Let There Be Light

Scripture Text: Genesis 1: 1-5

In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, 2the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters.

3Then God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light. 4And God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness. 5God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day.

We talk a lot about light during the Advent and Christmas seasons, that coming of the Light as it is birthed into the world.  But go back to the beginning.  The Light came to be back then. It was always there, pushing back the darkness and illuminating all of Creation. According to this much-beloved story of Creation, God said the Light into being and there was Light.  This opening part of Genesis is essentially an affirmation of faith in the God who created the world and all that exists.  It doesn’t refer to the beginning, per se, but rather the beginning of the ordering of Creation.  See, the heavens and earth were there as dark, formless voids.  And God began to order Creation and into Creation God breathed Light. In the beginning, God began to re-create Creation—with Light.

The Light was always there, always pushing back the darkness of the world.  But sometimes our eyes are not adjusted to the light and we miss what it is illuminating for us.  We find ourselves in the darkness.  So Jesus came into the world not to BE the Light but to show us the Light that was always with us.  Jesus was part of that Light, the revelation of the Light, and came to show us how we, too, can reflect that Light throughout the world.

In this season of Advent, our journey guides us toward the Light.  It is the Light that has always been there.  It is the Light that God created.  It is the Light that Jesus Christ came into the world as God Incarnate, Emmanuel, to reflect, to show us how to be the Light. And yet we often travel in darkness.  The darkness is not bad.  God created the darkness just as God created the light. But the darkness cannot sustain us.  Only the Light, the Light that God created, the Light that God came into the world to reflect can sustain us.

So, as you travel through the darkness this season, remember to look for the light, those flashes of light.  They are there.  They will push back the darkness, illuminating it, making it more bearable.   Journey toward the Light.  It is the very essence of God coming into the world.

My ego is like a fortress.  I have built its walls stone by stone to hold out the invasion of the love of God.  But I have stayed here long enough.  There is light over the barriers.  O my God…I let go of the past.  I withdraw my grasping hand from the future.  And in the great silence of this moment, I alertly rest my soul. (Howard Thurman) 

Grace and Peace,

 Shelli

Colors of Light

Lectionary Scripture Text: Philippians 1: 3-11 (Advent 2C)

3I thank my God every time I remember you, 4constantly praying with joy in every one of my prayers for all of you, 5because of your sharing in the gospel from the first day until now. 6I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work among you will bring it to completion by the day of Jesus Christ.

7It is right for me to think this way about all of you, because you hold me in your heart, for all of you share in God’s grace with me, both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel. 8For God is my witness, how I long for all of you with the compassion of Christ Jesus.

9And this is my prayer, that your love may overflow more and more with knowledge and full insight 10to help you to determine what is best, so that in the day of Christ you may be pure and blameless, 11having produced the harvest of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ for the glory and praise of God.

The passage for today is the beginning of a first-century letter and Paul begins by reassuring them of his prayers and his pride in them because of their faith.  See, Paul was never all that interested in winning converts.  The game was not about numbers.  He was more concerned about people entering into a new relationship with God that keeps them going.   He was encouraging a faith that would keep them going through the hard times, would empower them to look at their lives the way God meant them to be, the way God looks at their lives.  

This season of Advent calls us to do the same, to change our way of looking at our world, at our lives, at ourselves.  It is a way of adjusting our eyes to see the light.  It’s not about religious rules or theological presumptions.  I don’t even think it’s about doing the right things.  It’s about seeing things the way they are.  See, contrary to accepted belief, I don’t think Paul had a rigid adherence to religious laws or set ways of believing.  (I DO think some of his disciples and followers, some of whom wrote some of the letters attributed to Paul may have been a little more rigid in their belief.)  Paul really wanted people to be genuine, honest, and sincere.  He wanted everyone to be who they were called to be. Paul’s image of praising God has to do with real people living changed lives and changing others’ lives in the process.  It has to do with seeing in a different way.

The world often discolors our view.  We are affected by artificial light and fabricated color.  Paul talked about “full insight”, actually seeing things the way they are.  It means we have to strip away the colors that are not real.  You remember your science.  Light is just a collection of colors.  Black and white aren’t even colors at all but merely an absence or a congruence of colors that make us see things differently.  But what if you could see your life the way it was meant to be, with the colors God intended? The Light to which we move during Advent is not some fabricated collection of colors.  It’s true light; it’s true colors.  But it may not be what we thought it would look like.  After all, sometimes life is hard.  Sometimes it holds difficulty and loss and things not turning out the way we envisioned.  So, Advent calls us to be open, to be open to recoloring our world so that it looks the way it should look.  Open your eyes—to everything—to every color and every combination that God shows you on this journey.  It will be glorious!

