As we begin this Season of Creation[i], we join the Church worldwide to pray and act in caring for all of creation. The 80th General Convention of the Episcopal Church recognized climate change as “an all-encompassing social crisis and moral emergency that impacts and interconnects every aspect of pastoral concern including health, poverty, employment, racism, social justice, and family life and that can only be addressed by a Great Work involving every sector of society, including the Church.”[ii]
The earth is groaning, heating, burning, flooding, and dying. You have and read the stories. This week Pakistan cries out, one-third of the country underwater from flooding. The cost is great for the earth. To be a disciple costs everything, Jesus says. Give up all your possessions. Hate father and mother, wife and children, even life itself. Following Jesus reorients all our relationships, all that we have. It is not easy or ordinary. It is to carry a cross, to suffer with the One who suffered for us.
Everything is a gift. We tend to possess, to cling, to hold, horde or grasp, claiming as our own. As humans we tend toward entitlement, and God invites us into blessing. Despite all the good we receive and give in family, we tend to distance, exclude or oppress others. To follow Jesus means relating differently. Respect the dignity of every human being as a child of God. Keep changing and learning to live that out such that all may live, all may eat, all may have shelter, all may have water unlike as in Mississippi where Jackson does not have running water while surrounding cities do.
My brother Michael used to live in Manchester in northern England. I went to stay with him one August during a heat wave. His apartment was hot and claustrophobic, and the city felt suffocating. So, one day we just took off. We got on the little pay train which wound its way slowly, out of the city and up, up into the glorious Peak District. The train stopped at a tiny station surrounded by magnificent hills. We got out and we climbed and climbed for several hours till we reached the top of the highest hill, Kinder Scout. We were exhausted, but wonderfully exhilarated. We drank in the cool air in great thirsty gulps, and as we breathed we felt quite intoxicated, and I remember we started leaping around, and shouting and laughing with sheer joy. Way below us a couple of hikers looked up, and I think they probably thought we were drunk!
Today is the Day of Pentecost. On this day the gift of divine power came to the disciples, and there was no mistaking it; for it was accompanied by an experience which pounded their senses. Divine power was invading them. An intense, ‘catastrophic’ experience. A rushing wind, tongues of fire, a power beyond human lives invading human lives. Perhaps the disciples started leaping around, as extraordinary words came out of their mouths. Certainly, others thought they must be drunk!
Ascension Day follows the high drama of Holy Week and Easter, days that are full of interpretation and significance. But Ascension Day is rather vacuous in meaning. Jesus says to his followers: Stay here. Wait. Wait until you have been clothed with power. Why the wait? Because of fear. They were still afraid.
Sixty years ago the great Secretary General of the United Nations, Dag Hammarskjöld, wrote in his diary in Ascensiontide 1961: “…at some moment I did answer Yes to Someone – or Something – and from that hour I was certain that existence is meaningful and that, therefore, my life, in self-surrender, had a goal.”1 As for Jesus’ disciples, just as for us: God is waiting for us to say Yes, to keep saying Yes to our own lives, which will open up this channel for God’s work within us and through us.
Revelation 21:10, 22-22:5
What is it that keeps you coming back? What keeps us here, worshipping and adoring Christ week by week, day by day? Faith, hope, a promise? It can sometimes feel a little fuzzy – like when I’m not wearing my glasses – but I know it’s not just something I made up one day. It’s rooted in something that really happened.
We really synced up in real time with the events of scripture back on Palm Sunday. The time markers became pretty exact. The story says he rode into Jerusalem on a Sunday, and later that week, on a Thursday he had a last supper. He was crucified on a Friday and early on the first day of the week, that next Sunday, he rose again. The liturgies of Holy Week kept us step by step in time with everything going on. I’m a monk so I live at church all the time but it sure felt like a lot of you were living at church that week too. And we kept up with the story, the following Sunday about Thomas. The story says it happened the following week and we were right on time. I love getting to inhabit the story of scripture that way; the way it hallows every moment of my little life.
But it’s been over a month now since those Easter bells rang out and we’ve said and sung hundreds of alleluias and I don’t know about you but the timeline seems harder to track now. I’m fascinated by the forty-day period that Jesus spent appearing to his disciples. Those first bleary-eyed interactions are easier to grasp. Strange happenings at the tomb after three exhausting days, mistaking Jesus for a gardener, foot races to the tomb. They adrenaline and shock are palpable. The instant relief and excitement to know that he’s not dead anymore. The teacher, the leader, the beloved rabbi is back! Can everything just pick up as usual?
“O Lord, make haste to help me,” cries the Psalmist. … Let those who seek after my life be ashamed. … I am poor and needy. … You are my helper.” The psalmist pleads for help, protests what is wrong, and trusts God is good. This is a lament: naming suffering and believing being heard.
Tonight we pray Tenebrae, which means shadows, with words from people feeling abandoned, isolated, cut-off, and grieving. We lament like them and Jesus, troubled in spirit.
While particularly appropriate for Holy Week, lament is from the beginning. Patrick Miller wrote: “The story of God and the human creature is rooted in and shaped by the experience of pain and suffering and what God does about it, in the human voice that cries out and the God whose ears cannot miss those cries.”[i] Lament, Miller continued, is prayer and part of being human.[ii] From the cross, Jesus cried out with Psalm 22: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Trust and question in tender, wrenching symmetry:[iii]
What is your lament today? What is your suffering? What pain of others weighs on you? Name it with scripture, but words are not necessary. Perhaps you need a break from them. Gaze at something broken. Shake your fists. Stomp your feet. Groan. Roar. Cry.
