Archive for November, 2006|Monthly archive page

The Feast of Christ the King – B: November 26, 2006

Daniel 7:13-14
Revelation 1:5-8
John 18:33b-37

Dear Jesus,

How many times does it take before I’ll get it right? How many times will I have to make this journey before I understand? Will I exhaust your patience? Or do you smile and nod when I make small advances even as you wince as I stumble?

I heard you say, Behold, I make all things new! And this week, I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end, the one who is and who was and who is to come, the almighty! Why is it that those words ring in my consciousness as if I were hearing them for the first time? Maybe it is because so much seems to be in shambles personally and on the global scene. Nothing has gone as I expected it to. Failure is much more in evidence than success, dying than rising.

I know that I am not as perceptive as many others are. I struggle because I think that with the reign that began at the first Easter’s dawn should also have begun evidence of the new order of things. But here we are so many centuries later and wars still rage. Women and children are still exploited, objectified, abused as sexual diversions. Gang wars are carried on in our streets. Senseless acts of violence make headlines in each day’s news. Shouldn’t everything be different by now because of your reign?

The Church celebrates this weekend The Feast of Christ the King. With joy I proclaim you as my king. My desire is to live in your kingdom. But then I have to ask you what does kingship mean for you? In the gospel, you stand before Pilate in your passion, powerless, about to be condemned to death. What kind of king is that? I can think of other gospels that would seem more appropriate for this feast. You walked on water, after all. You commanded the winds and the waves and they obeyed you. You commanded the paralytic to stand up and walk. You took the hand of the dead youth and gave him back to his mother alive and well. But we don’t hear any of those moments this weekend. We see you the lamb being led to the slaughter!

Are you the king of the Jews? Pilate asked the question and you did not answer. Is that because we cannot ask about your being king for anybody else, just as we cannot impose your reign on anybody else? We can only ask about your reign in our own lives. That’s it, isn’t it? What would you have said had Pilate asked, Are you my king?

Those for whom it is true give evidence of your reign through the things that they do, the love they live in their lives. You make all things new and in the process change accepted meanings into whole new concepts. This is a new Genesis, a new first day of Creation. Nothing is as it used to be. You are king because you are willing to shed the last drop of blood and water from your pierced side. You are king because you serve. You wash feet.

What did I expect that day I decided to accept your invitation to follow you? It’s so long ago it is difficult for me to remember. But I wonder, was I expecting success, a degree of prestige, a position of respect and power in the community because I belonged to you? I cringe even as I write those words because I never wanted power to be associated with me, my name or my memory. Did I delude myself? Was I expecting the trappings of success to follow as a result of my service done in your name? Is it because none of that happened that I wonder about the reality of your reign?

I remember sitting at the bedside of a child whose head was swathed in an outsized bandage because of the huge tumor that was ending his all too brief life. Or was it when I watched my father on the dialysis machine, knowing how he hated that process? Or maybe it was when I knelt in the street next to the woman who had been thrown to the ground when a thief pushed her out of the way as he grabbed her purse. Anyway, do you remember that one of those times I cried out to you in my heart’s anguish and asked you why? Do you remember that I pleaded with you to do something to change things? And nothing happened. It was only my surroundings that staunched my rage.

Why are the tears welling and flowing down my cheeks? Is it because now I remember how they witnessed your reign, witnessed to me that you were Christ their king? I held his hand and the little tyke with the huge turban smiled and told me something important was happening, he was going to God. My father said it was time to stop the dialysis so that he could go home. The woman in the street wept as the blood flowed from her head and told me to pray for the desperate person who had done this to her. She wanted him to know that she forgave him because you said she must forgive those who would do evil against her.

Your reign has begun but it is not the type of kingship some of us might have expected. Please be patient with me. I still want to learn the lesson. I still want to know that you are my king.

