The Fruit of Lent (week 2): Forbearance

Fruit of the Spirit

Fruit of the Spirit

Week 1: Peace

 
FORBEARANCE
You are a God of deep forbearance, and you desire your people to be a people of forbearance.

Forgive us, Jesus, for we have been impatient and unkind. Forgive us for our thoughtless busyness that allows us to push others aside in favour of our own agenda. Forgive us for simply dismissing those who have stood in opposition to us, rather than taking the time to know them. Spirit, teach us how to bear with each other, especially when it hurts. Help us to refuse retaliation in favour of kindness.

Sung Response:      Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy, Lord have mercy on us. (x2)

Your sin has been crucified with Christ Jesus, and you are forgiven. You are free to walk in the fullness of the life offered to you by the Spirit of God.

Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.

Amen.

The Fruit of Lent (week 1): Peace

Ash Wednesday. Photo Credit: Bro. Jeffrey Pioquinto, Flickr Creative Commons

Ash Wednesday. Photo Credit: Bro. Jeffrey Pioquinto, Flickr Creative Commons

Today is Ash Wednesday. Christians all over the world will bow their heads today, and receive a smudged sign of the cross on their foreheads – will be reminded of their own mortality. That death comes to all. That death dwells in all of us. That this world is still, in many ways, captive to sin and darkness. And they will each decide to forgo some pleasure during this time: limiting consumption of meat or sweets; forgoing screen time; eschewing social media. Other Christians, all over the world, find these practices strange and stiff. They wonder what it’s all about. But they, too, although they will not walk through their day with ash marking their foreheads, will feel the pull, the heaviness of Lent in their limbs, in their days, as we begin the long march with Christ toward the cross.

Lent is a time of confession and fasting and waiting in darkness. But this year I want to acknowledge something else – it is also a time of fruiting. Even as we recognize our mortality, as we confess our sin, as we realize anew how difficult it is to control our desires, hope is born afresh in each of us. Because we know how this story ends. We know that our recognition of our mortality will become a celebration of our resurrection. We know that we have received help for our difficult desires, and that one day they will be conquered in full. We know that even as we confess our sin, we are forgiven.

So this year, our church is walking through the fruit of the Spirit during Lent (Galatians 5). We will confess our failure. But we will also embrace forgiveness, and recognize the fruit that Lent is bearing in each of us, and in us as a community.

I invite you to join us. Below is the reading for our first Sunday of Lent – I will post a new prayer every Wednesday. The sung portion is the chorus of Steve Merkel’s “Lord Have Mercy” – a version of which I have posted below. The bold print is to be read/sung by the congregation, and we will also be lighting a Lent candle each week (with the candles lined up in cruciform) as we receive forgiveness. I was helped, in writing these liturgies, by Gordon D. Fee’s excellent work Paul, the Spirit, and the People of God. Feel free to use these prayers in your your own congregation or in your personal devotions – if you do the latter, simply change the language to first person singular, and I would suggest praying the prayer morning and evening as a kind of bookend to each day.

What will you give up this Lent? And what will you harvest?

Fruit of the Spirit

Fruit of the Spirit

The Fruit of Lent, Week 1: PEACE

You are the God of Peace, and you desire your people to dwell in that peace.

Forgive us, Jesus, for we have caused divisions, knowingly and unknowingly, seeking our own good rather than the good of our community. Forgive us for any hurtful words we have spoken. Forgive us for our thoughtless gossip, and for the grudges we have held on to. Spirit, teach us to willingly forgive, to value relationship over being right, and to actively seek your peace with each other, and in all of our relationships.

Sung Response:      Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy, Lord have mercy on us. (x2)

Your sin has been crucified with Christ Jesus, and you are forgiven. You are free to walk in the fullness of the life offered to you by the Spirit of God.

Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.

Amen.

Merry Imperfect Christmas!

Watching TV the other night, I was struck once again by the number of companies urging me to have a perfect Christmas. Every year we are bombarded. Get the perfect gift. Make your house perfectly clean. Get the perfect lights, the perfect tree, the perfect tinsel. Cook the perfect turkey. Set the perfect table. Have the perfect family. BE PERFECT.

No.

Nuh-uh.

Not this year.

This Christmas I’ve been given the power (by the powers that be) to grant you a few permissions:

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Andrew and Stacey’s Wonky Christmas Tree, 2011

This Christmas, you have permission to grab a crappy tree from the bush because that’s all you have time to find. Or to grab the first tree leaning outside your local grocery store, without looking for the BEST one. Put some home-made kids’ ornaments on it and call it a day. Make some hot chocolate and sit and admire the imperfection together.

