Archive for the Lent 2014 Category

2014 Lent 40

Posted in Lent 2014, Reflection with tags , , , , , , on April 19, 2014 by timtrue

Neque_Illic_Mortuus,_inside_of_Santa_Maria_del_Popolo,_Rome,_Italy

Hebrews 4:1-16

The writer of Hebrews tells us that the promise of entering Jesus’s rest is still open to us.

It’s hard for a priest to feel anything like rest at this time of the year.

For many people, Christmas is the busiest time of the year.  In America anyway, even if you don’t regularly go to church the Christmas season is super busy.  The whole country seems to take on a festive air–filled with deals and a certain chocolatey cheer.  It’s a good thing the kids have time off school too, what with all the traveling relatives and New Year’s around the corner and all.  It’s busy!

But for a priest the most important part of the faith is the resurrection (though, don’t get me wrong, the birth of the incarnate Jesus is quite important too–for without it there could be no resurrection!); and thus the most important part of the year is Easter.

Tonight we priest-types will finish the three-day drama traditionally called the triduum.

It began on Thursday, Maundy Thursday, with a foot-washing Eucharist.  Here we remember demonstrably Jesus’s new command to love one another–demonstrably because it’s through the washing of another’s feet.

Yesterday, Good Friday, we recalled his actual crucifixion with a noon service.  Here the altar had been stripped bare (at the conclusion of the Maundy Thursday service); and we placed a rough wooden cross at the front of the nave, listened to the crucifixion story read (John 18-19–no homily at all, just let the scriptures speak for themselves), and recited anthems said only on this day of the year.

And tonight it’s the Easter Vigil, a service that goes from dark to light, from death to resurrection, including baptisms–themselves a picture of resurrection–a service that in ages past was the chief Easter service (and still should be, as far as I’m concerned).

Add to this that every evening leading up to the triduum we celebrated a communion service and that last Sunday, Palm Sunday, was also a special day, and, whew, I’m tired.  Between last Sunday and tomorrow I will have been involved in thirteen worship services, some of which I celebrated, others in which I preached, and even a few (four in fact) wherein I did both.

So, yeah, I’m tired.

And here, today, I read words in Hebrews about a promise of rest.

Bring it on, I say!

So I don’t know.  During Lent we try to take on a spiritual discipline–whether we fast, write rambling blog posts, pray more frequently, whatever.  We also talk a lot about slowing down, becoming more introspective, reflecting, centering, and all that.  But I don’t know: maybe being a little busier during Lent and becoming increasingly busier during Holy Week, as we priests must do, and as many a parishioner has done over the past forty days–maybe being a little busier is actually more biblical.  For that is more like life.

What I mean is this.  We live our lives doing our thing.  And life is full of ups, downs, levels, highs, lows, middles, twisties, and straights.  We get to the end of it and (though I cannot speak from personal experience) we’re tired out, ready for that promised rest–just as I (and you) are tired out now at this end of Lent, 2014.  Then comes the reminder that we are loved with a perfect love, death strikes, and then comes resurrection.  Not just Jesus’s resurrection but ours too.  And, ah, at long last, we enter into that blessed, promised rest.  Amen.

The trick now, of course, is figuring out how to experience a sort of small resurrection in my own life as I face life after Lent.  I need to find some time to rest now, to be rejuvenated, so that I can begin the cycle of advent, birth, life, ministry, death, and new life all over again.

Time for a vacation, anyone?

2014 Lent 39

Posted in Lent 2014, Reflection with tags , on April 18, 2014 by timtrue

Good Friday

John 19:38-42

You know, since beginning this self-imposed Lenten discipline of writing something everyday based on a lectionary reading, a lot of numbers have been going though my head.  Numbers like 50, 62.5, 77.5, 85, and, today, 97.5.  These are percentages, if you care to know, based on how much of my Lenten discipline has been accomplished thus far.  (Tomorrow will be Day 40: 100%.)

These numbers started occurring to me before 50–probably something more like 35–about the time, that is, when I began losing momentum.  This post-a-day business has been a difficult discipline to keep!

What started out as a quaint idea–to write a short devotion, and by short I was envisioning something like 250 words–quickly raised the bar.  I don’t know if I thought it was fun in the beginning or what, but if you were to go back and look at the first few Lenten posts, they each contain far more than 250 words.  (“2014 Lent 1,”, for example, is 787 words, and I believe it’s one of the shorter ones.)  Anyway, before I knew it, I felt like my personal bar was more like 800 words.  In the end, I think only two posts came out to fewer than 300 words (unless today’s or tomorrow’s does too–but today’s is already near 200); and my average (though I haven’t verified) has got to be above 800.  (Let’s see: that’s 800 x 40 = 32,000 words, or a fourth of a book.  Dang!)

