on love, real life, and the triduum

on love, real life, and the triduum
Behold the Pierced One, by Fr Lawrence Lew, O.P.
Behold the Pierced One, by Fr Lawrence Lew, O.P.

Today is Maundy Thursday, the beginning of the Triduum, the holiest time of the year. For these three days, we walk with Jesus as  he celebrates the Passover with his closest friends, washes their feet, breaks bread and drinks wine with them, goes to the olive farm to pray so hard that he sweats blood, gets betrayed for cash, gets arrested, is denied by his best friend, goes from trial to trial, gets handed off between Temple authorities and Roman authorities and yet different Roman authorities, is mocked by the mob, gets flogged, carries the heavy crossbeam to Golgotha, is crucified, dies, and is quickly wrapped and buried before the sun sets and the holy Passover Sabbath begins.

We know that Jesus does all of this out of love.  God is born into this world as a helpless infant–like all the rest of us–because God loves us. God loves us so much that God gives up God’s godness, to live and breathe and hurt and smile and run and shout and step in donkey shit and kiss babies and love his momma and spend time with his friends. And die. What kind of love is that?!

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you were dead (lent 4, year b)

You were dead.

Great way to start a bible reading, huh?  I mean, this is what we all want to hear, isn’t it?  You were dead.  Not even mostly dead, which is different from all dead.  You. Were. Dead.  Now who says that Lent isn’t miserable?

You were dead.

The celebration of Easterthe Feast of the Resurrection — is the traditional day for baptizing adults, or really, for baptizing anyone.   At my parish, we have been focused on the people who are preparing for baptism, praying for them each week as they take part in a formation process of study, discussion, and prayer.  I know of six who will be baptized at the Great Vigil of Easter, and I think there will be more.  We’ve spent a great deal of time talking about the sacrament of baptism, about its symbolism, about the liturgy that abounds in beautiful imagery.  And Paul really nails one part of those discussions:

YOU WERE DEAD.

Easter Vigil Baptism, by Marjie Kennedy
Easter Vigil Baptism, by Marjie Kennedy

When European explorers and colonists settled in America, they brought with them their faith and religious practices.  Northern Europe being much colder than the Holy Land and Mediterranean countries, baptism got changed — watered down, if you will.  (I’m sorry. That was a terrible pun.  Pray for me, a sinner.)  Instead of being fully immersed in a pool of water, and fully submerged three times, your baptism was a pouring or sprinkling with water.  The event was still a great celebration, a turning point in your life, but it lost some of its symbolism.

With each submersion, you would be held under the water so that when you were brought back up, you would take a huge gasp and gulp of air, breathing in the Holy Spirit as the disciples did when they encountered the risen Jesus.  With each submersion, you were ritually drowned: you were dead.

But there’s Good News!

You may have been dead, but something much more powerful is at work in you.  God is rich in mercy.  God loves us with great love.  God raises us up with Jesus.  God gives us immeasurable riches of loving-kindness.  God shows us grace.

Grace is the miracle of baptism.  Grace is what God gives us — grace is what God extravagantly pours out on us until it overflows — without us earning or deserving it.  We can’t earn grace.  And yet, God delights in us.  We certainly don’t deserve grace.  And yet, God raises us up.  John says it so wonderfully and powerfully in today’s gospel: God loved the world so much that he sent his only son — the beloved, in whom God is well pleased — so that anyone and everyone who believes will become a vessel for God’s overflowing grace.

You were dead.  And God has made you alive again.  Isn’t that wonderful news?

In the baptismal liturgy, we see water symbolize a number of things.  The Thanksgiving over Water is a beautiful prayer:

Veni, Creator Spiritus, by Fr. Lawrence Lew, OP
Veni, Creator Spiritus, by Fr. Lawrence Lew, OP

We thank you, Almighty God, for the gift of water.
Over it the Holy Spirit moved in the beginning of creation.
Through it you led the children of Israel out of their bondage in Egypt into the land of promise.