God is in the symphony, where harmony exists amidst the tension of pitch and tone.  God is in the beautiful sunset, where contrasting colors hint at the glory of the Creator.  God is in the beautiful relationship, where solidarity is born of struggle and disagreement.  God is in the beautiful individual, whose wrinkled skin is witness to a life of challenge and hardship lived with the confidence that it all makes sense.  (Paul D. Sweet) 

Grace and Peace,

 Shelli

Fire and Light

Lectionary Scripture Text: Malachi 3: 1-4 (Advent 2C)

See, I am sending my messenger to prepare the way before me, and the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple. The messenger of the covenant in whom you delight—indeed, he is coming, says the Lord of hosts. 2But who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears? For he is like a refiner’s fire and like fullers’ soap; 3he will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, and he will purify the descendants of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, until they present offerings to the Lord in righteousness. 4Then the offering of Judah and Jerusalem will be pleasing to the Lord as in the days of old and as in former years.

In case you haven’t figured it out yet, I’m focusing on Light this Advent—those flashes of light that come unexpectedly, often unbidden, that fill our lives with illuminating color and spark.  But light is not always welcome.  It’s not always a warm twinkle that tiptoes in or peeks over the horizon as it waits until your eyes are adjusted to it.  Sometimes it is hot and explosive, even blinding.  Sometimes it comes as a burning bush or a chariot of fire.  And sometimes it is almost destructive, a white-hot fire that burns out of our control.

This Scripture from the Book of Malachi speaks of a fire such as this.  It is a refiner’s fire that will reform the society in preparation for the day of the Lord’s coming.  It is a purifying Light that will change everything and everyone that it touches.  Its first hearers were probably as uncomfortable with this whole fire message as we might be.  After all, fire is destructive.  Fire burns.  It is a light that consumes, that destroys.  But it also purifies.  It purifies by burning away the ore so the precious metal inside is revealed.  It is intense, heating beyond what most of us can normally stand.  But one has to get close enough to the fire to work with the metal for it to be refined.  It is risky.  It might even be painful.  But it is the only way for all the impurities to be removed.  The impurities must be burned away until the new part is revealed.

You’ve probably already heard this illustration because I’ve used it before, but it’s wonderful as it tells the story of a woman watching a silversmith at work.  “But sir,” she said, “do you sit while the work of refining is going on?” “Oh, yes madam,” replied the silversmith, “I must sit with my eye steadily fixed on the furnace, for if the time necessary for refining be exceeded in the slightest degree, the silver will be injured.”  So as the lady was leaving the shop, the silversmith called her back, and said he had still further to mention, that he only knows when the process of purifying was complete by seeing his own image reflected in the silver.

Light always brings about change.  Sometimes it’s warm and inviting—a sunrise, a guidelight, a lamp.  And other times the Light brings about change so fast that it is painful.  But we are meant to be changed.  We are meant to be refined.  Our very image is being burned into the change that we see in this world.  This Advent light is on the horizon.  We can’t push it away, no matter how uncomfortable it may be.  It is our journey—into the Light.  And we WILL be changed.  And, finally, the image in which we were created, that very image of God, will be revealed.

But whether small or great, and no matter what the stage or grade of life, the call brings up the curtain, always, on a miracle of transfiguration-a rite, or moment, of spiritual passage, which, when complete, amounts to a dying and a birth.  The familiar life horizon has been outgrown, the old concepts, ideals, and emotional patterns no longer fit; the time for the passing of a threshold is at hand. (Joseph Campbell) 

Grace and Peace,

 Shelli

Exposure to Light

Lectionary Scripture Text: 1 Thessalonians 3: 9-13 (Advent 1C)

9How can we thank God enough for you in return for all the joy that we feel before our God because of you? 10Night and day we pray most earnestly that we may see you face to face and restore whatever is lacking in your faith.  11Now may our God and Father himself and our Lord Jesus direct our way to you. 12And may the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, just as we abound in love for you. 13And may he so strengthen your hearts in holiness that you may be blameless before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints.

