Take Time To Sit at Your Tomb-Stone this weekend

I wrote this some years ago, during my time serving as a chaplain resident at UNC, but I think it still holds truth for this holy time leading up to Easter.

May it bless you all!

Your progressive redneck preacher,

Micah

 

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I’ve become convinced that one of the most important days of Holy Week, which no-one takes time to notice, is today. The Saturday of Holy Week. Most all of us take time to celebrate Easter, many more of us may take time to celebrate Good Friday, and I know many Christians who take time to celebrate Maundy Thursday or Palm Sunday, but it seems like all of us want to tie on our running shoes, racing through Holy Saturday without thought, in order to get to Easter morning.

On one hand, who can blame us? There is the beautiful Easter sunrise services, the eggs and candy, the baskets, and for many of us Easter brunch and Easter dinner. There are the words “He is not here, he is risen”.

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What’s more … Who wants to think about what this day was like? Jesus, buried behind a tomb. Judas hanging himself on a tree. The disciples hiding in fright, scattered to the four winds in fear. The hopes of all who followed Jesus shattered and lost… From the appearance of all who looked up, a day in which evil won, where injustice reigned triumphant, where oppression rules.

Though including details of both Good Friday and Holy Saturday, Sydney Carter’s beautiful bittersweet song “Bitter Was the Night” beautifully expresses the pathos of Holy Saturday:

But we cannot rush through to Easter. To truly appreciate the full depth of Easter, we need to take space to sit with the bitter pain of Holy Saturday, to sit at the tomb where Jesus lays, to face our own tombs. We need to stay a while with the disciples, to hear the cry of mother Mary as her baby boy lays in the tomb. I think as we do so, we can find Holy Saturday teaching us great things.

What does it teach us?

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First it shows us the value of sitting with our own experience of pain and forsakenness.

So often we talk as if our experience of pain, of anguish, of uncertainty, and of doubt are signs that we have lost our way, that we have gone down the wrong road.

Often when I sit with family members facing sickness and loss as a minister, they tell me they need to put on a good face, speak a good positive word. Though there are times to focus on the positive, too often what it means is pushing down our pain, our heartache, and not facing it. Holy Saturday teaches us that trying to reach Easter, new beginning, and hope before we like Jesus sit in the midst of death, of grief, of loss, of terror, and total abandonment can mean not yet being ready. Facing and admitting our pain and heartache is part and parcel of the call of Holy Saturday.

What’s more, facing these and confessing these to others and God is ironically embracing the presence of God. On Holy Saturday God taking into God’s self the the experience of death, of abandonment, of guilt, and of hell through Jesus. On this day as one of us God experiences what it means to be totally abandoned by God. This means in the heart of our experiences of grief, of terror, and abandonment we are not alone though, as Jesus did on the cross, we do feel abandoned in those moments. In the midst of our experiences where God seems to have lost, when evil seems to have won, God come as man with men & women to dwell, also dead, also having lost to evil, injustice, and death, we find in Jesus God is already here holding us close, sitting with us. God joins us here, totally helpless and totally forsaken transforming our experiences of hopelessness and loss into encounters with God’s self.

So your experience of forsakeness and loss, your experience of uncertainty and doubt, your times when you turn to the heavens and they seem empty – all of these are moments full of divine presence.

This is why as he died Jesus cries out “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” and why Christian mystics have talked about the need to face the dark night of the soul.

We see this reflected in the psalms. Growing up as a child I attended an Adventist-style church with a tradition of singing the psalms. There I heard the following song–

This song, straight from the psalms, is so reflective of the psalms which are the prayerbook of Jesus, and so far removed from the very happy, upbeat songs of victory we often sing on Sunday mornings. Yet so much of what is prayed in the psalms are just like this – psalms expressing deep alienation, fear, doubt, and questioning.

In his writings the Old Testament scholar Walter Bruggemann argues that these psalms show us the journey of the spiritual life – one from orientation, where life makes sense and fits our preconceived notions; into disorientation, where like Jesus and the disciples on Holy Saturday, we face terror, grief, sadness, moments in which God does not make sense and may in fact appear powerless, evil, or non-existence; which only when truly confronted and faced lead into times of reorientation where faith, God, purpose, hope, and all that we lose sight of in our Holy Saturday moments of disorientation can begin to reappear in our lives like the sun rising on the empty tomb on Easter morning. Yet the reorientation experience of God, faith, hope, purpose, and life finds these things as being experienced not as things out there, outside of us, or simply empty words we believed but as treasures deeply rooted in our souls that are now not shakeable because they have been forged with the fire of doubt, fear, and loss.

