Category Archives: Lectionary Reflections

When Easter is (and isn’t) about Hope

[Hope] is an orientation of the spirit, an orientation of the heart;
it transcends the world that is immediately experienced,
and is anchored somewhere beyond its horizons.
(Václav Havel, Disturbing the Peace)

tulips

A parishioner approaches me during coffee hour. We hug for a long time and I tell her I’m so sorry. She’s just lost a dear friend to a long battle with lung cancer. Although I don’t know her friend, we have been talking and praying about her journey with treatment during our regular women’s Bible study group, and the loss feels deeply sad for all of us.

“I just don’t think it was her time to go,” she says. “It doesn’t make any sense.” A person so full of strength and positivity, a single mother living (and now dying) far from her family, leaving behind a nine-year-old daughter. I’m struck by her words, especially now, in the midst of Holy Week.

I tell her that sometimes Easter doesn’t come three days after death, sometimes healing and new life takes much longer. I tell her some years, Easter Sunday rolls around only to find us still stuck in the middle of waiting, still stuck in the darkness of the tomb. Sometimes Easter isn’t about the fulfillment of hope; it’s about the reminder that hope can still be possible.

And she nods. She already knows.

Wishing you deep peace, friends, wherever this Holy Week finds your heart.

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Filed under Lectionary Reflections, Lent 2015, Theology and Faith

Imagining the Annunciation

The stories of Advent and Christmas can get so familiar that it’s hard for us to hear them with fresh ears, to receive them with fresh hearts. This season, I encourage you to spend some time re-imagining age-old characters to see what you uncover at this stage in your life.

Although it isn’t actually in the lectionary until the fourth week of Advent, I’d like to share some reflections on the story of the annunciation, the appearance of the angel to Mary.

Tanner "The Annunciation"

“The Annunciation” by Henry Ossawa Tanner

 

Perhaps

Who knows what she was doing the moment the announcement came.
Perhaps kneeling at the river, washing in hand;
perhaps kneading the dough to prepare for dinner;
perhaps drifting in and out of fitful sleep.
But Mary, full already with grace, is told she will have to carry more.
She will have to carry God itself — what a heavy load! — as we all do.
Mary, too young and unprepared, can stammer only questions,
caught as she is, in that moment:
dropping the clothes with a small splash into the water;
clutching hard the wooden handle of the spoon;
rubbing the sleep anxiously from her eyes and temples.
She is visited, perhaps, at the most inopportune and embarrassing of moments,
suddenly at her most human,
interrupted at her most embodied,
and told that she is one body no longer — but two.

She imagines she can feel already
the swelling of her belly, the shifting of her hips,
(how can any body be big enough to house the soul of God?)
She imagines she can see already, the dreams of her life
careening off course,
a detour, of course;
a diversion; an announcement; an invitation, or —
a demand. It’s hard to tell.
Can she say no to this?
After all, when the Divine says “Greetings,
You will be overshadowed!” whose knees don’t knock?
Perhaps generations of women before her
(also stammeringly young and unprepared)
stopped here, at this point,
went no further than the inevitable question:
But — ?
How can this be?
Disbelief is so often the most we can manage.
Our small human frames already too frail to hold,
can hardly be made to bear the weight of light incarnate.

And so God waits, yearning for the yes
that only one young girl can give.
How is it so that Love needs permission just to be born,
just to be carried into being on a slippery river of blood?
This isn’t an easy fairy tale after all,
but the pulsing breath of lifelines tying together,
God’s and ours, inextricably.
Perhaps this is the moment for which all of eternity has held its breath.
Perhaps this is only one point on an ever expanding circle of possibility.
Perhaps this is just the delusional dream of one yes-speaking girl.

And so that girl, perplexed and pondering, goes on with her life,
picking up her washing and rinsing it off,
brushing her hands on the hem of her skirt,
curling her knees up to her chest and trying again to sleep.
The moment has to end eventually, and another day must dawn after it.
But, perhaps, from here, every moment is entirely different.
Perhaps the circle will yield to an even-wider width.
Perhaps inside her all that grace is making space for something new
to come into the world at the very precise moment
it’s supposed to.

I am in debt to my lovely community of friends at Bethany House of Prayer for inspiring many of these ideas during our Advent reflections together this morning. Many thanks for that deep well!

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Filed under Advent 2014, Lectionary Reflections

Loss & Despair on the Road to Emmaus

I’m reading the story of the walk to Emmaus over and over this week because sometimes the lectionary is a signpost that helps me remember the way I have come, that helps me find my way home again. Every time we cycle around to this story of Jesus strangely appearing to his friends on the road, I feel its fragmented in-betweeness, its unexplained mystery and desperate confusion.

It resonates for me because this is a story of loss and despair.

When Jesus comes upon the disciples, they are “standing still and looking sad,” and, though he already knows their hearts, he still asks them to share with him: What grieves you so?

The disciples ache for the friend and leader they have lost, so much that they can’t even perceive him as he walks among them. Hours pass as they tell and re-tell the story of their community splintering apart at his death. They don’t understand what has happened, and they’ve given up.

We had hoped, they tell this stranger. We had hoped that this man Jesus would save us, but we hope no longer. Everything is over now.

Of course, they’re wrong.

Everything is not over. Their hearts will “burn within them” as they look back on this day and realize they have spent it looking into the face of what they desire most, yet missing it all along.

But I love this story for that, for not passing over the heavy grief and hopeless sadness of the community that experienced Jesus’ death. They don’t just get to skip to the certainty of a risen Jesus: first they have to deal with the confusion of an empty tomb.

I’m glad this part of the story gets told because otherwise we’d be missing a critical piece of the narrative. Scripture is sacred to me because it gives words to the stories I already know as true in my own life, and this story is one that rings deeply inside of me.

Sometimes we are so shaken by the storms of life that we can do nothing more than stand still and look sad in the midst of it all.

Sometimes we are so blinded by grief that we cannot manage to hope for a future, even if that future has come to walk beside us and listen to our story.

Sometimes our hearts burn, so full do they become of that strange mixture of clarity and absurdity that comes from trying to process an experience of tragedy.

And always, no matter what, we have the opportunity to take the walk, however long, to Emmaus together.

– — –

What stories of scripture are resonating in your life right now? How do you see your community responding to its experiences of grief or loss? Who walks to Emmaus with you?

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Filed under Lectionary Reflections, My Faith Journey