In a way, these few verses almost sound a little sappy to our sometimes-cynical ears.  Are we ready for the big group hug?  But, seriously, you have to think about this in light of the environment in which these believers lived.  It was not easy.  There were always other powers pulling them away, cultural norms into which it was so easy to fall once again.  So, Paul’s exhortation to the church at Thessalonica was not a sappy, feel-good letter.  It was a reminder that there is something more, something better up ahead.  It was a reminder to hold on, to persevere, and to open one’s eyes to the signs of God’s Presence that surround us even in the midst of all these things that get in the way.  It was a call to allow oneself to be strengthened in holiness as one comes nearer and nearer to God.

Perhaps these words are something we need to hear.  After all, these times are tough.  There is a pandemic still running rampant, a pandemic that last Advent we all thought would be long gone by now.  There is greater division in our country than any of us have ever seen in our lifetimes.  The world around us seems to be slipping into something that we don’t recognize sometimes.  In a way, our lives are reminiscent of those early Thessalonians.  And, so, we, like them, pray for strength, pray that God will strengthen our hearts in holiness that we might know the Hope that is always offered.

This season of Advent IS a season of hope.  But sometimes that hope is terribly hard to see.  It often calls for an adjustment of the light exposure in our picture.  That may be an elusive notion nowadays with all of our automatically-adjusting cameras on every electronic device we own, but the shutter cameras that we used to all have (you know, the ones with the film) sometimes required an adjustment that would allow more or less light through the shutter, depending on the photo itself.  That’s sort of what Advent does.  It’s not a “beginning again” in that we start over but rather a time to adjust our picture, change the way we look at things, shift our lives just a bit so that we can see the Light.  God will guide us as we prepare to do that if we will only listen, if we will only allow ourselves the gift of being changed.  Just focus, make the adjustment, and bathe in the Light that illuminates your way.

Turn your face to the sun and the shadows will fall behind you. (Maori Proverb) 

Grace and Peace,

 Shelli

Trees and Branches

Lectionary Scripture Text: Jeremiah 33: 14-16 (Advent 1C)

14The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will fulfill the promise I made to the house of Israel and the house of Judah. 15In those days and at that time I will cause a righteous Branch to spring up for David; and he shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. 16In those days Judah will be saved and Jerusalem will live in safety. And this is the name by which it will be called: “The Lord is our righteousness.”

“The days are surely coming…”  These words attributed to the prophet Jeremiah are spoken into a world filled with uncertainty and despair.  They are spoken at a time when Judah was literally being squeezed between the powerful and foreboding Assyrian nation to the north and Egypt to the south and the west.  The faithful were on the verge of losing their society, their culture, and their faith.  They were forgetting who they were.  Hope was fading fast.  The words were not a promise that things would be repaired or would go back to the way they were before.  The promise was of a future hope, a New Creation beginning to rise just on the horizon.  

The scripture talks of a righteous branch that will spring forth.  It is a New Creation.  It is that New Creation for which we look in this season of Advent.  For us, the coming of Christ points us toward this New Creation.  But branches do not grow alone.  They are attached to the tree, sharing food and source with other branches.  The branch is nothing by itself.  If it somehow becomes detached from the tree, separated from its sustenance, the branch will die.  It cannot exist alone.  Sometimes we forget that.  We begin to think that our way of being and our way of thinking and our way of understanding God is all there is.  But this branch springs forth from a tree whose roots reach deep, roots that connect us all.

We are that branch, that righteous branch.  But righteousness is not being “like God” or even better than most.  Righteousness is holiness.  It is realizing who and whose we are.  It is knowing that this branch is nothing without the tree to which it is connected.  It is understanding that our source and our sustenance is not made by us but comes from the God who created us all and from whom we spring forth, much like the branch that springs from the tree.  Righteousness is being and growing in the way one is called to be.

This season of Advent is not situated in linear time.  It is not a sequential season through which we cycle each year.  It is a mystery, a season rooted in the past as we remember the promise of hope made to those so long ago, a season placed in the present as we prepare ourselves to fully grasp the meaning of Christmas, and a season that thrusts us toward the future, toward that promise of a New Creation.  In this season, we realize that we are part of that branch, growing out of the sustenance and source that has existed all along and, as the righteous branch, growing forward as we reach toward the Light.  Our stems and leaves may intermingle with other branches, even growing around them until they become indistinguishable.  All of these branches growing together are part of a whole, part of a tree whose roots reach deep into time, sustaining everything, part of a network that always grows toward the Light.  So Advent is not merely a season of waiting; it is a season of finding the Light.

