Easter Reflection

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By Holy Trinity parishioner Ryan Bonner. Check out more of his writing and his originial music at www.ryanbonner.net.

This has been a frustrating season. My expectations for how this all was supposed to go have been torpedoed and left to sink. Where I have desired peace, I have found busyness, where I have sought quiet, I have found noise. Not music--noise. I have come to my favorite time of year distracted, harried, and unable to tune out the self-conscious voice in my head that seems to shout whenever someone else is saying something I know in my soul I need to hear. 

Lent never used to be so important to me; for most of my life, I saw it as merely a curiosity at best. As I understood it, it was a time to give up something enjoyable but trivial, to talk about what you've given up and wait for the silly, faux-impressed "oooooohh"s from your friends. Now, I look forward to it. I look for the hardness of a thing given up, and I keep it for myself. I don't talk about what I am leaving behind for Lent--I don't want praise from others, and I certainly don't want to trivialize the practice of retreat from custom for the sake of drawing nearer to God. So I give up, and this year I found in the strangest way that I am selfish for Lent.

I had high hopes for this Lenten season. I had my plans and my expectations, and as I mentioned before, we see how far those went. I hoped that in the giving up, I would be reminded of my need for God, and in recognizing that need, I would draw nearer, feel closer, and have more clarity on my seemingly endless, restless questions. What I have learned is that when you leave a void in something, it creates a vacuum--and something else will inevitably be sucked in to fill the void, usually whatever is closest at hand. So far from drawing closer to God, it has felt as though the emptiness has created a magnet, making whatever I walk by stick to me and thwarting my imagined pious serenity. Far from sensing the coming of the Kingdom, I have felt as if life has been a constant game of whack-a-mole, with each round more frenzied and frustrated than the last. The result has been that rather than giving something away to be filled by the Spirit, I have simply felt empty, regardless of what I threw into the void.

Maundy Thursday I listened to the story of the Last Supper from John's Gospel and wondered how I could ever relate adequately to what I was hearing--when I could not make good use of a few weeks specifically meant to be set aside for growing in discipleship, how could I ever claim to have laid my life down, as the disciples did at Jesus' calling? 

Yet as I find a few quiet moments on Good Friday, remembering the larger context of their story, I find hope--cautious hope, but hope nonetheless. I must preface this with two thoughts: first, I do not want to haughtily suggest that there is any inherent virtue in finding a commonality with Jesus' best friends--our commonalities are the weaknesses for which Jesus reproached them. Second, I also do not want to suggest that sharing their weaknesses increases the likelihood of sharing in their redemption and glory. And yet there is the stubborn hope. The disciples had expectations. They wanted to see God's glory, and they knew Jesus would be the man to show it to them. They acknowledged him as King, the Anointed One, and spoke of following him to death. They had a picture in their mind of how that might look, and I find no reason to doubt that they meant every word. But the King they imagined Jesus to be looked more like Shakespeare's Henry V at Agincourt, and the death they envisioned dying at his side a glorious, rather than humble, shameful thing. 

So it must have been frustrating to see Jesus handing himself over to the authorities without raising an objection. It certainly seems frustrating enough that Peter felt it appropriate to draw his sword and relieve one of Jesus' captors of an ear--which again drew a rebuke from Jesus. Still, there was hope it could be as they thought it was. Jesus might be flogged, but as long as they were shrewd, the thing might be salvaged. Maybe that was what Peter was thinking in denying Jesus--it was no good to have him and Jesus both imprisoned; then he could do nothing to intervene. But that was the point the whole time, and all the disciples missed it. There was not going to be any intervention, no gallows rescue. And along with Jesus, all the disciples' expectations were nailed to a Roman cross--a common place for hopes and expectations to die. 

I have known such a feeling before, if only in the smallest of ways--the feeling of watching the death of the last shred of your hopes that something, somehow would be as you thought it was or should be. I've felt the march into the unknown, the numbness of confusion at how things could turn out as they have. I have felt the alienness of each moment when all the signposts of what you thought was reality have disappeared behind you in the distance. I have no idea if that is what the disciples felt on Friday and Saturday. How does one properly mourn in that situation? To lose something is one thing, but to lose the source of your hopes and expectations--then reality itself becomes unmoored, and with it the ability to even measure the relative goodness or badness of anything. Perhaps that's the reason for the numbness. 

But then something strange happened to the disciples. In the middle of their confusion, their pain, and their readjustment to the awful new reality, their hopes were created anew--not merely revived, but completely transformed at learning of Jesus' resurrection, and doubly so in seeing Him. Everything they had hoped for in Jesus with the expectation that the world was going to be forever changed was confirmed in a way so incomprehensible to them that even when Jesus had explicitly told them about it, they could not conceive it. They had to experience it to understand what it meant. But in the experience of Jesus' resurrection, not only were their hopes confirmed, all of their experiences with Jesus, even their whole conception of history and humanity suddenly fell into place and had cohesive meaning. What once had been nothing more than broken bottles became a mosaic. 

