A New Creation

Genesis:  1: 1-5
In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the 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. Then God said, ‘Let there be light’; and there was light. And God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness. God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day.

This is normally not a passage for Easter Day.  What happened to the empty tomb?  What happened to the dawn of the Eastern morn?  What happened to the Resurrected Christ?  I actually think it’s all there:  A formless void–nothingness, chaos, injustice, persecution, evil, death–is recreated into order while God’s Spirit sweeps across its being.  A light appears…a first light…a light that has never been before…a light separated from the darkness of death and despair and hell.  It is the dawn of the Light.  It is the first day of the New Creation.  Christ the Lord has Risen!  ALLELUIA!  ALLELUIA!  ALLELUIA!…

This thing that God has done…this turning despair into hope and death into life…is surely the greatest act of Creation!  God again took a formless void, an instrument of hopelessness and death, a manifestation of denial and betrayal, of injustice and evil, and there…there in the first light of this morning…we see glorious Light…we see hope…we see life as we’ve never seen it before.  There…there in the light of the dawn is our eternity!

Welcome, happy morning!  Age to age shall say: 
Hell today is vanquished, Heaven is won today.”
Lo! the dead is living, God forevermore! 
Him, their true creator, All his works adore.
Earth with joy confesses, Clothing her for spring, 
All good gifts returned with her returning King,
Bloom in every meadow, leaves on every bough,
speak his sorrows ended; Hail his triumph now.
Thou, of life the author, Death didst undergo, 
Tread the path of darkness, saving strength to show;
Come then, true and faithful, now fulfill thy word; 
Tis thine own third morning, Rise, O buried Lord!
Welcome, happy morning!  Age to age shall say: 
“Hell today is vanquished, Heaven is won today!
Lo! the dead is living, God forevermore! 
Him, their true creator, All his works adore.
                                          (“Welcome Happy Morning”, hymn by Fortunatus (ca. 535-600), trans. by John Ellerton)   

Christ the Lord is Risen!  ALLELUIA!…And there was evening and there was morning the first day…

Grace and Peace,

Shelli

Looking for a Miracle

Scripture Passage:  Matthew 12: 38-42
Then some of the scribes and Pharisees said to him, ‘Teacher, we wish to see a sign from you.’ But he answered them, ‘An evil and adulterous generation asks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. For just as Jonah was for three days and three nights in the belly of the sea monster, so for three days and three nights the Son of Man will be in the heart of the earth. The people of Nineveh will rise up at the judgement with this generation and condemn it, because they repented at the proclamation of Jonah, and see, something greater than Jonah is here! The queen of the South will rise up at the judgement with this generation and condemn it, because she came from the ends of the earth to listen to the wisdom of Solomon, and see, something greater than Solomon is here!

It is interesting that there are really no “Holy Saturday” Scriptures, per se.  The Lectionary readings jump to the passages that will be used this evening for the Easter Vigil as we hear again the covenants, God’s promises of a world made new.  But what about this morning?  There are no words for the way we feel.  There are no Scriptural or theological platitudes that we can toss around this day to feel better.  There are not even any pictures.  The sun came up just like it normally does and everything looks the same.  Everything, that is, except the empty chair at the table, the missing voice of a teacher, and the closed tomb waiting for the Sabbath to pass so that we can do our work.  The world is still waiting for a sign, waiting for a miracle. But there will be no calming of waves of grief this time; there will be no healing of our pain; and a quick peak shows only tepid water in the jars.  There is no wine this time.  There will be no sign.  The miracle this time is that there will be no miracle.  God, it seems, has finally left us to ourselves.

Perhaps the reason that there was no miracle is that the world itself had changed.  The New Creation had begun.  We were just too wrapped up in our grief and our despair and some of us in our guilt and shame to see what God had begun to do.  The traditional Apostles’ Creed says that Jesus “descended into hell” after the Crucifixion and before the Resurrection.  Most mainline churches (at least of the ones that still choose to even say the universal creeds!) respectfully or regretfully or embarrassingly leave that part out. After all, what does that mean?  Hell is for those who have no hope; hell is the finality of being so bad that you cannot be redeemed, right?  How can Jesus go to hell?  How can the Son of God, the Messiah, wander around and be seen in a neighborhood like that.  It’s just not right. 


