Easter Day

As I write this reflection the news is full of the latest terror attacks in Brussels … suicide bomb blasts at the International airport and another on a metro train. People who were eyewitnesses have reported the horror, and footage from security cameras has been shared via the media.

There are reports of heightened security, people told to stay indoors, while many venture out in defiance of the terrorists. People from across the nations are offering support and condolences. Some react with sorrow, others with anger. There are leaders who call for calm and other, would be leaders, (such as Donald Trump) angrily calling for torture of terror suspects. Shock waves have been felt across the world.

At times of grief, shock and fear we are all caught off guard and react in different ways. Some huddle in quiet corners trying to come to terms with events, while others are moved to take action… preparing food for the bereaved, making funeral arrangements, feeling the need to prepare the body for final burial or drawn back to the graveside or perhaps the place of death. Still others seek means of revenge. The same is true today as then.

In the light of the Brussels terror attacks, how do we hold on to hope? Where can we find meaning? Where is God? Surely, it seems that in Christ God is with all those who suffer at the hands of these violent terrorists. Yet, even from the cross Christ asked of God “forgive them, for they know not what they do!”

There were eyewitness to the events surrounding Good Friday and Easter. It is said an apostle is one who bears witness to the risen Jesus. Much is made (by recent scholars) of the fact that, as it was the women who first discovered the empty tomb and concluded that Jesus had risen… the women in Luke’s gospel are the church’s first apostles.

Further, Luke reports that the others receive the words of the women as an “idle tale.” Was this because they suspected the credibility of women? Or is it because of the incredible nature of the news? As a woman I am glad that it seems some women were the first to “see” and understand that Jesus had risen but I believe that this isn’t about the gender of those involved, so much as about our own individual perceptions and reactions. Every gospel writer records disbelief in the wake of Easter. It is an incredible story!

Every year we retell the Easter story, going over the facts from various points of view, not to remember old details, but to gain new insights and fresh perspectives. . It is still a challenge to look death in the face and trust “Jesus is risen”… and take hold of that truth for ourselves, once again. We place ourselves in the story and experience the grief, disbelief and wonder anew.

As Susan McCaslin, Arousing the Spirit: Provocative Writings, writes;

“Let the hinges of our hearts swing open
To things we can’t explain –
…Help us experience daily the astonishing in the apparently ordinary”

Easter Blessings on you all.

Palm Sunday

I have always loved Palm Sunday. As a little girl I always got caught up in the excitement of the event and I imagined being part of the occasion, skipping along beside the donkey and waving a child size palm branch.

I remember being “browned off” about churches that paid only “token” attention to the festival, with the festivities cut short by the reading of the Passion!

To some extent my frustration was warranted. For those who really take time to journey, with Jesus, from the gates of Jerusalem to the place of the cross at Golgotha, there is too much to miss in between. So much happens in the last few days of Jesus life. We are all the richer for being with Jesus in the upper room, where he washed the feet of His friends and shared a last meal with them. And Jesus betrayal by Judas is all the more poignant because we are aware of what has passed between them.

But few people take the time; in fact even many regular churchgoers slip from Palm Sunday to Easter morning, missing Good Friday altogether!

Now I see Palm Sunday in a rather different way. You see, it seems to me the events surrounding Jesus arrival in Jerusalem are more poignant when seen from within the shadow of the Cross.

Now my heart is full of sorrow for our Lord, who knew what was to come, who knew how easily “Hosanna” would become the angry condemning cries to “Crucify him!”

If I were there, what part would I have played? And what of you? Would you also have been swayed? Would our weak and frightened hearts have betrayed our Lord?

Truly, there but for the grace of God go each and every one of us!

Fifth Sunday in Lent

As you know, I struggle with the heat and humidity of the climate of this area. My struggles are exacerbated by the need to wear robes for services. Some have asked “why do you continue to wear these robes?” while others would rather I add the Chasuble in Summer because that is the proper form of attire for the Eucharist.

