are young and old, rich and poor, but mostly, they are asking the question from outside the church.  They are genuinely curious–is preaching political?

In a recent blog post, Jan Edminston was reflecting on this question and on what it means for a pastor to be political, and for me at least she touched on something that I have noticed: when people ask this question, they are often assuming that the church as a “position” or a “side” to defend.  They assume that the pastor (that’s me) is out to convert the masses to a liberal or conservative interpretation of the bible.  But, as Jan reminds us, “the bible is an equal opportunity offender.”

What does that mean?  Well, for me it means that the Bible defies our own political categories.  I certainly *could* waste precious preaching time defending the platform of the Green Party, or the Libertarian Party, or any other political movement of the moment. But at the end of the day, the bible has a God Platform, and it doesn’t match up with any of the political identities that we have created.

“My thoughts are not your thoughts, and my ways are not your ways,” preaches Isaiah in the fifty-fifth chapter, reminding us that God has priorities and values that often do not line up with our personal and communal motivations.  Which means that part of following God is learning the platform.  Part of following Jesus is paying attention, not just to what God says, but to what God does.

When I pay attention to Jesus (who, let it be said, paid a heck of a lot of attention to the Hebrew Scriptures), what I see is a rabbi who preached resistance to the political and religious empires of the world.  I see someone who was deeply concerned about the wholeness of the community, which meant that the well-being of the marginalized–the poor, the orphan, the widow, the sick, the outsider–could not be ignored.  I see someone who spent more time preaching about the Kingdom of God and money than he ever wasted on worrying about sex or any of the many varied social issues that so often trip our churches up these days.  And I see someone who was willing to walk straight into the jaws of death at the hands of the empire because he believed fiercely and completely that God was with him.

So am I political in the pulpit?  You bet I am.  But not in the way that most people have grown accustomed to interpreting that phrase.  I don’t waste my time telling people who to vote for; instead, I spend my hours fretting over how to help people put down their own agendas so that they can pick up God’s.  To use a metaphor that a preaching professor once taught me, I spend my days examining Scriptures like a jeweler would a diamond, wondering–what sort light is God bending into the world through this text?  What are we called to see that is unexpected, refracted through the lens of time, culture, and the experience of the holy?  What endures, and what has passed away?  What is God’s agenda here?

To use the words of Jesus: “not my will, but Yours.”

 

 

 

A Reflection on Easter Morning

Luke 24:1-12

But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they came to the tomb, taking the spices that they had prepared. They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they went in, they did not find the body. While they were perplexed about this, suddenly two men in dazzling clothes stood beside them. The women were terrified and bowed their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen. Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be handed over to sinners, and be crucified, and on the third day rise again.” Then they remembered his words, and returning from the tomb, they told all this to the eleven and to all the rest. Now it was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women with them who told this to the apostles.  But these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them. But Peter got up and ran to the tomb; stooping and looking in, he saw the linen cloths by themselves; then he went home, amazed at what had happened.

 

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What happened?

That’s what my son says every time he hears a bump or a crash or a siren. What happened, mommy? What happened?

We could ask the same question about the Gospel story this morning: What happened?

We didn’t hear the stone.

We didn’t see Him rise.

We weren’t met on our knees by men in dazzling clothes in the early dawn light, who tell the women, “he is not among the dead, but the living.” Who ask them to remember words these men have never heard—could they be angels?

No. We are with Peter. We stand with the eleven, who come to this news second-hand. We receive this Gospel from the mouths of others: from our church. From our family. From the word of God open before us today.

What happened?

Perhaps that question is inevitable—when something we cannot explain occurs—an earthquake, a terrorist attack, a medical diagnosis, Donald Trump—we desperately want to understand. We start looking for answers, for proof. We run with Peter to the tombs of the world, needing to see the grave clothes for ourselves.

But he isn’t there. Remember? Why do you seek the living among the dead?

Like so much of our lives, this question—what happened?—is met with more questions. We don’t get easy answers at the tomb. Instead, we are told to remember. To reflect. To consider everything that happened before the cross. To ponder Christ’s insistence on the Kingdom of God, which he said could not be crushed by human hands.

