The face of God

(A reflection published with the pictures used in our sanctuary from Palm Sunday through Easter Sunday 2018)

The events of Jesus’ death and resurrection are seared into the memory of the first followers of Jesus – even as they are in the hearts of the whole Christian community. Jesus comes to Jerusalem in what appears to be a wave of public support, only to be crushed by the ruling elite in Jerusalem. He is betrayed by a member of his inner circle. His followers flee. His “rock,” Peter, publicly disavows that he knows him. He is shamed and degraded and impaled upon a cross, powerless before the might of Rome and the machinations of the temple authorities.

But here, says the Christian community, we see the face of God.

We keep ascribing power to God. And there is plenty of testimony in scripture to God’s mighty acts. But what remains unmistakable in the Biblical text are two much more important truths: the suffering of God and the work of God to do the unexpected and unimagined: to open closed doors, to make a path through the sea, to bring Israel home from Babylon, to open blind eyes and heal palsied limbs, to resurrect the dead. God makes a way when there is no way.

God suffers with and for God’s people. God suffers their faithlessness. God suffers the tragedies that befall them. No matter how justified are their self-inflicted wounds, God’s heart cries out and comes to their deliverance.

What happened to Jesus is the story of Israel: destroyed but brought back from the dead. It is also the promised story of the human race. God will not allow God’s creation to perish, but calls it back into fidelity and life. God will bring us to the New Jerusalem. God will set before all creation a table. God will restore the harmony of the world. Righteousness and peace shall kiss, the greeting of eternal friends. Swords shall be beaten into plowshares. The lion shall lie down with the lamb.

The resurrection is testimony to the truth of all Jesus said and did. It is testimony to God’s redemptive purpose in the world. And we who have heard the testimony of those who saw the empty tomb, who have heard the word of grace, who have experienced the healing power of God, who have tasted the Holy Spirit and the life of the age to come – we are those sent in wonder and joy to witness to this loving, suffering, redeeming God.

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Each day of Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, and Good Friday, the pictures in the sanctuary showed the larger arc of the story of the passion through to Mary speaking with the angels at the empty tomb – though the collection varied each day with images relating to that specific day.  For the Easter Vigil and Easter morning, the pictures portrayed people from the passion story – each representing differing responses to Jesus.  All the pictures used over these days are shown below.  (The days here reflect the day of the action in the picture, rather than the selections used that day in worship.)

Palm Sunday

File:Brooklyn Museum - The Lord Wept (Le Seigneur pleura) - James Tissot.jpg

Jesus enters Jerusalem

Maundy Thursday

File:Brooklyn Museum - The Washing of the Feet (Le lavement des pieds) - James Tissot.jpg

Jesus washes the feet of the disciples

File:Brooklyn Museum - You Could Not Watch One Hour With Me (Vous n'avez pu veiller une heure avec moi) - James Tissot.jpg

The disciples fall asleep while Jesus prays in the Garden of Gethsemane

File:Judas and with Him a Great Multitude.jpg

Judas leads the mob to seize Jesus

File:Brooklyn Museum - The Kiss of Judas (Le baiser de Judas) - James Tissot.jpg

Judas betrays Jesus with a kiss

File:Brooklyn Museum - Annas and Caiaphas (Anne et Caïphe) - James Tissot.jpg

Annas and Caiphas, the High Priest

File:Brooklyn Museum - The Sorrow of Saint Peter (La douleur de Saint Pierre) - James Tissot.jpg

Peter fleeing in grief after denying Jesus (following the cockcrow)

Good Friday

File:Jesus Before Pilate, First Interview.jpg

Jesus before Pilate

File:Brooklyn Museum - Behold the Man (Ecce Homo) - James Tissot.jpg

“Behold the man!” Pilate shows the tortured Jesus to the crowd

File:Brooklyn Museum - Herod (Hérode) - James Tissot - overall.jpg

Jesus is sent to Herod

File:Barabbas (James Tissot).jpg

The crowd asks for Barabbas to be released rather than Jesus

File:Brooklyn Museum - Jesus Meets His Mother (Jésus rencontre sa mère) - James Tissot.jpg

Jesus bearing the cross

File:Brooklyn Museum - The First Nail (Le premier clou) - James Tissot.jpg

Jesus nailed to the cross

File:Brooklyn Museum - "I Thirst" The Vinegar Given to Jesus ("J'ai soif." Le vinaigre donné à Jésus) - James Tissot.jpg

“I thirst.” Jesus offered sour wine

File:Brooklyn Museum - The Death of Jesus (La mort de Jésus) - James Tissot.jpg

The women witness the crucifixion

File:Brooklyn Museum - The Confession of Saint Longinus (Confession de Saint Longin) - James Tissot.jpg

The Centurion’s confession, “Truly this was the son of God.”

