« February 2005 | Main | April 2005 »

Second Sunday of Easter, Year A

John 20:19-31 - link to NRSV text

Thomas gets a lot of bad press, and I don't think he deserves it. He wants to touch Jesus, and who wouldn't? A lot of us feel that way. One of my favorite worship songs (which is track #10 from my favorite worship record) has a chorus that goes like this:

I need to know that God is real
I need to know that Christ can feel
the need to touch and love and heal
the world including me

That's something that Jesus' followers most definitely need as they gather in this Sunday's gospel. They are gathered secretly, behind locked doors, "for fear of the Judeans." If you can, please read hoi ioudaioi in verse 19 this way, rather than "the Jews," as the NRSV has it. First off, there's no Greek word in the first century that corresponds neatly to our use of "Jew." Particularly as the Gospel According to John uses the term, hoi ioudioi aren't all adherents to Judaism, or all those of the people of Israel (Jesus and all of his disciples are Jews; they're not locked up for fear of themselves!), but rather those who not only live in Judea but whose primary allegiance is to the Judean authorities and the Temple aristocracy. The 'Judeans' hold what power and influence they have at the pleasure of Rome, and its basis is the Temple system that, in the Gospel According to John, Jesus rails against from the very start of his career.

So the question on the minds of Jesus' followers, in the dark and confusing days immediately following Jesus' execution at the hands of Roman soldiers and the instigation of the Judean authorities, is probably not so much "will we be next?" as it is, "how long do you think we can last?"

That totally understandable fear is keeping the disciples in hiding -- though apparently not Thomas, as he's not with those cowering in the locked room when Jesus appears to them. And so Thomas doesn't see Jesus, doesn't experience Jesus' breathing on his followers, doesn't receive the commission the risen Jesus gives the others.

But does this mean that Thomas is less faithful than the other disciples? Not necessarily. In the appearance of the risen Jesus that Thomas misses, Jesus commissions his disciples to go out into the world, forgiving as he forgives. I like to think that Thomas wasn't present to hear those words because he, unlike the others, was not locked inside in fear, but was already out there, in the world.

Thomas, the disciple who wants to touch Jesus, is onto something.

If you want to touch Jesus, if you want to KNOW that God is real, that Christ is alive and at work in the world, the best place for you to be is out there, in the world.

And Thomas is onto something even more important:

If you want to have the most profound experience possible of the risen Christ, you'll need to touch Christ's wounds. Thomas is entirely right about that. Touch Christ's wounds, and you'll find yourself crying out with Thomas, "My lord and my God!"

There's only one point on which Thomas is stumbling in this Sunday's gospel, but it's an important one, one that I believe the Spirit is cautioning us to heed. Thomas, who might have been the only one of Jesus' followers brave enough to be out there in the world while the others were hiding behind locked doors, takes the other disciples' report to mean that Jesus had been with the others and not with him, that those hiding in the room had, in seeing Jesus there, experienced Jesus' presence in a way that Thomas missed out on. Thomas takes the others' report to mean that, if he really wanted to touch Jesus, he'd been in the wrong place.

Not so. The biggest mistake Thomas makes is in thinking that the body he wants and needs to touch, the body of the risen Christ, is the body that had been nailed to the cross. But it's not like that. If Thomas was out in the world, he was in precisely the place Jesus wanted him to be. If Thomas was out in the world, he didn't need to hear Jesus' commission to the others because he was already following it.

Do you need to know that God is real? Do you need to know that Christ is alive, that sin and death itself are not the last word, but are passing away? Do you need to experience Christ's presence? Do you want to touch Jesus, and KNOW that Jesus is really right there with you?

Then hear Jesus' commission to those upon whom he breathes his spirit: you are being sent out, into the world, and specifically to the world's brokenness. You are being sent to touch those places, to proclaim and participate in the reconciliation and healing that is Christ's work in the world. You are being sent because YOU -- each one of us about to gather at Jesus' table here, and at every other table at which bread is being broken in remembrance of him -- are now the Body of Christ, Jesus' presence at work in the world, called and empowered to do what he did, and more.

