Love that will not let me go

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I’ve been working at a short-term residential facility for young children for the past year or so.  One of the things they don’t prepare you for is how much you will come to know and love these kids – spending 30-40 hours a week with them, teaching, preparing meals, playing games, resolving conflicts, teaching them to share, helping them learn to deal with disappointment and frustration, doing laundry, reading bedtime stories, playing cars, taking field trips to the museum, the park, the dentist, the lake, or the movies, soothing hurts and putting on band-aids, getting punched and bitten, getting hugs and hearing them scream your name with joy when you arrive at the movie theater, or walk into the home, and being smothered as they run across the room to leap into you…  I didn’t quite expect to lose my heart like this.  Not here.  Not doing this.

I don’t have any kids of my own, so I don’t fully understand the depths of this formless, irrational, crazy love that parents have for their children.  But I do know what it means to love another – to love them so much that you would do whatever is needed for their good.  And everyday, I am taught more and more about what it means to love in that way – not in the way that is easy for me, but in the way that calls me to sacrifice, to service, to death to self, to doing what is hard, and what I would rather not do so that another can grow and thrive and step into all that they can be – all that they were made to be – all that God has in store for them.

There are two brothers who have been living at our facility for the better part of half a year.  Due to the many complications in their case – in their family life – our site has been their home.  And it has been one of the joys of the past year to walk alongside them as they slowly heal from the deep wounds in their past.  It is a slow process.  Brutally slow.  Behavior that they have learned over the years to cope with continuous violence and abuse does not just go away once they are in a safe place.  The learning curve is tremendous.

I’ve lost count of the number of times I have been punched, bitten, kicked, cursed at, threatened, and yelled at by these two boys.  This is how they’ve learned to express their anger and their fear, and this is how they’ve learned to interact when limits are put in their path.

“Why did you punch him?”

“Because I wanted to ride the trike, and he wouldn’t let me.  I WANT to!!!”

One lashes out in anger and rage at being hurt time and time again by someone who should have cared for him.  The other runs and hides and cowers in fear.  This is what they’ve learned.  This is the hand they’ve been dealt.  This is the reality of their life, and the work to overcome that will be hard.  Their wounds have been deep, and while they may heal, the scars will remain.

But I also can’t remember all the times that they’ve run up to me, smiles, hugs, proudly showing me how they’ve learned to write their name, or the art project they’ve finished, or the fact that they went to the dentist and didn’t have a meltdown EVEN WHEN they had to get shots!

This is the fruit of love – of sacrifice – of presence – of not giving up and leaving and letting them wallow in their brokenness.  Love seeks out the other.  Love steps into that reality and does not let go, does not give up, does not wash its hands of us and just let us go our own way, further and further from life, from joy, from beauty, from goodness.  Love fights for us.  Love shows up.  Love gives.  Love doesn’t give up.  Love never fails.

It would be easier sometimes to walk away.  I get tired of being bitten, of being yelled at, of being told that they wish I was dead and would just leave them alone.  I hope – I LONG – for the day when they are healed.  But until they are, I won’t leave them there.

This past Monday afternoon I found myself with a few close friends, heads bowed in prayer, thinking of these two brothers – and my heart broke.  I wept.  Thinking of their future – hoping good things for them – knowing that as much as I love them now, soon they will be going on to a different place – and praying, praying, praying desperately for a home that is loving, that will show them the love and the limits and the grace and the consistency and the hope that they need.

And I know that as much as I love them, the God who created them, who formed them and shaped them and breathed life into their fragile yet resilient selves – this God loves them more.  If I will not step away when it is hard, how much more will God stay – work – move – draw them to the source of all good?

Because this love of mine is a shadow of the reality.  It is a picture, a dim reflection, a small appetizer of the great banquet that awaits us all one day.  I choose to believe in that.  I choose to place my hope in the goodness and love of a God who gives all and more for us, the children of his hands and the apple of his eye, who opens possibilities and Easters both our joyous days and our dark, lonely nights.

God has come.  God is love.  God gives.  God is with us.  God has risen.  God will not give up.

This is very good news.

Not the Kingdom of Death…

An Easter prayer:

Christ is risen!

