April 17th, 2014
It’s happened before, but never this profoundly–or pervasively. The blue pen gets left in the shorts, breaks open like an alabaster flask in the washer, and spreads through the whole load. Somehow said load gets transferred to the dryer without the cobalt-colored error being noticed. Now the stain is forever set–in too deep to be removed or even lightened. (You’re probably noticing the curious absence of a causal agent in the grammatical construction of all the sentences heretofore, so let’s just get it out there: mea culpa.) True, I could wear the shorts again. But because they don’t look like somebody’s ordinary paint-speckled work shorts, donning that pair would inexorably invite the snarky comments I deserve: “Sorry about the squid.” “What’s it feel like to hemorrhage on the moon, really?” “So how was the Jackson Pollack class?”
The worst part may be the radius of the “blast zone.” The error was not confined; it spilled over onto the “unsuspecting” and left them….different than before. Maybe not as noticeably–but unquestionably.
My silly, but costly, laundering accident feebly (if that) points to why we rejoice this Sunday (and why we pause the Friday before–see below). There is a stain too deep to lift, too colossal to conceal. It is as though woven indelibly into the fabric of my soul such that the fibers themselves appear as though spun from a dark spindle. “For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.” (Romans 7:15) In me the former intention of God remains visible but it is defaced to a degree that its purpose remains unfulfilled. Which only creates the longing for a new garment, one whitened and brilliant.
Sunday matters because the longing was met with love, even if it meant the refinement came through redirected wrath.
Last Sunday we said the narrative that ran from Palm Sunday to Revelation 4 arced toward God’s ultimate reign. This Sunday we’ll find the same arc bending toward God’s ultimate renewal. Chapters 21-22 of Revelation spare nothing in terms of phantasmagoric imagery; that’s why they call John’s vision “apocalyptic.” But the passage is transparent enough to note how God’s redemptive plan centers on something as familiar and yet fantastic as a City. A New City. A communion of people in communion with God.
The Resurrection of Jesus possesses its own glory. It’s greater glory though lies in its purpose: to effect the pardon of people that they might become a new community.
Perhaps it fits better during Advent (which means you may see it again come November) but from our friends at Mockingbird, an excerpt from Frederick Buechner’s The Magnificent Defeat:
Here at the end let me tell a story which seems to me to be a kind of parable of the lives of all of us. It is a peculiarly twentieth-century story, and it is almost too awful to tell: about a boy of twelve or thirteen who, in a fit of crazy anger and depression, got hold of a gun somewhere and fired it at his father, who died not right away but soon afterward. When the authorities asked the boy why he had done it, he said that it was because he could not stand his father, because his father demanded too much of him, because he hated his father. And then later on, after he had been placed in a house of detention somewhere, a guard was walking down the corridor late one night when he heard sounds from the boy’s room, and he stopped to listen. The words that he heard from the boy sobbing out in the darkness were, “I want my father, I want my father.”
Our father. We have killed him, and we will kill him again, and our world will kill him. And yet he is there. It is he who listens at the door. It is he who is coming. It is our father who is about to be born. Through Jesus Christ our Lord.
The glory of Sunday is seen in sharpest relief by the preceding Friday’s shadow. We may find it hard to feel that we killed Jesus, that we were somehow complicit in His death. But the cross would tell us that our depths sent Him to His darkest moment. Had he not entered the hellish we’d have been overtaken by it. We will not gather this Friday at 6pm to indulge in the morbid, but to reconsider His darkness if only to rediscover what light is. Come one and all, young and old, noisy or not. We’ll sing and pray, partake of the Body and Blood, watch as the shadow falls, and then depart in silence.
Storyline will take a breather this Sunday, as will Backstory next week. But all’s well: they shall return.
You may be “tired” by the time you get to this part in the Backstory. The invitation to pray may fall on, if not a deaf ear, a deadened one. And shouldn’t we turn to prayer only when our hearts have the strength for it? If God is worthy of robust address, wouldn’t it be better to hold off until we’ve been restored a bit? Consider the words of Bonhoeffer again, both with respect to immersing yourself in the Scripture and engaging in prayer:
“The Christian needs to be alone during a definite period of each day for meditation on scripture…and for prayer…even during times of spiritual dryness and apathy. It matters little what form of prayer we adopt…or how many words we use.”
So even if your cup is far from running over, remember Jesus’ retiring to prayer, not with strength, but in order to find it. Then pray for, among other things:
- for rescuers attending to survivors on the capsized Korean ship
- for continuing progress of Margarita Harris’ ankle injury
- for our gracious hosts, Fairmeadows Baptist Church, and other churches in our city
- for family members and guests who’ll be with us this Sunday
Finally, Paul made plain the almost absurd risk to believe in a resurrected Jesus when the apostle said, “If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.” All things rest on whether in fact this enigmatic sage from a backwater town expired on a Friday and was found, astonishingly, walking on Sunday. Sometimes we need to hear the bald fact of the matter unadorned. At other times we need the story set in cadence with carefully chosen words. John Updike did that for us in his poem, “Seven Stanzas at Easter” (a poem he wrote at a young age and for which he won a $100 prize for “best in show”). He clears the decks of the detritus of history’s attempts to reconcile the miraculous with the mundane. You’ll likely hear a little of this come Sunday. Here’s Updike’s sacred offering in full.
It was as His body;
If the cell’s dissolution did not reverse, the molecule reknit,
The amino acids rekindle,
The Church will fall.
It was not as the flowers,
Each soft spring recurrent;
It was not as His Spirit in the mouths and fuddled eyes of the
It was as His flesh; ours.
The same hinged thumbs and toes
The same valved heart
That-pierced-died, withered, paused, and then regathered
Out of enduring Might
New strength to enclose.
Let us not mock God with metaphor,
Analogy, sidestepping, transcendence,
Making of the event a parable, a sign painted in the faded
Credulity of earlier ages:
Let us walk through the door.
The stone is rolled back, not papier-mache,
Not a stone in a story,
But the vast rock of materiality that in the slow grinding of
Time will eclipse for each of us
The wide light of day.
And if we have an angel at the tomb,
Make it a real angel,
Weighty with Max Planck’s quanta, vivid with hair, opaque in
The dawn light, robed in real linen
Spun on a definite loom.
Let us not seek to make it less monstrous,
For our own convenience, our own sense of beauty,
Lest, awakened in one unthinkable hour, we are embarrassed
By the miracle,
And crushed by remonstrance.
See you Sunday at 9:30,