News from AllianceQ: April 2020
Stones, flower petals + new life: Reflections from the EDM
We are a hopeful people and hope is found and lived out and lived into across a spectrum. Somewhere on the spectrum: a patient, gentle hope. On the same spectrum: earnest, fierce hope. And the faith, hope and love of one another. On grey days I find hope and light from my kids or spouse.
There are days when my wife and I both feel grey. On those days the kids are obnoxious, of course. They’re whiny or especially needy. They’re not listening—not understanding I don’t have the space for scribbles on the wall or shoes in the toilet or constant needs. Somewhere I saw this:
Do they really need to eat every day, three times a day? I can’t. I. just. can’t.
I can eat all day. I’m eating while I work. In recent days I’ve offered ice cream cones at 10 a.m., and I’ve eaten peanut butter chocolate cheesecake for brunch (it was breakfast, brunch just sounds better.)
I have colorful language for the difficult days. Colorful under-my-breath language of course. The other day our two-year-old said, “oh, crap!” I know. I should be ashamed. She’s behind; she hasn’t yet learned the more distinguished, “sh!t” or …
I’ve mostly had grey days or mixed up days. I borrow the theological profundity from Dr. Seuss.
In a given day I appreciate the yellow sunlight and the pink flowers and the blue sky—and the purple pen marks on my ivory-colored table?
With gratitude for the creativity of Alysha Laperche and the diverse, beautiful voices of AllianceQ members and friends whom you will hear, I invite you to look at the world and engage with the world through a new lens, through color. I invite you to hope in color with us in the coming days and weeks. Colors of Hope is an eight-week series that features thought-provoking and reflection-oriented inspirational messages and practices. In light of the COVID-19 pandemic and life’s ongoing challenges, with a surge of digital content and an increase in screen time, Colors of Hope invites us to experience the divine and all of creation through refreshing practices that require little or no online activity. What does hope look like in our changing landscape? What color is hope?
I hope you participate. I hope you’ll be encouraged and challenged. We’re Easter people and I suspect hoping in color will help us live and love well. It will connect us as AllianceQ (AllQ) embraces all the colors. Even grey.
Speaking of all the colors, have you seen or read the Easter story in color? At this link you’ll find “Telling the Easter Story in Color.” You’ll need different colored streamers—or socks or bandannas, strips of cloth or pieces of paper.
Last Easter I was able to preach and facilitate a colorful reading of the Easter narrative. In addition to the many colored streamers, each worshiper had a stone and flower petal.
Before your read further: find a stone and flower petal.
Really. Find a stone and flower petal.
Now let us pray:
Life-giving God, may we listen for and look for something new. May we see the risen one among us. May the Easter story come alive for us. May simple things like stones and flower petals remind us of your presence and the Easter promise that there will be new life where there was not life before. Amen.
“Telling the Easter Story in Color” is an adaptation of the gospel accounts. In the gospel accounts no one’s expectations match reality. I want to quote here a Lutheran pastor, Nadia Bolz-Weber, who I think has good stuff, honest and fun stuff, to say about expectations and reality. Bolz-Weber says,
“I’ve often wondered what people… think when they actually read the story of Jesus rising from the dead… There’s simply no way the story could adhere to their expectations. I imagine them reading and re-reading it, shocked that they can’t find a single mention of bunnies or rabbits or painted eggs or white sales at Macy’s. Because let’s be honest, that is what our culture thinks Easter is about. Easter in America is really just an excuse to eat chocolate and buy new bedding, and each year we pretend that we can’t really just eat chocolate and buy new bedding whenever we want, which I think is so adorable of us. But honestly the church’s presentation of Easter isn’t less odd. For many churches Easter is another word for “church show off day” — when we spiffy up the building and pull out the lilies and hire a brass quintet and put on fabulous hats and do whatever we have do to impress visitors. It’s kind of like the church’s version of putting out the guest towels. And don’t get me wrong, I love chocolate and I love fancy music … if I could possibly listen to the Hallelujah Chorus while eating a Cadbury Egg, I’d be in heaven…”
I’d be in heaven, too. She continues:
“This all has very little to do with the actual gospel story because the gospel story is not fancy; it’s downright messy. See, Easter in the Bible may be the greatest story ever told. It’s just not the story we usually choose to tell, because it’s not a story about new dresses and baskets and flowers and candy and spiffyness. Really, it’s a story about flesh and dirt and bodies and confusion, and it’s about the way God never seems to adhere to our expectations.”
God never seems to adhere to our expectations…and we find ourselves this Easter facing the unexpected.
Mary and the others, they came to the tomb expecting to find the dead, because that is the function of tombs: to house the dead.
The women and other disciples know tombs. They are sites of memory (literally “a sign of remembrance”, mnema) NEEMUH, a way of keeping those who have died physically present in time and space and place. Tombs are sites of remembering. They evoke stories, another powerful way of keeping those who have died present in our lives. In the gospel of John, the story says the stone had been removed from the tomb.
Mary ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.”