This Christmas, you have permission to leave the dirt and dog hair on your floor for another day. Go out for a moonlit ski or snowshoe instead. There’s dog hair and dirt out there, but nobody seems to mind. Why should your house be any different?

This Christmas, your kids are allowed to yell and be crazy and get dirty. Because kids are kids. Run around with them for a bit. Push them down a hill. Instead of cleaning your bathroom, make a few snow angels and some snow polar-bears OR a snow polar-angel-bear! Instead of washing your dishes, make two forts and pelt each other with snowballs. Let the kids stay up late. Let them help. When people look at you with raised eyebrows because your kids are over-tired and a little ill-behaved and your house is a mess, just tell them it’s my fault. Pick ONE thing to do in a day and throw away that list of “perfect family Christmas memories.” Don’t look at Pinterest.

This Christmas, you have permission to NOT make three million cookies. Just a tub or two will do. Unless you like making cookies. Then make five million and give some to the neighbours.

This Christmas, your table can be decorated with a few candles and some branches from the yard. Or not at all. And your turkey does not have to be perfectly browned and moist.  Just don’t’ give anyone salmonella poisoning. Maybe have a wiener roast instead. Let people help you in the kitchen. Accept all offers to wash dishes. Let people bring food. Spend more time visiting and less time slaving. Cook with wine so you can have a glass. Sometimes soup from a can or pasta from a box is the only way to go. You can drink wine with that.

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Snowy Christmas Walk (a.k.a. Sacred Moment)

This Christmas, you do not have to exude “Christmas Spirit.” What on earth IS that, anyway? Instead, pay attention to the Spirit. Notice the moments in which the kingdom of God breaks in – they will be small. The joy of a child going off-script during a Christmas play. A single line from a well-worn Christmas carol that suddenly sounds new, and fresh, and scary-in-a-good-way. The sight of your breath rising in front of you as you tromp through snow-covered fields with your dog. The shouts of children as they play outside, their snow-suit-shrouded forms ungainly, and their mittens-on-strings flopping at their sides. A quiet moment to yourself, re-reading the story of Christ’s incarnation by candle-light, tree-light – opening yourself again to the hush of amazement.

And, if you are a worship leader, you have permission NOT to plan the perfect Christmas service, or the perfect Christmas program, or the perfect Christmas banquet. Give jobs to children. Let them screw those jobs up. Allow a few sour chords to make the rest sound sweeter. Practice, but not extensively. Keep it simple. Just tell the story. But tell it in a way that reveals its imperfections. Tell people about the poop in the stable. Tell people about the smells and the sounds. Tell people that Mary was young, and that her pregnancy made her look disreputable. Tell people that Joseph wanted to abandon her. Tell people again that, to God, KING looks different. No gold. No power. No throne. Just a baby in a barn.

You see, all the perfection we are supposed to achieve at this time of year – all of that work – takes something from us. It takes away Christmas.

That first year there was no perfectly browned turkey, no perfect tree, no beautifully decorated home, no hushed angelic children’s faces gathered around a perfectly lovely crib. There was mess, and noise, and smelliness, and discomfort. Dirt and a fair bit of chaos. A crying baby. That is the standard.

So this year – maybe let things slide a little. I’m going to.

Have a merry imperfect Christmas!

Advent 2013: Resisting Idolatry, Choosing Christ

2011, 2012 027This year our church is moving through a number of texts in Isaiah during Advent and on Christmas Eve. The readings below take the traditional themes of Advent (hope, love, joy, peace) and unpack them in an effort to determine where we place our trust. Isaiah deals with themes of idolatry and re-alignment with God through the actions of a Suffering Servant. I’ve counterpointed those themes with a repeated congregational reading of part of Mary’s song in Luke 1, which is a prophetic proclamation of the work that Christ has come to do – the work of a Suffering Servant.
 
(Texts used: Luke 1:46-55; Isaiah 1:2-3; 2:2-5; 40:1-11; 11:1-16. Dark print to be read by the congregation.)

WEEK 1: Tenacious Hope

My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour. His mercy extends to those who fear him, from generation to generation.

We have a tenacious hope. A thin cry in the darkness that somehow, slowly, inevitably, pushes away the darkness and reveals the light. What can overcome the weight of sin in the world? What can overcome our idolatry? What can overcome war, and hunger, and murder, and rage, and the sorrow of a world bowed under—lost in darkness? What is big enough? What is strong enough to beat back the darkness?

The answer, it seems, is a baby. The weakest and most vulnerable humanity. Not even from a powerful family. Destitute. Poor. Fragile. A fragile hope. But a hope that acknowledges a God that goes beyond our expectations. Stepping down into the world he created. Choosing to live with those who have rejected him. Extending hope where there appears to be none.

