April 25, 2019

Resurrection of Jesus

Resurrection of Jesus

What it is not:
Jesus' dead body getting up and walking around
Jesus' dead body still in the tomb
Jesus' ghost haunting people
A hopeful wish in the disciples' hearts
A psychedelic mushroom trip from bad stew
An unreliable tale from women
Something to believe in
Something to rationalize
Status quo of human power

What it might be:
God’s disruption of everything you believe and doubt
Jesus alive beyond death
Eighth day of creation
Love that will not die
Justice on the move

April 18, 2019

Eucharistic Prayer for Easter

A eucharistic prayer I wrote for Easter, offered to the church:

Eucharistic Prayer for Easter

Holy God, Holy Love, Holy Wonder,
      out of silence and emptiness
      you created the heavens and the earth.
            The oceans sing your praise.
            The rivers chant your glory.
Out of Abraham and Sarah’s dead end,
      you made promises, you granted laughter,
      you brought forth descendants to continue your story.
Out of the deathly power of oppression and slavery
      you liberated your people
      and blessed them with water, bread, wine.
Out of their lifeless wandering from your justice and mercy
      you sent them prophets who sang poems
            that serenaded them back to you.

In your great compassion for every tribe and nation,
      you sent Jesus,
            to bring everyone out of the tomb of hatred and sin
            and into the life of your love.
He fully embodied your compassion,
      lifting up the poor,
      raising up the lowly,
      forgiving the sinner,
      suffering and dying
            so that no one need suffer
      injustice and fear any more.
Out of the death of his own tomb,
      you raised him up
      so your story of love will not end.

In the night in which he was betrayed,
      our Lord Jesus took bread,
      and gave thanks;
      broke it,
      and gave it to his disciples, saying: 
      Take and eat;
      this is my body, given for you.
      Do this for the remembrance of me.

Again, after supper, he took the cup,
      gave thanks,
      and gave it for all to drink, saying:
      This cup is the new covenant
      in my blood, shed for you
      and for all people
      for the forgiveness of sin.
      Do this for the remembrance of me.

Together with one voice, we celebrate the paschal mystery of faith:
Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again.

Send your Spirit to fill us with the joy of the resurrection.
      Grant us hope beyond our comprehension.
Bless these gifts of bread and wine,
      so that the endless life and love of Jesus
      may dwell in us, and flow from us
            through acts of love for our neighbors.

Holy God, Holy Love, Holy Wonder,
      we give you more praise than we can utter,
      as we await that great day
            when the feast of your love
                  has no walls, no exceptions, no end,
            when we gather with Christ, by the Spirit,
            and know life in you:
                  love that cannot die,
                  love that enlivens our weary bones,
                  love that exceeds every hope and dream,
                  love, now and forever.

April 11, 2019

John's Passion: A Problem You Can't Ignore

"White Crucifixion" by Marc Chagall
It is well known that the passion stories in the Gospels have been read and used in ways that promote anti-semitism and Jewish persecution. Ever since the second centuary Christians have used their anti-Jewish sentiments as an excuse for reading the stories of the suffering and death of Jesus as a cause to blame Jews. The First Council of Nicaea in 325 AD spoke openly of the blame of Jews. The anonymosity felt for them at the Council was so great that it separated the Christian observance of Easter from the Jewish observance of Passover.

During the middle ages, Holy Week, and especially Good Friday, were times of persecution and violence toward Jews. Liturgically, these awful beliefs were codified and magnified through such texts as the Good Friday Bidding Prayer and the Solemn Reproaches. Thankfully, these texts have been modified to remove the anti-semitic language, although they can still be problematic if used without great care today. (I find the Solemn Reproaches unusable, but now for other theological and spiritual formation reasons).

One text that is difficult to modify is the New Testament. We do not lightly modify our holy Scriptures. However, we must recognized that every translation of the Bible is a modification. A translation includes thousands of choices for how to best represent an ancient text in Greek and Hebrew for native speakers of other languages and in vastly different cultures. Translations cannot ignore the impact of word choices on the readers and hearers of the translated text. There is always a moral and ethical aspect to translating texts.

The Gospel of John is the traditional text used on Good Friday for the reading of the passion of Jesus. Unfortunately, it is also the most difficult to use when trying to avoid anti-Jewish understandings of the text. This is partly because John's Gospel was written out of a community that existed quite apart from Jewish Christian origins, and held negative beliefs about Jewish leadership. This comes through strongly in the text. John uses the phrase "the Jews" repeatedly, often referring to the Jewish leadership in the particular. But the phrase "the Jews" has been heard and used by Christians, who already had develped many anti-Jewish beliefs, as a cause for blaming all Jews then and now for the death of Jesus. This is a root cause of anti-semitism, and the church today should do all it can to dismantle this deep-seated Christian atittude.

