Remembering to Forget

Deut 8: 2-3, 14-16; I Cor 10: 16-17; John 6: 51-58

There’s a rather obscure movie out right now, or at least I think so, called Dean.  The basic crux of the story is about a young man and his father who just keep clashing with one another because of this nagging grief that they share for the loss of their mother and wife.  They both have very different ways of dealing with what life has given them and neither understands the other.  Long and short of it, without even knowing it, separate themselves from one another to deal with their loss before they can once again come to a deeper understanding of their own relationship with one another and remember the love they have and share.  Quite honestly, it would be true of all of us here.  These deepest parts of ourselves, love, loss, grief, hunger, desire, all of them run so deep within us and often need to be found in our own way before we begin to see the oneness we have with the other and a shared love.

These two weeks now we’ve heard different versions of the story of the exodus of people Israel.  Today’s account comes to us from Deuteronomy.  The very first word out of Moses’ mouth today is simply to remember.  For the people today it was about this deepest hunger in their lives that they continue to seek out and to fill.  Much of their time, as it is with us, is forgetting who we really are in life and in our deepest self and love.  Israel was no different.  And, of course, over time, you begin to believe that you’re something other than you are.  You no longer remember.  For them it has been about their experience in the desert and the experience of slavery in Egypt.  They’ve thought God had abandoned them and somehow rejected them over time, punishing them for some reason.  But Moses simply reminds them today to remember.  It’s almost as if, as Moses points out, that they had to have this experience of the desert and to come into awareness of this deeper hunger in their lives before they can begin to remember once again.  So much, not only in their lives, must be forgotten and let go of before they can begin to question and remember and once again come together as community, more deeply rooted in their truest begin, in love.

Some who followed Jesus in those early days had similar experiences.  Shortly following today’s reading many will begin to disperse and fall away from Jesus.  They hear what he says, often taking it literally, and realize they just can’t do it.  Even in their own experience of separation from doesn’t necessarily lead them to the deeper places of their own lives.  They want to believe, as we often do, what we see and exactly what we hear in words.  But that’s not the Jesus we encounter in today’s Gospel or who we encounter in this Eucharist week in and week out.  In his own way, John through Jesus and Christ through him is trying to move them to a place of remember their deeper identity as well.  As if, what speaks to us in this Eucharist can only somehow communicate with the deepest parts of ourselves.  It’s hard because we want to stay on the surface and go with what we feel, but this remembering takes us deeper than all of that.

Paul consistently tries to lead communities to that deeper place of understanding in their own lives.  They find other ways to separate themselves but in ways that often lead to divisions within their communities.  Even today, the larger context is to warn them about having more than one God.  That too is easy for us in our own process of forgetting not what we need to let go of, but forgetting that deeper love that we are.  We begin to satisfy those deepest longings and hungers within ourselves with something other than God, creating gods for ourselves, often fooling ourselves into believing that it will somehow satisfy, forgetting what is most important to us.

Over time all of this that we celebrate begins to be forgotten on the deeper levels.  We become more about worshipping, distancing ourselves not only from the drama of our lives but the drama that unfolds before us here.  We, over time, find ways to separate ourselves while this God, as it was for Israel, continues to offer manna, food that will satisfy, even in our desert experiences.  Yeah, in some ways I stand before you in a privileged position.  I stand at this altar celebrating the highs and lows of life, even my own.  I know the stories that flow through this table and Eucharist.  I have seen it unfold, trying to lead others in their deepest grief, their unsatisfied longings, and all the rest, to a place of remembering.  No matter what we may be experiencing in our own life, this Eucharist we celebrate and share it stands as a reminder of who we are and the life we are called to, a life of not simply worshipping this God, but allowing ourselves to be transformed by this God.  As we move to this Eucharistic celebration, remember.  Remember not only what you are but who you are in your deepest self, love.  In the midst of our own forgetting in life, the Eucharist calls us back to continue to be transformed into this love for an often divided and separated world.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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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.

Embracing Our Tragic Nature

Isaiah 43: 16-21; Phil 3: 8-14; John 8: 1-11

The readings from this point forward now will begin to take a downward spiral as Jesus takes on a more actively passive role in the story as we approach the passion. As he takes on this role, it’s also important to remember that he remains the central figure, even if the woman caught in adultery is thrown in the middle of him and the Pharisees. The real strife and battle is between Jesus and the Pharisees. The woman caught in adultery is simply a political pawn used by the Pharisees to try to win this battle with Jesus. It moves him to the place of passion, confronting the tragic nature of humanity, in it’s truest sense of embracing life’s suffering in connection with love and forgiveness, a God who is merciful and yet judge, the tension between law and compassion.

