Creation, Yet Again

Easter Lily (DT 8087007)

Scripture Text:  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.

But 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.

 

THE LORD IS RISEN!

THE LORD IS RISEN INDEED!

Christ, the Lord, is risen today, Alleluia!   Sons of men and angels say, Alleluia!

Raise your joys and triumphs high, Alleluia!  Sing, ye heavens, and earth, reply, Alleluia!

Love’s redeeming work is done, Alleluia!  Fought the fight, the battle won, Alleluia!

Lo! the Sun’s eclipse is over, Alleluia!  Lo! He sets in blood no more, Alleluia!

Vain the stone, the watch, the seal, Alleluia!  Christ hath burst the gates of hell, Alleluia!

Death in vain forbids His rise, Alleluia!  Christ hath opened paradise, Alleluia!

Lives again our glorious King, Alleluia!  Where, O death, is now thy sting? Alleluia!

Once He died our souls to save, Alleluia!  Where thy victory, O grave? Alleluia!

Soar we now where Christ hath led, Alleluia!  Following our exalted Head, Alleluia!

Made like Him, like Him we rise, Alleluia!  Ours the cross, the grave, the skies, Alleluia!

Hail, the Lord of earth and Heaven, Alleluia!  Praise to Thee by both be given, Alleluia!

Thee we greet triumphant now, Alleluia!  Hail, the resurrection, thou, Alleluia!

King of glory, Soul of bliss, Alleluia!  Everlasting life is this, Alleluia!

Thee to know, Thy power to prove, Alleluia!  Thus to sing and thus to love, Alleluia!

(Charles Wesley, 1739)

The day has arrived!  After all this time of anunciation and birth, of baptism and ministry, of teaching and healing, of calling and response, of temptation and darkness, of dying and crucifixion, this Day of Resurrection has dawned.  After this long and difficult journey that we have taken, we come to this day with new eyes and as a new creation.  Christ has risen!  Christ has risen indeed!

But lest we lapse into thinking of this day as a commemoration of The Resurrection of Christ, as a mere remembrance of what happened on that third day so long ago, as some sort of shallow anniversary of Christ’s rising, we need to realize that this day is not just about Jesus’ Resurrection; it is also about our own.  We who carried our cross, we who died to self, we who journeyed through the wilderness and through those gates, are this day given new life.  God has recreated us into who God calls us to be.  And, in a way, that is almost more scary than the dying.  There is no going back.  The self that we knew before is no more.  We are a new creation.  We are a re-creation.

We have risen! 

We have risen indeed!

From the void, from the darkness, God created Light and Life.  No, correct that.  The Scripture begins “while it was still dark”.  God did not wait until the light to come to begin the work of Creation and this time is no different.  While it was still dark, while we strained to see hope and grieved what had come to be, God began.  That is what we are called to do.  We cannot wait until the world is ready.  Our work begins in the darkness with God.

Truthfully, if you look at it from a literal view, nothing has really changed.  Jesus, sadly, is still dead.  The human Jesus, the Jesus born into this world on that long ago night in Bethlehem, was gone.   But through eyes that have been resurrected, nothing will ever be the same again.

Maybe resurrection comes not in raising one above life, but in raising life to where it is supposed to be.  Jesus was the first to cross that threshold between–between death and life, between the world and the sacred, between seeing with the eyes of the world and seeing with the eyes of the Divine.  Hell has been vanquished.  Wesley wrote that “Christ hath burst the gates of hell”.  What that means is that everything, everything that God has created, everything above, below, within, around, everything we see, everything we know, everything we wonder about, everything we do not understand, has been made anew.  Resurrection is not about being transplanted to a new world but rather being called to live in this one as a new creation.  It means being recreated into the one that God envisions you to be.  It means being given a new way of seeing where love is stronger than death, where hope abides, and where life has no end.  It means being capable of glimpsing the Holy and the Sacred, the promise of Life, even in this life, even now.  This day of Easter is now only about Jesus’ Resurrection; it is about ours!  So, what do you plan to do with your new life?

The end of all our exploring…will be to arrive where we started…and know the place for the first time. (T.S. Eliot)

 

King of glory, Soul of bliss, Alleluia! Everlasting life is this, Alleluia!

Thee to know, Thy power to prove, Alleluia! Thus to sing and thus to love, Alleluia!

Everlasting life is truly this!

Happy Easter!

Shelli

 

A Feast of Fools

April FoolLectionary Text:  1 Corinthians 1: 18-20 (21-24) 25

For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written, “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.” Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?..For God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength.

