Sermon in four acts

Linda

Some months ago, Jan and Peter and I went on a cross-cultural trip. We went to the land of MOA (otherwise known as the Mall of America). We went on a walkabout to see the sights and eventually came into the capital of this make-believe land, Nordstroms. It sounds Scandinavian, but it’s not humble enough to be Danish.

Anyway, I was in a good mood, having spent an hour under the sparkly, decorative lights of the mall, breathing in that slightly intoxicating smell of chlorine from the water park – a scent that makes everything seem clean and pure.   We had no business at Nordstroms, but wandered in anyway. Once we left the escalator, I quickly came upon a really lovely dress. Simple lines, quality linen/fine wool blend, black with a pale pink yoke. I liked it a lot. I accidentally found the price while looking for the fabric content. $1685. Peter pointed out a little navy woven top – $1265. We agreed not to touch anything, but had gotten spun into the web. We circled the wonders on display.

On a golden pillar with glass shelves sized for a single magic slipper and spaced for artful emphasis, I saw the most perfect shoe. I hate to call it a shoe. The fabled glass slipper had nothing on this one. It was deep blue like the ocean – deep, brilliant, evocative blue like the sky just after sunset – fine grained suede, 3 1/2 inch stiletto heel. A golden clasp held the ankle strap. Perfect. Balanced, elegant, gorgeous. Givenchy. $1400 (maybe just for that one shoe!). I circled the area but kept being drawn back to that perfect blue shoe sitting like a jewel on a golden pillar. The boys and I noted that blue was a practical color – so many colors would set it off – it was just the right shade of blue. I began to imagine the places that shoe would be worn, the admiration it would draw, the elegant rooms it would enter on the foot of a tall, thin woman.

In the midst of these pleasant imaginings I turned and saw myself in a mirror. Full length. Of course I was wearing my hiking boots because I can walk all day in them. Of course I had on my favorite baggy brown sweater, and gray coat. Nothing matched. My hair was….well, much like it is now – which is to say, not the hairstyle one would wear with Givenchy.

You have to know I never actually considered buying the perfect shoe. I didn’t really imagine myself wearing it, I just imagined it in the life the shoe would inhabit… and imagining that, I felt the need to accessorize my life to match the shoe’s worldview. That’s the spell of Nordstroms.

In unexpectedly seeing my reflection alongside The Shoe I felt the farce of being there, the cinders of my little, plain life and how impossibly absurd my fascination with this $1400 shoe.  In that one glance in a mirror I felt ugly, stupid, conspicuous, a failure.

But in the next moment – before I could turn away from the mirror of my sad reality, Jan and Peter passed behind me. I saw them reflected there for just a moment. I couldn’t have loved them or needed their grinning faces more than in that fleeting glance. Because somehow I had taken it all personally – the strings of sparkling lights filling in the domed sky, the exalted land of Nordstrom, the perfection of a blue shoe.

The contrast to my own life had become a critique of me. I had been so taken in by the marketing of this contrived land that I lost my way.

The grace of that moment was in seeing the ridiculous world of Givenchy shoes in the same mirror as my sons… and hearing them call my name.

What does all of this have to do with resurrection, with the fourth Sunday of Easter? I find that I can’t say much about Resurrection with a capital R. It is a mystery. But I think there are glimpses, small events that get us ready – moments of grace, of seeing a different reality, of opening ourselves to a resurrection vision.

The magic mirror at Nordstrom’s shoe department stripped away my false images and imagination and revealed me as I am – messed up, maybe, poorer in spirit, of lower estate than how we would like to imagine ourselves, but possessing all we need – the love and truth, simply, of who we are before God.

The moments when we know that, accept it, rest back in it, are little resurrections, raising us to new life in this same old familiar life. Like Lazarus, like Mary, like Thomas – we hear Christ call us out of grief and fear and disbelief – calling us by name and giving us cause to tell someone else of this rise-up-my love-and-follow-me love of Christ.

Mary Magdalene stood weeping outside the empty tomb in which Jesus had been laid… She turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was him. Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him.” Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned, “Rabbouni!” 

And Mary went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord.”…              ~ John 20

Musical interlude

When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you.’ After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, ‘Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.’ When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain them, they are retained.’

But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came.

So the other imrs.phpdisciples told him, ‘We have seen the Lord.’ But he said to them, ‘Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.’

A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you.’ Then he said to Thomas, ‘Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.’ Thomas answered him, ‘My Lord and my God!’

Christy

At our house, pot roast is a winter food. We had pot roast this past week and it was yet another sure sign that spring has indeed not come. For us in the north this year, the idea that spring will come is more a point of faith than an evidence-based fact – is it too late to add it to the Apostles’ Creed?

We’re all so busily looking for signs of spring these days it’s turned us into amateur phenologists. Phenology is one of my favorite sciences: literally “the study of appearances,” it’s the systematic observation of seasonal natural phenomena. Ice-out dates, the dates the woods green up, lilacs leafing out and blooming, bird migrations, the first redwing blackbird sighting in Luck, WI…believe it or not these appearances are meticulously tracked by scientists to understand climate patterns.

Generations of farmers and gardeners have also, year after year, noticed patterns of appearances and collected them into phenological dicta, essential for life on the land. “Look for morels when the oak leaves are the size of a squirrel’s ear.” “It’s safe to plant tomatoes when the lily-of-the-valley are flowering.” “When the thistles are in bloom, the apple maggots are out–take protective measures.” And here’s my favorite: “You know you should start tapping your maple trees when you smell the first skunk roadkill.”

So the disciples gather together in the confusing days after Jesus’ death-and-whispered- resurrection, and Jesus appears to them in their frightened upper conference room. The first time he comes he gets a jump on Pentecost by breathing his spirit into his disciples. It’s much more intimate than Pentecost will be: instead of tongues of fire, Jesus crowds them in close and exhales a long, warm breath into their faces.

When next he appears to the disciples, it’s his body he shares with them (thank you, Thomas, for asking what we were all thinking). He again crowds them in closely and asks them to touch his wounded body–hand touching hand, hand touching body. The disciples become intimately aware that Christ has indeed risen. They have smelled his breath, and touched his living skin.

Pay attention, Jesus says. These are the signs that I’m alive. Look for them. Get out of your little upper room of fear; go out on the lake and go fishing. Keep looking for me.

