In our daily prayers God was every manner of image and metaphor and meaning, and always, "God the Father." We never ever prayed to "God our Mother." What were women in the economy of God? The answer was only too painful: We were invisible. I had given my life to a God who did not see me, did not include me, did not touch my nature with God's own....Joan Chittister, "Called to Question"

Friday, April 24, 2009

Easter 3B

Reflection for Easter 3B, Luke 24:36-48 by The Rev. Margaret Rose

The reflection this week is the result of a dinner table bible study among women priests on retreat. There are nine of us, most of whom have been spending a week during Easter together since the late 90’s. Each was ordained more than 25 years ago, and our ministries are in parishes and social agencies, pastoral counseling, and national church. We are scattered now along the East Coast and Ohio, but share a history of ministry in the Diocese of Atlanta. Each of us has no doubt preached through the texts of Year B more than a few times.

As supper was ending on Thursday, we read again Luke’s story allowing the familiar words to come among us again in this 2009 Easter. I took notes.

What if we all took seriously the greeting that comes so easily on Jesus’ lips? “Peace be with you.” It was a common greeting for Jesus’ day. We claim to offer that peace in each Eucharist. But what if we allowed that greeting to infuse our hearts? What if we allowed it to shape our actions among friends and in our communities?

The conversation went on:

It was noted that in Luke’s gospel, whenever sin is mentioned, there is forgiveness which follows. We remarked on the combination of fear and joy the disciples experienced in the slow realization that Jesus, himself, was really there. We laughed, imagining the scene many of us had experienced with our adolescent children who seemed to appear out of nowhere demanding, “Have you anything to eat?” We wondered about Luke’s motives, that even in writing to a Gentile community, there was the need to emphasize that Jesus was the fulfillment of God’s promises as set forth in scripture.

We reflected on other Easter appearance stories, notably Thomas and the Road to Emmaus and on how long it took even for those who had known him well to recognize Jesus. And on Thomas’s need to physically touch the wounds. In Jesus’ teaching and breaking of the bread came the disciples’ recognition and realization that radical change had occurred. There was no going back to the way things had been, no return to the Jesus they had known, but a new reality had broken open their way of life, their hearts and minds.

Jesus reassures them, but even that evokes confusion. Stay in the city he says—and the spirit will give you power. None of this was new to us women gathered around the table. We’d read it all before. Luke comes up on this Sunday every three years. There was plenty of material for a sermon. After all we represented over 200 years of reflection on these texts. Was there yet another new reality to this text?

And then one of us remarked, “The disciples identified him by his wounds. By this they knew that he was authentically Jesus, that the suffering of the crucifixion was real, yet his presence assured them of a future. In his request for food Jesus not only showed his full humanity, but offered the possibility of a renewed life as real as the suffering which had gone before.

And that seemed to be the word for us, for this Easter, for the women of this circle. Through the wounds, which are an inevitable part of life we come to resurrection; through the grief we come to joy; through the suffering we also come to new life.
The Good News for us is not that Jesus died for our sins or that he suffered so we might avoid it. We can’t. Real life does not offer us that. Rather, we get to the resurrected life by moving through the depths of Hell and death to a new place.

Perhaps it is the other way around as well. We know grief because we also know love. We know hunger because we have enjoyed the broiled fish and are aware of its absence. It is our willingness to experience the depths of each that draws us to Jesus.

Around the table as we spoke of Easter, I felt the deep gift of the Spirit represented by these faithful women. In the years since our ordinations, we stayed in the city as Jesus commanded and then scattered as the Spirit gave us power. None of us was unscathed, personally or professionally by the wounds of real life in the church and beyond. There were vocational snares that being a priest in those early years entrapped us in. Others entrap us still.

At one moment that evening we listened, like the disciples huddled together after Good Friday, to the story of disappointments and hurts inflicted by modern day religious authorities on one of our number. We, witnesses to her account, asked ourselves how Jesus might appear in our fellowship, how we too might be reclothed with the power of the spirit, to reclaim the Easter joy for our fellow priest and for us. The answer of course was there at the table in our own small community of disciples. We recognize the reality of Jesus in our own midst and his power to open our minds to the places God may still be calling us.

