Going through

Spring is in the air! In more ways than one we are beginning soon again. In our hearts and minds we are turning towards a new start.

With hope and anticipation we look forward to the time we can meet in person together again. We look forward to the time when we can experience the freedom to eat out, and meet in public spaces again. 

The posture in our hearts of ‘starting over’ is an Easter theme. New beginnings. New life. Like the proverbial phoenix rising again out of dust. Jesus’ resurrection announces this truth. And if it’s true with Christ, it is true everywhere and for all.

We are all beginners, rookies on the field of life. In a sense, no matter how experienced we are. Whether we have been Christian all our lives or just a few days, each time we do anything in the awareness of God-with-us, we begin again. With this attitude of always a beginner, we are then ready for anything, and open to all possibilities.

How do we start over? Remember the basic pattern of liturgy: Someone must start it all. Someone initiates the conversation and says, for example, “the Lord be with you”. Those of us practiced in this way of worship will know that the conversation may start there but doesn’t end there. We respond, “And also with you.”

There is this back-and-forth flow dynamic between God’s word, God speaking and how we hear that and what we do with that. There is this back-and-forth flow between what God says to us and our response to God’s life and love in all and for all.

How do we begin again? How do we begin each time to strengthen this relationship? We can consider Jesus’ words in the Gospel for today: “I have come to give you life and life abundantly”[1]; that is, we nurture our own lives as a responsiveness to God’s own life. Our lives share in the abundant vitality of God.

If anything, we may have been shocked by this crisis to consider how to live well. What we’ve had to stop, what we’ve had to pause, what we’ve had to close – and not just for a week or two as I suspect many of us initially expected but for months – all these restrictions are causing us to reflect on the meaning of it all and what might emerge from it.

I also suspect more and more of us are coming around to accepting that what does emerge will not be “back to normal” to the way it was right before we had to lock things down. What does emerge will likely, over time, be some kind of integration, blending, hybrid of what we have been doing in the last several weeks in physical distancing with social gathering.

During the Easter season we celebrate Good Shepherd Sunday. Images of Jesus tending flocks of sheep and holding the lost sheep over his shoulders populate our imaginations. Yet in the Gospel text today, specifically, Jesus self-identifies as the gate. This is one of many “I am” statements Jesus says in John’s gospel. He’ll go on later in the chapter to say “I am the good shepherd.” But here we dwell momentarily on the image of Jesus as the gate. The care, the love, the compassion of Jesus come to us through the gate.

A gate is a way through. A gate is a place of transition. A gate marks a boundary between what is and was to what can be, beyond. Jesus is that gate that beckons us forward.

We have found ourselves these days in seclusion and isolation. It is an in-between space in time, of being in that ‘already but not yet’ place. It is not a comfortable place to be in. It can be very disruptive to those especially who have lost jobs or have become sick, who have lost loved ones and who suffer fear and anxiety as a result. 

And yet, rejecting, repressing and avoiding that in-between and uncertain place keeps us from entering and going through the gate. The gateway threshold, in Christ, is in truth a graced time, but often does not feel ‘graced’ in any way. Because moving through the gate, as slow and as long as this feels like, keeps us struggling with uncertainty, and calling so-called normalcy into creative question.

In such space, we are not in control. That is why Jesus must be the gate. 

The gift of being in this place in the love of Christ is that Jesus guides and leads. Moving through this space, we do not do so on our own terms or strength. It is the love and faith of Christ that is the engine, the propulsion and momentum to new life beyond the gate.

The gate leads us to a new way of seeing and being in the world. It is the place, too, where we can begin to think and act in new ways. While we are betwixt and between now, having left one room or stage of life but not yet entered the next, the very vulnerability and openness of this space allows room for something genuinely new to happen.[2]

It’s hard now to know for sure what that ‘new thing’ exactly will be. At the same time, we can foster within us an approach to abundant life in Christ in such a way that gives life and energy to possibilities. Theologian Charles Eisenstein wrote about leaning into “a more beautiful world our hearts imagine can be possible.”[3]

The new life post-COVID, even new life in Christ, is not “now all my problems are solved”. This new life is not “going back to the way things were.” The new life is not problem free nor tripping into some sentimental, perfect past. 

