PAUSES FOR HOPE
A Praxical Theologian's Modest Collection:
Gifts of the Table
A lone paper palm branch lay on our dining table to lead this holy week that was unlike any other.
The world whirled in crisis. The world wept in mourning. We all wondered when things were going to get better. Every death was too soon. Every grief sudden and profound. Every hope necessary to keep the world pressing against a common threat.
On the dining table lay the Communion elements. A Thursday chapel service with the beloved of the international community streamed live. The Sacraments administered virtually, faithfully.
Cities were drowning in foreboding sirens, breathless and exhausted. From a distant, other cities were quiet, holding on to the fragile mundanity of the days.
A crystal cross, a long-forgotten gift from a devoted nun, stood at the center of the dining table to gather our family of five. Some came complaining, but all were stilled by the gospel’s bodily details of the Cross, by the compassion of the Christ outstretched on Good Friday.
On Easter morning, new life is proclaimed, the risen Christ is rejoiced with a thousand alleluias—over Zoom.
The world continues in strife yet is found pressing on with every hope collected in every heart.
Those whose empty hearts are visited by the resurrected Christ, we testify a hope that survives death; a love that travels beyond death to meet us; a grace that flows into every jagged crevice of our brokenness.
This enduring hope, this abiding love, this healing grace are gifts for all by Christ crucified, Christ risen, and Christ who returns to meet us. We will see Christ in the city, in the upper room. We will see Christ in emergency rooms, in waiting rooms. We will see Christ in sacrificial service, in gentle kindness offered and received—among neighbors, among strangers, among family and friends.
Gathered around many ordinary tables, may we look back on this holy week that was unlike any other and confess with Mary's first proclamation of the resurrected faith, saying to one another, “We have seen the Lord!”
Easter blessings to you and your household.
"Do not be afraid. Go and tell the others to go to Galilee; there they will see me."
Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, "I have seen the Lord!" and she told them that Jesus had said these things to her.
Matthew 29:10, John 20:18
Sabbatum Sanctum, An Invitation
Today is Holy Saturday. Eastern church traditions refer to this day as The Saturday of Light.
Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus come to care for Jesus' body. They honor Jesus with a proper burial, with linen cloths and customary ointments. Jesus' body is laid in the tomb.
In the tomb,
Light is given to darkness.
Life relinquishes to death.
Deeper than the darkest night,
The everlasting Light.
Beyond the depth of all deaths,
The breath of Life.
This holy night, we proclaim with faith and confess with our tongue, the promised resurrection of Jesus Christ, our hope and our salvation.
As night falls, gather your heart, perhaps gather with loved ones, for this offering.
Profess aloud the proclamation for this night.
Respond in your heart with the confession below. May it be a prayer throughout this night. May you awake the dawn with this confession before the risen Christ.
Proclamation for The Saturday of Light
Even the darkness is not dark to you; the night is as bright as the day, for darkness is as light to you. (Psalm 139:12)
If I ascend to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there. Even there your hand will guide me; your right hand will hold me fast. (Psalm 139:11)
I am the Alpha and Omega, who was and is and is to come. Do not be afraid, I am the first and the last; and the living one. I was dead, and behold, I am alive forever more. (Revelation 1:8,17-18)
. . .
The light is no more
Yet all creation speaks
The light dwindles into darkness
It seems so fragile;
but the dark gathers it.
The life dwindles into the depths of the earth
It seems so lost;
but the dark holds it.*
Love's radiant light
rebirths relinquished life.
Light is lord over darkness
Life is lord over death
Christ is Lord of All. Amen.
*Adapted from The Earth Cries Glory: Daily Prayer with Creation
Love so amazing
Love so divine
Demands my soul
When I Survey the Wondrous Cross
Still on Good Friday
I paused today trying to grasp life and death in a number. I tried to remain still before the report of 100,000 lives lost from this earth.
I fidgeted through Good Friday services when I was in the youth group. We were all hungry, and I was always a little dizzy. Every year, our youth pastor encouraged us to fast on this holy day. It was a dutiful practice that now remains a gift. Those solemn services where we were supposed to focus on Jesus’ suffering were tough for this teenager trying to pay attention while nursing a growling stomach. I couldn’t stay still very well; I imagine God’s kind eyes over me as I recall those Good Friday nights long ago.
