Thursday, April 08, 2010

With the eyes of your heart

I was at a dinner party this week – Good Friday evening to be exact – and someone said, “So what do the Christians believe about Easter? What is Easter?” And the person who’d invited me said, “Does anyone really believe that somebody was actually raised from the dead? I mean, raised back to life again from their grave?” I leaned forward, put my hand up and said, “I do!” Everyone else sat back in amusement. A sweet disbelief.

One person took up the challenge and said, “well look – it’s a huge metaphor – and this is what the metaphor is: The Roman Empire crushed anyone who got in their way, and this guy was a nobody, a ghetto kid like me, and he was in their way – and so they crushed him, like they did a whole lot of people. But his message wouldn’t go away. It’s a metaphor for liberation and for brotherhood and for the people who won’t be crushed no matter how much power is brought to bear on them. It’s a metaphor for the power of love and life and grace that will always find a way to go on no matter how evil the powers are that are brought to bear down on the poor and dispossessed. “

Well, he said something like that. It was good. He was good. He said this in a booming preacher like voice. But then someone else said, “but is that really what the Christians believe?”

Personally, I would have to say – yes and no. Yes, at one level, as a metaphor that was fairly accurate. And this metaphor of Resurrection does provide sustenance for many people who are suffering under repression.

And No – because it didn’t really get to the nub of the thing.

When the women went to the cemetery, they went in grief to tend to the mangled, tortured body of their beloved. That’s why you go to cemeteries. To tend to the dead. To put flowers on the grave. You definitely are not thinking that their tomb is going to be empty. Can you imagine their utter horror and shock? I saw one artistic rendering of the scene that had the women’s hair standing on end as they raced away. I mean one thing you can be certain of – dead people stay dead.

I have been through the death of four friends this Lent. Several of you have lost mothers and fathers. A dear friend of mine recently lost her two closest friends. Grief comes in waves, and about six to eight weeks from the death it usually becomes pretty intense. Why? Because the reality that they are really and truly gone, that they are dead, hits hard. They are not coming back. That’s the order of things, and it is a cruel order, but it is reliable.

But this morning, and every Sunday morning, is the Feast of the Resurrection – this awesome, incredible, unique among all religions – claim – that the Body of Jesus was not in the grave, but Risen. Restored to Life by the same Power that created something out of nothing when He said, “Let there be Light.” And there was Light. This same Power now said “Let there be Life.” And there was Life – and no power on heaven or on earth could contradict or intervene. Let there be Life and there is Life. Death and the grave are vanquished.

Of course there are other religions that have gods who die and rise – but they are mythological, not actual walking around people. What do the Christians believe? I don’t know about you – but this Christian believes that God raised Jesus from the dead, and that whatever happened at that tomb, however that happened, the women who went there found empty grave clothes, those bindings that were wrapped around dead bodies. And they couldn’t believe it. In fact, neither could the disciples. In our reading from last night, when the women went racing back, the men thought it was – in our English translation – an idle tale. In Greek it is lalein….like lalalala … wild talk …mad talk…or in colloquial English….bull…..

And then…. Jesus began to appear to them. In this morning’s gospel, he appears to Mary, who is utterly heartbroken and while the other’s run away, she cannot bear to leave the graveyard. She does not recognize him – because we are not talking about a resuscitated body, but Resurrection, a Body of glory that is from another dimension.

In his 2nd letter to the church at Corinth, Paul described it this way: “But someone will ask, ‘How are the dead raised? With what kind of body do they come?’ Fool! What you sow does not come to life unless it dies. And as for what you sow, you do not sow the body that is to be, but a bare seed, perhaps of wheat or of some other grain. But God gives it a body as he has chosen, and to each kind of seed its own body. There are both heavenly bodies and earthly bodies, but the glory of the heavenly is one thing, and that of the earthly is another.”

