Wishing We Could Go Back

Empty City

John 13:1-17, 31b-35

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

Jesus said, “Now the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him. 32If God has been glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself and will glorify him at once. 33Little children, I am with you only a little longer. You will look for me; and as I said to the Jews so now I say to you, ‘Where I am going, you cannot come.’ 34I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. 35By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wear A Mask

Wearing Masks

John 13: 21-32

21After saying this Jesus was troubled in spirit, and declared, “Very truly, I tell you, one of you will betray me.” 22The disciples looked at one another, uncertain of whom he was speaking. 23One of his disciples—the one whom Jesus loved—was reclining next to him; 24Simon Peter therefore motioned to him to ask Jesus of whom he was speaking. 25So while reclining next to Jesus, he asked him, “Lord, who is it?” 26Jesus answered, “It is the one to whom I give this piece of bread when I have dipped it in the dish.” So when he had dipped the piece of bread, he gave it to Judas son of Simon Iscariot. 27After he received the piece of bread, Satan entered into him. Jesus said to him, “Do quickly what you are going to do.” 28Now no one at the table knew why he said this to him. 29Some thought that, because Judas had the common purse, Jesus was telling him, “Buy what we need for the festival”; or, that he should give something to the poor. 30So, after receiving the piece of bread, he immediately went out. And it was night.

31When he had gone out, Jesus said, “Now the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him. 32If God has been glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself and will glorify him at once. 33Little children, I am with you only a little longer. You will look for me; and as I said to the Jews so now I say to you, ‘Where I am going, you cannot come.’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

0_Jody-Mallon

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.

 

 

In Concert

Scripture Passage: John [15:26-16:1-11] 12-15

12“I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. 13When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. 14He will glorify me, because he will take what is mine and declare it to you. 15All that the Father has is mine. For this reason I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.

So, now that we’ve been showered with wind and fire, the next thing is to affirm the Trinity, the three in one.  We do it every year.  And we talk about it A LOT.  Our Trinitarian faith depicts not only our understanding of God but also our understanding of ourselves.  So, everyone, raise your hand if you’d like to explain what it means…anyone?….anyone out there?  Yeah, that’s the problem.  What does it MEAN?

I think we all do the Trinity a disservice.  We make the mistake of sort of picking which higher power team with whom we choose to associate.  And God/Father/Creator becomes a sort of deist, kicking the world off but somehow removed after that.  And Jesus/Son/Redeemer gets pulled down to our own personal version of who God should be, a Savior not of the world but just of us (just of me, like Shelli’s version of Jesus is all I need), of OUR sins and OUR redemption.  And then that Holy Spirit/Sustainer character is designated as beyond us, something to which we should possibly aspire (in an acceptable and moderate way, of course) but something that is not us.  None of this is right.  The image of the Trinity cannot be separated or pitted against one another because it’s all the same.

For several years, I co-lead an Interfaith Scripture Study with a Rabbi from the Temple down the street.  With both Jewish and Christian participants, we would study various Scriptures and share in both our diverse and common understandings of them.  As time permits, we would often end the study sessions with either an “Ask the Christians” question or an “Ask the Jews” question.  (It was our own version of a sometimes very dangerous Jeopardy session)  One day during the “Ask the Christians” episode, I got the always-dreaded question:  “Explain the Trinity to us and tell us how it is not polytheistic, how it is not a depiction of three Gods.”  Truthfully, I remember my feeling of sheer panic.  To me, trying to “define” the Trinity was almost anathema because it would sound limiting and shallow and perhaps even fall into the “my God is bigger than your God” misunderstanding.  But not bothering to attempt to explain its meaning is not giving it enough credit either.  So I took a deep breath and dove in:

“Well, in the beginning was God.  God created everything that was and everything that is and laid out a vision for what it would become.  But we didn’t really get it.  So God tried and tried again to explain it.  God sent us Abraham and Moses and Judges and Kings and Prophets.  But we still didn’t get it.  God wove a vision of what Creation was meant to be and what we were meant to be as God’s children through poetry and songs and beautiful writings of wisdom.  But we still didn’t get it. 