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The lesson then is to sit at your tombs, face your hells, express your heartache. Only in taking time for your Holy Saturday moments can you truly be ready for the Easters in which you find that healing in the broken places of doubt, terror, pain, and fear.

Let’s put the sneakers away this Holy Saturday and sit for awhile beside our tombs.

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And I’m not just whistling Dixie,

Your Progressive redneck preacher,

Micah

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Song for the Season: Were You There?

Today is a Holy time, Holy Saturday.

It is a time to sit with the depth of the grief of Jesus’ passing, and the grief of the world.

I always think about the following Gospel spiritual during this time:

Jesus’ time of grief was solitary — abandoned but all but a tiny few of his friends, a handful of women who would not leave his side.

Yet even the scattered friends of his, who fled in fear, found solace together in locked rooms.

I find in my times of grief, friends have been the boon that kept me going.  A song that reflects the value of such friends to me is this one:

However you celebrate Holy Saturday, may you know a deeper connection with the things of Christ, the path of the Gospel, and your own soul today.

Your progressive redneck preacher,

Micah

You are a Friend of God

This is the message I preached Maundy Thursday, March 29, at Hanks Chapel United Church of Christ in Pittsboro, NC.  Weekly Hanks Chapel has Sunday school at 9 AM, with worship beginning at 10 AM, and is located at 190 Hanks Chapel Loop, Pittsboro, NC.   For folks hoping to join Easter Sunday, we have a different schedule that Sunday: an Easter Sunday service outside at 7 AM, with breakfast following; then Sunday school at 8:15, and our full Easter service at 9 AM.

 

Exodus 12:1-4, 10-14

The Lord said to Moses and Aaron in the land of Egypt, 2 “This month will be the first month; it will be the first month of the year for you.[a] 3 Tell the whole Israelite community: On the tenth day of this month they must take a lamb for each household, a lamb per house. 4 If a household is too small for a lamb, it should share one with a neighbor nearby. You should divide the lamb in proportion to the number of people who will be eating it.

10 Don’t let any of it remain until morning, and burn any of it left over in the morning. 11 This is how you should eat it. You should be dressed, with your sandals on your feet and your walking stick in your hand. You should eat the meal in a hurry. It is the Passover of the Lord. 12 I’ll pass through the land of Egypt that night, and I’ll strike down every oldest child in the land of Egypt, both humans and animals. I’ll impose judgments on all the gods of Egypt. I am the Lord. 13 The blood will be your sign on the houses where you live. Whenever I see the blood, I’ll pass over[a] you. No plague will destroy you when I strike the land of Egypt.

14 “This day will be a day of remembering for you. You will observe it as a festival to the Lord. You will observe it in every generation as a regulation for all time.

John 13:1-35

breakbreadBefore the Festival of Passover, Jesus knew that his time had come to leave this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them fully.

2 Jesus and his disciples were sharing the evening meal. The devil had already provoked Judas, Simon Iscariot’s son, to betray Jesus. 3 Jesus knew the Father had given everything into his hands and that he had come from God and was returning to God. 4 So he got up from the table and took off his robes. Picking up a linen towel, he tied it around his waist. 5 Then he poured water into a washbasin and began to wash the disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel he was wearing.6 When Jesus came to Simon Peter, Peter said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?”

7 Jesus replied, “You don’t understand what I’m doing now, but you will understand later.”

8 “No!” Peter said. “You will never wash my feet!”

Jesus replied, “Unless I wash you, you won’t have a place with me.”

9 Simon Peter said, “Lord, not only my feet but also my hands and my head!”

10 Jesus responded, “Those who have bathed need only to have their feet washed, because they are completely clean. You disciples are clean, but not every one of you.” 11 He knew who would betray him. That’s why he said, “Not every one of you is clean.”

