Sunday, April 23, 2017

What hope looks like: Meeting us in the Question

Thomas: skeptical Thomas, questioning Thomas, empirical Thomas, hard-evidence Thomas

I think these titles might be more fitting for the infamous doubter. I find it bemusing that this weekend of the "March for Science," we encounter Thomas in our Gospel reading. Thomas gets a bum rep: unwilling to believe unless he can touch Jesus' risen body - presented as the opposite for all of us who believe without seeing...and, unwittingly, those of us who believe feel just a bit superior to poor Thomas.

This account was provided so that "you may come to believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that through this believe you may have life in his name" (John 20:31). Note that it's not provided to feel superior to an Apostle...and perhaps, there is a lesson for us who believe to help treat those who question with more mercy and understanding - just as Jesus did.

GospelJOHN 20:19-31

On the evening of that first day of the week,
when the doors were locked, where the disciples were,
for fear of the Jews,
Jesus came and stood in their midst
and said to them, "Peace be with you."
When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side.
The disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord.
Jesus said to them again, "Peace be with you.
As the Father has sent me, so I send you."
And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them,
"Receive the Holy Spirit.
Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them,
and whose sins you retain are retained."

Thomas, called Didymus, one of the Twelve,
was not with them when Jesus came.
So the other disciples said to him, "We have seen the Lord."
But he said to them,
"Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands
and put my finger into the nailmarks
and put my hand into his side, I will not believe."

Now a week later his disciples were again inside
and Thomas was with them.
Jesus came, although the doors were locked,
and stood in their midst and said, "Peace be with you."
Then he said to Thomas, "Put your finger here and see my hands,
and bring your hand and put it into my side,
and do not be unbelieving, but believe."
Thomas answered and said to him, "My Lord and my God!"
Jesus said to him, "Have you come to believe because you have seen me?
Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed."

Now, Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples
that are not written in this book.
But these are written that you may come to believe
that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God,
and that through this belief you may have life in his name.

Marielle Frigge (2016) provides a commentary of this weekend's readings in "Workbook for Lectors, Gospel Readers, and Proclaimers of the Word" that is so good, you need to read it for yourself:

During Jesus' mortal life, he performed various 'signs' that for those open to perceive, led to insight and ultimately, to faith in Jesus. For John, such believing deepened into the mutual indwelling of Jesus and the believer: the fullness of life, the human sharing in the divine life.
But after his death, Jesus no longer lived as a visible, mortal human being. His disciples then, as now, asked, "How is Jesus present to us now? Through what signs can he be revealed and encountered, that others may come to believe and participate in the divine life?"  
At the Last Supper, Jesus promised to send the Advocate (the Spirit) on his return to the God who sent him (John 14:16). In today's Gospel reading, the Risen Jesus fulfills his promise - sending forth the disciples as he was sent: they are now his relevatory sign."
In the post-Resurrection era, the Church is the presence of the crucified and Risen Jesus in the world, the tangible revelation of God's Word made flesh. 
Thomas doesn't doubt: he refuses to believe until he can experience the concrete, mortal body of Jesus, a sign in the manner he had known before.   
(Frigge, Park, Leal, 2016, p. 155-156)

That line: a sign in the manner he had known before... I am just really ruminating on that. Why did Thomas refuse to believe in the word of the others?

His heart had just been broken. His belief shattered by the death of Jesus. The disciples had hoped that Jesus would bring about a new era of Judaism - and, that was just destroyed by the cross. I think Thomas believed that Jesus was the Messiah; even that Jesus was who He said He was - the Son of Man/Son of God. How could he be dead? How could the Jews have triumphed in murdering the Messiah? How could God have allowed the death of his Son? How could anything be trusted, anymore? How could it be that Jesus was alive? This made no sense.

Thomas, like many of us when the foundation of our world - our hopes, dreams, perceptions of reality, have been shaken to the core, decides that until he can have empirical evidence (being able to experience him through his senses) that Jesus is fully alive, he will not enter into this madness. Of course Thomas had questions. Belief and reason no longer matched, in his mind. All that he had trusted in; all that he had understood to be't. or was it? What was true? What could be accepted?

