For Those Who Almost Missed It

Road to EmmausLuke 24:13-49

Now on that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, and talking with each other about all these things that had happened. While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and went with them, but their eyes were kept from recognizing him. And he said to them, “What are you discussing with each other while you walk along?” They stood still, looking sad. Then one of them, whose name was Cleopas, answered him, “Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place there in these days?” He asked them, “What things?” They replied, “The things about Jesus of Nazareth, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, and how our chief priests and leaders handed him over to be condemned to death and crucified him. But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things took place. Moreover, some women of our group astounded us. They were at the tomb early this morning, and when they did not find his body there, they came back and told us that they had indeed seen a vision of angels who said that he was alive. Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said; but they did not see him.” Then he said to them, “Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared! Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?” Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures. As they came near the village to which they were going, he walked ahead as if he were going on. But they urged him strongly, saying, “Stay with us, because it is almost evening and the day is now nearly over.” So he went in to stay with them. When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight. They said to each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?” That same hour they got up and returned to Jerusalem; and they found the eleven and their companions gathered together. They were saying, “The Lord has risen indeed, and he has appeared to Simon!” Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread.

This familiar account is the story of two people—one named Cleopas and one forever unnamed leaving Jerusalem and walking along the road—an ordinary road.  Think about what they must have been feeling.

A lot had just happened.  Their heads were spinning as they tried to get their minds around it.  But it was really too overwhelming.  And there was still a sense of grief at their loss.  And, besides, they needed to pay attention to where they were walking.  These days the roads were not as safe as they used to be.  You really couldn’t trust anyone that you saw.  And all this traffic coming out of Jerusalem made it even harder.  They had to be careful.  And they were tired.

And so to pass the time, they talked about it.  Maybe by saying it out loud, it would begin to make sense.  Maybe together, the two of them, Cleopas and the other one, could put it into some sort of perspective.  And then someone approached them.  You can bet they were a little wary at first.  “What are you talking about?” the stranger asked.  “Good grief,” they must have thought.  “Where has he been?  I mean, EVERYONE is talking about it.”  So they told him the story of Jesus—at least the way they thought they understood it.  They told the story of how this wonderful man had died, how all the hopes and the plans for the future were gone, how their world would never go back to being the way it was before.

And as they got close to the village, the stranger turned like he was headed away.  But it was almost evening.  The road would not be safe.  So they asked him to stay with them.  And that evening, as they all sat around the table together, this stranger picked up a piece of bread, blessed it and broke it.  And as he handed it to them, they saw who it was.  Seven miles of dusty road and it was not until this moment that they saw what they almost missed.  Why didn’t they notice?  Why did they miss it?  They missed it because they had been so mired in loss and death that they missed life.

These times are difficult for us.  Do we open up the country?  What does that mean?  Or do we stay a little longer where we are supposedly safe?  Loss is a strange thing.  We grieve, we even stay mired in the depths of despair, and we try desperately to get things back to the way they were before.  But is it possible that we’re only remembering the rosy parts of what we lost?  And by staying so fixated on trying to regain what we lost, maybe even trying to regain control, is it possible that we’re missing some newness that is being offered to us?

Venice Clear WatersI’m sure you’ve seen the reports of the changes that the earth has experienced while we humans have been held up in our houses.  The air is cleaner is every major city, opening views that younger generations have never even seen.  The gondolas of Venice now float on crystal waters instead of the muck to which they had become so accustomed.  Bird’s voices are returning (because they can now breathe!) and other animals are showing up in all sorts of unknown places.  See, the world is starting to heal.  The earth knows that things do not stay the same.  The earth knows how to adapt and how to look for the places of hope, how to go where the newness is being offered.

Goats in TownThe mystery of God’s transcendence is never static or predictable.  But in the midst of our ordinary and sometimes mundane lives, we are given glimpses of the holy and the sacred.  They come without warning.  They come without bidding.  Sometimes they come when we’re not quite ready.  But life is not just about those pinnacles of holy sightings.  If we spent all of our lives on the mountaintop, we would certainly get a bit of altitude sickness.  Life is an ordinary road on which we travel.  It’s got hills and valleys and a few potholes along the way.  And every once in a while, holiness enters and dances with us.  See, Jesus keeps showing up.  But if we’re looking behind us, we’ll miss it.

