Expanding Our Vision

I spent this past weekend helping to lead a Rachel’s Vineyard retreat which I believe I’ve done for nearly eight years now. I never leave the experience without some sense of wonder and awe, not only at what people manage to live through in their lives, but undoubtably the courage they have to see it through to the other side. Or if anything, to begin the process of passing through.

If there’s one thing about pain and suffering, it has a way of narrowing our world view and often to the point where the sense of the eternal seems all but lost. Everything that we see and experience is viewed through that one narrow lens that does not lead to reconciliation and conversion, but to greater isolation and separation. It seems like the endless spiral of life for so many, choice after endless choice only leading to greater violence towards life and to ourselves.

It is the story of salvation history, though, as well. All this season we hear these great messages of hope from the Prophet Isaiah, including this Sunday. It is certainly the story of people Israel who often found itself in conflict after conflict, leading to greater separation. In today’s reading, despite the message of hope, Jerusalem once again plans for an impending attack from beyond its walls but also from within as this ongoing separation that leads to greater injustice and suffering. Heck, even if you go today it isn’t much different from thousands of years ago. It’s probably one of the craziest cities I’ve visited. They are so focused on their own pain and the need to protect that it has led to building walls that separate, from our own faith, the place of birth from the marking of death, a separation of Bethlehem and Jerusalem. It’s led to great problems beyond the walls and in places like Bethlehem, leading to a greater degree of poverty and injustice towards the people. Their vision had become so narrowed and they start believing that they really are the eternal rather than seeing it all metaphorically, that it eventually leads to their demise and destruction, time and again.

Yet, the message for Jerusalem and for us this weekend is of hope. That somehow these seeming opposites in the natural world will somehow lead the way and bring example to us humans as to how it’s done. Is there possibility for reconciliation? Is there possibility for less separation and a working towards greater justice, especially for the most vulnerable? Isaiah likes to believe so. For as hard as Isaiah can be on people Israel, this season offers a message of hope to those who have only known darkness and despair, to those who have viewed their lives through their constant suffering and the greater degree of poverty it leads to in one’s heart and soul. Like so many of our own sins, even those who walk this horror movie through the experience of making a life-ending choice, are so often symptoms of something much deeper going on in our lives, both individually and collectively.

Certainly John the Baptist was aware of this and everyone around him was aware of it. It’s why he was such a threat to the leaders, who often perpetuated the darkness for their own benefit, but also to the structures of his time. He was leading a revolution to call out the injustices of the society of his time, but for John it began with himself and for those who followed. He called them to look at themselves and how they too have sinned on this deeper than cellular level of their lives. The Pharisees and Sadducees knew it and did everything to avoid the fear that arose within themselves before the one who threatened their perceived power. John’s message is to repent, to do an about-face in life and to be awakened from their slumber to a new way of life, a life with greater vision, expanded vision, of a true and lasting God that sets them free.

This is the God we celebrate today and the God we prepare for all at the same time. There is no denying the greater darkness that has ensued so many lives, defined lives, ceased lives, and has caused us so often to stop growing ourselves. We get to a place that begins to seem hopeless as our world continues to shrink and dissolve around us, as the storm seemingly collapses over and over again before and within us. But there is hope. With just a crack in the walls we have created, the light begins to shine forth and God once again begins to break through and we submit ourselves to the invitation. This is a season of hope and a season to not only celebrate but to prepare for as the eternal breaks in and is broken open before our very eyes on this Table. As we gather and go forth, we pray we may continue to allow ourselves to be open to something and someone bigger than ourselves, to expand our vision while healing our pain and suffering. It is the fullness of life God desires of each of us and a fullness of life promised in this season of Advent.

Pushed Through

Isaiah 2: 1-5; Romans 13: 11-14; Matthew 24: 37-44

In 1968, Martin Luther King, Jr gave what would then be his final speech and sermon in Memphis. It is often referred to as the “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop” sermon and then assassinated the following day. It was often scripture, like the one we hear today from Isaiah about climbing that mountain that inspired such sermons. He used some poetic language in that one along with so many other sermons and prophetic speeches that he had given in his life. One of the images was something along the lines of that it is only in the darkest part of the night that we can truly see the brightest of the stars. For those of us who live in the city that should mean something knowing how much artificial light has a way to swallow up the stars as much as darkness can seem to in our lives. We become reliant on the artificial light that we, at times, begin to believe it’s the true light shining through, almost lulling us into a false trust as we often find ourselves journeying through the darkness.

