Forward into life

File:Crepuscular ray sunset from telstra tower edit.jpgWatching for the Morning of April 15, 2018

Year B

The Third Sunday of Easter

We have a resurrection appearance from Luke at the center of our readings this Sunday, and the elements are familiar: the sudden appearance, the fear, the word of peace, the revealing of the hands and feet. And eating. The risen Jesus eats. So much for imagining the life to come as if we were to be spirit beings rather than embodied ones.

There is much to think about in the fact that the risen Christ bears on his hands and feet the scars of his earthly life. The scars identify him, but the do not define him. He is the one who suffered this inhuman brutality – but he is not a victim. He is a life bringer. The life bringer.

This risen Jesus, this bringer of life, this bearer of heaven’s gifts, this source of healing and grace, lives. And he continues to be present to the world through his followers. They dispense the gifts that Christ dispensed. Peter and John are entering the temple when confronted by a lame man begging. They don’t have silver and gold to give; they have healing and life.

“See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God.” Writes the author of 1 John. We are children of God now. What we will be in that day when the new creation dawns in full we cannot comprehend, but we are God’s children now. And as God’s children, we live God’s love.

The psalmist will pray for God to answer his plight – and immediately turn to rebuke those who “love vain words, and seek after lies.” He is able to “lie down and sleep in peace” because he knows God is the life-bringer. God is the faithful God who blesses the world with abundance and calls us forward into life.

The Prayer for April 15, 2018

Gracious Heavenly Father,
as the risen Lord Jesus opened the minds of his disciples
to understand the scriptures,
open our hearts and minds
that, hearing your voice,
we might walk with you in newness of life;
through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and forever.

The Texts for April 15, 2018

First Reading: Acts 3:1-21 (appointed 12-19)
“You killed the Author of life, whom God raised from the dead. To this we are witnesses.” – By the name of Jesus, Peter and John heal a lame beggar at the temple and then witness to the crowd that God has raised Jesus from the dead and appointed him as Israel’s messiah, calling them to turn and show allegiance to God’s work of restoring the world in Jesus.

Psalmody: Psalm 4
“I will both lie down and sleep in peace; for you alone, O Lord, make me lie down in safety.” – A individual petition for help from God. The author declares his confidence in God’s help and warns his opponents to choose God’s path.

Second Reading: 1 John 1:1-3 (appointed: 1 John 3:1-7)
“See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are.”
– The author affirms that we are already members of God’s household, and though we do not understand the nature of resurrected life, we know that we will be “like him.” Since we are God’s children now, destined to be “like him”, we should live faithfully now.

Gospel: Luke 24:36-53 (appointed 36b-48)
“While they were talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” – Jesus appears to his followers on Easter Evening, opens their minds to understand the scripture, and commissions them as witnesses of what God has done and is doing in and through Christ.

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Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Crepuscular_ray_sunset_from_telstra_tower_edit.jpg fir0002 | flagstaffotos.com.au [GFDL 1.2 (http://www.gnu.org/licenses/old-licenses/fdl-1.2.html)%5D, from Wikimedia Commons

Above every name that is named

File:Meister der Predigten des Mönchs Johannes Kokkinobaphos 002.jpg

Watching for the Morning of May 28, 2017

The Sunday of the Ascension (The Seventh Sunday of Easter).

I have always chosen Ascension Day hymns to begin and end this last Sunday in Easter before Pentecost, mostly because they are nice hymns and without an Ascension Day service there’s no opportunity to sing them. Ascension Day had little meaning for me as a child. Lutherans aren’t all that interested in adding extra weekday services once you get past Christmas Eve and maybe Ash Wednesday, Maundy Thursday and Good Friday. Early in my ordained ministry Ascension Day was something to note in passing. Maybe even something of an embarrassment when taken literally. Like with this picture:

File:Jesus ascending to heaven.jpg

We don’t live in a three-tiered universe anymore. We don’t imagine that Jesus needs to go “up” after he has been raised from the grave. So Ascension Day seemed vaguely awkward.

In Detroit it provided a defined date we could remember each year for our special joint service among all the city parishes when we set apart deacons at the end of their yearlong training. It was easier than trying to coordinate the calendars of multiple parishes.

