4-30-15 - Fruitful

We are coming into the season of fruit in the northern hemisphere – beautiful, juicy, luscious, abundant fruit of every shape, size, color and taste. Fruit is one of God's greatest gifts.

According to Jesus, the one criterion for success as a follower of Christ is fruitfulness.
“I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing... My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples.”
And later in this long teaching, he says, “You did not choose me. I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last.” (John 15:16).

What does it mean to be fruitful? I think it goes deeper than simply being productive. Productivity involves generating outcomes and measurable results, things you can tick off a task list. Fruitfulness obviously includes a product – the fruit – but fruit develops in different ways on varying timetables. And we don’t “produce” fruit – we grow it. Or we allow it to grow; we can't make it grow. We can only create the right circumstances for it to grow. And we can't hurry it along. (Somebody tell tomato growers that...).

I love productivity – especially if I have produced things I can see: articles, songs, sermons, spreadsheets, newsletters. On a day with many pastoral appointments and meetings, I sometimes have trouble feeling I’ve “done” anything, because the outcomes aren’t visible and measurable. Jesus invites me to value fruitfulness even more than productivity.

How can we assess fruitfulness? I would love to hear your thoughts on that. The first thing I think of is changed lives. When we see people changing, healing, growing, turning God-ward, we are seeing good fruit. When we bring justice or peace or reconciliation to a community, we are seeing good fruit. When we experience greater joy and more love in our lives, we are seeing good fruit.

Where in your life do you feel the most fruitful? And what branches seem barren, producing little?
What fruit do you feel is still forming in your life? Does it have the water, sun and nutrients it needs? How can you foster greater growth?
What fruit do you see, and would like to see in your community of faith? How might you help cultivate greater fruitfulness, more changed lives?

Fruit forms well because it is attached to the plant that nourishes it. Our fruitfulness in life, and as followers of Christ, flourishes as we allow God’s Spirit to flow through us, to form and ripen us and our ideas, to bring us to the fullness of who we are intended to be. Then we bring delight to others, just like a beautiful peach or a perfect strawberry.

4-29-15 - Abiding

“Abiding” is not a word we use these days in the sense in which it is used in the Bible. I cannot think of a usage outside of church literature in which it appears. Which is a pity – it’s a good word! Much richer than its nearest contemporary equivalent, “hanging out with.”

I did no etymological research on it, but a quick Google search reminded me that we do use the word – in the sense of something we comply with, or can barely tolerate (“I can’t abide that color”; “I will abide by the ruling.”) But the meaning in this week’s gospel passage is nothing like that. It means to dwell with over time. There must be a connection between “abide” and “bide,” as in, to “bide ones time.” Abiding suggests resting with deeply, not rushing away. Oh! Maybe that’s why we don’t use it these days – we do so little “resting with deeply,” “ staying quietly with.”

Jesus used the term that our forebears translated as “abide” quite a bit, especially in these farewell remarks captured in John’s Gospel. He uses it as a verb and as an imperative:
“Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me. I am the vine, you are the branches.”

This image conveys an even stronger notion of connectedness. To abide as a fruit abides in the vine suggests that it both comes from and is connected with the vine, so connected it would take some force to part one from the other. This is not to undermine distinction and independence. It is a connection intended for greater fruitfulness: “Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing.”

How do we abide with Jesus and let him abide in us? We hang out with him in prayer and conversation and praise and worship. We recover our awareness of how we are connected to him, despite the efforts of the world and its messages, and the pressures of our lives to shake us loose. It is easy to feel disconnected from God except in those times when we consciously return. How would it be to carry that felt connection around with us daily?

That, I think, happens when we live into the second part – letting Jesus abide in us. We are promised that Jesus lives in us through baptism, a connection that is renewed at eucharist, through the Word, through prayer and service. So one way we abide with him and he in us is to make more space for him. Don’t toss him in a back room, just stopping by to visit when you’re feeling sad or stressed. Give him a seat at the table, when you’re doing dishes, paying bills, going to sleep. Don’t relegate him to a few moments here and there; make some time to nurture your connection.

Some monastics have practiced a form of constant prayer called “hesychasm,” the prayer of the heart, which trains one to pray with each breath, in and out, so that practitioners pray without ceasing. Whether we adopt that practice, or set alerts on our phones, or set aside times and places to rest deeply with Jesus, he promises us a more fruitful life through that connection.

And we can be sure HE is abiding with us. Even when we’re not paying attention.

4-28-15 - Pruning

There is a lovely lilac tree outside the rectory where I am privileged to live. But it never gets pruned. It’s not on anyone’s “to-do list,” and I don’t know anything about pruning lilacs, except that there are seasons when you’re not supposed to do it, so when I think of it, I'm afraid to try. It has grown tall and wide, but is not as healthy as some of the other trees in the yard.

Pruning is a painful process. No one wants to cut into living things, or beautiful ones, though a gardener or farmer - or surgeon - will do so in order to allow a plant to become as healthy and fruitful as possible. Jesus said that even God is in the pruning business: ‘I am the true vine, and my Father is the vine-grower. He removes every branch in me that bears no fruit. Every branch that bears fruit he prunes to make it bear more fruit.

Jesus talks both about the cutting away of non-fruitful branches, and the cutting back of fruitful ones. Nothing seems to be exempt from the pruning shears.

We prune things to conserve resources so that the fruitful parts receive maximum nutrients. The same is true in our lives. Not every aspect of our lives bears good fruit, and when we have too many branches we dissipate the focus and energy available to each one. We must undertake pruning processes, or allow God to work them within us.

Are there aspects to your life or work or relationships that no longer feel fruitful? Patterns of thinking or behaving or relating that are not life-giving? Make a list today of “branches” you might be willing to cut away, leave behind entirely. As you read through that list, where do you feel the greatest sense of loss or failure? Where the most relief? Pray through it with Jesus and/or discuss it with a spiritual adviser or friend. Then act on what you've discerned.

What areas of your life, work or relationships feel fruitful? Are there ways you can prune or refine your involvement in them to allow for even more growth?

There’s an old adage that “the unexamined life is not worth living.” (To which one wag responded, “The examined life is no picnic either!”) I suggest the same is true of an “unpruned life.” It resembles an overgrown garden – hard to move around in, with a lack of differentiation and clarity, healthy growth often impeded by weeds and undergrowth. Undergrowth! There’s a great term. That which is overgrown becomes undergrowth.

