“Love one another as I have loved you.”

A little over a week ago, as the clergy of the diocese were gathered in conference with our Bishop, we had the distinct pleasure of being joined in that conversation by the Presiding Bishop Michael Curry.  We got to spend two hours in conversation with him, which was an amazing experience.

The one thing that really struck me in that conversation was the reminder of Good Friday.  Why it resonated so much with me was because in this present moment – six weeks on – we feel like we’re still living Good Friday in some respects.  It’s as if time stopped yet the world continued to move but we’re not able to get beyond that place of grief and remorse and wondering just what has happened.  In this time of pandemic I sense a similarity because we also are isolating in place, there are lockdowns and there are restrictions on our movements; and there’s been uncertainty and inability to make decisions.

For the first time in my life, I imagine that I can sense or guess what the apostles must have felt: an uncertainty and confusion as to what does it mean as one is still standing at the foot of this terror that has occurred upon the cross.  This murder, this act of violence being wreaked upon this person.  We may view it much the same way, this uncertainty about what comes next as we watch the world being ravaged about us as well.

Now there is a slightly different tension, six weeks on we find ourselves now yearning to return to what is normal.  Yet what came up in our conversations with Bishop Curry was this realization that we won’t return to normal, there is no going back.  Just as in our theology, Christ died on the cross and there is no going back to what was before; we are at a point in history, an inflection point, a pivot point, and we must discern how to move forward.

There may be so few times in life where we can so fully relate to the apostles’ experience.  This morning as we stand here just days after the Ascension we will hear shortly the collect for the day in which the petition is made to God, “do not do not leave us comfortless.”  Comfortless, not comfortable, not complacent and at ease, but “do not leave us comfortless”.

We won’t be entirely comfortable, there is uncertainty, and we don’t know precisely what the way forward looks like.  However, what we can reflect upon and resolve is to realize that while we don’t know with certainty yet, we may have progressed to that place with the apostles where just before the Ascension Jesus is still teaching and talking to his apostles.  Just before he leaves they pose the question, “Lord is this the time?”

Is this the time in which we no longer lock down?  Is this the time in which we return to worshipping publicly and in person?  Is this the time when we will fill this nave again?  Jesus answers, “It is not for you to know.”  Can we abide in Jesus’ instruction that it is not for us to entirely know?

Not knowing cuts so hard against our grain.  It certainly cuts hard against what we see transpiring about us in media and in public where we want to know!  Our individual need to know – to be certain – is outstripping our ability to love, and we are beginning to insist upon our individual rights.

The irony of that for me as I stand here as a Christian and looking back on Good Friday is what would the world look like today if Christ had insisted upon his individual right as the son of God?  What if he had chosen to take himself down from the cross and not to offer himself as sacrifice for us and for our redemption?  I hesitate to think of what it would be like, yet I know it would be a vastly different world than it is, probably more ordered by our self-interest – our personal preferences.

Instead the example we have is Christ, who gave himself up for us sacrificially.  You may say, well it was just a one-time thing, he didn’t mean to do it.”  But no, Jesus told us on Maundy Thursday, about 45 days ago, at the Last Supper when he had washed the apostles’ feet, he gave us his final commandment, “Love one another as I have loved you.”

Have you ever unpacked this commandment and its consequences?  Because the example that he gives us is death on the cross, offering ourselves and abandoning our own self-interest in the interest of the common good.  This I think is where we find ourselves in this time of pandemic; are we putting our own interests so far ahead of the common interest of those around us and those we profess to love in the interest of our own preferences?

May we in this time of waiting, where self-interest seems prepared to set aside the common good all of God’s children; may we in this time reflect upon Jesus’ commandment to “love one another as I have loved you.”  Just as Elijah left behind his mantle as he ascended into heaven in the flaming chariot, the mantle that fell to the ground for Elisha to take up, we too as disciples of Christ, followers of Jesus, in our baptismal covenant have taken up the mantle that Christ left for us, “to love one another as I have loved you.”  May we in this time of waiting reflect upon the mantle that has been left to us, and may that be our guide as we move forward.  In Christ’s name I ask.  Amen.

“In [whom] we live and move and have our being.”

In today’s gospel lesson we find Jesus among his disciples in a period not entirely unlike our own.  In this period of isolation and distance keeping following the Last Supper, Jesus is teaching his disciples and preparing them for what he knows is coming – that he will no longer be with them.  In this context Jesus reminds them that, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.  And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever.”[1]

I’m sure this is confusing to the disciples; in this circumstance they don’t fully understand what’s about to happen; yet they must sense that something is looming.  And what is this promise of another Advocate?

