Tuesday, May 17, 2022

In Gratitude for Life & Lilacs

 




The lilacs are about to pop open on the wall of shrubs overshadowing the chicken coop my daughter and husband built last week from the repurposed wood of the disassembled swingset that proudly dominated our backyard for 16 years until it sagged with rot, carpenter ants, and disuse, and the tiny children who once scrambled all over it grew up suddenly to do things like drive my car and ask to keep backyard chickens instead.

It goes so fast.  All of it.  

Years ago I read the article below and I kept it for its sabbath wisdom, for the way it invites me to live in time and to pay attention.  These fleeting few days a year, the lilacs' heady odor fills my yard, seeps through the open windows of my home, and even blankets me in my bed as I sleep.  Lilacs have become for me another way to mark time, to live in gratitude.

I've missed the lilacs before.  This year I'm here for it.

LIFE & LILACS

June 22, 1996 | ELLEN GOODMAN and Boston Globe

 

The lilacs have gone by. I take note of this with an unexpected snap of regret as I take my morning commute from the kitchen to the driveway.

The flowers had made their annual appearance on the bushes that stand beside my backdoor. For two weeks, they had permeated the air with a seductive promise.

 

I planned to take up their offer, to spend time in their company. But now the last of the blooms has turned a crusty deadhead shade of beige. And I had paid only the most transient of visits, enjoyed only a contact high, a small whiff of their possibilities.

 

This morning, it is the absence of lilacs that finally stops me in my tracks. I brake belatedly to pay the toll of attention to what is now missing. A year’s worth of lilacs, an entire life span of flowers.

 

I repeat the phrase in my mind: The lilacs have gone by. It is what gardeners say. But in fact, the lilacs stayed in one place and I had gone by them, hurrying, on the way, on the move.

Behind me in this small city garden there are irises in bloom. The peonies are on the way, the ants already feasting the sweet sap off their buds. They will be followed by day lilies and black-eyed Susans, by asters and fall. Is it seasonal, this consciousness of the racing pulse of daily life? Is the awareness of flowers “going by” more than a banal metaphor for transience? Is it, rather, some alarm coded into our DNA as if it were a clock?

 

The days are still lengthening, but lately my friends have been wistful about time, the common currency of their lives. They talk of spending too much time on what are dubbed essentials. Too many hours seem to be taken out of their week, as if the week were a paycheck, too much withheld before they get to some small luxury, a moment of discretionary spending.

 

At lunch last week, a woman not given to maudlin cost accounting had figured out on her actuarial table that she has probably 30 more chances to see the pink ladyslippers in the woods. Thirty is a lot said the woman who is approaching 50 herself. But it is also, suddenly, finite.

 

This morning, dangling out of my briefcase is a plastic bag of excess black-eyed Susans that I dug up in a rush last night. Flowers for a friend. On the phone last week, we talked about the sense of channel-surfing through life. Work, click, kids, click, parents, click, errands, click. With split-second timing it was possible to cover everything – but only if we stay on the surface. What happens when life becomes a list, we asked each other? When even the pleasurable things become items to check off? What happens when we are getting through the days? What are we getting through and to? But our thoughts were interrupted by call-waiting.

 

Sometimes, you catch a glimpse of something in human nature that longs to spend time lavishly. To relish as well as to produce. On a late spring morning, there is a wistful reminder in this natural datebook. How quickly things “go by.” Life and lilacs.

Sunday, May 15, 2022

The end, and what comes before that


 

Revelation 21:1-8

There are dragons that need slaying. Monsters that need defeating. 

There is chaos unleashed on the earth.  Sometimes we can pretend we don’t see it. We can make our lives small and our walls high and pretend calamity won’t touch us. Some of us can get away with this more easily, or for longer stretches of time, than others.  But right now is not one of those times. Not for any of us.  Right now – ironically – it feels like the world is more unified than ever, if only by shared turmoil and upheaval, and the sense of instability. At the moment, we are an entire species anguished and crisis-weary.

