Tag Archives: Easter

A Christian Voice In A Changing Culture

Messy, Joyful Easter

I woke from a fitful sleep, jet-lagged and already critical of the things that awaited me at morning Mass. I countered with a prayer for humility and tolerance of things I dislike like dour congregants and uninspiring music. After all, it is Easter! Jesus is walking through walls and telling folks to get their hands off Him then insisting that they lay hands on Him—all kinds of messy, unpredictable stuff.

I cringed slightly as I eyed the cantor for the morn; golden in her intentions, her voice hurts me. As she geared up for the processional hymn, she appeared shaken like a diver peering into the pool below and realizing it may not be deep enough. But she soldiered on and was soon joined by the booming off-key voice of a visiting pastor whose joy in serving us that morning overtook all else.

His sheer exuberance invited us all in to celebrate: Jesus is alive, and that changes everything. Like my critical spirit. Listening to cantor and pastor make a joyful noise at once delighted and convicted me. God is so much bigger than my snide critique. He wants to blow open our defenses, walk through our walls, and rouse us to cooperate with Him in dissolving others’ defenses against the Holy One.

The pastor grinned from ear-to-ear as he showered us with the waters of cleansing (a cool Catholic thing for the several Sundays of Easter); I obviously needed to renew my baptismal vows that Sunday! And I found that if I sang along with the cantor during the offertory I could not afford to be critical of her. The pastor sermonized powerfully on how community is essentially for grasping the hope of new life—we behold the glorified One together. I was proud to be there.

I left Church joyful, expectant. I wanted to give new life away. Later on I ran into a guy whom I had met a few years back. At that time he announced to me rather arrogantly that he was a ‘gay Christian’ with a new boyfriend. Things had gone badly for him: I could tell from his few words and demeanor that he was suffering. Though he did not recognize me at first, I did him and I told him specific things I had not ceased praying for him in the last five years. He was speechless and teary-eyed.

Messy, joyful Jesus is on the move. Walk through walls with Him. It is Easter and that changes everything.

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Divine Mercy

Mercy is God’s ache for His children: a stream of unfailing love flowing from His heart towards ours. Through mercy, He woos us and invites us to exchange lesser loves for a double portion of His compassion.

The Greek word for mercy—‘eleos’—means ‘oil poured out’: Jesus’ life crushed like olives in order to become the antidote to our brokenness. That ‘ache’ of love is better conveyed by the Latin word for mercy–‘misericorde.’ ‘Miseri’ conveys the deep pity God feels toward us in His very depths, or ‘cor,’ which means ‘heart.’ From the core of His being, God aches with compassion for the sinful brokenness and salvation of His people.

St. Faustina Kowalska assumed Jesus’ ache for souls. Sensitive to human suffering from her birth in 1905, she began life as a peasant in a small Polish village. Early on she received God’s call to the religious life. Entering a convent at 18-years-old, she was an unspectacular nun; she dutifully fulfilled the mundane tasks expected of her and initially showed few signs of a rich mystical life. Yet she strove quietly to unite fully with the merciful God and to cooperate with Jesus in saving many souls through His mercy.

Jesus spoke to her continuously of His mercy. In the last four years of her life (she died at 33), she recorded the fruit of her mystical union with Him in a diary entitled ‘Divine Mercy in My Soul.’ This excerpt conveys well the goal of her short life: ‘Make known to souls the great mercy I [Jesus] have for them and exhort them to trust in the bottomless depth of My mercy.’

At the heart of her devotion to merciful Jesus and His children was a vision (see image) she received of ‘Divine Mercy’ in the form of the Lord Jesus clothed in a white garment. One of His hands was raised in a gesture of blessing, the other touched the garment at His heart. From His heart emanated two large rays: one red (blood), the other pale (water). That healing flood conveys beautifully Christ Crucified (JN 19: 34) when the pierced Jesus released a flood of blood and water as a healing flood; the vision equally conveys the Risen Christ when He appeared to His disciples in the Upper Room (JN 20:19) and initiated the forgiveness of sins as the first fruit of Resurrection.

St. Faustina conveyed her vision meticulously to an artist who painted what she saw. That image adorns churches and homes around the world; it expresses simply God’s tender and powerful mercies for us. Under that image, Jesus instructed her to write: ‘Jesus, I trust in You.’

That image and those simple 5 words sustained me in during my conversion to the Roman Catholic faith. I had no idea that my shift from evangelical healer/leader to the RCC would provoke so much division between loved ones and myself. A friend sent me the Divine Mercy image and I hung it in my room. As friends and colleagues fell away, I would gaze at peaceful Jesus, pouring out His life for me, and quietly repeat: ‘Jesus, I trust in You…’ I had nowhere else to go. Sleep came only as I entrusted my burdens to Him. His mercy stilled my broken heart and slowly restored it.