In it your Son Jesus received the baptism of John
and was anointed by the Holy Spirit as the Messiah, the Christ,
to lead us, through his death and resurrection,
from the bondage of sin into everlasting life.

We thank you, Father, for the water of Baptism.
In it we are buried with Christ in his death.
By it we share in his resurrection.
Through it we are reborn by the Holy Spirit.

We see the waters of chaos, with the Holy Spirit moving and brooding over them.  God the Holy Spirit broods like a mother, pregnant with everything that is, until God speaks (Fiat lux!) and calls Creation into being.  In this sense, water represents not only the chaos before God created order but also the amniotic fluid within the womb of a woman who is brooding, who is pregnant.  Water is a challenge for the children of Israel as they leave Egypt; they must cross the sea in order to leave behind their slavery and turn their faces toward God’s promises.  Jesus himself was submerged in the Jordan River by his cousin John, both showing us this new sacrament and taking all these symbols for water onto himself.

We are born through water.  We are cleansed by water.  Water gives us an obstacle to overcome.  Water is necessary for life, especially in Israel.  Water can be peaceful and calm, or it can be chaotic and violent and uncontrollable.  Water sustains and protects us when we are vulnerable.  Water kills us.  And water brings us back to life.

You were dead.

You were dead, and by God’s grace you have been saved.

You were dead, and God has made us alive together through the person of Jesus.

You were dead.  And now we can all sit together at the eternal feast.

Thanks be to God!

glorious mysteries #3: the resurrection

For Sunday, March 21, our third of the Glorious Mysteries of the rosary is the Resurrection of Jesus.  Four translations can be found here, and the NRSV reads,

Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb. So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, ‘They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.’

Then Peter and the other disciple set out and went towards the tomb. The two were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. He bent down to look in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he did not go in. Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen wrappings lying there, and the cloth that had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen wrappings but rolled up in a place by itself. Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; for as yet they did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead. Then the disciples returned to their homes.

Mary Magdalene meets the Risen Christ, by Lawrence OP
Mary Magdalene meets the Risen Christ, by Lawrence OP

But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet. They said to her, ‘Woman, why are you weeping?’

She said to them, ‘They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.’  When she had said this, she turned round and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus.

Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, why are you weeping? For whom are you looking?’

Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, ‘Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.’

Jesus said to her, ‘Mary!’

She turned and said to him in Hebrew, ‘Rabbouni!’ (which means Teacher).

Jesus said to her, ‘Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, “I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.” ’

Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, ‘I have seen the Lord’; and she told them that he had said these things to her.

Resurrection of the Lord, by Lawrence OP
Resurrection of the Lord, by Lawrence OP

This story is the great miracle of Easter.  Jesus had died publicly; he had been arrested, tried, flogged, marched to Golgotha, and crucified.  There was no doubt that he had died: the soldiers made sure of this before they took the empty body down from the cross.  The body had been laid quickly in a tomb, since there wasn’t enough time for a full preparation before sundown marked the beginning of the Sabbath.  But somehow, in some way we don’t (can’t?) understand, Jesus stood up again, walked around in a physical body, ate bread and fish, and taught his friends.  Thomas felt the wounds in the hands and the side of Jesus.  Jesus had died.  Jesus was alive again.

Can you imagine Mary‘s fear and anger, when she came to the tomb to begin preparing the body for its rest, and the body was missing?  And the confusion of all three of them, Mary and Peter and John, when they saw the wrappings on the floor, as though they had been discarded by a careless kid?  (“Jesus, pick up your clothes!  Were you born in a barn?”)

Angel at tomb, by Martin LaBar
Angel at tomb, by Martin LaBar

Then Mary encounters the two angels, and speaks her fear and confusion and bitterness.  Events of great power are taking place around her, and she doesn’t know what they mean (yet!), and nobody will explain them to her.  The body of the man who healed her has gone missing; she points this out to the men, and they run away!  Why do they run?  Are their fears renewed, that since the body of Jesus has gone missing, they will be similarly arrested and executed?  Or were they just not able to handle a weeping woman?  Yeah, I’d be a little bitter myself, in that situation.  But then she sees Jesus, even though she does not recognize him at first.  He speaks her name, and she recognizes him.  Her beloved teacher is right there, standing there and speaking to her!  This is amazing!  This is a miracle!

