Servant and Savior

Last Supper

Jesus washing the feet of his disciples is one of the most touching scenes from his life. Here is Jesus, Lord, Savior, Messiah, the Christ, before these titles were placed upon him, on his knees washing the feet of his friends. He tells Peter in his exuberance that he is setting an example for them. Tonight our priests will wash the feet of their congregations. I must say having done this every year it is a rather odd experience. Somewhat uncomfortable as you are there in front of everyone having the leader of your church washing your feet. I have to wonder if this isn’t how Peter felt when he at first refused Jesus to wash his feet. But Jesus tells Peter he is setting an example so that they might copy what he has done for them.

Then Jesus was deeply disturbed because he knew that he was going to be betrayed by Judas. But after Judas leaves the room, Jesus speaks to his disciples one of the greatest talks of his life. (John 13:31-17:26) These four and half chapters of John’s gospel contains the whole meaning of Jesus’ life. Who he is. What he is about in his own words. All of what he meant when he begins the discourse with I am the Way: I am Truth and Life.

These are the words of transformation. These are the words that change the ordinary substance of our humanity into something sacred, into Christ. These are the words that feed us and sustain us. These are the words that change Jesus’ life into our own. These are the final words of man who has just risen from his knees before his friends, knows one of them will betray him, and then goes on to tell them that he loves them. That he will always be with them.  No matter what.

Here is an image we can take beyond the cross; here is the Savior of the world on his knees with a rag in his hand washing the dust of the road off his companions feet, preparing those who have traveled those dusty roads with him all this time, for something even more astounding. Through it all, the man who was reluctant to change the dirty water into wine at Cana, at his last meal, will hold up a cup of wine, and say I Am the life-blood, that he gives himself as the best wine saved for last, servant and savior, guest at the feast, bridegroom of the soul.

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The Christ Becoming

Tonight is the coming of Love into the world. The Word become flesh. The birth of the Word in the Soul. He was a gift to Judaism and now he is their gift to those who call themselves Christians. We that follow in his way. The Way of Love and of Peace.  St. Paul calls him the hidden self that he prays will grow strong in each of us. The Christ-self. His name was Jesus. He is called the Christ.  The messiah, the savior. With each Christ-coming season we begin him again. We attend to the manger of our selves so that his Spirit might be born, grow and strengthen within us. And so tonight and tomorrow he becomes who he was as the man Jesus again in us. He came as a child, small, vulnerable, dependent, apart from the traps and trappings of the world. He is the star charting our way out of the darkness, away from the cold. The only thing, the only person whose Spirit and Life can save. This is saving is simply that we come to the absolute awareness of ourselves as something sacred. Because we are image and likeness.   In Jesus the Christ we are ever in the nativity of the nearness of God. And all the shining symbols of the season say this to us.

May this season and the year to come bring Love and Peace in your life and the Blessings of his Spirit be with you now and always.

With One Heart

 Pentecost red ribbons  They weren’t drunk. Although to most it sounded as if they were. They seemed to have been under the influence of some kind of spirits. And they were.

Jesus has appeared to the women, to Peter and the other disciples who came on shore to have breakfast with Peter and Jesus. Along with all the others he has been a presence to all those he loved in the world. Even Thomas who was not with the others, was given a chance to touch him in his wounded place. For like us, it is often in our wounded places that we touch and are touched by the presence of Christ.

It’s this presence that comes breaking through the walled barriers of the upper room on Pentecost. It is one of Jesus’ final manifestations after he came back from death. But it is not his physical presence but his Spirit that comes as fire upon the disciples. No closed doors, no walls, and not even their fears and doubts could keep the promised Spirit of Christ away from them. And it is Peter who realizes what is going on. Peter, who has gone through so much, been tested in his own fire, and the call to care for those he has been given, that is able to see that what has come upon them is the intoxication of the Spirit. The Spirit of Christ. In that same Spirit, the disciple who once ran away, now stands up. Peter has finally got it. He will keep the Lord in his sights for the remainder of his days. He knows now the way of life. Their fear and sorrow has turned to joy in the presence of the living Christ.

Jesus has stood on the hill just outside Bethany, blessing them and then appears to have arisen into the heavens, departing them this one last time.

Everyone in Jerusalem is overtaken by the sending of the Spirit, and they began to hear what the disciples were saying in their native tongues. It is the first convening of the United Nations. No translation or translator was needed. The disciples of Jesus would leave the upper room and the day of Pentecost and go out to live together with one heart. The heart of Christ.

