John 6: 56 - 69
The Rev. Peter Faass
For the past three weeks, the lectionary has given these “I am the bread of life” passages of Jesus. We have heard much about eating Jesus’ flesh and drinking his blood. In today’s reading, he tells his followers, “Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them.”
These passages can be off-putting, especially when they come so relentlessly every week. They certainly were to some of Jesus’ disciples. In today’s reading, we hear that, “When many of his disciples heard it, they said, ‘This teaching is difficult; who can accept it?’ Such was their offense that many walked away from following Jesus.”
We, too, can find these teachings difficult and be offended. Our being off-put often derives from our literal understanding of these sayings. They sound cannibalistic, making them seem grisly and gross.
Those disciples of Jesus’ who adversely respond do so for a different reason: their objection is based on the consumption of blood taboo in the Mosaic Law. Leviticus 17:14 says, “For the life of every creature—its blood is its life; therefore I have said to the people of Israel: You shall not eat the blood of any creature, for the life of every creature is its blood; whoever eats it shall be cut off.”
In Jewish theology, the blood represents life. As blood is let and a creature dies, it loses its life. To Jews, blood belonged to God, because God is the source of all life.
Even today, this prohibition against consuming blood is so strongly ingrained in the Jewish psyche that even many secular Jews cannot bear to eat a rare steak or a juicy hamburger. Kosher butchers heavily salt meat to drain every drop of blood from it. It is why Jewish cooking relies on the slow braise and not the hot grill for its recipes: Well-done meat is the goal.
Contemporary Christians of course cannot but help think of the Eucharist when they hear these passages. Our Eucharistic Prayers use this blood and body/flesh language. “Sanctify [this bread and wine] by your Holy Spirit to be for your people the Body and Blood of your Son.”
John has no true institution of the Last Supper occurrence as Matthew, Mark and Luke do. These “eat my flesh and drink my blood” passages are as close as it gets, but they get the point across.
I think Jesus understands that his teaching about eating his flesh and drinking his blood will cause an adverse or visceral response in many. He also hopes that some will take the deep meaning of the Leviticus prohibition about the blood being life originating in God, and understand how he is applying this understanding to his own life. When he says, “you must drink my blood” he is saying you must take my life into the very center of your being. My life, like all life, belongs to God. In other words, we must take Jesus’ life into the very core of our hearts and become transformed. By taking Jesus into us, we ascent to being in him and he in us, therefore abiding in one another, as the text says.
Maybe put more succinctly: By eating his flesh and eating his blood we feed our hearts, minds and souls on Jesus. By doing this, we are revitalized by his life until we become filled with the life of God.
This may be the most important act of the Eucharist: feeding our hearts, minds and souls on Jesus in the sacrament of his body and blood, so that we become filled with the life of God.
Ideally, we do this as a community. Just as the Eucharist creates fellowship with Jesus, fellowship is created with those who commune together in the sacrament. As St. Paul states in Romans (12:50), “so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.”
In the Eucharist, our fellowship derives from the mutual indwelling of Jesus and the believer. The greater community is formed from those who share in Jesus’ presence in the bread and wine with each other.
I love to cook. Some of the recipes that give me the greatest pleasure are the ones my mother and grandmother passed on to me. When I make a big pot of thick pea soup with ham, or am at the stove frying up Dutch apple pancakes, I am filled with the presence of my mother and grandmother. We abide in each other through this meal I am preparing and then eat.
In an essay titled, “Re-creating Our Mother’s Dishes,” theologian Boyung Lee writes, “Even though I was cooking by myself in the kitchen, I was in communion with many people to whom I was indebted for who I am, and to whom I am accountable.”
That’s how I feel when I cook my family’s heirloom recipes. I am reminded as I cook, smell and eat that I am indebted to my forbearers for who I am. I am also accountable to them as a person, because they have given me life literally, and through our cultural heritage and family lineage. I better be faithful to those sacred recipes correctly that they passed on to me, or look out!
This is how it is when we take Communion and eat the meal of Christ’s body and blood. We are reminded of who and whose we are. We remember we are indebted to Jesus through whom we receive authentic and eternal life. We are also indebted to all the communion of saints with whom we have shared this meal over the years. We are accountable to them as well, to continue to take the life of Jesus into us – into our very hearts – and to the live the life God calls us to.
John 6:51 - 58
The Rev. Peter Faass
How many of you are familiar with On the Rise Artisan Bread and Pastries in Cleveland Heights? Awesome place, right? On the Rise is like a foretaste of the heavenly banquet for me. The authentic French baguettes, the epis, the rustic Italian loaves, the cinnamon and raisin bread, that gorgeous round cardamom bread that looks like the sun, the spectacular olive loaf, the Challah, the Pullman.
I haven’t even mentioned the croissants, tarts and cookies! It is dangerous to let me loose in there. I’m told to pick up a baguette for dinner and I come home with an armload of breads and desserts for an army. If bread is the staff of life, On the Rise is its genesis.
On the Rise is opening a kiosk in the new Van Aken food court across the street this fall. Our current food desert in the district is going to turn into a cornucopia of deliciousness.
Jesus said, “Whoever eats of this bread will live forever.” Of course, he wasn’t speaking of On the Rise, but sometimes I feel like I have entered into eternity when I eat their food.
Jesus speaks of the bread as his body. “I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.” He continues, “Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life.”
The Gospel of John is filled with Jesus making these metaphors:
Of course, Jesus is not literally any of these things (Biblical literalists take note):
He metaphorically functions as these things in our lives when we follow him. He is the door through which we gain authentic life when we pass through it. He is the light that guides us through the dark places in life. He is the Good Shepherd who watches over us through thick and thin. He is also the bread of life which, when we eat it, gives us eternal life.
When Jesus says that we must eat his flesh and drink his blood, he is not being literal either. This is not some grisly cannibalistic ritual we are engaged in, despite some accusations to the contrary. The bread represents his body, his flesh.
In the prologue of John we are told, “In the beginning was the Word . . . and the Word became flesh and lived among us.” Jesus is the incarnate, or in-the-flesh Word of God. Jesus came to earth so that through his spoken and lived word, he could show us how to live as children of God. So, in the context of John’s theology, when Jesus tells us that we must eat his flesh to gain eternal (or authentic) life, we are in fact called to eat and live the received Word of God that he gives to us.
If we are to distill it down to its essential core, the Word Jesus gives us is summed up in the words of the Beatitudes in the Sermon on the Mount, the distillation of the Law to love God and to love one’s neighbor as one self, and the new commandment to love one another as Jesus has loved us. All the rest is, as they say, commentary.
