At the Casket of a Newborn: A Lenten Reflection

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Yesterday for the second time in my life I stood over a casket that was only a couple feet long.  I had to be there.  The word “had” is such a modest word, designed to be over used and yet I use it here reluctantly and carefully.  I did indeed “have” to stand there.  Nothing external compelled me, only the internal bonds of friendship forged over years of shared experiences with the father of the infant who lay in the casket.  My friendship with Camden was so deep and so suddenly profound that I told many, “I couldn’t NOT be there.”  I had to come.

We arrived to the funeral forty five minutes early and walked into the sanctuary, which happens to be “ground zero” for my spirituality.  It is the sanctuary where I worshiped weekly for nine years during my youth.  It was the sanctuary where my friends and I played ridiculous night games.  It was the sanctuary where I spent hours in prayer and the sanctuary where I was ordained.  That sanctuary holds some profound mysteries.

It’s the season of Lent and so the sanctuary also held the colors and slogans of this time of the liturgical year.  The purple hue was everywhere.  A giant wooden cross, much longer than the casket, hovered over us on the platform.  Decorated cloths held pictures of crowns of thorns and nails with the words of Isaiah woven into them.  “He was wounded for our transgressions, bruised for our iniquities.”

And there right in the middle of it all, was the infant laying in a casket.  And here, right in the middle of my own Lenten journey, was the infant laying in a casket.

Ten short, but tortuously long days earlier her heart had stopped beating during delivery, sending the family and friends into a downward spiral of grief.  I personally read the news in a grocery store parking lot, where I sat in my car for a good ten minutes crying before mustering the strength to go into the store.

Ten days later here I was, standing in Lent, staring at a two foot long casket unable to keep myself even remotely composed.  I wanted to turn around, wipe the tears from my eyes, tell a joke or two and flee back to sunny Utah where I could bury myself back in the drudgery of daily ministry.

Yet as I said at the top of the post, I “had” to be there.  I had to stand there and look at it and cry because this casket is a profound piece of the Easter story that we tell and commemorate every year, even every Sunday.

As I sat there looking at it through tear blurred eyes, I could not escape from the fact that there is something desperately wrong with the world in which we live.  It is as if the casket was calling out, “Houston, we have a problem.  Heaven, we have a problem!”  And as I contemplated the mystery of the infant’s casket, I realized the problem it proclaims goes much deeper than human behavior.

In fact, this Lent I have been thinking a lot about the Galilean Pharisees of Jesus’ time, these people whose job it was to fix people’s behavior.  In the Gospel of Mark we see them partnered with the politicians, known as the Herodians.  They were strange bedfellows for sure, but they had one great thing in common, other than their mistrust of Jesus.  Both of them sought to build religious and political systems and structures to mitigate personal behavior in the hopes of fixing what is wrong with the world.

Then I thought about Jesus who wept at his friend Lazarus’ tomb.  Lazarus didn’t die because of human behavior.  He died because, in the words of the Apostle Paul, “the world has been subjected to futility.”

All of us, from every dot on the spectrum from sinner to saint, carry that futility with us in our bodies and every once in awhile that futility makes itself plainly evident, as it did for my friends on the delivery bed two weeks ago and as it did for my sister five years ago when my niece died of SIDS.  The Pharisees would have chalked the casket up to “secret sin.”  But we know the truth.  This infant did not die because of sin.  This baby died because of a world subjected to futility.

How ridiculously powerless we are in the face of that futility.  In fact, how absurdly powerless all of our pastors, all of our politicians, all of our churches and businesses and universities and clubs and committees and manuals and TV shows and pharmaceutical pills and self help books and rules and laws and systems and structures and so much more are when faced with the casket of an infant!

This Lent, at the casket of an infant, only the almighty God, maker of Heaven and Earth and Jesus Christ his son, savior of Heaven and Earth can break the chains of futility and unleash the tide of Resurrection.

Come oh Easter.

Come oh Christ.

Come oh God.

This world desperately needs you and only you.

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Photo courtesy of my friend Robin Wheeler.

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Ash Wednesday Reflection 2017

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Hey everybody.  Sorry this is a day late but I was unable to post this yesterday because the day got shorter than expected when I spent two hours running and then 1 hour trying and failing to make ashes for our Ash Wednesday service (more on that in the next few days).