So you see how numbers bully me?

Also, do you have any idea how much time it takes to write 800 words a day on average?  And something that’s quasi-suitable for publishing?

Needless to say, mine has been a tiring Lenten discipline this year.

But today I will have completed 97.5% of it.  Yes!  One day to go!

Now, to tie this in with today’s lectionary selection, I’m going to tell you why I didn’t just quit, just bail out on my self-imposed extra discipline during the busiest season of the year for a priest.  And it’s simply this: because Jesus didn’t bail out 97.5% of the way through.

I mean, try to imagine Christianity if Jesus had been in the Garden on the fateful night and said, “Not your cup, Father, but mine.  I ain’t gonna go through with it!”  Or, worse still, if after he had been executed and laid in the tomb–the thing we remember most acutely today, Good Friday–what if he had just stayed there?  What if he had gone 97.5% of the way?

I’ll tell you: there would have been no resurrection.  That’s means no Christianity, no concept of the Trinity, no new commandment of love, no Church.

Now some of you readers might want to argue that that’s not such a bad scenario.  But I disagree.

Yeah, without the Church there may not have been any Crusades; yeah there may not have been the medieval Church, an institution that held controlling sway over most European peoples for a thousand years.  Yeah, the Church has made mistakes.

But wars, battles, controlling and liberty-killing governments–these things cannot be blamed on the Church.  You should know better!  (Just look at 20th-century Russian history!)  These things happened long before Christianity ever came about; and they will continue to happen throughout human history–though we can hope and strive for less so as time marches on.

Rather, what the Church can be blamed for is the hope of resurrection in Christ; and his love being poured out to the ends of the earth.  Hope and love?  These are fuel for acts of charity–or, to put fashionable clothes on it, progress.  How can anyone fault the Church for that?

Anyway, I for one am grateful that Jesus went 100% of the way through with the work he came to do.  The least I can do is show it by sticking to this little commitment I made in his name, to write a little everyday during Lent, to complete something I started–even if it inconveniences me a little bit.

But I’ll say this: after Lent is over I plan to take a few days off from this blogging business.

2014 Lent 38

Posted in Lent 2014, Reflection with tags , , on April 17, 2014 by timtrue

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Mark 14:12-25

Today is Maundy Thursday on the Christian calendar.  It’s the day when we remember the last supper Jesus enjoyed with his disciples; and the meal where he called Judas out.  Both of these events are recorded in today’s reading.

Tradition attaches foot washing to Maundy Thursday.  The Gospel of John is the only account to narrate the foot washing.  But, curiously, the supper in John does not fall on Passover–on Thursday–as it does in Matthew, Mark, and Luke.  Nevertheless, the Maundy part of Maundy Thursday comes from John’s story.

Maundy derives from the Latin mandatum, from which we get mandate and variations like commandment.

Over in the Gospel of John, Jesus gives a new commandment: to love one another.  He then demonstrates what he means by taking on the role of a servant and washing feet.

All of God’s interrelationships with humanity over all these millennia come down to this: love.  And it’s a love that’s outward, that serves others.

This is the love of God, a love that we humans are capable of possessing and demonstrating.  And, by the way, it makes the Christian God unique; for outward love can only ever exist in relationship (as the Trinity has for all eternity).

So, make what you will of John not aligning the Last Supper with the Passover meal–not on the same day as Matthew, Mark, and Luke.  Whether John’s meal happened on a Thursday or not, that’s not really the point.  Rather, it’s love commanded; a commandment that, if it were obeyed everywhere, would result in a better world.

Attend a Maundy Thursday foot washing service if you’re able; see Jesus Christ’s new commandment illustrated.

2014 Lent 37

Posted in Lent 2014, Reflection with tags , , , , on April 16, 2014 by timtrue

Fortress_of_Guaita_2013-09-19

Mark 12:1-11

Today is my birthday.  Yep, today, this Wednesday of Holy Week, which means that my birthday falls during Lent this year.

My wife’s birthday is in May.  Her birthday never falls in Lent.  Lucky!

But my little brother’s is March 16.  That means that, regardless of where Easter falls in any given year, his birthday will always fall in Lent.  Poor wretch!

But my birthday, April 16, sometimes falls during Lent and sometimes not.  Most of the time not, in fact.  And for that I’m grateful.

