What things?

A sermon for Easter 3 from the Rev Linda Mackie Griggs, assisting priest, St Martin’s Providence: Luke 24: 13-35

There are places in the Holy Land where it is possible to feel that you’re walking where Jesus walked. The shore of the Sea of Galilee. The Temple Mount in Jerusalem. A garden near the Mount of Olives. But not the Road to Emmaus; at least not for me. Its precise location is debated and claimed by various localities in the area, so one knows from the outset that the exact Road these days is a matter of speculation. Still, a girl can hope, right? So we got on a bus. And took a multi-lane highway (already inauspicious) leading out of Jerusalem to a gravel parking lot, next to a ruin of a Byzantine church, and a gift shop. Sigh. Not exactly a place of picturesque transcendence where one can contemplate the disciples’ encounter with the Risen Lord. Even MY imagination couldn’t summon it up through the diesel fumes and the sounds of nearby traffic. I had so wanted my own personal Road to Emmaus Experience. But I was disappointed.

In retrospect that’s not such a bad thing. Because the story of the Road to Emmaus begins with disappointment and dashed hopes. “We had hoped…” The disciples had had a vision of who Jesus was supposed to be, in spite of his pointed assertions throughout his ministry that their expectation of an earthly liberator was unfounded. And Good Friday was the end of their hopes of political influence. Even the surprising news of an empty tomb wasn’t enough to open their eyes to the reality of the Resurrection. It took an encounter with a Stranger on the road to show them the foundation of what it is to be People of the Resurrection.

The first hint of this foundation is seen in a single question posed by the Stranger to the two disciples trudging down the road on the evening of that first Easter day. Cleopas grumbles, “Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place there in these days?” And Jesus says simply, “What things?”

“What things?” This phrase has been described as the beginning of pastoral ministry. Jesus has come upon two friends who are obviously in a state of anxiety and distress, and he walks with them, asks them a simple question, and then waits. And when they begin to speak, with their words sometimes tumbling over one another’s, he listens. And then, because he’s Jesus and not a licensed pastoral counselor, he teaches. But first, he listens, and that is the key point here: The disciples’ very first experience with the Risen Christ is with his willingness to walk with them and to hear what they have to say. This is a crucial aspect of any meaningful relationship. And it is not a coincidence.

“When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. Then their eyes were opened…” Table fellowship is one of the most significant characteristics of community and family relationship. The breaking of bread is the beginning of the Jewish family meal, particularly on the Sabbath; each person takes part of the bread as it is blessed. So here Jesus becomes known to his companions in an activity that not only commemorates what he did at the Last Supper, but, for anyone who had not been present in the Upper Room on the night of his arrest, the breaking of bread would still be emblematic of the relationship of family members to one another and to God.

“…And they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight.”

I have always pictured this scene in a particular way: Jesus is seated between his companions and they are focused on him as he breaks the bread. And then as he vanishes they are left looking…at one another.

This is also not a coincidence. First, he walks with them and listens. And then he breaks bread with them. Then he leaves them with each other, and within the hour they returned to the rest of their friends. To their community.

Think about it. There are too many examples to name of how often Jesus shows or speaks of the importance of relationship. During his ministry he refers to himself as shepherd, as vine—both forms of relationship. And on the cross he gives his mother and the Beloved Disciple to one another in a new family: “Woman, behold your son…behold your mother.” And after he rises from the dead he sends Mary; “Go, and tell the others…” Later he tells Peter, “Feed my sheep.”

Relationship: The basic building block of Christian Hope and of what it is to be People of the Resurrection. There is a temptation to dismiss this as simplistic. But basic is not the same as simplistic. Basic is fundamental.

What was Jesus’ lowest, most wrenching moment on the cross? “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Forsaken. Alone. Out of relationship. This is not a coincidence. When we speak of our Trinitarian God—Father, Son and Holy Spirit, or as Lover, Beloved, and Love-Sharer—we are referencing a God who is, by definition, relationship. And we are made in that image. Jesus’ life and ministry was all about showing us that the Dream of God is first and foremost about reconciliation—reconnecting with our fundamental nature and the fundamental nature of all Creation—and that is right relationship.

