Posts Tagged ‘Easter’

Gathering and Things Larger Than Us

Friday, March 25th, 2016

We gathered last night, Thursday, to celebrate what is known traditionally in Christian circles as “The Last Supper.”  It is a simple sacrament, often called “Holy Supper” or “Communion”, that marks Christ’s last meal with his followers before his death at the hands of the Romans.

It is a very contemplative, prayerful, blessed time.

So we gathered.  We shared the hardness of recent goodbyes. Many tears. Many laughs. We read from Scripture. We prayed.  We asked for prayers. And we were blessed.

These moments are “perfect” in ways that are challenging to capture in words.  Constant reminders of the power of connection, joyous reminders of things larger than us.

Thanksgiving When It Is Hard

Saturday, November 28th, 2015

Thanksgiving, when it is hard.  What do we do?

Some years.  Some years are simply loss.

Maybe one idea.

Christianity is a story not an answer.  

Sometimes that story shines, shines beyond what we can contain, what we can hold.  Gives easy rise to abundance and gratitude. And other times, the story is hard.  Painful to beyond painful.  And what we mistakenly try to do, often well intentioned, is to give others “the answer.”

My son, a first responder, spoke to me this Thanksgiving of loss.  The death of a 3 year old.   Still can’t shake it.  Sees a young child in a Walmart and he returns to to that farm.  And that loss.  There are no words.  None.  Nothing shiny and bright there.  My heart breaks hearing his broken.

And I know when its time … and that time maybe months, maybe years in the future, maybe decades … my son and I will talk of stories. We will talk of loss and suffering.  And maybe there grows a crack in that suffering as we come to speak of redemption. Of life continued. Of goodness, and people, and love, of the humane tissue stitched together in spite of the dark.  Of Easter.

I am thankful for my loving, tender son.  I am thankful for a story.  Even when life is hard.

The Holy and the Ordinary

Wednesday, March 4th, 2015

With the Easter season starting, I struggle with how to capture its brilliance for those just starting to touch Christianity.   I have heard people say that the miracle is Christ’s resurrection from the dead… that that is the point.  Maybe so.  Others speak of themes more transcendent, more theological … the very saving of mankind.  Maybe so.

Not that these perspectives are without merit.  They are.  They contain great, overarching truth.  But the original 12 disciples did not choose to give their lives to follow Christ because of them.  These events undoubtedly reinforced their call but Easter followed their decision to give their lives in service to the world Christ spoke to.

So how to speak to it all in ways that we can see, really see the miracle?

The miracle for me pulls back to this thread.  At Christmas, we hear of “Immanuel, “God with us.”  At Easter we see “Immanuel”, “God with us.”  A God with us in celebration, gathered around a Passover table, gently washing the disciples feet as a sign of how we are to live and lead.  A God with us in fear and devastating loss, so clearly offering a final judgment on mankind with words beyond what we could ever utter, “Father, forgive them for they do not know what they do.”  A God with us in resurrection, in life born anew with the simple call to “Rejoice.”

Somewhere, “God with us”, calls to this.. that Christ is the marriage of the Divine and the Human.  God with skin on.  The Holy and the Ordinary.  A Humanity at its God-intended best.   A model worthy of following in our own broken ways.  God with us.

Thoughts As We Enter Easter

Friday, April 18th, 2014

Take a minute to hold “Easter” …

We live life often like set of domoinoes … either “flipping” up or “crashing” down. Easter reminds us of one critical piece of life we often forget … we get to choose what stands and what falls.

Many of you hold wildly varied perspectives on faith, Christ and religion. With a smile I say that seems to be God’s plan! So beyond the story of Christ’s resurrection and the Christian faith is a simple story Christians and non-Christians can embrace. That is the story of dominoes, dominoes that actually did not fall.

Christ’s death on the cross, marked on Good Friday, was the culmination of years of unjust persecution at the hands of the Roman occupiers and religious authorities in ancient Israel. He was tried and executed in the most painful way known at that time … to languish, naked, nailed on a cross, a public humiliation of agonizingly slow death.