If we want to see growth in our lives, not to mention our ministries, bring on the pruning.

4-27-15 - The Long Goodbye

If John’s Gospel is a reliable historical record (a question over which scholars have spilled much ink through the centuries…), the Last Supper must have lasted a Long Time. As John tells it, after the drama and the rituals of washing feet, breaking bread and sharing wine, Jesus delivers himself of many Last Words. This discourse, which fills chapters 14-18 of the Fourth Gospel, is dense, elliptical, sometimes repetitive - and full of nuggets of teaching that theologians would later mine in developing core church doctrines like the Trinity, Incarnation, the Holy Spirit, Heaven.

These words are not as a transcript. At best, they are a compilation of memories and themes, filtered through several witnesses some 40-50 years after the events being described, and responding to movements and controversies in the early church. And yet I choose to believe Jesus said much of what is set down here, if not in these exact words, sequence, or necessarily on that occasion. I think at some point Jesus spoke to his followers about vines and branches and abiding in God. And these words still resonate for us:

‘I am the true vine, and my Father is the vine-grower. He removes every branch in me that bears no fruit. Every branch that bears fruit he prunes to make it bear more fruit.

Jesus is about to take his leave of these beloved and frustrating disciples. He has said he is going to a place they cannot follow, but know the way. It’s a good time to talk about pruning and fruitfulness, as he is about to become for us the branch cut away, despite the manifold fruit he had borne in just three years, reflected in thousands of lives renewed, loves restored, sins forgiven and infirmity healed.

But Jesus is not referring to himself in this moment. He is the true vine, he says, and God will remove every branch in him that bears no fruit. That means the branches to which Jesus has given life. That means his apostles. And that means us.

This week’s Gospel passage is not long, but it is full with metaphor and meaning. Using the image of a vine and its branches, Jesus talks about how we are honed, and nurtured, and how to stay fruitful as servants of God, friends of God. Exploring this passage is a good opportunity for some spiritual inventory. So today let’s start by thinking about ourselves as branches connected to that True Vine.

How connected do we feel?
How fruitful do we feel we are?
How much in the way of nutrients is making its way to us?

Jesus needed to be sure his closest followers understood some things before the harrowing ordeals ahead, while he was still with them in flesh. Hence the Long Goodbye.

But for us, these words are a Big Hello, for our fruitfulness is ever before us. Let's receive them as such and greet the exploration ahead.

4-24-15 - Surf and Turf

I made a mistake in yesterday’s Water Daily. I said Jesus had the fire going and the bread, and all he needed was the fish his disciples had caught with his help. But the text says he already had fish on the fire. He just needed some more. Where Jesus got the fish he already had, I don’t know; I doubt it was a problem for someone who could command storms and materialize at will. What matters, I think, is that he wanted his friends to contribute to the feast, not just provide it all for them.

Their work as “fishers of men” was not finished; in some ways it was just beginning. Soon Jesus would be leaving the planet permanently (in bodily form, that is), and these men, now so at a loss, would be gifted and empowered for transformational ministries. But first, Jesus had a little business to do with Peter, a leader in the community of Christ-followers. And so we switch metaphors from fish to sheep, from fishing to shepherding:

When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my lambs.” A second time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Tend my sheep.” He said to him the third time, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” Peter felt hurt because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” And he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep.”

Biblical scholars call this the “restoration” of Peter. After his three-fold betrayal of Jesus, he is invited thrice to reaffirm his love and commitment. And three times he is commanded: “Feed my lambs, “Tend my sheep,” “Feed my sheep.” I don’t know why the transition from lambs to sheep, and “feed” to “tend” and back. What I take away from this exchange is that Jesus is making a connection between loving him and shepherding those whom he regards as his “lambs” (perhaps those young in faith?) and his “sheep” (believing members of the household of God?).

It’s easy to say, “I love Jesus,” but I find it can be an awfully abstract feeling, since our experience of Jesus is often so remote. We can love him in theory, or by faith. But when we fully love someone, we want to spend time with them, we want to give to them, and we want to value what they value. Jesus made it clear that he valued the work of God’s hands, the children, women and men made in God’s image. And so, if we truly want to be known as people who love Jesus, we will take care to feed and tend the people around us. All the people around us – not just the ones we know and like, but also the ones we don’t know and find it challenging to like.

This story of the catch of fish and the picnic on the beach is full of metaphors, yes. But let's not only treat it symbolically. What if Jesus is inviting us to be makers of feasts, feeders of his sheep, in all kinds of places, all the time?

I am captivated by the notion that the followers of Christ can be like bands of guerrilla feast-makers, constantly pulling off surprising events of feeding and tending. What if each congregation covenanted to make one feast in an unexpected place each month? What an explosion of love that would put into the world. What a rush of Holy Spirit energy would fill us.

“Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep.”
You in?

4-23-15 - Breakfast with Jesus

Were sweeter words ever uttered? “Come and have breakfast.” When we consider that these words were offered by a revered and beloved spiritual master who’d risen from the dead, they are all the more extraordinary.

In the gospel story we are exploring this week, Jesus’ disciples leave Jerusalem after his resurrection and go back to what they used to do: fishing. But they’re not catching anything – until someone on the shore calls out to them to cast their nets on the right side of the boat. When they do, suddenly the nets are so full of fish they can hardly haul them. Pretty good story, right? But it’s not over! They realize that guy on the shore is Jesus and head in, pulling the nets behind them. And yet another gift awaits them:

When they had gone ashore, they saw a charcoal fire there, with fish on it, and bread. Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish that you have just caught.” So Simon Peter went aboard and hauled the net ashore, full of large fish, a hundred fifty-three of them; and though there were so many, the net was not torn. Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.” Now none of the disciples dared to ask him, “Who are you?” because they knew it was the Lord. Jesus came and took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish.

What is more amazing – that someone risen from the dead was inviting them to breakfast on a beach, or that someone else ignored all this to count the fish! (The writer David James Duncan paints a funny picture of this scene in his novel The River Why, pointing out that one of those disciples sat there counting the fish while Jesus, the resurrected Lord of heaven and earth stood patiently by… but fishermen do like stats, and so does the writer of John’s Gospel.)