I'm not there yet. There is still much that doesn't make sense, and many ways in which my experience of reality is bound up in Saturday. But I know that Sunday's coming--there's that stubborn hope again. I was selfish for Lent, but the Easter Triduum is teaching me that my foolish hopes and expectations must die as well. Maybe I did learn something new in Lent--maybe in a strange way I do feel closer to God--but it's in spite of my 'best' efforts, rather than because of them. And maybe that makes all the frustration of this past season make sense. Maybe those broken pieces are beginning to come together to form something beautiful, and just in time to catch the Sunday morning sunrise. 

 

Lenten Reflection - Lent, to Begin With

by Shawn Bailey

I am still an infant of Lenten practice and understanding. I have glimpses of how impactful it can be. I have certain flashes of insight. I have fledgling yearnings for more. I am not where I want to be, but I am not remorseful about it; I am expectant. I no longer feel guilty for not achieving a certain level of experience; I let the longing for it, be enough. The beauty of Lent is that it always comes around again. It is a rhythm that becomes a song, and the more you sing it, the richer the tune. It is both an old song and a new song. The melody gets stuck. Ingrained. More and more familiar until it is more part of you than you realize. This is what matters most.

            This is transformation. This is conversion.

For the first few years, I walked through the season with very little connection to anything that felt substantive. Piano lessons are like that. You just play the notes and runs over and over. There is no sense to it for some time, and it is not that much fun. Then, it all comes together and you cannot tear yourself away from the beauty of it. At least, that is how it was for me, a Christian who started learning about Lent later in life. Before that, Easter morning was my song, and it was enough; it was all I wanted. And then, it wasn’t.

With each passing year, I am more drawn in, more desirous of entering Lent as a “set-up” for the coming seasons in the church calendar. As I examine my soul, and seek to set aside all that hinders me, I deepen down. I go for the dross and ask for wisdom in the clean-up. It is not always an easy process, but it is easy to look forward to being cleansed, refreshed, and renewed. I want to walk into my Allelujahs authentically on Easter morning, the true beginning of the New Year for believers.

Preparation is key. It cannot be skipped and cannot be hurried. Most importantly, you cannot enter Lent until you establish the need for a beginning, no matter how shaky. Most agree that such a beginning involves the decision of what to give up so as to create enough interior space for change. In so doing, I would like to offer the following for your consideration:

            What a person gives up is not the same for everyone, and there is no top epitome of sacrifice.

The Lenten practice of giving something up for a time is not a contest, or a quest for spiritual superiority. There is no ranking of importance. Early on, I thought I needed to seek out the most spiritual person I knew and try to guess—then match—their sacrificial choice. There is no significance in choosing what others have chosen. It may not be the thing you need, and therefore, is not as meaningful to your ongoing conversion as it could be.

            What you give up may not be a physical thing…or a device.

The truth is, we could all benefit with time away from social media, and many may be specifically asked to lay it aside for Lent, or to lay it aside during certain hours. On the other hand, it is good to consider other or additional ways of giving up. It might not be something obvious. For instance, what would it look like to give up a bitterness felt towards a certain person? What would happen if you set aside self-absorption or self-pity? Or, would you willingly show a kindness to someone you actually do not like at all? Sure, some of these things may come up while on the Lenten journey, but why not commit to something like this at the outset through sheer will and determination and see where it leads, or how it deepens throughout the season?

            If you still don’t know what to give up, don’t give up.

Really, there is no rush. We try and scramble to come up with just the right thing, and think we need to know what it is on Day 1. If you still don’t know, please relax. It is more important to be seeking than to be organized. Keep asking. God is faithful. He will show you. This is a collective journey with the universal church, sure, but it is profoundly individual, as well.

            Before you give up the wrong or lesser thing (for you), spend some time listening. 

The point of Lent is for spiritual growth. Choosing what to give up or what to take in is not arbitrary. It is to be Spirit led. Honestly, it seems impossible to know what God is saying to you unless there is some form of contemplation taking place--some time taken for complete quietude with the intent and desire to hear from God. When we are soulfully in a posture of prayer and have an affinity for paying attention, we will hear His still, small voice.

Above all, know that the focus of Lent is not totally about what you are giving up, but ultimately about what you will be gaining as you pursue Christ. Lent is about making space for the new thing. The truest thing.

            Keep listening. Keeping stepping in to the rhythm of Lent and your heart will find the song most worth singing.

 

 

Lenten Reflection - The Good of Giving Up

When I am on a flight that is preparing for takeoff, I quietly defy the command to switch my electronic devices to airplane mode. Honestly, I chafe at this federal regulation. The plane will work just fine even if I send a few texts, right? I do not like airplane mode because it cuts me off from the stimulants and freedoms that I feel I need. It forces me to have an actual conversation with the person sitting next to me.

When God calls His people into the wilderness, He puts their whole existence on airplane mode. I resist this, and so might you. It means feeling out of control and out of the loop. Our go-to stimulants and stories are no longer on tap. We can no longer anesthetize our emotions. We can no longer avoid a conversation with our Father. It might feel like a restrictive punishment, but it’s actually a heavenly gift. Lent is indeed a wilderness, and there are several reasons why we can and should enter it.