But the narrative of the ascension is the closing event of the first volume of Luke-Acts and the opening narrative of the second volume. It gets told by Luke as the natural end of Jesus ministry, and again as the natural beginning to discuss the mission of the church. Matthew makes the same connection of ascension as the culmination of Jesus’ story and the beginning of the Jesus mission. Even John in his rich and complicated way weaves those threads together. What the disciples go to do after the outpouring of the Spirit is tied not to Jesus resurrection, but to his place at the right hand of God.

The “good news” announced to the world isn’t that Jesus isn’t dead anymore. It is that he reigns. He is the world’s true lord. He is the true emperor whose wishes shape every land and life.

To put it crudely: if the Jesus story is about the cross and resurrection, then death is defeated, the redemption price paid, and we get to go to heaven when we die. But if the story culminates in the ascension, then the point is not about our trip to heaven, but a new governance of earth.

If the story is about going to heaven, then being good or accepting Jesus becomes the important element in Christian life. If the story is about Christ as lord (the confession for which Christians have died and continue to die), then the important element is living God’s “kingdom” (which Jesus describes as “justice and mercy” and love of God and neighbor) until every earthly power is dethroned and the reign of God arrives in fullness.

Again, if the story is about going to heaven, then the purpose of the church is to call people to be good or to accept Jesus. If the story is about God reigning over the world, then the purpose of the church is to proclaim the good news that the world has come under new management (and inviting the world to live in that grace and life: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.”)

The creation around us and all its people are not the sinking ship from which we must be saved into the lifeboats. The world is the lost and misdirected ship that has received a new captain.

So we are celebrating this Sunday as the Sunday of the Ascension. It means letting go of the prayer of Jesus that we might be one. But maybe in this time that seems to be an era of triumphant greed and neglect, it is worth bringing to the forefront the notion that this Jesus, the shamed and denounced and crucified, has taken the captain’s chair. He was tossed overboard as worthless and misguided, but God has lifted him out of the waters and raised him to the bridge.

And we are his crew.

The appointed readings for the Seventh Sunday of Easter, May 28, 2017, and comment on them from 2014 can be found here.

Preaching Series: Genesis 4: Violence

We come this week to the outbreak of violence. Offerings are made, divine favor granted unequally, and the first religious war breaks out between brothers. God speaks to Cain before the terrible deed is done, but the words do not prevent the coming violence. Cain goes on to found cities, the realm of the landless, the place of creativity that leads to weapons and Lamech’s boast of murdering a man who wounded him and his promise of seventy-seven fold revenge.

The turn away from God in Eden throws dark shadows across the human landscape. Yet still there is grace.

The Prayer for May 28, 2017 (for the celebration of Ascension)

Almighty God,
before whom all heaven and earth shall bow down
to acknowledge your gracious rule,
send forth your Spirit upon us,
that with our eyes upon Christ Jesus, risen from the dead,
we may proclaim your praise to all the world;
through your son, Jesus Christ our Lord,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and forever.

The Texts for May 28, 2017 (for the celebration of Ascension)

First Reading: Acts 1:1-11
“You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.’” – The ascension account that is the culminating story in Luke (our Gospel for today) and the opening account of the Book of Acts.

Psalmody: Psalm 93
“The Lord is king…majestic on high is the Lord!” – A hymn of praise celebrating God’s reign over all the earth.

Second Reading: Ephesians 1:15-23
“God put this power to work in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the age to come.” –
A portion of the author’s opening salutation and prayer for the Ephesian community. It references the notion the ascension, and prays that they may know and live in the hope to which they have been called.

Gospel: Luke 24:44-53
“While he was blessing them, he withdrew from them and was carried up into heaven.” – The ascension in Luke when once again Jesus opens their minds to understand the scriptures and declares that his followers will be his witnesses to the ends of the earth.