It is a beautiful thing to be offered breakfast after a hard night’s work, or anytime, really. Jesus already has the fire going and some bread. All he needs is some fish to cook – and he invites his friends to bring some of the bounty they have just caught.

That’s how God works with us as well. God provides all kinds of blessings in our days, from actual feasts, to times when the right song comes on the radio to cheer us up, to encounters that expand our spirits. And most often some of the material for those blessings comes from us, as we offer back a share of what God has given us in the first place. We don't have to be on the lookout for these blessings – they seem always to be unexpected, as this one was for Jesus’ friends. But it does help to keep our spirits open to them.

When were you last surprised by blessing? What were the circumstances? Have you shared that story?
What do you have an abundance of in your life? Is Jesus inviting you to bring some of that to him to be blessed and broken and shared?

This post-resurrection fish fry is yet another reminder that God desires to set feasts before us, and to collaborate with us in the making of them. The more we recognize that what we have "caught" is itself what God has blessed us with, the more generously we will want to share it, to create feasts in unexpected places for unexpected people. What an Easter initiative that would be!

4-22-15 - Out of the Boat

Naked fishing? Sounds like the next big thing in adult vacation excursions. Who knew such things went on the Bible? Yet there it is, in print and everything. When the nets suddenly filled with an abundance of fish too great to haul, the disciples realized who that guy calling from the shore must be: the Lord! Here he is again! And Peter, we’re told, is so excited he puts his clothes on and jumps into the water:

That disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on some clothes, for he was naked, and jumped into the sea. But the other disciples came in the boat, dragging the net full of fish, for they were not far from the land, only about a hundred yards off.

I can understand why he was naked – probably a hot night on the Sea of Galilee, and maybe the boat was messy. Though it must also have entailed some risks; hmmm… let’s not go there. What is surprising is the idea of someone putting on their clothes to jump into the water. But that’s what Peter does. Maybe he doesn’t want to greet his Lord in his birthday suit. Maybe he just can’t wait until they’ve pulled the boat to shore.

This is the second time in the gospels that we hear of Peter jumping out of a boat into the sea. The first time was when Jesus came toward the disciples’ boat walking on the water, and invited Peter to join him. Peter, with characteristic impulsivity, did so, and managed to take some steps before he realized that what he was doing was impossible, at which point he began to sink. And here he is again, quick to get out of the boat and into the water to get close to Jesus.

Maybe Peter had another reason for his hurry. Was he still haunted by the ease with which he had denied knowing Jesus after his arrest? Did he play and replay that conversation by the fire in the courtyard of the High Priest’s house, daring himself to answer differently, to risk arrest and execution himself? Any chance to get near Jesus again, to renew that intimacy, must have been precious indeed. He couldn't wait; he was out of the boat and into the water.

What a wonderful metaphor for us as Christ-followers! Faith invites us to get out of our boats, our holding containers and comfort zones, and plunge into the Living Water of God-Life, trying to get close to Jesus. Whether it's for love or a desire for reconcliation or meaning or purpose, we can dive right in.

What “boats” are you currently hanging out in – boats of usefulness, perhaps, but also places that shield you from full-body contact with the Life of God? Do you jump out regularly? What would impel you to jump out of that boat to immerse yourself in the Living Water flowing from God’s throne – which is another way to say the Life of God at work in the world around you?

I’d like to think that if I saw Jesus 100 yards away, I’d jump out of the boat and swim to him too. What keeps me in the boat is not seeing Jesus so close by. And yet he promised that he is. So my prayer is, “Let me see you, Lord; let me hear you calling, telling me where to cast my nets. Let me see your miracles around me, and let my heart sing with joy.”

4-21-15 - The Right Way

I took a tennis lesson once. Once. I learned that I did not know the right way to hold the racquet, or the right way to stand, or move. And all that was just about the forehand! Backhand? Forget it. If I really wanted to learn to play tennis properly, I would have to unlearn all the wrong techniques I’d developed.

Peter and James and John, and the others in the fishing boat with them, thought they knew how to fish. It was how they’d made a living for years – before Jesus came along and told them he’d teach them how to fish for people. Somehow, in all that retraining they’d been through the past three years with him, could it be that they had unlearned how to fish for fish? Because they weren’t doing very well...

They went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing. Just after daybreak, Jesus stood on the beach; but the disciples did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to them, “Children, you have no fish, have you?” They answered him, “No.” He said to them, “Cast the net to the right side of the boat, and you will find some.”  (This week's gospel passage is here.)

How annoying it must have been for seasoned fishermen to be getting advice from some yahoo on the shore, especially someone who was already pretty sure they weren’t catching anything. Like they didn’t know how and where to cast the nets? Come on! I can imagine the conversation in the boat… and finally someone level-headed saying, “Well, what do we have to lose? Put 'em on the right side.”

So they cast it, and now they were not able to haul it in because there were so many fish.

For every endeavor, there are right ways, wrong ways, and the God way. We can develop all the techniques and plan out all the strategies and forecast the conditions ahead – but if we want to see miracles, and not just good outcomes, we need to let Jesus do the work in us. That’s really hard when we’re skilled at something! We are invited into a tricky balance using the gifts God has given us, and the power of God’s Spirit working through us. It is through those gifts that God works, but if we try to do it alone, our outcomes are not as transformational.

What is something you’re good at? Have you been able to use that talent, while allowing God to work through you? Or do you feel you’re on your own?

What is something you really want to accomplish, maybe something you’re having trouble achieving. Where have you been casting your nets? What would it look like to do it God’s way? Is Jesus calling out to you where to put your nets? That's something to listen for...

The disciples had gone too far down the road with Jesus to return now to their old strategies. Jesus had to show them, in a BIG way, that he was going to continue to work for, with and through them. We too will see “greater things than these” as we learn the new technique of putting our whole selves into using our gifts, and at the same time let Jesus work through us. What a catch we will see!

4-20-15 - Gone Fishin'

I find the lectionary tradition designating the Fourth Sunday of Easter “Good Shepherd Sunday” odd. I don’t get interrupting the flow of resurrection appearance stories with Jesus’ decidedly pre-Passion “I am the good shepherd” discourse. Nuts to that, I say! I’m not done with Easter. So this week, we will explore the post-resurrection fish fry in Water Daily land and at Christ the Healer. Here is the gospel passage.

