Thursday, April 9, 2015

Searching for Moses Moments

For the past year or so, I have been running a couple times a week.  It’s a win-win activity; the dogs get exercise and so do I.  I like the paths I run because even though the lakes I run around are manmade, they have attracted a great deal of wildlife right in the middle of a suburban neighborhood.  From Canada geese to great blue herons, from hawks to squirrels to beavers; I’ve seen quite a variety out there.   Over the course of a year, I have also watched the landscape progress through the seasons:  Spring… summer… fall… winter… and now back to spring.  The scene is slightly different each day, but I confess that I don’t always notice. I can be pretty focused on “getting my run done” and miss the subtle changes going on around me.

I can be so absorbed in Alan’s world—my thoughts, worries, and concerns—that I am virtually blind to God’s world.   

Sometimes I wonder, if the Risen Lord himself were to approach me on the path, like he did the disciples on the Road to Emmaus (Luke 24:13-35) would I recognize him?   I might just as likely smile politely at the stranger passing by, tell the dogs to “leave the nice man alone,” and keep right on running.

I feel solidarity with Jacob. God is always on my path but some days I scarcely recognize him. 

Moses "saw" God in a burning bush. —Exodus 3:1–4:23
But occasionally I have what I might describe as Moses-moment.  A moment when, “It’s burning there, what can I do but see?”  

I had one such “moment” this week as I ran. Perhaps it was because we had just celebrated Easter, and my mind was more keenly focused to notice “signs of new life”.  Or maybe it was because spring is springing where I live in Maryland, and colorful blossoms seemed to be exploding everywhere along the path. The trail was teeming with life at every turn—rabbits, squirrels, ducks, geese, herons, hawks, and several times along the way, the flutter of doves wings…  The sound of the Spirit passing by perhaps? I think one might have to literally be blind to “miss the resurrection” that morning. 

Once Jacob’s eyes were open and he “saw” that God was present with him, he was never the same again.  His encounter changed him entirely; God even changed his name.  Likewise, the disciples on the Road to Emmaus had their own Moses-moment when the Risen Christ broke bread with them.  After Christ left them, they recognized the burning that had been there all along while Jesus was with them on the road. 

My prayer is that as time goes on I too might have more Moses-moments—moments when I realize the Risen Lord is with me, to the point where my heart burns; moments when I “see” resurrection beyond a shadow of a doubt. 

My praises will rise
As I come to recognize
Jesus is near.
Glory is here!

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Holy Saturday: Dwelling in the Space Between...

Every fall in temperate regions around the world, old life dies off so that new life can emerge in the spring.  Winter is the "season in between", when all looks dead on the surface.  Sometimes when we are in the midst of a particularly harsh winter, we might despair, wondering if spring will "ever come".  This year in Maryland, the season in between seems to have lasted a long time; spring seems "behind schedule".   This is one of the latest years on record for the Cherry Blossoms  to bloom.  Our human calendar says it's spring, so of course we expect the weather to behave accordingly.

The moral of the story is that we don't set the timetable for how long the passage from death to resurrection will take.

Today is the day in our liturgical calendar when we remember when Jesus passed from death to resurrection -- when he dwelled the "space between" the Cross and the Empty Tomb.  No one is sure quite what happened on Saturday.  In fact, it's so mysterious that only one Gospel writer mentions it, and even then only in vague terms.  Nevertheless, that it happened is a core part of our faith.  Holy Saturday is a part of the story that tends to get overlooked as we rush from the cross on Good Friday to the resurrection on Easter Sunday -- but without it there would be no Easter.   We lose something important if we never take time to ponder the mystery of Holy Saturday.

In hindsight we know that Jesus' passage through death to resurrection took three days -- from Friday night to Sunday morning.  Remember, however, that the disciples don't know that yet.  Hard as it might be, try to imagine how they felt.  All of the hope they mustered these past three years has been crushed under the heel of harsh Roman rule.  Their teacher and friend has been tortured and humiliated; Pilate meant for his death to be a public reminder of what will happen to anyone who opposes the will of Caesar.  Make no mistake, when these men and women go to bed late that Friday night, Winter has come and there is no hint that Spring is only three days away...  

