Abuela Marty read my post of a few days ago about Beholding, and took it as a challenge. She's working on posting three Behold moments each day. I decided to take up the Behold mantle. I'm going to try to do the same. Not forever, mind. But I thought it might be a nice way to celebrate the Great 50 days of Easter. Clearly, I won't make every day. But, I'll try for most days. And, I'll Behold! even if I don't post.
1. Behold! The daffodils growing on the grass at the edge of the freeway on ramp. Signs of spring.
2. Behold! The smell of myrrh, and the gift of both anointing and being anointed by a friend and colleague. I can still smell it, faintly, on my hands.
3. Behold! The taste of a wonderfully spicy burrito for dinner.
There are little bits of this sermon that are repeated from the noon reflection - but not that many. The related scripture texts are in the body of the sermon.
In Luke’s Gospel, in the recounting of the events of the day that we now know as Good Friday, at the moment when Jesus dies on the cross, the curtain of the temple is torn in two.
That curtain, a feature of the Jewish temple, was designed to keep the people separate from God. Jewish people believed that God could be found, literally, in the place in the temple called The Holy of Holies. Only one High Priest could venture there, and even then only at certain times and under certain circumstances. The curtain was the dividing line. God lives here, and no one else is worthy to enter.
At the moment of Jesus’ death, that curtain, designed to keep humans and God separated, is torn. Torn by Jesus’ death.
And we are the beneficiaries of the tearing. God is no longer distant. No longer locked in a room. God is no longer separate and apart. God and we are set free and we are able to be directly in relationship with God. In Jesus’ death, God and humanity are reunited.
I tell you this because that torn curtain is the one referred to in the Epistle reading for tonight - from the letter to the Hebrews. Hear again what that author wrote concerning the curtain: Therefore, my friends, since we have confidence to enter the sanctuary by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain (that is, through his flesh),
and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us approach with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.
This biblical letter to the Hebrews isn’t really a letter. It’s more like an essay. And none of the biblical scholars are certain to whom it was originally written. The best guess is that it was to a community of Jewish Christians, living in exile, far outside of Jerusalem, and suffering persecution. Those folks would have known about the High Priest and the Holy of Holies. They would have known, instantly, the significance of the writer’s words.
This author of this text goes on to suggest to that gathered group of exiles what living out life in this new reality might look like. The author writes: Let us hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who has promised is faithful. And let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching.
We are the beneficiaries of the events of that Good Friday long ago. Like the Hebrews first addressed in this letter, we no longer need to live apart from God. When that curtain was torn, the great divide between God and humanity was breached.
We are no longer separated from God by a curtain.
And, like the Hebrews addressed in this letter, we have responsibility because of this. We are called to speak of the hope that is within us. To proclaim the Good News of God in Christ. Even in the midst of hardship. Of recession. Of fear. Of death.
We are also called to “provoke one another to love and good deeds.” I love that. My dictionary says that to provoke is to stimulate or give rise to a strong emotion, often a negative or unwelcome one. In our new reality, provoking is transformed into a blessing or benefit.
And finally, we are to “meet together.” Or, in the words of our baptismal promises, to continue in the Apostle’s teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of the bread, and in the prayers.
When that temple’s curtain was torn, we were brought into new and closer relationship with God. And with that relationship comes responsibility. Therefore, let us strive, like our “Hebrews” forebearers, to proclaim the source of our hope, to provoke one another to greater love, and to gather together regularly, in Christ’s name.
The Seventh Word: Father into your hands I commend my spirit. A reading from the Gospel of Luke, Chapter 23, beginning at the 44th verse. It was now about noon, and darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon, while the sun’s light failed; and the curtain of the temple was torn in two. Then Jesus, crying with a loud voice, said, ‘Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.’ Having said this, he breathed his last.
It can be a challenge to us, as 21st Century Christians, to hear and grasp all of the symbolism in a biblical text. The words were written nearly 2000 years ago, or more, in many cases. Cultural mores have changed. Religious practices have changed. Jesus and his followers were faithful Jews. So some of the mores and practices described are Jewish, rather than Christian, and predate the founding of Christianity. We can be forgiven for not catching the references!
There are two references in this text that we, as 21st Century Christians, might miss. The first is what Jesus says. The second is the event that immediately precedes it.
Jesus says: “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.” It is a quote from Psalm 31. A psalm which, in my New Revised Standard Version of the Bible, is called, “A Psalm of Prayer and Praise for Deliverance from Enemies.” How fitting that these would be Jesus’ final words.
