When We Came to Be

 

"Birth of Christ", Robert Campin, c. 1425-1430
“Birth of Christ”, Robert Campin, c. 1425-1430

Scripture Text:  Luke 2: 1-7

In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. All went to their own towns to be registered. Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David. He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.

“In those days, a decree went out.”…There it is!  It is probably the best known story of all time and a great story it is–forced occupation, poor couple, long trip, impressive ancestry,  a last-minute birth, animals, humble beginnings, angels, assurance, surprise visitors, well-trained angelic choir, and God.  (You know, in hindsight, if there had been a coach and a glass slipper, this would have been perfect!)  But, seriously, think about it.  This story has gripped the world for more than twenty centuries.  Jesus of Nazareth was born a human gift to this world, born the way we were all born.  No, the Scripture doesn’t speak of morning sickness and labor pains.  In fact, in our haste to welcome the Christ child into our lives each Christmas Eve, we forget the humanness of the birth.  We forget that he first appeared in the dim lights of that grotto drenched with the waters of Creation, with the smell of God still in his breath.  We forget that Mary was in tears most of the night as she tried to be strong, entering a realm she had never entered, questioning what the angel nine months before had really convinced her to do.  We often sort of over-romanticize it, forgetting that Jesus was human.

But that night, that silent night, was the night when the Word came forth, Incarnate.  In its simplest form, the Incarnation is the mingling of God with humanity, the mingling of God with us.  It is God becoming human and, in turn, giving humanity a part of the Divine.  It is the mystery of life that always was coming into all life yet to be.  This night, this silent night, was the night that we came to be.  In this moment, Humanity and the Divine are somehow suspended together, neither moving forward, both dancing together in this grotto.  This is the night for which the world had waited.

God has come, sought us out.  Eons of God inviting us and claiming us and drawing us in did not do it.  So God came, came to show us the sacredness that had been created for us, the holy in the ordinary that we kept missing.  God has traversed time and space and the barrier between us and the Divine and as God comes across the line, the line disappears.  God is now with us.  We just have to open our eyes.  And then, the walk began, a walk that is passing through Galilee and, soon, Jerusalem and Golgotha.  And at each point, God asks us to dance again.  And we will never be the same again.  This notion of “Emmanuel”, God With Us, means that all of history has changed.  It means that we have changed.  Lest we over-romanticize that night as one of beauty and candlelight and “Silent Night”, that night was the night we came to be.  We have passed through to another time with our feet still firmly planted here.  God is not asking us to be Divine.  We are not called to be God.  God is asking us to be who God created us to be and came to walk with us to show us what it meant to be human, to be made, not into God, but in the very image of the Divine.

Tradition tells us that the birth happened just a few miles from Jerusalem.  We think of it as another world.  We think of it in the silence without remembering that God came into the midst of a world that is filled with pain and darkness, filled with danger and injustice, filled with the stench of death.  We forget that Jesus was born just a short distance way from a place that is called Golgotha with a waiting cross.  But God still came.  God always comes.  God came to show us Light in the darkness and Life in the midst of death.  God came to show us how to be.  Our journey that we are on now is not separate from that night.  That night was the night it began, the night that God, even in the face of the madness of this world, poured the Sacred and the Divine into our lives.  We were changed forever.  And we can’t separate our past from who we are now.  We can’t help but carry the manger with us on this journey and try our best to make room.  It is part of us.  It is part of when we came to be.  It is what sent us on this journey, the journey that leads us to Jerusalem.

We have become so accustomed to the idea of divine love and of God’s coming at Christmas that we no longer feel the shiver of fear that God’s coming should arouse in us.  We are indifferent to the message, taking only the pleasant and agreeable out of it and forgetting the serious aspect, that the God of the world draws near to the people of our little earth and lays claim to us.  The coming of God is truly not only glad tidings, but first of all frightening news for everyone who has a conscience. (Dietrich Bonhoeffer)

On this day in this Lenten journey, remember when you came to be.  What do you remember about knowing what that means?