Clergy and church musicians often take a vacation in the weeks after Easter. My Facebook feed is full of pictures of colleagues in exotic climes or relaxing at the beach. I even took a quick four-day run visiting family, just to get away and recharge a little after the intensity of work before and during Holy Week and Easter. Seems we’re actually in good apostolic tradition – Jesus’ disciples did the same thing!

After these things Jesus showed himself again to the disciples by the Sea of Tiberias; and he showed himself in this way. Gathered there together were Simon Peter, Thomas called the Twin, Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two others of his disciples. Simon Peter said to them, “I am going fishing.” They said to him, “We will go with you.”

Maybe they wanted to go fishing as a way of getting out of Dodge – they’d been holed up in that house for fear of arrest since Jesus’ death. And that anxiety was amplified by the weirdness of Jesus’ resurrection self showing up here and there when they least expected it. Maybe they wanted to get back home to Galilee, feel safer, relax a little.

Or was “going fishing” code for “the old life?” Were Peter and the others going back to what they’d known before Jesus came along and said, “Follow me?” Were they giving up the mission for which they’d trained with Jesus? Maybe they thought he’d come back to pick up the work again. Or maybe they were too mystified, and too drained, to do anything but something they knew they were good at.

Whatever their motivation, it was a very human response to a time of not knowing what comes next. Of course, we know this was a transition time in their lives; that Jesus was going to give them clearer instructions and then ascend into heaven, after which they would have another waiting time before the power of the Holy Spirit came upon them. But they didn’t know it was a transition. Maybe it was the end. We don’t always know when we’re in transition times. Sometimes it just feels like we’re in limbo.

In your life right now, are you in a time of settledness, or transition, or limbo? Do you know which it is? Where is God in this time? It’s okay to ask – “Lord, how do you want me to use my gifts? Where are you calling me to make you known?” It might be in the same places and ways, and it might be in new ones. And always we can ask Jesus to be discernibly present with us in the not-knowing.

Not-knowing fully is where we live in this life. In times of confusion or grief, maybe going off to do something relaxing, something we’re good at, is just the right response. And sometimes, like Peter and the gang,we discover we’re no longer so good at that thing – we realize we have indeed been re-purposed. And then we have to wait to be sent.

4-17-15 - Proclaiming Forgiveness

If Jesus’ words to his gathered disciples on the evening of the day of resurrection are to be attended, his assurances of peace came with a charge: to proclaim repentance and forgiveness of sins to all nations.

“…and he said to them, ‘Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things.’” (This week's Gospel passage is here.)

In today's church, there can be resistance to focusing on repentance and forgiveness – too much cultural guilt associated with the idea of sin. So we may not want to begin our proclamation there. But it’s not hard to get there once the conversation is started. People in recovery from addiction understand innately the need to repent; others of us need only look at our behavior in relationships to quickly arrive at the same understanding. To understand that we are capable of hurting ourselves and others AND to grasp that a remedy has been provided is freedom indeed. That is the gift we have to share.

The promise of life in Christ goes way beyond a focus on repentance to healing and wholeness in every sphere. The balancing act we maintain as witnesses of this source of healing is to keep repentance in the picture while making room for the rest of the story of our of life in Christ.

Can you think of a time when you felt set free by the promise of forgiveness, whether that came from a person or from God? Can you imagine leading another person to that place of relief and freedom?
Today, you might reflect on those moments of connection in your life, and then think about who you might be called to bear witness with.

That proclamation began in Jerusalem on Easter night. A few weeks later, it began to spread around the region and then to the ends of the earth. If we bear witness to freedom in God’s love, it will continue to spread until everyone has been drawn into Christ’s saving embrace and the need for repentance is over.

4-16-15 - Interpretation

Yesterday I wrote about how challenging it can be to read and glean meaning from the Bible. That should not surprise us – what we call “the Bible,” as though it were one document, is in fact 66 different pieces of literature in many different styles – sagas, histories, novelettes, law codes, poetry, prophetic utterance, apocalyptic vision, correspondence, drama, treatise, authored by hundreds of people over hundreds of years, often attempting to encapsulate oral traditions dating back thousands of years… How can anyone glean meaning from that?

We cannot read the Bible without interpreting it. In fact, before we even try, we encounter the interpretations of those who first wrote down the oral stories, those who selected and shaped the writings, those who decided which writings had authority for the religious community, and finally the translators, with their own theological lenses, who decided on words between different options, and where to place the commas when the original languages lack punctuation. And we bring to the reading of scripture our own ideas, histories, traditions, mood and life circumstances on any given day we choose to open that book.

Scripture is never fixed in meaning. It is always being interpreted and re-interpreted – and according to the Gospel writers, Jesus was not shy about telling his followers how they should understand it: “Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, and he said to them, ‘Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.”

The conviction that Jesus was the Messiah, and that the way the prophets wrote about the coming Messiah foretold the events of Jesus’ birth, life, death and resurrection, was introduced early into the Christian communities’ self-understanding. While others can read the prophets, especially the “suffering servant” sections of Isaiah, and come away with different interpretations (for Jews, of course, these prophecies were most definitely not fulfilled in Jesus of Nazareth), Christ-followers read the scriptures through the views expressed in the documents of the New Testament.

This interpretation offered by Jesus is one with an ongoing life. It does more than look backward – it also lays out the community’s mission going forward: to proclaim repentance and forgiveness of sins in Jesus’ name to all nations. Thus, the belief that, in Christ, God’s long plan of salvation was revealed, matters to Christ followers today as it did to the original disciples. Proclaiming that Jesus was the Anointed One foretold by the prophets, whose death effected forgiveness for all humanity, is something that offers life. And we are in the business of offering life in Jesus’ name.

These days, it is fashionable in some Christian circles to de-emphasize belief, and focus more on spiritual practice, to suggest that Christian life is less about truth claims and more about how we access the Holy. While spiritual practice is where we live, I hope we don’t throw out the baby with the bathwater. Our spiritual practice and our ministry grows out of our conviction that Christ was who he said he was.

