Reflections

God Is With Us, If We Are With Them...

“This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.
This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you.”
(Luke 22:19, 20, NIV)

Christians have argued for millennia about what exactly this means that the bread and wine “are” Jesus’ body and blood. And I certainly don’t want to rehash that discussion here.

But I do want to make a proposal:

Those who come and receive the “body and blood” of Jesus in turn become the body of Jesus in the world.

So it isn’t necessarily about what happens to these items, as it is about what happens to us, and in turn, to the world. The Apostles Paul and John remind us of this:

"Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it."
(1 Corinthians 12:27, NIV)
"In this world we are like Jesus." (1 John 4:17, NIV)

But it is all too easy for the church to think that this [the church building] is the place where we come to meet God, like the Temple or the Tabernacle of the Hebrew Bible. The Apostle Paul abruptly reminds us:

"The God who made the world and all that is in it, the Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in sanctuaries made by human hands, nor is he served by human hands because he needs anything. Rather it is he who gives to everyone life and breath and everything."
(Acts 17:24-25, NABRE)

This is not to suggest that God is not here, quite the contrary. The Triune God is here, but God’s presence is among us in order that God may send us out. Because God “does not dwell in sanctuaries made by human hands,” instead, he dwells among those who suffer, those who struggle, the oppressed and the poor, the sick and the lonely, the forgotten and the left behind.

God is in Greystone Upper Elementary School where children are being left behind because of their economic status and their race,
God is with the women and children who experience abuse and neglect,
God is at Children's Hospital where illness destroys the bodies of precious little ones,
God is with the senior citizen on a fixed income, who is more lonely than they are poor, 
God is with LGBTQ persons who are ostracized and harmed or murdered because of who they are,
God is in the prisons who are filled with people who are traumatized, victimized, and criminalized,
God is with those who feel excluded or unwelcome here, in our church,
God is with the single mother struggling to make ends meet month after month after month,
God is in the streets sleeping under the stars in the heat, in the cold, in the rain, and in the snow,
God is with the depressed and the hurting, the alienated and the suicidal, with the people who don’t have it all together, and with those who have nothing together,

And God is with us, if we are with them.

God through the Prophet Isaiah tells us:

“Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen:
to loose the chains of injustice
    and untie the cords of the yoke,
to set the oppressed free
    and break every yoke?
Is it not to share your food with the hungry
    and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—
when you see the naked, to clothe them,
    and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?
Then your light will break forth like the dawn,
    and your healing will quickly appear;
then your righteousness will go before you,
    and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard.
Then you will call, and the Lord will answer;
    you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I.
“If you do away with the yoke of oppression,
    with the pointing finger and malicious talk,
and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry
    and satisfy the needs of the oppressed,
then your light will rise in the darkness,
    and your night will become like the noonday.
The Lord will guide you always;
    he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land
    and will strengthen your frame.
You will be like a well-watered garden,
    like a spring whose waters never fail.
Your people will rebuild the ancient ruins
    and will raise up the age-old foundations;
you will be called Repairer of Broken Walls,
    Restorer of Streets with Dwellings.

                                                              (Isaiah 58:6-12, NIV)

The Triune God is here to meet you, to make you into his agents of reconciliation in a world that needs so desperately the perfect love that casts out fear. Come and receive his body, broken for you, and his blood, poured out for you that you may go and find God where he is waiting for us to meet him.

Thank you Father, for love for us and for your Son, who died and rose again for us and for the whole world, in the power of the Holy Spirit.   
Amen.

Awaiting that Day: A Meditation on Death, Lament, and the Possibility of Hope

Today I will join hundreds of other people in remembering something that no one wants to be true, the loss of a child. My dear brother in Jesus, Pierson, was more than just a little boy. His family has rightly described him as a superhero, and this is exactly what he was. A resilience and energy that could only come from some secret ability. A capacity and desire to live life to the fullest, even when it was complicated by an enemy that never left his side. A smile (when you didn't get a growl, which still made you smile) that lit up a room in unforgettable ways. A quiet soul, until he opened up, and then there was no place for you to speak. 