With the coming of the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Christ, the language of the soul was given voice. St. Paul talks about being in Christ. Being in Christ for him is about living in his Spirit. And when we live in the Spirit of Christ, who can come like fire, or like a gentle wind, or tug at your heart, as Paul says in Romans, the Spirit of Christ, has made a home in us. And abides with us in the absolute freedom of the Spirit which knows no barriers, no obstacles, no walls or door, not even death. Paul tells us we no longer live under the shadow of death. We now live in the unending time of Easter and of Pentecost. In the fire of the Spirit, in the heart of Christ.

Do You Love Me?

last rose of summer   When I think about the scene between Jesus and Peter when Jesus asks Peter three times if he loves him, I am reminded of this story:

There was a first grade teacher who was trying to get the attention of a few the little boys in her class who were not paying attention in class. Most had settled down when she asked them to so. They quieted down and watched as she wrote the next few letters of the alphabet they were learning that day. But there was one child in particular who just couldn’t settle down to the lessons. In a final attempt to get him to pay attention, she went to him, gently took his face in her hands and repeated what she had said to the others in a very pointed and personal way. It was a gentle scolding meant to get his sights solely on her and what she was saying to him. It worked.

Then she turned back to writing on the blackboard. Suddenly she felt a tug on her skirt. As she turned around and looked down, there stood another little boy gazing up at her. What is it? she asked him. e He replied, talk to me like that.

The second little boy had seen the teacher show what we might call ‘touch love’ to his classmate and he wanted someone to talk to him like that as well.

Peter is like those little boys who act first and think later. And Jesus is trying to get his attention. Trying to get him to look at him and know what he is saying to him. Understand what he is asking of him. Peter is all ‘sure’, ‘of course’, ‘you know I do’. But it takes him being asked three times by Jesus if he loves him for Peter to get the full weight of what Jesus is asking. It is as if Jesus has Peter’s face in his hands and very badly wants him to bring his entire self and his complete attention to Jesus.

And I think that one of the lessons here is that what Jesus asks above all else is for us to love him. It is a more important question than who do you say that I am? Knowing (fully) who Jesus is isn’t fully comprehended by the disciples before Easter (nor us after Easter). And after Easter it would seem that this questions falls away as he shows himself to his disciples, friends and family as a living presence.  It seems important for Jesus to be with them and show them that he is indeed real. That his return to life is about his abiding love for those he had been given (and we are those he has been given as well) and what he asks in the final analysis, in one of his final moments on earth, is that we, like Peter, understand the significance of the question. So her repeats it. Perhaps we do not have to know him fully or even understand everything he said and did. For if we can answer ‘Yes, Lord, I love you.’ He has heard all that he needs to hear from us.

Perhaps he asks the question of us many times in our lives, like he did Peter. When we have become distracted, fearful, worried, confused. He calls our attention back to the only lesson we need to learn, the only thing we need to know, when he asks do you love me?

Didn’t our hearts burn within us…?

 footprints  One of my favorite Easter stories comes at the end of Luke’s gospel. The road to Emmaus.  As Luke tells it, Peter has just gone home after he looked in the tomb. Although Peter is amazed, he goes back home. Apparently, Peter is not very curious about Jesus’ disappearance from the tomb. So Jesus has to go out to the shore of the Sea of Galilee and wait for Peter to recognize him as he stands over a charcoal fire, on shore, waiting for Peter to recognize him.

The scene then shifts to the disciples walking along a road talking, disheartened, about all that has happened in their very long Passover weekend. Unlike Peter, they are apparently rehearsing what had taken place and trying to figure out what had happened, what the meaning of the empty tomb could be.

Suddenly there is someone else walking with them. They do not at first recognize Jesus. Jesus asks them what they are talking about. Discussing is the word used, and it implies more than just a casual conversation. The disciples are a bit taken aback by Jesus’ question. Could this man be the only person who does not know the things that have taken place in Jerusalem in the past few days? What things Jesus asks.

Cleopas tells him about Jesus of Nazareth and briefly retells the whole gospel story of Jesus’ life and death. Then Jesus chides them for not understanding what had taken place. It was part of the plan from the outset. Then Jesus begins to depart, but they invite him to stay with them. It is only when they are at the meal with him, and he says the blessing, breaks the bread and gives it to them, that they recognize Jesus. Then as suddenly as he had come, he is gone.

Didn’t our hearts burn within us as he explained the scriptures to us? I would have loved to be privy to this conversation, when Jesus enlightens them. Didn’t our hearts burn within us is such a poetic and meaning-laden way of expressing their feelings as their rabboni reveals what he has been teaching them all along. It is one more example of the great love his disciples have for Jesus. For even as this stranger speaks something within them stirs to that understanding. Responds to the voice if not the face of the Man telling them what the scriptures mean…about him and what his life means.