My good friend Michael taught me to pray the Divine Mercy chaplet, a particular prayer God gave St. Faustina. It contains beautiful lines like: ‘You died Jesus, but the source of life gushed forth for souls and an ocean of mercy opened up for the whole world. O Fount of Life, unfathomable Divine Mercy, envelop the whole world and empty Yourself out upon us…O Blood and Water, which gushed forth from the Heart of Jesus as a fountain of Mercy for us, I trust in You!’ The most repeated line is ‘For the sake of His sorrowful passion, have mercy on us and on the whole world.’ When the DSM staff prays the chaplet, we substitute the word ‘us’ for particular ones bound to sexual sin who don’t yet realize how much they need His mercy!

St. Faustina initiated Divine Mercy Sunday, which is honored in the global church one week after Easter Sunday. Not a bad legacy for an uneducated peasant girl! There all sinners are invited to partake of Divine Mercy through confession and refreshed devotion to Jesus. On my first such Sunday, I wept nonstop as I considered the tearing of His heart for our broken Church and an even more broken world. No wonder Faustina was canonized by JPll in 2000, the first saint of the 3rd millennium. We need her message of mercy more than ever.

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Raised to Run

‘See! The winter is past; the rains are over and gone. Flowers appear on the earth. The season of singing has come.’ (S of S 2: 10, 11)

Maybe only long distance runners understand: an unpredictable convergence of things that makes for a great race. Balmy weather, body aches becoming bursts of strength, the inspiration of a flowering tree, managing to keep pace with the guy just ahead of you…all good, all outside of one’s control.

Kind of like new life. Who likes to be out of control? Even if unexpected news is good, we may first find it disorienting. It took the disciples a few minutes to ‘get’ the resurrection. It shook them up before it freed them. Maybe that’s why I still train throughout the year to run half-marathons: I need to rely on the One who is faithful, even if I cannot control the variables that greet me race-day.

Not long ago, I ran a new race and was disappointed. Instead of inspiring, the 13.1 miles of cityscape droned on and drained me. I lost time and my body felt weakened by, in the words of Christina Rossetti, this ‘long-drawn straining effort across the waste.’ I wondered if my racing days were over.

Unsure of motives—staving off a midlife crisis?–I resolved to train harder and set my sight on an Easter-ish run 6 months ahead. The key to training is consistency and one long run a week, come what may.

I even set a higher goal for this Spring run. Race day came. Preparing to launch with my younger ‘time class,’ I felt outclassed and marveled at my presumption.

Yet I also marveled at the ground I had pounded in prep for it: running at dawn through the steaming parks of Shanghai as folks gathered to do Tai Chai or sing ‘P’Opera,’ taking a wrong turn in Manila and passing out momentarily due to unusually high pollutants, climbing a village road outside Mexico City then charging down in flight from canine ‘friends,’ sprinting alongside Chicago’s Lake Michigan in a freeze that had turned the sea into a glacier, chugging along a fogged-in Oregon coastline with only neon shoes to light the way, pierced by a cold rain that became an ice storm in PA. (Note to self: ice hurts…)

Greater than my stubborn vanity was the One who ‘keeps my steps firm’ (PS 37:23) and who draws me into His good will as I resolve to ‘run in the path of His commands, He who has set my heart free.’ (PS 119: 32) In truth, wherever I go, I run with Him, toward Him, from Him. And I trust Him with the variables.

The gun went off and I wondered how long I could keep pace. OK at first: the weather was crazy perfect, and the course (a new one) was tree-lined with blossoms so profuse that they rained upon us. I felt strong yet sure I would slow down toward the end. Never happened. I crossed the line under time with joy and unexpected strength. He is risen. He raises me up to run the race.

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Provoking Life 3

‘Unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies it remains alone. But if it dies, it produces many seeds.’ (Jn 12: 24)

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAEaster is best realized in contrasts. Like green shoots emerging from a burnt field, new life is most appreciated against the backdrop of loss. Easter invites us to consider what Jesus is raising up from the ashes.

I hope I am not being dramatic here. After all, Scripture implores us to count all things loss for the sake of knowing Him more. (Phil. 3: 7, 8) These losses may be deeply personal: long-held expectations and aspirations that we have forsaken for the Gospel. It can also be the disorientation we experience when those around us change. Familiar rallying points crumble before our eyes. We are left anxious and more alone, unsure of what lies ahead and of our capacity to make it through a new wilderness.

But Jesus is not shaken. The Risen Lord waits for us to look to Him in ways that we would not were the course familiar. Easter means looking only to Him. It is easy to deny ourselves when our maps and instincts fail. Fear can give rise to faith in the One who is Light in darkness, Truth in trembling, the Way in our wilderness.

As I have reflected upon this past year leading up to Easter. I have marveled at the shifts in my life that have grounded me deeper in Jesus. Admittedly, I have lived most of my adult life as a Christian in joyful conflict with the culture. Yet in the last year I have experienced more resistance to what I hold true than in the 32 years of ministry that preceded it.