I think it is important to note that Jesus invites Thomas to touch the wounds from the crucifixion. There was a rumor circulated by the Jews that the body of Jesus had been stolen - not resurrected. What if, Thomas reasoned that his peers, in their grief had hallucinated a risen Jesus? What if they wanted it to be true that he didn't die, and they just concocted this? What if someone tricked them, claiming to be Jesus - but wasn't - and the disciples just wanted it to be true - or they hadn't asked?

He wanted to be sure. He wanted to know - without a doubt - that it really was Jesus. He needed to encounter Jesus - not just hear of him from his peers.

Are you like that? Do you need to reassurance? Do you need proof? Do you need to touch? Do you need to encounter Jesus to believe?


You do.

I do.

We all do.

What is Jesus' response to Thomas' refusal to believe until?

Jesus - moved through pity, compassion, love and mercy [not chastisement - for Jesus recognizes the stumbling block to Thomas' faith and desires to remove it because he loves Thomas and wants only what is the best for Thomas - to know the truth and be set free by it]:

in the generosity of Jesus to Thomas, Thomas recognizes the presence of God in the transformed Jesus. He professes belief: My Lord and My God.

We don't even know that Thomas actually had to touch Jesus; in fact, I think he didn't. I think recognizing the character of the Father Jesus had revealed through his ministry once manifested before him was enough.
Jesus gently addresses Thomas' questions: "[Thomas], peace be with you. [Thomas, come]: put your finger here, see my hands, put your hand on my side. [Dear friend] Do not be unbelieving, but believe."

Jesus' willingness to reveal Himself (to Thomas), to meet him in his unbelief, to invite Thomas to experience Him (to belief): that was enough for Thomas to know (believe) beyond doubt that Jesus was more than just a man. He is who He said He was: God made man. He is risen from the dead!


Saturday, April 22, 2017

What healing looks like: the heart of suffering

Reading 7  EZEKIEL 36:16-17A, 18-28
The word of the LORD came to me, saying:
Son of man, when the house of Israel lived in their land,
they defiled it by their conduct and deeds.

Therefore I poured out my fury upon them
because of the blood that they poured out on the ground,
and because they defiled it with idols.
I scattered them among the nations,
dispersing them over foreign lands;
according to their conduct and deeds I judged them.

But when they came among the nations wherever they came,
they served to profane my holy name,
because it was said of them: "These are the people of the LORD,
yet they had to leave their land."
So I have relented because of my holy name
which the house of Israel profaned
among the nations where they came.

Therefore say to the house of Israel: Thus says the Lord GOD:
Not for your sakes do I act, house of Israel,
but for the sake of my holy name,
which you profaned among the nations to which you came.
I will prove the holiness of my great name, profaned among the nations,
in whose midst you have profaned it.
Thus the nations shall know that I am the LORD, says the Lord GOD,
when in their sight I prove my holiness through you.

For I will take you away from among the nations,
gather you from all the foreign lands,
and bring you back to your own land.

I will sprinkle clean water upon you
to cleanse you from all your impurities,
and from all your idols I will cleanse you.
I will give you a new heart and place a new spirit within you,
taking from your bodies your stony hearts
and giving you natural hearts.
I will put my spirit within you and make you live by my statutes,
careful to observe my decrees.
You shall live in the land I gave your fathers;
you shall be my people, and I will be your God.

It is amazing sometimes how God brings our lives full-circle. (And maybe it shouldn’t be amazing – because I think that is his intention with many things – but still, whenever I am given the eyes to see it, I am amazed.)

On my drive back from Thanksgiving in Iowa, I had a pretty interesting encounter with God. Since Dan died, I’ve had some questions for God about suffering. If you’ve followed me for awhile, you know how resistant I have been to suffering. Prior to Dan’s diagnosis, I equated suffering with falling out of God’s favor; during the year of cancer, I *kind of* learned to embrace it, but still with an idea that to avoid it or to be released from “the worst” was better than to endure “the full extent” – or to realize the “worst.” …and then, what I would say was the worst outcome possible happened – and when that happens, you start to look at suffering with new eyes.