Let’s back up and spend a moment with the expression “If you love me you will keep my commandments.”  As a reminder, his commandments are: love the Lord your God with all your heart with all your mind and with all your spirit; second to love your neighbor as yourself; and finally to love one another as I have loved you.  The latter is a reference to Jesus’ washing of the disciples feet.

Because Jesus knows his people will feel abandoned, forlorn, and forgotten he promises the Holy Spirit – the Advocate, which we will celebrate in just two short weeks.  But more importantly he’s given them the commandments as a touchstone, as a reference point for how to live their lives, as a reminder why he came.  But what are we to make of this in this time?  How do we unpack it?

This is where I think the circumstance that Paul finds himself in our lesson from the Acts of the Apostle is so helpful today.  You see, Paul is in Athens spreading the gospel.  He is in awe of all the altars he sees to various and sundry gods.  But the one that has caught his eye is this altar to an unknown god.

Now Paul is an experienced teacher and is accustomed to speaking before groups but he seems to find this particular group daunting.  He is in Athens at the Aeropagus a gathering place of councils and philosophers to discuss items of interest.  Paul has been asked to explain this Way of Jesus that he follows.  Wisely he adapts to his hosts’ context so that they may imagine themselves in his story.  To accomplish this he taps into an expression very well known to them, “In [whom] we live and move and have our being.”  You are likely familiar with this sentence.  If you’ve spent much time with the prayers of the Prayer Book you’ve probably come across this expression.  We often think it is scriptural, and well it is scriptural.  While it is found in the Bible, it’s not Christian in its origin.  Paul is actually reaching back centuries into renown Greek philosophical discourse to tap into the public consciousness of this gathering and using something that they know very well; an expression they thought referred to their relationship with their God Zeus.  Paul is claiming this expression for the Way of Jesus.

So what is the significance of this to us?  I think the import of it for us today as we stand in our own time of uncertainty, wondering how we function in relative isolation and remove from one another is that it answers the questions; how are we the church in this place, how do we extend our reach beyond these doors?

As Paul unpacked a Greek understanding of existence in an uncertain time, we too can unpack a distilled understanding of the commandments of love to remind ourselves of the one in whom we live and move and have our being.  These commandments are still the context for our existence in these strange times.  My prayer for each of us this week and in the weeks to come is that we may in our moments of anxiety, of stress, of discomfort remember that as commandment keepers we love Jesus, and are in turn loved by our Creator, our Redeemer, and are accompanied by our Advocate.  Thanks be to God in whom we live, and move, and have our being.

[1] John 14:15-16

“I am the gate.”

This Sunday is often referred to as Good Shepherd Sunday, which strikes me as a bit of bait and switch.  You see, while we have the 23rd Psalm – “The Lord is my shepherd” – in our Gospel lesson Jesus tells us he is the gate, not the shepherd.

I don’t know, perhaps the lectionary for this Sunday has shifted over the years.  After all, in the very next story of the Gospel according John Jesus does in fact refer to himself as the good shepherd; but that is not part of today’s story.  So, for today, what are we to make of “I am the gate?”

Perhaps we should begin with the psalm; this comfortingly lovely pastoral psalm that refreshes us whether we are at ease or in distress.  The 23rd Psalm spans green pastures and still waters to the valley of the shadow of death and those who trouble us.  There is only one thing that spans the distance of such images as heaven and hell, and that is the love of God as revealed in the resurrected Jesus Christ.  But, for today, Jesus is not the shepherd; he is the gate.

Let me share with you different gate story – a story from my time in Kansas.  Three years ago, a dear friend of mine was telling me about his friend – a rancher in western Kansas.  That year, before western Kansas was blanketed with snow, they were dealing with out of control prairie fires.  If you are familiar with prairie fires you know controlled burns to be life-giving – returning nutrients into the ground, destroying weeds, and encouraging the growth of new grass for grazing.  But you will also know they can become life-consuming fires that rage out of control destroying personal property and livestock.  Three years ago, this was the experience of our sisters and brothers in western Kansas.