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12 After he washed the disciples’ feet, he put on his robes and returned to his place at the table. He said to them, “Do you know what I’ve done for you? 13 You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and you speak correctly, because I am. 14 If I, your Lord and teacher, have washed your feet, you too must wash each other’s feet.15 I have given you an example: Just as I have done, you also must do. 16 I assure you, servants aren’t greater than their master, nor are those who are sent greater than the one who sent them. 17 Since you know these things, you will be happy if you do them. 18 I’m not speaking about all of you. I know those whom I’ve chosen. But this is to fulfill the scripture, The one who eats my bread has turned against me.[a]

19 “I’m telling you this now, before it happens, so that when it does happen you will believe that I Am. 20 I assure you that whoever receives someone I send receives me, and whoever receives me receives the one who sent me.”

21 After he said these things, Jesus was deeply disturbed and testified, “I assure you, one of you will betray me.”

22 His disciples looked at each other, confused about which of them he was talking about. 23 One of the disciples, the one whom Jesus loved, was at Jesus’ side.24 Simon Peter nodded at him to get him to ask Jesus who he was talking about.25 Leaning back toward Jesus, this disciple asked, “Lord, who is it?”

26 Jesus answered, “It’s the one to whom I will give this piece of bread once I have dipped into the bowl.” Then he dipped the piece of bread and gave it to Judas, Simon Iscariot’s son. 27 After Judas took the bread, Satan entered into him. Jesus told him, “What you are about to do, do quickly.” 28 No one sitting at the table understood why Jesus said this to him. 29 Some thought that, since Judas kept the money bag, Jesus told him, “Go, buy what we need for the feast,” or that he should give something to the poor. 30 So when Judas took the bread, he left immediately. And it was night.

31 When Judas was gone, Jesus said, “Now the Human One[b] has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him. 32 If God has been glorified in him, God will also glorify the Human One[c] in himself and will glorify him immediately. 33 Little children, I’m with you for a little while longer. You will look for me—but, just as I told the Jewish leaders, I also tell you now—‘Where I’m going, you can’t come.’

34 “I give you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, so you also must love each other. 35 This is how everyone will know that you are my disciples, when you love each other.”

Still-speaking God, whose Word echoes not just through the pages of holy Scripture but also in every corner of world, each moment of our lives, each person we encounter, and even in our deepest selves, we know you have yet more light and truth to break forth from your holy Scriptures.  Open the eyes of our minds, and ears of our hearts, so we might see and know what Word you have for us in these words of Scripture. May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all of our hearts by acceptable in your sight, my God, our Rock and our Redeemer. Amen.

“You are a Friend of God”

communionAs I meditate on not only on tonight’s Scriptures but also the whole night they point to, which we remember this evening: the night of Jesus’ last supper, of his night of prayer at Gethsemane, of his betrayal, his being hauled off to be tried on trumped up charges, this year I notice as never before that this night was not just Jesus instituting the Lord’s Supper for us, nor just his making precious promises, but it was also a last meal with close friends, followed up by a final night he sought his friends to stand by him one final time.

John’s Gospel is unique in using language of friendship to describe Jesus’ relationship with the women and men who sit around table with him for Passover dinner on this last night before his death.  A few chapters after today’s Gospel reading, while Jesus is still gathered on this night with these women and men he had spent day after day and night after night working side by side with, in close quarters, Jesus says in John 15:

“11 I have said these things to you so that my joy will be in you and your joy will be complete. 12 This is my commandment: love each other just as I have loved you. 13 No one has greater love than to give up one’s life for one’s friends. 14 You are my friends if you do what I command you. 15 I don’t call you servants any longer, because servants don’t know what their master is doing. Instead, I call you friends, because everything I heard from my Father I have made known to you.”

walking-with-jesus-pms-j7p1Jesus sat with his friends, knowing he is nearing the end, and chose to spend precious time with them.

More and more in my life, I am struck by the power and significance of friendship, the power our friends have in helping us stand through life’s storms and in helping us remember who we are when the voices of sorrow, grief, and shame clamor around us silencing the voice of our deepest selves.

Perhaps this is why friendship is something Scripture elsewhere celebrates, saying in Proverbs that “Friends love all the time, and kinsfolk are born for times of trouble” ( 17:17) and also “[t]here are persons for companionship, but then there are friends who are more loyal than family” (18:24).

Over the last few years, I can point to countless times that the voice of a friend, their hand on my shoulder, and their presence lending a hand in trouble was just what I needed to get through.

