Alleluia! Christ is Risen!
I love the story of the Resurrection for many reasons. After journeying through the Lenten season, spending the week steeped in Holy Week and darkness, the Resurrection is the waking up, the rejoicing and the celebrating that is so desperately needed. And the Resurrection is both an invitation and a call to action. We, like Mary Magdalene and the other Mary, are invited to come and see and go and tell.
The Resurrection is one of those things that is just beyond all logical comprehension. It invites us to “come and see”… to believe in things that just seem too good to be true; to believe deeply that with God, all things are possible. It invites us to reconsider the words of Jesus “I am with you always”. The Resurrection calls us out of a place of fear and anxiety, and into a new life of love. What is it that we need to come and see?
The Resurrection experience also calls us to action. Like the two Mary’s at the empty tomb, we are called to share the Good News. When Mary Magdalene and the other Mary discover the empty tomb and later encounter the Risen Christ, they are urged to share the experience with the disciples and others. It is the first commandment of the Resurrection. How are they models for us? What is it that we need to go and tell?
And finally, the Resurrection calls us to rejoice. No longer do we need to be afraid. No longer do we need to be in darkness…we can rejoice in the breaking open of the Kingdom of God. When the two Mary’s encounter Christ on the way to tell the disciples, the word that he speaks is “Chairete”…a form of greeting that literally means “Rejoice”. This word “rejoice” is repeated three times in the exsultet (the chant from the beginning of the service):
Rejoice now, heavenly hosts and choirs of angels…
Rejoice and sing now, all the round earth…
Rejoice and be glad now, Mother Church…
All of heaven and earth, and the people of God are invited to rejoice. Resurrection living is now…it is not something of the past, but invites us to sing, be glad and go and tell the Good News…so let us rejoice together!
As we enter into Resurrection living, what is it that we need to be invited to see and who are we going to tell? I hope you will rejoice in this season of Easter!
I need to make a confession. Palm Sunday snuck up on me this year. I don’t know how it happened. I haven’t been particularly reflective this Lent…all my Lenten practices pretty much fell to the wayside within a week. I haven’t been practicing the chant for the Great Vigil. I haven’t been spending much time in prayer and meditation. However, despite my being unprepared to enter into Holy Week, it is here anyway.
At the beginning of Lent, I decided I was going to read Henri Nouwen’s “Walk with Jesus” as part of my Lenten practice. It’s a short book and I haven’t finished it. In the introduction, Nouwen explains why he wrote this book…as he traveled in Bolivia, Peru and Guatemala, he was surrounded by poor people walking and he was feeling guilty because he was in a car. He realized how “easy” his life was and how much other people had to struggle. As he reflected on the poor and on his deep love and commitment to Jesus, he said:
Jesus walks from village to village, and, as he walks, he meets the poor. He meets the beggars, the blind, the sick, the mourners, and those who have lost hope. He remains very close to the earth. He feels the heat of the day and the cold of the night. He knows about the grass that withers and fades, the rocky soil, the thorny bushes, the barren trees, the flowers in the fields, and the rich harvest. He knows because he walks so much and feels in his own body the harshness and the vitality of the season. He listens attentively to those with whom he walks, and he speaks to them with the authority of a true companion on the road.
Throughout the course of the book, Nouwen goes on to explore the relationship that Jesus has with the poor and the marginalized. He reminds us that in our daily living, we often overlook these people that Jesus spent so much time with…not because we’re cold-hearted or uninterested, but because in our busyness we forget they are there. As I re-read the introduction on Thursday, I realized that’s exactly what had happened to me this Lent. In my busyness, I lost sight of walking with Jesus. And here we are, at Palm Sunday; the beginning of the longest part of Jesus’ journey…his journey to the cross. Maybe now I can take a moment to notice.
What is it that needs noticing on this day? That we begin the morning in joy and leave in silence? That we all participate in the calling out to “crucify him”? That Jesus is played by a young woman and Pilate is played by the priest? What voices are heard and which ones are silent? Who are the crucified ones in our culture? What is it that we take notice of?
Every year, we gather, sing, process, wave palms, read the Gospel, and leave in silence. In the process of celebrating Palm Sunday, we enter into kairos time—God’s time, holy, sacred liturgical time—and that’s where we’ll stay until Easter.
Holy Week is about spending time with Jesus, walking along the road as a companion on the journey. It is fluid time that allows us opportunities to take notice of those who are often overlooked. If we believe that Christ is all around us, if we believe that we can see the face of Jesus in the other, how do we treat him? Would we anoint his feet or would we stand in the shadows like Peter? Would we criticize, rebuke and taunt him? Would we have the courage to stand at the foot of the cross and wait for his broken body to be let down?
