Archive for April, 2014

The Womb and The Tomb

April 28, 2014

As today’s Gospel reading reminds us, St. Thomas, the Apostle, had a problem with Easter! He had a problem believing – and relating to the fact – that people were saying that Jesus had been raised from the dead. Many of us, if we’re really honest, also have a problem with Easter. We too may have a problem believing – and relating to the fact – that people have been saying for 2,000 years that Jesus has been raised from the dead.
And that’s understandable! It’s easy to understand why so many people have a problem with Easter. First of all, like Thomas, we often see Easter from the wrong side. We’re on the outside looking in. We see, first of all, the deep darkness of the empty tomb. We often experience the absence of Christ before we ever experience his presence. Thomas missed the apostles’ original encounter with the Risen Christ because he wasn’t in church that Sunday to see him!
“While 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…” (John 20:19) they had experienced Jesus has being among them, speaking words of greeting and of peace.
But Thomas wasn’t there. He wasn’t’ part of the Christian community on that particular Sunday (we don’t know why) and so he missed the encounter the others had. He was on the outside looking in. And it’s very difficult to understand something you haven’t personally encountered. Same with us. If you’re not part of the Christian community, it’s pretty difficult to understand what Christians are talking about with respect to Easter and the Resurrection.
Secondly, we have no experience to tie Easter to! It’s easy to relate to Christmas – everybody loves babies…and birthdays. We can relate to Ash Wednesday, like so many do to our many “Ashes To Go” services on the street, because – deep down – everyone knows that they have made mistakes and have shortcomings and need to say they’re sorry and receive forgiveness. Our Jewish sisters and brothers do something of the same thing on Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. So do Muslims…and many other religions around the world.
Good Friday is immediately understandable to us because most of us have experienced the death of a loved one, a parent or a grandparent or even a beloved pet. We know something about death and loss; we’ve experienced it. But resurrection! None of us has experienced that in its fullness. At least no one but Jesus.
And so, because so many of us have a problem with Easter we have a tendency to trivialize it. Because we have a hard time relating to a one-time unique event which has really only happened once in history, we surround it with something familiar, something predictable like the cycles of nature…and flowers…and eggs…and springtime…and, God help us, the Easter bunny! A chocolate Easter bunny, no doubt.
And yet, there is an experience that each of us has had that relates to Easter. It’s called – Birth! Being Born! Jesus’ tomb was a dark, confined space from which – Scripture tells us – he was expelled by a Force quite beyond his control.
That’s why it’s really better to say “Jesus was raised from the dead” rather than “Jesus rose from the dead.” It was God the Father, by the power of the Holy Spirit, who raised the dead and buried Jesus from the tomb, from that dark and confined space. A Force quite beyond his control!
But the womb is also a dark and confined space from which you and I were expelled by forces quite beyond our control. And the life we quickly experienced outside the womb must have been about as different from what went before as the Risen Life Jesus experienced on the other side of the grave must have been. The womb and tomb…birth and resurrection…are analogous experiences, it seems to me. That must have been what Peter was getting at in his First Letter when he talks about our having been ‘born anew to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus…” (I Peter 1:3)
Same thing in today’s Collect: “Almighty and everlasting God, who in the Paschal mystery established the new covenant of reconciliation: Grant that all who have been reborn into the fellowship of Christ’s Body may show forth in their lives what they profess by their faith…” We have been born from the womb of our mothers’ where we were sustained by embryonic water and nurtured by her own body and her own blood which we shared.
We have also been born through the waters of baptism and are now nurtured by the Body and Blood of Christ which we share with one another in the Eucharist. One day, we will be born yet again from the darkness of death into the very Life of God which we will also share. Our personal Easter is being born into the Presence of God whom we cannot see now, but one day will – face to face. As Jesus said to Thomas, “Blessed are those who have not seen, and yet have come to believe.” (John 20:29)
I hope that you have experienced something of that this Easter. For the Easter miracle is, in some ways, no more miraculous (and no less miraculous!) than the miracle of birth and life itself. And, because of Easter, life has triumphed over death forever!  The poet, Dylan Thomas, wrote that we should not “go gentle into that good night” and that we should rail against death as against the “dying of the light.”
We know that is not true. And that, when our time comes, we can indeed go gently into that good night, for it is not the dying, but the dawning of that Light. I hope that you have come to believe that about Easter. And my prayer for you comes in the form of a Celtic-style Easter blessing written by David Adams:
“The Lord of the empty Tomb/The conqueror of gloom/ Come to you.
The Lord in the garden walking/the Lord to Mary talking/Come to you.
The Lord in the Upper Room/ Dispelling fear and doom/Come to you.
The Lord on the road to Emmaus/The Lord giving hope to Thomas/Come to you.
The Lord appearing on the shore/Giving us life forever more/Come to you”.