One biblical scholar stated that Psalm 31 was a psalm that Jewish mothers taught their children at a young age. It was to be recited by faithful Jews each and every night before they fell asleep.
It says volumes that Jesus’ last words came from a Psalm that Mary taught him when he was very young. Jesus learned these words long before he fully understood what would be asked of him. What we teach our children matters.
Karl Barth, a well-known 20th century theologian, was asked at the end of his long career, about the most important thing he had learned in his life’s work of studying theology. His response: Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so. What we teach our children matters.
When I was a child, it was usually my dad who tucked me in at night. Over a few years, we developed a ritual. We prayed certain prayers together. And then we said good night in the same way, each night. There was comfort in those prayers.
What did you learn about God when you were a child? A young adult? Do you still carry those lessons with you? Do you still pray the prayers that you were taught when you were young? Do you have words of comfort to draw on in the face of pain or loss or terror?
And then, there’s the event. At the moment of Jesus’ death, the curtain of the temple was torn in two.
That curtain, a feature of the Jewish temple, was designed to keep the people separate from God. Jews believed that God could be found, literally, in the place in the temple called The Holy of Holies.
Only a High Priest could venture back there, and even then only at certain times and under certain circumstances. The curtain was the dividing line. It was sort of a No Trespassing sign. God lives here, and no one else is worthy to enter.
At Jesus death, that curtain, designed to keep humans and God separated, is torn. Torn by Jesus’ death. We are the beneficiaries of the tearing. God is no longer distant. No longer locked in a room. No longer separate and apart. God is free and we are able to be directly in relationship with God. In Jesus’ death, God and humanity are reunited.
Today, we feel the pain of Jesus’ death, remembered and recollected. Today is a somber day. And this is as it should be. But, as today passes into tomorrow and then we come to the dawn of Easter Sunday, we can recall the grace of the Good News of this day.
John 13:1-17, 31b-35Now before the festival of the Passover, Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart from this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. The devil had already put it into the heart of Judas son of Simon Iscariot to betray him. And during supper Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God, got up from the table, took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples' feet and to wipe them with the towel that was tied around him. He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, "Lord, are you going to wash my feet?" Jesus answered, "You do not know now what I am doing, but later you will understand." Peter said to him, "You will never wash my feet." Jesus answered, "Unless I wash you, you have no share with me." Simon Peter said to him, "Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!" Jesus said to him, "One who has bathed does not need to wash, except for the feet, but is entirely clean. And you are clean, though not all of you." For he knew who was to betray him; for this reason he said, "Not all of you are clean." After he had washed their feet, had put on his robe, and had returned to the table, he said to them, "Do you know what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord--and you are right, for that is what I am. So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another's feet. For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you. Very truly, I tell you, servants are not greater than their master, nor are messengers greater than the one who sent them. If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them. Jesus said, "Now the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him. If God has been glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself and will glorify him at once. Little children, I am with you only a little longer. You will look for me; and as I said to the Jews so now I say to you, `Where I am going, you cannot come.' I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another."
Tonight we gather to mark Maundy Thursday. This is the night when Jesus gathered for his final meal with his friends. According to the Gospel writers Matthew, Mark, and Luke, this is the night where Jesus left his church with the sacrament of the Eucharist.
At the Last Supper, Jesus took the bread, he blessed it, broke it, gave it to his disciples, and then said something like: Take and eat, this is my body, which is given for you, do this in remembrance of me. Next, he took a cup of wine and said something like: Drink this, all of you, this is my blood of the new covenant. It is shed for you and for all, for the forgiveness of sins. Whenever you drink it, do this for the remembrance of me.
We’ll hear those words, in just a few minutes, when we gather to share our Eucharist. Our thanksgiving. You will see me take the bread, and bless it. Then I’ll break it and we will all share it, along with the wine.
Tonight, however, we hear words from John’s Gospel. There is no bread. There is no wine. Instead, there are feet and love.
A standard definition of a sacrament is that it is A) An outward and visible sign of an inward and invisible grace AND B) Something that Jesus both did and commanded us to do.
Therefore, I would posit that there are two sacraments instituted in this short passage from John’s Gospel.
