Resurrected, Not Restored

My last official day of classes for my first year of seminary is Monday.

Thank God.

It’s been a rough year—an even rougher second semester—and I’m ready to switch into the next thing.  (Of course, the next thing is itself an exhausting concept:  I’m going to be basically a hospital chaplain over the summer, so I don’t know how much you’ll be hearing from me since I have to do 24-hour shifts every other weekend.)  I will be heading home more scarred than I came here to The Wicket Gate, metaphorically and literally.  I have grown older and in some ways sadder.

But I have also grown (hopefully) wiser.  I have met some amazing people and had some crazy adventures.  I have stepped into a new part of who I am.  You know how this goes, Reader; you know how change always comes at a price—or, as a great blogger (BeautyBeyondBones) put it:
BeautyBeyondBones change begets change

We are now in the season of Easter—yep, it’s not just one day.  Easter is 50 days long in the liturgical calendar because, well, it kind of took a while to catch on.  Jesus had to keep coming back and telling people yep, the rumors are true, I am no longer dead because let’s face it, Thomas wasn’t the only one who thought such a thing was unbelievable.  We have all of these stories about Jesus appearing to various people and them being surprised each time; I’m actually preaching on the road to Emmaus next week (prayers for such are welcome) because the Resurrection didn’t just settle into being an accepted reality on that first Easter Sunday.

The thing about these appearances of Jesus, though, is that He didn’t come back perfect and shiny and new.  He comes back with scars—“look at My hands,” He tells Thomas.  “Put your finger in my side.”  The Resurrection didn’t—and doesn’t—make the Crucifixion un-happen.

Which kind of blows my mind as a person of faith, actually.  We as Christians have built ourselves around the Good News (and boy howdy is it good news) that Christ is risen, that Death is defeated, that hallelujah the tomb is empty.  Every Sunday is a little Easter.  But our God is not a God of completely erasing that which is broken and painful and ugly; our God is not a God of sweeping things under the rug.  Jesus could well have come back in a body as smooth as the day He was born, hands no longer bearing the small cuts and splinter marks of life as a carpenter, eyes no longer crinkling with the first signs of age.  He could have come back with a perfect body.

But instead He came back with the marks of having lived, and died.  He came back with the white lines of scar tissue on His palms, with the thick and shining flesh across the holes in His wrists, with the gouged-out hole in His side.  He came back with a body that bore witness on every inch of the brown skin of brokenness, of pain, of horrifying violence, of sorrow and abandonment and misery.

He came back with a body that looked an awful lot like our world feels, honestly.

The difference, however, is that His scars were scars, not open wounds.  No blood poured into Thomas’ hands; no bones showed through the criss-crossed cuts on Jesus’ back.  One of the many miraculous and hopeful things about the Resurrection is not that Jesus fought death to be restored to pre-Crucifixion health but that Jesus won over death to ensure the reality of healing.  We who are Easter people follow a God Who knows exactly what it’s like to be broken into pieces and get put back together with the brokenness as part of who we are.

It’s not about it making us stronger—I’ll confess, I actually loathe the motto “that which doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” because I think it’s untrue and harmful.  (There are some things that happen that don’t kill you but you wish they had; there are some things that don’t kill you but maim you; there are some things that don’t kill you but weaken you from the sheer amount of emotional or physical blood loss they cause.)  Christ didn’t die so He could come back stronger, and I don’t think God is calling us to die to ourselves so we can be spiritually stronger like we’re in a weird Christian Gatorade ad.  The Resurrection, I think, is about showing us that we can be healed from even the worst of things—made not stronger, but whole.

kintsugi-225255b325255dThere’s an illustration that I’m pretty sure every pastor has to use at least once in his/her career about this broken/whole thing, namely kintsugi or the Japanese art of repairing broken pottery with gold-brushed lacquer.  It’s a beautiful metaphor, it really is, and it has everything to do with this resurrection that isn’t truly restoration.  What was broken is not remade such that it looks like no harm was done.  It is healed such that the harm is no longer the defining aspect, such that a broken Body can bring an entire world hope.

Happy Easter, Reader, for every one of the fifty days, and every one of the revelations, and every one of the moments Jesus tells us again, yep, still true; I am alive.  Peace; do not be afraid.

 

For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He was seen by Cephas, then by the twelve.  After that He was seen by over five hundred brethren at once, of whom the greater part remain to the present, but some have fallen asleep.  After that He was seen by James, then by all the apostles.  Then last of all He was seen by me also, as by one born out of due time.  (1 Corinthians 15:3-8, NKJV)

Christ Is Risen, Indeed

Happy Easter, Reader!  Christ is risen!