But because my birthday happens to fall on Holy Wednesday this year, Mark 12:1-11 is a reading in the lectionary–today, on my birthday.  And it has all the great makings for a birthday reading.

There’s a wealthy man, a father, as we soon learn.  And this wealthy man purchases a vineyard and starts to develop it.  He builds a winepress, puts up a fence, and even builds a watchtower.

So my mind is beginning to race.  My oldest daughter is living the dream right now.  She’s studying for a semester in Florence, Italy: right in the heart of Tuscany, excellent wine country.  Add to this that my dad and stepmom are on their way over there right now.  They’re going to stay for a few days in a villa with my daughter.

So, being my birthday and all, and being a fairly creative guy, my mind begins to construct a complete and utter fantasy.  It’s going furiously; I can’t seem to stop it.  But it’s my birthday, so what the hey.

So here it is: my dad is that (sort of) wealthy guy from the parable.  He’s so smitten with his visit to Tuscany, that he buys a villa complete with a vineyard today, on my birthday, with the idea that it will be a family vacation house for now; but, who knows, he may decide to will it to me someday as an inheritance.

But the particular villa he buys (it was a really good deal, after all, for he is also a frugal man) is in need of some repair.  So he puts up a fence, rebuilds the dilapidated winepress, and, more for added room for guests than for any other reason, builds a tower (with a furnished apartment and incredible view clear down to the sea).

So far, so good.

But then I continue reading the Gospel.

Of course, Dad lives in America, as do I, and my daughter (despite her present Italian escapade), and all family members, extended and immediate.  So, of course, Dad has to hire a manager to take care of the place while we’re all making ends meet over here in our present American lives.

But then my fantasy is suddenly confronted by an offensive intrusion.  For a friend who was travelling over there decided to stop by, you know, to help Dad out by checking in on the place.  And he wound up mysteriously dead!

The Italian police weren’t much of a help either.

So I probably wouldn’t have thought much of it, freak coincidence or something, until a month or so passes and another friend who owed my dad a favor decides to stop by; and, same thing!  Dead!  Those unhelpful Italian police said they found his body floating face-down in the Arno River; but was surely unconnected to the villa.

Well, that got me thinking!

And now–in my fantasy, of course–Dad wants to send me over!

Don’t get me wrong, a couple of months ago I would have loved to go over and live the carefree life of a vineyard owner in my villa-to-be.  But now, what with those two deaths and what with the unhelpful Polizia, I’m a little worried.

That’s when I read on and discover in the parable that the brazen manager is indeed responsible for the first two deaths and is even heedless enough to kill the owner’s own son.

Gulp!

But, hang on a minute!  I remind myself, this is my own daydream.  I need to come back to reality.

Yeah, that’s right.  It’s my birthday, sure.  But beyond and above that, it’s still Lent.

And this is a parable Jesus is teaching.  It’s not really about my birthday at all, but about Christ, and about how people refused to see the gift of God–the man Jesus–right in their midst.

So, okay, I’ve talked myself down from my fantastic cliff.  Still, is there something I can take away from today’s Lenten experience, something in this reading that is of value for me on my birthday?

And then I see it: the people of Christ’s day largely didn’t see the gift of God in their midst; perhaps I’m not seeing enough of God’s gifts in my midst.

On this day then, this Holy Wednesday at the end of Lent, my birthday, I am extremely grateful for my family–both those with me and those abroad; my friends; and the work God has given me to do.  Can’t wait for the softball game and Tex Mex tonight!

2014 Lent 36

Posted in Lent 2014, Reflection with tags , on April 15, 2014 by timtrue

Pope_Francis_in_March_2013_(cropped)

Mark 11:27-33

Does the Pope wear a funny hat?

This question was introduced to me by one of the most significant women in my life, my stepmom.  I was probably something like fourteen years old at the time.  And she answered a question I had just asked with this question.  My question obviously had a “yes” answer, something like, “Are we going out for dinner tonight?”  Obviously yes to her, anyway, which is why she asked about the Pope’s choice of headwear.

But to me, naïve as I was then about matters of religion (and most other things, truth be told), the answer wasn’t obvious.  I’m not even sure I could have given the Pope’s name–John Paul II–let alone commented on his fashion sense.  Oh, I knew he was some important person in Europe, sure.  But what part of Europe, and as to why he was perceived by so many people as important, I did not.

So I saw my stepmom’s question, which answered my question, to be in fact a trick question.  Was she trying to trap me?  She was born and raised Catholic, I knew.  She’d even gone to Catholic University.  And now she was bringing her religion into my home!  So was she trying to trap me, trying to see if I would somehow dis her main holy man?

