Playing for Hope

My family and I once lived in a community with a high percentage of immigrants from Serbia-Croatia, people who had fled the war in the early 1990’s. My son is still friends with some of the kids he met.

 It was on May 27, 1992, only two days after my son was born, when a line of people, waiting to get bread from the only shop in Sarajevo with flour, was attacked, leaving 21 people dead. Despite the violent attack, the next day people were back in line for bread. They could die from starvation or they could die trying to get food.

A Bosnian man named Vedran lived across the street from the bakery and witnessed the shooting. Vedran had been a cellist in the Opera Theater before the war closed it down. So the day after the shooting Vedran dressed in his concert black suit and tie, crossed the street, sat down in a chair, and began to play his cello for those waiting in line. Every day for twenty one days he came and played Albinoni’s Adagio. He played for all that was lost. He played for all that was to come. He played for hope.

Today there is a statue in that square where Vedran sat, of a man with a cello. The statue is not a commemoration of Vedran, rather it is monument to hope when all seems lost.

Each of our readings today speaks of human struggle, human perseverance, and the amazing grace of hope. First, in Genesis, we have Sarah and Abraham who follow God’s call into the wilderness and wait for decades for their hope, God’s promise of a child. Along the way they struggle, doubt, smirk at God, laugh at God, and create chaos in their lives. But in the end, God comes through, a child is born, hope lives. 

In Paul’s letter to the Roman’s he is helping them resolve a conflict over circumcision. The conflict occurred because there was an expulsion of Jewish Christians from Rome in 49CE by Emperor Claudius, which left the Gentile Christians in Rome to build the church. After Claudius’ death in 54 the Jewish Christians returned, and conflict between uncircumcised Gentiles and circumcised Jewish Christians ensued. Which group were the true Christians? 

Since the days of Abraham, circumcision was about marking bodies as a sign of the covenant between God and the men who follow God. (there’s no indication that women followers of God were marked physically). Paul’s argument is that the Jewish Christians in Rome were turning this marking, the circumcision, into a kind of idolatry, making it more important than one’s actual relationship with God. Paul is calling the people to remember that marked or not the important aspect of life is one’s relationship with God, with one’s self, and with other people. 

Paul recognizes that the conflict is intense and people are suffering. And so when Paul speaks about boasting in suffering he is not trying to encourage the conflict. Rather he’s acknowledging that everyone suffers. But suffering also provides human beings with the opportunity to grow and mature. When people work through their conflicts, when people struggle through problems, when people work to be in and stay in relationship with God, self, and others, then a person is on the path to growing in maturity and wisdom. For people of faith this is about hope.

Hope is not about things getting better on the outside of a person, hope is a process of transformation that takes place inside. One works on one’s self to grow in understanding of self and others, to not judge or blame or shame. Paul reminds them that in God’s eyes everyone is equal, male and female, Jew and Gentile. He urges them to work through their struggles grounded in faith which produces an inner sense of hope. Hope is finding a sense of calmness in the midst of struggle, and the ability to imagine a better day tomorrow. 

For me hope is about remembering that I have survived all of life’s challenges so far and I’ve always come out the better – healthier, wiser, more mature, with greater insight, and sometimes happier.

Whatever age one lives in, life will be filled with challenges and suffering, often from human beings hurting other human beings. Christians are called, like Abraham and Sarah, like the people Paul is writing to in Rome, like the disciples Jesus is sending out, to be people of hope. Called to reveal God’s hope not like a badge one wears on the outside, nor a monument of idealized sacrifice, but by cultivating an interior sense of peace and the capacity to love others without the need to shame or blame or judge. To love as God loves, as a sign of hope when all seems lost. 