And still today we look for God in the world, but sometimes, I think, we look in the wrong places. We ignore that breath of wind tossing the bare trees–what if it were the breath of God, the spirit of God hovering over the waters, melting the ice, and it means he’s alive today, breathing warmly on our faces? You might begin to smell the lilacs blooming, the unfurling of their sweet scent on the breeze–and what if it were the fragrance of burial spices, wafting out of an empty tomb? Wouldn’t you breathe it in to the deepest part of your lungs, and treasure it there?

And what about those coarse, needy people in your life, crowding in uncomfortably close, breathing onto you, reaching out their wounded hands to you, to touch and be touched? Wouldn’t the only proper response to them be joy? Hallelujah, Jesus is risen?

What if both the annual running of the maple sap and the skunks coming out of their dens after hibernation were images-1signs of God’s presence in the world, Christ’s continuing resurrection? And if that redwing blackbird you hear were the voice of Christ, how would that change the way you listened? Do we ignore the sound of birdsong to our
peril? And what about that bread you taste at supper, alongside the pot roast, what if it were his body?

Don’t miss the signs, Jesus says. Pay attention. Because the spring we wait for has already come. And will keep on coming, forever.

Musical interlude

     After these things Jesus showed himself again to the disciples by the Sea of Tiberias; and he showed himself in this way. Gathered there together were Simon Peter, Thomas called the Twin, Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two others of his disciples. Simon Peter said to them, ‘I am going fishing.’ They said to him, ‘We will go with you.’ They went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing.

     Just after daybreak, Jesus stood on the beach; but the disciples did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to them, ‘Children, you have no fish, have you?’ They answered him, ‘No.’ He said to them, ‘Cast the net to the right side of the boat, and you will find some.’ So they cast it, and now they were not able to haul it in because there were so many fish. That disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, ‘It is the Lord!’ When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on some clothes, for he was naked, and jumped into the lake. But the other disciples came in the boat, dragging the net full of fish, for they were not far from the land, only about a hundred yards off.

  When they had gone ashore, they saw a charcoal fire there, with fish on it, and bread. Jesus said to them, ‘Bring some of the fish that you have just caught.’ So Simon Peter went aboard and hauled the net ashore, full of large fish, a hundred and fifty-three of them; and though there were so many, the net was not torn. Jesus said to them, ‘Come and have breakfast.’ Now none of the disciples dared to ask him, ‘Who are you?’ because they knew it was the Lord. Jesus came and took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish. This was now the third time that Jesus appeared to the disciples after he was raised from the dead.

 Molly

How messy this breakfast story is. How deeply beautiful. The disciples, lost again for what to do with themselves, return to what they know, fishing. And they fish all night – and catch nothing. Not until dawn when they take the fish_bbq250advice of someone on shore and cast on the right side the boat. Nearly overwhelmed with fish and Peter overwhelmed with recognizing that shoreline someone is Jesus, they go to shore. And Jesus invites these tired, stinky, physically and emotionally wandering disciples to breakfast. Most of them are naked and probably thoroughly smelly – with sweat and fish. And Peter shows up drenched with his clothes on.

“Bring some of the fish you have just caught” Jesus calls, “Come have breakfast!”

If this isn’t the essence of hospitality, I don’t know what is. Jesus invites the disciples and feeds them– -right now! shows them they have something to offer — right now, in their unsightliness, in their lostness, “Come, Eat, and Bring some of those fish you have, we need them!!”

The disciples don’t seem to know how to tend themselves. But, oh, how Jesus loves them. Loves them and knows the love that lives inside them. “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Love Jesus–that great giver of hospitality to all – untouchables and mistake makers, stinky wanderers. “Do you love me?” “Feed my lambs”, “tend my sheep”, “feed my sheep”. How? What does this look like? I don’t know. Probably like a lot of different things; a lot of small everyday occurrences. This week I’ve been thinking about what it looks like to literally feed people.

One year I was working in the kitchen at Holden Village, a retreat center in the North Cascades of Washington, and a woman named Marsha came on teaching staff for a week. Now Marsha couldn’t eat certain foods – gluten I think was one of them. Located in the remote mountains, the village dining hall was the only place to get food for many miles (and hours of traveling) around. One morning I was in charge of finding something Marsha could eat for breakfast. As an entirely volunteer staff — some of us having little experience in kitchens — certainly commercial kitchens — we tried our best and learned as we went. But sometimes we fell short. I think we had been coming up short for Marsha. This day, at the end of the week, she came to the front counter and asked, in not too bright a tone, what there was for her for breakfast. Oh, we not been feeding Marsha well —she was not being filled and I was not feeling good about what we had made. That day, like the previous days, the de-facto option was the same, Cream of Rice. I was ashamed at the kitchen’s shortcomings. My shortcomings. I worried b/c I needed to be the one with the answers—I was in charge—and I didn’t have the answer— didn’t know what she would want or what I was really capable of making. But here she was. And her need was palpable.

“We have cream of Rice”, I said, “but we could make you something else—whatever you’d like!” And began listing off theoretical options. Eggs! A brightening relief spread over Marsha’s face. “How would like them?” I asked. Sunny side up? O dear! I had never made sunny side up eggs. In my emptiness, I told her this, but that I would try my best — How did she usually go about making them? Tenderly, she explained and I unhitched a frying pan from above the counter, and set tremulously to work. Nervously I brought the cooked eggs to the table where Marsha sat sipping coffee, and set them before her. She looked at them and then at me and said, “they look beautiful!”

We are not called to single handedly divine what the sheep require and deliver it to them. We’d probably get it wrong anyway. We are asked to be the broken tending the broken. (even Jesus bears nail holes and a pierced side) Every day it’s easy to hear voices telling us we aren’t enough or don’t know enough to do useful work. We are too young or too old or too broken or make too many bad decisions. But Jesus says, I love you. You are good enough just as you are. To be loved, to love the sheep. All you need to do is show up to hear and learn from one another. I lambs-wool-lamb-imagewas supposed to feed Marsha, but she fed me just as much. Really, we made breakfast together. It is in the feeding, we are together filled, together made whole.

Musical interlude

When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, ‘Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?’ He said to him, ‘Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Feed my lambs.’ A second time he said to him, ‘Simon son of John, do you love me?’ He said to him, ‘Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Tend my sheep.’ He said to him the third time, ‘Simon son of John, do you love me?’ Peter felt hurt because he said to him the third time, ‘Do you love me?’ And he said to him, ‘Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Feed my sheep.

Claire

I love Thomas. He needed proof he could touch and see before he could say ‘my Lord and my God.’ He just says it right out, and he is granted those proofs. Lucky, lucky man.