To eat Jesus’s flesh is to eat and live these words; they are the Word that he incarnates. The Collect for the Sunday closest to November 16th speaks to this understanding eloquently. In it, we pray, “Grant us so to hear . . . read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest [the Holy Scriptures], that we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life.”
When we do this, it causes a paradigm shift in our lives, moving us away from a way of life that is life-denying to a way of life that gives us authentic, and as Jesus says, eternal life. By that, he means eternal life here and now, in this moment.
Earlier, I mentioned that the Van Aken district is currently a food desert. That’s a bit of hyperbole. There are some great places to find good food within a short distance from here, although you need to drive to them. That situation promises to resolve itself soon with a wide array of food and drink options across the street. But food deserts exist, literally and metaphorically. In many urban areas like Cleveland, people do not have access to grocery stores that offer good, wholesome, life-giving foods. Options are limited to fast food and junk foods, which are readily available but not wholesome. Consistently eating these foods causes obesity, high blood pressure and diabetes. They are life-denying foods. That’s a literal food desert.
There are also metaphorical food deserts. These are deserts where the food of nutritious words are in short supply. The only words available are fast, junky and degrading.
These are metaphorical deserts, but they are no less arid and no less life-denying than the literal ones.
In a commentary on John’s bread passages, Presiding Bishop Michael Curry asks, "How is it that God is trying to feed the world, not on fast food, but on gourmet [food] that gives life?"
When food that's readily available is not healthy, how do we feed the people of God? And more importantly, how is the Bread of Life trying to feed us?
I believe we can transform this current metaphorical food desert by eating the bread that is the Word of Jesus’ flesh. It is through eating, inwardly digesting and living on this bread that the Church offers gourmet food - not fast food - to the world.
This is how God wants to feed the world. This is how The Bread of Life Jesus feeds us, and then has us feed others so that we all gain the promise of eternal life.
John 17: 6-19
The Rev. Peter Faass
Seminarians often hear the phrase “to be in the world, but not of the world.” The saying’s roots are found in today’s passage from the Gospel of John and are part of what scholars call Jesus’ High Priestly Prayer. This prayer occurs on the last night of Jesus’ life, in the upper room where he gives the disciples the humbling act of foot-washing, the Lord’s Supper, and the New Commandment, “To love another as I have loved you.” Knowing that the end is near, Jesus crams a lot of final gifts and advice to his friends.
The disciples listen to Jesus’ extemporaneous prayer. These words are prayed out loud and without written text. Jesus is clearly not an Episcopalian!
We can liken his prayer to a dying parent or spouse who gathers their loved ones close by for a final conversation. This final conversation imparts wisdom, strength and confidence to those who will soon be left behind. The dying person wants to offer strength and hope to those who will need it after their passing.
Jesus prays, “I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world. I am not asking you to take them out of the world, but I ask you to protect them from the evil one. They do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world.”
Jesus asks God the Father to guide and sustain the disciples once he is gone so they will continue to be in the world proclaiming the Good News of Jesus’ message. He also asks God that they not be of the world, comprised of the immoral practices, beliefs and behaviors that defy God’s word, referred to as “the evil one.”
Professors at seminary impart these same words of advice (to be in but not of the world) to future clergy leaders to fashion their lives in accordance with the precepts of the Gospel, not those of the evil one. This is not an easy task for the clergy or laity.
Christians have often responded, with some confusion, to be in but not of the world. Some have totally removed themselves from the greater culture to avoid being influenced or tainted by it. We have seen this in cloistered religious orders where the nuns or monks either partially or fully remove themselves from any outside contact with the world.
A more recent manifestation has been the conservative Christian homeschooling movement. Parents, afraid of the influences of the greater culture, try to protect their children by controlling what they learn and what they see on television or the internet.
Many mega-churches do the same thing by offering the services of a small city within their church complexes. These churches contain restaurants, movie theaters, bowling alleys, athletic facilities, day-care, ATMs, coffee bars, and shops of all kinds. The goal is to offer an all-purpose alternative (literally a refuge or fortress, depending on your point of view) to the same facilities outside their walls. The goal keeps members from going anywhere else except home for all their needs. This prevents them from exposure to the greater culture, being in the world, but not co-opted by its immoral behaviors.
While these folks are striving to follow Jesus and live his Gospel, they have taken it too literally and have pushed the proverbial pendulum too far to one extreme. Jesus himself was deeply immersed in the culture of his time and often criticized for it. But he met and pastored people where they were.
The idea of removing myself from the world to not be co-opted by it is tempting at times, especially with the daily barrage of craziness we are experiencing. Walking away from all of it is seductive. I keep hearing Dean Martin’s song “Make the World Go Away” in my head when I think this. But if the world went away from my life, it would not be true to what Jesus is asking God for us to do.
Other Christians are just too daunted by the prospect of having to always be on guard against the ways of the world. They toss their hands in despair and throw in the towel. Following Jesus may feel too hard, boring, or weird, especially when others in their social circle or family or workplace don’t think it’s important or valued.
The majority of us compromise our resistance to the ways of the world little by little. The ways of the world whittle away at us, wearing us down. Often, we don’t even realize it’s happening. We straddle the fence over here. We give slightly in another area over there. Next thing you know you’re not only in, but you’re of the world.
This is not the worst thing, as long as you become aware of it happening. One of the best things about following Jesus is that when that evil one does seduce us to be of the world and compromised by it, we can acknowledge it, repent, and be forgiven.
There is a third way - to live by Jesus’ words in the world. I know, easier said than done. Remember, Jesus asked God to protect us, so we do so with God’s help.
We who follow Jesus are different from the rest of the world. Our values and standards (given to us by Jesus) are different. The new commandment is succinct and easy enough, almost facile. Have you tried to love everyone you encounter in your life for even one day? Whooie, it’s tough work. The Beatitudes are elegant, beautiful and hopeful. But when’s the last time you were persecuted, bullied or gossiped about and felt that the kingdom of God was yours?
As followers of Jesus, there is joy in struggling against the tide of the world’s ways; of battling the storm of evil when you know in every fiber of your being that Jesus’ words are the way the life and the truth. When we face the insidious hostility of evil in the world (knowing we are in alignment with the Gospel), we find true joy. This true joy fulfills Jesus’ prayer, “I speak these things in the world so that they may have my joy made complete in themselves.”
Jesus doesn’t want to take us out of the world; he wants us to participate in the victory of his ways in the world. It is in the rough and tumble of life (not the cloister, barricaded in our homes, or in the enclosed culture of a mega-church ) that we must live our Christian faith.