We give thanks for the gift of Easter
that runs beyond our expectations,
beyond our categories of reason,
even more, beyond the sinking sense of our own lives.

We know about the powers of death,
powers that persist among us,
powers that drive us from you, and
from our neighbour, and
from our best selves.

We know about the powers of fear and greed and anxiety,
and brutality and certitude.
powers before which we are helpless.

And then you – you at dawn, unquenched,
you in the darkness,
you on Saturday,
you who breaks the world to joy.

Yours is the kingdom…not the kingdom of death,
Yours is the power…not the power of death,
Yours is the glory…not the glory of death.

Yours…You…and we give thanks
for the newness beyond our achieving.

Amen.

~ Walter Brueggemann, Awed to Heaven, Rooted in Earth

via Prayers and Creeds

Surprise…

So many people have said it so much better than I can. But, that doesn’t stop me from wanting to jump in and say it all again – less eloquently perhaps, but no less heartfelt.

He’s alive!  The stunning reversal of Friday’s death and darkness.  On Friday I talked about entering into the pathos of Jesus’ death. Sunday is supposed to be a day of joy, of surprise, of newness, of openness, of awe. He is ALIVE! Jesus, the man who was dead, is dead no more. He lives. He breathes. The heart that grew still and cold beats once more. The blood that thickened in his veins now runs warm and fast. His toes crinkle. He sneezes. His chest rises and falls. He begins to sweat and itch and hunger and thirst.  John Updike speaks of the cells’ dissolution reversing, the molecules reknitting, the amino acids rekindling…  Down to the cellular level, Life has returned.

It’s too much for me to take in.

Why is that? I think that in my heart of hearts, it’s because I want it to be true so badly. But I am so afraid of getting hurt. I am afraid of fully committing to this belief because I fear what it will draw out of me, and what it will require of me.  I equivocate, hem and haw, and commit to it 95 percent, always keeping that bit in reserve so I can try and keep my heart safe. I want Jesus’ resurrection to be true. I believe it is. But I can’t comprehend what it looks like…

I can’t picture Jeferson standing up, laughing his laugh and smiling his smile and singing with his voice, and being stubborn and a brat and angry and hurt and tired and cold and happy and joyful and just so fully himself. I want to. But that hope seems so far away. I can’t wrap my mind around what it would be like to see my mom walk into the room again – to hear her laugh with her entire body, to see the love in her eyes, to have her put her arms around me and feel like a little child again – to grin when she gets frustrated again, and be sad when I’ve disappointed her and to have her be her old self, before she got sick – to hear her scream when Dad would throw her in the water or watch her glow with righteous indignation and action when the poor, abandoned, and weak were left without an advocate, and were abused and exploited and taken advantage of… Oh, to see them again…

But here, in this life, all we were left with is memories. Only their absence is present. Until that day two thousand years ago when something new happened.  Something unexpected and surprising and mysterious and confusing and earth-shattering – Jesus came back to life, defeating death. Two thousand years ago, something changed. The disciples, who cowered in numb broken fear, received the scare of their lives. Their hope had been dead. But in the blink of an eye, everything changed… He’s alive. He’s alive!

We hear the disciples whisper:

“What’s happened?”

“Have you heard?”

“I don’t believe it…”

“Do you really think…”

“No.”

“But…”

“What if?”

“What if?”

And then the appearance of Jesus in their midst. The one who was dead and now lives forever. The one they watched crucified. The one they had loved. The one they had abandoned. The one they had buried. The one they had mourned. This one was in their midst, and he laughed with them, and reassured them and said, “Do not be afraid… Mmm, that fish smells good. I think I’ll have some…”

He was alive. He defeated sin, and hell, and death. Sin could not conquer him. Hell could not hold him. Death could not contain him. He was back – and he was himself – gloriously, surprisingly, unbelievably present and alive!

He is alive!  And those who saw him, accepted him, believed in him – they were never the same.

What does it mean for us?  That because of his resurrection, we know that death has been defeated. There is hope, not only for the life to come, but for this life now! His eternal, Kingdom life spills back and forward through time, transforming us into something beautiful – flawed and broken, yet being renewed – helping us become who we were born to be… Because of the events of Easter, we have hope. Because of who Jesus is – his beauty, his promises, his life, his death, his resurrection – we have hope. Because of him, everything has changed. And there’s no going back to the way things used to be…

 

Good Friday?