a reflection on the readings for Proper 6: Genesis 18:1-15, 21:1-7

Romans 5:1-8; Matthew 9:35-10:8

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Riddle me, Trinity Sunday

Today is Trinity Sunday. It always follows the Sunday of Pentecost, and it launches the long Season after Pentecost, also known as “Ordinary Time” which continues through November, until Advent begins. To help us understand a bit about the complex nature of trying to explain the Trinity, one God in three persons, I’m starting with a few riddles:
You will always find me in the past. I can be created in the present, but the future can never taint me. What am I? (History)
 You can see me in water, but I never get wet. What am I? (A reflection)
I am a ship that can be made to ride the greatest waves. I am not built by tool, but built by hearts and minds. What am I? (Friendship)
What walks on four legs in the morning, two legs at noon, and three legs in the evening? (Human beings)
What is the sound of one hand clapping?
Okay. The last one, “What is the sound of one hand clapping?” is a spiritual question. Unlike a riddle, a spiritual question, known as  a “Koan,”in Buddhism, has no specific answer. The intent of giving a spiritual seeker a koan is to aide that person in deepening their spiritual awareness and insight. A koan is a question which has no absolute answer, although sometimes the meaning is very simple. The meaning of, “What is the sound of one hand clapping,” is silence. It’s a koan inviting the spiritual seeker into silence.
All religions have wisdom questions or phrases like koans. In the Hebrew tradition we find these in the Book of Proverbs and the Book of Ecclesiasticus. In Christianity it may be the Trinity, that is the most perplexing concept of our faith, the notion of one God, three persons.
The early church held council meetings over the course of about four hundred years debating the nature of God, the nature of Jesus, and the nature of the Holy Spirit and how these three natures were related and expressed in one being. The debates were often fierce and brutal. But in the end the debates left us with the Nicene Creed as the historical statement of faith that attempts to articulate what the church means by one God, three persons.
The nature of the Trinity is like a koan – not something one can ever fully understand in concrete terms – but a concept that is intended stretch one’s imagination about God. The Trinity is like a Koan because we never have the complete picture of who God is. Christianity understands God as a Being who is both mysterious and present. In particular God is a Being in relationship with God’s self – God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit; with each aspect having a specific kind of relationship with creation and all human beings. God the creator invites into creativity, God in Jesus invites us into relationships of love; and God the Holy Spirit actives that love within us and gives us our gifts and purpose in life. God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, Creator, Redeemer, and Sanctifier.
God is a Divine Being who desires to be in relationship with us. We know God most fully in and through our relationships with others: family and friends, work relationships, neighbors and acquaintances. Jesus reminds us that we are to seek and serve others outside of our immediate context and strive to create a beloved community. The Holy Spirit is God’s energy, activating God’s love in us and in the world.
In caring for the hungers of this world, nourishing people in mind, body, and spirit, we at Christ Church are seeking to participate in God’s loving action in the world. God is a being of love.  We were made by God through love and we were made by God to love. Love is our purpose in life. Love is a verb, the active energy of being in relationship with God, self, and others.
Here at Christ Church God has revealed God’s self in and through us and in and through our many ministries. God is very present in this building, this property, the many ministries that take place here, from the food pantry to the quilting group, from martial arts and dance to the civic and international groups that offices and meetings here, from the labyrinth to the plaza, to our worship and our community, and in and through each one of us. Our reading from Genesis reminds us that God created all the world, all of life. God is the source of all creation, and in creating all the world, God also blesses the world and us.
Soon we will go outside and bless our beautiful community garden. Then we’ll conclude this morning on the plaza with a celebration of good food, music, dancing, fun and games. God calls us to delight in the life God has given us, and to celebrate all our blessings.
So, I’ll conclude with one more riddle. If you know what it means, tell me at the picnic. (or in the comment section below).
There are 5 people at a picnic, five apples in a basket, each person takes an apple, there’s 1 apple left in the basket. How is that is possible?
(correct answer: one person took the basket with the apple in it)…

Just for the sport of it

This past week was, for me, an incredible journey, driving with my son across the amazing country we live in. The goal of the trip was to get him and his car to Seattle, where has moved to start his first job and launch his career, post college. We also had to do an extensive apartment search to find him a place to live, which we did! Following I-90, the drive out west, through the fast paced highways of Chicago, the rolling green hills of the Mississippi River in Minnesota, the spectacular beauty of the Badlands and the unexpected grandeur of Custer State Park in South Dakota, the vast and unique glory of Yellowstone with its hot springs and geysers, from the stunning Rocky Mountains to the rich green Cascade Mountains and the Puget Sound of Seattle, left my son and I in a constant state of awe. At one point I even said that my eyes were growing numb from the ceaseless beauty we beheld. We were also entertained by the wildlife, the prairie dogs sounding their alarm as we drove by, amusing us as they ran and played and tumbled. We were delighted with the herds of buffalo, including babies, meandering across roadways and fields, owning the road, forcing cars to stop and wait until the buffalo moved on. 

