Category Archives: Resurrection
Our human nature resists the whole concept of suffering. If there is a God worth calling God, why would the innocent and good have to suffer?
If this life is all there is, then there really doesn’t appear to be any reasonable answer to that.
And in my own experience, the more people I let myself care about, never-the-less love, the more I open myself to suffering. How much more would I suffer if I truly loved, or even just cared moderately about all humanity, all animals, perhaps even all creation?
Part of the mystery of suffering is that it seems to be part and parcel of loving. Loving involves being willing to suffer for another and others. Most of us have trouble loving even one person that we choose for a lifetime and sure don’t want to even consider loving people that look or think very differently than we do.
The Jews longed for a Messiah, a Savior, for literally thousands of years. Have you ever wondered why a close friend, a follower who witnessed the miracles, the power, and the kindness of Jesus would betray him to the point of giving him over to suffer and die. What brought Judas to that kind of hatred?
The shattered expectation that the Messiah would save the Jews, God’s chosen people, from suffering. Judas witnessed the reality of the power Jesus had, but more and more he saw Jesus using it to save the enemy. And unlike optimistic Peter, he heard what Jesus was beginning to say about his own coming suffering, even dying, instead of freeing them from the tyranny of Rome , the impoverishment of Roman taxes, the constant threat of their children becoming random victims of a ruler’s whim. Judas wanted a triumphant King, not a suffering servant. Disillusionment turned hope into bitterness and hate.
What kind of love was choosing to die rather than to save God’s chosen people?
We still struggle with that question.
Without the resurrection, surely we would all endorse the survival of the fittest at the expense of the vulnerable. If we believed this life is all there is, would we respond to the call to pick up our cross and follow Jesus? We saw where that led Jesus. It led him through the acceptance of the refining of suffering, the acceptance of humbling helplessness and the crushing feeling of abandonment, even finally through the gate of death itself and only then to resurrection.
The reality is that life is made up of cycles of struggling with suffering until we can accept the deaths of our idols and illusions, the things we cling to out of fear, and only then can we be reborn freer to love each time. Only then do we grow better at loving other imperfect people up close and personal and to care about even the lepers, the hostile, the foreign, the frightening, and the lost.
Life’s natural process includes loss, helplessness, letting go, experiencing the peace of acceptance, then the rebirth of gratitude and humility that leads to love, joy and fruitfulness.
Passion, death, and resurrection should be one process word.
I’m pretty sure that law and the concept of sin and consequences were created to try to help us live in the groups we need to survive and prosper. Society is a two edged sword. It keeps us from having to do everything for ourselves from fighting off wildlife, planting, harvesting, to creating clothes and shelter, thus giving us time to think, create, explore, and ask questions about the why, not just the how. But, since humanity is a work in progress…..the old adage, that there’s both a goody and a baddy to everything, holds true for society. Society helps us survive physically, but it also challenges us to learn to love.
The commandments were first of all, simply practical. The laws were aimed at keeping us alive, both as individuals and humanity, long enough to become loving. Whatever the Intelligence called God is, that created and nourishes life, it lives within each of us. It is a source of grace to become more loving, than competitive and combative. And we are like cells in a body. Each of us not only affects those closest to us, we affect the whole for better or worse, even the generations following us.
Self-honesty and understanding, rather than guilt, are the beginning of learning to love. And those take courage and grace. The divorce rate makes it obvious we haven’t become enough like Jesus to even love those closest to us, never-the-less those different from us or even “against” us. The commandments are the basic tools of survival for society. But, Jesus showed us the next level through teaching and living the spirituality of the Beatitudes. They call us beyond the fundamentals of the Commandments and just survival. They call us to freedom, the freedom to love others.
Caring is prayer. Prayer is in the intention, whether expressed in words, thoughts, feelings, candles, symbols, acts of kindness, or forgiveness. There is power in prayer. But both wisdom and love are needed to use the power for others, to understand that all creation, without exception, is one.