We are asked to look beyond the inevitable darkness of a world that so often deals in death and suffering. For we all have seen the world blanketed in crosses too often borne by the poor and the vulnerable, the stranger and the refugee, the sick and mourning. We have watched as good, righteous, innocent people have been gunned down, blown apart, disappeared by a world that is so often unjust. We know what death looks like.

But this? This is different. As we stand before the empty tomb, as we ponder the space where the bodies ought to lay, we are asked to do something far more difficult than acknowledge the world as it is. We are called to remember the world as Jesus said it is meant be. The world God created, where every blessed thing is sacred. Where the sick are tended, the poor are fed, the stranger is welcomed. A world where political and religious power are no match for the justice and righteousness of a God who loves what he has made fiercely, fully, completely. A world where death has no sting, and there are no tears, for the Lord God is in the midst of the people.

Why do we seek the living among the dead? He is not here; he has risen.

On this Easter morning, we who wonder—what happened?—cannot stay here. If we want to know what has happened, we have to leave the tomb. We must leave the grave and go out into the world, where the risen Christ is waiting for us. We must set aside our need to know, and seek Him out.

If we remember all that he said before, perhaps we will be swift to find him—for we will remember that Christ is among us whenever we feed the hungry, or give something to drink to the thirsty. That he is among us when we tend the wounds of the sick and the suffering and welcome the stranger. He is with us when we visit the prisoner, and clothe the naked. He is with us whenever we reach our hands out to grasp the hand of another beloved child of God.

So go. Make haste to find him. Grasp the hand of your neighbor and discover the Good News that the women proclaimed and the apostles wondered at—that he is risen, that he is among the living, that God has triumphed over death. And we are witnesses to these things.

Alleluia. Alleluia indeed!

 

 

A Reflection for Good Friday and Holy Saturday

I didn’t have the  chance to write what I wish I could have yesterday, but as I was thinking and pondering the reality of Good Friday and the silence of Holy Saturday, of all that was lost and all that was suffered by Christ, I came across the following quote that I wanted to share.

In the March 16th article of Christian Century, scholar Stephanie Paulsell writes, “On Good Friday we ponder the mystery of incarnation, the mystery of God’s vulnerability to everything that can happen to a human being…it’s also a day to ponder that the trajectory of Jesus’ life, from the arms of his mother to the arms of the cross, is a path upon which mothers and children are often still forced to travel. Because it’s even more dangerous for them to remain at home, mothers send their children on journeys across Central America, across the Aegean Sea, and on the many perilous refugee routes that crisscross the globe. And the cross on which Jesus died is crowded with mothers and their children this Good Friday.”

As we stand at the foot of the cross, we are challenged to remember the people who continue to suffer as Christ today.  Refugees who risk their lives.  Innocent people who undergo torture (because Jesus’ story teaches us that sometimes, the innocent are persecuted, tortured, and even killed by the state).  Children who drown in the waters and are trafficked in the deserts. All of them are Christ’s  body, broken before us.

For me, it is a challenge to really think about what Christ meant when he said, “When you welcome one of these, you welcome me.”  It sounds very peaceful and sweet, but what he is actually saying is something far more difficult for us to live out.  “Hey you!” Christ cries from the cross.  “See this body? Broken? Bruised? Afflicted? Whenever you see another suffering, that is ME.”  Imagine how the world might be different if we viewed all suffering bodies in this way?

Perhaps that is what we are called to reflect on in the silence of Holy Saturday.  We who watch and wait and despair of the darkness may also find ourselves asking questions: who else is hanging on the cross with Christ? Whom does the power of this world seek to silence?  And how are we who remain called to bear witness to a suffering world?  Do we stand with the women, who refused to leave Christ’s side?  Or will we run and hide for fear of the powers of this world?

 

A Reflection for Maundy Thursday

Mark 14:17-25

When it was evening, he came with the twelve. And when they had taken their places and were eating, Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, one of you will betray me, one who is eating with me.” They began to be distressed and to say to him one after another, “Surely, not I?” He said to them, “It is one of the twelve, one who is dipping bread into the bowl with me. For the Son of Man goes as it is written of him, but woe to that one by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been better for that one not to have been born.”

While they were eating, he took a loaf of bread, and after blessing it he broke it, gave it to them, and said, “Take; this is my body.” Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he gave it to them, and all of them drank from it. He said to them, “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many. Truly I tell you, I will never again drink of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God.”

