Saturday, March 30, 2013

Totally Alive

Easter Day, 2013
Luke 24:1-12

            Bet you think that every time you come to church on Easter Day you hear the same story.  You don’t.  Not here at least.   If a story called “Easter” is in your head, chances are it is made up of several strands of story that come from various places, maybe even from Matthew, Mark, Luke or John.  It’s not unlike what we do at Christmas.  We roll shepherds and wise men up together, throw in some barnyard animals and an angel or two, and call it the real thing. 

            Today’s story from Luke is quite a bit different from last’s years out of Mark.    And while it could be that you couldn’t care less about who says what, wanting only to hear, maybe, some affirmation that what we are celebrating on Easter actually has something to do with you, sit down with me and listen to what Luke has to say. 

            He starts off as others do in the darkness of early dawn, the women coming to the tomb bearing spices for anointing the body of Jesus.  When they arrive, the stone has been rolled away.  The women are perplexed because they find no body.  Apparently they are still in the tomb, which is something like a mausoleum, replete no doubt with the typical little ante-room for mourners to gather, when two men (not one young man, as in Mark, or one angel as in Matthew) in dazzling clothes appear.  The women bow, afraid, startled.  The men skip telling them what we have come to expect, “Do not be afraid,” and go straight to the point with a question, “Why do you seek the living among the dead?”

            That is the hinge on which swings Luke’s entire proclamation.  Why do we seek the living among the dead?

            There are good answers to that question, which might not be as rhetorical as it sounds.  We seek the living among the dead, first, because we generally have no clue as to the difference between what is living and what is dead.  In the primer of Christianity, the very first lesson is that things are not what they seem.  What appears to be dead is often very much alive.  What appears to be a dead end—the sudden loss of a job maybe, a tragic accident, the blindness and deafness of a Helen Keller—is frequently the surprising opening to amazing life.  On the other hand, what seems to be life-giving and happiness-making is seldom more than a fiction.  It only takes a few years to get to the point where you can begin to attest that what people call “the real world” may be real, but it is not so valuable or so delightful as it is cracked up to be.   For all sorts of reasons—the way we are brought up and educated, where we have our investments, what seems to be common sense—humans find it generally absurd to kick over the traces and renounce this world and all its promises in favor of something which on the surface is as flimsy as resurrection.

            And that, of course, is a second answer to why we seek the living among the dead. It has to do with what we deep down intuit will be the cost to us if we start buying tales from strange men in funny clothes.  Anybody beyond childhood has a fairly reliable program which tells us, to start off with, that family, friends, colleagues, even those who are our fellow alumni in the Jesus School of Religion will hear our report as an idle tale, empty talk about an empty tomb or something of the sort.  And then where will we be?  Alone, alone, all, all alone.  That is our biggest fear.  But be sure that no one will ever think us crazy for looking for a corpse in a cemetery.  That “the real world” fully understands.

            The hardest thing about resurrection, including preaching about it, is not that it is so out-of-this world, but that it fundamentally means something different from what the majority of people take it to mean.  Trying to explain it in everyday terms, or in scientific terms for that matter, is another venture in seeking the living among the dead.  It is not too much of a stretch to run to the tomb and look for yourself to conclude that what you have heard is not an idle tale told by idiots signifying nothing.  But to get from there to rearranging your life because the resurrection that happened to Jesus fundamentally alters the way you think about yourself:  that takes some doing.  That is why, I am sure, so many Christians have constructed a way of thinking about resurrection that has a minimum to do with life here and now.  You do know what that way is, don’t you?  It goes like this.  Jesus died because you sinned, and rose from the dead so that if you believe both that he died and rose again, you will rise from the dead too.  Not as he did, of course, but after you die.  And you will get to live forever doing pretty much what you most enjoy now or wish you could enjoy, probably with the people that you most like now or wish liked you. 

            Now there’s a story that is guaranteed to keep us looking for the living among the dead.  Look at all the things it does.  It places resurrection so far in the past or so far in the future that it has nothing much to do with the present.  Moreover, the whole story gets told in terms of your sin, not your relationship with God or anybody else.  Beyond that, it pretty much says that the way you enter the game of rewards and punishments is by believing two things that require you to suspend nearly everything else you know about how the universe works.  And during it all, you get to choose whom you love and whom you hate, how you live and what you buy, with nary a thought about Jesus’ resurrection.

