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Friday, April 18, 2014

A prayer for pastors on Easter

It's Good Friday.

Many pastors have already gotten their sermons written and ready to rock 'n roll.

Others . . . . . well, others . . . . .. don't.

There are a million and one details to chase. And, that's just in the church. Those of us who have families also have . . . . . . well, "other duties as assigned".

And then, there are those who are reading the lessons and singing in the choir and polishing the silver and arranging the flowers and . . . .

My prayers are with all those who strive to be faithful, each in their own way, during the remainder of the Paschal Triduum and onto Easter Day.

So, while I keep all those who fuss and fret and chase details in my prayers, here is a special one for pastors by Brian McLaren.

On our way to Calvary, may we always remember and never forget the promise of the empty tomb and the promise of Easter joy.
A prayer for pastors on Easter

Dear Lord, I pray for all the pastors today
Who will feel enormous pressure to have their sermon
Match the greatness of the subject
and will surely feel they have failed.
(I pray even more for those who think they have succeeded.)

Help them to know that it is enough

Simply and faithfully to tell the story
Of women in dawn hush ...
Of men running half-believing ...
Of rolled stones and folded grave-clothes ...
Of a supposed gardener saying the name of a crying woman ...
Of sad walkers encountering a stranger on the road home ...
Of an empty tomb and overflowing hearts.

Give them the wisdom to know that sincere humility and awe
Surpass all homiletic flourish
On this day of mysterious hope beyond all words.
Make them less conscious of their responsibility to preach,
And more confident of the Risen Christ
Whose presence trumps all efforts to proclaim it.

Considering all the Easter choirs who will sing beautifully,
and those who won't,
And all the Easter prayers that will soar in faith,
and those that will stumble and flounder,
And all the Easter attendance numbers and offering numbers
that will exceed expectations
And those that will disappoint ...

I pray they all will be surpassed by the simple joy
Of women and men standing in the presence of women and men,
Daring to proclaim and echo the good news:
Risen indeed! Alleluia!

For death is not the last word.
Violence is not the last word.
Hate is not the last word.
Money is not the last word.
Intimidation is not the last word.
Political power is not the last word.
Condemnation is not the last word.
Betrayal and failure are not the last word.
No: Each of them are left like rags in a tomb,
And from that tomb
Arises Christ,

Help the preachers feel it,
And if they don't feel it, help them
Preach it anyway, allowing themselves
To be the receivers as well as the bearers of the Easter News.

– Brian McLaren

Sunday, April 13, 2014

The Bees of Holy Week


The Bees of Holy Week
Palm Sunday – April 13, 2014
All  Saint’s Episcopal Church, Rehoboth Beach, DE
(the Rev’d Dr) Elizabeth Kaeton

In the name of God, + who is Mystery, who is Incarnation, who is Spirit. Amen.

As I consider the significance of this day – Palm Sunday – and the beginning of what we Christians call Holy Week, I have been visited by the continued buzzing of piece of a poem called “Last Night As I Was Sleeping” by the great Spanish poet, AntonioMachado. It begins:
Last night as I was sleeping,
I dreamt—marvelous error!—
that a spring was breaking
out in my heart.
I said: Along which secret aqueduct,
Oh water, are you coming to me,
water of a new life
that I have never drunk?
It is the second stanza, however, that continues to visit me:
Last night, as I was sleeping.
I dreamt - marvelous error!
that I had a beehive
here inside my heart.
And that the golden bees
were making white combs
and sweet honey
from my old failures
Listen again to that last sentence!
And that the golden bees
were making white combs
and sweet honey
from my old failures.
If you listen closely you will hear them. There, in the far distance. – a low hum is beginning  deep in your soul.  The hum will grow steadily into the sound of a buzz, which will grow fuller and deeper and louder as the week continues.

Holy Week begins the gathering of the Golden Bees of Heaven.

The Golden Bees of Heaven need you. They need your regret and your grief, the memory of which causes your heart to ache again in the places where it has been broken. 

They need the sense of loss and anger which have left a sour taste on the back of your palate.   