It’s an old tradition (no, I don’t know how old, but I do know that “the lorde is risen in dede” shows up in Tyndale’s Bible in Luke 24, and that dates to 1526) for Christians to say this during Eastertide (Easter season, Easter, however you want to say it; it’s not just one day, in case you didn’t know, it’s 50.  Seriously.  We party ’till Pentecost) and expect the response, “Christ is risen indeed!”

“Indeed” isn’t a word that gets a whole lot of play these days; it’s often thought of as stuffy or proper, easily replaced by “seriously” or “really” or, if you’re a youngerkind, “for realz.”  (Why yes, I do sometimes say that.  Try it.  It’s actually pretty fun.)  “Indeed” itself doesn’t even have a meaning other than amplification, usually—or does it?  I went searching in the Oxford English Dictionary (it’s a favorite hobby of mine) and found some interesting things:

indeed, adv.
1a.  In actual fact, in reality, in truth; really, truly, assuredly, positively.
1b.  Freq. placed after a word in order to emphasize it; hence, with n.=actual, real, true, genuine; with adj. or adv.=really and truly.
2a.  In reality, in real nature or essence, opposed to what is merely external or apparent.
3.  Used in a clause which confirms and amplifies a previous statement.
5a.  In dialogue, used to emphasize the reply (affirmative or negative) to a question or remark.
7.  As an interjection, expressing (according to the intonation) irony, contempt, amazement, incredulity, or the like.

Reader, how apt!  The call-and-response ritual becomes affirmation, becomes expression of amazement, becomes the spoken recognition of the impossible.  Christ is risen—indeed?  How on earth (or off it) can that happen?  This central miracle of the Christian faith is utterly outrageous; Death wins, no one comes back from that (unless they’re super creepy and otherworldly).  I mean, check out this graphic I found about how resurrected folks fare in the popular mindset:

Obviously on a historical and faith-based level I take tons of issue with this, but in terms of recognizing how crazy the thought of following a risen human is I find it pretty accurate.  There is no way this should work.  Christ is risen—say what?  How does that work?  Is He a zombie now?  And surely He isn’t actually alive; somebody just took the body.  April Fools’.

Which, of course, is what the original folks tried to say.  Check this out—Matthew 28:11-15:

11 While they were going, behold, some of the guard went into the city and told the chief priests all that had taken place. 12 And when they had assembled with the elders and taken counsel, they gave a sufficient sum of money to the soldiers 13 and said, “Tell people, ‘His disciples came by night and stole him away while we were asleep.’ 14 And if this comes to the governor’s ears, we will satisfy him and keep you out of trouble.” 15 So they took the money and did as they were directed. And this story has been spread among the Jews to this day.

Later addition?  Likely; it’s not like Matthew sat down and wrote the gospel the day after Easter, anyway.  But immediately people said no way, this can’t be real.  Christ isn’t risen; dead people stay dead unless something nefarious is at work.  So when Christians get together and say, “Christ is risen!”  “Christ is risen indeed!” they are making a hell of a statement.  The impossible has happened, we say to each other.  Yes, the impossible has happened!  How crazy cool is that?!  So what?

Ah, “so what.”  Why does it matter, other than being a slightly creepy but really neat magic trick?  After all, Lazarus came back from the dead.  So did Jairus’ daughter, and that widow’s son.  And even outside of the Gospels, Elijah resurrected a guy, Elisha resurrected a guy, Paul resurrected a guy, Peter brought Tabitha back; in point of fact, it seems like people couldn’t really manage to stay dead in the ancient world, so why does it matter that Jesus did?

Because He predicted this; nobody else said yeah, I’m going to snuff it but it’s temporary, brb.  Nobody else had any idea that Death could be anything but final—check out how made Lazarus’s sisters were that Jesus hadn’t come sooner.  They were totally sure that dead meant dead, even though their own history had stories where that wasn’t the case.  But also because Jesus didn’t have any help.  In all the other stories, somebody had to go get the dead person and bring him/her back, but Jesus was alone from start to re-start.  This is both incredibly awful and marvelously fantastic because it means that Jesus is stronger than Death.  He doesn’t need anybody else’s help because He is the help; all by Himself, he took the one thing none of us can defeat and walked away (with scratches).

And lives!  Not only is Jesus alive, but He’s alive in a real way—not as a zombie or Dracula or anything, but a breathing, eating, functioning person every bit as human as He was before.  That…that’s mind-boggling, is what that is.  And it’s the core of Christianity; that we celebrate with each other the reality that the Guy we venerate went through the ugliest and most painful death and then came back and had breakfast.

