Carrots, Lent, and New Life

In Minnesota, winter has been easier than usual this year, but despite that, last week the gray skies got to me a few days. I was sick of everything, and for no particular reason. I read about how people in the days before electric light slept long hours in the winter–and I thought, that’s me: I want to crawl into a cocoon and sleep until spring.

Then the weekend came, and we were out of carrots for making lunches, when I remembered something tucked away in the coldest part of our basement. I brought it up to the kitchen, opened up the box, and suddenly their was a lovely burst of the scent of … are you ready for this? ….  SOIL!

Box from cold, dark storage
Box from cold, dark storage

Before I lived in the Upper Midwest, I did not realize what a treasure this is… In the March/April thaw, one of the most pleasant fragrances, often at an unconscious level, is the scent of the soil drifting on the warmer spring wind. The ground is no longer completely frozen, and this scent of soil brings to mind thoughts of gardens and flowers and mowing and sweet corn–and the heart skips a beat with excitement.

Soil: catch the scent in winter!
Soil: catch the scent in winter!

However, there was something else, there, too. Something we had packed away in the sandy soil last October. We dug out these messy-looking cylinders, scrubbed them up, and voila! Fresh carrots!

Yummy carrots!
Yummy carrots!

We think of winter as a time when “nothing is happening” in that soil, when everything is “dead”… and indeed, there is a lot of death happening–but not all is lost. The soil is rejuvenating itself.

Ancient peoples in northern climes must have been in awe of spring returning, a kind of miracle of sun and warmth. The seeds sprout and the cycle of life circles around again.

It’s no wonder Lent, Passover, and Easter are celebrated at this time of year. Indeed the word “Lent” means “springtime”… and all those Easter eggs, baby bunnies and lambs are symbolic of life renewing itself, once again, in the springtime.

Our souls, indeed our whole persons, undergo many transitions and “spring times” in life. We seek inner growth and deeper healing from old wounds. We may deepen current relationships even as we form new relationships. We search for new meaning and fresh ways of loving and serving others.

Will you pray with me?

O God,

When the darkness of winter is on us,
inspire us to hope in your springtime.
When the snow becomes drab and muddy,
remind us that new life is just around the corner.
When our hearts are “old” and “dusty,”
plant your seeds of love and
bring us to life once again.
This we pray in the name of Jesus
and in the communion of the Holy Spirit, 

Amen! 

 

 

Things Jesus Said . . . and meant (7)

In Luke’s gospel, the final words Jesus says are a prayer:

44 Lent--Holy Week--Words of Jesus--Father into your hands I entrust my spirit

“Father, into Your hands I entrust my spirit!”

In the bible the word “spirit” is sometimes closely associated with “breath.”  It is Creator God who breathes life into the first human by giving Adam life. It is the Holy Spirit who gave Jesus earthly life in the womb of Mary. The Holy Spirit was revealed in a form of a dove when Jesus was baptized in the Jordan and began his ministry.

And now, Jesus is breathing his last human-life breath. Luke tells us that Jesus’ last words were a prayer: “Father, into Your hands I entrust my spirit.” Luke says with those words, Jesus breathes his last breath.

Jesus’ mission is over–he no longer has any control over what will happen with the future (in the earthly, human sense). What does he do? Prays. And in praying, gives us a prayer that is also good for us to say:

“Father, into Your hands, I entrust my spirit.”

I have found this to be a good prayer, especially when I am worried or confused. I have discovered I can repeat it, slowly, in time with my breathing (sort of), in the middle of the night. It helps me to “let go” of things. I’m thinking it might also make a good prayer when one is being wheeled into surgery.

God is in charge. God has plans that are far better than what I can imagine. Jesus “lets go” of his spirit, his control, and God brings about something better than anyone could have imagined (as we will celebrate on Easter).

“Father, into Your hands, I entrust my spirit.”

Until next time, Amen!

Things Jesus Said . . . and meant (6)

“It is finished.”

In John’s gospel, Jesus is not only referring to the end of his life, but also the end of his mission on earth.

43 Lent--Holy Week--Words of Jesus--It is finished

The very incarnation of Christ as Jesus, son of Mary and foster-son of Joseph, was a sending into the world for a mission. Christ was “called” to come forth into the human dwelling place of flesh-and-blood on earth.  He was also sent by the Father to minister by healing, preaching the good news, teaching us a better way to live, and revealing the great love the God has for all humans.

In John’s gospel, Jesus knows ahead of time that he will suffer torture and death (“my hour”) and yet he continues the work God has given him (the very work that makes others jealous and want to put him to death). Although Jesus’ popularity with the crowds turns from the cheers of Palm Sunday to the cries of “crucify him,” Jesus remains faithful to the message of his preaching and the truth through it all.

Integrity.