A couple of years ago I spent part of Good Friday visiting my mom’s grave.  It was one of those spring days that are so ridiculously over the top that you feel like someone is playing tricks on you: fresh cut grass, brilliant sun shining, breeze wafting through the tombstones…  It always seems strange to remember someone who was so alive, in such a place full of life and beauty, while being aware that she is dead.  I hadn’t been back in years – but that morning, I sat by her grave and remembered.  I relived stories, laughter, hopes and dreams.  I remembered the things that made her happy, that made her angry, that made her cry…  And in the remembering, I felt more aware than ever of her absence because even though her body is buried there, all that made her who she was is no longer there.  She is gone.  She is dead.

—–

I remember lying on my couch in my apartment in the favela one blazing hot afternoon.  I was on the internet doing something meaningless when Rich started pounding on my door.  Something was wrong.  “I’m so sorry to have to tell you this, but Jeferson is dead.  He’s been killed.  Murdered.”  There’s really no easy way to tell someone.  And my response – disbelief, shock, amazement, anger, grief – a heady cocktail that deadened my world and shut down my senses and closed possibilities.  It was anti-hope.  Laughing, smiling, dancing, singing Jeferson was no longer there.  He is gone.  He is dead.

—–

I think of the disciples – Jesus’ closest friends and companions who had bet everything on Jesus, and who loved him deeply.  They had traveled with him, walked with him through heat and cold, laughed at stories around campfires, worshipped in the synagogue together, and shared joys and hardships with him for over 3 years.  I think of Jesus’ mother – she who bore this baby, and raised him, trained him, saw him learn to walk and talk, to share and play with others, learn compassion and love…  And on today, Good Friday, they saw him killed.

It seems difficult, if not impossible, to look back thousands of years, and imagine what that first “Good Friday” must have been – must have felt like – to the friends and family of the murdered man. I read the stories about the betrayal and death of Jesus from the perspective of the Resurrection. I look at Friday through the lens of Easter. And in doing so, I miss much of the pathos and the reality of what happened. In my mind, Jesus’ death does not have the power that my mom’s death had, or the deaths of my friends on the street. That’s because, in my mind, my mom and Miriam and Jeferson and Tiago and Everton’s deaths were all REAL. The effects are lasting. They are gone. I will never see them on the beach of Rio, laughing in the cordilleras of Peru, or sharing a meal in my home.  I still miss them. Somehow, when seen only through Sunday’s events, Jesus’ death is transformed into something fake – a pretend death. But nothing could be further from the truth. Only when we enter into the brokenness and the anguish of that first Friday can we begin to understand the joy and hope of that Sunday.

On Friday, Jesus was dead. He was tortured. He was mocked. He was killed. He was dead. He stopped breathing. The blood coagulated in pools.  Rigor mortis set in.  Bacteria began the work of decomposing his body.  His body grew cold. He was GONE. His loved ones watched, helpless. His mother and friends wept. They wept because they had lost their son, their friend, their brother, their hope. They believed, but their belief had betrayed them, left them hung out to dry.

Belief – faith – love…  All these things leave us open to disappointment – to betrayal – to rejection – to the failure of our dreams to come true, and having to come to terms with the reality that what we had hoped for just isn’t going to happen.  I think of the disciples on the road to Emmaus as they spoke (unknowingly) with the risen Jesus, saying “We had hoped he was the one to redeem Israel…”  We had hoped… but now we know better.  We had hoped… but now we are disappointed, and trying to go back to our own lives.  We had hoped…  and all our hopes have turned to dust.

Jesus’ lifeless body was taken from the cross. His stiffening corpse was carried to the tomb, prepared for burial, and then placed inside. Those few who hadn’t run away in fear bent over and kissed his cold forehead with their warm lips as tears slid down their faces. When the tomb was shut, there was all the finality of the earth being thrown on my mother’s coffin, or the casket lid being tightened over Jeferson’s stillness. He was gone.

Feel the hopelessness. Savor the despair. Soak up the fear, the hurt, the betrayal, the numbness. For everything has changed. Where hope existed, now lies doubt. Last night, joy and love and laughter and life filled this upper room.  Last night, bread and wine and words of love gave light, and sparked hope once more.