Let us turn away from the false hope offered by our own power and wisdom and place our hope in Jesus Christ.

He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble. He has filled the hungry with good things but has sent the rich away empty. My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour,  for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant.  From now on all generations will call me blessed, for the Mighty One has done great things for me—holy is his name.

We light this first candle of Advent as a sign of our tenacious hope.

PRAYER: Hope of Israel, as we walk through the darkness and difficulty of this world, would you help us to fix our eyes on you—to know that your work is not finished. Please teach us not to hope in ourselves. May we look instead to you, our hope. Knowing that you continue to work your hope steadily into this world. Knowing that, at your coming, all war and oppression and sorrow will cease. That the darkness that feeds on this world cannot withstand the coming of the light. Come, Lord Jesus, Come. Amen.

WEEK 2: Steadfast Love

My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour. His mercy extends to those who fear him, from generation to generation.

We have a steadfast love. A love that follows and pursues us even when we would push it away. What can overcome the weight of sin in the world? What can overcome our idolatry? What can overcome war, and hunger, and murder, and rage, and the sorrow of a world bowed under—lost in darkness? What is big enough? What is strong enough to beat back the darkness?

The answer, it seems, is a baby. The weakest and most vulnerable humanity. This small, crying one, as we move to comfort him, turns instead to comfort us. For in his weakness, Christ brings us strength. Killed by hate, he lives to extend his love to us. A steadfast love: not dependent on the circumstances in which we find ourselves; not dependent on our actions or our words; not dependent on how well we perform. The love of a God who goes beyond our expectations. Stepping down into the world he created. Choosing to love those who have rejected him. Extending love where there appears to be none.

Let us turn away from the love of our own power and wisdom and accept the steadfast love of Jesus Christ.

He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble. He has filled the hungry with good things but has sent the rich away empty. My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour,  for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant. From now on all generations will call me blessed, for the Mighty One has done great things for me—holy is his name.

We light this second candle of Advent as a sign of our steadfast love.

PRAYER: Love of Israel, as we walk through the darkness and difficulty of this world, would you help us to know you—to know that you love us. Please teach us to love beyond ourselves. May we look to you, the one who loves us with a steadfast love. Knowing that you continue to work your love steadily into this world. Knowing that, at your coming, all war and oppression and sorrow will cease. That the darkness that feeds on this world cannot withstand the coming of the light. Come, Lord Jesus, Come. Amen.

WEEK 3: Persevering Joy

My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour. His mercy extends to those who fear him, from generation to generation.

We have a persevering joy. A joy that moves through suffering and sustains us, even when we think we cannot continue. What can overcome the weight of sin in the world? What can overcome our idolatry? What can overcome war, and hunger, and murder, and rage, and the sorrow of a world bowed under—lost in darkness? What is big enough? What is strong enough to beat back the darkness?

The answer, it seems, is a baby. The weakest and most vulnerable humanity. And it is this child that brings joy even to those in darkness. For it is a persevering joy born neither in circumstance, nor in the things we buy, nor in the triumphs we celebrate, but in the knowledge that one day all will be well and all manner of things will be well. The joy of a God who goes beyond our expectations. Stepping down into the world he created. Choosing joy despite his rejection. Extending joy where there appears to be none.

Let us not run after temporary happiness in our own power and wisdom, but find persevering joy in Jesus Christ.

He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble. He has filled the hungry with good things but has sent the rich away empty. My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour,  for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant.  From now on all generations will call me blessed,  for the Mighty One has done great things for me—holy is his name.

We light this third candle of Advent as a sign of our persevering joy.

PRAYER: Joy of Israel, as we walk through the darkness and difficulty of this world, would you help us to rejoice in you—to know that your work is not finished. Please teach us not to run after temporary happiness, but to find our joy in you. May we look to you, our joy, knowing that you continue to work your joy steadily into this world. Knowing that, at your coming, all war and oppression and sorrow will cease. That the darkness that feeds on this world cannot withstand the coming of the light. Come, Lord Jesus, Come. Amen.

WEEK 4: Persistent Peace

My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour. His mercy extends to those who fear him, from generation to generation.

We have a persistent peace. A peace that goes beyond understanding and stills confusion, upheaval and war. What can overcome the weight of sin in the world? What can overcome our idolatry? What can overcome war, and hunger, and murder, and rage, and the sorrow of a world bowed under—lost in darkness? What is big enough? What is strong enough to beat back the darkness?