My friends, Christianity is not an easy faith to follow. Despite attempts by some to paint it as a religion for the weak-minded, or worse, as the opioid of the people, it is far from that. It is not a magic bullet or an elixir we drink once and then poof, all is well. The Christian faith is hard, challenging work. But following Jesus saves gives us the strength to do so as he protects us from the corruption of the world. More than anything, following Jesus equips us better for life. It doesn’t magically give us an end to our problems, it gives us the strength and tools to solve them. We face and conquer our troubles. We cannot abandon the world, we encounter it in all its fullness. Our witness to the Gospel diminishes the evil one.
Jesus prayed to God that he had “revealed/made know God’s name” to the disciples. Our work is to name the character and identity of God in the world. The Son made God known to us, and he revealed that God is love. We are to go and do the same.
Being in the world means that the world will, through us, share the knowledge of the God who is love. There is no more important, critical task for us to engage in.
Let’s go forth into the world, confident that Jesus safeguards us as we proclaim his good news and bring about his reign.
Acts 4:5-12; John 10:11-18
The Rev. Peter Faass
Soteriology is the study of religious doctrines of salvation. Generally, salvation is saving of the soul from sin and its consequences. In today’s reading from Acts, Peter, speaking of Jesus, states that “There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among mortals by which we must be saved."
This and similar statements in scripture, have led many Christians to believe that only those who believe in Jesus will be saved, and those who do not believe in him are condemned to some version of eternal damnation. Within Christianity, there are many different doctrines about salvation and most are rooted in human precepts. Ask a Roman Catholic and you get one version of salvation. Ask a Jehovah’s Witness, Mormon or an Evangelical, and you get something quite different. Ask an Episcopalian, a Presbyterian or a Lutheran, and you will get three more understandings of that it means to be saved.
Because of narrow – dare I say, myopic – interpretations of scripture, combined with our selfish human needs to exert control and dominance, salvation theories abound. We have seen centuries of distrust, hatred, prejudice, exclusion and even violence committed by various Christians against one another because of that.
When a nation adopts one particular expression of Christianity as its official “state religion,” look out. Historically, believers who do not belong to that state religion will be marginalized, suffer persecution, and even die. Salvation only comes to those who are adherents of the right, or “true” faith. Everyone else gets persecuted and a grisly ticket to the grave. We only need to look at the history of our own Anglican faith to see this. A lot of Catholic and Protestant blood were spilled in religious struggle during the reigns of Henry VIII, Edward VI, Mary I and Elizabeth I.
Maltreatment of people who supposedly believe wrongly and are therefore beyond salvation pertains to other religions as well. In many nations where Islam is the official religion, Christians and Jews are marginalized, persecuted and even threatened with death. In the Middle East, in both Israel and the surrounding Arab nations of Lebanon, Palestine and Jordan, Christianity as an indigenous religion is in danger of extinction because it has been so marginalized and persecuted by the greater cultures. It is estimated that in another generation, the only Christians living in Israel/Palestine will be those maintaining holy sites.
I believe most of us struggle with this kind of exclusivist idea of salvation, whether it’s Christian or otherwise. We in Northeast Ohio live in a multi-religious, multi-cultural melting pot. We encounter people from across the Christian religious spectrum and of other faiths every day. In the eastern suburbs of Cleveland, we live amidst one of the largest concentrations of Jewish people in the country. We have growing populations of Buddhists, Hindus and people from other faiths. And then there are the Nones, those people who profess no identifiable religious affiliation. Who among us doesn’t have Jewish, Catholic, Mormon or atheist colleagues, neighbors, friends or family members? A few of us may not. Who doesn’t like, admire, or love these folks who form a part of the fabric of our lives?
Which of us believes that these family, friends and neighbors from other denominations or faiths or no faith, and who don’t believe our particular doctrines about Jesus, are not saved and are going to burn in hell?
Thank goodness! Sadly though, many do.
One of the roots of these exclusivist Christian ways to salvation is found in the mistranslation of a passage in today’s Gospel. Jesus says, “I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So, there will be one flock, one shepherd.”
In the late fourth century when St. Jerome translated the Bible from Greek into Latin (a tome known as the Vulgate Bible), he changed the word flock (as in “one flock”) to fold. His Bible read there will be one fold and one shepherd. This mistranslation became the scriptural warrant the Roman Catholic Church embraces. The Roman Catholic Church believes that since there is only one fold, there is only one Church (the Catholic Church), and there is no salvation beyond it.
Christians of all flavors have been using this one fold, one shepherd plumb line for centuries to determine their guideline for salvation. Of course, their particular expression of the faith is the one and only true fold. And if you’re not in that fold, you’re not saved. The problems with this are that:
When Jesus tell us, “I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So, there will be one flock, one shepherd,” it undermines all those exclusivist soteriologies. That statement is unambiguous in its radical inclusivity. It resoundingly says to those who adhere to exclusive soteriologies, No!
Uniformity isn’t promised in this passage – unity is. The distinction goes beyond words, depending on a wide and important truth. It is not unity of fold which is regarded as being necessary for salvation, but unity of flock. There will be many folds in many nations and ages throughout the world.
For all Christians, there will be one true Shepherd who lays down His life for the sheep, and all these differing folds shall, through living in unity with Him, make one vast flock. That is the route to salvation.
Let me push the envelope here: I think this goes beyond just Christianity and the Church. The vast flock will embrace all people who hear Jesus’ voice in all the various iterations that God has made that voice known in human life and cultures. The voice of the Christian Church won’t exclusively lead to salvation, much of which is rooted in human doctrines and precepts. Rather, it is rooted in hearing Jesus’ voice through the Gospel and beyond.
This means those who will be saved are people who hear and heed his words.
“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.” (Matthew 5:6-9)
Those who will find salvation are those who hear and heed his voice when he says, ‘Truly I tell you, whenever you [took care and loved] one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, who were (hungry, thirsty, naked, in prison, sick, lonely) you did it to me.” (Matthew 25:40)
Those who will find true salvation hear and heed his voice when Jesus tells us, “Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.” (John 13:34) By hearing and heeding these words, the world can be one flock and find God’s peace.
There was a Christian missionary in Canada who was working amongst the indigenous Indian peoples in Saskatchewan. I have updated the nouns to be inclusive.
