Monthly Archives: March 2013

It’s Holy Week! (Part 3)

Originally posted April 4, 2012

Monday, we looked at the big picture of the history of God’s relationship to people up to the Day of Atonement.  Wednesday, we looked at the entrance of Jesus into the story. Today, let’s look at the Passion of Christ and the rest of the Jesus story.

21. Jesus is arrested, abandoned and denied by his disciples, beaten, mocked, and sentenced to death by Rome’s most barbaric form of execution.

22. Jesus is forced to carry the crossbeam through the crowded streets of Jerusalem up to the site of his execution.

23. Jesus is too weak to complete the trip and collapses.  A member of the crowd is chosen at random by the guards to carry the crossbeam for Jesus the rest of the way.

24. At Golgatha, Jesus is stripped naked (yes, as naked as he was born).

25. The guards attach Jesus to the crossbeam with iron spikes through his wrists and to the stake with spikes through his ankles and raised to hang between two thieves until his struggle for breath overcomes him and he gives up his spirit to God and completes the sacrifice.

26. At the moment of his death, there is an earthquake and the curtain separating the Holy of Holies from the rest of the temple is torn in half from top to bottom.

27. Jesus’ execution lasts only six hours, considerably less time than most people endured the experience.

28. Jesus is buried and mourned, and the disciples hide in fear that they will be arrested and executed next.

29. The women at the tomb discover Jesus’ resurrection early in the morning three days later.  They become the first bringers of the good news (gospel) that Jesus is alive.

30. Jesus appears to his disciples and to many other people over the 40 days following his execution, eating and drinking with them and allowing them to touch him to prove that he indeed has retaken physical form.

31. Jesus ascends into the clouds after promising to send his spirit to be with his followers and to return again one day soon to bring the kingdom of heaven.

There are so many wonderful moments in this part of the story of God.  Jesus, a physical human being, dies a physical human death (of the worst kind), and is resurrected to again be a physical human being.  The women are the first evangelists.  Jesus promises to leave his spirit with those who believe in him.

But my favorite moment is the moment of Jesus’ death when the curtain is ripped in two.  Remember the curtain? That piece of fabric hanging in the entrance to the Holy of Holies?  It served as a reminder of the barrier between God and God’s people.  It blocked people from God’s presence with them.

In fact, only the people considered to be the cleanest and most holy were even allowed near the Holy of Holies. Even the high priest, the holiest person out of all of God’s people, was only allowed inside once a year to sprinkle sacrificial blood on the Ark to atone for the sins of the people.  God was just too holy to be with the people.  The people were just too unholy to be with God.

But God came to the people anyway, in the physical human form of Jesus.  God became the ultimate blood sacrifice–the last and final atonement for all the sins of all people everywhere throughout all of time.  God ripped the curtain (top to bottom) at the moment of Jesus’ death to show the people that there was no more need to separate the holy from the unholy–the sacred from the secular.

And when I think that God, his son not sparing,
sent him to die, I scarce can take it in,
that on that cross, my burden gladly bearing,
he bled and died to take away my sin.
Then sings my soul, my savior God, to thee.
How great thou art! How great thou art!

So get ready for Easter, people.  The curtain gets ripped today.  The body of Jesus gets buried and the spirit of Jesus enters the place of eternal damnation on Saturday.  And then Sunday–oh glory!–we get to celebrate the living-breathing-walking-talking-eating-drinking-teaching-healing-actual-physical-human/divine-Jesus for defeating death, ending forever the need for blood sacrifice, forgiving sin, and making possible the presence of God in the world and in the body of every believer everywhere until the kingdom of God returns to us again one day soon.

People, get ‘a ready.  Jesus is ‘a comin’!

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It’s Holy Week! (Part 2)

Originally posted April 3, 2012

Monday, we looked at the big picture of the history of God’s relationship to people up to the Day of Atonement.  Today, let’s look at the entrance of Jesus into the story.

13. Then Jesus is born, and he is called Emmanuel, which means “God with us.”

14. No longer is God among the people yet blocked from their access.  Jesus lives with the people, learns and grows with them, eats and drinks, sleeps, speaks, heals, reprimands, and teaches.

15. Jesus says that those who see him and know him also see and know God.

16. Jesus is anointed at Bethany for his coming death.

17. When the people celebrate Jesus’ entrance into Jerusalem–what we call Palm Sunday–they acknowledge that Jesus is fulfilling the long-anticipated role of the Messiah, the one who has come to save them and restore the original order as God intended.

18. Jesus washes his disciples’ feet as an example of their role in each others’ lives.

19. Jesus breaks bread and passes the cup of wine to his disciples to foreshadow his impending arrest and execution.

20. Jesus prays in the garden with his disciples nearby–by some accounts so fervently that the capillaries break on his forehead and he begins to sweat blood–not only that he might yet be spared his role as the sacrifice for the people’s sins but also that he accepts that role.

