Good Friday 2019

I know I make a lot of jokes about spoilers this time of year—do we know what’s going to happen on Friday afternoon? Do we know what’s going to happen early Sunday morning? Shhhh…don’t tell anyone, let them be surprised! It’s silly because we all know. New life is coming, resurrection and alleluias and plants bursting into flower and gosh if we don’t need it. It’s dark in the corners of our lives, the fire and cruelty of the world is getting to us. And even with all the tree pollen, we want that beauty and possibility springing forth, of course we do. And it’s still here, even in the darkness of Gethsemane, even in Jesus’ own doubt that this is the next good thing, even in our senses of abandonment and betrayal—the light shines in the darkness and the darkness did not overcome it.

But

It is Good Friday. It is the day of death and darkness and gloom and suffering. This is the day that you will hear sermons about how God needed and wanted Jesus’ suffering, about how the blood of the crucifixion somehow washes us clean. About how our sin makes God so very angry and it’s only Jesus, who is like God, who can stand between us and the wrath to come.

I know this is scripture. I know it’s in the book. But I’m not sure this is what God’s like. “It was God’s will to crush him with pain,” says Isaiah. Was it? or was he crushed with pain and our way of understanding it is to say God wanted it. And then if God wants it, if God needs sacrifice and blood, then it makes sense that we would keep doing it. As much as Jesus was sacrificing himself for others—selfless, beautifully tragic—it’s still a sacrifice, still about a bloodthirsty God. 

The reading from Isaiah is one of many readings which say flat out that God desires suffering. “It was the will of the Lord to crush him with pain,” and “Through him the will of the Lord shall prosper.” Now, I am troubled by this. Troubled doesn’t even cover it. Disgusted. Mostly because humans have used lines like this forever to justify the cruelties we inflict on each other and as excuses not to be compassionate. It’s God’s will. I’m not even talking about the platitudes we offer when someone’s in the hospital. Literally, the good Christian men who came from Europe to America in those early days saw it as a sign of divine favor and of God’s glory that the native peoples succumbed to disease so quickly and that the Europeans were able to kill the rest and take control of the land so quickly. I’m not making this up—we have countless primary sources in their own hands and with the blessing of the Church attesting to it. Pain and suffering were justified by a God who desires them.

This reading and the other Suffering Servant passages from Isaiah are part of the Christian story about Jesus the Christ—we say that they’re foreshadowing him. Obviously he is the lamb led to the slaughter, obviously it is by Jesus’ bruises we are healed. There are a year’s worth of sermons on the complexity of Isaiah, but let me just say this: it’s not necessarily bad that we see Jesus here, but it wasn’t written about him. It’s most likely the suffering servant is the people of Israel as a whole. Their history is one of suffering and crying out to God, Isaiah was writing to the people who were just returned from Exile in Babylon. The temple was destroyed, the exiles were returning, and the whole culture and landscape was in shambles. What to make of the last 75 years? Why, why had God allowed this? Why were their children and parents dead and the house of Adonai a rubble? Where was God?

Isaiah says, “We the people of Israel have not suffered pointlessly—there is meaning here. Our suffering will create new life. We will not suffer forever.” This is beautiful and this is necessary. We need meaning-making to survive and this is the job of religion. This is what Isaiah is doing for Israel and partly what we’re doing gathered here to bear witness to the death of an innocent man. We are trying to answer the question “why”: why did Jesus have to die? Why is this happening to us? Why is this happening to my son or my neighbor? Why?

Suffering…exists. Sometimes it’s because of one person’s actions, sometimes its institutionalized, sometimes it just is and seeing it is enough. It’s just…a part of existence.

But we are adept at not seeing suffering, of scrolling past, of justifying our own pain as not worth paying attention to or justifying another’s pain as their fault or they should have known better or they’re not as human as we are. This kind of scapegoating and even willful ignorance is not confined to the distant past, it’s not confined to Jesus’ sacrifice. 

It’s children in cages at the border, miserable, sick, and even dying literally of thirst. Their suffering is Jesus’ suffering. 

It’s young people bullied for their looks or gender or ability who can’t stand to face another day. Their suffering is Jesus’ suffering.