File:Brooklyn Museum - The Holy Virgin Receives the Body of Jesus (La Sainte Vierge reçoit le corps de Jésus) - James Tissot.jpg

Taking the body of Jesus for burial

File:Brooklyn Museum - Joseph of Arimathaea (Joseph d'Arimathie) - James Tissot.jpg

Joseph of Arimathea gets permission from Pilate to bury Jesus

Easter Sunday

File:Brooklyn Museum - Mary Magdalene Questions the Angels in the Tomb (Madeleine dans le tombeau interroge les anges) - James Tissot.jpg

Mary Magdalene at the empty tomb, met by a vision of angels

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Images:

Jesus enters Jerusalem on a donkey: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Brooklyn_Museum_-_The_Lord_Wept_(Le_Seigneur_pleura)_-_James_Tissot.jpg

Jesus washes the feet of the disciples: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Brooklyn_Museum_-_The_Washing_of_the_Feet_(Le_lavement_des_pieds)_-_James_Tissot.jpg

The disciples fall asleep while Jesus prays in the Garden of Gethsemane: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Brooklyn_Museum_-_You_Could_Not_Watch_One_Hour_With_Me_(Vous_n%27avez_pu_veiller_une_heure_avec_moi)_-_James_Tissot.jpg

Judas leads the mob to seize Jesus: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Judas_and_with_Him_a_Great_Multitude.jpg

Judas betrays Jesus with a kiss: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Brooklyn_Museum_-_The_Kiss_of_Judas_(Le_baiser_de_Judas)_-_James_Tissot.jpg

Annas and Caiphas, the High Priest: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Brooklyn_Museum_-_Annas_and_Caiaphas_(Anne_et_Ca%C3%AFphe)_-_James_Tissot.jpg

Peter fleeing in grief after betraying Jesus: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Brooklyn_Museum_-_The_Sorrow_of_Saint_Peter_(La_douleur_de_Saint_Pierre)_-_James_Tissot.jpg

Jesus before Pilate: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Jesus_Before_Pilate,_First_Interview.jpg“Behold the man!”

Pilate shows the tortured Jesus to the crowd: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Brooklyn_Museum_-_Behold_the_Man_(Ecce_Homo)_-_James_Tissot.jpg

Jesus is sent to Herod: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Brooklyn_Museum_-_Herod_(H%C3%A9rode)_-_James_Tissot_-_overall.jpg

Barabbas: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Barabbas_(James_Tissot).jpg

Jesus bearing the cross: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Brooklyn_Museum_-_Jesus_Meets_His_Mother_(J%C3%A9sus_rencontre_sa_m%C3%A8re)_-_James_Tissot.jpg

Jesus nailed to the cross: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Brooklyn_Museum_-_The_First_Nail_(Le_premier_clou)_-_James_Tissot.jpg

“I thirst.” Jesus offered sour wine: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Brooklyn_Museum_-_%22I_Thirst%22_The_Vinegar_Given_to_Jesus_(%22J%27ai_soif.%22_Le_vinaigre_donn%C3%A9_%C3%A0_J%C3%A9sus)_-_James_Tissot.jpg

The women witness the crucifixion: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Brooklyn_Museum_-_The_Death_of_Jesus_(La_mort_de_J%C3%A9sus)_-_James_Tissot.jpg

The Centurion’s confession, “Truly this was the son of God”: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Brooklyn_Museum_-_The_Confession_of_Saint_Longinus_(Confession_de_Saint_Longin)_-_James_Tissot.jpg

