Sunday, April 26, 2009

Third Sunday in Easter

Luke 24
36 While they were talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, ‘Peace be with you.’ 37They were startled and terrified, and thought that they were seeing a ghost. 38He said to them, ‘Why are you frightened, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? 39Look 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.’ 40And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet.* 41While in their joy they were disbelieving and still wondering, he said to them, ‘Have you anything here to eat?’ 42They gave him a piece of broiled fish, 43and he took it and ate in their presence.
44 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.’ 45Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, 46and he said to them, ‘Thus it is written, that the Messiah* is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, 47and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. 48You are witnesses* of these things.

When does congregational outreach sound like reality TV? Every Tuesday give a different team of cooks twenty pounds of ground beef and challenge them to come up with something unique and nutritional. It would make a cool show. Too bad my teammate is camera shy and doesn’t want to pose with our latest bid at culinary greatness.

I can confess to you that there is an active recipe exchange that happens here at Central: when we’re not busy making food we’re usually talking about it. And when you’re talking food, it’s inevitable that recipes will follow. So here is a recipe I found this week for garum, a type of Roman fish sauce:

In a 25-quart container add a layer of aromatic herbs such as dill, coriander, fennel, oregano, or mint. Add a layer of very small fatty fish such as sardines or herring. Add a layer of salt, two fingers high. Repeat the layers until the container is full and let rest in the sun for seven days (Stop me when I have ruined your lunch). Stir daily for 20 days until the sauce becomes a liquid.

The recipe comes from Brian Fagan’s book “Fish on Friday: Feasting, Fasting and the Discovery of the New World.” It is actually the perfect book for me: it combines stories of sailing, exploration, religious tradition and recipes. And each historical recipe (such as “Lenten fish pie” or “Newfoundland cod cakes”) is meant to be tried, with the exception, of course, of garum, Roman fish sauce. It says, “we recommend that you don’t make this recipe” and suggests some modern equivalents. A shame really: tomorrow is supposed to be sunny.

Garum, I have now learned, was the ketchup of the Roman world. Rich or poor, seaside or landlocked, Romans put garum on virtually every meal. There were fancy garums, humble garums, garums with a secret combination of eleven herbs and spices that some garum-maker took to his catacomb. If your diet consisted mainly of bread and the occasional vegetable, you were likely a big fan of garum.

Reading our Bibles, we miss a sense of smell. From the fish market to the grill to the yard with vats of garum to the fish left on some pagan alter, the Roman world had a distinctive fishy smell. Peter and his friends smelled of fish, Jesus was frequently at the grill and even the best miracles had fish in abundance. As Fagan suggests in his book, “Fish symbolism must have emerged in part from this culinary context; the essence of fish, like God, was everywhere” (p. 5)

Jesus chooses fishers for disciples to become fishers of men and women.
Jesus says the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was let down into the lake and caught all kinds of fish.
Jesus said, “Put out into deep water, and let down the nets” despite Peter’s claim that there were no fish to be caught.
Jesus came, took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish.

If communion was based on John 21 rather than 1 Corinthians 11, you would come forward for a little grilled fish in addition to your bread and wine. Fully half the resurrection appearances include Jesus cooking for his friends, enjoying a meal, and reminding them of all that he said to them during all the other meals that go unrecorded in scripture. We are a fish religion, and although we no longer make the sign of the fish, it makes the shape of our religious DNA.


Christ is risen!

As we gather in the weeks that follow Easter, we are confronted by resurrection appearances and the beginning of Christian self-understanding. The initial excitement of the empty tomb does not go away, but is qualified by visits in Jerusalem and back home in Galilee. Proclamation gives way to conversation as the disciples bear the privilege of meeting the risen Christ and receiving initial instructions in light of a dramatic turn to new life. Memories are refreshed, fundamentals are rehearsed, and the lessons of three long years are brought into the present through the lens of Calvary and an end to death.

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.

You see, we have come full circle: the same Gospel of repentance and forgiveness of sins that John preached in the desert must now be preached to all nations. The same fellowship that the disciples enjoyed must be extended to everyone willing to put on Christ, to become his sister or brother, to name themselves a child of the Most High. The highest moment in the story of our faith is passed, but must be proclaimed again and again and allowed to continue to turn hearts of stone to hearts of flesh beating for God alone.

A wise person once told me that when you have a profound faith experience, when you have caught a glimpse of the mountaintop, do not try to tell people how it felt or how you were changed. Most often, you see, people will unable to relate to the strength of your emotion. Instead, tell them what you learned, trusting them with the insights gained in the intensity of a religious experience.

And so it is as the disciples live in the lengthening light of Easter morning: they meet the risen Christ on the road and near the shore, and in their joy they try to give meaning to each day that follows. They are to transform moments of elation into the meaning that will sustain them into the future. They must create the meal that will sustain us long after the fire is out and the grill is gone.

Tertullian, writing 150 years later, adds his voice to the conversation. How do you live in the midst of indifference of even hostility? How do you make the meaning of death and resurrection plain to generations without direct experience and far beyond the Galilee? He said this:

We being little fishes, as Jesus Christ is our great fish, begin our life in the water and only when we abide in the water are we safe and sound.

Let me say I am delighted to be a little fish, following a big fish, knowing that the big fish is Jesus. Paul said that when we enter the water of baptism we die with Christ so that coming out of the water we are raised with him to new life. We are little fish in a font-shaped pond, never far from the great fish that abides with us and frees us to his people. We are little fish in an often-toxic watershed, trusting in the living water that well up to eternal life. We are little fish sent out to do great things: feed the hungry, visit the imprisoned, defend the weaker fish. We swim in the safety of this smaller pond with the abiding presence of a very big fish: a fish served best with bread and wine, a fish that is Christ alone.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Easter Sunday

Mark 16
When the sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, so that they might go and anoint him. 2And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb. 3They had been saying to one another, ‘Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb?’ 4When they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had already been rolled back. 5As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man, dressed in a white robe, sitting on the right side; and they were alarmed. 6But he said to them, ‘Do not be alarmed; you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; he is not here. Look, there is the place they laid him. 7But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you.’ 8So they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.