Which one of us would have stayed true to the end? Wouldn’t it have been easier to run away from Jerusalem before he got there? To tell Pilate it was all a case of mistaken identity? A misunderstanding of what he meant? To reason with people about why they shouldn’t kill him?

Jesus faces death head on. Stays true to his mission, true to his Father’s will. Willingly submits to other humans who torture and kill him.

“It is finished.”

 

Until next time, Amen! 

Things Jesus Said. . . and meant (5)

The gospel of John tells us while Jesus was hanging on the cross, he suddenly cried out in a loud voice, “I thirst!”

42 Lent--Holy Week--Words of Jesus--I thirst

Pondering these words of Jesus, I think of layers of meaning. In a literal way, Jesus is losing fluids at a tremendous rate on the cross (to put it mildly). The life force is literally draining out of his human body. In this sense, it is natural that he is thirsty. So some view the bible verse this way.

I also think of the rich symbolic imagery in John’s gospel. This is the writer who tells us  the story of Jesus being tired and hungry after all his ministry work, sitting down at a well, and asking the Samaritan woman to give him a drink. In their conversation, Jesus says he could give her living water (water that is like a stream, clean and  moving, inner “water” of the Holy Spirit).

While Jesus is talking with the woman, the disciples have gone off to get food in the village–and when they return, Jesus is no longer hungry (or thirsty) and tells them that his food is to do the will of God. (John 4)

It also in John’s gospel we hear Jesus cry out to a great crowd:

Let anyone who is thirsty, come to me and drink.
Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said,
“Rivers of flowing water will flow from his heart.” *
 By this he meant the Spirit,
whom those who believed in him were later to receive.
Up to that time the Spirit had not been given,
since Jesus had not yet been glorified.  
(John 7:37-38) 

dscn6176--I thirst image from asinglgedropintheocean 3-17-2014Throughout the centuries, Christians have found the words “I thirst” to have deep meaning. Mother Teresa of Calcutta had the words written near the crucifixes in her convents. The words “I thirst” reminded her of many things: the way Jesus thirsts for others to come to him, the way Jesus thirsted in his sufferings in life and dying, the way her beloved poor people hungered and thirst, both in the literal sense and in the way people all over the world, including “the rich” thirst for love. 

Jesus thirsts to be close to us, to commune with us in the deep spiritual relationship of God’s love–even from the cross he thought of you and me. He was longing to bring about the reconciliation of heaven and earth, God and earthling.

And that is food and drink for further thought as we continue our journey through Holy Week.

Until next time, Amen! 

 

*  For example, see Isaiah 12:3.
** Read more about Mother Teresa’s “I Thirst” image, with thanks to “A Drop In the Ocean” website: http://asingledropintheocean.com/2014/03/17/my-week-serving-the-poor-of-st-louis-with-the-missionaries-of-charity-mother-teresa/

Things Jesus Said . . . and meant (4)

During Holy Week, I’m continuing to ponder the seven last words of Jesus. These seven words spoken on the cross are gathered from the four gospels. Today’s words are found in both the gospels of Matthew and Mark:  “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?”

41 Lent--Holy Week--Words of Jesus--Why abandonment (click on image to enlarge)

As others have pointed out, this one sentence is the only thing Matthew and Mark write about concerning what Jesus said while dying on the cross. I think this is significant in that these gospel writers viewed Jesus as being utterly forsaken by all while being crucified. Even God, Jesus’ Father, seems to have let him down.

Biblical scholars say that Jesus may have been attempting to pray Psalm 22, which begins like this:

My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?
    Why so far from my call for help,
    from my cries of anguish?
My God, I call by day, but you do not answer;
    by night, but I have no relief. 

In Matthew and Mark, all those passing by the cross on their way are mocking Jesus, including the chief priests, the scribes, and elders. “He saved others, yet he is powerless to save himself!” “He said he was God’s Son–let’s see him prove it! Come down off that cross, Jesus, if you are really the Son of God!” The criminals being crucified taunt Jesus. (No “good thief” here!)  Even Jesus’ followers–mostly women followers, it seems–are standing in the distance, unwilling or unable to come close to Jesus as he is suffering.

Although the rest of Psalm 22 does not appear in Matthew and Mark, I think it likely that the earliest readers would have recalled the rest of the psalm, including these words:

In you our fathers trusted;
    they trusted and you rescued them.
 To you they cried out and they escaped;
    in you they trusted and were not disappointed.
 But I am a worm, not a man,
    scorned by men, despised by the people.
 All who see me mock me;
    they curl their lips and jeer;
    they shake their heads at me:
 “He relied on the Lord—let him deliver him;
    if he loves him, let him rescue him.” 

Cross in dry desert --Julie McCartyI cannot help but be amazed at how Psalm 22–written so very long before the life of Christ–describes the experience Jesus finds himself in while dying on the cross.