Taking the body of Jesus for burial: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Brooklyn_Museum_-_The_Holy_Virgin_Receives_the_Body_of_Jesus_(La_Sainte_Vierge_re%C3%A7oit_le_corps_de_J%C3%A9sus)_-_James_Tissot.jpg

Taking the body of Jesus for burial: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Brooklyn_Museum_-_The_Holy_Virgin_Receives_the_Body_of_Jesus_(La_Sainte_Vierge_re%C3%A7oit_le_corps_de_J%C3%A9sus)_-_James_Tissot.jpg

Mary Magdalene at the empty tomb, met by a vision of angels: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Brooklyn_Museum_-_Mary_Magdalene_Questions_the_Angels_in_the_Tomb_(Madeleine_dans_le_tombeau_interroge_les_anges)_-_James_Tissot.jpg

Text: © David K. Bonde

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But Christ can see

File:Bonfeld - Evangelische Kirche - Kanzelwand und Weihnachtsbaum 2015 - 1.jpg

Christmas Eve

I tried to stand well away from the altar, tonight, as I said the Eucharistic Prayer – the prayer that surrounds the words of institution (“In the night in which he was betrayed…”) for communion. Yesterday I was knocked down by a terrible cold and I didn’t want to touch the bread or get near to anyone lest I pass on my germs. So the assisting minister held the bread aloft at the proper moment, then the wine, then broke them for the distribution and served the bread for me.

I missed this opportunity to serve the community the gifts – or to share the peace before we come to the table – or to shake their hand and greet them after the service. I have been here 15 years, now, and there are people who come faithfully at Christmas. There are young people who have grown up and moved away but are back for the holiday. There are grandchildren and visiting aunts and uncles and siblings I have met through the years. It is hard to stand apart and wave at them from a distance after the service.

There is something wonderful about the power of this night to gather people together. Something warm and enduring about the ties that stretch over time. Something mystical about the power of this story of the child of Bethlehem and the beauty of a darkened room with the Christmas trees shining and every hand holding high a lighted candle as we sing of a silent and holy night. It speaks of peace, a peace that we remember, a peace we can imagine, a peace for which we hope.

It is our answer to the torchlight march last August in Charlottesville. It is our prayer for a world where too much is vile and violent. It is our yearning for what the world could be.

And it is our confession of what the world shall be. The babe of Bethlehem, the man from Nazareth, the healer and teacher, the embodiment of mercy and life, the good shepherd who lays down his life for the world, the crucified one is risen and comes to breathe his spirit upon us. He comes to touch us with grace and life. He comes to heal and renew the world. He comes to gather us to one table. He comes to reconcile heaven and earth.

Not everyone who comes to sing “Silent Night” can see all the way to Good Friday and Easter, to Pentecost and the New Jerusalem. But Christ can see. And the Spirit leads. And the song is begun.

Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3ABonfeld_-_Evangelische_Kirche_-_Kanzelwand_und_Weihnachtsbaum_2015_-_1.jpg By Roman Eisele (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)%5D, 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

We push on

File:Pushing van together.jpg

Saturday

John 20:19-31

21Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” 22When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit.

Easter drives towards Pentecost.

Christmas drives towards Easter. The wonder of the incarnation pushes towards its destiny in Jerusalem. Every step along the way, the baptism of Jesus, the temptation, the opening of blind eyes, the rejection at Nazareth, the conflict with the Pharisees, the healing of the sick, the lifting of sins, it pushes towards the cross and resurrection.

The Lord of heaven and earth has come to dwell with us. But we are not ready. We are not ready for the world to be healed. We are not ready for the reign of the Spirit. We are not ready for the triumph of mercy. We are not ready to see all people as members of our own household. We are not ready for the love that kneels to wash feet. And so the incarnation ends where it had to end: in rejection, in violence, in the cross.

But that’s not where it ends for God. The incarnation pushes towards Easter. It drives towards the empty tomb, towards the risen Christ, towards the kneeling of Thomas, towards the breaking of bread at Emmaus.

But this is not the end of the matter. The reason God came to dwell among us was to dwell among us. Our rejection of the incarnation and God’s vindication of Jesus hasn’t yet resolved the matter of God dwelling with us. And so we push on towards Pentecost. We push on towards the outpouring of the Spirit. We push on to the mission of this community who have heard the words and seen the work of God in Christ, who have seen the witness to the reign of God, who have seen the cross and the risen Lord, who have seen Christ ascend and promise to come again to dwell among us. Indeed who dwells among us now, already, by the Spirit and in the community gathered.