If we want to know that, if we want to experience that, we'll have to leave the rooms we lock ourselves in because of fear. We need to do what Thomas did -- get out into the world, and insist upon touching Christ's wounds. When we try to sequester ourselves and our children away from the world's pain, we are hiding them from Christ's presence. Fortunately, Jesus keeps after us, breathing peace and power to go out there and touch the places where the Body of Christ is still suffering. More than 38 million people infected with HIV. The life expectancy in Botswana down to 30 years old. One in five people in the world trying to live on less than a dollar a day. One person in seven trying to stay alive without access to clean water.

What can one person do? I don't know. But I know what Jesus can do. We can read about the signs of Jesus' power and how Jesus used that power in the Bible. But these signs were recorded not to provide us with something to read as we wait in locked rooms and gated communities, but to inspire us to experience the life of the risen Christ by living as Christ's Body in the world, touching, loving, healing, forgiving in Christ's name and to Christ's glory.

So let the gospel come alive
in actions plain to see
in imitation of the one
whose love extends to me

I need to know that God is real
I need to know that Christ can feel
the need to touch and love and heal
the world including me

Thanks be to God!

March 29, 2005 in Call Narratives, Easter, John, Justice, Year A | Permalink | Comments (11) | TrackBack

Easter Day (principal service)

Exodus 14:10-14,21-25;15:20-21 - link to NRSV text
Colossians 3:1-4 - link to NRSV text
John 20:1-10(11-18) - link to NRSV text

In this Sunday's gospel, we meet the first apostle of the risen Jesus -- namely, Mary Magdalene. All four gospels in the Christian canon unanimously affirm that the earliest witnesses to the risen Jesus' appearing are women. And in this passage in the Gospel According to John, the Risen Jesus sends (and the Greek word apostolos, or "apostle," means "one sent") Mary Magdalene to tell the other disciples what she had seen: Mary Magdalene becomes apostle to the apostles, her witness making theirs possible.

But when Mary first sees Jesus, she doesn't recognize him. The gospels have different ways of getting it across, but there's something different about Jesus after God has raised him from the dead. He does things he didn't do before, like appear in locked rooms (John 20:19). And he is the same person, but there's something different about his appearance; his friends don't realize immediately who he is when they see him.

And yet, this is the same Jesus; the gospels also make that very clear.

But something has changed, something that's hard to pinpoint, but that's so profound that at times even Jesus' friends don't recognize him.

New life, resurrection life, is like that. When we receive it, for the first time or on a deeper level, things change.

Relationships change. Jesus addresses those who were his followers as sisters and brothers (John 20:17). As we live into the new life Jesus brings, we find ourselves receiving those who were friends, or even enemies, as our sisters and brothers.

Our understanding of power changes. The risen Jesus hasn't become the fearful agent of vengeance that some wanted him to be before his death, and some still want him to be now. The one who came among them as a servant still works among them by serving: the risen Lord cooks breakfast for his friends (John 21:1-14). Indeed, his friends seem to recognize him because the risen Jesus does what he has always done, calling them by name, breaking bread, breathing peace. When we recognize Christ's new life, we also recognize God's power. We finally understand that Jesus' unconditionally welcoming everyone to feast with him wasn't a way to pass the time until God came with power to set things right: it was the way God's power is revealed and the world's redemption takes place.

Our vision changes. When we take in the new life Christ offers, we can see Christ's presence everywhere -- in Creation and the creativity that is God's gift, in the eyes of a child, in the heart of an enemy. In injustices and wounds, we see opportunities to participate in the risen Christ's healing and redemption of the world.

Our heart changes. The more we take in Christ's new life, the more we experience Christ's compassion. We learn to see others as people God loves and has given gifts we need to be the Body of Christ in the world. And as we learn to love those whom we saw as unlovable, we experience the unreserved graciousness with which Christ loves us.

Our sense of what's possible changes. In Egypt, the freed slaves saw armies advancing and saw no way out; prophets like Moses and Miriam saw a way forward by plunging into the waters. What seemed to be certain death became a call to new life, as the scattered Hebrew slaves became a people, God's people. In Judea, some looked at Jesus' cross and saw death; some looked at the empty tomb and anticipated death for themselves, as Roman law decreed death to grave robbers. But what looks like death is an opening for new life.

It might be hard to recognize at first, but new life has come among us, and we are invited to become more truly who we are in Christ, more truly ourselves, more fully the presence of the risen Christ in the world. That is the strange and wonderful news that Mary Magdalene, apostle to the apostles, bears to us now. And when we take that news in, we, like Mary's first hearers, will find ourselves sent forth to be known and make Jesus known in the breaking of the bread, the healing of the sick, the loving of the unlovable, the reconciliation of each of us to one another and to God in Christ.