What an odd day this is!  We have set aside and declared an entire day dedicated to nothing but pranks and fools and all out silliness.  I supposed with everything going on right now, a little silliness is not such a bad thing!  If someone were looking at this world from afar, they would surely think us more than odd. Precursors of our April Fools’ Day include the Roman festival of Hilaria, held on March 25th (which, interestingly enough, is also the Feast of the Anunciation, exactly nine months before the Feast of the Birth of Christ) and the Medieval Feast of Fools set of December 28th, when pranks are played in Spanish-speaking countries. In Iran, jokes are played on the 13th day of the Persian new year (Nowruz), which falls on April 1 or 2.  This day, celebrated as far back as 536 B.C.E. is called Sizdah Bedar and is the oldest prank tradition in the world still alive today.  In Poland, Prima Aprilis (“April 1st”, in Lat.) is a day full of jokes.  Hoaxes are prepared by people, media, and even public institutions.  Serious activities are usually avoided.  This conviction is so strong that the anti-Turkish alliance with Leopold I, signed on April 1, 1683, was backdated to March 31st.  Did I say that we were an odd bunch?

So what is this “foolishness” of which Paul writes?  He was really the only one that really ever dared to speak of the foolishness of the Cross, the veritable foolishness of God.  And he’s right, because in terms of the world, the Cross IS utter foolishness.  The world says “mind your own business”, Jesus says “there is no such thing as your own business.”  The world says “buy low, sell high”; Jesus says “give it all away.”  The world says “take care of your health”; Jesus says “surrender your life to me.”  The world says, “Drive carefully–the life you save could be your own”; Jesus says “whoever would save his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”  The world says “get what you are due”; Jesus says “love your neighbor as yourself.”  Essentially, if someone were looking at us from afar, they would think us all a bit odd.  After all, who gives up what they’ve gained, what they’ve accomplished, changes one’s life completely, and follows someone to an instrument of death?:  That, indeed is just foolishness in terms of this world.

In his book, The Faces of Jesus, Frederick Buechner says that “if the world is sane, then Jesus is mad as a hatter and the Last Supper is the Mad Tea Party…In terms of the world’s sanity, Jesus is crazy as a coot, and anybody who thinks he can follow him without being a little crazy too is laboring less under a cross than under delusion.” (Buechner, The Faces of Jesus, p. 61)  Think about it.  It is really pretty ludicrous.  (At first glance, it probably resembles an April Fool’s prank.)  It’s actually downright absurd.  Here in this season, we are called to enter Christ’s suffering, called to follow Christ to the Cross.  Are we nuts?  That could get someone killed!

And yet, there…there up on the altar every single Sunday is that beautiful gleaming cross.  Yeah, we all have them.  We polish them, we wear them, and we hang them on our walls.  I’ve seen them on bumper stickers, billboards, tattoos, and cupcakes. (You know, I guess you can put anything on top of a cupcake!)  But maybe sometimes we clean it (the cross, not the cupcake) up too much.  Maybe we have forgotten the stench of death emanating from it or the sight of a mangled body hanging from it.  Maybe we have forgotten the foolishness of it all.  Maybe it is just too much for us.  After all, we’re good Methodists, people of the “empty cross”.  But it’s NOT empty; it’s full of life–life born from death, life recreated from despair and hopelessness and the end of all we knew.  But this promise of life did not just pop out of a cupcake.  It did not just appear in the midst of an array of carefully-placed lilies one Easter morning surrounded by spirited renditions of Handel’s best music.  God took something so horrific, so dirty, so unacceptable and recreated it into Hope Everlasting.  Daniel Migliore calls it God’s greatest act of Creation yet.  But in terms of what we know, what we expect, even what we deserve, it is an act of utter foolishness.  Who writes this stuff?  In terms of this world, it is fool’s gold; but in terms of God’s Kingdom coming into being, it is a veritable Feast of Fools because it takes us and turns us into the wise.  But perhaps wisdom is not about worshipping a gleaming, pristine cross but rather looking at an instrument of death and seeing the life it holds.  I know…none of it makes sense.  If it all made sense, we wouldn’t need it at all.

And, truth be told, the Scriptures are full of accounts of the wise and powerful ones mocking and getting mocked, never really understanding this lowly carpenter’s son born of a scared young girl from a no-name town.  But notice that it is the ones who are considered fools–the outsiders, the shunned, the ones who do not measure up to society’s standards–that get it.  So, maybe you have to be a fool. After all, don’t you think that those who followed Jesus to the Cross thought to the very end that something else would happen.  Perhaps they thought that at the last moment, someone would jump up and yell “April Fool’s”, implying that it would have been the most tasteless prank ever.  But that’s not how it happened.  Jesus died that day and in that moment, Creation changed as the Sacred and the Holy poured into this foolish world.  And we, we have been gathered in, into a Feast of Fools.  Thanks be to God!