This is what I love about the Jesus part of the story of God.  Here we see Jesus in his human vulnerability.  Though he is fully divine and capable of changing the end of the story, Jesus is also fully human and willingly becomes the final blood sacrifice as the atonement for the sins of the people–this time not only the people of God but all people everywhere throughout the course of history.

The scene in the garden is one of my favorite Jesus moments.  We see Jesus at his most intimate, praying to God not for the sake of others but for his own sake.  We see the intense struggle between the divine and human in Jesus.  This is no small matter, this business of execution and sacrifice.  This is not easy or pleasant, but it is worthwhile and shows the extent of God’s love for the people–of Jesus’ love for the people, all people.

Blessed is the one who lays down their life for the sake of a friend.  And Jesus has called us friends.

I like to think the blood Jesus sweats during his prayer foreshadows the finality of his sacrifice. Like the blood sprinkled on the Ark of the Covenant in the Holy of Holies on the Day of Atonement, the first drops of Jesus’ blood are spilled in the garden as he struggles to accept his role as the animal sacrificed on the temple’s altar.

But my favorite moment is still coming…

It’s Holy Week! (Part 1)

Originally posted April 2, 2012

One of the most significant elements in body theology is the actual, physical life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.  That’s why Christmas, Holy Week, and Easter Sunday are so pivotal.  We Christians are who we are because of who Christ is and what Christ did for us.  Let’s take a little flash Bible course this week to dig into the significance of what we are about to celebrate.

Sometimes looking at the big picture of the course of biblical history can help us understand what brings us to this moment of Christ’s preparation for death.  Here are some key elements of the story of God.

1. God takes evening walks with Adam and Eve in the garden.

2. Becoming aware of their nakedness and feeling ashamed causes them to hide from God.

3. God’s people become afraid of God and ask Moses to speak to God on their behalf.

4. God’s people are afraid even of the glory of God reflected on Moses’ face, so he has to wear a veil until the glory fades.

5. God instructs the people to build the Ark of the Covenant, where God’s presence will be confined among them.

6. The people never touch or open the Ark of the Covenant because it is so holy.

7. The Ark lives in its own tent among them, called the Tabernacle, where the people come to worship God.

8. After Moses, God speaks only to specific people God chooses, usually prophets, kings, or priests. These chosen few share God’s words with the people–who often do not listen.

9. To see the face of God is to die, and even the prophet Elijah–who asks to see God’s face–covers his face with his robe before meeting God at the mouth of the cave.

10. Once God’s people settle down in one place and begin to build houses instead of tents, God instructs King Solomon to build a temple for God to live in.

11. God’s presence is reserved for the Holy of Holies–a small area within the temple restricted from everyone where the Ark is kept, the entrance to which is blocked with a thick curtain.

12. Once a year, on the Day of Atonement, the high priest goes through an elaborate cleansing ritual in preparation to enter the Holy of Holies and sprinkle the blood of the sacrificed animal to atone for the people’s sins.  (They even tie a rope around his foot each time in case he dies from the experience of being with God and has to be dragged out to be buried since no one else is allowed to enter the Holy of Holies, even to retrieve a dead body.)

To be continued…

Forward Friday: Double Belonging

I ran across the term double belonging during my training in spiritual direction in Arizona.  If you’re not familiar (I wasn’t), it’s a relatively new term used to describe people who ascribe to one particular religious tradition (e.g. Christianity) but also learn from another tradition (e.g. Buddhism).

You may have even heard people describe themselves as Jew-Bus (Jewish Buddhists) or Buddha-palians (Episcopalian Buddhists).  What would a Presbyterian Buddhist be called? Buddha-terian?

While I’m not advocating synchronicity, I do believe we have a lot to learn from each other, both within our own tradition and from people of other faiths.  Particularly with people whose spiritual paths involve meditation, there are many similarities between different religious practices.  Thomas Merton, for example, was well known for being influenced by Buddhist meditation techniques as he practiced and taught Christian contemplative meditation.

So let’s try a very simple and open-ended Forward Friday:

This weekend, take some time to explore other faith traditions in your area. 

You could attend a Jewish temple or try a yoga class.  If you’re not sure how to get started, try picking up a book from your local library on comparative religion or a specific tradition you’ve always been curious about.

Remember, this exercise is not designed to encourage you to embrace a new set of beliefs in place of your own or to create opportunities for proselytizing.  Just be curious, courteous, and conscious of what pieces of truth you might pick up along the way.

Happy weekend, lovely readers!  Come back and tell me all about it.

The sun doesn’t rise after all

During my recent travels, I saw a lot of sunrises and sunsets from the road, some beautiful, some obscured, some at dangerous angles to the driver. One thing I kept thinking about as I witnessed the journey of the sun across the sky each day was how we talk about what we see.