Image 1: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AMeister_der_Predigten_des_M%C3%B6nchs_Johannes_Kokkinobaphos_002.jpg By Meister der Predigten des Mönchs Johannes Kokkinobaphos [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Image 2: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AJesus_ascending_to_heaven.jpg John Singleton Copley [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Creation

File:A break in the clouds - Flickr - rachel thecat.jpg

25Then he [Jesus] said to them, “Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared! 26Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?” 27Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures. (Luke 24:25-27)

When Jesus walks with his followers on the road to Emmaus, he takes them back through the scripture to help them understand the fundamental witness of the Biblical writings. He is not proof-texting the resurrection, but opening their eyes to see that the fundamental narrative of the scripture concerns the sacrificial love of God – love that has its fulfillment in the cross and resurrection.

So the sermon series in which our parish has embarked has as its purpose not only to tell these pivotal stories in scripture, but to show how they bear witness to the God whose face we see in Christ.

As we developed this idea, our sanctuary arts people proposed placing a series of pictures in the sanctuary that related to the story of the day. That led to the production of a booklet that summarized the story and identified the pictures.

Here is the text of the booklet from week 1 on Genesis 1.  This Sunday we will talk about Genesis 2.

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AA_break_in_the_clouds_-_Flickr_-_rachel_thecat.jpg By rachel_thecat (A break in the clouds) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

 

Genesis 1:1-2:3


“A wind from God swept over the face of the waters”


File:Wea00816.jpg

At the beginning of God’s creating, there is nothing but the breath of God hovering over a storm tossed sea.

And then God speaks.

It is God’s word that brings order, beauty and life. Before God’s word, apart from God’s speaking, there is neither order, beauty or life.

Speech is relational. It connects. It creates. It enlivens. For God to speak, means that God is relational. (When the author of 1 John writes that “God is love”, he is describing the kind of relationship God has with the world: God is faithful to us.)

Though our words can also create division and harm, God’s word creates community, goodness and life.

The Biblical account is set down in this form when Jerusalem has been destroyed and the leadership of the nation carried off into exile in Babylon. Those surviving peasants who hadn’t fled the war were left to farm the land. They posed no threat of resistance or rebellion. But the people of the city now inhabit the ancient equivalent of a refugee camp. They live in the aftermath of the chaos of war: grief, suffering, disease, dislocation. The temple and priesthood, symbols of God’s presence are destroyed. The sacrifices that were the means of grace and connection to God are lost to them. They are a people in the darkness of a storm-tossed sea.

But the Spirit of God is present.

And then God speaks.

North Pacific storm waves as seen from the M/V NOBLE STAR
https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AWea00816.jpg by NOAA (http://www.photolib.noaa.gov/bigs/wea00816.jpg) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

“God called the dome Sky”


File:Milky Way over Devils Tower.jpg

God’s first act is to create light and to separate the light from the darkness.

The ancient world imagined darkness as a thing in itself, rather than the absence of light. So into the stuff of the world which is darkness God calls into being a new stuff: light.

And the light is good.

God gathers the light together so we can live in the light. There is now day and night.

Next God speaks into existence the dome of the sky. Imagine a glass bowl upside down in the bathtub: water all around, but a bubble of air under the dome. God has made a space in the midst of the primal, chaotic waters where goodness and life can happen.

A panoramic image of the Milky Way galaxy stretching across the sky over America’s first national monument, Devils Tower. 
https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AMilky_Way_over_Devils_Tower.jpg by NCBrown (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

“Let the earth put forth vegetation”


File:Lotus flower (978659).jpg

Now, God gathers the water together so that land appears. And the land is summoned to bring forth all the living, growing stuff we see.

The text calls these ‘days’ though there is yet no sun or moon or stars to mark the days and seasons. But the cycle of day and night suggests images of labor, God is working to call forth his world. And the language of days suggests time; God is building something that takes time. And time itself is moving towards its completion, towards Sabbath.


“Let there be lights in the dome of the sky”


On the fourth ‘day’ God calls forth the lights that span the dome of the heavens and appoints them “for signs and for seasons and for days and years.”

The ancient words for ‘sun’ and ‘moon’ were the names of gods. The lights in the sky were considered spirit beings, creatures of fire and light rather than earth, divine beings to be adored and called upon for help. But the Biblical author doesn’t call them ‘Sun’ or ‘Moon’; these are but lanterns in the sky, placed there by the word of God. We use them only to count days.

