Easter, delayed.

It was the morning after Easter when I heard that my dad was dying, and that I should come home.

Of course, my Holy Week and Easter were a bit different than normal. I wasn’t leading multiple services over multiple days at my church, as I would have at home. Called months earlier into active duty service with my National Guard unit, I was at a mobilization station getting ready to deploy overseas. I ended up traveling over Holy Thursday and Good Friday, canceling a liturgy I had planned to lead at the mobilization station chapel.

Dad holding my son, Naaman, 13 months-old at the time, at my ordination in 2008.

When I arrived overseas on Good Friday afternoon I struggled to stay awake just late enough to go to bed by 8pm. I didn’t make it to chapel that night, the first Good Friday service I’ve missed in memory. With travel and time zone lag, my sleep was off for those first few days, resulting in me waking up an hour or two before the ridiculously early sunrise here.

On Easter Monday I woke up crazy early, my sleep still off, and I noticed a text message from my brother. Please call. It was around 3am. I promptly called him, still Easter evening back home, and he told me the news. Dad was dying. Hospice was called.

There we were, in the wake of the resurrection, preparing for our father’s death.

The military post is largely quiet at that hour. Most people are asleep. I wandered from my bunk to the laundry room to an amphitheater where morale events are held, talking on the phone, crying, and shaking my fist at God.

You know, I always thought that was a metaphor, to shake your fist at God. But that night, it wasn’t. After getting off the phone with my brother and then my dear wife, and unable to go to sleep, I went for a predawn run. And on that run I cried and I yelled some more. And I shook my fist at God. Literally. I shook my fist toward the sky and shouted out. And sobbed. And ran some more.

The predawn sky that received my anger and grief on that morning run,
and responded to my shaking fist with a gorgeous array of color.

I wish I could tell you that I felt joyously comforted in that moment by the promise of the resurrection. That, like the disciples walking the road to Emmaus, my heart was warmed by the presence of Jesus by my side. But that really wasn’t the case. Jesus was by my side, I have no doubt, but it felt more like Jesus of the cross than Jesus of the empty tomb.

I know my Bible, and I know the church year, and that knowledge helps. A lot. Because in that fist-shaking, tear-streaming, ugly-crying moment I wasn’t feeling the joy of the resurrection. Not at all. I was in the depths, crying out.

Now, I know how the story progresses from the cross to the empty grave, and that knowledge comforts me. I know that Good Friday’s lament leads to Easter Sunday’s joy. Death is no more – this is what the church has taught me. And it didn’t just teach me, but the church embedded this truth deep within me with by drawing me into its liturgy and hymns and prayers and public witness and caring presence and persistent hope. And early on that Easter Monday morning as I faced my father’s death, I knew this to be true – death is no more – even if I wasn’t feeling it in that moment.

Easter was delayed for me this year. And while part of me feels robbed, I’m also at peace. Because I know that Easter will come again. I know that death is no more. That is what the church has taught me, and I know it to be true. And when my feelings recover, I’ll feel that truth again. Though, probably, it’ll feel a bit different. And that’s ok. Because faith is not the same as feelings.

Running as an Easter Spiritual Disicpline

La_Pieta_Santa_Maria_della_Vita_Niccolo_del_Arca_1462

Mary Magdalene running to tell the disciples that the tomb was empty Niccolò dell’Arca | 1462-63 | Painted terra cotta | Bologna, Italy

If running doesn’t yet have a feast day on the church year calendar, Easter should be the Feast Day of Running.

The Easter account tells of running – running to and from the tomb – in three of the four Gospels.

Matthew 28:8 “So [Mary Magdalene and the other Mary] left the tomb quickly with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples.”

Luke 24:12 “But Peter got up and ran to the tomb, stooping and looking in, he saw the linen cloths by themselves; then he went home, amazed at what had happened.”

John 20:2-4 “So [Mary Magdalene] ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.” Then Peter and the other disciple set out and went toward the tomb. The two were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first.”