Maybe the miracle is that hell and heaven, just as humanity and the Divine, were somehow poured together for all eternity.  Maybe the miracle is that God has now come so close to us that there is no longer a place that we can go without God being there with us, whether or not we can sense that.  Maybe the miracle is that hell, itself, like death, is no more. Maybe the miracle is that we no longer need a miracle.  Because, my friends, we have been promised life.


Jesus laid out what would happen earlier this week.  In the Lectionary Passage from Holy Tuesday (John 12: 20-36), Jesus depicted the events of this week-end as the Christ being “lifted up” and then “gathering all in”.   Now everyone knows that when you begin gathering something, the first sweep starts at the bottom.  You extravagantly dig deep, trying to get everything you can on the first pass.  Maybe on this morning as we grieve and regret and wonder what life will be, God through Christ is digging deep into the bowels of hell and extravagantly gathering them in.  Jesus descended to earth that we might be shown the Way, that we might know what Life means, that we might be redeemed, renewed, and recreated and then be poured over with Light.  Jesus descended to earth that we might be “gathered in”.  Why, then, couldn’t the Lord of Life, descend further, descend beyond where we even thought God could go, and do the same thing?  After all, who are we to say how big or how loving or how extravagantly welcoming God is?


Are you looking for a sign?  There is no need for one.  There is no more need for miracles, no more need for one-time, unique “fixes” to Creation.  It’s ALL being recreated.  Even God can begin again.  But THIS time, God desires not to do it alone.  THAT is the miracle.


In the silence of this day, feel your grief and mark your shame, knowing that the dawn of life is there even for you.  And once the Sabbath passes, we, too, can begin our work.

For thine is the Kingdom, and the Power, and the Glory forever.  Amen.

Grace and Peace on this Holiest of Gathering Days,

Shelli

Friday

Today’s Gospel Passage:  John 19:  16-18, 28-30
Then he handed him over to them to be crucified.  So they took Jesus; and carrying the cross by himself, he went out to what is called The Place of the Skull, which in Hebrew* is called Golgotha. There they crucified him, and with him two others, one on either side, with Jesus between them…After this, when Jesus knew that all was now finished, he said (in order to fulfil the scripture), ‘I am thirsty.’ A jar full of sour wine was standing there. So they put a sponge full of the wine on a branch of hyssop and held it to his mouth. When Jesus had received the wine, he said, ‘It is finished.’ Then he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.

This is the day when Christianity is at its lowest point.  Most of us 21st-century believers like to err on the side of hope, running quickly through these hours, knowing that the Easter dawn is soon appearing.  But I think we do ourselves, not to mention Jesus, a disservice by not looking at this day even without the promise of the Easter feast.

Tradition holds that after the debacle in the garden, Jesus was taken to the House of Caiphas.  It was a fine house right on the edge of the city walls.  There he was thrown into a lower room, a dungeon, if you will, where he spent the night.  This Jesus of Nazareth, the Incarnate Word, who had drawn wise kings and lowly shepherds, who had impressed the high priests of the Temple, who had taught and healed, who had welcomed the outcast and debunked the presumed “in” crowd, who had calmed the storms and raised the dead, who had committed body and blood and had washed the feet of his friends…this was the man who sat alone knowing this night would be his last.

And then in the morning, he was rushed through a facade of a trial and a paltry sentencing, paraded through the streets of the holiest of cities, as he was forced to carry the cross on his back.  But lest we think this was some big deal, life continued to go on.  It was just another Roman execution in a city wrought with polarization and distrust.  The vendors were out that morning selling their wares.  The politicians were out making sure that everyone knew that they had something to do with ridding the community of one who spoke against normalcy and reason, against those who knew best, one who was touted as the Messiah.  And there were others there that felt helpless–a woman who Jesus had healed, the crying women that knew him, his own mother.  No one could do anything.  There was a simple man from Cyrene that carried his cross for a few yards.  After all, it was the least he could do.