We enter the wilderness of Lent because the gospel is true. We do not go into the wilderness to find God. We enter the wilderness because God has found us. He has delivered us, blessed us, and called us His own. The desolation and quiet gives us space to ponder the great salvation we have already witnessed. Even our struggles and failures in the wilderness teach us the truth of the gospel.

Taken from The Good of Giving Up: Discovering the Freedom of Lent by Aaron Damiani (©2017). Published by Moody Publishers. Used by permission.

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Lenten Reflection: Lent and thankfulness - Pondering a Life-giving Miracle

By Jamey Cook

 Jamey and her dog Russell (the one with the cute red doggy shoes).

Jamey and her dog Russell (the one with the cute red doggy shoes).

This season of Lent is an opportunity to challenge ourselves to rekindle our hearts to see, and be thankful for, all that Christ has done for us. As Fr. David preached on the fourth Sunday of Epiphany, God works through grace, not fairness, which also means that resilience can blossom out of ordinary experience.  This year, as happens frequently, my birthday, Valentine’s Day, is also Ash Wednesday. I could call this a “miracle day,” because I was born 3 months prematurely, and only weighed 2 lbs 14 oz. I fought for my life, with God’s help, while in
the NICU for 68 days. When I was discharged home, I was still tiny and vulnerable, and didn’t sleep through the night until I was over a year old.

While hospitalized, the nurses grasped my heels firmly, so they could prick them for blood tests. This had to be done often, and I now have a pattern of distinctive scarring. When I was about 9, doctors discovered my feet were very flat, so every year I obtain custom-fitted supports for them. As I break in a new pair, I remember through the initial discomfort that God has allowed me the ability to walk. While  a teenager and young adult, I learned to live with other less visible health annoyances, some of which I only fully understood about five years ago, but even in the toughest of times, I know God is always there. 

Every Lent, my feet provide me  a tangible reminder of my life’s journey. Ash Wednesday, I humbly approach, knowing that God performed a miracle by saving my life, and that none of us know how long our days will be on this earth. Every Maunday Thursday, I am wowed all
over again, when I place my battered and scarred feet into the basin to be washed with life-giving water, and remember the institution of the Eucharist, a meal with which all Christians are fed. Flaws and all, Christ extends His radical hospitality to us. I am reminded that Christ, our victorious king in the fight, gave His all that we might live.

Lent reminds us that Jesus was tempted as we are, yet without sin. We may never fully grasp in this life the meaning of being baptized with Him in His death, and raised with Him in glory, yet every year, we are given the opportunity to look into this marvel more deeply. So as human nature tries to take over, with Satan’s temptations looming and distractions buffetting us even in prayer, be encouraged, because Christ loves you just as you are, and wants you to grow in your knowledge of Him. Soon, Easter joy will commemorate the greatest victory won in the history of the world. 

Lenten Reflection: Some Things I Want You To Know About Lent

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Dear Holy Trinity Family,

This Sunday will be the First Sunday in Lent. As I said on Ash Wednesday, I need the season of Lent. God has consistently used it to form my faith in Jesus Christ for many years. I believe the same can happen for you this year, because the Lord is delighted when we return to him, rending our hearts not our garments (Joel 2:13). Therefore, I am writing to help you think rightly about this season and to give you some helpful resources. 

First, you need to know, in case you don’t, the word Lent is rooted in the Anglo-Saxon word lectentid, which literally means “springtide.” It was also the word for “March,” the month in which the majority of Lent falls.

Why do you need to know that? Because Lent ought not be a cold, dark, lifeless, winter of a season for you. But rather a spring for your soul, where darkness is giving way to light and death is being overcome by renewal of life. As we look out onto the beauty of Creation, we see winter giving way to spring, darkness to light, and dormancy to fresh, new growth. By the grace of God, may the same be happening in our souls these forty days.

I bring this to light (pun intended) because I worry about what you might do with Lent. Or, worse, what you might let Lent do with you. This is not a time for self-inflicted agony. This not a time for overly anxious introspection. Nor is this a time for pietistic self-sacrifice which, if we’re honest, is often only self-centered, pseudo-sacrifice (as in, fasting to get closer to God but wouldn’t it be great to drop a few pounds in time for summer!).

The purpose of Lent is not to obligate you to such things. The purpose of Lent is to soften your hearts that they might be awakened to their hunger and thirst for union with God.

Bright sadness are the words theologian Alexander Schmemann used to describe it. There is a bright sadness in the air during Lent. The music will reflect the somber themes of the season. The Alleluias have all been put away until Easter.

This is the time for purification from our sad sins, yes. But it also a time for enlightenment. It is a time to battle the devil, yes. But we do so in order for the fruits of the Holy Spirit to blossom into a spring-time for our souls.

While we lament our sins that cut us off from God we are not to grieve as those without hope because we know it was through our Lord's death and resurrection that he secured the forgiveness of our sins and the hope of eternal life.

