Lent Word #44: Die

  • Music video: Disturbed – Another Way To Die
  • Poem: Music when Soft Voices Die (To –) By Percy Bysshe Shelley
    Music, when soft voices die,
    Vibrates in the memory—
    Odours, when sweet violets sicken,
    Live within the sense they quicken.
    Rose leaves, when the rose is dead,
    Are heaped for the belovèd’s bed;
    And so thy thoughts, when thou art gone,
    Love itself shall slumber on.

Lent Word #42: Do

  • Music Video: I Do by Musiq Soulchild
  • Music Video: I Do by Jessie James Decker
  • Poem: Do Not! By Stevie Smith 
    Do not despair of man, and do not scold him,
    Who are you that you should so lightly hold him?
    Are you not also a man, and in your heart
    Are there not warlike thoughts and fear and smart?
    Are you not also afraid and in fear cruel,
    Do you not think of yourself as usual,
    Faint for ambition, desire to be loved,
    Prick at a virtuous thought by beauty moved?
    You love your wife, you hold your children dear,
    Then say not that Man is vile, but say they are.
    But they are not. So is your judgement shown
    Presumptuous, false, quite vain, merely your own
    Sadness for failed ambition set outside,
    Made a philosophy of, prinked, beautified
    In noble dress and into the world sent out
    To run with the ill it most pretends to rout.
    Oh know your own heart, that heart’s not wholly evil,
    And from the particular judge the general,
    If judge you must, but with compassion see life,
    Or else, of yourself despairing, flee strife.

Lent Word #41: Bread

  • Poem: Bread By W. S. Merwin
    for Wendell Berry
    Each face in the street is a slice of bread
    wandering on
    searching
    somewhere in the light the true hunger
    appears to be passing them by
    they clutch
    have they forgotten the pale caves
    they dreamed of hiding in
    their own caves
    full of the waiting of their footprints
    hung with the hollow marks of their groping
    full of their sleep and their hiding
    have they forgotten the ragged tunnels
    they dreamed of following in out of the light
    to hear step after step
    the heart of bread
    to be sustained by its dark breath
    and emerge
    to find themselves alone
    before a wheat field
    raising its radiance to the moon

Lent Day 45: ANSWER (revised)

In the Lenten season, today is sometimes called Good Friday or Holy Friday. It’s also known as the Day of Anunciation of our Lord. Today many faith communities hold vigil through the long hours we believe Jesus hung on the cross during his execution, dying. He called out to God from the cross. And then for a few days, his human voice was silenced by death and entombment.

How ironic that the word rising up in today’s texts is ANSWER. God is dying today. God is being silenced today. Like those first followers, we hold vigil through the emptiness and absence, where presence was once available. We are keeping watch through the hours when God couldn’t stand with us and answer us, not in the way we expected.

How often have we felt that same isolation and sense of abandonment? Of being left alone in the middle of chaos, without any calm or clarity, without any sense of support or solidarity? This feeling of being left behind, being left alone, to fend for ourselves and mourn and hurt and try to find a way to go on, is part of the Holy Week experience. It is part of the human experience.

On Easter Sunday, we will celebrate the truth that emptiness and absence are good news. That a tomb, once filled with a corpse, is empty. That God isn’t in the tomb anymore, but God’s love and grace are vital, real, palpable and returning to us.

On Good and Holy Friday, when we call out, it seems as if God isn’t answering. And while that may not be true, it feels like our lived reality. I’ve met plenty of people, in the hospital or in their own homes or even in the church sanctuary, who feel abandoned by God.

In the Book of Esther, Hebrew scholars point out that the name of God isn’t mentioned even once, yet a Jewish woman becomes a heroine, saving her people at risk of her own life. Looking at the text, the rabbis say that this is a metaphor for the times when God has been absent from the reality of Jewish lives, such as when they were in exile. And yet the people remained faithful to their covenant with God, worshipping and considering themselves chosen, trusting that God’s hand would move, that God’s power and presence would be revealed, and that their side of the relationship could be upheld, even when God wasn’t evident in the events of that story and the oppression they were experiencing. They found God in their deliverance.

During our Lenten explorations, we have considered praying as an act of dialogue with Godself. Yesterday I affirmed, again, my belief that God listens and ANSWERS.

We believe, in our faith tradition, that God continues to share revelations with people today. God’s answers didn’t end in the times recorded in the Bible. God listens and answers now, too. God speaks into our lives in this era, just as God spoke thousands of years ago.

Some of my colleagues hear God’s voice or God’s messengers, either as audible voices, internal leadings, or a dream or other form of message. Personally I often experience God’s influence through life events, and have to look backwards over the past, to identify the pattern of God’s response. I often recognize God’s tangible answer in hindsight.

Listening, and being in dialogue with God, takes practice. Like any form of spiritual exercise, it needs repetition and regular use to be most available to us.