It’s a whole generation of gay men wiped out of existence because our politicians and indeed the whole country ignored the HIV epidemic. We even mocked them publicly, like those who mocked Jesus on the cross. Their suffering is Jesus’ suffering.

I’ve started going weekly to the Hamilton County Jail with my colleague Daniel Hughes. He’s pastor of Incline Missional Church in Price Hill. We’re part of a group working to help incarcerated men be less likely to reoffend, but more than that, we’re trying to help them thrive, to have life abundant. Some of these guys have done really hurtful things. Others have been dumb or have trusted the wrong people. Some just can’t pay a speeding ticket, but also can’t pay bail, so they’re in jail for months until their hearing. And some, some are there because the justice system has to have somebody. Daniel said that thing yesterday as we were talking about the Last Supper and the arrest of Jesus, he said it about Jesus, but he also said it about the guys in the room. The system needed a victim. All the guys in that room nodded sadly. They know. It’s not just Jesus, it wasn’t just that once.

Don’t get me wrong, It’s true that we have within us the power to destroy ourselves and each other and all of Creation, it’s true we need to turn from these ways. It’s even true that God gets angry. And there’s something powerful and transformative and unnameable that happened on Good Friday, and there is something powerful and transformative and unnameable about Jesus. But he didn’t stop suffering with his own. And I don’t think he meant to. He showed us what our self-interest does to people. He showed us how all our systems are built on violence, every one of them. He showed us what our lust and greed and sloth do to the whole of Creation—he was mirroring back to us the way we find someone to blame, someone to mock, someone to drive to despair so that we will see them as he does. All of them. In the crucifixion narratives, the crowd is asked what to do with this Jesus of Nazareth, and they shout back “crucify him, crucify him!” Friends, sometimes we are the crucified, punished by our sins or for no reason at all, but just as often, we are the ones doing the crucifying.

For now, the light is departing this world. Jesus, our brother, is betrayed into the hands of us poor sinners.

Footwashing: yay or nay?

All may, some should, none must.

We say this before NOSH every week at the Edge House as an invitation for the assembly to participate as is helpful to them. Everyone is invited to participate regardless of who they are and what they’re carrying. Some of us perhaps shouldengage with certain parts, but that awareness is up to the individual to be honest with yourself. And no one is required to participate. This invitation at NOSH applies equally to the traditional footwashing service on Maundy Thursday.

“Footwashing?” you might be saying to yourself. “Really? We don’t do that here, it’s too uncomfortable.” Or maybe some of you are saying to yourself, “Finally! I’m so excited!” Two of Good Shepherd’s pastors represent each end of this scale.

Footwashing makes Pastor Alex’s skin crawl: it’s far too intimate, it requires far too much vulnerability, and to be perfectly honest, it’s gross. When Jesus wrapped that towel around his waist and started washing his disciples’ feet at the Last Supper, they were weirded out, too. Peter, appalled by what Jesus was doing, said, “No, man, you can’t wash my feet!” As much as Alex can agree that vulnerability, intimacy, and getting to the real nitty-gritty of service is what Jesus had in mind for his disciples to help them grow in faith, he sides with Peter’s first reaction to this challenge. Even more than that, he would say, “No, absolutely not. Not only will you NOT wash my feet, I will make certain guarantees that if you touch my feet, we are never making eye contact again.” He hastens to add that he understands how helpful the practice is to others and he’s happy to be in the room.

Meanwhile, Pastor Alice loves everything about footwashing. The vulnerability, the spaciousness around waiting for the next person to approach, the gift both of having your own feet washed as well as of washing someone else’s, even the deep awkwardness of it. And don’t get us wrong, it isawkward. But that’s actually part of the point. It was awkward back then, it’s awkward now. When something’s awkward, it means there’s something real and vulnerable happening, and God is in the midst of it. As someone who thinks of herself as self-sufficient, Alice finds receiving care from someone else humbling and spiritually-filling. Like being in the woods or looking up to a startlingly-blue sky, she feels like she can breathe clearly again. 

