And so it begins. Another Lent when we give up peas (my husband’s favorite sacrifice) but not our belief that we are such wretched souls that a vindictive God demanded the death of his son to fix it.
A sort of bait-and-switch tactic, which is kinda genius if it weren’t for the fact that God deals with stupid humans. I mean, it’s not like all of humankind did an immediate about-face and never sinned again. If God really devised this plan to correct the stupidity of Adam and Eve, it didn’t work. We have continued to sin and fall short of the glory of God. So, what would have been the point?
Even so, this belief is easy for us to buy into because it makes no demands on us. It’s a bit like believing “fortified” Froot Loops are healthy! No kids – they’re NOT! So spit it out and go get yourself some common sense! GEEEEZZZZZ.
I hate to admit that I lived comfortably in that safe place for many years. Eventually, it grew impossible for me to accept such an untruth in light of the God I grew to know intimately. How can anyone “know” God, you ask? – By experiencing his essence in the beauty of nature, the love of family, the compassion of friends, and the thoughtfulness and generosity of strangers.
Jesus’ Passion should declare the unbridled love of God for us. The cross should upend any denial that he loves us deeply and obsessively. But, as Hebrews 10:31 tells us, “It’s just way too scary to fall into the hands of the living God” (loose translation). That is not a god we want to snuggle up to. We prefer a god like that unpredictable, crazy uncle we keep at a distance. Genesis 3:8 insists that Adam and Eve ran and hid from that God!
Every single blessed year, Lent calls us to look at the cross differently. It’s a perpetual life lesson that keeps showing up forty days a year, year-end and year out until we “get it”! If we get it at all.
Will we ever wake up to the beauty of the cross? I believe that can only be possible through the eyes of faith – illuminated by the grace of a tender, loving God.
For that to happen, though, we must be willing to fix an unwavering gaze at the cross and realize the true meaning of Jesus’ Passion. We must embrace with faith – even if it’s a bit shaky – the reality that the crucifixion on Friday and the empty tomb on Saturday were necessary for the revelation of the profound mystery that is God manifest through Jesus on Easter Sunday.
We are called during this time to contemplate more deeply the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. This central tenant of our Christian faith is also the cause of my innermost struggle with what I believe and how I am to live. Paradoxically, it has become the source of a deepening faith that I believe will sustain me even if I never enter another church building. I no longer find my “home” there.
The following is the content of a post I wrote in 2012. As I reread it I realized it was everything I still believe because there is no mention of Jesus’ bodily resurrection which has been my sticking point. So, allow me to share the short post followed by a feeble attempt to express my feelings about that with what will surely be impossibly inadequate human words.
So, here we go:
While we prepare the menu for an Easter feast; Jesus is preparing for the Last Supper.
While we scrub the house for guests; Pilate washes his hands of the people who demand Jesus’ death.
While we are shopping for new outfits; Jesus is stripped, humiliated and brutally beaten.
While we look forward to having all the family together again: Kids home from college, parents arriving soon, on the long walk to Calvary Jesus and his mother touch for just a moment as their eyes reveal the unspeakable pain of their suffering.
While we are feeling left to do all the work amidst our annual pity party; Jesus, in his weakened state, struggles with the weight of the cross he carries – alone and abandoned by those who called themselves his disciples.
While we fuss over last-minute appearances playing beat the clock: Taming cowlicks, straightening ties, new shirt without stains, socks that match – finished – Jesus’ face is streaked with blood and his broken body is no longer recognizable. It is finished.
Knowing what will take place before that glorious Easter Day should cause us to tremble – but we’re too busy with our “stuff”.
The soon to be revealed and unimaginable love of God for us should bring us to our knees – an uncertain and uncomfortable place that we avoid.
The reality of the cross should cause us to beg forgiveness for our sinfulness – but we’ve become desensitized to our own sin, while easily pointing out everyone else’s transgressions!
We don’t reach out to God during the darkness of Good Friday or the deafening silence of Holy Saturday because we’re afraid he’ll answer! And then, for many of us, Easter comes and goes with little more fanfare than any other Sunday.
Could we even bear to consider what just happened? Jesus as the Incarnation of God showed us the full expression of God’s own self: He is relentless, extravagant, merciful, indiscriminate, gratuitous, enduring, and grace-filled Love!
In this most holy season of Easter we are called to remember and celebrate that love. But, not just that! Jesus never said, “Worship me.” He said, “Follow me. Do what I do.” What difference does it make if we have not changed in some way; if Monday is just business as usual, if we step over our suffering brothers and sisters on our way to more important things? If we forget.
Now, for my current, albeit meager, “resurrection” thoughts. This is probably a good time to remind everyone that this is simply my opinion which you are free to disagree with.
I have read and studied the writings of several people I love and respect. Each of them has, in some way, helped me to better understand and then put into practice my beliefs about Jesus’ life and how I am to “follow him”. Even though I may stumble to articulate those feelings, I am still at peace with saying, “This is what I believe. I have no clue what the “facts” are and don’t believe anyone else does either. And that’s okay.”