I’ve gone around needing proofs just like Thomas. I wasn’t bold enough to say it aloud, not even to myself, but that is what I’ve been looking for all my life. It’s made all the difference to have found the joyful Danes and West Denmark where questions are welcome and searching and learning are a way of life.

Thomas’s story has set me to thinking about the proofs I’ve been given, about where I see and touch God in my life. I’ve come up with a list I’d like to share with you.

God made me an introvert and a Romantic so He meets me in those places.

I love quiet and stillness and the story of Samuel listening for God’s voice. When I sit quietly God is right there in the quiet waiting.

I love color, somehow it plays me like a guitar, and I feel God in those glorious vibrations as color strikes my eyes. Colors, especially the red/blue ones swallow me up in a velvet sea of God’s glory.

I love sound, birdsong, water, rain, sung harmony, D major chords on my piano, spring peepers, waterfalls and windblown grass. When I get to heaven I’ll be able to sing harmony by ear and resonate with the energy of the universe.

I feel God’s spirit when I’m in community, especially here with all of you. That’s why I have so much fun passing the peace. Working together physically as a church family gives me strength and joy.

Singing together at family camp feels like a foretaste of heaven.

Most of all I meet God in nature….rich beyond imagining life before my eyes. Connecting across species is my greatest joy. It really does feel like meeting God, doing God, representing God, receiving God.

Thank you Pastor Linda for asking for reflections this Easter season. I’ve learned so much from sorting through my thoughts and beliefs and hearing from other writers. And thank you, Thomas, for your plain speaking. Now I can say “My Lord and My God” with you.

Æbleskiver Dinner! Saturday, May 5th! Why fish when you can ‘skiver’?

The most delicious Breakfast-for-dinner Dinner you’ll ever enjoy!

Serving from 3:30 until 7 pm at the West Denmark Parish Hall. 2492 170th Street (1 mile West on N,  South on 170th street until you smell the skivers!)

All the Æbleskiver you can eat, plus Medisterpølse (Danish sausage), Sødsuppe (Sweet soup), and Æblekage (Applecake) or Lemon fluff for dessert.

Tickets sold at the door $10/plate.

Raffle items and baked goods for sale, too!Unknown-1

Rise, O Church, like Christ Arisen

“Mary!”

She turned, “Rabbouni!” (which means beloved teacher).

Jesus said, “Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’”   

Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”; and she told them what he had said to her.

carravagio-doubting-thomas

 

 

 

 

That evening, while the disciples were behind closed doors because they were afraid of the Jewish authorities, Jesus came and stood among them. 

The first thing I notice is that the disciples have regrouped. Three nights before, at Jesus’ arrest and trial, they scattered like quail in the face of danger. But by Sunday evening they are back together. No texting or tweets, those who loved Jesus just knew to go back to the last place, go back to the house to question and compare stories and grieve. Jesus created a new family at the foot of the cross in his mother and the beloved disciple, but his love and the disciples’ loyalty seem to be formative here, too, in sharing tears and fears and food even while hiding behind closed doors.

 He said, “Peace be with you.”  After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. When the disciples saw the Lord, they were filled with joy.  Again Jesus said to them, “Peace be with you. As the Father sent me, so I am sending you. Then he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.  If you forgive anyone’s sins, they are forgiven; if you hang onto them, they are retained.”

That’s a heady thing to tell this group hiding in fear for their lives. I bet they were taking mental notes, forming a list of who belonged on the retaining list. Who were their enemies, who garnered the most fear? Who would they most want condemned?

In church talk, this responsibility to retain and release is called the power of the keys and is conferred in ordination. I prefer it in the realm of fishing. It has seemed to me to be the most frightening thing about ordination… During confession and absolution at the beginning of the service the pastor will say something along the lines of, “as a called and ordained minister of the church of Christ, and by his authority, I therefore declare to you the entire forgiveness of all your sins, in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.”

I don’t spend any time wondering about retaining sins.  I’m not that decisive or certain. I don’t know enough to condemn or judge.

But, by the same token, I wonder about pronouncing a blanket forgiveness over all our sins. What does that mean?  I have no idea about all your sins. Is it right for me to release them without questioning you? And I wonder, during the silence for confession, how many of us are actually considering the category.

Is sin a listing of un-repented wrongs you have done?

Is sin failure to follow a moral/ethical code of behavior – Old Testament law stuff?

Is sin failure to live fully out of love for self and neighbor – loving as we have been loved – as commanded by Jesus?

In John’s gospel sin is unbelief, the refusal to see that God is acting in and through the person of Jesus… the refusal to trust that Jesus is the person of God, the incarnate Word.

Some days are more Thomassy than others, for me…Some days the wounds of the world or ourselves would swallow us whole, and believing in the goodness and power of God’s love is difficult. Some days I would dearly love a little solid proof, a little less mystery, less reason to wonder.

Thomas, the twin, the one called Didymus, wasn’t with the disciples when Jesus came. The others told him, “We’ve seen the Lord!”  But he replied, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands, put my finger in the wounds of the nails, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.”

Doubting Thomas. The Greek word is not “doubt,” actually, but “unbelieving.” Unbelieving Thomas doesn’t have the same zing, and the words might seem to be synonymous, but, at least for the author of John, they are not.

To believe in Jesus is not to say you believe in the truth of the story. To believe in Jesus is to say, “I abide in you, my Lord and my God, and you abide in me.” It affirms an on-going, whole body, mind and spirit relationship between Jesus and you as the believer.

Jesus’ first resurrection appearance is for Mary in the garden. She runs back to the disciples saying, “I have seen the Lord!” But they don’t say “What?! That’s fantastic! All he said is becoming clear!” Instead, Jesus finds them huddled with the doors locked for fear that they too would be thrown out of the synagogue, that perhaps they, too, would be crucified or stoned.

Jesus appears to them and they rejoice when they see the Lord. The disciples repeat Mary’s exact words to Thomas when he comes, “We have seen the Lord,” but Thomas also requires a personal encounter.

Actually, we all do. That’s how faith happens. When the Samaritan woman left her water jug and ran back to her townspeople telling of her meeting at the well, they go to Jesus and “abide” with him, saying to her, “It is no longer because of what you said, but now we have heard for ourselves.” This isn’t a slight against her. Believing in Jesus is not about believing in someone else’s experience, belief is in having your own encounter with the Word made flesh. It makes sense if incarnation and God’s love of this world are taken seriously. Belief is not aimed at eternity, but begins with fullness of life and grace here, now: An actual experience, an epiphany of God in your own life.