New life has come among us!  Alleluia!

Thanks be to God.

March 24, 2005 in Colossians, Easter, Exodus, Holy Week, John, Women, Year A | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

blog milestone

Matt_and_trey_cutting_100th_episode_cakeOK, so this picture is from the celebration for the Comedy Central series Southpark, but I didn't have time to bake a cake of my own. I just noticed that my post for the Great Vigil of Easter was the one hundredth entry in the lectionary blog.

Thanks for reading, commenting, and encouraging me over lo these one hundred posts!

March 23, 2005 in Administrivia | Permalink | Comments (4) | TrackBack

Great Vigil of Easter, Year A

Romans 6:3-11 - link to NRSV text
Matthew 28:1-10 - link to NRSV text

Come, see the place where he lay. Then go quickly ...
    -- Matthew 28:6-7

At the end of Matthew's gospel, an angel of the Lord appears before Mary Magdalene and the other Mary, echoing the angel's two appearances to Joseph at the beginning of the gospel, in Matthew 1:18-24 and 2:13-15. And in the end, as in the beginning, the import of the revelation is "Get going!"

My three-year old niece, whose parents aren't churchgoers, was visiting us last weekend, and so on Sunday, she went for the second time in her life (the first time was for our blessing last year) to a church. When her mother dropped her off at our house, she made sure to explain to our niece as best she could what church and the nursery there would be like. She said it would be a little like when mommy went to the gym, and there was a special class for the children to enjoy some exercise while the parents worked out. Our niece immediately understood, and from that point on referred to going to church by the name of the children's class at the gym: she called church "Stretch and Grow."

Of course, "Stretch and Grow" means moving in ways we don't usually move. It means change. As A.K.M. Adam (better known as AKMA) wrote recently (in a post entitled "Speaking of Change":

If we live the gospel, then the gospel will always be characterized by change (at the same time that it remains recognizably the same gospel, not “another gospel”). In order to avoid our running aimlessly or beating the air, and to avoid our disguising our stubbornness as piety, church should be a place where we learn how to change. And how to disagree about how we should change.

This kind of language of what it means to be the Church would probably strike many in our culture as odd. The Church doesn't have much of a reputation as a change agent these days, and the metaphors I hear most often in popular culture tend to be along the lines of church as rock -- a metaphor that (to my recollection) appears only once in the New Testament. Rock is pretty stable, and that can feel comforting. Rocks are very easy to paint; you can do it with a limited pallette, and you can take as long as you like to capture them on canvas without worrying whether they will fly off. Rocks are also known for being unyielding, cold, and without nourishment.

I think Karl Barth was onto something when he quipped that doing theology is like trying to paint a bird in flight. I think it's like trying to paint the feathers on the wings of a hummingbird in flight. Has anyone ever seen what a living hummingbird's wings look like? I haven't, and I used to love watching them at the feeders in the back garden when I was growing up. And perhaps I'm not much of a painter, but I'd say that the best way to get across on canvas what a hummingbird's wings look like would be to show the arc of their motion. When painting a hummingbird's wings, blurring is more realistic than stasis.

When we're tempted to think of church solely as rock, I think it's worth reminding ourselves that while the church is referred to once in the New Testament as rock, there's another metaphor that's far closer to the center of what we're called to be. We are the very Body of Christ, and an angel of the Most High God has revealed that Christ and Christ's Body are very much ALIVE.

Christ is alive, raised by the God of Israel, and so we know that the Word of God is not dead and calcifying but living and lifegiving. Christ is alive, and so we know that God is still speaking, working, teaching, and healing. Christ is alive, and he's on the move!

We may have come to this place seeking rock, a solid, if not particularly comfortable, place to lie. But God's power has shown us just how empty that place is, and we're called to die to it. An angel charged Joseph to journey to Egypt not to settle there, but to bring new life out of that place of slavery. The angel charges Mary and Mary to enter the tomb not so that they can embrace the stone, but so that they may spur the rest of Jesus' followers on to Galilee.

