Take time

Dear Friends,

Many times I hear people remark, ‘I just can’t take it in’. In a whole variety of contexts this remark is made – in times of unbridled joy and in times of heartbreaking anguish. When something happens which changes everything – we need time to work out just what is going to change and how this change impacts my ordinary day to day life.

These occasions don’t happen every day – sometimes ‘out of the blue’ they arrive and irrevocably alter the landscape of our lives. It might be a new addition to the family, an unforeseen opportunity at work, a loss of a loved one, or the news of an illness… whatever it is… time is required to gauge the truth and implications.

So, it is not surprising the Easter season lasts 40 days, 50 days if you run it through to Pentecost. Yet in our culture Easter is a week-end of chocolate egg overdrive! I love the chocolate eggs, but the implications of Easter go far beyond the feelings of guilt (and pleasure) in the consumption of all the Easter goodies on offer! Easter is the ultimate event which changes the landscape  – this is why we are given a generous portion of time to begin to make sense of it, see the impact in our ordinary day to day lives, and to feel the surge of energy this connection with the resurrection life makes in us.

The appearances of the resurrected Jesus are intimate, fleeting and powerful beyond words. He expressly tells Mary on the first Easter morning not to cling on to him. In this encounter it was the recognition which was integral to the experience. The gardener (for that is who Mary thought he was) recognised Mary by saying her name. This recognition of Mary I imagine went straight to her heart – here was somebody who knew her and loved her. She then just knew – this was not the gardener but Jesus! No wonder she ran to tell the disciples the news.

The calling of a name can be a beautiful yet simple expression of recognition. ‘I know you…’ and the name is said. When we baptize or christen in church, we name the person – the name is a statement of who they are, it carries a meaning beyond the phonetics.

The Christian community is privileged to believe Jesus walks with us – the dead man who was buried walks with us (as in the resurrection  story of the walk to Emmaus). He walks with us and eats with us. Not only that, but he knows us, he recognises us – who we really are. When Christians pray it is this we look to hear and sense. As we bow our heads to pray the ‘Our Father…’ we consciously direct our attention to this divine recognition.

And then we are invited to recognise Jesus – in the bread and the wine, in the ordinary day to day stuff of life, to recognise and to name him ‘My Lord and my God’ – the recognition of Thomas. When we hear the rustle of the leaves in the trees, when the sea waves break on the seashore, when a friend or a stranger smiles and connects with us – ‘it is the Lord’, we echo Mary. By not clinging to the recognition we receive it as a gift – and we walk on with our heads and hearts alert to the next recognition. 40 days to walk this journey changes everything, the landscape, no matter how disfigured, is re-arranged, re-configured in ways we will never have anticipated.

Have a blessed and happy Easter – really and truly!

Be confident in ‘not knowing’

Dear Friends,

It can sometimes seem remarkably odd that salvation is accessed through a story of betrayal, intimidation, crucifixion, burial and resurrection – how can this be?

 

Everything in this story appears to be back to front. The Jesus who was ‘in the beginning’ – ridiculed and publicly shamed, death labelled as ‘good’ in the Good Friday name, and then there is the  rising from the dead – so enigmatic at times, and yet plainly physical and undeniable at other times.

All of this can leave us scratching our heads – how can this be celebrated as ‘salvation’… or ‘the way’ to life in all its fullness?

 

There is a very beautiful passage of scripture (John 14), often read at funerals, where Jesus tells his friends not to worry, because ‘in his Father’s house there are many dwelling places’ or ‘mansions’.  Jesus then says he will go to prepare a place for us, and we ‘know the way to the place where he is going’. This is all really encouraging, and lifts the spirit! But Thomas cuts in – ‘Lord, we do not know where you are going, so how can we know the way?’ Thomas, I imagine, is speaking for the other friends… ‘Jesus, we just don’t know…’

 

Some people depict the disciples, the friends of Jesus, as being a bit slow on the uptake… but I think their ‘not knowing’ and Thomas’s confidence in articulating this, is an important signpost for us in finding ‘the way’, in accessing ‘salvation in Jesus’, in embracing ‘the fullness of life’ Jesus promises us.

 

In our modern culture there is an urgency ‘to know’. Don’t be caught out, don’t be left looking stupid when you didn’t have the information to hand… make sure you give the appearance of knowing even when you don’t. Our professional services rely heavily on the confidence provided by a knowledgeable expertise. There’s no denying that certain bits of knowledge, and ‘knowing it’ can be really important and necessary. But when it comes to enjoying life and catching the fabulous  wonder of human existence, then maybe ‘knowing it all’ may not be helpful at all!

 

Thomas is a great example to us. He was not afraid in the John 14 conversation to say he didn’t know. Again after the resurrection, he wanted to touch the wounds of Jesus before he could say he knew. Thomas was not afraid of admitting he didn’t know. Perhaps that’s why, when he met the risen Jesus, but didn’t touch the wounds, he was able to exclaim so fully ‘My Lord and my God’.

 

Just imagine if we were to start each day with the acclamation ‘I don’t know…’ – waking up, being fully committed to the day… to the people we are to meet, the events which will come our way… and to still say ‘I don’t know…’ You see the people who have the confidence to say they don’t know, are the same people who find new things, new truths, and new horizons on a daily basis. But those who know everything, end up knowing nothing – because with them there is never any adventure, any exploration, any openness to something new.