Bishop John Shelby Spong has had the most profound impact on me so I will begin with him (italics are mine):
“I do not believe that the resurrection had anything to do with the physical resuscitation of a deceased body, but I do believe that an experience that transcended all known human limitswas real. Mythology is frequently the only language we have to use in order to make sense out of a transcendent experience. Having said that, I still see no reason to doubt the historicity of the figure of Jesus of Nazareth or the conclusion that seems to have come from many sources that a deep and transforming God experience was met in him.
After the crucifixion some experience of great magnitude brought Jesus’ disciples back, empowered them and gave them the courage to take up the cause of this Jesus in the face of persecution and martyrdom. They never wavered. The way the disciples understood God was changed by whatever that Easter experience was.”
There it is: Spong says, “…a deep and transforming God experience was met in him.”We may not know what that experience was and there has never been a consensus about it, but we do know something profound happened!And we know that because those once frightened disciples came back empowered to speak God’s truth and act on that truth no matter the consequences.
Jesus, trusting in his Father, freely chose to become victim and was put to death. This final profound act united humanity to divinity, bringing us into the relationship by the power of the Holy Spirit.
The Easter question for us then becomes, “What do you believe about Me?” What I say I believe must manifest itself in the way I live my life, or it is a lie.
Rev. Dawn Hutchings gives us a timeline that should cause a whole bunch of head scratching regarding everything we’ve been told to unquestioningly believe about Jesus’ resurrection:
The Apostle Paul wrote his first letter to the church in Corinth, about 20 years after Jesus was crucified, died and was buried….at least 20 years before the Gospel according to Mark, 30 to 40 years before the gospels according to Matthew and Luke and probably nearly 50 years before the Gospel according to John.
The writings of the Apostle Paul contain the earliest writings that we have on the subject of the Resurrection. And the Apostle Paul’s understanding of resurrection was good enough for the early followers of the Way….Paul never described Jesus’ resurrection as a physical resuscitation of Jesus’ corpse. Indeed in 1 Corinthians 15 Paul denies that Jesus’ resurrection was an actual physical resurrection.
The vision that Paul credits with having changed his view of Jesus is clearly that, a vision; a vision of a heavenly body.
….it is also difficult to reconcile a physical resuscitation with the details that are recorded in the Scriptures.
In an age in which, what we would define as supernatural visions, were commonplace, this experience of the power of the divine that their teacher had opened them to could have been interpreted as if the spirit of their teacher had never died because the power of God never does die.
Those who followed and loved Jesus experienced life in ways that were so earth shattering, so mind-blowing, that their lives would never be the same again. The power of the love they experienced in their life with Jesus could not be constrained or ended by Jesus’ death.
Long after they found the empty tomb, Jesus’ loved ones continued to experience his presence in very real ways. In the breaking of the bread and in the meals they shared together; as they walked the pathways they had walked with Jesus, and fished the waters they had navigated with Jesus.
Many of these experiences were visions. Paul’s experience of the risen Jesus on the road to Damascus, described three times in Acts 9, 22, and 26, and referred to by Paul in Galatians 1, was clearly a vision. It happened a few years – three to five – after the death of Jesus.
As Acts describes Paul’s vision of the risen Christ, Paul saw a brilliant light, but not a bodily form. Then a voice identified the brilliant light as Jesus. Yet Paul can say, as he does in 1 Corinthians 9.1, “I have seen the Lord.”
“The Spirit of the Lord” was upon him, as the gospels put it – and his followers continued to experience the same Spirit after his death. The risen Jesus appears in a locked room (John 20). He journeys with two of his followers for a couple of hours and is not recognized – and when he is recognized, he vanishes (Luke 24). He appears in both Jerusalem (Luke and John) and Galilee (Matthew and John). He appears to Stephen in his dying moments (Acts 7). He appears to Paul in or near Damascus as a brilliant light (Acts 9). He appears to the author of Revelation on an island off the coast of Turkey in the late 90s of the first century (Rev. 1).
So, here is the question that I no longer struggle with, “Who do you say I am?” (Matt 16:13) Every human being who knows the name Jesus will answer that question. Those who turn their backs say, “You are no one to me.” Some espouse it verbally, some more subtly by their actions. Many are Christians who profess their faith in a loud voice for all to hear, and cry out, “Lord, Lord!” Yet, Jesus says, “I never knew you; go away from me you evildoers.” (Matt. 7:23) Jesus does not recognize those who say what they do not live. Every Christian must answer the question, “Who is Jesus,” and ultimately, “Who is the God revealed in Jesus?”
The answer I have settled into has given me more peace and joy than I ever imagined. It has stripped away all the spectacle and pageantry and ritual; the flowing robes, incense, drama, and hype. It has defined and focused my attention on the simple yet profound reality of Jesus. The one I long to emulate. Jesus was God’s beloved son, just as I am his beloved daughter. His life had a purpose, just as mine does.
When I consider all the wonder and awe the disciples must have experienced after Jesus’ death; how he enlivened them with the strength and courage to stand against the same powers that crucified him and they ran and hid from; how he stayed with them in spirit, I am reminded of the most profound experience of my own life.
