Jesus, say “Love one another as I have loved you.”
Today our Gospel is from the same reading we had on Maundy Thursday. It is Jesus’ last teaching after he washes the feet of his disciples, just before he is arrested. He commands them to “love one another as I have loved you.”
In the Bible there are four different forms of “love” used. We have philia: the love of equals. (A love we choose: our companions.) There is passionate love: eros. There is storge, the love between parents and children - for our relatives. A love that we are born into.
And we have agape: love of humankind (so to speak): a spiritual love. A love that goes beyond the self to the benefit of others. It is the selflessness that Jesus models for us that offers us a vision of forgiveness and mercy for every living thing. And in that: healing. Jesus doesn’t ask us to love one another as equals. He asks us to love as he loves us: selflessly. Agape love.
It is a tall order when we first start to wrap ourselves around this concept… we don’t even love ourselves selflessly…
I am reminded of St. Benedict’s encouragement: “Listen with the ear of your heart.”
As the apostles spread out to follow Jesus in his commission to spread that love of God, they are of course faced with those who are different from themselves.
Peter has an amazing vision: He is confronted with new people, new customs and new food. He doesn’t think he should eat of the food because it is not clean according to his custom. In our reading, a “voice from heaven” tells Peter, “What God has made clean, you must not call profane.” It is the reminder: Everything God makes is sacred. It is not ours to judge.
Several of the early community seem concerned that Peter is eating and bringing the good news to the Gentiles, to those who are different. He tells them, “The Spirit told me to go with them and not to make a distinction between them and us.”
And the rest of the community then praised God, saying,
"Then God has given even to the Gentiles the repentance that leads to life.”
They recognize that God also calls them (these outsiders) to relationship. This spiritual relationship, this sacredness is extended far beyond our imaginings to those things, places and people that we don’t understand or can’t yet comprehend. As a species…We are naturally judgmental. It’s part of what sets us apart from other species. It is to our benefit to be judgmental. It helps us make decisions, to weigh the benefits or risks, to develop guidelines and distinguish safety. But our judgment over time can become calcified as a self-centered righteousness rather than growing into the wisdom that recognizes (like Peter did) that it is not ours to be judge. As Christians it is ours to be loving.
There is a mystery and a sacredness to the created world that we can never fully understand. That is why we come together to praise God in awe and wonder, and to glean how we may participate in the redeeming relationship that gives us true life: a flourishing life for all.
The psalm today praises God through every expression. God present with the mountains and hills, and snow and fog, and stars and sun, and all creatures of the land and sea. The great creation that we sing about is beyond anything we can truly comprehend…while at the same time the reading from Revelation reminds us that God is in this creation with us. God is not far off but part of the very mix: the alpha and the omega. The beginning and the end- all; From dust to stardust - …and beyond our wildest imaginings.
When we praise God we are praising the majesty and miracle of our very selves enlivened by something very Good. We are enlivened by the Spirit - and as humans we have the free will to live and move in the world; in nature, culture and society. These aspects of the environment are all interwoven. There is a delicate natural balance in all that we do and in all that we are.
The weave is dependent on myriad strands that are not always obvious to us. This is so true in the natural world, where scientists have proven that altering one aspect of an ecosystem can have huge impacts (unbeknownst to us) on other species, and land, and water.
We are learning this about our bodies too: now understanding the gut itself is being studied as an ecosystem, with a tender balance that has ramifications on our brains and our hearts, among other things… We are made of intricate systems.
And as humans, our cultures continue to have systems at play that create imbalances in financial equity, health and achievement, gender equality. Imbalances that are difficult to discern, remedies that make matters worse because they are based on our limited human understandings.
Our societies are wrought with the struggle of implicit bias - when it comes …to one another.
We are still struggling to love as Jesus asks us to love.
We still have a lot to learn from this passage from Acts, but also from the hope unveiled in revelation that The home of God is among mortals. God will wipe every tear from our eyes. God is drawing us all into renewed relationship. God says, “See, I am making all things new.”
We can’t always know why things are the way that they are. Jesus asks us to live into this mystery by loving selflessly. We do not know what grief someone else is carrying, what one kindness can do to assuage the suffering. It is not ours to judge, but rather ours to nurture, tend and to love.
We don’t know the gentle balance really, we can only praise God by participating in agape, that great love that surpasses our understanding.
When we talk about surrendering to God. This is what we mean. It doesn’t mean that we give over our minds to blindly follow. It means we give over our hearts to assuredly follow in a path of righteousness that is not our own, but belongs to and benefits all of creation:
fruit trees and all cedars;
Wild beasts and all cattle, *
creeping things and winged birds;
Kings of the earth and all peoples, *
Young men and maidens, *
old and young together.
If we “listen with our hearts” we may find that
God has a way of saying to us:
"See, I am making all things new."
Today is a day of healing and inclusion.
What a perfect connection to “Mothering.”
Let’s start with the Gospel.
When Jesus is walking in the portico he is addressed by those who want him to verify once and for all if he is the Messiah they have been waiting for? Jesus answered, "I have told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in my Father's name testify to me.”
What you don’t know from this brief Gospel, is that in the previous story, Jesus has been healing on the Sabbath. And those who are strict in their observance of the law are frustrated by this behavior. It is the story of the blind man. He regains both physical and spiritual sight. Jesus assures the crowd he is not blind because of some sin of his or his parents. Jesus gives everyone spiritual insight that day, at least those who believed.
Jesus is walking at the Festival of the Dedication. They are referring to the dedication of the second temple which celebrates the successful victory of the Jewish people over the Syrian Greek invaders who had taken over Jerusalem. It was about two hundred years before Jesus’ time. You may have heard of it as the Macabbean Wars. It was a three year battle - and they were fighting for their religious beliefs. Today we know the celebration as Hanukkah.