We push on toward Pentecost. To the breath of God roaring like a mighty wind that gives witness in every language to all the earth. To the breath of God breathed upon the student/followers that makes them bold in witness and full of grace. Stephen dies at the hands of a mob, praying for God to forgive those throwing stones. And Paul, who holds the cloaks that day while the mob works its rage, will himself be counted dead by stoning yet rise again to continue his witness that God has reconciled all things.

It is Easter, but we push on toward Pentecost. We push on towards that day when the Spirit reigns in every heart and all are gathered at God’s table. We push on toward that day when the bridegroom comes and heaven and earth are wed – when at last we are ready for God to dwell among us and the holy city stands with gates wide open, filled with never-ending light.

We push on. And Sunday, on this 8th day since the empty tomb was discovered, we hear already of Pentecost, of the breathing out of God’s breath upon us, and the sending of God’s little community to bear witness to the new creation, the forgiving of every debt and healing of every heart.

Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3APushing_van_together.jpg By Clear Path International (Flickr) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

All Nations

File:Victoria, BC - Christ Church Cathedral - stained glass 28 - Chapel of the New Jerusalem (20623905782).jpg

Chapel of the New Jerusalem, Christ Church Cathedral, Victoria, BC

Watching for the Morning of May 1, 2016

Year C

The Sixth Sunday of Easter

It is still Easter. It will be Easter forever, but this is still the Easter season, and the empty tomb, and the New Jerusalem, and the Lamb upon the throne, and the river of life, and the gathering of all creation, continues to vibrate through our readings and song.

Paul and his companions have set out on their second missionary journey, visiting congregations they have planted and hoping to go into new regions. But the door is continually blocked until they find themselves in the port city of Troas and a vision leads them across the Aegean Sea to Macedonia and Greece and the ancient heart of Greek culture. There, across the sea, in the Roman colony of Philippi, the planted word takes root, beginning with Lydia and growing into Paul’s most beloved congregation.

The psalmist calls all nations and peoples to the ends of the earth to join the praise of God. John of Patmos sees the holy city, a light on a hill, beckoning all peoples. From the throne of God flows the river of the water of life and the tree of life brings healing to the nations. And then Jesus speaks to his followers of the gift of the Spirit, the advocate/defender who will stand with us and call to mind all that Jesus has said. The new creation dawns, and the peace of God is given.

The Prayer for May 1, 2016

God of might and tenderness,
who makes the mountain shake
but breaks not the bruised reed
and sustains the flickering flame.
Help us to dwell in your peace,
and ever to take refuge in the Holy Spirit
whom you have sent as our advocate and defender,
our teacher and guide.

The Texts for May 1, 2016

First Reading: Acts 16:6-15 (appointed: vv. 9-15)
“During the night Paul had a vision: there stood a man of Macedonia pleading with him and saying, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” – On his second missionary journey, the plans of Paul and his companions are blocked until they find themselves in the port city of Troas where Paul’s vision leads them across the Aegean to Philippi are received by Lydia.

Psalmody: Psalm 67
“May God be gracious to us and bless us and make his face to shine upon us, that your way may be known upon earth, your saving power among all nations.” – A harvest song calling upon all nations to praise God

Second Reading: Revelation 21:9-10; 21:22 – 22:5 (appointed: vv. 21:10; 21:22 – 22:5)
“And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God is its light, and its lamp is the Lamb. The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it.”
– In this culminating vision of the Book of Revelation of all things made new and the heavenly Jerusalem coming to dwell on earth, the prophet sees a city that is a beckoning light to all people and the tree of life brings healing to the nations.

Gospel: John 14:18-19, 23-29 (appointed: vv. 23-29)
“I have said these things to you while I am still with you. But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you.” – On the night of the last Supper, Jesus declares that he will not abandon his followers, but will send the Spirit to be their guide and defender.