The answer, it seems, is a baby. The weakest and most vulnerable humanity. And it is this child that stops the war engines, turns instruments of torture into instruments of growth and flourishing, and stills the turmoil in our hearts. He brings a persistent peace that erodes the tempers of this world. The peace of a God who goes beyond our expectations. Stepping down into the world he created. Demonstrating peace in the midst of his rejection. Extending peace where there appears to be none.

Let us not seek our own peace through our own power and wisdom, but seek after the persistent peace of Jesus Christ.

He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble. He has filled the hungry with good things but has sent the rich away empty. My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour,  for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant.  From now on all generations will call me blessed,  for the Mighty One has done great things for me—holy is his name.

We light this fourth candle of Advent as a sign of our persistent peace.

PRAYER: Peace of Israel, as we walk through the darkness and difficulty of this world, would you help us to know you—to know your peace. Please help us to seek peace in you rather than through our own efforts. May we follow you, knowing that you continue to work your peace persistently into this world. Knowing that at your coming all war and oppression and sorrow will cease. That the darkness that feeds on this world cannot withstand the coming of the light. Amen. Come, Lord Jesus, Come.

CHRISTMAS EVE: Abundant Life

“My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour. His mercy extends to those who fear him, from generation to generation.

We have an abundant life. A life that springs up from the stump of Jesse, from the withered vine of human flourishing, and injects into that vine the abundant life of the creator. What has overcome the weight of sin in the world? What has overcome our idolatry? What has overcome war, and hunger, and murder, and rage, and the sorrow of a world bowed under—lost in darkness?

The answer, it seems, is a baby. The weakest and most vulnerable humanity. A fragile flicker of life that extends God’s abundant life in all directions: providing justice, reconciling differences, unifying our shattered and scattered world. An abundant life that confounds death and suffering. The life of a God who goes beyond our expectations. Stepping down into the world he created. Giving life to those who have rejected him. Extending life where there appears to be none.

Let us find our lives secure in the power and wisdom of Jesus Christ! (Light Christ candle.)

He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble. He has filled the hungry with good things but has sent the rich away empty. My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour,  for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant.  From now on all generations will call me blessed,  for the Mighty One has done great things for me—holy is his name.

Rejoice! For the light of life has entered the world and conquered the darkness! He has come! He is coming!

Psalm 100: A Thanksgiving Liturgy

A Thanksgiving liturgy based on Psalm 100. Bold print to be read by the congregation. Light print to be read by a single voice. The psalm is intentionally repeated by the congregation at the end of the liturgy so that it’s meaning may sink in a little more deeply, and as a final act of praise and thanksgiving.

Shout for joy to the LORD, all the earth.
Shout, sunshine. Shout, fields and mountains and rivers. Shout, spring green and vibrant fall colours. Summer heat. Winter cold. Wind and rain and snow. Grass, stone, and flower. Shout for joy. Make us shout for joy to the LORD, all the earth.

Worship the LORD with gladness; come before him with joyful songs.
Do not let the stones cry out alone. Lift your voices in praise, in joy. Let your gladness, however small, lead to worship—for we are entering, we have been invited to enter, the presence of the most holy. Let joy open your mouth!

Know that the LORD is God.
For the LORD is God. For the LORD of grace. The LORD of mercy. The good, patient, kind LORD we serve—is God. The all-powerful One is all-goodness. The all-knowing One is all-forgiving. The all-present One is all-comforting. Rejoice, knowing that this LORD is God.

It is he who made us, and we are his;
And it is His care that made us, that formed us, that guides us.

we are his people, the sheep of his pasture.
And it is His care that feeds us, that leads us to water, that restores our souls.

Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise;
And surely goodness and mercy will follow us—as we enter such a place. With songs. With laughter. With joy. We are invited to the King’s banquet hall. We are invited to share the King’s feast. To share in all that he has created—in all that he governs. In his feast, his work, his bounty, his suffering, his joy.

give thanks to him and praise his name.
Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Your name has given us a new one.

For the LORD is good and his love endures forever;
You are good. You are good. Your love has made us whole. Your love has saved us. Your love sustains us. Your love is our food, and our home, and our strength. Your love is the comfort for our past, the guide in our present, and the hope for our future.

his faithfulness continues through all generations.
And your love never changes.
Thank you.
You are faithful.
Thank you.
You have promised to never leave or forsake us.
Thank you.
May we, too, be faithful. Spreading your love, preaching your faithfulness to all generations. May our children’s children’s children know—through us—your great love for them.

Shout for joy to the LORD, all the earth.
Worship the LORD with gladness; come before him with joyful songs.
Know that the LORD is God.
It is he who made us, and we are his;
we are his people, the sheep of his pasture.
Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise;
give thanks to him and praise his name.
For the LORD is good and his love endures forever;
his faithfulness continues through all generations.