“So,” God thought, “there is only one thing left to do.  I’ll show you.  I’ll show you the way to who I am and who I desire you to be.  I will walk with you.”  So God came, Emmanuel, God-with-us, and was born just like we were with controversy and labor pains and all those very human conceptions of what life is.  Jesus Christ, Emmanuel, was the Incarnation of a universal truth, a universal path, the embodiment of the way to God and the vision that God holds for all of Creation.  But we still didn’t get it.  We fought and we argued and we held on to our own human-contrived understandings of who God is.  And it didn’t make sense to us.  This image of God did not fit into our carefully-constructed boxes that we had so painstakingly laid out.  And so, as we humans have done so many times before and so many times since, we destroyed that which got in the way of our understanding and made our lives difficult to maintain.  There…it was finished…we could go back to the way it was before.

But God loves us too much to allow us to lose our way.  And so God promised to be with us forever.  Because now you have seen me; now you know what it is I intended; now you know the way.  And so I will always be with you, always inside of you, always surrounding you, always ahead of you, and always behind you.  There will always be a part of me in you.  Come, follow me..this way.

As you celebrate the Trinity this Sunday, remember that there is a piece of God just for you and there is always more of God beyond anything that you can even imagine.  The image of the Trinity, both separate and one, in concert and in harmony, depicts both, pulling it in to our understanding and then taking our understanding beyond.

  God creates us, Jesus leads us, and the Spirit shows us ways that are not always in the book.  (Joan Chittister, from “In Search of Belief”)

Grace and Peace,

Shelli

Spirit-Poured

Scripture Passage: Acts 2: 1-6, [7-11], 12-17, [18-21]

When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. 2And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting.3Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. 4All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.

5Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. 6And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each…” 12All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?” 13But others sneered and said, “They are filled with new wine.”

14But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them, “Men of Judea and all who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and listen to what I say. 15Indeed, these are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only nine o’clock in the morning. 16No, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel: 17‘In the last days it will be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams. 

I know it’s been too long since I did this.  But rather than beleaguering that point now, I’ll just let all the reasons why I have seemed to be missing in action drift into future writings.  So, over the years, I have often written in “high holy” seasons, those seasons that sort of burst in and interrupt our day-to-day ordinary lives.  They are the seasons, like Advent and Lent, that make us pay attention, perhaps even change what we are doing.

We often think the same thing of Pentecost.  It has been portrayed with images of winds and fires and brightly colored streamers that at the very least draw our attention to the day.  Some even refer to it as the “Church’s birthday”.  Truthfully, I hate that.  I don’t think it was the birth of the church (the organized church came along much later).  I also don’t think it was merely an awakening of a sleepy people (although that would be helpful even now).  And it is not merely a day filled with fire and winds.  (When I was young, I conjured up images of forest fires and hurricanes, which did not seem helpful to me at all.)  Instead, in my thoughts, this day is tied to the Sunday before.  The Ascension of Christ left what seemed to be an emptiness, a place that was once filled but is now an uncomfortable gaping hole in the story.  And we are told to wait.  (Have you noticed there’s a lot of waiting in this life?)

And then, we are told, a wind comes upon us and the Spirit pours into us, filling that emptiness with the piece of God that is meant just for us.  And it is like tongues of fire, all-consuming, burning away those things around the edges of our lives onto which we hold a little too tightly.  The Hebrew for it is “Ruah”, more than wind, more than Spirit, but the very breath of God breathed into us.  It does not interrupt our ordinary lives; it makes them what they are meant to be; it makes them holy.

This “high holy” day is different from the rest.  Because it brings our ordinariness along with it.  It is now the norm.  And if we are open to being Spirit-poured, we can never go back to the old ways again.  So, what part of God’s Spirit is yours?  What part of Jesus life is yours to carry? And what will you do with your newfound ordinariness?

Without Pentecost, the Christ-event–the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus–remains imprisoned in history as something to remember, think about, and reflect on.  The Spirit of Jesus comes to dwell within us, so that we can become living Christs here and now. (Henri J.M. Nouwen)

Grace and Peace,

Shelli