Sore wounded

First purple, then green
new leaves unfurl as though
winter had never been;
veined and vain, they
bear no marks of last year’s deer,
no signs of decay.


is not the resurrection of the dead; this
is a conjuring trick with seasons meant
for children raised on fairy tales of
princesses pickled in aspic,
unscarred by spindle
or the thorn.

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Call to prayer

This reflection appeared first at the Episcopal Cafe

After a protracted battle with data plans and wifi boosters, and a long sojourn in the side chapel, it was only this past Palm Sunday that I was finally able, with any reliability (thanks to a Music Director with a spare thousand feet of ethernet cable and a cheap adapter), to broadcast our service from the church main. It was wonderful to be back behind the altar for Holy Week and Easter, despite the empty pews and the phantom, pre-recorded organ music.

It was also only a minute and a half into that Palm Sunday service that I heard it for the first time: a single, swift, unmistakably electronic “beep”.

“I only just replaced the battery on that darned smoke alarm,” I inwardly cursed, whilst scanning the Zoom squares for signs that anyone else had heard and keeping my outward composure suitably (hopefully) liturgical. The repetition against which I was braced did not, however, occur, and I gradually relaxed into the service and forgot about it.

On Maundy Thursday, at 6:01:30pm, it did it again.

Now, I was puzzled. Only later – one hour later, to be precise – as I locked up the sacristy to leave did the penny drop.

Somewhere in the sanctuary or close at hand, abandoned for a year and running a minute-and-a-half slow, there is an old-fashioned digital watch, the kind that is set to beep every hour, on the hour.

Between 12:01:30pm Good Friday and 10:01:30am Easter Sunday I pondered the problem. The thing was irritating me! But I scoured the chancel, the adjacent closets, the sacristy, the organ bench, the choir pews, all to no avail.

So I decided that maybe in this new season of resurrection it was time to look at it from another angle.

This past year has been full of electronics, which have sometimes cooperated and sometimes seemed almost malevolent in their refusal to participate in parish liturgy. But they have mostly been supportive. I have learned a lot – including when to give in. It has taken a while, I may admit, to feel quite at ease with online worship, even as I have encouraged others to join me in it. The pre-service routines and rituals, likewise, have undergone a sea-change since I started doubling up as celebrant and Zoom host. Even after recruiting help and co-hosts throughout the year, it is only relatively recently that I have felt as though I were beginning to find my sea-legs again.

Now, with another change of location and a new technological innovation, comes this beep.

The last time I attended an in-person conference, I remember the keynote speaker mentioning in passing that he sets an alarm on his phone at noon each day to remind him to pray.

So I have decided to regard this beep as my personal call to prayer. After the unwinding of the ethernet cable, the checking of signal and sound, the arrival of the co-host, the muting of the pre-service chatter, the sharing of the pre-recorded prelude – now, a minute and a half into the music, just before I greet the people I can see and those whom I cannot in the name of the Risen Christ, now it reminds me that it is time to let go of all that is beyond me, and let the Spirit lead me to a stronger signal, a faster connection, a much more reliable server, a powerful and timeless technology.

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Called into question

There is a chapter in Whom Shall I Fear? that asks questions about the relationship between the church and the police. It is evident already that it has made some of my early readers uncomfortable. I understand that: it makes me uncomfortable, too.

But not as “uncomfortable” as a mother whose son is shot to death by a police officer who says she couldn’t tell her gun from her taser.

Not as “uncomfortable” as the man with a knee on his neck.

I will not go on. It is too much, there are too many, and their names deserve better than a list.

We have a pretty good relationship with our local police. That makes the discussion more awkward, in a way. We have used police reports to back up our insurance claims after accident and incident, and they helped us with a no-trespass order when a repeat sex offender targeted a church member. I was grateful to the officers who helped me when somebody died in our basement apartment.

And still, the uncomfortable questions need to be asked:

  • Who is in control of the mission when police are invited to attend ministry functions? Will they leave their weapons behind if we ask them to?
  • Who feels less safe when the police are present? And do they matter to us?
  • What message does the police car in the parking lot send to the neighbourhood? And is it gospel?

And what will we do with the answers?

I confess, I have shied away in the past from having this conversation wholeheartedly within my own church leadership. The last time I brought it up the consensus we reached remained uneasy.

It is uncomfortable. But not as uncomfortable as a trumped-up arrest and crucifixion. It is our cross to bear.

