28 June 2015

Communion Meditation on Isaiah 5

‭Isaiah‬ ‭5‬:‭20-24‬ NASB:

Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil; Who substitute darkness for light and light for darkness; Who substitute bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter! Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes And clever in their own sight! Woe to those who are heroes in drinking wine And valiant men in mixing strong drink, Who justify the wicked for a bribe, And take away the rights of the ones who are in the right! Therefore, as a tongue of fire consumes stubble And dry grass collapses into the flame, So their root will become like rot and their blossom blow away as dust; For they have rejected the law of the LORD of hosts And despised the word of the Holy One of Israel.

It would be easy to apply these words to our nation's reaction toward the recent Supreme Court ruling allowing homosexual marriage in all 50 states. 

If you're on social media, you've probably noticed a flood of posts over the past few days, saying things like, At last: equality!" Or "Everyone should have the right to love whoever they want."

And it wouldn't be wrong to make this application. God's word clearly says that his design for marriage is one man and one woman, together for life. Any sexual relationship outside that definition is likely to bring pain, guilt, and loss, both for those immediately involved and for society at large. This is true regardless of the relationship's legal status.

But it would be wrong to stop our thoughts on this passage there. Isaiah is a prophet, and prophecy is intended to make us contemplate our own sin problem, not other people's.

So I confess before you and the Lord this morning that I am guilty of the things Isaiah lists here: 

I have called evil good, and good evil.

I have substituted darkness for light and light for darkness.

I have substituted bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter.

I have gone to great lengths to justify my own wickedness.

I have been wise in my own eyes and clever in my own sight.

I have rejected the law of the LORD of hosts and despised the word of the Holy One of Israel.

Therefore, I have justly earned God's condemnation: As a tongue of fire consumes stubble and dry grass collapses into the flame, so my root deserves to  become like rot and my blossom deserves to blow away as dust.

But God wasn't willing to leave me there, in a place of hopeless, well-deserved condemnation. And He wasn't willing to leave you there, either. That's why we've gathered here today: To celebrate the sacrifice that transferred us from a kingdom of darkness, death, and damnation into one of light, life, and love. 

Because Jesus died on the cross for us, we can have forgiveness and restoration through him. When we place our faith in him, his blameless life and righteousness displace our sinful selves. Christ's life becomes who we really are, and we leave behind our old, corrupted natures.

Let's thank God for his merciful, life-giving work on our behalf.

21 June 2015

Communion

You are first among the many
Who gather this morning,
Brothers breaking your very body,
Sisters sipping your very blood,
Bread and wine standing in
For sinews and muscle,
For plasma and marrow,
A feast made no less gruesome,
No less costly, no less terrible,
By our symbolic commemoration.

You meant what you said:
We must consume you,
Body and soul, to be whole,
To be rid of the death we've earned,
To be healed of our brokenness:
The brokenness we inherited,
The brokenness we sought out.
They couldn't take it that day,
Those hungry men looking for bread,
So they left disgusted, 
Hungry,
Unfilled.

But my hunger is insatiable,
And my pockets are empty,
So I will take
And eat
And drink
And I will do it
In remembrance of you.

11 June 2015

Everything Changes

A response to today's Wednesday Poetry Prompt.

here he comes at last,
the long-awaited one,
with a lifeless alien face,
eyes sealed shut,
perfectly motionless
and motionlessly perfect.

i wonder, at first,
is everything all right?
he should be louder,
or friendlier,
or angrier,
or something more,
something less breathless.

in this moment,
my hope pauses,
my breath catches,
and she starts asking
if everything's all right,
and i don't really know.
even if he was breathing,
i wouldn't know.

over these months,
my all has been
subsumed, slowly, into
this searing moment, into
this pregnant pause, into
this silent question mark.
i'm not sure
if everything's all right
because i don't know anymore
what everything is
(or, for that matter, what all right is).

and then his eyes open
and he screams like
the tornado siren
on the roof of the school
behind our house,
and that sound is
a sacred seal,
a holy reassurance,
and i suddenly know
that whatever everything is now,
it's all right.

