Monday, April 29, 2013

No Need of Sun

    "The holy city had no need of sun or moon to shine on it
        for the glory of God gave it light,
        and its lamp was the Lamb."
                              Revelation 21:23

 "Shine your love on us each dawn,
   and gladden all our days....
   Let your loveliness shine on us."
                            Psalm 90:14,17

Thursday, April 25, 2013

A New Earth

A plum tree, one of the earliest fruit trees to blossom in our neighborhood.
Revelation 21:1-7 is certainly my favorite passage in the last book of the Bible and one of my favorites in the whole New Testament.  When I was active as a pastor, it was often a passage that I used for funerals as a comforting promise of the afterlife, but I think it is an exciting proclamation of what is also happening already.
As we hear these passages from Revelation on the Sundays of Easter, the light of the Resurrection adds new meaning to them.  Jesus has risen into this new heaven and new earth and makes it accessible to us right here and now.  By becoming human, and even more so by rising into God, Jesus is himself the wedding of humanity and divinity.
Here in the Revelation passage the union of God's people with God is compared to "a bride adorned to meet her husband."  In this new heaven and new earth the home of God is now with us.  Repeating from last Sunday's passage, from much earlier in Revelation, the visionary tells us that God will wipe away every tear from our eyes and lead us to the springs of life-giving water.  "There will be no more death or mourning, no more crying out or pain....And the One who was seated on the throne said, 'See, I make all things new.'"
Teilhard de Chardin sees our whole universe evolving into this newness, into the Risen Christ.  He says, "By virtue of creation and even more of the incarnation, there is nothing profane for those who know how to see."

Monday, April 22, 2013

Love One Another

This very tight little bunch of daffodils has volunteered in a spot down by the lake for several years.  They grow very close to the ground, I guess to guard against the three mornings below freezing that we've just had.
John 13:31-35 is part of the long sort of sermon that Jesus gives his disciples at the Last Supper.  Jesus commands, "Love one another as I have loved you."  He adds that that is how people will know that we are his disciples.  I wonder how often that is evident in our lives.  In the wake of the Boston Marathon bombings, some people are finding it hard to love these two brothers.
A reporter mentioned that on the social networks some Catholics are praying for the younger brother  because he might have been strongly influenced by his older brother.  Some may have said that, but we really pray for people not on the chance that they might deserve our prayer.  We pray for them whether they deserve it or not.
If we obey Jesus' command, we love people, not because of who they are, but because of who we are.  Jesus says to love the way he does and that's the way he loves.  His love is unconditional, free, unearned.  In his life he loved everybody, even the unlovely and the unloved.  He didn't hesitate, wondering if they might respond.  He just loved them.
In this passage from John, Jesus says that he's not going to be around much longer.  It's up to us now to take up his job of  loving everybody.  We are not left to our own resources.  God is love.  In this Spirit of Love we live and move and have our being.  It is Love who lives around us and within us.  To love as Jesus loves we need only let Jesus within share with us his unearned way of loving.  That means we love those who do evil, even our enemies, as Jesus commands in another place.  It's not easy, but it works.

Saturday, April 20, 2013


Yesterday's lovely dawn was a promise that this darkness would not last.
I was dismayed at the amount of time I spent watching the events in Boston unfold on television.  I am not accustomed to watching TV in the daytime, nor much past eleven at night.  But I became addicted to this developing story.
I was haunted by the meanness of the attack on the Marathon.  I wondered who could so deliberately intend that the victims would not run again.  I imagined some envious would-be athlete.  I caught myself feeling worse for the maimed than for the dead.
When the pictures of the bombers showed up on the screen, that's when I became fixated on the story.  Killing the policeman and yet sparing the man whose car they hijacked made their motivation more of a mystery. 
Then we saw the older brother flat on the ground.  Was he dead?  Was he surrendering?  And the younger one gone where?  It was becoming clear that this show was not going to wrap up at the top of the hour.  Maybe the next hour.  I found myself asking God to touch his heart and bring him to surrender.  No more killing, please.
All citizens' having to lock themselves in their homes, the thousands of police,  the long, long hours of searching and risking being blown up, the contradictory interviews, and finally a kid in a boat.
Two things struck me.  The role played by smart phones in getting pictures of the bombers.  I really dislike how these phones have destroyed human interaction, but here they were doing a great service.  Then the fact that calling off the search and letting people leave their homes allowed a man to go  into his back yard where he saw blood on his boat.
During all of this I was surprised that I remained very aware of the same God in me and in the threatened citizens and in the brave police and in the hunted man.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Springs of Life-giving Water

