Sunday, March 31, 2013

Resurrection Sunday: Looking for the Living Among the Dead

As Luke's account of Jesus' resurrection was read this morning, the words that caught me up were those spoken to the women at his tomb. They came with spices in hand, ready to prepare Jesus' dead body for burial. Then suddenly, two angels appeared to them and asked a peculiar question. "Why are you looking for the living among the dead?" (Luke 24:5)

Our pastor noted what an odd question this was for the angels to ask them. The answer was clear. These women weren't looking for the living among the dead. They were looking for the dead among the dead!

Those words stuck with me. They reminded me that the declaration of Easter is the fact that, because Jesus rose from the dead, we can look for the living among the dead; for life in the midst of death!

All I need to do is review my life and see the truth of this. Times when I experienced real death, like the death of my father from cancer, I see how I also found life. Or times when a relationship appeared to be dying, I found the gift of life in the tearing down and rebuilding of it. Or once when I took a personal blow that felt like it would end in death, I discovered instead the gift of life, buried deeply in the tomb of my soul.

Resurrection Sunday is a day to celebrate that we can, indeed, look for the living among the dead because Jesus rose from the dead, whole and full of life!

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Holy Saturday: Keeping Vigil at the Tomb

I've witnessed the death of both of my parents. While much of the experience is a blur to me now, I have a very distinct memory of standing at the graveside next to each of their caskets, in those final moments before they were lowered into the ground. I still remember what it felt like; the final letting go of them. It was a singular low point, a death in and of itself, in my journey of grief.

Today is Holy Saturday, the middle day between the death and resurrection of Jesus. As I read Matthew's account of his burial, I noticed his reference to Mary Magdalene and the other Mary sitting across from the tomb and watching, while Joseph of Arimathea buried Jesus' body in the tomb.

I imagine them feeling some of what I felt at the graveside of each of my parents--the last dregs of energy drained from them as they watched Jesus' body laid to rest. Perhaps, deep within,  they did believe and hope in his resurrection. Yet, they were human and more than likely felt that vacuous grief that one feels in death as they kept vigil at his tomb.

It requires courage to embrace the darkness of the tomb and let go. To enter the darkness of not knowing and accept the finality of the moment. To keep vigil with the two Marys. Holy Saturday.


Friday, March 29, 2013

Reflections on Good Friday: Is this the Face of Humiliation? I used to think so.

This morning, I read through John's account of Jesus' betrayal and crucifixion (John 18, 19). It was painful to read. John slowed the story down; he included many details that helped me visualize what Jesus endured. One particular part of the story was especially hard.

After Pilot had Jesus flogged with a metal-tipped whip and the soldiers placed a purple robe and crown of thorns on him, Pilot brought him out to the people. Instead of reacting with compassion when they saw him bloody and beaten, they screamed, "Crucify him!" What a bizarre reaction!

It makes me shudder to witness their lack of pity; their gloating thirst for innocent blood. What is this in our  human heart that sees a pathetic, wounded man and wants to kill him? The same instinct that's in a pack of wild dogs who attack one of their own because he's maimed?

As I read the description of Jesus' mistreatment, I found myself identifying in a way I never used to. I've had my own experience of being attacked, bullied and betrayed by religious leaders. And so what stung most to me in Jesus' experience of suffering was the humiliation that he must have felt....or did he?

I've started to ponder the way that I felt solidarity with Jesus as I identified with what I assumed to be his emotional response of humiliation to all that he endured. But when I began to explore it, it occurred to me that humiliation is a feeling one experiences as a result of pride--wounded pride. It's not really a cousin to humility--the willingness to lower oneself. Humiliation is forced subjection.

This revelation has provided a new lens for me as I stand before the cross today on this Good Friday. I now see Jesus, my Savior, who willingly "humbled himself in obedience to God and died a criminal's death on a cross" (Philippians 2:8). No-I don't think this is the "face of humiliation." It's definitely a humble face.  