These majestic creatures, powerful and potentially dangerous, a species nearly as old as time itself, were stunning. The entire trip, while arduous and quick, only a week from start to finish, was a playful adventure through the beauty of God’s creation. 

Today’s Psalm and its mention of the Leviathan is reminiscent of this trip, where God’s wild creative energy is entertaining and dangerous. Clearly God must have a sense of humor to have created some of these creatures, just for the sport of it. The Psalm is a reminder that we are to have a sense of humor as we participate in the creativity of the world we live in. Being playful is one of the gifts of the Holy Spirit.

Today is Pentecost, the birthday of the church, when the Holy Spirit inspired the followers of Jesus to form themselves into a cohesive community and spread the message of Jesus far and wide. The Holy Spirit is the glue that holds together all the wildly diverse aspects of creation. The Holy Spirit is the great equalizer, as we hear in the reading from Acts, where all people heard the voice of the Spirit, each in their native tongue. This wildly diverse crowd of people from across the region of the Roman Empire, slave and free, Jew and Greek, male and female, educated and peasant, soldier and tax collector, artisan and potter, baker and farmer, traveling merchant and who knows who else, all heard the Holy Spirit in a gust of fiery wind, breathing over them God’s words. From this the church was born and given its mission. The fruits of our good work, we hear, is love and wisdom. God revealed God’s self in human flesh that we might know God’s nature more fully, and love as God loves us, which is a process of maturity and growing in wisdom. 

We hold this understanding of God, the Holy Spirit, the church and its mission, in tension with a world of people around us who have not or do not go to church. If one reads the news or follows news-feeds on Facebook, there are plenty of reasons to doubt or struggle with the institutional church: scandals are pervasive, abuse of children and women is secreted away, arguing over who belongs and who doesn’t, over race or human sexuality, problems in the church seem to be at epidemic proportions. I get it. I know something about the desire to walk away, to disconnect, to leave the institutional church behind, to go it on my own, to be spiritual but not religious. I lived that way for a third of my life. No doubt in some ways it was easier. I didn’t have to wrestle with relationships, I didn’t have to work to figure out how to be a good Christian and how to be a person of faith, how to live as Jesus asks of me. I could live anyway I wanted too. Sure, I could still have good values and still treat people fairly and work for justice. 

However, learning to manage the tension of living in community, fostering a relationship with God, and navigating the complexity of diversity is what it means to be a faithful Christian, growing in compassion and maturity and wisdom and love. To be mature one needs to have resilience, the ability to move through and rebound from life’s challenges. Individually, and as a community, maturity reflects one’s ability to be clear about what one values and the principles upon which one makes decisions and guides one’s life. One of the key components of resilience and building healthy relationship is the ability to be playful and creative. 

How are we, the people of Christ Church, seeking to live as God calls us? How are we working to be in relationship with one another and the world around us? How are we working to be in relationship with our neighbor? WHO is our neighbor? How are we working to be and become a beloved community? How are we resilient in facing challenges? How are we playful, creative, and transformative? The newly formed Renaissance Strategy Task Force has been charged by the Vestry to reflect on and explore these questions, and then to help us develop a strategy for growing this Christian community, in more intentional ways. They are not starting from nothing, they have a vibrant list of ministries and a long history to work with. 