It is a startling claim for a people whose god has been crushed in battle by the (presumably) more powerful gods of Babylon. The Lord could not protect his own house, his temple. The Lord could not protect his household staff, his people. Yet here our writer proclaims that these powerful so-called gods of Babylon are no gods at all.

Flower of an Indian Lotus
https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3ALotus_flower_(978659).jpg by Hong Zhang (jennyzhh2008) [CC0 or CC0], via Wikimedia Commons

“ Let the earth bring forth living creatures of every kind”


File:A butterfly feeding on the tears of a turtle in Ecuador.jpg

Now God begins to summons forth the creatures of the earth. The waters proliferate with creatures and birds fill the skies. It is good. And God utters a blessing: “Be fruitful and multiply.”

God will also speak this blessing over humans. They are among the living creatures. They are not creatures of the air. They are not spirit beings. They are part of the good world God calls forth in all its wondrous diversity.

The fish and birds are called into existence on the fifth ‘day’, creatures of the land and humans on the sixth day.

We are creatures. We are one with the creation and yet the crown of creation. The care of the earth is entrusted into our hands. We are blessed as the creatures are blessed. But we are also charged to exercise “dominion”, governance, stewardship, lordship. And the model of true lordship is not one of control and domination, but the God who provides and cares, and the lord who lays down his life for the sheep. St. Francis is correct when he speaks of the creatures of the world as our sisters and brothers.   The world is to be tended not plundered.

Two Julia Butterflies (Dryas iulia) drinking the tears of turtles (Podocnemis expansa?) in Ecuador. Turtles bask on a log as the butterflies sip from their eyes. This “tear-feeding” is a phenomenon known as lachryphagy.  
https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AA_butterfly_feeding_on_the_tears_of_a_turtle_in_Ecuador.jpg amalavida.tv [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

“In the image of God he created them”


File:Heavens Above Her.jpg

The word ‘image’ in the ancient Greek translation of Genesis comes into English as ‘icon’. An icon was an image that represented the presence of another – like the United States planting a flag on Iwo Jima to represent the authority and presence of the nation. Humans represent the presence of God. Or, at least, we are supposed to so represent. We are the agents and signs of God’s presence, the agents and signs of God’s care, the agents and sign of God’s love. Or at least, again, this was God’s intention. This is our calling. This is our true identity.

Perhaps the ancients thought we shared the same physical appearance as God. But the truth is we have no other language or imagery to talk about a loving, speaking being.

These humans are given fruit to eat. And the grazing animals grass. In the beginning we did not yet kill and eat each other. It’s why the prophets say that in the end, when God’s creation is finally restored, the lion can lie down with the lamb.

Milky Way lying above a lady’s silhouette, at Trona Pinnacles National Landmark, California.
https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AHeavens_Above_Her.jpg by Ian Norman (http://www.lonelyspeck.com) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Sabbath Rest

“On the seventh day God finished the work that he had done.”


File:Paints of sunrise on Langtang National Park.jpg

So now we come to the final day, the consummate day, the goal toward which all things move: Sabbath. Rest. Completion. Perfection. Shalom. Peace. Wholeness. Harmony. This ‘day’ is holy, sacred, radiant with the divine. Jesus will call it “the reign of God.” St. John the Divine will call it the “New Jerusalem”.

The world is not complete in six days. It is complete with Sabbath.

And Jesus will declare that the reign of God is at hand, so it makes perfect sense for him to heal on the Sabbath. He is not working, doctoring; he is bringing that final Sabbath when all things are made new.

The Spirit of God that hovered over the face of the deep now breathes in all people. The promise of Joel is fulfilled (Joel 2:28-29). Pentecost has come (Acts 2). The Torah is written on every heart (Jeremiah 31:31). The heavenly banquet is begun (Isaiah 25:6-8). Swords are beaten into plowshares (Micah 4:1-3) and the lion eats straw like the ox (Isaiah 65:17-25).

It is all “very good.”

View from mountain pass Laurebina-la
https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3APaints_of_sunrise_on_Langtang_National_Park.jpg  by Q-lieb-in (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons
 © Text by David K. Bonde, Los Altos Lutheran Church, 2017

In the breaking of the bread

File:Tandır bread.jpg

Watching for the morning of April 30, 2017

Year A

The Third Sunday of Easter

A resurrection appearance still dominates the readings for Sunday. This is the week we hear Luke tell us of the disciples who encounter Jesus on the road to Emmaus.