This is a hard time.  Keep walking–together.  There is newness just up ahead.  It’s not what we had.  It’s better.

Grace fills empty spaces, but it can only enter where there is a void to receive it, and it is grace itself which makes this void. (Simone Weil)

Grace and Peace,



BlessingLectionary Text for Easter 2A: John 20:19-31

When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.”

A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.” Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.

And now it’s later that same day.  This is the passage that we always read the Sunday following Easter Sunday.  It is a continuation of the story, the continuation of the journey toward belief and faith.  The Gospel According to John tells us that the disciples are gathered in a room as evening wraps around them.  The mood is bleak.  The questions are everywhere.  They don’t know where to turn. They had placed everything in Jesus—all their hopes, all their dreams.  And now, well, it was just confusing.  What were they supposed to think?  Where were they supposed to go?  What were they supposed to believe?  They were still questioning, still not so certain about what they had seen.

Then, almost without warning, Jesus appears.  “Peace be with you,” he says and shows them his hand.  They recognize him and they rejoice.  He is alive!  But for some reason (we’re not really told why), Thomas is not with them when this happens.  So, when he returns, they tell him what they have seen.  That’s the key.  They SAW!  They experienced it.  So Thomas is just supposed to fall in line behind the others without asking any questions?  Personally, I think Thomas gets a bad rap in this.  After all, who of us has not doubted?  Who of us hasn’t struggled with what it is we believe?  And, to be honest, who have us have dared to ask the question that everyone is thinking?  Show me.  Show me so I can believe.

And you know what happens?  Jesus doesn’t reprimand him.  Jesus doesn’t dismiss his searching and his struggling as a lack of faith.  Instead, Jesus gives him what he needs.  Jesus gives Thomas himself.  Thomas’ question sort of dares Jesus to show himself.  I wonder if Thomas really thought that Jesus would respond.  Maybe he did.  What an incredible act of faith THAT would be!  Maybe Thomas’ story is a lot different than we thought.

The thing is, so many of us are a lot like most of the disciples.  We believe what we saw, what is clear, what we’re told, what is “without question”.  (Well, let me give you a clue…NOTHING is without question.  The Bible is not a textbook.  It is a journey.)  Would it be odd to say that more of us SHOULD be like Thomas?  See, Thomas wanted to believe.  He wanted to believe that the horrible thing that had happened had never happened.  But that’s not faith; that’s some sort of magician’s trick.  So Thomas was trying to find a way to live his new normal.  And he wanted to touch Jesus.  And he wanted to hold Jesus.  He wanted to touch him and feel him and smell the familiar scent of his friend.

A few years ago, one of my best friends died.  We were lucky.  We got to say goodbye.  We got to tell each other that we loved each other.  As the end approached, her husband called me and told me that she had said I should come.  And when I got there, he went and sat outside.  She and I sat there together.  We recounted some memories.  We talked about how screwed up things around us were (because one thing we always had in common was that we were sure we knew a better way!)  And then we just sat.  We talked about unimportant things or we just sat in silence.  Perhaps it was our way of breathing in each others’ presence, becoming a part of each others’ being.  When I left we embraced and told each other that we loved each other.  She died four days later.

Thomas has become “Doubting Thomas” in the church tradition.  But, what if he just wanted to be with Jesus?  What if he just wanted to breathe him in, to become a part of his being?  What if Thomas was the one that had the faith to abide in Jesus, to become a part of him?  What if he wanted to tell Jesus he loved him?  We are not asked to believe in the Resurrection or even in our own resurrection as some sort of static thing.  We’re not told to never question or never ask, “How can this be?”  We all journey in different ways; we all have different needs.  And Jesus gives each of us exactly what we need.  See we can stand back in the shadows and believe what we’ve read or believe the story we’ve been told.  Or we can dare to come close enough to breathe Christ in and become a part of Christ’s Being.  We can dare to abide in Christ and open ourselves for Christ to abide in us.  It will change everything.  Our journey will be different.  And it’s OK to ask questions along the way.  Because, see, when you abide in Christ, you become someone different.