Thank you.

A Season of Thanksgiving

This Sunday, September 22nd, our little church entered a “season of thanksgiving.” Every Sunday from now until Advent, several members of our congregation will stand up, before our congregational prayer time, and name some of the things they are thankful for at this point in their lives. Nothing fancy. Just simple thanks. This is my introduction to that season.

Thanks and HopeMy parents moved recently. This, of course, means that all the boxes that I have stored, out of sight and out of mind, in my parents’ attic for x number of years have come to light – and have come home to roost in my garage. As we sifted through some of their contents, I came across a small disco ball with a tiny pair of Japanese shoes attached to it.

When I lived in BC – 3 years before I moved back to BC to attend Regent College—I went through a deep period of depression. There were a number of circumstances involved, but chief among them: I had just returned from a two and a half month trip to Ethiopia. I returned on an incredible high – sure that God was going to move in my life, sure that big things were going to happen. And they did. Our house burnt down, my childhood home. I had to resign from my job in a very messy set of circumstances – without a safety net. I was unemployed for more than six months, living in my friend’s parents’ home, with no idea how to move forward in any aspect of my life.

It was winter changing to spring at that point. In the Lower Mainland of British Columbia, Canada, this means grey, grey, grey, grey, grey. The weather was no help at all.

I can’t remember how I ended up with my little disco ball. Did someone give it to me? Did I see someone else with one, and track one down for myself? I don’t remember. But I hung it from the rear-view mirror of my little Subaru. Not, I think, with any real purpose; I may have thought it made my car look cool.

And then – one day – the sun broke through the screen of grey. And my car was filled with all these little dancing points of light. And I was so thankful. So thankful just to see the sun. Thankful every moment the sun shone. That little bit of thanks, those little points of light, kept me going through a very dark time.

Then I went to Japan for a year. Again, when I came home I was convinced I would participate in big things. Momentous things. I didn’t. I ended up living back at home with my own parents. With minimal employment. In the middle of a long, cold Albertan winter. Again unsure of how to move forward.

I hung up my little disco ball again – this time adding to it a little cell-phone charm I had purchased somewhere in Japan. A little pair of shoes: a little pair of Geta – Japanese flip-flops (although they are usually made of wood, and so are neither flippy nor floppy) – summer shoes. They reminded me that all I had to do was to keep putting one foot in front of the other; they reminded me – spring will come, darkness will end, winter cannot last forever.

Thanks and HopeThese two things – the disco ball, my little pair of flip-flops – were the only two things that came out of those boxes immediately. Much to Andrew’s annoyance I hung them in our new car immediately, realizing that I need that message again: thankfulness, hope.

I wondered if others might need the same message: simple thankfulness, quiet hope. So we will spend some weeks together, in Bon Accord Community Church, simply telling each other the little things – and sometimes the big things – that make us thankful. Maybe there is some small item, some reminder that can hang in your room, sit on your bedside table, or hang from your rear-view mirror to prompt you to thankfulness, and to keep you putting one foot in front of the other.

We want to be a church, we are a church, that is honest with each other – that lets the cracks show – a church in which the answer to “how are you?” does not always have to be “fine.” Because sometimes you’re not. Sometimes I’m not. But sometimes the darkness that we face, and even the little annoyances we deal with on a daily basis, can become so overwhelming that we see nothing else. We lose sight of the good. We can’t see any more that the sun is shining. But it is! And taking the time to notice that little good might push the darkness back a bit and help us to refocus.

It may be that some of the things others are thankful for are things that you lack. Things you want – maybe desperately. I know that will certainly be the case for me. That’s ok. Because we all, every single one of us, have something, somethings to be thankful for. And if we can be a church that both cries with those who mourn and laughs with those who rejoice – then we will always be a place of welcome. And you might find, maybe you will find, that by taking a moment to celebrate what someone else has, and you don’t have, some of that darkness lessens in you as well. Because it’s out there. There is hope. And even if the sun is not shining over you right now. It’s there. And it’s as bright as ever.

So…
…………………………………………………………………………..
I am thankful for sunshine.
I am thankful for my body:

it will never be on the cover of Vogue, but it works—in a basic kind of way—well enough for me to function and to get things done. I can walk, and run, and jump, and almost reach the highest shelf in my kitchen. I’m kind of happy about that.

I am thankful for my friends and family:

Too many people to mention. None of them are perfect. But they are all a joy – at least some of the time.