When the missionary was telling the native peoples about the love of God, an elderly chief said to him, “When you spoke of the Great Spirit just now, did I hear you call God “Our Mother - Father?” Yes, said the missionary. “This is very new and sweet to me,” said the chief. “We never thought of the Great Spirit as mother-father. We do know the Spirit as thunder, lightning, rain and various creatures of the forest, but never as mother-father, as a parent. This new understanding is very comforting to us, because if God is our mother-father and if God is your mother-father, then our people are all sisters and brothers.”
My sisters and brothers, this is salvation.
The Rev. Peter Faass
This past Tuesday, The New York Times had this article: “Afraid of Snakes? Wasps and Dogs Are Deadlier.” Author Nicholas Bakalar stated, “Beware the snake, the spider and the scorpion. But know this: You are much more likely to be killed by a bee or a dog.”
“Of the 1,610 people killed in encounters with animals between 2008 and 2015, 478 were killed by hornets, wasps and bees, and 272 by dogs, according to a study published in Wilderness & Environmental Medicine. Snakes, spiders and scorpions were responsible for 99 deaths over the eight years.”
I didn’t buy it for a moment! Really? In my mind, snakes are lurking behind every pew, killers striking wantonly. Where were these New York Times statisticians in 1250 BCE when, according to the book of Numbers, snake bites were clearly the leading cause of death? As we heard this morning, “The people spoke against God and against Moses, ‘Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no food and no water, and we detest this miserable food.’ Then the Lord sent poisonous serpents among the people, and they bit the people, so that many Israelites died.”
Good heavens! People were dying left and right from snake bites and all because they complained about how bad dinner was. Clearly God the chef wouldn’t be trifled with. “Oh, you didn’t like the manna, did you? Well, see if these snake bites are more to your liking.” Certainly, this is an object lesson: When it comes to God and culinary skills, bite your tongue. Better ill fed than dead.
Interestingly, the image of a snake becomes the antidote to the scourge of snake bites in Sinai:
“The Lord said to Moses, ‘Make a poisonous serpent, and set it on a pole; and everyone who is bitten shall look at it and live.’ So Moses made a serpent of bronze, and put it upon a pole; and whenever a serpent bit someone, that person would look at the serpent of bronze and live.”
This is a really interesting development. By this point, Moses and the Israelites already received the Ten Commandments. The second Commandment is quite clear: “You shall not make for yourself an idol, whether in the form of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or worship them.” (Ex. 20:4-5a)
Wow! The ink is barely dry on the tablets and God is instructing Moses to make a bronze replica of a snake, place it on a pole and encourage people gaze upon it whenever they were bitten by a snake to be healed and live. If that’s not an idolatrous symbol and worship of it, than I don’t know what is!
This sacred pole and bronze serpent survived 500 years after the Exodus finished and the Israelites had entered the Promised Land. In the book of 2 Kings, people were still worshiping that bronze snake when King Hezekiah ascended to the throne. Presumably, the plague of poisonous snakes was over by then, so what was going on here?
Hezekiah was a religious reformer who came to the throne after a long period of apostasy from God’s ways by the Israelites. The snake had become a symbol of Baal, one of the more insidious pagan gods whom God loathed. The lapse of nearly 500 years had invested the bronze serpent with a pagan identity. Hezekiah was incensed by the people’s idolatrous worship of that bronze snake. He contemptuously called it, "Nehushtan," a brazen thing, a mere piece of brass. The text tells us, “He broke in pieces the bronze serpent that Moses had made, for until those days the people of Israel had made offerings to it.” (2 Kings 18:4b)
Jewish scholars have been puzzled by the apparent breaking of the Second Commandment and worshipping the bronze serpent. One explanation the rabbis offer is that “It was not the serpent that gave life [to those bitten by snakes.] So long as Moses lifted up the serpent, they believed in [God] who had commanded Moses to act thus. It was God who healed them.” So, the healing power lay not in the bronze serpent; it was only a symbol to turn the people’s hearts toward God, who then healed them.
While the bronze serpent was first considered a graven image, it was actually a symbol reminding the kvetching people of God, and of God’s exclusive power to heal and save. As time went on it morphed into a graven image, and one that drew people to a pagan deity instead of the God of Israel. Something which God had given for the good changed into something bad.
How often do take something God has given us for our healing and wholeness -- and turn it intoan idolatrous thing that makes us unwell and unwhole?
I would argue that this happened with Jesus. He was given to us by God as someone of extraordinary goodness; to heal and give us life when we are bitten by the deadly venoms of the world. Like the bronze serpent, Jesus had over time been changed by all too many alleged adherents of him into something that is bad, life-denying and evil - something that worshiped as an evil deity.
As the Gospel of John says, God gave us Himself in the incarnation “in order that the world might be saved through him.” Frequently he has been turned into a symbol of hatred, fear, bigotry and judgment. Someone who does not save the world, but rather destroys it and the children of God.
This Jesus is a fraud, created to mask human fear, hatred, power, lust and greed. John Dominic Crossan describes him as the “slaughtered Lamb” of God who gave his life for the salvation of the world, and who has been manipulated and twisted into the “slaughtering lamb” who soaks the world in hatred, fear, blood, violence.
The authentic, good Jesus who draws us to God through his life of love, compassion, honoring the image of God in all people and nonviolent resistance to evil, has been replaced through human machinations by an idolatrous, evil entity who blesses and leads the violent slaughter of perceived evildoers, inferior human beings, apostates, heretics and degenerates.
This Jesus is a fraud.
This fraudulent Jesus turns us away from the true God and he needs to be destroyed, just as the bronze serpent was destroyed by King Hezekiah.
We need to reclaim the authentic Jesus; the one who draws us to God and heals. We begin doing this by holding fast the words of John’s Gospel: “God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.”
We need to be vigilant because evil is always conjuring up ways to draw us toward darkness and away from God. When evil tries to seduce us with its venom, we need to gaze on Jesus, the “light [who] has come into the world.”
Let his light shine in our lives so we may be healed and live. Love the light. The light redeems. The light saves. Hold fast to this truth: “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not, and never will, overcome it.” Gaze on that and live.
Exodus 20:1-17, Psalm 19, 1 Corinthians 1:18-25, John 2:13-22
The Rev. Rachel G. Hackenberg
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. All things came into being through the Word, and what came into being in the Word was life and light, which cannot be overcome. The Word became flesh, and we have seen its glory. Though we cannot see God, though the glory of God defies language we might hope to understand, nevertheless the heart of God has been made known by the Word.