Thus, the bright sadness of Lent seeks to help us feel like death row inmates whose liberation draws near, forlorn refugees returning home, or the terminally ill for whom the cure is working. Whatever sadness we feel is brightened by the glory that is being revealed in us — even now! — by our Lord Jesus Christ.

To encourage you this Lent, here are some resources you may find helpful:

I am praying with you and for you, Holy Trinity. May these great and saving forty days of Lent be used of God to soften our hearts and make us more like Jesus.

O Lord of our lives, take from us the spirit of sloth, despair, lust of power, and idle talk and give us the spirit of chastity, humility, patience and love. In the Name of Christ. Amen.  
 
Yours in Christ,
David+

The Transfiguration

by Ryan Grove

"And after six days Jesus took with him Peter and James, and John his brother, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became white as light. And behold, there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him. And Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good that we are here. If you wish, I will make three tents here, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah.”He was still speaking when, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.” When the disciples heard this, they fell on their faces and were terrified. But Jesus came and touched them, saying, “Rise, and have no fear.” And when they lifted up their eyes, they saw no one but Jesus only." Matthew 17:1-8

I grew up camping. A couple times a year, we would break out the sleeping bags and tents, the coolers, the folding chairs, and head into the Colorado mountains to live outside for a few days, on purpose. There is something comforting about falling asleep in a tent, something reassuring. The smallness and the closeness of the walls. The trapped heat of a sleeping bag on a cold night. The wind and rain buffeting the nylon, creating a wash of quiet sounds. 

When I was 15, I went backpacking with the youth group. We started our trek at about 12,000 feet, and ended up camping at 12,800 feet. The air was thin and cold, even in June. Above timber line, the vegetation was sparse. As the sun set, the stars came out, and absolutely blew us away. More stars than I had ever seen, or have seen since. The sky was cloudy with clusters of galaxies and nebulas, and bright with the swirls of the milky way and pinpricks of constellations. 

My youth pastor asked if we would like to forgo tents and sleep under the stars, and I was the only person to volunteer. So the two of us slept out under the stars. As our tiny bodies perched under the infinite expanse of space, a fear crept into my mind. Not something tangible, or even conscious. Something deeper, and more profound. The wind froze my naked face, and one hundred billion (100,000,000,000) galaxies, each filled with one hundred billion stars, loomed above, pressing me down into the rock. The brutal insignificance of my life clicked into cold focus. The unavoidable vulnerability of human life unrolled before my eyes. And in that moment, I understood why people prefer to sleep in tents. 

 The Transfiguration, Raphael 

The Transfiguration, Raphael 

Peter discovers a similar revelation as he watches Jesus scale up a mountain in Matthew 17. Peter watches, as Jesus begins to glow and shine, and Jesus' robes are transformed into a blinding, brilliant white. As the space around Jesus begins to reflect his glory, time also starts to get weird. Moses, and Elijah, men dead a thousand years, shimmer and appear next to Jesus. Not ghosts, or spirits, or apparitions, but men with flesh and bones.

The transfiguration. A moment that reveals the majesty of Jesus' divinity. And Peter witnesses it all, and is faced with his own vulnerability. It is one thing to proclaim that Jesus is God, and it is another thing entirely to see that Jesus is God. Like me, attempting to sleep while staring up and into the infinity of space, Peter decides that he would prefer the safety of a tent. This is all a little much. And so he offers to make Jesus a tent, a tabernacle. A place where Jesus can be worshiped, adored, but also contextualized and contained. Peter would prefer Jesus stay small, confined, and remain knowable, relatable. If Peter can keep Jesus in a tent, away on a mountaintop, he is free from the existential crisis, free from the reality that he is teeny tiny, and Jesus is infinite, free from his own mortality and immorality, free from the life changing, world shattering, knowledge that he stands in the presence of the God that makes presence possible. If Peter can put Jesus in a tent, then Peter can remain unchanged, safe, and the center of his own existence.  

 The Transfiguration, Tony Ashton

The Transfiguration, Tony Ashton

When I first started to attend youth group, sometime during my freshman year of high school, I brought my iPod and headphones. One of the other kids asked what I was listening to, and with pride and no sense of irony whatsoever, I said something obscure and edgy. He looked at me with a flick of his bangs, and he asked, "Oh...is that secular?" Merriam Webster defines secular as "of or relating to the worldly." A neat trick we have to draw a line between what is considered 'religious' and what is considered 'not religious', or secular. A slight of hand that attempts to place God, and religion, and all that other junk neatly in a tent, that we can walk away from, that we can distance ourselves from. Life is a lot easier, and less vulnerable, when we know exactly what is 'Christian' and what is not, when we know exactly where God is at work, and more importantly, where God is not at work. Life is simpler when we keep our God on the mountain, where we can worship him, and adore him, and contain him; and also keep certain things down in the valley, unchanged and hidden, keep some things secular. 