That’s style, when you think about it.  I mean, God most certainly has a wry sense of humor, but really.

So in this Easter season, if you find yourself or someone else doing the Easter response, listen to it.  Hear what an incredible thing it is that we say Christ is risen—and then respond in incredulity and hope and wonder that yes, He is risen.

Indeed.

 

Now it was Miriam from Magdala, Joanna, the Miriam of Jacob and others together with them who were telling these things to the emissaries.  But these words appeared to them as nonsense, and they would not believe them.  But Peter got up and ran to the tomb. Leaning in, he sees only the linen cloths. And he went away to his home, marveling at what had happened.  (Luke 24:10-12, TLV)

Lent, Week Seven: Anointing the Sick

My apologies for how late this post is this week, Reader.  On top of the usual reality that Good Friday is complicated for me, my car died Thursday.  For a wannabe pastoral type, of course the best time to be without transportation is Maundy Thursday leading into the Paschal Triduum.  Fortunately, my music director was willing to give me a ride to work, my coworker loaned me her car so I could get to class, and then Interpreter graciously ferried me around for the rest of the day and then on Friday.  It helps that he and I were already going to the same places—it’s church week, y’all—but it was still a moment of grace for him to step in and for me to let him.  It’s hard to be dependent on another; it’s hard not to feel like an imposition, a burden.  But in letting that happen while I waited for my dear car to be resurrected (how apropos, no?) we got to talk with each other, break down events with each other, talk shop and not talk at all.  We’re both introverts, after all, so sometimes we are perfectly happy just to pay attention to the road and say nothing.

I do now have my car back (thanks be to God, although my checkbook doesn’t agree) and that is good because I truly don’t live a life of a format or in a place that can count on rides from others and public transportation.  But it was an unlooked for gift, I think, to have that time of simply being with a friend and of seeing the generosity of others.

So what does that have to do with the one remaining sacrament?  Not much, on the surface.  The anointing of the sick, formerly known as Last Rites or Extreme Unction, is very much about humans and not cars.  But it is (even still in the Catholic Church, though they’ve changed the name and broadened the parameters) about death.  This sacrament was originally the last connection in this life to God’s grace; it served as an outward sign just before death that God was on both sides of that great divide with the person dying.  Now it includes those who are very ill and may yet survive, but the concept is the same; “yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for Thou art with me.”

I saved this sacrament for last because I knew it would fall on this holy weekend, Reader.  I realize that technically Lent ended Thursday night, but we are still in the wilderness.  Perhaps we are even more so, because right now our tradition states that Jesus’s body, broken and bloodied and stabbed, lies entombed.  Christ has died.

One of the most awful of the Seven Last Words to me is the one often left in Hebrew (or Aramaic, if you go with Mark):  Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?  (“My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?”)  In the hour of His death, Jesus had no one to administer the reminder of grace; no priest hovered in the approaching darkness to reassure Him that the Light would not be overcome.  He was Himself the Light, and He died.

I don’t say this to get into a theological argument of how God can desert Himself but to underscore that death is the one thing we can reliably count on to freak us all the hell out.  It is the one thing that we concretely know happens and don’t know much about.  We persons of faith have lots of ideas, sure, but we don’t know.  We can’t.  Death is beyond all of us; only One has ever come back from it, and He didn’t spend any time at all talking about what it was like.  So to have a ritualized reminder that God is there with us even in that most unnerving of hours is an amazing thing; we are not left alone as Jesus was, we are not forsaken in that time of great need.

Because Jesus was.

Here’s the amazing thing I re-learn every Good Friday—Sunday is coming.  Here on Holy Saturday when Jesus is not in the story, is not in this world, when His disciples huddle together in a room that holds memories now painful and stare blankly at each other wondering what they missed and what else they could have done right, there are birds chirping outside my window.  The slowly dropping sun slants in through my front window and makes my silver-edged table shine, the empty glass on it sparkling in the light.  Soon I will head out for an Easter vigil service and then wake far too early in the morning to go to a sunrise Easter service because Death did not win.  Yes, Christ has died, but Christ is risenand Christ will come again.

If I don’t fully believe that, I need to start playing for a different team.