Grace and Peace,

Shelli

You, Resurrected

 

The Raising of Lazarus, Duccio de Buoninsegna, 1308-11
The Raising of Lazarus, Duccio de Buoninsegna, 1308-11

Scripture Text:  John 11: (1-16) 17-44 (45) (Lent 5A)

When Jesus arrived, he found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb four days. Now Bethany was near Jerusalem, some two miles away, and many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary to console them about their brother. When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went and met him, while Mary stayed at home. Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that God will give you whatever you ask of him.” Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” Martha said to him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?” She said to him, “Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world.” When she had said this, she went back and called her sister Mary, and told her privately, “The Teacher is here and is calling for you.” And when she heard it, she got up quickly and went to him. Now Jesus had not yet come to the village, but was still at the place where Martha had met him. The Jews who were with her in the house, consoling her, saw Mary get up quickly and go out. They followed her because they thought that she was going to the tomb to weep there. When Mary came where Jesus was and saw him, she knelt at his feet and said to him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”

When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, he was greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved. He said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Lord, come and see.” Jesus began to weep. So the Jews said, “See how he loved him!” But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?” Then Jesus, again greatly disturbed, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone was lying against it. Jesus said, “Take away the stone.” Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, “Lord, already there is a stench because he has been dead four days.” Jesus said to her, “Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?” So they took away the stone. And Jesus looked upward and said, “Father, I thank you for having heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I have said this for the sake of the crowd standing here, so that they may believe that you sent me.” When he had said this, he cried with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” The dead man came out, his hands and feet bound with strips of cloth, and his face wrapped in a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.”

This has always been at the very least a strange story to me.  I think I once had some image of Lazarus walking out of the tomb, with tattered grave clothes dangling and an unbearable stench following him, and then dressing and sitting down for a nice fish dinner with Jesus and his sisters.  But the Scripture is not here to show us magic or to in some way depict a God that with the veritable snap of a finger can just put everything back like it was before. (Well, I don’t know, I supposed God CAN, but why?  That’s not really the way God works.  God has something much better in store.)  This story is taken as a precursor to Jesus’ own Resurrection.  It was Jesus’ way of promising life.  But, ironically, it is also the act that turns the tables toward Jesus’ demise.  Here, standing within two miles or so from Jerusalem, the journey as we know it begins to wind to an end.  Even now, the Sanhedrins are gathering their swords and the night is beginning to fall.

So, why would Jesus do that?  Surely he knew what might happen.  Surely he knew how many red flags his presence near Jerusalem had already raised.  And what about Lazarus?  Who was this mysterious man whose main part in the whole Biblical story is to die and be raised?  Why do this with someone as seemingly insignificant as this?  Maybe its because Lazarus is us–you and me.  Maybe the whole point of the passage is not to point to Jesus’ Resurrection but to our own.  Do you think of yourself as journeying toward resurrection?  Do you believe this?  Sure, we talk about journeying to God, about journeying to the Promised Land, whatever that might be, and about journeying to where God call us.  But do you think of it as resurrection?  Do you think of yourself dying and then raised?  Maybe each of us is Lazarus.  Maybe that’s what Jesus wanted us so badly to believe and live.

We talk a lot of this Lenten journey as our journey to the Cross, our journey with Christ.  So, does it stop there?  I think the story goes on.  Jesus is Resurrected.  Maybe that’s what Jesus was trying to show us–not that we would be somehow plucked from death in the nick of time and not that God really has need of putting our lives back together like some sort of Humpty-Dumpty character, but that we, too, are journeying toward resurrection, toward new life.  Lent is the journey that shows us that.  Lent shows us that the journey is sometimes hard, sometimes painful. Lent shows us not that death will not claim us but that death will not have the final word.  Lent shows us that our faith tells us that there is more.  Lent shows us what it means for Christ to unbind even us–even you and me–and let us go.  Through all of life’s transitions, through all of life’s sad endings, through all of life’s unbearable turns, there is always a beginning.  There is always resurrection–over and over and over again.