I was not nearly as close to Pierson as so many, and yet he has left an indelible mark on my life (and countless other people can say the same). One memory I will always cherish stands out:

Kris was throwing an event for the children's ministry at church last summer and was hosting an art party. Pierson was there painting his heart out, making sure that every color received ample use. But the adult size table, plus the easel on top made it quite a stretch to reach the top of the canvas for my little friend. Before you know it, he was sitting in my lap and we were collaboratively painting a masterpiece on my canvas. I would imitate his every move. He thought it was hilarious. He would put the back of the paintbrush just under his lower lip while he considered the next color. I would do the same, and a virtually simultaneous sigh of consideration would emerge. I must say, it was a brilliant work, and I couldn't have done it without him. He took the painting home. I took that memory with me and will never forget it. 

In my academic work I focus especially on questions of trauma, human suffering, and death. What is the Christian response to these things and how can Christians understand what God has done in Jesus as Good News in a world filled with so much pain? One might think that someone who has devoted their life to the exploration of these questions would have something meaningful to say at a time like this. But in many ways, I am at a loss for words. 

I have spent the last six months trying to think of "what I would say" to people who find themselves in this place, who are trapped in their circumstances and suffering and who want nothing more than to be delivered, to find hope. When Pierson died we told our boys and tried to create a space for them to process that their friend would be absent in a way they had never experienced before. We asked if they had any questions, which they did, and we did our best to answer them. Then my youngest asked this question:

"When God remakes the world, will Pierson be there?"

"Yes," we told him, "yes he most definitely will." But hope for the future is an incomplete solution to the reality that he has died. Christians believe this because we understand that death (the result of the Powers of Sin and Death) is an enemy. Not only is it an enemy, but it is one that Christians believe has been broken in the death and resurrection of Jesus and will ultimately be defeated when the Triune God makes "all things new". 

This dissonance, that Christians have hope, and that death is a terrible thing which the work of Jesus is in the process of overcoming, has given me a new appreciation for the richness of lament. 

Lament in Scripture is most often associated with the subset of the book of Psalms classified as lament psalms. Within this group there are subsections of various styles and contents. (For a great book about this see Glenn Pemberton's Hurting with God: Learning to Lament with the Psalms.) Here is what I am learning in this season about lament:

Lament is not sadness, or grief, or anger. It can be any of those things and more. But at its core, lament is a witnessing to God of the ways in which our lives in the world are not as they should be. They are sometimes a form of protest, or a plea for deliverance, or an accusation of injustice. In the end, they all in their own particular way say, "The world isn't supposed to be like this."

My children should be wearing their superhero shirts today because they are playing with Pierson, not because they are gathered to remember his life which was taken from him. The innocent shouldn't suffer, and frankly, no one should. Christians understand this because we await a renewed world in which grief and pain and death are no more. And the gap between the world we await and the world in which we live brings us pain and longing and even hope. 

I have full confidence that the God who raised Jesus from the dead and who broke the power of sin and death in the cross and resurrection will make all things right in the end. Tonight I will join millions of Orthodox Christians around the world as we shout Christo Anesti! (Christ is risen!). And we will join our voices in the liturgy that has sustained the church for centuries:

Let God arise, let his enemies be scattered; let those who hate him flee from before his face!

Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death, and upon those in the tombs bestowing life
.

This is the day which the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it!

It is this hope to which we cling on days like this. The hope that Christ has defeated death and is the giver of life. But what do you say? How do you speak to what did happen, not what we hoped would happen? The following is where I have arrived in reflecting on the loss of my dear brother in Jesus, Pierson. This is my testimony as I gather with others today to lament to God and confess my hope in the resurrected Son of God:

I believe that on that Day, when the Triune God remakes the world, that death and suffering will be no more. And on days like this, I wish that Day was yesterday. Christo Anesti! Maranatha!