In the Hours Before the Dawn

dark-before-dawnScripture Text:  Genesis 1:1-5a, 31a, 2:1-3

In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters.  Then God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light. And God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness. God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night…God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good…Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all their multitude. And on the seventh day God finished the work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all the work that he had done. So God blessed the seventh day and hallowed it, because on it God rested from all the work that he had done in creation. 

We’re never really sure what to do with this day.  Everything is so quiet, so unsettled.  Memories of the week before interrupt our quiet thoughts, filling our minds with regrets over things we would have done differently, places we would have said “yes”, places we would have said “no”, places that we would have stood, places that we would have stayed.  The Cross is empty and Jesus is gone, laid in the tomb–forever.  We know that we will have to go on but we’re not sure how to do that. This is a day when once again, we are covered in darkness.  The earth feels out of sorts, almost formless and empty once again.  And so we sit here in these hours before the dawn with no direction, no guide, no journey that we can see.

And, yet, God has done this before, this creating.  God takes a formless voice that is immersed in darkness and sweeps into it bringing Light.  God creates and we become.  God creates and the world begins to move.  God creates and everything is as it should be.  And then God rested.  This seventh day, this Sabbath, this day of rest, is not the low point of Creation but the veritable climax.  It is the edge of everything that will be, the veritable edge of Glory.  This is the day to sit without doing, to sit without trying to “fix” the world, without trying to “fix” ourselves, without even worrying what the future may hold, and let the peace of God sweep over us once again.  This is the day to sit in the silence and hear the voice that is beckoning us to a New Creation.  Whether we can see it or not, this is the day that we are standing on the edge of Glory.  It is not what we planned; it is not what we envisioned; it is new.  Creation is happening now–in the quiet, in the darkness.

So what do we do today in these hours before the dawn?  It’s hard for those of us that want to make the future right.  It’s hard for us in a place where it’s always been so easy, so protected, to live with both the memories of yesterday and the uncertain future of a world that seems to teeter even now on the brink of furthering its own demise.  This is a day filled with talk of bombs and crosses.  It is a world that only faith can redeem.  What do we do?  Nothing…just rest…and let God create you.  This is the moment of your re-creation.  God is walking in the darkness with you. It may not be what you imagined but it will be right.  The light is just over the darkened horizon.

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)

Grace and Peace,

Shelli

It is Finished

???????????Scripture Text:  John 19: 14-30

Now it was the day of Preparation for the Passover; and it was about noon. He said to the Jews, ‘Here is your King!’ They cried out, ‘Away with him! Away with him! Crucify him!’ Pilate asked them, ‘Shall I crucify your King?’ The chief priests answered, ‘We have no king but the emperor.’ Then he handed him over to them to be crucified.

So they took Jesus; and carrying the cross by himself, he went out to what is called The Place of the Skull, which in Hebrew* is called Golgotha. There they crucified him, and with him two others, one on either side, with Jesus between them.  Pilate also had an inscription written and put on the cross. It read, ‘Jesus of Nazareth,* the King of the Jews.’ Many of the Jews read this inscription, because the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city; and it was written in Hebrew,* in Latin, and in Greek. Then the chief priests of the Jews said to Pilate, ‘Do not write, “The King of the Jews”, but, “This man said, I am King of the Jews.”’ Pilate answered, ‘What I have written I have written.’ When the soldiers had crucified Jesus, they took his clothes and divided them into four parts, one for each soldier. They also took his tunic; now the tunic was seamless, woven in one piece from the top. So they said to one another, ‘Let us not tear it, but cast lots for it to see who will get it.’ This was to fulfil what the scripture says,  ‘They divided my clothes among themselves, and for my clothing they cast lots.’  And that is what the soldiers did.

Meanwhile, standing near the cross of Jesus were his mother, and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing beside her, he said to his mother, ‘Woman, here is your son.’ Then he said to the disciple, ‘Here is your mother.’ And from that hour the disciple took her into his own home.  After this, when Jesus knew that all was now finished, he said (in order to fulfil the scripture), ‘I am thirsty.’ A jar full of sour wine was standing there. So they put a sponge full of the wine on a branch of hyssop and held it to his mouth. When Jesus had received the wine, he said, ‘It is finished.’ Then he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.

