Defiant Requiem

Fifth Sunday of Easter
Revelation 21:1-6

I have read Revelation 21:1-6 at numerous funerals, and have done so as tenderly as I could for the sake of those who were grieving. In that setting, I believe that was the right tone of comfort and hope. But this passage is far from a lullaby. Other tones ring out from these words, which is why it is important we read them on occasions other than funerals. Read more

Desperate and Joyful

Fourth Sunday of Easter
Psalm 23
Revelation 7:9-17

Reading the book of Revelation always takes me back to the years my family and I spent down south. In the mountains of east Tennessee, we were fed a steady apocalyptic diet just driving around town. Revelation showed up on homemade county highway signs warning, “Repent! Jesus is coming back! Get right…or get left!” complete with little hand-painted flames at the bottom. After nearly twenty years living up north, I miss those signs more than I ever knew I would. Maybe not the flames so much, but the announcement that there’s another reality out there—something beyond our culture, our country, something beyond ourselves. There’s something more to hope for, and God is responsible for it. And that something is so big, it belongs on a billboard in giant red letters. Read more

The Art of Discernment

Acts 5:27-32
John 20:19-31
This season, when we boldly proclaim our Lord’s resurrection, doesn’t seem like prime discernment time. Surely, that’s for the anticipatory seasons of Advent, and maybe Lent? Surely, in the face of something as amazing as the resurrection, we are no longer at the point of careful discernment but rather at the point of charging ahead! Yet I suggest that this week’s readings speak to us of the importance of discernment and of careful reflection, even and especially in the midst of the excitement of the resurrection. Perhaps this is all the more important in our contemporary, fast-paced, efficient culture! Read more

He is Risen, Indeed!

Easter Sunday
Acts 10:34-43
1 Corinthians 15:19-26
Luke 24:1-12

Christ is Risen! He is risen indeed!

These words will roll off the tongues of Easter worshippers this coming Sunday, proclaimed with a seemingly naive brazenness, given the world’s current state of affairs.

Christ is Risen! He is risen indeed!

The gathered Church will proclaim this as Truth as they point to flowered crosses and release butterflies into the springtime sky. But while it’s certainly joyous news that after the long gray of winter, bright sunshine and vibrant color will again have their season, the Easter proclamation is not meant to be a weather report. Rather, it is the radical declaration that God’s good future has erupted into our now: it is here, in the present, smack in the middle of history, in the midst of this world’s pain, standing among our broken dreams.

Christ is Risen! He is risen indeed!

But if the Resurrection is real and the tomb is empty, where is the Risen Christ? Would we know him if he was standing right in front of us?

Like the women at the tomb, I suspect that if we are going to find the risen Christ, we will first have to learn to name the signs of Resurrection in our midst and claim them as signs of hope. This will mean recognizing and abandoning our tendency to “look for the living among the dead.” We are as inclined as they were to misunderstand what Jesus foretold to his disciples: that he would be crucified, dead and buried, and then raised on the third day. Like those women and disciples at the tomb that first Easter, we know all the words Jesus said, and believe we have all manner of faith in God’s ultimate triumph over the forces of sin and death so clearly at work in this world. Yet we live and work and play as if that triumph is but an unrealized longing. We have become quite comfortable inhabiting a world where death is the norm, and we arrange our affairs and hedge our bets accordingly.

In his novel The Second Coming, Walker Percy writes:

Death in this century is not the death people die but the death
people live. Men love death because the real death is better than
the living death… Here are the names of death, which shall not
prevail over me because I know the names…

Death in the guise of God and America and the happy life of home and family and friends is not going to prevail over me…

Death in the guise of belief is not going to prevail over me, for believers now believe anything and everything and do not love the truth, are in fact in despair of the truth, and that is death.

Death in the guise of unbelief is not going to prevail over me, for unbelievers believe nothing, not because truth does not exist but because they have already chosen not to believe, and would not believe, cannot believe, even if the living truth stood before them, and that is death…

Death in the form of isms and asms shall not prevail over me, orgasm, enthusiasm, liberalism, conservatism, Communism, Buddhism, Americanism, for an -ism is only another way of despairing of the truth…

Death in none of its guises shall prevail over me because I know all the names of death.

The American dream, with its attendant security. Sex. Alcohol. Drugs. Wealth. Power. Notoriety. Do we know all the names of death in our world?

“Why do you look for the living among the dead?” Can we learn to recognize the places and things in and through which we seek life, that are in truth nothing more than pretty flowers ephemerally masking the stench of death?

The Easter proclamation stops us in our tracks and catches us as surprised and fearful as those women on the first Easter morning. While we are on our way to anoint death in a graveyard, life has broken into the world. As the men on the road to Emmaus would learn that same day, it takes a different kind of vision to see and know the risen Christ. It takes new eyes, rather than eyes trained to seek salvation in the living death.

The work of Easter, then, is this: To point to death and name it as death. Then, to find and point to evidence of resurrection in this world, and name it as life. And this is the thing: it might be where we least expect it. But it is there nonetheless, a sign of God’s good future here, in the present, smack in the middle of history, in the midst of this world’s pain, standing among our broken dreams:

It may be found on Tuesday evenings at Reality Ministries, where a community of belonging is created when youth and adults with and without developmental disabilities come together for food and prayer and play. It may be found amongst members of the Holy Friendship Collaborative as they walk alongside those bound in the chains of opioid addiction in Southern Appalachia. In Athens, Ohio, the folks of Good Works, Inc are “believing people back to life” through a ministry of hospitality that proves that the forces of life and love are stronger than the forces of death. There is evidence of resurrection at Central Women’s Prison in Raleigh, NC where a woman convicted of murder receives a weekly visit from a member of a group of laity who have come faithfully for over 20 years.

It is the Body of Christ claiming victory over the powers of sin, death, isolation, and despair. It is visible evidence of a community that defies the kingdoms of this world. It is hope and life revealed in the breaking of bread. It is what happens each and every time the Church gathers around the Eucharist table to share in Christ’s broken body and blood and we proclaim his death and resurrection until he comes in glory. It is the new life of Resurrection.

This Sunday, whether we gather in the majesty of a towering cathedral or in the humility of a few friends around a table, the great mystery and miracle of Easter abounds. As we receive the grace of Christ’s Table, may all of our eyes be opened to see evidence of God’s resurrection victory in the unlikely and ragtag communities in which we gather. When the proclamation rings out: Christ is Risen! May we look around with awe and respond with joy: He is risen indeed!

Palms, Permaculture, and the Passion

Palm Sunday

Luke 19:28-40

Philippians 2:5-11

Luke 22:14-23:56

Last Fall, I spent ten intensive days studying permaculture with Chris Grataski–a theologically astute, justice driven, ecological designer. Sitting with a group of students around folding tables in a cramped upstairs classroom in my church, we had our minds opened to a whole new way of thinking about life and human relationships with the whole of creation. Chris offered many definitions of permaculture, but the most robust, if my notes serve me, was this: “Permaculture is a principled design discipline concerned with the cultivation of high-biodiversity human habitats where the needs and desires of the human community are met through serving the needs and desires of the non-human community.”

Chris went on to reflect theologically about the nature of the permaculture design philosophy, arguing that it is essentially kenotic, and more that, there is an underlying kenotic nature to the whole of creation. If we seek to serve our own ends, we end up with a world that is depleted and diminished; if we seek to make room for the life of others, for their own flourishing, then we will join in wholeness that is also health–our own humanity will come into its fullness.

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