Who will roll away the stone for us?

Who indeed. The grief-stone, the stone of mourning and sadness is heavy and seemingly secure. It fits tightly into its appointed place: it is not meant to be moved.

Such is the architecture of that early day, awake to the confusion and terror of hours past, the sting felt once more, and a resolve to anoint and safeguard the body of one so recently lost.

But who will roll away the stone for us?

Call it one more problem of many. The stone that the caretakers erected had become the chief obstacle to what little these women could do: what final devotion they could give, what final sign they could make.

It was as if the natural world itself had conspired to test them one last time, with the dead weight of stone, the work of many men, set in the way of what they knew to be their duty that day.

Who will roll away the stone for us?

Hearts heavy, we each walk with these women to the tomb. We each trace their steps to the place where death lives and seems to reign. We know that the human way, hewn time and time again from the rock of our reality, seems utterly insurmountable.

But looking up,
They saw the stone;
Though very large,
Was rolled away.

What began as a barrier became a marker: the stone that God alone could move. The barrier became a doorway and shape of it can scarcely be known:

Christ is Risen!

Thomas Merton wrote these words: “No one saw the Resurrection. Everyone saw the Crucifixion…the cross is everywhere. But the Resurrection is secret. The saints, who have understood it, in all its reality, cannot explain” (Run to the Mountain, p. 279).

If the saints can’t explain it, what am I doing up here? If I can be bold enough to expand on the words of a saint, I think he means that we live one reality and struggle to grasp another. One is immediate, the other far off. One is all too human; the other divine. One repeats endlessly, the other is for all time.

A brave band of learners has concluded their trip through the Bible, ending Thursday with a little Greek thought that seems to shed light on this day of days. For the Greeks, you see, there were two states, to modes of existence: becoming and being.

Becoming is the world we know: growing into things and moving beyond things, meeting and saying goodbye, knowing that all will one day be dust. Being, on the other hand, is eternal. It is. Becoming will be and then can’t be anymore, but being is. It was in the beginning, is now and ever will be.

So death was and eternity is. Jesus entered our world and lived among us, came to understand the reality of human living, knew our joy and felt our pain, and died becoming the “crucified one,” the God who dared to taste death, even death on a cross.

But in Resurrection, God is. The Risen Christ is. And we are, we who choose to put on Christ, to experience a death like his and to be raised with him.

We put on Christ, not as armour in the midst of strife, but as a way of being in the world, a way of meeting each new day, a way of finding the centre of all that is. We live in two worlds, becoming and being: one surrounds us and one calls our name. One begins at birth and the other is completed in baptism. One makes us human and one marks us as God’s alone.

But who will roll away the stone for us?

Who will help us pass though the door of suffering and enter the light of eternity? Who will help us leave one world behind and embrace another?

Mark Van Doran, when teaching Don Quixote, would say to his students: “One of the lessons of this book is that the way to become a knight is to act like a knight.” To a young Thomas Merton it became a lesson about sainthood and the contemplative life: for us it is a lesson beyond the stone entrance and into an empty cave. To understand resurrection, we must live as resurrected people. Having entered the waters of baptism, having tasted death, we rise with Christ to new life.

Stone rolled away, we look into the shadows and try to understand new life. But it is not an intellectual exercise: it cannot be taught. We must set aside our familiar surroundings on this side of the cave and bravely enter. We do not belong here, we belong in there, the stone is rolled away, enter in!

God is the author of this journey, this passage though stone to grace. May God encourage you on this doorstep to resurrected living, may you find new life in each day ahead. Hallelujah, Amen.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Good Friday 2009

They are called the tip of the sword.

Some credit the so-called “Roman peace” to Caesar, but I say this little unit of four centurions is the real source of Roman power.

They carouse. They crucify. They make jokes like “you must find this excruciating.” They steal what little these people have and find clever ways to divide it up. They carouse.

The tip of the sword of Roman power is the power to crucify rebels and pirates: enemies of the state, or anyone who dares disrupt the natural order of things.

It’s also meant to humiliate. The expressions on the faces here at the foot of the cross are more shame than pain. Prisoners are hidden and exiles are gone: these people are roadside attractions.

This is a slave’s death. Anyone with two denarii to rub together would know who to bribe to avoid this. Even the most hardened executioner would sooner have a pocket full of silver.

Soon they will break the legs. This hastens shock, and helps reinforce the whole point of this: broken, disfigured, powerless.

The tip of the sword of Roman power knows nothing of strategy or provisioning or discipline: only terror, and making sure that the events of this day make a lasting impression.

Beyond the fear and humiliation though, will anyone remember this day? In the long and storied history of Rome, the conquest and the glory, will anyone remember one rebel or his execution?

Power, it would seem, always rests in legions and proconsuls. Power is what decides who lives and dies, who is labelled rebel or patriot, who gets recorded in the great annals.

Some pass more quickly than others. Some are prodded rather than broken, confirmed in death and free from the grasp of Rome.

Death may be the only place Rome cannot reach. Death, you might say, defeats Rome and proves that even the tip of the sword cannot reach the next life.

So much, I say, for the power of Rome. So easily thwarted by the simple act of dying, so easily defeated by a rebel who breathes his last on the cross.