Jesus is a turning point in humanity’s journey. He fleshed out a love that sacrifices for not only the weakest physically, but the weakest spiritually. This is not survival of the fittest.
His resurrection also illustrated that this life span isn’t all there is. Jesus is the living example of the potential of God’s grace even within our own humanity.
His resurrection shows us death is simply a door to eternity. When we believe this, it gives us a very different value system than death as the finish line. And His openness and love for all show us the way to overcome the finality of death.
My first sad wildlife encounter up close and personal in our Hundred Acre Wood was a baby rabbit our cat brought in. It had a broken leg, so I took it to a much amused local vet, who made it a splint out of a tongue depressor. But as the vet had warned me, in spite of my tender loving care for two days, the tiny bunny finally gave a loud cry and died. This was not an auspicious beginning for a Saint Francis wanna be. It was made even sadder and more disturbing by the timing of the bunny’s death; three o’clock in the afternoon on Good Friday. Honestly! I almost dug up its little box coffin to make sure it was still there.
It got worse.
A few months later I was just starting into town with my two year old in our truck. I had to stop suddenly, because there was a pitiful looking old fox standing right in the middle of the road. He wouldn’t move even when I honked my horn. He was trembling and obviously sick, so I backed up and went to consult with our nearest for “real” country neighbor. He informed me that according to country protocol, I needed to take the fox to the Health Department to be checked for rabies. When I looked at him like he had lost his mind, he explained that he would put the fox out of its misery and put it in a garbage bag in the back of my truck. So my two year old and I waited in the house while the neighbor shot the fox. When I got to the Health Department and told them what I had in the truck, the woman informed me that they would only accept the fox’s head. When I just stared at her speechless, I guess she pegged me as a city slicker. Because she finally explained in a tone that made it obvious she thought she was talking to a ding bat, that I needed to take the fox to the vet to get the head cut off. So, back to the vet I went once more. When he recognized me, the vet smirked a little as he inquired about the health of the baby rabbit. However, he obligingly delivered the fox head to me in a coffee can. He also gave me the rest of the fox back in its garbage bag, while informing me that he had no disposal facilities. As I drove back to the Health Department, I now noticed a very horrible and strong odor coming from the back of my truck. I tried to bring a little humor into what seemed to me a rather grizzly situation by imitating Salome doing her Dance of the Seven Veils as I delivered the fox head. They were not amused. In fact, they then informed me (I suspect secretly with glee) that it was up to me to get rid of the rest of the fox safely. It could not be buried in a shallow grave in case it had rabies and other animals might dig it up. So, sadly the rest of the fox and I finished my second country wildlife death without ritual or honors at the County Landfill. The Health Department eventually notified me that the fox had definitely been dying, but fortunately for us and our neighborhood wildlife, from distemper, not rabies.
No amount of cleaning agents could get the smell out of the back of my truck. It took almost a month of fresh air and rain.
Coming Next- Wildlife Encounters: Part Four, The Funny and Delightful Kind
It is okay to be who you are as long as you are alive, because you are still becoming the person you were created to be. It’s important to know that, because otherwise you have to pretend- even to yourself- that you are perfect and don’t need to grow and change. It’s a lifelong process, a dance between grace and the limits of the hand we were dealt, that probably will still be happening at our moment of death.
I don’t know about afterward……I’m personally counting on Jesus, the expression of the unconditional Love of God, being God’s promise of forgiveness for those bad choices I made along the way to becoming the person I am meant to be. Remember the Prodigal Son story.
So, I was really struggling this week with the statement by a writer I respect: “That if God is just, there has to be a hell.” I’m wondering if that depends on your definition of “just.”
Justice to me means recognition of an evil that brings about change. The evil can be either personal or societal.