I will never forget those friends who showed up the day my late wife Katharine died, helping me not be alone in my darkest moment; those who stood by me as I moved through the shadow of grief into embracing life again.  Those who lent a hand in the days I cared for my mother as she died of cancer. Those who listened to me vent after difficult work days, celebrated advancements at work and the finding of love again after my loss, and those that took me out of my sorrow by pulling me into times of joy and laughter when this or that new love didn’t last or when the stress of the week got me down.

We’ve all known those who have been such friends in our lives.

FriendshiphelenkellerOne of my favorite spiritual authors, the late Henri Nouwen, speaks movingly about the importance of friends in steadying us through life’s storms and helping us awake to whom God has called us to be, capturing some of my own experience of friendship and likewise also some of what Jesus is seeking this final night from the women and men gathered around table with him:

“A friend,” Nouwen writes, “is more than a therapist or confessor, even though a friend can sometimes heal us and offer us God’s forgiveness. A friend is that other person with whom we can share our solitude, our silence, and our prayer. A friend is that other person with whom we can look at a tree and say, ‘Isn’t that beautiful,’ or sit on the beach and silently watch the sun disappear under the horizon. With a friend we don’t have to say or do something special. With a friend we can be still and know that God is there with both of us.

“When we honestly ask ourselves which person in our lives mean the most to us, we often find that it is those who, instead of giving advice, solutions, or cures, have chosen rather to share our pain and touch our wounds with a warm and tender hand. The friend who can be silent with us in a moment of despair or confusion, who can stay with us in an hour of grief and bereavement, who can tolerate not knowing, not curing, not healing and face with us the reality of our powerlessness, that is a friend who cares.”

What does it mean to think of this night as being a time Jesus both offers and seeks out true friendship with those women and men we call disciples, and by extension, each of us who follow in their paths?

three crossesFirst, what Jesus is about to go through, beginning with his betrayal by a friend, leading to his trial, torture, and execution, is about extending friendship to us.  “No one has greater love than to give up one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends…”

In Jesus, God has come in our midst, put on flesh and blood, heart and mind, weakness and vulnerability, hunger and longing.  And in Jesus, God is reaching out to all people, starting with this little group gathered around the dinner table with Jesus, showing us that we do not have to know God as far away, unreachable, distant, but can know God as near as breath, ready and willing to listen as a friend, to sit with us in our pain, to  be moved by the pains and joys of our life.

The writer to the book of Hebrews in our New Testament puts it well:

“14 Also, let’s hold on to the confession since we have a great high priest who passed through the heavens, who is Jesus, God’s Son; 15 because we don’t have a high priest who can’t sympathize with our weaknesses but instead one who was tempted in every way that we are, except without sin.  16 Finally, let’s draw near to the throne of favor with confidence so that we can receive mercy and find grace when we need help.”

jesus-park-benchGod in Jesus fully experienced our pain, sorrow, and joy – even betrayal, torture, guilt and shame, and death.  So we can now come boldly to God, knowing God will understand, knowing God will sympathize, knowing God will not dismiss or reject our pain.

This change in relationship to God is pictured in the Gospels by the veil separating the holy of holies of the Temple – the same veil which only the high priest could pass through and, only then when having completely purified himself by being able to check every box on the check list of laws of Leviticus – this veil ripping in two at the moment of Jesus’ death, so that now there is no longer distance or separation between any one of us and God.  We can now come directly to God as a friend.

And in Christ we know God is always there, as Jesus promised, never leaving or forsaking us, being with us through the end.  Later on this night, according to John’s Gospel, Jesus promises God to come as another helper and friend, God the Holy Spirit, who through Jesus’ going to the cross which come on all people who open their hearts to God, making God not just with us, but in us: dwelling as close as within our hearts, minds, very lives.   God always with us, always in our corner, as our closest help and friend.

To be a friend of God, which is what Jesus is extending to each and everyone of us and all people through going to the cross willingly for us, is the gift Jesus offers this night.

Yet Jesus also comes seeking friendship.

dinner-table-lMy mother used to tell people when they came over to her house something along the lines of “come on, put your feet underneath my table and sit a spell.  When you sit under my table, know you are no longer a stranger. You are family. You are welcome”. There is something to sitting at one’s table, joining in a meal, with a friend that can be a comfort, a reminder you are accepted.  This is part of what Jesus seeks in this last supper – even though, one who breaks bread with him is even then planning to betray him.