Today, I still struggle to remain still. Not long enough to conceive the enormity and the ever particularity of the death toll spread across today’s headlines. With the nurturing invitation of a poet, I am able to stay still for little while. Long enough to let my heart reach the beginning edge of darkness. For as darkness grows deep into the night, the possibility of a coming light can begin to be dreamed, to be prayed, to be waited.
This night, eternity hungers with earth’s pangs.
. . .
let all stand still
Sun and moon
Let the ground
gape in stunned
Let it weep
as it receives
what it thinks
it will not
Let it groan
as it gathers
who was thought
Gathered with his disciples for the Passover meal, "Jesus knew his hour had come to depart from this world. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end (John 13:1). "To the end," translated from the Greek, eis telos, means completely, all the way to the end.
Upon kneeling to wash the feet of the disciples and serving the communion meal of bread and wine, Jesus says these words: Abide with me, as I abide with you (John 15:4).
Then Jesus gives a new commandment: Mandatum Novum, from which the odd name for this day originates. Mandatum, Latin for command, shares the same root with the English word: mandatory, its more ancient form, maundy. So Maundy Thursday commemorates Jesus’ final teaching: “A new commandment that I give to you, that you love one another as I have loved you.”
“…As I have loved you.” How has Jesus loved his disciples? He knelt before them. He served them. He trusted them. He loved them unconditionally. He loved them to the end. Jesus bent down before the one who will hand him over to the priests. Jesus washed away the dirt on this disciple’s feet with unjust love, the same feet that will walk away betraying the teacher whom he had followed for three years. Jesus shared his life and poured out his love for all of the disciples whose once fervent faith would collapse in a moment’s notice of fear.
For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. God’s love for us is known that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
The new commandment given on this night is that we love one another with this kind of humble, unjust, abiding love. It is an impossible measure of love for us to receive, for us to comprehend, certainly an impossible measure for us to imitate. Yet, this is the love of God.
To be open to the eternal embrace of God's love is to be open to all of the fractures, confusions, and pains of this world that are held in God’s embrace. The least among us and the worst among us are held in this same embrace. And we are called to embrace one another, even as we find ourselves as ones needing to receive such embrace, at times as the most needful of all.
Held in the eternal embrace of God, we remember Christ’s invitation: Abide with me, as I abide with you.
May we be found abiding with Christ as he makes the way to the cross to pour his love for the world. For the least and for the worst among us. For the suffering. For the loving. For the repentant. For the sinner. For the dying. For the believing. For the hoping.
For you. For me.
Abide with us
Open to me the gates of righteousness,
that I may enter through them
and give thanks to the Lord.
This is the gate of the Lord;
the righteous shall enter through it.
I thank you that you have answered me
and have become my salvation.
The stone that the builders rejected
has become the chief cornerstone.
This is the Lord’s doing;
it is marvelous in our eyes.
This is the day that the Lord has made;
let us rejoice and be glad in it.
Save us, we beseech you, O Lord!
O Lord, we beseech you, give us success!
Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.
We bless you from the house of the Lord.
The Lord is God,
and the Lord has given us light.
Bind the festal procession with branches,
up to the horns of the altar.
You are my God, and I will give thanks to you;
you are my God, I will extol you.
Give thanks to You O Lord for You are good,
your steadfast love endures forever.
A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. The crowds that went ahead of him and that followed were shouting,
“Hosanna to the Son of David!
Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!
Hosanna in the highest heaven!”
When he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was in turmoil, asking, “Who is this?” The crowds were saying, “This is the prophet Jesus from Nazareth in Galilee.”
There are no words for the deepest things.
Sounds of Faith
Not everything we feel has to be said. We are innately observant, acutely perceptive beings. I think this is especially true when it comes to love. Love can love deeply without words. Even love that is afraid to speak because of the chasm between us has power to have its effect
We know when we are loved; we feel it in our bones when we are not. When there is love between us, I don’t worry about being completely understood, I don’t worry about being correct. There is an imperfection to our connection that makes it that much more trustworthy.
I find my morning prayers falling into silence these days. Words drift into quiet. Silence drifts into presence. Or maybe silence was always there. I am becoming more acquainted with silence.