You do make all things new. I have to find the new meaning here. And as each person in this faith community we call church struggles to be Church, as we dare to put the Eucharist we celebrate into action by allowing ourselves to be broken and poured out in service of others, we will come to know your reign, that you are our king. Then we will take our place with that white-robed throng in heaven who rejoice because you love them and have freed them from their sins by your blood and made them into a kingdom. I want to be in that number. Then I will rejoice because you love me and have set me free to reign with you forever.

Thank you for your patience with me. Maybe I’ll get it right next time as I make the journey through the new Church’s Year with Luke’s Gospel. Maybe this time….

Sincerely,

Didymus

The Thirty-Third Sunday in Ordinary Time – B: November 19, 2006

Daniel 2:1-3
The Letter to the Hebrews 10:11-14, 18
Mark 13:24-32

Dear Jesus,

I sit in the dark. A solitary candle lights the page on which my pen scratches these words. It is not morbid to think of final things. It is salutary. Otherwise I might assign to myself an immunity to death that you enjoy in resurrection, deluding myself into thinking that I can avoid the passage and still inherit the reward. Am I correct in thinking that we humans, no matter how often we are confronted with another’s death, can be in denial about our own lurking in who knows how distant a moment? Maybe that is why I am writing by a candle’s flame. It is delicate, fragile. A mere breath can extinguish it no matter how brightly it shines keeping the darkness at bay.

The direction of my thoughts is impelled by the readings on this penultimate Sunday of the Church’s Year. They speak about the final things and dare me not to conclude that there is anything that lasts forever, anything whose powers cannot fail. Even the moon and the stars may not always emit their glow.

How many times has the world ended, or rather, seemed as if it were about to end? Isn’t it true that whenever the familiar is threatened with annihilation the world seems to be threatened, too? When empires collapse, be they Roman or Ottoman or any other imperial establishment, might it not seem to the citizens that the world is ending too? When wars rage or persecutions are unleashed, in a holocaust time, how can people not conclude that the end is near? Isn’t it true that at those times faith is most challenged? Where is God? Why does God suffer these things to happen? Remember the magazine that proclaimed in scarlet against ebony with just enough white to make us wonder about hope, The Death of God?

You talked about those end times and final events and predicted their coming as Daniel had before you. Is my mistake reading those texts and thinking the implication is of a onetime cataclysm like the final moment in Gotterdammerung? But there it is the twilight of the gods, which essentially is a proclamation that there is nothing eternal, no way out of the temporal, only the now and its elusive rewards. Death is the final victor in that world.

Help me find hope. I look at my candle and watch the consumption of its wax. Were an errant breeze to blow it out the darkness would envelop. Is that a symbol of my fragile faith and tenuous hope? What can I cling to as another world ends?

A few weeks ago, the Amish community in Pennsylvania mourned the slaughter of several little girls, shot in what should have been the safe haven of their one-room-schoolhouse. A young and deranged husband and father invaded their space, shot them and then killed himself. That community might have been tempted to think their world was ending. Could anything worse happen? The world looked on and wept and wanted answers and consequences. We are so used to cries for revenge. Holy Wars seek it and pour out punishment on real or imagined perpetrators. The world expected the Amish to demand the same.

What did you think as you heard official statements come forth from these God-fearing and simple people who want only to live by Gospel-rooted simplicity of life – extreme though it seems to most outside their own? Mercy and forgiveness. Weakness spoke to power. They quoted you and your commandment to love those who hate you and do good to those who harm you. It’s not about vengeance, they said, it’s about forgiveness. They asked for support for the killer’s widow and her children if there were to be support for their own. The worst may have happened to the Amish community. But that did not break their spirit, did not destroy their faith.

It is not practical. It doesn’t make sense. It confounds when confronted by its stark simplicity. The witness of that Pennsylvanian community strengthens my faith. Their simplicity of life and fidelity to the Gospel in spite of contrary signs tells me that I must trust only in you. Everything else may fail and one day will, but your truth will abide. The just will rise. The downtrodden will be vindicated. And even as tribulation yields to darkness you will come in glory to claim your own. It doesn’t matter when, only that it will be. The witness of those committed in faith strengthens my faltering faith, flickering as the candle in this night, and tells me it will be so – if I can be faithful to the end. With your help I can do it.