Faith is not something to be grasped; it is a state to grow into. (Mahatma Gandhi) 

Grace and Peace,

 Shelli

Flashes of Light

Lectionary Scripture Text: Luke 21:25-36

25“There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on the earth distress among nations confused by the roaring of the sea and the waves. 26People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken. 27Then they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in a cloud’ with power and great glory. 28Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”

29Then he told them a parable: “Look at the fig tree and all the trees; 30as soon as they sprout leaves you can see for yourselves and know that summer is already near. 31So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that the kingdom of God is near. 32Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all things have taken place. 33Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away. 34“Be on guard so that your hearts are not weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life, and that day catch you unexpectedly, 35like a trap. For it will come upon all who live on the face of the whole earth. 36Be alert at all times, praying that you may have the strength to escape all these things that will take place, and to stand before the Son of Man.”

We begin again.  The Christian calendar cycles around and starts again today and Advent begins.  And we wait.  We wait for what will come.  We wait for the promise to be fulfilled.  We wait for the Light.  And we look for the signs.  You see, there are always signs.  Even here in the darkness, before the birth, before the manger, before the coming of God into our world, there are signs.  Even in this unsettling time when confusion prevails, when divisions escalate, when the world topples a little as it spins, there are signs.  You know the ones.  They are flashes of light in the darkness that come when we don’t expect them, that appear when we’re not ready to see them, perhaps when our eyes are not adjusted enough to encounter them.  And so, they hurt.  And we push them away.  And we wait in darkness.

This is not new.  The Hebrew Scriptures are often inherently dark in timbre.  They carry stories of a people waiting for God to come, sometimes hurting, sometimes wanting, always hopeful.  But in the midst of the darkness, over and over and over again, there are flashes of light, flashes of a great light to be seen by those who walk in darkness.  But the light can only be seen by those who are looking for it, who are prepared, who do not push it way as a nuisance for which they’re not ready.  That is the lesson of Advent—not just that we must wait, not only that we must not “jump the gun” before the season of Light comes, but that we must learn how to wait.  Advent waiting is anything but passive.  It is instead a season of preparation.  It is a time of preparing oneself to see the Light.  And the signs and flashes help us know where to walk—if we will only pay attention.

This Advent is different for me.  My dad passed away in September.  Those “high days” are always hard at first after losing someone.  But, for me, THIS is the day I was dreading.  For many of the last couple of years, I have tried to post daily to this blog during Advent and Lent.  I thought about not doing it this year because I knew it would be a little painful.  See, my dad was probably my most engaged reader.  He would read it every morning and often he would text or email me or we would talk about it.  He would engage with the writing and with me.  Last winter and early spring, I had to spend some time “camping out” at their house after what I have chosen to call the “great flood of 2021” after the Great Texas Freeze froze my pumps in the house in which I was living.  Each morning when I was there, while I was still in that groggy state of morning sleep, I would often hear the song that I had included with the blog as I often have done.  It was coming from my dad’s iPad.  At that moment each morning he became part of what I had written.  And as I remembered that, I took it as a sign…

Advent is a lot like that.  We enter it a little a groggy.  After all, it’s hard to wait.  It’s hard to know what life holds.  It would be easier to push it away, to wait until we are ready.  But there are flashes of light and carefully-placed soundbites that draw us in, that remind us that the waiting is not for naught.  They are signs that invite us to engage.  That’s what Advent calls us to do—to engage, to be alert.  Those signs of light that we see along the way are not for us to smile and pass by.  They are drawing us in, inviting us to become a part of them, to live with them not as sign of what’s to come but as chapters of the story itself. This is the way we walk toward the Light.

So, this Advent, remember to stay alert to those signs.  They are for you.  Engage with them in the way that you are called to do.  Do not wait passively.  Do not put off encountering them for later when you think the time is right.  This season is not “pre-Christmas”.  It is, rather, the season of holy waiting.  I hope what I write will be helpful.  I hope in some small way it will hold flashes of light for you.

God did not wait till the world was ready, till nations were at peace. God came when the Heavens were unsteady and prisoners cried out for release. God did not wait for the perfect time.  God came when the need was deep and great. In the mystery of the Word made flesh the maker of the Stars was born. We cannot wait till the world is sane to raise our songs with joyful voice, or to share our grief, to touch our pain.  God came with Love.  Rejoice!  Rejoice! And go into the Light of God. (Madeleine L’Engle) 

Grace and Peace,

 Shelli

While It Was Still Dark

Lectionary Scripture Text: John 20: 1-18

20Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb. 2So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.” 3Then Peter and the other disciple set out and went toward the tomb. 4The two were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. 5He bent down to look in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he did not go in. 6Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen wrappings lying there, 7and the cloth that had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen wrappings but rolled up in a place by itself. 8Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; 9for as yet they did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead. 10Then the disciples returned to their homes.