What is the basis of modern psychotherapy? The healing of relationship. What is the basis of spiritual direction? Spiritual friendship—two people who agree to listen for and discern God’s voice together. What is crucial to the building of resilience in children who have experienced traumatic loss? According to a recent New York Times op-ed, strong loving relationships that name and face grief together. All of these are examples of how people can seek healing and wholeness in a society threatened by isolation; an isolation that is fed largely by the myth of self-reliance; by the fallacy that needing help is a moral failure.

We treat the myth of self-reliance as foundational and weakness as marginal when in fact it is weakness and vulnerability that can lead us, if we will let them, into deeper knowledge of our foundational interdependence; into deeper relationship with each other, God, and Creation. After all it was Jesus at his most vulnerable who exhibited the profound strength of love to forgive every hurt, to meet us in our suffering and shattered hopes, and to render powerless that which would isolate and forsake us. And having done that, he gave us to each other in the breaking of the bread.

So what does that mean for us? What does it look like to be People of the Resurrection? That was the question in the back of my mind as I drove home from church on Easter Sunday. And that is when I heard, on an NPR storytelling program, about The Council of Dads.

In his story author Bruce Feiler told of receiving a devastating diagnosis of a rare form of bone cancer. His life was turned upside down—all of his hopes and expectations thrown out the window. His greatest concern was that his three-year-old twin daughters would grow up without a father—he wouldn’t get to teach them to ride a two-wheeler, to schlep their belongings to their dorm rooms, to walk them down the aisle. It was an overwhelming disappointment. In times like these there is a temptation to close ranks emotionally; to try to muscle through a crisis—to give in to the myth of self-reliance. But rather than shutting himself off he chose another path; he decided instead to seek out the men that he had known in his life who had shaped his identity. He decided to convene The Council of Dads.

The Council of Dads were chosen for the gifts that they could offer to Feiler’s daughters—gifts of bravery, curiosity, adventure, perseverance. Each member of the Council agreed to be there for the girls in the event of their friend’s death, and immediately began doting on them. And, since they were from different parts of Feiler’s life and were strangers to each other, now they got to know one another.

And it changed all of them. Feiler muses, “Something in our culture conspires against friendship…We have our work, we have our family, but friends keep getting pushed aside…[The Council of Dads] had built a bridge and allowed us to invite our friends into the thing that means the most to us, and that is our family.”

Relationship. What does it look like to be People of the Resurrection? Look around you. You never know who you’ll meet on the road.

Let Him Easter in Us

Sermon for the Second Sunday of Easter from John P. Reardon, a former Roman Catholic priest, currently in the process of recognition of priestly orders in the Episcopal Church.

We all turn to stories to find narratives to explain our lives to us, to give us some way of making sense of our what has happened to us and to our world and what we hope for the future. Stories have structures. There are tragedies and comedies. There are formulas for “buddy movies” and romances and spy thrillers. There is a Marxist narrative of class struggle. The modernist tale of inevitable progress. Then, there is the Theater of the Absurd, in which plots make no sense.

In J.R.R. Tolkein’s Lord of the Rings Trilogy, the hobbits Sam and Frodo try to decipher the meaning of their own narrative. “I wonder what sort of tale we’ve fallen into?” Sam asks Frodo. Frodo replies, “I wonder. But I don’t know. And that’s the way of a real tale. Take anyone that you’re fond of. You may know, or guess, what kind of a tale it is, happy-ending or sad-ending, but the people in it don’t know. And you don’t want them to.”

As we turn to Scripture, which contains the story that is the guidepost for Christians, we find the disciples of Jesus at a point of confusion. All their hopes have been dashed with the execution of Jesus. They live in fear that they may be next to feel the wrath of Jesus’ enemies. Then, they begin to get intimations of a possibility beyond what they could have conceived, that the death of this Jesus they had followed was planned, and that the same Jesus who had died now lived in a new and very different way, turning the apparent meaning of his death upside down. Each of them had to decide, “Do I believe?”

We are happy to sing the songs of Easter and to speak the comforting words of everlasting life. We want to believe. But do we? This is not the story we are used to. In the story we would tell, events would unfold as they do in romantic comedies and James Bond movies—there is a development, a crisis, all is nearly loss, and then loss is averted at the last minute and all is turned into victory and a happy ending. Jesus wouldn’t be crucified. He might come close, but some last intervention would stop it from happening and the tables would be turned in favor of Jesus and his followers. Obviously, that is not what happened. The story ended badly. Belief in the resurrection of Jesus requires us to step outside the bounds of our predictable story.   The narrative ends. There is sadness. The curtain goes down and the audience goes home. It is only several days later that a new narrative develops that swallows up the former one and gives it new meaning.

