Stay Home

Empty VaticanJohn 12:20-36

Now among those who went up to worship at the festival were some Greeks. They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and said to him, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” Philip went and told Andrew; then Andrew and Philip went and told Jesus. Jesus answered them, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also. Whoever serves me, the Father will honor.

“Now my soul is troubled. And what should I say—‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it is for this reason that I have come to this hour. Father, glorify your name.” Then a voice came from heaven, “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.” The crowd standing there heard it and said that it was thunder. Others said, “An angel has spoken to him.” Jesus answered, “This voice has come for your sake, not for mine. Now is the judgment of this world; now the ruler of this world will be driven out. And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” He said this to indicate the kind of death he was to die. The crowd answered him, “We have heard from the law that the Messiah remains forever. How can you say that the Son of Man must be lifted up? Who is this Son of Man?” Jesus said to them, “The light is with you for a little longer. Walk while you have the light, so that the darkness may not overtake you. If you walk in the darkness, you do not know where you are going. While you have the light, believe in the light, so that you may become children of light.” After Jesus had said this, he departed and hid from them.

I used to think this was the strangest passage.  I mean, what is that wheat thing?  Well, see, wheat is a caryopsis, which essentially means that the outer “seed” and the inner fruit are connected.  The seed essentially has to die so that the fruit can emerge.  If you were to dig around in the ground and uproot a stalk of wheat, you would not find the original seed.  It is dead and gone.  In essence, the grain must allow itself to be changed, allow itself to become something different. That’s what Jesus was trying to tell us.

See, if we do everything in our power to protect our lives the way they are—if we successfully thwart change, avoid conflict, prevent pain, and hold onto what is essentially a rotting and lifeless seed wall—then at the end we will find that we have no life at all.  Read it again: …”Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life.  Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also.  And whoever does this, God will honor.” This is the only time that the Gospel speaks of God honoring someone.  And we begin to see the connection unfolding.  Whoever follows Jesus through his death, not trying to find another way around, not trying to change the circumstances in which they find themselves, will become part of his everlasting life.  Whoever follows Jesus will see Jesus.  The journey to the Cross is not just Jesus’; it is ours.

So, we’re told to follow.  But now we’re told to stay home.  How exactly do we carry both of those things out during this odd season?  Well, what if this time of what is almost forced confinement was our time of shedding?  I mean, many of us have always complained that we were too busy, running too fast, with not a minute to spare, to spend time–REAL time–working on our own spiritual seeds.  (Notice I didn’t say “needs”; I said “SEEDS”.)  See, faith is not about gaining comfort and affirmation for where you are.  It’s not about standing in one place and obeying some list of rules or believing set-in-stone understandings about God that were actually figured out centuries ago by a bunch of power-hungry wealthy men. (Yes, really)  Faith is about growth; faith is about movement; faith is about listening; faith is about becoming someone different from what you have figured out you should be.  Faith is about following a faint pathway that, yes, sometimes leads us straight through loneliness and pain and fear and conflict and numerous Jerusalems so that we can shed this facade of who we are and become who God calls us to be.

I know this is a hard time.  After all, we are communal creatures and our faith has generally been lived out in that community.  But what if this time taught us that community is not merely those who spend time together?  Community is those who travel together, who are together when they stand beside each other and even when they are worlds or miles or houses apart.  We’re not children of an exclusive community. (I think that would be a cult!).  We are children of the Light that gathers us in and calls us to follow Jesus–together.  And that can be done no matter where we are. Let this be your time of shedding.

“I believe in the resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth…and the resurrection of the body…as it was meant to be, the fragmented self made new; so that at the end of time all Creation will be One.  Well, maybe I don’t exactly believe it, but I know it, and knowing is what matters…The strange turning of what seemed to be a horrendous No to a glorious Yes is always the message of Easter.”  (Madeleine L’Engle)

Today, pray for those who are experiencing losses–of jobs, of finances, of life as they know it, even of loved ones.  Their life has changed forever.  Pray that they might have the strength to move forward and find a new way.

Continue on the journey.