Low in the ground he lay, Jesus my savior.
Waiting the coming day, Jesus my Lord....

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Failing Jesus

Tonight is Holy Thursday, when many followers of Jesus remember the Last Supper, when Jesus bought his disciples together for a final meal together in the Upper Room prior to his arrest and crucifixion...

The meal probably began like any other Passover meal, but by the time the night was over the disciples slowly began to realize that nothing would ever be the same.   No one expects Jesus to kneel and wash his disciples feet.  Make no mistake, this is a task that even the lowest servants tried to avoid.  But Jesus voluntarily strips down, takes up towel and washbasin, and washes the feet of his followers.  He is giving them an example of the kind of Messiah he is.  They experience it firsthand… and yet, as the night plays out, it is clear they have missed the point entirely.

Jesus and his disciples at the "Last Supper"
Later, Jesus takes the bread and wine, elements that the Jewish people had used for centuries as part of their Passover ritual, and somehow in his Presence, the common becomes the Divine, and they take on new meaning. 

The New Covenant does not replace the Old Covenant; it expands it.  Passover reminds the Jewish people of when God saved them from Egyptian slavery, when Moses led them to freedom across the Red Sea.  Through Jesus, the concept of salvation is no longer simply about liberation from a place, it is about liberation from a life of bondage to the powers—the domination systems—of this world.

Jesus comes declaring that the realm of God is present and available to everyone—now.  He offers access to a completely different type of “kingdom” than any that has ever been or ever will be on this Earth.  God’s Kingdom transcends all human boundaries and “travels with” individual believers, wherever they find themselves. 

Salvation is a life found through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.

A time will come in the near future when the disciples (later known as the Apostles) come to embrace and recognize the theological reality embodied in the Eucharist and proclaim it boldly to all they meet—but not this night.   On Holy Thursday, even after all they have experienced with Jesus over the past three years, even after all they have heard him say and seen him do since arriving in Jerusalem on Sunday, they are still sadly oblivious to what is going on.  Despite the fact that they ought to know better by now, the events that play out on Holy Thursday show that they do not "get it".  They seem to be caught completely off guard.  There is much symbolism in the fact that the disciples are asleep in the Garden when Jesus pleads with them several times to keep watch—to be alert of what is going on. It seems that, try as they might, they simply can’t wrap their minds around the reality that their Messiah must suffer and die.

And Scripture would suggest that this is how it had to be.  For on this night the darkness had to prevail; evil had to win the battle; the Servant had to suffer—in every way a person can suffer, even unto death. 

And so Judas betrays Jesus in the garden; Peter denies him not once, not twice, but three times, in the courtyard of the High Priest’s house.  Before the night is over, every single disciple will flee and abandon him in his greatest hour of need.  Not one is willing to stand beside him as he faces his darkest hour.  As the Prophet Isaiah predicted, the Servant suffers alone. 

As this drama unfolds each year, we tend to feel sad for Jesus and the abuse and humiliation he suffers unjustly, but we also are disturbed because see ourselves in the drama, and we don’t always like what we see. 

We realize that, in a very real sense, we are Judas, we are Peter, we are the disciples. 

We all have the capacity to deny, to betray, to abandon Jesus when he needs us most—not just on Holy Thursday but any day of the year.  

  • Find yourself in the events of Holy Thursday.  Picture yourself in the Upper Room, the Garden, the Courtyard of the High Priest.  How do you respond to Jesus in those critical moments? 
  • ConsiderWhere have you have failed Jesus recently?  Where have you betrayed, denied, or abandoned him when he needed you?
  • Dwell on the darkness within you—and on the human capacity to do wrong and justify it as “right”. Stay there for a while; don’t rush to resurrection.  Easter will come in due time, but for this night, try to let the darkness linger and do its work within you.

Pondering the Patterns of God's Garden

Creation is messy… Creation sometimes appears random. Until you look more closely… I have the largest flower bed on our cul de sac—ma...