Where are you on the scale of Pastor “absolutely not” Alex to Pastor “yes, please” Alice? Are you somewhere in the middle? Do you find yourself leaning towards the “none must” end of things or seeing within yourself a sense of “some should” and a need to try it out? Wherever you find yourself, please come to the Edge House’s Maundy Thursday observance on April 11 at 7:30pm including a light “Agape” dinner. All are invited to eat, to pray or meditate, to have your feet washed, or just to observe. Perhaps some of you should engage with it. And no one must.

thoughts on pilgrimage

Some students and I are planning a pilgrimage to the church at Santiago de Compostela via “el Camino,” “the Way.” It’s an ancient series of footpaths for medieval pilgrims to walk towards the church. It occurs to me that many people, including a lot of us going on the trip, don’t really know what pilgrimage is, and in particular, how it’s different from a vacation.

1

There are definitely overlaps between pilgrimage and other kinds of travel. You might find yourself on a pilgrimage for a day while ostensibly on a business trip because you suddenly saw something that put you in that space. Or you might have the best of intentions for a pilgrimage you’ve planned and find spiritual transformation around every corner, yet still have touristy moments.

2

It’s a question of your purpose, or your intention. A pilgrimage is a journey to a place of special spiritual significance. The journey part implies some distance from home. Certainly, it is also spiritual distance from one’s home headspace, but you get the idea. The place might be one of suffering and disaster like Ground Zero or a concentration camp, it might be a place where an historical event that’s deeply relevant to you happened (Montgomery, Alabama or The Stonewall bar in New York City). It might be a place of natural wonder where the physical world seems to butt up against the spiritual one (a thin place, our Irish brothers and sisters call it), or a more obviously religious place like Chartres Cathedral or Mecca. One’s coop experience might even be a pilgrimage if approached from that intentional perspective and the location is somehow specially spiritual.

3

We go on pilgrimage, not to say we’ve been there but to be transformed. This doesn’t mean that we won’t talk about it afterwards or that we won’t take photos while we’re there, but it does mean that we consider our intention and our openness to what the place will show us. See, again, the first point about overlap.

4

The primary intention is to be in the presence of the divine in a way we don’t see every day. Simply being in that presence changes how we interact with the people around us and with our life at home. It is meant to be transformative.

5

Let me share quickly about the pilgrimage the Edge House took to Denver, Colorado a few years ago. We slept on the floor of a church there in Denver and volunteered with the Boulder parks department for three days. At the beginning of the week, we attended worship at House for All Sinners and Saints, a small Lutheran congregation with a hugely diverse congregation, semi-famous/infamous pastor (Nadia Bola-Weber), delightful a cappella singing, and a major influence on how we do things at the Edge House. The space itself wasn’t super-fancy, but being in community with the people, singing in parts and praying surprisingly specifically for some of their members was a wonderful start for the week. One of our work days was cancelled because of a blizzard, so we ended up looking around for a labyrinth to walk (google it—I’ll blog another time about those, but they’re meant to be mini-pilgrimages!). We found one at the local Children’s Hospital in their quiet, well-designed interfaith chapel. We found another labyrinth in the lobby of a huge office building with an amazing art gallery just off the lobby. We walked that one, too. After work the next day, we drove up in to the Rockies to stay in a cabin at the YMCA of the Rockies. Nat, one of the students who went that year, upon looking out our windows at the stupidly-beautiful mountains, said, “How is this even in our country?” Those mountains are so much bigger, colder, harder, more colorful, and more beautiful than we could have imagined. God’s fingerprints were all over them.

Additionally, we had several difficult conversations while on the journey, some related to being in close-quarters for a week, others related to our ongoing relationships, and we cared for each other the whole time. Each moment of this trip (well, maybe not every one) served to open us up to something bigger than ourselves. And we chose to go on this journey so that that would happen. We went on this pilgrimage with the intention to be changed by it, and we were.

sermon on sabbatical, weeding, and love (also Ephesians)

It’s good to be back here with y’all. 

I feel like I should ask you how your summers have been? 

[really chat this one up] 

And how have you changed since the beginning of summer? 

[answers, probably way fewer]

Interesting how summer isn’t the same season of infinite possibility 

it was when many of us were kids—

it’s got pockets of rest and possibility, 

but for a lot of us summer is the same as not-summer. 

It’s been a bit different for me this year, 

since I’m returning from three months of sabbatical.

A whole bunch of people have asked me what I’ve been up to and what’s different after some time apart. I’ll tell you: rest and recalibration. I also feel like I should lay my cards on the table and say I’m excited for the next years of ministry at UC and with you—I love this job and I’m not leaving any time soon.