Because the resurrection is not just the resurrection. Jesus said, “I AM the Resurrection and the life.” Belief and life are synonyms in this Gospel, and together form the groundwork for a relationship that sustains and sends out disciples of all times and places and styles.

After eight days his disciples were again in a house and Thomas was with them. Even though the doors were locked, Jesus entered and stood among them. He said, “Peace be with you.”…Michelangelo Merisi (or Amerighi) da Caravaggio's painting of Jesus showing and letting Thomas touch

 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here. Look at my hands. Put your hand into my side.
No more disbelief. Believe!”

Thomas wanted to touch the wounds; to see and feel, and experience for himself.

But, have you ever wondered why Jesus would still have wounds?

It doesn’t seem to occur to Thomas and the others that the risen Lord should now be made perfect, whole, unblemished.  That’s interesting. Unlike his other signs and healings characterized by restoration and wholeness, the resurrected Jesus is not pristine. He still bears the marks of death.

It is this wounded Savior, then, who is the standard for the coming kingdom of God, not those other blessed, healed, perfected ones. Through Thomas we witness the wounds of the body of Christ.  Indeed, they are all around us.

Too often, in our real lives, we don’t want to see them, we don’t want to touch them. We don’t want to get that involved, or be that vulnerable.  We usually try to ensure that marks of imperfection and pain be kept covered, as if such “not seeing” will help in some way, will preserve one’s dignity or prevent embarrassment at being seen for who we are. Neither do we want to be reminded of our scars and holes and raw edges by seeing them in others.

But if Jesus is raised with wounds, maybe that – and not perfection – is what God prefers to work with; maybe our wounded-ness is where transformation and transcendence can take root – like a seed falling on soft, broken ground.

Jesus’ bodily appearance is full of mystery, but we see in this story the tender compassion of the living word of God. Jesus knows his disciples are afraid for their lives—he grants them peace. He knows they need his continued presence and power—he breathes the Spirit into their flagging hearts. He knows they have lost their sense of purpose—he commissions them to a ministry of witness and reconciliation. He knows they can hardly believe their eyes, that he is their Jesus, the same one who was nailed to the cross—so he shows them his wounds. He knows Thomas is missing—he comes back the next week to make sure the Twin is not left out. He knows the last thing they need to hear is that they failed him miserably and he is disappointed—he utters not a single word of recrimination or judgment, but grants them the kingdom.

It is not surprising then, that in the presence of such immense tenderness, the reading says (in what has to be one of the biggest understatements of the Bible) the disciples rejoiced.

Easter, in these terms, is the breaking-in of a new age to come in which there will be only compassion, peace, restoration and love like this, for all the wounded and broken, for the afraid, believing, skeptical, strong, and faithful – for all. It is ours to practice this living, to become Easter people, rising anew and going out into the world with great joy and good news and our visible wounds.

Christ is risen. Alleluia

Easter ~ In the Beginning…

John 20:1-18

Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb. So she ran… and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.” 

Peter and the other disciple set out and went toward the tomb. The two were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first.  He bent down to look in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he did not go in.  Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen wrappings lying there,  and the cloth that had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen wrappings but rolled up in a place by itself. 

Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed;  for as yet they did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead.  

Then the disciples returned to their homes. 

But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb;  and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet. They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.”  When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus.  

Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” 

Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to him in Aramaic, “Rabbouni!” (which means beloved Teacher). Jesus said to her, “Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, “I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’ ”  Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”; and she told them that he had said these things to her.

 

In the beginning was the Word.

“Woman why are you weeping? Whom do you seek?”

In the beginning was the Word.

“Mary.”

In the beginning when darkness covered the face of the earth and the world was a formless void…. The word of God brought light into the darkness and life out of emptiness.

In the beginning there was a garden, and on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene went there in grief.

John presents us with a narrative that, in its end, circles back to its beginning – that circles back to creation, to incarnation, to the coming of God in Jesus to bring light to our darkest days and life to the emptiest places and love into the void of despair.

We know this story. We watch as Mary discovers Jesus’ tomb – the tomb that should be filled to overflowing with death and burial spices and linen shrouds and grief, the tomb that should be sealed in cold, dark, stone – is open…is empty. We see Peter and the other disciple run to see that what the woman has told them is indeed the case. John tells us that the beloved disciple “saw and believed.” But, he saw nothing – no angels, no body, so what did he believe? Perhaps simply that Mary was correct — that someone had stolen the body of their crucified teacher, that the tomb was empty.

Peter discovers the linen burial wrappings and notices the cloth that had covered Jesus’ head has been rolled up and lies in a place apart, by itself. These are not yet clues to the greatest masterpiece of all mysteries. They are simply the facts. The tomb is empty.

Having felt this void, this kind of darkness and hurt in our own lives, we understand their confusion and anger, their disappointment and doubt. Why is this tomb empty? Who would do this? Why would they do this?  Why is this new burden added to our defeat?

Where there is no body, there is no closure; where there is no body there can be none of the comfort that can gained from the certainty of death, when there is an empty grave there is no location for our grief to dwell.

Unenlightened, the two of them go home.

The Three Marys at the Tomb by Mikołaj Haberschrack, 15th centuryThe Three Marys at the Tomb by Mikołaj Haberschrack, 15th centuryOur focus returns to Mary. Neither Peter nor the other disciple have offered her words of comfort or encouragement. They have not persuaded Mary to return home with them. So she stays.

Weeping, she looks into the cave. She hears an echo from within the tomb and from behind her – from the place of death and endings and shame, and from the garden of new life … “Woman, why are you weeping?”

Really? Well, let me count the ways; let us repeat the litany of grief, guilt, and heartbreak that fills our human frames, that marks our earthly days. Death, betrayal, abandonment, failure, fear… how’s that for a start?

“Woman, why are you weeping? Whom do you seek?”

“What are you looking for?” were the first words Jesus spoke in this gospel, way back in the beginning, when a few of John the baptist’s disciples followed him.  “What do you want?” Jesus asked them, and then invited, “Come and see.”

Jesus asks Mary the same question, “Whom are you looking for?”

Well, what – or whom – are you looking for? You’ve come here for a reason – – presumably for more than breakfast. Whom do you seek? What is it you hope to find here – need to find – and hope it might be found here?

There is work here that needs to be done… you probably didn’t come looking for work.