Now in that speech King was addressing the economic injustices that he so frequently spoke out against, along with racial injustice. Of course, even as a message of hope there were some that could not see beyond their own darkness to embrace a larger heart which will lead to his untimely death. But like the prophetic voices, especially Isaiah whom we will hear from during this season, it was a message of hope that was being delivered. King imagined himself being asked by God as to what period of history he wishes he would have lived. In the end, King said right now. He believed, that despite the darkness of his day, with racial and economic injustices, along with others, that God was trying to break through at this very moment and God was using him to do just that, and to offer hope to people that have become swallowed up by darkness. He does this march through history, beginning with people Israel who knew first hand the plight of suffering and darkness.

Isaiah did as well and this theme of light and darkness will follow us straight through Christmas at this point. Not only have they been led through the darkness of the years wandering in the desert, but also in times of exile, war, famine, and this perpetual moaning to a God who had somehow abandoned them through it all. In the midst of such darkness they begin to despair and lose hope that they will ever get beyond it, or better yet, be able to push through or be pushed through. As it was with King, God grants Isaiah this panoramic vision of life in a time when the people needed it most. Israel once again finds itself at a low point and Isaiah, rather than condemning as can often be done, offers a message of hope, to walk in the light of the Lord, and that, even in their darkest of days, God continued to break through and offer hope to a people that hurt and suffer. Like them, we begin to identify ourselves by our darkness, whatever that darkness may be. We begin to identify ourselves by our sickness, by our cancer. Or we begin to identify ourselves by our unemployment or underemployment. We begin to identify ourselves by our addictions or whatever that darkness may be for each of us. But that darkness is not me and it’s not you.

Paul too continues that theme in today’s second reading to the Roman community. He reminds them to throw off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light. For Paul, it was a motivation to be love to one another and to recognize that this journey through life is one that we do together. If someone finds themselves wandering in darkness, they we are there to push them along and not to give up, to encourage. If we don’t, again, that darkness has a way of taking hold of our lives and we lose that panoramic vision of our lives and begin to despair and no longer believe that this God is not only breaking through in our lives but pushing us through that darkness. I’m mindful of the giving tree here as we also help people in need. We also mustn’t fall for this idea that somehow my darkness is worse or not as bad as others. Darkness is real in our lives, no matter what form it takes. Rather, it is a journey we do as one.

Jesus is preparing his disciples for the greatest of darkness, this experience of his impending death as King did in his speech. It will be one of the few times we actually hear from Jesus during these weeks. That’s why the message these weeks is to stay awake and to awaken from our slumber. The invitation these weeks is to climb that mountain, as difficult as it can be at times, and continue to allow ourselves to be pushed and not be so quick to give into the darkness of despair. Jesus knew it would not be an easy task for his disciples, but it is one that they must do together. They will quickly scatter but eventually find their way back to one another and push through the darkness of death together in order to be light to others.

This season gives us the invitation to take the journey that so many of the prophetic voices have invited us throughout salvation history, like Isaiah and King, along with Paul and Jesus. We are invited to the journey up this holy mountain of our lives and take a panoramic view of who we are and to ask ourselves where we have allowed darkness to define us. Where have we allowed ourselves to be lulled into believe that this darkness in normal and somehow have become a victim of our own circumstances, even questioning, as Israel did, how God could do this to us? When all along and through it all, God continues to break through. King was right in that it often is in the darkest time of the night that the stars shine the brightest, but it us who are called to be that light. We make this journey together, as one, in darkness and in the light. No, we are not the darkness that often defines us, but it is real. We are called to put on that armor of light and to be that light for all who find themselves climbing that mountain in what often seems as the darkest part of their night.