It is a new thing. It is a new way of seeing the world as it is, whatever it is. The Prophet Isaiah captured this divine work in Hebrew poetry: “Do not remember the former things, or consider the things of old. I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.”[4]

An opportunity lies before us all. We may witness a global reset of priorities. Individually, too. What are those priorities? And let’s live into them, in the weeks and months to come. Remember the life-giving visions we have seen in the last month: the foxes trapesing across the Golden Gate bridge, the clear, smog-free blue skies over Los Angeles and Himalayan peaks never before seen, the new species being discovered because of human economic restraint, the clearer waters in Venice, the political will to give financial aid to the most vulnerable in the economic crisis and recently increase the hourly wage by $4/hour to essential health care providers.[5]

Let these visions inspire us to enter the gate. Let these visions empower us to become what Jesus is calling us to be. Let new and abundant life fill you as you follow Jesus through.

[1]John 10:10

[2]Richard Rohr, ‘Liminal Space’, Daily Meditation, 26 April 2020, www.cac.org


[4]Isaiah 43:18-19

[5]In Ontario

Love finds us

This past week across Canada we’ve seen more and more indication that we are starting to ‘flatten the curve’. That is to say, new cases of coronavirus infection today do not greatly exceed the new cases recorded yesterday. Day over day, we aren’t seeing anymore spikes in new cases.

This is good news. But people are still getting sick, and dying. And our officials are telling us not to waver in our disciplines around physical distancing. We are not out of the woods yet. We can’t relax isolation practice. We must still stay at home and go out only when absolutely necessary.

A glimmer of hope that our hard work is starting to pay off. But we’ve been at this over a month already, and just now we are starting to get some good news. This process is taking a long time. As someone told me, we are in a marathon.

I’m not a marathon runner. But I did walk part of the Camino in Spain a few years ago. And I remember those days when I accomplished thirty to thirty-five kilometres were days that I bided my time and pace. I had to conserve energy, especially at the beginning of the day when I had energy and drive. I held back from going ‘all out’ early because I knew I would be walking late into the afternoon and still have hills to climb and descend at the end of the day.

Despite my good efforts and intentions, however, it didn’t always work out. I didn’t walk thirty kilometres every day. Occasionally unexpected obstacles prevented from moving on – Half way through what was turning out to be a good day on the trail, my knee locked. Sometimes finding food or bad weather delayed or cut days short. Sometimes it felt like I wasn’t making any progress at all. I wondered if I’d ever make it to my destination.

Two disciples are on half a day’s walk to Emmaus, and away from the holy city and the dramatic events surrounding the death of Jesus, their friend and their Lord. This resurrection story from the Gospel of Luke[1]reflects all that is good on a pilgrimage: the vulnerable sharing in intimate, trusting conversation; the encounter with strangers who become friends; the sitting at table and sharing in breaking of bread. And, in all of these very human experiences we recognize, sometimes in a moment of surprise, the risen, living and loving God in Christ Jesus who accompanies us in all these ventures.

The disciples are surprised with joy when they finally recognize Jesus. The full realization doesn’t happen until after the fact: “Weren’t our hearts burning when we talked on the road?” This surprise factor – a blessed goodness – is given, not earned. Indeed we are not in control of the love and grace that comes our way. Love finds us in the journey. Even if we don’t see it right away.

On Easter Sunday I spoke of the life that finds us. The life of God in Christ is animated, is conveyed and energized by love. In Easter, life and love come together as one. The life of Jesus comes about through death and resurrection. And it is all made possible by love. On our pilgrimage in life, love finds us. God seeks our good. Even when we can’t recognize and fully appreciate it right away.

My driven self feels sorry for those disciples for having to make that long walk back to Jerusalem. They went all that way to Emmaus only to head back to Jerusalem – the place of their fear and anxiety. What a wasted journey! How unproductive and inefficient a process! Why couldn’t Jesus just appear to them where they were to begin with, without having had to walk all that distance?

And yet, God’s love comes to us. God’s love comes to us even when we are not necessarily fully aware of God’s presence. God’s love comes to us despite our inefficiencies, mistakes and heroic interventions. God’s love finds us in doing things imperfectly, within our human limitations, when things don’t quite work out in the way we had envisioned. 

“There is no direct path to goodness,” Theologian David Ford so describes the paradox of being found by love amidst the confusion and messiness of life. We don’t construct a good life. Rather, he talks about an “active passivity”.[2]Especially when we don’t know exactly how things will work out in the end – this is when we experience Christ sustaining us, being present to us. And it’s while we are on this uncertain journey when we are surprised by grace and love.