And then, we are told, he was lifted up and tacked on to the cross like a haphazardly-strewn note that we tack on to our door.  There was no remorse; there was really no pompous display; there wasn’t really even a show.  Jesus was nailed to the cross as a common and everyday criminal, a bother, really, to sophisticated and proper society.

He breathed his last breath and willingly and intentionally gave up his spirit to the One who created him.  He was gone forever, laid in a Holy Sepulchre, a permanent tomb.  The world would go back to the way it was.  All was quiet.

But then the thunder roared and the clouds covered the light even though it was in the middle of the day.  The earth shook as if Creation’s very core was breaking.  And the temple curtain, the only thing that had for so long separated the holiest of holies from the boundaries of humanity and the earth on which it walked, was torn in two with a violence that no one could imagine, as if in that moment, the Divine had somehow spilled into the earth even as the Son of Man had poured himself into the Divine.

Nothing would ever be the same again.  And when the light finally dawns, we will realize that the earth, that all of humanity, that even God has forever changed.  God took death away and in its place put life and since life can only exist with God, God is here forever.

Easter will dawn, but the light will only serve to illumine what has happened this day, for on this day, Creation has happened again.

Grace and Peace,

Shelli

Gethsemane

Today’s Gospel Passage:  John 13: 1-17, 31b-35
Now before the festival of the Passover, Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart from this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. The devil had already put it into the heart of Judas son of Simon Iscariot to betray him. And during supper Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God, got up from the table, took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was tied around him. He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?” Jesus answered, “You do not know now what I am doing, but later you will understand.” Peter said to him, “You will never wash my feet.” Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no share with me.” Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!” Jesus said to him, “One who has bathed does not need to wash, except for the feet, but is entirely clean. And you are clean, though not all of you.” For he knew who was to betray him; for this reason he said, “Not all of you are clean.” After he had washed their feet, had put on his robe, and had returned to the table, he said to them, “Do you know what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord—and you are right, for that is what I am. So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you. Very truly, I tell you, servants are not greater than their master, nor are messengers greater than the one who sent them. If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them…“Now the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him. If God has been glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself and will glorify him at once. Little children, I am with you only a little longer. You will look for me; and as I said to the Jews so now I say to you, ‘Where I am going, you cannot come.’ I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” 

The meal was one of those moments that we wish we could freeze in time.  Everyone was happy, enjoying each other.  Jesus washed the feet of the disciples, the most intimate of acts.  It proved to be the beautiful epitaph of his servant’s heart, the gift of all gifts on a night that probably only he knew would be his last.  They ate and drank together, honoring the tradition of the Passover, remembering how God had delivered them from bondage, from those things that were not part of them, those things that did not fit with their identity as the people of God.  And at the meal, Jesus broke the bread and gave each one a piece, inviting them to share it with him.  And then he raised the cup…This is my body…This is my blood…Eat…Drink…Do this in remembrance of me.  Do this in remembrance of how God delivers you from bondage to those things that are not part of you.  There were others there…the clattering of dishes…the clanking of cups…the voices raised above the heat of the room.  And yet, somehow they thought it was just them.

And then Jesus gets up to leave and asks them to come.  Let’s take a walk…let’s stroll through the cool night air.  It was one of those moments that we wish we could freeze in time…They walked toward the olive grove…Gethsemane, which means “oil press”, at the foot of the Mt. of Olives.  Jesus went to pray.  Well, we’ll just close our eyes and relax…He will be back in a moment.