Chaos, like the Hebrew people saw symbolized by the wild, thrashing seas, hovers on the edges every day, in nearly every moment. It seeps into the cracks of our daily errands, and washes over the rooftops of crumbling institutions.  It ruptures our confidence in each other and erodes our trust in our leaders, and dumps all over our plans for the future, even the tiny, little, unimportant, nonthreatening plans that shouldn’t be a problem for anyone. Chaos keeps wrecking those too.  
 
And there is evil, real evil, that seems so often to have the upper hand. Sometimes it’s bold and appalling and devastating. But often it slippery and sneaky. 
When you break it down, instead of one big hellish plan of destruction, evil tiptoes in through little, imperceptible lies, small selfish motives, momentary thoughtless decisions, modest breaches of trust and betrayals of confidence, and it spreads and grows. 

And there are villains. Actual villains. Diabolical villains to be sure. But so often the villains look like us. Are us.  We are victims and villains. It merely depends on which story we’re in, and who’s telling it. 
 
All of this is messy, and unsettling, and exhausting. 
We so much prefer our on-screen dragons and monsters. We like our battle lines definitive. Our victories complete.  We want our heroes pure of heart, and we’d like to give evil a face that we can watch whimper in defeat when it’s vanquished and crushed.  We want to gorge ourselves on decadent vindication.  Hope for justice, longing for goodness, these things can feel naive and impossible in the tangled turmoil of this life, especially at the moment.
 
Enter Revelation in all it’s fantastical metaphor and story and imagery.  The book of Revelation is an ancient movie, a radio theater hour, a play in four acts. It gives evil concrete form and then destroys it.  
 
Apocalyptic literature was a popular genre at the time, and Revelation is longest piece of apocalyptic literature in the bible. Apocalypse doesn’t actually mean dramatic end of the world, it means revealing, unveiling, peeling back the curtain for a peek of deeper truth. The language of apocalypse is metaphor, pictures, story. Truth is conveyed not by being told directly to you, but because underneath what is being told to you, the prelingual essence, the elemental substance of you hears a message that can’t be told in words, and your heart or gut screams YES. THIS. 
 
A few weeks ago in a session meeting we discussed nudity. I’ll explain. Each time session gathers, we read scripture together and reflect on it, and we let it inform our work. A couple months ago we began with the first day of creation, and every two weeks when we meet, we read the next day of creation. In lovely, poetic language we had painted for us a picture of this relational God abundantly pouring out creativity into matter, giving goodness concrete form and then celebrating it.  And then each movement of creation ends with God pausing to take it all in, stopping to delight in the wonder and joy and harmony of what now exists.  And there was evening and there was morning, the first day.  And when God creates humankind in God’s image they are “naked and unashamed.” They live freely as beloved by God and connected to all other beings.  So, what’s easier, we wondered, being buck naked in the backyard where your neighbors could see you, or being completely open and vulnerable?
 
Reading slowly through the beginning this way together reminded us that God holds it all, God loves it all, God is present in and through it all, and there’s no rush, in fact, pausing is an essential part of the divine ordering of things, and that God wills goodness and joy for the earth and its creatures.
So when we turned to the chaos of our lives and our world, and this trying to do church one week at a time like we have been for two years, it helped us to remember whose church, whose world, whose lives, these really are.  We are learning that remembering the beginning helps us navigate the middle.
 
But so does premembering the end.  And Revelation tells us where it’s all headed.
In the beginning God created, loved, rested, enjoyed, and made us live freely as beloved by God and connected to all other beings. And it was good. And in the end – God creates, loves, rests, and enjoys, alongside us, along with us, and ensures we will live freely as beloved by God and connected to all other beings. And it will be good.  That’s where it starts and that’s how it ends. 
 
But the middle, oh, the middle, the middle is filled with suffering. Along with the goodness is evil and chaos. Mourning, division and pain, lies and struggle fill the middle.  
 
