Hints of Resurrection

I’ve long believed that we come to understand the “capital R” Resurrection only through appreciating “small r” resurrections—the stuff of daily life, like a sunny day after a long stretch of rain, a restored relationship, health after illness, energy after inertia, seeing a problem that seemed intractable in a new light, starting a difficult venture late in life. One woman even described seeing the ultrasound of her new grandbaby two weeks after her husband’s death. Life and death brush hands in a mysterious dance, and sometimes we catch a heartening glimpse.

For those who have grown weary of the struggle for sane gun control, the events since the Parkland tragedy have brought hope. Ever since Columbine, we’ve known this is a pro-life issue; that became increasingly clear after young children were killed at Sandy  Hook.  Yet church leadership which speaks loudly about abortion seems strangely silent on this life issue. So, for what it’s worth, one Catholic voice:

There seem to be arguments against even the mildest laws that are proposed, but this catastrophe has dragged on far too long, while gun manufacturers make millions. So why not try? Why not follow the lead of every other nation that solved this problem long ago?

After a deadly mass shooting in 1996 with an assault weapon, Australia banned them and hasn’t had a similar massacre since. (The US Congress enacted such a ban in 1994, but let it expire 10 years later.) Similarly, after a school shooting in Scotland, the UK passed strict gun control, which ended the problem now plaguing our schools and inner cities. Students’ signs carried during the March for Our Lives 3/24 said it eloquently: “Protect us, not guns.” “I’m not bulletproof,” and Tom Mauser’s (whose son Daniel died at Columbine) “This is your Vietnam.”

It’s heartening to see the Parkland survivors who just may tip the balance and achieve the critical mass necessary for legislation.  They aren’t deterred by the pessimism of “It hasn’t worked. We’ve been trying since Columbine.” Nor are they silenced by the tired NRA arguments that to them must seem as anachronistic as the muskets the organization so righteously defends. They see clearly through the obscene hypocrisy of legislators and president who send “thoughts and prayers,” then take millions in campaign contributions from the NRA. They are articulate, well-organized, and hold an impeccable stance: US kids shouldn’t be the only ones among civilized nations who are afraid to go to school.

An Easter resurgence of life, a spring-time burst of energy, a bright banner of hope—are these not all hints of Resurrection?

A Psalm for Spring

And just when we think

winter won’t end, a sliver

of light, a bird’s flute solo,

a tentative poke of green.

 

Thank God for sun on skin,

the pink bud opening to lilac,

rains that gild the branches.

 

Praise God for dandelion yellow,

pale coral, indigo, speckled petal

and new leaf tinged with red.

For warmth and bikes, ice cream

and longer light. As You transform

the earth, touch us too with

resurrection joy.

 

Fifth Sunday of Lent: “Come Forth!”

Today’s gospel/Cycle A (John 11:1-45) prompts us to ask where we ourselves are bound and death-like. Have we capitulated to the culture’s definition of us as consumers? Have we bought into the put-downs tossed off by the careless that do unintended harm? Do we resort to old categories (gender, age, ethnicity, sexual orientation, marital status, socio-economic level), caging unique human beings? Jesus’ call comes to us all: “Lazarus come forth!” Shed those paralyzed trappings; enter into new and abundant life.

It is marvelous to consider Martha’s role in this miracle. She starts with an understandable complaint: “If you’d come sooner, my brother wouldn’t have died.” Yet she dares to hope for more, just as Mary once told Jesus at Cana, “they have no more wine.” Martha is far more creative than the bystanders, who never dream that this “Johnny-Come-Lately” could defy death and wrench their friend from the tomb.

Approaching his passion, it’s almost as if Jesus needs one slight affirmation. He must wonder whether those who’d been with him so long had the slightest glimmer of understanding. Peter had once professed that Jesus was the Christ, but in the next verse, Jesus is warning him because of his stupidity, “get thee behind me, Satan!” Martha, on the other hand, gives Jesus what he needs: her belief that he is “the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world.” Encouraged by her trust, Jesus asserts his truest identity: “the resurrection and the life.”

 

Fourth Sunday of Lent: Blind Dignity

Scripture scholar Thomas Brodie writes of the man born blind: His first words, ”ego eimi” mean literally, “I am.” But there’s more to this than a simple self-identification. They also place him in line with God’s self-definition, “I am who am,” and Jesus’ string of identifiers elsewhere in John: I am the bread of life (6:35) and light of the world. This spunky, uneducated man represents us all, made in God’s image. (The Gospel According to John New York: Oxford University Press, 1993, 55.)