I am thankful that I am greeted with joy, exuberance, and great hairy wagginess every time I come home:

Finn (our dog) is pretty great too. ;) Andrew and I have walked through some pretty dark moments together, but somehow we still find the time and energy to be silly with each other. And we still find the time and energy to get out and walk with our dog. I’m so grateful.

Finally, I am deeply thankful for this church:

for the warm, generous, and occasionally raucous crowd we have found ourselves in. And that they have graciously allowed us to lead – even experiment. I am humbled and so very grateful for the opportunity to be here in Bon Accord.

……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………..

How about you?

A Liturgy for Easter Sunday: Dry Bones

Taken from John 20 and Ezekiel 37

Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the entrance. So she came running to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one Jesus loved, and said, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him!”

The hand of the Lord was on me, and he brought me out by the Spirit of the Lord and set me in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones. He led me back and forth among them, and I saw a great many bones on the floor of the valley, bones that were very dry.

So Peter and the other disciple started for the tomb. Both were running, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. He bent over and looked in at the strips of linen lying there but did not go in. Then Simon Peter came along behind him and went straight into the tomb. He saw the strips of linen lying there, as well as the cloth that had been wrapped around Jesus’ head. The cloth was still lying in its place, separate from the linen.

The Lord asked me, “Son of man, can these bones live?” I said, “Sovereign Lord, you alone know.”

Finally the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went inside. He saw and believed. (They still did not understand from Scripture that Jesus had to rise from the dead.)

Then he said to me, “Prophesy to these bones and say to them, ‘Dry bones, hear the word of the Lord! This is what the Sovereign Lord says to these bones: I will make breath enter you, and you will come to life. I will attach tendons to you and make flesh come upon you and cover you with skin; I will put breath in you, and you will come to life. Then you will know that I am the Lord.’”

The disciples went back to where they were staying. But Mary stood outside the tomb crying. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb and saw two angels in white, seated where Jesus’ body had been, one at the head and the other at the foot.

So I prophesied as I was commanded. And as I was prophesying, there was a noise, a rattling sound, and the bones came together, bone to bone. I looked, and tendons and flesh appeared on them and skin covered them, but there was no breath in them.

The angels asked Mary, “Woman, why are you crying?” “They have taken my Lord away,” she said, “and I don’t know where they have put him.” At this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not realize that it was Jesus.

Then the Lord said to me, “Prophesy to the breath; prophesy, son of man, and say to it, ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: Come, breath, from the four winds and breathe into these slain, that they may live.’” So I prophesied as he commanded me, and breath entered them; they came to life and stood up on their feet—a vast army.

Jesus asked Mary, “Woman, why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?” Thinking he was the gardener, she said, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him.” Jesus said to her, “Mary.” She turned toward him and cried out in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means “Teacher”). Jesus said to Mary, “Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’”

Then the Lord said to me: “Son of man, these bones are the people of Israel. They say, ‘Our bones are dried up and our hope is gone; we are cut off.’ Therefore prophesy and say to Israel: ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: My people, I am going to open your graves and bring you up from them; I will bring you back to the land of Israel.”

On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord. Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.”

Say to them: “Then you, my people, will know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves and bring you up from them. I will put my Spirit in you and you will live.”

And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.

Then you will know that I the Lord have spoken, and I have done it, declares the Lord.’”

A Liturgy for Good Friday

Taken from Matthew 27 and Psalm 22

Jesus stood before the governor, and the governor asked him, “Are you the king of the Jews?” “You have said so,” Jesus replied.  When he was accused by the chief priests and the elders, he gave no answer. Then Pilate asked him, “Don’t you hear the testimony they are bringing against you?”But Jesus made no reply, not even to a single charge—to the great amazement of the governor.

Do not be far from me,
for trouble is near
and there is no one to help.

Now it was the governor’s custom at the festival to release a prisoner chosen by the crowd. At that time they had a well-known prisoner whose name was Barabbas. So when the crowd had gathered, Pilate asked them, “Which one do you want me to release to you: Jesus Barabbas, or Jesus who is called the Messiah?” But the chief priests and the elders persuaded the crowd to ask for Barabbas and to have Jesus executed. “What shall I do, then, with Jesus who is called the Messiah?” Pilate asked. They all answered, “Crucify him!” “Why? What crime has he committed?” asked Pilate. But they shouted all the louder, “Crucify him!” When Pilate saw that he was getting nowhere, but that instead an uproar was starting, he took water and washed his hands in front of the crowd. “I am innocent of this man’s blood,” he said. “It is your responsibility!” All the people answered, “His blood is on us and on our children!” Then he released Barabbas to them. But he had Jesus flogged, and handed over to be crucified.

Lord, do not be far from me.
You are my strength; come quickly to help me.
Deliver me from the sword,
my precious life from the power of the dogs.
Rescue me from the mouth of the lions;
save me from the horns of the wild oxen.