            You may think I have just knocked the props out from under the Christian message.  But I assure you that St. Paul, writing to the Corinthians the passage you heard this morning, would think that the little story I just told summing up the Christian faith was weird indeed. To be sure, if it is only for this life and this world that we set our hope on Christ, we are pitiful.  But for Paul, resurrection is not just something that opens up everlasting life for us; it is a reality that completely alters the way we live now.  When he says that “in Adam all die,” he is talking about the very world that keeps urging us to seek the living among the dead, to chase after foolish goals, mistaking the real for the convenient, swapping the spiritual for the ego-driven.  And when he says, “…in Christ all shall be made alive,” he is talking not only about eternal life, but about a daily living in a reality that Christ’s death and resurrection has inaugurated—a new relationship with God and with others.  In other words, once you get straight about how the resurrection impacts you in this life, then you can begin to see how the wall between this life and the life to come has been knocked down. 

            Sometimes we call Sundays “little Easters.”  Beyond the obvious connection—celebrating the resurrection on the first day of the week—I yearn for the day when every time we unpack the gospel, no matter what the subject, we will see that it has everything to do with resurrection.  Resurrection is not the last chapter of Jesus’ life, and certainly not an appendix to his teaching.  It is his whole life—feeding, healing, forgiving, loving, praying, having dinner with the outcasts and the pariahs of society, teaching, washing, and even dying.   After they have asked, “Why do you seek the living among the dead?” the two men tell the women to recall how Jesus had said that he would be handed over, crucified, and on the third day rise again.  If the women indeed recalled that, they might have remembered that it was then and there that Jesus had also said, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.  For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will save it.  What does it profit them if they gain the whole world, but lose or forfeit themselves?”  (Luke 9:23-25)

            There you have it:  resurrection.  It is not a promise.  It is a reality.  It is not a reward.  It is a way to live, truly live.   Taking up your cross sounds like a pretty grim affair, and it can be—until you realize that rather than being nailed down to it you are freed up by it.  Taking up the cross is living in the resurrection:  they are the same thing!  To take up the cross is to learn to let go of worrying, to practice trusting in a provident God, to be more spontaneous, to school oneself to tell and speak the truth, to respect your own limits and also to push beyond your boundaries.   The cross looks so heavy when you just stand staring at it. But pick it up and see how light it is.  It is light, this cruciform yoke of Christ, because it itself supplies the power by which it is lifted:  resurrection power.  Walking the way of the cross is none other than the way of life and peace.  Lifting it with resurrection power is to be able to do impossibly wonderful things.  It is to  love the haters when they are hating.  Carrying the cross is using your voice and your brain and your talent to take a stand for justice.  Living resurrection is seeking Christ among the living, loving your neighbor as yourself, respecting the dignity of every person whether the head of the NRA or the victim of gun violence, caring at least as much about the future of creation as you do about yourself.  And never forget that taking up the cross gives you the power to repent and return to the Crucified and Risen Lord when you mess up. 
            The other day our daughter Anne overheard her five-year-old son Grady saying to his sister and a little friend, two and four respectively, “We’re small, but we’re powerful.”  Yes we are.  We are powerful because by our baptism we have been buried with Christ.  We are powerful because by our baptism we have been raised to share Christ’s resurrection daily.  We are powerful because when we have been signed with the cross and sealed by the Spirit and welcomed into Christ’s Body by saints and angels and ancestors and every vibrating string of creation and by you yourself, God, there is nothing that matters more than singing your song of Love to every creature under heaven till we are changed into your likeness in glory, fully alive, fully free.

© Frank Gasque Dunn, 2013

His Passover and Yours

            All heaven dances and the farthest reaches of the cosmos break into song on this night, the Passover of the Lord.  For he that made all creation, the Word spoken to create matter, the charge behind all energy, has died and is alive again.

            Toda la creación baila y canta esta noche.  El que creó el universo, el Verbo que ha creado materia, la fuerza de energía, ha muerto y ha resucitado.