Jesus is ALIVE, and as Christ's Body, we are called to experience the life of the Risen Christ too, freed from all that would keep us from that life. We're not to hang around the tomb to erect a shrine; that's what you do for the dead. We're called to follow him to Galilee. When we get there, we will find ourselves commissioned to bring the Good News and the new life of the Risen Christ to all. And when we're on the move with Christ, we can experience Christ's presence with us to the end of the age, even at the ends of the earth.

The Lord is risen! Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!

Thanks be to God.

March 22, 2005 in Easter, Holy Week, Matthew, Romans, Year A | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Good Friday, Year A

I've long appreciated and admired The Witness, with its fabulous masthead proclaiming, "A Feisty and Opinionated Journal since 1917." God willing, I plan to have a long (and feisty!) career, and I'd be very pleased if at the end of it, my bio read even a little like their history from their 'About Us' page:

Since 1917, The Witness has been examining church and society in light of faith and conscience - advocating for those denied systemic power as well as celebrating those who, in theologian William Stringfellow's words, have found ways to "live humanly in the midst of death."

I encourage you to read The Witness regularly, and you'll find my reflection for Good Friday there. It's called "The Narrow Place." While you're there, check out the rest of the site. It recently got a new look, and I particularly appreciate the excellent and moving photography now featured on their welcome page.



March 19, 2005 in Atonement, Deuteronomy, Holy Week, John, Justice, Nonviolence, Passover, Redemption, Year A | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Maundy Thursday, Year A

1 Corinthians 11:23-26(27-32) - link to NRSV text
Luke 22:14-30 - link to NRSV text

There's a totally wonderful episode of The Simpsons, Season 2 called "One Fish, Two Fish, Blowfish, Blue Fish." In it, Homer Simpson, the bumbling father of the family, is told that the blowfish he has eaten was not properly prepared, and so is poisonous -- he has 24 hours to live.

What would you do if that happened to you?

I think Homer does what most of us would do. He makes a long list -- a list that's probably been growing in the back of his mind for a long time -- of things he'd wanted to do before he died, and he hadn't done. He has to cross off the major achievements -- climb Mt. Kilimanjaro, make millions, win an Oscar, that sort of thing -- immediately. There's no time to do those.

But there are a lot of important things he hasn't done yet that he could do, or at least start. He teaches his son to shave. He tells those he loves how he feels about them. He calls his long-neglected father in the nursing home and tries to renew their relationship. And the guy who would rather stay home making his famous ultra-sweet "moon-waffles" wrapped around sticks of butter than go to church gets a recording of Larry King reading the entire bible, and he listens to the whole thing after his family has gone to sleep. He finally gets to some of the most crucial items on his very long list of "things ... left undone," and in the process, lives out what might be the best day of his life.

What would you do, if you thought you were going to die tomorrow? Jesus faces that question on the night we now call Maundy Thursday.

I do believe that Jesus performed miracles, but he could have known without a hint of the miraculous what was coming. It was Passovertide, when all pious Jews were commanded to offer sacrifices in the Temple in Jerusalem. There were about six million Jews spread across the Roman Empire, and a significant percentage of them headed for Jerusalem. The city was clogged with pilgrims (ever seen footage of what Mecca looks like during the Haj? Jerusalem probably looked something like that during Passover) there to celebrate the liberation of God's people from unjust foreign rule.

That's a situation that would make any governor in the empire jumpy. Pilate stood to lose his job if there was trouble, and he was not a man to take chances. During Passover, Pilate lined the pilgrims' way into the city with crosses, the victims on them serving as an endless and unspeakably horrific living tableau of what would happen to any who dared disrupt the peace of the empire.

Even then, Pilate made sure that his guards could keep careful watch over the Temple, where streetcorner prophets proclaimed a God who was more powerful even than the armies of Rome. Guards stationed in the taller building next to the Temple could see directly into its courts and be ready to respond if there was a disturbance.

Days before, Jesus had entered the city surrounded by crowds who loudly proclaimed him, and not Caesar, as king. And then he made his way to the Temple, where -- in the midst of vast and easily agitated crowds -- he was shouting, overturning tables, pushing people.

And so he knew what was coming. Jesus and his friends had walked by those crosses on their way to Jerusalem, the city toward which Jesus, transfigured and in the company of Moses, set his face to accomplish a new exodus. I do believe that Jesus worked miracles by God's power, but no supernatural knowledge would have been needed to see that Jesus was headed for a cross. Jesus knew that this night was probably the last before his death.

What would you do, if it were you?