 

Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AVictoria%2C_BC_-_Christ_Church_Cathedral_-_stained_glass_28_-_Chapel_of_the_New_Jerusalem_(20623905782).jpg  by Joe Mabel [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0), CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Singing harmony

File:Savault Chapel Under Milky Way BLS.jpg

Wednesday

Psalm 148

3Praise him, sun and moon;
praise him, all you shining stars!

I switched my major from Math to Medieval Studies my second year in college, much to the surprise and bewilderment of parents who wondered how I was going to earn a living with that! But I was enamored with the medieval vision of the harmony of the spheres. (I also needed to fulfill a language requirement and German wasn’t working for me. Fortunately Latin did: it was a math problem on paper rather than a conversational challenge. My eyes are better than my ears.)

The medieval world imagined the skies as a series of concentric spheres, crystal clear, in which were embedded the planets and stars. As they rotated around the earth they sang like a finger on crystal wine glasses, and together lifted up a song of rich and wondrous harmony. Amidst the cacophony of the world and the grief of my brother’s death, such harmony was alluring.

It still is.

I joined the church choir because I have always wanted to learn to sing in harmony. It’s work for me. Fortunately our music director is gracious and patient. But every now and then I get it and it’s wonderful.

I watched a bit of a nature show on PBS last evening. Nature is pretty brutal up close. A crow ate all the eggs of the sage grouse the filmmaker followed. And there was a pretty graphic but amazing shot of a small eaglet working to wolf down a whole ground squirrel. It may not be exactly a dog-eat-dog world but it is an everybody-eats-somebody world. Ruthless even in its beauty.

But there is this vision in our psalm of a world singing in harmony. There is this Biblical vision of a world conceived in love and established as a garden – a world that got broken but will be remade, renewed, redeemed. This is the culminating vision in the Book of Revelation: Out of the world’s chaos and terrors will be born a Jerusalem in which the light never fails and the gates are never shut. It is the world of the empty tomb, and the word of grace, and the shared table, and the holy bath, and the Spirit of God poured into every heart, and the eternal song of joy – a song our eternal choir director, long-suffering and patient, never gives up trying to teach us.

 

Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3ASavault_Chapel_Under_Milky_Way_BLS.jpg  By Benh LIEU SONG (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

A New Commandment

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Watching for the Morning of April 17, 2016

Year C

The Fifth Sunday of Easter

Peter does what many regard as unthinkable when he chooses to baptize Cornelius and his family. Cornelius is a centurion in the Roman army, a commander of the occupying forces. Though he is a good man, he is outside the community of Israel. And so begins the conversation that decides whether Jesus is the Messiah of Israel or the Redeemer of all the earth.

Is Jesus the anointed one who frees Judah or the anointed one who beings the day when all heaven and earth are reconciled. Does Jesus make us better Jews or citizens of the age to come when death no longer holds dominion over God’s creation?

For Peter, he had no option. God had decided this question by giving these Gentiles the gift of God’s Spirit – the gift of the age to come. If they had the baptismal gift; Peter needed to finish the job with water. It was in keeping with the prophets and the words and deeds of Jesus. The grave was empty. The dawn of the world gathered to God was underway.

John of Patmos describes it for us as the heavenly Jerusalem descending to earth and all heaven and earth made new. The voice of the psalmist joins the refrain calling upon all creation to sing God’s praise. And at the center of our worship on Sunday will be the words of Jesus giving the new commandment – the commandment that characterizes the age to come – the commandment to love one another. Such love reveals that we are student/followers of Jesus. Such love bears witness to ultimate triumph of God’s love.

The Prayer for April 24, 2016

Gracious God,
whom all creation praises,
and whose will it is to gather all things into your wide embrace,
pour out upon us your Spirit of love,
that we may follow where you lead
and obey what you command;
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 24, 2016

First Reading: Acts 11:1-18
“If then God gave them the same gift that he gave us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could hinder God?” – Peter faces criticism over his baptism of the Gentile, Cornelius, by recounting the sequence of events leading to his visit and God’s outpouring of the Spirit.

Psalmody: Psalm 148
“Praise the Lord! Praise the Lord from the heavens.” – The psalmist calls upon all creation to sing God’s praise.