The fires experienced by this particular rancher were so intense that they destroyed a large part of his herd and most of his fencing.  But not all of his herd was killed by the fire, about 200 survived; however, they were so badly injured that he had to destroy them himself with the help of a neighbor.  The pasture was empty but for the carcasses of his herd, even the fencing was gone.  All that remained was the steel gate and cattle guard, which was still closed and locked.

Having completed what needed to be done, the rancher could have driven a beeline direct to wherever he needed to go, but he chose to drive through the gate.  His neighbor clambered out of the cab to unlock and open the gate.  As the rancher pulled through the gate, he paused and told his friend, “Leave it open, there’s nothing to keep in.”

The rancher’s words reflect a kind of Kansan stoicism, but I choose to see them as a faithful optimism.  Not so much because the pasture will grow again, or because the fence will be rebuilt, or because there will be another herd, but because the gate is the one thing that was present through it all.  Through the heavenly greening of the pasture, and through the hellish destruction of everything around it.

The gate was there and is still there; and the rancher, who could have left the scene of all this devastation by any direction, chose – whether by habit or intention – to go through the gate; and not only to go through but to leave it open.  I imagine the Lord is most pleased with this act.

The gate is there in that pasture in the presence of peace and green pastures, and in the presence of death and destruction.  Paraphrasing part of the 23rd Psalm, “Surely your goodness and mercy are present to me in all the circumstances of my life.”

Jesus, the gate, is also present to us in all the circumstances of our life, whether they be pandemics or what we imagine hell must be like.  When your path becomes rough going imagine that the rough patches are the precarious and uneven footing of the cattle guard at the gate, a reminder that you are in the gate and walking with Jesus.  And recall that Jesus loves you so much that he suffered the worst the world could offer – even death on a cross – and came back to us to reveal his resurrected glory – a preview of the eternal life that awaits us all.

My charge to you today is to bring the destruction and hell in your life to the open gate before this altar.  Allow that which stands between you and the gate to fall through the cattle guard so that you may walk unencumbered through the gate into eternal life.  So be it.

“Were our hearts not burning within us?”

Today we once more find ourselves between scriptural milestones. At one, we hear of maybe 12-plus disciples gathered in a private room just now hearing “rumors” of Jesus’ missing body. At the same time, two other disciples, perhaps thinking the promise of a new kingdom has failed, are already on the road heading home. At another mile marker, we hear of yet another glimpse of the future, in which Peter continues his address to the gathered crowd at Pentecost. His appeal is so compelling that about 3,000 people are baptized. Oh that we might experience such clarity in our own time!

But how do we bridge the distance between these two milestones? At one we find a dispirited group, who seem about ready to pack it in; yet at the other the same group is speaking with convincing clarity and authority. In the disrupted journey between these milestones, what helps this motley crew of disciples keep it together and emerge as the foundation upon which our Church is built? I argue that it is: their formation as disciples; Jesus’ presence – past and present; their continued gathering in community; and trusting Jesus’ promise of being “clothed with power from on high.”[1]

And then there is the uncanny coincidence of the alignment of these readings and where we find ourselves standing today. Separated by thousands of years and thousands of miles, what our stories share in common are parallel senses of disorientation and uncertainty.

Whereas the disciples are sheltering in a hiding place, disoriented by days of wondering about what just happened to their dreams of messiahship and kingdom, and facing seven weeks of uncertainty and wondering what’s next; we find ourselves weeks into this pandemic still trying to sort out the who, what, when, why, where and how of our circumstance, and facing an undeterminable number of weeks of uncertainty, and wondering what’s next.

What are we to make of these uncanny parallels? One suggestion is to recognize that while this experience is novel to many of us and justifiably disconcerting, it is nothing new in God’s creation. It has been, is, and will be; thus it behooves us to remember our history just as Jesus tells us in the breaking of the bread, “Do this for the remembrance of me.” Even in the midst of suffering, mourning, and uncertainty there is the sacramental remembrance of Jesus’ eternal presence.

It is in the blessing and breaking of the bread that Jesus is revealed to us and through us over and over again. What begins in the narrative of the Eucharistic prayer reaches it’s crescendo in the fraction – the breaking of the bread following the Lord’s Prayer. Whether we physically partake or spiritually partake of this Communion, we are present as the body, sharing as the body, and revealed as the body of Christ to one another and the world through our shared sacramental journey.

