Saturday, April 4, 2015

Seek the Living: Easter 2015

I make the same mistake about this time every year. I start thinking about Springtime and growing things, and I look at my disheveled eyesore of a front yard and think I’d better get to work on it. It starts with removing the old dead stuff. I have to pull out all the dead stuff so that new life has room to grow. How Lenten is that?

Well, back to my annual mistake. There are some plants that look really dead, by which I mean they look really really really dead. Like brittle and brown and crackly and half-rotted. They literally could not look more dead than they do. So I do the obvious thing and start breaking them off and throwing them away. And then, usually after I’ve ripped out most of it, I find a fresh green growth on the end of one of those dry, utterly-dead-looking stems. And I realize that all of that plant would have greened, if I’d given it the chance. I’d thought that nothing that dead could ever come to life again, but I was wrong.

It reminds me of a visit when I was young to Yellowstone National Park. There had been a devastating wildfire there that burnt almost a million acres down to black char on the ground. Looking out over that devastation was almost a physical weight, foothills and valleys stretching as far as you could see of char and ash. You could look far and wide and see nothing but death.

But far and wide isn’t the only way to look. Before getting back in the car to go somewhere less depressing, I happened to look more closely at what was right at my feet. Just the smallest little sapling, just starting to poke through the black and grey death. It was my own little version of Ezekiel’s vision: can these dry bones live? Can new life ever come from such utter destruction? Watch, Son of Man.

Friday, April 3, 2015

The Bystander: Good Friday Portraits pt. 3

Jerusalem at Passover is indescribable. The whole kingdom of Judah descends on the city, which seems pretty big until the pilgrims start pouring in the gates. They just keep coming, and coming… and there we were among them, my sons and I. Rufus and Alexander had a long trip from our home in faraway Cyrene. Israel is nothing like Libya, but there on the south coast of the great sea is one of the places our people settled when we scattered. We are few at home, but here we are many. This week in Jerusalem my sons can see what they are part of, and truly participate in the story. The pilgrims come. The Lambs are chosen. The story of the Exodus is retold. The blood is poured out in the Passover sacrifice. And we remember that wherever we are, whatever may happen, whatever the Romans may say, the Lord our God has made us free.

When you pack the city with so many strangers from so many places, you’ve got a recipe for rumor, and the whole city buzzed with whispered stories about the Nazarene.  “I heard he can heal blindness, injury, sickness… just by prayer.” “They say he delivered a man from demons that all the Temple priests couldn’t cast out.” One man spoke quietly, seeming embarrassed by what he was saying but unable to hold it in, “I heard he can raise the dead.” But all these stories were just so many eddies in a larger current, swirling beneath the one great question that had seized the city: “Is the Messiah among us? Could he be the One?”

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Holy Thursday 2015

The idea is to follow Christ through these coming hours. Holy Thursday, Good Friday, Holy Saturday, culminating in the great Easter Vigil… the idea is to follow Christ.

These liturgies constantly invite us to enter in to the mysteries - not just to reflect on them, not just to remember, but to become participants. We are not here to be spectators. We are here to give living witness to the Paschal Mystery that defines our own lives, a summons to follow Christ. And when we talk about ‘following Christ,’ we mean that quite literally, to place our feet in His footsteps, to go where He goes, to choose as He has chosen. 

The Mass of the Lord’s Supper, for Catholics, is not just a re-enactment; it is that, but so much more. We haven’t come here tonight to remember what happened in the Upper Room. We’ve come here because it’s going to happen again. Tonight, the words will be spoken, “Take this, all of you, and eat of it, this is my Body.”  The voice that speaks these words will belong to a sinful and unworthy man, but they will not be my words, but Christ’s. And the same Eucharist that fed the Apostles will feed you tonight. He made this clear; He commanded it: “Do this in remembrance of me.” He established this Sacrament for His Church, this Real Presence for all time.