Don’t Touch


John 12: 1-11

Six days before the Passover Jesus came to Bethany, the home of Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. There they gave a dinner for him. Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those at the table with him. Mary took a pound of costly perfume made of pure nard, anointed Jesus’ feet, and wiped them with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (the one who was about to betray him), said, “Why was this perfume not sold for three hundred denarii and the money given to the poor?” (He said this not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief; he kept the common purse and used to steal what was put into it.) Jesus said, “Leave her alone. She bought it so that she might keep it for the day of my burial. You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me.” When the great crowd of the Jews learned that he was there, they came not only because of Jesus but also to see Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. So the chief priests planned to put Lazarus to death as well, since it was on account of him that many of the Jews were deserting and were believing in Jesus.

She took, poured, and wiped.  It’s more than just touching.  It’s visceral, part of us in the very depth of our being.  Took, poured, and wiped.  It’s what we do.  It’s the Eucharist of our lives.  We lift the wine, we pour it into the chalice, we wipe the small drops of wine that escaped from the line of pouring.  And then we share.

You can imagine the others standing around stunned at the very spectacle of this woman touching Jesus in such an intimate way.  I like to think that there was a part of each of them that wished for that connection, that wanted desperately to touch Jesus, to get close enough to breathe him in.  After all, they were just beginning to understand what was coming and, I’m guessing, they wanted to hold on.

You know that they all smelled it–that strong scent of the oils that had been poured out.  It was wafting from Mary’s touch, seeping into the walls, and forever penetrating the senses of all of those who surrounded her.  They judged her with their words, probably putting on more of a show for each other than for her.  But the scent was overwhelming.  And they would remember.  You know how scent is.  I have a lot of my grandmother’s belongings.  And once in awhile, especially on a very humid day, I’ll open a book or the box of recipes or move what used to be her kitchen chair, or open the secretary on which she used to do her homework when she was little, and I smell it.  It’s the smell of her house, the smell of her life.  It’s the smell I remember from my childhood.  It never goes away.  They would remember.  They would always remember that smell.  And when they were fortunate enough, on a very humid day, to smell it again, it would come back.  And they would remember the way that Mary touched him–not in a sexual way or a predatory way–but in a way that connects us all.  It was an intimacy for which we all crave, an intimacy that seals our hearts and souls to each other.

And, yet, here we are.  Don’t touch.  Don’t stand too close.  I saw a video today.  It was a nurse that used paint to show how, even wearing gloves, our touch spreads, whether we realize it or not.  We don’t even know when it happens.  We touch our face or our cell phone or a head of lettuce in the grocery store and we leave a part of ourselves behind and take whatever is there with us.  I wish it didn’t have to do with viral bacteria because it’s a wonderful image.  Our touch is left behind.  When we hold, when we embrace, when we anoint, we leave a part of ourselves behind and we take the memory of what we touched with us.

So, for now, we don’t touch. Because, right now, we’re, literally, viral.  (And not in a good way!) But when we can’t touch, we remember.  We remember what it felt like to embrace and that memory sustains us.  We remember the scent of that moment.  I think that’s why God gave us these senses–because they remember even when we don’t.  Those gathered in that small stuffy room that was overwhelmed with expensive perfumed oil will always remember.  Because their senses were there.  We can’t touch right now and, yet, we remember.  We remember the things that connected us once and, for now, when we don’t touch, that’s enough. And, in the meantime, there’s a connection between us all that is beyond us.  That’s what faith is.  It’s not merely trust or belief.  It’s certainly not proof.  It’s that connection that pulls us beyond ourselves and calls us to remember again.

I found this video on Twitter today.  You may have seen it.  It’s proof that symphonies are not about being together; they are about remembering who you are and playing the part you are called to play.  We can do this!

I believe that life is given us so we may grow in love, and I believe that God is in me as the sun is in the colour and fragrance of a flower…I believe that in the life to come I shall have the senses I have not had here, and that my home there will be beautiful with colour, music, and speech of flowers and faces I love.  Without this faith there would be little meaning in my life.  I should be “a mere pillar of darkness in the dark.” (Helen Keller)

Today, pray for those that are overwhelmed with this isolation, that are craving the touch we all crave at times.  And, in your prayers, there will be a person that comes to mind.  Call them and touch their hearts.