Increase Our Faith

Habakkuk 1: 2-3; 2: 2-4; Luke 17:5-10

Increase our faith. It seems like a rather simple request coming from the Apostles in today’s gospel, but when we speak of any of these virtues, we seem to have a tendency to use them rather loosely. We can often throw them around without ever recognizing the magnitude of the request being made, as it is with the disciples in today’s gospel. We tend to limit faith to dogma or doctrine, something we can hold onto, but that doesn’t even begin to come close to the biblical faith that they truly desire or the faith that Jesus is going to lead them to in their journey.

It’s safe to say, though, that they’re primed for something. If you think about all that we’ve heard the past weeks and months, they really are aware of the tension that is building between Jesus and so many of the leaders. They’ve witnessed it in their interactions and in his story telling, only seeming to escalate things, allowing the drama to unfold until we come to an encounter with the Cross. It’ll be in that moment when they finally come up against something they can’t explain or rationalize, and certainly can’t control, before they can finally be pushed through and begin to make sense out of what they are asking today when they ask for an increase in faith, a faith that can move mountains.

It may be the anonymous programs where we find a deeper meaning to what it means to be faithful. It’s not something that can be taught. It’s only where we can be led in our lives and be open towards. Step one of the programs, and probably the most difficult of all of them, is to recognize and accept that we are powerless and that there is a higher being than ourselves. It’s so hard but it’s such a movement towards the faith we desire in our lives and the faith given to and show to us by Jesus.

There may be no others in Scripture where we see it exemplified than in the Prophets. Today we hear from the prophet Habakkuk. For the entire chapter Habakkuk does nothing but lament to God for all that he has seen and witnessed. All the violence, the injustice that has unfolded, the vast amount of darkness that seems to rule the land. It’s not much different than our own lives and the world in which we live. It can push us to a place where we begin to feel helpless and even lose hope, wondering why God can ever let such things happen. At times all we can do is also lament to the Lord. Finally, God gives some response to Habakkuk. The Lord hears his plight and the plight of the people, but simply assures him that it’s in God’s hands and will occur in God’s time. It’s so often at those moments of surrender when we can finally begin to let go of our own need to try to control and fix things and simply place them in the hands of God. I am powerless to so much of it and all I can do is surrender it to a higher being. It’s trust. It’s faith.

For the disciples it will come in the form of a Cross. It’s going to be the pinnacle moment of tension in their lives when they recognize that what they are truly seeking is not something they can hold onto. As a matter of fact, dogma and doctrine isn’t worth a hill of beans if there’s no faith in a higher being and a mystery always trying to reveal before and within us. Quite honestly, we can practice religion our entire lives without ever going to this deeper place, this vast place within ourselves, where we truly learn to let go of that which has power over us, and so often it’s the way we think and it is what we have believed. There’s no final point to the journey. Faith is always leading us deeper and yet beyond ourselves, into mystery with another opportunity to let go, surrender to this ever-manifesting God.

Increase our faith. It does seem so simple a request asked by the disciples in today’s gospel, but there’s nothing easy about it. It is an invitation that remains with us throughout our lives to once again be pushed where we’d rather not go, to the place of great suffering where we will once again need to give up control and our need to know and simply learn to trust. It’s God who will push us through and lead us to this place. It’s God who will push us through to this place of faith, where we once again surrender and let go, and in God’s time, allow our hearts to grow to greater depths of faithfulness.

Is It Over Yet?

I don’t know about anyone else, but I’ve about had my fill, plus some, on this election cycle. When I was watching some news this morning all I kept thinking was, “Is it over yet?” It’s a lot like that child in the backseat of a car who perpetually questions whether we’ve reached our destination as the car continues to fly down the highway at seventy miles an hour, seeming endless in sight. Over and over again the question lingers because it just seems to take forever to get there, without an end in sight.

I couldn’t help but to be mindful of the fact, also, that there seems to be no other news that happens during this cycle. All we ever hear about is Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, every now and then Gary Johnson, and who’s going to try to win the duel of berating comments that does nothing more than divide and dredge up people’s most visceral reactions toward fellow human beings. How about the number of people killed in Africa by terrorists groups since the beginning of this year? There seems to be no mention of that in the news. How about the number of people around the globe and here in the States that die for not having adequate food, clothing, and shelter each year? There seems to never be a mention of that. That’s really not news and doesn’t sell to the consumers. No one seems to notice that what we are consuming is eventually going to kill us in some way, or at the least, numb us to the real problems that we face as a country and as a fellow human race. If we want to label anything deplorable, it’s the lack of empathy that we have lost towards our fellow brothers and sisters, so often numbed by screens that we can turn on and off and so often translating over into the way we relate to others.