I don’t think Jesus took them there because they were ready to hear what would happen.  I don’t think he took them there for support.  I don’t even think he took them there because he thought they would pray with him or something.  I think he took them there so that they would be part of the story, so that these moments that would become part of Jesus would also be part of them.  This was a holy place.  It probably didn’t look like it.  It really was just a bunch of dirt and grass with some olive trees stuck in them.  And it was cold as the damp night air settled in.  But it was here, in a moment frozen in time, that Jesus turned himself over to God.  “Take this cup from me”…not “get me out of this”, but “Take this cup from me”…the cup that he had shared with his friends…the cup that represented his body and his blood and the very essence of his being that he was willing to surrender, to pour out into the world.  “Take this cup from me”…it is time…a moment frozen in time…there is nothing more to do but for Jesus to pour his life into the world, whether or not they are ready, whether or not they even know it.  Father…forgive them…and “take this cup from me now”.

He returned to the sleeping disciples, the bumblers and the doubters, the deniers and the social climbers, the ones who were slow to get it and the one who would betray him.  He loved them all.  And now…they, too, must take the cup.

And in a flash, the frozen moment melts with a kiss of betrayal.  The cup spills into the crowd and Jesus is taken away.  The disciples are stunned.  What now?  What happened?  The world has moved on, but there was that moment…forever frozen in time.

On this holiest of nights, whether you are the sleeper, or the denier, or the betrayer, know that you are also the beloved…a daughter or son of God.  “Take this cup from me now”.

Grace and Peace,

Shelli

What Were You Thinking?

Today’s Gospel Passage:  John 13: 18-31a

I am not speaking of all of you; I know whom I have chosen. But it is to fulfill the scripture, ‘The one who ate my bread has lifted his heel against me.’ I tell you this now, before it occurs, so that when it does occur, you may believe that I am he. Very truly, I tell you, whoever receives one whom I send receives me; and whoever receives me receives him who sent me.” After saying this Jesus was troubled in spirit, and declared, “Very truly, I tell you, one of you will betray me.” The disciples looked at one another, uncertain of whom he was speaking. One of his disciples—the one whom Jesus loved—was reclining next to him; Simon Peter therefore motioned to him to ask Jesus of whom he was speaking. So while reclining next to Jesus, he asked him, “Lord, who is it?” Jesus answered, “It is the one to whom I give this piece of bread when I have dipped it in the dish.” So when he had dipped the piece of bread, he gave it to Judas son of Simon Iscariot. After he received the piece of bread, Satan entered into him. Jesus said to him, “Do quickly what you are going to do.” Now no one at the table knew why he said this to him. Some thought that, because Judas had the common purse, Jesus was telling him, “Buy what we need for the festival”; or, that he should give something to the poor. So, after receiving the piece of bread, he immediately went out. And it was night.

Judas…Judas…Judas…what were you thinking?  How could you betray Jesus?  What in the world could have compelled you to do that?  The truth was that all the disciples were wondering, “Is it I?”…”What in the world have I done?”  We all wonder the same thing.  The truth is that the disciples are us…diverse, bumbling, questioning, slow to get it, insecure, betraying, denying, regretting…they are us.  There’s a little Andrew in all of us.  There’s a little Peter in all of us.  And yes…there’s a little Judas in all of us.

The truth is that we’re not always right there with Jesus.  We come closer, we stray, we come closer still, we stray farther…  We figure out better ways for ourselves.  We make excuses.  And then when the cards are on the table, we, too, betray.  It’s hard to swallow, but it’s us.  But notice that Judas is right there at the table.  Jesus knew.  He knew who would betray him.  He saw the writing on the wall.  He probably could have avoided it by ousting Judas from the last dinner altogether.  But that’s not what happened.  Judas was there.  We all are there…betrayer and forgiven.  That is the story of our lives.

The point is…we don’t earn forgiveness.  It just comes.  We just have to realize that it comes.  In other words, we don’t have to be perfect people (well that’s a good thing!).  We just have to desire to be with God.  Don’t we all?  And when it’s all said and done, in that place called heaven or the afterlife, or however you imagine it, all of us Judas’s will be there together, surrounded by love, and grace, and unimaginable forgiveness.  After all (read yesterday’s passage), Jesus will be lifted up and will gather all of us in.  That is the message of the Cross…for the Judas in all of us.

Go this week, all ye Judas’…and know that you are forgiven!

Shelli