For me, his interpretation, albeit conveyed through the fallible conduits of gospel writers, scribes, editors and translators, trumps all others. This risen Christ is the Truth. I want to be about the mission of offering life in his name.

4-15-15 - Opened Minds

Scripture is hard to understand. We attach great import, meaning, even authority to these words set down thousands of years ago, which were invested with import, meaning and authority by the communities who preserved them; wildly diverse in literary style, theological understanding, point of view – and all of it regarded as the Spirit-inspired Word of God. And so often it baffles, bores, and even offends us.

Not for nothing does the Book of Common Prayer contain a collect for the reading of Scripture:
Blessed Lord, who caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning: Grant us so to hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them, that we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life, which you have given us in our Savior Jesus Christ…

Should grappling with Holy Writ be so much work? Turns out this is yet another part of the Christian life we are not to attempt on our own steam. That’s what Jesus’ disciples found out on Easter Sunday, not once but twice, when he explained how the hopes and songs and prophecies of the Hebrew Bible were fulfilled in his life, death and new life:

“Then he said to them, ‘These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you—that everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled.’ Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures…

“Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures.” Ah! That’s how it’s done – Jesus opens our minds! That’s also how the two on the road to Emmaus described their conversation with Jesus: “They said to each other, ‘Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?'"

There is a wealth of love and wisdom and beauty to be mined in the pages of the Bible, and like mines that produce precious gems, it doesn’t always yield its riches easily. We need tools and some sweat, and the help of others to interpret these ancient words for ourselves – in the way Philip asked the Ethiopian official reading Isaiah if he understood what he was reading, and he replied, “How can I, unless someone explains it to me?” (Acts 8:26-40)

There are so many ways to try to comprehend the words and stories and teachings of the Bible – tools and techniques and forms of analysis to bring to bear, literary, linguistic, textual, symbolic. It can definitely help to read and study it with other people, to share perceptions from many different angles and ranges of experience. Perhaps the most important tool, though, and often the most neglected, is to ask Jesus to open our minds to understand what we’re reading. Before we even begin.

Let’s pray before we open up the Bible, “Okay, Jesus, you know my mind and its ways. Open it to your truth. Show me your love in these words.” And then let's open the book!

I believe his desire is that these words and stories and people and songs have life for us as they have for all the generations before us. He has opened minds before; he can open ours as we say, “Come, Lord Jesus.”

4-14-15 - No Bones About It

Who could blame those poor disciples for thinking they were witnessing an apparition? Who of us has the context for correctly interpreting data like someone who's died suddenly materializing in a room! (Well, I suppose, on this side of Star Trek, maybe we can imagine it a little…). Not so Jesus’ disciples: 
 “They were startled and terrified, and thought that they were seeing a ghost.”

The early church and the gospel writers had a lot of misinformation from critics to overcome, much of it around the issue of Jesus’ death and resurrection. Many found it unthinkable that a spiritual master or holy person could be put to death, especially in such a gruesome and humiliating way as crucifixion. People argued that could not have happened. Others claimed that if Jesus was divine, he must only have appeared to die, not actually done so.

And rising from the dead? Rumors and conspiracy theories are found in the very pages of the New Testament. Jesus wasn’t really dead. The body was stolen and hidden away. Someone who looked like him was making these appearances (someone so committed to this deception they had wounds in their hands, feet and side?) And the least far-fetched theory – that Jesus’ ghost was about on the earth.

As Luke tells it, Jesus is swift to dispel that theory. “He said to them, ‘Why are you frightened, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? Look at my hands and my feet; see that it is I myself. Touch me and see; for a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.’”

Here was unassailable proof for those who would be called to offer testimony to Jesus resurrection life. 

“A ghost does not have flesh and bones.” A ghost does not eat, either – which Jesus did next: 
“While in their joy they were disbelieving and still wondering, he said to them, 'Have you anything here to eat?' They gave him a piece of broiled fish, and he took it and ate in their presence.”

I feel that someone who’s been to hell and back, literally, deserves a little better than broiled fish, but that’s not the point. What counts is that Jesus’ resurrection body looked and acted a lot like his pre-resurrection body. And in other ways, not at all.

What difference does this make for us? It matters that we proclaim a Lord who rose from the dead, not a ghost, not a zombie. We proclaim a Lord thoroughly, thrillingly alive. It matters that we follow such a one.

There are those who traffic in the spirits of people who have died; that realm seems undeniably real. And Christians are explicitly told not to put their spiritual energy into that realm, or to open their spirits to it. We worship the Risen Christ whose Holy Spirit moves with us, inspires us, comforts us, and leads us into ministry in which others are transformed. As the angel said to the women at the tomb on Easter morning, "Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, he is risen!"

Deny the resurrection if you will, but don’t claim the risen Jesus was “just a ghost.” He was and is the Lord of heaven and earth. Let's make no bones about that.

4-13-15 - How Did You Get Here?

Imagine saying goodbye to someone in one town, and then finding them back home when you return. And knowing you did not pass them on the road, and as yet in human history no mechanical modes of transport had been invented. “How did you get here?”

The disciples whom Jesus met on the road to Emmaus (a story Luke tells just before this week’s passage begins) didn’t recognize him when he walked with them. But in Emmaus, they prevailed upon him to eat with him – and the moment they realized who he was, he vanished from their sight. Then they hightailed it back seven miles to Jerusalem so they could tell their brethren what had happened:

“They said to each other, ‘Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?’ That same hour they got up and returned to Jerusalem; and they found the eleven and their companions gathered together. They were saying, ‘The Lord has risen indeed, and he has appeared to Simon!’ Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread.”

Easter Sunday may be a few weeks back, but in church-land we’re still exploring the events of that day. This week we revisit the scene when Jesus showed up in the upper room Easter night – but now we get Luke’s version, which picks up as the two from Emmaus arrive back in Jerusalem and compare notes with the ones in the Upper room. It’s hard for us to imagine the excitement that those early encounters with the Risen Jesus occasioned in his followers. In that one day he’d appeared to Mary, to Peter, to a few other disciples, to Cleopas and the other on the road, like teasers for the big event. And now, Bam – here he is in Jerusalem!

“While they were talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, 

‘Peace be with you.’”