The lack of empathy is typically the result of deep wounds that we allow to fester within us and typically avoid. This mess we call the presidential election is a good way to avoid that pain and numb it even deeper within ourselves. Now it is one thing to do that on an individual level, but when the collective psyche has been damaged and hurt, it, in many ways, leads to the reality in which we live and often scapegoating others, deflecting our own pain, onto others, often those that don’t have the ability to defend themselves, those without a voice. The people that often need that empathy the most become the villain in the story that unfolds. There’s no better way to avoid our own pain than to project it onto the one that can’t defend, can’t stand up for themselves, and in turn only deepens the wounds of others. The cycle continues. Is it over yet?

I can’t help but to think of the visceral reaction to Colin Kaepernick sitting and then choosing to kneel during the singing of the National Anthem. Whether any of us agree or not, it is the paradox of the freedom for which it stands, that one can make a conscious choice to reject it. There’s a fine line between reverence and turning something into a god. I was reminded of the great Martin Luther King, Jr who had addressed the reality regarding war that speaking is sometimes a “vocation of agony” as he would describe it. Even Scripture reminds us of the voice crying out in the desert. When we can no longer empathize with those who feel they have no voice and those who have often faced pain inflicted upon them, it’s not them that are at fault. It’s us who can no longer see beyond our own political lens that has been inflicted upon us, when demonizing the other is more the name of the game than not. It has nothing to do with money and rights. It has to do with understanding that maybe someone has a different experience that myself, whether because of color, religion, sexuality, or something else that, at times, has brought about suffering. The lack of empathy hinders us from taking a step back and saying to ourselves, maybe we have a problem that I don’t understand, and allow ourselves to reflect, have a change of heart, empathize, for the other, rather than be do quick to judge. Or as our politics likes to do, inflict it upon others.

These are sad days in the life of this country, a country that continues in many ways to reel in the pain of the tragic events of September 11, 2001. We often speak about those days that followed and how the nation had come together as one. It was a golden opportunity for us collectively to step back and begin to look at life differently and discern how we move forward in a positive way, rather than the great divide that has ensued. It was a golden opportunity to reevaluate what is most important to us as a people, hopefully one another and not political jargon that seems to dominate our lives these days. Is it any wonder why people are dissatisfied and disenfranchised by the whole process? When voices are crying out and we choose to ignore, we will undoubtably pay a price in the end, finding ourselves wandering aimlessly in life, looking for direction and purpose. Is it over yet? Maybe then I can finally move on in life and start caring about people as people again, rather than voters, skewed by politics, screens, social media, and talking heads telling me how I should think and feel.

With all that, again, my mantra is simply, “Is it over yet?” As I write this I believe there remains fifty-five days left before the 2016 presidential election. At the moment, neither candidate is appealing in any way. Neither candidate has won my vote. And it’s not even because I have a disdain for anyone, but rather, there’s no future in what is spoken and it seems to simply take you back to middle school playground antics of choosing sides with who might be the cooler kid to hang out with at this moment. There’s no prophetic message in bringing people together. There’s no sense of dream that our nation can move beyond such pain that we experience and allow ourselves to become something new. It’s not about turning back the clock to some other time. All days have passed. It’s about listening to our brothers and sisters, especially those who are hurting, and from the ground up begin to build something new as one people. Otherwise, we are simply left with the weight of another election upon us and people waiting to breathe a sigh of relief that it’s coming to an end.

Is it over yet? It’s all that comes to mind as I sometimes feel sad for what I see and hear, to the point where I need to turn it off and have my sense of humanity restored. There’s nothing like that encounter with the homeless that walk through the front yard. There’s nothing like watching the school kids playing outside during recess. They all remind me of the hope that we should all desire for our future as people and as country, and yet the constant reminder that there are greater needs that need to be addressed. Tearing people apart and destroying reputations sets the “winner” up for failure right from the beginning. If we’ve demonized the other for months on end, how do we ever see that person as leader, as someone who can help move us through the pain to the life that is desired for us rather than the destructive force we have made them into over the year. Quite frankly, there’s too much at stake right now to settle, and for any of us to be reduced to a vote and questioning whether it will ever end.