Jesus appeared to me most vividly in Kentucky twenty years ago (post), at one of the lowest times in my life. A time when I doubted God could possibly love me. I felt the tender hand of God – the touch of Jesus, through another living, breathing human and my life has never been the same since. I have often wished for more of those intense moments when in reality we are surrounded by them in the ordinariness of our lives if we would just stay open to them.
The central meaning of Easter is not about what happened to the corpse of Jesus. Its essential meaning is that Jesus continues to be known and experienced through his followers to this very day. Those whose lives manifest the love of God witness to the truth that Jesus is still here; hanging about loving on humanity. And he still has his eye on you!
2. Push yourself in front of the line for Covid testing and a vaccine by insisting your “job” is essential!
3. On Ash Wednesday (I know, we’re past that, just humor me): Keep your hands away from your face, not necessarily to protect you from Covid, just so you don’t wipe your ashes off that everyone needs to see so you can prove that you are the holiest of holies. Once you shower them away you can get back to being comfortable in the skin of the hypocrite everyone, but you, knows you are.
4. Giving something up: Yes, I know, you’ve already chosen and forgotten it, especially if it had anything to do with food or exercise. But, there’s an unwritten “rule” that you can keep trying any time before Holy Week. So, come on, try again. Make it something you REALLY REALLY LOVE! Not chocolate, that’s been over-done. I know, how about giving up that stinkin’ attitude that you’ll gain a coveted spot in heaven because you are way more special than those you have labeled “heathens”.
Anyway…mortal sin is basically something you’ll go to jail for or get shot by a husband for. I wouldn’t swear to it, but I think there was an appendage added at the end by some Bishops that reads: “if you get caught”.
Venial sins fall into more of a gray area. They don’t meet all three criteria of a mortal sin: (1) A Grave Matter, (2) Full Knowledge (3) Deliberate Consent. Think politicians – they default to #2. In the moment, they don’t seem to realize what they did was wrong or that it’s still on Twitter. Then, the truth is splattered all over the media and suddenly they “realize” what they did was a really awful, very bad thing and they’re sorry and it won’t happen again (until after their next run for office).
So, priest and confessee are to wear masks, keep a fan running, and the screen closed. Confessee is to turn away from the priest while spewing tiny, tiny indiscretions. These safeguards are for protection, not so he won’t recognize you, silly!
5. Easter Sunday may be tricky. You’ll still have to limit the number of people coming for dinner (good excuse for not inviting your crazy relatives though).
Now, you don’t want to make Jesus feel like he’s not welcome back, but at the same time, we really don’t know where he’s been for the last three days. So, just to be safe he should probably get tested before he comes and wear a mask. Then, he’s perfectly welcome to join the party and sit at the head of the table. — which he will decline to do. Actually, he’ll probably sit at the kid’s table. They’re more fun anyway.
And, that’s it. Easter is over, the good china is put away, Uncle Wilber goes back to the nursing home, and Jesus fades into“Ordinary Time”.That’s what we Catholics know as “down time”. A time we need to feel no “obligation” to do anything we don’t want to (not that we feel any obligation any other time it’s just that there’s no guilt connected to it). Like, I don’t know, what Jesus showed us by his example that we just got a forty day recap of. It’s all in Matthew 25:40-45:
40 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’
41 “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42 For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’
44 “They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’
45 “He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’”
We may have to continue to wear masks, but they cannot hide what others see in our eyes and witness by our acts of love for those who suffer. Or, conversely, when keeping our distance has nothing to do with that whole “social” thing.
I think it’s fair to say that this Easter will be like no other, and I would like to think of that as a good thing – eventually – hopefully.
God has stripped away all the non-essentials: new outfits, haircuts, review of proper behavioral expectations for the kids at church, and “how to stay awake at Mass” for adults.
Making up shallow sins suitable to hide the deeper embarrassing stuff for the annual confession – not needed.
Oh yeah, and your mother told you the Easter dinner invitation list must include those annoying relatives you hate – not necessary either. You’ll be dining alone (and you might want to work on your hate issue).
You take a deep breath and realize what’s left.
Jesus and you…AWKWARD!
It’s okay. he doesn’t bite. No matter what your third-grade teacher told you.
So, how about we take a new look with fresh eyes at the events of this Easter week. It was a week that revealed humanity at its best and worst, and what that might mean for us today.
We begin with Palm Sunday. Those crowds were lovin’ on Jesus the Prophet on his way to becoming their anticipated King who would finally save them. Christ was celebrated as the One who would bring his people out of captivity. They were enthralled with him. The cheering was almost deafening, sorta like opening day at Busch Stadium. But remember, these were his people and it was all palms and rose petals.
(We’ll tackle Holy Thursday at the end of this discussion).
Then it all went sideways as he went to Jerusalem to encounter a not-so-supportive crowd. What a different picture, huh? Here he’s among the political elite, the leaders of the temple, who know enough about him by now to hate him, but the average guy on the street doesn’t know who he is. And now he is stirring up more anger than a crowd rush for toilet paper on the opening day of Coronavirus-mania! So, the chief priests and elders meet to plot against him. They know they have to get him away from his faithful followers first. “But not during the Feast,” they said, “or there may be a riot among the people.” (Matthew 26: 3-5). The rest would be easy.