This is the certainty – the answer to what is to come for us. In concert with the sacrament of Holy Communion and each other we have Jesus to guide us on this journey through a disrupted present toward a future that will be revealed bit by bit as we are restored once again to wholeness of mind, body and spirit. Then we will recall, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road?”[2]

[1] Luke 24:49b

[2] Ibid., v. 32.

Let’s declare, “School is open!”

It’s been over three weeks since the staff began working from home, and if others are like me, the disruption of routines has really messed with our sense of time. I am laughing at myself as this thought comes to mind because those who know
me well will recall that I describe myself as having an odd relationship with time. Given this, it may be unthinkable that my relationship with time could be any more messed up.

But all kidding aside, what does a messed up sense of time have to do with this second Sunday of Easter? Well each of our lessons today has its own particular and perhaps purposeful relationship with time. But the one thing they all have in common is that each is written about 60 years after the Passion and Resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. As to why this is, the common presumption is that after about two generations, during which reliance has been placed upon oral tradition as the means for propagating the Gospel, people are realizing there is a need to write these stories down before the remembrance of these things fades away. But what intrigues me about the choice of these stories for today is where they stand in relationship to each other with respect to Easter.

On this second Sunday of Easter, you and I stand chronologically just seven day removed from Sunday of the Resurrection. In contrast, the reading from the Acts of the Apostles takes place 50 days following Jesus’ Resurrection. And on this day of Pentecost Peter and the other Apostles are in the Spirit and in full proclamation mode. Whereas the reading from the Gospel according John is chronologically in a place more similar to ours; it takes place one week after the Resurrection as the disciples are still behind closed doors. They are still processing and sorting out the import of has happened to their community. In terms of time, there are about six weeks between these two stories and they couldn’t be more different. In the Gospel there is elation over the presence of Jesus in our midst, but there’s still a sense of tentativeness as to what it means; whereas in Acts there is boldness of proclamation in the Spirit. Why this difference?

Well the practices of the early Church offer some insight. The season of Lent was and still is used as a time of preparation for those seeking admission into the body of Christ, that is the Church. While Baptism is considered full initiation into the Church, the learning required for Baptism could be likened to 100 level classes; introductory level course work that is prerequisite for advanced work that is to come after one’s Baptism. In the early Church, where adult baptisms are the norm, the primary time for this advance study was during the 50 days following one’s Baptism at Easter. Pentecost marks the end these 50 days, with the coming of the Holy Spirit as an apt indicator of one’s readiness to step fully into the role of disciple. The name for this advanced work is “mystagogy”; that is the teaching of the mystical doctrines of the Church. If this sounds kind of secret society-like, it was at the time because there was a risk of infiltration of the early Church by people who want to destroy it. So you don’t reveal the secrets until you’ve had adequate time to vet candidates for baptism.

We no longer observe this secrecy around the rites of the Church for the sake preserving them; but the need to continue learning beyond the minimum requirements is still important because our faith is not a stagnant or fixed thing. Rather it’s a dynamic journey of growth in which we seek to enhance our fluency and literacy in the life of the Spirit, and grow our capacity for wonder, curiosity, and inquiry into the Divine, whose mystery will only be fully revealed when we stand before them.

If all this seems like a bit of a stretch to find some relevance in the Pentecost story this early in Easter; consider the pairing of this Pentecost story with a “doubting” Thomas on this Sunday following the Resurrection. As an aside, too much is made of Thomas’ “doubting”; the adjective is not even used in our lesson. In fact Thomas is no different than the other disciples who had to see the resurrected Jesus to believe. These disciples had the first-hand testimony of Mary Magdalene, yet they did not believe until they had seen Jesus themselves. To which I might add, given the spotty history of the disciples’ reliability in the time they spent with Jesus, it is completely reasonable of Thomas to want corroborating evidence.

So back to the point at hand; why pair a story of clarity and power that won’t occur for another six weeks with this story of questioning or doubt? I think the contrast serves to illustrate how we evolve from vagueness to clarity of faith. The juxtaposition of these two stories highlights the huge difference between disbelief and questioning. Disbelief is the dismissal of possibility, whereas questioning reveals openness to further evidence or information. Thus Thomas is demonstrating an open posture to an amazing story and stating what would help him comprehend it. This, I think is a good model for all Christians: to be open to possibilities, to ask questions, to seek more information, to continue to learn until the mystery and meaning of Jesus’ teachings and sacrifice become more fully our own.