Beyond the Edge

IMG_1536I came across a quote today from author and conservationist, Wallace Stegner, in which he wrote in a letter, “We simply need that wild country available to us, even if we never do more than drive to its edge and look in. For it can be a means of reassuring ourselves of our sanity as creatures, a part of the geography of hope.” I don’t know if I ever could have appreciated those words until a made a concerted effort to visit some of the great national parks of the United States, which now I can include Denali. Although it has been limited so often to the majestic mountain we visited yesterday, there is so much more, a wild side that spans millions of acres that often times have yet to be explored.

It’s been interesting meeting some of the people along the way here and other Parks I’ve visited. When you meet those who dedicate months of their lives to educating others within the park, you often are left wondering why they got there in the first place and why they continue to do it in service to others. Maybe on some level Stegner was right that if it does anything, it has the uncanny ability to reassure us of our sanity let alone heal us on levels that we are often totally unaware of as we walk through life. So much of the time is simply trying to take it in and every now and then listen to the stories being told, of the guide but also of the vast land that advances before your very eyes, even with a glass window standing in the way from fully embracing the experience on a deeper level, on a very tactile level of touching the earth that has been home to humans and animals for years beyond counting.

One of the people we encountered today, who has served in Denali for nearly ten years now each summer was Phil. He was our bus driver but also our nature guide as we ventured through the Park today. He couldn’t have been more than his late 20’s driving this bus, majored in Marketing back in Colorado, and now spends the off-season training other bus drivers to do what he does at Denali. But it was his story that leaves you pondering the words of Stegner because it was practically just a month ago that he was attacked by a Grizzly in the Park. Now I would guess that for most of us, that would be the end of our time stepping foot in there without having some time of flashbacks or anxiety attacks, but here he was driving us through and now telling his story of his encounter with the wild. It’s probably the main reason why most of us don’t venture beyond the confines of our cars or bus, the fear of the wild is real for us because it is the one thing that still leaves us humbled that there really is something more powerful than ourselves.

Phil has the scars to prove it (although he wouldn’t allow me to take a photo to prove it!). The grizzly caught him right at his left calf, a bite mark that encompasses much of his leg. He had gone out hiking on a beautiful day in late June and was trying to avoid areas of moose scat, which, unfortunately, led him to the encounter with the mama grizzly and her two cubs. He knew what he had to do in order to protect himself but also knew what he was up against in the reality of the wild that remains untamed and ferocious, yet, continuously invites us to those very places within ourselves. At some point, if he hasn’t already, he may find himself seeking that grizzly within himself, teaching him, guiding him, and acting as wisdom to this young man, but until then it remains an external encounter, wounding the flesh but often wounding and touching something deeper within us at the same time.

I have to say, many of the people that we’ve encountered in these locations are locals. They didn’t grow up here and had no immediate connection to Alaska until they had come themselves, visiting and experiencing the land and the spirit that arises from within these lands. We mustn’t forget the countless Natives that have called this home before others ever arrived, who have called forth from the wild the spirit of these lands. As much as many of them aren’t here, they return to give back. During an initial visit to the outreaches of this country they are called, have a life-changing encounter, and then continue to yearn to return to what then becomes home. It seems, at times, hard to fathom why they would ever do it. Why would Phil keep returning to these secluded parts of not only Alaska but this country he calls home, if it hadn’t first touched him in some deeper way.

From the peaks of Denali to the depths of the countless acres of undergrowth, it remains metaphor for something bigger, beyond explanation. Maybe they haven’t all found it yet within themselves, but the voice of the great Spirit that leads them to these lands and continues to reassure them of their sanity, reminds them of the nagging within themselves for connection and encounter and they find it here. In my experience, and I’m sure they’d say the same, you can really only drive to the edge and look in for so long, in the words of Stegner. Eventually you have to allow yourself to cross that line and enter in fully, even if it means an encounter with a grizzly. Deep down, you just know, that it’s where you belong and may be the only place that leads you to saving your soul and living your life most fully.