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Maundy Thursday Reflection on Jesus' Face of Humility

          As Jesus and his disciples gathered in the upper room, the Passover celebration at hand, his mood was heavy, his thoughts preoccupied. Knowing that the time had come for him to live out his most climactic act of love, he meditated on this moment with great thoughtfulness.
          The table, laden with food, was low to the ground with thin cushions surrounding it. Each of the twelve took their spots, Jesus in the place of honor, at the head. John, a tender comfort to Jesus during this time, sat close, sensing his teacher’s sadness.
          The men carried on conversations with one another, subconsciously aware of the heaviness of this unnamed grief, the premonition that they were attending a farewell party and something was about to happen of which they had no control.
          Their upper bodies leaned forward toward the table, their left hand supporting their weight. They ate with their clean hand as they engaged in banter, their legs and sandaled feet extending behind them. Quietly, Jesus slipped back from the table. The eyes of his disciples glanced toward him, observing his quiet movement.
          He began to disrobe, taking off his outer garments and setting them aside. A large towel lay by the table, one that a servant had left behind. He picked it up and wrapped it around his stripped body, mimicking the look of a lowly servant.
           Jesus found a large bowl and poured water into it from a jug. Then he carried the bowl over to the table, stooping low to the ground behind each disciple. Taking on the job of a menial houseboy, one by one, he began to wash each of his disciple’s feet.
          The men felt awkward and uncomfortable. It occurred to some that they had failed to think about this simple act of hospitality—washing feet. Whose responsibility should it have been? Certainly none of theirs. Where was that servant who had prepared the food and thoughtlessly overlooked this courtesy? Their faces reddened with shame and embarrassment, as they submitted to Jesus’ act of humiliating himself.
          They were silent, all except Peter. He never could use self-restraint when it came to questioning what Jesus was doing. With indignation, Peter protested, saying to him, “Are you really going to wash my feet?” Jesus insisted, responding to Peter, “Unless I wash your feet, you won’t be able to share with me in this fellowship of servant hood.”
          Stunned and humbled, Peter consented, begging to be washed from head to toe.  

Imagining Prayer: Letting Jesus Wash Your Feet
  • Return to the story of Jesus washing the disciple’s feet. In your imagination, envision yourself seated in a place at the low table, on a cushion, with your feet behind you. (You may even want to take this position physically.)
  • Feel Jesus approach you from behind and begin to bath your feet with cool water. Imagine his hands tenderly touching your feet, rinsing them, and gently patting them dry. Soak in the sensation of Jesus serving you through this affectionate act.
  • Turn to him, look into his face, and experience his demeanor. Feel his humble countenance as he serves you by washing your feet. Ask him to wash all of you.
  • Listen to him and see what he has to say. Let his humble face heal you of your own striving.
  •  Rest, contented by Jesus’ love for you.  
  (This post is an excerpt from Picturing the Face of Jesus: Encountering Christ through Art, by Beth Booram)

Friday, March 22, 2013

The Garden of Even: Tracing the Origin of Our Common Bond

Since September, I've been meeting every Monday with a group of twelve women as part of a spiritual formation course called The Journey. These friends, ranging in age from their mid-twenties to sixties, have become very dear to me. Each of them sparkle with unique radiance and genuine beauty. It's been such a pleasure and joy to get to know them.

As part of The Journey, we did a post-it note exercise where each person captured her life story on a timeline and then wrote it out in narrative form. We then spent a Saturday and several subsequent Mondays sharing our narratives with one another. As you might imagine, it's been powerful! No words adequately describe the holy ground we have entered with each one.

Since our story-telling concluded, I've found myself meditating on the whole experience--on the themes I've heard, trying to distill them. There's one in particular that has come to the forefront; a theme that's honestly surprised me. Let me try to describe it.

In story after story, I heard women describe the common experience of feeling shame. It didn't matter whether she was born and raised in a two-parent, loving family or a home with intense chaos and horrifying abuse. At some point in her young life, she expressed a belief that there was something about her, something in her that made her peculiarly shameful and unworthy of love.

I've read about the concept of original sin; the idea that we are born with a disposition toward doing bad things. What struck me from hearing our stories was not merely our compulsion to do wrong but our deep-seated belief that there was something wrong with us; that we were marred and shameful misfits.

I guess what I found so surprising was that it didn't seem to matter much the kind of home in which we were raised. Obviously, no home or parent is perfect. But several of us were raised in somewhat stable, loving homes, and it honestly didn't seem to make a lot of difference. We still recalled feeling, at a young age, an intense and unrelenting shame toward ourselves.

So, I've mused, "Is this really our common bond and original sin? Our rejection of God's love because of shame?"  

What's more, as I think of each story, it appears that we spend our adult lives trying to overcome the belief that we are beyond being loved. Each woman in our group described her own quest to overcome the self-deprecating belief of her unworthiness to be loved by God.

I think it takes a miracle to heal from the deep shame that each of us confessed. And in the last several weeks, I have witnessed miracles--many of them, still very much in process. In fact, mine is very much in process, too. Each day, I notice that one of my most formidable challenges is to let the miracle of God's love in.