For example we host a very busy building filled with activities offered by civic, international, artistic, health focused, religious and sometimes political, meetings, classes, and events, offered by individuals and groups, revealing a creative ongoing source of energy as a community-centered church. More specifically, our church picnic, coming up next week, is an example of our playfulness as we dance, throw frisbees, toss baseballs, play soccer, blow bubbles, and share a meal. It’s a day of outdoor play that brings us together as a community having fun and celebrating life. Our exterior plaza, the community garden, memorial garden, labyrinth, and pet memorial garden, in fact our church grounds, are a sign of our creativity – beautiful and welcoming to everyone. Many people walk our grounds, sit in prayer at the labyrinth, and find refreshment in the shade of the plaza and its water fountain. This summer will be our third year hosting the outdoor summer concert series, held on four Friday nights, two in July and two in August. This concert series is one way we are reaching out to the wider community, building relationships in creative and fun ways. In these, and other ways, we are feeding people in mind, body, and spirit. 

As we celebrate Pentecost, our readings have one primary theme in common – the call to relationship. The call from scripture to be in relationship with one another, with our neighbor and with strangers, and with all creation, is serious. But, paradoxically, scripture also reveals that we do so playfully and creatively. Pentecost reminds us that church is a body of people working to be in relationship with one another, building a relationship with God, and manifesting God’s love in the world. Church is at its best when the people are diverse, creative, invigorated, prayerful, supportive of one another and a little wild and playful, just for the sport of it. 

A Celebration of Sacred Song

A Celebration of Sacred Song program

Opening:

VOLUNTARY prelude in E-Flat Major J.S. Bach The Prelude and Fugue in E-flat Major by J.S. Bach is played today for thematic reasons. This monumental organ work is considered by many to be Bach’s greatest testament to the Christian doctrine of the Trinity; hence its appropriateness in a sacred concert in which the Nicene Creed forms a central role. In this great organ piece, as in so many other works, Bach’s theology is supported by numerology. The predominance of the number three is impossible to overlook: the piece is in the key of three flats; the prelude has three themes; and the three sections of the fugue end in measures 36, 81 and 117 – all multiples of three. Enjoy Bach’s genius as preacher as well as his more obvious pre-eminence as composer.

Opening Hymn: Christ for the World We Sing

Welcome by The Rev. Terri C. Pilarski, Rector, Christ Episcopal Church

HYMN 431, “The stars declare his glory

 

ANTHEM Magnificat Primi Toni a 8 Aeolian Chorale Marshall Dicks, Conductor

 

 

HYMN 82, “Of the Father’s love begotten” Divinum mysterium Introduction: organ setting by Gerre Hancock

 

 

ANTHEM O Nata Lux Lauridsen Lauds on the Feast of the Transfiguration

Aeolian Chorale Marshall Dicks, Conductor

 

HYMN 168, “O sacred head, sore wounded”

Introduction: organ setting by Johannes Brahms Stanza 1: all in unison
Stanza 2: all in parts
Stanza 3: all in parts
Stanza 4: organ setting by Johannes Brahms Stanza

5: all in unison

HYMN 504, “Come, Holy Ghost, our souls inspire” Spiritus

Introduction: organ setting by Maurice Duruflé Stanzas 1 and 2: all
Interlude: organ setting by Maurice Duruflé Stanzas 3 and 4 : lower voices only

Interlude: organ setting by Maurice Duruflé Stanzas 5 and 6 : upper voices only Interlude: organ setting by Maurice Duruflé Stanza 7: all

Coda: organ setting by Maurice Duruflé

Veni Creator

 

ANTHEM Evening Hymn                             Gardiner

 

Aeolian Chorale Marshall Dicks, Conductor David Hufford, Accompanist

“Fantasy on the hymn tune Moscow” commissioned by Christ Church for the 150th Anniversary, composer Bruce Neswick, Organist, Sean Jackman

 

Finale: HYMN 537, Christ for the world we sing

VOLUNTARY Fugue in E-Flat Major                         J.S. Bach

Easter Sunday

 

Although the house resided on a busy four lane street, it had a wood deck off the back, that over looked 2-1/2 acres of grassy yard and a narrow strip of woods. After we moved in we realized that under the deck various animals had built dens: woodchuck, possum, rabbits.

One year we were startled to discover that a red fox had moved in under our deck. Actually it was a couple, a male and a female red fox. By late winter, the baby foxes made an appearance.