It is finished–all the announcing, all the birthing, that star over the manger, the shepherds, the wisemen, the ministry around the lake, the welcoming, the pushing, the encouraging, the healing, the teaching, the last meal–it is finished.  What would we do for just one more moment, one more moment to kneel at the feet of the Savior and worship and love and learn and bask in a Presence that we can’t even explain?  What would we change about how we had done it, how much we paid attention, how much we were aware?  What would we tell Jesus that we did not? What would we do rather than betray him, betray his trust, his love, his faith in who we are and what we can do?

This is the most difficult for us Protestant Christians, those of us who have chosen to spend the whole of our church year bowing before the “empty Cross”, the depiction of Christ’s Resurrection and the promise of our own salvation.  And while I’m not willing to trade the large gleaming empty cross at the front of the sanctuary and permanently replace it with a Crucifix, I think that we do miss part of what the Cross means if we choose to never enter the pain and the suffering that is Christ’s.  In fact, Howard asks, “Where, suddenly, is the theology that teaches that because the Savior did it all, we thereby are reduced to the status of inert bystanders?”  Because, truthfully, when the chips were done, the people stood by.  WE stood by.  We stand by and we let Christ suffer, wait for Christ to finish up this whole messy ordeal, hand us a lily and a pretty bonnet, and invite us to joyfully sing “Christ the Lord is Risen Today” and go on about our business.

The season of Lent, though, is about entering the experience of the Cross—the whole experience.  Because how can one understand the joy of Resurrection without experiencing the pain and suffering and even the death of Crucifixion?  The two cannot be separated.  We are called to enter and bear all that is Christ—the pain, the suffering, the death, and, just when we think “it is finished”, the joy of rising to eternal life, to an eternity of oneness with God.  If we are to truly understand what that means, we must, then, embrace the entirety of the message of the Cross.  And so, perhaps, if only for awhile (maybe 40 days or so!), we should spend this Season of Lent truly looking at the “pre-Easter” experience of the Cross.  You will be amazed what that Easter morning Cross, gleaming in the sunlight of a newly created day, looks like if you understand how God created it, if you have experienced all that is God.

So, in this moment, in this moment when it is all finished, the moment that, for now, our journey ends, what do we do?  What is next?  You know, this thing would have been a whole lot easier to piece together and market if Jesus had died a hero.  But Jesus did not come as a hero; Jesus came as a servant, a humble human servant, to show us what life means.  So, were you there?  Sometime I wonder if I was.  Sometimes I’m too busy or too tired or too convinced that I already have it figured out.  Sometimes I forget to be there.  I have taken this whole journey wanting so badly to be near Jesus, wanting so badly to be connected, to be one.  But sometimes I forget to be there.  Sometimes I want to jump ahead and set up for the Easter celebration.  But today, in this moment, we are called to be there, to stand, perhaps alone, and be with Jesus on the Cross, to be there when it is finished.  Hard as it may be, we have to live the end, to live the “it is finished” before we can live the beginning.  So sit here at the Cross, in this moment, this finished moment.

After the Crucifixion, this defeated little band of disciples had no hope. As you can imagine, they had no expectation of anything else to come. Everything in which they believed, in which they had invested their lives, had died on the cross. It seemed to them that the world had been right and they had been wrong. Joan Chittister says that “the road behind us becomes what frees us for the road ahead.” In this moment, God was already freeing them from grief and recreating joy.  And us…there is something in all of us that struggles with the thought of God suffering. We instead imagine a God that stands apart from us, shielded from pain, and prepared to pick up the pieces of our lives when we need it. But God, in God’s infinite wisdom rather recreates our lives from the inside, from the point of our deepest pain and suffering, from the cross, and even we become new Creations whether or not we can see it now. The cross is the rebirth of humanity in all its fullness. In this moment, it is death that dies.  Truthfully, it is DEATH that is finished.  It is hard for us to see right now. It is hard to see clearly through the tears of grief. Christ died on a cross in immense suffering and pain. And those who love him grieve a grief such that they have never known.  And just when nothing else makes sense, it is in that moment that your eternity has begun.   There is Light ahead but for now, just for a moment, we sit here at the Cross.  It is finished.  It is in this moment that we finally just let it be.