Today, as we still find ourselves standing in this uncertain time between sheltering in place and reemerging from lock down, and as we are becoming more adept at communicating in new ways, this is a great opportunity for us to give voice to the questions that puzzle us or make us wonder “what if?”

So, as we are still processing and sorting out the import of has happened to our community over the past three plus weeks, let’s declare that school is open! For now, at least until Pentecost, let’s engage in our own “mystagogy” of questioning, assimilating, and opening ourselves to new learning. As a starting point, I ask each of you to submit your question or questions to me by email, text message, or snail mail. With out attribution, I in turn will post your questions anonymously along with my response both on-line and in the weekly email so that we can learn from each other’s inquisitiveness. Over the next six weeks, my hope is that our innate curiosity will lead us further into realms of questioning and understanding where the Spirit will flourish among us.

Alleluia. Christ is risen.

Alleluia. Christ is risen.

The Lord is risen indeed. Alleluia.

This is the beginning of the good news, and it is joyful news indeed. But it is also news that may stretch us in ways we don’t expect; it may lead us places we don’t expect to go, especially if we take it seriously.

Truth often does this. The light of truth often reveals things we do not expect; and sometimes it casts what we take for granted as truths in a lesser light. Consider this morning’s events. Mary Magdalene finds the massive stone improbably removed from the tomb, and what’s more – the tomb is empty. How could this be? She watched Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus place Jesus’ body there and saw the tomb sealed with the stone. An open and empty tomb doesn’t gibe with any rational expectation. It defies common sense. Something implausible has happened.

In this moment of surprise Mary doesn’t remember Jesus foretelling his own death and resurrection. Perhaps she tucked this memory away into a forgotten corner of her consciousness because it seemed so implausible at the time; like an inconvenient truth she’d prefer to ignore. In this moment of shock, Mary would probably like to linger before the empty tomb in dismay and grief, but something compels her to tell this story, to find witnesses. She runs to Peter and John to tell them what she has seen. In this act Mary Magdalene becomes the Apostle to the Apostles. Still, even Peter and John, the closest of Jesus’ followers, also fail to see the truth before them because grief and competition clouds their vision. What will it take to remove the veil from their eyes?

Having found two witnesses to verify what she thinks may be a grave robbing; Mary can finally fully confront her grief. As tears cloud her vision, it is her ears that allow Mary to hear the truth – the truth that it is Jesus standing right in front of her and speaking to her. This is as improbable and unexpected as can be yet it is the truth.

In this moment and throughout the Passion narrative, it is the women – the second-class denizens of their society – who have the ability to be present – to stand in the grievous shadows of suffering and death to see and hear the truth.
I don’t think the choice to reveal the truth to a disenfranchised woman is an accident on the part of John the Evangelist. It is I believe an intentional choice to remind us whom our Savior favors: the poor, the weak, the disenfranchised and the foreigner – those who find themselves at the margins of society. The neglected and uncomfortable often have the ability to see contradictions between reality and the divine.

Such is the life of Cornelius and his household. A Roman citizen living in a foreign land surrounded by people hostile to his very existence because of his position and authority as an occupier of their homeland. Unwelcome by all around him, yet favored by God because he is a devout God-fearer. Yet, despite this, there is a seemingly insurmountable gulf of suspicion between him and the followers of Jesus because of entrenched differences. On one side, affiliation with the occupying forces of the empire, and on the other fixed ideas about what is kosher, what is acceptable to a skittish Apostle with limited imagination – the same Apostle that struggled to recall Jesus’ promise of resurrection. The only thing that can bridge this gulf is divine intervention.

In the Roman Gentile Cornelius God recognizes an otherwise improbable righteousness that needs to be revealed to Peter. But to accomplish this God needs to disabuse Peter of his Judaic prejudice. As with all important lessons learned by Peter, it takes three times for him to get the message. In a hunger induced trance Peter must hear a disembodied voice proclaim three times, “What God has made clean, you must not call profane.”[1] While Peter puzzles over this vision, the Holy Spirit directs him to follow a Roman soldier and two slaves to the home of Cornelius. Given Peter’s exclusive and xenophobic upbringing it’s not difficult to imagine him thinking, “You gotta be kidding me!” as he follows these three untouchables to Cornelius’ home. But it’s the truth. And, by God’s grace, Peter is able to proclaim to Cornelius’ household, “You yourselves know that it is unlawful for a Jew to associate with or to visit a Gentile; but God has shown me that I should not call anyone profane or unclean.”[2]

What a dramatic change of heart for one who is so convinced of his own righteousness! To be honest, we know that this conversion is not perfect – not whole. Peter will continue to waffle a bit when confronted with differing opinions, but this is a monumental change of heart and it follows the arc of Jesus’ Last Supper “commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.”[3]

I thank God for the example of the Apostles: for their imperfect wavering in the face of human realities; and especially for their openness to what Jesus and the Holy Spirit reveal to them. I thank God there is room for wonder, curiosity and questioning in our faith. Otherwise the Apostles may never have changed their minds and enlightened their understanding; and we might go mad meandering after purely rational explanations.