The narrative is pregnant with meaning for a community known as “the way” – literally, “the road”. The unseen Christ walks with us. Through him the scriptures are opened to us. In the broken bread we recognize him. It is the story not only of the first believers but of every generation.

Where else can we turn to make sense of this unexpected ending to the one who opened the gates for us to see and taste the kingdom? In his words the scriptures were alive. In his teaching was the Spirit of God. In his work was mercy for the margins and a daring challenge to the ruling center. In his hands crowds were fed, sinners welcomed, a new path set before us. And in that moment when the old empire should fall, he is stolen away. Where else can we turn to understand? And as we reread the ancient words they shine with a new light. The suffering servant of Isaiah. The humble king of Zechariah. The faithful one of the psalms. Suddenly the scriptures seem to explode with new insight.

And then there is the bread – the promised feast in Isaiah, the five loaves and two fish, the last supper, and now the bread and wine. All the threads of scripture, all the hope of a world made whole, weave into this moment when bread is broken like his body was broken – and shared freely as he shared himself freely for the sake of the world.

In the teaching, in the bread, they see him. They recognize his presence. They see the perfect love. They see the dawning of the promise – a world governed by this wondrous and holy Spirit.

Now the vision is complete. Christ is gone but not gone. And they race back to share the vision, to proclaim the news, to rejoice in the wonder of God.

So Sunday we will hear Peter declare the promise is for all and invite them to turn and show allegiance to this crucified one whom God has made both Lord and Messiah. And the psalmist will sing of deliverance from death and Peter writes that we “have been born anew, not of perishable but of imperishable seed, through the living and enduring word of God.”

The new creation is dawning. We hold the bread of the great feast in our hands.

The Prayer for April 30, 2017

Gracious God,
as Jesus revealed himself to his disciples in the breaking of the bread,
and opened their minds to understand the scriptures,
continue to reveal yourself to us
that we may live in the joy and freedom of your grace,
and bear witness to your redeeming love;
through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and forever.

The Texts for April 30, 2017

First Reading: Acts 2:14a, 36-41
“Therefore let the entire house of Israel know with certainty that God has made him both Lord and Messiah, this Jesus whom you crucified.” – Peter bears witness to the crowds at Pentecost, urging them to turn and show allegiance to Christ Jesus whom God has vindicated and revealed as Lord by his resurrection.

Psalmody: Psalm 116:1-4, 12-19
“What shall I return to the Lord for all his bounty to me?” – a prayer of thanksgiving for deliverance from a threat to his life.

Second Reading: 1 Peter 1:17-23
“You have been born anew, not of perishable but of imperishable seed, through the living and enduring word of God.” –
a homily on baptism, here urging the believers to remain faithful to their new life.

Gospel: Luke 24:13-35
“Now on that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus.” – Jesus appears to two disciples on the road to Emmaus, opening to them the scriptures and revealing himself in the breaking of bread.

Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3ATand%C4%B1r_bread.jpg By jeffreyw (Mmm…pita bread Uploaded by Fæ) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Called into Life

Watching for the Morning of April 19, 2015

Year B

The Third Sunday of Easter

File:Duccio di Buoninsegna 017.jpg“Have you anything here to eat?”

It’s hard to avoid the image of Jesus showing up on the third day and rummaging through the cupboards for something to eat like a college teen home for the weekend. But the author of the Gospel is trying to make clear that the one who stands before them is no mere ghost or apparition. This was part of our reading last Sunday with Thomas. Jesus had wounds Thomas was invited to touch. If we think about this too much it makes our heads hurt. Most of us assume that “heaven” is spiritual which, for us, means non-corporeal. What does resurrection mean? What is this future we await when all creation is restored? The answer that the author of First John gives us on Sunday is important: “what we will be has not yet been revealed. What we do know is this: when he is revealed, we will be like him.” We don’t know what resurrected existence will be, but we know this: we will be like Jesus.

