Archive for May, 2006|Monthly archive page

The Lord’s Ascension

Mark 16:15-20

Dear Jesus,

It is easy to get caught up in fantasy, to let my imagination run wild as I imagine being there the day you returned to your place at the Father’s right hand. Triumphal scenes are like that. In the wonder I can forget the surroundings, the day-by-day grind that is normal life and revel in the escape the images provide. Everything is done. The enemy has been vanquished. All those things that mortals fear have lost their power through the wonders of your dying and rising. Let me just bask in the glory. I can almost hear the brass choir that accompanies the moment of lift off and comes to the ultimate crescendo as the clouds envelope you. It is not hard to imagine myself gawking at the afterglow, frozen in the moment.

Do you smile as you read my words and so confess my desire to escape? Or are you chiding me, wondering if I will ever get the point? Thank you for being patient with my frailty. I forget that you promise empowering when the Spirit comes which implies that there is work to be done that requires strength beyond that that is native to humankind. That work won’t be done until time runs its course and your return to claim the kingdom. I begin to understand that if I see your ascension as a static moment accomplished at a specific moment in time once and for all I mistake what is happening. All your actions escape the boundaries of time. Your dying and rising go on through every age. We renew them and are challenged to enter them each time your faithful ones stand at the Table to break the Bread and share the Cup. You don’t die over and over again. Nor do you rise over and over again. It is all ongoing. And isn’t it that way with your ascension? Shouldn’t I think of the action as ongoing to be experienced by the church in each moment of every day? Aren’t you asking that we embrace all of this and see what we do in union with you, empowered by the Spirit as hastening the day of your return, the completion of all things in you?

It would be easier to live a life of faith if the two worlds could be kept separate – the realm of faith from the ordinary humdrumness of day-by-day living. Those disciples looking up into the heavens after you probably felt that way too. If they just kept staring upward maybe the rest would just go away. Maybe if they kept their eyes on the last point where they had seen you they could forget about having to go on without the expectation of your visiting them again along The Way. But that’s not right either because you said that you were not leaving your followers but would be with us until the end. So, does it have to do with where we are to look in order to see you?

Sometimes I think I should not read the newspapers or watch the evening news. It would be easier. Each day’s stories seem to exceed those of the day before in pathos and horror. The war and its justification, the decline in support for the poor and their medical needs, their housing and food, the abuse of the young and the ignoring of the aged, who can read these stories and be able to sleep at night? Today I heard about three teenagers who beat a man to death and others who kicked and pummeled a youngster because of his race. What can I do about any of this? Wouldn’t it be easier if I ignored the news and focused on the sky peaceful in my union with you?

Even as I wrote those last words I sensed your beginning to shake your finger at me, chiding me for missing the point again. Are you saying to me that as I begin to understand about your dying, rising and ascending and my participation in those ongoing transitions, I will begin to see that if I am a believer I must be in the midst of the suffering feeling as St. Paul did that I am a prisoner for you. My witness has to be practical and I have to touch the poor and the suffering and the disenfranchised and those deemed by society as untouchable worthy only for off-scouring. I don’t have to do it all, tempted to see myself as the savior of the world. The Spirit you give gives different gifts to individuals so that working together the needs of all can be met. Our collective witness to your Gospel will be powerful in the face of those who call for war. And when those from our number bind up the wounds of those who are beaten and weep with those who mourn for their dead, we will all be caught up in your ascending and healing will begin.

Is that what the Ascension is about? Are you saying that it has nothing to do with the world’s trappings of power and material success but rather everything to do with humble service, living the lessons learned when we walked in your footsteps and watched over your shoulder? And believing that your promise will be fulfilled?



The Sixth Sunday of Easter

John 15:9-17

Dear Jesus,

Someone said that people get bored with the Easter Season because it is not as demanding as the Lenten Season that precedes it. That amazes me, especially when I hear your command in the gospel this Sixth Sunday of Easter. What is more demanding than love? Love one another as I have loved you! You don’t leave any wiggle room. You didn’t say that it would be nice if you tried to be a loving people. You didn’t even say that we should try to like each other, to be civil to one another or any of the other norms of social intercourse. You commanded love like your own. What can be more demanding than that?

Our language is limited. Love is a soft word, romance being commonly associated with it. But the love you command has nothing to do with romance. It is all demanding, all consuming, and implies the emptying of self for the other, holding nothing back. The evangelist marveled at the foot of your cross as he witnessed the shedding of the last drop of blood and water from your pierced side. Is it true that only when we have done that can we say we have obeyed your command?

It is hard to live that vulnerably. Our society holds up power and prestige as desired goals, wealth and independence. Many see material wealth as a sign of God’s favor. God blesses with abundance and security. What about the poor? We should be pleased with ourselves because we let them eat the crumbs that fall from our tables. That is the substance of a constant message. The din dulls sensibilities and comforts our failure to hear you, to find you in those who stand most abjectly in need and to number ourselves with them. It is hard to live that vulnerably.