I don’t see it as a “get even” kind of thing. Plenty of people have hurt me, just as I have hurt others, but I don’t need them to suffer for it. I just want them to recognize it and sincerely regret it enough to not do it again to me or anyone else. I figure that’s what God wants from us.
I do suspect from my personal experience that a “balancing” plays out in life here in a lot of ways. Sometimes when someone hurts me, I have a sudden memory of having done the same thing to someone else. Depending on what it is, I may laugh, sigh, or feel heartbroken about my own blindness. But it frees me to not only let go of the hurt and temptation to judge, but to avoid doing it again myself.
I believe the whole point of justice isn’t retribution. Justice is about recognition, regret, forgiveness and change. It seems to me that in many ways it’s a dying to self and that we experience a lot of deaths and resurrections before the big one.
One note: Acts have consequences. The reason there are “Do Not” commandments is that those things have negative consequences not only for others, but for those who do them. The rules are for everyone’s protection. I believe the retribution is intrinsic and comes in this life.
Last Sunday, a visiting minister spoke to us about the great awakenings in Christianity through the ages. I’m pretty sure most Christians would agree that we need another one right now. But great awakenings don’t just happen on their own. They begin within each of us. They happen when we take God deadly serious, they happen when God’s people seek God, when we search the Scriptures for guidance, and believe the Scriptures even when they seem unbelievable, when we beat on the door of heaven, and cry like hungry infants to God, when we not only believe in the unbelievable, but do not settle for less.
According to the Lectionary Scriptures for May 22, 2016, the first thing God created was wisdom. I swear I never heard that before. It gets weirder. This wisdom, that as hard as it is to believe, takes delight in the human race. When I focus on humanity’s track record, I find that pretty much impossible to believe. Then we are told that wisdom comes from knowledge of God. And the scriptures go on to say that knowledge of God only comes from fear of God. Fear of God…..that’s not a popular belief these days. What does fear of God mean. It means we take God seriously, more seriously than our success, our health issues, our love life, our bank accounts, even our children’s and grandchildren’s soccer games. It means we live like we might die today and would have to look Jesus in the eyes and see his broken heart because we missed the point of both His life and our own.
The scriptures today call this wisdom, the wisdom of infants. What in the world is that? It’s a heart knowledge that everything comes through God, our creator; health, wealth, love, joy, sickness, lack of money, loneliness, even heartbreak. Unless we believe that, we will be blind to the meaning and purpose in the whole of life. It is a wisdom that knows to cry out to its creator when in need, a wisdom that cries until it knows it has been heard, a wisdom that knows when that cry is heard to cling like an infant to the finger of God.
How can we possibly believe that the creator of all the wonders and mysteries of our gigantic Universe would care about us. We may feel important in our small personal world, but we’re way smaller than ants in the size of things. Okay, here comes more unbelievable stuff: Paul tells us today that God not only cares about us, but because of Jesus we can boast in our hope of sharing in the glory of God. (Seriously?) Boast?! About sharing the glory of God?! How scary is that! In fact, Scripture tells us that God made us just a little lower than Himself. That God actually calls us to be co-creators with Him of our world. Think about that for a minute. We’re like Junior Partners with God. Because of the love of Jesus, who was willing to be the partner of God in both suffering and salvation, we can hope in sharing the glory of God. Do notice the small print about being a partner with God in both suffering and salvation.
Good old Paul goes further. He says that because of Jesus, we can trust and even boast in our suffering because suffering produces endurance, which produces character, which produces hope. A hope that trusts in the love of God poured into each of our hearts by the Spirit of God within us. And through that same Spirit the wisdom and knowledge that Jesus had, that got Him through suffering and even through death can also become ours. With that grace we will make it through many practice deaths and resurrections in our lives.
