Resurrection People

C1D1BB39-1AD2-4D57-8ED7-8464718B35D8On Resurrection Sunday, I cry joy-tears — every time, without fail. For me, holding on to my emotions on Resurrection Sunday is impossible. After going through Lent, after hearing again of the betrayal Jesus experienced, after witnessing the suffering and execution of Christ, after acknowledging anew that Christ’s sacrifice was for the whole world and for me, I celebrate Christ’s resurrection. And when I do, I just cry.

But on Resurrection Sunday 2018, I wept with a heavy heart and a flood of memories. I thought of Easters past and the people of God with whom I celebrated. All of those precious friends now live miles away, others live in heaven. I was their pastor, and that is as holy a relationship as I can describe.

I walked with them through joy and tragedy, through days of health and days of illness, through crushing family problems, through death and divorce. But through every devastation, we celebrated Resurrection Sundays in our beautiful monastery chapel, in our little country church in small town Arkansas, at an altar on a lakeside, in the baptismal waters. We celebrated our covenant, our deep friendship, and gave thanks for the grace that gifted us with those relationships.

We were a fun and creative group. With some of them, I cut and stitched and glued and appliqued huge banners proclaiming, “Christ Is Risen!” With others, I burned palm branches for Ash Wednesday. With others, I lifted up the wooden cross onto thevaltar of the church sanctuary. And with others, I wandered through the woods searching for dogwood blossoms to adorn the wooden cross. I most fondly remember a circuitous and hilarious trek through the forest with Ethel.

Ethel was a true jewel, one of a kind. Never would you find a more loyal and loving parishioner than Ethel, who will always be known as the persevering founder of our church. She refused to let it fail. She was persistent and feisty and determined. And because of her, the church still stands firm, even now that she is gone.

But getting back to our trek in the forest, I have to say that Ethel was one of those unstoppable “elderly” people. She could barely walk at times because she suffered with a muscle disease that weakened her legs. But she pushed her way through the forest that day, leading me, pushing aside the limbs, vines and thorns, and dauntlessly creating our path over rocks and depressions in the ground. We were looking for a thorn tree . . . you guessed it . . . to use in making a crown of thorns.

Eventually we found a perfect thorn vine with angry-looking three-inch thorns on it. We carefully hauled it through the woods, trying to avoid getting stabbed by one of those sharp thorns. Then we put it in a bathtub full of water to soften it. When we began to bend it into a crown shape, we both sustained painful thorn wounds. Never to be deterred, Ethel managed to shape and finally fasten the two ends together, and the prickly vine became the crown of thorns that we used for many years.

When we placed it for the first time on the Good Friday cross during the church service, I wept. Many of us wept. We were like that because we remembered the words of the prophet Isaiah.

He is despised and rejected by men,
A Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.
And we hid, as it were, our faces from Him;
He was despised, and we did not esteem Him.

Surely He has borne our griefs
And carried our sorrows;
Yet we esteemed Him stricken,
Smitten by God, and afflicted.

But He was wounded for our transgressions,
He was bruised for our iniquities;
The chastisement for our peace was upon Him,
And by His stripes we are healed.

All we like sheep have gone astray;
We have turned, every one, to his own way;
And the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.

He was oppressed and He was afflicted,
Yet He opened not His mouth . . .

— Isaiah 53:3-7, KJV

We knew that after the suffering, the resurrection would most surely come. Through the passion and emotion of Good Friday, we wept. But we wept even more when the stark cross flowered on Easter morning, when we lit the Christ candle, when the black shroud was removed, and when we draped the cross in glistening white cloth.

So on Resurrection Sunday 2018, while singing “Christ the Lord Is Risen Today,”I wept with tears of gratitude, gratitude for the people of God through the years who made my Easters such sacred experiences of worship.

Ethel, Barbara, Johnnie, April, Bo, Michael, Stan, Dianna, Eric and Emily, Ann, Sister Bernadette, Gail, Noah, Wendell, Pat, Joyce, Suzette, Deborah, Cindy, Barbara Fay, Regina, Tonya, Vallory, Leroy, Mary, LaVante, Shirley, Ken, Steve, Jenna . . .

So many names! So many others. My memories of them brought me to tears on Easter Sunday. I saw them in my mind and remembered our shared times of worship. They are Resurrection people all, people who know how to proclaim Christ’s resurrection with passion, devotion and celebration. For all of them, today I give thanks.

How Do You Live When You Know What’s Coming?

