Life Is a Gift

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Today I read an inspiring blog post written by my long-time friend, Guy Sayles. He recalls his medical diagnosis of Multiple Myeloma three years ago and describes the experience of โ€œvivid remembering of hard days of treatment.โ€

Around the same time, I entered a time of serious and unexpected illness which led to a diagnosis of end stage kidney disease. I spent most of 2014 in the hospital, literally fighting for my life on at least three occasions. My husband was terrified. Mercifully, I knew nothing of the urgency of what was happening to me.

Guy Sayles writes of a reality that I completely understand when he says, โ€œThe first two years of my having Multiple Myeloma were so challenging that I didnโ€™t expect to be alive now. That I am is sheer and surprising gift to me.โ€ (http://www.fromtheintersection.org/blog/2017/8/8/its-all-gift)

For me, it was not so much that I expected imminent death, but throughout my long period of recovery and rehabilitation, I never expected to be able to care for myself again. That I now am able to live a relatively normal life is most certainly a gift of grace I never expected. Healing and recuperating was much like a resurrection for me. I got my life back.

So my constant question to myself is what will I do with this gift of life? I am inspired by the way Mary Oliver asks this question in her poem, The Summer Day.

Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?

I am compelled to answer that question, to use the gift of my life as a gift to others. To care for people with compassion. To do justice where oppression reigns. To make peace in the face of violence. To scatter hope in the places where despair has taken hold.

I hope you will truly hear the way Guy Sayles expresses this.

The awareness which gently and repeatedly washed over me was, โ€œLife is gift and my response may, can, and should be gift-giving.โ€

And my calling is to lavish gift-givingโ€”to share freely and fully whatever I manage to harvest. Thereโ€™s no need now for barns and bins, for storing up for another day, or for worrying about markets and prices. โ€œFreely you have received,โ€ Paul said, โ€œfreely give.โ€

These days, I aspire, in every dimension of life, to this the wisdom Annie Dillard offered to writers:

โ€œOne of the few things I know about writing is this: spend it all, shoot it, play it, lose it all, right away, every time. Do not hoard what seems good for a later place in the book, or for another book; give it, give it all, give it now . . . something more will arise for later, something better. These things fill from behind, from beneath, like well water . . . The impulse to keep to yourself what you have learned is shameful, it is destructive. ย Anything you do not give freely and abundantly becomes lost to you. You open your safe and find ashes.”ย (The Writing Life, pp. 78-79)

Amen and amen. May God make it so.

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Christ Is Risen!

Enlight87

How do we worship during this time of passion and pain, rebirth and resurrection? There are many ways to remember these events, events that so solidly form our foundation of faith. This is one way I imagine, a way that brings together all the roots of my own faith experience.

Darkness falls upon the place of worship. It is now but a few moments until midnight. All the lights are out. The cross is draped in black. We have walked with Jesus to his death. And now we sing the Passion Chorale, expressing all the suffering, all the anguish, all the shame.

O sacred Head, now wounded,
with grief and shame weighed down,
now scornfully surrounded
with thorns, thine only crown:
how pale thou art with anguish,
with sore abuse and scorn!
How does that visage languish
which once was bright as morn!

What thou, my Lord, has suffered
was all for sinners’ gain;
mine, mine was the transgression,
but thine the deadly pain.
Lo, here I fall, my Savior!
‘Tis I deserve thy place;
look on me with thy favor,
vouchsafe to me thy grace.

What language shall I borrow
to thank thee, dearest friend,
for this thy dying sorrow,
thy pity without end?
O make me thine forever;
and should I fainting be,
Lord, let me never, never
outlive my love for thee.

Grief holds sway, while we remember these words.

The angel spoke to the women. โ€œDo not be afraid!โ€ he said. โ€œI know you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified.”

Then midnight passes, ending the darkness. The minister lights one candle, shares the flame with another worshipper who then shares it with another. The darkness is vanquished by the light of dozens of flames.