Then the governor’s soldiers took Jesus into the Praetorium. They stripped him and put a scarlet robe on him, and then twisted together a crown of thorns and set it on his head. They put a staff in his right hand. Then they knelt in front of him and mocked him. “Hail, king of the Jews!” they said. They spit on him, and took the staff and struck him on the head again and again. Then they led him away to crucify him.

Yet you are enthroned as the Holy One;
you are the one Israel praises.
In you our ancestors put their trust;
they trusted and you delivered them.
To you they cried out and were saved;
in you they trusted and were not put to shame.

They took Jesus to a place called Golgotha (which means “the place of the skull”). There they offered him wine to drink, mixed with gall; but after tasting it, he refused to drink it. When they had crucified him, they divided up his clothes by casting lots. And sitting down, they kept watch over him there.

 Dogs surround me,
a pack of villains encircles me;
they pierce my hands and my feet.
All my bones are on display;
people stare and gloat over me.
They divide my clothes among them
and cast lots for my garment.

Above his head they placed the written charge against him: this is jesus, the king of the jews.

Two rebels were crucified with Jesus, one on his right and one on his left. Those who passed by hurled insults at him, shaking their heads and saying, “You who are going to destroy the temple and build it in three days, save yourself! Come down from the cross, if you are the Son of God!”  In the same way the chief priests, the teachers of the law and the elders mocked him. “He saved others,” they said, “but he can’t save himself! He’s the king of Israel! Let him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in him. He trusts in God. Let God rescue him now if he wants him, for he said, ‘I am the Son of God.’” In the same way the rebels who were crucified with him also heaped insults on him.

I am a worm and not a man,
scorned by everyone, despised by the people.
All who see me mock me;
they hurl insults, shaking their heads.
“He trusts in the Lord,” they say,
“let the Lord rescue him.
Let him deliver him,
since he delights in him.”

From noon until three in the afternoon darkness came over all the land. About three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” (which means “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”).

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
Why are you so far from saving me,
so far from my cries of anguish?
My God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer,
by night, but I find no rest.

When some of those standing there heard this, they said, “He’s calling Elijah.” Immediately one of them ran and got a sponge. He filled it with wine vinegar, put it on a staff, and offered it to Jesus to drink. The rest said, “Now leave him alone. Let’s see if Elijah comes to save him.”

Many bulls surround me;
strong bulls of Bashan encircle me.
Roaring lions that tear their prey
open their mouths wide against me.
I am poured out like water,
and all my bones are out of joint.
My heart has turned to wax;
it has melted within me.
My mouth is dried up like a potsherd,
and my tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth;
you lay me in the dust of death.

And when Jesus had cried out again in a loud voice, he gave up his spirit. At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth shook, the rocks split and the tombs broke open.

You who fear the Lord, praise him!
All you descendants of Jacob, honor him!
Revere him, all you descendants of Israel!
For he has not despised or scorned
the suffering of the afflicted one;
he has not hidden his face from him
but has listened to his cry for help.

When the centurion and those with him who were guarding Jesus saw the earthquake and all that had happened, they were terrified, and exclaimed, “Surely he was the Son of God!”

All the ends of the earth
will remember and turn to the Lord,
and all the families of the nations
will bow down before him,
for dominion belongs to the Lord
and he rules over the nations.

All the rich of the earth will feast and worship;
all who go down to the dust will kneel before him—
those who cannot keep themselves alive.
Posterity will serve him;
future generations will be told about the Lord.
They will proclaim his righteousness,
declaring to a people yet unborn:
He has done it!

 

This Lent, I’m Not Complaining (Except When I Am)

Complain, httpwww.flickr.comphotos20918261@N002053243383

Photo credit: Britta Frahm, (b.frahm on flickr)

This Lent, I’ve been thinking about the 40 years that Israel spent wandering in the desert. Now, I don’t know about you, but when I think of this particular time in Israel’s history, I mostly hear the whining. “Was it because there were no graves in Egypt that you brought us to the desert to die?” (Ex. 14:11). “There we sat around pots of meat and ate all the food we wanted, but you have brought us out into this desert to starve this entire assembly to death” (Ex.16:3).When reading passages in Exodus, I often want to grab Israel with both hands and shake. They have been led, miraculously, by the hand of God, out of slavery and into freedom. So why are they, as God himself names them in what almost reads as a fit of pique, a “stiff-necked people”?