There was, indeed, something I had missed about Christianity, and now all of a sudden I could see what it was.  It was the Resurrection!  How could I have been a church historian and a person of prayer who loved God and still not known that the most fundamental Christian reality is not the suffering of the cross but the life it brings?…The foundation of the universe for which God made us, to which God draws us, and in which God keeps us is not death, but joy.  (Roberta Bondi)

As our Lenten Journey begins to turn toward Jerusalem, what does it mean to be a part of it?  And what does it mean to envision you, resurrected?

Grace and Peace,

Shelli

 

 

On the Way Down the Mountain

Jezreel ValleyScripture Passage:  Matthew 17: 1-9

Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and his brother John and led them up a high mountain, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became dazzling white. Suddenly there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him. Then Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here; if you wish, I will make three dwellings here, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” While he was still speaking, suddenly a bright cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud a voice said, “This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him!” When the disciples heard this, they fell to the ground and were overcome by fear. But Jesus came and touched them, saying, “Get up and do not be afraid.” And when they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus himself alone. As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus ordered them, “Tell no one about the vision until after the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.”

Boy, that was some trip up that mountain!  Who was ever going to believe this?  But it doesn’t matter because Jesus tells them to be quiet about it, tells them to go back to their lives, go back to their work.  Really?  How in the world can you just go back?  How in the world can you go back to things the way they were after basking in glory?  Well, maybe that’s the point.  Maybe we can’t.

I think that all of us are given glimpses of glory, tastes of the Divine, from time to time, if we only pay attention.  The Celts called them “thin places”, the places where heaven and earth, where the sacred and the ordinary, suddenly, if only for a moment, touch as if they are somehow part of each other, perhaps even dependent on each other.  It is a place of liminality, betwixt and between.  It is a place that belongs not to one or the other but instead is some sort of shared reality as the Sacred and the ordinary spill in to each other.  The people of whose journeys we read in the Torah believed that no one could ever see God without dying.  They talked of God as consuming fire and destructive wind, a rushing force that passes over the earth leaving little in its wake.  That thin place, the place where the earth meets the sky was one of no return.  They assumed that no one would ever come back down the mountain.

Maybe we’ve become a little too accustomed to this God we know.  Maybe our glimpses of glory have become a bit too pre-planned.  Maybe our thin places have gotten a little too thick with earthbound images of who God is in our lives, of how much of God we really want to encounter.  Because, you see, when you truly encounter those glimpses of the Sacred and the Holy, those you truly do not expect, when you let yourself be surprised by a cloud, you cannot help but be changed.  In a way, the early Hebrews were right.  When you encounter God, that you that you’ve made dies a little.  It has to, it has to make room for a God you never knew.

So on our way down the mountain, we realize that we cannot stay.  We cannot stay and bask in glory forever.  We were never called to that, to some sort of pious and righteous existence high above the world.  We were sent, sent down the mountain, back to the world.  But a part of us has died.  And from the ashes, we will rise.  Because, you see, that’s the only way it will happen.  So go, be careful where you walk.  We have to go down the mountain.  We have to go back.  Jerusalem is waiting.  But we are different; we have basked in glory.  For now, we will be quiet about it.  There are others waiting to join us on this journey.  Someday they will all understand.  Someday we will understand.  But in the meantime, we are just called to go.

As you prepare to begin this Lenten journey, where have you encountered those thin places, those moments of almost, just almost, touching the Sacred?

jerusalem04Let us go now to Jerusalem.

Grace and Peace,

Shelli

 

On the Steps of Death

???????????Lectionary Passage for Today:

To read the Passion account assigned for today’s Lectionary Reading, go to John 18:1-19:42

How did we get here?  How did we so quickly move from the teachings on the hillside in Galilee to this?  I guess we kept thinking that he could make it better.  After all, he always made so much sense, always drawing us out of ourselves, out of the life that we thought we were supposed to have.  What could we have done differently?  It was right there, right in our hands.  Life was right there.  Why didn’t we pay more attention?  Why didn’t we dispense with silly arguing over who was greatest?  And what do we do now?  We can’t go back.  Everything has changed.  We have changed.  We are different.

