Isenheim Altat

Becoming Human

Palm Sunday/Passion Sunday

Mark 11:1-10
Isaiah 50:4-7
Philippians 2:6-11
Mark 14:1-15:47

“So far as being human goes, the only difference between Jesus and me is that he lived out his humanity more consistently than I do.” – Herbert McCabe

Those who dismiss Christianity as a comforting myth are inattentive readers of Scripture. They can’t, for instance, have read Mark’s gospel in anything but a superficial or tendentious way.

Mark’s Jesus dies horribly, nailed to an imperial torture device, abandoned by his male disciples (though not by some of the women) and even, his words imply, by the Father. He’s buried hurriedly, and if the original text ends, as in the earliest complete manuscripts, at chapter 16, verse 8, with the women trembling, bewildered, and afraid at the man in white in the empty tomb, we’re left wondering why Mark should call his account “Good News.” Yet this first gospel records, along with the letters of Paul, the earliest surviving declarations that this human, Jesus, is the Christ, Son of Man, anointed one of God.

Mark’s Son of Man isn’t merely human, but he is profoundly human. He is, in fact, the model human, the One we are called to follow. Mark shares much about Jesus’ humanity, including that he eats, sleeps, spits, walks, touches, and suffers temptation. In this week’s readings, we learn still more. Read more

transfiguration

Transfigured in Him

Transfiguration Sunday

Mark 9:2-9

“And he was transfigured before them.” – Mark 9:2

“I can’t explain the goings or the comings. You enter suddenly and I am nowhere again, inside the majesty.” – Rumi

Dazzling white clothes, Moses and Elijah, voices from clouds – I am guilty of having sometimes rushed past the transfiguration accounts for how inaccessible such an experience of Jesus seems to me. Perhaps it’s a story challenging to preach or teach, as it offers no tidy moral imperative, no clear implication for how to live in light of the disciples’ witness. Instead, the transfiguration account is fluent in mystery, begging us to place ourselves in the narrative and walk around inside of it – climb the mountain, see the glory, fumble out our own dumbstruck words laced with terror, and in the end, be brought back to the resurrection. Read more

Squint

Learning to Squint

First Sunday of Advent

Isaiah 64:1-9
Mark 13:24-37

When I was a boy I knew an old rancher whose face was permanently sunburned and lined from decades of living outside. People said he had a “perpetual squint.” Daylight or dark, indoors or out, he always looked like he was squinting, looking across some pasture for a stray cow in the face of glaring sun and blowing wind. Squinting, looking into the distance for so many years had shaped his face; it had shaped the way he looked at everything.

Walker Percy, tells in his novel Love in the Ruins and its sequel novel The Thanatos Syndrome about a small, remnant church out in the woods of Louisiana. They are fragile and exiled from the mainstream, conventional and successful American church. They have a small AIDS clinic where they care for the sick and dying and care for each other.

Their priest, Father Rinaldo Smith, is eccentric and helps pay the bills by hiring out as a fire-watcher. It is his job to climb the fire-tower by night and watch for forest fires below while he also looks “for signs and portents in the skies.” Throughout the two novels he’s always watching, squinting into the distance, looking for portents, looking for something.

Our readings are for the First Sunday of Advent. Advent, which means “coming,” is about the coming of Christ. It is about Christ coming in Bethlehem 2000 years ago but more, Advent is about Christ coming again sometime in the future. At the same time, it is about Christ coming again in renewal in our lives now, and coming into this present status-quo world.

We are called to hold these three tenses of Christ’s coming in mind all the time. The testimony of the church for thousands of years has been, “Christ has come, Christ is come, Christ will come again.” Therefore, we’re to be getting ready, preparing, watching and waiting for the coming. Get the house ready, the master is coming. Get the house ready Christ is coming. Get your life together, Christ is coming. Watch. Squint. Read more

Christ the King

So It Is To Be. Amen.

The Reign of Christ

Revelation 1: 4b-8
John 18: 33-37

Grace to you
and peace from him
who is and who was and who is to come…

The most frequent command of the Bible is “to be not afraid!” It is the first thing Angels say when they arrive with the divine, demanding messages they have been charged to deliver. Joseph says it to his brothers in forgiving them, Moses says it to the Israelites, God says it to Joshua and numerous times to Jeremiah, Isaiah sings to God that he will not be afraid. Jesus says it the most – to his disciples and to those he heals.

I remember once making this claim to a group of youth I was training (a more accurate translation of the Greek word didache, one of the ancient marks of the church, than “teaching”). One of them looked at me incredulously and wondered, honestly, if that was even possible. I stumbled a bit in my reply. The texts for today, the final Sunday in the Christian year, offer a more succinct answer to Annie’s question (who has now, by the way, grown into a rather fearless young woman). Read more

chesnutt

The Encounter More Than the Cure

Fifth Sunday after Pentecost
Thirteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Wisdom 1:13-15, 2:23-24 OR 2 Samuel 1:1,17-27
Psalm 30 OR Psalm 130
2 Cor 8:7,9,13-15
Mark 5:21-43

Last year, the British Humanist Association (which lately has become, among other things, a cheer squad for Richard Dawkins) began an ad campaign on city buses in UK with signs declaring, “There probably is no God, so relax and enjoy your life.” This led, as the BHA no doubt intended, to a torrent of unhelpful comments from an array of sources – pro, con, and otherwise – claiming to have special insight on the matter. One observation, however, stuck with me: namely that signs about relaxing and enjoying one’s life were somewhat more persuasive on a bus in London, the wealthy capital of a military-industrial nation state, than they might be on a bus in the slums of Calcutta or Port au Prince.

Vic Chesnutt, the late singer-songwriter from Athens, Georgia, made a much more interesting atheist than Dawkins or his BHA public relations team ever will. Read more