As spring unfolded we were delighted to see the fox family, usually late at night, out in the yard, playing. Papa fox would place himself way out on the perimeter of the yard to act as watch guard – his eyes intent, surveying the area, protecting his brood. Meanwhile momma fox brought one or two babies out of the den and taught them to follow, and play, and become fox. Although we only saw one or two at a time, as they grew in size, we saw more and more, a total of 8 baby fox. For the next few months the fox family and the Pilarski family learned to live side by side. Even our dogs would watch quietly through the sliding glass door as the fox babies played and learned about life.

Easter came early that year. I remember celebrating at church and then with family. It was late when we finally headed home. I anticipated a quiet cup of tea. But no sooner had we arrived home than we discovered that something was amiss. Our animals knew it first – the dogs were pacing and grumbling, the cats positioning themselves in one window, then another, exuding a low yowl. Dan and I began to investigate the situation. We discovered that one of the baby fox had fallen down a window well. Three feet below the surface of the ground, the baby was stuck at the basement level of our house. It appears that in their nocturnal playing the baby had wandered off and fell into this open chasm. The momma fox was beside her self, trying to look out for the other seven babies and call her fallen baby back to her. But the baby was unable to climb up a three foot drop lined in sheet metal. The pitiful cries of the momma and the frightened mewing of the baby fox set my dogs and cats on edge.

Dan and I called the wildlife rescue company, but they would not intervene.  We knew better than to try and fish the baby out with our hands, and we didn’t have a long net. Nor could we open the window from the basement and grab it. We knew we had to find a way to get the baby out, somehow. Finally Dan decided to build a ladder to put into the well and hope the baby could and would climb out.

Using a 1 x 6 board as the base, we nailed wooden strips across the board creating a solid platform with steps. As we built the ladder, the crying escalated. The dogs got more anxious, the cats yowled louder, and it took more effort to keep our kids calm. Then, as if the chaos wasn’t bad enough and the anxiety high enough, and our fatigue great enough, we realized that a second baby fox had fallen into another well, and so we now had to build two ladders.

Uncertain what the momma fox would do, we cautiously went outside with the ladders. Hearts thumping we wondered if her protective instincts would prevent her from letting us help? I kept a careful eye on momma fox, while Dan slowly placed a ladder in each of the wells. The momma watched intently, never moving. She seemed to trust us, to understand that we were trying to help. Silence filled the air, sharp with anticipation, and, hope…

Back inside the house, we turned off all the lights. In the dark we watched as the momma fox gently called the babies. To our amazement, one baby figured out how to climb the ladder. As the baby came to the surface of the ground the momma caught her by the scruff of its neck and hauled it to the safety of the den. And then the second baby climbed out. And the momma grabbed it too and brought it to the den. Within thirty minutes of placing the ladders in the wells the babies were safe. And our house was quiet.

It’s morning and Mary Magdalene goes to the tomb where Jesus is buried. She’s traumatized from the brutality of the day before. Weeping, distressed, wild sounds escape from her lungs. Then someone calls her name, and like the baby fox climbing from the depths of the well, Mary’s awareness rises, and a new clarity emerges. She recognizes the voice. It is Jesus, Rabbouni, the teacher, it is the resurrection. It is new life.

The resurrection is the great mystery of the Christian faith.  We call the resurrection the “Paschal Mystery.” It means God’s love poured out anew in the light of Christ, symbolized by light from the tall Paschal candle. For Christians, Jesus is the fullest expression of God’s love. Jesus manifests God’s love through acts of compassion and justice. God uses human hands and hearts to manifest God’s love, first through Jesus, and now through us.

Easter reminds us that the deep truth of the Paschal Mystery emerges in and through all of life. In times of joy, God celebrates with us. In times of sorrow, God’s compassion is like a ladder, offering us a way up.  Jesus called to Mary, and in response, she rose from the well of despair with a new awareness, a new sense of reality, hope. It’s Easter. Nothing has changed, and yet, everything is different. Because now, with God’s love in Jesus, made alive through us,  feeding people in mind, body, and spirit, there is hope.