He is not here! He is risen from the dead, just as he said would happen. Come, see where his body was lying.

He is not here! He is risen from the dead!

In this, the glorious day of resurrection, voices arise in celebration, singing the ancient hymn . . .

ฮงฯฮนฯƒฯ„ฯŒฯ‚ ฮฑฮฝฮญฯƒฯ„ฮท ฮตฮบ ฮฝฮตฮบฯฯŽฮฝ, ฮธฮฑฮฝฮฌฯ„ฯ‰ ฮธฮฌฮฝฮฑฯ„ฮฟฮฝ ฯ€ฮฑฯ„ฮฎฯƒฮฑฯ‚, ฮบฮฑฮน ฯ„ฮฟฮนฯ‚ ฮตฮฝ ฯ„ฮฟฮนฯ‚ ฮผฮฝฮฎฮผฮฑฯƒฮน ฮถฯ‰ฮฎฮฝ ฯ‡ฮฑฯฮนฯƒฮฌฮผฮตฮฝฮฟฯ‚.

Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death, and to those in the tombs, granting life.

Christ is risen! Truly He is risen! Christ is risen from the dead! Alleluia!

 
“O Sacred Head Now Wounded”
Text: Anonymous; trans. by Paul Gerhardt and James W. Alexander
Music: Hans L. Hassler, 1564-1612; harm. by J.S. Bach, 1685-1750
Tune: PASSION CHORALE

Palms and Passion

Design

The Sunday of Palm and Passion — a significant day for Christian hearts. Yes, we celebrate the entry of Jesus into Jerusalem with voices of joy, “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” Palms wave in the air and our worship is filled with anticipation.

But we must also anticipate the Passion that is to come, the suffering of Jesus that leads to the crucifixion. We cherish an upbeat Gospel reading that leads us to celebrate Jesusโ€™ triumphal entry into Jerusalem. To be sure, it is a festive affair, complete with a parade route strewn with palm branches. But we quickly progress to the stark reading of Jesusโ€™ passion, bearable only because we already know its ending of new life.

The city that echoed with cheering during the grand parade was a city that, in just a few days, echoed with hatred. The tide had turned. Cries of โ€œHosannaโ€ turned to shouts of a very different kind: โ€œCrucify him!โ€

On this Sunday, we must remember the palms and then we must move our hearts into the passion. We must let our hearts rejoice, and then be filled with grief. Palms and Passion — that is the complete Gospel.

Walter Brugemann says it like this:

We cannot leap from Palm Sunday to Easter. We have to go day by day through the week of denial and betrayal to the Last Supper to arrest and trial and execution. That is the only road to Easter, and that is our work this week.

A Prayer for this Day and the Week of Christ’s Passion

Blessed are you, Holy God, for in Jesus Christ you came to rule in our lives, not as a king, but as a humble servant, riding on a donkey on dusty roads’ amidst people shouting “Hosanna!”ย Enter into our hearts this day with your glory, that we may greet you with shouts of praise.

God Most High, gracious and glorious, blessed is the one who comes in your name.ย May we follow with faithfulness and joy, shouting “Hosanna in the highest heaven.”

Lead us now, Holy God, on the road to the cross that we may remember that when Jesus cried and breathed his last you tore away the ancient curtain
between heaven and earth, life and death.

As we turn now to face the cross, show us Jesus, in all his suffering, and console us as we experience Christ’s grief and our own.

Lord God, almighty, all-merciful, how great is your love
that you went down to the depths for us: into suffering, sin, and shame,
into darkness, despair, and death.

Now we ask, O God, that you help us to pave the way for your eternal realm
with our prayer and praise,
with our service and love,
until the very stones cry out at the coming of your new creation;
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

 

– Prayer based on Matthew 21:1-11; Mark 11:1-11; Luke 19:28-40; Mark 14:1โ€”15:47; Matthew 26:14โ€“27:66.