Margaret Rose on behalf of this community of women.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Easter 2

A Reflection on: Acts 4:23-37, 1 John 1:1-2:5, John 20: 19-31 by Sarah Rogers

‘My Lord and my God!’
It seems to me that there is a huge contrast between this week’s gospel reading and last week’s. Last week we heard about the discovery of the empty tomb by the women that followed Jesus, they believed immediately, the men took longer to catch up. This passage from John’s gospel is also preceded by Mary’s discovery of the empty tomb, where she in confusion runs away and fetches Simon Peter and the disciple whom Jesus loved, on seeing the empty tomb and seeing the empty grave clothes the beloved disciple understands and believes. But, they don’t hang around, although they are full of questions, and they miss Jesus who appears to Mary in her grief. So, rather than Simon Peter and Jesus’ beloved disciple being the messengers, it is left to Mary to bear the message of the resurrection, Jesus sends her to tell the disciples announcing to everyone ‘I have seen the Lord’.

And yet, in this weeks passage from the gospel of John we find the disciples gathered together in the upper room, frightened to go out, they have not yet believed. Then Jesus appears to them and they too begin to repeat Mary’s message ‘we have seen the Lord’. Even then Thomas is absent and refuses to believe that Jesus has risen from the dead unless he sees and feels his wounds with his own hands. Jesus appears again to the disciples and finally Thomas believes. We don’t have the privilege of being able to see the resurrected Jesus face to face, we have to believe without seeing. Although, without the disciples we would not believe, they saw the resurrected Jesus and passed the message on to us. For some, even then, it was enough to hear the good news of the resurrection. For others, like Thomas, some evidence was needed. Perhaps, the doubt of Thomas added credence to the stories that were going around, he could not believe without some physical evidence, but would we believe today without his doubt?

When Jesus appears to the disciples he gives them his peace and charges his disciples with the continuation of his mission. ‘Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you’ (John 20:21). They are not greater than the one who sent them, but they reveal the one who sent them, as Jesus said ‘whoever receives one whom I send receives me; and whoever receives me receives him who sent me’ (John 13:20). There is something very inclusive about the mission that is entrusted to the disciples. All who believe in Jesus are sent to carry on the mission of Jesus, everyone, male and female are the ‘body of Christ’ here on earth. The story from Acts about the early church reiterates this equaltiy. The group is mentioned as a whole, there is no distinction between male and female, everything is held in common and shared. It can be implied that in the early church there is an equal place for all.

The resurrection stories in John’s gospel describe different journeys of faith. The beloved disciple believes when he sees the empty grave clothes, Mary believes when she hears Jesus calling her name, the disciples believe when Jesus stands among them, and finally Thomas finds faith when he touches the wounds of Jesus. All who have faith, however they have found it, have a mission to pass on the good news of the resurrection of Jesus and what it means for all of us.
The Lord is risen.

He is risen indeed. Alleluia.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Easter Year B

A reflection on the readings for Easter Year B
Acts 10:34-43
Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24
1 Corinthians 15:1-11
John 20:1-18
by Janine Goodwin, M.A., M.S. Ed.

Alleluia! Christ is risen!
What on earth could that possibly mean?

Easter can be bewildering. Something has happened that changes everything, and we don’t yet know what that means. For some of us, Lent is easier to grasp. The ideas of temptation and resisting temptation, penance, giving up unhealthy things, taking on new ways, and making room for new life are comprehensible, but the overthrow of death itself is beyond our understanding. For those of us facing the loss of a loved one or of a cherished hope, health problems or domestic violence, addiction, the destruction of the natural world, or the continuing effects of long-held prejudices, Easter may seem unconvincing, like a happy ending we can’t quite believe. Some of us today may have said Alleluia as a kind of obligation, feeling like fakes for being unable to rejoice on cue. The trumpets may sound a bit tinny and the lilies smell a bit cloying. Resurrection, when we are in turmoil, can seem like something for the distant future, after death, but not seem to touch our daily lives. On some unexamined level, we may feel that our grief disproves the Resurrection, thinking, "If this had really happened, I wouldn’t be suffering like this, would I?"
Those of us who are bewildered by the Resurrection are bewildered in good company.