Every question in life is an invitation to live with a touch more depth, a breath more meaning. (Joan Chittister)

Abide in Christ…


Grace and Peace,


Canceling Easter


John 20:1-18

Early 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. So 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.” Then Peter and the other disciple set out and went toward the tomb. The two were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. He bent down to look in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he did not go in. Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen wrappings lying there, and the cloth that had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen wrappings but rolled up in a place by itself. Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; for as yet they did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead. Then the disciples returned to their homes.

IMG_0118But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; and 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. They 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.” When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus 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.” Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rabbouni!” (which means Teacher). Jesus 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.’” Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”; and she told them that he had said these things to her.

We read this story every Easter morning.  But the original account was not filled with Easter lilies and chords of “Christ the Lord is Risen Today”.  It was not in a packed sanctuary with an air of celebration.  It was somber, a solemn and silent processional of grief and regret.  The air in the garden was heavy and damp and the sounds of the night were just beginning to fade away.  And, contrary to contemporary theology, finding the tomb empty would not have been a glorious site. The body of their Lord had not been properly prepared and now it was gone.  The grief was even worse than before.  Now it was mixed with a sense of being violated.  She had been crying for days but Mary began to weep tears that she did not realize she still had.

But, turning around, she saw him.  It was unthinkable at first.  It must just be someone that resembles him.  But when he called her, when he said her name, she knew.  She wanted to grab and hold him forever.  But instead, he backed away, and told her to go tell everyone. She ran, not really even knowing where she as getting the energy.  She ran to tell them that she had seen him, that he had spoken to her, that in some way that she did not yet understand, Christ was alive!

The story will be different for us this time.  We, too, will miss the packed sanctuaries with an air of celebration.  For all practical purposes, Easter is canceled.  Who would have ever imagined this before?  Who would have ever thought that on the day when more people attend worship services than any other in the year, the sanctuaries will sit dark and empty?  I suppose some of us, too, feel a little violated, like something has been taken from us.  I mean, when you strip away all the crowds and all the music and all the liturgy and all the Easter lilies, what is left?  Well, there’s still that empty tomb.

Is it possible that we get too wrapped up in the trappings of Easter sometimes?  Is it possible that the day has become a glorious historical remembrance of something that Scripture tells us happened so long ago?  Because, see, the message of Easter is not just the empty tomb.  (I’m betting if the tomb was the most important part of the story then we’d at least know where in Jerusalem the thing actually is.)  The message of the story lies in the final verse:  “I have seen the Lord.”  The message of Easter is not the remembrance of an empty tomb; the message of Easter is that Christ is alive and…so are we.  The message of Easter is not just Jesus’ Resurrection, but also ours.  Remember these words: “I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.”

So on this day, without the Easter celebration to which we’ve grown so accustomed, without the crowds gathered to celebrate the Risen Christ together, sit quietly at the tomb yourself and ponder this thing that has happened.  Christ is Risen and so are we!  The promise of Easter is that we will remember that resurrection did not just happen once.  Instead, it happens every time one of us says, “I have seen the Lord.”  We can cancel Easter.  But resurrection is everlasting.

Resurrection Sunday is about reconciling the light within us with the darkness around us. Jesus, you see, did not leave us with empty longing; Jesus left us with light, a direction, a way, a meaning, a truth. Consequently, the Resurrection did not change the world. On the contrary, the Resurrection changed the apostles who are supposed to change the world. What is supposed to be celebrated on Easter Sunday is not only that Jesus has risen but that we have risen by His rising to become something new and something bold and something strong.  (Joan Chittister) 

Happy Easter!  Go and live your resurrected life! Next year may we celebrate together!

Grace and Peace,


SHORT PROGRAMMING NOTE:  Thank you for spending this sort of odd Holy Week with me!  I’ve been glad to be back at writing.  Look for me to post to this blog going forward each week (probably sometime early in the week) for the following Sunday’s Lectionary text.  Hope you’ll stay tuned!  Happy Easter!  