Back to the story…
Jesus is walking in the portico of Solomon. Porticos are like a covered walkway with columns. You’ve probably seen them in pictures. The Temple is a big space with several courtyards. The portico that separates the gentiles from the other courts in the temple apparently had warning signs. Archeologists have discovered one that read:
IS TO GO BEYOND THE BALUSTRADE
AND THE PLAZA OF THE TEMPLE ZONE
WHOEVER IS CAUGHT DOING SO
WILL HAVE HIMSELF TO BLAME
FOR HIS DEATH
WHICH WILL FOLLOW
Pretty serious segregation.
This is the spot where Jesus walked - where he walked and where he healed and where the disciples later also healed those we did not consider worth healing. Those who were foreign or those the community did not include.
Although our readings may seem wildly different this morning they do have a thread I’d like to explore: Healing. We have several images which include sheep, and consolation and care from the Shepherd. But we also have images of inclusion.
The psalm is not just about safety, but about hospitality. This God is inviting the psalmist to the table.
“You spread a table for me in the presence of those that trouble me.”
What an inviting description of “acceptance.” To have someone, let alone God, set a table for you in the very midst of anxiety and stress: Nourishment! You are welcome. You are affirmed, recognized and honored by a seat at the table. Oh, how we are healed by inclusion.
And rather than an old testament lesson, we have a lesson from the Early Christian Church from the book of Acts that follows Jesus’ resurrection and ascension. Peter has reached the Gentiles with his commission from Jesus. Not only this, but he has been given the power to heal people through the Holy Spirit gifted to him by Jesus. Disciples call on Peter when Dorcus falls ill. He kneels down and invokes the Spirit.
Beyond being one of the early community, she is Greek: a Gentile woman, someone who previously would have been segregated from the community. The book of Acts is illustrative of the Christian mission and struggle to move out into the world to all nations.
Finally, we come to the book of Revelation which means unveiling. Revelation offers us intense imagery with details that sound otherworldly. It is symbolic and apocalyptic in nature. Apocalyptic in describing the end of the world as we know it, and unveiling a God centered reality.…Although Revelation is cosmic in its descriptions, it also deals with very vulnerable human yearnings and need for protection.
“for the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd,
and he will guide them to springs of the water of life,
and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”
God is described here so like a tender mother.
While the vision may seem scary at first because the symbols are foreign to us, it is a healing vision. And it is also inclusive.
In the vision there was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, robed in white, with palm branches in their hands. They cried out in a loud voice. They cried out in ONE voice. Because we are all children of God.
We don’t all have to be literal mothers to feel this stirring. We know this in our guts.
Today is Mother’s Day. In the United States, early on it had also became an anti war response. During the Civil War the day sought the movement of reconciliation between Union and Confederate soldiers, where mother’s came together for this healing work.
In 1870 a Mother’s Day Proclamation sought to bring mother’s together united to promote World Peace. Our Official Mother’s Day arose later in the early 1900s.
Mother’s Day throughout the years has been a day used by abolitionists, feminists, and peacemakers to promote social justice, peace, inclusivity and equality.
Mother’s Day is a healing day. For some of us it can be a very difficult day sometimes a sad day, for a myriad of personal reasons. But today is a healing day. There is a quote attributed to 13th century theologian Meister Eckhart:
"We are all meant to be mothers of God, for God is always needing to be born.”
There are many “mothers" in this parish who did not literally give birth to a child. St. Paul’s is full of nurturing individuals. Taking the lead from Jesus, you shepherd: comfort, console, raise families, sacrifice your time, and pour out your love. Just as Jesus said, “my works testify to me,” …I believe these actions are a testimony to God being born in the world.
So on this Mother’s Day let us pray…
Pray for Peace in the name of Jesus our Prince of Peace
Pray for Healing by the Power of the Holy Spirit
And Pray for unity through a God who wipes away all of our tears with those almighty hands of love.
It is Easter. But the big service and celebration happened a couple of Sundays ago. We may find that we are back to living life as before, with the same routines, and the feeling of holiday joy slipping away. The reality of war, the news feeds, and the uncertainty come clamoring in to dull our spirits.
But the promise of Easter is not just for one day or for a season. It is something for us to build on as a “way of life.” Life is made new. As the trees and flowers begin to bloom we are already unconsciously aware that “life is made new” after a winter of dormancy.
As our collect says, “Open the eyes of our faith, that we may behold God in all his redeeming work”
In our story this week, Peter and some of the disciples have gathered in Galilee and are back to their work of fishing. After the crucifixion and even after two encounters with the risen Jesus they have returned to “business as usual.” However, even while casting a net in familiar waters, they don’t seem to be catching anything. Their work has become unproductive. Jesus suddenly appears for the third time, fills their net and feeds them breakfast.
I love the image of breakfast on the beach around a fire. We can imagine the smell of the fish cooking in the open air: The feeling of warmth. The sounds of crackling wood, and water washing the shore, the dawn light, and wet sand. But the passage doesn’t provide these details for us, nor does it describe the taste of the fish; How they feel to eat after a long night. This is what we think of. Instead, Deep conversation ensues. They are eating communally - and the focus is on their shared conversation.
Jesus primarily engages Peter. He asks him three times, “Do you love me?” Each time Peter says, “You know I do.” And each time Jesus responds with an answer that represents what loving God means: Feed, Tend, Feed. More than anything Love means tending for others, and feeding one another. Jesus repeats himself.
For some it is literally food. But for any of us, we know that eating with families or friends is so much more than just food at dinner time. Our family also requires our attention, our connection as nourishment.