If we do not ask the awkward questions, who will answer them for us? And will they look like Jesus?

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The midwives

Afterwards, when
they found you again,
did they use their ointments, spices, cloth
to bandage your wounds?

Hairline scratches
from the halo of thorns;
how did you bear the grass
beneath your feet?

Midwives of the body,
did they wipe your hands with aloe,
wash away three days’ dirt,
pack your side with linen,
swaddle you in cast-off grave clothes,
smother your pain with their song,

you, who were a new creation
born anew from the wound of the earth?

With all of the attention on Thomas on the Second Sunday of Easter, I found myself wondering what it cost Christ to invite fresh exploration of his barely healing wounds, he who would not, would never stop giving of himself; and whether he would let them tend to him once more.

Image: Christus toont zijn wonden (1921), Gustave Van de Woestijne, via Wikimedia Commons. Public domain. (Detail)

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Picking my way across the wrong
end of the beach, avoiding
rocks that rock beneath my weight,
overhead branches that claw at my head,
empty bottles, remnants of some illicit picnic,
metal rope, remnant of some construction project,
sea glass and sharp plastic shards,
the frigid, opaque lake;

somewhere still is solid ground,
a stepping stone on which I cannot stand
forever balanced between
one world and the next 

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What is the meaning of this?

An Easter message

What does it mean that Jesus was resurrected?

He brought back others from the dead – Lazarus, and the son of the widow at Nain – because he carried life within himself, because he was the very Word of God, calling forth a new creation out of the carnage of death.

But his resurrection we hold to be qualitatively different. Is it because we, like the women approaching the tomb with trepidation before dawn, cannot see who is raising him, who is calling him out of his grave clothes, who is rolling away the stone? So the mystery is magnified; but there is more.

Jesus was crucified as a criminal. He was rejected as a madman with a messiah complex. He was taunted as a failure and betrayed by his friends. It looked as though the whole Jesus project had come to an ignominious end.

What happened when he was resurrected, in part, as many theologians have written, was that he was justified. He who claimed to be the Son of God looked like a fool when he died on the cross, but by dawn’s early light his identity was confirmed.[i]

Far from being rejected and abandoned by God, his resurrection made clear God’s will at work in his life all along, in his incarnation, even in the solidarity of death, and in its defeat. The resurrection was God’s third word from heaven: “This is my Son, my beloved. Listen to him.”

What does it mean for us that Jesus was resurrected?

We hold that, unlike Lazarus and the son of the widow at Nain, Jesus, having once defeated death, would never die again. Death no longer had any dominion over him. This mortal man, as human as they come, born of a woman and crushed to death as a criminal on the cross – this man had trounced death, the devil, and the worst that this world could do to him, and he would live with his victory at God’s right hand for ever.

He did not, in a breath, undo the wickedness of the world—his wounds remained with him. But he had overcome it. He overwhelmed it with the creative and powerful force of God’s love, God’s life.

The wickedness of the world is still manifest about us, even within us. We carry its scars and we inflict its wounds on others. We crucify people for their differences from us, or we stand by and watch them be crucified. We crush people with poverty out of fear which leads to greed. We refuse to listen to the fears of others, out of fear that they will burden us with recognition or repentance. We still kill those whom we deem criminal, as though we learned nothing from the cross. We live with the wickedness of the world, and too often we make our peace with it, instead of bringing God’s peace to confront it.

The resurrection of Jesus confronts the cruelty of the crucifiers, those who wield the cross, those who left marks in his hands, his feet, his side, thorns in his head – Jesus has not undone their wickedness, but he has overwhelmed it with the goodness, the graciousness, the liveliness, the love of God. He has answered sin with forgiveness, violence with pity. He has answered death with eternal life. And what will be our answer?

The women went to the tomb expecting to find a corpse, the unfortunate end of a man. Instead, they found an angel. They were afraid; he told them to be unafraid, that Jesus would come and meet them just where they had first met him, at home in Galilee, in the landscape of their ordinary lives, in the midst of a messy and complicated world: the world that God created and we exploited. The women went to the tomb, expecting to uncover death. Instead they found its coverings rolled away. 

Resurrected, Jesus came back to his people, and he loved them out of their grief and his suffering. He remained true, in his resurrection, to the calling of his incarnation: to use his humanity for healing, his relationships for grace, his life for love.