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A New Normal

Cherry Blossom Tree

Job 14:1-14

“A mortal, born of woman, few of days and full of trouble, comes up like a flower and withers, flees like a shadow and does not last. Do you fix your eyes on such a one? Do you bring me into judgment with you? Who can bring a clean thing out of an unclean? No one can. Since their days are determined, and the number of their months is known to you, and you have appointed the bounds that they cannot pass, look away from them, and desist, that they may enjoy, like laborers, their days.  “For there is hope for a tree, if it is cut down, that it will sprout again, and that its shoots will not cease. Though its root grows old in the earth, and its stump dies in the ground, yet at the scent of water it will bud and put forth branches like a young plant. But mortals die, and are laid low; humans expire, and where are they? As waters fail from a lake, and a river wastes away and dries up, so mortals lie down and do not rise again; until the heavens are no more, they will not awake or be roused out of their sleep. Oh that you would hide me in Sheol, that you would conceal me until your wrath is past, that you would appoint me a set time, and remember me! If mortals die, will they live again? All the days of my service I would wait until my release should come.

I don’t think we’ve ever really known what to do with this day.  It is a day “in between” death and life in our often compartmentalized minds.  In the past, I’ve had the benefit of Easter Vigil Services to hurry the day along.  But, honestly, that’s sort of a jump on Easter morning.  What is this day itself?  Scripturally, the day exists to fulfill the “on the third day” thing. In the Scriptures, it almost doesn’t really have a place except to just be.  (And maybe that’s not so bad.)  Historically, the day was skipped because it was the Sabbath–not a day for preparations of bodies.  Traditionally, (which is based on Scripture, but not really IN Scripture), look to the old version of the Apostles’ Creed.  According to that version, “[Jesus] was crucified, died, and was buried; he descended to the dead…”  So, according to those words, while the world we know was mired in grief and shadows, Jesus was busy.  He had descended to the dead and, even there, was making all things new.  As the passage from Job recounts, they were being released.  I mean, God has promised to re-create all there is.  I believe that.

In his writings, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin wrote the phrase, “Le toujours Noveau Dieu“.  “God is always new”.  Teilhard contended that God does not simply do new things but that God IS always new.  The Dominican mystic Meister Eckart had a similar insight when he wrote, “God is the newest thing there is, the youngest thing there is.  God is the beginning and if we are united to God we become new again.”  I think we tend to often fall into thinking of God as the One who presides over newness, sort of a prime mover not really controlling us (because, free will and all) but somehow administering the whole of Creation while we pray for help and guidance.  But this notion that everything about God IS new, IS being made new, sort of flies in the face of that.  God is the Great I Am–always New.  Life is always new.  Every end is a new beginning and every season becomes a new one.  There are no dead ends out of which God will pluck us to stand again.  God is always there as Newness.  But it means we have to let go of the pieces that lay behind us.

Covid19 TestingWe are in the midst of trying to figure out our “new normal”.  When will the world open back up?  When will things recover?  When will our news not be filled with so much fear and death and despair?  But God doesn’t usually make a habit of just picking up the pieces and putting them back in exactly the same place.  God is not the great Copier; God is Creator.  Our brokenness is a lot more like Humpty-Dumpty than we’d like to admit.  Nothing can be put back in exactly the same place.  Empty ShelvesInstead, God walks us into Newness.  God walks us into Life.  The next few months are going to be hard.  There is no doubt.  Learning to live in a new normal is always hard.  But the promise of Jesus is not just having someone to help us through it; the promise is that all will be made New again. That’s what Life is about.  And that’s what the Cross showed us.  God did not undo what had happened; God took the pieces and created Life.


“For there is hope for a tree, if it is cut down, that it will sprout again, and that its shoots will not cease. Though its root grows old in the earth, and its stump dies in the ground, yet at the scent of water it will bud and put forth branches like a young plant.