For any of us who have worked in feeding ministry we know it is more than meals. A feeding ministry provides connection not just food. It represents tenderness and care. The greatest gift: our humanity. The care that involves using our hands, and our hearts and the sacrifice of time. Precious time. Feeding and tending prioritizes connection.
Meals are a time for shared conversation.
Jesus comes to tell the disciples it’s time to break the fast from life. Follow me: Live now. Live now for what you believe in most: Love, Tend, Feed others. Follow me. Now is the time to live.
Open the eyes of our faith God, that we may behold you in all of your redeeming work
Life is not one even-keeled sail. Dramatic things happen. Things change and require us to change too, or we lapse into stale versions of ourselves. Covid happened. It had dramatic impacts on all of us. We are trying to return to “normal," but we also recognize that things have shifted. We have learned to do things in new ways and we are discerning which ways do we want to keep - and what old ways are we ready to let go of.
The death of George Floyd happened during Covid. It sparked a response to the way people of color have been - and continue to be targeted. Beyond marches and protests, many of us began to search for answers to the inequities in our country. We began to realize that recognition and repair are necessary for healing to begin: for redemption. The Episcopal Church who has included antiracism in our mission for many years, finally seemed to really focus our attentions.
Something shifted. Something dramatic happened, and it is time to change.
But now that the emotional flare of that period is waning, are we simply returning to our old ways? Or are we continuing to educate ourselves? Look deeply at the history of our country, trying to understand the terrible dynamics that persist? Martin Luther King Jr said, “the arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice.” To put it into even more context, MLK was harkening back to the phrase from a famous abolitionist minister Theodore Parker. Parker studied at Harvard Divinity School and eventually became an influential minister in the Unitarian church. In 1853 Parker preached (100 years before MLK)
“I do not pretend to understand the moral universe. The arc is a long one. My eye reaches but little ways. I cannot calculate the curve and complete the figure by experience of sight. I can divine it by conscience. And from what I see I am sure it bends toward justice.”
In other words: It is with conscious vision that it bends toward justice.
We cannot go back to “business as usual” now that we have seen the light (like our brother Paul) the light that sheds truth on suffering: a nation awakened by tragedy… to our own reality. In 2020 we returned to the table of antiracism for conversation. This table provides sustenance for our future and for our community and country.
Like Peter and the disciples we are being asked,
“Do you love me?”
Jesus makes it pretty clear: Loving God means to feed and tend.
How do we feed and tend one another? We must continue the conversation: talking and moving toward that arc of justice, lest we find like the disciples that our life work has become unproductive.
Open the eyes of our faith, that we may behold you God in all your redeeming work.
Once we’ve tasted the “new” way, our old ways will no longer suffice.
Break your fast from True life…with hope and courage to live into your beliefs this Easter!
Today the Gospel allows us to enter into that private space with Thomas, the disciples, and Jesus. We are invited into a room that is locked from the inside to become part of the great teaching Jesus has to offer.
Twice Jesus appears to the apostles while they are there. They are in a bit of limbo, unsure perhaps what to do next: They are Afraid. (Our Gospel says they were afraid of “the Jews” but we know that Jesus and all of his disciples were Jewish. The Gospel means the Jewish authorities, the temple police we hear about in the reading from Acts today. They are afraid of being arrested too. They are afraid and hiding out in the upper room where they held the last supper. Jesus essentially comes to bust them out.
This story is most widely remembered for the phrase it has engendered: “Don’t be a Doubting Thomas.”
But I believe this is a special passage that has a lot more to offer us!
Jesus appears to the disciples bringing with him the gift of the Holy Spirit. He breathes on them (which is the gift of Peace - and within it, the power to forgive sins.) Jesus is helping us understand that peace and forgiveness are intrinsically connected. Jesus brings the key to that locked door. He commissions the disciples to go back out into the world. He says, “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.”
Thomas was not with the disciples when Jesus returned the first time. They tell him, “We have seen the Lord.” And He reacts rather defensively to the story they have recounted. Not until I have seen and touched will I believe. He has a very human response. In doing so, Thomas invites us into that locked room… into the scene so that we can be there too. Thomas is our “way in” so to speak.
Thomas means twin. And in some ways he mirrors us through his reaction. Scripture refers to him as, “Thomas also called the twin.” And “Didymus” which also means Twin. He helps us into the story by mirroring us – and the way we may feel:
Why God, did you choose a moment when I was not here to reveal yourself? Why come when I was not here? What about me? I am suffering and in grief too – and you have revealed yourself to my siblings.
How come some of us seem to have peace and faith and belief, but I am struggling?
It is something we can relate to…And our anger and sadness are reactionary. Our instinct is often not full of peace and forgiveness. We feel victimized and may cast blame or mistrust.Thomas’ reaction is relatable. He essentially says, “Well I’ll believe it when I see it.”And Thomas allows us to feel it and say it openly to God, not to hide away, but to engage.
And then Jesus does come - and says “touch my wounds.” He doesn’t come to walk on water, or turn the water into wine, or feed the masses. He comes as wounded and says, “touch me.” I mirror you too. Jesus replies I am with you. I know human suffering. I am with you even in your woundedness. It is intimate and mutual. I am a God who identifies with your suffering and your pain.
Jesus has been abandoned by his friends, tortured and killed, but when he returns the first thing he does is say, “Peace be with you." I forgive - and now I give you the power to forgive. When he comes to the upper room, he has a mission. And it has to do with moving us out into the world with the power of forgiveness in the life of the Spirit…
"Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you." When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, "Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”
This is his message from the beginning of the Gospels to the end. Earlier when the disciples asked Jesus how to pray, he gives them the Lord’s prayer. “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” He also tells us the second greatest commandment is to “love our neighbors as ourselves.” Inherent in that notion is that we love ourselves. Forgiveness is to be extended to others, but we also need to practice forgiving ourselves, to come out of our locked up rooms; places where we hide from ourselves and become strangers to God. We can think the worst of ourselves and we may project the worst onto others. Jesus asks the disciples and us to move out into the world in a new way: A way of forgiveness and peace.
