Friday, July 31, 2009

Dona Eis Requiem in New Orleans

I think the most powerful story coming out of the ELCA Youth Gathering in New Orleans was that of the group of youth assigned to clean up an old cemetary. This is a graveyard for the poor, and the bodies are buried in wooden coffins and buried only in four feet of earth, because of the high water table in the area. The coffins disintigrate rapidly, and sometimes the bones work their way to the surface. The youth, in their job of cleaning up, found bones, which they reburied, as well as said a prayer of blessing and re-consecration.

What I find so moving is not the idea of these teenagers coming across the bones, although that is remarkable and I am sure was a profoundly moving and memorable experience for them. But what goes through my mind is the connection this action of these 21st century teens has with the early Christians. In the first centuries, when being a Christian was tantamount to being an enemy of the state (Jesus is Lord, not Caesar), one of the things that got Christians "good press" was how they treated the bodies of the dead. They treated these bodies with respect, including the bodies of those who were not part of their Christian communities, with all the proper actions of washing, laying out, wrapping in clean linen, and giving them a decent burial.

The reason behind this was, of course, the Christian hope in the resurrection of the body. Just as Jesus was raised from the dead in a bodily resurrection, so those who are in Christ will be raised, bodily, at the last trumpet. This belief is all over the New Testament letters of St. Paul, as well as in Revelation. The earthly body was not something to be despised, nor something to be shrugged off like an old filthy rag, good riddance!, at death. Whatever heaven looks like, it is to be populated with bodies -- glorified bodies, it is true, free from corruption, but real bodies nonetheless. Our bodies are the result of God's careful crafting, as Genesis 2 tells us, and are to be treated with care and respect shown to all of God's handiwork, in death no less than in life. And so early Christians, and Christians down through the centuries since, have respectfully, hopefully, cared for the body at death and through burial, whenever possible.

So as these young people came across these bones, these dry, lifeless bones, they witnessed to the Christian faith's proclamation of new life coming in the midst of death and decay, new birth in the middle of a graveyard. "See, I am making all things new," Jesus says in Revelation, and that is the hope in rebuilding the flood-wrecked city of New Orleans. But so much that was destroyed cannot be restored: lives lost, dreams swept away, the precious relics of the past consumed by mold and mud. Even in the face of all of that destruction, the Christian faith dares to utter a word of defiance. Hear the word of the Lord: These bones will rise again! The Lord of Life and Death does keep track, and none of these slain are lost from him.

And until that day, these words from the end of the graveside service echo over those graves, and with the hands of those who tended to these holy relics of God's children, made in His image: Rest eternal grant them, O Lord, and let light perpetual shine upon them. Amen.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Thursday Refreshment

As we approach the end of the week, I hope this video brings you a bit of musical refreshment for all that may await you approaching the Lord's Day. Enjoy!

Saturday, July 25, 2009

True for These Times

"A real pilgrim going to Jerusalem leaves house and land, wife and children; he divests himself of all that he possesses in order to travel light and without encumbrances. Similarly, if you wish to be a spiritual pilgrim you must divest yourself of all that you possess; that is, both of good deeds and bad, and leave them all behind you. . . . be always desiring the grace of deeper love, and seeking the spiritual presence of Jesus.
You are now on the road, and you know how to proceed. But beware of enemies who will set themselves to obstruct you if they can. Nothing distresses them more than your desire and longing for the love of Jesus, and their whole purpose is to uproot this from your heart, and turn you back again to the love of earthly things. Your chief enemies are the bodily desires and foolish fears which the corruption of human nature stirs up in your heart, and which would stifle your desire for the love of God and take full possession of your heart. These are your deadliest enemies. There are also others, for evil spirits employ all their tricks to deceive you. But you have one remedy, as I told you before. Whatever they say, do not believe them; keep on your way, and desire nothing but the love of Jesus. Let your answer always be, 'I am nothing, I have nothing, I desire nothing but the love of Jesus.'"
(from The Ladder of Perfection, by Walter Hilton)

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Feast of St. Mary Magdalene, July 22

