Meditation for Good Friday.

Love hurts and our hearts have an all too familiar affinity with suffering. Yet, if we dwell on our suffering, we are in danger of being little more than mere spectators of Jesus’ suffering on his way to the Cross.

It’s so easy to stand and watch from a safe distance – comforted by an image of Jesus as the noble hero valiantly travelling the route God has set for him, seemingly heedless of the costs because after all – he knows ahead of time how things will end.

But we must go deeper than this if we are to move from spectators to participants in Jesus’ Passion. You see, if we are to be participants then Jesus has to be more like us than not. We are not noble heroes passing through the drama of our lives unscathed. And so if he is to be more like us, then neither is Jesus.

He treads his path, a path he chooses to accept – and like us, he knows little more than what is revealed as he takes each step putting one foot in front of the other, one breath at a time. Jesus is no noble victim sacrificing his life for the sins of the world. If we just stop there, no matter how thankful we might feel, we fail to see that the way of the Cross is God’s invitation to become transformed not by suffering, but by the power of love. For Jesus’ chooses the way of love.

Some say love it is a river that drowns the tender reed, some say love it is a razor that leaves your soul to bleed, some say love it is a hunger an endless aching need. I say love, it is a flower, and you its only seed. ….

The Rose Verse 2

The Way of the Cross requires of us nothing short of a transformation in our whole (moral, emotional, and spiritual) way of being. In Jesus, God’s hands get dirty as Jesus takes the initiative and leads us through example. Our acceptance, our entry into the way of love involves risking as Jesus risked. Risk is the raw material for transformation, for it is

It’s the heart afraid of breaking, that never learns to dance
It’s the dream afraid of waking, that never takes the chance
It’s the one who won’t be taking, who cannot seem to give
And the soul afraid of dying, that never learns to live …

When the night has been too lonely and the road has been too long
And you think that love is only for the lucky and the strong
Just remember in the winter, far beneath the bitter snows
Lies the seed, that with the sun’s love in the spring becomes the rose.

Entering into the way of love leads us to challenge the status quo – risking the consequences. As a community, it means uncovering and challenging the cosmic forces of dehumanization woven into the very DNA of our culture and its collective memory. It means risking loving without expecting to be rewarded.

Entering upon the way of love – above all else means accepting an invitation to become transformed into a new way of being, one step at a time – a transformation from timid and grateful children into collaborators with God in the vision of putting the world to rights.

From mere spectators to active participation with Jesus on the way of the cross is a movement through belonging into believing; a risking that moves us from fear into loving and being loved.

This is not a hero’s path.  Jesus shows us that it is a very human path. On Good Friday, God shows us the way of love, motivated not by an abhorrence of sin, but motivated by what is for God -the impossibility of not loving enough.

The Rose Final Verse

The italicized text comes from The Rose by Bette Midler

Maundy Thursday: Do This, Because I Love You!

A Meditation from the Rev. Linda Mackie Grigg

The disciples are feeling whiplashed by now. Just a few days ago there was so much hope. The crowds had hailed Jesus as Messiah, Son of David—with hosannas so loud they couldn’t hear themselves think, and palm branches so thick on the ground that the donkey’s feet never touched the dirt. But now the hosannas are silent and all that remains of the palm carpet is a stray frond here and there, curling and forgotten by the roadside.

The adrenalin excitement has been replaced by furtive anxiety. Jerusalem is on edge: The crowds who had followed Jesus are simmering; the Roman and Temple authorities are ready to pounce. The friends had worried who was watching as they made Passover preparations according to Jesus’ careful instructions–double- and triple-checking to make sure they had not been observed as they gathered one by one in the upper room of a nondescript house down a narrow street.

And now? What should have been a celebration for some reason feels more like—a wake.  Jesus seems withdrawn, somehow both focused and distracted at the same time. For once he seems at a loss for words.

Quietly and suddenly he stands, takes a basin of water and a towel, and kneels in front of Andrew. The air is electric as the water pours over his feet and into the basin. Jesus moves to Philip, and then Judas, then Nathanael. Then Peter.