On the other hand, God can hear our most desperate cries, even when we’re not usually in the habit of calling out to God. Anyone can pray. Any words will do. And no words are necessary. Prayer is also a bodily act. It’s an incarnate practice.  Just scream. Just hum. Just sigh. Just walk or dance or rock or hug or kneel or lay down or weep or laugh.

pray_for_others_shutterstock_92688232_1The other side of this ANSWER is that when God calls, we are asked to ANSWER. To respond.

So another question we may want consider is, when God calls out to us, do we answer, too? Are we even listening? Trust me, that’s a question I pose to myself regularly, as I discern my way in ministry.

Our relationship is reciprocal, at its best. God seeks us, we seek God. God listens, we listen back. We cry out, God responds. God calls, we answer.

Of course, we always have the choice. We can ignore the call. We can turn away, opting not to answer. Or we can turn toward the call, and say, YES.

Sometimes, like the Friday when we remember Jesus’ death, we are asked to persist through the silence. Raise our voices. Reach out. Seek connection with God. We may feel as if we’re being ignored or forgotten. We may not hear the reply right away. Yet assuredly, God is listening, and God will answer.

Selections from today’s lectionary:

  • Isaiah 52:15 — So he shall startle many nations; kings shall shut their mouths because of him; for that which had not been told them they shall see, and that which they had not heard they shall contemplate.
  • Isaiah 53:1 — Who has believed what we have heard? And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?
  • Isaiah 53:8 — All we like sheep have gone astray; we have all turned to our own way,
    and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.
  • Psalm 22: 2 — O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer; and by night, but find no rest.
  • Psalm 22: 8 —  “Commit your cause to the Lord; let him deliver— let him rescue the one in whom he delights!”
  • Psalm 22: 24 —  For he did not despise or abhor the affliction of the afflicted; he did not hide his face from me, but heard when I cried to him.
  • Hebrews 10: 8a — Then he added, “See, I have come to do your will.”
  • Hebrews 10: 16-17 — “This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, says the Lord:
    I will put my laws in their hearts, and I will write them on their minds,”  he also adds, “I will remember their sins and their lawless deeds no more.”
  • Hebrews 10: 23  — Let us hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who has promised is faithful.
  • John 18:4-5 — Then Jesus, knowing all that was to happen to him, came forward and asked them, “Whom are you looking for?” They answered, “Jesus of Nazareth.” Jesus replied, “I am he.”
  • John 18:23 —  Jesus answered, “If I have spoken wrongly, testify to the wrong. But if I have spoken rightly, why do you strike me?”
  • John 18:37 —  Pilate asked him, “So you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.”

Lent Day 44: SERVANT

Today is Maundy Thursday of the Holy or Passion Week. As we have mentioned in many postings during Lent, sometimes the scriptures turn our ideas upside down. In today’s texts, we consider the call to be a SERVANT.

washingfeet1This call first asks that we be willing to have others serve us, as well as to be served. It’s harder than you’d think, to be the one that needs or allows someone else to care and support you. It’s hard to accept help, even by having someone else cook for you or wash your feet. After all, letting someone else wash your feet requires that you expose yourself, make yourself vulnerable, and put yourself into someone else’s hands, someone else’s care.

For many of us, it’s easier to be the one doing such tasks for someone else. In fact, even when we are called to be SERVANTS, as long as we’re doing something for someone else, like fixing a problem or taking action, we often feel empowered and somewhat in control.

On the other hand, sometimes it’s tough to be willing to humble yourself to the role of SERVANT. There’s an awesome column in the April 2016 Rotary magazine about an airline executive in an expensive suit, who came to deliver airline tickets to Mother Theresa of Calcutta. He was directed back to the toilets, where she was scrubbing them. Not missing a beat, she assumed he was a volunteer, so she handed him a brush and showed him what to do, and left him there to scrub toilets. He told that story for the rest of his life, because for that brief span of time, he was part of her work and mission.

Those with the greatest earthly political and social authority and power are called to be SERVANTS and disciples, just as are the most humble. Our faith calls us to an ethical accountability to each other, from those we love dearly to those we have never met. We are also responsible for creation’s well-being, starting with this planet.

Jesus’ final commandment, which is one of today’s texts, gives the standard by which we measure our service. It is rooted and channeled as love for one another, as Jesus loved us.

This may sound simple enough, but think about a lifetime of scrubbing toilets for thousands of sick people, and it may take on a new perspective. Yet we don’t all dedicate lifetimes to such pursuits, but we can set aside segments of time and attention to support such work, one way or another. That has certainly been an invitation of Lent.

As God’s people, we are asked to submit, by choice, to the love and leadership of God. In ancient Hebrew writings, this submission was directed toward God, often through God’s representatives, and often in sacred spaces such as the temple. Kings, queens, priests, judges (some judges were women) and prophets bowed their heads, made their confessions, offered their sacrifices, followed the law, and raised up their praise to One with greater power than they could embody. In Gospel texts, submission comes by following God through the embodied, incarnate presence of Christ, who calls himself a servant to those who follow him.