The spring rains made this creek look especially healthy.  I was born in a house beside this creek, just a little further downstream from where I took this picture.
When I was little, my cousins and I took a tin cup and some peanut butter and Ritz cracker sandwiches that we had made and hiked up alongside a stream that feeds this creek.  That stream also fed the town reservoir.  We figured that meant the water in that stream was safe to drink, so above the reservoir we somehow got out on a big rock in the middle of the stream and sat down and ate our cracker sandwiches and dipped our tin cup into the stream and drank the cold, clear water.  I remember that it was April because we were afraid that our parents might find out that we had sat on a rock.  We were forbidden to sit on the ground in a month with an "r" in it.
Believe it or not, that pleasant memory came back to me out of the combination of this picture and my prayer reflection this morning on Apocalypse 7:14-17, which speaks of "springs of life-giving water."  The passage promises an idyllic life where God will provide shelter and food and water and will protect us from sunburn and even wipe away every tear from our eyes.  In a strange reversal, the Lamb will shepherd us and lead us to springs of life-giving water.  Both here and hereafter.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

I know my sheep

It looks like this pair of tree swallows is now in control of the bluebird house.  I can't be sure because they all look alike.  How do they tell each other apart?
Many years ago I became friends with a couple from Korea.  After we knew each other for several years, the wife one day asked me, "How do you tell each other apart?  You all look alike to us."  I laughed and told her that they all look alike to us as well.  It's only after I got to know them, that I could tell them apart from other Koreans.
Sheep all look alike to me, but I read that each shepherd in the time of Jesus could tell his sheep apart, maybe even giving them names.  That may still be true of a man who has a small number of sheep. 
We are told that in the time of Jesus the sheep recognized their shepherd's voice and came to him when he called them.  He did not herd them from behind as we might see large flocks today.  They followed him because they knew his voice.
In John 10:27 Jesus says, "My sheep hear my voice.  I know them, and they follow me."  In  this passage he is distinguishing his followers from those who do not believe in him.  So they not only recognize his voice but they believe what he says.  They really hear him.
I find it very heartwarming that Jesus knows us, not only as his flock, but as each individual member of his flock.  In last week's Gospel he referred to us as his "dear little sheep."  We certainly relate to Jesus as members of the Church, but we remain individuals whom he knows intimately and cares for lovingly.  Why wouldn't we follow him!

Monday, April 15, 2013

The Birds of Spring

This duck is in the top of one of the many 4 and 5 foot high pines that surround my yard.   Her right leg is badly damaged.  She has a hard time walking.  She seems to swim and fly fine.  Each year for several years now she has made her nest in one of these short trees.  Her faithful mate is always watching out for her.  Saturday he floated patiently just off shore while she tried out five trees, flying from one to the other.  This was the fifth.  Still not satisfied she flew down to her mate in the lake and they swam off together.  I haven't seen them since, so maybe they have found something more suitable.  I wish I could think of some duck house I could have built for them. 
I did have a friend build a bluebird house for my yard about ten years ago.  The first year two beautiful bluebirds made their home there.  The second spring two tree swallows enlarged the entrance a little and moved in before the bluebirds returned.  Tree swallows are gorgeous.  Unlike their dingy barn swallow cousins, they have a bright, metallic blue back and a pure white chest.  Like their cousins, they are very aggressive.  When the bluebirds arrived and tried to take over the tree swallows chased them off.
Every year since, there has been a battle.  The bluebirds won only once.  In early March this year two tree swallows arrived, stayed a day and left.  Two bluebirds moved in.  Three days later the tree swallows came back.  Irate to find the house occupied, they started trying to intimidate the bluebirds.  The tree swallows fly up high and then swoop down towards the male bluebird sitting on top of the house, just missing him each time.   When that didn't work they went away.  They were soon back with two other tree swallows and continued their intimidation.  The bluebirds moved out.  Then the four tree swallows began fighting over the house.  Word got out.  By Saturday there were at least ten tree swallows swooping and diving, trying to get possession of the house.  I thought one pair won, but yesterday and today the house seems to be empty. 
Robins, starlings, a cardinal, and a cute pair of house finches add to my bird watching pleasure.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Other Worldly

Stained glass has a way of transporting me to another world, as if Light shining through colored glass is like two worlds entwined. 
I'm finding that the readings from the Apocalypse (Revelation) are having a similar effect on me.  I feel like I am being transported to the other world being described with such extravagant imagery. 
Chapter 5:1-14 is the second image of the Risen Christ that appears in the book.  The first was a majestic figure; this is a bit gruesome.  We are in the throne room of God.  We see the Lion of Judah, who represents the conquering Messiah.  In the kind of shape-shifting that is used in fantasy films like Narnia and Harry Potter and in any number of science fiction movies, the Lion becomes a Lamb that has been slaughtered, but is still standing.  More prey than predator.  One who conquers has been momentarily conquered by death.  Jesus won the victory, not by violence, but by sacrificing his own life.
We are caught up by harps and golden bowls of incense in the prayers and hymns of the saints,  "myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands singing in full voice." And finally in the most universal expression in the whole Bible of God's saving act, "I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all that is in them, singing,
'To the One seated on the throne and to the Lamb
 be blessing and honor and glory and might
 forever and ever.'
And the four living creatures said, 'Amen!'  And the elders fell down and worshipped."
Light from this other world shines through us and transports us into the worship happening in the entire universe.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Loving Shepherd