Here are the options that are open to us when we have tragically and inexcusably failed.  We can try to deny the significance of what we have done…Or, we can cry as if our mistakes are absolutely hopeless…Or we can take the approach a mother whose child has broken something very precious, who entered into the crucible of her son’s sufferings…but then dared to say, “Come on.  Let’s pick up the pieces, take them home and see what beauty we can make of what is left.”  (John R. Claypool)

On this day, look for the Newness…and start walking toward it.

Will You Remember?


John 19: 28-30

After this, when Jesus knew that all was now finished, he said (in order to fulfill 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.

You know the story.  The morning came too fast.  Time was running out.  And Jesus was taken to appear before the court in a sham trial with the verdict already set.  The tide had turned and with it the crowds.  They shouted to crucify him.  (I don’t understand.  How can you get so wrapped up in a crowd that you would do that?)  Then he was dragged through the streets until he was almost dead.  He was whipped and spat upon.  And then on some now unknown hill outside of Jerusalem called Golgotha, he was nailed to a cross between two common criminals.  And there is where it ended.

We’re usually asked if “We were there”.  It’s not really biblical but it’s a good question and a heart-wrenching hymn.  But the truth is, there is no evidence that they WERE there.  Mary, Jesus’ mother, was there, along with Mary the wife of Clopas (probably Cleopas, the brother of St. Joseph), and Mary Magdalene.  But the disciples seemed to have disappeared.  I don’t hold it against them.  People handle grief in different ways.  Maybe they just couldn’t take it, particularly those who in some way had played a part in it.  Judas would take his own life, unable to live with his guilt and his grief.  But the others would eventually resurface and they would go back to doing what they were called to do.  They would spread the message of Christ and become apostles and saints.  So, maybe the better question is not “Were you there?” but “Will you remember?”  Will you remember who you are and what you are called to be?

As we continue in our societal quarantine, we’re NOT there.  Actually, we SHOULDN’T be there.  This is important.  It’s what we need to do right now.  But we still remember.  We remember this day that is always so difficult.  We remember the Good Friday or Tennebrae services we’ve had before.  And, most importantly, we remember who we are and what we’re called to do.  I’m doubting many of us will become apostles and saints but our voices are important.  They are needed.  Good Friday is not a funeral; it is a calling.  In this moment, we are swept into the story and we become the Body of Christ.  No, we’re not there, but we remember.  We remember who and whose we are.  And that’s what matters.  The truth was, it WASN’T finished.  It was only the end of a season.  And now a new one begins.

Oh, yeah…the picture of the rosemary.  It’s great on chicken, yes, but it’s also a symbol of remembrance.  Many traditions use it at funerals or plant it on graves.  But remembrance is not about looking back longingly at the past.  It’s about becoming who it has made you and who it calls you to be.  Will you remember?

I have discovered over time that the cross is supposed to take its toll on us. It forms us to find God in the shadows of life. Ironically enough, it’s the cross that teaches us hope…it is this hope that carries us from stage to stage in life, singing and dancing around dark corners. (Joan Chittister)

On this day, let your prayer be a prayer of remembrance–not just looking at the past but taking all that God has given you unto yourself.

And today, we remember.


Wishing We Could Go Back

Empty City

John 13:1-17, 31b-35

13Now 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. 2The devil had already put it into the heart of Judas son of Simon Iscariot to betray him. And during supper 3Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God, 4got up from the table, took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself. 5Then 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. 6He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?” 7Jesus answered, “You do not know now what I am doing, but later you will understand.” 8Peter said to him, “You will never wash my feet.” Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no share with me.” 9Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!” 10Jesus 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.” 11For he knew who was to betray him; for this reason he said, “Not all of you are clean.” 12After 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? 13You call me Teacher and Lord—and you are right, for that is what I am. 14So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. 15For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you. 16Very truly, I tell you, servants are not greater than their master, nor are messengers greater than the one who sent them. 17If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them…

Jesus said, “Now the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him. 32If God has been glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself and will glorify him at once. 33Little 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.’ 34I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. 35By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

He told them that evening.  After dinner, after he had surprisingly washed their feet, after they had shared bread, and passed a cup around, after everything, he told them.  They may not have understood.  At that point, they probably still thought they were going back.  But he was sending them on without him.