Second Reading: Revelation 21:1-6
“Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth… And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.”
– In this culminating vision of the Book of Revelation, the prophet sees the earth made new and the heavenly Jerusalem coming to dwell on earth.

Gospel: John 13:31-35
“By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” – On the night of the last Supper, Jesus gives his disciples a new commandment: to love one another.

 

Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AWashing_the_feets_(1420s%2C_Sergiev_Posad).jpg  By Workshop of Daniel Chorny and Andrey Rublev (http://www.icon-art.info/group.php?lng=&grp_id=9) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Easter in the Rubble

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Sunday Evening

Isaiah 65

No more shall the sound of weeping be heard in it,
or the cry of distress.

Our Easter day was very nice, with the Easter Breakfast and the crowded sanctuary and the handbells ringing in procession and joining the organ and trumpet to lead the congregation in “Jesus Christ is Risen Today” and ending the day with the children’s Easter egg hunt and the leftovers from breakfast for what was now an Easter brunch. It was sunny and warm and happy and sweet.

What I remember about Easter as a child was its innocence. It was about eggs and bunnies and jellybeans. It was about flowers and spring and family gatherings. It was pastel colors and my little sister looking priceless in a darling new dress.

But this morning there is news about the targeting of Christians – mostly women and children – near the children’s rides in a park in Lahore, Pakistan. As of now the news says more than sixty were killed and two hundred injured. And Brussels is still in the news. And Paris before that. And the refugees from Syria. And the violence from ISIS. And the angry words of our own election season.

The images of our happy Easter and the sorrows of the world clash in my mind and heart.

Of course, this is nothing new. That picture in my mind of Kathy in her darling new Easter dress hunting for colored eggs at Uncle Victor and Aunt Evelyn’s home on an Easter afternoon is from the years when the war in Vietnam was ramping up and we were practicing nuclear attack drills in my grade school. And somewhere in there was the Cuban missile crisis and my brother’s night-terror that there was a nuclear bomb under our bunk bed – but Easter was still innocence and candy.

I want to protect that innocence. There was a taste of it all through this last week. When Natalie arrived for work each morning she would place our large pastel, Easter eggs in different places on the lawn or “hiding” in the flower beds. And the children from the music school would get wide-eyed at these giants eggs that were as big as they – and they would climb on them and push them around and parents and nannies would be taking pictures with their cell phones. Every time I walked by I couldn’t help but smile.

We need innocence. We need simple delight. We need laughter and bright, shining eyes.

There is an element of Easter that is about innocence. We saw it in our first reading this morning where the prophet speaks to a broken and war-torn people about a time to come when all things are made new, when Jerusalem is a joy and the sound of weeping is no more, when invading armies no longer strip your fields and take your houses, when children are no longer laid in the dust of death, when peace comes even to the wolf and the lamb.

I suppose if the prophet were preaching to us he would speak of a world without fear of terrorism and war, without angry rhetoric, without police violence or violence of any kind, when the water is safe to drink in every city and the rains are gentle and reliable, when there is no fear of strange new diseases or familiar old ones.

There is a yearning in the human heart for lost innocence. But the Biblical promise isn’t about going back to a lost innocence –it is about going forward into a new innocence, a new creation, a rebirth of the human heart and a healing of the world. The Biblical promise isn’t about going back to the Garden of Eden, but going forward to the New Jerusalem.

When Jesus announces the dawning of the kingdom of God he is speaking about that healing and transformation of the world where our lives and our world are brought under the governance of God’s Spirit. The prophet Jeremiah spoke about this as the law, the teaching of God, being written on our hearts. Joel talks about it as the Spirit of God poured out on every person, young and old, slave and free. Micah talks about swords being beaten into plowshares and spears into pruning hooks. And Isaiah about light shining in the darkness.

The promise of scripture is that God will give new birth to the human heart and to our world. And the witness of Easter is that that new birth has begun. God has his foot in the door and no matter how ward we try to push him out, God is coming in.

But he’s not coming in on a horse; he’s riding a donkey. He’s not coming with a sword but in peace. He is not coming as a tyrant but a servant. He is not coming with an army of men or angels to drive out the wicked; he is healing the sick and gathering the outcast. He is washing feet. He is forgiving his betrayers. He is offering his life for the sake of the world.