At first Peter draws back in dismay. What kind of a king does this? What kind of a king stoops to serve in such a menial way? Jesus persists, Peter surrenders. The water splashes softly, the towel gently dries.

This is what we do for one another, Jesus says. Wash. Love. Serve. And in turn offer your care-worn, callused, travel-weary and broken self to be comforted and healed. Giving and receiving in a constant flow of care. This is what love looks like. This is who we are, and how people will know us. Do this, he says. Because I love you.

Their hearts are burning. Something begins to shift in the air.

For three years Jesus has spoken of the Dream of God—a kingdom unlike any they can comprehend. Sometimes, in flashes, it has all made sense; but then the world intervenes and they forget. So Jesus tries again to make them understand. And again. And again.

Tonight Jesus knows that there are no more agains to spare. No more time for parables or sermons or signs. But there is bread. And wine. He gazes around the room at his friends. No more time for telling. It is time to show.

He takes bread. Made of wheat; sown, cut, ground, baked. Wine; from grapes, pruned, thirsted to sweetness, crushed, and fermented in darkness. Both from the earth, made by human hands; the embodiment of life made whole through suffering and struggle. This is my body, he says. Given for you. This is my blood, the blood of all who suffer, shed for you. Eat, drink, remembering me.

Do they understand? No; still no. But sometimes it isn’t about understanding. They do know that they are in the presence of Mystery, not to be solved but to be shared.

Do this, he says. Because I love you. This much they can understand.

James, John, Peter, Mary Magdalene and the other gathered disciples gaze into the eyes of Jesus and see only love. Their hearts are full.

Judas looks away, and slips silently, almost unnoticed, out the door.

Fatal Intersections: Palm Sunday 2019

Featured Image comes from Mountain View United Methodist Church

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. They stripped the fronds from the palm trees and lay them as a carpet before him as he entered the city gates.

Present day actions often echo memories of the past. The waving of palms was a gesture that not only tells us something of popular expectations for Jesus, but is also an echo of collective memory. Some 160 years before, the triumphant Judas Maccabeus, the last leader of a successful Jewish rebellion against foreign domination, led his victorious partisans into the Temple, bearing palm branches they cleansed and rededicated the sanctuary after its defilement by the Syrian tyrant, Antiochus Epiphanies.

The waving of palm branches tells us something of the crowd’s expectations of Jesus as another national liberator, who in the mold of Judas Maccabeus has 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. He feared them most during the Passover which required him to come up to the city with a show of preemptive force in order to forestall the potential for insurrection. For Passover was the collective memory of liberation from an earlier period of slavery. Pilate’s arrival was indeed 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 an 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 out of control, culminating on the eve of the Passover (Maundy Thursday) when Jesus celebrates the Passover meal with his disciples. During this last supper, Jesus graphically demonstrates God’s vision for the world. He turns hierarchy on its head and washes his disciples feet. He takes bread and wine and associates them with his body and blood. He ends the meal with a simple mandate – in Latin mandatum from which we get the Middle English name maundy meaning commandment: love one another as I have loved you. But love has consequences: arrest, show trial, and crucifixion.

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 that transports a community through sacred time to where we move beyond memory, becoming participants in the timeless events that engulf Jesus.

Like the crowds praising Jesus as he entered the Holy City, we enthusiastically hail our next political savior until that is, he or she no longer is.

We long to do the brave thing, until that is, the moment when we don’t.

In sacred time we become participants with Jesus – as if we too are part of his band of disciples during this eventful last week:

  • Like them at his Last Supper, we experience the uncomfortable intimacy and embarrassing humility symbolized in washing one another’s feet.
  • With the disciples, we share in the breaking and sharing of Jesus’ Passover bread and drink from his Passover cup – actions that not only render us a community, but which we can only perform as a community.
  • With the disciples, we accompany Jesus to the Garden of Gethsemane where we fight sleep to keep watch with him until Midnight. Like them we long to do the brave thing, until the moment when we don’t.
  • 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, but from a safe distance, the unfolding of frightening events – Jesus’ arrest, show trial, and crucifixion. In the end, like them we always opt for playing it safe.