After dinner, they walked together to the garden.  It was dark, probably humid, and they were already warm from the crowded room and the wine.  The crowd had thinned. (Yes, there was a crowd.  It was passover. With all due respect to Da Vinci, the Upper Room was not a separate party room above the restaurant.  The Upper Room probably seats 200 people.  But Jesus had sat with them.  Jesus had washed THEIR feet.)  And now they were alone, following Jesus into the garden.  And that is where everything changed.  It seemed like a bad dream. The stillness of the night was disrupted by soldiers stomping through the quiet.  And then Judas.  It all seemed so wrong.  And they took him.  They took him away.  And they were there–alone.  And they wanted desperately to go back.  They wanted desperately to go back to what was.  Galilee seemed a world away.  But it all made sense now.  He had told them.  He was sending them on without him.  He was sending them to continue the work.

After several weeks of self-distancing and being so alone, most of us are ready to go back.  The eerie pictures of empty cities are just too much. (“How lonely sits the city that once was full of people!  How like a widow she has become, she that was great among the nations!  She that was a princess among the provinces has become a vassal.” Lamentations 1:1)

But if we’re honest with ourselves, the place to which we as a society will return will be different.  Oh, it may look the same, frozen in time like a photograph.  But it will be different.  Because all of us have changed.  There will be a pre-Covid life and a post-Covid life just as time is divided by September 11, 2001.  I’m betting that all of us will now have masks in our dresser drawers in case we need them again because we just might.  It may be awhile before we get to the point where just having one extra package of toilet paper is enough.  Maybe we’ll never get there.  And it will be hard to be in the middle of a crowd without at least thinking about it.  And we’ve finally learned how to wash our hands! Maybe crowds will change.  But we, too, have to go on and continue the work.  Some things will be better.  Hopefully, some things will be smarter.  Maybe this will force us to figure out a world that is more equitable, more just.  Maybe it will change the world for the better. Hopefully it will change us for the better.

The canonical Scriptures don’t capture it but what did the disciples do next?  Did they cry and grieve, perhaps sharing wonderful memories?   Or did they leave separately?  Were all of them a lot more like Peter regretfully claiming that they did not know Jesus?  Did some of them leave early the next morning for Galilee?  After all, the Bible doesn’t really capture them with Jesus over the next hours.  Wherever they were, they could not go back.  Things would be different.  And this time, they had to walk it without him.  But they did.  The story went on.

Ours will too.  The trick is to change the way we do that which is good and strip the other away.  Let it make us kinder, more aware of other’s plight.  We’re that way now, reaching out, wanting to help.  We’re aware.  So don’t let us just go back.  So, tonight, as the altar is [virtually] stripped, think of those things that do not need to return and hold those things that are good that they might come to be again.  Because they will.

We must be willing to let go of the life we have planned so as to have the life that is waiting for us. (Joseph Campbell)

Today, pray for yourself.  Pray that you will know what to strip away and what to put back when the next season begins.  Pray that you will be awake enough to feel Jesus walking with you into what will come.

Wear A Mask

Wearing Masks

John 13: 21-32

21After saying this Jesus was troubled in spirit, and declared, “Very truly, I tell you, one of you will betray me.” 22The disciples looked at one another, uncertain of whom he was speaking. 23One of his disciples—the one whom Jesus loved—was reclining next to him; 24Simon Peter therefore motioned to him to ask Jesus of whom he was speaking. 25So while reclining next to Jesus, he asked him, “Lord, who is it?” 26Jesus 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. 27After he received the piece of bread, Satan entered into him. Jesus said to him, “Do quickly what you are going to do.” 28Now no one at the table knew why he said this to him. 29Some 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. 30So, after receiving the piece of bread, he immediately went out. And it was night.