Jesus also asks his friends to simply sit with him in his pain, as Nouwen described, staying by his side as he prays in sorrow and pain in Gethsemane.  Yet, to a person, they falter. They cannot stay present with Jesus, cannot look into his pain as companions. Instead, they fall asleep – and when the betrayer comes to arrest Jesus, they scatter and deny Jesus,

Tonight is about Jesus seeking friendship – and Jesus’ friends letting him down and failing him.

If the story ended here, on Thursday night, what bad news it would be for all of us!   Yet, as we will celebrate in a few days, betrayal and death are not the end of Jesus’ story – or the story of Jesus’ friends.  Rather, Jesus will rise early Sunday morning and, again and jesus resurrection appearance 11again in the days after, will appear reaching out to his friends. And to a person, when Jesus appears to these who each scattered or betrayed, he extends something beautiful to them: the gift of forgiveness.  An opportunity to start again. Space to discover with them the friendship they each thought they shattered. Desmond Tutu once said that in the face of shattered lives and relationships, there is no future without forgiveness. Jesus makes another future possible for them, through extending the option of restoring their relationship, not just to the friendship they had before, but to an even deeper level of friendship.

In the call to let us be washed by Jesus that Jesus’ example of footwashing and the church’s sacrament of baptism give, we are reminded that the forgiveness Jesus offered to his first friends extends to us also — and to all people.  None of us have gone too far or done too much to be welcomed back by Jesus. He is a friend who forgives, accepts, and helps us find our way back to his side.

anabaptist baptismA part of what it means when we celebrate the Lord’s Supper as we will in a moment is that, just as Jesus set a table to welcome them into friendship then, so he did so again by extending his forgiveness.  And now, through the gift of his offering himself for us and all people on the cross pictured by the bread and cup, Jesus again opens up a space at the table for us through the gift of forgiveness.

We always can return, find that freedom to go to God open and free as a friend again, no matter our failings or mistakes.

Experiencing such a rich friendship from God, invites us to freely learn to not just be a servant to all as Jesus says in our Gospel text, but also to learn to be a friend to all as Jesus did.  To reach out and welcome all kinds of people, from all walks of life, even the forgive 2ones our world considers the last, the lost, and least, in as our friends and to our table of friendship as a community.  To also not be quick to give up on others when we feel they have broken friendship with us, but to learn how to extend forgiveness, and be open to at least act with love toward them even as they may take on a role of enemy, and be open to working toward reconciliation with them if they are willing to walk that road with us.  Being a friend to God means learning to be a friend to each other and all God’s children in just the ways God has modeled that friendship to us in Jesus Christ.

May we experience and share such friendship not just tonight but all our days. Amen and amen.

Jesus Deported: A Holy Week Reflection

https://www.podbean.com/media/share/pb-m3fh4-8e3977

For our Holy Week podcast this  year, I want to share an old recording — an interview with Rev. David Mateo, pastor Spanish language ministries at United Church of Chapel Hill, about his book JESUS DEPORTED, which re-casts the life of Jesus in the light of the experience of undocumented immigrants.   As we hear the call this season to take up our crosses and follow Jesus, Pastor David’s vision of Christ standing with the poor and outcasts and of the church as tearing down all barriers at the table of the Lord is a refreshing vision that I think will inspire you during this Holiest of Weeks.

Enjoy!  

Your progressive redneck preacher,

Micah

Holy Week and the Art of Saying Goodbye

As we turn to Maundy Thursday, the night of Holy Week in which we remember Jesus’ last meal with his friends before his death, I think about the many ways we say farewell to others.   This old sermon of mine from a church I used to pastor in Fayetteville, NC, speaks about the lessons Holy Week gives us about saying goodbye.  I hope it blesses you!

Your progressive redneck preacher,

Micah

 

Our Gospel reading comes from John 20, verses 16-26.

John 20:16-26

16 Finally Pilate handed him over to them to be crucified.

So the soldiers took charge of Jesus. 17 Carrying his own cross, he went out to the place of the Skull (which in Aramaic is called Golgotha). 18 There they crucified him, and with him two others—one on each side and Jesus in the middle.

19 Pilate had a notice prepared and fastened to the cross. It read: jesus of nazareth, the king of the jews. 20 Many of the Jews read this sign, for the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city, and the sign was written in Aramaic, Latin and Greek. 21 The chief priests of the Jews protested to Pilate, “Do not write ‘The King of the Jews,’ but that this man claimed to be king of the Jews.”