In this Easter Season you challenge us as church. The message has nothing to do with power or exclusivity. We have in intimate relationship with you, one that you initiated. It is that intimacy that makes sense out of the demands that you make of those who would live in that relationship. Nothing can be kept for ourselves. Once you have found us and we have died with you in Baptism and been born again in the Spirit you give, all we can be about is going out and calling others to the feast. The song says, Come to the Table of plenty. I hear you asking, how welcoming is your table? How willing to serve are those who gather there? And if we act otherwise in deference to you we act as slaves and not as your friends. Slaves cower and lust to get out of the master’s control, to be powerful like the master. They have the attitude of those once poor who having found the things of wealth vow never to be poor again. What they really are saying is that they never want to live in the vulnerability of the poor again. And I hear you command love as I love. How can I do that and not be vulnerable, not be willing to shed the last drop of blood and water should my side be pierced?

And if there is about us elitism or the trappings and attitudes that speak of power we are far from heeding your command. I struggle with my own attitudes, wanting comfort, security and ease. I fear being consumed by service and being vulnerable before those whom I serve. I still ask what is in it for me. What will I get out of all this? A child of God? Now? Know God? Now? Do I have that kind of trust?

As you read this are you chiding me? I still have a lot to learn and a lot to die to. My rising is still in process. I have to remember your words: as I have loved you. That is the standard you place before me. And I have to remember that in the world’s eyes you were a failure. So many times your followers fled in the face of the implications of your teachings. People went away sad because they had many possessions that got in the way of their being able to empty themselves and becoming dependent upon you. In the end you were suspended between heaven and earth, pierced by nails and a lance. The last drop of blood and water flowed from your side. You poured out yourself completely in love and became our expiation. That is the measure of the love you command me to live. Should I expect different results? Should I be surprised if those about me see failure if your grace lets me succeed in that self emptying?

And how am I to live with that emptiness? I trust that you will get back to me about all this.



PS. I think the Easter Season is every bit as challenging as the Lent that precedes it.

The Fifth Sunday of Easter

John 15:1-8

Dear Jesus,

Sometimes I wish you could be a little more direct in communicating. The silence prevails no matter how I implore you for an answer to a problem I am facing. It is difficult to pray because words won’t come. I am not even sure at times what my anxiety is about. In the beginning of our relationship it wasn’t like this. Those early days after my baptism were thrilling. There was an intimacy that I imagined would always satisfy me emotionally. I remember how nearly giddy with elation I felt. I couldn’t help but smile. Words were not important. I just knew. And I could not imagine doing anything that would threaten our friendship or anything happening that I could not face and overcome because of you.

You don’t tell the whole story at once or reveal all the implications of walking with you on the way. That comes with time and the uncertainties of day by day living. What seemed so easy in the beginning in a moment seems daunting. The intimacy that felt like arms surrounding and protecting eases as senses seek reassurance. When I realized that day that I had made a decision that was more in keeping with my old self than with the me that was reborn in you I understood why in the early church the neophytes returned their white baptismal garments soiled a bit with the passage of time. Then I knew that conversion wasn’t accomplished in an instant. More of me had to die in order for you to be more and more in me.

The fifty-day Easter Feast is waning. I don’t want to let it go. I want to cling to the thrill of bells, incense, and alleluias. Yet, when I tried to pray this morning I could remember those sensual stimuli and long for the sound of your voice and a signal of your presence. Couldn’t you please be a little more direct, speak a little louder?

Then I thought about Paul’s circumstances in this Sunday’s first reading. He had had that blinding encounter with you on the road to Damascus. Knocked from his horse and blinded by the light he was led back to the city to learn what he would have to suffer for the Name. Now people try to kill him because he speaks out boldly in your name. Did he have to keep reminding himself of the initial encounter, or were you more present to him, supporting him as the first rocks pelted against him? Or, did Paul continually mull over in his mind the implications of the encounter and the reality of the relationship that had begun there?

Help me understand the reality. I am the vine. You are the branches. The same life flows through both. It is impossible to imagine one without the other. It is difficult to determine where the one begins and the other leaves off. The vine and the branches are one. I don’t want to think about the pruning of suckers removed because they are barren. But you say that even the fruitful branches need pruning so that they will bear more fruit. What does that mean? How will I recognize the process and know that it is healing. Was it pruning when Paul found the disciples with whom he was one in you afraid of him because of his history? Was it pruning when the Hellenists tried to kill him? I wonder if you whispered in his ear that it was going to be alright. Or, where you silent then supporting him with your love urging him to learn what it means to walk by faith?

Am I bearing fruit? How will I know? And how will I recognize that pruning process that will make me more fertile? If I am silent now, I think I can hear you say, Walk with me. Recognize me in your encounters with the little ones, the weak and the vulnerable. Recognize me in suffering and rejection. I am with you even in exile.

But I can’t hear you. I can’t feel you. I am afraid. And then I hear you say, remember the Bread. Remember the cup and that you have eaten and drunk. Learn the implications of what you do.

As for the fruit, I think I can also hear you tell me that I will know that in time, or rather, in eternity. That’s when you will make all things right, isn’t it? And in the meantime? I think I hear you say, from time to time go back to the Font. Touch the water. Remember.