Continue on this road.

Six Feet Apart

Six Feet Apart

Matthew 21: 1-11

When they had come near Jerusalem and had reached Bethphage, at the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two disciples, 2saying to them, “Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied, and a colt with her; untie them and bring them to me. 3If anyone says anything to you, just say this, ‘The Lord needs them.’ And he will send them immediately.” 4This took place to fulfill what had been spoken through the prophet, saying, 5“Tell the daughter of Zion, Look, your king is coming to you, humble, and mounted on a donkey, and on a colt, the foal of a donkey.” 6The disciples went and did as Jesus had directed them; 7they brought the donkey and the colt, and put their cloaks on them, and he sat on them. 8A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. 9The crowds that went ahead of him and that followed were shouting, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest heaven!” 10When he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was in turmoil, asking, “Who is this?” 11The crowds were saying, “This is the prophet Jesus from Nazareth in Galilee.”

The parade.  I’ve always loved the parade.  As a child, I loved the story.  And I REALLY loved getting a palm branch to wave during the first hymn and then play with throughout the rest of the service.  It was an odd story to me then.  Truthfully, I really didn’t understand the connection to the rest of Holy Week at all.  I think I assumed that Jesus was entering the city like a movie star, that everyone there dropped what they were doing and got on board with the whole Jesus agenda and had a party or something.

But that’s not really it.  Jesus and his small band of followers wound up the narrow, ruddy road around the Garden of Gethsemane with an uncooperative donkey walking over the cheaply-made cloaks of ordinary people.  There were no grand stallions.  There was no finery.  And it was set against the backdrop of a bustling city that really wasn’t paying attention to Jesus at all.  And so he entered through the back door of the city and the small crowd that had gathered with him went about their way.  Jesus was alone with only a few of his disciples.  He wasn’t surrounded by a crowd.  Most of those with him outside the gates had gone back to their lives.  He was essentially alone.  And Holy Week began.

But this year we won’t wave palm branches and walk with a crowd.  This year we won’t play with the palm during the service.  Our sanctuaries are empty with the possible exception of those involved in the streaming operation.  This year we all walk alone–or at least six feet apart.  How did the world change so dramatically in a couple of weeks?  How did we go from being part of bustling crowds on our streets, in our restaurants, at sporting events, and in the pews to this?  How did we go from being free to come and go as we please to this?  How did we end up alone–or at least six feet apart?

And, yet, the fact that the whole world has all at once been brought to this place, brought to our knees simultaneously, in an odd way brings us together.  It makes us pay attention.  It has seemed to make most of us more empathetic.  We can’t drop our used palms and go “back to our lives” because our lives, for now, are gone.  But our hearts are intact.  And it’s made us pay attention.  We’re suddenly aware that there are people that are just a paycheck away from having nothing to eat.  We’re suddenly aware that those who struggle on the streets are in real danger.  We’re suddenly aware of those who have no insurance. We’re aware that many of us, maybe even some of us reading this, are vulnerable.  Maybe that awareness is not such a bad thing.  Maybe sometimes we need to be jolted out of our comfortable assumptions and our comfortable lives.  I wish this wasn’t the way that had to happen.  But, isn’t it weird, that when we can’t touch each other, when we can’t all be together, we pay more attention to each other?  We seem to be more in tune with each other because we’ve been forced to listen to each other.

Today we enter Jerusalem alone–or at least six feet apart.  Today we crave to touch and hug and laugh and share.  Today we have to listen a little harder to the world around us.  Today we know what’s important and we go through the gate. Because today, our hearts lead the way.  We’ve never walked this way alone.  But we’re really not alone.  We’re just six feet apart. And if we listen, we can still sing the Hallelujahs even from that distance.

The way of Love is the way of the Cross, and it is only through the cross that we come to the Resurrection.  (Malcolm Muggeridge)

On this Palm Sunday, pray for those fighting for us on the front lines–the healthcare workers, the first responders, those who are packing our food and bagging our groceries and delivering the stuff we need.  And remember that you can still make music–even when you’re six feet apart.

Go into the Gate.  You do not walk alone.