sheep gate

Coming In, Going Out

Fourth Sunday of Easter

Acts 2:36-47
1 Peter 2:19-25
John 10:1-10

Theologian David McCarthy, in a recent book on the Communion of Saints, puts forward the notion of “social desire.” “Our social desire,” he writes, “is our desire for shared life. It is a desire for a meaningful life. It is a desire and hope that my everyday endeavors do not stop with me, that who I am as son, brother, friend, father, theologian, neighbor and coach does not end with how it makes me feel…” Rather, he avers, social desire seeks connection with others in a metaphysical framework that orients us socially, makes us whole in community.

The Communion of Saints, he claims, embodies the kinship, with others and God, that grounds us cosmically. McCarthy’s words seem to me an explication of these terse few lines from Acts 2, which describe the openness and sharing of the post-Pentecost church. “All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their property and possessions and divide them among all each according to each one’s need.”

If social desire is so basic, and Luke’s church embodies it so well, why do I find it so difficult, sitting or kneeling or standing in church of a Sunday, to open myself to God and fellow members? Read more

A Same Kind of Different

Third Sunday of Easter


Acts 2:14-41
1 Peter 1:17-23
Luke 24:13-35

If our hope is even remotely true, what will the resurrected body be like? Assuming the gospel accounts of Jesus’ post-resurrection appearances offer clues, what little we learn there might best be summed up as “different, but the same.” Mary found Jesus so changed, at least from a distance, that she mistook him for a gardener. Thomas learns that even if doors can’t stop Jesus, the scars of his execution abide. Cleopas and his companion are clueless until they recognize Jesus “in the breaking of the bread.”

For all of those – including me – who come after the original disciples and know no Jesus except as the resurrected Christ, there’s a particular sweetness in today’s gospel, as there was in last week’s Thomas story, where we heard, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” (John 20:29) It’s helpful to hear from those who’ve gone before that discerning Jesus in this world doesn’t come naturally, but as second nature, formed over time by grace and shared practice. But even that sweetness, passed too often and too formulaically through frail human hands, may grow stale or leave one feeling like they’d devoured too much Easter candy.

I trust that, even after years of homilies and essays on the subject, there’s much, much more for me to learn from today’s gospel seen through the lens of Eucharist or Lord’s Supper. I, however, was raised American in the late twentieth century, so I have the attention span of a Mayfly who’s misplaced his ADHD meds. I require novelty, something different enough to keep me engaged.

Perhaps it’s time, then, to ask what it would mean to break the bread and refuse to know the risen Christ? God knows I’ve been there. Read more

Shame, Scars, and Resurrection Hope

Second Sunday of Easter

Acts 2:14 22-32
Psalm 16
1 Peter 1:3–9
John 20:19–31

I have too many scars.

Some of the most prominent are actually from small scratches. One on my arm is from rubbing carelessly against a branch doing yard work over a decade ago, causing a small but inch-long scrape along my forearm. But my body develops what is called keloid tissue, so that what for others would certainly not have even left a mark becomes an evident reminder of my chronic klutziness – and my body’s tendency to embarrassingly proclaim my history, to tell tales about how I what I have done or had done to me.

As I reflected on these texts, I puzzle over this encounter with the risen Christ and the disciples. I have always thought Thomas gets a rather bum rap; who can blame him for thinking some collective psychosis has overtaken his friends? Hoping in a resurrection seems delusional; to give oneself to it exposes us to ridicule by others or seems to indulge in intellectual dishonesty.

Then I focused on the strange sequence before Thomas’ infamous interaction. Remarkably, the disciples do not recognize Jesus as himself – they do not respond with the delight appropriate to this astonishing appearance – until he shows them his wounds. It is not his face or his eyes that makes him recognizable or reveals his identity. Rather, it is the viewing of his wounds – that very aspect of his life story meant to render him ineffective and gut his witness to God’s peculiar power – that evokes joy in his friends. Read more

The Walking Dead and Waking Saints

Passion Sunday

Matthew 27:11-54

The nice thing about having to preach or write about the scriptures is that some time or other you run across a piece of a familiar passage that is utterly strange.  This happened when I read one of the options for the Gospel this Passion Sunday, Matthew 27:11-54.

It starts out familiarly enough: Jesus goes before Pontius Pilate, is condemned and then crucified.  When Jesus died we all know that the earth shook and the curtain of the temple was torn in two.  What I barely remembered though was this verse: “The tombs also were opened, and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised. After his resurrection they came out of the tombs and entered the holy city and appeared to many” (27:52-53; NRSV).

In a pop culture that is obsessed with zombies it is hard not to imagine this scene as a clip from “The Walking Dead.”  I can see the streets of Jerusalem with rotted bodies wandering through the alleys, clothed in tattered robes.  It would be a terrifying sight to be sure.  Read more

God and Graves

Fifth Sunday in Lent

Ezekiel 37:1-14
John 11:1-45

We’re nearing the end of Lent, a season that we Christians started by proclaiming our mortality and wearing a symbol of death on our foreheads. It seems appropriate, then, that we spend this last Sunday before Holy Week with God messing around in graves.

Lazarus has died, despite the efforts of his two distraught sisters, Mary and Martha. The community in Bethany has come to sit shiva, when they hear that Jesus is on his way to the house. John tells us that Mary and Martha independently greet Jesus with the same statement, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”

The underlying expectation – healing illness to prolong life – is the same that we often bring to modern medicine. In Mary and Martha’s case, it’s a reasonable expectation that Jesus could have doctored Lazarus. He had recently healed a blind man, an event that the gathered mourners know about (11:37). Read more