Historical associations trigger memory in real time, giving expression to our contemporary tensions. You see, human beings don’t change much over time.

Like the crowds praising Jesus as he entered the Holy City, we enthusiastically hail our next political savior until that is, he or she no longer is.
We long to do the brave thing, until that is, the moment when we don’t.

Visit our full Holy Week and Easter schedule here.

The Aroma of Christ: John 12:1-8

                                                                         

    

A Sermon from the Rev. Linda Mackie Griggs

 The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume.”

The writer of John’s gospel surely knew the power of scent to trigger memory and emotion; surely knew that the reader of this passage would have a physical response to the image of the house filled with the fragrance. It is intended to carry us to a place of close presence and physicality; of bodies.

It is virtually impossible to talk about this passage without talking about bodies. Lazarus’ own body has been raised from the dead, emerging blinking into the light, his wrappings fluttering to the ground as his friends removed them. And now, at dinner at the home of Lazarus, Mary and Martha, we smell the earthy musky mossy scent of nard, redolent of the fertile beginnings of Creation. We see the dusty journey-worn feet of Jesus. We see Mary’s hair, intimately undone, as it caresses her friend’s callused skin. These images are not thought—they are felt—they leap off the pages and into our senses. It is all in the seeing, the touching, the smelling. These are what connect us to the story, and to the Good News that wafts almost elusively through it.

So now imagine the flush of indignation felt by Judas as he inhales the expensive scent—the rapid calculation of the quantity of nard—one pound– divided by the rough cost—300 denarii; compared to the amount of food, clothing, or medicine that could be provided for the poor for the same amount—the conclusion of outrageous extravagance—all culminating in an indignant outburst from the Keeper of the Purse: “Silly woman, what are you thinking?”

John would have us see him as insincere in this moment—Judas has no credibility regarding fiscal responsibility because he has his hand in the till. But we know that John, and we, have a particular point of view when it comes to Judas. Maybe Judas was stealing from his colleagues. But maybe John has offered that little detail in order to hammer home Judas’ unsavory character. As if we needed that. But. Judas was one of the disciples. His later betrayal of Jesus doesn’t mean that he was never right about anything. Resources that went to buy a pound of nard (a year’s wages) could have been used for another, less extravagant and more charitable, purpose. Think about it; if it wasn’t Judas saying it, we might actually agree with him.

That’s a sobering thought.

But if we did agree with Judas, then we, like Judas, would be missing the point.

This isn’t about cost/benefit analysis. It’s about love.

Jesus says to Judas, “Leave her alone. She bought it so that she might keep it for the day of my burial. You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me.”

This is arguably one of the most misunderstood statements in the Gospel, and possibly one of the most abused.

More on that in a minute, but first shift our gaze from Judas’ outrage back to Jesus and Mary, as she anticipates his burial.

The care of a body after death is one of the last acts of kindness a person can do for the deceased. Whether in the first century or the twenty-first, using herbs and oils or modern materials and technology, the gentle and competent care of a body is an act of love and respect, both for the deceased and for those who grieve. It is a tender time, and this act of care is a true and valuable gift.

Jesus acknowledges this gift from Mary, made all the more special for its extravagance. He and everyone present are witnesses to the depth of her caring for her friend. As C.S. Lewis wrote, “The greater the love, the greater the grief.”

This is lost on Judas, who has couched Mary’s gift in zero-sum either/or binary terms; she has shown great love for Jesus, therefore people will go hungry as a result.

But not, admonishes Jesus, if you are participating in the Dream of God. In God’s economy the binary is erased. This is not a matter of choosing Jesus or the poor. In the economy of the Kingdom, it isn’t either/or, it’s both/and.

And this is where we confront one of the most problematic quotes in scripture: “You will always have the poor with you.”

This has historically been an excuse for not addressing the plight of the disadvantaged, particularly in a systemic way. The argument goes that there is no point in addressing a problem as intractable as poverty, because this is just the way it is and ever shall be; Jesus said so, right there in John 12: 8, right?