What does it mean for Jesus to be resurrected? It means that, “having loved his own, he loved them to the end;” and that his love has no end. It is stronger than death. It is longer than life. From the cradle to the grave and out the other side, “Christ is risen” means that Jesus loves you, now and forever. Amen.

[i] See, for example, Alan E. Lewis, Between the Cross and Resurrection: A Theology of Holy Saturday (Wm. B. Eerdmans, ), and John Barton, Love Unknown: Meditations on the Death and Resurrection of Jesus (SLG Press, 1999) 

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Good Friday: a pieta

He died with the cry crushed from his chest,
calling out from the cross to his mother.
They crucified him on a stolen hill.
They gambled away his clothes.
He called out to his mother, she
could not swaddle his naked pain.

When he was a child and wailed in the night,
it was a knife; she woke up
gasping for his breath.
They thought it somehow criminal
that he should live.

He called out to his mother,
squandering the last of his cries,
like his first, on her

In the beginning, in word and song
she storied him at her breast,
with all she knew of God and Gabriel;
he lapped it up. Now,
now, it tasted like sour wine.

He cried for his mother –
she remembered, too, the blood,
the milk and the wine – she
could not breathe. He
could not breathe. They
felt the air fall still

Life hung in the balance
between birth and death,
the first cry and the last:
He called out for his mother.

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Maundy Thursday: washing Judas’ feet

He washed Judas Iscariot’s feet.

The devil had already sown the seeds of betrayal in Judas’ heart, and Jesus knew it full well. He let Judas know that he knew it. And he washed Judas’ feet.

Later, at supper, he passed a piece of bread to Judas. He placed his life in Judas’ hands, even having seen what was in his heart. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the most bitter end.

Peter would deny him. Judas would betray him. He washed their feet anyway.

He made no excuse for Judas’ actions. He did not condone them, but neither did he look away. The more faithlessly Judas acted, the more faithful Jesus was to their friendship, to his mission of love, of forgiveness, of salvation, which is needful only for sinners.

It is precisely in our sinfulness that he seeks us out and saves us, not because he condones our sin, but because he is sinless. 

He washed Judas’ feet, because no one’s sin could turn him from his cause. He would not betray himself.

Alan E. Lewis, writing “A Theology of Holy Saturday,” explains it partly this way:

Grace lets sin be and gives it space and scope; but thereby grace matches it and goes beyond. The essential mark of grace and love is their abundance, not reducing but surpassing the power and range of negativity and sin …

God loves us precisely as rebellious enemies, and accepts the reign of death within us: our revolt and God’s deposing; and by showing us a love greater in quality and depth than our lovelessness, God reconciles us and makes us friends.[i]

Jesus washed Judas’ feet not because of his betrayal, nor even despite it. Jesus washed Peter’s feet and laughed at his eagerness for a bath, knowing that even Simon Peter would soon deny him.

Jesus washed his disciples’ feet because he could do no other than to act out of grace and love. He would not borrow the methods of sin and death to defeat sin and death. He would only overwhelm them with the creative life force, the forgiving and renewing grace and love of God.

So he washed Judas’ feet. Then he told them all, “Go, and do likewise.”

[i] Alan E. Lewis, Between Cross and Resurrection: A Theology of Holy Saturday (Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2001), 96

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Washed in the word

Beside a lake melted into being by glaciers
I bathe my feet in your word made water –
the fluidity of creation –
dry them in the sand, scourings of the land
eroded, as all flesh, remade as
a million grains of grit that cling
like memories to
the story of my prayer

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How I discovered that I have no sense of smell

Scotland, nineteen seventy-something.
Red squirrels and red deer.
Heather on the hillside reminded me of moors. I
remember passing by the red brick wall
of an ancient estate, stretching my neck to see
a velvet-antlered stag from my backseat window.

Each evening, descending the valley,
the family would exclaim upon the smell
from the paper mill, pungent. I
stretched my neck and nose, sitting tall
all week long, wondering what it meant
to smell a thing, and what I was missing.

Six days before the Passover,
Mary filled the house with perfume,
but I missed the cue; I did not appreciate
the scent of death clinging to her brother
so soon from the tomb, the stench of betrayal,
nor the spiced ointment of love. But if

my devotions appear lacking or incomplete,
charge it I pray to my imperfect property,
and not to my intent.

The Monday in Holy Week: John 12:1-11

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