Jesus does not respond to Peter's question, and instead, a thunderous voice calls down from the heavens, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.” Peter realizes his mistake: the glory of Jesus Christ will not fit in a tent. Peter falls on his face, in terror and awe, and categories begin to collapse in his mind. This God is not just the God of the Jews, this is the God of all space and all time. This man is not just a prophet, he is the Son of God, king of all kings. There is no place, or time, or person that exists beyond his rule. Every scrap of space, every forgotten second, every star and every galaxy, sits at the foot of Jesus' throne. He will not be contained, or controlled, or kept on a mountain. This man molded the stars with his palms, and drew the ocean's boundaries with a finger tip. This man inhales and exhales life into the universe, and he will not reside in a tent. And as Peter lays with his face in the dirt, in terror for his life and for his soul, Jesus walks over, bends down and places a hand on his back. “Rise, and have no fear." In the midst of the power, and might, and glory of God, and as space and time bend to his will and proclaim his divinity, Jesus, at the center of it all, comforts Peter. Even though Peter is small, and vulnerable, and scared, Jesus loves him, and bends down to stroke his back. 

 Eastern Icon

Eastern Icon

And that is the power of the transfiguration. As big, as it is small, and as mighty, as it is humble, the moment of transfiguration slices through our futile attempts to keep Jesus out, or to keep him in. We cannot hide, and cannot hide from him. There is nowhere that Jesus is not in control. There is no room for God's absence. From each of the 100 billion galaxies to the individual hairs on your head, Jesus is king. In Jesus' incredible power, and in Jesus' hallowing and self-giving love, he proclaims and claims all things for his name and for his kingdom.  All things are his, and to him all things will turn, on heaven and on earth, both seen and unseen, for ever and ever. Amen.  

    

Letter to Parents

by Lisa McCowen

Dear Parents,

Summer is here!  In the liturgical year, we find ourselves in Ordinary Time, a season for reflection on the extraordinary things God has done and is doing through Jesus Christ. The liturgical color is a verdant green, reminding us this is a season for growth!  We’ve collected some resources to assist you and your family to that end for the summer and beyond. 

  • We have compiled verses for memory and meditation taken from the appointed Gospel readings each week.  These are verses to take home, post on the fridge, talk about, think about, act out, write out, illustrate, hide in our hearts.

  • Given busy summer schedules and to give our hardworking Children’s Chapel volunteers a break, we will not have children’s chapel during July and the first 2 weeks of August.  We will have busy clipboards available during that time and a Weekly Children’s bulletin which includes Gospel related activities, the Gospel text, and space with the following prompt: You can draw here, record your thoughts about the Gospel text, write a poem or words & phrases you hear from the sermon.  What do you learn about God?  About yourself?

  • As children worship with us, there are increased parenting challenges and opportunities.  Here is a summary of some helpful thoughts about how to engage our children in worship from Robbie Castleman’s book, Parenting in the Pew.  (I don’t agree with all of her methodology, but I definitely share her value of helping children to become worshippers.)

Grace and peace to you in this season of Ordinary Time,

Lisa

A Long Lament (in a certain direction)

by Shawn Bailey

And the Lord will guide you continually and satisfy your desire in scorched places and make your bones strong; and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters do not fail.
(Isaiah 58:11)

 Photo by Shawn Bailey

Photo by Shawn Bailey

A Long Lament (in a certain direction)
by Shawn Bailey
 
Crushed into sorrow, our pestle-ated
souls alter into a state
unfamiliar--not anywhere close
to the dreams we were dreaming
in the beginning. 
Even the mortar is
cracking with a plea to
 
make it stop. 
 
The lamenting is lasting
long past a reasonable
threshold. God should know
how much is too much. Perhaps he is napping. 
Or getting too old to remember about
 
checking in. 
 
We cry for the loss.
We cry for the long-ness of the loss. 
We cry for the long-ness of loss-after-loss. 
We cry that we
 
cannot stop crying. 
 
The drip-dropping tears are landing in
all the wrong places. Not in the rivers where
we will be refreshed. Not in the pool where
we can be soothed away from the blazing heat. No, 
the tears just fall out of dried-up sockets and
 
and land on cement. 
 
Nothing gives. Nothing is well. No horizon worthy enough to
keep on going; not a single thing to inspire one more step into hope. 
And so we languish, bewildered and weak: forlorn and bedraggled. There is
nothing more, but to wait for it to be done. But then, relief
 
is just a dream.
 
What we wanted is gone now, but our lips
cannot say good-bye--at least not all the way.
Our hearts still dare to speak with longings that
sound a little crazy, so they stay silent within us. 
 
And it is lonely in there. 
 
We keep doing the next thing until the next thing
is the last thing we want to do. It seems to make more
sense to go ahead and let it be the last thing. Succumbing
wants to trump over plodding. Plodding along is heavy work, 
 
getting nowhere fast. 

 
Until those three minutes happen while you are plodding along
in the same oblivious fashion as usual (since the terrible thing), 
and something soft captures you. The crushing pestle has
left some pliable powder, sifted a bit—
 
ready to turn into something.
 