So comes Jesus Christ, God with us, right into the middle to share middle with us. Instead of rescuing humanity out of life, God joins us here, and infuses this mess of a life with the holy. Right inside the suffering, conflict and loss, God brings hope, joy, connection, and salvation.  
 
And from the very end, redemption leaks backwards into the middle.  Every experience of wonder is a taste of the end that mirrors the beginning.  Every time we pause and delight in the goodness of this life, or marvel at the beauty of this world, we are foreshadowing what is to come, and recalling how it all began. Every moment spent relishing the simple fact of existence, or opening our heart vulnerably to another person, peels back the veil on what will be, and echoes how it all started.  
 
This is a story suspended from love to love. 
 
And so the end also promises that everything from the middle that divided us from love, all the monsters around us and the villains within us, the dragons looming over us, and every possible way evil got a foothold and turmoil took over, will be powerfully obliterated.  All that separates us from God and each other will be permanently destroyed.
 
In light of all this, I would like to suggest that true Christianity is vulnerability - a choice to live without illusion and defenses, (naked and unashamed, one might say), recognizing reality and our place in it. This is faith’s role. Faith is not believing we have extra armor against dragons, protection from monsters, or a secret weapon against chaos. Faith helps us live vulnerably in light of the final reality. Faith is trusting we are held in this life between a beginning in God’s love and an ending in God’s love.  Chaos will not prevail. Evil will not win.  
 
Knowing what is coming, what does it cost us to see and share the pain of another? What do we risk to live boldly and joyfully?  Why not join in where redemption is unfolding?  What do we have to lose? That no matter the turmoil or monsters the moment, Jesus is here with, among us.  And that in the very end, God will deliver us completely and finally.  This is our apocalyptic insight that, if we let it, can resonate in our bones and raise our courage. This awareness can make us sing, and weep, and live, and die, as honest, open people who celebrate goodness, practice justice, love mercy, and live freely beloved by God and connected to all other beings. 
 
Amen.

Saturday, May 7, 2022

So, Sing!

This weekend was supposed to be our All-Church Spring Sabbath Retreat. We were packed and ready to go when the phone calls started rolling in - covid exposure yesterday, head cold, awaiting PCR test results, just came down with something... we had to cancel. The disappointment at another event being canceled, another gathering upended, another adjusting of our plans and letting go of our expectations, is profound. 

But there is something lovely and hopeful happening too.

In Minnesota, we've had the third coldest April in recorded history. (The Twin Cities average temp was 46 degrees. It's usually in the upper 50s and 60s). It was darker, and wetter, and windier than most springs too.  We Minnesotans are attuned to our seasons. Our souls feel the shifting. We watch for signs. We relish the rhythms. We can appreciate winter because we know spring is coming.  Spring didn't come.  

Until yesterday.  Suddenly, it is warm, and sunny, and birds are singing, and green things are bursting out of the ground and we are bursting out of our houses in shirt sleeves, and garden stores are bursting at the seams with happy horticulturalists.  It feels like hope.

It brought to mind this message we shared several years ago, so I adapted and updated it and am sharing it again today.  As we embrace this unexpectedly at-home sabbath weekend for rest, renewal, attentiveness to life, presence in our present, may we Sing.




Psalm 98

 
Sing  a new song. 
Try it. 
Something completely new.  
Something you’ve never sung before.
You don’t know the words, you can barely hum the tune, but sing it anyway. 
Try it on for size…no, just jump in and belt it out.  
 
Maybe you don’t sing with the confidence you would if it were the old song, the familiar song, the song that makes sense and feels easy.  Maybe you don’t feel so comfortable with the instruments, or you worry that you’ll be singing alone. 
 
Tell you what – how about if we sing with you?  
And not just us, the whole earth – the chaotic seas will sing too, and they can’t sound more in tune than you do – the floods will clap their messy hands; just make a joyful noise, really, any noise will do.  
 