But in believing that—and doubting it and fighting with it and being totally confused by it and worrying about it and celebrating it—I myself am still confronted by Death.  My best friend will die, my favorite uncle will die, my first love will die, my last grandparent will die.  But in that space of standing on Death’s threshold and feeling his hand reach for ours, we do not have to be alone.  In this sacrament or merely the spirit of it (for those of us who aren’t Catholic) we are reminded that Jesus has stood here and taken that hand and will come back for us every time.

So I know it’s a few hours early, Reader, but let me hear it all the way up here in the Land of Pilgrims:  Christ has risen.

Christ has risen indeed!

 

And when the Sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome, had bought sweet spices, that they might come and anoint him.  And very early in the morning the first day of the week, they came unto the sepulchre at the rising of the sun.  (Mark 16:1-2, AKJV)

The Who (and the Why)

It is the last week of Epiphany, Reader, the last week before we turn our steps to the wilderness wandering, holding tightly to the warmth of a stable that seems unreal in the midst of the chilled winds of Lent.

At least, that’s how it feels for me.  Lent pulls all of my self out, and this year has the added bonus of being the time in which I need to choose a school and set the course for at least the next year if not three of my life.  No pressure, of course.

In contemplating this recently, I’ve been aware of a space between God and I, a dearth of conversation as I get deeper and deeper into Church work.  It is a paradoxical thing, but the more involved I get in the Church, the easier it is for me to ignore the God Who wants me there in the first place.  I first encountered this when I worked the slides during worship at my last church; I realized that I never actually paid attention to the worship itself because I was working, and that work needed attention.

Which it did, but not at the cost of my connecting to the community and offering myself and my praise to God.  The same is true now; I do firmly believe God is calling me ever deeper into His Church, but never at the cost of my connection to Him.  I am a perfectionist, a detail-oriented administrator who will readily get so buried in the “what” and the “how” that I completely miss the “who” and the “why.”

I was at a worship conference this past weekend which is, in some ways, the height of Church work in that it’s thousands of people coming together to swap ideas of how to understand and do worship and the connectivity of the Church.  It’s a fabulous resource, but I was tired and disconnected—even more so by mixing the conference with an overnight for my middle schoolers (I would advise against ever trying that, Reader, especially if you’re an introvert.  I’m still tired from the people overload that was).  I was getting very useful and handy information, but I wasn’t so much paying attention to why I needed it.  I was absorbed by the “how.”

Then I went to vespers, worrying along the way because the vespers for which I had signed up was a play entitled “Were You There When They Crucified My Lord?”  There is nothing quite like the theatre for me; I worked in theatre for nearly ten years, some professionally, and still have my fingertips trailing the edge of it.  I love the theatre, love its ability to make the ordinary extraordinary and the extraordinary possible, love the energy and passion of it.  I have the greatest respect for actors (I was much better at being a techie) and their ability to pull from themselves the depths and heights of humanity without losing their own centrality.  So I went to this vespers because I knew that even as the story would be a suckerpunch for me, I had to know how it would be staged, had to know the “how.”

What I got instead was the “Who” and, far more than I could ever have imagined, the “why.”

I have seen a great many Passion plays in my life.  I have been to many Easter vigils, I have spent the majority of my scholastic career discussing the theatrical representations of the Crucifixion in medieval England, I have read the Passion narrative in all four Gospels many times over.  I have always had my heart ripped out by it, coming to Easter with an emotional limp bearing the scars of Good Friday even still, never quite made whole in this glorious Resurrection.  Yet this play hit me square in the soul with its incredible use of the word “but.”

An odd choice, to be sure, this adversarial conjunction, upon which to hang a spiritual dose of cold water.  Yet there it is; I had never connected the death and the life so viscerally before.  If you have 25 minutes to spare, Reader, I highly recommend you see what I’m talking about; the play I saw was performed again, later, at a church in a different state.  It begins here at 8:50 and continues here, ending at 15:50.  If you haven’t 25 minutes, than take five alone and watch the second video starting at about two minutes in.  The “but” that so attracted my notice is at about the seven-minute mark.

Perhaps it is a spoiler to tell you what happens, but the play was indeed the Passion narrative continuing into the Resurrection and the walk to Emmaus and the Assumption of Christ.  The “but” announces the mystery of an empty tomb, the wonder of a risen Jesus; “but,” the actress says, her face shining in joy that the story does not end there.

This is the “why,” Reader:  the story does not end there.  It pauses there, but for me so often that pause becomes a resting place, a halfway house that stretches into fullness because I do not get up and keep going, because Sunday is so far away from here on Friday evening.  That play reminded me, told me for the first time, redrew for me the outrageous nature of Christianity:  we follow a God Who beat Death.