Imagine dominoes. Imagine them falling. And imagine, just before the final domino falls, someone says “Stop.” “The pain stops here.” “Revenge stops here.” “No more.” That is Christ on the cross where his plea is not for vengeance but “Father forgive them for they know not what they do.” The cascading fall ends.

Christian or not, we can learn right at that place. What does it look like to give up vengeance in our lives … our marriages, our families, our communities, our nation, our world. Even in the face of shocking, unjust de-humanizing brutality can our words be for forgiveness and even hope?

And this is the miracle … they can!  Welcome to resurrection.

Thoughts on Church In Camden

Tuesday, April 2nd, 2013

Beautiful morning Easter.  Incredible.  Waking at 3:00 AM to be at church by 4:30 AM.  Not normal.  But no traffic!

Church in Camden at Sacred Heart Easter morning.  The morning still sits there a few days later.

I am deeply tired of church as proclamation, church as shrill righteousness …a concoction more acidic than life giving. And I likewise tire of shallow church, churches where we resolutely refuse the freeing sacrifice that is a life of faith …. long obedience in one direction.

I loved the honesty of Sacred Heart in Camden. A place clearly, that Easter morning, where hope knows suffering, a Christianity not about effortless perfection but about costly forgiveness as Samuel Wells would phrase it.  That is honesty!  It spoke to the waves of patient growth we witness in this congregation.

We are all broken,  We all experience loneliness.  We all hope!   It was all there Easter morning.

Unrest in the Middle East

Friday, September 14th, 2012

The unrest in the Middle East continues to grow today, fanned by popular anger over a video that denigrated the prophet Mohammed.  How do we hold this?

It is sad when one reads – correctly – that the vengeful video that escalated into the unrest was partially the work of right wing Christians.  The sad part is that it is true – historical Christianity does carry within it an aberrant strain of violence, not only apparent in this incident but spread throughout history.  But that strain is our fault, not Christ’s.  It is indefensible. One could readily argue that Christ’s clearest message was indeed the opposite – non-violence.  The entire crucifixion narrative, captured at Easter, clearly portrays the redemptive nature of non-violence.  And yet, mankind will do with any religious message whatever they will.

Non of this excuses the virulent anti-Western sentiment apparent in much of the Middle East either.  It does not excuse in any way those who murdered the American ambassador to Libya.  We must call intolerance in any form darkness.  And as with all things spiritual, we must start with ourselves.

Hatred and judgement readily cascade downward into violence.  This is no small thing.  This is not “over there” or “among them.”  This is “here now” and “among us.”  What are we to do?  Pray.  Light a candle.  Gather in loving, diverse community. Care. Live our way into a new way of thinking.  The word “Christian” should mean far more than it does.

Somebody, Nobody, Everybody

Saturday, April 7th, 2012

Sitting on the eve of Easter Sunday, thinking about tomorrow’s service, words I heard years ago seem to capture the arc of this holiday – our spiritual journey summarized as a journey from “Somebody, to Nobody, to Everybody.”

Palm Sunday places us as “Somebody.”  It is the time of Christ triumphant, faith celebrated, all roads wide and marked by endearing crowds.  It is faith but it is immature faith, a faith more about acclaim, nostaligic sweetness, rigid individualism stoked by ego and forms of apparent power. North Carolina State basketball coach Jimmy Valvano spoke shortly after his diagnosis with terminal cancer  of college basketball with the words, “Athletics are everything and they are nothing.”  This is a time when we really do think the plastic “trophy”with the chincy golden athlete on the wood veneer pedestal actually carries instrinsic value – “Athletics are everything.”  We should not begrudge our kids trophies, that time of acclaim, but there will be a time for a necessary shift.