The last three stations are the hardest.  The twelfth station depicts Jesus’ death on the cross.  “It is finished.” As Jesus breathed his last, the temple curtain tore in two, revealing a new world in which holiness was no longer separate and hidden from view.  Trembling and shaking in the darkness, the earth opened to reveal a glimpse of a future yet to be.  And through our grief and tears, God entered the heartbreak and brokenness of the world and in that moment began recreating it.  In this moment, God’s future enters our present.  And in the most unfathomable act of love, the cross becomes God’s highest act of Creation.  Because with it, we and all of Creation are made new.  That which is finished is the beginning of life.  In this moment, our own eternity is conceived.    

Station 13 of this Via Dolorosa has Jesus being taken down from the cross and his body given to his mother.  There is no documentation of this in canonical Scripture.  Perhaps it was skipped.  It is a hard thing, after all because, after all, it is indeed over.  There is a sickening finality to it all.  Why did it have to end like this?  Why did it have to end at all?  We were just beginning to understand.  We were just beginning to get what we were supposed to be doing.  And now it is over.  And then there’s this darkness.  It’s never been this dark at this time of day.  It adds to the pall of our souls.  We have to go back now.  But to what?  After all, deep down we know that he changed us.  How can we live now in the world?  How can we go back?  And yet, in this moment of our deepest despair, we remember that we have found love.  Life will be different because we have found love.

Station 14 is the burial of Jesus in the Garden Tomb.  Joseph of Arimathea, a “secret disciple”, we are told, provided a tomb that no one had ever used.  It was appropriate, this virgin tomb, a fitting ending as someone finally made room.  How can we leave?  We have walked away from graves before and left the remains of a life behind us.  But this…this is different.  And so we strip our altars and we strip our lives and we try to make room for you.  And then we wait.  We wait for you to come.  We wait for you to rise.  We keep vigil and we enter into deep prayer,
knowing the day will come.  And we wait.  We wait for our eternity to be born.  We waited for your coming once before, for your birth.  But this is
different.  Now we wait for our own.

And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.

In what seemed no time at all, Bethlehem has become Golgotha, swaddling clothes have become burial cloths, and the manger?  The manger has become a cross.  God did not send Jesus to die but to love.  And he did that to the end.  And somewhere along the way, we have changed.  We haven’t become who we are called to be yet but the road has turned and we know that Life is up ahead.

Where Are You Christmas? (Faith Hill, How the Grinch Stole Christmas)

The pilgrims sit on the steps of death.  Undanced, the music ends.  Only the children remember that tomorrow’s stars are not yet out.  (Ann Weems, “It is Finished”, from Kneeling in Jerusalem, 77)

Grace and Peace,

Shelli

Splitting Seeds

Public domain image, royalty free stock photo from www.public-domain-image.comToday’s Lectionary Passage: John 12: 20-36

20Now among those who went up to worship at the festival were some Greeks. 21They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and said to him, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” 22Philip went and told Andrew; then Andrew and Philip went and told Jesus. 23Jesus answered them, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. 24Very 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. 25Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. 26Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also. Whoever serves me, the Father will honor.  27“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. 28Father, glorify your name.” Then a voice came from heaven, “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.” 29The crowd standing there heard it and said that it was thunder. Others said, “An angel has spoken to him.” 30Jesus answered, “This voice has come for your sake, not for mine. 31Now is the judgment of this world; now the ruler of this world will be driven out. 32And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” 33He said this to indicate the kind of death he was to die. 34The 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?” 35Jesus 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. 36While 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.

The twelfth chapter of John contains most of what Jesus had to say about his own death in that Gospel. And this is where we sort of start shutting down, isn’t it?  We liked sitting there listening to accounts of his birth, the stories of his calling the disciples, and those wonderful little parables that fill the Gospel-readings with drama and wisdom and sometimes leaving us with a knot in our stomach as we begin to see ourselves through Jesus’ eyes.  We even liked the beautiful story yesterday of the extravagant anointing of our Savior.  But this…this is coming a little too close to the edge.