            He was present in the rain that poured down upon Noah and his family, present in the animals who were saved, present in Noah and in his sons and in Noah’s wife and his sons’ wives.   He was living in the dove and living in the olive branch, alive on the ark and alive in the mud.

            Cristo estaba presente en el deluvio, en los animales que fueron salvados, en la familia de Noé, en la paloma, y en su rama, viviendo en el arca y en el barro.

            The stars shine bright tonight, for the light that scatters the darkness has not been overcome.  The light that shone in the pillar of fire leading our fathers and mothers of Israel through sea and desert shines tonight in him who leads us through the waters of baptism to his own Passover Feast.

            Las estrellas brillan esta noche.  La luz brilla en las tinieblas, y las tinieblas no la han recibido.  La columna de fuego por la cual Dios guió su pueblo arda en él que nos guia por las aguas del bautismo a la fiesta pascual.

            Hearts beat stronger tonight because they are new, because he has melted hearts of stone and turned them into hearts of flesh.  Spirits leap now in the pure joy of the one who by his dying has destroyed death and who by his rising to life again has broken the spell that has chained humanity to the fear of losing its life.

            Nuestros corazones cantan esta noche, por qué él ha quitado de nuestros corazones de piedra y nos ha dado corazones de carne.  Por su resurrección nos ha librado del miedo de la muerte.  ¡Huesos secos acercan unos a otros  con una gran agitación!  Ellos sin esperanza esta esperando de nuevo.  Los espíritus que son muertos viven ahora.  Los cuerpos son sanados.  Musculos y piel crecen en el cuerpo de Cristo, resucitado, fuerte, bellisimo.

            Dry bones come together this night with a ferocious rattling!  Those whose hopes have been bleached colorless in the sun are learning to hope anew.  Those whose spirits have languished have the breath of God in them. Bodies are healed.  Muscles and sinews and skin grow on the Body of Christ, risen, powerful, beautiful.
            Every valley is exalted, every mountain and hill made low.  There is in this very holy place a highway for our God, going right from the font filled with the waters of creation, flood, and sea all the way to the banquet table, spread with a feast where the Risen Lord will in a moment come to be our host, feeding us with food he feels as body and we taste as bread, with drink he feels as blood and we taste as wine.

            Hay un camino a Yavé aquí en este lugar santisimo, que va de la fuente hasta la mesa del Señor, que llegaré invitandonos a la fiesta, en su cuerpo y su sangre.

            ¡Tan santa es esta noche!  Somos el cuerpo.  Somos el cuerpo de Cristo.  Somos el cuerpo que estaba muerte y vive ahora de nuevo, que estaba perdido y ha sido encontrado.  No nos encuentra entre los muertos, pero entre los que viven.  Somos resucitados.  Somos librados. ¡Celebremos más que nunca!

            How holy is this night!  We are the Body.  We are the Body of Christ.  We are the Body that was dead and is alive again, that was lost and is found.  We are the Body found not among the dead but among the living.  We are his risen Body.  Celebrate as you have never celebrated before!

© Frank Gasque Dunn, 2013


Thursday, March 28, 2013

Wash Day

John 13:1-17; 31b-35
Maundy Thursday

            “We thank you, Almighty God, for the gift of water.  Over it the Holy Spirit moved in the beginning of creation.  Through it you led the children of Israel out of their bondage in Egypt into the land of promise.  In it your Son Jesus received the baptism of John and was anointed by the Holy Spirit as the Messiah…”

            So do we pray when we bless the water of baptism.  Water is a sign of creation, because out of it all life came.  Water is a sign of deliverance, for through the Red Sea waters, God delivered Israel from slavery and made of them our forefathers and foremothers a nation to serve God in freedom.  Water is a sign of the Reign of God, the New Life marked by complete transformation and radical vocation, for that is what Jesus’ baptism meant for him and means for us.

            “Te damos gracias, Padre todopoderoso, por el don del agua.  Sobre ella, el Espíritu Santo se movía en el principio de la creación.  A través de ella, sacaste a los hijos de Israel de la esclavitud en Egypto a la tierra prometida.  En ella, Jesús recibió el bautismo de Juan y fue ungido por el Espíritu Santo como el Mesías…  Lo oremos cuándo bendecimos el agua del bautismo.  El agua es un señal de creación, un señal de liberación, y también un señal de la vida nueva y vocación radical. 

