A Good Friday Meditation

Original water color by Cathie Horrell

Original water color by Cathie Horrell

He is led out of the garden, where he has gone with his disciples after they shared a Passover meal, not by angels with fiery swords, but by men armed with swords sharp enough to cut off a person’s ear. He has come to the garden to pray. While his disciples, full of Passover wine, sleep. For Jesus there is one more cup from which to drink.

At the meal he pours the wine into the cups and after he said the blessing everyone drank from their wine cups. Three cups of wine are blessed and the blessing cups drank from. Someone that night reads the story of the Hebrew’s peoples flight from Egypt. The story of how God saves. Then Jesus takes the unleavened bread from the bowl, the matzoh, breaks it in half, and shares with all present a piece of the same bread that sustained the Israelites as they made their long journey to the land of promise. At today’s Seder Supper, a piece of that bread is wrapped in linen and hidden away, for the children to go in search of after the supper ends. In a few days the women who have wrapped Jesus body in linen will go in search of him but find no one where his body had been lain, except once again the angel standing guard in the garden. This only after Jesus has given himself, broken like the Passover bread, shared now with the world, his life-blood spilled out upon the hard ground of Calvary for all to see.

Today we experience the deepest expression of self-giving, where Jesus of Nazareth continues to share with us the greatest and final Passover. The passage of the Son of God from life to death. And we understand what this offering in complete freedom and love means only as it stands in the midst of Jesus’ final meal and in his rising to new life in three days. We can only make sense of this day when we think of it in terms of his whole life, his words of care and concern for others, his healing, his teaching, his message, his work, his whole person. In his life and in his death he is the embodiment of God’s love and good will for us. We see the Father’s com-passion, the God who suffers with us, in Jesus’ Passion−the cross where we encounter God in the depths of his/our humanity.

That this God is no extra-terrestrial is nowhere more evident than today. This is the day called good because God shows us in no uncertain terms his willingness to suffer for all human kind, for every human person, for you and I. Today God in Jesus embraces every lost, lonely, suffering, unloved, betrayed, sick and dying human being. In this day’s death because we know he is risen we know that it is God who protects and sustains Jesus and ourselves, and truly becomes one with all human kind. Not in spite of human suffering, but in the midst of it. Today in Jesus on the cross the human and the sacred become bound irrevocably together. Today there is no longer any barrier or boundary between us and the God who comes to earth, to experience all we experience and joins, in the human and sacred Jesus, with us forever. We live now in the unfailing presence of Yahweh, the God who saves. In Yeshua of Nazareth, which means God saves, we know without a doubt his good will for us. The promise now to us is that in the face of any death, evil or  suffering, any ‘no’ to life, God’s ‘yes’ is greater. This is the only certainty of God’s will we can speak of. Today we glimpse the kingdom of God come in Jesus’ life and in his death because we know that in him the promise of eternal life is kept. Today is a Promise kept. And if we doubt that, we might hear the echo of the final words of scripture forming in the heart of Jesus today as he extends to us the unleaving bread of himself and the final blessing cup is passed on to us for us to partake.  For in Jesus God truly makes his home in us. And his name is God-with-us. He will wipe away all tears from (our) eyes; there will be no more death, and no more mourning or sadness. (Rev. 21:4)

 

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Love comes first

I just have to say, I love the new Pope. Even though I am an Episcopalian, I am so delighted to see a man who follows in the footsteps of the fisherman and truly understands, knows and lives what Jesus was all about. Truly he has opened the arms of the church wide to all. Like Jesus before him, everyone is welcome at his table no matter what you have done.

St. Paul says we are God’s work of art. In Genesis all that God created he said was good. We are all on the potter’s wheel. And God is not an extra-terrestrial task master. He is the I Am Who Am who identified himself as the personal sacred Reality of our lives. The God who pitched his tent among us, and continues to journey with us, to ensure that we get home safely. The churches’ emphasis on sin has kept many people from approaching its doors, let alone its altars. St. Paul says love comes first. Then people can change. Its not the other way around. Change your life and I will love you. That wasn’t Jesus’s program and the church has done a great disservice to gospel message by often making this the focus of its preaching.  Jesus invited all kinds of people to his table. Jesus ate and went around with people from all walks of life, those his society deemed ‘unclean’ or outcast. In a time when ritual purity was so important Jesus looked past this to the person, to their hearts and saw that it is the heart that counts.

Perhaps the churches can turn their focus and follow in another fisherman. Let us know we are God’s work of art. We are created in image and likeness. We are good because what God has made is good. That first and foremost we are loved. No matter what we do. For who we are is more important to Jesus and his Father.

This is how the kingdom comes. In love. One person loving the other. Then another. Until all humankind finds itself in this embrace and the kingdom has truly come to be in our midst.