Do you remember running through the sprinkler when you were kids?  You want to do it.  You want to feel that cool, refreshing feeling right after you do it.  But it’s that first blast of cold, paralyzing water that takes your breath away that you dread and so you put it off.  And then, finally, you hold your breath and run through it as fast as you can.  That’s almost what we have a tendency to do with the cross.  We dread it as we slowly walk toward it, dragging our feet a bit, not really wanting to experience it again—the memories and reliving of the horror, the violence, the suffering, the pain, the loss, the grief, the ending of all we know.  And as we approach, we then let our minds run quickly through it toward Easter morning when everything will be OK again.

But now is the time for the Son of Man to be glorified.  For, as Jesus says, unless a grain of wheat falls to the earth and dies, it remains just single lone grain, worth nothing; but if it dies, it bears fruit and lives on.  You see, wheat is as a caryopsis, meaning 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. So what Jesus is trying to tell us here is that if we do everything in our power to protect our lives the way they are—if we successfully thwart change, avoid conflict, prevent pain; in other words, if we expect everything to go back to the way it was before—then at the end we will find that we have no life at all.

Jerusalem 17This week of remembering is not an historical accounting of the events so long ago;  this is not only Jesus’ journey to the cross; it is ours.  You see, the tide has turned.  Jerusalem is there before us, the cross probably almost fully constructed at this point.  The problem is that we’re supposed to believe without faltering in the cross. We look at that big gleaming cross in the front of the sanctuary.  We see them on the doors to the church and on the sign outside.  Good grief, we even hang them around our necks. But, contrary to what most of Christianity holds out there as “belief”, I don’t think we were meant to worship the cross.  We were meant to worship God, to hunger and thirst in the deepest parts of our being to encounter God.  Well, we can’t see God.  If we could there’d be no need for faith.  But we can see Jesus, the One who points the Way to God.  But this Jesus is more than a leader.  He is more than a teacher.  Jesus is the One on the Cross.  And at that moment, God will do something incredible.  God will take the worst of this world, the worst of humanity, the worst of proof or sensibility, at a cost that no one can fathom…and recreate it.  In that moment on the Cross, God takes the worst of us and the best of God and reconciles them, redeeming us into oneness with God, pouring the Divine into humanity for all time.  But you have to be willing to let go, willing to change; you have to allow that seed that you are right now holding so tightly die away.

So as we walk through this holiest of weeks, remember that this is not Jesus’ journey that you walk; it is yours.  Let go that you might finally see what God has in store.

Grace and Peace,

Shelli

Procession

palm_sunday_roadToday’s Lectionary Passage:  Luke 19: 28-40

28After he had said this, he went on ahead, going up to Jerusalem. 29When he had come near Bethphage and Bethany, at the place called the Mount of Olives, he sent two of the disciples, 30saying, “Go into the village ahead of you, and as you enter it you will find tied there a colt that has never been ridden. Untie it and bring it here. 31If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you untying it?’ just say this, ‘The Lord needs it.’” 32So those who were sent departed and found it as he had told them. 33As they were untying the colt, its owners asked them, “Why are you untying the colt?” 34They said, “The Lord needs it.” 35Then they brought it to Jesus; and after throwing their cloaks on the colt, they set Jesus on it. 36As he rode along, people kept spreading their cloaks on the road. 37As he was now approaching the path down from the Mount of Olives, the whole multitude of the disciples began to praise God joyfully with a loud voice for all the deeds of power that they had seen, 38saying, “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven, and glory in the highest heaven!” 39Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, order your disciples to stop.” 40He answered, “I tell you, if these were silent, the stones would shout out.”

I love Palm Sunday at St. Paul’s.  I love starting on the Plaza out in what hopefully abundant sunlight and just enough of a breeze to cool us off without wrapping the banners around us.  (That happened to me one year as I turned the corner along Main Street.)  It is grand; it is glorious, taking us into the sanctuary with celebration, waving our palm branches and singing the well-known Palm Sunday hymns.   And yet, we know what’s coming.  We know that the celebration will end and reality will set in.  So there’s a sense that we love the processional while wanting to hold back just a bit, stay in the procession just a bit longer, basking in the excitement.