This Easter morning I will head out for a run at dawn, the time of day that Scripture says the women first went to the tomb.

With the women I will run.

With Peter and the other disciple I will run.

With fear and amazement and great joy I will run, for the Lord is risen. Alleluia!

The Lord has given us renewed reason to run the race set before us. To run with love. To run knowing that death is not the end of the story. To run knowing that an empty grave, new life, resurrection, and the Kingdom of God lies before us.

Run the race of hope and promise. Run the resurrection. For this is why we run. This is the Feast of Running.

“Lord, if you had been here …”

Fifth Sunday in Lent, Year A
John 11:1-45
Sunday, April 10, 2011

Lent 5 – Year A 2011

Grace to you and peace, from the one who is, who was, and who is to come.  Amen.

Martha, grieving her brother,
    says to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”
Actually, I’m pretty certain she didn’t say it the perfectly calm tone of a church lector
    reading the Scriptures on a Sunday morning.
Rather, I think she would have said it a bit more emphatically, sadly, angrily, emotionally:
“Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”
If you had been here …

This isn’t just Martha’s comment, question, plea, either.
We share this sentiment with her.

Read More

We look for the resurrection of the dead

We look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come.  Amen.
– Nicene Creed

Yes, Jesus was raised from the dead.  The stone was rolled away, and our risen Jesus appeared, variously, to the women, to two of his followers on the road to Emmaus, and to his disciples.  To a doubting Thomas, Jesus revealed his wounds.  Jesus ate fish to prove he wasn’t a ghost, yet he also appeared among his disciples, even though the doors of their room were locked.  The resurrection of Jesus.  This is what we celebrate in the season of Easter.

We look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come.

But it is more than an amazing act of God.  Jesus’ resurrection is a conquest of sin and death to reveal the awesome and life-giving power of God.  Indeed, the resurrection of Christ shows us God’s intention for all of creation.  The resurrection of Jesus is not a one-time thing, an isolated anomaly in the spiritual fabric time and space.  No!  The resurrection of Jesus is not a once-and-done event, but a debut, a first-of-many.

We look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come.

St Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 15:

But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have died.  For since death came through a human being, the resurrection of the dead has also come through a human being; for as all die in Adam, so all will be made alive in Christ. But each in his own order: Christ the first fruits, then at this coming those who belong to Christ.

Christ is the first fruits, his resurrection is the first act in a holy drama that has yet to end.  But this much we know – what has come to Jesus in the resurrection is promised to us.  For at St Paul writes in Romans 6:

For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.

We look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come.

What is so great about Easter is that it its story of our Lord’s resurrection we see a reflection, a telling of another story – the story of what God promises to do in and for us.  Just as the stone was rolled away from Jesus tomb, so too will God’s angels roll the stones away from our tombs, breath new life into us, and make all things new.  Death will be no more.

We look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come.

Indeed, the hope of early Christians was not a hope for a spiritual heaven, a disembodied world of ghostly apparitions floating in the clouds. The hope of the early church, of the first generations of Christians, was a hope in a new flesh-and-blood life, a life like Jesus’ resurrected life, a life of death defeated and sin conquered, a life where that which breaks us down is itself broken down, and a New Creation springs forth in joy, love, and peace.

We look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come.

And since our hope is set on a renewed flesh-and-blood reality, our Lord sends us, not looking to the heavens, but looking to the world, for it is in the world where God’s promises will be fulfilled.

We look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come.

So may we be Easter people in these days –
People who look for the dead to be raised. 
People who look for the new world to come to this world. 
People who look for God to live and dwell among us. 
People who look for our Lord to appear to us in the breaking of bread. 
People who, with doubting Thomas, proclaim the presence of God in the midst of wounds and deathly scars. 
People who look to the cross and all its misery … and see hope.

We look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come. Amen.

[Reposted from my column in the April 2010 edition of my congregation's newsletter]