While listening to ‘Rose of Bethlehem’ by Selah, meditating on the life of Mary and Jesus, I was brought to ears and clearly realized that our suffering is intended to bring about healing.

O Rose of Bethlehem, how lovely pure and sweet, born to glorify the Father, born to wear the thorns for me.

As I meditated on this song, this image of a heart crowned in thorns came to me. Our suffering purifies our heart; purifies our faith which is stronger than gold. But, we cannot wear the thorns of suffering without a heart of flesh.

Mary's "yes" to receive the Holy Spirit and become the mother of Jesus was a "yes" to a life of suffering. Jesus' "yes" to submitting to the flesh of humanity, a rejection of the majesty due him, - but then, the final submission to suffering, the "yes" to wearing the thorn of crowns, drinking the cup of suffering and death through the crucifixion: Experiencing the suffering of life is an invitation to receive the heart of flesh; embracing the crown of thorns is to welcome the heart of flesh (the natural heart Ezekiel refers to).

What I have found is that we always have a choice. To embrace suffering or the path of grief is to embrace our cross: which is a rejection of the stony heart and an embrace of the natural one.

This past weekend at Easter Vigil, I read the above passage from Ezekiel. Easter Vigil may be my favorite church service. It’s the entire salvation story presented in one Mass. Starting with the creation story (Genesis 1:1-2:2), the Lord providing the sacrificial lamb Genesis 22:1-18), delivering his chosen people from the Egyptians (Exodus 14:15-15:1), the calling and provision for the chosen people (Isaiah 54:5-14 and Isaiah 55:1-11), the rejection of the Lord by the chosen people and His wooing of them to return (Baruch 3:9-15, 32-4:4): and finally this – God declares his justification to judge his people because of their sin, but instead chooses to relent. While justice deems banishment justified, the Lord demonstrates mercy – and grace -  for His name’s sake determining that not only will He gather His people, bringing them home – Hehimself – the Lord God -  will cleanse them of their sin and will give them a new heart and spirit – so that they will be able to glorify God, do His will – and be a sign to the nations that these are the people loved by God. Thus, it is not by works, but by grace through faith that we are saved; the Lord God will be the one to cleanse and to enliven our bodies and souls to perform the good works designed for us. (Ephesians 2:8-10)

I couldn’t get through this reading without crying. The beautiful privilege to be the people of God – we deserve it not. We have reviled him, rejected him, and soiled his name by what we have done and what we have failed to do. Yet, he doesn’t judge us as our sins deserve. He has determine to give us a new heart and a new spirit – and this gift could only come to us through suffering: the suffering of Jesus on the cross and his subsequent death. His resurrection allowed life to come to us: a new heart and a new spirit: His spirit.

Epistle  ROMANS 6:3-11
Brothers and sisters:
Are you unaware that we who were baptized into Christ Jesus
were baptized into his death?
We were indeed buried with him through baptism into death,
so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead
by the glory of the Father,
we too might live in newness of life.
For if we have grown into union with him through a death like his,
we shall also be united with him in the resurrection.
We know that our old self was crucified with him,
so that our sinful body might be done away with,
that we might no longer be in slavery to sin.
For a dead person has been absolved from sin.
If, then, we have died with Christ,
we believe that we shall also live with him.
We know that Christ, raised from the dead, dies no more;
death no longer has power over him.
As to his death, he died to sin once and for all;
as to his life, he lives for God.
Consequently, you too must think of yourselves as being dead to sin
and living for God in Christ Jesus.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

What healing (and grief) looks like: Holy Thursday

This week, a fresh wave of grief came.