Then Peter and the other disciple set out and went toward the tomb. The two were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. He bent down to look in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, and the cloth that had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen wrappings but rolled up in a place by itself. Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; for as yet they did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead. Then the disciples returned to their homes.
But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet. They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” When she said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that is was Jesus. Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rabbouni!” (which means Teacher). Jesus said to her, “Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, “I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.”
Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have the seen the Lord,” and she told them that he had said these things to her. John chapter 20
The tomb prompts two memories for me. Both have something to do with new life where there was not life before. They are places where I have seen the Lord…
Two years ago, on a Sunday morning when I was to be in worship with my church family, I awoke to a message that my mother, in Iowa, had suffered a blood brain stroke. In the early hours, we didn’t know what had happened. In disbelief and in fear of what the outcome would be, I found myself waiting at the airport, hoping a seat on a flight back home would open so I could get there before we lost my mom. Like you know the outcome of the Easter story, some of you know the outcome of my mom’s story. We didn’t lose her. Eight weeks after her stroke she was with us in the church building’s sanctuary to celebrate my daughter’s dedication.
Really smart people, some of the best neurologists and doctors, they did not have an explanation for why my mom suffered the stroke, nor why she survived with no permanent damage.
The mechanics of it all, why it happened, how it happened, that’s less important for my family. What’s important is the new life she found when we did not expect there to be life at all.
Really smart people, some of the best theologians and preachers, they don’t have an explanation for the mechanics of Jesus’ resurrection. Who rolled away the stone? How can this be? How it happened is less important for me. What’s important is the new life we find.
Frederick Beck says, “The stone at the tomb of Jesus was a pebble to the Rock of Ages inside.”
The stone at the tomb of Jesus was a pebble to the Rock of Ages inside.
Perhaps this Easter you are trying to understand why or how… you are finding stones, large or small, in your way. A door has closed. A loved one has died. A relationship has ended. You are or someone you love is sick. You’re unsettled in your work. There’s discord in your family. >> COVID-19!!!<<
Let your stone be a physical reminder of God’s Easter promise that the stone will be rolled away. There will be new life beyond this stone. The stone is but a pebble to the Rock of Ages. Keep your stone. Or toss your stone out the car window (but not at anyone else’s window). Throw it in a stream, place it under a tree.
Speaking of trees, a second story in which I have seen the Lord.
This was several years ago… several springs ago…
My son Tommy gasped loudly and dramatically. The gasp shocked me; we were sitting on the couch watching his bedtime movie, although it was 6:30, hardly anyone’s bedtime. I turned behind me to see what had Tommy gasping in awe. He’s pointing out the window and he signs to me: flower. Then he signs again: pink. Pink flowers! The winter days had lingered that spring and I had not noticed—or slowed down enough to choose to notice—that spring was springing.
The tree in the front yard suddenly had pink flowers. It was beautiful. It was refreshing. There’s life after winter! New life does come! My bundle of wonderful chaos—that would be Tommy—he noticed all this, and he reminded me.
“Yes, buddy, the tree has pink flowers,” I said and signed. (My son is mostly nonverbal and on the autism spectrum. By the way, April is Autism Awareness Month.)
The flowers disappeared, green leaves taking their place. I don’t know what kind of tree it was, besides holy—obviously.
This spring, Tommy’s little sister Josephine pensively picked pink flowers in our front yard. Like her brother, like many children, she gasped and oohed and ahhed at the beauty of the flowers. She noticed new life where it had not been before.
What a beautiful cycle. The seasons, yes. Also, my children.
Flowers move us from the death of winter to the life of spring. In the flowers, and in the joy and awe and appreciation of my children, I have seen the Lord. Keep your flower petal. Or give it away. May it remind you of new life.
Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have the seen the Lord,” and she told them that he had said these things to her.
Understanding comes through proclamation. Telling others the good news deepens its reality in ourselves. Friends, have you seen the Lord? Go and tell others! If you’ve seen the Lord, GO, like Mary, and tell others. (But keep your distance. Be responsible. Stay safe and healthy.)
If an encounter doesn’t come to mind, keep in mind the risen Lord may not match your expectations. Where are you looking?
Are you willing to hope in color with AllianceQ? Engage in the Colors of Hope series alongside us. We will individually and collectively hope in color. We’ll find and shape new life.
Where love lives, there is the risen, living Lord. This isn’t what we expected. And it’s certainly stripped of the spiffiness we expect at Eastertime.
From Nadia Bolz-Weber: “I like to think that Mary mistook the resurrected Christ for a gardener because Jesus still had the dirt from his own tomb under his nails.”
May we get our hands dirty sharing God’s love, a love that overcomes even death. A love that overcomes COVID-19. May we reshape systems; may we invest in practices that build up the kin-dom of God. May we trust in the Rock of Ages, paying attention to the ways God’s love is resurrected all around us. Perhaps where we least expect, we will see the Lord. Perhaps there is hope in color. Amen.
Portions of this piece originally from an Easter sermon, April 21, 2019, “Have you seen the Lord?”