“Um,” I offered, “I don’t think it’s funny.”

“What?” she asked.

“His hat,” I explained after a moment’s reflection; “I don’t think his hat is funny.”

To which she responded with a great deal of laughter!  For she hadn’t been trying to trap me at all.  Rather, she thought I’d asked a rhetorical question; so she herself, in reply, asked what she thought was another rhetorical question.  But all this was lost on my yet-too-concrete mind.

In today’s reading from Mark, something similar occurs.  Except in this case people really are trying to trap someone: the religious leaders try to trap Jesus with the question, “By what authority are you doing these things?” i. e., these miracles on the Sabbath.  It was a trap because if Jesus answered, “By God’s,” he could be accused of blasphemy, for (to the religious leaders) God could not contradict his own law by healing on the day of rest.  But it was also a trap because if Jesus said, “By mine,” then he’d be equating himself with God–also blasphemy.  It must have seemed a double whammy to the religious leaders, for no matter how he answered, they had him!

But, does the Pope wear a funny hat?

Jesus answered his opponents’ question with a question.  “Was John’s baptism from heaven,” he asks, “or from human origin?”

Well, they couldn’t say from heaven, for they didn’t believe it themselves; doing so would be an obvious lie.  But neither could they say that it was of human origin, for the multitude believed it had been from heaven, and they were largely outnumbered by this multitude; they feared the crowd, in other words.  So they answered, “We don’t know,” which is really just another way of saying, “We’re not going to tell you.”

This was Jesus’s answer all along.  “I’m not gonna tell you,” he says–just not in so many words.

So, end of discussion, end of trap.  The religious leaders had no choice but to leave, dejected, like dogs walking away, ashamed, with their tails between their legs.

Turns out, answering a question with a question can be a good tactic.

In the end, then, I look back on my conversation with my stepmom as a time when she modeled Jesus to me.  I’m sure, though, she has no idea.  Thanks anyway.

2014 Lent 35

Posted in Lent 2014, Reflection with tags , , on April 14, 2014 by timtrue

consolation

II Corinthians 1:1-7

Consolation.

There is a wonderful picture of consolation that comes from today’s reading in II Corinthians.

But first, I offer some background.

The word is related to solace, which is a kind of comfort in a time of affliction.  The prefix con- means with, or alongside; so putting them together we see a sort of empathetic comfort.  There’s community here: others are involved in comforting the one in affliction.

Think of a consolation prize.  It is given by one person, a judge, to another, a contestant, who didn’t place, but still to acknowledge the contestant’s hard work and participation.  The contestant supposedly draws some empathetic comfort from the prize (the judge, at least, knows how much work went into it) despite it not being a trophy.

(I think this is the idea behind a consolation prize anyway.  But it hardly played out that way for me when as a boy I came in fourth place in a piano competition.  Here the so-called consolation prize served more as a reminder that I wasn’t quite good enough!)

But here’s the thing: consolation goes both ways.  That is, when we’re in a time of affliction (as I was as a boy pianist), we want consolation, something from which we can derive comfort.  This can come from an object, such as a prize, or a person who offers consolation to us through words, a hug, whatever.

Yet on the other hand, when we’re in times of comfort, we can offer consolation to others who are experiencing some affliction or other.

Both sides of consolation are thus active: the afflicted reaches for it; the comfortable offers it.

Consolation, then, is a bridge between comfort and affliction.

Now here’s where my creative mind begins to take over.  For I picture a bridge that crosses a deep and swift river.  And on either side of the bridge sits a town.  One town, let’s say the one on the north side, is relaxed and easy going, characterized by kindness, goodness, and beauty.  The other, South Town, is stress-filled, perhaps overly dramatic, characterized by anxiety and hardship.

The people who live in this region really inhabit both towns.  That is, each resident has a house in North Town and another in South Town.  Everybody really wants to live and spend all their time in North Town, but certain obligations and responsibilities require them to travel back and forth daily over the bridge between the two towns.

Sometimes the obligations in South Town are many, so many, in fact, that a resident ends up having to spend the night there.  It happens to everyone, sometimes frequently, which is why all the inhabitants have residences in both towns.

Occasionally the obligations become so great, so burdensome, that a resident ends up spending a week or more in South Town, sometimes even losing hope that he will ever be able to get back across the bridge and do what he really wants to do–spend time with his family, tinker in the garage, read some books, maybe even write one, play a few musical instruments, play catch in the yard with his son, laze away a summer afternoon in the pool, and so on.  (Of course, this is my version of North Town.  You have every right to make up your own version.)