"How did you get here?" That’s a question we might find ourselves asking more often, the better we get at figuring out when Jesus is with us. Like, we might have felt his presence at church on a Sunday, and then be surprised to find him waiting at our kitchen table at home. Or we might experience him with us as we visit someone in a hospital, and find out that at the same time he was comforting another friend in prayer. One of the gifts of resurrection bodies, it seems, Is the ability to bi-locoate. No longer bound to human flesh and space and time, Jesus could materialize wherever and whenever he wanted.

And guess what? He still can, even ascended – because now he has us to make him known. Flesh and Spirit – that is how Jesus’ presence is still mediated to the world. As much as we want to train our inward eyes to discern the presence of Christ, we also want to be conscious about when and where we’re called to make known the presence of Christ, to allow him to work through us.

I don’t know about you; I’m always surprised when I realize Jesus has shown up in me for someone else, though he said he would. That’s how he can be everywhere, wherever there are faithful followers willing to bear his Spirit to the people around them. We are Christ’s resurrection body now!

And if we don’t know what to say, we can always start with the words Jesus used: “Peace be with you.”

4-10-15 - Life Through Believing

There was no rhyme or rhythm to Jesus’ resurrection appearances; it seems he just kept popping up among his followers, like he was living out the song, “I’ll be seeing you, in all the old familiar places…”
And maybe there were more than were recorded in the Gospels. John implies as much: 

“Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book.”

One that was “written in John’s book” occurred a week after his first appearance to his disciples.  

“A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.” Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”

Jesus would be referring to us, who have to believe without benefit of Jesus in the flesh. Some people find that a hurdle too far. Why bother believing if we can’t have any proof, they think. But what constitutes proof? In a court of law, the sworn testimony of witnesses counts as proof. That’s in part why the Gospel writers labored to set down what they knew of Jesus’ life and ministry. As John says, “But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.”

Given the testimony of so many billions of Christ-followers throughout the ages, as well as evidence of transformation readily available to us, perhaps we have enough to support our heart-belief that Jesus was indeed the divine Son of God, and that he did indeed rise from the dead. But so often we let other evidence, the sad record of man’s cruelty to his fellow inhabitants of this planet, and our shameless disregard for the just allocation of resources, count for more than the “case for the defense.” And when we do that, we close off avenues of life for ourselves and others.

John suggests that there is a pay-off for believing, even when the evidence seems stacked against us: we receive life through believing in the power in the name of Jesus Christ. The spiritual practice of faith, i.e., believing in what we cannot see, increases our capacity to experience God, and to facilitate that experience for others. We can see Jesus in people, feel him in prayer, encounter him in worship.

Where did you last encounter Jesus? Was it in some ministry or conversation? In something beautiful or deeply moving? In a question or an answer? One way we might exercise our “believing” muscles is to make a note at the end of each day one way we bumped into the Risen Christ. And when we tell each other, we all build up our faith muscles.

As that old song goes, “I'll find you in the morning sun, and when the night is new
I'll be looking at the moon, but I'll be seeing you.”

As we truly learn to discern Jesus wherever we find him, and believe, we will find ourselves living more fully and deeply the Life he died and rose to make possible for us.

4-9-15 - Unless I See....

Nobody wants to miss a big event. Like when you’re in line for hot dogs at the stadium and you hear the crowd go wild at a homer with the bases loaded. That you didn’t see. Or you leave a party just before Brad and Angelina show up (happens to me all the time… not you?) Or you relinquish your front row place at a parade and then hear that the President’s motorcade is in sight.

Perhaps the biggest “miss” in human history was Thomas’, who ducked out for a smoke or some errand, and missed the risen Lord of heaven and earth suddenly showing up for supper with his bereaved and confused disciples! And despite the fact that they all told him the same story – “Jesus was here! He really was!,” Thomas refused to buy it.

“But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples told 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 in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.’” [Sunday's Gospel passage is here.]

Did he think they were prey to a shared hallucination born of wishful thinking? Were his credulity muscles worn out by the roller-coaster of the past few days? Or is it that Thomas was always a fast decider, and thus quickly evaluated the data available to him, and deemed it insufficient?

Is Thomas the patron saint of doubters? Or is he the patron saint of “trust but verify?” There was nothing wrong with Thomas’ faith, nor his courage. He was quick to follow Jesus into situations of danger if called for, including during the incident with Lazarus. But for some reason, despite having witnessed that miracle, he found it too far a stretch to believe that Jesus was risen from the dead on faith alone. He wanted to see, he wanted to touch.

He is not alone. How many people do you know who are drawn to the Jesus story, drawn to the life of the church, even inclined to believe – if only they could see some proof. Some people are wired that way, others formed that way by past experiences or disappointments. As this story continues, we see that Jesus was willing to indulge Thomas’ desire to see with his physical eyes – and he commends those who are able to believe on faith-sight alone.

Does Jesus indulge those who want proof in the same way? Not quite in the same way – after the Ascension, nobody got to see Jesus’ resurrection body or touch his wounds. But in many ways, I believe God does allow us to “see” the reality of God-Life around us. We might use the same criteria that Jesus did when John’s disciples asked if really was the Anointed One they’d been expecting. “Go and tell John what you see,” he replied, “The blind see, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor.” (Luke 7:22).

We can see – and experience – amazing healing, transforming love, injustice addressed, chains of addiction and destructive patterns broken. In some Christian communities people even witness the (recently) dead raised. One message that Easter shouts to us is “Nothing is impossible with God!” The more we believe and live out that truth, the more evidence our senses and minds receive.

Christ is visible now through us, his body in the world. His wounds are visible in ours, and as our wounds become healed ones, as his were, healing can flow through them to others. Then everyone can see and touch and believe.

4-8-15 - Sent With Peace

When Jesus showed up in a locked room with his disciples on Easter evening, he gave them more than a good fright. He gave them his peace, and he gave them a mission. And then he gave them the only resource they would need on that mission, the Holy Spirit.

“When it was evening on that day... Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then 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.”

That very peace of Christ has been passed along, person to person, generation to generation, all the way from that room on Easter night to us. It is the peace that “defies understanding,” that comes to us by prayer in the most unpeaceful circumstances. It is a peace that can help us move through the hardest of times, so that others remark on our serenity. It is that peace we share during The Peace in our Eucharistic services – at least, it is what we are meant to be sharing, when it doesn’t devolve into a chat-fest.