If I hold myself accountable to these questions, it makes me realize that more often than not, it’s easier to be like Peter …it’s easier not to take this walk with Jesus. But we are invited into this kairos time not to live in guilt and remorse, but to experience transformation. It is an invitation to reflect, confess, be healed, and celebrate. This is the Christian life.
Sometimes it is hard to walk with Jesus to the cross…to “feel the heat of the day and the cold of the night”. But Jesus is patient and kind. He has drawn us out, he has called us to slow down and take notice, to reflect and confess. He has invited us to break bread together, to share in a holy feast, to be healed and to celebrate.
Blessings to you all as you walk the road with Jesus to the cross this week.
This spring my Ph.D. course is titled “Women Philosophers, Mystics and Wisdom Teachers” and we have been reading books from various spiritual and religious traditions throughout the centuries. Our current readings are on justice, reconciliation and peace. This past Monday I had to give an online teaching presentation on the book “Relational Reality” by Charlene Spretnak. It’s a rather dense book, full of research studies and statistics, but ultimately what Spretnak is trying to do is explore our current state of affairs (or “current crisis”), and the impact the Relational Shift of thinking/understanding would have on our way of being. Spretnak discusses this Relational Shift as an awareness that “all forms of life are composed of relationships and function in dynamic relationship with everything else…Nothing exists in isolation” (Kindle location, 377-380).
This idea that “nothing exists in isolation” is not really a new idea. I think we’ve all known that for a long time…even if we didn’t “know” it. When we were created, God intended us to be in loving relationship and communion with God, each other and creation. And yet, we sometimes forget that and end up being angry, unhealthy and detached. We become more focused on ourselves than on our community.
In the gospel from Luke, we encounter the Pharisees and scribes who are grumbling because Jesus is welcoming to and eating with sinners. They are grumbling because they’ve lost sight of their relationship to these folks. They are grumbling because instead of seeing children of God, they see what’s wrong with the person—“the sinner”. They are grumbling because they are driven by pride, jealousy, anger and self-righteousness. But Jesus is a man of grace and compassion, and so instead of scolding the Pharisees and scribes for their grumbling, he tells everyone a story.
Most of us are familiar with the parable of the Prodigal Son. At some point in our lives, for better or worse, we’ve probably identified as each of the three characters—the young son who left home and comes back begging forgiveness, the older son who has stayed home and is resentful about the welcome his younger brother was extended, and the generous and loving father who welcomes his son home.
We don’t like to admit it when we’ve behaved like the older son, but the truth is, we’ve all behaved that way at some point.
So why is it that the older son can’t be happy for his brother’s return and his father’s welcome?
Because he assumed the worst about his brother and he was driven by his anger, pride, jealousy and self-righteousness. And these are all expressions of fear. He is afraid that if his brother is welcomed home, there won’t be enough room for him, he won’t have a place in the house, that he won’t be loved anymore. Like the Pharisees and scribes, he is afraid that if Jesus welcomes the “other” then there won’t be room for them in God’s kingdom.
How often have we felt that same kind of fear in our lives? The fear that if we welcome the “other”—the gay man, the immigrant woman, the homeless couple—that we will somehow lose our place?
But God’s love and grace don’t work like that. Every time God’s love and healing reaches out to welcome the “other”, we are not diminished; there isn’t less for us, but more! So wait, how does that work? Maybe you’re saying to yourself, “Anna, the math doesn’t add up”.
Here’s how it works…
God’s love and grace are based in God’s reconciliation with humanity and all creation. Because God is reconciled with us through Christ, we become, as 2nd Corinthians tells us, “ambassadors for Christ”…in other words, we become instruments of reconciliation. So as we have been reconciled with God, as we reconcile with others, as we act as an extension of God’s love and reconciliation, we only multiply God’s healing in the world…not take away from it. We’re working towards that Relational Shift that Charlene Spretnak talks about; we’re working towards re-membering our community instead of trying to live in isolation.
The only way this is not a “winning” situation for us is if we chose NOT to extend God’s love and reconciliation. When we aren’t actively working towards reconciliation, actively working towards re-membering the body of Christ in the world, then we are diminishing the Kingdom of God in our midst.
In my class next week, we’re reading Alice Walker’s “Anything we love can be saved”. Maybe you’ve heard of Alice Walker…she wrote the book “The Color Purple”…it made Oprah a movie star in the 80s. Anyway, this book we’re reading is a collection of essays and reflections by Alice Walker about her work to re-member her community, her relationship with the Divine, and the world. It’s a book about reconciliation.