11But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; 12and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet. 13They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” 14When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. 15Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” 16Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rabbouni!” (which means Teacher). 17Jesus said to her, “Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” 18Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”; and she told them that he had said these things to her.

The women who walk to the tomb in the pre-dawn morning knew what they would find.  After all, they were there at the Cross.  They saw what had happened.  Jesus had died.  All hope for something more was gone.  All dreams of the world somehow turning around and emerging from the darkness in which they lived had ended at that cross.  They were able to quickly get his body and they had buried him, hastily laying him in a borrowed tomb so that the authorities would not find the body and take it as proof of his death.   And then sundown came all too quickly before they could prepare the body.  They had to stop what they were doing and observe the Passover Sabbath. 

So, they come early, before the rest of the world was awake to finish what they needed to do, to properly prepare Jesus’ body for burial.  They knew what they would find.  But when they came around the path by the tomb, they were stunned.  The heavy stone, the one that had taken all of them to roll over the hole, was no longer covering up the entrance.  So, Mary takes off running.  She ran to Simon Peter.  He would know what to do.  You can imagine his response: “What do you mean he’s not there??? That’s crazy.  That doesn’t even make sense!”  So, Peter and one of the other disciples went to see for themselves, running faster and faster down the pathway, surely knowing but probably dreading whatever they might find at the end.  It was all there—the tomb, the linen wrappings, the cloth that had covered his head.  Everything was there but Jesus.  The Scripture says they believed.  I don’t think they fully grasped it, though.  They believed he was gone.  But where did he go?  And in that moment of not knowing what to think, not knowing what to do, not knowing where to turn, suspended between despair and hope, their faith journey truly began.  This was the point where faith had to replace making sense of things.

But Mary Magdalene, distraught yet again with grief over what seemed to be yet another loss, just looking for ANYONE that could explain what happened or maybe just listen, mistook Jesus for the gardener.  It wasn’t until he spoke that she knew who it was.  It wasn’t until he spoke and she heard his voice in the darkness that she knew that she had seen the Lord. 

Yeah, they had it all figured out.  It was clear to them, until it wasn’t.  Perhaps part of the message of Easter is that there’s always more to the story than what we know or what we have figured out or the limits around which we have constructed our very lives.  So, in the darkness of Easter morning, our faith journey really begins.     

But there’s something we often miss in this story.  There is no sunrise service where Jesus rises with the Light.  In fact, this particular Gospel account doesn’t even have any light at all.  It takes great care in pointing out that it was early in the morning, while it was still dark.  All of this happened in the darkness.  But more than that, all of this REALLY happened before anyone showed up.  Under cover of darkness, while the rest of the world was sleeping and grieving, before the women came, before the world started stirring, while Creation was still groaning under the weight of that Friday, God began doing something new.  While it was still dark, God was recreating Life. God had done that before.  God had come into the dark void and spoke Light and Life into being and Creation had begun.  And, here, God does it yet again.

We speak of those that came to the tomb that morning as “witnesses” to the Resurrection, but, truth be told, there WERE no witnesses.  No one actually SAW Jesus rise.  There was no one there to document it for us.  Everyone who saw Jesus alive again saw him after.  Whatever happened between the hours that Jesus was laid in the tomb and that moment when the grave cloths were found discarded on the tomb’s floor, whatever happened between the beginning of the Sabbath and the morning of that third day, happened in the dark.  We tend to begin our Easter morning with shouts of alleluia and beautiful Easter lilies offset by brightly streaming light.  But that’s not really the way the story goes.  Everyone who believes actually came into a story that was already going on, even those that were present that day at the tomb.  Believing is not about seeing it happen but rather coming into the work that God has already begun and knowing that it is Truth AND that it is your story.  Our journey of faith begins in the dark.   

Maybe THAT’S the Resurrection story—that God does not wait until the world cleans up its act, that God does not wait until we are who we should be, that God does not wait until we believe to actually show up.  Maybe the story is that God is working all the time to resurrect, to re-create, to reconcile all of us so that even in the dark, no, ESPECIALLY in the dark, we know that God is there.

