Saturday, April 17, 2010


So, did you miss me last week? Yes, well, I meant to tell you that I was going to skip a week, for Spring Break and all, but then I forgot. Sorry about that. I’ll try to remember to announce in this space when there is going to be a gap, so you aren’t hanging around your computers all day looking for a your bible study. Not that anyone does that, except in my imagination, but still it is only common courtesy. So, forgive me.

In fact there shouldn’t be one from me this week either, since I’m not preaching again. Wow, two weeks without preaching. I’ll probably get withdrawal symptoms or something. Not to worry, I’ll make up for it next week, since I am preaching on Sunday at Aldersgate and then preaching on Monday in Indianapolis for the Indiana Conference on our Life Together for clergy. But more on that later.

The explanation for this week is that it is Youth Sunday at Aldersgate. Which means that our preachers are a number of youth in confirmation class this year, as well as singers and servers and announcers and members of the band. So, anything that I might say in this space will probably have even less to do with what happens on Sunday morning than usual! Just sayin’.

But I still felt moved to put something here, so as not to go dark two weekends in a row. As I was pondering what approach I might take I was reminded of a line from a film about King Arthur and Camelot (Can’t remember which one exactly - sorry). It when Arthur was describing his teacher and mentor Merlin. He explains that Merlin actually moves backward through time, living in reverse from everyone else. It’s a quite complicated concept, because for him the last time he spoke to you would be for you the next time he speaks to you. Makes your head spin just trying to figure it out. But Arthur sums it all up by saying that Merlin doesn’t age, he Youthens.

Given the amount of money the we baby boomers spend on trying to stay young, it seems like there is marketing potential in the ability to Youthen. But then I thought that the real benefit of Merlin’s take on living, is a spiritual one rather than a physical one. The old “If I knew then, what I know now” kind of thing. But then, does foreknowledge really help us all that much. Maybe. If we use it. But if we don’t? Well, ask Peter.

How many times does Jesus tell the disciples what is going to happen? But what do they do with that information? Does it save them from acting stupidly when push comes to shove? Do they rise to the occasion and seize the moment and stand on their principles and beliefs? What was that Peter, didn’t quite hear your mumbled response to my probing questions?

Maybe living backward wouldn’t save us, maybe foreknowledge wouldn’t keep us safe. Maybe we need a different way of figuring out how to Youthen. Maybe it isn’t about chronological age, but about spiritual youth. Maybe what we need is not a way to go back and live knowing, but a way to start over and live forgiven.

At least that’s what it seems that Peter needed.

John 21:15-19 When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, "Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?" He said to him, "Yes, Lord; you know that I love you." Jesus said to him, "Feed my lambs." 16 A second time he said to him, "Simon son of John, do you love me?" He said to him, "Yes, Lord; you know that I love you." Jesus said to him, "Tend my sheep." 17 He said to him the third time, "Simon son of John, do you love me?" Peter felt hurt because he said to him the third time, "Do you love me?" And he said to him, "Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you." Jesus said to him, "Feed my sheep. 18 Very truly, I tell you, when you were younger, you used to fasten your own belt and to go wherever you wished. But when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will fasten a belt around you and take you where you do not wish to go." 19 (He said this to indicate the kind of death by which he would glorify God.) After this he said to him, "Follow me."

John outlines a pretty elaborate conversation between Jesus and Peter on a beach one early morning after Easter. And a whole lot can be heard in these words. I’ll be interested to hear from our Confirmation youth as they approach these verses on Sunday morning.

There is something here about service, and the source of the service not being obligation or duty but love. There is something here about obedience to the one we call Lord, but that too grows out of love and a relationship that is all encompassing. There is something here about following to the ends of the earth, about allowing our life agendas to be set not by our own grand plan but by the will of the one we follow.

But whatever else might be in here, I hear quite clearly a process of forgiveness wrapped up in these words. I hear redemption. I hear an opportunity to if not undo what had been done, then at least a chance to overlay a denial with an affirmation just as strong, just as nerve wracking, just as deeply felt. A chance, in other words, to start over. To step back, to Youthen.

OK, maybe it is a leap we shouldn’t be taking. But when Jesus told us to become child-like in order to live in the Kingdom, maybe a part of what he was offering was a way to start over. Maybe it was an offer to Youthen our lives enough to know the freedom of life in the Spirit.

We who will gather for worship will be privileged to be led by some of our youth this Sunday. I for one will hope to hear some fresh insight, some new opportunity. Do we still have things to teach them? Certainly. But do they have things to teach us? Most assuredly.

So come and listen and learn, come and set aside your preferences and limited expectations. Come and let the Spirit blow through you. Who knows you just might come out feeling ... younger.

Or forgiven.

And loved.


Saturday, April 3, 2010

Holy Saturday

Do you hear that? No, not the neighbors taking the opportunity of the finally spring like weather to edge their sidewalks. Listen for a moment. Listen deeper. Listen with your faith and not your ears. Listen and you will hear all of creation holding its breath. Leaning forward in anticipation and wonder.

The gospels are strangely silent on what happened on Holy Saturday. After the incredible detail of that Good Friday, there are no words left to describe Saturday: the Sabbath day in between. The reason why there was a delay. The laws prevented the work of tending to the dead, the preparing of the body for burial. A forced pause in the terrifying events of the past few days. A cloud of fear and doubt surrounding them as they wondered what might be next.