First Commandment: footwashing. Jesus tells the disciples that, just as he washes their feet, they are to wash the feet of others. I don’t think it would be an exaggeration to say that most of us HATE footwashing. And, if hate is too strong a word, we find it tremendously uncomfortable. I think my feet are ugly. I am afraid they smell badly. I’d rather not have anyone else touch them. What was Jesus thinking? \
Well, it’s not so much about the feet, really, as it is about the action. It doesn’t ring so true for us, because we walk through our days in shoes and socks. But, since most folks at that time and in that dry and dusty place either walked barefoot or in sandals, their feet were always dirty. A slave, or a servant, would wash the feet of master, family, and guests. And, they did it because feet needed washing.
And Jesus, our Lord and God-incarnate, got down on his knees, took on the job of the lowliest servant or slave, and washed his followers’ feet. Talk about turning the world upside down. No hierarchy here. No chain of command. Instead, a total reversal of what had always been. It’s no wonder they killed him, really.
Second Commandment: love. After he washes their feet, Jesus gives his disciples a new commandment. He says so directly: I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.
Commandment. It’s the same word used in the book of Exodus to describe those things written on the stone tablets. This new commandment is as serious and binding as the 10 old ones. It’s where Maundy Thursday gets its name from this New Commandment – Maundy comes from the Latin - mandatum, the first word of the phrase "Mandatum novum… " A new commandment…
Footwashing and love. If we’d only had John’s gospel, our service might look very different on Sunday morning, eh? But seriously, what would living out these two other sacraments look like in our lives?
I don’t think we’re meant to wash one another’s feet every day (though doing it once a year as a reminder isn’t a bad thing, despite how uncomfortable it might make us feel).
I do think we’re called to live lives of service, and of turning over the hierarchy.
My contemporary model for this kind of servant leadership was my friend and former Bishop, the late Jim Kelsey. At the end of any parish visit, when you would look around to find Jim, in order to say goodbye, he would be in the kitchen, up to his elbows in dishwater, washing dishes from the luncheon. There he would be, chit-chatting with the folks who were working in the kitchen. I’d never seen a bishop do the dishes before. But, when I asked him about it, he talked about servant leadership. And friendship.
What might servant leadership look like for us?
I think we get it pretty well, here, frankly. We are a congregation that knows how to work hard. I’ve not seen folks slack off when it comes to hard work.
And what about loving one another? Love doesn’t mean that we always get along. That every person in our lives gives us warm feelings each and every time we think of them. Or that we never disagree. I think, at the heart of it, the kind of love that Jesus is commanding is rooted in respect and relationship. It means talking through our differences. It means naming our hurts. And it means a radical welcome to all whom we encounter.
So, as we move from Maundy Thursday to Good Friday, and then to Easter, I invite you to consider serving and loving as sacraments. They’re less concrete than bread and wine. But they ARE outward and visible signs of inward and invisible graces. And they are actions that each of us can do, as a reflection of the great and saving love we encounter in Jesus.
1) What author do you own the most books by? J.K. Rowling, Robert Jordan, Marcus Borg
2) What book do you own the most copies of? The Bible. I probably own 8-10 bibles, in a variety of translations.
3) Did it bother you that both those questions ended with prepositions? Not particularly.
4) What fictional character are you secretly in love with? Hermione Granger
5) What book have you read the most times in your life (excluding picture books read to children; i.e., Goodnight Moon does not count)? A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson; The Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley; Zami: A New Spelling of my Name by Audre Lourde.
6) What was your favorite book when you were ten years old? The Little House in the Prairie series.
7) What is the worst book you've read in the past year? Actually, the last year has been a high-point of reading. Plus, ever since managing a bookstore, I've gotten very good at simply putting down a book I'm not enjoying.
8) What is the best book you've read in the past year? Three Cups of Tea by Greg Mortenson; A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini; The Omnivore's Dilemma by Michael Pollan
9) If you could force everyone you tagged to read one book, what would it be? Three Cups of Tea. It's a wonderful and uplifting story about how one person can make a difference. It also gives amazing insights into what's happening in Pakistan and Afghanistan.
10) Who deserves to win the next Nobel Prize for Literature? Margaret Atwood
11) What book would you most like to see made into a movie? I really wish they would stop making books into movies.
12) What book would you least like to see made into a movie? I am afraid that they will turn The Shack into a movie. I can't imagine how they could do this without trivializing, sentimentalizing, and ruining the book.
13) Describe your weirdest dream involving a writer, book, or literary character. I can barely remember my dreams, never mind one involving a writer, a book, or a literary character. I have had some lovely daydreams about Hermione Granger (as an adult!).....