It is telling here that Jesus has come to his followers whereever they are. On the road, he is there. In a harrowing change to their lives, puzzling over life events, he is here. In a boat out to sea, trying to make a living to no avail, he is waiting; he is there. Crying in a garden, he is there. Bereft and lonely, scared and frightened, he is there. Where they are, wherever we are, he is there. Perhaps we are a lot like his disciples. It takes us a while to get it. To get him. To not only understand – understanding takes us only so far- but to see, to recognize the presence of Jesus in our lives, as he walks and waits, comes to our tables, blesses us and our meals, tending the flock or readying to care for a friend believed gone from this world, he is there. Sometimes we just have to look up or to turn around or scan the horizon to find him there.

 

 

 

Feed My Lambs

 

  shepherd   Now we have seen Peter twice after the Resurrection. Once where he runs ahead of the others to the empty tomb. The next is when he literally casts himself from the fishing boat into the water when he sees Jesus on the shore of Tiberias. In both instances Peter hurries ahead of the others, unafraid to get to get to Jesus and see him up close. Perhaps his joy and eagerness to see Jesus is because there is something he sorely needs to say to Jesus.

The last thing Jesus did with his disciples was share a meal with them. The first thing he does after the Resurrection is also to share a meal with them. A meal of fish and bread. Echoes of the loaves and fishes. A sacred symmetry meant to evoke their memories. A chance to talk, to catch up, or simply to be in his startling presence. To remember what he had said to them and suddenly realize the significance of all he did and all he said. The significance of his life. And now the significance of their lives, especially Peter’s.

After the meal Jesus takes Peter aside. He wants to ask him a question. He has a job for Peter to do. Commentaries and sermons on this scene often focus on the three questions ‘do you love me?’ as the way in which Peter redeems himself from the thrice denial of knowing Jesus during the trial. What I find wonderfully consistent with who Jesus was before and now, is that he doesn’t chide Peter, he doesn’t even bring the denials up. He doesn’t condemn Peter as a sinner. He doesn’t go right for the sin. He goes right for the very heart of Peter. He goes to the man he knows Peter to be, in all his exuberance; impetuous, skeptical, self-protective and, yes, a man scared of death. He knows what that feeling felt like.

Why does Jesus ask Peter if he loves him, if, as Peter insists, Jesus already knows Peter loves him? And Jesus knows he does. Perhaps because Peter needs to hear himself say the words. Perhaps because Jesus also knows the doubt that may still be lingering with him, especially his own self-doubt and self-condemnation.  For no one is more aware of Peter’s sorrow and shame than Peter. In repeating that he loves Jesus, Jesus gives Peter a chance to not only forgive himself, but also to focus on what is really important to Him.

With each affirmation of his love for Jesus, Jesus tells Peter to feed my lambs. Look after my sheep. Feed my sheep. Jesus is asking this fisherman to become a shepherd. The catch is in. A shepherd to those lambs-innocent followers of his who are going to be in need of protection from the wolves still prowling about waiting to snatch them away from the greener pastures of Jesus’ fellowship. His sheep-the inner circle of those more seasoned in following Jesus, his disciples. Look after them. Clearly Jesus is concerned for them. Wants them to be taken care of. Wants them to safe. And yet….

Jesus is evoking the image of past shepherds of Israel, like Joseph, who saved his family and all of Egypt from starving to death when the famine came. Who led them to safer pastures. (At least for a few hundred years.) Of the lowly shepherd boy who slay the Goliath waiting to devour his people and led them to a kingdom where he would be their first king. The old kingdom was gone. The new kingdom would need another kind of shepherding. Surely Jesus knew it would take all the shepherding qualities, to feed, to ensure well-being, to be ever watchful, to make sure that none get lost, that all have safe pasturing. Peter is making his pledge and promise, a pledge and promise because he loves Jesus.

After Jesus tells Peter the cost, he simply repeats the first words he ever said to him. Follow me.

 

Gardener of our Souls

 daffodils    Before Jesus appears on the shore of Tiberias he appears to Mary of Magdala in the garden. This is one of my favorite Easter stories. Mark identifies this Mary as the one from whom Jesus cast out seven devils. ‘Casting out devils’ is a phrase in the scriptures meaning a healing took place. In the ancient world illnesses were thought to be the result of some demonic force. The number seven in the scriptures repeatedly refers to something sacred, someone made whole. Whatever this meant it was powerful enough to cause Mary to become his most faithful follower and the first person to whom he appears after he is risen.