Dare we trust in that broader and deeper narrative put in place by the resurrection of Jesus? We all say we do. In private, I wonder how sure we are. Perhaps we all have moments when we sense, in the words of Shakespeare, that life is merely “a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.” I’m reminded of a cartoon I once saw in which an Anglican priest arrives in heaven. Walking across a crowd to meet Jesus, he cries out, “Well, well! Who’d have believed it?” The name “Thomas” means “twin.” Twinship implies two individuals who are alike in every way, yet are individual and different. Perhaps there is both a believer and an unbeliever inside all of us. That may be inevitable for, as Frodo observes, people don’t get to choose the kind of narrative in which they find themselves. Like the great masters of suspicion of modernity—Freud, Marx, and Feuerbach—Thomas may have hesitated to place faith in something that he so desperately wanted to be true that he could not be sure he was not creating the story he wanted instead of facing the one in which he actually found himself. He wanted to see and touch the nail marks and the hole in Jesus’ side, to know that what he was seeing was in fact the same Jesus of Nazareth he knew and who had been put to death.

But when given the opportunity, Thomas only looked. He did not touch. Instead, he leapt to faith, going beyond the realization of the resurrection’s first witnesses to proclaim the divinity of Christ, crying out, “My Lord and My God!” Jesus then proclaims that those who have not seen and yet believe are blessed indeed.

The First Letter of Peter addresses early Christians who share with us the reality of never having seen Jesus in the flesh. “Although you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy, for you are receiving the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.” We do not have full knowledge, only faith, a hint that the Christian story explains the data of our lives more thoroughly and convincingly than any other. We are already receiving the outcome of our faith, the salvation of our souls. We can taste the reality of that salvation when we are able to turn away from selfishness and start over, when we are able to forgive and to seek forgiveness, when we come to care more deeply about the fate of our world even when to do so costs us our sense of innocence, when we see addiction overcome and suffering endured nobly. All these instances are perhaps ways we can look at the glorified wounds of the Risen Jesus. We know the wounds. We also know that faith makes new life possible. The more we live out of the faith that the Gospel is true, the more, in fact, it comes true for us, even now, even in the darkness of our own lives and of our world. We can believe in Easter because we can, in fact, touch and feel it at work in ourselves and in others.

The first light of Easter is in our grasp. I would like to close with a prayer composed by the poet Gerard Manley Hopkins in his masterpiece, “The Wreck of the Deutschland.” It is a poem written in memory of five Franciscan nuns being deported from Germany who perished alongside with many of their shipmates when their vessel, the Deutschland, ran aground onto a shoal at the mouth of the Thames in December 1875. In this poem, Hopkins wrestles with the brutality of death in freezing winds and waters on a harsh winter’s night and tries to place those images in dialogue with the sovereign and gracious presence of Christ in all things. He writes of one of the sisters standing and calling out to Christ in a spirit of complete trust and acceptance that he is with her even in circumstances that would feel like abandonment. She does not expect to be rescued or to survive. But she confidently awaits her Lord’s embrace in the midst of his apparent absence. I suggest that we make our own the prayer in which Hopkins turns to this sister for intercession:

Dame, at our door

Drowned and among our shoals,

Remember us in the roads, the heaven-haven of the Reward:

Our King back, Oh, upon english souls!

Let him easter in us, be a dayspring to the

dimness of us, be a crimson-cresseted


More brightening her, rare-dear Britain,

as his reign rolls,

Pride, rose, prince, hero of us, high-priest,

Our heart’s charity’s hearth’s fire, our

thoughts’ chivalry’s throng’s Lord.



Easter Thoughts


Easter Day remains one of only two days in the year when it’s possible to catch an echo of the way things used to be as far as church-going is concerned. St Martin’s will be fairly full at 8 o’clock and full to capacity at the 10 o’clock.

Among those attending will be core members of the congregation. These are the regular Sunday worshippers, those also known to the treasurer – which is quaint Episcopal speak for regular financial supporters. Among others moved to attend church on Easter Day will be people visiting friends and family for Easter, and the members of greater St Martins’; those with historical connections with the church, along with those living nearby.