Faith, you see, is largely an intuitive process, not a summing up of “data.” Faith listens to life and hears something new. Faith drifts off during a sermon and lands on new terrain. Faith sings a new song and suddenly knows more. Faith feeds a stranger and responds differently to one’s own meal. Faith makes wild leaps, risks strange thoughts, dashes outside the box, asks foolish questions, hears unexpected voices. Little by little, faith’s “whole being”grows deeper and deeper, broader and broader.  (Tom Ehrich)

On this Lenten journey, think what it means to play the fool.  Think what it means to let go of the wisdom of this world and take on the Wisdom that is God.  (No joke!)

Grace and Peace,

Shelli

You, Resurrected

 

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

 

 

Re-Creation

Easter Lily (DT 8087007)

Scripture Text:  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.

But 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.

 

THE LORD IS RISEN!

THE LORD IS RISEN INDEED!

Christ, the Lord, is risen today, Alleluia!   Sons of men and angels say, Alleluia!
Raise your joys and triumphs high, Alleluia!  Sing, ye heavens, and earth, reply, Alleluia!

Love’s redeeming work is done, Alleluia!  Fought the fight, the battle won, Alleluia!
Lo! the Sun’s eclipse is over, Alleluia!  Lo! He sets in blood no more, Alleluia!

Vain the stone, the watch, the seal, Alleluia!  Christ hath burst the gates of hell, Alleluia!
Death in vain forbids His rise, Alleluia!  Christ hath opened paradise, Alleluia!

Lives again our glorious King, Alleluia!  Where, O death, is now thy sting? Alleluia!
Once He died our souls to save, Alleluia!  Where thy victory, O grave? Alleluia!

Soar we now where Christ hath led, Alleluia!  Following our exalted Head, Alleluia!
Made like Him, like Him we rise, Alleluia!  Ours the cross, the grave, the skies, Alleluia!

Hail, the Lord of earth and Heaven, Alleluia!  Praise to Thee by both be given, Alleluia!
Thee we greet triumphant now, Alleluia!  Hail, the resurrection, thou, Alleluia!

King of glory, Soul of bliss, Alleluia!  Everlasting life is this, Alleluia!
Thee to know, Thy power to prove, Alleluia!  Thus to sing and thus to love, Alleluia!

(Charles Wesley, 1739)

The day has arrived!  After all this time of anunciation and birth, of baptism and ministry, of teaching and healing, of calling and response, of temptation and darkness, of dying and crucifixion, this Day of Resurrection has dawned.  After this long and difficult journey that we have taken, we come to this day with new eyes and as a new creation.  Christ has risen!  Christ has risen indeed!

But lest we lapse into thinking of this day as a commemoration of The Resurrection of Christ, as a mere remembrance of what happened on that third day so long ago, as some sort of shallow anniversary of Christ’s rising, we need to realize that this day is not just about Jesus’ Resurrection; it is also about our own.  We who carried our cross, we who died to self, we who journeyed through the wilderness and through those gates, are this day given new life.  God has recreated us into who God calls us to be.  And, in a way, that is almost more scary than the dying.  There is no going back.  The self that we knew before is no more.  We are a new creation.  We are a re-creation.

We have risen! 

We have risen indeed!

From the void, from the darkness, God created Light and Life.  Truthfully, if you look at it from a literal view, nothing has really changed.  Jesus, sadly, is still dead.  The human Jesus, the Jesus born into this world on that long ago night in Bethlehem, was gone.   But through eyes that have been resurrected, nothing will ever be the same again.

Maybe resurrection comes not in raising one above life, but in raising life to where it is supposed to be.  Jesus was the first to cross that threshold between–between death and life, between the world and the sacred, between seeing with the eyes of the world and seeing with the eyes of the Divine.  Hell has been vanquished.  Wesley wrote that “Christ hath burst the gates of hell”.  What that means is that everything, everything that God has created, everything above, below, within, around, everything we see, everything we know, everything we wonder about, everything we do not understand, has been made anew.  Resurrection is not about being transplanted to a new world but rather being called to live in this one as a new creation.  It means being recreated into the one that God envisions you to be.  It means being given a new way of seeing where love is stronger than death, where hope abides, and where life has no end.  It means being capable of glimpsing the Holy and the Sacred, the promise of Life, even in this life, even now.  This day of Easter is now only about Jesus’ Resurrection; it is about ours!  So, what do you plan to do with your new life?