It is Mary alone who has the courage to go in the dark to the tomb in search of Jesus. Finding the stone rolled away she goes back to tell the others. It is Peter again who sets off running to the garden to see for himself. The disciples look inside and when they see that Jesus is not there, they finally understand what Jesus had said to them about his rising from the dead. Then they go home.

But Mary stays. She is still distraught and is crying. When the angels sitting where Jesus had been ask her why she is crying, she tells them Jesus has been taken away and she doesn’t know where to find him. But then something makes her turn around. And there is Jesus standing before her. She thinks he is the gardener. The he speaks her name. Mary. She only has to hear his voice to know it is Jesus. This is such a tender moment. And such a real moment. I hear in this moment how much she loved him and that he loved her and cared for her deeply.

The others hadn’t seen him in the garden. Perhaps when he knew she was looking for him he came to her. But he would not let her ‘cling’ to him. For surely this is what he knew she wanted to do. Instead he told her to go and tell the others what she had seen, and what he had said to her. And she did.

Where do we look for him? Do we hear or read the gospel message and then just go or stay home? Perhaps the invitation to become whole, to rise up with him, and the love he empowers within us, might cause us to go out and tell others, like Paul did, about the power of his resurrection. That love has overcome hate. That life has overcome death. That his presence and love is a more powerful force than all the daemons that threaten our good life.

It would not be a mistake for us to think of Jesus as the gardener of our souls. That the first encounter after the resurrection took place in a garden. It was in a garden that life began. And now in a garden that new life became possible. That we have been seeded with his life. That when we seek him, he brings that seed to life out of the dark tomb of our souls, into the light, to flower, to become whole. To see the sacred life he brings to us. For some of his disciples, including John, after they saw the empty tomb they went home. It was enough for them to merely understand. They did not remain. They did not look for him. Perhaps they were still afraid. In Mark’s account the women who came that day left in fear as well and told no one. But in John’s gospel it was Mary who remained, who searched for him, whose love for him caused him to come to her. So perhaps knowledge and understanding are not enough. Perhaps it is love that brings his presence, that brings the life and love of Jesus to us. The disciples now understood but it was Mary who would see him more clearly and love him more dearly.

To Remain in His Love

Last Supper  Today we are at the table with Jesus once more as he celebrates the feast of Passover with his disciples. The gospels record that only Jesus’ disciples were present. But perhaps a few of his family members who had come to Jerusalem for Passover were there with him also. The gospels say that his Mother and Mary were there with him when he died the next day. So perhaps they were already in the city having come for Passover and shared that final meal with him along with his disciples. It was to be the last meal he would have with them before he died. Even if it were only the twelve, this last meal was special, it was a last meal with his friends. It was a family matter.

This morning I somehow turned to the gospel of John to read the account of the Last Supper. What I found there was only the long farewell discourse of Jesus to his disciples and the scene where Jesus washes their feet.  [Not St. Paul’s words that Christians say were the words instituting the Eucharist; those sometimes troubling yet perhaps prophet words of Jesus about his body and blood. (1 Cor. 11:23-27).]

Jesus washing the feet of his disciples is one of the most touching scenes from his life. Here is Jesus, Lord, Savior, Messiah, the Christ, before these titles were placed upon him, on his knees washing the feet of his friends. He tells Peter in his exuberance that he is setting an example for them. Tonight our priests will wash the feet of their congregations. I must say having done this every year it is a rather odd experience. Somewhat uncomfortable as you are there in front of everyone having the leader of your church washing your feet. I have to wonder if this isn’t what was getting at Peter when he at first refused Jesus to wash his feet. But Jesus tells Peter he is setting an example so that they might copy what he has done for them.

Then Jesus was deeply disturbed because he knew that he was going to be betrayed by Judas. But after Judas leaves the room, Jesus speaks to his disciples one of the greatest talks of his life. (John 13:31-17:26) These four and half chapters of John’s gospel contains the whole meaning of Jesus’ life. Who he is. What he is about in his own words. All of what he meant when he begins the discourse with I am the Way: I am Truth and Life.

These are the words of transformation. These are the words that change the ordinary substance of our humanity into something sacred, into Christ. These are the words that feed us and sustain us. These are the words that change Jesus’ life into our own. These are the final words of man who has just risen from his knees before his friends, knows one of them will betray him, and then goes on to tell them that he loves them. That he will always be with them.  No matter what.

Anyone who loves me will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we shall come to him and make a home in him. It is here he calls his disciples and us friends. It is here that we are reassured that we are one with him as he is one with the Father. As he is one with the Father. It is here that he says I have loved you.

