Archive for March, 2007|Monthly archive page

Sunday of the Lord’s Passion C: April 1, 2007

Luke 19:28-40 (Procession of the Palms’ Gospel)
Isaiah 50:4-7
Philippians 2:6-11
Luke 22:14-23:56

She sat at the table and idly held the stem of the wineglass before her. Her gaze drifted over the others in the café noting that pairs of people who seemed rapt in conversation occupied most tables. One other table had a sole occupant who read from a paperback between sips of coffee and bites of muffin. Each time the door opened she looked to see if it might be he. She watched each person passing by outside hoping for the first glimpse of him as he made his promised approach.

How long had it been since the last time they were together? She tried to turn her mind to other thoughts, to let lyrics of oldies keep her from remembering that last dinner. They had sat at opposite ends of the table in silence, the only sound the chatter of a cup meeting a saucer or silver piercing a morsel and contacting the china. She remembered how she had tried to prime conversation by asking how his day had gone and telling him about something she had read or heard or seen on the noon news. Barely audible grunts and slight nods were the only responses. If she asked him to pass the potatoes, he would. But their eyes never met. Instead, she watched the candle light play in the ruby glow of the wine in the crystal goblet.

Finally, she had cleared her plate and taken it to the kitchen. She grasped the edge of the sink and gasped feeling her chest tighten as a sigh escaped. Oh God, why? Her monolog continued as she cut the pie and placed slices on plates. A dollop of whipped cream and a sprinkle of cinnamon garnished each apple wedge. For a moment, she had watched the second hand pause at each minute, as it coursed its way around the clock’s face. How long had she watched time creep by before she became conscious that her heart’s beating and the clock’s ticking were the only sounds she heard?

She had stood in the kitchen doorway, a plate in each hand, and watched him. How long before he would look up and notice her? When that did not happen, she placed the dessert before him and sat to her own. She laid her hands in her lap, suddenly having no appetite for the pie. And she waited.

After toying with his fork, he picked it up and then stared at it for how long before replacing it on the table? An eternity can happen in a heavy silence. He looked up finally. She noticed that his face was etched with pain. Tears welled in his eyes. He had opened his mouth as if to speak. She heard the catch in his throat before he gestured helplessly like someone caught in a lie. He stood, pushing his chair away. “I’m sorry, “ he said. “It’s over.”

Had he kissed her cheek before that announcement? She couldn’t remember for sure, but it seemed that he had. Or was that later? She remembered the sounds that came from their bedroom as drawers opened and closed and latches on the suitcase snapped. She heard his muffled voice speaking into the bedroom phone and the sound of the receiver being placed in the holder. We’ve never argued, she had thought. I’ve never made demands of him. He worked long hours and traveled so she had assumed that he was tired and needed rest when he was home. When was the last time they had strolled in an evening, hand in hand as they had in the first years of their marriage? She had always been dutiful and kept an ordered house. Jigsaw puzzles filled the void his absence created. Had she prayed then? She couldn’t remember. Her eyes fixed on their wedding picture on the wall and last year’s dried palm frond behind it. “It’s almost time to burn that,” she had thought.

Strange, she thought now as once again she waited, that when he had walked to the door with the suitcase in hand, she hadn’t cried out or demanded an explanation. Instead, when he had turned back from the door and looked at her, she had said, “Don’t I get a hug?”

* * *

“Would you care for more coffee while you wait?”
She prayed now. No words came but she knew that God could understand the emptiness and longing she felt. She took a piece of bread from the basket and broke it. Surely there could be reconciliation and a reawakening of that ardor that had been in their relationship so long ago. If he would just let her, she thought, she could remind him of the good times, how they used to laugh easily and even be comfortable in silence as they held hands and watched the sun in its setting turn the sky ablaze.

The other woman alone at her table held her book in one hand as she ate her salad and took sips of white wine and seemed oblivious to the presence of anyone else in the café.

It was nearly one o’clock, an hour past the noon meeting time he had set. She wondered if she had misunderstood the time or come to the wrong café. The din from the other clients hadn’t dimmed and she began to feel guilty for occupying this table while others stood waiting to be seated.