But to be “like Jesus” is more than a question of resurrected flesh. It is about freedom from sin, perfect faithfulness, divine life. It is about love made perfect. It is a world delivered from the spiritual barrenness we see everywhere as children perish from war, cruelty and neglect and evil is called good and good evil.

A taste of resurrected life is given to the beggar at the temple and he leaps in praise of God. Peter wants the crowd to be clear this has nothing to do with him and John and everything to do with Jesus and God’s purpose of “universal restoration” – the healing of the world, taking it back from the dominions of death into the dominion of God. And here are those stunning words: “you killed the Author of Life,” yet forgiveness is offered and their allegiance to God’s dawning reign is sought.

The voice of the psalm joins this chorus, asking “How long will you love vain words, and seek after lies?” and calls the hearers to “offer right sacrifices and put their trust in the LORD.”

The world is changed on that first Easter and we are called into that imperishable life.

The Prayer for April 19, 2015

Gracious Heavenly Father,
as the risen Lord Jesus opened the minds of his disciples to understand the scriptures,
open our hearts and minds
that, hearing your voice, we might walk with you in newness of life;
through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and forever.

The Texts for April 19, 2015

First Reading: Acts 3:1-21 (appointed 12-19)
“You killed the Author of life, whom God raised from the dead. To this we are witnesses.” – By the name of Jesus, Peter and John heal a lame beggar at the temple and then witness to the crowd that God has raised Jesus from the dead and appointed him as Israel’s messiah, calling them to turn and show allegiance to God’s work of restoring the world in Jesus.

Psalmody: Psalm 4
“I will both lie down and sleep in peace; for you alone, O Lord, make me lie down in safety.” – A individual petition for help from God. The author declares his confidence in God’s help and warns his opponents to choose God’s path.

Second Reading: 1 John 3:1-7
“See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are.”
– The author affirms that we are already members of God’s household, and though we do not understand the nature of resurrected life, we know that we will be “like him.” Since we are God’s children now, destined to be “like him”, we should live faithfully now.

Gospel: Luke 24:36-53 (appointed 36b-48)
“While they were talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” – Jesus appears to his followers on Easter Evening, opens their minds to understand the scripture, and commissions them as witnesses of what God has done and is doing in Christ and through him.

 

Duccio [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Was it not necessary?

Sunday Evening

Luke 24

File:17th-century unknown painters - St Luke the Apostle and Evangelist - WGA23506.jpg

17th Century Russian Icon of St. Luke

26Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?”

The more I read the Gospels the more I am amazed at the literary skill with which they are crafted. Luke is an especially talented writer. He is not simply giving us a record of events, he is weaving a narrative that brings the reader into the presence of the risen Christ – that makes our hearts burn within us – and, hopefully, makes us see the risen Christ in the breaking of the bread.

Luke begins his Gospel with those finely crafted narratives we call the nativity stories. But calling them nativity stories, and turning them into Christmas plays, divorces those narratives from the composition of Luke’s Gospel. It is as if you were to cut off all the scenes in Hobbiton from the start of the Lord of the Rings. Those events at Bilbo’s birthday party are essential to the larger narrative, setting up themes about the goodness of growing things that are crucial to the larger story.

This first volume of Luke’s two-volume work, his narrative of the words and deeds of Jesus, begins and ends in the temple. It opens with Zechariah serving in the temple and concludes with the followers of Jesus “continually in the temple blessing God.”  An archangel appears to Zechariah and to Mary and the risen Christ encounters the disciples on the road to Emmaus and in Jerusalem.  Mary trusts the promise of God – but the disciples are slow of heart to trust.  Angels bear witness to the shepherds and angels encounter the women at the tomb.  A rock-hewn tomb holds the body of Jesus as a manger holds the infant.  The shepherds come to see “this thing that has taken place” even as the women come to the tomb.  Simeon and Anna, looking for the redemption of Israel, recognize the Christ child and the two disciples at Emmaus recognize the risen Lord in the breaking of the bread.  The 12-year-old Jesus teaches in the temple just after the beginning of the narrative even as Jesus teaches there just before the end.