Which Procession Do You Want To Be In?

April 14, 2014

Palm Sunday is also known as the Sunday of the Passion. The story of Jesus’ so-called “Triumphal Entry” into Jerusalem on the back of a donkey soon gives way to the Passion Gospel, the story of Jesus’ arrest and trial and execution. It’s called the Passion because the Gospel writers all see this as being the result of Jesus’ “passion,” his love, for God and for his people.
It’s important to know that there were two processions entering Jerusalem on that day. One was a peasant procession, the other an imperial procession. While Jesus and his followers were entering the city from the east, Pontius Pilate the Roman governor and his legions were entering the city from the west. Pilate’s entry into Jerusalem and its significance would have been well known in the Jewish homeland of the first century.
It was standard operating procedure for the Roman governors of Judea to be in Jerusalem for all the major Jewish festivals. This was not out of any respect for the religious devotion of their Jewish subjects. It was to reinforce the Roman garrison permanently stationed in Fortress Antonia in case there was trouble. And there usually was trouble, especially on Passover which was a festival celebrating the liberation of the Jews from an earlier oppressor, the Egyptians. There would be trouble on this Passover as well!
By staging a “counter procession” to Pilate’s, Jesus wanted to make a specific point. His purpose was to fulfill the prophecy made by Zechariah that the Messiah would come to Jerusalem in a very specific way – not like King David, in splendor on a white horse at the head of procession of armed men, but “humble, and riding on a colt, the foal of a donkey” (Zechariah 9:9). Moreover, Zechariah tells us what kind of a king he would be:
“He 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.” This Messiah would not be a warrior king…but a prince of peace.
What a contrast to that other procession! On one side of town, Pilate was entering Jerusalem in a display of imperial power – cavalry on horses, foot soldiers, leather armor, helmets and weapons and banners, golden eagles mounted on poles, and the sound of marching feet – implicitly claiming that the Romans were the rulers of the ancient world. On the other side of town, Jesus and his rag-tag group of followers were trotting into town on foot and on a donkey with children and the poor claiming him as representing the true Ruler of the ancient (and modern!) world – the living and true God!
You and I have been given a choice in life by the events of Holy Week and Easter which we will be rehearsing this week. In short, we have been given a choice as to which procession we want to be in – the procession of the Empire (with all of its promises of wealth and power and success) or the procession of the poor (which calls us – no matter what our station in life — to stand in solidarity with the last and the least, with those whom society has forgotten or wishes to forget – the poor and the oppressed, the old and the sick, those on the margins and those work for peace.) We get to decide which procession we want to be in.
We’re confirming and receiving a couple of people here at Trinity Church this morning. And, as we do so, we will all join with them in reaffirming our Faith and renewing the promises of our Baptism in something called the Baptismal Covenant. Pay attention to the words we will be saying together in a few moments. They are not meaningless words of an empty ritual.
They are a kind of pledge of allegiance… allegiance to the true Ruler of the ancient (and modern) world… and a statement of our intention to live our lives as part of that Kingdom. Think twice before renewing these vows again this morning.
They will determine which procession you want to be in.
And perhaps where you will arrive…at the end of your journey!