14) What is the most lowbrow book you've read as an adult? I have to start by saying that I find this question a bit elitist. Lowbrow by whose standards? Isnt reading lowbrow better than not reading at all? But, having said that, I have a secret addiction to lowbrow novels (or at least I used to). I had a serious Danielle Steel thing going when I was a teenager. I recently read one of her latest. HRH. Must say, it was very disappointing. Poorly written. Predictable. But still. Reading Danielle Steel, better than mindless internet gaming. (Which I also love, but that's another post!)
15) What is the most difficult book you've ever read? The Confessions by Augustine
16) What is the most obscure Shakespeare play you've seen? Haven't seen any of the obscure Shakespeare plays.
17) Do you prefer the French or the Russians? I've read more Russian authors than French ones, but not enough of either to call it a preference.
18) Roth or Updike? I've read more Updike than Roth, but again, not enough of either to call it a preference.
19) David Sedaris or Dave Eggers? Eggers
20) Shakespeare, Milton, or Chaucer? Hard one. If forced to make a decision, I probably prefer Chaucer, but it's realy a toss-up.
21) Austen or Eliot? Austen.
Fran's Note: None of these choose one questions really do it for me (except the Shakespeare, Milton, Chaucer question, and then it was hard to choose). Not really a fan of Eggers OR Sedaris, of Updike OR Roth, of Austen OR Eliot. How about some other pairings:
21a) Sue Grafton or Sarah Paretsky? Grafton in one quick minute.
21b) J. R. R. Tolkein or C.S. Lewis? While I liked The Chronicles of Narnia, I loved The Lord of the Rings.
21c) Margaret Atwood or Louise Erdrich Margaret Atwood
21d) Alice Walker or Toni Morrison Alice Walker
22) What is the biggest or most embarrassing gap in your reading? American classics. I've not read The Great Gatsby. Or The Grapes of Wrath. Or about a zillion other classics. Some days it might be shorter to list which American classics I have read.
23) What is your favorite novel? Gone to Soldiers by Marge Piercy. I discovered I no longer own it - it's probably time to hunt down a used copy and re-read it.
24) Play? King Lear
25) Poem? I'm not sure I have a favorite poem. I really enjoy the Psalms.
26) Essay? Anything by Wendell Berry. If I had to choose one, I'd say, "The Pleasures of Eating" which contains one of my favorite sentences, "I begin with the proposition that eating is an agricultural act."
27) Short Story? Anything written by Lee Lynch (she's a lesbian writer who writes GREAT short stories - her characterizations are spot on).
28) Work of nonfiction? God has a Dream by Archbishop Desmond Tutu; The Omnivore's Dilemma by Michael Pollan; Three Cups of Tea by Greg Mortenson.
29) Who is your favorite writer? Marcus Borg; Michael Pollan; J.K. Rowling; Tolkein; Alice Walker; I could probably go on for a while here.
30) Who is the most overrated writer alive today? Rick Warren
31) What is your desert island book? The Bible. Not because it's my job, either. I would choose The Bible because there are so many different kinds of literature there that I would never get bored.
32) And... what are you reading right now? Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (again); Eldest (reading the first two again in preparation for the third); The Shack (for the St. B. Book Group)
At a Lenten Quiet Day this week, our leader, The Rt. Rev. Eugene Sutton, Bishop of the Diocese of Maryland, talked about the word Behold. It's fallen out of common usage. We don't behold much any more. The Gospel writers used the Greek equivalent of it often, when quoting Jesus.
+Gene Sutton encouraged us to get back into the habit of beholding. And, later that day, as I walked outside in the warm sunshine (still a novelty 2.5 hours north of where the Quiet Day was being held!), I beheld the start of spring flowers poking up out of the soil outside the church. It felt like a miracle.
In general, beholding doesn't come easily to me. I'm often rushed and in a hurry. I'm not the most visual person (unless I have a camera in my hand, then I notice everything).
My inability to behold easily was brought home this morning as I drove to church. It was snowing at the top of Milan Hill. There was a light dusting of lovely snow on every surface. The trees had that amazing frosted look they get when the snowfall is just right. It caught my breath when I came down the stairs this AM.
When I got the bottom of Milan Hill, there was no new snow. Not a flake, anywhere. And, I realized that somewhere in that 2 mile stretch of road, something had changed. And, I totally missed it.
Beholding is something I'd like to cultivate. I'd like to think that my Lenten discipline of writing here, more often, has helped a bit. You have to behold, in order to write. Maybe beholding is like running. You have to train the muscles in order to have success. Maybe we need to cultivate beholding in the same way.