And how about those disciples who vowed to never leave him during the height of his ministry? We know James and John made it clear they wanted to have an honored place next to him when he came into his glory (Mark 10:35-37). Perhaps the rest thought they already had that favored position all sewn up. But then they all scattered and ran for cover when he was taken away to be crucified. “This is not what we signed up for!”
Fun Factoid: The women were never afraid and never ran. They had no ulterior motives. They just wanted to be with the One who loved them and accepted them for who they were. Take note, guys!
In short order, he was convicted and dragged before an angry crowd who screamed for his crucifixion, and they probably didn’t even know why. How many do you suppose just got caught up in the moment and didn’t realize until afterward what they had participated in – the torture and murder of an innocent man they would later discover was PRETTY SPECIAL.
Then at the Cross on Good Friday, we watch horrified as Jesus suffers an unspeakable death. And his mother suffers in silence.
On Saturday, the waiting begins as we are called to silently contemplate what has happened. But we already know that his glorious resurrection is coming, and peace on earth will prevail. At least, we used to believe that. But that truth seems to have been morphed by fear and the unknown this year. So, maybe this day will be spent like all the rest these past few weeks trying to numb ourselves to what we imagine is coming: watch TV (which only fuels that fear), take a nap, eat, drink, wash hands – repeat.
Where’s the peace in all that? Normally we only have the capacity to think our hearts are at peace when everything is perfect: our relationships are perfect, our kids are perfect, and the mother-in-law moved away (oops, not nice). But even, or especially, in these times when fear will try to overwhelm you, don’t let that happen! God is ready to prove to you that you are stronger, braver, and more resilient than you ever imagined! (Which will come in handy when your mother-in-law has to move back in with you).
As Alan Cohen tells us in his book, “A Course in Miracles Made Easy”:
“No person, group, situation, or condition has the power to take away your happiness. NO ONE. NO THING. NEVER. The experience of joy is your God-given right. People can try to remove your happiness, but they cannot remove your peace unless you give them that power. If anyone seems to have stolen your peace, it is because you have allowed them into your sacred sanctuary and let them plunder your treasure. For you was peace created, given to you by its Creator, and established as His Own eternal gift. How can you fail, when you but ask for what He wills for you?”
So, there you go. Unlike the disciples, we don’t need to hide or be anxious about the future. Have you ever wondered if they sat with regret knowing they did the unthinkable by abandoning Jesus and running away? Aside from Peter and Judas, we don’t know what was going through their heads. Did they have regrets? Did they wish they could have a do-over? I would think they must have! But that’s the beauty of second chances! After Jesus invited them to a fish fry, they were all on fire to serve the God they now knew as unfailing love and mercy, especially Peter, the hater, turned lover of Christ, turned coward, turned forgiven, turned martyr for his now unshakable love of Christ. Whew!
I think I read somewhere that at that fish fry, Jesus recalled to them the Last Supper, “Hey guys remember the great time we had then?” – since they all seemed to have forgotten. “Remember how I washed your nasty feet?” Then he reiterated his call to them to love one another (John 13:34). “And just so we’re clear…that was not merely a suggestion.” I wonder if any of them choked on their food at that point.
Now, what about us? Here we are, kind of like the disciples, in the midst of what is surely one of the most uncertain times of our lives. And, funny thing, God is still here; still loving and merciful and compassionate. But, where are we? Good question.
How many of us have been running from him all our lives? Oh sure, we have been going through the motions of being a “Christian,” mostly to impress others. But what have we really done as Christ’s followers? How have we been Christ to others? Today, maybe more than ever, we need to let the light of the Risen Christ shine in and through us for those who are lost and alone, not just in their homes but in the very depth of their hearts. That is God’s hope and greatest longing. “Look”, he says on Easter morning, “I never left you, and I never will. So, stop trying to hide from me. Let’s just sit together and get to know each other. What else do you have to do? You’ve cleaned your house and straightened your sock drawer so many times you’ve lost count. Just sayin’.”
Galway Kinnell said, “Sometimes it’s necessary to reteach a thing its loveliness.” I think that’s what God is trying to do with us, so we can pass it on to others who may have forgotten too. Living into the truth of our own loveliness will allow others to do the same. Just imagine what beauty and joy and peace that would create for the future of this world?!
Archibald MacLeish, in his beautiful sermon on the Book of Job, says, “Only man can prove that man loves God. Man depends on God for all things: God depends on man for one….love is the one thing no one, not even God Himself can command. It is a free gift or it is nothing. And it is most itself, most free, when it is offered in spite of suffering, of injustice, and of death.”
THIS IS OUR TIME. THIS IS OUR CALL TO LOVE! AND WHO KNOWS BUT THAT WE WERE CREATED FOR SUCH A TIME AS THIS (Esther 4:14).
What if Good Friday was cancelled like all other “big events”? The need to manage crowd control during this time would take priority.
Well then, Holy Saturday would be cancelled too. Even if you spent that day alone in your Upper Room, there would be nothing to wait for.