Though we delight in the innocence and the Easter eggs, the story we are here to tell is of a world rescued and redeemed.

Easter speaks its truth most profoundly not on those perfect spring mornings when we were having our picture taken, dressed in our Sunday best, in front of the flower covered cross outside the church. Easter speaks its truth most profoundly in the rubble where people are crucified. There comes the message that the grave is empty. There comes word that God walks with us amidst death and sorrow that we might walk in his light and life.

 

Photo: https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/a/ad/Spring_in_Somerville%2C_NJ_-_2012_File_4.JPG By Siddharth Mallya (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Lift up your heads

File:Filippino Lippi, Carafa Chapel, Annunciation 03.jpg

Watching for the Morning of November 29, 2015

Year C

The First Sunday of Advent

So much of our imagery of the end of the world seems to describe “the end of the world.” We get stuck on the four horsemen of the apocalypse and forget that the whole narrative of Revelation drives towards the vision of the New Jerusalem – the making new of the world. Maybe that’s because “the end of the world” is so common in our experience. The loss of parents, the loss of a spouse, the loss of a marriage, the loss of a job – they all contain elements of a life that will never be the same, life that seems irrecoverable, life that seems at an end.

I remember how often I tried to remind my girls that some catastrophe at school or at home – a broken relationship, a broken toy or spilled milk on a report – was not “the end of the world.” But even there, “the end of the world” is equated with disaster – just a bigger one than whatever misfortune has just occurred.

Though Christianity recognizes how deep and stubborn is the rebellion in the human heart, how prolonged the labor pains might be in the birthing of God’s new world, it is about God’s world made new – restored, freed, healed, redeemed, saved. Those are all the words at the center of Christian faith, not the dark woes of apocalypticism.

There is a stunning realism in this religion accused of being “pie in the sky” – a realism about the darkness that lurks in human societies, and the wastes and wraths of our sorrows. Kings go to war, bombing villages and destroying ancient communities, disrupting food and water supplies, leading to disease and death long after the sword has passed through. Leading to the suffering of children and innocents. Leading to the birthing of hate and revenge. Leading to the birthing of despair. There is realism in Christianity.  The central story we tell is about a brutal torture and execution of an innocent man.

But the end is not the grave. The world belongs to God and not to suffering and death. We were created for joy not sorrow, for meaningful work not slave labor, for union not divorce, for a life with God in the garden not hiding in the bushes. We were created for life not death. And though we yield so easily and completely to the powers of death (revenge, hate, neglect, cruelty, greed, bitterness, and the darkest nihilism) we are creatures born of the breath of God in whom we can also see all that is glorious about our made-in-the-image-of-God humanity: love, tenderness, laughter, play, kindness, care of strangers, sharing of bread, coming to the aid of those in need.

So on the first Sunday of the year our eyes are on the horizon – not because the world ends in whimpering and silence, but because it ends in joy. And the God who comes on the horizon of history is the one who has already met us lying in a manger, and at a breakfast barbecue on the shore of Galilee.

The prayer for November 29, 2015

All earth and heaven have their beginning and end in you, O God;
you are our source and goal.
Make us ever mindful that our lives move towards your Grace,
that we might be faithful children of hope;
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 November 29, 2015

First Reading: Jeremiah 33:14-16
“In those days and at that time I will cause a righteous Branch to spring up for David; and he shall execute justice and righteousness in the land.”
– In the aftermath of the national catastrophe when Babylon’s armies came and crushed the nation, destroying Jerusalem and the temple of its God, the prophet rises, daring to declare that the LORD’s promise to Israel is not voided. That God will yet fulfill his promise under the banner of a true and faithful king.

Psalmody: Isaiah 51:4-11 (appointed: Psalm 25:1-10)
“The ransomed of the Lord will return. They will enter Zion with singing; everlasting joy will crown their heads, sorrow and sighing will flee away.” – In place of the appointed psalm, our parish sings the song of salvation from Isaiah 51 where the prophet declares that the faithfulness of God is more enduring than earth and sea and heralds the return from exile in “everlasting joy.”