There will come a time when you believe everything is finished. That will be the beginning. (Louis L’Amour)

This is the moment.  This is the moment that you begin.  Jesus did not die a hero to emulate; he died to give us Life.  No longer a bystander, we are called to enter that Life.  What does that mean?  Go forward…you can’t see it just yet but your eternity has begun!

Grace and Peace,

Shelli

 

The Last Time

 

"The Last Supper", Jesus Mafa

Scripture Text:  John 13: 1-17, 31b-35

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

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

Sometimes life spins a little out of control. Sometimes things don’t go exactly like the carefully scripted plan we have in our own minds. Sometimes we have to let go or leave behind those in our lives before we’re actually ready to do so. Our lives are full of “last times”, those special, much-too-fleeting moments that we spend with those we love. It is those times when all we can do is trust that the groundwork has been laid for what must continue. That had to be a little of what Jesus was going through on this night. Think about it…he had spent his ministry gathering those around him, teaching them, loving them, and indeed shaping them into who they were. And now…here he was completely out of time…the end was approaching. Night had begun to fall. All he could do was trust that the seeds he had planted in his followers would continue to grow and flourish even in a new environment and a new time. So on this night, he invited all those who love him—this somewhat motley crew of misfits and ordinary ones to sit around the table and enjoy their time together. He knew what was about to happen. He knew that this would be the last.

That is where we enter the story…in the midst of this evening meal…this Passover meal…the last meal. The feast is prepared. The loved ones are gathered together. We have visions of a perfect meal and a perfect time together. But, as all of us know, that is not always the way that family meals come together. This was no exception. Nestled beneath this wonderful feeling of closeness and fellowship were chords of betrayal and distrust, signs of denial and misunderstandings, and an all-too-constant stream of arguing among the disciples. Does that sound familiar?

But in this Passover meal that we have come to call the Last Supper, Jesus chooses to share himself—his very body and blood with all of those that were gathered—this denying, betraying, bickering, and beloved lot. It was a way of giving them something to remember him so that they would not feel so alone without him. He gave them something to hold onto—to touch and to taste—something to do to keep Christ close in their hearts, to feel the very real Presence of Christ forever. On this night, Jesus gives the gift of himself and a way for all of us to remember who we are.

Our culture probably doesn’t do well with “lasts”.  We seem to be always rushing to the next thing, not wanting to hurt or grieve or even hold on to what may be somewhat painful moments in our lives.  We rush to get “over it”, to move on.  As many of you know, I am dealing with my own set of “lasts” right now.  As I prepare to close my chapter at St. Paul’s and begin a new chapter at FUMC, Cleveland, Tx, the “lasts” seem to be coming in a flurry right now.  I am such that I tear up and sometimes even blatantly bawl at the emptiness and, yet, I really want to savor it, to feel every moment of it, to remember it, to make it a part of me, and to leave a part of myself.  That is what Jesus was trying to do.  I don’t think he was trying to “get them through it” and he was definitely not wanting to rush for it to be over.  He was wanting them to experience it, to savor it, indeed, to remember it.  Do this in remembrance of me.  The beauty of this last meal was the intimacy and the relationship.  These were friends dining together–friends who had loved and argued, celebrated and cried, friends who had been called together one by one.  They were all different, coming from different lifestyles with different gifts to offer.  They were us.  We are them.  And this was the moment that they would remember when everything had changed.