And then, of course, no need for Easter.
This could be our most profound Holy Week ever! Okay, maybe not “ever” – the original one would trump it.
But, we have an opportunity to make this EPIC for our lifetime if we’re paying attention!
Throughout Jesus’ Passion God remained eerily silent. Jesus was mocked by those who were certain He was an impostor. “If you are the Son of God, why doesn’t He save you? Why don’t you just come down from that cross?” (Matt. 27:40)
Yet, when “it was finished,” God’s heart exploded with the reality of His beloved Son’s death. The torn curtain, the earthquake, the rocks splitting! The eruption of Love’s broken heart. Slumped over on the cross was humankind’s ultimate rejection of God’s ultimate Love. What Jesus’ death revealed most profoundly was that God and Jesus’ mutual self-giving was completely gratuitous. “Surely He was the Son of God.” (Matt. 27-54)
And for us today? Good Friday seems to be happening every day since the pandemic began. I don’t know about you but I wake up every morning, open the shades, and look out the window expecting the world to be different. But, the news tells us it’s not. (Call it our very own Groundhog Day).
I think the significance of this Good Friday for us is that, as bad as it is, we know this too will pass and God will use this tragedy for His good if we will just trust Him and cooperate with His plan. We have been blessed with the opportunity of a do-over if we are so inclined to take it on.
Holy Saturday…and we wait. Truth be told we spend most of our lives waiting for something. Our lives seem to be suspended between the really bad days and a sprinkling of a few really good days, that life presents to us like an endless loop of obsessive rumination, good or bad.
Fear and despair abound in today’s world. How is it possible to find hope or trust in anything, let alone a God who seems distant from human suffering?
Maybe we don’t know how many lives will be lost, what the economic outcome will be, how long it will be before our lives return to “normal”, and even how differently we might view our “normal”. But, we do know Easter is coming! HALLEAUJAH AND AMEN!
Easter Sunday – Our celebration of the Risen Christ will surely be much different than we have ever experienced before. What I am hoping and praying for is that we honestly access our new reality in light of how we live our precious lives going forward. God’s will is made clear through His Son, “Love as I have loved and forgive as I have forgiven, no matter the cost.” And we dare not cling to false innocence when the Truth stands before us.
How will we celebrate the Risen Christ in the midst of the fear and despair in today’s world? Holy week is always a reminder that we are called to live differently. But, when people in need see our backs turned from them, they see God’s back as well. It may seem too scary to accept that we are to be God’s compassion, His touch, His mercy. So, we cry out to Him to, “do something” forgetting that we are to be His hands and feet. We stand on Holy Ground when our compassionate care embraces another’s suffering.
This is the point where we must ask ourselves, “Does faith in Jesus orient my life?” If no less than God is present and active in Jesus, is the same true about me? And if so, does that not call for an immediate response? God’s Love can release our human potential beyond our imagining, but not without our “YES”.
Jesus’ question, “Who do you say I am?” will be answered by our falling on our knees in awe and adoration, yes. But it cannot stop there. Jesus never said, “Worship me.” He said, “Follow me.” As a Christian I answer that question every time I give of myself for the sake of another, or conversely, care more for myself than my neighbor. How can I believe God loved me so much, so passionately, that He sent His only Son to suffer and die for me, and for every person I encounter, if I refuse to love them? If I say to Christ, “You are the living God,” that truth must be manifest in and through the way I live my life, or it is a lie.
I am sure the next question Jesus will confront me with is, “Do you love me?” How will my life answer that question?
The tomb was empty. He was gone. Mary cried out in anguish, “What have they done with him?” The response was not comforting to her, “He’s not here”. It wasn’t what the other disciples wanted to hear either. They didn’t believe her.
As Catholics, we are still in the midst of our most holy Easter season, meant to draw us into a deeper relationship with God and, in turn, with our brothers and sisters. Not just the ones that are easy to love. During Lent, we were called to prayer and sacrifice to help us remember God’s scandalous, extravagant, outrageous love. We often have a difficult time remembering. On Easter Sunday, we sing and celebrate the most important Feast Day of our faith. “Alleluia! The Lord is risen! The Lord is risen indeed! Alleluia!” What should that mean to us? And after the glorious Resurrection of our Lord – what then?
The message to us is clear if we have eyes to see. Sister Joan Chittister tells us, “The real proof of the Resurrection lies not in the transformation of Jesus alone but in the transformation awaiting us who accept it.” That transformation can be powerful if we are willing to seek God in new places outside the comfort of our day-to-day. That is when Jesus rises within our very hearts and calls us to love and serve those He most loves: the outcast, the poor, those the world rejects.
After the Resurrection, Jesus revealed himself in the most unlikely places: Behind locked doors, on the path the disciples walked to Emmaus, at a fish fry on the beach. Unexpected places where Jesus longs for us to find him: In the faces of the poor, the brokenness of the rejected. He’s there. In many ways, the poor and homeless among us feel they are also staring into an empty tomb. “Where were you, God, when I lost my job and my home? Where were you when my child died and my husband left because my pain was too much to bear? Where are you now as I struggle to feed my family?