Did they huddle together, taking comfort from their shared grief? Did they run to familiar places and reach out for hands that were curiously, painfully empty? Or did they avoid looking at the despair in each other’s eyes, afraid that alongside the grief and the pain would be accusation and disappointment; or were they simply afraid that seeing another who had given themselves to him would bring the hurt and memories rushing back and unleash another flood of tears, despite the feeling that there were no tears left?

The Sabbath belongs to God. That was what the law said, that is what their practice taught them. You can’t help but wonder, however, whether those who had lost their purpose for living even bothered to go through the motions. Did they sit in the pews while the familiar words bounced off their numb consciousness, barely aware of their own bodies as they stood and sat, as they knelt and repeated the words that were as familiar to them as their own names? Or did they discover a growing resentment building up inside of them as they watched their fellow worshipers singing praise as though the world had not come to an end, as though this was just another day to acknowledge the goodness of God? Did they want to shout out “how can we sing the Lord’s song in this foreign land?”

Or did they know, deep down, that their anger wasn’t at the blind worshipers, not at their neighbors and family members who were simply doing what they always had done without a second thought? Did they reach inside far enough to realize that their disappointment, their frustration, their anger was at God? Did they compose psalms in their minds that they didn’t dare bring to their lips? That God who had seemed so tantalizingly close whenever he spoke, who seemed to be flinging wide the doors to this wondrous kingdom that was so much a part of him as if anyone and everyone could find their way there, now seemed so far away as to be a dream you can’t quite remember upon waking. God had let this beautiful vision of Someday slip through the divine fingers with careless abandon.

So maybe they hid, afraid of Roman power so excruciatingly evident on Friday, wary of Jewish authorities who, having tasted blood, just might be hungry for more, and even let down by God, the one he called Father, who had abandoned them with a brutal indifference. Maybe that is why we don’t know any details of that Holy Saturday, no one ever had the strength to talk about what they did or thought or felt on that day. And each was painfully alone in their private hell.

I guess I shouldn’t say we don’t know any details of that day. We know one detail. We have one thread in the tapestry of Holy Saturday. Not much to go on, I admit, not enough to give us a sense that we know the whole story. But maybe enough to color the day with a little more light then we might have imagined at first glance.
Luke 24:1-12 But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they came to the tomb, taking the spices that they had prepared. 2 They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, 3 but when they went in, they did not find the body. 4 While they were perplexed about this, suddenly two men in dazzling clothes stood beside them. 5 The women were terrified and bowed their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, "Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen. 6 Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, 7 that the Son of Man must be handed over to sinners, and be crucified, and on the third day rise again." 8 Then they remembered his words, 9 and returning from the tomb, they told all this to the eleven and to all the rest. 10 Now it was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women with them who told this to the apostles. 11 But these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them. 12 But Peter got up and ran to the tomb; stooping and looking in, he saw the linen cloths by themselves; then he went home, amazed at what had happened.

Did you see it, right there in the first verse? “Taking the spices they had prepared.” Whatever else happened on Holy Saturday, at some point someone stopped and took the time to gather together the items they would need for the ritual task of caring for the dead. Maybe it was an attempt to stop thinking and slip into rote responses, maybe it was a way of focusing away from eternal implications and onto mundane responsibilities. Maybe it was just easier, taking inventory, setting aside cloth and spices, remembering the prayers over the dead that had to be spoken as each item was applied. Maybe it allowed them to return to a simpler time, as they remembered assisting their mothers when they cared for old Aunt Judith who had lived a long and happy life, with mother teaching them the how and the why and the blessing it was to be able to serve.

That’s the thread of hope I see in Holy Saturday. In the midst of despair and suffering, it was the call to service that rose up in them, or some of them anyway. It was service that got them to dry their tears enough to think outside themselves for a moment. To get their feet moving again, to distract themselves from their grief by the busyness of their hands.

Maybe they remembered his words, about giving yourself away to find yourself, about Samaritans who bind up wounds, about loving your neighbor. Maybe that is what sustained them through the darkness of Holy Saturday. That thread of service born out of love. Maybe that was what gave them a sense of purpose when their hearts were broken. Maybe that was what gave them strength to put one foot in front of another on this interminable day.

Maybe that is what brought them back to the place where hope was reborn. “But,” says Luke, “but on the first day of the week...” What a grand and glorious reversal. “On the first day of the week” everything changed. The certainty of death was shattered with the breaking of dawn on that first day of the week. The despair of denial was destroyed with the rolling away of a stone too big to move.

And the announcement, the angelic announcement that was indeed good news of a great joy, told them in no uncertain terms that Holy Saturday was over. “Why do you seek the living among the dead?” they said with a chuckle behind glowing hands. You can almost see this Laurel and Hardy pair falling over themselves, giddy with the announcement they had to give. “He is not here!” they proclaimed with a heavenly guffaw. And holding their sides with delight, they sent the women off with a simple task.

It is our task too, our Easter task. “Remember,” they said. Remember what he said. Remember, by telling the story to one another and the world. Remember by walking as he walked, by loving as he loved, by serving. Remember. Even on Holy Saturday, because they come with painful regularity, even on Holy Saturday, remember.

Then they remembered. Happy Easter.