This is why Jesus continues to become such a threat to the Pharisees and the system as a whole. Even the fact that they call him teacher shows some semblance of arrogance on their part and then to bring a woman, who of course cannot defend herself, puts him and her in a situation that they just can’t win. Yet, he doesn’t fight fire with fire. He could very easily attack them for their own behavior or question how she was caught in adultery in the first place by them, but he doesn’t. He seems to ignore it all, or at least move to a more reflective moment by writing in the sand, yet, moves to a place where the woman can be identified by her truer identity over the sin in which she’s been labeled. It sets the stage for a nasty battle that will ensue these next weeks, but now with this woman caught in the middle of it all.

It’s good to point out, though, that just prior to this story that we hear is a continuation of the story of Nicodemus. He too is trying to make some sense out of who he really is, being that he is a Pharisee yet seems to be seeking something more. He questions Jesus on the nature of this argument as to what takes precedence, the law or the person. It comes down to what one sees. The Pharisees see a sin and violation of the law. Jesus, on the other hand, sees a woman, a human life, and something much more than sin. It will continue to peek the curiosity of Nicodemus as John’s Gospel unfolds. For now, though, he stands at a distance or in the darkness, while Jesus rises up as the voice of the tragic humanity, bringing some sense of reason but a human touch, love and mercy upon the woman and for all who encounter.

It is the tragedy of our humanity. From the prophet Isaiah today there is the message of hope after years of suffering. As they move beyond exile and the great despair and suffering, people Israel will be left with a choice as to how they move forward, if it is where they are being led. It’s a choice we are all given. They’re given a second chance now what do they do with it. They can return to their old ways and do it all over again or they can start anew. All too often we return to our past, he mentions, to what we are comfortable with. Yet, where did that so often lead Israel but to the desert, to their own emptiness. The prophet challenges them to choose a new path, the path in which they were destined, to new life. That doesn’t mean forgetting their past, but as Paul tells us, keeping our eye remained on the prize as to not fall once again to the place of great suffering and isolation. Isaiah becomes that voice for he people, the downtrodden, the women, the poor, the ones who have no voice and yet seek new life; held back by sin and yet desiring freedom.

The motive of the Pharisees is not the betterment of this woman nor is it for Jesus’ own growth. It’s to take down and to condemn. The reality is, this is still evident in our world today. It’s the reality of this city and nation. It’s the reality of our political system that finds ways to benefit itself over the common good of humanity. It doesn’t see people, it sees power, advancement, fear and manipulation, winning, and tearing down. As Jesus assumes this more actively passive role, he remains the voice of those who have none or who have had it stripped away from them. The scene sets the stage for the unfolding of the passion and an invitation for us to do the same and to embrace the tragic nature of our own lives. We want to judge, even ourselves, and yet, we’re created by and for love. We want to condemn, and yet, we’re created for acceptance. We want to hate, and yet we’re created for freedom and mercy. It’s who we are and yet, we remain blinded by our own pharisaical nature. What does Jesus see when he sees you and me? Better yet, what do you see when you see the other? This story is our story and we’re called to embrace ourselves in our entirety. Yet, to bend down, reflect, embrace and love that which has been condemned. Go and sin no more.

Running Naked

Philippians 2; The Passion According the Mark

Like most artists, Mark finds a way to leave his own mark on his work of art in this gospel we hear from this year, and in particular, this passion narrative. There’s one thing unique if you picked up on it in this account and it happens in the garden. Out of nowhere, a man who has followed, appears in a linen cloth and runs away naked. It is believed that that young man represents not only the gospel writer Mark but each of us. From the beginning the command of Jesus is to “follow me”. Yet, when the going gets tough for the disciples, they scatter in different directions. They can’t handle the pressure. They can’t handle what is being asked of them and rather than passing through the narrow path which we call the Cross, they turn back and run, hide for their lives.

But this man shows us a different way. He has continued to follow but now leaves the garden naked. Seems rather odd that it would even be included in the gospel, other than it being Mark’s own “signature”. What Mark shows us is that if we are to accept the challenge to follow, and to follow through the narrow path, we must do so naked. We must be stripped of all that holds us back, all that’s weighing us down, all our fears and anxieties, anything that stands in the way for it is only Love that sees us through.

Paul tells the same in the second reading from Philippians. There is a transition that takes place from acts of humiliation done upon Jesus to the great act of humility of being hung naked on the cross. So what do we do when we stand before it? Sure, we stand in awe and we worship. On Good Friday we will venerate. But isn’t some of that doing just as the disciples did and even what our culture expects of us; to stop short of falling into the narrow path to life, of facing the great suffering of the Cross? Jesus is asking more of each of us, to not simply stop and gaze but also step into that narrow path, leading to the life that is promised.