Clearly, Jesus’ resurrected body got hungry - remember how he asked for food, and how he cooked breakfast over a small fire at the beach…but he could also pass through walls - remember how the disciples were in a closed and locked room out of fear of the authorities, and then suddenly, he was in their midst? But he was not easy to recognize. There is a lot of drama involved in all of these stories about who is this man? A gardener? A fisherman? A ghost? A traveler? The real drama of the Resurrection lies in learning to see, learning to recognize Jesus.

Jesus’ final teachings – his post-Resurrection teachings have to do with how to have Easter eyes. And it was different experience for each one of his disciples. Mary was sunk in her grief. So stuck on the physical plane that she could not see him. Once he spoke her name, she did see him and she wanted desperately to cling to him. But he said, “Do not Cling.” “You can go further into love” – Jesus was saying. You can love beyond boundaries, beyond barriers, beyond the physical, and this is the life I am calling you into.

There will be other appearances throughout this extended Eastertide. Some will see Jesus and others will not. Remember the two on the road to Emmaus – walking and talking in hushed whispers about the events that led up to the dashing of all of their hopes against the hard wood of torture and death…and Jesus himself appeared and began walking with them. But even when he opened the scriptures to them, they did not recognize him. Only when they invited him to stay with them, and he took bread and blessed it and broke it…were their eyes were opened and they recognized him. And then, of course, they left their dinner cold and rushed back to Jerusalem: “The Lord lives. We have seen him.” And they said to one another, “Weren’t our hearts burning within us as he explained all the scriptures to us?”

So what prevented them from seeing him in the first place? They were stuck in their story, stuck in the past, stuck in their grief and their nostalgia – so they could not see what was right in front of them - staring them right in the face. They could only see him when they came fully into the present moment, and received Christ’s bread and blessing.

And not only did they see – but they saw how to see. Just like Mary – it was through the eyes of their heart – through the attunement of their heart – it was their heart that burned within them that recognized Jesus and it was also their heart that bound them to the risen Lord forever.

My friends around the dinner table will probably never be convinced. And I did not try to convince them. Because Seeing Jesus, Hearing Jesus, knowing the truth that He is Risen - is not a teaching kind of truth. It is experiential.

The truth is, the heart tuned to Jesus is like a compass. It gives direction and it tells you where to look in order to behold the glory of the Lord. You can have your heart tuned so that it burns within you in recognition of our Lord. How? Through loving him and through service to one another and to the world that he so dearly loves.

Remember his final words with Peter? “Do you love me?” “Yes, Lord,“ Peter replied, "I love you.” In Greek there are several words for Love – and two of them are used in this passage. Peter used the word philios for I love you. Philios is a personal and attractive kind of love. Jesus used agape. Agape is love that is self-giving, that wells up and flows outwards towards the needs of others. “Do you love me?” “Yes, Lord.” “Then feed my sheep.” This is how to see the Resurrected Lord with the eyes of your heart. This is how his presence will always be known to you.

The Lord is Risen. The Lord is Risen indeed. Alleluia!

Cynthia Bourgeault, The Wisdom Jesus
Fleming Rutledge, The Undoing of Death

Friday, April 02, 2010

Good Friday

After friends and nurses cared for him for months, and kept vigil for days, AIDS took it’s final toll on Dave. I had been taking communion to him for a long time. One time I happened to come when a group of close friends had gathered in his home. We had a party – a last supper, as it turned out. Gathering around the couch in the living room where Dave spent his time, we feasted on the scriptures and on the bread and wine and on each other’s company. The prayers were intensely personal. Dave was dying. The small mission church that these folks had devoted many hours to, was struggling with its future. I was wondering where my priesthood was leading, where God was calling me.

There were many blessings that night. I anointed Dave and those gathered around all laid hands on him, deeply blessing and loving him as a truly gathered Christian community can do. The group laid hands on me, blessing me with prayers and longings for the full blossoming of my ministry. We held hands and prayed for the little mission in the heart of the gay and poor community along the Russian River.