In discussion about the cost of robes the clergy wear (mine included) and the building of huge (beautiful) cathedrals to point towards God and provide places of worship as opposed to giving the money to provide for the poor, the sick and otherwise needy. Isn’t that the center of concern in today’s gospel? Mary offered an extravagant gift in pouring 1⁄2 a litre of pure nard on Jesus’ feet. Moreover, she wiped his feet with her hair in a  moving act of adoration. Judas argues that the nard should have been sold and the money given to the poor. Jesus supported Mary in her extravagance but derided the Pharisees saying; “They do everything to be seen by people. They increase the size of their phylacteries and lengthen the tassels of their garments.

Surely there is room for both? And, isn’t it really a matter of the heart? Surely the state of the heart is what is most important?

In the world today there are people who devote their lives to God in quiet contemplation and prayer, others go into the slums and feed the poor, some take part in ornate and elaborate worship while others hold hands in lounge rooms, deserts or gardens to pray.

On Wednesday evening a little boy coloured a worksheet and gave it to me as I led intercessions. He said it was a gift for me. Some continue to say, “Children should be seen and not heard in worship”. That will never be the case in any congregation I lead. This little boy coloured and gifted, I prayed to God! Surely God rejoices in us both! Who amongst us has the right to judge? Acts of love, in whatever form they may take, are still acts of love, and for a Christian, they are an extension or mirroring of the love of God.

 

Fourth Sunday in Lent

In 1986 Henri Nouwen, a Dutch theologian and writer, toured St. Petersburg, Russia, the former Leningrad. While there he visited the famous Hermitage where he saw, among other things, Rembrandt’s painting of the Prodigal Son. The painting was in a hallway and received the natural light of a nearby window. Nouwen stood for two hours, mesmerized by this remarkable painting. As he stood there the sun changed, and at every change of the light’s angle he saw a different aspect of the painting revealed. He would later write: “There were as many paintings in the Prodigal Son as there were changes in the day.”

It is difficult for us to see something new in the parable of the Prodigal son. We have heard the story so many times we believe that we have squeezed it dry of meaning. Not only that, but, as the saying goes, familiarity breeds contempt. When we hear the opening words of the parable once again, “And there was a Father who had two sons” we greet the words with ho-hum. Heard it. Heard it. Heard it. Yet, I would suggest that, just as Henri Nouwen saw a half dozen different facets to Rembrandt’s painting of the Prodigal Son, so too are there many different angles to the story itself. I would like for us to re-examine this familiar story by looking at the other prodigal son. The prodigal son himself is well known to us all. Restless, impatient for his future happiness, he comes and demands from the father that which he thought was rightfully his. He took his money and journeyed to a far country where he wastes it. He wastes the money, wastes his life, and finally ended up doing the most indignant task that a Jew could do–the feeding of swine. It was then that Jesus says that he came to himself. He arises from his situation and goes back to the father to ask to be a servant in his household. And even as he was a long distance away the father saw him and ran out with outstretched arms to greet him.

As the story concludes we have the makings of a grand homecoming party. this point that Jesus shifts the story and begins talking about the older brother, still in need of a shower, arms folded across his chest, the moral high road. “But when this son of yours came back … you killed the fatted calf for him.” He cannot even bring himself to acknowledge his brother with a name — “this son of yours.” A sense of unfairness, as you know, can turn venomous rather quickly.  So where are we at parable’s end? Are we inside the party celebrating? Or are we standing outside with our arms folded, refusing to come in? Jesus will not tell us how this story will end. The father passionately invites the older son inside, “pleads with him” to join in the welcome. Curiously, however, we are never told what the older brother decides to do. The story ends but it doesn’t end. You can almost hear the voice of Jesus in our ear, whispering persistently, “You are there.”

Will we RSVP to a party thrown by an unfair God? Or will we stubbornly remain outside? In a world where God does not play fair, this parable forces us to make a choice. Who is the real “prodigal” here? Who is the real “waster”? From the beginning Jesus says that this is a story about two brothers. Which one is the authentic prodigal? Which one has yet to come home to the Father’s extravagant love?