But make it loud, ok?  
Because the hills are going to join in on this, and really, the world itself, and all those who live in it.  It will be a song like no other, so get ready to sing. Are you ready?
 
This song, it means something.  
This is one reason it is a new song and not the old songs. 
 
It is not a song of proper religion.  It is not a song of patriotism, or a song of war.  It is not a lament for how terrible things are, or a song of social consciousness or commentary.  This song simply can’t be sung by ‘us and them’, or played on bandwagons or soap boxes, and it’s not a rally song, a commercial jingle, or background music in an elevator.   It’s not like the old songs in any way at all, so you need to let all those go if you’re really going to sing this song.
 
This is not a lullaby we’ll be singing, here, this song is more of a wake up and take notice type song.  It is a remember and never, ever, ever forget kind of song.  It is a song for all the times when you were treated unfairly, and not only you, but all of those who were treated unfairly, ever – even by you. 
It is a song for the times you were overlooked and undervalued, the times you were nothing but a number, or a diagnosis, or an accessory, or a liability.  
 
This is a song for the ravaged and destroyed creation; over the parched, burning and starving earth, it sings crashing seas and clapping floods and quenching rain. And where she’s drowning in sorrow it lifts the ground from waterlogged sludge, and drapes it gently over the line to dry in the tender breeze and warm sun. It’s that versatile and powerful a song.
 
This is a song for all the times when evil won, and those times were many and great - countless, or so we thought - it sings right in the face of those times, it thrusts it’s wide eyes and unquenchable joy right up under the nose of those times and opens its mouth and belts out with all gusto right into the shocked and startled face of evil, knocking it down on its bottom to stare up in stunned standstill at the wild and mighty sound of the song.  
 
This is a song of justice that tears through the paper thin fragility of justice and liberty for all, that lifts up all the incidences – every single one – where injustice and oppression were really the rule, where lives didn’t matter as much as money, where people were forsaken for power – the song, you will hear it, has every one of their voices, loud and strong, vindicated and joyful, each forsaken child, every cheated worker, and every single starving, sick, disregarded or devalued human being that has ever been, all the silenced and ignored and unheeded voices will rise together in a sound so great that it shatters glass ceilings into a million pieces, reduces palaces to rubble and grinds diamonds to dust, a sound so powerful it drowns out every bomb and bullet and lie and label, and quakes opens the prisons and graves and sets the captives free.  
 
So get ready, because this is some song. 
 This is not just any song, it is the song of the earth for her king, her Creator; this is a song of all things made right.
 
But you know, this song, actually, is kind of a dangerous song.  
It is not a song for the faint of heart.  
We already discovered you don’t need to really know the words, or even the tune, you don’t have to have practiced or learned this song, in fact, there is really no way to do so, you just sing it.  
But you have to be willing to sing it. 
Are you willing to sing it?  
 
Because if you hear this song you can’t ever go back. 
You can’t pretend you didn’t hear it.  You can’t be the way you were before you sang it.  It changes you, but not just you; it changes everything. So, if you’re comfortable with how things are, I mean, if you don’t really want to see things too terribly different, than you’d better not sing the song. 
Just to be safe.  
 
Because there are no secrets once this song has been sung.  
There is nothing hidden that doesn’t get revealed.  
And all the things that look strong, or sure, or important, they might seem kind of silly and stupid once you hear this song.  
So, if you care a whole lot about those things, better not to sing it, at least not just yet.  Let them get tarnished first, broken in, disappointing. Let the expectations get a little bit dashed and the frustration build a bit, because this song is for everyone and everything, except it is NOT a song for the satisfied.  
 
It is not a song for the secure and the worthy, for the strong and the powerful, and it certainly doesn’t make you right or tell you who’s wrong. 
 It kind of makes a joke of all that, and if that is where you’re at, better to cover your ears and turn away for as long as you can stand it before it overpowers you, because you’re going to be really cut down to size and I can’t imagine that will be a very pleasant experience.  
 
