Sic Transit Gloria Mundi

Twenty-second Sunday after Pentecost

Haggai 1:15b-2:9 OR Job 19:23-27a
2 Thessalonians 2:1-5, 13-17
Luke 20:27-38

Mrs. Obrien: I just want to die, to be with him.
Preacher: He’s in God’s hands now.
Mrs. Obrien: He was in God’s hands the whole time. Wasn’t he?

From Tree of Life by Terrence Malick

As the liturgical year draws to its close, the lectionary readings make an eschatological turn, looking ahead to our own end and of things as we know them. It’s a shift in tone that flows seamlessly into Advent, where the church learns once again how to live as Jews, suspended between a ruin and a hope. Signs of ruin are everywhere: a planet we’re quickly making uninhabitable, collapsing world order, a country too divided by corrosive political rhetoric to reckon with pressing fundamentals, churches reeling from self-inflicted humiliations. Amid the rubble of a world plundered and a church betrayed from within, hope can grow hollow and brittle, like dry stems in autumn. What’s to become of our planet, our country, our church, ourselves?

In the fall, the season sharing its name with humanity’s turning away from God, such thoughts may arise simply from observing the natural world’s dying back in anticipation of winter. Sometimes we require some rather more direct reminder. During the now abandoned coronation ceremony for newly elected popes, the master of ceremonies would stop the procession three times to set alight a strip of flax. As the fabric burned into smoke and nothingness, he would address the new pope in a loud voice, saying, “Sic transit Gloria mundi,” (“Thus passes the glory of the world”), reminding him of his mortality and the evanescence of earthly power. Read more

Easter Bewilderment

My grandma’s ashes are on my bookcases in a striped canvas bag. She died in December after an unexpected and intense two-month decline. To add insult to injury, my dog was diagnosed with lymphoma three weeks later. Cue two more months of death watch. His bodily breakdown included mid-night trips outside to pee every night (him, not me) and feeling the full brunt of sleep deprivation (me, not him). Last Tuesday, the tumors took on a life of their own that finally ended his. Last Thursday, I got him back and took the liturgically apt opportunity to add ashes to ashes. He’s in a box next to my grandma.

Death, in and of itself, disorients the living. While the ashes collect dust, my 92-year-old grandpa is dreaming about my grandma going for walks and not coming back. He hears her calling his name at night. He’s adjusting to life without his partner of 64 years. I pull in the driveway and catch myself looking to see if the dog is waiting for me at the fence. It’s a habit the age of a fourth grader.

Lent has been – as my friends say – heavy, deep and real. Read more

The Truth on the Other Side of the Resurrection

Easter Sunday
Acts 10:34-43
Colossians 3:1-4
John 20:1-18

Easter is a good time for doubt. It’s a time when people occasionally dare to ask the pointed questions: “Jesus was good and all, but – you don’t really think he rose from the dead, do you?” They want the truth – and rightly so.

So consider what it means to read the Gospels in terms of what is true. The passion narratives grip us, filled as they are with raw emotions and experiences. Like all good stories, they invite us in, and at the least we can probably admit that the emotions are likely to be true.

In my Roman Catholic tradition, we call this practice of putting ourselves into the story the “Ignatian Method” of reading – but I think that many Christians confronted by the pathos of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection put themselves there at the cross naturally.

So at last week’s Passion Sunday service, when I heard Peter denying Jesus before the cock crowed three times, I thought, “Yup, I probably would have denied him too.” Read more

God of the Living

Twenty-fifth Sunday after Pentecost
Thirty-second Sunday in Ordinary Time

Haggai 1:15b-2:9
2 Thessalonians 2:1-5, 13-17
Luke 20:27-38

Our lectionary readings for this week take us to the heart of our anxiety for control, power, and security. From Haggai’s assurances that the glory of Israel was never in the accomplishments of her rulers but in the LORD and his inscrutable ways, to Paul’s comforting words to the people of Thessalonica, to Jesus’s re-orientation of the Sadducees’ question about marriage in the resurrection—these passages simultaneously challenge and assure the Christian, especially the Christian in the midst of personal, social, and/or political turmoil.

Above all, in these passages, we are challenged to become a people of Life, of the Living God. We are assured, having become a people so conformed to the exuberant and abounding Life of the Lord, that we will not only share in that Life in the resurrection, but that even our present works bear the marks of that Life. With this in mind I will focus my reflection on Jesus’ emerging theology of resurrection in chapter 20 of Luke’s gospel.

Now he is God not of the dead, but of the living; for to him all of them are alive.

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Belief, Bodies, and Freedom

Second Sunday of Easter

Acts 5:12-32
Psalm 118
Revelation 1:4-19
John 20:19-31

The temptation, even post-Resurrection, not to believe in the risen body of Jesus Christ our Lord – well, it’s real. How many Christians – theologians, bishops, and pastors among them – have wrestled with the claims we make about Jesus over the centuries? Some have said, “Jesus is resurrected in our memory.” Others have suggested that there’s no need – not really – to believe in the risen Lord. What matters is that we follow his message, more or less to love each other.

I think our particular difficulties with the resurrection, as 21st century people, stem from the ways we understand our bodies. We think we can do things to our bodies – real, powerful things, and that we are primarily the agents of change. So we want to lose weight: starve our bodies, wake up early to get to the gym. We want more beautiful noses, cheekbones, breasts, or we want to lose the paunch: find a doctor of our choosing and cut and chisel them in the operating room. We want to defy aging and death: perfection can be had when we select and buy products and procedures that are all scientifically proven.

By contrast, Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection do not demonstrate that kind of procedural control over the body. Quite the contrary: “Into your hands, I commend my spirit,” says the Lord of all life, as he dies on the cross. Read more