I learned an expression walking part of the Camino de Santiago a few years ago: “Attaquer le chemin!”. Perhaps because for a few early days I walked with a couple of French speakers, the attitude expressed in that phrase (to attack the road) revealed a rather compulsive driven-ness to succeed and accomplish something.

My negative reactions when things didn’t work out for me on the Camino exposed my pretense and delusion of being in control of the outcome of my good efforts and intentions. My rather masculine and heroic attempts to attaquer le chemin kept me from being receptive to God. My anxious determination to take control, to be in charge of my destiny obstructed my view of God where God was.

My egoic need to possess ‘my own’ Camino experience blinded me to the good and the grace that was, in truth, coming my way and offered to me over and over again, each day: Despite the exhaustion, frustration and discomfort of the pilgrimage, I was given safe and comfortable shelter each night. I did find enough nourishing food and companions along the way to share with. I was only able to fully appreciate these gifts in hindsight.

This grace – the love of God – is born again in your heart this Eastertide. Christ is risen! Not once the marathon of physical distancing, seclusion and what may feel like imprisonment is over. But Christ is risen right in the midst of the efforts, the fits, the starts, the backtracks, the failures and the mundane. Right now. Right here. Can we therefore not step into the love, hope and grace of God that is always there? And live out of that love?

I pray you know this love and hope. Amen.

[1]Luke 24:13-35, for the Third Sunday of Easter, Year A (Revised Common Lectionary).

[2]Australian Anglican priest, theologian and writer, Sarah Bachelard, cites David Ford in her webinar on ‘A Living Hope: The Shape of Christian Virtue’, 21 April 2020, www.wccm.org

An earth-quaking resurrection

An earthquake makes sense on Good Friday. With the passion of grief, the sorrow of injustice and the horror of torture and painful death. An earthquake makes sense there, in those situations. We normally associate dying, losing and suffering with disruptive forces, earth destroying events.

Indeed, the earth itself is involved and participates in the dramatic telling of Jesus’ death. When Jesus breathes his last on the cross, there is an earthquake and the rocks split according to Matthew.[1]

Do we notice, nevertheless, that the resurrection of our Lord also includes an earthquake? In Matthew’s gospel, there is a great earthquake at the dawn of the first Easter when the women come to the tomb. In fact, this earthquake precipitates the telling of the resurrection, when the angel of the Lord comes and rolls the stone away. Then, sits on it.[2]

The story of resurrection is not without its own earth-quaking truth. The words ‘fear’ and ‘afraid’ dot the landscape of the telling not only in Matthew’s version but John’s as well. As the angel in Matthew tells the women: Do not be afraid,[3]so Jesus tells the disciples hiding for fear behind locked doors in the upper room.[4]The context of the resurrection reflects tectonic degrees of disruption, anxiety and fear among those closest to the power of Jesus’ resurrection life.

And, the power of resurrection is not limited to Jesus. Matthew is very clear that “after Jesus’ resurrection, they [the bodies of the saints who had died and were raised] came out of the tombs [after the Good Friday earthquake] and entered the holy city and appeared to many.”[5]

Resurrection also happens unto us, and in us! The living Christ renews us – not only for the life to come. But starting in this life! We are continually being reborn and renewed towards the good that awaits us.

Resurrection, therefore, is not regression. When Thomas the disciple finally arrives at his beautiful confession of belief in the risen Lord, it comes at the expense of his old self. He is not at the end the person he was a week earlier, when he had expressed his disbelief.[6]The story-telling compresses the time and process of his transformation. In truth, for most of us, that process of change takes much longer.

And yet, the dynamic is the same. Resurrection is not regression. Once Easter happens, there’s no going back. Think about a loved one who died some time ago, or when you lost something or someone, when you lost a certain way of doing things that you once cherished … 

We know that we can never again experience that which we lost, in the same way. There’s no bringing back ‘the way it was’. Even though at some point we will be able to interact again, socialize and worship together in one room, it will be different. Our hearts will be moved in a new way. The process of change introduces a new reality for ourselves and for the world.