For on this night of nights, Jesus drew them in, not to take care of them, but to help them remember. They had to remember enough to hand the memory on.  The Greek word for it is anamnesis.  We would translate it as remembering.  But it is more.  It is not merely remembering those things that happened to us; it is remembering what came before and what was passed on, remembering what was part of our tradition and our heart.  It is finding a memory of what came before that leads you on your journey beyond.  We often tout “institutional memory” as if it is a way of remembering what happened to whom and where and when.  But it is more.  It is a way of imparting what is important, what matters, what gives life to those that come next.  It is a way of giving it wings to fly and breath to survive.  That is why this night was so important.  Jesus did not choose to shut himself off and grieve what was coming but instead immersed himself in a circle of friends so that he could live through them.  Experiencing a “last time” alone is painful; experiencing a “last time” with a gift of friends and a meal will remain forever.

This is the night we remember, the night that Jesus broke the bread and shared the cup, the night that Jesus knelt and washed the feet of the disciples, the night that Jesus forgave betrayal and welcomed life.  A few hours later the soldiers would come and the end would begin.  But the memory of that last time will last forever.  Do this in remembrance of me.

The glad hosannas are no longer heard.  The shouting is over, the palms are gathered; the shadows lengthen; the plotting begins in earnest. Knowing the outcome, we come with heavy hearts.  And what do we hear?  An unchanged and unchanging message of love; God’s love, a poet’s love, a woman’s love.  God’s love, foretold by Isaiah, in the shape of a servant.  (Moira B. Laidlaw)

On this night of nights, we remember.  But we also experience our own “lasts”.  What memories have been imparted to you?  What do you remember that makes you?  What can you impart to those that come after you?  Embrace your lasts, hold them, love them, and then pass them along.

Grace and Peace,

Shelli

 

 

 

 

It’s About the Bread

Communion-breadScripture Passage:  John 13: 21-32 (Holy Wednesday)

After saying this Jesus was troubled in spirit, and declared, “Very truly, I tell you, one of you will betray me.” The disciples looked at one another, uncertain of whom he was speaking. One of his disciples—the one whom Jesus loved—was reclining next to him; Simon Peter therefore motioned to him to ask Jesus of whom he was speaking. So while reclining next to Jesus, he asked him, “Lord, who is it?” Jesus 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. After he received the piece of bread, Satan entered into him. Jesus said to him, “Do quickly what you are going to do.” Now no one at the table knew why he said this to him. Some 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. So, after receiving the piece of bread, he immediately went out. And it was night.  When he had gone out, Jesus said, “Now the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him. If God has been glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself and will glorify him at once.

(Sorry…Wednesday’s post is a little late!) We started this week with the account of the anointing of Jesus, a story that shows us what it means to extravagantly serve our Lord. Tuesday’s text was one that showed us the meaning of following Jesus, indeed what it means to “take up our cross”. And then today…no extravagant anointing, no taking up any crosses…just a prediction of a betrayal of the worst kind as the dark pall of death begins to enshroud our week.

This passage is indeed a difficult one. Look how it begins…”Jesus was troubled in spirit.” He knew. He knew that a friend would betray him. It made him angry and indignant. But, more than that…it had to hurt. That has to be one of the worst pains imaginable. Because…think about it…betrayal is not something that you do to a stranger. You do not speak of inadvertently cutting someone off in traffic as a “betrayal”. For, you see, betrayal…true betrayal…is a deep-cutting blade that that can only cut into the closest of relationships. As painful as it may be, betrayal only happens in the midst of true intimacy. And that is the most painful of all.  “Very truly, I tell you, one of you will betray me.” What? The disciples looked at each other flabbergasted. NOT one of us. (And even if it was one of us, it is certainly not I. Maybe him or him or him. But I KNOW it’s not me! I love you! You are my Lord!) So Simon Peter leans in…Jesus…come here…come on, you can tell me…who is it? And Jesus, with perfect parabolic eloquence responds…It is the one to whom I give this piece of bread when I have dipped it in the dish. And then he hands it to Judas. Do quickly what you are going to do.  But the disciples didn’t get it. Well, of course not…because it really doesn’t make sense. So they began speculating. You know what I bet he really MEANT to say? He MUST have been telling him to buy something for the festival or to give something to the poor. (After all, just a few days ago, Judas was worried about the poor and why money was not being spent on them rather than on the extravagant anointing of our Lord!) NOW it makes sense. Because NONE of us could betray Jesus. And so the other disciples are removed from the betrayal, relieved of the blame.