This summer, I’ve been weeding. All of the things. I haven’t really focused on my garden for a couple of years so, even though the structure is there and there are a ton of beautiful flowers, the weeds have settled in for the long-haul. You know those ones you try to pull up but only get the top, and you know the root is lurking down there, biding its time and getting even bigger and harder to get out? Those ones. I weeded my back-yard flower beds, re-dug and planted my vegetable garden, removed five overgrown bushes from the front, pulled out piles of poison ivy and English ivy, turned my compost, and was attacked by rose bushes—did you know they’re carnivorous? It’s true! It’s all hot, sweaty work. I imagine there are some of you who think that sounds like torture or the opposite of what a restful season should be. I love it.When the soil is just moist enough that you can pull things up by the roots easily, or that moment when you’ve been struggling with a particularly difficult root and it suddenly releases and you’ve got this massive root in your hands? Makes me feel like I could do anything! I also find weeding to be extraordinarily meditative. It’s just me and the dirt, my thoughts slowing down and lingering. Y’all know I’m an intense and immediate kind of person, so taking the time to breathe and just be out there in Creation is a gift. One of my favorite things to do was just to sit on a bench out there and appreciate the garden for itself, partially weeded, blooming, shady, a work in progress.

You know I’m not just talking about plants here in church, I’m talking about souls. There are plants in my garden that never should have been planted and which, once rooted, are almost impossible to remove. English ivy and xenophobia, wild violets and greed, false indigo and lust—we could all do with a little weeding and pruning.

This summer, I worked in my interior garden, reshaping the edges, pulling out things that take up resources but don’t give back, fertilizing things that bear fruit and flowers. Did you do any of that work this summer? I said back in the spring that sabbatical isn’t just for the one taking it—it’s for the whole community. We all need to rest and look at our lives from a wider angle. Resting from our labors for a season—fallow time farmers call it—is also about discernment. It’s the “so what” moment—this is what our lives look like, this is what the world looks like, so what? What is the next good thing God is calling us to? What are we doing with this one wild and precious life?

Three days in to the sabbatical, Leighton and I were laughing in the kitchen about something and he said to me, “Oh, there she is,” like I’d been living in the shadow of a huge branch that had just been pruned. It wasn’t an accusation from my loving husband, not a finger-wagging judgment, just an awareness. I wondered, “Where haveI been?” Friends, where have youbeen? What branches are shading you from the light of community and connection and God? What’s keeping Good Shepherd as a whole in the shadows?

This reading from the letter to the Ephesians seems to be a laundry list of things to do to make our garden flourish. The writer is intent less on an accusation to the church in Ephesus and more on reminding them that they’re part of the same body, if you want to continue the metaphor, part of the same garden. They won’t be perfect, they and we don’t live up to the standards there—be angry but do not sin, do not grieve the Holy Spirit, forgive one another. I mean, sometimes, yeah. But not always, not as much as we want. Not even in the very moment when we want, sometimes. But it’s not a demand or an ultimatum, it’s a plea, or, maybe more accurately, an invitation. “Walk in love,” the writer says, “as Christ loved us.” Some translate it “live in love,”—it’s about your motivation, your ground of being. For ancient Jews, walking with God meant faithfulness, attention, intention. And not in the “road to hell is paved with them” kind of way, not the surface, “Bless her heart.” Walking in love is a way of being that doesn’t rule out mistakes or hurting each other. Walking in love is about the art of attention and the art of the possible. What is good in your inner garden for building up rather than tearing down? What couldbe?

I came back briefly this summer for Judy Herman’s funeral. I sat up in the corner of the balcony and sang and listened and wept. I had a moment during that service—maybe because I’d come directly from my garden, maybe because I hadn’t seen y’all for a while, maybe because God just knew I needed a little push—when I saw the transcendent. Perhaps it was a vision. It’s something I’ve experienced before, but rarely. I looked around at all the beautiful people there—all the people who’ve come to my classes, who’ve cooked for NOSH, who’ve been grumpy with me for a sermon or with each other for whatever sins we commit, who’ve struggled with addiction or self-righteousness or depression, all of you beautiful people tall or short or dark or light—it was the briefest of moments that felt like deep water, a moment of sudden love and connection for everyone in this room, whether you were in that room or not, if you follow me. And it expanded beyond this room for just the briefest of moments, a span of time I couldn’t really define, to include all of the church—traditional and progressive and evangelical and Pentecostal and American and African and the past and the future—I saw for just a moment the great cloud of witnesses and the created, physical bodies of us, the church, and indeed it was very good. It was unapologetically a “kumbaya” moment.