Mary Passion Trilogy, part 3: Mary Magdalene

The Mary Passions: part three: Mary Magdalene written by The Rev. Anne Wolf Fraley with the Rev. Kate Hennessy-Keimig  and The Rev. Terri C. Pilarski,

The Mary Passions were inspired by Terri C. Pilarski

Presented by Terri Pilarski on April 15, 2017 at The Great Vigil of Easter, Christ Episcopal Church, Dearborn, MI

I had not slept. Since leaving Golgotha I had been overwhelmed by despair. Whether from gray skies and starless nights or the weight of grief pressed against my heart, I do not know. But I did not sleep—my mind raced, struggling to grasp our crushing loss.  Was he truly gone, my beloved Jesus, my friend?

I was there, crouched beside his mother as we watched the wind whip against the bareness of his body, the force of which blew his hair across his face.  I could not turn my eyes from his. I did not want the memory of his suffering to burn itself into my mind, so I looked only at his eyes.  I must tell you, his eyes were extraordinary. They bore the pain of his injury, a tender, forgiving dullness outshone by deep and abiding love. I do not know how such contradictory expressions could be revealed at once, but I should not be surprised. He is no ordinary man.

I remember that my hands were numb. His mother and I clung tightly to one another during those endless hours. She was drained of strength, stumbling several times as she stood faithfully near her son. A merchant whose curiosity had led him off the path as he left the city gates drew a cushion from his stores and brought it to Mary to ease her plight.

Jesus’ breathing became shallow, yet he did not fight what he knew awaited him. He raised his head a bit and looked at us. Upon his mother he looked long and with deep devotion. I felt the tension slip from her being with a deep sigh, and when I looked her face was drawn with comprehension and the tug of peace suggested a smile.  My eyes shifted back to his, and in the deepening darkness of them I saw the world gathered to him.  He did not smile, but the same peace that touched his mother radiated from him. Our eyes locked in wordless farewell, and with one last, penetrating gaze he entrusted his heart and wisdom to me and released his last breath.

Mary sank against me, and I was grateful for the need to tend to her as the enormity of our loss gripped my soul. I remember little else, for which I am glad—no one should endure the agony of love being stolen from them.  What I recall is that we were swallowed by the deep darkness of night, and there remained until the song of the birds alerted us to this dawning day.

We gathered our oil and spices and ventured into the early morning light to go to the tomb. We did not speak. The ritual of this loving obligation to the dead was well known to us, and conversation flowed between us in the sorrowful echoes of our footsteps.

 

It looked as it did when his body was laid to rest two days before. The entrance to the tomb, small but easily accessible, was marked by the scars of its recent hewing, jagged and raw.  I felt oddly comforted by its gaping darkness, as it reflected the state of my own soul—jagged, raw and dark.  Perhaps it was for this reason that I gathered the folds of my dress around me without hesitation and ducked through the opening to confront the reality of my lifeless beloved.

The others followed behind me, and our eyes adjusted to the darkness with growing puzzlement.  “He is not here,” my voice broke the silence after several moments. We looked at one another, fear beginning to creep into our blood. I set the ointment down beside the lonely shroud that had wrapped his body and made my way around the perimeter of the tomb. It was as empty as I felt.

Of a sudden the tomb was filled with light, as though the sun had breached the horizon and directed its rays to illuminate our devastated world.  So vivid was the light that at first we did not see the two men who stood before us in radiating brilliance. It was too much for our heavy hearts to bear, and our knees gave way to our fear as we fell to the ground, averting our gaze from this terrible wonder.

“Do not be afraid,” one of them spoke gently. “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen. Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be handed over to sinners, and be crucified, and on the third day rise again.”

My thoughts reached deep into the mystery that was this man we all loved, Jesus, whose teaching changed our hearts and thus, our lives.  The experience of him, of what had become known through him, began to take hold and banish the fear that had begun to settle in my heart. I had no answers, but neither was I afraid.  “He is not here,” I heard my voice again, this time with a hint of confidence.  Could it be? Was it possible that the promise of his triumph was more than a metaphor, that it was, in fact, the miracle we were blessed to witness here in this tomb?

“He has risen?” queried one of my companions behind me, and another shouted with excitement, “He is risen!”

In one heartbeat we turned to find the men gone. The light, however, continued to fill the emptiness, permeating our hearts with the fullness of love. Then grief gave way to awareness, and in that shattering awareness we began to leap with a joy that we had never known.

