Friday, April 28, 2017
Wednesday, April 26, 2017
Sunday, April 23, 2017
Years ago, when my children were small, a friend sent me a card. On the front was a picture of a little boy wearing a 1950‘s era cowboy outfit riding a cow through the living room of a house, firing his toy pistol left and right. And behind him are the signs of all kinds of havoc - the front door knocked off its hinges, pictures dangling crookedly on the walls, the lamp lying on its side. His apron-clad mother stands on the stairs, looking on with widened eyes and an O-shaped mouth expressing startled surprise. Inside the card, the caption read: “You can childproof your house, but they still get in.”
And so, here are the disciples, locked away in their room because they are afraid. Were they afraid of being put on trial themselves? Maybe so. Are they trying to “get back to normal” after the horrifying events of Friday? Perhaps. Are they locked in? Or are they locking something out? My guess is a little of both. That’s what we do, isn’t it? Try to create a safe zone. Try to put a barrier between ourselves and things that challenge us, things we are afraid of.
And then Jesus gets in anyway and reminds them of the terrible Friday that has somehow been redeemed - the wounds are still there, and yet Jesus is among them, alive, full of the breath of the Spirit. All has been redeemed. And all receive new life.
All except Thomas. Who only wanted what everyone else had gotten, an experience of Jesus in the flesh, wounds and all. He absolutely needs this, he says, and so Jesus comes again and offers himself to Thomas. Touch me, he says, and believe.
After hearing Bryan Stevenson speak at VCU during Holy Week, I see this experience of Thomas and Jesus as an example of what Stevenson calls “getting proximate.” We have to get proximate, to have real human contact in order to be transformed.
Transformation doesn’t happen from a distance. Thomas needs to stand next to Jesus and see his wounds to understand something he couldn't be convinced of through the stories of his friends.
Resurrection is something that happens in the body, not in the mind, and it is made real to Thomas by a physical experience. But resurrection also is of the Spirit, a power working on a different plane.
We see the Spirit’s work in its wake - and it might look like the living room of the card my friend sent me. The Spirit does not come to soothe or straighten, but to move us to break out of the places into which we have locked ourselves, separated from the world and its disasters.
More and more, I have come to believe that the way we experience resurrection in our lives is to touch the suffering of others and let that experience transform us. If my goal in life is to stay comfortable (and I admit that on some days that is my goal) nothing is going to change in me or in the world around me except that my locked room is going to get smaller and smaller and beauty and goodness are going to shrivel along with my soul. I’m going to experience emptiness, not the fullness of life.
This transformation may well come unbidden. Despite my best efforts at keeping chaos at bay, Jesus might get in anyway. I can usually tell that I’m in for it if I am feeling adamant about something.
That’s like sending up a flare to the Holy Spirit come make me do the thing I claim I have no interest in/am afraid of/am convinced I already know all about. Then I get a phone call. A visit. Or an invitation. Or a series of invitations, in case I ignore the first three.
If we are going to be transformed, and if we are going to participate in the transformation of the world (which is our work as Easter people), we are going to have to get proximate to suffering. To touch people’s wounds. Heck, to touch our own wounds, if we’ve been hiding from them.
To allow ourselves to get out of our self-styled safe space and into the lives of those who are lost or hungry or different. (And honestly, I think “different” can be the most challenging.) To move toward, instead of moving away from, the things and people that make us uncomfortable and afraid.
And thus we might lose our fear and find our strength and power to follow Jesus and bind up the wounded and befriend the friendless and stand up for those getting kicked around in life.
There is a prayer in the New Zealand Prayerbook I am especially fond of. It’s the prayer for this day, and it goes like this:
“Living God, for whom no door is closed, no heart is locked, draw us beyond our doubts, till we see your Christ and touch his wounds where they bleed in others.”
This is how we too can make resurrection real in this world. By touching Christ’s wounds where they bleed in others.
This might well mean that chaos will ensue. Life may get rearranged. Because, after all, despite our best efforts, the Spirit gets in anyway.
Saturday, April 22, 2017
When you are replacing broken buttons on your jacket, the first thing to do is slide all the buttons under the jacket so you can't find them.
Then you bat the spool of thread around and let it unwind.
Last, you bite the pins.
All the while, make sure you shed some hair on all the black clothes.