Like peace. Just for a little while. The first time it happens, you
feel a little guilty, thinking yourself disloyal not to be grieving every beating second. 
So, you head back to the sorrowing spot where it has been comfortable, familiar. 
But a few days later, it happens again, but this time, it lasts a little longer. You can’t help it. It’s just there. 
 
You can be sure all those tears had something to do with it. 
 
Jesus weeps too--every time we do--in enough welcoming places to
fashion a steam of water, with just enough refreshment. Weeping waters, though anguishing, do not dissolve into nothing.  Collected by Jesus, they are held as precious, pregnant with drops of love and comfort. Pure sacramental restoration, 
 
beginning as a drip and graduating to dousing.  
 
Sounds heretical, borderline unkind, to talk like this while the gone thing
is still causing so much havoc in our souls, but it is the story of God in our lives. 
God has this insatiable habit of highlighting the beautiful side of ugly. It is uncommonly common—a distinguishing marker of our set-apartness. The mysterious
 
reality of all things sacredly astonishing.
 

Believe this only a little bit? Just a smidgen? That’s enough. The lamenting is long. 
There is time for it to bear the most luscious of all fruit. Until then, just enough is more than enough where there already seems to be nothing. 
 
Unrelenting, 
 
Jesus turns nothing into something. 
Something like breathing again. 
Something like life. 
 
Something like hope.

 Photo by Shawn Bailey

Photo by Shawn Bailey

The Ascension

 Ascension Lutheran Church at East Lansing

Ascension Lutheran Church at East Lansing

by Ryan Grove

When I was little, someone gave me a picture book about angels. In the story, a young boy dies tragically of an illness. His spirit rises up out of his body, and is quickly carried away, through the ceiling and into the sky. He arrives in the clouds, and looking around, he sees a bunch of people dressed in white, lounging around. The place is spotless, brilliant white, and the people are all stunning in their beauty. They all have great big bird wings, and a few inches above each of their heads, hangs a bright circlet  gold. The boy reaches for his back, and above his head, and is dismayed to realize he has no wings, and is lacking a halo. For the rest of the story, he explores the celestial sphere seeking his due angelic accouterments.

This story captivated me. It grabbed my small mind and dug its way deep in there. For years, this was my image of heaven. This was my vision of the kingdom. Clouds against the bluest sky, angels and wings and halos. Possibly endearing, definitely bogus, and certainly heretical, this book, and others like it, shaped my imagination. It wove its net around how I thought about this world, and the world to come.

And when I first read about the Ascension, it was into this net that I placed the story. Luke tells us that “While he blessed them, he parted from them and was carried up into heaven.” I know exactly what that means. Jesus’ spirit rises up, just like that little boy’s, and he flies upwards and into the clouds. Heaven. Life after death. Hope.

But as I grew older, and more critical, and as I experienced loss, and death, and brokenness, that net began to weaken, and crumble. The hope of one day lounging on clouds flickered and faded. My reason and logic kicked in and I quickly jettisoned the entire thing, along with any other hokey junk that was tied up with it, including Jesus. Whoever gave me that book had the best intentions, but inadvertently ended up placing heaven, and God, and Jesus in the same realm with Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny, nice stories we tell children to help them sleep.

While I rejected that vision of heaven, I never realized how deeply that story, and others like it, embedded their way into my imagination. Ideas about the depravity of flesh, and the purity of spirit. Ideas about where to locate my identity. Ideas about the shamefulness of human bodies. These stories teach us that we are not the fleshy husks we are forced to inhabit, that we are prisoners in our own skin, and true freedom, true enlightenment, lies somewhere else entirely.

When Adam bit the forbidden fruit, he cast a divide between heaven and earth. He drove a wedge between humanity and God; and he set us off looking for identity in all the wrong places. No longer known in the presence of God, we are drawn elsewhere to find our identity. We seek to find ourselves, in ourselves, and end up lonely, and broken, and wishing to leave this world behind.

Ever since Adam, people have sought to escape their bodies, to find enlightenment and freedom beyond the disappointments of the flesh. And now technology has allowed us space to live out actual, disembodied lives. Places where we can leave the limitations, and letdowns, of our bodies behind. Places where we can express our real selves, our ideal selves. Myself made in my own image. My life drawn by my own hand. Blemishes removed, excess fat trimmed, annoying habits subdued. The internet has given us what we always wanted, but it has not made us any happier, and now we, like the angel boy, wander among the clouds, searching for our wings.

 Ascension Icon from the Pskov Caves

Ascension Icon from the Pskov Caves

“He parted from them and was carried up into heaven.” As Jesus’ stood outside Bethany, with his beloved disciples for the last time, he blesses them, and he parts from them, and is carried up and into heaven. The word for ‘parted’ and ‘carried up’ is actually the same word used twice in the same sentence. In English, this word can be translated as to separate, to disjoin, or to depart.