But tonight, it is only ashes and dust, tears and mourning. He is dead.  His absence is everywhere. There is no escape. The vine has been ripped from the ground, and the branches are withered and dying. The shepherd has been killed and the sheep are scattered and helpless. The center could not hold.

This is the bitter cup of death. Jesus drank his own death down to the dregs.  He absorbed the pain and the evil of the world, and offered forgiveness.  “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they’re doing…”  And then he died.

His friends, his disciples, drank that cup of death and fear. For each one it was different, yet for each the agony and heartache and fear is the same. No one understood. All they knew was they missed him, and he was gone. Everything had changed.

What now?


(modified from an older post I wrote back in 2006…)

Beyond the Blue

Yesterday afternoon my car died.  (Actually, let’s be honest here – I’m driving my sister’s car cause mine is giving me transmission issues, and I hate cars…)  Thankfully it was rush hour on the highway, and so I was only driving about 5 miles an hour when the car stalled.  I threw it in neutral, and tried to restart it as I coasted.  No dice.  I almost had a seamless transition as I flashed on the hazard lights, unbuckled my seatbelt, opened the door, and swung my feet out to push the car off the left lane into the shoulder.

It was dead.  And as frustrated as I felt as I rode in the tow truck to the auto repair place, I was reminded of all I do have to be thankful for:  I have food, shelter, a warm bed, friends and family that love me, abundant provision, a fascinating job, classes that challenge and develop me, a church community that envelops me, a body that is healthy…  And even with a dead car, resurrection life is here and now and I swim in it every day, if only I have eyes to see it.

—–

This afternoon as I ran along the lakeshore I prayed…  A friend with cancer.  A child that is slowly fading away.  Broken relationships.  Hopes that have died.  There is so much brokenness and the broken shards of this world can’t seem to work themselves free from my heart.  Instead, with every beat of my heart, they work themselves deeper and remind me that the price you pay when you love someone is that you suffer with them.

But even with the shards burning, I felt myself being whispered to by a voice from beyond the blue – beyond the blue of the lake, and the sky, and my heart, whispering words of life, of hope, of faith.  It whispered to me from the blazing sun, through the chill air that burned my lungs and made my ears numb and my nose run, through the wind that whipped the waves to a frenzy, through the crashing of spray and froth, and the words of a song that I played on repeat for the last half hour of my run…

“Yellow and gold as the new day dawns
Like a virgin unveiled who waited so long
To dance and rejoice and sing her song
And rest in the arms of a love so strong
No one comes unless they’re drawn
By the voice of desire that leads em’ along
To the redemption of what went wrong
By the blood that coveres the innocent one…

So lift your voice just one more time
If there’s any hope may it be a sign
That everything was made to shine
Despite what you can see
So take this bread and drink this wine
And hide your spirit within the vine
Where all things will work by a good design
For those who will believe…

And let go of all we cannot hold onto
For the hope beyond the blue…”

~ Josh Garrels

—–

I biked to church tonight as the sun burned it’s way down in firey oranges and burnt golds.  We had a Maundy Thursday service, remembering the night that Jesus was betrayed by Judas, denied by Peter, and abandoned by all the rest.  And as I sat in the quiet of the cathedral, I was drawn in.  The juxtaposition of life and death, of beauty and darkness, of hope and despair can leave me shaken and breathless.  I was drawn into the story of Jesus, the tragedy and the pathos that it must have seemed at the time.  For those watching, with no benefit of hindsight, it was the crumbling of all their dreams, the death of all their hopes, the disintegration of their deepest desires.  In an instant, it all turned to ashes.