In a short video-meeting with the confirmation class earlier this week, the question we asked of each other was: “What’s one thing you believe will be different for you and in the world, when all this is over?” The confirmand’s responses were varied: Everyone will wash their hands better and more often; the stores won’t remove the plexiglass and physical distancing signs; many more social gatherings, appointments, education and meetings will take place online. The truth is, we will not come through this experience unchanged. The world will be different. It won’t be ‘going back to normal’ but rather growing into a ‘new normal’.

This is resurrection. New life. It doesn’t come easy. In truth, getting there almost always requires an earthquake, a ground-shifting and -splitting experience. At the same time, it means we are headed in a life-transforming, a life-enhancing, a life-renewing direction. To a conclusion that is good, for all.

[1]Matthew 27:50-53

[2]Matthew 28:2

[3]Matthew 28: 5,8,10

[4]John 20:19

[5]Matthew 27:52-53

[6]John 20:24-29

Life finds us

This is an Easter we will never forget. Not just because most of us are confined to our homes this year rather than crowded together in one large room. But because of what is happening in the world around us. In our lifetime, in our generation, we are part of an unprecedented global event.

Due to the coronavirus pandemic …

This is the first Easter in 700 years, since the Black Plague tore through Jerusalem in 1349 that the Holy Sepulchre— housing the traditional sites of Jesus’ crucifixion and tomb—is closed to the public. Not since the Great Depression in the 1930s will our nation experience its highest levels of unemployment in the months ahead. Not since the great wars of the last century will we collectively hold our breath as the number of deaths increase into the tens of thousands and infections continue to soar into the millions worldwide.

This is an Easter we will never forget.

But if this is an Easter we will never forget, what is it about Easter we need to remember?

We need to remember that the risen Christ first met a couple of women outside an empty tomb in a quiet garden early that first Easter morning.[1]

We need to remember that the risen Christ met a couple of friends out walking away from the city to a small town called Emmaus.[2]That the risen Christ appeared to Saul, and only him, on the road to Damascus.[3]

We need to remember that the risen Christ came to a handful of his friends in a small upper room where he first breathed on them the Spirit of God,[4]and on a secluded beach for breakfast.[5]

We need to remember that is wasn’t in a large, packed room where Easter was first experienced. It wasn’t to an audience of hundreds and thousands crammed into a noisy sanctuary with trumpets sounding and voices shouting “Christ is risen!” where the resurrection first happened. We need to remember that Christianity grew not through mass media campaigns and slick marketing strategies to reach a multitude.

We need to remember that the story of Christ risen was told from one person to another, from generation to generation, until these stories were finally written down late in the first century. We need to remember that these verbal accounts and the faith that sustained them endured the plagues, world wars and social and economic upheavals of the ages.

We need to remember the resiliency and power of the message of Easter that life finds a way, through it all. And that life will find us.

The grace of Easter, the blessing of Easter, the good news of Easter is that despite our resolve, our efforts, our capacities, our ingenuity, our resources … God is resolved to find us. God’s life in Christ finds us. 

Even when we come up against the limits of all our own private resources, the limits of our strength, our knowledge … life finds us.

The palm tree-like plant in my office is a miracle of new life. Over the years it was growing too tall for any room in my house. There was no more room to contain its growth. I was all out of options. And it wasn’t an outdoor plant. It would surely have died.

In my ignorance, perhaps, in my impatience and frustration, I cut it down. There was only a couple feet of trunk left in the large pot. The day of the deed, I decided to just leave the protruding stick sitting in the pot for a few days before I had time later to dump it and rip out the root ball.

To my utter surprise and shock, however, a couple of days later I noticed a green bud emerge from the side of the stem. I couldn’t believe it! So, I started watering the plant again. And, wouldn’t you believe it, another small sprig had emerged on the other side of the plant’s stem.

Life finds a way. And life finds us. When we are at the end of our resources. When we feel we can do no more.

Life finds us. In the small things. Life finds us, personally. Christ comes to us where we are, in few numbers, in small places.

This Easter, one we will never forget, we need to remember that what started small ended as big. That what starts at home ends up changing the world forever.

Christ is risen! Christ is risen indeed! Alleluia!

