He is risen! He is risen, indeed!

Easter 2016

Coming to understand the truth of the Resurrection is not just a hop, skip, and a jump out of the tomb, but rather it is a life-long journey of faith.

I love this time of year!

The grass is greening, day lilies and tulips are beginning to emerge, and buds are forming on trees.  The other day, I walked by a pond and the air was filled with a cacophony of sound— frogs chirping out their praise after a long, cold winter; in a place that had been ghostly quiet just the week before.

New life is bursting forth all around us!  The new life of spring is emerging from the death of winter’s grip.

In her book “Out of the Ordinary,” Joyce Rupp compares the greening of the earth in springtime to our “spiritual eastering,” an inner transformation and rebirth after we’ve had a long winter spell of spirit.  She describes watching for the grass to green each spring, and says that often times it is a long, slow process.  It happens only after a long time of waiting.

Our Scripture passage on Easter (Luke24:13-35) was a story of a “Spiritual Eastering.”

It is the story of two disciples on the walk to Emmaus on the first Easter Sunday.  It not the story of instantaneous recognition and transformation, but rather a journey of faith.

The story begins with two people walking along the road from Jerusalem to Emmaus, a journey of about seven miles, scripture tells us.  One of the disciples, Cleopas, is named, and the other remains unnamed, we don’t know who he or she is.  In so doing, Luke invites us to place ourselves in the story.

It is a journey that begins in the midst of deep sorrow and sadness.  The two disciples have just witnessed the execution of someone special, someone they knew and followed, someone they thought might be the One to redeem Israel, someone whom they undoubtedly called friend.

Take a moment, and imagine their pain and sorrow over the loss of close friend…  Place yourself in the story, walking along with them in the midst of their sorrow and sadness.

Moreover, as they walk along, the two disciples reveal that they have heard some confusing, perplexing news.  Women had gone to the tomb earlier in the day, and it was empty!  The body of Jesus is missing!  The women had said that they had seen him, but now he was gone!

Imagine their doubt and confusion over hearing this perplexing news…

What was happening?  They just didn’t know.  Could it be true?  They just weren’t sure.

Along the way, a stranger joins them in their journey and asks them why they are so sad.

The appearance of this stranger adds to the mystery and irony of the story.  Who is this stranger?  How could he not know of the events that have just taken place in Jerusalem?

They said that others went to look for Jesus, but just couldn’t see him!  Do you catch the irony here?  They are looking right him, but they don’t see or recognize Jesus either.

Still, they journey onward, talking with this compelling stranger.  It is not until the end of the journey, when they invite this stranger into their home and he breaks bread with them, that their eyes are opened and they begin to understand.

Like the burgeoning of spring around us and the greening of the earth, our understanding of the resurrection and seeing Jesus is not always an instantaneous event, but indeed more often than not, it is a journey of faith.

Joyce Rupp says, “Eastering isn’t always a quick step out of the tomb.  Sometimes rising from the dead takes a long, slowly-greening time.”

Rupp talks of people she knows who are longing for an inner greening, and yet are in the throes of a spiritual winter:  a widow whose husband died much too early; a man who is struggling with a job loss and now faces a career change in midlife; a family that is contemplating a move cross-country, far away from friends and family; a colleague who is struggling with clinical depression and can barely get out of bed.

“Each one needs an ‘eastering,’ a bright greening, and oh, how they long for it to come soon,” Rupp says.  “[Yet], it can’t be hurried.  No amount of hurry, or push, or desire can make the green happen any sooner.  It may be a painstakingly slow process, a tiny bit of life gradually weaving through the pain and questions.”

She concludes, “My hope for you this Easter season is that you will trust the resurrection of your spirit, believe that the joy and new life will come to you, even though it may not be there for you now.”

Amen!  “Eastering”— coming to know the truth and the power of the resurrection— can take a long time.  Indeed, it takes a long time of patient waiting before new growth and transformation begins to appear.

Where are you in your spiritual journey?

Know that no matter where you are, Jesus promises to meet you on the journey of life and faith.  Jesus promises to meet us in our sorrow and sadness, as well as the joys and celebrations of life.  He promises to walk with us throughout all of life, through the difficulties and challenges we face, and even in the midst— especially in the midst— of our doubts and questions.  Jesus journeys with us through the mysterious of faith and life, and points our hearts back to God.

The journey to resurrection is not a quick journey.  Like the greening of the earth around us, it is a process that takes time.

Indeed, it takes a life time to complete!




What to Do When God Seems Far Away…

My God Why have you forsaken me

Yesterday, Pastor Jaime preached a powerful sermon on understanding the Psalms as lament, focusing on Psalm 22.  It is perhaps the most stark and startling— and well known— Psalm of lament.  Psalm 22 is the prayer that Jesus utters on the cross.

Here is a portion of Jaime’s sermon:

The Psalms of lament call God to account; they point out the discrepancies and incongruities in life and faith; they give voice to our distress and pain.  And giving voice to our pain is necessary to our healing.  Because when we voice it to another, we discover we re not alone.  We all struggle.

I remember a time a few years ago, when things were falling apart for me.  I was struggling with some issues in my extended family and at the same time my church family was struggling with some changes in the constitution of the P.C.(U.S.A.).  I couldn’t understand how a God I had served so faithfully for so long would allow me to suffer so intensely.  I was angry and confused, and I remember experiencing deep feelings of inadequacy as a pastor.  Maybe if I had done this differently, or that differently, we wouldn’t be in this challenging, hard place— I wouldn’t be in this challenging, hard place.

And one day, when I didn’t even think I could get out of bed, this is what I heard God say:  “Jaime, when things were going well, was it all because of you and your great efforts?”  No.  I knew the answer was No— it was not because of me.  “OK then, now, because things are going badly, is it all because of you?”  No.  I knew that the answer to that was No, as well.  OK, then, when things are good, it’s not all because of you, and when things are bad it’s not all because of you.”  What a relief!

(To see Pastor Jaime’s entire sermon, go to our website:  http://www.stthomaspres.com)

Our Bible study on the Psalms asks the question, “What does it mean that the Psalms in their frank, conversational style have been used through the centuries as liturgy in worship?”

As I thought about this question, the answer came to me that it is okay to be honest, to be real.  Somewhere along the way we got the notion that we have to be prim and proper in church, and that is unfortunate.  Because what God really wants is honesty— honesty of the heart.

When we come to worship are we prepared to be fully honest before God?  To open our hearts completely?  Can we create a space where it’s okay to cry out in lament as well as sing songs of joy and praise?

Michael Jinkins in our study Invitation to Psalms says:  “The psalms of lament— especially individual psalms of lament— often map the course of a life transformed in the crucible of suffering.  The change is not only psychological; it is also spiritual, representing fundamental shifts in our way of understanding God’s relationship to the world and our relationship to God.  …The psalms of lament stand as testimony to the fact that the Lord is a living God, and sometimes following the Lord involves a sprint and not a leisurely stroll, even though the course we are running is long, with lots of twists, turns, up, and downs.”  (Michael Jinkins, Invitation to Psalms, Abingdon Press, pp. 86-7)

The journey of faith is indeed a marathon, although many times it feels like a sprint.  Either way, the Psalms beckon us out of our comfort zones and into a deeper relationship with God.   The journey of faith encompasses all of life— our greatest joys and triumphs, as well as our deepest sorrows and struggles.  Through it all, we trust that God is there, even though God may seem far away.  Often it is in times of sorrow and suffering that true transformation takes place, and it is in those times that we need God’s grace the most!

Journeying Together,

Pastors Jim and Jaime