Sunset Tuesday with all the ice melted.
I want to continue reflecting on John 21.  On the seashore the Risen Jesus prepares fish for the disciples' breakfast and gives them some bread as well, in an action that has clear overtones of Eucharist about it.
After breakfast Jesus asks Peter three times if he loves him and Peter three times says yes.  After each yes, Jesus tells Peter to shepherd his sheep.  The Greek verbs and nouns are different in the three questions and answers and commands.  What is significant is that the leadership that Jesus gives Peter is based on Peter's love for Jesus.  In the community from which we receive John's Gospel, a loving relationship with Jesus is by far the most important requirement for any follower of Jesus, let alone any leader. 
It is worth noting the contrast between this passage and the more familiar Matthew 16:18 where Jesus says, "You are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church."  A rock is solid, seems to indicate strong authority.  In John Jesus tells Peter to shepherd and feed his sheep.  A shepherd takes loving care of his flock.  The Greek words that Jesus uses are "lambs" and "little sheep," a kind of diminutive with the added meaning of "my dear little sheep."  Jesus expects a leader, not only to love him, but to love those entrusted to him.  Our present Holy Father shows himself to be a loving shepherd.  The Latin word for shepherd is "pastor."
It's also worth noting that Jesus doesn't give the sheep to Peter.  Jesus says, "Shepherd my dear little sheep."  He orders Peter to take care of them for the Master.  We belong to Jesus, not to Peter and his successors.  In all the media frenzy about the election of the pope, it was easy to forget that.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Gone Fishing

This shows the ice on the Lake was breaking up pretty well yesterday morning.  When I cam home last evening the Lake was completely ice free.  No freezing Saturday, Sunday, and Monday nights kept the ice breaking up.  80 degrees today.  Jump from winter to summer.
With the water lapping at the shore I sat on the deck today and used John 21:11-19 for prayer.  While Duncan's interpretation that I put in yesterday's blog is fun, I am inclined to think of this passage more along his lines.  Scholars are finding all kinds of meaning first of all in the fact that these men are going fishing when Jesus has risen from the dead and secondly in the 153 large fish.  Taking the Gospel at face value, Jesus did not continue to hang out with the disciples after the two appearances to  them in Jerusalem.  They've gone back to Galilee.  They fish for a living.  They probably enjoy it.
So it doesn't seem foolish to me that they should go fishing while they wonder about what's going on.
And since they sell fish for a living, I feel sure they must have counted them.  Maybe they didn't keep Jesus waiting as Duncan muses, but sooner or later they would have had to count that large catch of
John, in his Gospel, almost always has two and three levels of meaning, but why not let the first level be that professional fishermen went fishing and caught 153 fish.
Another thing about the passage that amuses me is the attempt by so many translators to get around the fact that the Greek says simply Peter "was naked."  King James Version and the New Revised Standard Version have "naked."  Others go from stripped for work, he had taken his garment off, he had nothing on, he had practically nothing on, stripped to the waist, lightly clad.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Counting Fish

This is the body of water that John in 21:1-19 calls the Sea of Tiberius, a late first century name.  Mark and Matthew call it the Sea of Galilee.  Luke more properly calls it the Lake of Galilee.  It isn't really a sea; it's a lovely lake. I swam in it on our pilgrimage to the Holy Land.
The last chapter of John's Gospel takes place there. I want to share with you a funny piece about it that I read 20 years ago in David James Duncan's thought-provoking  novel, The River Why.  In chapter 3a he is talking about how important statistics are to a fishermen:
'The adoration of statistics is a trait so deeply embedded in their nature that even those rarefied anglers the disciples of Jesus couldn't resist backing their yarns with arithmetic: when the resurrected Christ appears on the morning shore of the Sea of Galilee and directs his forlorn and skunked disciples to the famous catch of John 21, we learn that the net contained not "a boatload" of fish, nor "about a hundred and a half," nor "over a gross," but precisely "an hundred and fifty and three."  This is, it seems to me, one of the most remarkable statistics ever computed.  Consider the circumstances: this is after the Crucifixion and the Resurrection; Jesus is standing on the beach newly risen from the dead, and it is only the third time the disciples have seen him since the nightmare of Calvary.  And yet we learn that in the net there were "great fishes" numbering precisely "an hundred and fifty and three."  How was this digit discovered?  Mustn't it have happened thus: upon hauling the net to shore, the disciples squatted down by that immense, writhing fish pile and started tossing them into a second pile, painstakingly counting "one, two, three, four, five, six, seven..." all the way to an hundred and fifty and three, while the newly risen Lord of Creation, the Sustainer of their beings, He who died for them and for Whom they would gladly die, stood waiting, ignored, till the heap of fish was quantified.  Such is the fisherman's compulsion toward rudimentary mathematics!'