Some scholars and pastors have worked to create translations of the passion of Jesus that minimize anti-Jewish implications. I am offering here my attempt to come up with a passion story from John that is true to the intentions of the text, but allows contemporary hearers to understand better what is happening in Jesus' confrontation with religious leaders and Roman governing authorities. My attempt isn't perfect, but it might be a starting point for others to think about how to use the passion narrative without implicit anti-Jewish interpetations.

This is a modification of the NRSV translation, and using some of the suggestions made by Dr. Norm Beck. I use strikeouts and underlines to indicate words removed and inserted, so it is clear where I am changing the NRSV.

Passion of John NRSV with Modifications

April 10, 2019

Passion Readings: On Not Being the Crowd

We are about to enter Holy Week, the deep and mysterious ritual process of living the story of Jesus’ servanthood, rejection, suffering, death, and resurrection. It is a week to find ourselves somehow (and often in ways we do not expect or control) renewed by Jesus. It is, in a short summary word often used to speak of such profound things in today’s clipped speech, everything.

Most churches will read the story of Jesus’ suffering and death, the Passion story as it is called, on Palm/Passion Sunday and/or Good Friday. This means there are two opportunities to hear the passion story. And this means, I fear, there are two opportunities to mis-hear and mess it up. I’m saying this because of a practice that developed in past decades to have the assembly join in the reading, speaking the parts of the crowd and all who are seeking Jesus’ death. The assembly is expected to say or shout, “Crucify him!” during the trial scene before Pilate, and join in all the other rabble rousing in the text. I may be in a minority on this, but I think this is the wrong way to read the text. It may also be damaging to a person’s faith.

I guess I should explain. You might be thinking, “But dude, didn’t Jesus’ followers join the crowd and reject him?” And I’d respond, “Seriously, you’re calling me dude? But anyway, the answer is no.” It is true that Jesus’ disciples failed him in several ways. Judas betrayed him. Peter denied him. The rest ran away from him in fear once things got dangerous. But nowhere do we hear of Jesus’ disciples shouting, “Crucify him!” or wanting any such thing to happen. In fact, as we know throughout the Gospels, the disciples wanted anything but this to happen, because it was too hard to understand and accept.

It is my sense that when reading the Gospels, we are meant to identify in some way with the disciples. I think we are also meant to identify in some way with Jesus, but that is a trickier thing. But when Judas betrays Jesus for personal gain, or out of a delusional belief that he his helping the greater cause, we might find something of ourselves in him. Even more, when Peter denies he knows Jesus because it will put him in certain and immediate danger, we can surely find a connection to his struggle. When the other disciples, men and women, flee in fear and abandon Jesus, we can certainly see ourselves in their deep anxiety.

Nowhere, however, are we meant to identify with the crowd, or the religious leaders, or the other power brokers in the story who want Jesus crucified so they can clean up this little mess he caused and move on with their complicity in the Roman Empire’s domination game. The issue that the death of Jesus raises for his followers, and for those who hear this story wanting to be or wondering if they are his followers, is whether we are willing to die with Jesus. The issue is not that we want Jesus killed.

I suspect this practice of calling for Jesus’ death flows from a piety and theology based on guilt and substitutionary atonement. I also suspect it is the residue of centuries of passion stories read as anti-Jewish tales placing blame on the crowd, i.e. Jews. But to read the text with the assembly joining in those who cry out for Jesus death is not to be faithful to the text. We should stop it. There are more important issues to address in us that this sacred story is trying to touch.

The issue to ponder deeply in ourselves during Holy Week is not how we are guilty for Jesus’ death, assuming that somehow acting that out should make us feel awful and then make us feel better that Jesus’ got raised from the dead anyway. The issue to ponder is why we are so fearful that we will not follow Jesus in the way of the cross. To identify with the disciples in the passion story is to name ourselves as followers of Jesus, name ourselves as chosen ones of Jesus loved and forgiven. It is also to name ourselves as fearful ones for whom the way of Jesus, the way of self-giving love that leads to the cross in one form or another, is just too hard for us to do, especially when it means confronting injustice and domination in our world.

Isn’t the whole call of Jesus to his disciples about not going along with the crowd, and following him instead in God’s way of merciful love? Then why become the crowd in the passion story? Be the disciples. Experience fear and doubt. Run away if you must. And then be in awe of the one who did not run in fear, who loved to the end, who trusted God deeply even in abandonment. Because then, after running away and denying, we could find ourselves pulled back into the story, back into a life of following Jesus, not by our own efforts, but by Jesus himself, whose life, death, and resurrection are, in a word, everything.