Now I wonder, how often am I Peter or John?  How often do I miss what is right in front of me, the miracles that happen around me when I’m not paying attention?  How often does a Magdalene need to point out to me that something amazing and special is happening?  How often do I forget what is real and lasting, instead allowing myself to be ruled by my fear and confusion?

I’d really rather be Mary in this story, faithful and loving, the very first to see the risen savior.  I’d get to carry word back to those blind cowards, the ones huddled together in the upper room, just waiting for their executioners to arrive.  I’d be able to say, “Look what we missed, everybody!  He is alive!  I have seen him, and he wants to see you, too!”  What a joy that would be!

Sometimes, I do get to be Mary.  I’m probably not very good at it, though.  I confess that I’m probably pretty smug that I got to be the first; that’s something special that nobody could take away from me.  I’m sure I’m impatient when the others don’t believe me; not that I’d necessarily believe, were I in their shoes, but of course they should believe me without question!

 Tapestry of the communion of the saints, Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels, by adamsofen
Tapestry of the communion of the saints, Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels, by adamsofen

Even better, one day, I will get to be Jesus in this story.  Each of us will — that’s the Good News that Jesus gives us.  Death does not mean oblivion, and it does not mean eternal torment.  Instead, death is just a doorway we pass through, and on the other side of it stand Jesus and Mary and Peter and John, and all of those who have passed into God’s kingdom before us.  When we get there, Jesus won’t have to say don’t hold on to me; we will be welcomed into his arms, into his kingdom, into the eternal life of the communion of saints.

Thanks be to God!

new creation (lent 5, year c)

Almighty God,
you alone can bring into order
the unruly wills and affections of sinners:
Grant your people grace
to love what you command and desire what you promise;
that, among the swift and varied changes of the world,
our hearts may surely there be fixed
where true joys are to be found;
through Jesus Christ our Lord,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

Amen.

We will pray this lovely Collect in worship on Sunday, our last “normal” Sunday in Lent.  Together, we will ask God to help us to love the things God loves, to help us to want the things God wants for us.  We will ask God to help us to keep our hearts and minds focused on what is real and eternal, rather than what is fleeting and false.  And we will recognize that only God can truly bring order, peace, and joy to us… though, if you’re anything like me, you’ll probably forget this as soon as you say Amen.

A New Creation, by jonty.fisher
A New Creation, by jonty.fisher

Our readings this week all talk about God’s new creation, the new work that God is planting and nourishing and nurturing within each of us and throughout the world.  The gospel lesson does this through story, and the epistle does this through exposition, the reading from Isaiah relates this through beautiful poetry, and the psalm gives us a response to this work of God in us.  And through these parts of our worship for Sunday, a plan emerges that we can follow, to help bring this new creation of God to life.  Here’s our handy-dandy, four-part New Creation Plan.

  1. First, we let go of the things of the past, the things that hold us back.
  2. Second, we look forward to see the changes ahead of us, to find the new thing that God is bringing about.
  3. Then we get up and start walking toward God’s new thing.
  4. And when this new creation finds us, we give thanksgiving and praise to God.
"Requiescat in pace, Ted's old couch" by Kilgub
"Requiescat in pace, Ted's old couch" by Kilgub

It is not easy to set aside the things of the past. We’re used to them. They’re comfortable.  How many of us have one really old, really ratty piece of furniture that we just can’t bring ourselves to throw out — or maybe, we just can’t bring our husbands to throw out 🙂 — because we’ve had it for so long, and it’s comfortable?  Or maybe an old shirt that has been worn and washed so many times that, even though it’s a little threadbare, this shirt has become the softest and most comfortable one that we own?  We hold onto these things, because they bring us comfort.  In the face of the swift and varied changes of the world, we cling to these objects, these remnants of our past.  The thing is, no t-shirt lasts forever, nor does any sofa or recliner.  Only the gifts of God are eternal: joy, peace, love.  We may find fleeting comfort from these things of the past, but true comfort, true peace, true joy only comes when we set our eyes and our hearts on God.