ABD2C8E4-5AA9-49EC-B771-A85BCDFBBD90How do you live when you know what’s coming? Jesus might have asked himself that question when the crowds were shouting “Hosanna!” and making a big deal of the fact that he was riding into town on a donkey. The Gospel of Mark tells the story well.

Many people spread their cloaks on the road, and others spread leafy branches that they had cut in the fields.

Then those who went ahead and those who followed were shouting, “Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the coming kingdom of our ancestor David! Hosanna in the highest heaven!”

Then he entered Jerusalem and went into the temple; and when he had looked around at everything, as it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the twelve.

— Mark 11:8-11 New International Version

So how do you live when you know what’s coming? Jesus went to the temple as was his custom and then set off to Bethany with his disciples. He knew what was coming, yet he did nothing very earth shattering. He sent his disciples into the city to prepare for for the Passover meal they would share. They ate the meal together, Jesus told then they would all desert him, and each one declared that they would never do such a thing.

They did. But life went on as life does. The Gospel then continues the sorrow-filled story as Jesus goes on with his disciples to a place called Gethsemane.

. . . And Jesus said to his disciples, “Sit here while I pray.”

He took with him Peter and James and John, and began to be distressed and agitated.
And said to them, “I am deeply grieved, even to death; remain here, and keep awake.”

And going a little farther, he threw himself on the ground and prayed that, if it were possible, the hour might pass from him. He said, “Abba, Father, for you all things are possible; remove this cup from me; yet, not what I want, but what you want.”

He came and found them sleeping; and he said to Peter, “Simon, are you asleep? Could you not keep awake one hour? Keep awake and pray that you may not come into the time of trial; the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.”

And again he went away and prayed, saying the same words. And once more he came and found them sleeping, for their eyes were very heavy; and they did not know what to say to him.

He came a third time and said to them, “Are you still sleeping and taking your rest? Enough! The hour has come; the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners.

Get up, let us be going. See, my betrayer is at hand.”

Immediately, while he was still speaking, Judas, one of the twelve, arrived; and with him there was a crowd with swords and clubs, from the chief priests, the scribes, and the elders. Now the betrayer had given them a sign, saying, “The one I will kiss is the man; arrest him and lead him away under guard.”

So when he came, he went up to him at once and said, “Rabbi!” and kissed him.

Then they laid hands on him and arrested him.

— Mark 14:33-46 New Internation Versioned

So now life is earth shattering for Jesus. How do you live when you know what’s coming?

Right now in deep Lent, this is a question we probably should ask. I don’t know about you, but as for me, I know what’s coming, at least some of what’s coming. There’s aging and illness, separation from children and grandchildren, the inevitable loss of loved ones, waning energy and more loss of independence. It happens to persons of a certain age. What’s coming for me includes things that are not so positive.So how do I live when I know what’s coming?

The preacher in me wants to offer a religious platitude that minimizes the troubling reality and lifts up abiding hope. The preacher in me wants to proclaim with a great deal of passion that all will be well. The preacher in me wants to declare that whatever happens to me, God will be glorified.

How do I live when I know what’s coming?

Right smack dab through the middle of it! Living strong in the face of fear. Holding tightly to hope. Summoning my inner courage. Standing steady through the winds of change, depending on the inner resilience that has always sustained me. That’s how I live in the days I have left in this world.

But, by the way, there really is a religious word that upholds and sustains me. The preacher in me is still alive and well, so I can proclaim with great certainty the comforting truth I find in my favorite passage of scripture

You have searched me, O God,
and you know me. You know whenI sit down and when I rise;

You perceive my thoughts from afar. You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways . .

You hem me in behind and before, you protect me, and you lay your hand upon me.

Such knowledge is too wonderful, too lofty for me to comprehend.

Where can I go from your Spirit?
Where can I flee from your presence?

If I go up to the heavens, you are there;
if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.

If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there shall your hand guide me and your right hand will hold me fast.

— Psalm 139:1-10 New International Version (paraphrased)

With that sacred promise and with the strength that has grown in me over many years, I really do know how to live when I know what’s coming. Thanks be to God.

There Will Be Miracles

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The Lenten journey always reminds me of wandering through a wilderness. Today, I thought about the Exodus story that details a part of the journey of the Israelites. The story tells how the Israelite community traveled from place to place as the Lord commanded. When they camped at Rephidim, they found no water, so, of course, they complained to Moses.

An exasperated Moses cried out to the Lord, “What am I to do with these people? They are almost ready to stone me.”