            But the list could go on.  We thank you for the water of the Jordan in which Naaman the Syrian was healed.  We thank you for the water of the Sea of Galilee in which disciples swam and fished and on which Jesus walked.  We thank you for the water of Cana which he turned into wine.  And we thank you for the water that he poured into a bowl to wash his disciples’ feet, making of them a new community to share in his example of self-giving love.

            Hay muchos exemplos del agua en la biblia.  El Rio Jordan, en lo cual Náman fue sanado de lepra.  El Mar de Galilea, en lo cual los discípulos nadaron y pescaron, también en lo cual Jesús caminó.  El agua de Cana, que Jesús cambió en vino.  El agua que Jesús tomó por lavarles los pies a sus discípulos.

            So many associations with water!  But on Maundy Thursday we gather around our font remembering two.  One is our baptism into Christ; the other is the water with which Jesus washed his disciples’ feet.  The thing that links them both is that water is the means of forming community.  When we are baptized we are initiated into a community, the Church, which we call the Body of Christ.  Christ is incarnated in this community.  Its hands—our hands—are his, as are our minds, shoulders, legs, and every other body part.  He indwells every inch of us.  And each of us does not belong just to ourselves or to our families, but to each other.  Feet don’t say to hands, “I have no need of you,” nor ears to eyes, “I have no need of you.”  We are fiercely dependent on each other. 

            El Jueves Santo, recordamos dos significanzas de agua, nuestro bautismo y el lavatorio de pies.  En ambos casos, agua forma una comunidad.  El bautismo en Cristo nos hace miembros de la comunidad de Cristo que es la iglesia.  Se llama “el cuerpo de Cristo.”  Todas las partes de nuestros cuerpos son miembros de Cristo.  El vive en cada parte—las manos, las mentes, los hombros, las piernas, y las demás.  Y cada una de nosotros no pertenece solamente a nosotros mismos o a nuestras familias, sino pertenecemos los unos a  los otros.

            But water doesn’t just make us members of Christ; it makes us little Christs.  When Jesus washed his disciples’ feet, he said, “I have given you an example that you should also do as I have done to you.  If I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet.”  It couldn’t be plainer.  Servants do what their master commands and models.  Pray for each other.  Feed each other.  Teach each other.  Admonish each other.  Listen to each other.   Care for each other.  Wash each other. 

            Jesús dice, “Si yo, el Señor y maestro, les he lavado los pies, también ustedes deben lavarse los pies unos a otros.   El servidor no es más que su patrón.  Ustedes deben hacer como he hecho yo.”  Necesitamos cuidarnos mutuamente.  Tenemos orar, alimentar, enseñar, admonestar, escuchar, y lavarnos, unos a otros.

            Jesus gives us a new commandment, that we love one another.  “Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.  By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” Water by its very nature does not have sharp and precise boundaries.  It oozes.  It seeps.  It seeks out the cracks and crannies and runs into them.  And so it is with the love we have as members of Christ’s Body.  Start loving profligately as he loves, and you’ll find it harder and harder to stop.  Differences between those inside the church and those beyond our doors will disappear, as identities run together like ink on a water-soaked page. 

            El agua no tiene límites exactos.  Rezuma.  Se filtra.  Encuentra las grietas y los rinconcitos y va en ellos.  Nosotros miembros del cuerpo de Cristo somos como eso.  Cuándo comienzas amar como Jesús ama, discubrirás es más y más difícil dejar de amar.  Las diferencias entre personas al dentro de la iglesia y ellas afuera desparacerán.

            No es posible lavarse los pies de su prójimo sino lavarse las propias manos.  Alimenta y ser alimentado.  Sirve y ser servido.  Da y recibirás. 

            Ha llegado la hora.  Si todavia no has comenzado, ahorita comience.

            Did you ever notice that you cannot wash another’s feet without washing your own hands?  Never worry about how clean you are.  Just wash another and you will be clean indeed.  Serve another and you will be served in so doing.  Feed another and you will be fed.  Give and you will receive, good measure, pressed down, shaken together.          