The Anointing at Bethany, by Loci B. Lenar (Copyright 2009)
The Anointing at Bethany, by Loci B. Lenar (Copyright 2009)

When Mary washes and anoints the feet of Jesus in our gospel for this week, Judas complains at the extravagant cost of the perfume she uses.  But Jesus chides Judas, knowing what lies behind this extravagant action… and what lies ahead in Jerusalem.  Swift changes are indeed coming to all of the disciples and friends of Jesus, but his dear friend Mary already has her heart fixed on God and on God’s promise.  Jesus knows this, just as he knows that none of his friends or disciples can understand this just yet.  He accepts the love of Mary, the love from God, as part of setting aside the things of his own past — his physical, human body — so that he can embrace the new creation in his future.

In his letter to the Christians in Philippi, Paul begins by describing his former self, the things of his past as an upright Jew, a righteous Pharisee, a stalwart of the faith.  And once he has encountered Jesus, Paul regards these as rubbish.  This may sound a bit harsh: surely these are things Paul should celebrate, right?  But Paul is smart.  He knows that when we’re caught up in celebrating our past successes, we aren’t fixed on God, and we aren’t fixed on God’s promises for us.  No, we must put aside those honors and achievements, and for most of us, that means we have to discard them, treat them as rubbish, so that we can fully embrace the new creation that is gestating within us.

Now that we’ve set aside the things of the past — or have prayed to God, asking for God’s help to leave these things by the wayside — so we move on to Step Two in our New Creation Plan.  We look ahead, trying to discern this new thing that God is bringing about.  The beautiful poetry from the prophet Isaiah can help us see what this looks like.  God promises to us

A wadi in the Sinai desert, by Lars Ploughman
A wadi in the Sinai desert, by Lars Ploughman
I will make a way in the wilderness
and rivers in the desert.
The wild animals will honor me,
the jackals and the ostriches;
for I give water in the wilderness,
rivers in the desert,
to give drink to my chosen people,
the people whom I formed for myself
so that they might declare my praise.

This new creation God is bringing about, it is not a small thing.  Rather, God promises us complete reversals.  God promises to take the wilderness within us and build a path through it; God takes the desert places within us and makes a river to flow through them.  And all parts of Creation — even the wild jackals — give honor and praise to God.  This is huge!  This is exciting!  This is wonderful!  These promises are made to us by the very same God who can take a dead body and bring it back to life and health; the opening of our gospel story reminds us that the host for this meal is Lazarus, whom Jesus had raised from the dead.  And we know what is coming for Jesus, the change from a living, but mortal, body of a man into an eternal, resurrected body.  On Ash Wednesday, we heard the words Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return; we were reminded that we are a wilderness, we are a desert.  But on Easter, God’s new creation springs forth, bringing water to our dryness and life to our deadness.

What an amazing promise God makes us!  How do we not run forward to embrace this, as the father in the parable of the prodigal son does?  Well, that’s Step Three in our four-part New Creation Plan.  One of the most wonderful things about God is that God never forces anything on us.  God yearns for us to love God, to be in relationship with God, to want these things.  But God never forces this; no, God invites us, and then lets us choose how we will respond.  We can accept the invitation, or we can turn it down, or we can set it aside to look at later because everything is just so busy right now.  So it is not enough for us to merely see and marvel at God’s amazing promise.  The promise is just the invitation.  Now we have to RSVP and then show up.

The tough part is, this isn’t just a tupperware party.  It’s not something we show up to for an hour or two, and then return to our previously scheduled lives intact and unchanged.  Paul tells us that he hasn’t gotten all the way to the new creation yet, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own.  Paul has seen God’s promise, has cast away his past, and is now straining forward to what lies ahead.