From the intimacy of the Last Supper (shared wine and bread, the washing of feet, the prayers of Jesus for these men and women who had given up everything to be with him) to the clash of swords and cries of a mob and the kiss of a traitor.  And the flavors of wine and bread turn to ash in their mouths…

—–

12 years ago we were studying abroad in Jerusalem.  I remember going to a Maundy Thursday service at a small church right inside the Zion Gate.  After the service, a few of my friends went to a prayer vigil in the Garden of Gethsemane.  For some reason, a couple of us went back to JUC.  In one of the basement classrooms, Danny and I broke out guitars and djembes and began to play.  It wasn’t rehearsed, but it flowed.  Classmates and friends trickled in to the darkened room, lit only by candles.  A basin of water and a towel sat in the center.  As people felt moved, they would step into the center, cradle the basin and towel, and kneel before a friend, a brother, a sister, an enemy…  They would untie shoes, slip off sandals, peel back socks…  Dirty and calloused feet were gently lifted, placed in the warm water, washed and dried with the towel.  As we played, reconciliation happened.  As we washed each other’s feet, the weak were encouraged, the tired were energized, the hurting were soothed.  And as we followed in Jesus’ footsteps, we felt his presence.

—–

Presence.  May we feel his presence as we enter into the darkness of Good Friday…  And may we have eyes to see that beyond death lies so much more.

“All the death that ever was, set next to life, would scarcely fill a cup…” ~ Buechner

Easter dreams and "the rest of the story…"

I’ve been reluctant to move on from Easter this year – wanting to slow down, to savor ever moment, to linger over the hope that is freely offered to all. And as I ponder what it means to be Easter people, to be captives of hope in a hopeless world, I am struck again and again by our vantage point in the middle of the story. No matter where we are in the story of our life, we are still a work in progress. Our dreams are growing, changing, coming to fruition in fits and starts, stalling and dying and being reborn in unexpected and unforeseen ways. We are unfinished, and cannot see where we will go, what we will become, or whose lives we will touch. And we never will, until we live out the rest of the story…

The disciples are a prime example of this. From our vantage point, the story unfolds with a certain inevitability and it’s easy to forget the roller-coaster of emotions that must have been present for those actually living it. From the ecstasy of vindication as they rode into Jerusalem with their Master on Palm Sunday to the cheer and acclaim of the crowds: “Surely,” they must have thought to themselves, “We are about to be rewarded for our service. Now is the day that the King has come to Jerusalem, and all things will be put to right – the Romans destroyed, the oppressors of their people cast down, and the restoration of David’s glorious kingdom.” Their dreams were coming true. They didn’t know the rest of the story.

Fast forward a few days – tension is rising in the temple courts as the teachers of the law and Temple establishment try to trap Jesus, tricking him into alienating either the people or the Roman authorities. Jesus manages to outmaneuver them time and time again. Fractures appear in the group of disciples, with Judas approaching the priests to betray Jesus and turn him over to them in the next few days, while the others stick close to him. This was the moment when things would fall one way or the other, and I’m sure the stress was incredible. Where was the story headed?

And I can hardly imagine the cycles the of the disciple’s emotions on Thursday night – the sacred tradition of the Passover meal, the washing of feet, the embarrassment and intimacy, the delight and the doubt… The last teaching of Jesus to the disciples as they hung on his every word, at some level grasping the momentousness of this occasion… Prayer in the garden, falling asleep while they waited, and finally terror and anguish as a crowd of thugs melted out of the darkness around them cutting off escape… One last surge of expectation that maybe NOW was when Jesus would act… That expectation evaporating as Jesus was swept off to a hasty trial and public lynching… And over the next day, the devastation of watching their hope be dismantled, degraded, dehumanized, destroyed… Deeper and deeper and deeper into despair as they ran, abandoned their Master, denied they knew him, and committed suicide… The story was crumbling around them.

Then the burial, and the dark of night, and a long, quiet Saturday – disciples staring wide-eyed into space, some in numb shock, others beginning to feel the faint stirrings of anger and disappointment at Jesus, this man they had given up everything for, followed for years, who had abandoned them and betrayed them. Maybe some began to make plans for what their life would look like “post-Jesus.” Peter and Andrew mumbling together in a corner, wondering if their father would let them back into the family fishing business… Simon the Zealot ready to resume the rebellion against the empire that he had given up because JESUS had asked him to do so… Matthew wondering where he would go, what he would do – he couldn’t go back to tax collecting… Not after what he’d seen. But the money was so good. And if everyone was just going to die anyway, and the hope Jesus offered was a lie, then why not make the most of it while he could? John – asked to care for his dead friend’s mother – yet every time he saw her the pain of loss bubbled up anew…