Lighten Our Darkness, We Beseech Thee, O Lord

April 1, 2014

One of my favorite Evening Prayers in our Book of Common Prayer is one that reads like this: “Lighten our darkness, we beseech thee, O Lord, and by thy great mercy, defend us from all perils and dangers of this night.” That prayer was written in a time when darkness was much to be feared and people worried about “perils and dangers” which might confront them on a given night, or were concerned that they might die in the night with no time to repent or prepare for death.
But the prayer can also be understood as asking God to shine light into “our darkness,” into the darkness of our minds and to give us true understanding. All three of our Lessons from Scripture this morning have to do with God shining light into our darkened minds. In the First Lesson, God guides the prophet Samuel through a long discernment and elimination process through all of Jesse’s sons before finally arriving at his choice of David to be anointed king in place of the late ruler Saul.
“Do not look upon his appearance or on the height of his stature…” God says to Samuel, “for the Lord does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.” (I Samuel 16:7) God was teaching Samuel how to really see!
And that’s the point of our Gospel lesson today as well. It’s not only about Jesus bringing physical sight to a blind man. It’s also about John’s conviction that Jesus is the light of the world. The long process of Jesus healing the blind man– and the interrogation the man faced after that– is paralleled by Jesus trying to bring spiritual light to the Pharisees who were blind to the fact of who he was and to the truth he was trying to proclaim about God’s goodness.
“As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world,” Jesus says (John 9:5) But his opponents are unwilling to accept that and get downright huffy about it, “Surely WE are not blind, are we?” Only to hear Jesus’ withering response, “If you were blind, you would not have sin, but now that you say, ‘We see,’ your sin remains.” (John 9:40-41) Jesus was willing to be infinitely patient while the man born blind comes to faith, but the smug ignorance of the Pharisees kept them in more darkness than the blind man had ever been in!
Finally, all this is summed up for us in the Epistle to the Ephesians, “For once you were in darkness, but now in the Lord you are light. Live as children of light – for the fruit of the light is found in all that is good and right and true. Try to find out what is pleasing to the Lord.” (Ephesians 5:8-10) “For everything that becomes visible is light. Sleeper, awake! Rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.” (Ephesians 5:14)
What does it mean to say that Jesus is the light of the world…and that we are to live as children of the light? Well, we are baptizing and confirming some folks here this morning. And the service we will be using to do that tells us exactly what it means to say that Jesus is the light of the world…and tells us something of what it means to live as children of that light! You and I will shortly join the baptismal candidates’ (parents and godparents) and the confirmand in renewing our own vows in the Baptismal Covenant. We do that every time we baptize and confirm…and at the Easter Vigil as well.
You remember that the first part of this Covenant is a question and answer form of the Apostles’ Creed. “Do you believe in God…I believe in God the Father Almighty. Do you believe in Jesus Christ…I believe in Jesus Christ, God’s only son. Do you believe in the God the Holy Spirit…and so on.
The point of that Creed is to remind us that Christians have experienced God in three different ways — as the One who created the whole universe…as the One who became visible and understandable to us in Jesus…and as an ongoing spiritual presence and reality in the world today.
In other words, we actually believe that because of Jesus and because of his Spirit we have become “enlightened” as to what God is really like. When we look at the life and the ministry and the teaching of Jesus…and are informed by his Spirit…God is no longer in darkness for us but in the light. God is no longer completely invisible, but actually becomes visible in Christ. When we look at Jesus, we see what God is like! That’s the first part of our Baptismal Covenant.
And the second part of the Covenant tells us something of how we are to live now that we know that about God. We’re to come to the Eucharist every Sunday to hear apostolic teaching from the Bible, to break bread together, and to pray.
We’re to try to do what the letter to the Ephesians told us this morning (to try to do what is pleasing to the Lord, by doing what is good and right and true) but when we fail, to know that we can tell God we’re sorry and start all over again.
We’re to share our faith with others in words and by the way we live our lives. We’re to seek and serve Christ in other people and love our neighbors as ourselves. And we are to work for justice and peace in this world and respect the dignity of every…single…human being we ever run across!
That’s what it means to live as children of light! And that’s what we are praying those who are being baptized and confirmed…and all of us as well…are going to be doing. Living as children of light in a dark world.
“Lighten our darkness, we beseech thee, O Lord, and by the great mercy, defend us from all perils and dangers of this night.”
Enlighten us as to your true nature, O God.
And help us to do what is pleasing to you, what is good and right and true.
For only then can we be living in the light; as you are Light!
Sleepers, awake! Rise from the dead! And Christ will shine on you!