"When Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and did not find the Lord's body, she thought it had been taken away and so informed the disciples. After they came and saw the tomb, they too believed what Mary had told them. The text then says: The disciples went back home, and it adds: but Mary wept and remained standing outside the tomb.
We should reflect on Mary's attitude and the great love she felt for Christ; for though the disciples had left the tomb, she remained. She was still seeking the one she had not found, and while she sought she wept; burning, with the fire of love, she longed for him who she thought had been taken away. And so it happened that the woman who stayed behind to seek Christ was the only one to see him. For perseverance is essential to any good deed, as the voice of truth tells us: Whoever perseveres to the end will be saved.
At first she sought but did not find, but when she persevered it happened that she found what she was looking for. When our desires are not satisfied, they grow stronger, and becoming stronger they take hold of their object. Holy desires likewise grow with anticipation, and if they do not grow they are not really desires. Anyone who succeeds in attaining the truth has burned with such a love. . . .
Woman, why are you weeping? Whom do you seek? She is asked why she is sorrowing so that her desire might be strengthened; for when she mentions whom she is seeking, her love is kindled all the more ardently.
Jesus says to her: Mary. Jesus is not recognized when he calls her "woman"; so he calls her by name, as though he were saying: Recognize me as I recognize you; for I do not know you as I know others; I know you as yourself. And so Mary, once addressed by name, recognizes who is speaking. She immediately calls him rabboni, that is to say, teacher, because the one whom she sought outwardly was the one who inwardly taught her to keep on searching."
(Homily 22 of St. Gregory the Great)

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Love the ELCA ?

"Last of all, love the poor, poor ELCA. I say this in full acknowledgement of how ridiculous it sounds. Nobody loves the ELCA: not those who will push their agenda whatever the cost; not those who are willing to buy a few more years of false peace through appeasement; not those who are ready to walk out in rage or disappointment. Nobody loves the ELCA but God. And God loves it for reasons we all find offensive: because God has always loved and favored the ungodly. While we were still sinners Christ died for us. . . .The ELCA is the ecclesiological form of the sinner: it comes before God, alternately proud and despairing, with hands full of sin, death, and the devil. For the very reason we would kick it away and leave it to die at the side of the road, God comes to this very unappealing bride, takes away the ugly things she has to offer, and in their place gives her righteousness, life, and His own gracious self, not because she is worthy to receive them, but precisely because God comes to the unworthy. "

These are the words of Sarah Wilson,the co-editor of Lutheran Forum, in her editors column in the Summer 2009 edition. "Speak the Truth in Love" speaks to the upcoming Churchwide Assembly in the ELCA, and to the one consuming and over-powering issue of human sexuality, specifically same-gender sexuality. She speaks to those who are both voting members and those who are not but who likely be at the assembly in August. She gives wise counsel on this, and I would encourage anyone out there who has not read this article to do so. (Go to and find out how to get hold of a copy, or even to subscribe to the magazine!)

But it is this last argument that continues to strike me at the heart. Love the ELCA? She is so right. Who loves the ELCA? Who even wants to be found out as loving the ELCA? It is as human construct, a corporation, an address on Higgins Rd. in Chicago, a bureaucracy, a splinter group in the body of the Church catholic. It is one untimely born, and like Job, seems to be cursed from its birth. Not only who loves it; who wants to be accused of loving it? Who dares to be thought such a stupid fool?

As Dr. Wilson writes, only God. And that makes me profoundly sad.

I accuse myself. I have not loved. Is it too late to start?

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Reading I

I've been reading Freedom for Ministry by the late Father Richard John Neuhaus. I originally read it a number of years ago, but decided that I needed to be reminded (as only Father Neuhaus can remind one) of what ministry really consists of. It is important to keep the main thing the main thing; it is too easy to get caught up in activities that are not really ministry at all but are only distractions. This book is not a quick read! Rather, I think I will be chewing on it for quite a while.

Picking it up again

"Light the fire in my weary soul,
Fan the flame --
Make my spirit whole.
Lord, you know where I've been,
So light the fire in my heart again."