The shift is into “nothing.”  The acclaim disappears.  The cheering crowd is experienced more either as a jeering mob or more commonly as simply nothing.  Welcome the Crucifixion – Good Friday and Saturday.  This is a time of intense loneliness and doubt. “I am not all that.  I am not all that.”  Left unsure of the “rightness” of much or our lives, we grope for handholds at times, and at other times simply quit, simply give into the cynicism and despair of the “hollow men” as T.S. Elliot phrased it, our “voices quiet and dead.”

But as the “Somebody” becomes “Nobody” we are actually in the process of being unknowingly reborn!  That birth is a wider connection, a resurrection into “Everybody.”  Given time, we fall into a place where more and more we witness the ties that bind, the abiding humanity connecting us all.  Life then “moves” – a dynamic, poetic force, flowing in and through and around our lives.  No longer a strand of isolated events and “highlights” to be placed on a burnished resume, life just simply “is.”  Those placed in front of us simply “are.”

And from there, what evidences life?  In one of the Gospel accounts of the resurrection the women see Jesus following His Crucifixion, walking among them again on Easter Sunday.  He shares with them a simple first word – “Rejoice.”   But as is often the case, we have lost something in translation.  ”Rejoice” can be defined “Thrive.”  ’To Thrive” is God’s point, the whole reason for our journey from Somebody, to Nobody, to Everybody.  It was His journey undertaken in Christ’s Life.  It is ours as well.  So the wish for Easter?  Thrive.  Life abundant.  Life renewed.

Would We Crucify Him Again?

Friday, April 6th, 2012

An uncomfortable question, one very real, very present on Good Friday.  Growing up, Easter was far, far removed from Good Friday, the day of Christ’s Crucifixion.  The Easter season was simply about Sunday – white chocolate and flowers.  Anne Lamott’s words then resonate deeply.

“We are Easter people living in a Good Friday world. And I think that every year the world seems more of a Good Friday world. And it’s excruciating, whether it’s Japan (and the tsunami), or Libya, or whether its your own best friends and their children who are sick, which is something that makes no sense when you think about a loving God. But it’s a time when we get to remember that all the stuff that we think makes us of such value, all the time we spend burnishing our surfaces, is really not what God sees. God loves us absolutely unconditionally, as is. It’s a come as you are party.”

So what I would urge us to do is sit with Good Friday.  Sit with the pain, the disappointment, the death.  Read yourself into the story as one of the disciples.  What part of you would have stayed to keep vigil at His death?  What part of you would have run for the hills, fearing for your own life, understandably certain all was lost?  What part of you would be complicit in this crime?

None of those questions are easy or pretty.  Would we crucify Him again?   Can I even wrestle with that question this season?  See I know Good Friday doesn’t “sell” for me or for many others.  And yet our world is a “Good Friday” world, a groaning world in which much is shifting, changing, and yes even dying. I don’t think I would in any way knowingly and actively participate in the figurative crucifixion.  But I am clear that Christ’s crucifixion in our times is not an execution at the hands of foreign occupiers and religious zealots but it is an execution at the hands of a satiated people well practiced at indifference.

And we have to wrestle most pointedly with that very indifference.  See if we let it in, really let in the Story of His life, a life including Good Friday, indifference is no longer an option. And that awakening from well-guarded indifference entails a death of sorts – death of comfort, safety, cherished illusions of what we believe to be life.

So maybe for today our prayer can be one of deep contrition, and yes, even sorrow.  Sadness for the sleep and indifference that would actually crucify Him again.

 

 

Why Rejoin “Church?”

Tuesday, April 3rd, 2012

Strange question, because in a sense I never left, I never let go of denominational affiliation or festival services.  But in a sense I was “gone”, church having moved from a heart song to an obligation.  Since, I rejoined it all, in ways that are surprising for me at times, the question is why?

Why? Probably for many of the same reasons that others reading this blog have rejoined or re-engaged or who are reading it wanting to rejoin/ re-engage.