In an increasingly nonchurch-going society, and in a region which ranks with the Pacific North West as the least church-going in the country, I for one am delighted to see the Christmas and Easter congregations swell, yet this also poses a dilemma for the preacher. What needs to be said on such occasions that will not simply confirm conventional default expectations?

I assume that among those moved to come to Church this Easter will be those for whom the music of the Anglican Tradition is the draw. For others, it’s one of two times a year when the atmosphere in an Episcopal Church approaches the experience of a crowd buzz. For some, it’s the importance of renewing past echoes of childhood as a time when church – or more probably church school or youth group remains a good memory. What I do not assume however is that many moved to come to Easter services will have come with an expectation of hearing anything remotely useful – in equipping them to face up to the very real challenges of life as we encounter them in the early decades of the 21st-century.


In the 19th and 20th-centuries, Christianity placed increasing emphasis on the content of belief. The crucial thing was that you believed the right things and not the wrong things. Thus believing the right things was meant to guarantee that you did the right things and not the wrong things. More often for Episcopalians, this equation went the other way around. Doing the right things and not the wrong things evidenced that you believed the right things and not the wrong things. The thing is, that most of us no longer think in this way. 

The language we encounter in church expresses a mindset – representative of a world in which God was an inseparable part of the material universe. God was experienced in very real ways; in places, through objects and people, inhabiting the very spaces between us. God, alive and present within the experience of time and space, was never absent from our sensory and imaginative experience of this world where miracles held meaning. The resurrection of Jesus was regarded as just such an event, i.e. a miracle.

Then the Enlightenment happened and Western civilization became increasingly shaped by rational materialism. Rational materialism, with its increasing dependence on the physical sciences to come up with a theory of everything paradoxically locked God out of the material universe. God became merely an echo of the original watchmaker who long ago departed from the scene leaving humanity center stage, struggling with the responsibility to tend the machinery of the creation. Having become a rather cold and unimaginative space this mechanical universe was no longer a place of mystery and miracles.

Shaped by this worldview, we no longer expect to bump into God as we go about our business in the material world. God, in so far as God remains a meaningful concept for any of us, is now predominantly a personal experience. The mystical-spiritual, the metaphysical-poetic, has now receded from the material world into the non-material domain of the personal imagination. As a consequence, resurrection understood as a miracle – by which our prescientific forebears meant something more than real, a kind of truth plus, has become downgraded into a subjective experience, something the rationalistic mind regards as infinitely less than objectively real.

In our post-Enlightenment experience of the world, people are either alive or dead. They don’t die and then come back to life. The binary alternative of life or death appears to us to be a natural law of the universe. This Newtonian view of the universe takes its name from the great 17th-century English philosopher, Sir Isaac Newton. St Martin’s even has a window dedicated to him.

Newtonian physics still reflect our experience of the way the universe works. Yet, a new and seemingly mysterious view of the universe is revealed to us by Quantum Mechanics. In the Quantam universe objects behave differently and much of the behavior of subatomic bodies remains a mystery to us. For instance in the Quantum universe elements exist in a super-positional state. Energy is both wave and particle simultaneously. That is until the act of observation determines energy as one or the other, wave or particle for the sake of observational measurement.

In the resurrection, might Jesus have existed within the tomb in a super-positional state, with being alive or being dead as the two alternatives that become determined only in the act of observation? The act of observation, i.e. the experience of the disciples on this third day after the crucifixion determined that Jesus was alive. What’s most strange about their conclusion is that they observed him alive even though they had witnessed his death only two days previously.

For those of you who get really excited by the application of Quantum Theory to spiritual experience, I fear I am about to disappoint you. This is not the direction in which I wish to take the discussion about the resurrection – at least not this year – although as someone who invariably has to preach every Easter Day I will keep my options open for the future.

My point is that we have a growing awareness of a multilayered universe – even of the possibility of multiple parallel universes. That which Enlightenment thought regarded as impossible may actually be possible after all. The watchmaker may be more than the ghost in the machine, affecting material reality in ways that strict Enlightenment thought is unable to conceive of.


The way I want to approach the mystery that is Jesus’ resurrection is to understand it as a narrative event. I fear that those who attend St Martin’s regularly will be getting sick and tired of me telling them that humans are storied beings. We build meaning by constructing and sharing stories whose function is to articulate our experience of the world around us. Our perception of reality is always conveyed through language and the narrative organization of language. In other words, stories are all we have.