But the following is a very cleaned up version of what I tried to share during the homily portion of our Ash Wednesday service last night.  I hope you enjoy it even if it is a day late!


 

The first time I observed Lent, it had nothing to do with Easter.  It was September of my Junior year of high school.  My youth pastor had awakened in me a desire to pursue a holy life and I wanted to work on becoming a better person.  So on August 31st I hatched a plan that for the 30 days of September I would give up television, movies, video games and secular music (which meant the Oldies station).  I would read at least three chapters of Scripture a day, compliment five people and do one act of service.  And I would keep a journal of it all for accountability’s sake.

So for the entire month of September, that is what I did.  I kept a yellow notebook journal with lists of every good deed, every compliment, every Scripture passage along with some written thoughts.  It was in my hands at all times.  People would ask about it but I would not tell them what it was because it was my secret.  Also, I knew even then the whole thing was pretty nerdy.  But the project itself went well.  I didn’t miss one compliment, performed 30 small acts of service and didn’t relapse to the television or the oldies station.

It was only a few months later, in late January, that I found out about Lent, the forty day period for fasting, discipline and prayer.  Since the yellow notebook project had worked so well I decided to do it again for the forty (actually forty six) days of Lent.  This time I used a red notebook and once again I didn’t miss a day, even the Sundays which are supposed to be “feast days.”

I repeated it again the next September and the next Lent after that.  I planned on doing it forever until the crazy, hectic schedule of college life put an end to it.  I have still celebrated Lent every year, just in less intricate ways.

As I have been thinking about that first September with that yellow journal, I have also been reading, “The Patient Ferment of the Early Church” by Alan Kreider which everyone really must read.  Kreider devotes a large section to the early church’s catechesis processes whereby everyday Roman pagans became tried and true and baptized Christians.  Kreider reminded me of what I have always known, that Lent was not originally conceived for the mature Christians.  Lent was more a part of the evangelism process than it was the discipleship process, though it certainly said a lot about discipleship.  Today Lent is something the mature, Super Christians do but originally it was designed for brand new, not yet baptized Christians who wanted to know more and be more like Jesus.  The forty days were intended to help these new, curious Christians figure out what Christianity was all about before they committed their lives to it by baptism.  In short, this forty day period of discipline, fasting and prayer was the means by which they were apprenticed into Christianity.

Over time each new Christian was expected to have a mature mentor and eventually those mentors began fasting during Lent as a way of journeying alongside and bearing with the new Christians.  Over time even those who were not mentoring new Christians began fasting during Lent as well so that they too could be with the new believers.

I don’t want you to miss the very profound point that all illustrates.  Even though Lent was not intended for them, the mature Christians commemorated it every year, not as a sign of their Christian maturity, but as a sign that they were willing to be weak to help the weak.  Once a year they wanted to pretend to be brand new Christians again.  They wanted to arrive at Resurrection Morning as if they were experiencing God’s grace for the very first time.  They were willing to “start over” as it were on their faith journey and become as children again, taking forty days to remember their sins and experience their weaknesses so that on Easter morning they could share more fully in the baptism of the new believers.

This is relevant for us because I have noticed that a funny thing happens as we mature in the faith.  As we get further and further away from our own baptism we begin to forget about grace.  The further we get from our “come to Jesus” moments, the more we forget the true nature of grace and the true meaning of our baptism.  Put another way, as we mature we become self righteous and proud, forgetting that we too were once wretched. Therefore, the ashes tonight are not signs of how mature our Christianity is, but signs that we want to remember our beginning, return to our roots and be humbled by our weaknesses again so that grace can grab hold of us anew on Easter morning.

For me, this means that when I receive the ashes tonight I am once again a junior in high school with all the awkwardness that comes with.  I am sitting again in my room on a hot August night, facing my own weaknesses, ashamed of own my sin and humbled by my own inadequacies.  Once more I am 17 years old and feeling the weight of holiness’ call and not quite sure what to do about it.  So I fast a few unhelpful practices, vow to commit a few helpful ones and take up a yellow journal, all so that I can work out my own salvation because, after all, it is God who is at work in me to will and to act according to God’s wonderful purposes.  And, as I did so many years ago, I again trust only God to deliver me to a grace filled Easter morning.