So Judas leaves immediately. Even in the midst of betrayal, he is quietly obedient, knowing in his heart of hearts where he really belongs and is not going. And the passage ends as the darkness of night falls.  We know what happens after that. It was Judas who led the authorities to the garden a little way east of the walls of the city and it was Judas who signaled to them which of the men standing there in the dark was Jesus. It all changed with a single kiss as Judas’ lips graze Jesus’ cheek.

But I think, in all honesty, we may be a little too eager to jump on the “blame Judas” band wagon. After all, there is probably a little Judas in all of us. There are those times for all of us when we inadvertently choose the darkness, either intentionally or unintentionally. There are those times when our greed or maybe even our fears drive us to choose the security of wealth or the selfishness of our own preservation, fleeting as it may be, over trust in Christ. There are times when our own blindness toward others compels us to choose our own personal bread, rather than a community feast. And there are times when even our love for our Lord is so shrouded in the darkness of greed, and insecurity, and selfishness towards others that we once again hand him over to be crucified in our hearts. We all must ask the question “Is it I”? And we all must face the uncomfortable truth that sometimes it is.

And we know what happened to Judas. As the writer of Matthew’s Gospel accounts, when Jesus was condemned to death, Judas could not face himself. What had he done? And so he hanged himself, a victim of his own choices and his own action. And to this day, Judas lives on as the veritable poster child of the worst sin imaginable, known to all as the one who handed the Savior of the World over to be crucified. His name has literally become a noun, the description of the worst that one can do. Dante places him on the 4th level of the 9th circle of the inferno, hanging out for the ages in the bowels of hell between Brutus and Cassius, who conspired in the assassination of Julius Caesar. And we, like the other eleven disciples, breathe a collective sigh of relief that it was not us, that we were not the one that betrayed our Lord.

And yet, the story does not end there. With all respect to the 14th century Italian poet, I think he may have missed that. I do think that Judas ended up in hell, the worst hell imaginable, a self-imposed banishment from God, a place where he could not conceive that he would ever be forgiven because he could not forgive himself. So in that place with the blood of Christ on his hands, he saw no end other than his own.

I’ve read this Scripture many times. I’ve even preached on it a few. But this time, something else leapt off the page for me. (I love it when that happens!) I missed it before. It was the bread. Jesus said “the one to whom I give this bread.” The point is, he gave it to all of them. They were all betrayers but, more importantly, they were also all beloved.  I once heard Walter Brueggemann talk about the liturgy that we use for our Eucharist. Before we take the bread, before we take the cup, we confess. We name our sin. We name our betrayals. And then, we are told “In the Name of Jesus Christ, you are forgiven.” The words do not specify that we are forgiven if we are good or that we are forgiven if we’re only on the first couple of circles of Dante’s vision of hell. Nowhere does it say that we are forgiven of limbo or lust or gluttony but if we get to the fourth circle (which is greed) or below, we are doomed. Nowhere does it say that. And Brueggemann points out that with those words, with the simple words “In the Name of Jesus Christ, you are forgiven,” we are wiped clean, spotless, if only for a moment. Oh, but what a moment!

Because, you see, the good news is that God does not love us in spite of who we are; God loves us because of who we are—the betrayer and the beloved, the Judas and the one whom Jesus loved. God loved us before any human person could show love to us—a “first” love, an unlimited, unconditional love—loved us so much that when we are handed this bread, we are handed the real presence of Christ—all of us—the bumbling disciples, those unnamed people that were in the periphery of the picture that day, the beloved and the betrayer, and me. I, Judas, no matter what I do, am forgiven. That was the part of the story Dante forgot. Forgiveness is not payment for a job well done; it is our chance to start again.