Now there are different kinds of stories. There are big stories that offer us lots of room to grow and realize our fullest potential. Then there are small stories that confine our imaginations and constrain the quality of our experience. What can make life confusing is that without always being aware of the fact, we draw on multiple stories that often conflict with one another, running simultaneously along different narrative tracks to make sense of our lives. The gift of truly big stories lies in their ability to synthesize the many smaller and cconflicting stories that compete for our attention.

The first Christians had an experience at the empty tomb that gave rise to the creation of the big story we call Easter. This is a story about the triumph of life over death, not just literal life over death but all the figurative iterations of the triumph of flourishing over failing to thrive, of victory over defeat, of light over dark.

The big story of Easter is a later chapter in the epic story of the Exodus Passover – a story about the experience of liberation from bondage, not just liberation from the literal slavery in Egypt but from all the iterations of bondage to all false illusions and fake idols.

The Easter story is not a small story of optimism. Optimism and its active application of positive thinking are modern small stories that seek to organize our experience around concepts like personal satisfaction, happiness, fulfillment, self-improvement, achievement measured in terms of material success. Optimism is the longing that things will continue to be on the up-and-up.

When events take a downward turn, optimism crashes and burns to be replaced by pessimism. The Easter story is a story of hope. Hope is not an expectation that things will continue to go well. It is the expectation that something new is happening, something that is beyond our ability to generate or create. This new thing intervenes and comes about through the correct alignment of our hopes and actions, refining expectations and reinterpreting experience in the direction of greater clarity of vision and a deeper realization of purpose.

Was Christ raised from the dead on the third day after his physical death on the cross? For many who cling to materialist stories – small stories that lock out the transformative power of God from our here and now experience, the answer is no. Yet if the answer is yes, the yes is not dependant on being able to explain the mechanics that underpin the event. The yes, articulates our desire to be shaped by a greater story than the one we are able to imagine for ourselves. When we let ourselves become molded by a story that liberates from illusions created by the be-devil-ments in our lives- the small, impoverishing, life denying stories we cling to, we come into relationship with a story capable of reorganizing our perceptions of the universe and how it functions.

The disciples on the first day of the week experienced the power of a new and larger story than they had hitherto known. They could not explain it, but they felt it and they created a large story that reframed their worldview so as to be able to articulate an experience of transformation. They were not transformed as isolated autonomous individuals. They became transformed through their participation in a community that was being transformed.


I don’t fully understand why many of you are here today, doing something that is, given the rest of the Sunday’s of your year, uncharacteristic. May I suggest that you may not know either why you are here today. Not knowing matters less than you might think. What matters is that you are. I invite you to take this more seriously than you otherwise might.

We live in a world where the old certainties based on shared stories are collapsing to be replaced by uncertainty and a fearful fragmentation fed by many small and viciously self-serving stories. I believe that the big story of Easter is something that helps us better navigate our way forward in a world where the very notion of true and false seems now contested – up for grabs. Human beings cannot thrive in such a world. Becoming transformed by the big story of Easter empowers us to offer alternatives through holding together into the face of prevailing trends.

At St Martin’s we are working to become a community that is more and more fit for God’s purpose, which we understand as becoming transformed as together we journey deeper into the mystery God’s vision for our jaded world hungry for the promise of new life. We are a community that increasingly believes that our work is to be agents for transformation in the world around us. We know this is possible only if we work together. One of the insights of the Easter story is that God primarily addresses us through our participation in communities where solidarity rather than individualism guides our values settings.

We are a community on a journey and we are strengthened on that journey every time someone new joins with us. To those of you who find yourselves in Church on Easter Day, I strongly suggest that you consider being there as an indication of your search for a story big enough to revolutionize your longing for deeper meaning and purpose in your life. If this is so, I believe you have come to the right place. Come back, taste and see.

Palm Sunday & Holy Week Address to the St Martin’s Community in Providence, RI


He had come to celebrate the Passover. Having traveled from Bethany, Jesus entered Jerusalem through one of its eastern gates to wild acclaim from the crowds that greeted him by stripping the fronds from the palm trees lining the road.

The waving of palms was a gesture that tells us something of popular expectations for Jesus. Some 160 years before the triumphant Judas Maccabeus led his victorious partisans into the Temple, bearing palm branches with which they cleansed and rededicated it after the defilement by the Syrian tyrant, Antiochus Epiphanies. The waving of palm branches reveals something of the expectations of Jesus as another liberator, who in the mold of Judas Maccabeus had come to free them from the hated Roman occupation.