Second Reading: Philippians 1:3-11 (appointed: 1 Thessalonians 3:9-13)
“This is my prayer, that your love may overflow more and more… so that in the day of Christ you may be pure and blameless.” – Though Paul writes from prison, his eyes are on the fulfillment of God’s promise to establish his reign of grace and life and writes his beloved congregation, rejoicing in their faith and urging them to faithfulness.

Gospel: Luke 21:25-36
“There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on the earth distress among nations confused by the roaring of the sea and the waves.” – Reading now in Luke at the beginning of a new church year, we start with eyes turned toward the horizon of human history and the promise of the ultimate dawning of God’s reign over all creation.

 

Image: Filippino Lippi, Archangel Gabriel in the fresco of the Annunciation, Carafa chapel.  [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.

Miriam dances

Thursday

Exodus 15:1-21

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Miriam, The Dormition Church on Mount Zion in Jerusalem

20Then the prophet Miriam, Aaron’s sister, took a tambourine in her hand; and all the women went out after her with tambourines and with dancing. 21And Miriam sang to them: “Sing to the Lord, for he has triumphed gloriously; horse and rider he has thrown into the sea.”

At the beginning of Exodus 15 we read:

1Then Moses and the Israelites sang this song to the Lord: “I will sing to the Lord, for he has triumphed gloriously; horse and rider he has thrown into the sea.

And at the end of that great song in celebration of their deliverance comes the verse we noted above:

20Then the prophet Miriam, Aaron’s sister, took a tambourine in her hand; and all the women went out after her with tambourines and with dancing. 21And Miriam sang to them: “Sing to the Lord, for he has triumphed gloriously; horse and rider he has thrown into the sea.”

The implication in the text is that worship was men’s work. It was part of Israel’s public life. It’s why we find David’s wife, Michal, watching from the window of the palace rather than participating in the dancing before the LORD. It is why, in the orthodox Jewish synagogue, a service required ten men while the women watched from behind a screen. It is why that same pattern of women in the back watching men perform the public rites is still observed in Islam. And it is why, until a hundred years ago, it was common for men to sit on one side of the church and women on the other.

This is not about sexism; this is an observation about the text that begins with the fact that men and women inhabited different worlds.

But the song of celebration was sung in both worlds.

The song of praise, the joy, the dancing, the recognition that God was deliverer, was sung in both realms.

There is something earth-shatteringly important in this. God is not praised by the men for his service to the male world; God is praised by men and women for his redeeming work for the whole world. God is not honored for his mighty act of power in a man’s world of power; God is honored for setting those in bondage free.

Something profound, that will echo through the centuries, is begun here with this celebration by both men and women of God as the one who delivers from oppression. The God of the exodus can never become a God of the powerful. It is why God throws down the kingdoms of Israel of Judah when they become kingdoms of economic and political injustice. It is why the prophets cry. It is why Lamentations declares God justified for the desolation of Jerusalem. It is why Job refuses to admit guilt; though he has no right to question God, he questions God for thirty-five magnificent chapters.

It is why Genesis 3 declares that the imbalance of power between men and women is the result of human sin, not the design of the creator. It is why God keeps upsetting the applecart, choosing the childless to bear the child of promise, choosing the younger son over the elder, choosing a keeper of sycamore trees as a prophet, choosing the child of Mary, a lowly construction worker, to be the embodiment of light and life. The manger is essential to this story of the God whose praise is song by both the world of men and the world of women. God isn’t a defender of the system; God is bringer of a new ‘system’, a new realm, a new kingdom, a new Jerusalem, a new life, a deliverance from the impossible debt of honor that humanity owes to God for their conduct on earth.

It is why the prophets say that Babylon will fall. It is why Jesus says the temple will fall. It is why the book of Revelation has such horrendous images of social collapse – for the systems we build are not the city of God. But the city of God comes.

When Miriam takes up her tambourine, we can recognize what is truly being said about this God who throws the horse and rider into the sea. Kalashnikovs and nuclear weapons and drones are all destined for the sea.

As is female genital mutilation and human trafficking, the selling of child brides and every glass ceiling.

“Sing to the Lord, for he has triumphed gloriously;
horse and rider he has thrown into the sea.”

 

Image: By Radbod Commandeur (1890 – 1955); photo by Deror avi (Own work) [Attribution, CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons