Easter Sunday

Now Life is unencumbered by Death.
Let my feet & my heart skip freely!

Now Life is not overcast by shadows.
Let my eyes weep to welcome the sun!

Now Life is not hidden in caves and tombs.
Let my soul stop seeking and rejoice to recognize!

Alleluia! There is Life! Alleluia! Freedom has risen to dance!

on Luke 24:5

Monday Muse: Doubt after Easter

The Sunday after Easter — officially the Second Sunday of the Easter season — is known as many things in different contexts: Holy Humor Sunday, Bright Sunday, guest-preacher-in-the-pulpit-while-pastor-is-on-vacation Sunday. In the Revised Common Lectionary each year, the Sunday after Easter also brings us the notorious doubting of Thomas (John 20:19-31).

And thank goodness for Thomas’ story, I must say, because it gives us the opportunity to contend honestly with our fleeting alleluias, our flash of enthusiasm for the resurrected Christ, and our rubber-meets-the-road doubt about the relevance of the risen Jesus for a still crucified and crucifying world.

The following original liturgies and scripture adaptations are offered for the Second Sunday of the Easter season to give voice to our own doubts alongside Thomas:

Isaiah 25:6-9 (from Easter Evening’s readings)

A reminder of our ultimate hope and joy: On this mountain the LORD of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food and well-aged wines. And God will destroy on this mountain the death shroud that is cast over all the peoples; the LORD will swallow up death forever. And the Lord God will wipe away the tears from all faces, and the disgrace of God’s people will be taken away from the earth, for the LORD has spoken. It will be said on that day, “This is our God, for whom we have waited so that we might be saved. Let us be glad and rejoice in God’s salvation.”

One: This is God’s promise. Do you believe it?
Many: We want to believe. Forgive our unbelief!

I confess: I don’t know
how to believe such a
vision. So many tears
say otherwise — 147
dead, too many more
weeping. This is not
resurrection, not a
fancy eternal feast,
this is hell on earth
and you, O Christ,
seem to have left
something undone
in your three days’
descent to hell;
you missed a spot
in your harrowing.
Yes you are God,
O Christ, and we
have waited long
for you…and I say
we are still waiting
for your salvation.

One: We know God’s promise, but how can we believe it?
Many: We want to believe. Help our unbelief.

John 20:19-23 (Part 1, Locked Rooms)

This is the fear of the disciples following the resurrection, according to the Gospel of John: “Do not open the doors. Do not draw back the bolt or unhook the chain. His fate will be ours, if we are not careful. They will threaten and beat our bodies if we do not behave on their terms. They will not wait to see if our hands are held up before they take our breath from us. Stand guard! Keep watch! Isn’t that what Jesus taught us to do? And now all the more: Stay out of sight. Don’t catch the attention of the authorities. Don’t protest or ask questions if they arrest you. Most of all, stay alive! We have to stay alive if we have any hope of changing the system. … Is that Jesus?! It can’t be Jesus. They don’t let anyone out alive who’s caused them trouble. How can it be Jesus? Still with his wounds, but still with his breath. Is it really him?”

One: Peace be with you.
Many: We want to believe in life, Jesus, but we’ve seen too much death.
One: Peace be with you.
Many: We want to believe in love, Jesus, but we’ve seen too much hatred.
One: As God sent me, now I send you.
Many: How can we speak to peace when division and debate are so popular? How can we speak to grace in a world so full of unjust justice?
One: I send you.

What can we do?
Maybe Easter saves our souls
but Easter doesn’t save the world.
We hide ourselves in locked rooms
terrified of what we don’t understand —
war and violence and hatred — but
locked with us in those rooms
we still must contend
with ourselves, with the war and
violence and hatred that
we each carry.
If we dare to unlock the doors, to go out,
to be sent out,
what good can we do,
full of sin and doubt and fear as we are?
If we open the doors and dare
to see the pain of the world,
then what can we possibly say?
Do we offer the dying world a resurrected Jesus?
Do we say, “Look and see his wounds”
when the world itself is wounded on the floor
and bleeding out — from Kenya to Rikers Island,
from the forests of Nigeria to a hospital in Idaho
to a traffic stop in North Charleston?
How can we say, “Peace be with you”?
How can you say it, Jesus?

One: Break through our locks and fears, O Christ.
Many: We want to believe. Help our unbelief.

John 20:24-31 (Part 2, Doubt)

This is the honesty of Thomas, according to the Gospel of John: “Don’t come to tell me that Jesus has risen unless you can also tell me that Jesus still bears his wounds. Don’t tell me that Jesus has appeared from the tomb unless you also tell me that he ate at the table with you. Don’t tell me that Jesus has saved you for heaven unless you also tell me that he taught you to live with grace on earth. Don’t tell me that Jesus died for sin if he didn’t also live for the world. Don’t tell me that Jesus brings light if you haven’t learned to seek him in darkness. Don’t tell me lies about Jesus to make me feel better; let me touch Jesus and know that he is real.”

One: Believe because you see.
Many: If we believe, it is because we have touched the hands of fellowship and felt the wounds of love.
One: Believe because you do not see.
Many: If we believe, it is because our doubts are accompanied by hope, because our fears are disputed by holy imagination. We want to believe. Help our unbelief.

Thomas told the truth
that we could not say
especially not in our Easter best
with the bells ringing, with the horns trumpeting,
especially not when we so greatly needed
that one moment of triumphant joy.
But the truth is —
we worry that Easter
doesn’t change daily life;
the truth is — we live as though it does not.
It’s hard to say how resurrection
impacts the crucifixions
still happening all around us
still happening among us.
Jesus, we don’t need you for theological niceties
we need you for miraculous practicalities;
We need Easter to be touchable.
O Lord our God — help us!

One: We want to believe.
Many: O Christ, bless our unbelief.

Psalm 16 (from the Second Sunday of Easter, Year A)

One: Let us find our assurance in a psalm of confession. You are LORD; we have no good apart from you.
Many: You delight in us, by the mystery of your grace.
One: Though life is broken in bits and pieces, you are our piece and our portion.
Many: Though life pours itself out in rage and tragedy, you are our water and our cup.
One: Let us bless the LORD, who walks with us as we wander.
Many: Let us praise the LORD, who whispers a lullaby when the nights grow long.
One: Follow God faithfully, no matter the chaos;
Many: For God does not lose track of us. God alone has power over hell.
One: God alone shows us the path of life; God is our resurrection and our renewal.
Many: In God’s presence there is fullness of joy, the multiplication of peace, and satisfaction forevermore.

Easter Sunday

Come, Lord Jesus!

For three days
and an eternity
we have been
languishing —

come, Lord Jesus!

Set among us
your rich feast
where all are fed
and comforted.

Come, Lord Jesus!

Do not hide in the
tomb or the garden
but be unrestrained
& boldly marvelous.

Come, Lord Jesus!

We have missed
your face — truly
failed to see and
to love you in all.

Come, Lord Jesus!

By your grace, let
life not be a vanity
nor our discipleship
an idle daydream.

Come, Lord Jesus!

Be our motivation
and morning star,
our deepest root
and loftiest poem!

Come, Lord Jesus!

Our sure foundation,
our impossible way
out of no way, our
only hope & savior!

Come, Lord Jesus!

Monday Muse: Thursday is Advent, Friday is Christmas

Yesterday, on June 1, my soul gasped and took a breath of fresh air. On June 1, I remembered that life is full of possibility and hope for renewal. On June 1, I knew that I could revel in joy with every minute of the day.

Why? Because June 1 — and not only June 1, but also May 1 and April 1 and the start of every month — is a resurrection day. It’s pay day!

I love the liturgical year, the cycle of seasons and stories of faith, with each Sunday’s worship marking the progression toward and through the holy days, retelling with each year the plot of God’s love affair with the world. Yet over the past year of my new job, I confess I’ve been paying less attention to the liturgical seasons and more attention to the daily seasons of the American work week: the reluctance of Monday, the almost-there-eagerness of Thursday, the rush of the weekend … and the pure relief of payday.

While the Church marks the liturgical year in fifty-two weeks, the corporate work week gives us its own liturgical cycle in seven days! It’s prompted me to look creatively at how the Christian liturgical year might be expressed within the span of a work week.

Though liturgical purists may decry the following rearrangement of holy seasons and holidays, I wonder how an awareness of the seven-day “liturgical” work cycle might inform and encourage our faith with its new perspective on the seasons of our sacred lives.

  • Monday is Lent, the day when humanity feels hard, the season when we confess what has been done and what has been left undone. Monday reminds us that the world is incessant, that God is demanding, and that we are finite. In Lent as on Mondays, we recommit to the work (or we wrestle with guilt for slacking).
  • Tuesday and Wednesday are Ordinary Time, the longest and frankly least dramatic liturgical season (and days). The Gospel readings in Ordinary Time chart the stories of Jesus’ earthly ministry: healing here, teaching there, walking from town to city, doing the dusty everyday work of God, checking emails, writing reports, meeting people, staffing conference calls, chit-chatting in the copier room, and more. Ordinary Time, ordinary days, ordinary work…and the importance of God within it all, no matter how mundane or uneventful.
  • Thursday is Advent. (Stay with me, purists. I know that I’m bucking every fiber of fondness that you hold for these time-honored, sacred rhythms.) Thursday holds all of Advent’s suspense, the anticipation of coming joy, the hope that surges within us while waiting for The Hope, the rekindling of awareness that time is moving toward something promising.

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  • Ah, Friday! Friday is Christmas. Friday is the day when Joy wakes us up in the morning and sustains us even beyond that first cup of coffee. Friday is the day when the flesh feels redeemed and revived, like the beauty of God in the flesh of an infant. Because it is still a work day, Friday is fleeting and like Christmas Day it refuses to linger, yet still it overflows…
  • …into the luxurious surprise of Saturday, the day of Epiphany, the space in the work week when we have the opportunity to be revealed for who we are in God beyond our paychecks: our gifts, our creativities, our passions, our recreations, our families, even our stillness. Every Saturday is an opportunity for new paths of discovery and new stars of revelation that will shape how we live in the work week to come.
  • Sunday is a complicated holy day in the seven-day liturgical cycle, because the usual activity of worship invites us to engage the community spirit of Pentecost … but the impending work week hovers to crush that very spirit. So I would speculate that Sunday is our weekly Ascension Day: that obscure (to some of us Protestants) holiday when we are awed by heaven yet called to tear our eyes away from glory in order to return to work.
  • And as I hinted above, Easter is payday — be it monthly or semi-monthly or weekly. Easter/Payday jumpstarts our weary spirits, inspires a fresh burst of life, and catches our breath with the promise that Life is greater and more powerful than our workweek lives.

Of the major liturgical holidays that I’ve not managed to adapt to this seven-day cycle, Pentecost stands out in its absence: that holy moment of witnessing the Spirit’s whirling rush, of experiencing the unexpected, of participating in community without barriers or fear. It also makes complete sense to me that Pentecost doesn’t fit the schedule: the spiritual experiences of Pentecost are precisely the spiritual needs that lack space in our work weeks. People long for authentic community; we long for a change of pace; we long for inspiration — and we haven’t figured out how to meet those needs within our usual weekly schedules. Thus Pentecost is found in vacation — those days away from work when community and change and inspiration can be experienced fully.

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Blessings to you, as the Church liturgical calendar turns toward Pentecost … and as this weekly liturgical cycle begins again with Lent.

Tell Me a Story

Tell me a story
of butterflies and daffodils
of thin places and reassuring angels.

Tell me a story
of miracles and love
of strolling through gardens with lions and lambs.

Tell me a story
of resurrection dawning
of rains refreshing, of tombs bursting with life.

Tell me these stories
when the clouds droop low
when grace is short-fused and fragile.

Tell me these stories
when lovingkindness seems absent
when kinship is withdrawn and understanding hindered.

Tell me these stories
when the world feels tired
when God’s patience grows weary.

Let the story continue
with stones still rolling away
with roses blooming where tears fall.

Let the story continue
with untold surprise endings
with dancing and singing and laughing.

Let the story continue
with joyous wonder repeating
with fellowship extending by every breath, every hand.