Stories aren’t supposed to end like this – surrounded by blackness and consumed by the void. We know it deep in the core of our being, and we fight for it over and over in our lives despite all evidence to the contrary. Even in this world of death and destruction, of broken promises and disappointment, we fight for happy endings because we know, deep down, that we were made for fairy tales. Frederick Buechner explores this in my favorite book of his, “Telling the Truth: the Gospel as Tragedy, Comedy, and Fairy Tale.” Our lives – our stories – are the stuff of tragedy. Brokenness and failure haunt our every decision, and even the most glorious moments of transcendence come to an end all too quickly. Yet in the midst of that tragedy is the ridiculous comedy that reaches in and declares that God loves us anyway – in spite of our lies, our failures, the way we hurt and betray and wound those we love the most. This fusion of tragedy and comedy declares that ultimately, life IS a fairy tale – that redemption is possible, that all hurts will be healed and every tear wiped away – that all things will be reconciled one day, and we will have life abundant and eternal, quenching our parched souls. This is the promise of the gospel.  This is the promise of the story we have been invited into.

Thankfully, the story of Easter didn’t end on Saturday. Looking back on it from a distance of 2000 years, we know what happens next. We can imagine the fear and bewilderment of the women who approached the tomb and found the stone rolled away. We crinkle with anticipation as we watch them run back to tell the disciples that SOMETHING has happened. We know a surprise is waiting – more glorious than any Christmas surprise, more life-changing than any long awaited birth. And we see the slow dawning realization begin to spread among the disciples – ever so slowly, from one to another…

“What’s happened?”

“Have you heard?”

“I don’t believe it…”

“Do you really think…”

“No.”

“But…”

“What if?”

And then the appearance of Jesus in their midst. The one who was dead and now lives forever. The one they watched crucified. The one they had loved. The one they had abandoned. The one they had buried. The one they had mourned. This one was in their midst, and he laughed with them, and reassured them and said, “Do not be afraid… Mmm, that fish smells good. I think I’ll have some…”

He was alive. He defeated sin, and hell, and death. Sin could not conquer him. Hell could not hold him. Death could not contain him. He was back – and he was himself – gloriously, surprisingly, unbelievably present and alive!

He is alive!  And those who saw him, accepted him, believed in him – they were never the same.

2000 years later, the story goes on…

This is my challenge, and yours: How do we remember that the story is unfinished? How do we realize that we are living in the tension of the now, of the tragedy and comedy of life, with questions and uncertainties and incredulity much more common than answers, certainty, and understanding? Because we don’t see the end. Not yet. Not fully. We are living on Saturday. But Sunday is coming. Hope is real. God is good. And the end of the story will be more glorious and poetic and full of grace than we can imagine now. I know this is true. And on my best days, I sometimes can begin to live as if I actually believe it…

…until, one day, we can clearly see the rest of the story, and all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well…

Maundy Thursday & Endings

The other evening I was grabbing a quick sushi dinner at the local grocery store’s deli when I saw him.  An old man sitting alone, eating his roast beef and mashed potato dinner.  He wasn’t the only solitary diner that night, but for some reason I couldn’t look away.  There was an almost ineffable air of sadness emanating from him.  He wasn’t used to eating alone.  His hand quivered as he ate, and he stared off into the distance, lost in thought.  I watched him for a few minutes, wondering what he was thinking about.  Was he remembering meals shared with a wife who was no longer living?  Did he look back on home-cooked meals in a warm kitchen, the sound of laughter mingling with the comfort of belonging?  Was he still saying good-bye, day after day after day?  Does he still mourn?  What fills his days?  What keeps him hoping when so much of what he loves is gone?

——-

I just finished reading a book called “How it Ends: from You to the Universe.”  The main concept (which is pretty self-evident when you think about it) is that everything has an ending.  From may-flies to macaws, walruses to whales, hamsters to humans – we all will die.  Snails and sequoias alike will one day meet their end.  And as much as we may not be aware of it, everything has an expiration date: from the Sun’s impending (in 9-10 billion years or so) transition to white-dwarfdom, to the eventual cooling and heat death of the massive black-holes at the centers of galaxies (1098 years, or a trillion, trillion, trillion, trillion, trillion, trillion, trillion, trillion years into the future) – everything comes to an end.