Through the window she could see gulls gliding on the breeze and beyond them darkening clouds. People passing by held their coats close or plunged their hands deep in their pockets. A three-tiered kite danced aloft in the wind. And a man leaned on the railing watching the tide come in.

She felt a tear fall onto her hand and wondered if anyone else noticed she was crying. She bit off a piece of bread and chewed it slowly and took a sip of the wine. Her throat contracted with her tears and made it hard to swallow. There’s still time, she thought. It isn’t that late. “Or is it?” she wondered.

The Fifth Sunday of Lent C: Mar. 25, 2007

Isaiah 43:16-21
Philippians 3:8-14
John 8:1-11

Dear Jesus,

We are nearing the end. Another Lent draws to a close. I remember the enthusiasm I felt on Ash Wednesday when you invited me to go into the desert with you to fast and pray and give of myself. Memories of Lents past always crop up as I feel the smudge being applied to my forehead. And I wonder if this Lent will be different. Will this be the beginning of something new? Will I re-find that initial fervor I felt when I first heard your call? Will that elation that washed over me when I took those initial steps in your footprints be rekindled?

Perhaps Lent isn’t about stirring up initial fervor. Initial attitudes tend to be naïve. They are untried. Initial fervor can flair up like a flashfire only to fade and smolder like embers on a hearth. As this Lent moves into Passiontide, dying and rising is on my mind, dying to what was and rising to what will be. God does something new with the soul’s aridity. In the desert I make a way; in the wasteland, rivers. Winters of discontent are made glorious by your visitation if I let you enter and deliver me.

Lent is about dying to sin and all that separates us from the love of God. Put positively, isn’t Lent more about finding the strength to press on toward union with you in your suffering, in the pouring out of self in loving service even to the point of death, death on the Cross? God is calling me through death to newness of life in you, life that will never know death again.

Lent is about finding freedom, isn’t it? I can be burdened by the remembrance of sins past. I can be burdened by others’ judgment and condemnation. Part of Lent can be about embracing and accepting the past and its judgments but bringing those to you, not to have the reality of sin denied but to have condemnations lifted when you invite me to continue walking with you and not sin anymore.

I think of the woman in this Sunday’s gospel. What waves of humiliation must have enveloped her as she was thrust before you. She must have wanted to stop her ears against the venomous words hurled at her: This woman was caught in the very act of committing adultery! Outrage must have surged in her and burned like regurgitated bile. If she was caught in the very act of committing adultery, where is her partner in crime? One cannot commit adultery alone. Did that rage strengthen her and help her find the strength to refuse to cringe and cower in a heap but rather to stand in dignity before her accusers? She doesn’t protest her innocence. She does not beg for mercy. She stands in silence and waits for the first blow of the prescribed punishment for her sin.

Who is this gospel moment really about? No doubt the woman is there before you. But there is a judgmental crowd gathered, too. Is this incident a grace moment for each and all of them? Let the one among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her! How long were you on your knees tracing your finger in the sand? How long did it take the crowd to be enlightened and one by one slink away? We talk about aha moments. Is that what it was for that crowd? Did they leave abashed? Or did they leave enlightened? Did they leave angered or stirred to compassion by the realization that committing sin is part of the human condition. But because of you no one has to stay in that condition. What is new is the opportunity leave sin behind and walk on the in the sea and a path in the mighty waters that the Lord opens.

If in that time that you stooped and drew in the sand, the realizations of common sin opened the way to compassion that there was a miracle of grace. The word compassion means to suffer with. It means to live through another’s suffering as your own. Is Lent a time for a communal awaking? The Church makes this Lenten journey just as does each individual believer. Does the confronting of our common sinfulness offer the Church the grace of realizing the responsibility of being a refuge for sinners? Does this moment of waiting, while you trace in the sands, give the Church the opportunity to reject the condemning attitudes that judge individuals to be sinners and therefore unworthy to approach the Table? Sin is a reality. But if the Church learns from your example, then she will always be about entering into the suffering of the sinner even as she invites the sinner to Go, and from now on do not sin any more.