Make a joyful noise, by allspice1
Make a joyful noise, by allspice1

The last part of our four-step New Creation Plan may seem obvious, but that doesn’t make it unimportant.  God gifts us a great gift in this new creation.  What did our mommies and daddies teach us?  When someone gives us something, we say thank you.  And that’s Step Four.  Sunday’s psalm gives us some words for this.  God’s new creation is a dream come true; it brings us laughter and joy.  Once we sowed with tears, and now we reap with songs of joy.

I’ll bet this all sounds too good to be true, huh?  And we all know what they say: if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.  So what’s the catch?  Well, there’s no catch… except a little one.  There are no strings tied to God’s grace; grace can’t be earned or bought or bargained for.  The new creation God promises us, this is a gift; it is grace.  So the only little catch is this: the four-part New Creation Plan never ends.  God is always promising us a new thing.  No matter how long we follow God, there will be places of desert and wilderness withing us, waiting for God’s living water to spring up.  Only in resurrection and reunion with God do all of our dark places finally see the light.

But even this little catch is good news.  God’s grace never runs out!  God never stops giving us gifts!  Isn’t that wonderful?  I know it fills my mouth with laughter, and my tongue with shouts of joy.  Thanks be to God for bringing God’s new creation to us, every day!  Thanks be to God for inviting us into this new creation, for inviting us onto the path where we can be focused on the things that are real and eternal!  Thanks be to God for showing us, in the life of Jesus and all those he touched, that we too can experience God’s new creation!  Let us pray.

CREATOR OF HEAVEN & EARTH, by Fergal OP
CREATOR OF HEAVEN & EARTH, by Fergal OP

Almighty God,
you alone can bring into order
the unruly wills and affections of sinners:
Grant your people grace
to love what you command and desire what you promise;
that, among the swift and varied changes of the world,
our hearts may surely there be fixed
where true joys are to be found;
through Jesus Christ our Lord,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

Amen! Thanks be to God!

Alleluia! The Lord is Risen! (Easter)

Alleluia!  The Lord is risen!
The Lord is risen indeed!  Alleluia!

So begins our celebration of Easter, the most important Feast of the church year.  This is a day of great celebration, with many flowers decorating the church, with festive white and gold hangings and vestments, with joyous songs and Alleluias (and Hallelujahs).  Easter is our celebration of the Resurrection of Jesus, a miracle that is mysterious and beyond understanding, but that is the foundation of our faith as Christians.  Many years ago, those who wished to be baptized would spend the season of Lent in learning and preparation, and on Easter, they would be baptized into the Church.  Without Easter, the Christian church would not now exist — which, I know, may be considered a mixed blessing — though we mark the birth of the Church at the Pentecost.  So what is this all about?

The lections for Easter worship offer several options, including two

Eastern Orthodox Icon of Mary, Mary Magdalene, and Salome at the grave of Jesus
Eastern Orthodox Icon of Mary, Mary Magdalene, and Salome at the grave of Jesus

different accounts of the Resurrection.  The account in Mark’s gospel is more spare, less detailed.  The account in John’s gospel speaks with John’s poetic voice, with more details and more drama.  These appear to be two completely different stories, but they tell one very important truth: Jesus did not stay dead.  Jesus did not remain in the tomb.  Of course, there is another detail that is very dear to my heart: it was women who first discovered this.  It wasn’t John, the beloved disciple, or Simon Peter, the rock on whom the Church was founded.  It was Mary Magdalene, healed by Jesus of a multitude of demons, and some accounts include Mary the mother of Jesus and Salome.

I can only imagine the fear and anxiety that these women must have felt.  First, as they approach the tomb, they remember the large stone that sealed the entrance, and they doubt that they will be strong enough to roll it away.  And then, they arrive at the tomb and find the great stone is already moved.  What does this mean?  Did the Romans or the chief priests take the body of their beloved Jesus to hide it?  Did some thief come, and steal their lord away?  What happened here?