So this is a great parable for Lent, and an invitation into the final weeks of Lent to prayerfully examine which relationships need to be reconciled in our lives. As a matter of fact, reconciliation is what Lent is all about, and why I offer the opportunity for people to make private confession during Holy Week…so that we can move into a place of healing and well-being, so that we can be a new creation, so that we can be resurrected in Christ.
Archbishop Desmond Tutu is, I believe, a saint. His work on reconciliation has been life-altering for so many wounded and broken people in the world. On the topic of forgiveness and reconciliation he said, “without forgiveness there can be no future for a relationship between individuals…” Without forgiveness we exist in isolation. Without forgiveness, we are not as God had intended us to be.
I think Alice Walker was right when she said “anything we love can be saved” so long as we practice reconciliation.
I like to think that I enjoy gardening. This time of year, I start to get itchy about wanting to be in my tiny little green space outside, planting herbs and primroses, and watching to see if the crocuses are ready to bloom. But there’s a lot of work to do before I can begin to tend my garden. I need to sweep and remove the dead branches that have fallen over the fence. I have to weed. And I hate weeding. Right now, things in my little garden space look dead. It would be easy to pull it all up and scrap it. Maybe even plant grass or put the rock garden back in so I won’t have to mess with the little patch this year. But for some reason, I just can’t. The labor of love that is my little garden is a special place for me, and so I patiently wait, and watch, praying that things will bloom again this spring.
When Jesus is confronted with the questions of his followers about why bad things happen in this world, they are asking questions about sin. In the ancient world, it was believed that the sins of the father resulted in consequences that could last generations. So these people who are killed and had their blood mixed with the blood of sacrifices and those who had been crushed under a fallen building…were these tragedies the result of their sin or the sin of the generations before them? Jesus doesn’t respond to questions of blame. Instead he says that if we don’t repent of our sins, if we don’t experience a complete turning around or metanoia in our hearts, then we too will suffer consequences. It’s a simple lesson in cause and effect.
But Jesus wants his followers to know something about God’s judgment and grace. Instead of ending the teaching there, he takes it further with a parable about a fig tree. So let’s look at the parable again.
“A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard; and he came looking for fruit on it and found none. So he said to the gardener, ‘See here! For three years I have come looking for fruit on this fig tree, and still I find none. Cut it down! Why should it be wasting the soil?’ He replied, ‘Sir, let it alone for one more year, until I dig around it and put manure on it. If it bears fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.’”
For a long time, this parable was hard for me to relate to until I saw a fig tree in a friend’s back yard. The tree looked much like the trees do right now…no leaves, no buds about to bloom…just barren branches. And my friend said it had been that way for several years. But she was waiting, watering it, fertilizing it, pulling weeds from around its base, because she knew that one day, it would bud and begin to bear fruit.
God is like that with us. Sometimes, we become barren, unable to produce the fruit of goodness, charity, love. Sometimes we get bogged down with feelings of frustration and anger, and so we can’t produce anything beautiful as a result. Sometimes our doubt and worry prohibit us from enjoying life around us. And so, God patiently waits, tending to our weeds, watering and nurturing us, hoping that we will bloom. God doesn’t look at us and say, “Well, that person comes from a long line of sinners; they’re rotten to the root.” Instead, God sees that we all have potential to bloom and grow.
This parable is a reflection of God’s grace and love for us. God continues to give us the gifts that we need to do the work we’ve been called to do—to teach, to love, to bring about the Kingdom—the gifts that bring us into full relationship with God. One difference between us and the fig tree though is that the tree doesn’t have to recognize the water and fertilizer in order to do its work; we, on the other hand, have to open our hearts and minds to these gifts for them to work in us. And how do we recognize God’s fertilizer? God’s gifts are found in those things that are life-giving to us: the love we share with families, friends and neighbors, acts of kindness and generosity, prayer, meditation and being in community with each other and all of creation. The other difference between us and the fig tree is that we can choose to stay closed off to God’s nurturing love. We can choose not to bloom. We can choose not to have a metanoia. And when we make those choices, then yes, we will wither away, decay and die.
So here we are at the half-way point in Lent, continuing our journey to Jerusalem with Jesus. And we find ourselves presented with the option of accepting God’s fertilizer or ignoring it. Which do we choose? Being fertilized, accepting the call to discipleship, means that sometimes the road will be hard. Following Jesus to Jerusalem can be scary. It means being called out of our comfort zones to do mission work that might be challenging…like becoming gardeners to others. Or we can ignore God’s fertilizer and stay rooted in the way things are, only to find that it’s not life giving, but rather life ending. So which do we choose? I choose the fertilizer. I want to bear much fruit and then share it with someone else. I hope you’ll join me.
I don't know what the future of the church is, but I know that we will continue to be a place of sanctuary and hope, working towards healing in the world.