This is what I call, “the convenient ‘No’”. When cherry-picked and misread, this quote makes it easy to say that the problem is too big and our resources are too small. That makes it easy to stay comfortably within the status quo.

When has Jesus ever asked us to do that?

You will always have the poor with you.

Interestingly, the Greek word for “to have” can be the same in both the indicative tense (a statement of what is) and the imperative tense (a statement of what should be.) So it could be read, “You will always have the poor with you…”

…or, “You should always have the poor with you.”

Now that sounds like Jesus. When has he not sided with the poor and called us to do the same?

You should always have the poor among you. Not either/or. Both/and.

Mary anoints Jesus’ feet, anticipating his death. Her grief and her tenderness are woven together. And in the face of Judas’ indignation, Jesus guides his attention away from money to relationship. Because grief only occurs in the presence of relationship.

Do the privileged grieve the situations of the unprivileged? Do they see the outrageous income disparities, the food deserts, the inequities in housing, healthcare and education? Do we truly see the people left vulnerable by climate change? Do we grieve for them as we would for Jesus?

It’s a crucial question, because Jesus tells us that they are one and the same—the poor are as worthy of Mary’s tender, extravagant, loving care as Jesus.

It’s not about cost/benefit; it’s about relationship.

Where Judas sees a gap between privileged and unprivileged, Jesus sees a relationship.  In the Dream of God, charitable giving is transformed into mutual ministry; a place where giving and receiving are not two sides of a transaction, but a multidimensional tapestry of shared vulnerability and experience. Where names and stories are known, laughter and hugs and tears shared. Where each can see in the other—in the hands, the feet and the faces, the divine traces of the God who created us. This is what St. Paul calls the aroma of Christ.

You shall always be with the poor. A challenging invitation. Do we expect any different from Jesus?

Every Saturday afternoon, in Burnside Park, Church Beyond the Walls takes that invitation seriously. They are a street-church community that meets out of doors; a special mission of the Diocese with a Eucharist-centered focus on building solidarity between people from all walks of life and circumstances. It’s the Dream of God in action, and it’s a couple of miles away.

Here is how the community is invited to Eucharist:

This is Christ’s table. Come, you who feel weak, and unworthy, you who come often, and you who have stayed away. Come, you who love Jesus, and you who wish you could. Come sinners and saints, women and men, gay and straight. Come you who are homeless and you who have a place to rest your heads. Come you who are citizens of this land and you who are not. Here you are citizens of the Kingdom of God. Now join God’s people at this feast prepared for you from the beginning of the world.

Lois Atwood R.I.P.

Sage advice from the Apostle Paul: 

For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of themselves more highly than they ought to think, but to think with sober judgement, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. Romans 12.

My first encounter with Lois and Pres was in the summer of 2014. I had been in the parish a couple of weeks and Pres had just returned home following his recovery from a broken hip – I hope I recall that correctly, Pres? Being fresh to New England, my mind already colored by stereotypes of frigid Yankee stoicism – and with Susan Esposito’s words ringing in my ears about Lois and Pres being two of the St Martin’s most venerable members, I set out to bring Holy Communion to them at home in the firm expectation of encountering two ancient and crusty WASPS.

My expectations were of course, utterly dashed. For I met two warm and witty persons who seemed greatly surprised that I should have taken the trouble to visit them at home – after all as Lois would continue to remind me at every subsequent visit: This is wonderful Fr. Mark, that you should find the time in your busy schedule to bring Communion to us – to which I would mutter some such throw away rejoinder about it being a privilege. But – and here Lois do forgive me for beginning a sentence with a preposition – it was a privilege! So much was it a privilege that with Lois and Pres, the Rector had to take his turn in the que of Eucharistic Ministers keen to visit them each Sunday after it seemed safer for them not to risk coming to church. In fact, David Whitman, I always envied the fact that you were offered sherry afterwards and I never was. Well, such is the burden of being too busy – I guess.

I don’t think Lois ever really understood how much of a privilege for me, and I know for others, it was. Because Lois was a woman who did not think more highly of herself than she ought to have thought. Lois carried herself through life girded by a very sober judgment of herself, according to the measure of faith God accorded her.