There is sickness and death and birth and growth and friendship; there is fellowship among the saints; good food is shared here, peace is shared, stories are shared and heard; there are a few noisy children underfoot when we’re lucky; there’s curiosity, and laughter, and prayer, a bit of sarcasm now and then; there is encouragement and nurture, a concern about injustice and the future of the planet; there is music for our souls; there are your various vocations being lived out in important, intentional, and earnest ways; there are memories to hold, traditions to build on, and a future to imagine our way into. These are some of our assets.

Did you come seeking them? If so, you’re welcome to them. Come and stay.

What – or whom – are you looking for?

I can’t promise that you’ll find God here, or that you will be warmed or enlightened by the Holy Spirit, that here you will find the One in whom your soul finds its rest and goal. I can promise you welcome at Christ’s table of grace and bounteous mercy. I can promise you an opportunity to search your conscience, offer confession, and receive release for the burdens you bear. I can promise that whether or not you find God, you are known – fully, truly, and forgiven and loved by this gardener God, this Savior, this Christ among the crocuses. And I can promise you that it is good news of great joy for you.

With a word, Mary realizes her mistake. This is not a gardener, nor a thief.  “Rabbouni,” she says –  a term of endearment for a much loved teacher. She might as well have called him Good Shepherd, for she turns at the sound of her name. She turns toward Jesus in a moment of recognition that encapsulates all of the joy, all the expectancy, all the incredulity of resurrection.

In the beginning was the Word.

“Woman why are you weeping? Whom do you seek?”

In the beginning was the Word.

“Mary.”

In the beginning when darkness covered the face of the earth and the world was a formless void…. The word of God brought light into the darkness and life out of emptiness, and even now, the darkness has not overcome it.

In the beginning there was a garden, out of which God sent Eve and Adam to know death and grief, to work and toil, to live – not in the absence of God, but estranged and apart.

In the beginning there was a garden, and on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene went there in grief. We know that garden, that pre-dawn chill of darkness.

But from this Easter garden Mary Magdalene is sent out rejoicing.

This is the good news of the Gospel of Jesus Christ: Life wins. God reigns… rains down mercy, sprinkles down hope, pours out possibilities…where none seem to exist. The Word has spoken through the ages, spoken through the dark night, has broken through the stone wall – the Word has spoken…. a name –  your name, my name, and has turned our death into life.

Jesus, who was crucified, who was buried, has been raised.  Alleluia!

Pastor Linda

Good Friday

John 19:28-42good friday 2018 edited copy

28 After this, when Jesus knew that all was now finished, he said, “I thirst.”  A jar full of sour wine was standing there. So they put a sponge full of the wine on a branch of hyssop and held it to his mouth.  When Jesus had received the wine, he said, “It is finished.” Then he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.

31 Since it was the day of Preparation, the Jews did not want the bodies left on the cross during the sabbath, especially because that sabbath was a day of great solemnity. So they asked Pilate to have the legs of the crucified men broken and the bodies removed. Then the soldiers came and broke the legs of the first and of the other who had been crucified with him.  But when they came to Jesus and saw that he was already dead, they did not break his legs. Instead, one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and at once blood and water came out.  (He who saw this has testified so that you also may believe. His testimony is true, and he knows that he tells the truth.) These things occurred so that the scripture might be fulfilled, “None of his bones shall be broken.” And again another passage of scripture says, “They will look on the one whom they have pierced.” After these things, Joseph of Arimathea, who was a disciple of Jesus, though a secret one because of his fear of the Jews, asked Pilate to let him take away the body of Jesus. Pilate gave him permission; so he came and removed his body. Nicodemus, who had at first come to Jesus by night, also came, bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, weighing about a hundred pounds.  They took the body of Jesus and wrapped it with the spices in linen cloths, according to the burial custom of the Jews. Now there was a garden in the place where he was crucified, and in the garden there was a new tomb in which no one had ever been laid.  And so, because it was the Jewish day of Preparation, and the tomb was nearby, they laid Jesus there.

The gospel of John narrates Jesus’ death with simplicity, dignity, solemnity. Here there is none of the turmoil or violence of the other gospels – no jeering crowds at the trial before Pilate, Jesus carries his cross bar by himself to Golgotha and without the crowd looking on. There is no conversation with crucified criminals or mocking by soldiers. Jesus does not cry out to God or make a loud cry at the end – in fact, the Synoptic gospel’s quotation from psalm 22 – “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me” is a theological impossibility for Jesus of this gospel. He and God are one from the beginning, united in work and in love. Their unity is strengthened, not broken, at Jesus’ death. The natural world perhaps pauses, waiting – but does not shake or moan or give in to the darkness.

There is poignancy and sadness at this scene, but there is not despair, not abandonment. Jesus is the mystical, incarnate Son of God, the one sent by God into the world to save the world by revealing God’s love. And this is Jesus, the man who dies on a cross, bleeding from his wounds and pierced side, wrapped in linen cloths and laid to rest in a garden tomb. In his death, Jesus completes the life for which he was born and into which he was sent by bearing ultimate witness to the truth: that through him we are given what is most precious – true incorporation (being brought bodily into) the love of God.

The abundance of scriptural references normally annoys me, because it makes the story seem so scripted – which is not how we experience our lives or believe God would be with us. However, their purpose is to confirm that this death is part of God’s plan for salvation from the beginning.

His unbroken legs lead us to the psalter, his pierced side to Zechariah, but they also prove that he is truly dead… “and at once blood and water came out.” The emphasis on the eye witness is to confirm to readers that this actually happened…. and it is physiologically accurate of a chest wound from crucifixion.

But the significance of water and blood is only in part for proof. The context from Zechariah is both mourning and hope. In the midst of death God pours out “ a spirit of compassion and supplication to the house of David, so that, when they look on the one whom they have pierced, they shall mourn for him, as one mourns for an only child, and weep bitterly over him, as one weeps for a firstborn.”  In citing this passage, John both implicates the “Jews” (John’s name for all in opposition to Jesus) who remain blind to the presence of God, and offer hope, that even in death, when we look on the one who was pierced we see God’s only child, the firstborn of creation, who transforms death in love into life.

Jesus was the source of living water – life flows from Jesus’ death from his wounded side; his blood – linked to the original Passover – is not for forgiveness of sin, but is shed to provide life – as it saved the Israelites from the final plague of death.

Hope is a strange thing to be talking about on Good Friday, but it is true for this gospel and is perhaps why it’s called Good. I’m not sure about that. I’ve been using Advent hymns in Lent because they are appropriate for this gospel’s telling. Here’s another one: “All earth is hopeful, the Savior comes at last, furrows lie open for God’s creative task; this, the labor of people who struggle to see how God’s truth and justice set everybody free.”

Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus are the characters of this struggle. Joseph was a member of the Sanhedrin – the Jewish Supreme Court – and a secret disciple of Jesus. He represents those who fear losing political power and influence within the synagogue and community if they confessed openly their belief in Jesus. At Jesus’ death, however, Joseph is emboldened by the truth he now believes and makes public. He embodies the risk and openly claims discipleship. This was a hugely significant challenge for John’s original audience – and the cost could involve being shunned, stoned, and killed as we know from the apostle Paul’s story and Stephen’s stoning.

The willingness to bury Jesus is seen by John as a confession of faith. Nicodemus first came to Jesus at night and left very much in the dark about Jesus’ identity. He later stood up for Jesus on the basis of fairness in hearing him out in a discussion among the pharisees, but here, Nicodemus abandons neutrality and secrecy and acts out of love and with great reverence.

The prodigious amount of burial spices – 100 pounds – could be again seen as a proof offering – it would be enough to keep Jesus pinned down … but consider its fragrance.  100 pounds of myrtle, of myrrh, of sweet aloes. That fragrance would have filled and overpowered and out-flowed this newly carved cave like the excess of pure nard that Mary poured over his feet, anointing them with her hair. This is an act of utter devotion and all-in love.

Joseph, Nicodemus, and Mary prove themselves to be true disciples as they live out of love. Jesus’ body is handled with care and dignity in it’s preparation. John makes note that it is the Day of Preparation – on one level it is the day before sabbath begins at sundown, on another level, it is the day Jesus is prepared for glory. Linen burial cloth is normally accorded only to those of wealth and high standing, the pristine condition of the garden tomb adds to the dignity and beauty of their treatment of Jesus’ body.

The scent of burial spices, the scent of newly opened earth, fresh clay, the garden setting pull us back to the beginning. “In the beginning, when the world was a formless void…” pull us back to the beginning -“In the beginning was the Word….and the Word was with God, in the beginning and through him all things were made… In him was life…

How are we to live in this love? There is no single or simple answer.

But there is this story of Jesus’ life and death, and the characters who fill it, who, in one form or another live within us. To this story we come back again and again in words of worship and song and faith. Through the story of God’s love for the world – often hostile and apathetic – Jesus’ love comes as a glimmer of what it means to be community, what it means to be beloved, what it means to know God in the midst of life and struggle, pain and death.

From his fullness we have all received… grace upon grace.”

Maundy Thursday

John 19:23-30

When the soldiers had crucified Jesus, they took his clothes and divided them into four parts, one for each soldier. They also took his tunic; now the tunic was seamless, woven in one piece from the top.  So they said to one another, “Let us not tear it, but cast lots for it to see who will get it.” This was to fulfill what the scripture says, “They divided my clothes among themselves, and for my clothing they cast lots.”  And that is what the soldiers did.

Meanwhile, standing near the cross of Jesus were his mother, and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene.  When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing beside her, he said to his mother, “Woman, here is your son.”  Then he said to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” And from that hour the disciple took her into his own home.  

After this, when Jesus knew that all was now finished, he said (in order to fulfill the scripture), “I thirst.”  A jar full of sour wine was standing there. So they put a sponge full of the wine on a branch of hyssop and held it to his mouth.  When Jesus had received the wine, he said, “It is finished.” Then he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.

“After this, when Jesus knew that all was now finished…

John is a theological, not historical gospel. In it, Jesus goes willingly to his death, knowing it to be the completion of his hour, the time of his exaltation and glory in the Father.  The other gospels don’t make this the claim of crucifixion. They wait for Easter and the resurrection to talk about God’s glory. In them, his death is a painful tragedy, final proof of the unrequited love of God for the world. But for this author, the incarnation is the beginning and crucifixion the completion of Jesus’ mission.  He tells his disciples, “What should I say – Father, save me from this hour? No, It is for this reason that I have come to this hour.”

Death by crucifixion is not defeat in John’s gospel, but is terrible, costly, beautiful love – a part of God’s plan of salvation. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God…And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory…” Those are the opening lines, and it is a summary given in advance of what we are to experience as the gospel unfolds; that’s the interpretive lens of this author. And from chapter 3: “Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved though him. And this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light…”

The author of John keeps the whole arch in mind as each episode plays out, using Jesus’ death as the focusing receptacle for making meaning of the coming of God in Jesus.

at-the-foot-of-the-cross-2“Meanwhile, standing near the cross of Jesus were his mother, and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene.”  Four women to counter the four soldiers. Four women to indicate the kind of servant-led community that Jesus established. Not the powerful, not the noteable, not the expected, not ones who had any station or ability to lord it over another, but four women and an unnamed, beloved disciple who watched and listened, who loved and grieved, who experienced this death personally.

Jesus’ mother bookends his ministry in earthliness, in mothering awareness, holding the incarnation before us. There were thoughts in the early church that Jesus wasn’t really human. That God assumed humanity as a disguise, as a teaching point of contact without really being human or suffering human death (because how could God suffer and die – God was immutable). Mary stands at the cross to have us behold her suffering, human son, and to see it through.

She was the first to believe in Jesus, back at the wedding in Cana, leaning in to say to him, “They have no more wine,” and to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.” This scene at the cross is a refraction of the first of Jesus’ signs. There at Cana he turned water into the finest wine. The steward noted this, that the inferior was served first, the really good stuff appearing last. At the wedding, wine served as a return to Eden, a sign of unreasonable abundance, celebration of life and the creative union of man and woman in one. Through it, God’s glory shone.

On the cross, Jesus says, “I thirst.” Sour wine is lifted for him to drink. He takes the inferior wine, saying, “It is finished.” And we are left to wonder at the finest of wines he will receive in paradise in union with God, a foretaste of which we participate in as his blood shed for us.

There is another union though, and it’s interesting. “Seeing his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing beside her, he said to his mother, “Woman, here is your son.”  Then he said to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” And from that hour the disciple took her into his own home.” 

Jesus has created a new family from the first person who believed and the last to be mentioned, but not named. We know from the other gospels and writings of Paul that Jesus had brothers.  As the first born, he would be the one expected to provide for his widowed mother. This responsibility would fall to the next oldest brother upon his death. So John is telling us this on purpose – to indicate something unusual they experienced in life after the resurrection.