            Your hour has come.  If you have not yet begun, begin now.

© Frank Gasque Dunn, 2013

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Green Wood

            Among the people following Jesus were some women, beating their breasts and wailing for him.  Jesus turned to them and said, “Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me, but weep for yourselves and for your children.” 

            Of all the people on the pages of the gospel, women had as much or more reason to bewail the horror of Jesus’ murder than any of the rest.  He cut across social barriers and prejudices of his time to reach out to women.  To Simon the Pharisee he had said, “Simon, do you see this woman” who had come in off the street to wash his feet with her tears and dry them with her hair.  Simon had seen only a prostitute.  Jesus saw a person.  He had raised up the only daughter of Jairus.  He had raised to life again the only son of a widow of Nain.  When a woman slipped up behind him just to touch the fringe of his clothes, her hemorrhage had suddenly stopped.  Instead of scolding her, Jesus had said, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace.”  Women had taken note when Jesus took one of their children and made the child the model of discipleship saying, “Whoever welcomes this child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me; for the least among all of you is the greatest.”  Mary of Bethany had heard his word of affirmation, “Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her,” though Sister Martha was none too happy with Jesus’ equal rights intervention, left as she was in the kitchen sisterless to do all the work by herself.  Little wonder that they were stunned, shocked, ripped apart to see him trudging through Jerusalem.  They were losing a friend, and with a friend, the hope that he had briefly embodied.

            Weep for yourselves.

            The passion, the suffering is not that of Jesus alone.  It belongs to the Simons of Cyrene who happen to be at the wrong place at the wrong time, who have the cross foisted upon them.  It belongs to the thieves who are crucified with him.  It belongs to the women beaten and tortured by the Taliban, by women raped in time of war, by women and men forcibly removed from their homes and lands to become slaves, by women and men and children ignored by systems, starved financially, persecuted for loving the wrong persons, ridiculed for their beliefs, locked up and forgotten about. 

            For the days have come when they say, “Blessed are the barren, and the wombs that never bore, and the breasts that never nursed.”  Deserts expand.  Rivers dry up.  The earth grows hot and those who could cool it even a degree simply party on, believing that it can never die or that its death would hasten the coming of the Kingdom. 

            Already they are beginning to say in some places to the mountains, “Fall on us,” and to the hills, “Cover us.”  Do not weep for pitiable Jesus, paraded through the streets of Old Jerusalem like a clown, mocked and despised by those who wanted him to perform some miracle for their entertainment.  But weep for yourselves and for your children.  The passion, the suffering, the tragedy is not his more than it is yours and theirs. 

            For if they do these things in the green wood, what will happen in the dry?

            So quickly has the triumphal entry into Jerusalem turned sour.  In just a few sentences the spring has turned to the heat of summer, and the promise of wood turning green has dried and shriveled, just waiting for the fire.

            It is our passion.  Weep for yourselves and for your children. 

            But as you weep, see through your tears a spectacular hope.  For even when the mountains are falling, the concrete and steel crumbling, the ailing structures of society nearing collapse, there is a certain majesty that settles upon the brow crowned with thorns.  The jeering voice that snarls, “Are you not the Messiah?  Save yourself and us!” does not jar his composure.  The Messiah, the anointed one, forgives instead of hates, opens paradise to those who but ask to be remembered in his kingdom, and manifests the strength that is perfected in weakness.  Forever after it will be possible to say with assurance that grace is sufficient; that they might kill the body but cannot kill the soul; that when those who take up their cross daily and follow him walk through the valley of the shadow of death they need fear no evil; that when their path leads through fiery trials, the flame shall not hurt them, nor when they must wade through deep waters the floods will not overwhelm them.  His passion means that love is stronger than death.  His dying defangs Death. 

            Cease your weeping, if only for a moment.  Follow him not only with your cross, whatever it is, and your suffering, however great.  Following Jesus, place your spirit in the hands of God, now and in the hour of your death.  For from him you have come, in him you move, and to him you will live unto the ages of ages.

© Frank Gasque Dunn, 2013