Soon after my first visit , I was summoned – for this time it felt a bit like a royal command – by Lois and her prayer partner Jean Richardson, who taken together presented a most formidable couple! This was my first discovery of the rich depth of Lois’ spirituality. Lois was a formidable intercessor, and with Jean they operated an extensive prayer chain. I felt the purpose of this visit was to be assessed as to my support for the efficacy of prayer. I think I must have passed. Again, another stereotype of WASP crustiness – crushed.

I am conscious that everyone here today has more numerous and richer memories of Lois than I can have given the shortness of my time knowing her. Elsewhere five years might be considered a long time, but in Rhode Island not so! Yet we will all agree that Lois had that rare gift for friendship. John Bracken commented to me that: She had such a bright smile. Always made you think she was happy to see you even if she barely knew you. A real gift. A real gift indeed! Lois was a friend to those she met, and she was a friend to the many countless more she carried in her prayers.

In a modern world where sharpness of intellect, keenness of perception, and soundness of judgement are no longer qualities normally associated with so call ‘religious’ people, Lois had the sharpest intellect, the keenest perception, and the soundest judgment of any one I have ever known. What’s more, she faithfully read my sermon blog each week, and when she was able to be in church delivered that rear combination of insightful and charitable comment. Her professional literary career when placed alongside her Christian faithfulness should be an inspiration to each and every one of us of how we might better integrate mind and heart in fruitful living.

However, my central task this morning is to speak about the Christian vision of life. This is a bifocal because in near sight it’s a vision of what is, and in far sight it’s a vision of what will be.

We live in a world where many of us are in thrall to a materialist vision of life. This is a vision of life as simply a biological process that unfolds within the three dimensions of matter, time, and space. I think therefore I am; I feel therefore I am. Lois would have agreed with both these statements, but she would have gone on to add: I pray, therefore I am.

There is another vision in today’s world that masquerades as Christian. This is the vision of life where you can turn a blind eye to the injustices and corruptions of this world so long as you can recite the religious formulas that will buy your ticket on the heaven bound express. We see how this vision infuses the so-called Christian Right with an ends (heaven) justify means (toleration of injustice) approach to living.

Then there is the vision of life that Lois espoused. Lois believed that biological life was simply the first stage in a longer process of growing into the fullness of life with God. She believed in the on-going-ness of life beyond biological death, which for her was only a junction point. How do I know this? Did she ever communicate this understanding to me? Well not in so many words, but I infer it from her life life-long practice of intercessory prayer and faithful public worship.

I imagine that as with all questioning and curious minds, doubt was an ever-present companion for Lois. Yet, she knew two things. The first was that doubt is not the enemy of faith, she knew that was fear. And she knew that despite her human inability to fully comprehend the how and the what of the next phase of life, she knew it that her sense of a larger life, that there was more to life than this, mattered.

And here is the crux! Lois knew that the ongoing greater life in God’s love mattered not because it was an end in itself – a pie in the sky when you die sort of thing – but because the prospect of eternal life continually refocused her attention on this life and what mattered, really mattered for her, in this life. Authentic Christian living is to live with our attention focused on this world where with every fiber of our being we need to work tirelessly for the unfolding of God’s vision of the good creation as a reality in real time. Lois knew the truth of the sentence in the Lord’s prayer: Thy kingdom come; thy will be done – in this world – regardless of how we might imagine it being done in heaven.

Curiosity is the most important quality in the spiritual life and Lois possessed it in spades.  As I administered the ritual of the Last Rites to her seemingly unconscious body, a palpable sense of her curiosity as she navigated the transition between dimensions, flooded the room. None of us present could be left in any doubt of Lois’ excitement as she began the process the Book of Common Prayer refers to as life changed but not an ended.  

Through her death, Lois has passed on the baton. And our task now is to run with it for the rest of our earthly lives, and hand it on at our death! I hope we might be worthy of her example.

God’s speed dear friend. We know you will continue to keep us in your prayers.

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