Jesus leaves this world, certainly, but he does not forsake it. He ascends into heaven, not as a spirit, not as a ghost, but as a human, with a body, with skin and hair and hands and feet. He crosses the divide that Adam wrought, and drags his flesh through with him, sealing what once was broken, and mending what once was severed. In his separation, Jesus heals, and in his leaving this world, he re-supplants us into the holy presence of God, so that while a body may dwell in heaven, the Spirit may dwell on earth.

As he steps out, or up, and into the presence of eternity, Jesus refuses what Adam so quickly embraced: shame and self-hatred. With no hesitation, Jesus walks into heaven, clothed in crucified flesh, and takes his rightful seat beside his Father, and in doing so, changes absolutely everything. The Ascension gives us, in one moment, an embodied vision of heaven, devoid of ghostly wings and halos; a transformation of the material world, now sanctified in the presence of God; and a re-understanding of our human identity and our bodies, forever proclaimed as God’s beloved.

 Carvaggio,  The Incredulity of St. Thomas

Carvaggio, The Incredulity of St. Thomas

I can’t help but think of Thomas’ face in Caravaggio’s painting, The Incredulity of Thomas. The painting depicts Jesus gently pulling Thomas’ finger into his side. And as Thomas’ dirty, human finger enters the flesh of God, Thomas’ eyes bulge, “My Lord and my God.” This is the powerfully raw force behind the moment of Ascension, wherein, God finds it right and meet to draw his Son back to him, and not just his spirit, or his soul, but his body. This is the moment that Jesus sees it fit to invite our dirty fingers into his side, and our imperfect, blemished bodies into his presence. This is the moment that Jesus breaks from this world to save this world, undoing and redeeming Adam’s sin, and reminding us once, and always, that we are beloved of God, body and soul.

Letter to the Congregation Concerning The Nursery

by Lisa McCowen

Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven.” Matt 19:14

Dear Holy Trinity Church family,

Think of the people in your early life that were physical examples of God’s love to you at church, people who read you stories or were a loving presence.  There is an opportunity for you to offer the same to our littlest members.  

You may have heard about some changes in our nursery care for little ones.  We are moving from nursery as a childcare service to our vision of the nursery as ministry, the beginning of catechizing little ones, showing them the love of Jesus and speaking the Word of God over them.

Parents and other adults of the church are significant in implementing this vision.  We are asking families who use the nursery to serve once a month and we looking for more adult parishioners to serve, too!  We will equip you; there will be resources ready: simple printed Scripture prayers for parents to pray over the children based on the lectionary Gospel reading for each Sunday.  (see below)

Church family, please prayerfully consider how you can support this ministry.  Your willingness to serve is a gift to the parents of young children, many of whom are actively serving our church in a variety of ways (here’s looking at you, Groves, Barfields, Bonners, etc.!).  If you are interested in serving once a month or even being on the substitute list for a last minute need, please contact Lisa McCowen.

Grace and peace to you,

Lisa

Example of Scripture prayer from this week’s Gospel reading (John 14:15-21)

Lord, may these children know Your Holy Spirit, may He abide with them and be in them.  May grow in their knowledge and understanding of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  May they grow to know, love and keep your commandments.  May they know the love of the Father and the Son; reveal Yourself to them Lord.

The Atrium — A Congregational Letter by Allison Martin

Dear Holy Trinity Family and Friends,

We just ended another season of Atrium with an early and joyful celebration of Pentecost last Thursday afternoon.  Liturgy, candles, prayers and songs filled the time and at the end, much to the delight and anticipation of the children, an array of red foods were laid out and enjoyed in recognition of the liturgical color of Pentecost.  

Atrium or Catechesis of the Good Shepherd is an international Montessori-based approach to Christian formation that makes room for children to touch and experience instead of just being told.  What does, "The kingdom of God is like a mustard seed," mean to a child who has never seen or held a mustard seed?  And does holding a tiny seed in the palm clear up the mystery?  No, but it gives a starting place to Wonder and opens the door to begin understanding Biblical truths such as parables and lessons Jesus taught in a way that is tangible and meaningful.  It allows children to do what comes naturally to them and that is to get up close by touching materials each week--handmade child-sized representations of the Altar and vestments as well as hand painted figurines depicting everything from the Annunciation to The Last Supper and parables and to ask questions and ponder what it all means.   It gives them a chance to reflect on their baptism by hearing scripture and having water poured over their hand at a small font or to see a ribbon stretched the length of a football field in the lesson called La Fettuccia (The Ribbon) to illustrate the the history of the Kingdom of God.  Our catechist Nancy Robinson shared this lesson with the Level II children in September and the children and adults in attendance were amazed at seeing how long the ribbon stretched before humans were created.  

Children also have an opportunity to understand and experience liturgical worship in Atrium as well.  To see a five year-old child carefully and mindfully set the prayer table or pour wine and water into a small chalice or to learn about gestures such as epiclesis as a visual sign of asking for God's gift of the Holy Spirit during Eucharist is an altogether sacred thing.  When I see Fr. David do this each week I know the children watching recognize and understand what is happening.  I pray it helps them see the things we do in worship as significant and meaningful and relevant to them and that church worship isn't just an adult-only experience.