Here's what Jesus did:

He put on a dinner.

He did what he did every night: he invited people to eat with him. He invited his friends; he also invited the man whom he knew would betray him. He gathered friends and enemies, righteous and wicked and places in between, and he broke bread with them, and offered them wine. He ate with them, as he had countless times before. He celebrated the Passover with them, as he did every year.

That's a life lived with absolute integrity. Jesus knows that in all likelihood, he's going to die tomorrow. This is the time for any unfinished business -- to say anything that needs saying, to do whatever has been left undone, put off.

But Jesus does what he always does, because what he always does, his entire career -- his healings, his parables,  his wonder-working -- was doing what he does this night, what he does every time he sits down to a meal. When people want to talk about Jesus' power, they often talk about the spectacular, the stilling of the storm, the raising of the dead. But Jesus' power is demonstrated at least as clearly in what happens when he breaks bread.

When Jesus broke bread, everyone -- the Pharisee and the leper, the rich and the poor, righteous and sinners -- experienced God's welcome at his table. When Jesus broke bread, the hungry were fed. When Jesus broke bread, serving any who came to him, people experienced what REAL power, God's power, does:

The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those in authority over them are called benefactors. But not so with you; rather the greatest among you must become like the youngest, and the leader like one who serves. For who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one at the table? But I am among you as one who serves.
-- Luke 22:25-27

Jesus, having lived with integrity to his last meal, does what he always does: he issues an invitation in the breaking of the bread. On this night, as Jesus invites us to his table, he invites us to live with that kind of integrity, to remember him EVERY time we break bread -- at the altar, certainly, but also in the lunchroom and the dorm cafeteria, the family dinner table or the counter at the diner. Whenever we break bread, or draw breath, we are invited to do so in remembrance of Jesus, until he comes to complete the redemption of the world for which God anointed him.

And there is another invitation, in this breaking of bread. For on this night, on the night he was betrayed, on the night before he died for us, Jesus broke bread, and said to those gathered, "This is my Body." Not just the bread, but the company who gather to share it: this is Jesus' Body, given for the world. And whenever we gather with others made in God's image, other for whom Christ gave himself, Jesus invites us to do so in remembrance of him, aware of and honoring his presence.

It's a solemn charge Jesus gives us tonight. Paul cites Jesus' words on this night to back up his contention that those who fail to "discern the Body" gathered for the Lord's meal, those who fail to recognize everyone Jesus invites to his table as being members of the Body of Christ, are "eating and drinking judgment upon themselves" (1 Cor. 11:29).

But what an opportunity, to encounter and receive Christ in the homeless veteran in the Winter Shelter where we volunteer, in a client with whom we're having a business lunch, in a daughter as we share a snack before bedtime. What an opportunity, to live every moment as an invitation to feast with Jesus, who held every meal as if it were the Messianic banquet.

That's the invitation we receive tonight, to approach this table as if it were the Last Supper, to break bread in the presence of the one who celebrated his last supper as he did every meal, to be the Body of the one whose body was broken for us.

Thanks be to God!

March 18, 2005 in 1 Corinthians, Eucharist, Holy Week, Luke, Year A | Permalink | Comments (5) | TrackBack

Holy Week helps on the way

Thank you to all who shared what resources would help you this Holy Week. I've already posted a reflection for Palm Sunday; you can expect another for Maundy Thursday to go up on Thursday, one for Good Friday to go up on Friday, and early next week, I'll put up reflections on the gospel passages used for the Great Vigil and the primary Sunday service (so those of you preaching at both and wanting to do something different at each can go with different gospel passages). If the Spirit moves, I may do more; blogging about scripture keeps me thinking about it and praying with it, so if my private reading and praying bears fruit that seem like it would benefit y'all in public, I'm happy to share.

With prayers that we all are able to enter deeply into the spirit of Holy Week, and joyfully into Easter proclamation and celebration,


March 15, 2005 in Administrivia | Permalink | Comments (0)

Palm Sunday, Year A

Matthew 21:1-11 - link to NRSV text

It strikes me in some ways as an oddity of American politics that one of the worst things one candidate can call another is "a Washington insider." Wouldn't we want people representing us in Washington to be "Washington insiders," to know how Washington works and be both experienced and skilled at navigating that system as it is? Why is it an insult to say that a political candidate is a "professional politician"? After all, when a leak has sprung in our basement, we don't seek out a person who is a "plumbing outsider" or "not a professional plumber"; in plumbing, when we want skilled help immediately, we seek out the person who's an insider to the system we use.