Often, in working with the homeless, when the need seems almost overwhelming, we experience a God-moment that reminds us He is in our midst, changing lives and bringing hope to the hopeless. I will share one beautiful story with you. Since last September, I have worked with a woman, who, through no fault of her own, lost her job, then her home. She was living in her car and felt hopeless. We were able to provide her a motel room and food. She soon got another job as an Assistant Manager of a shoe store, moved into an apartment, and now has the stability we strive for. But, wait, there’s more! Experiencing the blessings of God, she now gives back. Last week, I was blessed to witness a once homeless woman give another homeless woman brand new shoes and coats for her kids.
God is good, ALL THE TIME! And he’s hiding in plain sight. Go see for yourself.
Jesus came to earth as a human being just like you and me (we seem to have a hard time believing that). He had a special purpose to fulfill, just like you and me (we can’t seem to believe that either).
God wanted him to show us by his life, death, and resurrection, how deeply and passionately we are loved; how much he longs to bless us; how we should care for and be blessings to others (those truths also seem to have been lost to us on our often broken journey).
Jesus fulfilled his purpose even though he knew he was making a lot of “important” people angry. So angry they would kill him. I’m pretty sure no one wants to kill us for striving to be all God created us to be (though that is not the case for many Christians in other countries). So, we have to come up with a different excuse – and we do: I’m not smart enough, I’m busy, I don’t think that applies to me. I need to straighten up my messy life and my underwear drawer first…wha-wha-wha…
Daily, Jesus had to decide if he would keep doing what he came here to do. And just before they came to take him away, scripture tells us that he was in agony praying that God would just make it go away (Luke 22:39-46). After all, the human side of him did not want to suffer. But, in the end, he accepted whatever God’s will was. Just think about how that turned out!
We are now in Holy Week – when we remember Jesus’ suffering, death and his glorious resurrection on Easter Sunday – which we celebrate because we are reminded of how much God loves us! This is the moment in time when the disciples came out of hiding; when their fears and doubts fell away, and they tripped all over each other to get busy preaching and teaching and glorifying God. Skipping happily to their own deaths (except for John).
Jesus could have made a different choice. He could have said “no” to God. The disciples could have stayed in hiding. What about you?
God tells you in scripture that he made you and had special plans for you before you were even born. He gave everyone gifts and talents and at the same time made each person unique and special. (Jeremiah 29:11)
Sure, you may doubt yourself. You may not want to risk using gifts that you think others will make fun of or criticize. But, if you trust that God gave you those gifts, then you must believe that he has already given you everything you need to use them. Not doing that would be sort of like gifting you with a new car and not giving you the keys wouldn’t it?
So…what do you say? There is no better time than this moment to reflect prayerfully on what your life’s purpose is, if you haven’t already. Sit quietly with God and just ask him to help you consider:
How are you unique?
Do you know what your gifts are? Let’s think about that…
Who do you admire and why? (Often what we admire in others is what we would like to develop in ourselves).
Do you like helping others?
Do you consider yourself a leader?
What makes you happy – sad? What are you passionate about? (These can be thoughts that can lead to discovery of gifts)
Has someone else told you that you are good at something?
God is waiting for each of us to step out of our comfort zone; to come out of hiding, and serve this broken world.
During this Holy Week, perhaps for the first time, deeply contemplate Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection in light of your own life; your own purpose. Is this your resurrection moment? Is it time for your “yes”?
2 Corinthians 5:17 proclaims that you are a new creation in Christ each new day, “This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun!”
Also, and very importantly, when you’re considering your gifts and how you are called to use them try not to get all full of yourself in the process – okay? It would be easy to do, but, dear heart, this isn’t about you!
Always keep Jesus’ example in the forefront of all you do:
Why did God send Jesus here?
It wasn’t to flex His muscles – although he could have. He could have taken his anger out on our sinfulness and rejection and wiped us all out. He did it before you know…
No, it was to show us in the most powerful way he could how deep his love is for us, and in particular, those who suffer.
It wasn’t to gather groupies who would idolize him, serve him, and cater to his every whim – although, that would have been easier. All he had to do was eliminate free-will. But our free-will to love him – or not – was too important to him. Even though that very will nailed his Son to the cross.
No, it was to model meekness, humility, and service to those most in need.
It wasn’t to puff out his chest and boast of his great might – although he had plenty to boast about. No one, no matter what pedestal we set them on, or place of honor we bestow on them – ourselves included – no one should brag or exult themselves (though we often try).
No, his extravagant love was manifested through his beloved Son, not puffed up and boastful, but rejected and slumped over on a cross.
Now, go on – what are you waiting for? Sure, God knows, you’re a hot mess – so what?
Did you know: According to the FDA, “With the exception of infant formula, the laws that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) administers do not preclude the sale of food that is past the expiration date indicated on the label. The FDA does not require food firms to place ‘expired by’, ‘use by’ or ‘best before’ dates on food products. This information is entirely at the discretion of the manufacturer.”