That peace of Christ comes with a mission. “As the Father has sent me, so I send you,” Jesus said. Jesus’ statement may be general, but the actual sending is always to a specific place and people. Where are we sent? Wherever we feel the Spirit of God beckoning, enlivening us, getting our attention. Wherever we sense the Spirit of Christ already at work. We don’t have to start things. We just have to come along and participate in what God is already doing. What freedom and joy that can be.

When we think of “mission” as something we are supposed to discern, prepare, and go out and “do,” it can feel daunting. I think that’s why many Christians think it’s a big hurdle and stay in their pews. We think we’re supposed to be on top of it, ready, equipped, holy, have all the answers.

Wrong! The only thing we need to be is willing to let the Holy Spirit work through us. The minute Jesus told his followers they were sent on on a mission like his, "...he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”

It’s not a light thing to receive the Holy Spirit, but neither need it be heavy. It’s the gas that makes our cars run when we’re about the Mission of God to reclaim, restore and renew all of creation to wholeness.

Where do you feel sent? To whom? Do you have a nagging desire to address some need or injustice? Are you excited about certain kinds of ministry? That’s how you’ll know the who and the when and the what and the where of it.

And do you feel you are carrying the Peace of Christ? Have you claimed the gift of Holy Spirit passed along to you?

I’m kind of relieved that we adopted the ritual practice of sharing Christ’s peace with each other in worship rather than breathing upon one another; that could get a little gross. But we can be sure we have already received the Spirit with Christ's peace.

4-7-15 - April Fools

I wonder how often Easter has fallen on April Fools Day? It’s hard to think of a better April Fools twist than the Resurrection! And it kept happening to Jesus’ friends and followers, that Easter day, and in the weeks to come. And they fell for it every time. Jesus just kept showing up in places he would never be expected – often unrecognized.

On the second Sunday of Easter (Easter being so great a mystery, it takes us seven weeks to fully explore it each year…), we always eavesdrop on one of these unexpected appearances by Jesus. This time he shows up right in the very room (or so we think) where the disciples last broke bread with him the previous Thursday – what must have seemed a hundred years earlier. So much had happened since that Passover meal; Jesus’ arrest, his sham trials, mocking and torture, execution. They’d endured all the shock and sorrow and fear that they’d be next, as his followers.

And then another kind of shock in finding his tomb empty – with several indicators that this was not a case of body snatching, but that the very laws of death and life had been overturned. And then – reports. More reports. A sighting in the garden. A sighting in Galilee. What must they have been feeling?

And now he appears among them, just materializing, for he did not come through the locked doors or windows. “When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you.’ After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side.”

He is suddenly just there among them, inviting them to the impossible: “Peace be with you.” Peace would be the last thing I can imagine anyone in that room feeling. But when Jesus says, “Peace be with you,” it is more than a suggestion – it is a declarative action, one that accomplishes what it proposes. They were at peace.

They must have been, for John tells us, “Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord.”

I don't always feel joyful on Easter, or more joyful than I would any other day. Perhaps it’s because I’m often stressed and exhausted from Holy Week and the weeks of preparation before. Perhaps peace is a precondition for joy. This year, I found that taking the time for our short Holy Saturday retreat morning really did help me get to a place of peace, and I experienced much more Easter joy than usual. Funny how that works...

What kind of turmoil are you in the midst of? If none, give thanks!
If there is some, can you imagine Jesus showing up in the middle of it? In the middle of your life, uninvited and yet very much there? Can you hear him say to your spirit, “Peace be with you?”And receive it as a declarative action with power to accomplish what it purposes? That is what the Word of God always does.

What happens next?

4-6-15 - He is Risen! Me? Not so much...

He is risen! The Lord is risen indeed! Alleluia!

Man, am I exhausted after the many services and activities of Holy Week and Easter!

"How tired are you, Kate?"

"I am so tired, I forgot to post a Water Daily saying I was too tired to post a Water Daily."

But here it is:

A man was very, very dead, and very, very buried.
And then he showed up, resurrected, very much alive, though not in quite the same way as he had been alive before he died.

What more need we say?

If you want to ponder, imagine what Jesus' followers woke up feeling that Monday morning. Joy? Terror?

 All of the above? (here is the Easter Gospel...)
Back tomorrow with news from the Upper Room.

He is risen! The Lord is risen indeed! Alleluia!

Here's a news story on our Great Vigil of Easter at Christ the Healer...

4-3-15 - Mary of Nazareth

Today we hear about Jesus' crucifixion from the perspective of a more central character, who found herself on the edges. We too are on the fringes of this story – and are invited to come into its heart this week.

Mary of Nazareth: They keep offering to take me away, the two Marys. They keep trying to get me away from here, from watching him… But I don’t want to go. I don’t know why. There’s some need in me to finish this. He said a moment ago… “It is finished.” Or at least, that’s what they said he said. I couldn’t hear him. His voice was so faint…

But still I can’t leave. Not just yet. It’s not like I ever forgot that there would be an end like this. I always knew that this gift had strings attached – from the beginning, what that old man in the temple said, “And a sword will pierce your heart also.” And the whole way Jesus… just suddenly… was there, in my womb… And his birth, those rough shepherds running to find us, telling us about choirs of angels on the hills… I always knew this was no ordinary child; I always knew he was never mine to keep.

But this… this was not a day I ever thought of, to see my own first son, the flesh of my flesh, there…naked, pinned…. In agony. And yet I don’t want to leave.

And little while ago he spoke again. Oh God, he barely had the strength to lift his voice. He was looking at me. He wanted his mother, and there was nothing I could do for him! But they took me by the arm, Joanna and Mary, they led me closer. I could have touched him – I could have reached out and touched his feet, those feet that once could fit into my hand, whose toes I used to tickle, and he would laugh and laugh like an angel…

But there they were, and a spike… I could have touched him, but I was afraid. Of what? The soldiers? What on earth could they do to me now? But still, I didn’t touch.