But once you are, there is a place for you in this song too.  
Actually, it’s kind of the only way you can join in the song, is when you know that in singing it, you pass judgment on yourself, but you sing it anyway. 
 
Because – and this is the most important part, maybe I forgot to say this – the song is not about you.  
It’s actually not really about any of us, or anything we know or have done or ever will do.  
It’s about God.  
It’s all about God.  
It’s about what God has done and what God will do.  
It’s about God who does things, and doesn’t just watch it all and keep to Godself.  
But God watches too, and doesn’t miss a thing either, so there is nothing, nothing that doesn’t get made right in this song. 
 
It sounds like kind of a lot, and it is, actually. 
It’s everything.  
Way more than you or I could ever bear. 
Way more joy, and justice, than we would know what to do with in a thousand lifetimes.  
But we don’t really need to worry about it.  
We just need to pay attention. 
 
 The chorus is coming.  And when you’re paying attention, you get to see that it has already started. Here and there it startles you, or makes you cry for no reason, or gives you a weird thrill of recognition and irrational hope. 
 
 We’ve found ways to explain it away, the crazies, the anomalies, the exceptions, the sentimental or insane, but they’re not, really, they’re the song, peaking through the frayed seams, busting through a rip in the knee or a tear in a button-hole of the fabric of our so-called reality.  
 
The stranger stands and shouts a few notes before helping someone off the bus. The man on the overpass with the sign grips the change in his fist and hollers a bit of the melody into the passing traffic below. Neighbors lying side by side through the night echo defiant snippets through train tunnels –the tune bounces off the walls and wraps around the sleeping grandmothers and shopkeepers, while bombs drop overhead. Our own winter-weary bodies vibrate with the symphony of the overjoyed soil as we plunge our parched hands into the teeming universe below and turn our spent souls upward toward the sun. 
 
In fact, all over the world, if we just know how to listen, above us, beneath us, before us and afterwards too, we’ll hear that the song has begun; and the very earth itself is humming in anticipation.  Just lift your gaze to drifting clouds and breathe, or tune your ears to the skittering, chirping creature commotion.  Close down the computer, shut off the phone, turn off the tv and the lights and curl up at an open window as the day slips into night and crickets and katydids hold steady chorus beneath the city sounds. 
The noise is building.
 
And we, you and I, together, we sing the song. It’s what we do.  
It’s why in the world we come together and do this thing called worship that accomplishes nothing at all, as any reasonable person familiar with the old songs could tell you.
We come together to share the song, to remember the truth, to recount the steadfast love of our Lord, the coming and sharing and dying and rising, backwards and upside down, breaking in and spilling out, never ending and always persisting salvation of our God-with-us. 
We warm up our voices and pipe out a few notes in defiance of the deafening silence, in far-fetched musical mutiny to the grating discord of the world around us, and really, on its behalf, because like it or not, ready or not, the song is coming.  
 
So you might as well sing along.
 

Saturday, April 30, 2022

The Gift of Rest

 My friend Lilly Lewin is in Scotland, lucky Lilly. She has asked me to cover one of her regular "Freerange Friday" posts on Godspace while she is away.

Here is my article on Sabbath, shared with that community.

The Gift and Lesson of Sabbath Rest

“Are you tired? Worn out? Weighed down by heaviness? Come to me. Get away withme and you will recover your life. I will show you how to take a real rest. Walk with meand work with mewatch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you will learn to live
freely and lightly.” 
(Mt. 11:2830 adapted from The Message) 

My grandfather was famous in our family for being able to “fit 10 lbs in a 5 lb box. inherited and honed this trait, and for much of my teenage and adult life I was a proud multitasker. I knew how to pack more things into less time, to wow people with my ability to accomplish.

But I slowly began to discover that while I could competently fit 10 lbs in a 5 lb box, I didn’t know how to fit 5 lbs. in a 5 lb. box. And 4 lbs. would have been impossible. didn’t have any margins, any room, any rest. I could do many things at once but I could not do one thing. Or nothing. I was trying to be more than one human being, live more than the one human life. I was ignoring the perimeters, boundaries and limits God has given me. I was packing so much into my life and moving so fast, that I was not receiving my life as a gift to receive and enjoy, but turning my life into a task to accomplish.