Jesus shows up as resurrected in the fullness of his Spirit. This Bodily resurrection we speak about, has to do with that fullness of Spirit…that we like Jesus will be resurrected in the fullness of our being. As Christians we are working at growing into that fullness of our being through growing in wisdom, forgiveness and as bearers of peace. As the body of Christ we also carry one another’s wounds. When we doubt, or struggle with our belief, another one of us, another part of the body can carry us the rest of the way. We buoy one another. This is Christian Community. They say noone can be a Christian alone.
As our collect today reminds us Jesus brings the new covenant of reconciliation. We are brought together with one another and God through forgiveness - and recognizing the suffering in each of us. It is not an easy task, but it will transform us.
Thomas also contributes a model for us - not simply a model of doubt, but a model of honesty. He doesn’t remain a stranger to God. He says "it like it is." He isn’t afraid to engage in intimate dialogue with God.
Jesus says, “Blessed are those that Believe but have not seen.” This is us, and it is Thomas’s intimate relationship with Jesus who helps us into this space through our own pain and doubt. Thomas in his honesty and love delivers us into the moment.
Jesus reminds us that pain and suffering is something we all share.
Forgiveness is something we can offer…
And Peace depends on it.
Christ is risen!
And Love incarnate will show up in times and places you do not expect.
"Bidden or not bidden, God is present."
God seeks after us, and will show up for us in unexpected places as Jesus did for Peter out fishing, or in our suffering as he did for Mary Magdalene, in our chores like the Samaritan Woman…Maybe even in moments of callousness and cruelty like Paul…
Suddenly we are awakened, by a stranger - Or by someone we know who suddenly turns to us and we realize: they see us in our suffering, or in our efforts - and we remember who we are. We are healed in that moment of connection.
Jesus showed up as a human to affirm just that. Jesus shows us the nature of God is love by becoming one of us. He identifies with us in every way… not in perfection, but in our disordered lives…in order to help us be connected - to teach us how to be connected to one another and God.
Loneliness is the way that so many of us are experiencing the world right now, even with all of the “connecting” technology. We are experiencing the isolation of business, and the overwhelm of information; the pain about war and atrocity in the world; fear and the feeling of being out of control. The antidote is Human touch, a human ear, a human shoulder. That is why God shows up as incarnate: as human.
…And in today’s Gospel, the way the disciples respond to the story of the empty tomb is also very human. In the experience of grief there is loss, confusion, fear, disbelief.
The Gospel describes this reality so clearly. After the experience at the tomb, Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the Mother of James, and the other women go to the apostles bearing the good news: Jesus is risen! They try to share the experience of the empty tomb and their vision with their brothers.
“But these words seemed to them an idle tale and they did not believe them.”
It is not hard for any of us to relate to that. What are the facts? Is Jesus simply gone?
It is a human response, a self-defense actually to walk in a cloud of denial through the thickness of grief. The apostles were terrified. They are hiding out in the upper room where they held the last supper. They are afraid for their lives, and for their future, and they are heartbroken. Grief and fear shuts us down. It may paralyze us. It makes new possibilities seem futile: Like “idle tales.”
It is easy to understand where they were coming from. We are clouded by the stresses and grief in our own lives that make it difficult to be awake to the possibility that “new life springs” that, there may be an order other than the "World Order.” As Jesus said to Pilate, “My Kingdom is not from here.”
The women share a vision of two men in dazzling clothes who suddenly appear. Visions are an element of prophetic identity. It places the women directly in the prophetic tradition; a tradition conveying a message between God and people. It is communal, which makes it that much more difficult to deny. A group of important
women-leaders among the disciples, tell us what they saw and heard. They remember Jesus’ words: the message God has been sending to the people through Jesus.
It is not always easy to believe in the resurrection even after we’ve heard the story a thousand times like the apostles. They called him “Lord,” and listened to his teachings. (Even those so close, were too immersed in grief to believe in other possibilities.)
Metaphorically, death is described as being separated from God: Separated from love. We may spend years, maybe even decades separated and wandering. And I don’t mean not attending church. I mean wandering in a cloud of fear and anxiety, death, like the Israelites with Moses. We stop trusting. We walk away from our identity as the beloved of God - and our commission to love one another.
But our story this morning doesn’t end this way.
There is one person who hears the good news. Peter is moved from his frozen state. He comes out of this paralysis of fear… and runs to the tomb. He runs toward the possibility that love is stronger than death: that the Spirit is life giving.
"Bidden or not bidden, God is Present."
It took more than courage for Peter. He had denied Jesus three times. He had walked away. His pain with that knowledge must’ve been excruciating. But Fear is a reaction, Love is an action. Peter moves into action. He runs toward the truth. The truth that God loves and forgives. God Loves and Forgives us. And that is radical.
Jesus died because of the way he lived, loving and forgiving everyone he encountered in a counter-cultural fervor that was contagious. And this got him killed by the authorities who wanted to maintain control. Jesus undeniably represented a way of life that surrendered to the Spirit of Love and not to the powers of control and fear and denial.
His last teaching was to love one another as he loves us. Seek the face of Christ in one another as God seeks us; be receptive to it in all your encounters. Move in the direction of love. And as Jesus asks us, be that one person for someone else. Through him we are raised to that new life where fear and death also do not have the last word.
It is radical and it is counter cultural.
Resurrection is possible because Jesus did not rise once, but is Christ who rises again and again in us and through us in unity, constancy and peace. God raises us in the fullness of our being into the one body of Christ.
Nothing, not even death separates us from the Love of God.