11 years ago I spent four months studying in Jerusalem.  One of the highlights of our time there was participating in the drama and pageantry of Holy Week.  We dove into every experience, reading along with the events of the last week of Jesus’ life, often in the place they were said to have taken place.  Many of us went to a Palm Sunday celebration and waved palm branches on the Mount of Olives.  We spent time on Thursday evening praying in the Garden of Gethsemane.  And then, a few of us gathered in a basement classroom at JUC and spent some time singing, praying, listening, and washing each other’s feet.  This intimate act of service drew us closer, and cemented in my mind the kind of life I wanted to be living – a life marked by acts of extravagant beauty, fierce kindness, and deep grace, even when the world is crumbling around you.  After all, this is what Jesus spent the last night of his life doing – sharing a meal with the friends he loved, teaching them, serving them, washing their feet, assuring them of his love and care, that in the end “all shall be well…”  A few short hours later, he was taken, arrested, and executed.

——-

I’ve been thinking a lot about endings recently.  They’ve been all around me, it seems.

The other day I drove by the cemetery where my mom is buried.  We talked about her and her death the other evening with some ladies who knew her, and remembered, and laughed, and then grew quiet.

A few weeks ago I sat in the cancer center of a local hospital and interpreted for a patient who was diagnosed with terminal cancer and only a few months to live.  I was the conduit for the flood of information and emotion between the doctor and this family who were informed that their husband and father was going to die soon.

I could have easily been killed in my car accident a few months ago, and in a hundred other situations throughout my life (well, at least 20 or so…  that I know of…)

The other day I interpreted for a family that had lost their newborn baby.  I sat in the hospital room as the priest baptized the dead body of this tiny infant that never really had a chance to live, as the mother and father wept, and as we mourned a life that was extinguished before it began.

In the past few months, dreams and relationships have changed, ended, and are no longer what they once were.  Every one is a little death to be mourned.

The week of the Passion is upon us, as we remember Jesus’ final week of life and ministry here on earth before his death and resurrection.  All these things seem to be pointing me towards something that I’d rather not think about.  They remind me that even though we live in a culture that denies the reality of death, that values youth, beauty, and vitality – even so, we are all going to die.

All things come to an end.

Our only choice is how we will live our life in light of the fact that one day, it will come to an end.  When relationships fall crashing to the ground, will we retreat into a shell to avoid being hurt, or continue to step out in authenticity and vulnerability, risking and giving our self to others?  When loss seems to haunt our every step, does our faith in God’s goodness grind to a halt?  When questions and doubt overwhelm, where do we turn?  And can knowing that all things come to an end actually enable us to live a little more wisely?  Love a little more lavishly?  Forgive a little more extravagantly?  Trust implicitly?  Dream a little larger?

What does it look like to live as Jesus did, fully aware of the endings, and the questions?

These are the questions that are bouncing around in my head and my heart as I seek to enter into the mystery of these next few days – trying to, as Rilke would say, “live the questions…  Don’t search for the answers, which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them.  And the point is to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer.”

What are your questions this Maundy Thursday?  What are the things ending in your life that need to be mourned?  What are the choices you need to make in light of endings?

An Easter Sermon

…First and last alike, receive your reward.
Rich and poor, rejoice together!

Conscientious and lazy, celebrate the day!
You who have kept the fast, and you who have not,
rejoice, this day, for the table is bountifully spread!

Feast royally, for the calf is fatted.
Let no one go away hungry.

Partake, all, of the banquet of faith.
Enjoy the bounty of the Lord’s goodness!

Let no one grieve being poor,
for the universal reign has been revealed.

Let no one lament persistent failings,
for forgiveness has risen from the grave.

Let no one fear death,
for the death of our Savior has set us free…

~ St. John Chrysostom

(yes, I have put this up here before. but I needed to remember it again…)

Happy Easter.

He is risen…

An Easter Meditation – Part Two…

So many people have said it so much better than I can. But, that doesn’t stop me from wanting to jump in and say it all again – less eloquently perhaps, but no less heartfelt.