A new family had formed. Back to the prologue: “…to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, who were born not of blood or of the will of the flesh, or the will of man, but of God.” No longer was it through obligation of the law that the needs of widows and orphans and sojourners were met.  Jesus suffers so that we can belong to each other. Jesus gives himself away to us so that we might give ourselves to each other. Jesus unites all people as he gathers us to himself. In the language of this Gospel, Jesus makes us all someone’s mother and someone’s son. Outsiders are welcomed in, outcasts are seen, cared for, included, widows become mothers, individuals become a community. “No more a stranger, nor a guest, but like a child at home,” my favorite hymn says. That is the new community of Christ – one that transforms and binds together in the contradiction of abiding love and servanthood.

“When Jesus had received the wine, he said, “It is finished.” Then he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.”

The unique intent of this gospel shows itself again here. In John, there is no conversation with the others crucified on each side, there is no earthquake or thunder or darkening sky in this gospel, the temple curtain is not torn in half. That would be a return to chaos. Here Jesus maintains his dignity and his initiative, his control of this final hour.

Jesus’ hour has come and God’s work though him is accomplished. It is a moment of confidence, an expression of Jesus’ love for his own and his love for God. He bowed his head and gave up his spirit; an active agent to the very end, the crucifixion did not take it away from him, but he offered it up. When we feel most vulnerable, most broken, most hopeless, the promise of the incarnation is that Jesus – dying a death like ours, also reveals the abundant life of union with God that transcends death.

Greater love has no one than this,” Jesus told his disciples – “that he will lay down his life for a friend.” Jesus lays down his life for all – friends and enemies alike.

The story does not trivialize the part of the opposition, the Jews as they or as we are called. It’s not that they were corrupt or ignorant or greedy. They probably were those things, but that’s not their role here. They are part of a world that is cut off from the truth. They do not hear Jesus’ voice. They do not see the glory of God in flesh and blood, or wine and water. They are not moved by the Spirit’s nudging. When we are at our most broken, wounded, confused, lost – we, too are separated,  are on a self-imposed exile from belief that Jesus can or will do anything about it. If there is to be any hope for such people and for such a world, it will not be because we can try harder, or believe better, or testify to our experience of Christ with more conviction. Hope for the world survives these 2000 years, and will last, because God will always find a way to break through what seems to human minds and hearts to be an ending, a death, a completion.

The incarnation ended with Jesus’ last breath, but the impulse of incarnation – of God entering human life, abiding with us through sin and sorrow and celebration and uncertainty does not die on the cross. It comes to birth through the new family of Christ, “born not of blood or of the will of the flesh, or the will of man, but of God. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people.” Tonight we leave in darkness. But this 4th gospel would not have us leave in despair.

Palm / Passion Sunday

John 12:12-19  the triumphal entry

12 The great crowd that had come to the Passover festival heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem. So they took branches of palm trees and went out to meet him, shouting,‘Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord – the King of Israel!’ Jesus found a young donkey and sat on it; as it is written:  ‘Do not be afraid, daughter of Zion. Look, your king is coming, sitting on a donkey’s colt!’ 

His disciples did not understand these things at first; but when Jesus was glorified, then they remembered that these things had been written of him and had been done to him. 

So the crowd that had been with him when he called Lazarus out of the tomb and raised him from the dead continued to testify. It was also because they heard that he had performed this sign that the crowd went to meet him. The Pharisees then said to one another, ‘You see, you can do nothing. Look, the world has gone after him!’

John  19:16b-22

 “So they took Jesus; and carrying the cross by himself, he went out to what is called The Place of the Skull, which in Hebrew is called Golgotha. There they crucified him, and with him two others, one on either side, with Jesus between them. Pilate also had an inscription written and put on the cross. It read, “Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews.” Many of the Jews read this inscription, because the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city; and it was written in Hebrew, in Latin, and in Greek. Then the chief priests of the Jews said to Pilate, “Do not write, ‘The King of the Jews,’ but, ‘This man said, I am King of the Jews.'” Pilate answered, “What I have written I have written.”

Does that seem too abrupt?  It does. What about the parade? What are we supposed to do with our palms of victory at a crucifixion? Let them fall to the ground to be trampled on and forgotten? Hide them away out of shame and embarrassment?

Week after week, we’ve heard about Jesus’ arrest in the garden, the betrayal by his disciples, his trial before Pilate, the Jewish opposition demanding his death, but still, now that we’ve arrived at this crux, it seems there should be more narrative, more words to postpone it. The other gospels all have descriptive stories at this point to help us prepare. John doesn’t describe the scene, only the facts.

images“They took Jesus; and carrying the cross by himself, he went out to what is called The Place of the Skull, in Hebrew, Golgotha. There they crucified him, and with him two others, one on either side, with Jesus between them.”

The reminder that the palms you hold in your hand today become the ashes smudging your foreheads eleven months from now on Ash Wednesday is an appropriate tonal modulation. For those of you who feel the crucifixion is a bit premature on Palm Sunday, I’ll warn you that Jesus stays on the cross all week. We’ll hear his last words, hear his last breath on Thursday, we’ll see him taken down and buried on Friday, and leave that service in silence, in the dusky gloaming of twilight.

Jesus’ death was abrupt. In this gospel’s telling, it’s also secretive – the events of the last 5 weeks – about 5 hours of narrative time – were all held in the cover of darkness – pushed along by the Sanhedrin to get it done before the Passover Feast. They wanted to be able to eat their sacrificial lamb, ritually slaughtered at the temple. They needed to stay pure, stay apart from death. They had to get this legal affair over with, and they didn’t want the crowds involved.

So, this is it. Jesus goes from Pilate’s headquarters to Golgotha and the cross, accompanied only by soldiers, four women and one unnamed disciple. Pilate orders the inscription to be written in the languages of the empire. He does what the Jews were unwilling to do. Pilate proclaims Jesus as a king for all the world to see. But what kind of king is this? What of our hopes? What has become of the promise that Jesus is the light of the world that the darkness cannot overcome? He seems overcome.

Our Lenten writers have done a good job of weaving together life and death. We long for light, and long to hide parts of ourselves from the light; we can be blinded, burned by the light. We also learn important truthes in and about the dark. We might prefer luxurious growth, but vines need to be cut way back if they are to produce fruit. We like the idea of a shepherd, the protection of a gate, but freedom, independence, our individual entitlements – greener grass – is dang alluring. Leave us alone and we’ll come home (eventually) dragging our tails behind us. We insist on that freedom, even when it’s not good for us…even when it is deadly.