What I know to be true is now denounced as false, even scandalous and inhuman. The majority cannot hear about the transformation of persons with same-sex attraction without the assumption that one is a liar, a brain-washer, a right-wing extremist, or at worst, an accomplice to the suicide of ‘gay’ kids who cannot endure such ‘hate.’

Through it all, my wife Annette and I draw upon the life Jesus gives us to love each other well. And to declare more clearly than ever the Way to wholeness for those broken in boundaries and gender identity. The contrast between truth and falsehood has never been sharper. So shall our witness be brighter in the light of our Risen King.

The other day I asked Jesus to show me whatever gain could be found in ongoing surrender to Him amid the devolving culture. Immediately, He showed me a body bursting with what looked like tiny bean sprouts. Teeming with new life, that body could not contain the new life planted there! I knew right away that these were seeds of truth and grace He had sustained for this hour. Through His faithful witnesses, He intends to unfurl every one for the restoration of many.

Annette and I just gathered with our main Living Waters leaders from around the USA  gathered to reveal Jesus to each other. Sure enough, the majority bore the marks of significant losses: broken fellowship with churches, leaders, and friends as a result of seismic shifts in attitude about homosexuality. But the broken ground of our lives together became rich soil in which crushed seeds of hope and healing emerged. Jesus made the blackened field green with new life. Living Water is transforming our ‘deserts’ into oases for many.

What mattered most in our fellowship was the witness of the Risen Lord who becomes our gain, and through us, gains a people for Himself. In this we provoke one another. We ache and articulate grief in order to make more room for Him and our fellows. He is galvanizing us for such a time as this.

‘May the thorns of sin which wound the human heart leave room for new shoots of grace, of God’s presence and love, which triumph over sin and death.’ – Pope Emeritus Benedict

 

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Reduced to Resurrection

easter-resurrectionDuring Holy Week a few years back, Sam (my youngest son) came home late. In simple desperation, he said to me: ‘I need Jesus. I need help.’ His drug problem was consuming him. In severe mercy, Jesus reduced him to new life. Sam had been baptized years before. Now he needed to be raised from the dead.

This Holy Week a pastor recounted to me the return of Kim, a congregant who had left her husband and kids years before for another woman. Her lover became physically violent and she returned to the Lord. Her family has moved on. Her help is Jesus, and a small band of Christians. Kim has no idea what His new life will mean for her now. She is reduced to Resurrection.

In this Easter season we can hold an overly facile view of the Living God. He can too easily become a familiar ‘life-source’, as natural as the flowers and birds of spring. We forget the shock: the challenge commanded by the Resurrection.

‘Resurrection proclaims true freedom’, says Barth, ‘and lets us painfully discover our prison chains. It tells us that the one and only refuge is God. It tells us that only because it shows us that all our positions on life’s battlefield are lost and we must vacate them.’

Kim and Sam know the lure and illusion of false defenses—drugs or sex or the faux justice demanded by the ‘gay self.’ These are strongholds that are only overcome by the Risen Christ. He waits patiently as we cling to our flimsy walls. Finally defenseless, we infidels hear again the song of the Beloved. The drone of despair and other demons cannot stifle that song. He won our hearts a long time ago and has never stopped singing. We are reduced to Love again.

I will never forget that season at University when the battle raged between the empowered ‘gay self’ and the dopey (it seemed to me) Christian one. One side had to give. The former seemed more powerful—fun and sexy and hip. Hanging out with the poor who clung to Jesus? Not so cool. But real, an authentic response to the God who I honestly believed was alive and calling me into a new life. He won because He is, and He graced me with the freedom to see ‘the gay self’ as a sophisticated defense against His call to follow Him nakedly.

No doubt, once we are reduced to Him, we need help from His Body to live out our repentance. It will take many turnings, many reductions until we are steadily on track. Kim, Sam and I know the detours. But more than those, we are learning to yield to the faithful Love that surpasses all other loves. We have become wise to our defenses and humble before the One who is the ‘anchor of our souls, sure and steadfast’ (Heb. 6: 19).

‘We must receive assistance from the ground up. Then the steep walls of our securities are broken to bits, and we are forced to become humble, poor, pleading. Thus we are driven more and more to surrender and give up those things which we formerly used to protect and defend and to hold to ourselves against the voice of the resurrection’s truth.’ Barth

‘Father, through the merciful wooing of Your Son, we entrust to You all those we love who are far from home. Forgive our striving. We trust in Your mercy alone. As You overcame our misery through Mercy alone, so we entrust our miserable ones to You. By Your grace, open their ears to hear Your song of love; sing them home. We know it will not be through our cajoling or a ferocious sermon that they will return. It will be the miracle of Mercy, the witness of Water in a dry and weary land. Make the burning sand a pool (Is. 35: 7), we pray.’

 

 

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