A year ago, Dan was in the hospital with a fungal pneumonia related to the steroid he'd been on to help control his HLH. It was a scary time. When he entered the hospital, his oxygen levels were very low. We told the doctor he was at risk for fungal pneumonia (PCP) because our doctor at the UM kept telling us to tell the ER doctor. So we did. But, he didn't get treated for a fungal pneumonia until two days later, when an infectious disease doctor finally listened to me. But by then, his heart was out of rhythm and his breathing was still labored even with oxygen. And, they made the decision to put him on a ventilator. His heart immediately went back into rhythm and he was off the vent within 36 hours. It truly was a miracle.

When this miracle happened, I knew it was. I knew this was God's gift to us. I didn't know, though, how short it would be. I didn't know that 3 months after this miracle that Dan would be put on a ventilator again...and that he would die. I didn't know.

And in that miracle time where everything was normal - Dan's blood levels, his spirits, everything, I let myself start thinking beyond the "now." I let myself start to dream about what it would look like for us to put roots down. I started noticing houses for sale. I started talking about looking for a place for us.

And in that miracle time, we celebrated our 5th wedding anniversary with an awesome, perfect trip to Traverse City/Mackinaw City.

...and in that new wave of grief, as I remembered all of this from a year ago... I felt foolish. I felt foolish that I let myself "get ahead of myself"...that I let myself have hope.

...and I felt foolish because there was part of me that thought I would know. I thought I would know. I thought I would know when it was Dan's time; I thought that God would give me a heads-up. ...and in certain respects, he did. When we were driving back to our hotel after our anniversary dinner, and this blissfully perfect weekend (other than a quick trip to an ER), I suddenly had this ominous feeling come over me. I didn't know what it was - only that it felt like things were going to change, soon; that things would be very different. And, when Dan was in the hospital for that last weekend, that Saturday morning, I had this feeling that I should pack a bag to stay there that night; that was my first and only night staying with Dan in the hospital; Sunday morning, he was on a ventilator.

But other than that, I didn't know. I was scared that it was the end - but in no way did I believe that it actually was. Dan always pointed me to hope. And he told me himself on Friday that it wasn't the end ...and I thought I would know. ...but I didn't.

My mom told me that if I had known I would have treated Dan differently. She's right. And he would have hated that. HATED that. So, she said, maybe that's why God didn't let me know. His mercy, His grace, His gift to Dan and me.

Tonight, at Holy Thursday Mass, I was struck by this line from John 13:1-3:

Before the feast of Passover, Jesus knew that his hour had come
to pass from this world to the Father.
He loved his own in the world and he loved them to the end.
The devil had already induced Judas, son of Simon the Iscariot, to hand him over.
So, during supper, 
fully aware that the Father had put everything into his power 
and that he had come from God and was returning to God, 

From Luke 22 - The Agony in the Garden:
Withdrawing about a stone's throw from them and kneeling, Jesus prayed: "Father, if you are willing, take this cup away from me; still, not my will but yours be done." And to strengthen him, an angel from heaven appeared to him. He was in such agony and he prayed so fervently that his sweat became like drops of blood falling on the ground.

Jesus knew. He knew that his hour had come. He was fully aware of what was to come. He knew. He knew exactly who he was, his mission, that it was the time to execute the purpose for his coming, He knew would return to God. 

...and yet, He still was in agony over the cost, the process, the pain that his death (prior to rising) would cause. He was so grieved that he sweat blood. His heart was breaking over the loss that would come. ...and He knew! He knew that He would be returning to the Father...but his heart was breaking - for US. He knew we would be able to receive the Holy Spirit - that we could be closer with Him than simply his physical presence allowed - and still, his heart broke at the agony that his death would cause us - and the pain of separation for him.

So, where does the healing come?
In embracing that not knowing might just be better than knowing. Knowing does not preclude you from grieving. If anything, you grieve twice. Before and after. ...and maybe you grieve more because what you anticipated wasn't anything like you expected. Or maybe you grieve because you wasted all this time being sad about what was to come and not LIVING with your person. 

I don't know. What I do know is that the Lord is kind and merciful. I didn't need to know. Not knowing was my gracious gift from God. Recognizing what I feel and knowing Jesus more through this realization and His real presence - that is an added gift from God. Healing comes through Jesus.