The Gospel of John is the story of what happens when the heart of God is plainly revealed by the life and flesh of Jesus. Spoiler alert: What happens when the heart of God is plainly revealed is foolishness for those of us who desire rationalizations and wisdom. What happens when the heart of God is plainly revealed is weakness to those of us who hope for strength and works righteousness. What happens when the heart of God is plainly revealed is mystery for those of us who calculate signs and hedge our bets.
What happens when the heart of God is plainly revealed by the life and flesh of Jesus is foolishness and weakness and mystery, because the heart of God is a jealous heart (Ex 20). The jealous heart of God is the kind of heart that will chase down love and claim love and cling to love wherever it might be found: in the wilderness or the temple, at weddings and on deathbeds, sitting under a tree or hiding itself in parables.
The heart of God heard the ancient Israelites crying out from their enslavement in Egypt and broke with love. In a jealous rage, the heart of God swore to break Pharaoh’s heart as well if that’s what it took to free the people. God took Moses – who, by the way, probably thought that his life was faithful enough, because every day he loved his wife and his kids and he worked hard tending to the sheep so that he could contribute to the well-being of the tribe – but God surprised Moses, overwhelmed Moses, tipped the tables of his contentment, and said, “This is now the love I need from you.”
Out of a broken heart full of love, God brought the ancient Israelites out from slavery, guided them across the Red Sea, led them and fed them daily through the wilderness. Time and time again God delivered the people, renewed their hope, strengthened their courage, loved and loved and loved. Then God said, “See how my heart has broken for you. Now listen, for this is how your heart must break for me:
In the ten commandments, the heart of God revealed itself to be full of power and very much jealous in love. Upon hearing this, two verses after today’s reading ends the ancient Israelites responded by saying to Moses, “Did we say that we were longing to hear God’s voice? We were definitely wrong about that. Let’s not do that again. Moses, you can approach the smoking mountain, you can listen to the thunder and the lightening, we will stand safely over here.”
We are grateful to have the heart of God beating for us. We can be easily overwhelmed to know what the heart of God requires of us. How can the words of our mouths and the meditations of our hearts and the actions of our lives be found acceptable by that Gaze of Love that does not miss any single one of our faults?
It is foolishness that we hope to try to return any measure of love to the One Who Loves Us. Yet we gather here because we are called to try:
Like Moses, we believe that we are being faithful in our daily diligence to love our families, to be honest in our work, to connect with our church, to represent God’s goodness to the world. We give our gifts to God. We build an altar out of our prayers. We support our friends. We contribute money where it is needed. We lift our voices against injustice. Isn’t this what it looks like to love God?
Yet no matter our diligence, whether we believe we have been faithful or we find ourselves flailing & failing in faith, the jealous heart of God still and certainly interrupts our routines of love and turns the tables on our habits of faith and confronts our weariness:
Sometimes it’s simply a matter of contentment that we resist that call to heartbreak out of which we might love more: we are satisfied with the networks of love & relationship around us, and we have wisely measured a tithe of our love that we give back to the community. In our contentment and routine, we fail to realize that God is calling us to foolishness with our love.
Sometimes it’s an overexposure to the world’s brokenness that we protect our own broken hearts a little more closely, hoping to rebuild our hearts’ strength despite Christ’s example of love in weakness. When you’ve worked so hard to repair your own heart’s breaking, faith can look like a callous more than it looks like love.
Sometimes in the busyness of faith we inadvertently begin to calculate how much heart we can give and when – “On Tuesdays when I take my friend to lunch, that’s my capacity for opening my heart that day because she will talk my ear off. On Wednesdays, my heart’s commitment is to the choir. On Saturday, my heart’s offering is spent on tutoring.” We forget the vast mystery of God’s heart that flashes across the sky and cannot be contained in a schedule.
Sometimes – a lot of times – our hearts are just easily distracted. We think we’re being faithful to God throughout our days, like the Passover pilgrims believed they were being faithful to God by traveling to the temple and exchanging their coins for temple currency so that with the temple currency they could buy doves & cattle & sheep for the faithful offering. And so each day we try to be prayerful: as we read the headlines and run our errands and write some email and notice that no one has taken him off Twitter yet and wonder where is the sanity to write laws so our children can study without fear and calling our loved ones and praying at the dinner table and did anyone remember to buy cat food and we tell ourselves that this is simply the chaos of life through which we love, but in the meantime Jesus is throwing tables to catch our attention so that he say, “Would you please stop chasing cows & birds & sheep through your life and calling it faith? I’m simply asking you to love.”
What happens when the jealous heart of God is made flesh and dwells among us?
That heart drives out everything that is not love, and if we are willing, breaks our hearts so that they might be made new with more room. The breaking has a different look and feel for all of us. Hearts can be broken open by joy, not just pain. Hearts can find the peace of foolishness in the face of difficult challenges. Hearts can stumble over ego or skip into a new adventure. For all of the ways that our hearts can break, for all of the ways that our lives can be turned upside down like tables, whether by God’s hand or by the world’s whims, I know that the renewal and expansion of our hearts never happens alone: God’s love never leaves us alone. God’s love within our hearts is not nurtured alone, not remembered alone.
Months – years – after Jesus turned tables and forecast the temple’s destruction & renewal, when the disciples had their own worlds turned upside down by the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus, they remembered this moment (John 2:22). They remembered it together, and because of that, they were able to love together.
Nothing comes before loving God. Every bit of love and hope and faithfulness and boldness and creativity that we might strive to show begins with & comes out of loving God.
In the beginning was the Heart, and the Heart was with God, and the Heart was God. And we have seen its glory.
Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11; 1 Thessalonians 5:16-24; John 1:6-8,19-28
The Rev. Rachel G. Hackenberg
I am anxious, excited, terrified, wildly hopeful
a complete turmoil of nerves,
unsettled to the point that my stomach feels queasy.
I am tongue-tied with anticipation
as if speaking might burst the bubble of a dream,
yet if I don’t speak, I might explode with all that overwhelms me.
Tense in between the bliss and chaos of waiting,
I just might collapse into tears.
Something has been promised!
Something has been promised
that is so keenly desired,
so desperately needed,
so longingly dreamed of,
so impossibly out of reach
yet hauntingly within sight
and I tell myself to be cool, for heaven’s sake,
to not look as eager and anxious as I feel
just act like it’s no big deal
whether the promise is fulfilled,
whether the dream is realized.
Be smooth, I tell myself – non-anxious,
so that no one sees your delight
if the impossible becomes possible
(perhaps as soon as tomorrow), but also
so that no one will know your disappointment
if the dream remains elusive for years or forever.