The Golden Bees of Heaven are especially fond of betrayal and disappointment, but, oh my, how they love the rich, deep, bitter darkness of depression.

All of these human failures are pollen to the Bees. 

They will buzz all ‘round the story of Holy Week, and wait and watch as the story of the Passion of Jesus draws out the pollen of regret, grief, anger, betrayal, disappointment and depression from the depths of your own heart and soul. 

They will take them – all of these human failures – to their very bodies and carry them to the Queen of Heaven where She will make of them a gift to be wept over and blessed with Her tears.

Then the Bees will return them to us and begin to make of these, our old failures and regrets, brilliant white combs of wax, which will provide the framework for us to find our own salvation.

I know. I understand. This is not what you were taught as a child. God, we were very carefully taught, is the Great Master Puppeteer, and we are Pinocchio with Geppetto-as-God-our-Father, controlling all the strings of our lives.

God is supposed to remember the sacrifices you made – the chocolate or wine you gave up for Lent. 

If you sacrificed enough and prayed really hard, He – God – was supposed to bring you that brand new bike or those spiffy new shoes or get you on the team or help you pass the test for your driver’s license which would open the door to unspeakable freedoms. 

Later, that same Geppetto-Father-God, you thought, would get you that job. Or, save your marriage. Or, heal your child. 

And when He – God – didn’t do these things, you would shrug your shoulders and figure you weren’t good enough or deserving enough.  That Santa Claus must have whispered something in God's ear which made it to God's Big Book of Failure. And your shoulders slumped and your heart was heavy and you feared asking for anything else. Of God. Or yourself. Or life.

Or, perhaps you repeated the cheery mantra that “When a door closes, God opens a window,” and you would try to get on with a life of magical thinking, hoping against hope to find a Genie-In-a-Bottle of sorts who would help you find the right mystical incantation to unlock the Gates of The Treasures of Heaven as your own.

Or, maybe you would get angry and blame something or someone – sometimes, even God – and never really trust God enough to let yourself really be vulnerable and pray. Ever. Again.

Some of us grow up and come to be spiritually and emotionally mature enough to understand that life holds an abundance of sophisticated irony and paradox and absurdity. 

That all of these, our human failures, are God’s repeated attempts to offer us the sweet honey of grace and mercy and the opportunity for a new, transformed life.

Ernest Hemmingway once wrote: “The world breaks everyone and afterwards, many are strong in the weak places.”   

Some of us don’t – won’t, can't – understand that. 

Yet God is persistent, battering down our hearts with three-fisted Love in the form of mystery and incarnation and spirit – all of which are especially present to us in the midst of the Passion of Jesus in Holy Week.

Antonio Machado’s poem ends with this stanza:
Last night as I slept,
I dreamt—marvelous error!—
that it was God I had
here inside my heart.
We are more able to find God inside our hearts when we get a glimpse of the failures and fragility of our human lives. When we do that - when we are able to look at the absurdity and paradox and irony of life - we awake from our waking dream and discover our marvelous error.

Something is set in motion. The whole field shifts and sets loose some strange mystery which we can neither comprehend nor control. 

That is the work of Holy Week – to awaken us to the failures of the human enterprise which, paradoxically begin to create the framework for us to find our way to salvation, and open the floodgates of the waters of new life which we taste again as if for the first time.

It is Palm Sunday. The Bees of Holy Week are beginning to gather. If you listen, you can hear the hum of their buzzing. 

They are here to gather to their bodies our human failures – the pollen of regret, grief, anger, betrayal, disappointment and depression from the depths of our own hearts and souls. 

We will walk with Jesus this week, as the story of his Passion unfolds. The Bees of Holy Week will take all these human failures, if you surrender to them and don’t mind if they sting a time or two, and make of them the sweet honey of Easter Resurrection. 

We know the story. We know how it ends. 

The Bees of Holy Week are gathering. 

Let them come.   


Note: I am grateful to my colleague David Anderson for reminding me of Antonio Machado's poem and for his idea of 'the Bees of Heaven' which became, for me, 'the Bees of Holy Week'.