22 Pilate answered, “What I have written, I have written.”

23 When the soldiers crucified Jesus, they took his clothes, dividing them into four shares, one for each of them, with the undergarment remaining. This garment was seamless, woven in one piece from top to bottom.

24 “Let’s not tear it,” they said to one another. “Let’s decide by lot who will get it.”

This happened that the scripture might be fulfilled that said,

“They divided my clothes among them
and cast lots for my garment.”

So this is what the soldiers did.

25 Near the cross of Jesus stood his mother, his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. 26 When Jesus saw his mother there, and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to her, “Woman, here is your son,” 27 and to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” From that time on, this disciple took her into his home.

I want to start by playing Tim McGraw’s “Live Like You Were Dying”.

This song shows us one lesson someone learned when facing the final farewell of death.

Have you ever faced the passing of someone in a way that led you to confront lessons about your own life?

For me one of the moments the reality of our final farewell came home to me was when my good friend, Sherry, passed about 4 years ago. Sherry was perhaps the person most full of life I had known yet. During college she was someone who could always bring laughter to fill a room. She had a passion for living, and for loving others, I had rarely seen. After college, when I began affirming ministry and many of my “good Christian friends” turned their back on me for my stances, she reached out to me. When Kat and I moved back to NC she was one of the first to welcome us with open arms.   Sherry started to have some bad health problems around this time, and one day just fell over, dying quickly afterwards.

In the time following I felt really shattered, but I had moments where I felt Sherry’s presence near me, and a sense God was reminding me that her life had not ended, but she was continuing in his presence. It also caused me to put my life in a new perspective.

In the last couple of weeks we began to look at Jesus’ life and how it helps us understand our own lives. In a deeper way then Sherry’s death does, I want to suggest that in Jesus’ farewells, we find some powerful lessons about how we can say goodbye to each other, including the final farewell we all will share in.

Do you see any lessons in this passage for us?

First, I want you to notice the most obvious lesson: Jesus’ death shows us that death and farewells are a part of our lives. In Jesus God had to become fully who we are, fully flesh and blood, taking on all our vulnerabilities, weaknesses, except sin.   As one early Christian saint put it, God became as we are, so that we might become as God is… because whatever God becomes, God heals.

To be fully human, Jesus had to die as we die.   This shows us that death is a part of life, not something to be feared.   And since Jesus faced death, he transformed it not into an end to be feared, but into a place we can encounter him.

I believe this is a part of why Paul tells us that now to be absent from the body in death is to be present with Christ; and in the Gospel of John speaks of death by saying sometimes the grain or seed must die in order for new life to grow. But I believe it is not just in going to heaven that we will encounter Jesus, but in all our farewells, we experience Jesus because they force us to confront our lives more fully.

This is true not just of physical death, but also endings too.

This is beautifully pictured by this song from the musical, “Rent”

Life is full of seasons when relationships begin, grow, change, and sometimes end; when churches or ministries begin, grow, and change; jobs come, go.   Farewell is a part of life.

Learning to embrace the need to say farewell, whether from death or changes in life, is a part of learning to embrace the presence of God in our life, in each moment.   Only by being open to say farewell do we take time to appreciate the people in our lives, the experiences we’ve shared.   Trying to hold on too tightly to them can crush the joy from them.

I am sure you have seen people so caught up in a fear of loss happening that they never embrace the joy of the moment – the person so worried their partner will betray them that they never enjoy their time with them, a person so worried about what comes after college they never enjoy the time in school, a person so afraid of their illness getting the better of them they never enjoy the days they are healthy.

I heard a speaker in my high school youth group give the following example: it is like those we are blessed in with our lives are birds. You hold birds too tightly, you crush them. You have to let the bird be free to stretch its wings for it to thrive.   Holding on to others too tightly, to their time with you, to your or another’s time in any season of their life, to your time in this world, can actually steal your joy from it.

Second, I want you to notice Jesus does some important things in his final farewell.

Notice in this passage that leading up to his death, Jesus makes sure to ensure his mother is taken care of, committing her to the care of the beloved disciple. If you read through the accounts leading up to Jesus’ death in the Gospels, you find that Jesus prepares for his death. Jesus takes time to spend time with his closest friends who he is – sharing his heart, sharing who he is. Jesus introduces communion to them, as a way of them staying close to him after he goes and remembering who they are. Jesus spends time in prayer, connecting with his Father. Jesus even, in a way, gives his friends’ last wishes when he tells them to love others as he has loved them.