Jesus does not recite the entire psalm–he is too filled with pain, and besides, crucifixion steals the breath away by slowly suffocating people.

But Matthew and Mark clearly want us to see Jesus as the fulfillment of Psalm 22. Jesus feels totally forsaken, totally abandoned by all as he is dying.

And yet… there is more.

Even though Jesus felt abandoned by God, it is God who will ultimately save him. Later in the text, Psalm 22 turns from the message of abandonment and alienation to one of hope in God:

You who fear the Lord, give praise!
    All descendants of Jacob, give honor;
    show reverence, all descendants of Israel!
For he has not spurned or disdained
    the misery of this poor wretch,
Did not turn away from me,
    but heard me when I cried out.
 I will offer praise in the great assembly;
    my vows I will fulfill before those who fear him.
 The poor will eat their fill;
    those who seek the Lord will offer praise.
   ” May your hearts enjoy life forever!” 

“May your hearts enjoy life forever!”  Although Jesus cannot feel this during his death and descent into Sheol, the ultimate long-term gift of God will be life forever. 

The next time you or I feel hurt, forsaken, or abandoned by someone, we can be assured that Jesus knows the feeling–from his own experience.

Until next time, Amen! 

[P.S. Read all of Psalm 22 on Bible Gateway, along with footnotes: click here. Thanks to Bible Gateway for quotes in this text.]

Things Jesus Said. . . and meant (3)

Jesus’ view of family was expansive. He loved his mother and all his extended family, but his views of family went far beyond blood relationships.  The gospel of Mark tells us that “all who do the will of God” were considered to be the mother,  brother and sister of Jesus (Matt. 12:50).

When Jesus was hanging on the cross, slowly losing his life, he saw his mother standing there, along with “the disciple he loved” (possibly John, the one who wrote the gospel with this story). Knowing that he could no longer care for his mother, he asked this disciple to care for her…and for her to take care of the disciple:

40 Lent--Holy Week--Words of Jesus--Woman here is your son (click on image to enlarge)

Over the centuries, Christians have interpreted this in a variety of ways, and that is as it should be. Scripture is full of meaning–many layers of meaning, like a poem.

 So what does this bible passage speak to me today? I’m thinking about how this nearly-final utterance of Jesus crosses boundaries. Jesus could have told Mary to go live with her brother, uncle, or cousin. Instead, he asks Mary to take up residence with his friend, a disciple.

His choice is significant because it breaks with blood relationships–and, I assume, the social/religious customs of his time and place.

Jesus’ mother, Mary, enters into a kind of familial relationship with the disciple. John is to treat Mary as his mother, and Mary is to treat John as her son. Considering their culture, this makes it quite likely that Mary would go to live at John’s home, or that John might go to live with her.

All this reminds me that Jesus invites us to view others outside of our blood relatives, as if they were family members. “Love one another” is not only a slogan for those in one’s family, but rather reaches down the street, through the village, beyond culture and nationality–and, in our time, into the global community.

This is especially relevant in this time of intense polarization in my country. Jesus does not love only Democrats or Republicans; rather Jesus loves them all as members of his family. Jesus does not love only “straight” or only “gay” people–Jesus loves them all, and welcomes all to be his “brother” or “sister.” Christ does not view people outside of the Christian church as enemies, but rather as created by God, loved by God, as children of God.

 This is what I believe: Jesus loved all people while dying on the cross.  Jesus died to bring life to the world… the whole world, and all the people in it.

And Jesus continues, this day and into the future, to love all people.

Until next time, Amen! 

Words Jesus said. . . and meant (2)

The gospel of Luke tells us that Jesus was crucified between two criminals, one who scoffed at him and one who respected Jesus. It was this second criminal who admitted his deeds deserved punishment–and then asked, “Jesus, remember me, when you come into your kingdom.”

In that moment, while hanging on the cross, Jesus answered him, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.” (Luke 23:43)

39 Lent--Holy Week--Words of Jesus--This day paradise(click on image to enlarge)

 This story reminds me that Jesus reaches out to all, and welcomes all into his kingdom. The “bad thief” was also welcome, but he wasn’t interested. In fact, he mocked Jesus. It is the “good thief” who welcomes Jesus–and who is received into the kingdom of God.

I also notice that Jesus didn’t make special demands on the “good” thief, in this last moment of his life. Jesus forgave him right then and there–and promised him eternal life, communion with God forever in heaven.

As I think about this today, I think about the symbolism we can apply to our own lives today. Jesus is alive, present in our midst. Do we mock him? Stone him? Crucify him?  Or, do we welcome Christ, ask forgiveness, seek grace and the kingdom of God?

Something to think about.

Until next time, Amen!