We will sin against each other again. We will deny our own needs and the needs of others. We will allow our vision to be clouded with partisanship and fears of scarcity. We are not perfect, but we are perfectly-suited to love.

I am aware of the trite endings of things like Harry Potter where the big twist is that love saved the day. Spoilers. It doesn’t always. The absolute love of God protects us from nothing—the bad things still happen to presumably good people. BUT, but. Love is what allows us to live with those things, what encourages us in the middle of them to keep going, what invites us in the face of deplorable situations to look for possibilities. Love, the love that is God and the love that comes from God, is about curiosity, welcome, spaciousness. There is no border for that love. 

The letter to the Ephesians could be read as a checklist of who’s in and who’s out, but that is such a narrow, unChristlike way to read it. Just as the flowers in my garden unfurl themselves towards the sun, opening up to receive, so Ephesians invites us to unfurl our selves, our souls and bodies towards God.

Theologian and mystic Jim Finley writes, “Let’s say you are sitting in prayer and using your breath as the prayer. As you inhale you listen to God saying I love you. When you breathe out you exhale I love you: you give yourself to the love that gives itself to you.”

“This is not saying that you are not in pain, that you are not sad or confused; nor is it saying that you don’t need to deal with these things.” Instead, “we are grounded in the courage that empowers us to touch the hurting places.”

We are part of something bigger than ourselves, bigger than what we can see, whose architecture and purpose is love and connection. We will perpetrate violence of all kinds against each other, and yet we are members of one another, leaning like plants towards the light of the sun. 

I’ll leave you with a poem by Dame Julian of Norwich, a mystic and woman of great wisdom and faith who died in 1416:

“Be a gardener. 
Dig a ditch
toil and sweat, 
and turn the earth upside down
and see the deepness
and water the plants in time. 
Continue this labor
and make sweet floods to run
and noble and abundant fruits to spring. 
Take this food and drink
and carry it to God
as your true worship.”

 

May it be so.

Maundy Thursday sermon about endings and beginnings. But mostly endings.

A very long time ago,

a man and his friends sat down at a table for dinner.

They had been through a lot together, these friends.

They had given up a lot to be together—more than they knew.

They ate together most nights

and because it was the celebration of the Passover,

of course they would meet again

—nothing was out of the ordinary.

Something was coming—they all felt it—

but they didn’t know what.

The men and women around the table talked and joked

with the comfort of brothers and sisters.

They ate slowly,

savoring the plates of lamb, eggs, bitter herbs,

and unleavened bread they passed.

They drank wine and delighted in one another’s company.

 

And at the same time, even longer ago,

the people called the Israelites sat down for dinner.

In Egypt, in slavery.

They had been through a lot together already, these people.

They had given up a lot

—and had had a lot taken from them to be together—

more than they knew.

They ate together most nights, but this night was special.

They ate with their shoes and hats on,

their walking sticks in their hands,

their luggage packed for a journey. 

They ate quickly,

pausing only to pray to God for mercy.

They barely tasted the bread and wine and bitter herbs.

And they ate in both fear and excitement.

 

And at the same time, far in the future,

a group of brothers and sisters sat down at a table for dinner.

They had been through a lot together, these brothers and sisters.

They had given up a lot to be together—more than they knew.

They didn’t eat together very often any more, not as a whole group

at least not in one another’s houses.

But they did meet every week

to pass a plate of bread and a cup of wine.

They loved one another deeply

and yet didn’t quite know what to do about it

in the vast and changed world.

They talked and joked with the intimacy of family

and remembered all the times they’d eaten together,

every meal for 2,000 years.

They knew something was coming,

they knew what it was

—had heard the story, too, for 2,000 years—

yet they didn’t understand it, didn’t really know their part.

They ate, loving one another, loving God,

loving what they thought they knew.