Most Saturday mornings, I am sitting in the middle of a cacophony. A gathering at dawn where tong-sung-gi-do is practiced. It is a practice of communal prayer rising from the spirituality of Korean Christians. Each one prays, yet we pray in one voice. You can shout your words and still be folded safely into the symphonic chaos of 300 other prayers. If you haven’t been around Korean churches, you may not know how fast Korean people pray. Fast and long. And loud. It must be my roots in the Korean church that oddly makes my weekly ritual not so odd.
Those Saturday mornings feel distant now. Without the usual rush of the morning's tasks, I am able to stay in solitude longer these days. Long enough to let my praying words fade into quiet. Long enough to let my petitions drown into silence. It’s like the strange calm of an ocean's murmur. When you swim down past the disorienting surface of sloshing white, you discover the pulsing stillness of blue beneath. Time seems to be kindly waiting. Waiting for you to know the gift of the quiet.
If I can pause, even for a few moments, to not worry about running out of breath, I can rest in this secret place for a short while. I will hear holy sounds rarely heard from above, where life’s real-time pace and equally holy tasks bid my attention.
In revealing silence, I find my incompleteness before God a source of faith. I find the inconsistency of my attention span, the indifference of my soul to its thirst, the imperfection of my uttered and unspoken thoughts, to be a confession of faith. For here, I can only rely on the love of God that fills the space in and around me, above and beneath. Here, I have nothing to prove. Nothing I must express. Nothing I must get correct.
Though I am silent, I am unafraid of being misunderstood. For Love that is from everlasting to everlasting is trustworthy in every season.
There are no words for the deepest things.
Words become feeble when mystery visits and prayer moves into silence.
The best words are born in the fecund silence that minds the mystery.
-John O’Donahue, Eternal Echoes
No Death Is Impersonal
Every person, every body, is intimately woven into creation. From birth, we breathe, we touch, we receive; we love, we despise, we weep. Death can feel like an unraveling from this intimacy. And we would rather turn away while death does its swift pulling. Being too close, we fear, will leave us bruised for a lifetime.
But whether we look away, or face it squarely, or have profound love to remain close when it comes, we all incur death’s indiscriminate injury. Our fresh and old bruises remind us of the unraveling that left us breathlessly hurt.
I learned this afternoon that an extraordinary young woman died this morning. Those of us who knew her will speak long of her gracious humility. An acclaimed organist who performed in world renowned venues faithfully accompanied a small church choir while astonishing the faithful week after week. She bravely fought an unfair battle with cancer. The world lost a brilliant musician, an earnest soul, a gentle friend. Many will mourn together.
I am mindful of death unraveling everywhere as the number of lives succumbing to the global pandemic is rising. Each number, a precious life, a complex story, leaving our collective knit, leaving injury to loved ones who will be bruised for the rest of their lives.
Numbers are impersonal. But death never is.
Every person, every body, is intimately woven into creation. Knowing that every unraveling changes the whole of us changes also our relationship with death. No longer will we turn away frightened of death’s might. Our love will behold the pain it descends. We will remain close. We will mourn together our lessened, bruised condition.
In these troubling days, when we are unravelling at a numbing pace, may we pause to let our hearts weep for those who must die alone. May we not turn our eyes from the disquieting sight of temporary morgues parked outside hospitals. May we accompany every body with our sorrow, offering even a moment of reverent ritual.
Even though I belong to a confession of the resurrection of the body, of the life everlasting, of the persistent love of Creator God who follows us beyond all depths, I fear death's continuous unraveling bearing its might over our already bruised hearts.
I want to close tonight’s struggled writing with a “where o death is your sting…” proclamation, but that would only be theologically correct. The truth of my grieving heart finds consolation with the elegant poet who writes of eternal things yet squarely speaks of our noble, earthly hope to live. I think he would agree with me: No death is impersonal; every death is too soon.
I want to live
I have work to do on deck
Wait for me Death beyond the earth
Wait for me on your land
until I finish my talk with what’s left of my life
not far from your tent
Let’s be friendly and open together
I’ll give you my well-filled life
and you give me a view of the planets
Wait til I pack my bag Death
My toothbrush soap after-shave and some clothes
Is the climate warm over there?
Do the seasons change in the eternal whiteness?
Or does the weather stay fixed in autumn or winter?
Will one book be enough to read in non-time?
Or should I take a library?
And what do they talk over there?
vernacular or classical?
Death wait for me Death
til I clear my mind in Spring
and regain my health
And I want
I want to live