At the same time as Jesus was entering from the East, another triumphal entry procession wound its way into the city from the West. The Roman Procurator, Pontius Pilate, at the head of his Roman Legion had also come up to Jerusalem for the Passover.

Pilate did not live in Jerusalem. He chose to avoid the city’s ancient warrens seething with civil and religious discontent. Pilate and his Roman administration preferred the sea breezes and Mar A Largo conveniences of Herod the Great’s former capital at Caesarea Maritima, now the administrative center of the Roman occupation of Judea.

Pilate hated and feared the crowds of Jerusalem most especially during the Passover celebrations. But he had to come up to the city on his once a year visit with a show of preemptive force in order to forestall the potential for insurrection during the flashpoint of the Passover. A wise move, for the crowds that hailed Jesus, were in insurrection mood.

Holy Week commemorates the events beginning on Palm Sunday of Jesus’ last week in Jerusalem before the Passover. Three narratives or storylines intersect and clash with alarming result as Pilate, the crowds, and Jesus all become caught up in an escalation of events none could control. The storyline of worldly oppression and political violence intersects with a storyline of populist resistance and nationalist longing for liberation at whatever cost. Both confront the third storyline which concerns the next installment in the epic narrative of God’s love and vision for the world.

Events take an unexpected turn and rapidly spiral seemingly out of control, culminating on the eve of the Passover with Jesus celebrating the Last Supper with his disciples, followed by arrest, mock trial, and crucifixion the following day.

On Maundy Thursday we will gather to celebrate Jesus’ Last Supper during which he washed his disciple’s feet, mandated (maundy) them to love one another, before instituting the Eucharist by establishing a lasting association between the Passover bread and wine and his body and blood soon to be broken and shed on the cross.

Holy Week is the week during which we accompany Jesus on the way of his passion. For some of us, this can be an intensely personal experience as our own experiences of loss and suffering – our passion surfaces in identification with that of Jesus. For most of us, however, the nature of our Holy Week experience is less personal and more communal. We journey with Jesus as part of a community that journeys to the cross bearing within us not only our individual maladies and sufferings, but the maladies and sufferings of the world around us.

Liturgy is a form of dramatic reenactment through which as a community, we are transported into sacred time. In ordinary time and space, we remember. In sacred time we become participants in the timeless events that engulf Jesus.

By timeless, I mean that liturgy is more than ordinary remembering, it is remaking again the past in the present. Liturgy ushers us into a dimension called sacred time where the temporal divisions of past, present, and future blend together in the eternal now. In sacred time we become participants with Jesus – as if we too are part of his band of disciples during that eventful last week:

  • Like them at his Last Supper, we experience the uncomfortable intimacy symbolized in his washing our feet.
  • With them, we share in the breaking and sharing of Jesus’ Passover bread and drink from his Passover cup.
  • With the disciples, we accompany Jesus to the Garden of Gethsemane and with them witness his arrest, trial, and crucifixion.
  • Over the following 15 hours of Thursday evening and into the Friday we call Good, we follow as part of the band of his disciples viewing with dismay and from a safe distance, the unfolding of frightening events.

On Good Friday, in addition to the two liturgies of Stations of the Cross at noon and the Solemn Liturgy of Good Friday at 7 pm, we also keep another tradition; one of action and solidarity in memory of Jesus with the current state of our world. In the Good Friday Walk, we join other Christians’ en-route to the State House for a public marking of this day. The Good Friday Walk is not an action taking place in sacred time but in the here and now. It is an action of solidarity that looks in two directions; towards solidarity with Jesus, and at the same time solidarity for the alleviation of hunger among God’s sons and daughters, our sisters and brothers. I hope that many of you will find time for both forms of participation on the Friday we call Good.

At the end of the Solemn Liturgy on the evening of Good Friday, we sing a hymn based on Jesus final words from the cross – it is finished. With the death of Jesus on the cross, the old order dies as Jesus begins his journey into hell where he vanquishes the ancient hold of evil over world. We mark Jesus’ descent into the realm of the dead on Saturday. On Saturday evening we gather in the waning twilight to celebrate the ancient liturgy of the Easter Vigil. Here in dramatic and timeless actions:

  • we kindle the new fire and welcome the new Light of Christ into the world.
  • we listen to highlights from the long epic story of our communal relationship with God
  • we renew our baptismal covenant and welcome the newly baptized into the Church
  • we celebrate with joyful noise the resurrection followed by an Easter party with champagne and chocolate.