This shows us that a part of learning to embrace death as a part of life is doing the hard work of wrapping up things in your own personal life. This is a part of the work I end up doing as a chaplain – listening to people, helping them discover what stands in the way of peace with God, peace with others, and what other unfinished business might be there. Sometimes people have things they want to make sure are not left unsaid. Also sometimes it involves helping people come up with what their last wishes are.

This is work we all need to take part in in our lives to ready us for our final farewells – looking at what is left unfinished in our life, what ends we need to wrap up.   We don’t have to wait til our last days to begin to say those things we don’t want left unsaid, reach out to build bridges where they have been burned.   We don’t have to wait til the end to talk with those we love about our final wishes, or to reach out to build a relationship with God.   Doing that work now helps ready us for that moment, and this is the work we must face when we face our farewells or the farewells of others.

I would suggest this work too is a part of what we face even in less permanent farewells, when we pass from one season of life to another or when we say farewells to others passing out of our shared seasons in life into new seasons in life. When we say farewell to that person, or to that job, or to that season of life it is also a time to look, take stock. It is a time to look at what is unresolved in those relationships, what we don’t want left unsaid, and ways in that experience we can more fully connect with God. It is also time to find new beginnings in our lives.

Finally, it is important to note that Jesus’ death also shows us that farewell is never the final word.

I say that because we know how this ends – Easter Sunday comes.   And on Easter Sunday we see that Jesus rises victorious over death, promising that though his physical body leaves us in the resurrection, he will continue to be present with us always in the Spirit.

Our faith teaches the same thing about our other farewells – they are not forever.   Just as I sensed when my friend Sherry passed that it was not over, that somehow she was gone forever but still going on, alive in a new way, we are promised that death brings us into the presence of Christ, and with Christ we come to be with all who’ve gone before into his presence.

And this is true not just about our other farewells. In this life, there is something called “the communion of the saints” – the promise that even when we part ways physically, God’s Spirit who is everywhere present continues to connect us with each other. It is because of this that in the letters to the Corinthians, Paul writes saying that though he is not present physically with them, he is present with them spiritually. I encountered this in a powerful way many years ago when a family of mine nearly took their own life and people who I had not spoken to in years began to contact me out of the blue saying they were praying and felt something was wrong and knew I and my family needed support. It was a reminder that even though we were separated by miles, that farewell was not final – the Spirit reached across the divide.

And as Jesus told us when he said that if a seed of grain dies, it produces new life, so it is important to know that in each ending a new beginning is possible.   Jesus’ death is not the end of their story; nor is any ending in our lives.

Let us pray

God whose love surrounds us,

God of ends and new beginnings,

Grant us grace to embrace the changes in our lives as times to encounter you

Times to enter into new opportunities

Help us to embrace each moment

And each other as gifts.

In Jesus’ name,

Amen.

Songs for Holy Week

As we embark on celebrating Holy Week,, I am drawn to one of my favorite Good Friday hymns, written by Sydney Carter.  Here is one of my favorite renditions online:

For theological nerds out there like myself, you might get special Good Friday feels to see esteemed theologian and church man Bishop N. T. Wright singing the same song himself:

Take some time to meditate on these words, as a call to see yourself in each of the figures looming large on this Good Friday.   In important ways, we are called to see ourselves alongside Jesus each day of Holy Week.

Blessings on your Holy Week journey!

Your progressive redneck preacher,

Micah

A Holy Week Devotional — Holy Water, Holy Feet

I want to share a holy week devotional from another progressive pastor here in the Triangle, Rev. Isaac Villegas of Chapel Hill Mennonite, a pastor who has done alot of work about tearing down walls in the church that keep out people of color, immigrants, LGBTQ people, and that disempower women.  In the following devotional he shares about his experience with these concerns and how it translates into his practice of footwashing, which is a tradition that is often remembered or joined in on the Thursday before Easter, as that is when Jesus began his Last Supper by washing his disciples’ feet.

Here is the article:

https://www.commonwealmagazine.org/holy-water-holy-feet?utm_source=Main+Reader+List&utm_campaign=041be61954-EMAIL_CAMPAIGN_2017_03_16&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_407bf353a2-041be61954-91238169

I hope it blesses you!

Your progressive redneck preacher,

Micah