Furthermore, the formerly blind man models how to trust. He’s so grateful to Jesus he believes him completely, and bows in reverence to him. He may not have read anything, but he stands in sharp contrast to the Pharisees who desperately cling to a tired tradition: “we are disciples of Moses.” Their blindness keeps them from seeing how awesomely God works in the present.

We shouldn’t pick on them when we all have our blind spots. Sometimes, metaphorically, we choose to hang out in the dark basement, rather than the gorgeous, light-filled ballroom to which God invites us. If we wallow in despair or anxiety, we overlook our amazing identity: created like God.

When Jesus anoints the man’s eyes with clay (John 9:6), it symbolizes the man’s human dignity and heals his blindness. Jesus himself will be anointed by a woman (John 12:3). So too, those baptized or confirmed at the Easter Vigil will be anointed with oil, like Israel’s priests, prophets and rulers. Story and symbol speak of our essential dignity.

Third Sunday of Lent: Words at a Well

Today in the Cycle A readings (John 4:5-42), Jesus arrives at the well tired, thirsty, aware that he’s among Samaritans who have a long history of conflict with his people.

He immediately breaks a social taboo since a good Jewish boy never spoke to a woman (even his mother, wife or sister) in public. So the Samaritan woman is surprised–and intrigued. Jesus refused to categorize her by gender or nationality. He begins by expressing poignant human need, the same thirst he named from the cross. Then he engages in conversation with her, just as he did with Martha, Peter, or the other disciples.

His conversational style is important: some believe that the Trinity itself is a marvelous dialogue or dance among the three persons of God. In contrast, the one-sided lecture form seems stale and lifeless. Jesus’ conversation liberates her from enshrined prejudices and irrelevant beliefs. Where we worship is secondary, he says. How we worship is primary.

Since Jesus has invited the woman’s participation from the beginning, asking her for a drink, it’s natural for her to feel empowered, spreading the good news. She leaves behind her water jar, symbol of exhausted systems, in her eagerness to tell her village about Jesus.

The Samaritan woman got more than she bargained for when she went to draw water. She got a life-giving spring, gushing up to eternal life. And we, working at the old chores, the same routines or the endless drudgery, we too might be surprised by a stranger…

Second Sunday of Lent: Lent and Joy

 

It may seem an odd combination, the symbols of penance and the rebirth of spring. Why does the church’s long wisdom juxtapose something that suggests dark death with something that leads inevitably towards new life?

 

One explanation comes from environmentalists, who teach that the muddiest mulch produces the loveliest flowers. In a compost heap, dead leaves, rotten vegetable skins and over-ripe fruit create a rich and fertile soil. If this all sounds too earthy, remember that the rites of the church have always reverenced the ordinary: water, oil, candle wax, palm branches, bread, vines, wildflowers, ash.

 

In a scriptural context, read the Book of Esther, which is admittedly a bit risqué. The beautiful queen who had hidden her Jewish identity from the king suddenly faces a situation where she must break the law, risking her life to save her people. She prepares by setting aside her jewelry and rich ointments, covering her head with ashes and dirt (4:13). She asks her people to join her; their gesture says: confronting mindless oppression and brutal violence, we feel ashen within. The mark on the forehead symbolizes a recognition of our human flaws, our desperate need for God. Esther is ultimately victorious: new life for the oppressed and preview of Easter joy!

 

Even in still-wintry climates, the days grow longer. We appreciate the extra daylight and look harder for the first hints of spring: crocuses, warmer temperatures or green shoots. Do these activities suggest how much we long for God’s reign of light?

First Sunday of Lent–New Wrinkles

As ashes were signed on foreheads Wednesday, some heard what seems like a more meaningful translation: “Turn from fear; trust the good news.” What does that mean? Turn from all that drags us down. Trust God who has always been faithful; it’s the only door into the future.

 

And what shall we fast this Lent? The old practice of giving up candy bars or cigarettes was almost too easy. It only addressed one side of ourselves, the physical. This year, try fasting from negative put-downs, anxiety, time wasted on fluffy entertainment or games that are beneath us. Substitute compliments, a deliberate direction of the brain channels away from anxiety, time spent in quiet reflection. That will make it seem like a breeze to forego the candy bar!