Here is an image we can take beyond the cross; one of the last images of Jesus before he died kneeling before those he loved. Asking us only to remain in his love.

At the Table of Jesus

 

IMG_0318  Of course, the church’s sin against women is not exclusive to women. Somehow, shortly after St. Paul and the gospels were written came the selective interpretation of the scriptures. A selective interpretation that was nothing more than proof texting for the exclusivity of a  male dominated church. You can selectively sort through St. Paul’s letters and come up with sentences here and there that seem to cast women in lesser roles. But reading the whole of his letters paints a different picture.  To exclude women, or anyone, was not Jesus’ message or how he lived his life; nor was it Paul’s nor is it in the Acts of the Apostles. In Acts women are preaching, teaching and are ordained.

The new Jesus movement as we see it in the gospels and in Acts is a Jewish movement whose purpose and identity was grounded in the universal inclusion of all people in the new covenant faith. The gospel message is that there is no barrier of age, race, gender, ethnicity, class or status. All were welcome. As all were welcome at the table of Jesus who even ate with sinner, even with tax collectors!

St. Paul and the other apostles saw their mission to preach Jesus’ death and resurrection as a universal imperative which included pagans and gentiles, and was intended to reach to the ends of the earth.  No one was excluded. What has happened to us? To the church? On religious grounds, false religious grounds I might add, people of different orientations are being excluded. We are suspect of anyone of a different faith. Whose practices are not like ours?

In Acts it becomes clear that ALL barriers are eradicated by the coming of the Holy Spirit. One of the first signs at Pentecost, the sending of the Spirit of Christ into the world, was that people of different tribes, speaking different languages, could understand one another. Being baptized not by apostles but in the name of the Spirit of Jesus, not only erased ethnic diversity which was so strong at the time, but also made it possible to bring everyone to the table. To the table of Jesus. He even sat down and ate with Pharisees, with his enemies.

How outrageous then are those purveyors of Christianity who refuse anyone to come to the table of the Lord. Even to say you need to be free of sin to come to the table seems ludicrous. Who needs Jesus more? And who is to judge the human heart?  When we remember Jesus’ last supper this week, as we participate in the remembrance of Jesus’ last supper, we need to be aware that just as he welcomed everyone to every meal he ate during his public life, we too might work to include rather than exclude. For there are no barriers to love. And it was only the women and a lone Roman soldier who stood with and witnessed the embrace of Jesus for everyone on that Good Friday.

 

A Forever Valentine

All things are eventually redeemed in the heart of God.

 It’s Valentine’s day. It’s also four days before Ash Wednesday. Today is that one special day of the year we celebrate love and let those we love know it.  Red hearts, roses, chocolate, special dinners, cards expressing our love for each other, perhaps even love letters, the ways we show those we love what they mean to us. On or before that day we go out of our way to find and give some expression of our love for another.

God too went out of his way to show his love for us, his valentine to the world, in the person of Jesus.

In Jesus there is a real, human heart, that flowed out upon a ground stamped with the very opposite of love. The opposite of Life. Jesus’s heart is not just a symbol, but the very real, that great cosmic heart that is still beating today.

Love is the envelope in which Lent arrives. It is at its beginning and at its end. At the end of Lent is the celebration of Jesus’ love for us, his undying gift of himself to us.

Lent is the journey in love to Love. The path of love for forty days. In Christ’s sacred heart is the Real, human love of God for us.

At the close of Thessalonians Paul once again encourages the people to turn their hearts toward the love of God.  This is a love that never gets overlooked, doesn’t forget to be mailed, doesn’t end up in a drawer or eventually tossed in the trash. It doesn’t melt, nor does it fly away like a red balloon headed for the heavens. It’s edges don’t turn yellow or the words fade, becoming unreadable. This is an enduring love that once sent remains. Is always readable. A remembered love. An ever present love. A Present this Love. A love that stays with us. Ours simply for the asking. Our simply by breaking open the seal of our hearts. To find another heart waiting there.

Love needing to become tangible, flesh, alive, beating, even at the risk of breaking. A Love that became the world. It’s little and large messages everywhere we look. In the smallest farthest star, in the gritty speck of sand, in the imprint on the leaf and the petal of a flower. In the oldest tree and the newest baby. In a stranger’s smile and the eyes of each child. In the playful kittens and the dog’s insistence to roam. The essence of things is a broken off piece of the Creator’s heart. In each person is the breath and beating of that heart. In that  love we become Real. We are made Real.

Like the skin horse said to the Velveteen rabbit, ‘Real isn’t how you are made…It’s a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real.’

And its forever.

HAPPY VALENTINES DAY!!