Just breathe and no one will know your disappointment
if the gladness never replaces the mourning,
if the harvest never springs from the earth,
if the ruins are never restored.
Pretend like it doesn’t matter
if the wilderness never blooms,
if good news never manifests for the poor,
if broken hearts remain unmended,
if release is never granted to the prisoners,
if injustice is never repaid or made right.
Swallow that knot in your throat
that moments ago was your heart
leaping ecstatically at the glimpse of a possibility.
Feel the knot settle into the pit of your stomach
like it’s a lost friendship or a loved one’s death,
like it’s the daily gasp of work’s overload,
like it’s an unexpected medical bill,
like it’s another tweet that compromises your life,
like it’s a wave of depression that comes as surely as the tide,
like it’s the fatigue of wondering whether we can make a difference.
It’s hard to linger for very long
in a state of genuine anticipation.
It’s hard to sustain an Advent spirit
that waits on the edge of its seat
without secretly fearing disappointment.
Because after a while of watching the pot
that is the promises of God and wondering
when exactly those promises will come to a boil,
we can be tempted to adopt the perspective of those who
heard John the Baptist’s prophecy of a coming Messiah:
the priests and the teachers who were curious to come to the river
but – after generations upon generations
of living in anticipation of a messiah
without a messiah showing up –
they couldn’t get excited or find any hope within themselves
because the hope that once unsettled their stomachs
and caught their breaths had hardened
So many years they had waited:
charged with watching,
charged with praying,
charged with holding onto hope,
charged with leading in the meantime,
charged with patience and faithfulness
while the world around them crumbled and rebuilt
and crumbled again, surviving governments and wars,
waiting for the relief promised through Isaiah,
waiting for the joy promised even before that
to the ones wandering in the wilderness.
Along comes yet another prophet
“Make straight the way of the LORD,
the Messiah is coming!”
and the hope that has become a pit
of cynicism and depression
cannot even wonder
whether this time it might be so.
“Who are you?
Why is your prophecy
any different from all the others?
If all you have is water,
why should we believe you?”
Their mouths had forgotten
how to laugh at impossible possibilities,
like Sarah laughed
at the news that she would
give birth to a long-awaited son.
Their tongues had forgotten
how to rejoice and shout and sing,
like Miriam sang
after the people crossed the Red Sea
even though a wilderness still lay before them.
Their stomachs had forgotten
the delicious nervousness
of a promise on the verge of fulfillment
like a Christmas present waiting to be opened.
Their hearts had forgotten the quick pound of love,
the sudden wild racing of a burden relieved,
the heat & blush of tears overflowing with joy.
Their dreams had forgotten imagination,
too convinced by the harsh realities of the world
to fantasize about a harvest in the desert
or equality for the disenfranchised
or peace for the nations.
But if their dreams had forgotten it
or if our hearts have become hardened to it
or if our spirits have resigned themselves
to settle for less in order to avoid disappointment,
then we very likely need John the Baptist
to splash a little cold water on our spiritual weariness;
we need Isaiah to shout without ceasing until
the ears of our hearts hear again what just might be possible:
freedom for prisoners,
healing for the brokenhearted,
good news for the poor and the oppressed,
a garland of gladness instead of ashes of lament,
a song of praise instead of a faint spirit.
God is about nothing less
than the full realization of justice
and the healed embodiment of love –
and this does matter, terribly so.
I try to play it off, to be non-anxious in hope.
We try to abide one day at a time,
try to work hard while we wait
– without minding the pins and needles –
but our wariness and weariness in waiting
can easily harden in our efforts
to be practical and non-anxious about God’s promises.
These promises have come slowly before,
they are coming slowly now,
but we can’t be cool about it, we can’t be calm
because truly it matters
to see justice realized and love healed;
desperately it matters and
not just to us but to who God is.
And if we only ever glimpse
the faintest shadow of such a vision;
if we only ever hear whispers
of a few faint syllables of such a possibility;
it would be enough
to set our pulses racing,
to make our palms sweaty with nervousness,
to make our stomachs anxious and our hearts tender,
to well up our spirits with laughter and tears of joy,
to get us shouting about the beauties of heaven
and to send us compulsively, obsessively
into the world with love that knows no limits.
At the risk of open-heartedness
and even broken-heartedness,
we must be unsettled with hope:
nervously eager in anticipation and
blushed with the burning joy
of an impossible possibility.
Not because God’s vision has arrived yet,
not because the Good News is fulfilled yet
but simply and entirely because it’s possible.
John 17: 1-11
Rev. Peter Faass
The opening words of the 17th chapter of John’s Gospel are the beginning of what is referred to as Jesus’ High Priestly Prayer: “Jesus looked up to heaven and said, “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son so that the Son may glorify you.”
The setting of the High Priestly Prayer is the upper room on the night before Jesus dies. He and the disciples have just finished foot washing and sharing their last supper. Jesus prays out loud so his disciples may hear him.
In this prayer, this man is about to sacrifice his life to complete the work he has been given – to inaugurate God’s reign. This prayer focuses on life, hope, and ultimate love.
On this Memorial Day weekend, this reading evokes images of the women and men who have served in the armed forces and died for this nation for the past 241 years. Like Jesus, they sacrificed their lives and completed a task for a greater cause - ensuring our nation’s freedoms and defending the sacred gifts of life and liberty. Their lives were and are a living prayer of love for this nation.
As we celebrate the beginning of summer this Memorial Weekend with barbeques, picnics, parades and relaxing, may we pause and give thanks to God for these sacrificial prayers of love given to us by these fallen soldiers and sailors. We do the same when we thank in our worship for the gift of love Jesus gave us in his sacrifice on the cross.
In his farewell prayer, Jesus spoke to God on behalf of the faith community. “I am asking on their behalf,” he prays to God. He asks, “Holy Father, protect them [the community of faith] in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one.”
With these words, Jesus entrusts the future of the faith community to God. We often forget this powerful theological statement. The future of the church is in God’s hands, not ours. This reminds me of the bumper sticker that states, “If God is your co-pilot, switch seats.”
In this era of institutional church decline, more churches struggle to pay bills, achieve balanced budgets, are challenged with membership growth and with using their building as an asset, etc., this message comes as a wake-up call and a huge relief. The future of the church is in God’s hands, not ours. While that doesn’t release us from proclaiming the Gospel and building God’s reign, it means we are not in control of what God desires the church to be into the future, or how it will get there. Regardless of church’s future, Jesus tells us God will protect us as we do God’s work in the world. That’s a cathartic message. It lightens the burden considerably when wardens, vestry members, other lay leaders and clergy accept that the church’s future is up to God. We just have to be faithful and trust in God’s protection.