There are reasons, though, that we tend to like candidates who we're convinced are outsiders to politics, and I think that one of them is that we're dissatisfied with the games of politics as they're currently played. We don't want someone who works well within the system; we want a system that works, and on some level, we know that the system as it's been running isn't working for a lot of people.

I think a dynamic with some similarities to that is at work in Matthew's presentation of Jesus' entry into Jerusalem. Matthew has the crowd proclaiming Jesus as the king in Jerusalem who has come as an outsider, a prophet from Galilee (Matthew 21:11). This is not a case of "meet the new boss, same as the old boss": things are going to change, and in the biggest of ways, when Jesus is king -- starting with how kings rule.

Matthew bends over backwards to present Jesus as the fulfillment of Zechariah 9:9, even to the slight awkwardness of showing Jesus as riding on two animals at once. Matthew wants people to understand that Jesus is "Son of David," the king who restore permanently the Davidic line, fulfilling God's promise to David:

I have made a covenant with my chosen one; *
   I have sworn an oath to David my servant:
‘I will establish your line for ever, *
   and preserve your throne for all generations.’
(Psalm 89:3-4, BCP)

But Matthew also wants people to know that when he says that Jesus is king, we're not talking about kingship as it's usually conceived, or kingship as it's usually used by those who have it. Jesus is a king who restores the glory of God's people, but not with military victories. Jesus triumphs, but not with the might of the sword. Jesus rides into the city not on a war horse, but like the in Zechariah 9:9, "triumphant and victorious," but "humble and riding on a donkey," a beast of trade rather than of war, because this is a different kind of king, a king who

will cut off the chariot from Ephraim
and the war horse from Jerusalem;
and the battle bow shall be cut off,
and he shall command peace to the nations.
(Zechariah 9:10)

There are at least two points that are central in the Christian proclamation of Jesus as Lord. The first is that the position has been filled, fully and forever -- no other candidates need apply. Jesus, and not any earthly ruler, nor any power or principality, is Lord of all that is. The second is that the Lord Jesus is not like other kings. Jesus did not come to be "king of the hill," but to fulfill our longing that

every mountain and hill be made low;
the uneven ground shall become level,
and the rough places a plain.
(Isaiah 40:4)

That's what the writer of the Gospel According to John meant when he wrote that Jesus said to Pilate, "my kingdom is not of this world" (John 18:36). It's not that Jesus is uninterested in what happens on earth. Quite the opposite is true. Jesus didn't come to tell us to give up on the earth, any more than he came to rule it like Pilate. Jesus came to redeem it. Jesus is king, but his kingship is not of Pilate's world and world order, his kosmos.

Jesus didn't come to take over Pilate's system; he came to replace it. When we confess that Jesus is Lord and Christ, the anointed king, we are leaving no room for the Pilates of this world. When we confess Jesus as Lord – not in some distant world or only in the future, but of all that is, and of here and now – we are proclaiming the Good News that it is possible, with Jesus as Lord, for all those with power to use it as he used his, for the vision of the prophets to find flesh among us who proclaim Christ the king.

When the nurse at the door of Viola De Lesseps, Gwynneth Paltrow's character in Shakespeare in Love, comes to wake her, saying "It is a new day," Viola responds, "It is a new WORLD."

That is the vision and the reality we proclaim when we honor Jesus, the outside of Nazareth, as king in Jerusalem. Jesus brings more than a new face under the crown, a new point on the calendar: it is a new world.

Thanks be to God!

March 15, 2005 in Christ the King, Holy Week, Honor/Shame, Matthew, Year A | Permalink | Comments (5) | TrackBack

Fifth Sunday in Lent, Year A

Ezekiel 37:1-3(4-10)11-14 - link to NRSV text
Psalm 130 - link to BCP text
John 11:(1-17)18-44 - link to NRSV text

Out of the depths have I called to you, O LORD;
    LORD, hear my voice; *
    let your ears consider well the voice of my supplication.
My soul waits for the LORD,
   more than watchmen for the morning, *
   more than watchmen for the morning.
O Israel, wait for the LORD, *
    for with the LORD there is mercy;
With him there is plenteous redemption, *
    and he shall redeem Israel from all their sins.

