Good Friday

Good Friday: The Passion of the Lord

“Truth!” said Pilate. “What does that mean?”  

I woke early this morning to lightning flashes. Soon a storm rolled in on the wings of thunder. The morning is dark, a somber quality that fits the day.

Yesterday’s bright promise also fit: the day active and springing-into-fullness, culminating in the Holy Thursday service when we blessed the oils for the coming year; celebrated the Eucharist; and stripped the altar bare.

That stripping the altar ritual is never empty for me. Even though each week we put everything away and pack up the altar coverings, the act of stripping the altar as part of the service ritual has a very different feel and meaning.

The table is empty. What will fill it?

What is our “truth” of this Easter Triduum? Is our truth focused on the experience Jesus went through – we do our best not to dwell on THAT too long except in the abstract; is our truth focused on Sunday morning’s service with beautiful music and maybe new clothes – or at least spring clothes, thank you. Is there shopping still to do? Where is our focus? What is our truth?

The sky grows darker. The first raindrops hit the window.

My thoughts – my truth if you will – my inner vision – stays on that empty table.

I don’t know what my life would have been had I not believed the Holy acted in my life. In all the many deaths and rebirths I’ve experienced, I believed I was led by Spirit. I had to believe. I had to believe in an inner guiding force that would somehow still be there regardless of the struggle I was going through. Sometimes, hope was all there was.

The willow outside my window twists fiercely in the wind, tossed by life’s rough forces. Rain and wind whack against the house.

What is the truth of this Friday for you? What fills your empty table?

Will you fill it with frustration as the storm makes life difficult? Will you growl and complain at a day lacking bright sun? Are you annoyed at once more grabbing for a jacket? Perhaps the day is clear where you live; will you be too hot, too busy, too distracted?

Or will you take the time to fill your empty table with compassion, with understanding, and with hope?

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?

The Balancing Dance

Saturday of the Fifth Week of Lent

I will make with them a covenant of peace; it shall be an everlasting covenant with them, and I will multiply them, and put my sanctuary among them forever.     Ezekiel 37

The Pharisees called a meeting of the Sanhedrin. “What are we to do,” they said, “with this man performing all sorts of signs? If we let him go on like this, the whole world will believe in him. Then the Romans will come in and sweep away our sanctuary and our nation.” From that day onward there was a plan afoot to kill him. In consequence, Jesus no longer moved about freely. he withdrew instead to a town called Ephraim in the region near the desert.       John 11 

These are the readings that lead us into Palm Sunday and the beginning of a holy week that includes Palm Sunday, the First Day of Passover, Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter. The Jewish Passover and the Christian Holy Week are both set by the season and tides of a Full Moon.

And yet, there’s been a historical battle between Christians and Jews for eons. God promises a covenant of peace to humans, but humans can’t seem to return the promise. Nations live in the whipsaw of war and peace; humans live in the whipsaw of anger and acceptance.

In short, I’m thinking about killing and peace this morning. And I’m wondering how all the conflicting messages fit together. How is it that God’s promises have led to so much killing? Life on earth is built on killing: plants, animals, and humans kill and are killed. We are a people who kill to survive and we are a people who yearn for peace.

In the reading from Ezekiel, God promises a covenant of peace to the Israelites in exile. “I will take the Israelites from among the nations to which they have come, and gather them from all sides to bring them back to their land.”

Didn’t God know that in the centuries when Israelites wandered everywhere except Israel, that people called Palestinians would make it home?  How can God’s promises and covenants through the messengers, whether Ezekiel or Mohammed or Jesus, be right? How can all the conflicting messages be right?

There must be so much we don’t understand about this God of ours. How does that energy of God hold within its completeness and balance all the conflicting claims from people, all the confusion over who’s right, all the complexities and fears? And how to make sense of the dictums that if we don’t follow the conflicting demands, we are condemned?

This week we celebrate the dichotomy of death and rebirth, of light and darkness, of wandering and coming home, of sadness and joy: one cannot exist without the other. Perhaps our human condition is based on extremes so that we can understand the value of balance.

Find your balance today between the demands of life and the needs of your spirit. Find the balance today between activity and quiet. If a thousand angels can dance on the head of a pin, surely we can learn to dance on two legs.

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.