We speak from our own perspective.  The sun rises, it moves across the sky, and then it sets.  This statement is true.  This statement is an accurate description of how we experience the sun. This is what we see.  Everyone in every culture in every location in every age since the beginning of the world has experienced the sun this way, and I think it’s safe to say that everyone would generally agree that the sun rises, moves across the sky, and then sets.

Except it doesn’t.

The sun doesn’t move at all. The Earth is what moves. We move, not the sun.  Science and astronomy teach us this truth.  It is an accurate description of reality, but it does not describe how we experience the relation between sun and sky.  This is not what we see.  Everyone in every culture in every location in every age until at least the 1600s would call this truth a fantasy.

How easily we assume that our experience is not only true but also the only capital-T-Truth. How quick we are to dismiss a truth that does not match our experience as fantasy.

Our truth that the sun moves across the sky is true, except that it isn’t.  It describes our experience accurately, but it does not describe what is very accurately at all. In fact, it describes quite the opposite of reality.

So now, when we talk about issues of faith, spirituality, God, and religion, I think about the sun.  I think about the language I use to describe my experience and begin to consider that while my language is true to my experience, it might not be true to reality.

Maybe when we speak of God’s unchangeability, it is really we who are unwilling to change.  Maybe when we speak of God’s unfailing, unconditional love, it is really our desire to be loved that we express.  Maybe when we speak of God as male or masculine, it is really we who experience power and control through a paternalistic cultural lens.

The point is that we don’t know everything. No one holds the capital-T-Truth.  We all hold pieces of the truth, and if we’re lucky, we are able to recognize more pieces of truth in others and hold onto them all.  Until we’re willing to consider the possibility that we could be not only not completely right but also actually completely wrong, we will never be able to consider that someone else might hold a piece of truth we don’t have.

This is the value of ecumenical and interfaith perspectives.  We look for our commonalities.  We build bridges on our pieces of truth.  We rub up against people whose experience is different than our own, people who dare to suppose the sun does not actually rise and set as it appears after all.  We learn together. We grow.

We’ve come a long way since the 1600s.  Everyone in the educated world, especially those who have access to telescopes and higher-level math, now agrees that the Earth moves and the sun does not.  But not a single one of them would argue that the sun does not rise, move across the sky, and set every day, either.

One truth defines reality; the other truth defines experience.  Both truths are pieces of the capital-T-Truth that we are all grasping for and falling short of regardless of our intelligence, education, or experience.

Next time you find yourself in debate about who is right, who is in, who holds the capital-T-Truth about faith, spirituality, God, or religion (or anything else for that matter), take a breath, look up at the sun, and remember to start with the pieces of truth we each hold — and build on that.

 

I’m Back! When it doesn’t feel like Lent…

I know, I know. I promised new posts for last week and didn’t deliver. Getting back into the swing of things after being in Arizona for two weeks proved more time-intensive than I expected. But now I’m back and ready to write!

If you’re wondering about my experience in Arizona, you can read my daily reflections over at my old spirituality blog: Of the Garden Variety.

This week I have a few disconnected thoughts to share with you lovely readers.  Let’s dig into it.

______

We are just under two weeks away from celebrating EasterHow is your Lenten season going?

For me, I’ve been so preoccupied with preparing for Arizona, being in Arizona, recovering from Arizona, and looking ahead to my next trip, that I’ve pretty much lost sight of Lent this year.  Rather than a season of reflection, contemplation, and experiencing the disconsolation of being without, I’ve been rushing, working, and experiencing sensory and information overload.

So what do we do when our season of life does not match up with the church calendar?  What do we do when the sermons and sharing of our community of God don’t resonate with our current experience?

I think we run into this dilemma more often than we like to admit.  We experience loss, but our community is full of celebration.  We experience rest, but our community expects more participation.  We experience peace, but our community is full of unrest.  We experience doubt and distance with God, but our community seems threatened by our questions.

Sometimes it’s so much easier to walk alone.

But community is central to our Christian faith for a reason.  Yes, we need the freedom to be who we are and where we are on our spiritual journeys, but we also need the experience of community to help us grow and change.  Community can be challenging, but it can also be revealing and healing.

When I think about participation in the community of God, I always return to Dietrich Bonhoeffer:

We can never achieve this “wholeness” simply by ourselves, but only together with others. – Letters and Papers from Prison

(If you missed it, you can find our 4-part series on community in Bonhoeffer’s writings here.)

We need each other not only to fully experience God but also to become fully whole in ourselves.  I may not be in a season of life or a frame of mind to really engage in Lent this year, but being surrounded by a community of God that is engaged in Lent helps keep me linked to the seasons of the church year and reminds me that there is more to life than my momentary experience.

And who knows? Maybe next year I will be the one reminding my community just what the season of Lent brings to our experience of God.

That’s what community is all about.

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