God hears you. Take a deep breath. Lie down and feel your body fully supported. God hears you. In the shadows with Jesus, cry out with trouble and trust.
[i] Patrick D. Miller, “Heaven’s Prisoners: The Lament as Christian Prayer” in Lament: Reclaiming Practices in Pulpit, Pew, and Public Square. (2005) Eds. Sally A. Brown and Patrick D. Miller. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, p16.
[ii] Ibid, p17
[iii] Ibid, 21
John 12: 20-36
‘The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified’. I find our Gospel reading today, on this day, this Tuesday in Holy Week, to be really moving. We are in company with Jesus as he gets ready to die. He is fully prepared. As Son of God he knows that his death will bring life and salvation to the world. But he’s also Son of Man, he is just like us: flesh and blood. He is fearful. ‘Now, my soul is troubled he says’. We hear similar words in the other Gospels, “I am deeply grieved, even to death; (Matthew 26:38)
Each day of this Holy Week, Jesus draws closer to his death. We meditate again on his gracious words and actions, culminating in that glorious final commitment from the Cross, ‘Into your hands O Lord I commend my spirit’. In doing so we can I believe be strengthened to prepare for our own death. Jesus was fully prepared for his death, and we should be too. There is something rather important being said in the Great Litany in the Book of Common Prayer when we pray to be ‘delivered from dying suddenly and unprepared.’ It is good to be ready, to be prepared for when our own death comes. St Francis of Assisi could speak of death as ‘Sister Death’, because she was for him a familiar and welcome companion. It is said of Pope John 23rd -good Pope John- that as he lay dying of a rather terrible stomach cancer, he told his secretary, ‘My bags are packed and ready to go.’ In the Rule of our Society we read, ‘We are called to remember our mortality day by day with unflinching realism, shaking off the sleep of denial.’ (Chapter 48). Death for the Christian is no enemy, is not to be feared, but is rather a kind angel waiting to lead us into the presence of our heavenly Father.
Here we kneel at the tomb once more, watching, waiting, numb, and grieving. We stare at love embodied and remember love received. Our song is love unknown, our Savior’s love—to you, to me—love to the loveless shown that we might lovely be.[i]
Remember love shown to children. Jesus invited: “Let the little children come to me”[ii] that we might lovely be.
Remember love shown to blind Bartimaeus who cried out for mercy. Jesus listened, invited, and healed that we might lovely be.[iii]
O God, by the leading of a star you manifested your only Son to the peoples of the earth: Lead us, who know you now by faith, to your presence, where we may see your glory face to face; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
These wise men who had come from the East, who are they? The New Testament Greek name for them is “magi,” which means magicians, fortune tellers, wizards. [i] The Greek name magi also includes astrologers, and so it’s no wonder that they reportedly saw a certain star rising, knew its significance, and followed it.[ii]
The wise men came from “the East,” but whether that is near East, or middle East, or far East is only a guess. St. John Chrysostom, fourth-century archbishop of Constantinople, believed the three magi came from Yemen because, in those days, the Kings of Yemen were Jews. A very early Armenian tradition neither saw them as Jews nor as starting out together but rather meeting up along the way, each of them a king from a foreign realm, each of them following this star: one named Balthazar, a king from Arabia; another was Melchior, a king from Persia; and a third, Gaspar, a king from India. I am speaking of three magi, but we are actually not told how many wizards came to Bethlehem. Three is just a guess: three kings because of the three gifts so no one comes empty handed. The gifts were of gold, the most precious mineral on the earth[iii]; frankincense, a symbol of prayer, as the psalmist says, “let my prayer like incense be”[iv]; and myrrh, the fragrance of heaven, used in the anointing for healing and also in the anointing of the dead (ultimately Jesus’ own body).[v]
It’s always a wonder to me the way Christmas unfolds each year. There is often a moment that seems to freeze in my mind and I think this is Christmas. And my mind is full of those scrapbook pages of moments, the ghosts of Christmas past. There are lots of them that have that picture-perfect quality. The laughter drenched party with friends. The silent, holy night of Christmas Eve worship. The quiet Christmas morning in the Colorado snow. But, the moments that seem to be surfacing most these days are the ones that are much less tidy. I might describe them as the descent into chaos. It’s when the shine has worn off, when has headache set in, when packages lie eviscerated in a pile of torn gift wrap on the floor. Sometimes I look around and I think “This is Christmas? This place is a mess! My mind is a mess! My heart is a mess!”
And there in that mess, I see the babe of Bethlehem, and it begins to makes sense.
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. (Gen. 1:1)
We have been ushered into the season of Advent with the customary apocalyptic readings. Gazing not at Christ’s first coming in our midst but straining toward the horizon for his second coming we enter into this season of preparation. But, Advent preparation is not just about planning a party towards the end of December. The expectant waiting and preparation of Advent is time to do the soul’s work of conditioning for ultimate things, because eternity is on the horizon.
Jesus occasionally entered into a mode of teaching that, unlike other uplifting passages, embodies a foreboding sense of coming trial. Indeed, we have such a reading today. Jesus points to a day when there will be an accounting; when the souls of humankind will be laid bare and truth will be made known.
If I let myself actually hear Jesus, I tremble. I know that God’s mercy and grace are aboundingly sufficient and I know that there are some things, some ways of being, some little pet sins of mine that simply cannot endure in the Kingdom of God. But I know how much I depend on them when I try to let them go.