The end of all our exploring…will be to arrive where we started…and know the place for the first time. (T.S. Eliot)

 

King of glory, Soul of bliss, Alleluia! Everlasting life is this, Alleluia!
Thee to know, Thy power to prove, Alleluia! Thus to sing and thus to love, Alleluia!

Everlasting life is truly this!

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

 

 

A Feast of Fools

April FoolLectionary Text:  1 Corinthians 1: 18-20 (21-24) 25
For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written, “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.” Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?..For God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength.

What an odd day this is!  We have set aside and declared an entire day dedicated to nothing but pranks and fools.  If someone were looking at this world from afar, they would surely think us more than odd. Precursors of our April Fools’ Day include the Roman festival of Hilaria, held on March 25th (which, interestingly enough, is also the Feast of the Anunciation) and the Medieval Feast of Fools set of December 28th, when pranks are played in Spanish-speaking countries. In Iran, jokes are played on the 13th day of the Persian new year (Nowruz), which falls on April 1 or 2.  This day, celebrated as far back as 536 B.C.E. is called Sizdah Bedar and is the oldest prank tradition in the world still alive today.  In Poland, Prima Aprilis (“April 1st”, in Lat.) is a day full of jokes.  Hoaxes are prepared by people, media, and even public institutions.  Serious activities are usually avoided.  This conviction is so strong that the anti-Turkish alliance with Leopold I, signed on April 1, 1683, was backdated to March 31st.  Did I say that we were an odd bunch? 

So what is this “foolishness” of which Paul writes?  He was really the only one that really ever dated to speak of the foolishness of the Cross, of the foolishness of God.  And he’s right, because in terms of the world, the Cross is utter foolishness.  The world says “mind your own business”; Jesus says “there is no such thing as your own business”.  The world says “buy low, sell high”; Jesus says “give it all away”.  The world says “take care of your health”; Jesus says “surrender your life to me”.  The world says “Drive carefully—the life you save may be your own”; Jesus says “whoever would save his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”  The world says “get what you are due”; Jesus says, “love your neighbor as yourself”.  Essentially, if someone were looking at us from afar, they would just think us a bit odd.  After all, who gives up what they’ve gained, changes one’s life completely, and follows someone to an instrument of death?  That, indeed, is just foolishness in terms of the world.

In his book, The Faces of Jesus, Frederick Buechner says that “if the world is sane, then Jesus is mad as a hatter and the Last Supper is the Mad Tea Party…In terms of the world’s sanity, Jesus is crazy as a coot, and anybody who thinks he can follow him without being a little crazy too is laboring less under a cross than under delusion.” (Buechner, The Faces of Jesus, p. 61)  Think about it.  It is really pretty ludicrous.  (At first glance, it probably resembles an April Fool’s prank.)  It’s actually downright absurd.  Here in this season, we are called to enter Christ’s suffering, called to follow Christ to the Cross.  Are we nuts?  That could get someone killed!

And yet, there…there up on the altar every single Sunday is that beautiful gleaming cross.  Yeah, we all have them.  We polish them, we wear them, and we hang them on our walls.  I’ve seen them on bumper stickers, billboards, tattoos, and cupcakes. (You know, I guess you can put anything on top of a cupcake!)  But maybe sometimes we clean it (the cross, not the cupcake) up too much.  Maybe we have forgotten the stench of death emanating from it or the sight of a mangled body hanging from it.  Maybe we have forgotten the foolishness of it all.  Maybe it is just too much for us.  After all, we’re good Methodists, people of the “empty cross”.  But it’s NOT empty; it’s full of life–life born from death, life recreated from despair and hopelessness and the end of all we knew.  But this promise of life did not just pop out of a cupcake.  It did not just appear in the midst of an array of carefully-placed lilies one Easter morning surrounded by spirited renditions of Handel’s best music.  God took something so horrific, so dirty, so unacceptable and recreated it into Hope Everlasting.  Daniel Migliore calls it God’s greatest act of Creation yet.  But in terms of what we know, what we expect, even what we deserve, it is an act of utter foolishness.  Who writes this stuff?  In terms of this world, it is fool’s gold; but in terms of God’s Kingdom coming into being, it is a veritable Feast of Fools because it takes us and turns us into the wise.  But perhaps wisdom is not about worshipping a gleaming, pristine cross but rather looking at an instrument of death and seeing the life it holds.  I know…none of it makes sense.  If it all made sense, we wouldn’t need it at all.