Give me the courage to finish this journey. Help me to walk with you in the way of Passion and compassion. May I feel the freedom of the children of God born again in you as you invite me to remember not the things of the past, the things of long ago consider not; see I am doing something new!



The Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time C: March 18, 2007

Joshua 5:9A, 10-12
2 Corinthians 5:17-21
Luke 15:1-3, 11-32

Dear Jesus,

Someone asked me once if, in all the scriptures, I had a favorite text. Without a moments hesitation, I cited the parable of the Prodigal Son. When asked why, I said it depended on the mood I was in, but mostly it is because of the comfort I draw from the realization that God is profligate when it comes to forgiving and lavish in loving. I know I am a sinner in need of that forgiveness and who longs for that love.

When you told the parable, you targeted a specific audience. You were being criticized for the company you kept – tax collectors and sinners. You associated with those whom society despised and rejected. Tax collectors were Jews who collaborated with the foreign rule, collecting the Roman imposed tax and then added to the bill the portion the collectors would keep for their own support. What did you talk about with them? If they wanted to be in your company, I doubt if you spent much time condemning their practices. Did they feel trapped in their occupation and think there was no way out for them? Had they steeled themselves against the judgments of their kith and kin? Were they drawn to you because they felt understood and accepted by you? Were they comforted because you told them God loves them?

And the sinners. This man welcomes sinners and eats with them. That was the charge leveled against you that would lead to your rejection and your execution. To be publicly condemned must be the most bitter pill people have to swallow. I suspect that today when many in the assembly hear that term sinners, in their mind’s eye, sinners are sanitized and seen not as doers of moral evil but the misunderstood poor. But that is not what the text says. You gathered with sinners, people whose lifestyles made them unacceptable in polite society. If they wanted to be with you, again I suspect the substance of the exchanges between you was not judgmental and condemning on your part. Only those who acknowledge sin in their lives and their helplessness in sin find comfort in numbering themselves in that group gathered around you. They yearned to know that they are loved by God even as they long for deliverance from the morass that enslaves them. These are the ones for whom you came. The tax collectors. The sinners. The lost. The abandoned. Dare I say me?

Would it be hubris for me to ask something that just occurred to me? Are you the Prodigal Son? Does this parable describe your own coming into the world? You emptied yourself of all that was divine and took on our flesh – unredeemed and prone to weakness. The Word eternally spoken by the Father became flesh and dwelt among us mere mortals. If you welcomed sinners and ate with them, weren’t you judged to be one of them?

Are you the son who took the inheritance and squandered it? You poured yourself out in loving service first to members of the household and then to the gentiles, first to the accepted and then to the rejected, Gentiles, tax collectors, and sinners. The very ones for whom you came typified by the Pharisees and the scribes, the ones who thought heaven could be merited by strict observance of the law, rejected you, condemned you, turned you out to be crucified. And in your abandonment, having taken on the world’s sin, you cried out Father, into your hands I commend my spirit. The Father ran to you and embraced you, caught you up and took you to your place at God’s right hand and then let the banquet begin.

What about the Older Brother in your parable? You don’t tell us whether he went in to join the banquet or chose to stay outside in the dark of night. Does he represent the audience for whom the parable is intended, the scribes and Pharisees, the judgmental and self-righteous? Does he stand for those who resent God’s attitude toward sinners, those who want others ostracized, condemned, excommunicated and excluded from the assembly? Does he represent those who in effect stand apart from those for whom you came?

This Lent, I think I am hearing the parable of the Prodigal Son for the first time. I am comforted to hear how lavish God is in pouring out love and forgiveness even in excess of expressed repentance. I am a sinner who is loved by God because I have been baptized into you and you have taken on my sin. And I am challenged by the parable to live the attitudes you extol. Or, rather, not I alone, but we, the Church, the people of God must live those attitudes and values. Only to the extent that sinners are welcome does the Church reflect God’s attitude toward sinners. Only to the extent that there is a place at the table for the one who is rejected, abandoned, recognized to be a sinner, does the Church witness to her understanding of the parable and the desire to put it into practice. Then, there is hope as the Older Brother rejoices and welcomes the Prodigal home.