As we enter into this Holy Week, we pray for the courage and strength to allow ourselves to enter into it fully. It takes a great deal of our time, a great deal of self-examination, and a great deal of trust to enter into these days. Mark reminds us how to come and approach this Cross. We stand before the Lord naked, in all of our own insecurities and in all our brokenness, grasping all that we have held onto and inviting us to let it go, surrender it into the Great Mystery, and allow ourselves to fall into, with great courage and strength, Love, so that we may be led down and through the narrow path to the fullness of life, a life filled with meaning, that the Lord has promised. Naked we have come forth and naked we will return, but now filled with the hope of Easter Sunday.

A Cross to Push Against

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The Passion According to John

There is nothing more humbling as a presider than on this night in what we will do in just a few minutes when I’m sitting on this chair watching everyone come forward to venerate the cross in some way, whatever way we choose. It means even more as you get to know people’s stories, listen to their confessions, walk with them in their struggles, and be with them when the cross is staring at us straight in the eyes. It’s a humbling experience because the cross is very real.

Yet, it’s also somewhat awkward and somewhat uncomfortable for us as we approach and venerate. We become accustomed as humanity to think that somehow my suffering is only mine and that no one else would understand and somehow I stand alone and don’t want everyone to know how I suffer. It’s mine. Yet, if one of us suffers, we all suffer. The human condition tries to tell us that, but coming up here and venerating it in our own way reminds us that it’s real, pain and suffering are real in all of our lives, and this one cross that we walk to and journey to this evening unites us all in the One True Cross of Christ.

We run the risk as we do at Christmas to make this into a strictly historical event, that because Christ suffered death, even death on a cross, that I no longer have to. Yes, it did happen but from the moment we are presented at this baptismal font on the day of our baptism, that cross is emblazoned on our hearts and souls and we enter into a mystery that is beyond words and so often beyond understanding. We know it from our own suffering and when we face that cross, it narrows our vision, the pain is real, at times have difficulty seeing hope and life, we become consumed by the Cross trying to lead us to being consumed by Christ. Christ’s death gives dignity to our death and allows it meaning.

The Cross gives us something to push against…and we push and we push and we push, and we pray and we pray and we pray, and we hope and we hope and we hope, and one day God pushes us through that cross, for it is only in death and in this Cross that life breaks forth. As much as we may not like it, it is the reality. It is the mystery we celebrate tonight. We know we can spend weeks and months and years pushing and praying and hoping and pushing more, trying as Jesus tells us, to be pushed through the cross, pushed through the narrow gate, pushed through the eye of the needle. It’s hard. It hurts, It’s painful. But when we finally surrender to the mystery of life and death and allow God to push us through the Cross, life happens. We may not see it right now in our lives, but life happens.

As we approach this cross this evening and to venerate it in whatever way God has called you, allow yourself to name that cross. What does it look like in your life? How has Christ suffered with you? How have we suffered with you or maybe even alone? We can push and push and push, and we can pray and pray and pray, and we can hope and hope and hope, and when we can name it and accept that it is us, a crack opens and God pushes us through to new life, not only in eternal life but in the fullness of life he desires for us today.

Crucify Him!

Our reference point today, as we begin this holy week, is “the crowd”. “Let him be crucified” the crowd yells; the same crowd that yelled “Hosanna” as he entered Jerusalem. Yet, why is it even in our own lives that we encounter something, or for that matter, someone, that we don’t like, our immediate reaction is to destroy and tear them down? So often when we have such encounters when we feel anxious, afraid, being challenged, unsettled, threatened in some way, we react in such a way that destroys, crucifies as is the case with Jesus. Yet, it’s what we hear in this passion reading today. All of this stuff that the crowd, the religious leaders, the political leaders, and all that have gathered is then projected onto this guy Jesus, nailed to a cross, and crucified, quite honestly, for nothing he had said or done. But he doesn’t run from it and hide from the suffering that is being cast upon him, rather he walks through it. He walks through the leaders gathered, not reacting to their violence, “for all who take the sword will perish by the sword.” He walks through the crowd gathered as they abuse and jeer, humiliate. He even walks through the disciples that have gathered and dispersed, out of their own fear and feeling threatened. He walks through knowing it’s the only way. When he tells the disciples early on, “follow me,” he meant even to this point. As we enter into this holy week celebration, where am I quick to crucify? Where do I react to people and things I don’t like, that challenge me, when I feel anxious and threatened inside, and very quick to nail them to the cross? What seems like utter humiliation and violence, and it is in it’s own way, God shows it’s a point of transformation. When I find myself ready to crucify others this week because of my own stuff within, see it for what it really is, a reference point of transformation…that what we nail to that cross this day and throughout this week can and will be transformed into the life that Easter promises.