Jesus is in the bustling capital city.  He is no longer in the villages and open country of his home.  The celebratory parade is also a protest march.  The disciples should have known what was happening.  Jesus had already laid it out for them.  But they still did not comprehend what he had said.  At this moment Jesus begins the sharp descent down the Mt. of Olives, winding his way toward Jerusalem.  The road that he walked is a steep decline into the Garden of Gethsemane and then begins to ascend toward Mt. Moriah and then to the place of the temple. At this moment, the crowd sees him as a king, as one who will get them out of where they are.  So this is a parade that befits a king.  “Hosanna”, “the Coming One”, the one who restores Jerusalem. 

Jesus enters.  This is the moment.  This is it.  What they didn’t recognize is that Jesus entering from the east brought them something that they had never had before—the dawn of peace, truth, justice, and love.  What they didn’t recognize is that Jesus had indeed come to restore them not to what was but to what should’ve been all along.  So,sadly, the parade would fizzle.  As it turns and begins moving toward Bethany, toward the edge of the walled city, people turn and go back to their lives.  And Jesus, virtually alone, with a few disciples in tow, enters the gate.  Jesus is in Jerusalem.

Well, of course, we know what happens after that.  The stage is set.  The characters are in place.  The next five days would play out in a way that is, of course, NOT “in a way befitting”.  But, for now, this procession, this entrance, is important.  Processions always are.  They are transitions.  They take us from place to the next. Processions are a call to begin something different, to enter that new thing that God is doing.  Essentially, this Palm Sunday processional is exactly that—a calling to move to a different place.  It is scary because we know what lies ahead.  We know that just beyond those city gates lies a city that will not be kind over the next several days, a city that will certainly not act in a way befitting of who it is and who it is called to be.  It is a city that is not in procession, a city that will attempt to silence the cries to change the world.

Eastern Golden Gate of JerusalemWe are always in procession, always moving from one way of being to another. We are moving from darkness to light, from living with a fear of scarcity to living with an embrace of the abundance that God offers, from self-centeredness to self-surrender, from a certainty of who we are and who we should be to faith in a God who will lead us to a new thing.  In this procession, we are moving from death to life.  There, up ahead, there are the gates of the city. The waters have parted.  The question is, is this the point where we drop out and go back to our lives? Or do we stay in procession, walking with Jesus, walking through the gates, knowing what lies ahead?  Havelock Ellis once said that “the promised land always lies on the other side of a wilderness.”  This is our wilderness.  This is our movement from slavery to freedom.  This is our procession to life.  So, keep walking. 

…Our hosannas sung, our palms waved, let us go with passion into this week…It is a time for preparation…The only road to Easter morning is through the unrelenting shadows of that Friday.  Only then will the alleluias be sung; only then will the dancing begin. (From “Holy Week”, by Ann Weems, in Kneeling in Jerusalem)

Grace and Peace,

Shelli

Climax

clouds-floating-over-a-mountainScripture Passage:  Mark 9: 2-9

2Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain apart, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, 3and his clothes became dazzling white, such as no one on earth could bleach them. 4And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, who were talking with Jesus. 5Then Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” 6He did not know what to say, for they were terrified. 7Then a cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud there came a voice, “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!” 8Suddenly when they looked around, they saw no one with them any more, but only Jesus.  9As they were coming down the mountain, he ordered them to tell no one about what they had seen, until after the Son of Man had risen from the dead.

How did we get here so fast?  Everything seemed to just fly by.  Wasn’t it just a few days ago that we were reading of the birth of a child?  Wasn’t it just awhile ago that Jesus was beginning his ministry and calling the disciples to journey with him? In the big scheme of things, we’ve gotten to this point pretty fast.  Here it is—a child born into anonymous poverty and raised by no-name peasants turns out to be the Son of God.  He grows up, becomes a teacher, a healer, and capable of hosting large groups of people with just a small amount of leftovers.  Then he asks a handful of people to become his followers, to help him in his mission.  They leave everything they have, give up their possessions and their way of making a living, they sacrifice any shred of life security that they might have had, and begin to follow this person around, probably often wondering what in the world they were doing.  And we’ve essentially read through all of this in a matter of a few months since early December.  And then one day, Jesus leads them up to a mountain, away from the interruptions of the world.