Instead, you and I, through the love of Jesus Christ, can be like Mary Magdalene, Peter, and Cornelius. We can have the veil removed from before our eyes so we too with imagination and vision can stand in the face of the contradictions and prohibitions of our earthly life. And we can choose to follow the way of love wherever it leads us on the path to the implausible truth of resurrected life, where we proclaim:

Alleluia. Christ is risen.

The Lord is risen indeed. Alleluia.

[1] Acts 10:15

[2] Ibid. v. 28

[3] John 15:12

“It is finished.”

On this Good Friday, the absence of our normal gathering for its liturgical observance leaves me feeling bereft and challenged to convey the importance of this sacred day. Liturgical ritual is so full of imagery and action that stimulate our imagination and transport us to a different place, time, and frame of mind that in its absence words seem inadequate.

Yet even if we were able to gather physically to observe this Good Friday, the normal challenge of this day is how to make it relevant to a modern and relatively privileged audience. Usually I appeal to our imagination; imagine you don’t know how this ends, suspend your knowledge of the outcome so you can visualize standing witness at the foot of Jesus’ cross with Mary and her friends. Or, if we are more self-aware and candid, imagine yourself – like Peter and the other disciples – fleeing the horror of it all.

Such pretending may be difficult if our experience of suffering is limited because of a relatively sheltered life. Pretending or imagining becomes an exercise in abstraction in the absence of experience. But this Good Friday may be different for many of us as we find ourselves amid a different kind of oppression this year: an indiscriminate and viral pathogen, which like crucifixion terrifies us with its own excruciating asphyxiation; a shockingly similar death as that meted out to Jesus. With this in mind, perhaps this year the crucifixion of Jesus is a little less abstract; especially to those who have contracted COVID-19 or who have witnessed its terror first-hand. Even if we have been spared first-hand experience with the virus, we have experienced it vicariously through the daily and shocking reports of its havoc.

Perhaps this year it is a bit easier to relate to the Passion narrative – the suffering and death of Jesus Christ. Perhaps this year it easier for us to suspend our knowing, and immerse ourselves in the story as if we are there beside the disciples, grappling with the violence, the fear, and the heart-rending pain of seeing a loved one excruciatingly taken from us; not to mention the fear that we, as his followers, may be next.

In an effort to imagine ourselves as being present with Jesus and his disciples on this eve of the Passover almost 2,000 years ago, let us revisit the night before, Jesus’ last supper with his disciples.

At this supper, we encounter Jesus as teacher. He demonstrates for us an act of love rooted in humility by taking on what others see as a demeaning task – the washing of another’s feet. Yet Jesus tells us that such demeaning service is how one is glorified, and how one glorifies God. Little did we know this self-abasement was a harbinger of what we have witnessed today.

But Jesus goes further; he frames it in the context of a new commandment, “… that you love one another. Just as I have loved you ….”[1] Jesus leaves it at that for the time being; he seems to know that’s as much as we can bear for now. However, this is a tame preview of what Jesus reveals to us today. Today he takes last night’s self-abasing demonstration of love and turns it inside out by literally allowing himself to be asphyxiated, pouring out his life for those he loves – us.

This act may be incomprehensible as we stand by watching. It doesn’t gibe with our expectation. Even Pilate protests and tries to save Jesus’ life. And none of us has the stomach to watch except the Mary’s: the three women who seem to have the ability to love Jesus as he loves them.

As we reflect upon our asphyxiated Jesus at this hour and for the day to come, let us suspend our knowing, and imagine that we have seen our teacher murdered and his body loving removed by two relative strangers: Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus, prepared for burial, and laid in the tomb. For the moment, in the absence of adequate proof, imagine yourself in hiding, wracked with grief, and without hope. “It is finished.”[2] So be it.

[1] John 13:34

[2] John 19:30