Let’s face it, these things are impossible to believe until we experience some of them personally. How do we do that? Take God seriously. Be so afraid of missing God’s call that you daily seek, pray, beat on heaven’s door for the wisdom of infants, the wisdom that is awareness of God in everything in your daily life. Pray for the grace to be a partner with God in shaping your world. Pray for endurance in suffering, so that you will develop the character that sees hope in everything. Pray constantly for awareness of the Spirit within you so that you may be open to the very same wisdom and knowledge that got Jesus through suffering and even death to resurrection.
Prov. 8:1-4,22-31 Psalm 8 Romans 5:1-5 John 16:12-15
Okay….maybe two old people shut up together in an apartment most of a month isn’t good for mental health. Conversation at lunch.
Me: “If I die before you, I’d like my ashes in a beautifully wrapped box like a birthday present, carried down Royal Street in the French Quarter in a little red wagon with our grandchildren and great-grandchildren leading the procession throwing yellow rose petals. And I want mummers marching and playing after the wagon with my family and friends following them.”
Husbands reply: “Well, maybe throwing dead flower petals would be cheaper and I thought you wanted salt shakers so all five kids could have some ashes.”
Me: ” I’m worried that there will be bone fragments left and that won’t work in salt shakers.”
Husband: “Well, didn’t Mike have some experience in sifting those out in Cambodia?”
Me. ” But not his mom’s!! Let’s stick with the box and you can distribute the ashes later or not. I’m not sure I trust Tommy with them after he said that he could drop my ashes over Paris on their way to Italy out the plane’s toilet!”
Husband with sly smile: “Okay. You’re going to trust me?”
Me: “Maybe not. I’d choose Steve, but then there was that thing about me gluing his plastic Easter egg with the money in it together with cement glue. Anyway when the procession gets to Jackson Square I want a really good party there with Dixie Land music and dancing and everyone gets a yellow helium balloon to let go at the end of the party.”
After thinking a moment, Me: ” I wonder if helium balloons cause problems and law suits by maybe coming down and causing wrecks or something. Oh well. Not my problem.”
Pretty much all my life I have hungered for God except for a time when personal losses and the suffering in the world overwhelmed me and I sought escape in the diversions the world offers. But they did not satisfy that longing and I began to seek Him in most of the main religions, both Christian and others. But did not find Him. Finally He found me through friends who not only witnessed verbally to the love of God expressed in Jesus, but literally gave up all they had to follow him. I returned with great joy to a Christianity that included people from many denominations who had found a life changing relationship with God through Jesus. As I grew in my relationship with Him, it changed and I found Her in even more and sometimes unexpected places and people who were on the same journey, but a different path. God was bigger than any of our “breadboxes.” I struggled with the differences I found even within denominations between those who had a vibrant obviously growing personal relationship with God and those that seemed to just cling to a spiritual tradition, a spiritual club, a spiritual insurance policy, or a set of rules or formulas that made them feel spiritually superior. (To be continued in: Which of These Is Not Like the Others? Which of These Doesn’t Belong? Child of God, Loved Unconditionally, Born again, Personal Relationship with God, Personal Relationship with Jesus, On a Spiritual Journey, Spiritual Seeker, In a Dance of Grace and Response, Process of Sanctification, Saved, Law Abiding, Righteous, Finished?)
In my seventy-eight years of life I have held the hands of those I love as they died, I have lived to walk again after years of a crippling condition, survived to laugh again after scary strokes, and suffered enough prolonged pain to free me to embrace the relief of death. And I have, in turn, been freed by each of these to experience greater joy in living.
One of the gifts of age is learning not to take the smallest beauty, kindness, insight, or experience of love for granted. I can see the door from here, which reminds me daily that this moment may be the last of life as I know it now. Yet knowing that life’s greatest mystery lies on the other side of that door gives an aura of light around its darkness.
Though I realize that getting through that door may be terribly hard, sometimes I imagine all my atoms, with my spirit now one with the Spirit of All within them, being freed from the limits of my body to join in the dance of eternity. I can almost feel them shooting off joyously into the farthest embraces of the exquisite glory of pure beauty, truth, and love…..in other words, God.