05 April 2015

The Long Sabbath

It was the longest, least restful Sabbath any of them could remember.

The sun was bright and the birds were singing, but these tokens of spring seemed hollow in light of the week's events.

Yes, the rabbi had seemed foolhardy last Sunday when he decided to come into Jerusalem despite the death threats, despite the danger. But it had turned out so well, with throngs of enthusiastic people waiting to receive him. 

In that moment, with the crowds waving palm branches and screaming for salvation, he could have led them anywhere, accomplished anything.

His followers had asked themselves, "Could this be it? Could this be, at long last, the coming of the Kingdom?"

But instead of assembling an army or forming a provisional government, he started doing what he had always done best: Alienating people.

He began with the temple. Raving like a madman, he overturned tables, loosed animals, and generally raised hell anywhere he could. Merchants alienated? Check.

Then he moved on to the most respected members of the religious establishment, calling them blind guides and hypocrites. Oh, yes, and also calling down damnation upon their heads. Pharisees alienated? Check.

Not to mention his own disciples. 

Judas, the treasurer, was incensed when Christ refused to speak out against the flagrant wastefulness of Mary's perfume-footwash debacle.

Simon the Zealot saw Palm Sunday as a wasted opportunity to throw off the shackles of the Roman oppressors.

Even Cephas was hurt -- the rabbi basically told him he was destined for cowardly failure.

And then there was the intensely awkward moment when Jesus had stripped down and bent to wash the filth from his followers' feet. How humiliating! Worse still, he commanded them to do the same.

They didn't hate him -- well, not all of them, anyway -- but they sure didn't understand him, either. Disciples alienated? Check x12.

So there goes the kingdom. Whatever this man might be, he's no politician.

And then came Gethsemane: Their failed battle against sleep as he struggled alone in prayer.

And then the mob who came to arrest him, the flash of steel and the ear bouncing to the ground, then miraculously restored.

And then the trials, where he resembled nothing so much as a sheep destined for slaughter.

And then the slow, agonizing death on the cross, and the blanket of darkness, and the earthquake, and his gasped "It is finished."

He may has well have been talking about hope itself. All day long, his disciples felt like Joseph at the bottom of the pit, bereft of any good  future they could have imagined.

And that was Saturday.

03 April 2015

Unexpected Company

So here are Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus, two pillars of the Sanhedrin, defiling themselves right before the holiest Sabbath of the year, and for what? The cold, mutilated corpse of an unrepentant heretic.

Joseph and Nicodemus almost certainly knew each other before that grim day. Tradition tells us they were both members of the Jewish ruling body. But did each know of the fearful hope hidden in the other's heart? I wonder.

Nicodemus, curious about this Jesus but unwilling to risk his reputation, went under cover of night to hear what the rabbi had to say. He came away bewildered by the man's talk of wind and snakes in the desert and rebirth.

Joseph was rich and respectable. He followed Jesus in private, like a Shakespearian scholar secretly obsessed with Kim Kardashian. John tells us Joseph was afraid of the establishment -- the one he was part of, and the one that ultimately condemned this innocent man to death.

How Nicodemus and Joseph found out about their mutual faith in the Nazarene is anyone's guess. I like to think their eyes met at Golgotha, and each saw his own pain, loss, and disappointment reflected in the other, even as their shared hope died before their eyes.

Whatever led up to it, I find myself fascinated by the picture of these two devout men gently preparing the bruised, bloody, broken body of Jesus on that grim afternoon. They raced against the sun, intent on finishing their task before the Sabbath. They packed spices against the cold, torn flesh, then wrapped linen around his body.

With their preparations complete, they laid him in a nearby tomb -- the one Joseph had selected for himself. It must have been surreal to lay the young, charismatic teacher to rest there as the sun sank into the west.

Then, these two men must have parted ways, each returning to his home and family, and each haunted by the day's tragic events. But they had discovered something few find in the midst of such darkness: Unexpected company from a kindred spirit.