We are Chosen and Loved

 IMG_2184    Paul is now getting to the heart of the matter. He tells us we are God’s chosen and beloved people. God has chosen us; we are meant. I find this so much more valuable than a program or laws telling us how we are to act and interact. This is the heart of the gospel message we can take to heart and to live. If we truly believed and experienced what it means to be God’s chosen, God’s beloved, how differently would we live our lives? When John Baptized Jesus in the Jordan River he heard a voice telling him that he was the beloved Son. Here Paul is telling us that we too are the beloved of God. We know how this revelation changed Jesus’ life. Afterwards he immediately went off to a quiet place to pray and think about what just happened to him. And what it would mean for his life. What does it mean for my life, your life?
It is knowing we are loved and in loving others that holds together tolerance and forgiveness of one another. Because we know we are loved, we are capable of love. This is the richness of the gospel that makes us wise. That Paul encourages us to share with one another.
Paul tells us we are also forgiven by God. Now we must in turn forgive others. This is where we find peace. When we put down the greed, the anger, the bad temper, spitefulness. These are all the ways we hurt others. And when we do we hurt ourselves. This behavior is the behavior of the ‘old self’ Paul talks about. But now we have a new self.
The new self is the Christ-self. The Christ-self that is compassionate, kind, humble, gentle and has patience with others as well as with ourselves. I sometimes feel that when I am none of these things, it is because I have put such high expectations upon myself that it makes me irritable that I have not achieved what I wish to achieve. But if I can remain mindful, instead of mindless, of the Christ that lives within me, I can relax and trust that all will work out as it should.
It is love that is the crown of all these behavior. It is love that is at the heart of all these behaviors. And it is this love for one another that dissolves all barriers. Barriers between Greek or Jew, free or slave, those who keep the law or those who do not. Paul is setting out only a few of the barriers we set up between ourselves and people who are different from us. In each person there is no distinction. In each person is Christ.
And the next (famous or infamous part, depending on how you react to Paul) part, then cannot be from someone who is a misogynist. In fact a closer reading shows that it is respect and love that Paul is encouraging between husband and wife, children and parent, masters and slaves. Here Paul is neither condemning nor condoning these roles. For they are roles in the society he lives in. Givens. His entreaty is as it was a few sentences earlier. All our relationships should be governed by love.
In whatever role or work we are given to do (because people in Paul’s day were born into their roles or status and could not easily change them) Paul says to put our hearts into it. Do our jobs or live out our roles with integrity and not halfheartedly. Whatever it is we do we do it for Christ. The only law is to Love. The only rule to invite Jesus Christ to rule our hearts and our lives. To be other Jesus Christ’s.

Reading Romans

Romans 1-3

IMG_0849    There is so much misunderstanding about St. Paul and his apostleship among the general public and among the ‘leaders’ of our churches and ‘teachers’ in the religious academies. It was so from the get go. I hear this in the reaction today from those who know I am reading St. Paul for Lent. I’m sure there are those who even see this endeavor as consistent with inflicting penitence upon oneself during the season of Lent! Nothing could be further from the truth.

Today I began reading Romans. Once more, perhaps even more so than in his previous letters, we are stepping through the garden of Paul’s thought. Careful both to see the weeds that entangle us and equally attentive to the growing and gathering blooms that Paul is championing.

Paul begins by first bringing our attention to the world God created. It proves perfectly reasonable that we should see God in his creation. But unfortunately, Paul admonishes, some took the creatures of creation and made idols of them rather than seeing the one living God in them. I love it that now Paul says that the wicked have no ‘brains’ nor ‘compassion’, which I take to mean that the wicked are not ‘with’ the world as sacred but in the world to use it for their own misguided devices. God’s created world can lead us to God, if we view it properly or it will lead us away if we do not honor the handprint of the Creator upon it. Image and likeness I think applies to the natural world as much as to humans, if we can see beyond the veil, our own distorted thinking about the graceful givenness of the world we inhabit.

Since Paul is talking about first things, he then proceeds to take up the subject, again, of our being saved, in the context of the Jewish people and the Law. Here he means the Mosaic Law. In Romans it reads and feels that Paul is better able (clearer) to address this issue. He uses the word justification. What does that mean in this context? I believe it simply means that in being justified we are freed from our failings (aka sins) and made a new person, the new creation Paul keeps referring to. We once more realize the sacred reality that we are, now one with God in Jesus Christ. We enter a new way of being in Christ.

How refreshing it would be if from the outset the churches as they grew had focused on the goodness of God’s creation as a way to recognize the Creator and that that goodness extends to us. What Mathew Fox calls ‘original blessing’. It is by God’s grace freely given in Christ Jesus that we are made new, without having to do anything first. God created us, chose us, calls us; then sets in place, provides a Way (the Law) to sustain his sacred promise he extends to all his creation, first through the Hebrew people, through whom that promise is to be realized.

The Law then is valued as the guideline in leading us to be a holy, sacred people. It is like the light that shines upon and illumines our path; we are aware of the shadows, the darkness (sin) by contrast. And that the Law came first to us through our Jewish brothers and sisters. And anyone who keeps the Law in his or her heart (as Yahweh in Deuteronomy says) are faithful Jews as well. And now through one Jewish man, the promise continues so that God’s saving, regaining us for himself, can be realized for all. It is a faithful Hebrew man who becomes for all the Way. The Way to the Truth that saves us so that we might have Life. The invitation now extended to everyone, ‘follow me’.