Judas was there at the table. Jesus served him as one of his own. It still hurt. But God’s unfathomable grace and God’s forgiveness is bigger than our own selfish betrayal, bigger than any hell we could ever imagine or conjure up for ourselves.  You know, it’s about the bread…

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

That is the crux. None of us are innocent. All of us are forgiven. Holy Thursday does not end in betrayal; it ends in love. Perhaps rather than trying to lay blame for what happened at the Cross, perhaps rather than using Judas as the scapegoat for all of our own sins, we should let the Cross be what it is—a place of healing, a place of reconciliation, a place of forgiveness, a place of life recreated. Because of the Cross, all of us are invited to the table and each of us, no matter who we are, no matter what we’ve done, no matter what we will do, is handed the bread. Each of us is the one to whom I give this bread.

In the Name of Jesus Christ, you are forgiven.

(In the Name of Jesus Christ, I, Judas, am forgiven.)

The body of Christ given for you. Take, eat, in remembrance of me.

The soldiers are there with their swords and lanterns.  The high priest’s slave is whimpering over his wounded ear.  There can be no doubt in Jesus’ mind what the kiss of Judas means, but it is Judas that he is blessing, and Judas that he is prepared to go out and die for now.  Judas is only the first in a procession of betrayers two thousand years long, If Jesus were to exclude him from love and forgiveness, to one degree or another he would have to exclude us all.  Maybe this is all in the mind of Jesus as he stands with his eyes closed, or possibly there is nothing in his mind at all.  As he feels his friend’s lips graze his cheek for an instant, maybe he feels nothing else…It is not the Lamb of God and his butcher who meet here, but two old friends embracing in a garden knowing that they will never see one another again. (Frederick Buechner)

We are journeying through Holy Week.  Things are changing and what we know will come is imminent.  But forgiveness is abundant.  We are all Judas’s.  What are the Judas parts of you?  What does it mean to be forgiven?  Have you forgiven yourself?  None of us are innocent.  All of us are forgiven.

Grace and Peace,

Shelli

 

 

 

The Winds of Change

Wheat and WindsScripture Text:  John 12: 20-36 (Holy Tuesday)

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.

And now the conversation turns to this talk of death and loss.  We’d like to run now, to hastily make our exit back through that heavy gate behind us.  We’re not sure that our journey really prepared us at all.  But it is too late.  The hour has come. 

The reading starts by telling us of the arrival of some Greeks. Now this may seem to us to be sort of periphery to the point of the story but it’s not. For you see, this arrival of the Greeks is something new. It marks the beginning of an entirely new section of the Gospel. These are not merely Greek-speaking Jews, but Gentiles who have made the pilgrimage to Jerusalem for the Passover feast. These are non-Jews, Gentiles from across the sea who wanted to meet the Hebrew holy man. This is the beginning of the world seeing Jesus and knowing who he is.  They approach Philip and request to “see” Jesus, to have a meeting with him. Perhaps they want to know more of who this Jesus is. Perhaps they just want to talk to him. Or perhaps they want to become disciples. But regardless of why they are here, their arrival points to the fulfillment of the church’s future mission—to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the redemption of the world. This is the decisive dividing line between Jesus coming as a Jewish Messiah and Christ, through his death and resurrection, fulfilling God’s promise for the renewal and redemption of all of Creation. Now is the time for the Son of Man to be glorified.  Jesus did not just come to save you and me.  Remember, Jesus is the Savior of the World.  Jesus has begun to draw the world into the Cross.

Change is all around us.  Our world is beginning to shake a bit.  Sure, we could run, go back to our old ways, to the comfort and safety of home.  We could yell and scream and demand that someone put it back the way it was.  The problem is that nothing stays the same.  Even if we could return, it would not feel like home.  For you see, this journey has changed us.  We have lived this season of clearing and surrender.  We are different.  We don’t look different but we do see differently.