There is layer upon layer of rich and wonderful work by Luke knitting his account together. And in that great sweep of the whole narrative we are overwhelmed by the marvel of God’s work, the certainty of God’s hand in all these events, and wonder at the ancient witness of the scriptures fulfilled in all that has taken place.

This is not chance; it is “the plan and foreknowledge of God,” as Peter will say at Pentecost (Acts 2:23).   It is the work of a God determined to redeem his world, to gather it back to himself, to lift away the burden and shame of all its sins, and bring it to its ultimate goodness and glory.

Hearing the whole story of these remarkable events leaves you breathless. And this is only the first volume of Luke’s work. The story of Jesus continues with the outpouring of God’s Spirit, the gathering in of Samaritans, the Ethiopian Eunuch and the Roman Centurion. The whole world is drawn into Christ as we follow these witnesses across the ancient Roman world to the heart of the empire itself. In the place where Caesar Augustus proclaimed himself “Savior of the whole world” by the force of his armies, the band of Jesus’ followers proclaim earth’s true savior. The imitation of “peace” created by the threat of Roman force – by the brutality of the cross – yields to the true peace brought by the crucified and risen one. He is God’s anointed, creation’s true lord, earth’s true redeemer.

Hope lives

Thursday

Luke 24

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Sainte-Chapelle in Paris: Rose window

15While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and went with them,

I understand the rich and profound meaning that the resurrection of Jesus expresses. I understand that in the world of Jesus, death was not a single stopping of the heart, but a yearlong process – a dying followed by a mortification of the flesh. As the body lay decomposing, the sinful flesh was wasting away and at the end of the year the bones would be gathered and stored to be used again by God in the day of resurrection as the scaffolding for the recreation of the person – now free from sin and death, able to live in God’s new creation, a world perfected, healed, transformed, redeemed.

Jesus needed no purging of his sins, no mortification of his flesh. He was the righteous son, the faithful son, the truly human one, the new Adam. He stepped immediately from this life into the life to come. The stone the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone, the pattern of all resurrection to come, the firstborn of the dead.

But I do not live in the world of the first century. I live in the world where dead is dead. There is the carcass of a dead squirrel at the end of the alley. It will not arise and scamper away. I have been with too many grieving families, stood at too many bedsides, wanting with every fiber of my being for the dead to rise – yet knowing full well that if they had it would have frightened me beyond speech.

I like the ending of Mark’s Gospel where the women run away in fear and say nothing to anyone.   I understand that story. And I can appreciate the wonderful message of the other stories – of God’s vindication of Jesus, of the dawning of the age to come, of the harrowing of hell, of the end of the law’s power to accuse and sin’s power to hold us in slavery, cut off from the life of God.

I don’t know what to do with this story of Jesus walking to Emmaus. I know that the risen Christ comes to me in the word read and proclaimed. I know that the risen Christ meets me in the breaking of the bread. I have had experiences that verge on visions and auditions. I have no doubt that Christ is risen. I just can’t get my mind around what happened. I can’t explain it in a way that doesn’t sound like I am explaining it away.

So I love this story of Jesus walking with his disciples on the road – teaching them, his words afire within them. I love this story of Jesus revealed in the breaking of bread. It is my experience. It is the pattern for every Sunday gathering of God’s people. There, Christ walks with us. There, he speaks. There, he shows himself in the breaking of the bread. There, heaven is opened and hell releases its prisoners. There, new life is given. There, the Spirit is poured out. There I enter into that promised world where the lion lies down with the lamb. For a moment. And then Jesus is gone. Gone but not gone. Out of sight but not out of mind. I walk back through ordinary streets to my ordinary apartment and all my ordinary problems. But things are not the same. The vision lingers. And hope lives.

Running to joy

Wednesday

Luke 24

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Children running in the flower bed of Kashmir

Now on that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem.

They are walking away from the community of disciples in Jerusalem. Are they walking away? Have they abandoned hope that Christ was the one? Are they leaving the fellowship, quitting church, so to speak?

Our assumption is that the followers of Jesus would be devastated by the outcome of events in Jerusalem. But in a world run by elites, where villagers from Nazareth and fishermen from Galilee have no power and little control, they would more likely respond with resignation. We hoped – but the world is as it is. We hoped – but the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. We hoped – but the power of the mighty is too mighty.