Saturday, April 15, 2017
One of Fra Angelico's depictions of The Harrowing of Hell painted on one of the monks' cells at San Marco in Florence. Between his crucifixion and resurrection, Jesus the Christ visited Hell (notice the door he broke down which crushed a demon and the other demons hiding in fear) to bring out all those righteous folks from the beginning of time - those who had died before Jesus came into the world. You can see that they are righteous because they are wearing haloes.
A blessed Holy Saturday to you.
Friday, April 14, 2017
And so we look on the one whom they have pierced. We look on his bleeding side, his bruised face, the welts on his back. We see him crushed by a lethal combination of official state power fearing for its own survival and the power of the mob who have turned their backs on love and compassion. (“If you release this man, you are no friend of the emperor,” the people hiss. “Shall I crucify your king?” Pilate sneers.)
We hear them accuse, we hear them demand punishment, and if there is a voice somewhere crying out “Stop! Why are you doing this?” that voice has been drowned out. Together Pilate, the police, the chief priests and the crowd come together as judge and jury who condemn what they do not understand and brutally bring about the end of a human life.
What is it about overt displays of power that attracts us? Or at least persuades us to tolerate them? What makes us shrug at injustice or look down at our shoes in the face of mockery and posturing and hateful condemnation? A question I heard public interest lawyer Bryan Stevenson ask a large crowd at VCU on Wednesday night haunts me: Why do we want to get rid of broken people?
I believe we despise weakness and look down on vulnerability and cheer on the powerful who spew vitriol and disdain and revel in (and indeed seem proud of) humiliating others, because deep down inside we are afraid.
We are afraid of being abandoned, of being mocked, of being hurt, of losing our status, our way of life, our very lives. We are afraid of being overwhelmed by forces over which we have no control.
We are all caught up in this in one way or another, this narrative that says we need to be afraid. Some of us are implicated as power players, concerned with our own interests. Some of us have been victims, and we may hear this story and feel our own humiliation and pain. Some of us are just standing by in our own bewildered grief trying to hold onto some kind of hope.
It seems to me, as we look on this heartbreaking convergence of hate and fear, violence and brokenness, that this is the way Jesus draws us all to himself: gathering us all together the way a crash, a spectacular smash up, so powerfully draws the gaze and attention of us all - perpetrator, victim, and by-stander alike - to say “Look. This is what the world does. But this is not what I intend for you.” This is not what God wants for us, to live in fear, to be so afraid that we turn away from love and compassion and instead put our faith in some strong, but ultimately straw, thing that does not care for us.
Power itself is on trial today. Neither Pilate nor the people understand that power over Jesus’s life and death rests with Jesus and no one else. The judgment is not on Jesus but on the world that does not recognize the revelation of God in him, a man who gave water to the thirsty and sight to the blind and love to sinners and life to the dead. While standing before Pilate at his trial, Jesus says that he came to testify to the truth and Pilate’s answer is “What is truth?” He wouldn’t recognize the truth that was standing right in front of him. Because his concern was keeping his power and asserting his authority, he was not open to transformation in the presence of truth and love.
And the people do not understand that ultimately neither Pilate nor the Roman soldiers nor any of their institutions can be the protector they long for. The powerful will sacrifice life for political expediency. The Empire will fall and so will the Temple.
The truth is, there is no stronger power than love. It is only love and mercy and hope that can protect us from the degradation we are seeing today. We are all degraded by hatred and violence. Hatred and fear warps everyone. Of course we long for a protector.
And today we have seen him. Our protector is the Good Shepherd, who knows us all by name, who is willing to sacrifice his life for us out of love for us because we belong to him and he has come to give us life. The Good Shepherd lays down his life for his sheep, not like the hired hand who runs away when the wolf approaches. The Good Shepherd will sacrifice himself to keep the wolf from snatching us.
Now Jesus has bowed his head and given up his spirit, and we offer up our lament. The fact that we know how it will turn out does not lessen the need for grief. Grief for what we do to each other, grief for the soul crushing that hatred and killing does to both victim and perpetrator, that kills some and hardens others and frightens us from naming injustice and violence for what it is. Grief for all who suffer in this life, and for those who cause the suffering, and for those who cannot bear to look, and for those who cannot face their own complicity.
Let us grieve and lament, and be gathered together into the tomb, perpetrator, victim, and bystander together, and together let us there summon hope, for the truth is that out of this utter darkness salvation will rise.
