Jesus ascending

Gospel Sequel

Ascension Sunday

Acts 1:1-11; Ephesians 1:15-23; Luke 24:44-53

“Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?”

While last month’s headline grabbing prediction of Jesus’ return, the rescue of believers from the earth to heaven, and the onset of tribulation for an unbelieving world (now revised to October) belongs to an extremist Camp(ing), the basic eschatological question underlies much of American Christianity.

The apostles’ question sounds contemporary two millennia later as believers gaze heavenward and count down until the end of the world, while others with a less definite timetable still await a rapture.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the divide, scoffing at such expectations is easy, especially after announced deadlines pass. Jesus’ own response resounds as an all-too-obvious rebuke to Rapture-enraptured Christians: “It is not for you to know the times that the Father has set by his own authority.” Read more


The Close-at-Hand God

Sixth Sunday of Easter
Psalm 66:8-20; 1 Peter 3:13-22; John 14:15-21

“On that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you.” John 14:20

For several weeks now the doomsday prophecy of one Harold Camping has been on the minds of many. First, it was the shared anticipation as the projected date got closer—and the requisite jokes about being left behind. Then it was the (no-surprise) failure of the prediction which resulted in . . . more jokes about being left behind.

Attempts to counter Camping’s misguided views consisted mostly of pointing to passages in the New Testament which speak to the unknowability of the “day or hour” of the Lord’s return. But such proof-texting did little to challenge the core flaw of rapture theology—its fundamental misreading of biblical eschatology. Within the last few days, thankfully, thoughtful essays have appeared which have noted that “tribulation” is a past and present reality, not a future horror for the damned, and that matter—bodies, earth, the stuff of life—matters deeply to the God who restores and makes all things new. I also penned some thoughts (shameless plug alert) on the connections between eschatological time and the exquisite new French film Of Gods and Men. Read more

Painting of the Stoning of Stephen

Preparing for Departure

This week’s lectionary reading leads us into the farewell discourse (John 13.31-17.26) as Jesus prepares the disciples for his departure.  It can seem a little disorienting to follow up a month’s worth of post-resurrection appearances with Jesus preparing his disciples for his looming death on the cross. After all, for the last several weeks we have celebrate that Jesus is alive and on the loose, appearing in locked rooms, in gardens and on the road to Emmaus.  However, the day of Ascension is fast approaching and the lectionary readings of the next two weeks use the farewell discourse to prepare us for the Ascension of the resurrected Christ. Read more

Good Shepherd Icon


Easter 4:  Acts 2:42-47, Psalm 23, 1 Peter 2: 19-25, John 10: 1-10

They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers…All who believed were together and had all things in common;  they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need.  Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all the people…

So – what the hell happened?  Luke’s description of the early church, after the disciples’ baptism in the Holy Spirit at Pentecost and Peter’s surprisingly fearless sermon, is certainly a rosy one.  Where is this church, because I want to go there?! Read more

The Emmaus Road

What’s goin’ on?

Luke 24:13-35

“Are you the only person who doesn’t know what’s been going on for the past few days?” Apparently Jesus had not been reading Facebook. Or listening to NPR. Or reading the newspaper.

Seriously—how could this guy not know what’s been happening? In the last few days the whole world has been in an uproar over the death of one man. Some people thought he should be killed. Others mourned his loss. Others didn’t know what to think.

Sound familiar? One man, killed at the hands of the government, whom many religious people were glad to see murdered. Read more


Seeing the Lord

John 20:19-31

The Gospel Lesson the Second Sunday of Easter is always John 20:19-31 and the story of Thomas missing out on seeing the risen Christ that Easter evening.  When told, by the other disciples, that they had seen the Lord, Thomas says, “I won’t believe it until I can touch his scars.”  A week later he made sure he was present with the community of disciples, and sure enough he saw the Lord.

Thomas did not see the risen Lord the first time, because the resurrection of Christ makes no sense apart from the community of his disciples. Read more


Why Do You Weep?

Jeremiah 31:1-6; Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24; Colossians 3:1-4; John 20:1-18

“Why do you weep?”  That seems to be the central question of the Gospel reading this Easter Sunday.   It is the question the angels ask of Mary when she looks into the tomb; it is the question the resurrected Christ asks when he finds Mary in the garden and she mistakes him for the gardener.

When the other disciples, Peter and John, came to see that the tomb was empty, they left—satisfied with the reality they thought they understood—Jesus was gone, his body taken, one more event in a series of tragedies that had seen their hopes for a new reality gone.   But Mary remained with the question—she stayed with the empty tomb, the trace of the Lord she still loved, the death she didn’t claim to understand.  It is by staying that she is present for the questioning of her perception—“Woman, why do you weep?” Read more


The Way Down

by Brian Volck
Matthew 2:1-11; Isaiah 50:4-7(8,9); Phillipians 2: (5)6-11; Matthew 16:14-27:66

“I will bury Jesus (in) myself.”
From The Saint Matthew Passion, BWV 244; Part 2, No.65

I’m not qualified to judge the theological soundness of that old saw, “God draws straight with crooked lines.” We know that Palm Sunday’s readings are a push into the arcing current of a great river. We know the river flows toward the unimaginable Paschal triumph.  But the readings today have one and only one direction: down.

Jesus enters Jerusalem triumphantly, in a procession rich with political significance befitting a messiah, save for the public relations gaffe of riding a donkey rather than a military charger. But as soon as the cloaks are retrieved and the branches trampled beyond recognition, the triumph goes awry, spinning precipitously toward complete disaster.  Read more


Snorting at Death

Fifth Sunday in Lent
Ezekiel 37:1-14; Psalm 130; Romans 8:1-11; John 11:1-45

The texts for this Sunday leave no doubt about where the Lenten journey will end. A week before Palm/Passion Sunday and the start of Holy Week and it’s not the scent of spring flowers in the air but death–as shrouded, four-days-dead Lazarus is stinking up the place. Dry bones are on Ezekiel’s mind—brittle, rattling remains beyond the stages of rot and stench. “Our hope is lost,” the people in exile say, “we are cut off completely” (37:11). The Psalm, too, the de Profundis, commonly read at funerals or included in settings of the requiem mass, acknowledges the depths of human despair and hopelessness. Read more


Internalizing what Externals Mean

1 Samuel 16:1-13

We live in a culture obsessed with appearance.  Tanning beds promise us sun-kissed bodies year round.  Moleskine notebooks remind others of how creative we are and our designer eye wear helps us not only to see but to be seen.  In this image obsessed culture we are tempted to continually modify the external, often in an effort to avoid the work of tending to the inner life which cannot be so easily dressed up.

God, however, is not so easily distracted by the temptation of the external.  This episode in the life of God’s people is a brilliant example of the declaration God made to Isaiah “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” says the Lord.  “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts higher than your thoughts.” (Isaiah 55.8-9) Read more