It Means Everything

Acts 10: 34, 37-43; I Cor 5:6-8; Luke 24: 1-12

So what? Why the heck is any of this important anyway? I mean, it doesn’t seem to have much impact on our lives and certainly not on our world. Maybe resurrection is just something of the past that doesn’t mean a hill of beans anyway. But you know what, I think God, Jesus, has the disciples exactly where God wants them. Think about it, the story today picks up where Friday left off. There facing chaos. They feel as if all is lost. There’s darkness, despair, grief. They’re totally disconnected from all their groups and are now in hiding. They’ve hit, as we call it, rock bottom and they have nowhere to turn. God has them right where they need to be, where they can accept death and then embrace the life that comes. But not yet, so it seems.

You know, they will quickly learn that there are serious implications to this event that unfolds in the gospel today as they encounter this empty tomb. It’s unfortunate because we’ve limited resurrection to some other life, this afterlife, that we can hope to anticipate, but for the disciples and us for that matter, it should be impacting us at this very moment. That’s why they become a threat now that Jesus has died and been raised from the dead. The implications are endless, in society, politically, and even religiously. We all know that they saw Jesus as a threat but the threat is about to grow. Paul uses the image of yeast in today’s second reading, which negatively, can grow like wildfire. But so can love and mercy and crazy enough, that becomes the great threat.

You see, God has them where they need to be. For the disciples, they have hit rock bottom and all that they know seems lost. It appears that they have no future. Everything they thought Jesus was supposed to be has been proven wrong. Everything that they wanted Jesus to be never happened. Everything that they thought they were because of their relationship with Jesus has been squashed. It’s all gone. This whole ego structure that they had created, which isn’t real in the first place, has now been diminished to rubble. And so have they. Quite frankly, it would have been much easier for them if the story just ended here. They could return to what they knew, their old way of life. Or could they? Had their hearts been changed. Yeah, at the moment they think it’s all nonsense and crazy and impossible, but very soon things are about to change. The threat of one man, Jesus, is about to grow and expand by leaps and bounds. The resurrection has implications for them and for us because they can no longer be touched by outside authorities, culturally, politically, and religiously, and anyone that thinks they have power in that way isn’t going to like it. It’s not because they fear giving up their lives; it’s because they have found true life and real power. If not, everything else tries to take it’s place and we’re back at the beginning, so what?

Throughout this season we will be hearing from Acts of the Apostles and Peter, Paul, and the rest will try to reconnect the people they encounter back to their roots. That’s what is often lost in faith communities today. You would think that the disciples of all people would have some connection with their own roots in the Exodus, the heart of any Jewish man and woman. But they still don’t see it that way, otherwise they would see such despair at the moment. That story, that root of their faith, should affirm that even in the darkest of times, the promised land is in sight. But they don’t see Jesus yet as the Passover Lamb or the Exodus before their very eyes. When they or we disconnect from our larger story, this great story of mystery, the Paschal Mystery, we begin to make ourselves the center of the world and everything pivots from us. Paul and Peter will remind these communities faithfully to connect with their larger story, the mystery being revealed and lived, otherwise, as Paul warns Corinth today, you’ll fall into the trap of spreading negativity and community will be built around ego and not the deeper mystery of who they are, in relation with Christ crucified, now risen from the dead. They have to get there and don’t even know it because they think what they are holding onto and what defines them is real, and to some degree it is, but it’s not the eternal present now. That’s where the implications come into play for them and us.

It’s no wonder that in the Easter Sunday gospels it’s about the women first pursuing this new reality. Think about it, if they must reach rock bottom and allow all else to die before they can seek the new life, who is it that lives on the bottom of the ladder in the time of Jesus? It’s the women, who’ve followed him from Galilee. They have no status. They have no institutional power. They have no success to pursue. In other words, they have nothing to lose because they’re already there while the men question, doubt, and think it’s utter nonsense. They will need to see with their own eyes this new reality before they can accept death and then embrace the new reality and become the true disciples of Christ crucified, now risen from the dead.

