An Empty Table

Holy Thursday

The Lord said to Moses and Aaron in the land of Egypt, “It is the Passover of the Lord….This day shall be a memorial feast for you, which all your generations shall celebrate with pilgrimage to the Lord, as a perpetual institution.  Exodus 12

I have given you a model to follow, so that as I have done for you, you should also do.  John 13

Today’s readings tell the story of rituals that are followed today, thousands of years after their inception.

The reading from Exodus is the experience that created the law of the Passover meal. God tells Moses how to prepare for the angel of death’s passage over the houses of the Israelites by killing a lamb, sprinkling the blood on the lintel, and eating their meal standing, dressed simply, ready to move on.

The passage in John is the story of Jesus washing the disciples’ feet. This story only appears in the Gospel of John so it’s possible to doubt the historical accuracy of the experience but the words are words Jesus often used. In all gospel passages, Jesus instructs his followers to serve rather than set themselves above others, to see everyone as equal rather than follow the all too human characteristic of seeing our self as better than.

How have we replaced the meaning of the moment with a ritual to mean?

This week during Passover, when many shared a symbolic meal, how many dressed simply? In the thousands of churches across the world where priests and even the Pope symbolically wash feet tonight, how many of those “serving” are a model of equality?

How many of our most holy moments disappear into automatic ritual as if we are brushing our teeth?

Tonight, Cliff and I will also participate in this ancient ritual. In our community, we wash hands rather than feet in a recognition of our world where hands do more of the daily work than feet. As we wash the hands, we will bless, saying, “May your hands be blessed in service to your community, to your family, and in service to yourself.”

Each year, we also celebrate the Chrism mass where we bless the holy oils for the year ahead and dedicate ourselves to the priesthood. We will strip the altar, put away the linens, remove the symbols of our office and leave the table bare.

Each year, each day, we are challenged to make our rituals real instead of empty.

Wherever you are this Thursday evening, take a moment to be real. Remember this “last supper” as a moment in your life with your experiences and your needs.

If the table is empty, what will fill it? Who will come?

a god day

Friday of the Fifth Week of Lent

I hear the whisperings of many: “Terror on every side! Denounce! let us denounce him!”  Jeremiah 20

Jesus said, “is it not written in your law, ‘I have said, You are gods’?  John 10

We’re in another time of “terror” pronouncements but they’re a lot louder than whispers. The constant sky-is-falling anger is wearing.

Last evening I asked my class how many had been going through chaotic times these past two weeks, and everyone in the room shot up their hand, some both hands! And I reminded them, in here you are safe. In here, everything is okay at the moment, so just breathe.

There were several under-prepared students last evening, but they made it through. They even had some lively conversations and a few laughs. And for that three hours, they were safe.

There’s no doubt that the constant barrage of terror on every side is weary-producing. And along with the loudly heralded news stories, cars, computers, and bodies are suffering.

The passage above from John is a reinterpretation of Psalm 82 which Jesus spoke to people ready to stone him. They said he was blaspheming for making himself out to be equal with God. “You are all gods. You are children of the Most High” Jesus reminds the crowd.

You are all gods.

In another gospel, Jesus says another familiar line, “The kingdom of God is within.”

How are you, how are we, exhibiting that god nature, that god kingdom within?

If there’s an all around constant in our lives, beyond the news stories or the chaos or the despair or even the laughter, or perhaps one could say the constant that includes all the other constants, it would be that god nature in each of us.

That’s the nature that forgives, that loves, that holds us safe even in the most chaotic times. I expect most of us would do well to remember that today. We are love, we are forgiveness, we are peace, and we are safe.

If you have some time today, write down all the ways you are safe today, right now. Not tomorrow or yesterday or some unknown time in the future, but right now. And if you don’t have the time, hold the image of safety in your breath, in all your actions today.

Someone else may not read this reflection. Someone else may need your god nature to offer safety in the simple acts of kindness you can give.

Have a god day.

Promises, Promises, Promises

Thursday of the Fifth Week of Lent

I will maintain my covenant with you and our descendants after you throughout the ages as an everlasting pact, to be your God and the God of your descendants after you….  Genesis 17

Jesus said, “I solemnly assure you, if a person is true to my word, that person shall never see death.” John 8

The readings today are about promises: God promising Abraham that he will father a great nation; Jesus promising his followers that they will never see death. Promises. Abraham’s descendents have split into Sunni and Shi’a and Jews, each branch having a multitude of branches from conservative to liberal; and Jesus, who was a Jew, founded descendents who have split into more branches and denominations than can be counted. All of which, by the way, battle with each other declaring that their way is the true way.

What becomes of a fragmented promise? Is it still a promise? Do we believe all of the promise or only the part that belongs to us? If a fragmented promise is to be believed at all, it must be believed FOR all. Everyone has God on their side. Why do we fight so to prove otherwise?

What is a promise – between one person and another; between God-Spirit and people? Even more interesting, what is your promise, one person’s promise, with God-Spirit?

