Wednesday, April 16, 2014

The Rector's Easter Message

Many years ago, I was engaged in a program that taught catechists (Sunday school teachers) how best to understand how and what they taught their students. In the course of one class discussion, Tom, a middle-aged gentleman, lamented that catechism classes used to be simple. Students memorized the answers to various questions so that when queried by the bishop at their confirmation, they would know the accepted answer.  Familiar with this complaint, I asked the class of adults a simple question: “What is a sacrament?” They looked sheepish and puzzled wondering what answer would be acceptable to me, their mentor. Finally, I said to them, “C’mon! You know the answer . . . a sacrament is an outward sign instituted by Christ . . . .” They all smiled, breathed a sigh of relief, and felt vindicated in their complaint. But then, I asked another question, “All right, now what does that mean?”
Therein is the tough thing about Easter. When asked about Easter, we are eager to repeat what we may have learned: it is the day when we celebrate Christ’s rising from the dead.  Yet the challenge for us is always the next question, “But what does that mean?”
How would you describe the meaning of Easter to a group of young and eager faces? To questioning teens? To adults for which memorized answers no longer suffice?
I think we all approach Easter like the first disciples, in a spirit of confusion and near disbelief.  At first, those who were closest to Jesus failed to understand the meaning behind this glorious miracle. Only later, with the coming of the Spirit of Wisdom and Knowledge, the Spirit of Understanding and Fear of the Lord, did they begin truly to piece it all together.  So, too, we need to piece things together anew – to discover the power and impact of the Resurrection in our individual and communal lives all over again.
So . . . what does it mean for you to share in the risen life of our Savior? What did Christ’s triumph over sin and death do for us here and now? No complex theological answers allowed! Take some time this Eastertide to look at our lives and discover what is different about us because we have been redeemed “by the blood of the Lamb” and invited to share the life of the Risen One.
A tall order, this. For now, though, let us simply bask in the light and rest in the joy that comes to us because of Easter. Let us rejoice in the message that “He is risen. He is risen, indeed!” 
“Be not afraid, the one for whom you look is not here. He is risen and has gone ahead of you . . . “
Let us rise and go to find him with open and joyful hearts.
With every wish for a truly joyous Easter, I remain
The Rev’d Dr. David Alan Zwifka

Thursday, April 10, 2014

The best way out is always through

"The best way out is always through."
                                       -- Robert Frost

While the quote is Robert Frost, the focus is on Christ. Recall the garden of Gethsemane. "Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me." We can relate. A long, difficult road may lay before us -- a relationship that is breaking down -- a diagnosis of dementia in a loved one -- a terminal disease -- loss of a career because of "down-sizing". All of it is somehow connected with dread expressed by Jesus as he clearly saw his fate that Thursday evening so long ago.

We can pray earnestly with him, "Let this cup pass from me." Yet, our entreaties seem unanswered . . . or are they. 

Perhaps the answer isn't one we really want to here. We would prefer to hear, "OK. Forget about it," but it seldom if ever happens that way. Rather the dread deepens, the difficulties, struggles, and suffering become more poignant to the point when we think we, like Jesus, are sweating blood. Yet, even as the situation progresses, are prayers are being answered. 

"The best way out is always through."

If the cup of suffering had passed from Jesus, there would have been no resurrection, no definitive event to mark God's ultimate triumph over sin and death. 

"The best way out is always through."

Each time we face extraordinary difficulties, we are challenged in a way similar to Jesus in the garden. We are tempted to beg God to take away the difficulty, make it easier, lighter, or non-existent. But if our prayers were answered, we would not find out how strong we are in God's grace. We would not discover the spirit at work in the healing of our hearts. We would not discover the immense support of family and friends when time are hard. 

Jesus' dread was deep and complete. It was about giving up his life. He understands fully the suffering and dread of human beings. Confident of that understanding, we face our suffering knowing full well that we have an Advocate that is always near us to give us strength and lead us to peace. 

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Hosanna! Son of David

Palm Sunday is quick upon us. In many churches worship begins with a retelling of the entrance of Jesus into the holy city of Jerusalem. In this “triumphal” procession he is acclaimed as the Son of David, a term that clearly means, King of the Jews.

The liturgy of the day, however, quickly turns its attention away from such effusive affirmations and toward the rather somber remembrance of the Lord’s passion and death. Was Jesus still a king? That’s a question only we can answer.

What kind of king are you looking for?

Traditionally, kings were seen as an embodiment of the people over which they ruled. Thus, an attack on the king was an attack on the people. In the Scriptural portrayal, this embodiment is a two way street: when the king turns from God, the people often pay the price, and, when the people turn from God, their king suffers.

In Jesus day, the title, Son of David, clearly aligned Jesus with the first dynastic king of Israel. David, the mythic king, was far from perfect but was always seen as favored of God. Thus, someone truly of David’s line, would bring prosperity and victory over oppressors. Perhaps this is the kind of king the folk of Jerusalem saw riding in on an ass. However, circumstances proved otherwise. Jesus was the king who suffered not because of his own wrongdoing but because of the waywardness of God’s people – a people who valued power and wealth and political freedom over matters of the heart and matters of true justice.

The year of Jubilee proclaimed by Jesus at the beginning of his ministry fell woefully short of its promise at the end. For all of his work and teaching, society remained much unchanged and, perhaps, even more recalcitrant than when he started. He proved not to be the king of “power and might” as was his father David, but the king of inward change . . . a king of hearts and minds.

What kind of king are you looking for?

Is the king we look for the one who will vindicate us or is the king we look for the servant king that accomplishes change by the sheer force of example? Is the king we search for one that will bring us prosperity or is this king a king of service and justice?

What kind of king are you looking for?
How shall we answer as our Holy Week begins?