#1: It stopped being about attending a church service and it starting being about joining a movement

There is a wider movement – something I could repeat to myself 20 times a day.  Churches tend to make a “religion” an increasingly small experience, one focused on looking in.  But it is really about a movement, period.  Therefore “belonging” takes it rightful place at the head of the table, displacing “belief” as the key differentiator of acceptance.  That mission of belonging – ah – boy I know that mission when I hear it.  At a recent wedding I was talking to a couple who spoke movingly of their passion around the revitalization of Christianity and that this had to be bigger than any one church.  That is it!  I read in the words of Emanuel Swedenborg as well as other spiritual thinkers this very same disruptive and blessed call.

#2: But I thought the church was all about casseroles

For most churches the issues are pedestrian.  For the New Church the burning issues of budget and “Who will the next bishop be?” are foremost within denominational circles.  It is not that those questions and concerns are without merit.  But they are not THE questions of a church.  However, they are the questions that generate the most heated discussions.  I know this controversial to say but even questions around the ordination of women, divorce, and homosexuality are not THE questions of church either.  Again, critically important, but not THE questions.   If they were, Jesus would have spent chapters giving us answers.  But He did not.  Instead He consistently calls us to love, compassion, hope, service.  That is where the questions lie.   I believe firmly that if we get clear on “first things first” – asking the right questions – the answers to the above issues will become clear.  However, if we get mired in the small stuff and confuse it with the “work of church” we make church petty, childish, and frankly a playground for our vanities and agendas, not God’s work.  Viewing issues like the ordination of women through love, compassion, hope, service creates a rich and textured conversation that will yield answers.

#3: We are all searching for meaning

Everyone wants to live a life of meaning and purpose.  Some will be concerned with the afterlife – heaven and hell.  Others won’t.  Some will be concerned with the exact definition of God.  Other’s won’t.  And yet within all that lies a deep human desire to find meaning and purpose.  A church can share that and let go of much else, leaving others in the freedom so precious to God.

#4: Christ, even if you think of Him as just a human being, is incredibly cool!

I really like Christ.  I find Him very funny.  I find Him wise.  I find Him insightful.  For me He is the Divine Human – God incarnate.  I have dear friends who see Him differently – not as God but as an incredible human being.  Even from that position – in simply living His life as an exampled pattern of life lived to the highest standards of humanity – lies transformation not just for the individual but for society.  If one sees in Him a model- Divine or otherwise – and lives according, I suspect we all can find a way forward in the world!

So to close, we can find in church new definitions of what church even means.  We can likewise find our voice as well as a deep sense of purpose and community.  Maybe this Easter, just give it a try.  Don’t reject church out of hand because maybe what you are rejecting is a was and maybe you are supposed to play a role in what will be.

 

We stopped risking long ago.

Friday, March 23rd, 2012

Some risks are plain stupid.  Others absolutely necessary for growth.  Much of faith stopped risking generations ago.  And how do we recapture that, that “risk?’  Not foolish risk but risk necessary for growth? Maybe it is by becoming a loyal opposition within our culture – both the broader, secular culture and the faith culture.

Walter Brueggemann writes of this “opposition” when he speaks of criticism as “not carping and denouncing.  It is asserting that the false claims to authority and power cannot keep their promises, which they cannot in the face of a free God.”  Such criticism in a word reframes the world, a world in which the secular and religious have so bled together that it is hard to see much of an authentic alternative any more in Christianity – the “City Upon a Hill” now leveled into trackless suburbia.

Christianity though is an authentic alternative.  Risky yes.  But also authentic.  Easter very much encapsulates that authentic alternative.  Neat and tidy theological “packages” give way to the mess of crucifixion.   Hatred and hopelessness are met with the authentic alternative of love, grace, and forgiveness – Christ’s lament from the Cross to “Forgive them for know not what they do.”

My prayer is that this Easter be a conversion experience.  My prayer also is that maybe we can re-invite ourselves into a world of risk, and in that process reclaim in some small way the heritage and hope of Christianity – a world made new.   Resurrection and transformation.   Mess and all.