But what is this thing with wheat?  (OK, to the end, Jesus seemed to continue speaking in confusing parables!)  Well, wheat is 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—then at the end we will find that we have no life at all.  He goes on…”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, will become part of his everlasting life.

You see, we can’t go back to what we know because it is no longer ours.  The Light has become part of us.  Jesus wanted us to understand not just that he was leaving, not just that his death was imminent, but that this journey to the cross was not just his to make, but ours. This lifting up and this drawing in is all ours.  We ARE the Children of the Light.  Now is the time to walk with Jesus to the cross.

Discipleship is not limited to what you can understand – it must transcend all comprehension. Plunge into the deep waters beyond your own understanding, and I will help you to comprehend. Bewilderment is the true comprehension. Not to know where you are going is the true knowledge. In this way Abraham went forth from his father, not knowing where he was going. That is the way of the cross. You cannot find it in yourself, so you must let me lead you as though you were a blind man. Not the work which you choose, not the suffering you devise, but the road which is contrary to all that you choose or contrive or desire – that is the road you must take. It is to this path that I call you, and in this sense that you must be my disciple. (Martin Luther)

This Lenten journey was not preparing us for this by building us an armor to protect us.  It was preparing us by stripping away all that we know, all that we have planned.  It was preparing us to truly see Jesus and to realize that the journey to the Cross is not something that we watch, not something that we just walk along offering Jesus moral support; rather, the journey to the Cross is ours.  What does it mean to you to die to self?  Of what do you need to let go?  What must you put down so that you can pick up the Cross?  The air has changed.  Jesus is walking to the Cross.  Where are you?

Grace and Peace,

Shelli

A Pound of Perfume

Anointing of JesusScripture Text:  John 12: 1-11 (Holy Monday)

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.

Wasteful, just wasteful…a pound of perfume, LOTS of perfume…she took, she poured, she wiped. In this reading for today, we find this sort of passive Jesus. He visits the home of friends, the home of those whom he had served, those for whom he had done things. And, it says, they give a dinner for him. Jesus is the guest of honor. After all the doing, after all the action, after all the stuff, all the calling and the healing and the teaching and the table-turning and the miracles, he now spends time with friends. And they serve him. And then the passage tells us that Mary takes a pound of costly perfumed nard, breaks the seal, and lavishly pours it onto Jesus’ feet. Then as the oil runs down his feet and begins to drip to the floor, she wipes his feet with her hair. The whole house is filled with this overwhelming fragrance, sort of similar to a combination of mint and ginseng. It permeates everything with an almost sickeningly sweet aroma.

What in the world was she doing? She is breaking all of the rules. First, she loosens her hair in a roomful of men. Then she pours perfume on Jesus’ feet, which is just not done. The head, maybe, but not the feet. Then she actually touches him and then wipes the oil with her hair. The disciples were appalled. Here is this man who has worked for years to bring peace and justice to the world, to heal others, to end poverty and oppression and you waste this oil by pouring it out on him! That oil could have been sold. Things could have been done with that money! We could have done great ministry with what you just poured on his feet! But you have wasted it! You have squandered it!  Then Jesus responds. “Leave her alone,” he says. You see, she gets it. She understands.

Well, first of all, a pound of perfume is A WHOLE BUNCH of perfume.  If it really was worth what Judas claimed, that would probably be about $30,000 in today’s economy.  I mean, really, think what you could do with that amount of money!  Think of all the ministry you could do.  But, oh, I wish I could be like Mary!  I wish I could take and pour and never count  the cost.  So was it a waste?  Or was it the most extravagant love that Mary felt? And perhaps this was the only way she could show it.  In this moment, she anoints Jesus with a pound of perfume.  The others never really got it that night.  But Mary knew. Mary knew that she had truly entered the Presence of Christ.

Notice the language.  She took, she poured, she wiped.  What she did was sacramental.  It was her becoming.  It was the way she entered that incredible love of Christ.  So, when do we let our lives become?  When do we become sacramental? When do we enter that incredible love of Christ?  It has little to do with what you do or what you say; it has to do with what you give up, with what you surrender without counting the cost.  On this holiest of weeks, we are not called to do; we are called, finally, to become.  We are called to enter that incredible love of Christ.  We are called to walk, pouring ourselves out without counting the cost, even if it takes a pound of perfume.