Sunday, April 7, 2013

A World of Peace

A neighbor's driveway and the frozen lake on the 6th day of April.
By having Jesus repeat "peace" three times in chapter 20:19-31 John wants us to know that it is more than a greeting.  It is a condition that the Resurrection creates, a world of peace where everything is in harmony, like Paradise.
It's clear that the world is not in harmony, so what is Jesus talking about?  The serenity that Jesus offers is not freedom from the storm but peace amid the storm.  The peaceful world that his Resurrection creates is outside of time.  We might imagine the Risen Jesus as the portal through which we have access to that world.
In the first chapter of the Apocalypse, Jesus says, "I am the Living One.  I once was dead, but now I am alive forever and ever."   It's the same title the two strangers use in talking to the women at the tomb.
Although Jesus died the death of the cross, he exists now only as "life."  All of us linked in faith to the Living One possess a life that will outlive death, a life that already here in this world reaches into the other world, a world of total harmony and peace created by the Resurrection, a world that is woven into and through our world.
The Living One is right now in us and among us.  By binding us to himself, he binds us to the world of peace in which he lives.

Friday, April 5, 2013

Risen Body

Beautiful stained glass windows in Salisbury Cathedral.
In John's Gospel Jesus appears to Mary Magdalene on the morning of the resurrection, to the disciples that evening and a week later, and finally to some disciples on the shore of the Sea of Galilee.  The two evening appearances are the Gospel for the Second Sunday of Easter (20:19-31.)
These appearances and those reported in the other Gospels help us to understand that Jesus appeared only occasionally to his followers after he rose from the dead.  He wanted them and us to know that he was himself, in his body, but that his body was different.  That it was the same is clear from his inviting Thomas to touch him.  That it was different is clear from his appearing in a room where the doors are locked.  If the disciples and we knew only about the empty tomb, that could leave us thinking that it was just a spiritual apparition. 
I find it helpful to imagine the other world into which Jesus has been raised as woven into and through the world in which we live.  The body and soul of the Risen Jesus is so changed that he can move back and forth between the two worlds.  He brings with him his Spirit whom he breathes into us.  He announces peace, a sense that everything is as it should be.  That fills the disciples and us with a joy that nothing can take from us.

Thursday, April 4, 2013


Coming home at sunset by a road I rarely use I stopped to get this picture and was surprised to run into an old friend.
I was also surprised in meditating on Revelations 1:9-20 to find the Risen Christ refer to himself as the Living One.  "I am the first and the last, the Living One.  Once I was dead and now I am alive forever and ever."  It's the same Greek noun with the definite article that the two men used in asking the women at the empty tomb, "Why are your looking for the Living One among the dead?" 
The initial vision that John describes in Revelations is of a majestic Risen Christ.  The second reading for next weekend leaves out much of the wonder-full description of Jesus.  It contains the same elaborate symbolism that marks all of Revelations.  I found it rich for prayerful reflection.
"I saw one like the Son of Man, clothed with a long robe and with a golden sash across his chest.  His head and his hair were white as white wool, white as snow; his eyes were like a flame of fire, his feet were like burnished bronze, refined as in a furnace, and his voice was like the sound of rushing water.  In his right hand he held seven stars, and from his mouth came a sharp, two-edged sword, and his face was like the sun shining with full force."
Completely otherworldly.  Overwhelming the senses.  John is so awed  that he falls down as if dead.  The Risen Christ assures him and us that he is forever the Living One around us and within us.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Dawning Easter

"On the first day of the week, at the first sign of dawn,
  the women went to the tomb with the spices they had prepared." (Luke 24:1)
"Shine your love on us each dawn,
  and gladden all our days.
  Balance our past sorrows
  with present joys
  and let your servants, young and old,
  see the splendor of your work.
  Let your loveliness shine on us,
  and bless the work we do,
  bless the work of our hands.
                          (Psalm 90:14-17)
We take 12 days to ponder the mystery of Christmas; we take 40 to ponder the mystery of the Easter.
The weather report for Easter morning was rain, so I took some pictures of dawn on Holy Saturday.  I like this one of the coming light reflected in the still frozen lake.