The Nile basin is a fertile strip that travels (for much of its journey) through arid and un-productive land—desert. On satellite maps it shows up a vivid strip of green amidst sand and rock. Leaving this fertile strip, especially as a large group, meant certain struggle and possible death through dehydration and starvation. Perhaps Israel could have trusted God more—but was it really that unreasonable for them to complain?

When I considered what I would give up this Lent, I read through parts of the Exodus story, and through Jesus’ temptation, and I wondered what it would look like to not complain for 40 days. I’m still wondering. My husband seems to rather enjoy drawing my attention to a facial expression, or a snort, or a bald-faced whine. The thing is, I do have some reason to complain—a body still healing from a major surgery, the pain and grief that comes with infertility, a career that has once again taken a sharp left-turn—and my research and experience of biblical lament tells me that it is right and good to direct these complaints to God.

Complaining in itself is not an evil.

Yet these larger, legitimate complaints are not the ones that are difficult to hold back. No, what I can’t seem to stem are the

  Photo credit: kaibara87 on flikr.

This cat is me whining.
Photo credit: Umberto Salvagnin (kaibara87 on flikr).

little sighs and comments when a board game (that’s right, a board game) doesn’t go my way; the groans of an unusually early morning; the whine that develops when one more “roll up the rim” cup (if you’re not Canadian, this will make no sense) tells me politely to “please play again.”

What I have discovered thus far into Lent is that I am a whiney and annoying person. Because—although I have not managed to stop complaining—I am, for the first time, hearing all my complaints. And I have to say, I am at least 200 times more annoying than Israel in the desert. Of course, the main difficulty with these thousands of minor whine-sessions is that they mask an equal number of blessings that I simply stop seeing. When I complain that my numbers aren’t rolling in a board game, I fixate on that and lose sight of the fact that I am able to spend an evening in comfort, with good food, in the company of good friends. That I have the time to play. When I roll myself, groaning, out of bed I forget to be grateful for a job that puts money in the bank and gives me the flexibility to continue to pursue other things. When I whine about not having a winning Tim’s cup, I lose any joy I might experience in drinking the coffee it contains.

Stop Complaining, httpwww.flickr.comphotos1c114230175179

Photo Credit: Alan Turkus (aturkus on flickr).

Maybe, when God called Israel (and us) a stiff-necked people, he meant that we turn our heads and focus in one direction only. We have a tendency to fixate on all the little things we have to complain about and, in doing so, our necks become stiff, and we can no longer turn and see the many millions of blessings—big and small—we experience each day. We lost the ability to be grateful.

So: I am thankful for a husband who points out my complaints (even when I don’t want him to), and who enriches my life with wisdom and a slightly strange sense of humour. I am thankful to be greeted, every time I return home, by Finn the Wonderdoodle, with his painful, whip-like tail wagging and grinning, shaggy face. I am thankful for our home and deck and garden. Although it is March, I am thankful for the beauty of snow piled up in our back yard. I am so grateful for the warm and generous church in which my husband and I serve. I am eternally thankful for an army of close and far friends and family that care for us in every possible way. And for the little things: for popcorn and tea; for a bathtub and hot showers; for a couch that serves as a playground for visiting children; for sudoku and logic puzzles; for my long-underwear that lets me go for walks in the cold; for good books; for chocolate; for so many, many things.

Remaking Christmas

Advent begins next Sunday – but the stores have been decorated and pumping out Christmas music for weeks already. This year makes a record for me: I saw my first tree on August 29. Well done Costco. Each year the music seems to get louder. The tinsel seems more garish. Each year Santa Claus gets bigger, and the manger fades just a little farther into the background. Even in Christian churches. Even in Christian homes. Even in Christian hearts.

That is what makes me saddest.

“How insidiously did the enemy work to slowly hijack Jesus’ birth and hand it over on a silver platter to Big Marketing, tricking His own followers into financing the confiscation? We all know it. We all feel it. Every year we bear this tension. Each December, the world feels off kilter. But in the absence of a better plan or an alternative rhythm or – let’s just say it – courage, we feed the machine yet again, giving Jesus lip service while teaching our kids to ask Santa for whatever they want, because, you know, that’s really what Christmas boils down to.”

A friend of mine shared Jen Hatmaker’s 2011 post “The Christmas Conundrum” on facebook, and I want to share it with you – because it spoke to me, and it might speak to you as well. In it, Jen asks the question: “What if a bunch of us pulled out of the system? What if we said something very radical . . . like: ‘Our family is going to celebrate Jesus this year in a manner worthy of a humble Savior who was born to two poor teenagers in a barn and yet still managed to rescue humanity.'”

What if.

Please follow the link to read the whole post. This woman’s got some great ideas: http://jenhatmaker.com/blog/2011/11/29/the-christmas-conundrum