prostrate

A Glory that Breathes Life

Sixth Sunday of Easter

Acts 8:5-17 OR Acts 17:22-31
1 Peter 3:13-22
John 14:15-21

There is a glory that breathes life back
in a corpse and brings strangers together

as friends. Call that one back who fills
the held-out robe of a thornbush with

flowers, who clears muddied minds, who
gives a two-day-old infant wisdom beyond

anyone’s learning. “What baby?” you ask.
There is a fountain, a passion circulating.

I’m not saying this well, because I’m too
much in the scatterbrain sweetness. Listen

anyway. It must be said. There are eyes
that see into eternity. A presence beyond

the power and magic of shamans. Let that
in. Sink to the floor, full prostration.

- Rumi (“Scatterbrain Sweetness” in The Soul of Rumi, Barks, Coleman, ed.)

Growing up in my small-town Midwestern church, we were, on the whole, conservative in our speech about the Holy Spirit. Being committed to the practice of baptism, we immersed in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, but baptisms are the only memories I have where the Spirit was spoken of among our church people, let alone invited as a presence into our worship or shared life together. Read more

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Trusting the Way

Fifth Sunday of Easter

Acts 7:55-60
Psalm 31:1-5, 15-16
Peter 2:2-10
John 14:1-14

Gathered together in an upper room with Jesus, the disciples give Jesus their full attention. They’ve just shared this meal with him and watched him kneel and wash everyone’s feet. They’re shocked to hear that one of them is a betrayer and they’re highly aware that outside the doors of their small room, the powers are organizing to put a stop to their small movement that only a few days before looked like it might become a successful revolution. Now, things look dire. To top it all, Jesus tells them that he is leaving them and they can’t go with him. So when Jesus says, “Do not let your hearts be troubled,” it is because their hearts are troubled. Read more

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

Emmaus

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

Thomas

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

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What Is There To Say?

 

Easter A
John 20:1-18
(RCL); John 20:1-9 (Lectionary for Mass)

You have to preach to those for whom the resurrection narrative is known inside and out, is loved and adored, is the sense-making story of their life in God, their life with others, their life in relation to all the world.  What is there to say?

You have to preach to those for whom the resurrection narrative is science fiction or harmful propaganda. They may be in church this day only to please a mother or grandmother. (There are worse things). They may smirk. They may sleep. They may pity your benighted ignorance. What is there to say?

You have to preach to those who are curious but who would never let on that the story of Jesus’ rising from the dead sometimes keeps them up at night. They have a healthy dose of the same skepticism as the group above, but unlike them, they have a hunch that truth can be revealed through means other than the scientific method. What is there to say?

You have to preach to those who long for subtlety and sublimity in an Easter sermon. They may share a good deal with group one but, like group three, they also live with a fair amount of uncertainty about things. They think that poetry and art might be the best media for conveying the story of Easter. What is there to say?

Much is welcome about the Church’s signature Feast: the glorious music, the sparkling Alleluias! after the soberness of Lent, the bursting forth of springtime (at least in the northern hemisphere). Yet how does the preacher communicate Easter’s strange, improbable story to this strange, improbable gathering? Read more

Zombies_NightoftheLivingDead

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

tombs

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

rose

Nearly there…

Absent a lectionary commentary this week, let this reflection on the practices of Lent (written by EP Coordinator Brent Laytham) serve instead. Written at Lent’s beginning, it may help remind us what we’re about on this Laetare Sunday, more than halfway to Easter.

broken glass

Break in the Cup

Third Sunday in Lent

Exodus 17:1-7
Psalm 95
Romans 5:1-11
John 4:5-42

David Wilcox calls “Break in the Cup” the “anti-love song,” his protest against the romantic mythology that says all we have to do is find that one person who will make us forever happy, and how hard could that possibly be?

The couple in the song have the dreamy-eyed notion that the nectar of their love should slake every possible thirst. As a result, they drive each other crazy because they fail to recognize that there is “a break in the cup that holds love inside us all.”

I sometimes wonder if by overstressing “personal relationship” in the vocabulary of our faith, we fall prey to a similar kind of romantic mythology, substituting Jesus for that one person who will make us happy. Of course the blessed fellowship of the Trinity overflows instead of leaks out, but such an emphasis on the relationship that always fulfills can make us forget that there is still a break in our cup. Read more