 

The friends who buried the body of Jesus didn’t have everything sorted in their heads. In their minds and hearts, I imagine, there were some big, aching gaps. Mary in the garden, on that first Easter morning, plainly didn’t know. So today, don’t be a tedious know-it-all, let’s re-find the capacity ‘not to know’ while at the same time being entirely committed to life … paradoxically giving ourselves every chance to know! Great is the mystery of faith : Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again!

Lost in wonder, love and praise

Last Supper

Dear Friends,

There is a famous hymn which ends with the beautifully evocative cadence ‘lost in wonder, love and praise’. This line prompts our hearts into a response to the Jesus story which connects with our deepest longings.

The Passiontide gospel readings draw us into the journey Jesus walks as he makes his way into Calvary and resurrection. We see Jesus at the dinner table, his feet anointed with the most expensive of perfumes, we watch Jesus share a simple meal with his friends,  we see Jesus wash his disciples feet, we see Jesus betrayed with a kiss, arrested and bound. We watch the unfolding lies of the Kangaroo court Jesus is submitted to, and we watch the brutality of crucifixion. It is a mesmerising journey – full of questions and at times simply bewildering. Yes – we are lost in ‘wonder’ at these events – Jesus, who previously had been the protagonist in healings and teaching, now simply surrenders and enters into the events without protest or justification.

We are told in John 3: 16 that God demonstrates his love for the world by this action of Jesus. Jesus so identifies with us in our weakness and powerlessness – and in doing so God’s love is revealed. It is something real and true – and our only response can be one of love. I love because I am loved. Loved by a ‘love divine, all loves excelling’.

As love tugs at our hearts, as love spills into our thinking, as love washes our guilt we can only ‘praise’ the God who gives us Jesus. Even when the worst of life is lived – God is in the midst. Perhaps especially then, the divine presence is revealed with a clarity and transparency not found anywhere else. We ‘praise’ through the singing of hymns, by lifting our heads, by allowing our thinking to be centred on the goodness which abounds – even when circumstances appear so challenging and bewildering.

In Mark’s gospel we are told that the Roman centurion, a gentile, recognised the full reality of Jesus at the moment of death – at the point of utter weakness Jesus’ identity is laid bare. When he ‘surveys the wondrous cross’ his eyes are opened to what is really true.

This is one of the distinctives of the Christian community – when life simply doesn’t seem to add up, when life events seem to conspire against us, when there appears to be no light at the end of the tunnel – it is then we are ‘lost in wonder, love and praise’. This is truly amazing – defies our seasoned logic, but yet is the call of our worship week by week.

We then become a people of ‘praise’ – a ‘praise’ found in every detail of life, no matter how small, inconsequential or bewildering.

 

Sanctuary

the cross on the rock over the sea

Dear Friends

The stone rolled away … the tomb empty, except for the grave clothes

We are told Simon Peter entered the tomb to see for himself, as did the ‘other disciple’ who also went in ‘and he saw and believed’. There was intense anxiety, fear and bewilderment… yet in entering the tomb something was made manifest – a truth not easily understood was seen and caught in the heart… there is resurrection, death is not the end!
Here begins the journey of the Christian community.

The resurrection experience … it’s an experience which contradicts the logic of stuff as we think we know it… it’s an experience known and attested in the ‘guts’ of who we are. Recent scientific research has affirmed the real psychological basis for ‘gut knowing’ or ‘knowing of the heart’ – this research has identified three major neuronal networks in the body : the largest is in the brain, and the two other major clusters of neurons are in the intestinal track and the cardial sack – the guts and heart. It’s how we know what is important (just remember how we choose which house to buy…)

This experience for these two disciples took place in the tomb. Jesus appears to Mary in the quietness of the garden. Thomas touches the open wounds in the locked room. Jesus appears to the disciples walking to Emmaus in the intimacy of bread being broken round a table. Jesus prepares a meal for his friends on the beach. The environment for each of these experiences is set apart from the toxic cultures of society – they are simple, quiet, safe places – almost like a sanctuary or a cocoon.

The caterpillar experiences transformation within the safety of the cocoon. A foetus grows and becomes formed within the security of the womb. The transformation of base metals into gold requires the interaction of elements within a closed, transparent container in relation to a carefully tended fire.

And we too can create these ‘sanctuary’ spaces whenever we allow ourselves to be attentive to the moment. When we give attention, totally to what is in front of us, we immediately enter an energised and vibrant space. These spaces become passageways or doorways into truth which blesses and enlarges our experience. This means we can be in such a space wherever and whenever we choose – and it is in such a sanctuary space where we see from the heart and know in our ‘guts’ what is true and important.

The building and structure of a church, such as at St. Mary’s, acts as such a sanctuary space. This is why many people say the ‘feeling’ they get in the church (whether on a Sunday or for another service) is something very special. The church space is separate from the culture of our times, it is removed, and we can feel/know important things in both times of celebration and sadness. From this sanctuary space we learn to be fully in the world rather than being overwhelmed or lost in it.

It is vital we allow ourselves daily opportunity for our true selves to connect with such truth. This truth enables us to grow into generous, confident human beings… leaving behind petty anxieties and frustrations. So the practice of ‘attentiveness to the moment’ gives us a doorway into belief in the resurrection…

The Christian experience of resurrection defines the company of the church. So it really is important to enter our own ‘empty tomb’, our own ‘sanctuary space’- every day – and find the truth of God’s resurrection Spirit in the ‘guts’ and ‘hearts’ of our lives.