All the Gospels show the disciples, male and female, as thoroughly confused by the Resurrection and throughout the post-Resurrection appearances, though the accounts vary in other respects and details. There is rejoicing in these stories, to be sure, but there is also doubt, fear, and amazement. In today’s Gospel passage, Mary Magdalene talks with angels but is still lost in her grief and mistakes the Risen Christ for a gardener, recognizing him only when he calls her name. I wonder how often, in our grief, we forget to ask where Jesus is and miss hearing him call our names.

As we puzzle through what the Resurrection can mean in our lives now, it may help us to remember that the post-Resurrection life of Jesus’ followers is not just a story of triumph. There are miraculous conversions, healings, and escapes, yet Paul is not healed of his mysterious “thorn in the flesh,” and martyrdoms and persecutions are inflicted upon the believers. There are conflicts between and within communities, and arguments over what the Gospel means. Even the eyewitnesses to the Resurrection are not freed from the limitations of human life or of human thinking. We aren’t, either.

One of the tasks of a disciple is to spend our lives questioning our assumptions in the light of the Gospel. One of the limitations we all face as we take up that task is the set of social assumptions we learn early in our lives. It is worth noting that one of today’s readings, the Gospel of John, like all the gospels, places women in central roles in the story of the Resurrection, but Paul’s account in 1 Corinthians does not mention the women at all. Paul, who knows and says that in Christ there is no male or female, does not acknowledge the women who were witnesses of the Resurrection in this passage. Jesus accepts women as followers and equals, but his followers have trouble getting over what their culture has taught them.
This is a problem that echoes down the centuries, and it is particularly obvious in the history of Mary Magdalene in the churches. While the Orthodox church calls Mary Magdalene “the Apostle to the Apostles,” the Western church, over the centuries, has conflated her story with that of an unnamed woman who had committed unnamed sins in Luke, and has further assumed those sins were sexual ones. In a world that has insisted, over the centuries, on defining women by their sexuality whether it idealizes them or uses them in pornography and prostitution, Mary Magdalene has been described and depicted in art far more often as a beautiful, sexualized, penitent woman than as a woman healed by Jesus, a follower of Jesus, and as the first witness of the Resurrection. Another set of ideas, not affirmed by the tradition of most Christian churches but recently popularized in fiction, would call her Jesus’ wife, a role which still defines her primarily through her sexuality and in relation to a man.

The Mary Magdalene of John’s Gospel, the Apostle to the Apostles, is a woman who followed Jesus at a time when women were expected to stay home. She is one of the last witnesses of the Crucifixion, someone who stays with the suffering Jesus until his death, someone who returns to the tomb to grieve when she could have just gone home. She is also a woman who, when Jesus calls her, answers instantly, “Rabbouni!” or “Master,” which the Gospel tells us means, “Teacher!”

I hear that cry of “Teacher!” as one of the things the Resurrection means to me, as a sign of the redemption of relationships between men and women. In a world where study was largely limited to men, “Teacher!” says to me that Mary Magdalene identifies herself as a student, the equal of her brother apostles. Her importance in this story does not originate in her sex, her gender roles, or her sexuality; those things are certainly a good part of who God made her to be, but they do not define her. She is a student and a friend of Jesus, as all Christians are.

Friendship and learning are not limited by any other part of who we are. We can all be students, teachers, and friends to each other. We are not required to define ourselves and each other by our sex or by our sexuality at the expense of everything else we are. I suggest to you that this is as radical a challenge to transformation for the twenty-first century as it was to the first.

Mary Magdalene showed up at the tomb, called her fellow disciples to witness that it was empty, stayed with her grief, asked for help, and recognized the voice of her Teacher when she heard it. We can all do these things, male or female, gay or straight, married or single.