Wednesday, April 12, 2017
Traditionally sung during the last three days of Holy Week, Gregorio Allegri's Misere Mei is sung here by the Choir of Kings College, Cambridge from a 2015 recording.
The story is that this music was kept secret but the secret was let out by 14-year old Wolfgang Mozart who went home and transcribed it after hearing it once.
A blessed Holy Week to you.
Sunday, April 9, 2017
The Poet Thinks of the Donkey
by Mary Oliver
On the outskirts of Jerusalem
the donkey waited.
Not especially brave, or filled with understanding,
he stood and waited.
How horses, turned out into the meadow,
leap with delight!
How doves, released from their cages,
clatter away, splashed with sunlight.
But the donkey, tied to a tree as usual, waited.
Then he let himself be led away.
Then he let the stranger mount.
Never had he seen such crowds!
And I wonder if he at all imagined what was to happen.
Still, he was what he had always been: small, dark, obedient.
I hope, finally, he felt brave.
I hope, finally, he loved the man who rode so lightly upon him,
as he lifted one dusty hoof and stepped, as he had to, forward.
Today, after the reading of Matthew's Passion Narrative, this thought has stayed with me:
There's a difference between crowd and community.
A blessed Holy Week to you all.
Friday, April 7, 2017
Monday, April 3, 2017
Sunday, April 2, 2017
The story of the raising of Lazarus appears in the exact middle of the Gospel of John.
It is the last of the seven “signs” or miracles in this Gospel. The signs are about life, even abundant life as evidenced by the gallons of wine at Cana, the thousands fed on the mountain, the restoring of wholeness to the blind, the lame, and the marginalized. Grace up on grace upon grace.
Not only is the story in the center of the Gospel, but you might call this story a hinge. The unfolding of Jesus has been moving toward this point - the teachings, the encounters, the miracles. And now we reach the climax. It begins with what I like to call The Vindication of Martha - Martha gets to play the role otherwise occupied by Peter in the other Gospels. She, not Peter or one of the male disciples, is the one who says: You are the Messiah! (Take that, all you Martha haters.)
And Jesus expounds on this - he identifies himself as the Resurrection AND the Life. Whatever people might believe about the Messiah or about Resurrection, he stands those notions on their heads to proclaim that he is not just about life the in eternal presence of God after death but also about life NOW. Abundant life, even. That’s why people needed to be given joy at the wedding and food when they were hungry and sight when they were blind and working legs when they were paralyzed. That’s why they needed to know that he was powerful enough to walk on stormy seas to come to them and even to reach into the darkness and depths of death and call his own back into life. Because he wanted them, as he wants us, to have abundant life.
As he stands before the tomb, Jesus weeps and is angry. This is not just grief. This is John’s rendering of Jesus’ agony in the garden. He is about to confront the darkest power in the world. The raising of Lazarus, a story found only in this Gospel, is the event that triggers the final and successful plot against Jesus’ life. He calls Lazarus out from death, and this disruption of the way things are supposed to be - the dead are supposed to stay dead just as the blind are supposed to stay blind and especially on Sundays - is, to some of those in power, a threat. And so there is going to be a price to be paid for this act of bestowal of abundant life. And isn’t that amazing? That someone giving life to those who are lacking is seen as such a serious threat! Some things never change.
After this, the hinge story, Jesus is headed toward his death. We will get there soon.
But for today, we consider abundant life. Which is to be confused with rainbows and constant happiness. I think I’d characterize it more as “full.” Not only are there baskets of bread and gallons of wine but there is also grief. There is also is loss. There is anger and bewilderment. Part of this full life is stinky, as Martha warns. Maybe even gross. Part of life is suffering consequences. Jesus is showing us that this is all part of full, abundant life.
Jesus also shows us that the life of abundance here on earth is also partly our responsibility. Jesus calls Lazarus by name, as he does all of his sheep, and Lazarus answers Jesus the Good Shepherd. Jesus calls him out of death and into life. But when Lazarus comes forward, he is still bound by strips of cloth, the literal wrappings of death.
And Jesus, his work done, tells the people: Unbind him, and let him go.
Since we are not Jesus, we are not called to raise the dead. But we are called to unbind those who are bound in ways that keep them from having abundant life. This is our work. And that work may have consequences. We may suffer because of it. But it is part of our full life, once we understand our own freedom and our power, to unbind the bound, and let them go and live.