For the past fifteen years, as a person, a parent, and a pastor, I have been learning about and practicing Sabbath. Sabbath is time dedicated on purpose for no activity other than to dwell in our own lives and let God meet us there. Sabbath reorients us to reality. When God led the Israelites in the wilderness, God gave them the Ten Words, or what we know as the Ten Commandments. These are descriptions of life of a free people with God in charge instead an enslaved people under Pharaoh. Hinged between the Words that describe belonging to God (the first three commandments) and the Words describing belonging to each other (the last six commandments) comes the longest and most detailed Word: “Keep the Sabbath.”

One day in seven, God says, you stop all work. You do this because you are not to be defined by your output or measured by your productivity. One day in seven everyone rests, and all distinctions that you erect to define your value and quantify your worth disappear. Old, young, rich, poor, slave, free, citizen, foreigneryou are all simply and completely human beings, alongside one another, all beloved children of God. This is the hardest lesson to absorb, so we have to practice it regularly, God tells us. We have to regularly step out of the mindset and activity of the world around us, the measuring, comparing, competing, striving, producing, and consuming. We have to regularly stop doing and practice just being. As all the other creatures and the earth itself already do, we must surrender to the cycles of rest and renewal that God built into the fabric of existence, which we are passionately determined to circumvent. 

One day in seven, this Word says, those who belong to God on purpose remember that we are not God. And God’s people on purpose remember that we are neither better nor worse than anyone around us, but connected in a mutual belonging to God and each other. This is what it means to be human. This is what it means to be free. 

By stopping every week on purpose, we acknowledge that there is nothing we can’t set down and step away from. In fact, the urgency and control that keeps us constantly in the driver’s seat is a lie. Life is about something other than doing work and measuring our worth. So we stop. On purpose. Ready or not, sabbath interrupts and takes over. We don’t start Sabbath after all the work is done, the house is clean, the thankyou notes are written, and the gutters are cleared. The day arrives and we surrender our uniforms and go off the clock. The phone goes off, the screens go dark, the work is put down, and the only thing left is human beings being human, in the presence of God, who was there all along.

A Sabbath day is for listening to our souls, our bodies, our hearts. What do I need now to feel my freedom and belovedness in God? Sleep? Play? Nature? Connection? Movement?Creativity? After 14 years of practice, a Sabbath day still often feels like a bonus day in the week, a step out of time itself. It’s surprising in its expansiveness. It is gentle and open, and things bubble up and surprise us within it, like an impromptu board game or picnic. A guiltfree sinking deeply into a novel. A meal prepared slowly and together. A long, meandering, purposeless walk away from the usual paths. 

In stark contrast to the world around usthe relentless pace, the endless selfgratification, the frantic climbing, and urgent, nonstop workhere is a gift of rest and perspective that is already part of our faith, just not one most Christians pay much attention to. 

Sabbath is one of God’s big ten, right up there with not murdering, because unless we regularly stop, we forget. We forget that we are creatureswith bodies and minds and hearts that need tending. We forget we are dependent on the love and care of a creator who is ready to meet us when we stop moving long enough to be met. We forget that we are in this together, alongside everyone else, and that we need one another because life isn’t meant to be done alone and against. And human beings who forget their humanity are arguably the most destructive force in the universe. 

Rest is not a reward to be earned. It’s the starting point. And because of how we live in today’s fast-paced world, resting is uncomfortable and strange. We are trained to measure the worth of a day by what we accomplish.

So it’s a challenge to spend a day with the express goal of accomplishing nothing, just being.  I’ve learned to expect restlessness, and often tears. I receive both as reminders to me of how unaccustomed have become to being present to my own basic humanity, and I let the agitation and unexpected emotion lead me back to gratitude for this one precious life I’ve been given

Practicing Sabbath has given me a greater capacity to set boundaries and make hard choices with joy. It has taught my children to honor their capacities and their own and others’ need for rest and renewal. It has deepened my congregation’s trust in God and love for the world.

