Lent Day 39: PASSOVER

In anticipation of the coming Passion Week, which is the holiest week of Christianity between Palm Sunday and Easter, we are reminded that Jesus celebrated PASSOVER with his friends. It was a Jewish ritual.

This seder meal is an act of remembrance of the Jews suffering in Egypt, and God’s act of liberation: freeing the Jewish slaves in the time of Exodus. The great Hebrew narrative goes on to tell of Moses’ leadership through his people’s times of trial and being lost in the wilderness, and acknowledges their wandering and forgetting the covenant with God, and celebrates receiving the ten commandments, and coming to their promised land.

This seder meal continues to be celebrated by Jews each year. Over time and layered by Christian tradition, we now symbolically honor a form of the seder meal as communion: our Last Supper. And during Passion Week, our Maundy Thursday supper is often a seder meal, similar to what we understand was shared by Jesus and his followers.

Below is a diagram of the seder plate in traditional Jewish customs today:

Seder meal

The meal that we celebrate at communion holds echoes that reach back through millennia, into deep memory. Yet it also has meaning now.

People continue to suffer. To seek liberation. To desire their promised land, their home, their place and way of belonging. To need redemption.

I would argue that we share spiritual ancestors and relations. And these meal hold as much meaning now, as they did thousands of years ago. Our faith  ties us to our spiritual cousins: Jews and Muslims. We are all connected by our faithfulness to One God.

This PASSOVER meal, now transformed Maundy Thursday’s meal and communion, reminds us that inside Holy Week, Passion Week, which starts and ends  triumphantly, also contains the trial and execution of our Messiah. It holds its own time of suffering and loss, and three days of absence and separation. Like those who sat down to the seder meal, remembering their past, when we partake of communion, we also remember oppression and liberation. I don’t claim that it’s the same, but that we are bound together by this shared narrative.

Like the seder meal, the Christian communion also ends in hope. Yes, we look backward, rooting ourselves in time and place and history. And yet, we also look forward with hope, believing in the transforming grace and love of God to heal and restore all of us, and ultimately, this whole world. We hope in God’s capacity to bring all of us to a common table in a mutual home … someday.

Excerpts from today’s lectionary:

  • Leviticus 23:4-6 — These are the appointed festivals of the Lord, the holy convocations, which you shall celebrate at the time appointed for them. In the first month, on the fourteenth day of the month, at twilight, there shall be a passover offering to the Lord, and on the fifteenth day of the same month is the festival of unleavened bread to the Lord.
  • 22 Luke 22:1 — Now the festival of Unleavened Bread, which is called the Passover, was near.
  • 22 Luke 22:7-8 — Then came the day of Unleavened Bread, on which the Passover lamb had to be sacrificed. So Jesus[b] sent Peter and John, saying, “Go and prepare the Passover meal for us that we may eat it.”
  • 22 Luke 22:13 — So they went and found everything as he had told them; and they prepared the Passover meal.

Lent Day 15: HOUSE

Lent15_housesIn the lectionary today, one of the most common themes is HOUSE. Like so many of these Lenten images, it’s a value-laden word. It’s strong. It promises shelter and safety. It aspires to intimacy and relationship. It suggests belonging. It brings up questions about hospitality and neighbors. It anchors our identities.

Sometimes we distinguish the structure of the building, the architectural existence of the house, from the emotional center of our lives, ie, our heart-centered home. In contemporary terms, the house can be considered bricks-and-mortar: a physical location. Or it might be understood as a metaphorical place where our hearts and spirits dwell.

For a list of cultural references to house and home, try some of these sites:

I struggle with the themes of oppression, subjugation, and exclusion that arise in the Bible around houses and homes. Ultimately I believe in the most expansive invitation into the kingdom of God and a broad welcome to the common table. I want everyone to have a room in the ‘house.’ Yet I have learned, through painful experience, that boundaries are important, too.

At least in the last lines of today’s Gospel text, Jesus suggests that the most vulnerable people will be welcomed into the kingdom of God. Nowadays, it sure feels like the door is narrow, and some people want to slam it shut and others want to tear it off the hinges.