Article in Time, “…according to the new analysis, words like ‘use by’ and ‘sell by’ are used so inconsistently that they contribute to widespread misinterpretation — and waste — by consumers. More than 90% of Americans throw out food prematurely, and 40% of the U.S. food supply is tossed–unused–every year because of food dating.”
So, it would seem that, to many Americans, the expiration date stamped on food products is gospel. It is critical to our health and well-being. Right?
So then, the question becomes:
Why do we so stubbornly and unwaveringly oppose, ignore, or deny THIS expiration date:
Don’t tell me you don’t. We all do. I think that reality is the most profound image of “whistling past the graveyard”. Every one of us has an expiration date. It’s not arbitrary or negotiable. And, yes, it IS set in stone. Okay, a bit of clarification: God can change that date. God can do anything he wants! It’s also quite possible that when your doctor told you you had six months to live – ten years ago – that all those prayers raised to heaven on your behalf were answered. But, I believe it’s more probable that the doctor was simply wrong. It reminds me of the expression, “If it ain’t your time to go not even a doctor can kill you.” But, that is a whole other blog post.
I can be, and often am, lax about the dates on most food products. Milk is a good example. After you reach the date on the carton you smell it, and then take the tiniest taste. You’ll know if it’s okay for another day. Simple enough and money saving.
Actually, (sorry, this is probably gross for you to consider) when we humans reach our final stage of life, usually the last couple of days or hours, there is an undeniable smell of death. It is one of the signs of the end of life’s journey, and I have experienced it often sitting vigil with Hospice patients. But, don’t count on that smell test to help you decide to hurry up and clean your act up. Unfortunately, at that point, you will be too far gone to make any life changing decisions.
And, what if, on your expiration date, without any warning, you just get run over by a truck on your way to work!?
I am writing this post at the beginning of Lent, a perfect time to reevaluate how I’m living my life. After all, it is a time when we too are called to die…
Take a breath – it’s okay…
We’re called to die to our sins. I’m not saying that’s easy by any stretch. We so often fail miserably at our best intentions: I’m going to bake a pie for that grouchy neighbor of mine! Maybe. Or not.
We must keep trying though, and hopefully, by the grace of God, we will at least fall forward. With that in mind, I have determined – again – to make this my most profound Lenten Season EVER! (I’ll keep you posted on my progress)
I have so much to consider:
Needed changes I have refused to deal with.
Baggage I cling to.
Old hurts that still affect my life all these decades
Lies of other broken people I have fed on and nurtured.
Guilt and shame I cannot let go of.
And, most importantly, denial of my worth as a beloved child of God.
I long to grow in love. I want to use these final days of my life, however many I have left, to fully live as the person I was created to be.
Saint Irenaeus said: “The glory of God is man fully alive.” I want and need to be that fully alive Christian, now. We should all, if we call ourselves Christian, want to strive for the ultimate goal of our faith. And it is not a goal to be realized after life here on earth has ended. It is a goal we should be striving for every day, right here, right now. The Kingdom of God is here, now. It’s not some faraway place we hope we’ve gotten our card pinched enough to qualify for entry.
Our hell is right here, if that’s the life we are living.
Our heaven is right here, if we choose to live as God calls us to.
Even if Lent is not part of your faith tradition, this is still an excellent time to consider fasting and praying as we approach Easter. You don’t have to eat peanut butter and jelly or fish on Fridays unless you LOVE peanut butter and jelly and fish.
Today is Ash Wednesday. We are called to contemplate more deeply the life, death, and wondrous Resurrection of Christ.
Knowing what must occur before that glorious day should cause us to tremble – but we’re too busy.
The soon-to-be-revealed and unimaginable love of God for us should bring us to our knees – but we’re too afraid.
The reality of the cross should cause us to beg forgiveness for our sinfulness – but we’ve become desensitized to sin.
We don’t cry out to God because we’re afraid he’ll answer!
And so, for many of us, Easter comes and goes with little more fanfare than any other Sunday.
While we prepare the menu for an Easter feast, Jesus is preparing for the Last Supper.
While we scrub the house for guests – Pilate washes his hands of the people’s demand for Jesus’ death.
While shopping for new outfits – Jesus is stripped, humiliated, and brutally beaten.
While we look forward to having all the family together again; kids home from college, parents arriving soon – on the long walk to Calvary, Jesus and his mother touch for a moment as their eyes reveal the unspeakable pain of their suffering.
While we are feeling left to do all the work, and have our annual pity party – Jesus, in his weakened state, struggles with the weight of the cross he carries, alone and abandoned by those who called themselves his disciples.
While we fuss over last-minute appearances playing beat the clock: taming cowlicks, straightening ties, new shirts without stains, socks that match – Jesus’ face is streaked with blood, and his broken body is no longer recognizable.
Could we even bear to consider what just happened? Jesus, as the Incarnation of God, is the fullest expression of God’s own self. God is relentless, extravagant, merciful, indiscriminate, gratuitous, enduring, and grace-filled Love!
In this most holy season of Easter, we are called to remember and celebrate that Love. But not just that! Jesus never said, “Worship me.” He said, “Follow me. Do what I do.” What difference does it make if we have not changed in some way, if Monday is just business as usual, if we step over our suffering brothers and sisters on our way to more important things?