On Easter Day we continue, joined by many from our wider community and beyond who are drawn to celebrate with us the resurrection – the new chapter in the epic narrative of God’s promise of new life.

Our memory fails us if we think of Jesus’ resurrection only in terms of “then” and not also in terms of “now.” We are not re-enacting Jesus’ resurrection; we are reappropriating Jesus’ resurrection power.-Br. Curtis Almquist SSJE

Visit our full Holy Week and Easter schedule here.

Seven of Seven


John the Evangelist tells the best stories! True, he does have a propensity to put long and theologically complex speeches into the mouth of Jesus that easily tax the attention span of the modern listener. Yet even in his set-piece discourses, John gives Jesus some pretty arresting sound bites, e.g. servants are not greater than their master, nor are messengers greater than the one who sent them is a good one for today’s political class to heed. Or, by this everyone will know that you are my disciples if you love one another.

Nevertheless, John’s whole understanding of Jesus unfolds within the framework of seven stories commonly referred to as signs of the kingdom[1]. These are undoubtedly among the best stories in the New Testament.

The story of the raising of Lazarus is the seventh in the series of seven signs. As with all John’s stories, it is complex and multilayered. The Raising of Lazarus constitutes a kind of prologue to the events that begin to spiral, culminating over the course of a Thursday night and Friday morning, two weeks from now.


Roberto Assagioli, the founder of Psychosynthesis was an early disciple of the great Sigmund Freud. However, Freud was notoriously cantankerous and brooked no disagreement from his disciples. Consequently, like Jung, Assagioli eventually parted company with Freud over Freud’s discounting of the spiritual component in human development.

I mention Assagioli because of a method of listening he advocated that employs something called bi-focal vision to distinguish personal psychoemotional elements from spiritual transpersonal ones within and individual’s life story. Bi-focal vision tracks two distinct elements that are nevertheless interconnected and intertwined in ways that create the confusion and conflict that brings a person into therapy in the first place.

Applying Assagioli’s concept to a text rather than a person, the use of bi-focal attention allows us to separate out the way John weaves a transpersonal -theological meta-narrative, i.e. an overarching inclusive story about salvation, into what is also a story of love, loss, and recovery at a human-relational level.

The story so far

Jesus, with his disciples, received a message from the sisters of Lazarus that their brother is ill and dying. Jesus greets the news with what appears to be detached disregard, saying Lazarus is not going to die, rather that what is happening to him is an opportunity to glorify God. He then delays setting out for Lazarus, Martha, and Mary’s home in Bethany by two whole days. In the meantime, Lazarus does die and is interred in his tomb. On the fourth day, Jesus nonchalantly declares that now Lazarus has died it’s time to visit his friends in Bethany, situated in Judea about a day’s walk from Jerusalem. His decision fills his disciples with dismay for Judea is now a very dangerous place for Jesus to go. Last time he was there he narrowly escaped being stoned to death. Nevertheless, they all set-off and as Jesus nears Bethany, first Martha, having been looking out for his approach rushes out to greet him. Likewise a little later Mary, when Martha tells her (privately) of Jesus’ arrival also goes out to greet him. Despite his seemingly enigmatic delay in coming, Jesus, now in a state of some emotional distress, is taken to the tomb and calls Lazarus to awaken and come out. To the amazement of most of the onlookers, Lazarus emerges still wrapped in his winding sheet.


When we apply bi-focal attention to this story, we can begin to see that there are two narrative strands flowing simultaneously,  throughout. This is a theological story about God and at the same time it is also a human relational drama. One strand is transpersonal in that it transcends individual experience, while the other is deeply personal.

We’ve already noted that the disciples are puzzled by Jesus’ response to the news of Lazarus’ imminent death. Instead of rushing off to Bethany he simply says that Lazarus’ plight is not one that will lead to his death but is an opportunity for the glory of God. At the human-relational level, this seems a callous response. However, here we have in John’s story the first indication of the transpersonal-theological motive of the glorification of God. But then Jesus immediately throws his disciples off the theological scent by mollifying their human fears in declaring that Lazarus merely sleeps, so no need to be alarmed.