"Everyone will know you are my disciples if you have love for one another…”
Our outline of faith (traditionally called the Catechism) says that Jesus reveals to us that the nature of God is Love.
Tonight we reenact and remember Jesus’ last night before he is arrested. And we do this at every Eucharist, celebrating the memorial of our redemption: Remembering. But the Gospel of John is unique. It gives us another part to this story.
It doesn’t include Jesus’ command to “remember him through the bread and wine.” Instead this Gospel’s focus of the last supper is about service and love. Jesus exhibits this in relationship all through his ministry:
Including, Inviting, Touching, Feeding, Healing,… “I see you, You see me.”
This new commandment that Christ gives us “to love one another as he love us” also does show up in the Great Thanksgiving through other words of prayer, such as 'Father send us out to do the work you have given us to do, to love and serve you” Or “Grant us strength and courage to love you with gladness and singleness of heart… This is Jesus’ last formal teaching to the disciples.
In our passage today, the disciples have just completed the last supper. It says:
He “knew.” He knew that his hour had come. This form of “know” meaning to remember, appreciate. It is a depth of interior knowledge. He had integrated what was to be.
Jesus removes his outer garment. And he ties a towel around himself. The Greek word that is used is “girded.” He girded himself with the towel. He wrapped it around himself. What an intimate and vulnerable gesture….And yet, at the same time so strong. This image really strikes to the core of Jesus. In the face of arrest and crucifixion, Jesus doesn’t just fear or imagine what he might suffer. He knows, and rather than run, he turns to his friends. He removes his outer garment.
We often associate gird with “gird your loins.” It is actually a way for managing your clothes in preparation for battle. It is still a phrase we use for taking protective measures. Jesus girds himself in preparation for this terrifying battle by disrobing, and giving his disciples a simple but very explicit example of how to love and serve one another: How to be in the world. He girds himself with the love of his friends. He empties himself in service. That becomes his shield, his outer garment.
Jesus has one last teaching. He says "you call me Lord and Teacher. So I have set an example for you.” His is the way of peace. He is the Prince of Peace and his shield is Love. Do this too in the memory of him. And wear it like a breastplate.
Christ be with me,
Christ within me,
Christ behind me,
Christ before me,
Christ beside me,
Christ to win me,
Christ to comfort and restore me.
Christ beneath me,
Christ above me,
Christ in quiet,
Christ in danger,
Christ in hearts of all that love me,
Christ in mouth of friend and stranger.
We have just read the passion. We walked through the unjust path of Jesus’ experience in his last days in Jerusalem. It is painful to hear and read aloud.
The story may feel premature for those of us immersed in Church. Today is Palm Sunday. We read from Luke: “As he was now approaching the path down from the Mount of Olives, the whole multitude of the disciples began to praise God joyfully with a loud voice.”
I want to back up to the beginning of our day. I want to focus on today because it has so much to do with the hope we feel in Christ even entering into Holy Week:
Palm Sunday which is a joyful day. We reenact with our palms and procession a great day of joy for the disciples. The Gospel of Luke has an emphasis on Joy in the presence of Jesus beginning with the birth narratives. And today a multitude of disciples are praising God joyfully with a loud voice.
Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!
Peace in heaven, and glory in the highest heaven!
Imagine a multitude of disciples. We often think of the twelve when we hear “disciples” rather than multitudes. Jesus has been gathering followers through his healing ministry all throughout the land. How many of the 5000 do you suppose showed up on Palm Sunday? How many Palm Sundays have there been over the centuries? …disciples showing up to wave palms…leading up to us today…
Many churches lead processions on this day. We are happy to be shouting that Jesus is King, but we are doing this with knowledge of the resurrection. What were the people on that day really feeling, seeing and praying about? What was this joy that had become so contagious that multitudes were showing up in Jerusalem to sing and lay down coats and palms in a procession for a man riding on a colt?
This short passage is a snap shot: a picture that speaks a thousand words. Jesus riding on a colt, as a huge gathering of disciples role out the "red carpet" (so to speak) for his "triumphant entry."
It is Jerusalem at Passover. The city is packed for the holiday with pilgrims. The city swelled to 5x its population with pilgrims traveling from all around. There are camps everywhere. What a sight.
At Passover, the crowds are accustomed to a procession, a grand Roman military parade: a presence that reinforces the region's occupation by Rome. The people paid taxes to the Romans, part of why the tax collectors were so hated: Taxation without representation.
Now: The appointed governor, Pontius Pilate, who does not actually live in Jerusalem is riding into the city at the head of an imperial calvary and parade of soldiers…While Jesus on the other side of town is arriving in a different kind of parade.
In tremendous contrast to the highly trained military horses, Jesus is riding on a colt: a colt that has never been ridden. He told a couple of his disciples: “Go into the village ahead of you, and as you enter it you will find tied there a colt that has never been ridden.”
In other Gospels Jesus is said to have ridden a young donkey. And we have seen pictures since we were children of Jesus riding the “humble” donkey. But over the past few years I’ve had experience with a colt who has never been ridden… and it got me to thinking about this story in a new light - and who Jesus is and what he is bringing.
About four years ago my parents got a horse who arrived pregnant (unbeknownst to them). And for the past four years they’ve been working with this little filly. Have you ever been with a colt that has never been ridden? They are wild and spirited. I can tell you she is wild and spirited. They are not easy to ride even when they are small.
Here is Jesus riding into Jerusalem on this lively colt, on this breath of new life, unbridled energy and Spirit!
From last week’s readings, remember:
I am about to do a new thing;
now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?
Jesus is riding on the Holy Spirit who will not be tamed.
He has proven it again and again in the way that he navigates the world, heals people, invites people…that is why the multitudes gather with joyous singing!