In John’s account, Mary Magdalene runs back to the men to tell them that the stone is moved.  In Mark’s account the women proceed straight into the tomb, and the first words the angel inside speaks to them are, “Don’t be afraid.”  (Of course, these are the first words that every angel appearing in the bible speaks to a human.)  It’s no wonder they are afraid!  This is beyond understanding, beyond comprehension — especially when one is already filled with loss and grief and anguish, and maybe even doubt.  But then, the truth of the miracle is revealed.

Icon of the Resurrection
Icon of the Resurrection

You are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified.
He has been raised; he is not here!

Two years ago, on Easter Sunday, I wrote in this blog that I could not understand why Jesus would ever want to come back.  I mean, it’s not that he got treated particularly well while he was here, so why would he want to return?  It doesn’t make any sense!

Well, it might not make any sense to us, but it makes perfect sense to God.  After all, what kind of sense does it make to us that God would love every single one of us — love us perfectly, extravagantly, profligately, scandalously — when we know that we’re really not all that lovely or lovable?  And sometimes we might think, okay, so God can love me, but does it make sense for God to love people like Saddam Hussein or Genghis Khan or Vlad Ţepeş every bit as much as God loves Mother Teresa and Archbishop Tutu and Mohandas Gandhi?  Those first three — they’re terrible people!  They’re monsters, destroyers of God’s children!  And those last three, they’re people of great love and peace, truly God’s children!  How on earth does this make sense?  Of course, I just answered that question.  It doesn’t make any sense at all on earth.  But to God, it makes perfect sense.

The resurrection of Jesus is a great gift, and the fundamental truth of it is simple:

GOD. LOVES. YOU.

That’s it.  That’s the message of Easter.  Love.  It’s so simple, but of course, simple things are rarely easy.  Love is hard work for us, because we aren’t God.  We can have a hard time loving people, like Hussein and Khan and Dracula,

The Resurrection by Raffaellino del Garbo
The Resurrection by Raffaellino del Garbo

even like the noisy kids next door and the husband or wife and that weird guy who’s always outside the grocery store smelling not-quite-right.  Some of the final words of Jesus to his closest friends, on the night of the Last Supper, were love one another, just as I have loved you.  Jesus commands us to love, tells us that we will be recognized as his followers by the love we show.  And we must show that love.  Love is a verb.  It is an action, a choice, a behavior.  You cannot say you love someone, if you ignore them or hurt them or refuse to help them.  Love is all about the actions.  You don’t love that smelly guy at the grocery store, if you make Tsch! noises at him, or refuse to look at him.  You don’t love the noisy neighbors if you yell at them or glare at them from your driveway.  Love does the very basic physical actions that Jesus entreats us to do: love feeds the hungry, love gives drink to the thirsty, love tends to the sick, love is present for the lonely, love makes sure that the naked are clothed, and love makes room for the homeless.

God’s love has shown itself in a very basic and physical way, too.  God’s love came physically into this world as a baby human.  God came to us as a naked, hungry, thirsty boy, helpless to provide these things for Godself.  God as an infant was even homeless for a time, when Nazareth was not a safe place for God’s human family.  God as Jesus experienced all of those needs: hunger, thirst, illness, loneliness, nakedness, homelessness.  Jesus experienced anger, frustration, fear.  Heck, Jesus even experienced flatulence, sneezes, itches, bumps, and bruises.  This is what it means when we say Jesus was fully human, while being fully divine.  Jesus knows what we humans need, knows in a personal, intimate way.  So when Jesus tells us to love each other, Jesus knows what he’s talking about.