Sincerely,

Didymus

The Thirty Second Sunday in Ordinary Time – B: November 12, 2006

1 Kings 17:10-16
Hebrews 9:24-28
Mark 12:38-44

Dear Jesus,

November days mean we are coming near the end of another Church Year. Each one seems briefer than its predecessor. As the days shorten and darkness threatens to dominate, the light you bring emerges as the reason to hope for those who have seen. But seeing isn’t enough, is it? Even being in your presence isn’t enough. There is a very real danger of missing the point, of not heeding the call to conversion, of failing to see things through your eyes and therefore failing to act.

We’ve been journeying with you in the midst of this faith community these thirty-two weeks of Ordinary Time. And that doesn’t count the weeks of Advent/Christmas and Lent/Easter. Each Sunday is Easter over again, the renewal of your dying and triumph over death. We’ve been gathering at the Table of the Word to be nourished by every word that comes from your mouth. Week after week we’ve gathered around the Table of the Bread to celebrate Eucharist and be nourished by your Body and Blood. Amazing the degree to which you give yourself to us. To me.

The intimacy you offer is without restriction, open and unconditional. All are welcome. That’s what your open and outstretched arms indicate, isn’t it? But if I stop there taking it all in, the lesson hasn’t sunk in. And I have not imitated what I handle. I am not transformed. If my values haven’t changed, if I am not allowing myself to be broken and distributed I’m still at square one in today’s parlance. And it’s all been in vain. What do you think about that? Do you nod your head as you read this? Is it with a smile or frown that you recognize what I am saying to you?

You have to understand how difficult it is in this day and age to take seriously your challenge to imitate you. I’m confronted every day with enticing signs of what people value. I recognize their goals and aspirations, what they say are symbols of success. Scoff at materialism and wealth if you will. But they are attractive. How do I keep from resenting that these things are not mine and never will be? I look at the visages of the young, strong, and attractive, those who set the trends the rest of us may try to take up with the hope that we then will be as young, as strong, and as attractive as they. Then we will be successful. You may laugh, but the power of advertising makes it all seem possible.

Please don’t be cross with me and read my words with disgust. I have to ask you, if you want new followers to take up your cause, is it wise to put before them the women in this week’s readings? Who will aspire after them and their example? They’re dependent ones. Some would say they are the drains on society and will make those who notice them uneasy. Isn’t it the powerful who get things done? Remember that in church we take up collections for people in that stratum of society so that others can do the charitable works for us and we can sleep easier at night knowing we have done our part.

Elijah urges the widow to share with him the last morsel she has to stave of starvation and death from her son and herself. The son must be a dependent too. And the little bit the widow in the temple puts into the treasury is all she had, her whole livelihood. That doesn’t make sense, does it? That isn’t practical unless she is at death’s door and ready to breathe her last.

But that is the point, isn’t it? You mean these women’s stories to shock and unsettle, even keep people awake to toss and turn in the comfort of their beds. Are you saying one can’t witness to the Gospel in splendor? To preach in gold lamé won’t work, will it? One can’t announce the Gospel from a position of power and expect to be heard, much less to call others to conversion. To follow you one must be willing to give from his/her substance, not just the surplus. I’m afraid you are saying that your followers must be willing to be as poor as you are, willing to shed the last drop of blood and water from pierced sides so that God’s love might be experienced.

In these November days of waning sun and weeks of the Church’s year, in the end it is about the cost of discipleship. Are you asking me if I can pay that price, be that vulnerable, so that you may be all in all? All that glisters is not gold! I can hear you asking me, Do you believe that? And I can hear myself say in the words of another you encountered in his need, I do believe, Lord. Help my unbelief. Help my weak faith.

You’re going to be talking about final things next week. I wonder if that will help my perspective and open my ears that I might hear.

Sincerely,

Didymus