The rich philosophy of Catechesis of the Good Shepherd maintains that children, even very young children, have a religious life and that God is present to them in a deep way.  Atrium is a place to nurture that space in their lives that often remains hidden.  For our seven year-old son Oliver, I have found the lessons he experiences in Atrium naturally carry over into discussions during our worship and life at home.  He told me his favorite thing about Atrium is the lesson of the Empty Tomb and prayer time and I know he deeply loves our catechists Miss April (Manring), Miss Nancy (Robinson) and our interim Level II catechist Miss Jenny (Shaw).  I can see a continued budding of knowledge and a depth to his questions and thoughts regarding our faith in God.  He gets excited when he makes a connection between something he experienced at Atrium to something done at home or in Sunday morning worship services and many times I have seen him replicating these things at home.  There have been many a chicken or stuffed animal or Lego mini-fig around here baptized in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Most profoundly though, I see in him and his prayers a tender love for Jesus, the Good Shepherd who cares for his sheep--young and old.  

I have never stood in the center of a vast lavender farm, but I have held a small bouquet of the purpley-gray flowers in my hand and inhaled their incomparable scent.  In that I have an inkling the size of a mustard seed of the dramatic experience it would be to take in such a place of profound beauty with all my heart, mind and senses.  The same is true for what happens in the beautiful and lovingly created space that is our Atrium at Holy Trinity.  I pray all children would have an opportunity to come close to and sit with the lessons and mysteries of our faith in such a way.    

I’ll close with the words of Hebrew scholar Dr. Sophia Cavalletti who co-founded of Catechesis of the Good Shepherd in Rome in the 1950’s and said, "If we want to help the child draw nearer to God, we should with patience and courage seek to go always closer to the vital nucleus of things. This requires study and prayer. The child will be our teacher if we know how to observe."

With love,

Allison Martin


 

Claire's Last Letter

Share on the day I go to heaven.

Graduation Day

If you are reading this I am in the presence of our almighty God. I feel nothing but unconditional love. Overwhelming pure love. I am so humbled by all of you and wanted to thank you for all of your love and support throughout my battle with cancer.

Cancer was something that happened to other people but when I got it I knew there was a purpose and God would use it for good.

A few years back before cancer I shared with our small group that after I lost my Mom I became at peace with moving on from this life. There is so much comfort knowing that there is much more to our lives than this life on earth. Don't be sad for me but instead care for my dear sweet family. I loved them deeply with every ounce of my heart and soul. I never want to see them suffering or grieving so remember this is not the end.

Lift up my husband , daughters , sister, Dad and all my family. I was blessed with the best supportive family and friends anyone could ask for and my heart is so full. I was given over 37 incredible years with the love of my life David who is a quiet, easy going , kind ,loving, supportive husband who gave me nothing but unconditional love. I felt so very blessed by God to marry such a wonderful man. I was also blessed with two beautiful , kind, wise, loving daughters. Lindsey and Caroline are so much a part of my heart and I will always love them unconditionally. Being their Mom was the highlight of my life. I am so thankful for both of my son in laws Cam and Alex which are both a gift from God for my girls and our whole family. My sister Anne has been my best friend since I was born and she continued to show her overwhelming capacity to love me in both the good times and the bad times. Keep them all laughing Anne it's the best medicine. Also I was so blessed with the sweetest most loving church family and friends. This is not goodbye as I will see you all in a very short time. Be kind to one another and live your life to the fullness. Remember family , friends and fellowship are the most important thing we have in our lives. Enjoy all the art , music and beauty we have been given. Try not to sweat the small stuff because most of it is small stuff. Stay close to God and let him carry you in both the good and trying times. In the end it's not the years in your life that count but the life in your years. I love you all. Claire

I Fought the fight.

I Finished the race.

I Kept the faith. 💋

Love,
Claire

The Tree and The Scepter

by Ashley Bonner

Sabbath, it begins in groaning.
Gloom and black abyss surround,
Joined with dry wind, still bemoaning
The cursed tree upon the Skull Mound.

Blood watered long and deep today
Ashen, rigid branches, bare
Of life, but to what?  Only dismay
And grief, His orphans in despair.

Day of rest in silence we spend.
Tender, vacant eyes proclaim
Our Rabbi, Redeemer, Healer, Friend
Lost to Sheol in bitter shame.

Spectres chase away our sleep.
Hollows hallowed, they whisper in wait
Of a germination, a breaking deep
In the earth outside the city gate.

Awake, O sleeper!  Come and see!
O children, your Lord - He is risen!  He lives!
The branches give vines and leaves.  The tree
That once was wretched, life He gives!

Morning brings the flowers soft -
Crimson, indigo, and gold - 
Creeping up to raise aloft
Praise and love of Messiah foretold!

Death, it is conquered!  Water and blood
Birthed life from the dust of Adam's bone.
The tree - Your scepter - like Aaron's it shall bud
Evermore beside David's unending throne!