Peter and John at the Tomb by William Hole
Peter and John at the Tomb by William Hole

Jesus also knows our brokenness, our failures to hit the mark, our separation from God and from each other.  Before Jesus, if a Jewish person wanted to show repentance for sin and be restored to God’s favor, a sacrifice would be made.  Jesus chose to become the last sacrifice; he allowed himself to be killed in order to restore all of us to God’s favor.  When Jesus was nailed to the cross, every one of our sins was nailed to the cross with him.  We may not realize — in this world — that we are loved so perfectly, that we have already been forgiven, that this act of Jesus reconciled us with God and with each other.  That’s because we’re flawed, broken.  We’re not perfect.  All we can do is try.  We can try to love one another, just as Jesus loved us.  We can try to forgive ourselves and to forgive one another.  We can make our own sacrifices, giving time to act out our love, giving money to further God’s work in this world, giving gifts, both tangible and not.

And this is the miracle of the Resurrection.  Yes, Jesus died on that cross, taking on himself the weight of all of the sin of all of the people that ever have been, that are now, and that ever will be.  But God’s love story doesn’t end there.  The story doesn’t end because somehow, marvelously and miraculously, Jesus did not stay dead.  He entered into a new kind of life, a life that included a physical body but that was filled with God’s light and presence.  And the promise of this new life of Jesus is that every one of us will be given the opportunity to enter into this same kind of new life.  We don’t know for sure how or when this will happen, but we know why.  Because

GOD!  LOVES!  US!

Amen.  Alleluia!

11: Jesus promises his kingdom to the good thief

The eleventh Station of the Cross takes place while Jesus is on the cross, and is a conversation between him and the two criminals hanging with him.  The NRSV reads:

One of the criminals who were hanged there kept deriding him and saying, ‘Are you not the Messiah? Save yourself and us!’ But the other rebuked him, saying, ‘Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed have been condemned justly, for we are getting what we deserve for our deeds, but this man has done nothing wrong.’ Then he said, ‘Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.’ He replied, ‘Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.’

And The Message says:

One of the criminals hanging alongside cursed him: “Some Messiah you are! Save yourself! Save us!”

But the other one made him shut up: “Have you no fear of God? You’re getting the same as him. We deserve this, but not him—he did nothing to deserve this.”

Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you enter your kingdom.”

He said, “Don’t worry, I will. Today you will join me in paradise.”

This is a passage that I really hadn’t paid much attention to before.  When I’ve been reading through Luke’s gospel, it’s an interchange, and it’s nice and all, but I was ready for the good stuff, for the stone rolled away and the empty tomb.  Of course, the point of reflecting on the Stations of the Cross each day has been to slow down, to take each short little snippet of scripture and spend time with it.

What really sang out for me from this passage today was the very last sentence, where Jesus says, Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.  There is plenty of discussion about what happens to us when we die.  Do we go straight to heaven… or to the other place?  Do we just sort of “sleep” until the end time, until Jesus returns?  Do we go to purgatory?  Are we just annihilated, ceasing to be?  Faithful Christians disagree.  Scholars disagree.  Each individual seems to have a unique take on the question, just as each individual is a unique reflection of God.  So when Jesus says here that today the thief will join him in the kingdom — does this mean that Jesus is bringing the man straight to heaven with him?  It continues to be a mystery, since we cannot know the answer, but it is a fascinating one.

Today, with the good thief, I pray: Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.  These words are a song, a chant from the Taizé Community in France to bring us deeply into our prayer.

Lectionary Reflections – the Feast of St. Mary Magdalene

Tomorrow is the feast of St. Mary Magdalene.  I have had a deep love for Mary for many years, finding her a strong, fierce, and loving woman.  Interestingly, the gospels never once refer to Mary Magdalene as a prostitute, yet this is the common understanding that many people have who have not studied her.  Mary was described as being possessed by seven demons, which Jesus cast out of her to heal her.  After this healing, Mary followed Jesus as one of his disciples.  Since the bible only names men as the inner circle of apostles, we don’t know for sure that Mary Magdalene was within this inner circle, but it is my fond belief that she and several other women were.  Mary Magdalene was one of the few of the closest followers of Jesus to wait with him at the foot of the cross – John being the only of the male apostles who witnessed the crucifixion – and was the first person to whom the risen Jesus showed himself, giving her the title Apostle to the Apostles.