The next puzzlement lies in the contrast between the two encounters Jesus has, first with Martha, and then her sister, Mary. Incidentally, we know both these women independently of John’s account. Both Martha and Mary appear in Luke 10:38-42, from which we learn that Martha is the active, doer, always on the go, while Mary is the contemplative one. John does not mention their Lucan biographies because like us, his hearers would already know them, and it’s no surprise that while Mary is being comforted indoors, Martha is out, pacing the road on the look out for Jesus’ approach.

Both sisters greet Jesus with identical words: Lord, if you had been here my brother Lazarus would not have died. We puzzle over how Jesus’ response to the sisters could not be more different. In his response to Martha, we see Jesus responding in theological focus. In response to what is in effect Martha’s rebuke – really Jesus, how could you not have come at once for now Lazarus is dead! he subjects her to an examination of her belief in the resurrection. I have to say that this is not evidence of a very good pastoral manner here. He then identifies the resurrection with himself leading Martha to proclaim: Yes Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one who is coming into the world. 

In the theological strand within John’s story, Jesus understands the death of Lazarus as an opportunity, not for sorrow, but so that God might be glorified in the presence of the bystanders who come to believe. The absence of concern and anxiety can be explained because the outcome is already preordained, so no need to worry. Bi-focal attention allows us to see how John presents the encounter between Jesus and Martha at the level of the theological significance of Lazarus’ death.

By contrast, Jesus response to Mary who greets Jesus with exactly the same words as her sister has used, reveals Jesus now identifying with the human-relational level and thus he is profoundly overcome by grief and sorrow. John describes Jesus being greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved. The result is that Jesus too begins to weep with Mary. Bi-focal attention allows us to see John now presenting Lazarus’ death at the human dimension of a relationship of love and loss. Nowhere else, does Jesus appear more vulnerable and human than in his response to Mary, and together both now weeping, they go to the tomb of friend and brother.

It is at the tomb, we begin to see for the first time how the transpersonal-theological and human-relational strands come together because both are actually about relationship. Standing, publically weeping over the death of his friend Jesus now invokes his transpersonal relationship with God: so that they [the onlookers] may believe that you sent me! Lazarus come forth, is not only an expression of deep human compassion but is also a public proclamation of God’s glory.


John now tells us that many of the bystanders came to believe when at Jesus’ command they see Lazarus emerge still encased in his death shroud. It’s here that the Lectionary ends the story. But by ending the story here we are in danger of missing the larger point John is making in this story. This is not an all’s well that ends well, story.

For John, the raising of Lazarus is the turning point at which there is no escape from the path to the cross. When we read on in the text we learn that as well as some of the onlookers coming to faith others reject the theological message of salvation and go off to conspire with the Temple authorities. On hearing of events at the tomb of Lazarus, the authorities now have the evidence they need and vow to put Jesus to death; justifying their decision in terms of the murky politics of national security. Don’t let anyone convince you that the cross is not a political act. 


The raising of Lazarus is not a premonition of the resurrection, a kind of trial demonstration. Lazarus’ emergence from his tomb is simply resuscitation. Lazarus is returned to life for the somewhat limited purpose of glorying God in the presence of some of the bystanders. It is not to set up a happily ever after ending. For in the act of glorifying God, Jesus drives others of those who witness his action into the arms of the authorities, setting in motion the very resolve that will end in his arrest and death. Lazarus’ return to life is a limited time offer only and ensures that at some future date he will die again.

The theological point for John is that what begins in resuscitation will end in resurrection. If you want to know what the difference between the two is, you will need to tune in on Easter Day. You will only comprehend the difference, having first traveled the way of his Passion – liturgically speaking – with Jesus. In the meantime we pray:

Almighty God, whose most dear Son went not up to joy before he suffered pain, and entered not into glory before he was crucified: Mercifully grant that we, walking in the way of the cross, may find it no other than the way of life and peace; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord. 

[1] The seven signs of the kingdom are:

  1. Changing water into wineat Cana in John 2:1-11 – “the first of the signs”
  2. Healing the royal official’s sonin Capernaum in John 4:46-54
  3. Healing the paralytic at Bethesdain John 5:1-15
  4. Feeding the 5000in John 6:5-14
  5. Jesus walking on waterin John 6:16-24
  6. Healing the man blind from birthin John 9:1-7
  7. Theraising of Lazarus in John 11:1-45


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