The Truth on the Other Side of the Resurrection

Easter Sunday
Acts 10:34-43
Colossians 3:1-4
John 20:1-18

Easter is a good time for doubt. It’s a time when people occasionally dare to ask the pointed questions: “Jesus was good and all, but – you don’t really think he rose from the dead, do you?” They want the truth – and rightly so.

So consider what it means to read the Gospels in terms of what is true. The passion narratives grip us, filled as they are with raw emotions and experiences. Like all good stories, they invite us in, and at the least we can probably admit that the emotions are likely to be true.

In my Roman Catholic tradition, we call this practice of putting ourselves into the story the “Ignatian Method” of reading – but I think that many Christians confronted by the pathos of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection put themselves there at the cross naturally.

So at last week’s Passion Sunday service, when I heard Peter denying Jesus before the cock crowed three times, I thought, “Yup, I probably would have denied him too.” Read more

Desert Transformations

Third Sunday of Lent
Exodus 17:1-7
Psalm 95
Romans 5:1-11
John 4:5-42

During Lent, God calls us to the desert and we go. We become like the Israelites in today’s first reading from Exodus, called and saved by God from slavery in Egypt, brought safely through the Red Sea, and now wandering in the desert for forty years (although for us, it’s only forty days). Our salvation may not be from slavery, but we still claim that salvation as ours and we often use terms related to slavery to describe our salvation: freedom from addiction, from slavery to sin, from bondage to a world that wants us to worship money, power, and false gods.

Christians have loved deserts, real and symbolic. We have preserved sayings of various desert fathers and mothers from the early centuries of the church in Northern Africa. We want to follow in the footsteps of Jesus himself. So we manufacture our own deserts: giving up some sort of food here, contributing more money there, adding some prayer to the whole. Each of these becomes one way of paring our lives to essentials, so that we can see God.

Yet today’s scriptures suggest for us that the thing we think we are doing in the desert – the spiritual preparation we are doing to receive God – might not in fact be the thing we are doing. Read more

Our Pious Disbelief in “God-With-Us”

Fourth Sunday in Advent

Isaiah 7:10-17
Romans 1:1-7
Matthew 1:18-25

King Ahaz – the king in today’s prophecy from Isaiah – is a man standing in great fear. To understand why, we have to go back a few verses to get the context of this passage. Two of Ahaz’s nearest enemies have united against him: the Northern Kingdom of Israel (a Jewish nation that had, in previous days, been part of a united kingdom with Judah), and Aram, a non-Jewish nation. Ahaz fears the bloodshed and destruction that war inevitably brings.

We, today, can understand Ahaz’s fear. Surely we have all been in some kind of position like that where we have stood among enemies, where no help or hope seems to be found. Read more

Belief, Bodies, and Freedom

Second Sunday of Easter

Acts 5:12-32
Psalm 118
Revelation 1:4-19
John 20:19-31

The temptation, even post-Resurrection, not to believe in the risen body of Jesus Christ our Lord – well, it’s real. How many Christians – theologians, bishops, and pastors among them – have wrestled with the claims we make about Jesus over the centuries? Some have said, “Jesus is resurrected in our memory.” Others have suggested that there’s no need – not really – to believe in the risen Lord. What matters is that we follow his message, more or less to love each other.

I think our particular difficulties with the resurrection, as 21st century people, stem from the ways we understand our bodies. We think we can do things to our bodies – real, powerful things, and that we are primarily the agents of change. So we want to lose weight: starve our bodies, wake up early to get to the gym. We want more beautiful noses, cheekbones, breasts, or we want to lose the paunch: find a doctor of our choosing and cut and chisel them in the operating room. We want to defy aging and death: perfection can be had when we select and buy products and procedures that are all scientifically proven.

By contrast, Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection do not demonstrate that kind of procedural control over the body. Quite the contrary: “Into your hands, I commend my spirit,” says the Lord of all life, as he dies on the cross. Read more