I was surprised and pleased when I read through the lectionary readings and collect for Mary’s feast day.  I found the collect for the day to be absolutely beautiful.

Almighty God, whose blessed Son restored Mary Magdalene to health of body and of mind, and called her to be a witness of his resurrection: Mercifully grant that by your grace we may be healed from all our infirmities and know you in the power of his unending life; who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

I love the prayer that we pray in this collect: Mercifully grant that we may be healed from all our infirmities. In the time of Jesus and Mary Magdalene, a possession by demons was the understanding of many kinds of mental and physical illness.  Mary may have suffered from schizophrenia or bipolar disorder or many other illnesses… but Jesus brought her back to health of body and of mind.  This prayer reminds us that all our infirmities does not mean merely limitations of our physical bodies.  Our infirmities could include emotional distress, mental illness or disability, or even hurts to our very spirit and soul.  The dis-ease a person suffers from could be that she has chosen to distance herself from God, and is suffering as a result.  Often it can take a great shock to bring one back into God’s arms, where one can be comforted and loved and healed by the God who yearns to bring us all to wholeness.

In my experience, I have noticed that I tend to resist God’s healing.  I have all kinds of little resistances.  In my twenty-first century mind, I note that all those healings in the bible were great, but God just doesn’t work that way today.  I will do things that I know to be unhealthy to gratify some short-term impulse.  I will say that yes, I have this mental hang-up or that emotional struggle, but those are mine to work through, and God isn’t going to take on the work I need to do.  I’ll read a prayer like this and think yes, we’ll be healed of all our infirmities… when we die and are brought into God’s arms in heaven.  But there are a couple of dangerous things lurking beneath these, and pride isn’t necessarily the smallest.  Another assumption here is that God can’t heal my brokenness, my infirmties; there is an assumption that God can’t or won’t restore me to health in body and mind, as Jesus did for Mary Magdalene.  It seems crazy – to a twenty-first century American who has a basic understanding of science and how the body and mind work – to give serious thought to the idea that not only can God reach down and heal someone completely, but that God will and maybe even does.  It seems absurd… and yet, I believe those stories in the bible, so why should I disbelieve that it could happen here and now?  Could the only reason I don’t find myself healed be that I am not allowing God the opportunity to heal me?

Mary Magdalene said yes to God in a way that reminds me of Mary, the mother of Jesus.  Her yes was to the angel, bearing word from God that God would plant a child within her, to be the savior of her people.  Mary Magdalene’s yes to Jesus was an expression of complete faith in his healing, faith in his vision and message, faith that he is the living water, the living word, the bread of life.  She believed to the core of her being, as did Judith in the Old Testament reading – that Jesus was the God of the lowly, helper of the oppressed, upholder of the weak, protector of the forsaken, savior of those without hope.  And as a result of this full and living faith, Mary became the new creation that Paul discusses in the letter to the Corinthians, and her yes was to a completely new life: in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! I note that exclamation point – this new life is exciting, is wonderful, is full of delight and awe and joy.  It may have been just as scary to Mary Magdalene to relinquish her control and pride to Jesus as it is for me, but when she allowed him to heal her, she found a wonderful, awe-some new life… a bit like the new life of Jesus that she was given a glimpse of in the gospel reading.

So I am thinking now about how I might honor St. Mary Magdalene tomorrow, on her feast day.  I will certainly pray that beautiful collect, and I will try to spend some time reflecting on the infirmities that I am holding onto, the ones that I haven’t allowed God to heal, and why I might feel threatened by the changes that healing might bring.  Thinking about Mary with the disciples and with Jesus, walking all over the countryside, I imagine that they must have sung a lot as they traveled… walking songs, campfire songs, prayers sung for the night and for the morning.  So I will sing tomorrow, too, and probably light a candle to carry my voice to her where she rests now, in God’s kingdom, in God’s arms, surrounded by the living water, the divine light, the choruses of the entire communion of saints.