The redemption of our relationships and the healing of the wounds that come from sexism is only one of the many possible ways the Resurrection can bring change and healing into our lives. That change does not negate our griefs. The transformation of our experience may be slow and hard to recognize or understand. Everything is changed, but everything is not all better. The change will not be complete in our lifetimes, and our limitations will still trip us up. Still, we can continue as sisters and brothers, fellow students and equals. Sometimes, we will argue and misunderstand, run from the Cross, mistake Jesus for the gardener. Sometimes we will hear and recognize his voice, answer it, and tell each other how we have seen him, and what he has said to us.

The Lord is risen indeed! Alleluia!

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Palm/Passion Sunday

Palm Sunday, Year B April 5, 2009

If Christ is where God and the world meet, if indeed if Christ is the point where the encounter between God and the World is the most intimate, then the story we have just read is a tale of a relationship fraught with as much violence as love, as much terror as compassion, as much selfishness as generosity.

Mark tells us the story of a world we know very well. It’s a world of terror where thugs come in the night: the death squads in Central America, The Tonton Macoute in Haiti, the Nazis rounding up Jews in the 1930s and ‘40s. It’s a world of the banal, the numb; death and conflict are commonplace, swirling around us, as they swirled around the disciples during that long, dark night. A friend of mine, near despair, once remarked on “how battered and stressed and desperate people like you and me tend to be these days. It has something to do with the fact that everything’s up for grabs, politically, economically, morally, and religiously in our world.”

The Jesus we meet in Mark seems to be giving up. “Are you the king of the Jews,” his accusers ask him. “You say so,” he almost shrugs. Surely he feels all the dread and fear that we would feel; he longs for God to change the divine mind; he sweats tears of blood, and at the end cries out, lonely and abandoned.

Mark never lets us think that the Romans are to blame for Jesus’ death. It’s the Jews who got out of control. Pilate appears to want to let Jesus go; it is the crowd who demands the release of the criminal Barabbas rather than Jesus.
What can it mean to us to follow such a Jesus? Will we meet an end of such loneliness and abandonment? Is this the cost of discipleship?

In the 1930s a young German theologian wrote a book called, The Cost of Discipleship. Many of the Lutherans in the Germany of the day were willing followers of Hitler, but Bonhoffer and his community resisted: they wrestled with what it meant to be a Christian in a society of monstrous and growing militarism and oppression. In the 1930s, he thought, it could work out, step by step. “I thought I could acquire faith by trying to live a holy life,” Bonhoeffer wrote, much later, when he began to question his attempt to learn faith, as though by following a manual.

It is very tempting to read the passion story hoping that it will all “blow over.” I very much want to make sense of the Passion, to make it into a tidy story with an ending, a lesson which I can learn and then come out the other side a good disciple, full of the fruits of the spirit and the joy of the resurrection.

Sixty-four years ago Thursday Dietrich Bonhoeffer was hanged in a German prison, for the crime of plotting to kill Hitler. His resistance to the slaughter of the Jews began by preaching against anti-Semitism, then by banding with other Christians against the German churches which collaborated with the Nazis, and then joining in a conspiracy to fight the powers of death. It was during his years in prison that he began to question some of what he had written about faith as learned (and controlled) and to embrace an understanding of faith as “profound this-worldliness:”

... it is only by living completely in this world that one learns to have faith. One must completely abandon any attempt to make something of oneself ... By this-worldliness I mean living unreservedly in life’s duties, problems, successes and failures, experiences and perplexities. In so doing we throw ourselves completely into the arms of God, taking seriously, not our own sufferings, but those of God in the world ...

This is a different way of looking at the “battered and stressed” aspects of life: not to tidy them up, give them meaning, as I would like to do, but to embrace them, to throw ourselves into the arms of God -- yet the arms of a God on a cross cannot embrace, nurture or offer us much comfort.

We are Christians, so we know this: the day of resurrection will come, but we cannot leave the here and now to get to it. To be a Christian is to hold both together, all of the time, to live a faith of profound this-worldliness; as Bonhoeffer wrote, “Characterized by discipline and the constant knowledge of death and resurrection.” It means to live that ordinary life facing death, not expecting the triumphant outcome but knowing it just the same.

Jacqueline Schmitt

The Adventurous Parson
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