31When he had gone out, Jesus said, “Now the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him. 32If God has been glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself and will glorify him at once. 33Little 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’ve always thought that Judas sort of got a bad rap.  Oh, I think his judgment was WAY off but it wasn’t worth getting thrown into Dante’s 9th circle of hell. (According to Dante Alighieri’s Inferno, Judas is condemned to the bowels of Round 4 of the lowest realm of hell between Brutus and Cassius and resides there with Satan.  It is aptly named Judecca.)  I mean, what if Judas, misdirected as he may have been, was trying to adjust the outcome of what was to happen on the Cross?  What if he was like so many of us that think that we can be our own saviors, that we can save the world at the expense of what is meant to be and just end up getting in the way?  What if Judas in his own misdirected way was trying to help?  We can identify.  After all, we are part of a world and, in particular, a society that has a view that everyone is responsible for their own circumstances (yeah, that’s wrong), that everyone can save themselves (yeah, that’s wrong too!).

But Jesus knew.  Jesus knew what Judas was going to do, perhaps even before Judas knew.  He wasn’t psychic.  He just knew Judas.  Judas was headstrong, stubborn, and empathetic beyond compare.  Judas cared.  Judas wanted to do something important.  Judas thought he could change the world, or at least the outcome of the demise of his Lord.  Judas would make a bad decision, thinking that everything would come out alright. And, then, when it didn’t, Judas couldn’t live with himself.  He would die at his own hand, destined to spend eternity behind a mask of a traitor when he just thought he was helping.

I know it’s a different take.  But I wore a mask yesterday.  I went to the grocery store (haven’t been in two weeks) and organized the basket between “my stuff” and “Mom & Dad’s stuff”.  And, since I’m usually a rule follower, I wore a mask.  I wasn’t the only one but I was definitely in the minority (people, really?).  See, we’re not asked to wear them for ourselves but for others.  So, maybe, I thought, I could change the world.  The truth is that it’s REALLY uncomfortable.  It’s hot and by the end of the venture, I almost couldn’t breathe.  The worst part is that when I go to the grocery store, I engage with people.  I help older people that can’t reach things.  I assist guys that are there with a list from their wives looking for some specific brand of instant cappuccino.  And I talk to people, laughing with those that I keep encountering as we go through the aisles together. But now we’re behind a mask–isolated, alone, just going about our own business with little or no engagement.  For those of us who think that we can be a part of saving the world, this mask prevents it.

It’s a lesson.  We all have masks.  We think they protect us.  They do.  But sometimes they keep us from engaging with others.  Sometimes they close us off to engagement.  And sometimes, sometimes, they sink us into a hell of our own making.  But even in this time of isolation, God waits.  God waits for us to engage and realize that we’ve been found–no matter what we’ve done, no matter what the world has dished out, no matter what we think cannot be undone.

I have recently discovered the music of “Only Boys Aloud”.  It’s a Welsh boy’s choir started by Tim Rhys-Evans.  He realized that the choirs of Wales were getting older and were no longer such an important part of community, so he started this composite choir from all realms of Wales with a focus, particularly, on bringing community to the boys of the many economically-depressed parts of Wales.

And so, Madeleine L’Engle tells an old legend that after his death Judas found himself at the bottom of a deep and slimy pit.  For thousands of years he wept his repentance, and when the tears were finally spent he looked up and saw, way, way up, a tiny glimmer of light.  After he had contemplated it for another thousand years or so, he began to try to climb up towards it.  The walls of the pit were dank and slimy, and he kept slipping back down.  Finally, after great effort, he neared the top, and then he slipped and fell all the way back down.  It took him many years to recover, all the time weeping bitter tears of grief and repentance, and then he started to climb again.  After many more falls and efforts and failures he reached the top and dragged himself into an upper room with twelve people seated around a table.  “We’ve been waiting for you, Judas.  We couldn’t begin till you came.”[i]

[i] From “Waiting for Judas”, by Madeleine L’Engle, in Bread and Wine:  Readings for Lent and Easter (Maryknoll, NY:  Orbis Books, 2003), 312.

On this day, pray for all of us–the lost, the broken, the ones who have masked our feelings and masked our hurts.  Pray for those of us who are feeling lost.  Because, the promise of the Resurrection is not that we will be rewarded but that we will be found.

The journey is continuing.  And you, you’ve been found.