Today, on Maundy Thursday, faith communities offer many spiritual practices that allow us to serve each other. Below are some of them:

  • Prepare suppers: light meals at common tables. Often we feature bread and soup. We are cooking and preparing food together, and offering it to each other, serving and feeding one another. We are enacting the final commandment, the great commandment of Christ, to love one another.
  • Celebrate communion today, moving from the shared meal to the shared sacrament. During communion, also called eucharist, we offer bread and wine (or juice) as the formal elements.
    Hopefully our tables are open and welcoming to everyone. This remains a challenge for many churches, who impose limits on those who are formally invited to partake of the sacraments.
    Together we remember and bring into this moment: the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus whose whole existence was an act of servitude and passionate teaching and risk-taking for justice and outpouring of transformative love and tender grace.
  • Offer foot-washing tonight, following along with the act of servitude and blessing that Jesus offered his followers after the passover seder meal, which we call the Last Supper. This appears in today’s texts.
    Jesus washed his friends’ feet physically with water and towel, and washed their lives symbolically, purifying them and blessing them and consecrating them to ministry.
  • Prayers will be offered. Ultimately we are seeking “help”, sighing “thanks”, and shouting “wow.” These are the three essential human prayers as suggested by Anne Lamott. Whether spoken aloud or in silent meditation, alone or in community, prayer will open a dialogue between us and Godself, who is eager to be in a relationship with us, and will welcome and hold whatever we share, spoken or unspoken.
    God listens. We may not see or know the response we receive, until we look backward across events. And I can admit, we may not like the answer we receive. Yet I believe God hears and answers all prayers.
  • Read sacred texts. We can listen to the ancient Biblical stories of our spiritual ancestors, and how they approached encounters with holiness. We can hear the messy, imperfect human ways we bungled our lives and communities, and God found ways to heal and redeem us, whenever possible.
  • Creatively express ourselves in worship. We will make artistic offerings of dance and music and poetry and many other creative mediums.
    In this way, we use  Spirit-given gifts to tell stories to each other, inspired by the themes and events of this Holy Week. Through our witnessing to each other, God continues to speak into our lives, not just through ancient texts, but in new expressions.

Selections from today’s lectionary:

  • Psalm 116: 18a — O Lord, I am your servant.
  • I Corinthians 11: 24 — And when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.”
  • John 13: 5 — Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was tied around him.
  • John 13: 8-9 — Peter said to him, “You will never wash my feet.” Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no share with me.” Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!”
  • John 13:34 —  I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.  By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

Lent Day 40: CHOSEN

palms In today’s readings, we hear many claims of people being anointed and raised up as leaders, such as King David. And we listen to the prophecy of a coming Messiah. We also hear God’s promise to a whole nation of people, not just those descended from Abraham, but those who share in that same love and faith.

The definition of CHOSEN is broken open, wider and wider, with every generation. Grace overflows. It cannot be limited or contained by our categories and linguisitic terms. Who is CHOSEN by God? As ever, I am grateful that God has the final word, not me.

And yet, I believe the invitation to be in relationship with God, and the work of the Holy Spirit all over the world, channeling the embodied love of Christ, is bigger than we can imagine, and will not be stopped. Christ could not be stopped by locked doors or fearful hearts, when he returned from death. That love will not be stopped by our national borders or political barriers or human desire to control and dictate who belongs inside or outside the circle of community.

Today is also Palm Sunday. In this part of the Lenten cycle, the beginning of what we call Passion Week, we focus on stories of Jesus riding into Jerusalem on a white pony or donkey.large_the-problem-of-palm-sunday It echoes the path of a king coming home. Or offers an inversion of that story. At First Church in Ipswich, MA, the congregation walks along the Ipswich river behind a rider on a pony. We sing and carry palms, waving them, recreating a small measure of the jubilee this day must have offered to Jesus and his followers, at least for a short time.

Yet this attention, this triumphal process 2,000 years ago, also heightened tensions in an occupied city, governed by a distant emperor, with uneasy governors in power there.  This procession could be considered political, so that it drew attention to a man who already risked his life. Indeed, the nature of his death was a political execution. So along with the Hosannas of Palm Sunday, we hear underlying concern for what is coming next.

When we turn toward a connection with God, and sometimes even when we would rather say no, we are each CHOSEN. We are adopted and desired and beloved of God.

Excerpts from today’s lectionary:

  • Psalm 89: 3– You said, “I have made a covenant with my chosen one,I have sworn to my servant David.
  • Psalm 89: 19b-20a –I have exalted one chosen from the people.
     I have found my servant David.
  • Romans 4: 16 –For this reason it depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed to all his descendants, not only to the adherents of the law but also to those who share the faith of Abraham (for he is the father of all of us.
  • Matthew 1: 21 — She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.