So, think about it.  Have you ever noticed how quietly Easter arrives?  There are no angelic choirs making announcements of Jesus’ coming.  There are no foreign visitors bringing gifts.  There aren’t even any ordinary folks that come in from the Shepherds Fields to see what has happened.  There is no voice thundering from heaven or Old Testament characters showing up on queue.  There’s no drama of parting waters or chariots of fire or burning bushes or mountains shrouded in cloud.  The sounds of the Resurrection are quiet, almost fearful.  They seem uncertain what will happen next, a little reticent at going forward in a new way.  And yet, there is a certain peace to Easter, a peace that begins in the quiet of the darkness and then allows the Light to begin to peek into the scene.  It’s as if Jesus rises just for Mary and calls her by name.  Maybe that’s what Jesus does for each of us.  In the quiet darkness, Jesus comes and rises before we get there and then when we are listening, says our name.  And we begin to follow wherever Jesus goes.  We just have to pay attention.

Some of you may remember this, but twenty-seven years ago, an F4 tornado hit Goshen United Methodist Church in Piedmont, Alabama.  It was Palm Sunday and the younger children’s choir had just finished presenting a pageant and were all seated on one pew.  Rev. Kelly Clem was in the pulpit just beginning her sermon when the tornado struck, immediately lifting the roof off and toppling several of the church’s walls to the floor, crashing down on top of the pews and the congregation.  The tornado killed nineteen people and injured eighty-six others that day.  Over the next few days, all through Holy Week, the pastor performed one funeral after another, including one for her four-year old daughter, Hannah, who had been part of the choir.  Toward the end of the week, she began receiving calls from members of the congregation.  Given the death of the pastor’s daughter and the destruction of their sanctuary, they asked, “Reverend Clem, are we having Easter this year?”  Her response?  “Easter is coming.”

That Sunday morning, two hundred people gathered in the front yard of the destroyed facilities at Goshen UMC while it was still dark.  And as the sun began to rise, Rev. Clem, with a bandaged head and her shoulder in a brace and a heart broken with grief, stood up in a makeshift pulpit, opened her Bible and read from Romans 8: “Nothing in all creation can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

THAT’S the Easter message.  It’s not that God put light where there was darkness; it’s not that despite all the darkness that is inflicted onto us by circumstances or by other people, God always comes out on top.  The message is that while it is still dark, God is working, recreating, resurrecting, raising us up.  The truth is, we call ourselves “people of the cross”.  I’m not sure if that’s really it.  We’re probably more “people of the empty tomb”, “people of what happened after”, “people of what God is doing now”.  And more than that, if we read this story as something historic, something that happened nearly 2,000 years ago that we just make sure we read once a year surrounded by Easter lilies, we have missed the point.  This day is about Jesus’ Resurrection, the one NOW.  That’s why most of our words for today are in present tense.  “Christ the Lord is risen today…”  And it’s also about OUR resurrection, OUR re-creation, OUR reconciliation with God.  It’s ongoing.  Even while at times it seems dark, God is there, recreating and resurrecting and making us something new.

It’s not just looking on the bright side of life and ignoring the darkness as if it doesn’t exist; it’s not a promise that nothing will ever go wrong or that God will put everything back in place at some point if we just hold on.  To be honest, that’s just bad theology.  Easter is not about replacing the bad with the good; In fact, I will tell you that Easter makes a whole lot more sense when you go through Holy Week and Good Friday, when you travel through the wilderness.  Because the truth is, we are not out of the wilderness (ARE YOU KIDDING?).  Life is a wilderness.  And God shows us not the way around, but the way through.  In fact, God walks with us through the wilderness showing us The Way.  That’s it.  God takes our hand while it is still dark, calls our name, and shows us The Way. 

So, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord.”  Because, Easter does not merely change death; Easter changes life.  Easter shows us the Risen Christ.  And once we’ve seen the Lord, once we’ve peered into the darkness and have caught a faint vision of Light, even if we don’t really know EXACTLY where it is, once we, too, have heard our name and Risen, there is no going back. He is Risen!  He is Risen indeed!  And so are we—even in the wilderness.

And not that [this] story is told, what does it mean?  How can I tell?  What does life mean?  If the meaning could be put into a sentence there would be no need of telling the story. (Henry Van Dyke) 

We made it through the wilderness! (Well, not really!) The wilderness is where we are, where we travel, where we find God. So, remain in the wilderness. It will be your place of resurrection! I’ve so treasured this time in this wilderness season, even as I traveled in my own wilderness–loss, grief, packing, storing stuff, moving, arranging, unpacking….more unpacking…still unpacking. The wilderness is always with us. Thanks be to God! I will go back to posting at least weekly and maybe try to do some other things. In the meantime, thank you for traveling with me!

Grace and Peace,

 Shelli