Now, this is sort of interesting.  There is no proof of an actual geographically-charted mountain.  It is presented as if it just rose up, uninterrupted, from the terrain, as if it is rather a part of the topography of God.  Even for people, such as myself, who cannot claim a single, stand alone, so-called “mountain-top experience” that brought them to Christ but rather came year by year and grew into the relationship…even for us…this IS the mountain-top experience.  And there, on that mountain, everything changes.  The clothes that Jesus was wearing change, taking on a hue of dazzling, blinding, white, whiter than anything that they had ever seen before.  And on the mountain appeared Elijah and Moses, representing the Law and the prophets, the forerunners of our faith, standing there with Jesus.  Peter wanted to build three dwellings to house them.  For me, that’s sort of an interesting part of the story.  Dwellings…I guess because that would keep them here, essentially bound to our way of living.  Dwellings…to control where they were.  Dwellings…to somehow put this incredible thing that had happened into something that made sense, to bring it into the light of the world where we could understand it.  But, instead, they are veiled by a cloud and from the cloud comes a voice, “This is my Son, the Beloved, listen to him!”  “Listen to him!”  And then they were gone and Jesus stood there alone.

The account of the Transfiguration of Jesus seems to us that it should be the climax of the Jesus story.  After all, how can you top it—Old Testament heroes appearing, God speaking from the cloud, and Jesus all lit up so brightly that it is hard for us to look at him.  But there’s a reason that we read this at this point.  In some ways, it is perhaps the climax of Jesus’ earthly journey.  Jesus tells the disciples to keep what happened to themselves, if only for now.  This is the ultimate in thin places, those places of liminality, “betwixt and between” what is and what will be, those places that if we dare to enter, we experience that glimpse of the sacred and the holy.  The light is so bright it is blinding.  God’s glory is so pervasive that we cannot help but encounter it.  And these Old Testament characters?  They show us that this is not a one-time “mountain-top” experience.  It is part of life; it is part of history; it is part of humanity.  Rather than everything of this world being left behind in this moment, it is all swept into being.  It all becomes part of the glory of God.

And then the lights dim.  There are no chariots, Moses and Elijah are gone, and, if only for awhile, God stops talking.  And in the silence, Jesus starts walking down the mountain toward Jerusalem.  From our vantage point, we know what happens there.  And he asks us to follow and gives us all the portions we need to do just that.  And we can.  Because now we see the way to go.  Let us now go to Jerusalem and see this thing that has happened.

The journey to Bethlehem was much more to my liking.  I am content kneeling here, where there’s an aura of angels and the ever-present procession of shepherds and of kings who’ve come to kneel to the Newborn to whom we are newborn.  I want to linger here in Bethlehem in joy and celebration, knowing once I set my feet toward Jerusalem, the Child will grow, and I will be asked to follow. The time of Light and Angels is drawing to a close.  Just when I’ve settled contentedly into the quiet wonder of Star and Child, He bids me leave and follow.  How can I be expected to go back into darkness after sitting mangerside, bathed in such Light?  It’s hard to get away this time of year; I don’t know how I’ll manage.  It’s not just the time…the conversation along the way turns from Birth to Death.  I’m not sure I can stand the stress and pain; I have enough of those already.  Besides, I’ve found the lighting on the road to Jerusalem is very poor.  This time around, there is no Star…

view-of-city-of-jerusalemThe shepherds have left; they’ve returned to hillside and to sheep.  The Magi, too, have gone, having been warned in a dream, as was Joseph, who packed up his family and fled.  If I stay in Bethlehem, I stay alone.  God has gone on toward Jerusalem. (“Looking Toward Jerusalem”, from Kneeling in Jerusalem, by Ann Weems, p. 14-15.)

“If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.” (Luke 9: 23b)

Grace and Peace,

Shelli