 

communion.jpg

Who do you invite to your dinner table?  As Jesus approaches the hour of his death, he gathers around him his most beloved and trusted friends, the twelve disciples.  As the darkness gathers beyond that room, Jesus take the time to be present with those to whom he has taught everything he knows.  And as one of his final lessons, he breaks bread.

Scholars often point out that, before sex or any other form of “joining together”, meal-sharing has since ancient times been the central expression of unity and intimacy between people.  In the Psalms, trust in God is expressed when people gather at table, even in the presence of their enemies.  Abraham greets God’s messengers with a meal; worship in the temple is centered around the giving and receiving of God’s generous gift of food to eat and enjoy.

So it isn’t surprising that Jesus would tell his final lesson with the elements of bread and cup.  For the last few days, he has again and again told his disciples that he is going to Jerusalem, and that he will suffer and die.  Again and again, they have struggled to hear his words.  He has asked them to pick up their cross and follow him; they have argued over who will be the most powerful.

And so now, as he breaks bread and pours the cup, he reminds them, reminds us, that even at the table of communion we are challenged, for at the table we cannot ignore or pass over the reality of Christ’s suffering.  “Take; this is my body….This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many.”

Jesus doesn’t want us to miss the connection between our communion at table and our participation in the journey of the cross.  See, it turns out that, when Jesus asked us to pick up a cross and follow him, he meant it. As would-be disciples of the Lord, he asks us to “get busy” doing what Christ did.  And as we stand on the edge of Good Friday, we are reminded that if we do as Christ does, we may be punished for it.  We may find ourselves abandoned, imprisoned, even put to death.

In their book The Last Week, Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan reflect that Jesus is incredibly consistent in the week leading up to his death.  Again and again, he will remind his followers that the Kingdom of God invites particiation–that as disciples, Jesus calls us to serve, to kneel, to follow, to tend.  That we cannot have the glory without the struggle that precedes it.  That if we are going to walk this path, we need to be willing to “drink the cup” that Christ drank.  In other words- if we would call ourselves disciples, then we will find ourselves where Jesus is: in opposition to the powers and principalities of this world, which would prefer that things stay the way they are. And when we place ourselves in the path of empire, we need to be prepared for the possibility that we may get run over. We may endure struggle, suffering, even death.

But when we follow Jesus, we must also remember: we are not alone.  We are with Christ.

Maundy Thursday begins with a meal, and ends with a conviction.  By the dawn’s light, Jesus will be handed over for a death sentence, his followers will have scattered, Peter will have denied him, Judas will have betrayed him, and Jesus will be alone.  The unity of the table will seem to be shattered.

 

But.

 

Even from these bones, God will breathe life.  For every time we gather at table, we rebuke the darkness and the fear that caused Jesus’ disciples to abandon him.  We remember that even those who were afraid were welcomed by Jesus, reconciled and redeemed on Easter morning.  We testify to the truth: that being a disciple is HARD work, that we WILL fail, but that God’s love in Christ can transform us.

 

A Prayer for Maundy Thursday:

Precious Lord, take my hand, lead me on, help me stand, I am tired I am weak I am worn. Through the storm, through the night, lead me on to the light. Take my hand, precious Lord, take me home.

Holy God, as we stand on the threshold: between the past and the present, between your ministry and your death, between hope and fear, send Your Spirit to be amongst us.

To those of us who are afraid of the cost of discipleship, give us courage.

To those of us who are tempted to flee when the risks become high, console us with the knowledge that you welcome the broken and the fearful into Your arms.

To those of us tempted to sell you out, to give you up, either because we don’t understand Your Kingdom or because we have other ideas, remind us that even the enemy was welcome at the table, and that Christ loves us even at our worst.

To those of us who would condemn you, persecute and even kill you, break our hearts with the compassion that comes from God, and the courage to act humbly and righteously in the midst of a violent and broken world.

And to those who would stand on the fence, taking no sides, convict us.  Open our hearts to the knowledge that to do nothing is to choose.

Holy God, help us always to remember this truth: that as often as we love, help, hurt, fear, condemn, and ignore our brother or sister in Christ, we do it to you.  May we never forget: the drama of Holy Week is re-enacted every. single. day.  Give us eyes to see, and feet to walk the path your Son Jesus Christ walked, then and now.

 

Amen.