Thursday, March 31, 2016

Celebrating Easter

On Easter, we read the resurrection story. Every year. We read it at the early service outside and the regular service inside. As many Christians on the liberal side of things, we are a little uncomfortable with the literal bodily resurrection. The implied afterlife doesn't always sit well either. Still, we tell the resurrection story.

We tell of women who came to the tomb looking for Jesus and were called evangelists for their proclamation of Jesus' resurrection.

We tell of the angels' cry, "Why do you look for the living among the dead?"

We tell of disciples who didn't believe resurrection was possible.

We tell of disciples running into Jesus, alive and well.

And it's strange now to realize that for most of my church life, Easter wasn't about resurrection. Easter was about Jesus' death. My nieces, in their very cute Easter dresses, could tell you what I grew up knowing, "We celebrate Easter because Jesus died for our sins so we could go to heaven."

I now believe Jesus' death was incidental, not salvific. If he had died in his bed at a ripe old age, there still would have been resurrection. We could talk about that for hours, I know.

This year, though, reading the story of resurrection with my Sunday Bible study in preparation for Easter's sermon, I was struck by how little Easter had to do with life for most of my life. As much as we sang about a risen Savior on Easter, we trusted in death most of the time. If we did everything right, Jesus would save us from eternal death.

I still don't quite know what to do with the resurrection. Maybe that's the beauty of this faith: a lifetime spent wondering does not reveal the fullness of God's covenant with us. This deep, beautiful mystery of the faith can and will haunt us in the best way imaginable.

But I am so glad that now I celebrate an Easter that is about life. There are a handful of deep truths I hold about God, one of which is that our lives now matter. They don't matter because of their implications for the afterlife. They matter because, well, it's our life.

Show up at the birthday party and the funeral. Take the neighbor's kid with you to the water park. Set an extra plate or two at every meal for whatever guests happen to show up. Buy dinner for yourself and that homeless guy on the corner; sit down and eat it together. Do the things that create amazing, unbelievable, abundant life.

Because if nothing else, I know this: resurrection is about life that overwhelms everything else.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

This Holy Week

Every year I'm inspired to fast for the Triduum. Like totally, not eat at all sort of fast. From Thursday until Sunday morning, which is the shorter version. This kind of strict ritual observance has always appealed to me before reality sets it.

Because reality does set in and I remember I'm a pastor. While I'm sure many more righteous than I leaders of churches have fasted for that period, if I showed up on Sunday morning having not eaten since Thursday, someone would die. At the very best, I'd be fired after I yelled a lot then collapsed into a sobbing mess on the floor. Knowing yourself is a good thing.

Still, I have a deep love for this week, for these coming days when we tell stories of trial and death. I won't lead a Good Friday service, but I will sit in one, hearing the brutal stories from these days. We read them in worship this past week, but that's different for me, then hearing them when I can just sit and savor the story. I know savor sounds like the wrong word.

For me, though, it's not.

This story is visceral. It's blood, sweat, and tears. It's unimaginable pain. It's heartrending grief that causes a different sort of pain. It's all the horrible stuff wrapped into not that many hours at all. We retell it year after year after year. And I love it.

God bless these days when we look horrible dead in the eye.
God bless these days when we lean into the pain and grief.
God bless these days when we don't shy away from the worst things imaginable.
God bless these days when, for once, we don't sweep anything under the rug.

We tell our stories of betrayal, of murder, of denial, of death. We put the horrible front and center. We insist on doing so every single year. And maybe, just maybe this can give space to name the horrible in the rest of the year. Maybe this time for grieving can give us time to grieve later on. Maybe putting the horrible right out there for everyone to see means we don't hide so much later on.

And maybe, just maybe, what gives me permission to savor this story so deeply, so thoroughly is knowing we haven't reached the end of the story yet. So I will wait as the worst thing unfolds. I will wait with the load of uncertainty. I will wait as I have waited before and will again.

Because my hope is that this deeply forms my being to anticipate that in the worst thing possible, God is still working, still waiting, still doing something new. The horrible is not forever.

And God, be with us in the waiting.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Everything's OK

So, yeah, I've been sick for a few weeks. Well, technically I guess I've been sick for a few months. An ear infection turned into a respiratory infection. No x-rays, but they gave me all the drugs for pneumonia. The ear infection was fungal, so it took a while to figure out. I'm also bad at doctors, so that doesn't help anything at all. The ear infection was annoying. The respiratory infection wiped me out for a few weeks. Weeks.

I've never been sick for weeks in my life. I've had one other acute health problem--a rash when I moved to Arizona--that required urgent care, primary care, and a specialist to end up with, "Huh. I've never seen anything like that before." I could count the doctor visits this time, but I'd have to sit down and do that. Actually, now that I think about it, I probably hit double digits.

And you know what? Everything's ok.

I missed a Sunday and someone covered. Actually, several people covered. They were willing, gracious, and it wasn't a big deal at all. Someone else to preach took a single email and the Gospel was well proclaimed.

The bare minimum has gotten done at church, at least compared to what I normally do. Still, we gathered for worship, we celebrated a 90th birthday, we're as ready as we ever are at this time for Easter.

My apartment looks like I haven't felt great for three months. Slowly but surely, though, it's getting better. This weekend, the Christmas decorations may even get put in the closet. They were down soon after Epiphany, but the giant green tub is still in my living room.

The cat had to make do on only dry food for a few days. Despite what she would tell you, she's ok.

Everything's ok. In a world that idolizes busy and productivity, it's been a good reminder for me. I barely left my bed and couch for a solid week, and everything was ok. I didn't get back on the horse very quickly at all, and everything's ok. It's not perfect, but really, how often does perfect actually happen?

I remember my mother's hatred of the story of Mary and Martha, where Mary stopped and sat at Jesus' feet. She was commended for having chosen what was better. My mother always said she understood Martha better. And good grief, after all, things had to get done. There are meals to cook, dishes to wash, laundry to do, and a whole list of other things. This is, of course, the same woman who never permitted sleeping past 10 a.m. on a Saturday. I remember her waking me up, quoting from Proverbs, "A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to sleep, and poverty will come upon you like a thief." Yeah, that's a super fun way to wake up.

I think we'd have even more stories like that, though, if Jesus showed up today. We'd have more stories that are an antidote to our busyness. We'd have our frenetic lives called out regularly. Maybe the craziest thing about the Gospel is the claim that our worth is not tied to what we do or how well we do it. Our worth is tied to God.

So relax. Don't worry so much. Because you know what? Everything's going to be ok.