Ow. This has real ethical, political, and cultural implications for all of us. We’re voting for political candidates who reflect our values. Policies and practices will be shaped by what we believe. This is a real question … and here we are, supposedly on our Lenten journey into the wilderness, far from home and getting lost. Yet we’re focused, quite often, on the politics of our own homes and the un-homed people who seek safety among us.

We’re reminded, for instance, in debates like this, about the Biblical definition of neighbors.Who is our neighbor? It’s one of the great questions in the Bible.

Domestic Implications

We construct many ideas about houses, and they bear real consequences. Being homeless or un-homed carries a social stigma, and a real loss of power and resources. So to gain access to services or identity, we often need a street address … a physical location that is acknowledged by official government maps or records. Being housed stamps us with a form of legitimacy, systemic access, and some level of power.

homeless-Un-homed … that’s a difficult story. Many local UCC churches shelter families in times of emergency, or as part of their service for organizations such as Family Promise, thus providing temporary refuges. And organizations such as Family Promise coordinate their un-homed clients’ mobile lives, becoming the headquarters that families use as an interim address and gathering place.

So what do we think about the mobility of people who couch surf? Sometimes it’s by choice. Some are people who travel and live – temporarily — at someone else’s address, sleeping on the sofa, remaining on-the-move and off-the-grid? Our own children do it from time to time, in the way that youth once used hostels.

In one senses, welcoming wanderers, couch-surfers, is a form of radical hospitality. In a more formal arrangement, it’s also a way to capitalize on your own stability as a form of business. Plenty of online platforms allow people to rent a room in someone’s house, thereby saving money while finding accommodations, either short-term or long-term. It eliminates some of the fuss of hotel reservations or apartment leases. Social media has its own way of regulating this system, through ratings and feedback, although I wouldn’t claim it’s secure and safe.

Off-the-grid! This transactional, cloud-based and fluid model of finding shelter seems like a potentially anti-establishment, cultural response to institutions, perceived government control, and monitoring. It resists traditional ideas about rootedness, identity, and belonging. Perhaps it echoes the way people are spiritual-but-not religious and won’t label themselves as members of organizations like … well, churches.

It’s also an economic reality. We live in a time when many people are not making a living wage in expensive places where they can find jobs, but cannot afford the security of a place of their own. The gap between the haves and have-nots is growing rather than shrinking. Even a couch in someone else’s place may be a luxury!

International Ponderings

Let’s go global. Let’s consider the nation of Israel, its great religious narrative of exodus and wandering until the people of God reached their promised land. Centuries later, that idea, now made into a geopolitical reality in the middle of a contested land, is a polarizing site fraught with internal and external struggles.

It’s also an example of a troubling equation. When one group acquires land, it often means someone else is displaced. Yet our own histories repeat this cycle over and over, and those who were once exiled become the ones who occupy another’s house. To create and hold a homeland, who else’s ‘place of origin’ is overturned? It’s the story of North and South America, as we consider the ongoing legacy of First Peoples. It’s the story on every continent, really.

And in other parts of the world, it’s not just history. It’s happening now.

Read facts and findings from the UN about displaced people and refugees:

Once we consider displaced people, the whole conversation about contemporary times becomes even more tense. Refugees are fleeing their countries, without safe destinations or certain welcomes. Borders are closing or warded. Nations struggle to absorb and support the people they do allow into their lands.

And many people are displaced within their own nations, and yet they’re just as powerless as those who have been exiled … they have left behind their houses, their resources, their access to funds, shelter, education, food, healthcare, water and so much more.

One of the rare things some refugees seem to hold onto is the capacity to communicate and document their circumstances. Many have devices like cell phones: these are lifelines, ways to reconnect, or simply to be heard, and acknowledged as real people with a story to share.

Biblical Anchors

In today’s Hebrew scriptures, ‘house’ is used to refer to the temple or a sacred tent or place where God resides. It can also refer to the name of a family, tribe or clan, usually defined through a male ancestor or patriarch.