Oh, there is grief for a friend. And there may be bitterness towards “the man.” But what did you really expect? It was nice to dream… Now it’s time to go home, to go back to work. People who are used to powerlessness know how to survive powerlessness.

But then there was this strange report by the women who went to the tomb.

Nevertheless, they are going home. In the addendum to John’s Gospel, chapter 21, Peter says, “I am going fishing.” It’s the same thing as turning towards Emmaus. It’s not therapy. It’s not recreation. It’s resignation. We hoped, but hope came to naught. Time to go home. Time to go back to the daily grind.

There are many who listen to the stories of Jesus and walk away saying, “It’s not the real world.” I had this argument with my stepfather when I was 16. Yes I was idealistic. Yes he was cynical, angry and probably frightened by the unrest that spawned the SDS, Black Panthers, and urban riots. But our argument was nevertheless about the “real world”.

Is the “real world” the “dog eat dog” world or the “love your neighbor” world? Is the “real world” the survival of the fittest or “the first shall be last and the last first”? Is the “real world” run by money or the Spirit of God? Are we prisoners of sin and death or Sons and Daughters of God?

Cleopas – short for Cleopatris, the masculine form of Cleopatra – bears a name we associate with the world of sex, money and power. He followed Jesus for a time, but the powers-that-be crushed Jesus with hardly a thought – and Cleopas doesn’t need anyone to explain to him the “real world.” He’s going home. It was a fool’s errand.

But then the real “real world” meets him. Then the risen Jesus comes. Then the word of God is opened. Then the bread is broken. Then Christ reveals himself, the truly real.

And then Cleopas is on his feet running back to Jerusalem, running to join the community that lives by the Spirit of this Jesus, running to join the community of joy, running to tell all they have seen and heard.

In the presence of the risen Lord

Watching for the morning of May 4

Year A

The Third Sunday of Easter

Biarritz-Église_Sainte_Eugénie-Vitrail_SE-20120413.croppedWe suffer a little whiplash by this Sunday, going from Matthew (on Easter Sunday) to John (last Sunday) and now to Luke. But in this choir of voices we hear rich testimony to the meaning of Jesus’ resurrection. In Luke the risen Jesus opens the scriptures to two of his disciples on the road to Emmaus that they might see and understand how the scriptures point to all that has happened in his death and resurrection. Jesus causes a profound rereading of the Biblical witness. All those scattered references to God’s suffering servant, all those psalms of suffering, the references to the Son of God and the Son of Man, reassemble themselves into a new portrait of a redeeming God who comes to draw the whole earth under the reign of his Spirit. Jesus becomes the lens for a new reading of scripture. The Biblical record is not just Israel’s story, but the human story, and the new Jerusalem not a new capital of a righteous theocracy, but the marriage of heaven and earth.

Of this royal city we are citizens, walking already by the light of a new day, immersed in a new spirit, feasting at the king’s table in the presence of the risen Lord.

The Prayer for May 4, 2014

Gracious God,
as Jesus revealed himself to his disciples in the breaking of the bread,
and opened their minds to understand the scriptures,
continue to reveal yourself to us
that we may live in the joy and freedom of your grace,
and bear witness to your redeeming love;
through your son, Jesus Christ our Lord,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and forever,

The Texts for May 4, 2014

First Reading: Acts 2:14a, 36-41
“Therefore let the entire house of Israel know with certainty that God has made him both Lord and Messiah, this Jesus whom you crucified.” – Peter bears witness to the crowds at Pentecost, urging them to turn and show allegiance to Christ Jesus whom God has vindicated and revealed as Lord by his resurrection.

Psalmody: Psalm 116:1-4, 12-19
“What shall I return to the Lord for all his bounty to me?” – a prayer of thanksgiving for deliverance from a threat to his life.

Second Reading: 1 Peter 1:17-23
“You have been born anew, not of perishable but of imperishable seed, through the living and enduring word of God.” –
a homily on baptism, here urging the believers to remain faithful to their new life.

Gospel: Luke 24:13-35
“Now on that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus.” – Jesus appears to two disciples on the road to Emmaus, opening to them the scriptures and revealing himself in the breaking of bread.