I’m not really sure where we go from here. On Friday I talked about entering into the pathos of Jesus’ death. Sunday is supposed to be a day of joy and awe. He is ALIVE! Jesus, who was dead, is dead no more. He lives. He breathes. The heart that grew still and cold beats once more. The blood that thickened in his veins now runs warm and fast. His toes crinkle. He sneezes. His chest rises and falls. He begins to sweat and itch and be hungry and thirsty. It’s too much for me to take in.

Why is that? I think it’s because I want it to be true so badly. But, I am afraid of getting hurt. I am afraid of fully committing to this belief because I fear what it will try and draw out of me. I hesitate and hem and haw and commit to it 80 percent… Keeping that bit in reserve so I can try and keep my heart safe. I want Jesus’ ressurection to be true. I believe it is. But I can’t imagine what it looks like… I can’t imagine Jeferson standing up, laughing his laugh and smiling his smile and singing with his voice, and being stubborn and a brat and angry and hurt and tired and cold and happy and joyful and just so fully himself. I want to. But that hope seems so far away. I can’t imagine what it would be like to see my mom walk into the room again – to hear her laugh with her entire body, to see the love in her eyes, to have her put her arms around me and feel like a little child again – to grin when she gets frustrated again, and be sad when I’ve dissappointed her and to have her be her old self, before she got sick – to hear her scream when Dad would throw her in the water or watch her glow with righteous indignation and action when the poor, abandoned, and weak were left without an advocate, and were abused and exploited and taken advantage of… Oh, to see them again.

But all we were left with is memories. Only their absence is present. Until that day when Jesus came back to life, defeating death. Two thousand years ago, something changed. The disciples, who cowered in numb broken fear, received the scare of their lives. Their hope was dead. But all of a sudden, everything changed… He’s alive. He’s alive!

And in that hope of his resurrection, we know that death has been defeated. There is hope, not only for the life to come, but for this life now! His eternal, Kingdom life fills us in the here and now, transforming us into something beautiful – flawed and broken, yet being repaired – becoming who we were born to be… Becuase of Him we have hope. Becuase of who Jesus is – his beauty, his life, his death, his resurrection, his promises – we have hope. Because of him, everything has changed. And there’s no going back to the way things used to be.

In celebration of Easter, I want to post the lyrics to one of my oldest favorite Easter songs. I remember listening to it when I was a child, and it never failed to run chills down my spine. It’s kind of long, and a bit cheesy, so you don’t have to read it… but it does hold a special place in my heart, and if you ask super nicely, I’ll sing it for you next time we’re together, if you really want me to… =) Here it is –

He’s Alive! – Don Francisco

The gates and doors were barred, and all the windows fastened down,
I spent the night in sleeplessness and rose at every sound,
Half in hopeless sorrow, half in fear that day
Would find the soldiers breakin’ through to drag us all away.

And just before the sunrise I heard something at the wall.
The gate began to rattle and a voice began to call.
I hurried to the window, looked down into the street,
Expecting swords and torches and the sound of soldiers’ feet.

There was no one there but Mary so I went down to let her in.
John stood there beside me as she told me where she’d been.
She said “They’ve moved Him in the night and none of us knows where.
The stone’s been rolled away now His body isn’t there!”

We both ran toward the garden. Then John ran on ahead.
We found the stone and empty tomb just the way that Mary said,
But the winding sheet they wrapped Him in was just an empty shell,
And how or where they’d taken Him was more than I could tell.

Well something strange had happened there, just what I did not know.
John believed a miracle, but I just turned to go.
Circumstance and speculation couldn’t lift me very high
‘Cause I’d seen them crucify him, and I saw him die.

Back inside the house again, the guilt and anguish came.
Everything I’d promised Him just added to my shame,
When at last it came to choices I denied I knew His name.
And even if He was alive, it wouldn’t be the same.

But suddenly the air was filled with a strange and sweet perfume.
Light that came from everywhere drove shadows from the room.
Jesus stood before me with his arms held open wide,
And I fell down on my knees and just clung to Him and cried.

He raised me to my feet, and as I looked into His eyes
Love was shining out from Him like sunlight from the skies.
Guilt and my confusion dissappeared in sweet release,
And every fear I’d ever had hust melted into peace.

He’s alive! He’s alive! He’s alive and I’m forgiven!
Heaven’s gates are open wide!
He’s alive! He’s alive! He’s ALIVE!!!!!