Saturday 26 March 2016

I see the Lord

“Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, ‘I have seen the Lord’” (John 20:18).

That right there is the best Easter sermon ever.  I agree with Karoline Lewis in her blog Dear Working Preacher, a weekly letter to preachers suggesting themes and ideas for a sermon each week based on the suggested scripture readings.  “There’s your sermon, Working Preachers. It’s hard to imagine a better sermon than Mary Magdalene’s on that first Easter morning. Short and memorable and to the point.”

Right.  Done, then.  Saves me a lot of work.  Thank you, Mary.

Except.  She might have said just a little bit more.  And John says she does, she tells them about meeting Jesus by the tomb and how she thought he was the gardener and then he said her name and she recognized him and she said “Rabbouni!” (which means teacher) and he said to go and tell the other disciples (John 20:14-17).

You can just imagine her breathlessly, excitedly, telling them.  And soon, they will also get to say it.  “We have seen the Lord.”

But the eternal message of hope isn’t that Jesus was alive.  It’s that Jesus is alive.  And in order to know that, we also need to be able to say “I have seen the Lord” for ourselves.  Today.  In this moment.  It cannot be just a story we learn to believe.  It must be a personal reality.

There’s our struggle.  The world seems full of hurt and hate, violence and abuse, racism and prejudice, deceit and mistrust.   Someone’s understanding - or misunderstanding - of religion is often part of it.  Or power, always power.  And if not selfishness, then certainly self-centredness.  We seem content to be surrounded by signs of all kinds of death.

But I see the Lord.  Don’t you?

When love is shared as Jesus did, freely and without condition.  When people refuse to hate or judge.  When dominance gives way to community.  When religions stop arguing the authority of their traditions and embrace the common ground of grace.  When we act in any way that brings life into places where death has been too long.

And when we see where others can’t, we proclaim it and live it as loudly and extravagantly as we can, I have seen the Lord!

I wonder if our vision is sometimes impaired by our preconceived idea of what we should see.  “The Lord” is the language of structure and institution.  It may be what Mary says to the disciples, but it’s not her first reaction to seeing Jesus.  In that very first moment of realization in the garden by the tomb, Mary says “Rabbouni.”  She calls Jesus “teacher,” a word that describes the personal, one-to-one relationship that she has with Jesus.

Maybe if we looked less for “the Lord” of dogma and tradition and more for the personal way Jesus comes into our lives, we might better recognize Jesus is there.  Teacher, gardener, friend, lover, beloved, child, servant, revolutionary, maybe even a minister now and then.  How Jesus comes to us is reflected in how we see Jesus around us.

I have seen.  I see.  And you?

Thursday 24 March 2016

Can we talk about Friday for a minute

Well, this is a little awkward.

I try to post this blog Thursday night and I see it as early reflections on the upcoming Sunday.  That’s awkward in Holy Week.  It just doesn’t feel right to post thoughts of Easter before saying something about Friday at least.  Especially since I mentioned last time how important the story of the whole week is.

But I’ll be honest.  I’m not really comfortable talking about Friday.

When I was younger, and a musician, I appreciated the beautiful and moving music and liturgy of the Friday story.  I think I still do, as I know many do.  But something’s changed for me.  Maybe I thought about it too much or wondered about things that just raised questions for me about traditional church thinking.  There are a lot more shadows now.
Mind if I share some of those shadowy thoughts?  It won’t be too in depth (deep, perhaps, but not in depth), just talking points really.

Like “Good” Friday.  I don’t know if I can call it “good” anymore.  I know, there’s a variety of explanations for the term, like it could be a corruption of “God’s Friday” or that good used to also mean holy (some traditions still call it Holy Friday).  But I think most people still understand the “good” part as being that Jesus’ death, while brutal, was required for our redemption from sin.

I have some thoughts about that.

In the gospel narratives, Jesus’ death was not “good” in any way.  I’m not sure that I can accept a death as “good” to begin with.  I know that “a good death” has become a way of describing the care and compassion, comfort and relief that can be brought to surround someone’s end of life, and I honour that.  But there is still loss and grief.  It’s not “good,” perhaps, so much as “the best that we can do” and that is, indeed, a wonderful gift.

But in that moment, for all the family, disciples, friends and enemies, even people that had no idea what was going on, Jesus is dead.  There is pain and grief.

Jesus died in a horribly brutal way after being physically and mentally abused.  It wasn’t “good” in that respect, either, it was suffering.

And just because we know what happens next, I don’t think we get to call it “good” in hindsight, either.  Shouldn’t it still be Horrific Friday and Good Easter?

That’s very “in the moment” of the narrative, perhaps, so let’s look at the bigger picture.  Jesus died to save us, atonement for our sin, even for our original sin.  But, as I’ve said elsewhere at other times, I believe that, created in the image of God, our default setting - our birth setting, if you like - is good.  We may choose a different path - to sin - based on our experiences, but we begin from good.  From the very beginning.  I’ve long wondered if the story of Eve and Adam, the fruit and leaving Eden was really about sin, especially an original one.  The original act was choice, the first act of the precious gift of freewill.

There’s been lots of choice since then, both good and bad.  And sin.  If sin is the thing that drives us further and further away from God, then there’s been a lot.  A lot.  But not just before Jesus, after Jesus as well.

An act of atonement?  I don’t know that I can reconcile a God who requires payment for our sins with a God who’s love is for all, freely and unconditionally given, with grace and forgiveness equally so.  I think I go with the latter.

I believe that the life of Jesus is the way to follow: to love as he showed us how to love.  I think powerful people, feeling threatened by Jesus’ revolutionary and counter-cultural teaching about love and grace for all, had him killed.  They tried to end him without seeing that, as the embodiment of love, as the Word made flesh, you can’t kill that.  You’ll only - sorry to sound like Obi-Wan Kenobi - make it “more powerful than you can possibly imagine.”

Jesus brought a world of love, compassion and grace for all.  In doing that, he sought to bring us back to God, closer to the source of love and life.  We resisted - brutally - and still do.  But Jesus continues to live in you and me.  Crucifixions of all kinds continue to happen every day and Jesus stands there with us to remind us: this is not the end.  There is new life in this world and in the world to come.  In the midst of our deepest suffering, our enormous capacity for the harshest cruelty and weakness for the simplest of temptations, Jesus is there to help us shoulder our own crosses.