As Jesus read from Isaiah earlier in the Gospel:
“The Spirit is upon me, ’because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
The significance for the people is that the Messiah "King of Heaven" is here and the Kingdom of God is more powerful than these unjust Kingdoms of this World. Joy is in the air.
This joy is the gift of the Spirit. This gift of the Spirit is what Jesus gives to the disciples and to us as our advocate and guide. And in that, we should recognize that joy is part of wisdom. We are given this gift of the Spirit to help us grow and to help us walk through our own dark days as we look toward the resurrection - and our "joy complete.”
Joy is what sustains us through the dark days of Holy Week and our own dark days.
The Passion Story that we hear takes us through an archetypal trip of our own story too. We struggle as Jesus did. He (as the perfect human) shows us ourselves too. We are faced with unbearable obstacles, pains that we feel we may not be able to endure. We are tested by those who don’t understand us, we face injustice, sometimes oppression.
At some point in our life we experience the ultimate sense that we can’t find salvation on our own. We do not have all of the answers or strength to live out this human life with utter control - and we turn to a greater power: The power of the Spirit to help us make something new, to be reborn.
In spirited community we gather to work through this process - and to help one another move through it too. Just as Jesus ultimately humbled himself, we humble ourselves for the sake of others.
Ultimately there is a greater love that forgives: joy complete: Not happiness or control over the outcome we hope for. Instead we find wisdom: A saving joy…The type of joy that is serene at times and shouting praise at others because it is a path we walk now with the Spirit as companion. When we are struggling to love those around us - we know we are bound in a greater Love that completes the part of us that is still struggling to meet that cause.
The Spirit Gives strength and wisdom: the giver of life in an unending flow. Just being part of the flow in whatever way that you can muster in any given moment - gives to that greater flow of love which is renewing. New life springs. Remember: Earlier in this Gospel Jesus springs up, literally jumps for joy when his disciples return to him having healed others. That is what the multitudes were celebrating.
Even so, Jesus knows what he is facing as he turns to Jerusalem. And at the last supper he gives his disciples his Spirit … to give the gift of joy and healing to others… to us and for us…
That is why we continue to be here celebrating on Palm Sunday…Jesus ridding on a colt bringing new life and an unbridled Spirit to sustain us all even in the darkness of the crucifixion - and in our own dark days.
And when they took him away, the betrayal of humanity was so great…Jesus "the meek King” (as he is called) humbled himself for the sake of all: Our redeemer who delivers us from our distress. He is the one who sets us free from the captivity of others as well as the captivity of our private selves.He claims us for his kingdom; he awakens us (gives sight to the blind). He offers us a new vision for a Kingdom of Peace.
Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord.
Hosanna in the Highest!
I am about to do a new thing;
now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? - Isaiah
Mary anoints Jesus with her hair.
This is a very important story for me. In 2010 I did my Masters Thesis on Mary Magdalene which included a brief study of the other Mary’s in the Gospels. This story offers us something new from Jesus. Jesus’ response to Mary is quite unique and important. And variations of it are found in all four gospels: Mary pours out an expensive bottle of perfume made of nard on Jesus (either on his feet or head). In every story it is received by shock and disapproval by others in the house.
This is an anointing. It is what Kings’ receive.
Judas neither recognized Mary’s authority nor Jesus’ identity when he suggests this act is a waste rather than recognizing it for what it is: an anointing.
The way the Gospel of John is written is with an emphasis on WHO Jesus is: The word Messiah means “anointed one” and comes from the Hebrew word “anointed.” Christ comes from the Greek word Christos, also meaning “anointed one.”
Mary anoints Jesus with burial nard. Jesus says "she bought this for me," or other interpretations read, "she has been saving it for me,” or “she has kept this for me.”
I am about to do a new thing;
now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?
Mary anoints Jesus both as King and for his death. She recognizes who he is and what is to come. As a prisoner of state - to die a death by crucifixion would deny him a proper burial. Mary understands this and really knows what Jesus is about to do - and who Jesus is.
Death is in the air.
This story directly follows the resurrecting of Lazarus who now also reclines with them at the table…
"But the perfume that permeates the house and Lazarus’ presence point us to a new reality: Jesus’ power over death." (1)
I am about to do a new thing;
now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?
Mary understands his teaching in a way that many of the disciples still do not. Her act is not a simple act of selflessness as many theologians have written. Nor is it wasteful as Judas postured.
This act is brazen. It is bold and it is shameless, even while it involves tears of sorrow. It is authoritative in stating that Jesus is King… of a Kingdom of peace - a new way to be in the world …In direct opposition to the “powers that be” and the kingdoms that exist.
And what does Jesus do? Jesus defends her and this act.
There are three other anointings of Jesus in the Gospels. Two are listed as having been from Mary of Bethany (sister of Lazarus) and two by an unnamed woman. Mary Magdalene has been associated with this unnamed woman throughout history. Jesus defends this woman “Mary” in a way that he doesn’t defend any other of his companions in all of the Gospels.
I am about to do a new thing;
now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?
What is quite unique is that, in each of these anointing scenes - this woman’s action becomes the focal point of the story rather than Jesus’ actions. And in its counterpart in Matthew and Mark’s versions, Jesus says, “Truly I tell you, wherever this gospel is preached in all the world, what she has done will also be told in memory of her.”
The ultimate point is that Mary recognizes God in her presence.
...And that is the hardest thing for any of us to do. Especially in the midst of chaos, fear and the presence of death…it is difficult for us to see God in our midst. Lent and these readings ask us to focus on God and to consider letting go of mortal things; “Things of the Flesh” as Paul says… And to focus on the eternal, the spirit. We often give things up for Lent; letting go of things, not so much to discipline ourselves, but as a gauge to help us recognize what is real, and true and important…to see what gets in our way of loving, being present to the people in our lives, or even to ourselves. We have so many responsibilities. It is endless. There never seems to be enough time. It is difficult to see God in one another and to be Christlike to and with one another. It is a struggle.
Lent allows us that time to lament it, to claim that struggle boldly and without shame, that we are only human and we are walking on the path and working to find one another and God on that path.
Paul speaks to the community at Philipi facing opposition and the fear of death. He offers himself as a model for one who is striving for faith.
No one has to claim we already have it. It is our cross in this life… to work toward love and faith and trust in the face of all of our human fears. Even Paul says, “Not that I have already reached the goal; but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own…
…forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.”
…Who makes all things new.
Like Paul in his fear - and in our sorrow, with our tears like Mary, we can still brazenly say “Jesus has made us his own.” As we await the coming of Easter in our own lives, we press on with our own prayer in our own striving forward.
I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?
This week we have the parable of the Prodigal Son. It is one of the “tough” parables for many, because it often strikes us as unfair.
The eldest son stays home and is obedient to his father while the younger one goes off into the world and squanders the money. When the youngest son has lost it all: has no friends, no money and no way to take care of himself, essentially he “hits bottom.” The passage says, “when he came to himself” he finds trust that returning to his father in service will be safer than continuing to struggle without him. “When he came to himself.” When he awakens. That’s when he finds trust.
And when he returns - the father welcomes him joyfully with open arms, and more so brings him back into the fold, not as a servant, but as a beloved son. The resentful older son does not understand such rejoicing.
And we may wonder about it too. But in the context of the Gospel, Jesus is telling this story in order to explain the depths of God’s love to the Pharisees who are questioning him. The father in the story is modeling the ultimate expression of love and forgiveness. God’s love is not based in human ideals of judgment.
To quote Isaiah: My thoughts are not your thoughts says the Lord.
Let him turn to the LORD, and he will have mercy on him, and to our God, for he will freely pardon."For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways," declares the LORD."As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.
Sometimes this parable is called the "forgiving father.”
But the Prodigal Son like many parables offers us several ways to interpret it. (If we climb into the story.) There is a Christological interpretation of this story that was described by theologian Karl Barth. He equates the young son with Jesus specifically. Jesus comes out into our World to live as one of us. He found himself exposed to the messy and chaotic world of human beings. He chose to be in it with us, in the depths, to be challenged and transformed. And he humbled himself in service to God the Father and was raised to new life.
Like the youngest son, when we find ourselves out in the messy and chaotic world we can’t help but be altered by it. The child then, who returns “home” to be reconciled also brings back a self that has been influenced by ideas that were once foreign, experiences that were alien, as well as unanticipated joys and pain. The reconciliation that takes place not only restores the long lost child, but restores an individual who is carrying all of the burdens of a life lived. A life lived expands our perspectives, teaches us about the suffering of others, humbles us with greater knowledge. We learn that life isn’t “fair.”
Perhaps it makes us, like Jesus, want to help build equality where he found (and where we find) it doesn’t exist.
Jesus commissioned his disciples to go out into the world. To go out with nothing into the world and be with people where healing was needed. That is known as evangelism which has taken on different forms over the centuries. Today many Episcopalians shirk from the word evangelism because it has become associated with fundamentalism. They are however two very different things: Fundamentalism takes the Bible literally. Evangelism is about spreading the good news which is part of every Christian’s call. But this doesn’t mean you have to stand on the street corner with your bible. There is a phrase attributed to St. Francis: “Preach the Gospel at all times. If necessary, use words.” When we take our Christian ethics into the world, it is through those actions and interactions that we can meet others with the love of Christ, which is the Good News: touching, healing, feeding, supporting our neighbors as our selves.
And we are changed by such work. We are transformed: We come closer to others and begin to find the humanness in one another and those who are different from ourselves. We become more expansive and our boundaries become more permeable. We begin to integrate and carry within us a new awareness. We become more awake as Jesus was. When we reach outside of our safe homes or insular communities we are changed. Like St. Paul, our namesake, we might be blinded by the light.
We might open up like Paul and allow ourselves to be touched and changed by a stranger. When Paul was blinded, he was taken in and healed by those very people he had been persecuting. That experience awakened him to God and continued to awaken him towards others - to the foreigner: the Gentile, the Samaritan, the Greek. He is so converted by this love that he states in another famous passage to the Corinthians:
"There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus."
We are one body. The transformation that comes through connecting with others is manifest when someone else’s struggle becomes our own.
We seem to be born with an acute longing for what we consider “fair” and “equal” treatment as the parable elicits. Yet ironically we often still manage to live blindly to the predicament of others when things are going our way.
As some of you know I am on the anti-racism committee at the Diocesan level. We host anti-racism trainings, events and summits. The trainings are very expansive. They are held three times a year and they only involve a few sessions. The videos teach us about our history and help us come to understand why there is such a cultural and economic divide among people of different races in a country in which we believe we are all made equal. What has happened to corrupt our very highest ideals? I can tell you the videos teach what we don’t already know. They will broaden your perspective. They speak to the experience of African Americans, Asian Americans, Native American, Latinos. They will awaken you. Our human points of view, judgments and understandings of things are often misinformed and flawed. I encourage you to take one of these trainings. (Some people take them several times because you have an opportunity to meet new people and hear new perspectives.) Take that step into the messy world with Jesus where healing is needed.
Caring about someone else and their predicament starts to work on our own identities too. It starts to reform us into that Christological Body where we all may be one. It is not just the small child, but a community drawn into forgiveness.
Pauls tells us:
From now on, we regard no one from a human point of view; even though we once knew Christ from a human point of view, we know him no longer in that way. If anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!
We cannot go unscathed by the messiness of life. It changes us. But it also has the ability to awaken us to a reality that is greater than what we had previously perceived - with the potential for a profound healing that is exponential.
When we bring all of ourself and our experiences to God: Returning: we may find that it is not just our small selves that are reconciled - but that we bring with us a “ripple effect” drawing us all into the body of forgiveness as Christ calls us to. We are made whole and integrated through a love born through Christ in us who gives us a “new creation.”
O God, you are my God; eagerly I seek you; *
This week our lessons all ring with the theme of “returning.” Moses turns to the Burning Bush to find holy ground, sacred space in the presence of God. Paul assures the Corinthians that God is faithful. And Jesus asks us to repent: to turn and change our minds and hearts. There is a mutual nurturing of the eternal relationship expressed in this turning and returning to one another.
I was also struck by the contrast between our imagery this morning:
…A blazing bush alive with the Spirit of God contrasted with the story of a withering fig tree in the Gospel. They seem to be two different but common ways in which we encounter God.
The Burning Bush is a like a great event. We feel we are present to a miracle or epiphany; a suddenness that makes us awake to the majesty and mystery of life. Something that turns our heads and hearts and fills us with wonder and the desire to seek God further.
Then there is also the unexpected painful blaze: war, an accident, a death, we hit bottom, a betrayal - and pain explodes in our hearts and we find ourselves burning for understanding - and seeking God in the blaze.
In both circumstances we recognize the sacred space in the presence of something much bigger and more powerful than us. Love comes crashing out of us - or upon us in the expression of so many other emotions: excitement, joy, awe, anger, fear. It is alive and it is big and hard to turn away from. We step closer like Moses.
At other times in great contrast we find ourselves and our experience with God much like the fig tree: feeling drained and exhausted, withering. We feel like we are just going through the motions. We are just trying to do the next thing, but we don’t feel enlivened. We don’t feel like we are living our true selves or that we are affirmed. We are not fed and we know we are not blossoming. Or the fruit of the Spirit that is within us. How do we step closer to the presence of God when we are in this state? How can we recognize that we still are on the threshold of sacred ground?
Jesus tells the story of the fig tree to help us understand just that. There is time basically…
In Jesus’s parable, The owner of the land says that the fig tree is a waste of soil, cut it down. But the gardener says: 'Sir, let it alone for one more year, until I dig around it and put manure on it."
There is hope and there is activity to help us find ways to nurture the spirit…A slow, enduring nurturing… The soil of our souls needs to be turned and fed and mulched so we can grow and develop those fruits of the Spirit.
We can’t always see the full picture. Sometimes it is this slow nurturing, feeding of the soil that Jesus describes and the endurance that Paul describes to the Corinthians. As my husband says “time takes time.”
Where is the blaze and fanfare?
Well...not all sacred moments are cinematic.
How do we move closer into the sacred presence of God? Sometimes taking the step closer involves trusting ourselves. Trust that God is available in the everyday if I seek that relationship.
We all know what it is like to be alone and awake at 3 am worrying. I have found 3 am is a great time to practice trusting, breathing, to pray, or even enter into dialogue with God rather than to fret and toss and turn. And the psalmist today reminds us:
…my mouth praises you with joyful lips,
When I remember you upon my bed, *
and meditate on you in the night watches.
For you have been my helper, *
and under the shadow of your wings I will rejoice.
My soul clings to you; *
your right hand holds me fast.
Apparently we’ve known this for thousands of years: Time takes time - and 3 am is always a good time to begin…
Sacred Presence and the Holy Ground is always with us, as Paul is writing to the Corinthians, “God is faithful.”
But Paul’s message also includes some things that may strike our ears as difficult:
“No testing has overtaken you that is not common to everyone. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tested beyond your strength, but with the testing he will also provide the way out so that you may be able to endure it.”
Some of us are enduring especially painful things.
But if we read it within the context of the community, we can trust that we will be able to endure through the support and nurturing of one another. This is almost always Paul’s stance. He is constantly preaching to the early church through teachings that strengthen their bonds: Teaching them to strengthen one another, tend, feed and nurture one another.
As individuals and as communities some trials come on us that we have absolutely no control over. At other times we have been given signs and warnings, but there are no immediate consequences like Paul makes it out to sound. We have habits of nature or heart or circumstance that compile over time and then we find ourselves injured by that accumulation.
Both Paul and Jesus are speaking to communities during a time of great trial and an accumulation of fear.
In the Gospel some Gentiles are being killed by Pilate. Some present tell Jesus of these occurrences. And from the way it is described we can assume that they told the story with some lack of empathy, because Jesus responds powerfully; asking them basically, “Do you think they were more sinful than you because these atrocities have occurred?!”… Is that some kind of proof of their guilt - or reason for their pain?
He then goes on to assure us that the suffering are not more deserving of pain than others who have been spared. He essentially asks the community to renew a right spirit, to repent meaning: to turn and change.
He also says something that sounds difficult. “No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish as they did.” He is asking the community to turn to find that sacred presence in their lives, not so that they will be spared suffering or death. He is saying those deaths were cruel and meaningless. Their suffering was cruel and meaningless.
Jesus asks us to repent: change our minds and our hearts because he wants us to have meaning in our lives. Turning toward the sacred presence offers our lives meaning in the midst of the way things are rather than simply reasons for why things are the way they are.
Whether we are startled and awakened by something too big to handle alone, whether it is a blaze of wonder - or the fire of pain, or when we feel stunted, or even when we just seem to be sleep walking…In the Community of Christ we find ourselves in solidarity with one another and part of a relationship that is nurturing…
A community in which everyone is growing in affirmation of each individual’s unique gifts.
And a community that is seeking deep connection with the source of life we name God: The source of life we name Love.
O God, you are my God; eagerly I seek you; *