[1]Matthew 28:1-10

[2]Luke 24:13-35

[3]Acts 9:1-9

[4]John 20:19-23

[5]John 21

Our ‘passion’ story

Looking at this tree-like plant (behind me) reminds me of one of the major symbols of Palm Sunday – recalling the story of Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem; and, how the crowd sang “Hosanna!” to Jesus by waving palm branches and making a roadway strewn with leaves from trees.[1]

Indeed at this time of year in Ottawa we start to see more green outside. The snow has just melted and the earth covered by ice is exposed to rain and sun for the first time in months. Thoughts of earth renewed and life restored tease me out of the doldrums of despair, as I struggle to keep my spirit afloat during the coronavirus crisis we are all enduring.

Maybe then it is appropriate to call today by its other name: “Passion Sunday”. Passion Sunday launches us into Holy Week which culminates in Good Friday, the day Jesus died. Throughout this coming week Christians recall the stories surrounding Jesus’ path to the cross.

In fact a large part of the total content in all four Gospels – Matthew, Mark, Luke and John – make up the Passion stories. If we consider each Gospel as made up of major parts, or Acts, as in plays of live theatre or opera (e.g. Act 1, Act II, Act III), the longest ‘Act’ of each Gospel situates Jesus in Jerusalem during his last few days. 

And yet, in our practice of faith, we conveniently steer clear of this significant though uncomfortable and disruptive part of Jesus’ life. In doing so we learn to devalue our own path of suffering as integral to faith in Jesus. We Protestants, especially, in our worship life normally leap from Palm Sunday (not even calling it Passion Sunday) to Easter Sunday avoiding everything in between.

These days during the pandemic, we don’t have the luxury of choice. We are being forced into our own Passion story. We are being asked to self-isolate. We are being asked to place restraints on our normal, social activity. And some of us are sick, and will still get sick. As social beings, we protest. 

Relationship dynamics are pushed to the limit – dating relationships, marriages, faith communities, extended families, households. And the normal fractures within relationships, usually glossed over by the activities, novelties and loud noise of regular life, are exposed now as cavernous fissures separating us during this time of ‘physical distancing’.

At this time we need to take another look at Jesus’ Passion. The word used in the context of Jesus’ suffering is not ‘passive’. It is not ‘giving up’ in a fatalistic hands-in-the-air way. It is not rejecting, or running away from, avoiding or denying what is happening to us now.

It is not giving up. But it is giving it up. Jesus in his passion did not run away. Instead he faced head-on what was being done unto him. We, too, can choose to accept our current situation and ask God, Jesus, who knows this path well, to be with us in it. Precisely because we don’t have control over this circumstance, our lives, then, are about allowing life to be done unto us, which Jesus prayed in the Garden on the night before he died.[2]So, we embrace our time of passion.

Passion time is like ‘fallowing’ time. In agrarian cultures, in farming communities, people become in tune to the seasonal changes. During long winter seasons, the land is not being productive, crops are not being sold and money is not being earned. But it is valuable time, in fallow, to refurbish and repair tools, equipment, and buildings. Down time, though seemingly ‘quiet’, is in truth generative time to press reset on the fundamentals of our community and personal relationships.

Passion time, though not easy to endure, is time nevertheless to both help and allow bodies and ecosystems to renew themselves. It is time to refresh and expand our awareness of what is, to reflect on successes and failures and decide what needs to be done differently once we are back to normal.

These fallow-time activities are not a waste of time, or time off. But, rather, this time can be seen as investment in personal, family and community well-being.[3]

The fallow season is the bridge between suffering and joy. Keeping fallow means trying another remedy for the malaise, boredom and despair we all feel:

Stillness rather than incessant activity.

Simplicity rather than always doing too much and over-functioning.

Silence rather than raising the volume.

Being with whomever makes up your household rather than being distracted by a noisy crowd.

Take this time during Holy Week not only to read the entire Passion story in any of the Gospels. But take the time, also, to rediscover your relationship with your spouse, partner, children, grandchildren, parent, grandparent, yourself. Even if you live by yourself, your pet and even your plants.

I’ll be watering this palm tree and caring for it a bit more this coming week. The meaning of Holy Week is the Passion of Christ. Walk with Jesus as Jesus walks with you. The waiting, the watching, the patience of remaining in this suffering. The ground is still fallow. The earth is fallow. This is our season, now. Waiting for the life that will surely come. 

[1]Matthew 21:6-9


[3]From Richard Rohr’s Daily Meditation, “The Path of Descent”/”Reality Initiating Us”, 28 March/1 April, 2020 (www.cac.org