He looked at John, his faithful friend. He looked at me. “Dear woman, behold your son,” he said.
“No, you are my son!” I wanted to cry out. “Take him down!” Then he said to John, “Here is your mother.” I thought my heart would stop. Such pain, to be given away, even for my own care… like the time he wouldn’t see us, his brothers and me, when we tried to visit him. He said those who followed him, his disciples, those were his mothers and his brothers now. And I tried to understand… He was never mine to keep.

A soldier spoke a moment ago, a Roman. He said, “I am sure this man was the Son of God.” That’s what that angel said, so long ago in my room, the words are seared into my memory: “The Holy One to be born will be called the Son of God.” So how did this Roman know? Did God tell him too? Maybe it is all true! I believed once and said yes; can I believe again? Maybe God hasn’t finished? Maybe the story isn’t over…

Ah, now John wants to usher me away, already taking up his duties. I am waiting till they take him down. They have promised to take care of the body, these women, his friends, my friends, these Marys. And some important men – Joseph, who gave us the tomb; Nicodemus, another one of the Sanhedrin. They brought the ointments and cloths – 75 pounds of myrrh and aloes, Mary said.

I will help. I will anoint my son’s body with oil and touch his bruised skin one more time, look at his face, now just an empty space, before they put him away in that tomb in the garden. Then I will go home.

What are you being called to let go of today?
What are you being invited to entrust to God?

4-2-15 - Andrew of Capernaum

This Holy Week, Water Daily looks at the readings appointed for each day and reflect from the perspective of someone on the fringes of the story. We too are on the fringes of this story – and are invited to come into its heart this week. May these holy men and women draw us closer. Today's passage is here.

Andrew of Capernaum: My brother! Jesus sure nailed it with the nickname he gave him, Petros. The rock. Never met anyone so hard-headed. And lovable, ornery, faithful, cowardly – all rolled into one ball of leap-before-you-look, speak-before-you-think energy. He’s been like that since we were kids – got me into trouble more times than I care to remember, and usually all I was doing was watching.

So tonight, when Jesus got up from the table, tied a towel around himself and began to wash our feet, and we’re all looking at each other, mortified – it’s Peter who put into words what a lot of us were probably thinking. “Lord, you’re gonna wash my feet? Think again!” Jesus just looked at him with that mixture of irritation and love he so often had for Peter, and said, “If you don’t let me wash you, you have no part with me.” But Peter doesn’t let it rest – he has to argue. Argue with our Master! On this night, above all nights. “Okay, wash all of me, then! Why stop with my feet?”

Jesus had an answer for him, of course. He always did. It was part of the game – Peter pushing as hard as he could, Jesus coming right back at him. Oh, how they loved each other. Love each other.

It was hard for Peter to submit to being cared for. Hard for all of us, I guess. When Jesus got to me, I didn’t want him to touch my feet. They’re not pretty. And they were filthy, as feet are in our time and place. But he focused on that task like it was the only thing in the world he had to do. He got them clean, he rinsed and dried them, and I just had to sit there and receive that gift. I think that was the hardest of all the things Jesus has asked us to do in the three years since I met him along the banks of the Jordan.

Just sit and receive his gift. Helpless.

Little did I know that that’s all I would be doing for the next 24 hours – watching him give his life away for me, helpless to help him, nothing left for me but to receive his gift. And if I have trouble being this still and helpless, what on earth must my poor brother be going through?

How are you at receiving the gifts God wants to give to you? How are you at receiving care from others? It’s harder for most people to submit to having someone else wash their feet than it is to wash another’s (unless we’re paying for a pedicure…). Yet arguably our most important spiritual task is learning to receive the love and grace and power of God so we can share it freely with others.

Tonight, I hope you’re going to church (our service is at 6, if you’re around…). 

I hope you’ll have a chance to receive the ministry of footwashing, and to offer it. In that order.
Don’t miss this opportunity to grow in grace.

4-1-15 - The Other Judas

This Holy Week, Water Daily will look at the readings appointed for each day and reflect from the perspective of someone on the fringes of the story. We too are on the fringes of this story – and are invited to come into its heart this week. May these holy men and women draw us closer. Here is today's Gospel reading.

Judas, son of James: 
Why is this night SO different from any other night! The tension at the Seder table was thick enough to cut. Even after the weirdness of the footwashing, it was clear the troubles were getting to him. Jesus can stand pressure better than most, but nobody can take weeks of death threats and rumors and not be affected. Nothing he said that evening made sense, not the washing, not the words about the bread and the wine, his body, his blood?

And then he said one of us was going to betray him. One of us? We loved him! We believed in him. We’d left everything to follow him. Why would one of us betray him to the authorities? We all looked at each other, at Jesus. Then Peter signaled John to ask him who. He wouldn’t give a name – he just said, ‘It is the one to whom I give this piece of bread when I have dipped it in the dish.’

I am so glad he didn’t say the name – because it was Judas! He handed the bread to Judas, son of Iscariot. The other Judas. Or is it me who is the other Judas?

Jesus had two disciples named Judas. You know a lot about the other one, Iscariot. Me – you only know by name, in a list of those disciples called by Jesus to be among his twelve closest followers. I don’t even make every list – I’m only mentioned in Luke’s story of Jesus’ life and death.

But I was there, day in, day out, traveling with him, helping to heal the sick, proclaim the Good News to those who would listen. I was with him in the rain, in the mud, in the sunshine, at the dinner parties. We never knew what was going to happen next. Only that he could transform the worst circumstances into something with life and hope.

The other Judas was with us through it all too, committed. What could have happened? I saw how upset he was a few nights ago at dinner, when Mary poured all this expensive ointment on Jesus’ feet. He looked like a walking thunder cloud. Would that be enough to cause him to sell Jesus out?

Jesus said to him, “Do quickly what you are going to do,” and Judas left the room. Left our company. We thought maybe he'd gone to pick up some supplies before the Sabbath began tomorrow…

I still believe Jesus can transform the worst circumstances into something with life and hope. But even this?

You’ve probably been at some tense family meals in your life… you may even have known betrayal. How does it help our faith to know Jesus experienced those things?

Can we spare some sympathy for Judas Iscariot? Can we forgive those who have betrayed us?
Now’s a good time to start if we haven’t… we can start by asking God to give us the grace to see that person as God sees them, with compassion. And then allow God’s grace to take hold of us, gradually or all at once. New life...