Sabbath reminds me what’s real: I am a person cared for by God and deeply connected to others. I forget this when I don’t stop and rest. When I do stop and rest, I remember.

__________

Kara K Root is a writer, spiritual director, workshop leader, and the Pastor of Lake Nokomis Presbyterian Church in Minneapolis, MN, a Christian community that shapes its life around worship, hospitality and Sabbath rest.

Kara Root Book

By Kara Root


Monday, April 18, 2022

After death

                                  Memory and the Risen Christ—Luke 24:1–12 | Political Theology Network


Luke 23:48-24:12

Christ has risen [He has risen indeed!]

The congregation gathered in this room and online here together this Easter is radically different from the one who gathered the last time we celebrated Easter in this space.  Our toddlers have become full-on kids. New people have joined this community both here in Minnesota and from afar.  And also, in the last 20 months, 11 people from this congregation have died.  Eleven times in the past 20 months loved ones in this community have had to begin the work of grieving and letting go, while the also doing the things that must be done to move forward -- choosing a casket or urn, making service preparations, the mountains of paperwork.  Right now three families among us are in the midst of that work.  The secular liturgy of death is imposed on us in the hours and days when we are most raw and shaky.  And it was no different when Jesus died.
 
We’ve heard this Easter story so many times, in so many different ways. But today I want us to recognize how this story is set in the hours, and days, and weeks right after death.  When Jesus died, those who loved him had to grieve and let go, while navigating all the details and logistics that come with death. 
 
This work was done by a group of women.  These women were Jesus’ friends and disciples, followers, patrons of his ministry, who provided for Jesus and the rest of the disciples. Some of them left lives behind to follow him. (Mary Magdaline was freed from demons and became known as “apostle to the apostles.” Joanna was the wife of Herod’s chief steward).  They were there with funding and support, coordinating meals and places to stay, taking care of what needed doing, and here they are, still doing this work, even after Jesus has died. 
 
These women stayed at the cross and watched Jesus die, watched the crowds leave, watched the soldiers take down his body.  They were there when Christ’s body was given to Joseph of Arimathea, and they went to the tomb to observe how Jesus was laid there.  Then they went home to prepare the spices for the body, to do the work that comes with death.
 
And then the Sabbath day comes, and everyone stops. Because their identity first and foremost is as God’s own people, claimed by God and reminded of this identity every week when nothing they do on this earth, not even the work that comes with death, is bigger or more important than letting God return humanity to the true order of things.  Even the death of God-with-us does not stop God from being God, or us from being God’s children.  
 
When the Sabbath ends, the women resume their work, bringing the spices to the tomb, where they are met by terrifying strangers in glowing clothing telling them in a cheeky way that that Jesus is not dead, but alive.  
Why do you look for the living among the dead?
I have always loved this question. Because they were obviously not looking for the living, they were looking for the dead, and expecting him to be where they left him.  But he’s not where they left him. 
(Christ has risen! He has risen indeed!) 
 
And I think we often are not looking for the living Jesus either.  We’d like him to be where we left him too.  In our bibles, in our lessons and our examples. We want to keep Jesus entombed as an idea, inspiration or supporting argument to use for our own ends. As though by our own our own efforts and striving, our own personal transformation or social engagement, inspired by the idea of Christ, of course, we can somehow save the world or ourselves.

We are not looking for a living entity who confronts us, and calls us, and wreaks change in our lives, and draws us into loving the world, and meets us with new life on the other side of a thousand deaths.  
And some years, with this text, that is my sermon. Amen. 
(Christ has risen! He has risen indeed!)
 
But this year I want to stay with the women who are doing the work that comes with death. 
In a time when a woman was not able to be a legal witness in a trial, in all four gospels one or all of these women are who share the news of Christ’s resurrection.  God chooses them as witnesses to God’s act of saving the whole world. God’s word comes through their word.  
 