A few days later, Dave died. His two sons asked if I would stay with the body until the mortuary arrived. I said yes – but had no idea that it would take so long for the van to get there. I sat for hours in the room with Dave’s body growing cold. Accompanying his complete leave taking of this world, of his thin ravaged body, his running sores, his inability to swallow, his existential loneliness.

Before he died though, the midst of this very real suffering, Dave had found a way to live as fully as he possibly could. He had found the way of the Cross. Because of Jesus and Jesus’ death and ultimate resurrection, hope continued to burn in Dave to the very end. It was this hope that allowed him to laugh at the ever increasing indignities of the process of dying. It was this hope that gave him the courage and fortitude to reconcile with his sons. It was this hope that gave his eyes their light, when all else was breaking down.

Anyone who has been through the valley of the shadow of death, knows that hope is the one thing that is essential. Faith can come and go. Even love. But without hope, we become the walking dead. Hope is hardy – like grass pushing up through cement, it’s green blades finding even the tiniest of cracks to reach through to the light . Hope is hardy – like children playing tag in the rudest and meanest of impoverished conditions. Hope is hardy. It is not easily extinguished. It finds a way to take wing and fly even when the wings are broken and the night is bitterly cold.

But I think on this day, in the heart of Jesus’ mother and in the hearts of John and the few women who were strong enough to stay until the bitter end, I think hope died.

Jesus was taken dead and cold from the cross and laid in a tomb, with no answer forthcoming from the God of Love that he proclaimed and clung to – no answer – no comforting word – no dove descending – no whisper in the ear. Through the hours that he hung on the cross, a most intensely gruesome torturous way to die – Jesus continued to love, continued to pour himself out in love, for his friends, for his mother, for those who had nailed him there and who were busy dividing up his robe and sandals and prayer shawl. He continued to call upon and cling to his Father, his Abba, the very light of his life, the love of his love. But now - there was no answer, no relief, no assurance that anything he had done or was doing had any meaning, had any purpose, or would come to any good, no word that there even was a God who heard him and knew him, much less loved him. The hope and love and light of his mother’s life was now broken and dead and cold in her arms.

What do we do when hope dies? When our dreams are shattered? When love flickers and fades and the ground we stand on is turned completely upside down and there is no solid ground left? When we are suddenly and completely turned out of the cozy world we thought we lived in – maybe by death of a husband or wife or child, or death of a marriage, or death of purpose, or death of a future we had counted on. What do we do when all of our hopes and dreams are laid out cold and heavy in our arms?

Mary turned to Joseph of Arimethea, a friend of her son’s. She and the other women leaned on each other, held each other upright as they made their feet move in the direction of someone’s home where they would sit without food or fire huddled together and too struck down to even weep. What did these few friends of Jesus do when hope died and God no longer spoke to them? They sat together. They held each other.

I don’t know whether they prayed. I don’t know whether they called upon God who, for all they could see, had abandoned their beloved Jesus and abandoned them. Perhaps, possibly, they were able, through sheer force of will and profound love, to follow Jesus even into this abandoned place. Perhaps, possibly, like Jesus, they did continue to call upon this silent absent God. Continued to call, even when there was no answer. Perhaps, possibly, the life that was Jesus’ life, did still beat somewhere in their grieving hearts, unknown and unrecognized. Perhaps, possibly, the little tiny seed bud of hope was not thoroughly extinguished, but lay dormant and deep, still and silent, waiting.

We know, of course, that Easter comes. That there is a tomorrow and another tomorrow, and that God has the final word – that Love lives. That there is no darkness, no despair, no abandonment, no place of terror and absence, that God is not – that God – by pouring out of everything he had, to the utmost of his earthly capacity, there is no darkness that Christ does not light with his presence. Because he held nothing back, he is able to accompany you into any hopelessness, any despair.

What do you do when hope dies? When the Light of the World, when the light of your world, is extinguished? Do what Dave did. Do what Jesus' friends did. Flee to the Cross of Christ. Because at the Cross, at the foot of the Cross, you will find paradise itself. You will find community and communion. You will find the very Presence of the One who loves you to the end and beyond.

Thursday, April 01, 2010