--Psalm 130:1,5-7

Out of the depths they called to Jesus. Mary and Martha were in dire straits. The way they'd been living was in many ways exactly in tune with Jesus' radical call; they lived with their brother Lazarus and remained remained "unattached," a path that gave them a great deal of freedom, including the freedom to be extravagantly generous, as Mary was when she poured out ointment worth a year's wages for many onto Jesus' feet. Everybody hearing this story knows about that gesture and what it meant, as you can tell from how the gospel identifies Mary as "the one who anointed the Lord with perfume and wiped his feet with her hair" in verse 2, even though that event doesn't happen in John's gospel until the next chapter (props to the Social-Science Commentary on John for that point). Everybody knows that these people, this family of brother and sisters who lived with God as their father, are being faithful on the path Jesus showed them.

And now the risk involved in that path is frighteningly clear to Mary and Martha, as their brother Lazarus is dying. Lazarus is the only male in the household in a culture in which a woman without a man was profoundly vulnerable to poverty and exploitation. Lazarus was not only a beloved brother, but was also the closest thing to Social Security that Mary and Martha had, and he was slipping away.

So they called to Jesus, calling on him (in verse 2) as one who loves Lazarus, and challenging Jesus to behave in a manner in keeping with that love. Jesus doesn't come. He doesn't come to be with his beloved friend as he lies dying, and he doesn't come to honor his friend by being present at his funeral.

When the sisters get word that Jesus is finally on his way, Martha impetuously and angrily runs out  to meet him -- conduct that would have been seen as scandalous, or even dangerous for a woman alone. She runs at Jesus with the depths of her grief and anger.

If nothing else, her situation proves that being faithful to Jesus is in no way a guarantee against pain and tragedy. There is no one on earth whose righteousness, wisdom, hard work, or good planning will preserve her from seeing the depths that Martha sees. Good people become widows and orphans. It's a fact, and no less of a fact for Jesus' coming.

But there is something else. We can cry to God from the depths.

There is no depth, no loss, no tragedy, no disease or death, nothing on heaven or on earth or under the earth that can place the world or anyone in it beyond God's redemption. Good people become widows and orphans, but God defends the widow and the orphan, and will not leave those God loves bereft. What Sara Maitland writes in the voice of a grieving mother in her short story "Dragon Dreams" (from Angel Maker) strikes me as a psalm, a cry from the depths, that resonates with the longings of all of us who have seen grief:

So that is why I am writing to you. When my child died I knew that there was no safety, anywhere, and I will not sacrifice to false gods. There is no safety, but there is wildness and joy, there is love and life within the danger. I love you. I want to be with you. ... I refuse to believe that we only get one chance. This letter is just a start. I am going to hunt you down now in all the lovely desolate places of the world. ... Wherever there is a perfect sunrise, a dark cliff, a small pool of water, a distant city wreathed in morning mist, there I will be waiting for you. Please come. Please come soon.

And there is something more than that, even, something more fundamental to the order of the universe: that God is redeeming the universe God made and loves. When we cry out from the depths, God hears. When Jesus seems slow in coming, he is coming nonetheless. And if we worry that it is too late, Jesus shows that it is never too late. After we have become convinced that all is lost, when we are ready to concede to death and are seeking only to contain the damage or bury it, Jesus demonstrates that there is no loss, no death, no tragedy, no depth, no power in heaven or on earth on under the earth that can place a person, a situation, or a world beyond God's redemption, beyond the reach of infinite love and abundant life.

Open every dark place to light and air; this is the time to uncover and unbind!

the green of jesus
is breaking the ground
and the sweet
smell of delicious jesus
is opening the house and
the dance of jesus music
has hold of the air and
the world is turning
in the body of jesus and
the future is possible

-- lucille clifton, "spring song," good woman: poems and a memoir 1969 - 1980

Thanks be to God!

March 9, 2005 in John, Lent, Pastoral Concerns, Psalms, Redemption, Resurrection, Year A | Permalink | Comments (11)

Holy Week helps

Holy Week is almost upon us, and I'm wondering what help y'all who are preaching could use from me. I was thinking that I'd post something for Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter Sunday, but I know that some parishes (would that it were all parishes!) also offer the Eucharist on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday of Holy Week. What helps would you like to see here?



March 4, 2005 in Administrivia | Permalink | Comments (13)