And even though the rest of the disciples are hiding, and confused, and wondering what comes next, they are all already being called in scripture “apostles,” that is, instead of “followers,” they are being referred to as “sent ones.” Resurrection has happened, and things are already different.  
 
When the women go to the rest of the disciples-turned-apostles and tell them what they have seen, our prudish translators of old have said they thought it ‘an idle tale.’  This is actually a dirty word in the Greek. I already thrilled our teens a few weeks ago by using a swear in a sermon, so I’ll just say, they swore. The apostles called total BS on this claim. Peter had to run and see the empty tomb for himself. And when he did, he came back amazed.  He came around to where the women had been led – knowing something had happened but not knowing what it meant or what comes next.
 
There is no moving forward yet in this part of the story. Nobody knows what resurrection means and certainly nobody is celebrating. Later in the day on the road to Emmaus, two of Jesus’ followers will confuse him for a fellow traveler whose words strangely warm their hearts. They will invite him to stay with them and when he breaks bread and their eyes will be opened and they will recognize him, and he’ll disappear.  Sometime in that same day or the next he’ll appear to his followers again in another place and they think he’s a ghost, and he will eat broiled fish in front of them as though to prove otherwise.  

All that to say, it takes while for resurrection to settle in, for them to receive it, recognize it, to let it begin reshaping their lives. And when you’re still reeling from death resurrection sounds like BS.
 
But Christ has risen (he has risen indeed!).  
Resurrection has happened. They’ve yet to get their heads around that, and so have we.  God has already liberated the world.  Jesus has already defeated death. The end of the story has already been written. The “long arc of the moral universe is already bent toward justice” (to paraphraise Martin Luther King, Jr.). Redemption is underway.  The world belongs to God. We are being called and sent into this reality, to be part of the salvation already unfolding. 
 
We want quick fixes, instant salvation, painless upgrading.  But resurrection is the permanent shift, the long game, the real reality, and it means death is necessarily part of it.  Our Easter invitation today is not to jump right in with confident faith and cheerful rejoicing, as though death does not happen, as though suffering isn’t right here and the world as we know it doesn’t keep ending.  

Instead, our guides today are these friends of Jesus, these women who didn’t hide from death and loss.  They themselves will be moved toward God’s future where hope shows up in no ways they can anticipate, and life comes out of everything that’s been lost. God does this. The way there is to stay in the discomfort of being present to the reality, just as it is, however it is, and whatever that means for us. 
 
We are a community being reshaped by death and resurrection, always, and now. The living Jesus Christ is among us, working salvation in us and through us.  So we will be honest and willing to stay with each other in the stuff of life and death where Jesus can meet us.  We will keep stopping and resting on purpose to remember God is God of the whole universe, holding everything, and that our lives are a response to this God.  We will keep witnessing to each other what we’ve experienced, because God’s word comes through our words.  And we will watch for the ways we are being sent, even if we don’t know yet what comes next.
 
Life is precarious just now, for this whole world, really, and for this community, indeed, as we do the work that comes with death.  In the shadow of death, life is precious, and joy comes as a gift and a surprise.  On Good Friday, the energy in this room was palpable.  As we gathered in our black clothing in our living rooms and in this somber sanctuary to once again tell the story of Jesus’ death, the contrast of mood was striking. I wish you could have stood in my place and seen all the grinning, giddy faces smiling back.  The gladness of being together is profound.  Our emotions are close to the surface.  In the midst of it all, we are awake to God and to each other in a particular and poignant way.  We will cry and we will laugh, and God will keep meeting us with new life right where we are, ready to receive resurrection. 

Christ has risen (He has risen indeed!) 
 
Amen.

In Gratitude for Life & Lilacs

  The lilacs are about to pop open on the wall of shrubs overshadowing the chicken coop my daughter and husband built last week from the rep...