What a thing that is!  What a miracle!  What a marvel!  What mind-bending joy to dwell in that space with all of these other conference-goers as all of us shared in the laughter of these disciples that our Friend Who was dead is now alive, that we have hope, unyielding and incredible hope because the One we follow is utterly unstoppable—that His love is utterly unstoppable, even by our very best efforts at ending all that He was.

And this God, this Jesus, this resurrected brother is calling my name.  He knows it, knows me, and wants me to serve with Him, for Him, to be Her child and care for His children and yes, I do what I do for the Church because I am in love (in a complicated way) with the Church and with Her people, but I do what I do because I am in love with the God Who called me.

It is so hilariously appropriate that this should be the takeaway for me just before Lent, that this time of darkness should be so firmly bookended by Light.  Good Friday will come, but.

So will Easter.

Thanks be to God.

 

But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they went to the tomb, taking the spices they had prepared.  And they found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they went in they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus.  (Luke 24:1-3, ESV)

Lent, Week Seven: Holy Saturday

My apologies, Reader, for the lateness of the post this week.  Beyond the normal difficulties of the busy-ness of the week, Maundy Thursday and Good Friday both threw me some pretty intense curve balls that quite knocked out my scheduled plans.

I’ve made no secret of the difficulty I have with this part of the year.  Interpreter mentioned in his sermon this past Sunday that many of us would prefer to skip straight from Palm Sunday to Easter and leave behind the unpleasant middle and I laughed, knowing that I would love to do that and knowing that I never could.  I have to come to this space, this “unpleasant middle” that rips my heart out every year, to remember.  I have to take the time to know that there are these days, too; this Thursday of commandments we so easily slide through when all friends were still given the chance to love; this Friday on which nothing was good, on which the earth itself closed her clouded eyes against the pain of such ungodly anger; this Saturday of waiting.

It’s a weird holiday in that it’s not really a holy day at all.  It’s the in-between space shoved into the end of Holy Week because the Bible says “three days” and we can’t really fudge that.  It’s the day to plan ahead, to prepare for tomorrow’s trumpeted celebrations; it’s not even a full day to itself, as the Catholic Church and many Protestant churches do evening vigils to get a head start on Easter.  We’re not much of a culture for waiting, we Westerners with our fast food and instant Internet and phones to connect to everything and everyone right now.  We don’t know—I don’t know—what to do with a day of, well, being dead.

There’s a delightful article by Barbara Brown Taylor I highly suggest to you about this (don’t worry, it’s short).  This business of waiting for Jesus not to be dead anymore is boring, really; even the “He descended into Hell” bit is happening offstage (although there are some great medieval plays about the Harrowing with phenomenal sets).  What are we to do with this day?

Live it, I suppose.  I helped set up the sanctuary for Easter today, partly because I flatly refuse to set up Easter before or on Good Friday and partly because it takes a while and Saturday morning was my biggest block of free time this week.  I got my hair cut.  I went to breakfast with friends and had a grand time.  I’ve been checking emails.  I’m planning on folding laundry before tonight’s service.  Very exciting, this waiting.

And I think that’s kind of the point.  Jesus is not currently dead—we commemorate His death, we don’t relive it.  And we are not the dead ones, either; our lives continue to roll through all of their mundane necessities and their wonderful gifts.

On my printer at work I have a little slip of paper taped that reads, “What has Easter redeemed for you?”  I put it there last year and I look at it often and wonder.  I don’t have an answer this year.  I will not be perfect on Easter Sunday, or Easter Monday.  I will not like my job any better or be any more “fixed” in my personal problems.  I will not be in a new and stable relationship, I will not have all of my projects done, I will not even have cleaned my house.  What will Easter redeem?  Why am I waiting on this holy Saturday?

Because I am remembering.  Remembering won’t take the whole day, but it will be something I can do while folding the laundry and setting up the altar.  I am remembering that Death took its place in the drama of this week, that Easter is remarkable precisely because Jesus’ death wasn’t some accidental burial quickly remedied.  He was really most sincerely dead—and then He wasn’t.

I don’t know what tomorrow will look like.  I don’t know what Easter will redeem.  I don’t even know if tonight’s service will go well.  I only know that today, I wait in the excitement of expectation and the comfort of the quotidian, the pain of yesterday and the hope of tomorrow.  I stand in the shadowed place because I know it well, and today Jesus stands there with me and says rest, child.  We have much to do yet.

Give your entire attention to what God is doing right now, and don’t get worked up about what may or may not happen tomorrow.  (Matthew 6:34a, MSG)