Of course they were. It was so much easier to blame Moses than to take responsibility for their own decision to make this journey. I am well acquainted with the tendency to blame other people or other circumstances for my own mistakes and missteps. And like the Israelites, I have often been exasperated enough to cry out as they did: “Is the Lord among us or not?”

As always, God showed up to help Moses with this dilemma.

The Lord answered Moses, “Go out in front of the people. Take with you some of the elders of Israel and take in your hand the staff with which you struck the Nile, and go. I will stand there before you by the rock at Horeb. Strike the rock, and water will come out of it for the people to drink. (From Exodus 17)

Moses did just that and obeyed a God who provided the miracle. Water spewed out of Horeb’s rock and the people drank the miracle water until they thirsted no more. They would see God’s miracles again. They would witness the glory of the Lord again, and again.

But the journey continued, the wilderness was barren, the way was long. The people would complain again. They would sin, even as they witnessed life-changing events. They would be very human.

Just as we are. So take heart as you travel your Lenten journey. There will be dry, wilderness patches. But there will also be miracles. Keep your eyes open for them. You’ll be grateful that you did.

A Shadow of a Cross

 

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Moving through Lent brings us ever closer to the cross, to the events that mark the passion of Christ. For now, the cross is barely visible, just a shadow, but we know it is a part of this journey. We know that if Lent is genuinely a part of our faith journey, we will get to the cross and all that it means to us. On the way, we will participate in the passion of Jesus.

Marcus Borg writes about this kind of participation.

Imagine that it’s about participating in Jesus’s passion for the transformation of “this world” into a world of justice and peace. Imagine that it’s about a passion to change “this world.” What difference might that make for what it means to be Christian – and to be an American Christian?

Might our Lenten journey become more than forty empty days of observing this part of the Christian year? Might Lent become a deeply sincere expression of our devotion? Might we find along our Lenten path a renewed passion to transform our world?

God grant that we can experience a holy passion. It is not an easy road for us. Dietrich Bonhoeffer does not describe a Christ that is gloriously transported to heaven. Instead, he says this:

Christ is not gloriously transported from earth into heaven. He must instead go to the cross. And precisely there, where the cross stands, the resurrection is near. Precisely here, where all lose faith in God, where all despair about the power of God, God is fully there, and Christ is alive and near.

― Dietrich Bonhoeffer, God Is on the Cross: Reflections on Lent and Easter

The glorious miracle is that what we see now as a mere shadow of a cross becomes a clear vision of resurrection — Christ’s and ours.

When “Moonlight” Upstages “La La Land”

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Moving through Lent can be a brutally honest journey, a journey for looking deeply within ourselves and trying to make peace with what we find there. More honesty can bring more contrition. If we are wise, we will not allow ourselves to trudge through guilt and self-recrimination. Instead, we will open our hearts and souls to transformation.

Still, Lent can be a season of wilderness filled with confusion. It is meant to be a journey of personal lament as we look straight into our hearts, which the place where transformation happens and resurrection is possible.

I was brought to tears a few nights ago as I read a Lenten meditation written by my friend, Ken Sehested. I share with you just a brief section of Ken’s meditation.

Lent is the liturgical season where this confusion rises to the surface, and we—especially people of privilege—are asked to enter the wilderness from which God, apparently, has absconded: where things don’t work out, where movies lack happy endings, where the faces of children are not cherry-cheeked, downy-soft, delightfully radiant.

Lent is the season when “Moonlight” upstages “La La Land.”

Lent beckons us into the wilderness, and there – through honest reflection and genuine repentance – we find transformation.
Read Ken Sehested’s excellent meditation, Lent is the season when “Moonlight” upstages “La La Land,” at this link:
http://www.prayerandpolitiks.org/articles-essays-sermons/2017/02/28/lent-is-the-season-when-moonlight-upstages-la-la-land.2487935

A Lenten Hymn

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Lord, Who Throughout These Forty Days

Lord, Who throughout these forty days
For us didst fast and pray,
Teach us with Thee to mourn our sins
And close by Thee to stay.

As Thou with Satan didst contend,
And didst the victory win,
O give us strength in Thee to fight,
In Thee to conquer sin.

As Thou didst hunger bear, and thirst,
So teach us, gracious Lord,
To die to self, and chiefly live
By Thy most holy Word.

And through these days of penitence,
And through Thy passiontide,
Yea, evermore in life and death,
Jesus, with us abide.

Abide with us, that so, this life
Of suffering over past,
An Easter of unending joy
We may attain at last.
Text: Claudia F. Hernaman, 1873 (Mt. 4:1-11; Mk. 1:12-13; Lk. 4:1-13)