When this happens–when someone is overly burdened by the obligations of South Town–intervention becomes necessary; a team of volunteers, usually comprised of friends and family, but often of pastoral types too, must cross the bridge into South Town and rescue said obligation-buried resident by carrying him (or her) back over the bridge into North Town.

But it’s risky work.  For most times one of the intervention team falls away, turns aside, or otherwise suddenly remembers an obligation she (or he) must now tend to in South Town; and she ends up stuck there for a week or more until another intervention team must make a rescue.

And the cycle repeats itself.

Anyway, these two towns’ real names are Comfort and Affliction, and the bridge between them is Consolation.  May we console and be consoled by others.

2014 Lent 34

Posted in Lent 2014, Reflection with tags , , , on April 12, 2014 by timtrue

Auschwitz-hope_after_terror

Psalms 42, 43

Both these psalms from today’s lectionary selection end identically:

“Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you disquieted within me?”

In our day, when someone is diagnosed with clinical depression we turn to meds.  It is hoped that the meds will serve a therapeutic purpose, that the patient will only need the meds for a time until getting his or her chemistry back into balance and can then return to a life without them.

But what did people do 2600 years ago?  Apparently depression affected people then as it does today.  Just read the other words of these psalms.  They are riddled with sadness, gloominess, and melancholy.  They suggest despair, or hopelessness.

For that matter, how did people deal with depression a hundred (or two hundred) years ago?  Artists like Frederic Chopin, Edgar Allan Poe, and Erik Satie come to mind.  Depression affected their creations, surely.  But did creativity help them cope?  Maybe depression merely fostered their creativity; but creativity did little to alleviate depression.  I don’t know.  (What I do know, though, is that Hector Berlioz, another depressed composer, turned to opium, a “med” of the nineteenth century.)

Meds help people cope, certainly.  And so one argument fully supports their administration and use.

But, on the other hand, are meds the only way to cope?  Are they the best way to cope?  A Beautiful Mind, the Ron Howard movie from several years ago, suggests that they’re not.

Wherever you find yourself in this discussion–which ranges from seeing pharmaceutical companies as part of corporate and bureaucratic conspiracies, on one side of the spectrum, to blaming vaccination abstainers for potentially widespread fatal contagions, on the other, and a whole slough of (more accurate) interpretations across the middle–many people continue to suffer from depression and are struggling to cope with it.  And the general consensus is that today’s percentage of sufferers is higher than ever.

Turning the corner a bit, let’s talk about the future.  It’s not a rabbit trail; I’ll tie it in shortly.

The thing is, there’s a lot of talk in our day and age about living in the moment, being present, and all that.  Vision, planning, thought toward tomorrow, and all that kind of stuff makes a lot of people uncomfortable.  We should plan for retirement, sure.  But retirement worries us, for what if it won’t really work out?  And what if there’s no Social Security for me when I get there?

Again, we should plan out our wills.  But who really wants to plan for her own death?

And then, if you follow along with the apostle Paul’s apocalyptic reasoning, it’s easy to find little value in the future: the world can seem like it’s going to hell in a hand basket (whatever that means!).

Shouldn’t we therefore just enjoy what we have today, what we’re certain of in the here and now?

This sort of thinking has its place, sure.  But my point is, the future often makes us uncomfortable.  For we worry about what-if scenarios, scenarios that likely will never happen; and thus we bring fear upon ourselves needlessly.

But an optimistic view of the future changes things up a bit, yeah?  What if (here’s my what-if scenario . . .) you have something to hope in, or to hope for?

We say we hope in God.  But what does this mean?  It needs to be more specific, like we hope in God, that God will make all things right in the end, for God is sovereign.  (This might not be your belief.  But for those who believe it, it’s golden with respect to hope.)

Anyway, it strikes me that depression is a present state of hopelessness.  Looking to the future optimistically, even if it means finding only the smallest possibility of hope, is an antidote to depression.  And yes, it might be a very diluted antidote.  But it’s something, a beginning, a foothold to begin scaling the tall wall out of the pit you’re in.  Fight despair with hope.

But that’s not the whole ending–of the psalms, I mean.  Both these psalms end the same way, as I mentioned at the start of this post.  But I quoted only the first half of the final verse.  After asking why his soul is so cast down and disquieted within him, the psalmist concludes with these words:

“Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my help and my God.”

Every soul needs hope.