Our hosannas sung, our palms waved, let us go with passion into this week…. It is a time to greet Jesus as the Lord’s Anointed One,to lavishly break our alabaster and pour perfume out for him without counting the cost. It is a time for preparation. (Ann Weems, Kneeling in Jerusalem)

On this Holy Monday, what do you hold dear?  What are the most important, the most valuable things in your life?  What would you give up, pouring out with utter extravagance, for Christ?

Grace and Peace,

Shelli

 

At the Gate

The Lion's Gate, Jerusalem

Scripture Text:  Matthew 21: 1-11 (Palm A)

When they had come near Jerusalem and had reached Bethphage, at the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two disciples, saying 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. If anyone says anything to you, just say this, ‘The Lord needs them.’ And he will send them immediately.” This took place to fulfill what had been spoken through the prophet, saying, “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.” The disciples went and did as Jesus had directed them; they brought the donkey and the colt, and put their cloaks on them, and he sat on them. A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. The 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!” When he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was in turmoil, asking, “Who is this?” The crowds were saying, “This is the prophet Jesus from Nazareth in Galilee.”

I know…you were expecting palms.  Most of us love this day.  Since my childhood, I have been waving palm branches on Palm Sunday morning, shouting “Hosanna”, and reenacting that first century parade with Jesus riding on that donkey.  It was Jesus’ grand procession (or something like it) as he entered the city.  And so we wave our palm branches and try to pretend that we are oblivious to all that comes next.  We look at the palm branches and we ignore the heavy gate just up ahead.  You see, Jesus was already setting himself up for accusation.  He was entering through the East gate, the gate through which the prophets had long ago proclaimed the Messiah would enter.  So Jesus was setting himself up for blasphemy charges for claiming that he WAS the Messiah.  The truth is that this is not just a parade.  It is full of overtones of the suffering to come. The rumblings of what would come next were all around them. So, this “celebration” is not merely a parade; it is the beginning of where the journey will now take us.  It is the procession that takes us to the gate.

I think if we see this day as merely a parade, it is too easy to walk away, too easy to just lay our palm branch down, and fall off with the crowd.  The “hosannas” are easy.  The hard part is to stay with Jesus as he walks through the gate.  Because, 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.

This procession represents transition, a movement from one life to the next, a change in the journey. 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. The palm branch means nothing by itself.  In a way, it is a parody of our life as we know it, a life that reveres Christ without following and celebrates without speaking out.  This procession of palms is the way to the gate, the way to the threshold of what life holds.  It is scary for us 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.

The Eastern Gate (or Golden Gate), Jerusalem (sealed in 1541)

So where do we stand?  On this side of the gate, the one with all the palm branches, is celebration and safety and comfort and the way we’ve always been.  Beyond the gate is anointing and questions, betrayal and handing over, last meals together and mock trials, declarations of guilt and death.  But there is another gate beyond that, the one that brings us Life, the one that takes us to who we are called to be.  Havelock Ellis once said that “the promised land always lies on the other side of a wilderness.” This is our wilderness. This is our procession from slavery to freedom, from who we are to who we will be, from the life we’ve designed for ourselves to the one that God envisions for us. This is our procession to life. This is our journey to salvation.  This IS the Way. So, keep walking, no matter how treacherous the road may be. “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven, and glory in the highest heaven!”

Our hosannas sung, our palms waved, let us go with passion into this week…. It is a time to greet Jesus as the Lord’s Anointed One,to lavishly break our alabaster and pour perfume out for him without counting the cost. It is a time for preparation. (Ann Weems, Kneeling in Jerusalem)

As this holiest of weeks begins, where are you standing?  The journey has brought you to a gate.  Jesus has entered Jerusalem.  Are you willing to give up what you know for Life?  What will you leave behind?

Grace and Peace,

Shelli