At the heart of the High Priestly Prayer, we learn that the Father gave us Jesus, “to give [us] eternal life . . . And this is eternal life, that they [the faith community] may know you, the only true God.”
Christian theology often focuses on the idea of eternal life being the afterlife, i.e., heaven. The idea of eternal life as a future, other-worldly experience contradicts what Jesus preached, that “the kingdom of God is among you” (Luke 17: 21). In this prayer, eternal life comes from knowing God.
As Jesus prays, God is in him, and he is in God. We know Jesus as love. We gain eternal life by knowing God, who is love, and then we live with love.
Jesus’ life, crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension reveal the extent and nature of the love that informs our knowledge of God. They reveal the character and identity of God revealed in Jesus, whose life so overflowed with love that he freely gave himself for the salvation of the entire cosmos. To know this God of love is to have eternal life.
If we are to become one with the Father and the Son, we must embody a giving sacrificial love in our lives by:
Every little thing we do, if it is done in love, reveals God within us – the members of the faith community - to others. It ALL matters.
A candidate for our music director’s position emailed me after he auditioned for us this past week. He wrote that he and his girlfriend “…agreed that [Christ Church] was one of the friendliest parishes they ever visited.” His comments remind me that every person and encounter matters, especially when we embody the love of Jesus as we meet them.
To love is lived prayer. The women and men in the armed forces we remember this weekend lived and died in love defending the values of our nation. Their lives were lived prayer. They knew eternal life in the here and now because of that, and I know they are safe in God’s protection.
Jesus, in his High Priestly Prayer, says our lives are in God’s protection, that God is in charge, and that with God ultimately “all will be well, and all manner of things shall be well.” This knowledge about God frees us to incarnate the love of God in all that we are and do. In his High Priestly Prayer, Jesus calls us to a life of living prayer by emulating the love of God within him. When we emulate this love we become one with them, and we come to know God. Eternal life will then be ours forever.
Ezekiel 37:1-14; John 11:1-15
Rev. Peter Faass
The capture and destruction of Jerusalem and Solomon’s Temple in 587 BCE was an apocalyptic event for Israelites. Everything they valued, socially, religiously and culturally, had been assaulted and threatened. Many believed that the oppressive Babylonian empire would force them to commingle with foreign nations and exile, diminishing the Hebrews’ core identity to extinction.
The exiles despaired, lamenting that their bones were dried up and their hopes had perished. They felt cut off from the Promised Land, the holy city Jerusalem, and from God.
Amidst this dejected situation, God sends the prophet Ezekiel, who experiences a series of oracles including the vision of the valley of dry bones. Prior to seeing these oracles, God told Ezekiel of his desire to offer the House of Israel a new heart and spirit to revive and give them hope by relaying visions of Israel’s future.
In the opening verses, Ezekiel proclaims, “I was among the exiles by the river of Chebar, the heavens were opened, and I saw visions of God” (Ezek. 1:1).
In this particular vision, Ezekiel sees an arid valley full of dry bones. The valley appears to be a former battle site, with unburied bodies of dead soldiers left to rot and be eaten by carrion birds and animals.
God asks the prophet, “Mortal, can these bones live?” Ezekiel answers, “O Lord God, you know.” God tells him to prophesy the bones. As he does, the bones slowly come together until they are covered with skin. God then breathes life-giving spirit into these bodies. “And the breath came into them, and they lived, and stood on their feet, a vast multitude.”
God says these bones are the people of the House of Israel. God tells them, “I am going to open your graves and bring you up from your graves, O my people; and I will bring you back to the land of Israel . . . O my people. I will put my spirit within you, and you shall live.”
It’s an awe-inducing yet impossible vision to believe. For the Hebrews in exile, the good news was difficult to hear and more impossible to visualize.
By relaying his vision, Ezekiel challenges the Israelites to view their dire circumstances through God’s eyes rather than through their limited vision. With human eyes, can dry, desiccated bones live? Of course not!
If we see through God’s eyes, bone suddenly comes to bone. One commentary states, “Watch as ligaments bind them together, flesh blankets them, and skin seals them tight. Watch as God’s spirit, which heals hopelessness, infuses them, so that they rise up – a great army testifying to the power of God . . . [Through human eyes] can corpses be brought forth from graves and become living beings again? Absurd! But look through God’s eyes, and watch them come up, receive God’s spirit and return home.”
If God can restore the desiccated bones of a hopeless people back to life, then there are absolutely no limits to God’s power to do the same for us. If we can see through God’s eyes, envisioning His hope for this world and us, then there is no limit for our being revived from the most desperate and hopeless circumstances.
God’s opening the graves of the dead and putting His spirit back into them also occurs in the story of Lazarus. This story, in John’s Gospel, was written by a community of early Christians recently exiled – or if you will, excommunicated - from the Jewish faith. At its inception, this community considered themselves a Jewish sect.
By the turn of the first century, institutional Judaism determined that Jewish expectations of messiah had not been fulfilled by Jesus, whom the community of John proclaimed as the authentic Messiah. So they were cast out, no longer welcome as fellow brothers and sisters of the faith, even despised. They were considered as good as dead.
This caused considerable despair and hopelessness. In the context of this situation, the author of John tells the story of Jesus raising Lazarus from the grave. Whether we believe this is an actual bodily resurrection or not misses the point. It does not matter if Jesus literally raised a corpse to life or not in the fourth decade of the first century, although he could have done so.
It does matter that for the despairing and entombed Johanine community that Jesus –who of course sees everything through God’s eyes - offers them hope and raises them from despair. That hope is centered in the statement Jesus made to Martha when he said, “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.”
In that theological statement, we find that whether in literal or metaphorical death, God’s love for us and the world defeats death in all its insidious forms if we believe in the way and truth of Jesus, who saw everything with God’s eyes.
Ezekiel shared God’s optimistic vision for the defeated and “as-good-as-dead” people. Looking through the eyes of God, Israel would soon be freed from exile and restored to Judea, and the Temple and Jerusalem would be rebuilt. Bone came to bone. Sinew, flesh and skin grew, and God’s life-giving breath was breathed in them. God’s vision of salvation for the people materialized.
In the community of John, the death and entombment of excommunication was transformed by Lazarus’ resurrection. Jesus did this because he loved Lazarus and in that love he conveyed his love for the despondent Johanine community.
In both instances, God gave despondent communities a new heart and spirit. Love is resurrection and life; to love is to see with the eyes of God.