In the Gospel, ‘house’ is part of the parable. It is, in its most straightforward use, the private residence where Jesus gathers to eat and teach and work among his followers in different towns and villages. Interestingly, the homes of women (which may indicate women of some independence, with resources and property) often became the places for this movement that formed around Jesus’ ministry. The homes of other outsiders, outcasts, and marginalized people, such as tax collectors who were powerful but ostracized, were sometimes used for the same purpose.

‘House’ is also used metaphorically to describe the kingdom of God. This arises in Jesus’ lesson about entering the house through a narrow door which has been closed. At least we’re consoled that the last shall be first, the least shall be welcomed into God’s keeping and God’s kingdom.

So then, I stop and earnestly wonder as I read passages like this, am I one of the last? One of the least? Will I be saved and walk through the narrow door?

Do I want to be one of the last or least, in this life? That sounds awfully uncomfortable and inconvenient. What does that really mean? Ummm … on second thought, do I want to go through that narrow door?

Except, wow, it sure sounds like there’s quite a party … quite a celebration … on the other side. Hmmm, do I need an invitation? If so, where is it?  Who do I see about acquiring an invitation? Can I buy it at ticketmaster.com or boxoffice.com?

Oh, wait, just knock … At least that’s the first step.

Then ask the host or hostess, the one who wields authority in the house, if you can come inside. And hope. And wait.

Remember what this feels like: waiting and wanting to be asked inside. Remember this position, someday, when you’re the one who opens the door, and has to answer the same question. Trust me, it will happen.

Selections from today’s scriptures from the daily lectionary:

  • 2 Chronicles 20: 5-6 — Jehoshaphat stood in the assembly of Judah and Jerusalem, in the house of the Lord, before the new court, and said, “O Lord, God of our ancestors, are you not God in heaven? Do you not rule over all the kingdoms of the nations?”
  • 2 Chronicles 20: 9 — If disaster comes upon us, the sword, judgment,or pestilence, or famine, we will stand before this house, and before you, for your name is in this house, and cry to you in our distress, and you will hear and save.’
  • Luke 13:22 –Jesuswent through one town and village after another, teaching as he made his way to Jerusalem.
  • Luke 13:25 — When once the owner of the house has got up and shut the door, and you begin to stand outside and to knock at the door, saying, ‘Lord, open to us.’
  • Luke 13:29-30 — Then people will come from east and west, from north and south, and will eat in the kingdom of God. Indeed, some are last who will be first, and some are first who will be last.”

Day 4 of Lent: TIME

Today’s scripture readings lend themselves to an awareness of TIME.

For people in a society always on the go, perhaps this 40 days of focus also allows us to be present right now. Mostly, our days are framed by business to do, plans to implement, goals to achieve. This season offers us a chance to be more present to ourselves, others, and God.

As the writer says, there is “A time for every season and purpose under heaven.” This doesn’t mean we should dismiss our capacity to remember and to anticipate. Culturally, we’re often good at these skills. And we need these competencies. We need the long view, the big dream, as well as the short-term to-do list. And we need to remember our history. We can plan and prepare. We can remember and learn.

Too often, though, by planning and preparing, by recalling and reminiscing, we may miss the chance to savor our current surroundings, relationships, and experiences. Being present to the more immediate moment is a feb13-lent4C_timedifferent experience, and also essential to our wellbeing. What does it mean to be aware of and present to ourselves, other people, our world and our God, right now? Part of the value of time set apart, such as Lent, is to be aware of this hour and this day.