We want to think that life and death are two separate things, but our Lenten writers have shown us that they are not. Life and death are manifestations of the same thing: mortality. The incarnation of God in human form necessarily requires a death: God’s death.

Jesus was crucified near the city; and the inscription of his crime was written in Hebrew, in Latin, and in Greek. The chief priests tried to get it changed, but Pilate was done with them. The inscription the last twist of mockery. “What I have written I have written, The king of the Jews.” Irony? or Truth?

Just six days earlier, Jesus had been in Bethany and called Lazarus out of the tomb. That seems a long time ago now. But the crowd who witnessed Lazarus stumbling out of death into daylight kept talking about it. They came to Jerusalem for the festival of Passover and heard that Jesus was coming.  They took palm branches and went out to meet him, like a hero, like a victorious king, and they shouted a verse from psalm 118, “Hosanna! (which means, save us) Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord— the King of Israel!”  Jesus found a young donkey and sat on it, riding into the city in true kingship form as prophesied by Zechariah long ago.

“Do not be afraid, daughter of Zion. Look, your king is coming, sitting on a donkey’s colt!”  “This is our scripture,” the disciples would say. “Look, Jesus on a donkey…it’s a sign… of royalty and peace, of God’s favor – our victory has begun.”  Horses and chariots are used for warfare, but the donkey was the assurance of stability, of righteousness and rule. Jesus rode it into Jerusalem holding the reins of peace.

Even the Pharisees felt it – they said to one another, “We can do nothing. Look, the world has gone after him!”
Five days later, the world has turned and this king is hung on a cross to die.

What kind of victory are we talking about? Death is not a victory we can recognize, holding these palms in our hands, or at least not one that satisfies our struggle with mortality.

As Jesus passed by, rocking side to side on his donkey, his feet scuffing along in the dust on either side of the little beast, did the palm waving stop and the crowd go silent – suddenly disappointed by this sight? Or did they whoop and wave all the more furiously in an attempt to convince themselves that he was their kind of king?

And what kind of King is it that you expect Jesus to be? What powers or protections do you expect faith in him to provide? What insulation from the pain and heartbreak of the world?

I attended a funeral yesterday for a 31 year old young man who died from anorexia nervosa. Evan played the organ here – beautifully, expressively – for a couple summers while he was still in high school. He was the son of friends, himself a friend, of our family. An excellent musician, an excellent creative writer, a kind and intelligent and funny and compassionate person. He was working on a PhD when he died… a victim of a disease of extreme perfectionism and control. The phone call that Evan’s heart had stopped was inevitable. Pastor Mark and Naomi have been waiting for it, dreading it, hoping against it for years. She said, “We weren’t surprised, you know, but still we hoped. Everyone always hopes for a miracle,” and she gave that small, apologetic, sad smile we have when we know our hearts are asking beyond reason.

That’s the kind of king we want Jesus to be – this divine and human verb of a God, this Being who is One with the Father. We want one who helps us deal with the living part of our mortality: one who heals our loved ones and ourselves. One who feeds the hungry real food, blesses the poor with real benefits, inspires governance with real wisdom and compassion, one who saves us from ourselves.

Jesus had talked, a bit too mysteriously, about this hour, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.  Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.  Those who love their life lose it, and those who lose their life in this world will keep it for eternal life.  Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also. Whoever serves me, the Father will honor. it is for this that I have come to my hour.

In the gospel of John, Jesus enters willingly into this hour. He goes willingly into death – it is for this reason that he has come and he seems to know it.  It is to glorify God. But to our eyes and hearts it looks a lot like defeat.

The fallen seed reveals the upside down nature, the profound mystery of Jesus’ divine mortality. We think of life as preceding death; it seems obvious. But Jesus looks at the natural world and says that it is in fact the other way around: Death comes before life, as the seed is buried in order to grow. The source of our life is Jesus’ death.

It is a hidden victory; it’s glory in disguise.  That is the triumph of Jesus’ death – that life comes from it, that we require death in order to fully live. John extends that pattern in our lives to discipleship. It is a pattern the disciples finally understand at the end of the story.

Those who make their own self the focus of love actually lose themselves. If you never move beyond loving yourself, you will live in isolation, lacking what relationship, what true communion with others and with God can offer. To make the ‘self’ the ultimate focus of your love, means that you can’t really be yourself, because it is in loving others that you are drawn out. This death of self absorption draws us into the world and the messy, real lives of people, and into beauty.  Jesus’ death and resurrection patterns this strange growth in which you find yourself  by losing yourself. We come into a place where living and dying become
all one, because we are in God.

That is the kind of king that rode a donkey into the city. Not one that charges in with horse and chariot, not one that challenges the force of Rome; but the kind of king that challenges the assumptions of self. One that rules in the heart, and whose power is revealed in acts of service and justice and hospitality and compassion. And who glorifies God in the disguise of daily life and faithful love and even in death.

Hosanna! Save us, good Lord, from ourselves…and Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord. Amen

 

Lent – “It is Finished”

lent 2018 bestThank you to Christy, James, Claire, Mike, Chris, Harry, Jay, Henrik, Erica, Barb, and Liz for your thoughtful and personal and vivid reflections on Jesus’ “I AM” imagery. Your theological insights into the little-things-made-significant about your world and daily lives are stunning.

Thank you to Chris, Harry, Jay and The Choir for music of remorse, dignity, longing, seeking, sorrow, and love.

Thank you to the wonderful soup cooks, open-faced sandwich makers, bar and cookie bakers and providers of our Holy Thursday seder-esque meal – you filled our hunger and satisfied our desire to belong.

Thank you to Tasha, Macy, Levi, Ella, Anya, Kris, Deb, and Jen for setting, serving and washing dishes for our meals.

 
The scent of burial spices, the scent of newly opened earth, fresh clay, the garden setting pull us back to the beginning. “In the beginning, when the world was a formless void…” pull us back to the beginning -“In the good friday 2018 4beginning was the Word…and the Word was with God, in the beginning, and through him all things were made… In him was life…

How are we to live in this love that springs from death, that lingers, beckoning us into the world? There is no single or simple answer.
But there is this story of Jesus’ life and death, and the characters who fill it, who, in one form or another all live within us. To this story we come back again and again in words of worship and song and faith. Through the story of God’s love for the world – often hostile and apathetic – Jesus’ love comes as a glimmer of what it means to be community, what it means to be beloved, what it means to know God in the midst of life and struggle, pain and death. “From his fullness we have all received… grace upon grace.”