Before we knew it we were rushing from the tomb toward the village, and before long we came upon the place where the disciples had gathered. Peter, hearing our ruckus, got up and began to move toward us. When he saw who he were he stopped, puzzled by our exuberance.  One by one the others got up and moved toward us, and by the time we reached them they were drawn together in a cluster of confusion and concern.

Peter grasped my arms in his hands. “What is it?” he demanded, fearing, I think, that our mourning had given way to delirium. We began to talk all at once, sharing the gleeful news of our Lord’s rising. The significance of our words began to sink in, but they were backing up and turning away, dismissing our claims as fantasy and wishful thinking. Only Peter continued to listen, but doubt, too, clouded his eyes.

At last we fell into silence, and Peter looked at each of us, furrows of weariness and the weight of sin etched across his forehead. “Go home,” he said at last. “You are tired. We are all tired. We will talk soon.”

In stunned silence we turned away and began our walk to the place where we lodged. I turned once to look back, and saw Peter begin to move in the direction from which we had come. Our heads were swimming, our hearts were bursting, and in a daze we returned to the city while the miracle of the morning began to take hold and fill us with hope and expectation.

That evening Peter came to see us, bringing with him the oil and spices we had abandoned at the tomb.  I knew when I saw him enter the doorway that he had seen and believed. His face was no longer ravaged by the bitterness of the last few days, but was illuminated by the light of joy and renewal. I took the jars from him and wrapped my arms around him, and in that moment we felt buoyed by the love that been bequeathed to and would now sustain us.

We talked long into the night until the full impact of all we had witnessed and come to understand was within our reach. Outside the door, stars hidden from view the previous nights seemed to sparkle with a new brightness, and though my heart still ached with loss, peace coursed through my veins like a soothing tonic.

He was risen. The world might appear the same, but in each breath I took I would draw in the power of love as I served God’s people with compassion and mercy. There was joyful news to share about the God of our people, and as the knowledge of that love unfolded in the days to come, lives would be healed and restored, love would bind wounds and forgiveness would open hearts to reconciliation.  Our Lord had work yet to do, and we would be part of it. Amazing, indeed.

 

 

 

Mary Passions Trilogy, part 2: Mary anointing Jesus

 

The Mary Passions: part one, The Mother written by The Rev. Terri C. Pilarski with The Rev. Anne Wolf Fraley and The Rev. Kate Hennessy-Keimig

The Mary Passions were inspired by Terri C. Pilarski

Presented by Stephanie Mulkern at Christ Episcopal Church, Dearborn, MI on Maundy Thursday, April 13, 2017

So Mary rubbed his feet with perfume so precious that its sale might have fed a poor family for a year, an act so lavish that it suggests another layer to her prophecy. There will be nothing economical about this man’s death, just as there has been nothing economical about his life. In him, the extravagance of God’s love is made flesh. In him, the excessiveness of God’s mercy is made manifest.” – Barbara Brown Taylor

“The power and witness of Mary’s discipleship in this story is that she knows how to respond to Jesus without being told. She fullfills Jesus’ love commandment before he even teaches it (e.g., 13:34-35)…. She gives boldly of herself in love to Jesus at his hour, just as Jesus will give boldly of himself in love at his hour… http://gbgm-umc.org/UMW/jesusandwomen/marymartha.stm (Gail R. O’Day, “The Gospel of John: Introduction, Commentary, and Reflections,” The New Interpreter’s Bible, Vol. IX (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1995), p. 703)

I know what you think of me, even all these years later. Some of you know me as Mary of Bethany, sister of Martha and Lazarus. Yes. Jesus was our friend, my friend – and I was his friend. He knew me, the real me.

Others do not unnamed woman and one, named Luke, even said that I was sinful. Whatever. He never knew the real me, not like Jesus did.

It’s true, I care for  people that others would never touch. I help the poor women, even the Gentile women, give birth. I am a midwife and for that I am considered unclean. I help the dying and comfort them in their final hours with tinctures of herbs to soothe their anxiety and bring them peace. And because I tend to the beginning of life and the end of life, because I touch those that others never would, I am considered unclean, unworthy.