For instance, you can follow your breath in and out, in and out. Use your five senses to ground yourself in here and now (this is particularly helpful if you are distressed, anxious or distracted and need to calm and center yourself). Count backwards using your senses, as below:

  • 5 Things I See: “What can I see all around me?” Study your surroundings, and name five things you see. Consider their colors, textures, and details.
  • 4 Things I Hear: “What can I hear?” Name four things you hear. How close or distant are the sounds? From what direction do they come? Loud or soft? Familiar or unidentified?
  • 3 Things I Feel: “What am I feeling?” Name three things you feel bodily, by paying attention to inward and outward sensations, such as the touch of something on your skin, or the relaxation or pull of your body’s muscles.
  • 2 Things I Smell: “What can I smell?” Name two things you can smell (or whose odors you like). Scents trigger our minds with memory and evoke moods. Name four odors.
  • 1 Thing I Taste (Breathe): “What do I taste?” Name one residual flavor in your mouth. Breathe across your tongue and activate that sense. Then draw in a long, slow, deep breath. And exhale. Repeat the breath.

Excerpts from today’s lectionary:

  • Psalm 91:15-16 When they call to me, I will answer them;  I will be with them in trouble, I will rescue them and honor them. 16 With long life I will satisfy them, and show them my salvation.
  • Ecclesiatses 3: 1 —  For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:
  • John 12:27 — “Now my soul is troubled. And what should I say—‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it is for this reason that I have come to this hour.
  • John 12: 36 —  While you have the light, believe in the light, so that you may become children of light.”

Day 2 of Lent: LOOK

feb11_lentc_look2These texts gaze backward into the past. They take up the act of remembering, which is at the heart of many of our sacraments. To know ourselves, it helps to look at those places and people from which we are descended, and to acknowledge those privileges and problems we inherit. Looking backward, knowing and reconciling ourselves to the generations that preceded us and set the foundations upon which we stand and grow, allows us to live in the current time and reach for the future.

And then these texts notice and name the un-seeable and un-mentionable. These readings ask us to look again. To bear witness. To look more closely when we’d rather look away. To live as ethical beings, by seeing what is in front of us, or noticing what might otherwise be hidden or rendered invisible. To pay attention.

These texts also challenge us to pause and drink in the sheer glory of God’s creation. Maybe it’s the way the light breaks through the branches, or how the ocean rolls onto the shore. Or some other moment that brings God’s handiwork into focus.

So perhaps when we look, we perceive the face of God. Maybe we see God in a stunning landscape or beautiful view that rivets the gaze, due to its magnificence. Or maybe we see God in the horrific details of ugly, raw, complicated sights we’d rather forget, but from which we shouldn’t turn away.

Excerpts from today’s lectionary:

  • Exodus 5:13 — “Look how your servants are beaten! You are unjust to your own people.”
  • Exodus 5:21a — “The Lord look upon you and judge!”
  • Acts 7:30-34 — When Moses saw it, he was amazed at the sight; and as he approached to look, there came the voice of the Lord:  ‘I am the God of your ancestors, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.’ Moses began to tremble and did not dare to look.

Lenten Meditations: One Word, One Day

Ashes-Heart-01As a Lenten spiritual practice, I’ll post one word drawn from the daily scriptures. It’s an up-close visit with  sacred texts; a chance to meditate on a few syllables.

This isn’t a new practice. It’s a common spiritual exercise.

You can do it for yourself, if you want to spend time sinking down into the layers of sound and shape of the day’s readings. What word calls to you? Here’s a link to explore the daily lectionary selections, if you want to find out.

Or you can start with just this singular, bite-sized, roll-it-around-on-your-tongue word. Let it slip into the excited, electric current of your brain. Spit it back out. Trace it with your fingers. Write it on the back of someone else’s hand. Whisper it. Shout it. Pray it. Listen to it.

Let your body spend time with this word. Own it. Claim it. Change it, as it might change you.

We are flesh and bone beings, with souls intertwined into the messy, mortal bodies that mediate our experience and understanding of the times and places in which we live. We carry ancient history in our genetics, and more recent events marked into the folds and creases of our own skins.

We are living, breathing stories. Yet we are connected to an ongoing, unfolding narrative. To the Word spoken over the void, that created world and life. To the living One that walked among us and shaped our tales. To the Wind that inspires and moves us even now.

For this sacred season, I’m visiting ancient texts, one word at a time. Feel free to partake of the journey with me.