That which we consider spirit, regardless of the name we use, resides in each of us. God said to Moses, “I AM.” Jesus said to Pilate, “I Am.” Millard Fillmore, an early new-thought teacher, said that I Am exists in the center of each of us, and when we say, I am angry, or I am fed up with, or I am tired, hurt, disgusted, we are taking God’s name in vain.

Our language of frustration takes God’s name in vain. Our language of frustration, promises our future. Where does that leave our promise with God-Spirit?

Have you promised that you will always be a failure, always be trapped in your life, always feel put-upon and unsatisfied? Have you promised that the people you work with are the problem on your job? Have you promised that the world or democracy or freedom or sanity is ending?

Take some time today, even a few moments, to contemplate your own I AM. Are you open to the promises or have you closed off that channel of hope?

What new promise you make today with I AM?

Stress Fractures

Friday of the Fourth Week of Lent

For if the just ones be the children of God, God will defend them and deliver them from the hand of foes. With revilement and torture let us put them to the test that we may have proof of their gentleness and try their patience….for according to their own words, God will take care of them.  Wisdom 2

Jesus moved about within Galilee. He had decided not to travel in Judea because some of the people were looking for a chance to kill him.  John 7

The days are troubled no matter where you look: Congress is in a showdown; Japan had another 7. earthquake in the same area as the last; Israel attacked Gaza; Libya is in civil war; airplanes are showing stress cracks; gas went up 13 cents a gallon; the stock market is wobbling; and Prince Harry is stranded in the Arctic. The runway they constructed out of ice broke in half. Everything feels the stress of these times.

With everything cracking and breaking, it’s hard to believe a rebirth is coming. Yes, the trees are blooming – and sometimes that takes me by surprise because so much is pretty grim – but it’s true. The rebirth has already begun. 

It’s not an easy task to keep looking for the promise when so much seems so dark and difficult. And yet, the birds are still singing in the thicket next to the fence even though I’ve forgotten to fill the bird feeder for several days. They just keep doing what they do. Building nests; preparing for the next generation of eggs and babies.

Maybe we know too much. Maybe not knowing would simplify our lives enormously. I mean, it’s not the first time the world has been on the brink of something or another. And we got through. We’ll probably get through this time too.

I don’t think we need to be callous about problems or suffering. We do have to trust in this moment. This moment when the bird sings out; this moment when I lift my eyes from the computer screen and see the green leafing willow framed by purple buds in the neighbor’s yard.

A later verse in the same Wisdom reading says, “Many are the troubles of the just one, but out of them all the Lord delivers.” And in the reading from John as later verse reads, “…but no one laid a finger on him because his hour had not yet come.”

Our hour hasn’t come either. Instead, it’s another day to breathe, trust, keep on going. The simple fact that I’m sitting here writing with a laptop on my lap and a cup of tea at my side means I’m safe; the simple fact of you reading this message on your screen, perhaps with a cup of tea beside you means you are safe. No one has “laid a finger” on us. Our minds might be giving us a beating, but no one else.

Trust in your holy spirit today – the spirit that resides within you – breathes in you – supports you in your life. Smile at the realization that your mind has cleared, your breathing has evened.

Keep building your day.

A Keyhole

Thursday of the Fourth Week of Lent

Exodus: The Lord said to Moses, “Go down at once to your people, whom you brought out of the land of Egypt, for they have become depraved. Exodus 32

Deprave is an interesting word. It comes from Latin – de – completely and pravus – distorted. That’s what life feels like so much of the time now, completely distorted. It’s like we’re squeezing through a keyhole into a new era, but with no idea what it might look like once we get to the other side of the door or if we’re going to like what we see.

The Exodus reading is the story of Moses imploring God not to punish the Israelites in the desert after they made a golden calf and danced around it, crazily. God says to Moses, “Let me alone then that my wrath may blaze up against them to consume them.” And as an afterthought says, “Then I will make of you a great nation.” In other words, let me get rid of this lot who are crazy and begin fresh. But Moses implores God to let his “wrath die down.”

They were squeezing through a keyhole into a new era and they didn’t know where they were going – and behind always looks more comforting than a future we don’t know. So while Moses was busy talking to God, the people revolted and returned to practices they knew in Egypt. 

In the gospel reading from John 5, Jesus is speaking to the fears of people around him: “I have come in my Father’s name, yet you do not accept me.” Jesus was also offering a new way of being – another keyhole into a new way of living and thinking, and the people he’s talking to aren’t ready to move into that future. They cling stubbornly to the past.

Do we hold on to the past by the fury with which we face the future?

Letting go of the tension and whirl of these times may be difficult – we’re so programmed to react instead of having time to act in a reasonably calm and centered way. But today, right now, perhaps we can consider flexibility in our body and in our thoughts.

We may not be able to get rid of the things that make us crazy right now (we’d have to wipe out half the city to accomplish it!). But we can let our wrath die down. We can accept that wherever we’re being led will bring a new beginning, and whatever that new beginning looks like, we can trust that it’s where we need to go.

We can, right now, focus on the light that grows.