 

*    *    *

 

The man and his friends, a very long time ago,

were about to depart:

the man would depart this life and he grieved to think about it;

his friends would depart from each other and from him,

running away in fear and grief.

Only Judas would have the courage of his convictions

and only the women would return.

    The man knew that this departure, this ending

would also be a beginning

        And he knew that beginning would not make the end less painful

    His friends knew something was ending

        Maybe they thought the rule of the Roman oppressors was ending

        Maybe they thought their poverty and directionlessness were ending

        They didn’t know that this would be their last dinner together

            That this was the last meal of a condemned man

            That this last supper would feed them in the wilderness

 

And at the same time, that people called the Israelites, even longer ago,

    Were about to depart:

        They would depart from Egypt and the slavery they had endured

        They would depart from the life they had known,

oppressive as it had been

and embark on a long journey into the wilderness

        but before they left, they covered their doorposts with blood

marking their homes

so that the angel of death would pass over them

they killed the lamb, and ate it in fear and joy

    grieving the loss of their old life,

ready to leave for a new life

terrified by what was happening outside their doors

    this people had leaders, brothers named Moses and Aaron and their sister Miriam

        they knew that this departure, this ending

            Would also be a beginning

        And they knew they would not survive this new story

They knew this beginning would not make the ending less painful

 

And at the same time, far in the future,

    The brothers and sisters gathered here were about to depart

    They didn’t know it

        They thought their weekly meal was comfort and beauty and joy

            And it was

        But it was also the last supper before the storm

    They would eat hastily, knowing something was coming

        They would pray to God to pass them over

            Marking their foreheads with ash

            And their hearts with regret

    These brothers and sisters are the ekklesia, the church

the gathering of people

the people, literally, “called out” of our normal lives.

We are that beloved community

    we will depart from the empire, from nation

from mammon,

from the way we’ve always done things

we are always on the move, always at an ending and a beginning

        our weekly supper of bread and wine

will be food for the journey

        our love for one another will sustain us in the wilderness

 

*    *    *

 

This [gesture to table] is the end, brothers and sisters.

    We will eat our meal together hastily,

our shoes on our feet and our walking sticks in our hands,

our luggage packed

    For we have been called to witness to the world

    We have been called to an ending

    We will depart from this place like the Apostles—the ones Jesus sent out

    We will leave the expectations of the world like the Israelites left Egypt

        We will travel in circles where our calling is foolish

            Where we will look ridiculous

for insisting on love and compassion and justice

            Where we will be insulted and misunderstood

            Where we will be desperately hungry for more than bread

    Every time we eat this meal together,

        We remember every other time we have eaten together for 4,000 years

        And every time we eat this meal together,

            God is present with us

            Jesus returns

    God is with us on this journey

        We are not alone

 

Yet, for now, it seems God has abandoned us

    We cannot see or feel God

    We feel battered and bruised

        By the Story we enact this week

        By its contradictions and problems

    The light is departing this world

        Jesus, our brother,

            Is betrayed into the hands of us poor sinners.

thoughts about protest and the Westboro Baptist Church

So, Westboro Baptist Church is protesting at my university today. And our administration, at last check, has said nothing to condemn them.

Obviously, Westboro has free speech rights and I will indeed fight for those, though what they say is reprehensible. But why hasn't our new president or other university leadership spoken out against Westboro's message? Wouldn't there be a statement if the KKK decided to rally in front of the African American Cultural Resource Center? Why is it so hard to condemn hate now? What are we afraid of? There is so much false equivalence and fear of taking a stand, that there is no stand taken. Friends, if we get it wrong, we can admit it. But not taking a stand against hate, as many better-spoken people before me have said, is just as bad as speaking the hate itself. UC, speak up.

To be clear, I don't think the speaking up needs to be a loud counter-protest. I know that will happen as it always does with Westboro and others. The problem is that's precisely what they're after. The more loud and violent the reaction, the more they feel they're doing right. The best way to make clear that their message is ridiculous is to let them yell into the void. No one showing up for their shindig, or hundreds staring silently at them. Or even the German response to Nazi marches of turning them into walk-a-thons for various anti-facist charities. Make it clear that their message is not our message, then take the wind out of their sails, don't yell back.