And, truth be told, the Scriptures are full of accounts of the wise and powerful ones mocking and getting mocked, never really understanding this lowly carpenter’s son born of a scared young girl from a no-name town.  But notice that it is the ones who are considered fools–the outsiders, the shunned, the ones who do not measure up to society’s standards–that get it.  So, maybe you have to be a fool. After all, don’t you think that those who followed Jesus to the Cross thought to the very end that something else would happen.  Perhaps they thought that at the last moment, someone would jump up and yell “April Fool’s”, implying that it would have been the most tasteless prank ever.  But that’s not how it happened.  Jesus died that day and in that moment, Creation changed as the Sacred and the Holy poured into this foolish world.  And we, we have been gathered in, into a Feast of Fools.  Thanks be to God!

Faith, you see, is largely an intuitive process, not a summing up of “data.” Faith listens to life and hears something new. Faith drifts off during a sermon and lands on new terrain. Faith sings a new song and suddenly knows more. Faith feeds a stranger and responds differently to one’s own meal. Faith makes wild leaps, risks strange thoughts, dashes outside the box, asks foolish questions, hears unexpected voices. Little by little, faith’s “whole being”grows deeper and deeper, broader and broader.  (Tom Ehrich)

On this Lenten journey, think what it means to play the fool.  Think what it means to let go of the wisdom of this world and take on the Wisdom that is God.  (No joke!)

Grace and Peace,

Shelli

What Is Left

Flower in AshesScripture Passage: Joel 2: 1-3

Blow the trumpet in Zion; sound the alarm on my holy mountain! Let all the inhabitants of the land tremble, for the day of the Lord is coming, it is near— a day of darkness and gloom, a day of clouds and thick darkness! Like blackness spread upon the mountains a great and powerful army comes; their like has never been from of old, nor will be again after them in ages to come. Fire devours in front of them, and behind them a flame burns. Before them the land is like the garden of Eden, but after them a desolate wilderness, and nothing escapes them.

I know.  What a way to begin the season–darkness and gloom, devouring fire and flame, and desolate wilderness!  I know what you’re thinking.  Can we go back to that manger scene now?  Can we go back to being bathed in light with the hope of the world nestled in our arms?  Well, the problem, is that somewhere on this journey between seasons, we forgot.  We forgot who and whose we were.  Somewhere along the way we became self-sufficient and sure of ourselves.  Somewhere along the way, we thought we had figured it out, thought we were so right.  Somewhere along the way the trumpet announcing the birth of our Savior became our own horn.  Somewhere along the way we forgot that we were blessed not by what God has given us but by what God has called us to do.  You know–scattering the proud and bringing down the powerful, filling the hungry and sending the rich away.  (Hmmm, that sounds distantly and vaguely familiar.) And now we sit in ashes wondering what to do next.

Lent is our chance to begin again.  Because, think about it, those ashes that you are going to spread on your forehead today are what is left.  They are what has survived.  After all of the devouring fires scorching the gardens, they are left.  They are the remnant.  They are the hope for what will come next.  So we begin our Lenten journey in ashes because we repent for what we have done.  But that is not the end.  God does not leave us on the ash heap alone.  God picks us up and recreates us, walking us through the wilderness, through the valley of the shadow of death, through the Cross, to Life.  The ashes are the beginning.

I’ve used this before on Ash Wednesday (and for those who will hear me later in the day, you have two more chances to hear it in a sermon!), but it’s such a great reminder, I couldn’t resist.  A rabbi once told his disciples, “Everyone must have two pockets, with a note in each pocket, so that he or she can reach into the one or the other, depending on their needs.  When feeling high and mighty one should reach into the left pocket, and find the words: “Ani eifer v’afar; I am dust and ashes.  But when feeling lowly and depressed, discouraged or without hope, one should reach into the right pocket, and, there, find the words: “Bishvili nivra ha’olam…For my sake was the world created.”

So what will you do with what is left?  What will you do with your share of ashes?  Repent and turning–that is what this day is about.  No longer do we wallow in morbid shame and guilt; no longer do we pound ourselves down for our past mistakes; no longer do we sit on the ash heap sullen and morose.  This is the day when we begin to begin again.  Pick yourself up!  Dust yourself off!  And start.  This is the day when we begin the journey to life.  But we are called to travel light.  God has given what we need.

My soul magnifies the Lord, and my Spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant.  Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name.  (Luke 1: 46b-49)

As you begin this Lenten journey, what things do you need to leave behind? What things do you need to take with you?  Remember, we are traveling light.  The wilderness journey is long and difficult.  But we are traveling with the one who created us and calls us to live life freely and blessed.

Grace and Peace,

Shelli