There are implications, or at least there should be, and if there are not, we too must consider our own relationship with the Lord. Unfortunately, we do a much better job of trying to enter into a relationship with the churchy Jesus, which too is often an illusion and something we must let go of, just like the disciples before we get to that place. It’s hard because it’s all we know and it feels like we have everything to lose. We do, but it’s our own and not the true power of the Risen Lord. They are a threat and we can be a threat as people, when we learn to accept death and embrace the power of the Risen Lord already given to us, right now. Right now! All of us! It’s what institutions fear the most because now the disciples have nothing to lose. The death and resurrection of Jesus changes everything. Everything. The power of love and mercy changes everything and spreads quickly.

Throughout these fifty days of Easter we’re invited to go deeper into this mystery that is are larger story. It’s what binds all of us, as we will soon do by renewing our baptismal promises. It’s not about membership. Rather, that even, these events, are about changing our lives and binding us in a way that is beyond our imagination, into the deepest recesses of our being, where we enter into this sustaining love affair with Christ crucified, now risen from the dead. I can finally come to a place where I realize and accept that it’s not merely a historical event that I come here to remember, but rather, the lived reality and the lived mystery of my life. There are real implications to saying we believe. It’s not what the disciples eventually do in Acts; it’s about who they are. They have let the scales of death and of their own ego, fall from their eyes and allow a new recreated order through the great gift and now lifelong relationship, with Christ crucified, now risen from the dead. So what? Well, because it changes everything, even our hearts and souls and the very way we live our lives.

Suspended Between Life & Death

The Passion According to Luke

Like Christmas, we know these passion readings like the back of our hands. We know the characters. We know who does what and who doesn’t do things. They’re all of us and we’re all of them. But each of the passion readings also has something signature to them. For Luke, who’s passion we just heard, it’s two thieves that are crucified with Jesus, one on his left and one on his right. There’s one who clings to death and all that comes with it and there’s one who desires life. Smack down in the middle of it all, Jesus, suspended on the cross.

There we are, caught up between life and death, heaven and earth and all that comes with it. The one who clings to death reviles at Jesus. He holds onto bitterness and the sin of passion, criminal is who he is and who he believes he is. Angry, resentful, clinging to all that is dark, a life of hell. Father, forgive them for they know not what they do, Jesus cries out. It may not be a physical death that we face at this moment, but we’re there. We’re there clinging to these things in our own life, leaving us dissatisfied with life and wanting to return to what was. It’s all I know and I’d rather be miserable than to change, to let go. There we are, clinging to death.

Yet, on the other side, one who too knows he’s a criminal but sees Jesus as something more. Even for a glimmer, he is one with him. Even for a glimmer, he sees himself as something more, never to be satisfied like the other, clinging to something that is no more. He seeks life. He seek freedom. Today you will be with me in Paradise, Jesus exclaims. Despite his sin and his crime, he seeks life, to be set free, crying out to the Lord, hanging along side and yet with him. There we are clinging to death, desiring life, hanging in between, caught up in the tension of life and death, heaven and earth. There Jesus meets us in the reality of our lives.

Yet, in a moment, Jesus commends himself to the Father and breathes his last. Finished and for good. Or so it feels at that moment. Curtains are torn. Earthquakes erupt. Sun is darkened. Is it any wonder why we’d cling to what we know? Is this the path to life? And so there we are suspended between life and death, filled with choice and desiring what gives life.

As we enter Jerusalem and enter into this Holy Week, we are given the chance to use our imaginations and to see ourselves hanging there. We’re all of them. In the very same instant we can be clinging to death and all that leads us into darkness and at the same time desiring life and freedom. This week we enter into that tension of life and death, a tension we call the greatest of mysteries, the Paschal Mystery, that unfolds for us, within us, and all around us, even at this very moment. The choice to live is ours. The choice to allow Christ to meet us in that pain and where it is we cling to death, in our resentment, our anger, our fear. In this holiest of weeks, we seek life, knowing and understanding it may not come in the ways we expect, and until we surrender, life is but a dream and death remains our reality. Yet, suspended in between is our source of life, gently whispering in the messiness of our lives, surrender ourselves to him, breathe our last, and embrace what follows, life eternal.