 

I will be on campus today with my campus ministry's red couch (it's on wheels--fun!) to be present to those who want to talk and to direct folks to other activities that are happening elsewhere on campus. Pray for all of us, Westboro Baptist Church included, that we may have our hearts broken open.

retro: a sermon about Thomas, weeping, and resurrection from lil seminarian Alice

Baruch attah adonai elohenu melech ha-olam.

Blessed are you, Lord our God, ruler of eternity.  Amen.

*   *   *

we will begin on page 491 of the Book of Common Prayer

Dearly beloved, we are gathered here today to remember the life of our brother Jesus.

Our brother Jesus who once said:

“I am the Resurrection and I am the Life, whoever has faith in me shall have life, even though he die.  And everyone who has life, and has committed himself to me in faith, shall not die forever.

“As for me, I know that my Redeemer lives and that at the last he will stand upon the earth.  After my awaking, he will raise me up; and in my body I shall see God.  I myself shall see, and my eyes behold him who is my friend and not a stranger.”

Our brother Jesus     is dead.

 

I talked with brother Thomas yesterday and he said a curious thing to me—he said

“What’s it gonna take for you people to admit we were wrong?  He’s dead!  You’re all blind.”

We’re all grieving, maybe Thomas more than the rest

It’s easy to say that everyone’s got to go sometime—Moses died, Sarah and Rebekah, the Prophets, John the Baptizer, St. Ignatius, Julian of Norwich, Oscar Romero—we know this—but how do we deal with the pain?

We want to shut out what we’ve seen, the horror of Jesus’ execution

We want to fill in the hole that his death has left in our chests

Thomas has been weeping for days, angry, denying, he’s retreated into himself, refusing to eat or associate with us

For our part, our faces are beginning to ache from the false smiles we wear

pretending that everything is going according to plan
that we are not being hunted

that no one is hungry

that women and children are not still beaten by their husbands

and that Jesus absence is only temporary

he’s gone to get reinforcements

chin up…

We are blind—going through the motions of life, our eyes squeezed shut so we can’t see that he’s not here

A part of us is dead, gone—we closed his eyes and buried him

 

 

that day we were baptized—was it only a few weeks ago?—

we went down to the Jordan

the sun was bright, so bright we couldn’t see

But there was a cooling breeze

And we waded into the water to meet this Jesus

Not knowing what we were getting into

and one by one we went under the water

thinking it was a lark

and one by one we arose, our eyes wide and shining with love and tears, our hearts full

 

And where did that get us?

We didn’t know what was coming

Even then we were blind

How could he abandon us like that?

Was it all a dream?

Is Thomas right to ignore us?

Maybe he’s asking the same questions:

The things Jesus said…were they real and as powerful as they felt?  Or were they just clever?

This life he called us to

—this priesthood?—

is this really where we’re supposed to be?

This relationship we had—it was a living thing, greater than either of us         wasn’t it?

Did he ever really love me?

 

(Long pause)

 

Last night…I still don’t know about this…last night       we saw Jesus

I mean, we thought so—It’s all a little foggy, like we were watching through mist—I don’t know, the doors were locked and all—course he always used to surprise us with his comings and goings so…

 

And he blessed us and he looked at us all and he kind of sighed and (I don’t know) I kind of felt better, like some of the hole was gone

I don’t know—it’s crazy

 

But tonight—somehow we got Brother Thomas to stay with us

He wouldn’t listen to us when we told him about before

—and he was sitting in a corner, arms folded, eyes closed, looking like he’d gone to sleep angry

 

And suddenly, Jesus was there

And blessing us and we knew last night wasn’t a dream and he walked over to Thomas and he said

“I am the Resurrection, Thomas, I am the Life”

And Thomas    opened     hiseyes

And they were full of tears and love and so…so wide…

And Jesus said,

“Thomas—here are my wounds, touch them.”

And Thomas arose, shedding the layers of grief and doubt, letting the waters of his baptism flow down his cheeks

—and he remembered all he had seen and done with this Jesus, all the words

 

—and he didn’t touch him (not then anyway)

And he said,

“My Lord   and my God

I know that my redeemer lives

And my eyes behold him

Who is my friend and not a stranger

My Lord    and my God.”

 

Amen.