The entire purpose of Jesus’ life was to teach humanity how to see through God’s eyes, which are the eyes of love. The hymn, My Song is Love Unknown, states, “love to the loveless show[n] that they might lovely be.”
The incarnate God always gives us a new heart and spirit so that when our bones are dead and dry, we may find hope to live through that love-filled sight. When we see through Jesus’ eyes, we are released from the graves that entomb us, and he becomes for us resurrection and life.
In those times when we feel as if our bones are dried up and our spirits gone, when we feel like the tomb has been closed over us and the stench of death grows ever stronger, I can think of no greater life–giving message than this one. This is true for us individually and corporately as we encounter social and political shifts that threaten us.
If we do, we have hope and it will propel us to testify to God’s power, and resurrected life will be ours.
Ezekiel 37:1-14; John 11:1-15
Rev. Peter Faass
The capture and destruction of Jerusalem and Solomon’s Temple in 587 BCE was an apocalyptic event for Israelites. Everything treasured – socially, religiously, culturally – was assaulted and seriously threatened. The oppressive Babylonian empire appeared to purposely destroy the core identity of Hebrews through forced exile and forced co-mingling with foreign nations.
Exiles anguished in despair, lamenting that their bones felt dried up and their hopes perished. They felt utterly cut off from the Promised Land and Jerusalem – and from God himself.
In the midst of this despair, God sends the prophet Ezekiel who experiences a series of oracles. The most famous prophecy is the vision of the valley of dry bones. Just before Ezekiel sees the oracles, God shares his desire to offer the House of Israel a new heart and spirit to revive the Israelites and restore their hope.
God then relayed visions of Israel’s future. In the opening verses Ezekiel proclaims, “I was among the exiles by the river of Chebar, the heavens were opened, and I saw visions of God.” (Ezek. 1:1)
In one vision, Ezekiel is brought to an arid valley of dry bones. It was the site of a former battle, with the unburied bodies of armies left to rot and be eaten by carrion-eaters.
God asked the prophet, “Mortal, can these bones live?” Ezekiel answers, “O Lord God, you know.”
God tells him to prophesy to the bones. As Ezekiel does, the bones slowly come together; bone-to-bone, sinew binding them, flesh upon them and covered with skin. God then breathed life-giving spirit into these bodies. “And the breath came into them, and they lived, and stood on their feet, a vast multitude.”
God said these resurrected bones were the people of the House of Israel. “I am going to open your graves,” God tells them, “and bring you up from your graves, O my people; and I will bring you back to the land of Israel . . . O my people. I will put my spirit within you, and you shall live.”
It’s an awe inducing vision, nearly impossible to believe. For the as good-as-dead Hebrews in exile, good news was difficult to hear – and even more impossible to visualize.
As he relays his vision, Ezekiel challenges the Israelites to view their dire circumstances past their visions of despair and through God’s eyes.
With human eyes can dry, desiccated bones live? Well, of course not!
But see them through God’s eyes, and suddenly bone comes to bone. As one commentary I read stated, “Watch as ligaments bind them together, flesh blankets them, and skin seals them tight. Watch as God’s spirit, which heals hopelessness, infuses them, so that they rise up – a great army testifying to the power of God . . .
[Through human eyes] can corpses be brought forth from graves and become living beings again? Absurd! But look through God’s eyes, and watch them come up, receive God’s spirit and return home.”
If God can restore the desiccated bones of a hopeless people back to life, then there are absolutely no limits to God’s power to do the same in our lives. If we can see hope through God’s eyes, then there is no limit to the possibilities of hope for our being revived from even the most desperate and hopeless circumstances.
God’s opening the graves of the dead and putting his spirit back into them is exactly what occurs in the story of Lazarus. This miracle occurs in John’s Gospel, which was written by a community of early Christians who had just been exiled (or if you will, excommunicated) from the Jewish faith. At its inception, this community considered itself a Jewish sect. Around the turn of the first century, institutional Judaism determined that Jewish expectations of messiah had not been fulfilled in Jesus, whom the community of John proclaimed as the authentic Messiah. So they were cast out, no longer welcome, even despised. They were considered as good as dead.
This denial caused considerable despair and hopelessness. From the context of this situation, the author of John presented the story of Jesus raising the dead man Lazarus from the grave.
Whether we believe this is an actual bodily resurrection or not misses the point. We are seeing through our own, limited eyes and not God’s. It does not matter if Jesus literally raised a corpse to life or not, although he could have done so.
It mattered for the despairing and entombed Johannine community that Jesus –who of course sees everything through God’s eyes - offered them hope. With that hope, they were raised from the graves of despair. That hope is centered in the statement Jesus makes to Martha when he tells her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.”
In that theological statement, we find that whether death is literal or metaphorical, God’s powerful love for us and the world defeats death in all its insidious forms if we believe in the way and truth of Jesus. We’ll see as Jesus did, with God’s eyes.
Ezekiel shared God’s vision for the “defeated and as-good-as-dead people, giving them hope. Looking through God’s eyes, it was only a matter of time before Israel was freed from exile and restored to Judea, with the Temple and Jerusalem rebuilt.
Bone came to bone. Sinew, flesh and skin grew, and God breathed onto them. God’s vision of salvation for the people became reality.
In John’s community, the death and entombment of excommunication was transformed by Lazarus’ rising from the grave. Jesus did this because he loved Lazarus, also conveying this love for the despondent Johannine community.
In both instances, God gave dead communities a new heart and spirit. Love is resurrection and life; to love is seeing with God’s eyes.
The entire purpose of Jesus’ life was to teach humanity how to see through God’s eyes – the eyes of love. As the hymn, My Song is Love Unknown states, “love to the loveless show[n] that they might lovely be.”
The incarnate God’s desire is always to give us a new heart and spirit so that when our bones are dead and dry, sealed in the tomb of death, we may find the hope to live. When we see through Jesus’ eyes and see as God sees, we are released from the graves that entomb us. Jesus becomes resurrection and life.
When we feel as if our bones are dried up and our spirits gone, when we feel like the tomb has been closed over us and the stench of death grows ever stronger, I can’t think of a greater life-giving message than this one. This is true for us individually in our own struggles and challenges and corporately, as we encounter social and political shifts that threaten us.
Can we believe that God has power over the course of life and death, that God can raise the driest of bones and the deadest of bodies? Can we envision a way of life that sees our lives and the world around us through God’s eyes, with love? If we do, we will have hope. Hope will propel us to testify to the power of God, and a new resurrected life will be ours.