In Jesus, I recognized a kindred soul, another who sees deeply into the pain of this world and yearns to heal it with God’s love. Like Jesus, I seek to bring God’s healing love into the frightened lives of women in pain, of babies entering this world, of children dying, of the old taking their last breath. I bring comfort and love, not with my words, for I am a woman of few words, but with what I do. I listen, I watch, I care.

That night, that last night, I will never forget.

I was nearby and heard the noise from the dinner party. As a woman, I was not allowed in the room, unless I was willing to serve the food or dance for them. But my job was neither to feed nor entertain the men.

I am a student and Jesus is my teacher. I have sat at his feet many times while he taught us about God’s love. And, I am a healer.

Oh my, no! I did not want to go in there. I knew it would cause a stir. And I was tired. It had already been a long day of tending to a woman giving birth. I had with me my alabaster jar of nard. The fragrance always soothes those who are agitated and scared.

But, I knew that Jesus was in the room with them, eating and drinking.  I knew that things were going badly for him. I knew, I just knew, that he knew this too. The Roman soldiers were watching and following him. The chief priests kept a careful eye on him as well. Even his own friends were meeting secretly with government guards and spies. I personally saw Judas meet with a few of them, money exchanged hands. Judas was not to be trusted. I know him and his family, and his greed.

I knew that the end was coming and I was helpless to stop it. I’ve seen it happen before. First the tension mounts as the Roman soldiers apply pressure and then the chief priests decide it’s better for one man to die than it is for the entire temple to be destroyed. And so it goes. Someone is given over to be crucified; one person must die so the rest of us can live in peace—their idea of peace. The chief priests and scribes will do this. And Pilate and Herod and all the others will be placated for a time. I know this because I have been in all of their homes. I have cared for their family members. I am the one called whenever there is a need to care for the suffering. As a caretaker, I am trained to use my senses. I observe everything around me. I see and feel and hear things that are not intended for others to know. And so, of this, of their intent to cause Jesus’ death, I am certain.

And my heart, filled with this awareness, was breaking.

Jesus – who showed compassion to the most vulnerable. Jesus who worked side by side with me, and helped me remember that the work I do is God’s work, even if the people despised me for it. It was Jesus who pointed out our flaws and our idolatry and yet, loved us even more. Jesus – who brought my brother Lazarus back to life. Jesus – who loves everyone. Yes, he was the one they would reject.

I could do nothing to stop it. Money had exchanged hands. The deal was done. I’d warned Jesus, and he knew it too. But not even he would not change the course of these events. He would allow them to unfold as they must.

There was, however, one thing I could do. As one who cares for the dying I could go into that room and anoint him, who was to die, with my oil – my jar of nard.

My legs felt heavy, and although my walk was purposeful, it felt as though I were walking through water. Those few steps to Jesus, my beloved friend, took a lifetime to walk.

I collapsed on the floor before him and took those weary feet into my hands. Dusty and calloused – marked from three long years of walking – I gently held those feet in my warm hands and kissed them. I took one foot and rubbed it clean, massaging the nard into the tired muscles. And then I cared for the other foot. Tears ran down my face. Tears fell on his feet. I could not stop myself! I bathed him in tears and nard.

And then I realized I had no towel to wipe his feet, soaked as they were, in my tears.

My hair would have to do. I uncoiled it from my head and let its length fall to the floor. And I used my hair to wipe his feet and dry my tears.

I knew the others were talking. I could hear the gasps and the guffaws, the men chiding me and calling me names. I heard Judas (that fool!), suggest that MY nard should have been sold and the money given to the poor. Judas, who would have kept the money for himself, had the nerve to suggest that I was being greedy.

Later,  I would stand by as Jesus washed the feet of his friends. Just a few short hours before it was all to end and here he was loving them, the very ones who would turn their backs on him and deny they knew him.

But for now, I was going to give him all the love I had in my heart.

Quietly Jesus spoke. And I knew that he understood everything. He knew how deep my love for him was. He knew how deep my love for God is, a depth of love that mirrored his own. And that was enough. It was enough to know that love conquers everything.

Even death.