When did you quit believing in the Easter Bunny?
When did you quit believing the message of the cross and the empty tomb?
I am a nominal Christian. There I said it. Perhaps that is the beginning of change, like someone who goes to AA. They have to admit they’re an alcoholic first. I have wanted God on my terms because I never really trusted Him. How could I? I have not been able to trust the most important people in my life. Why would He be any different? So, in the name of self-preservation, I created my own box. One that was safe, or at least, one that I imagined to be safe – and I put Him in it.
God wanted to be the most important thing in my life, but I kept Him at a comfortable distance. He wanted to show me how much He loved me, but I refused to accept His love, reasoning that He was trying to trick me. He had to be. He wanted me to trust Him, to surrender my life to Him, but I wouldn’t be fooled by His cunning. I was smarter than that! Sure, I played the game when it served me. But, I’m not sure my “playing” was believable to others and God certainly knew!
I do have moments of sincerity; moments of longing, that God latches onto. He doesn’t miss an opportunity. When the door is opened, even just a crack, he zooms in with lightening speed! One example recently, was when I was struggling in relationship with someone very important to me. I felt a “loving confrontation” was necessary to resolve the issue once and for all.
Now, I don’t handle confrontation very well. So, in a rare moment of submission, I turned to God first and prayed for His guidance. I wonder if He’s gotten over the shock yet, especially considering that I actually waited for His response! That’s nothing short of a miracle.
A few days later, I went for a run about 10:30 in the morning – not my usual time to run. I turned on my MP3 (that’s right, shocking, huh? I don’t have an iPhone, an iPad, or any I-want-what-you-have gadget. But, somehow I manage to hobble through life). I turned on the radio instead of my playlist – also not usual. (As an aside, we have an amazing Christian radio station – 99.1 Joy FM that is completely paid for by its listeners! You can stream it from anywhere if you want to. It’s awesome!) Anyway, as soon as I turned it on the woman announcer was talking about a book she was reading, “Unoffendable” by Brant Hansen. As soon as I got home I downloaded it on my Kindle. I couldn’t put it down. Honestly. It was amazing and just what I needed. Not just for this situation, but for all time. He is so spot on and so incredibly funny. (He says he’s not, but he is.)
When Hansen says we Christians are the worst examples of always being offended and reacting with “righteous anger”, sadly, he’s right, and I am the worst offender of all. And, folks, that is why I have to admit that I am a nominal Christian, no matter what else I do to try and convince myself otherwise. Hey, I tithe generously, I fast, I pray and go to Mass. Wait! Who do I sound like? This guy in Luke 18:13 who stood humbly before God and prayed? “He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’” Not hardly. More like this guy in verses 11-12: Looking around to make sure everyone was listening he says, “God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’”
When I consider my “righteous” anger in the context of my relationships, I have to understand that I am making a statement about my faith and about God. Every time I try to one-up someone I am showing them a false image of God; of Christ. I imagine them saying, “Oh sure, Linda, you have planted within me a burning desire to run to God with arms stretched out. Longing for His tender embrace –“
What I am actually doing is turning others away. There’s a scripture verse for that and it starts with WOE TO YOU knuckleheads! Check it out all through Matthew 23. It’s not an affirmation! And, no, he doesn’t use the word “knucklehead”, what He does use is worse!
So, back to Hansen’s book. I was looking through it for my favorite quotes, but there are too many. And the scripture verses he quotes are too numerous to mention. Just get the book and fasten your seat-belt!
After reading the entire book without taking a breath (I’m not kidding!), I prayed, asked God’s forgiveness for my pride and self-righteousness, for seeing myself as the savior of the world, and then I finally let it go. God’s timing is impeccable considering Good Friday and Easter Sunday are right around the corner!
The Pascal Mystery is relived for us every year because we too quickly forget! Our tears of sorrow on Good Friday turn to tears of joy on Easter Sunday and dry up on Monday. If God is lucky we might make it to Tuesday. If our promised surrender to God was something tangible it would end up on Craig’s List like the treadmill from a New Year’s Resolution with the heading, “Like New – Rarely Used”.
Being a nominal Christian does not have to be my fate. I no longer believe surrender to God is an instantaneous, magic wand moment or nothing at all. In Matthew 4:5, it was the devil who tempted Jesus to jump off the cliff with a promise of great reward, not God. God doesn’t give us an all or nothing ultimatum.
If we will just start somewhere in our messiness to trust Him; to give up something we are clinging to, he will show us what he can do with it. He will reveal to us the peace and joy in our hearts that can only come from turning loose of our need to control.
This can be the time for us to sit at the foot of the cross and “see” withour very hearts what is right before us.
What do you see there?
Do you see a God to be feared?
Do you see a God trying to trick you into submission?
Do you see a God who will betray your trust?
Or do you see a God who loves you THIS MUCH:
God is not a nominal God and we are not called to be nominal Christians. We are called to take His love into a hurting and broken world without fear; knowing He goes before us.
Are we in or out? (By the way, that confrontation I told you about never took place because I felt God’s gentle nudge to let go of the need to “fix” other people).