Why Feast? Why Easter?

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It is now common knowledge that we live in a country and in a culture where the vast majority of people are entertaining themselves to death.  We binge watch Netflix while binge eating potato chips.  We have 350 channels, (some of which specialize in both golf and fishing), and billions of websites, (half of which are pictures of cats).  As if our living rooms were not personal enough, those channels and websites now fit in our pockets where we can pull them out and stare at them in a moment’s notice.  All of this preoccupies our attention and takes us away from the stuff in life that truly matters.

The end result is that we are turning into a kind of zombie, neither jovial nor morose, not quite lifelike but also not quite dead, not entirely rejoicing and not entirely mourning, just passing the hours staring at super heroes throwing things at each other while we stuff our faces with Doritos.

Churches have not helped much in this regard.  Our funerals last maybe an hour.  We rush by the widows, giving them our quick regards before rushing home to watch half celebrities dance the tango.  And forget doing mournful services for other sorrowful events, like the loss of a job, the loss of an important relationship, or the loss of good health.  We might send a card, if we are one of the faithful few left.  We do not make nearly enough time to sit in the ash heaps with our mourning friends.  And if we do visit, it will be no time at all before we suggest doing something “fun” to “get the mind off” the pain.

We are equally abysmal when it comes to rejoicing.  Our holidays are only slightly longer than funerals, mere 24 hour period breaks before we resume the hectic rush of life.  This unless we work in retail, which means our holy-days are the busiest days of the year and filled with sinful mobs.  The days after both Thanksgiving and Christmas we flood the shopping lines to either buy or return unwanted gifts before going back to work.  When something good happens in a friends’ life we rush to their party and then rush away.  Sometimes we even blame them for the fact that we stink at rejoicing, saying that they should have been more “fun” or that the party should have been better “planned” like the episode of the Bachelor we are going home to watch.

In short, we hurry our mourning and we hurry our rejoicing so that we can go back to being zombies as soon as possible.

To the extent in which the above is accurate, the church has a powerful tool for restoring abundant life to our petrified existences.  Over centuries we have developed a calendar that tells time differently than the rather bleak time of the world.  This calendar has times for fasting and mourning and times for feasting and rejoicing.  By celebrating the calendar, we remember that our God has commanded us to both mourn and to rejoice and not to stare at smartphones.

In fact, for a Kingdom that is here but not yet here, mourning and rejoicing are two sides of the same coin.  In our faith, we cannot fast without feasting and we cannot feast without fasting.  Both are commanded by God and both are means of grace by which we grow in Christ likeness.

This is why I have found that we should never do the 40 days of Lent without the 50 days of Easter.  Feasting is as much a Christian discipline as fasting and it affects our prayer life in equally profound ways.  In fact, over time the church has created way more “feast days” than “fast days.”  A cursory glance at a liturgical calendar might reveal at least 3 a week.  Though we certainly went overboard in that regard, one of the best ways to prevent the zombification of our society is to lead our people in times of both fasting and feasting as acts of prayer.

In such thinking, the 50 days of Easter are incredible for helping people rediscover the joy and celebration that only a Resurrected Messiah can bring.  Easter feasting is a way of reminding ourselves that all good and perfect gifts come from the Father who fully intends us to enjoy them in life giving ways.  After fasting for Lent our Easter feast reminds us that though we are weak, God is strong.  Though we are poor in spirit, God has given the Spirit in great measure.  Though we are broken, we know a great physician!  For this reason anybody who gave up something for the 40 days of Lent should take up something for the 50 days of Easter.

This is by no means to introduce us to periods of gluttony followed by periods of anorexia followed by more gluttony.  Feasting is not calorie indulgence and neither is fasting calorie neglect.  But it is to help us rediscover the practice of mourning with those who mourn and rejoicing with those who rejoice.  While we fast we take a good hard look at ourselves and the world and are shocked again by all the futility, or “vapor” as the author of Ecclesiastes calls it.  But while we feast we remember that God is greater than our futility and his Kingdom is far more profound than anything else this world has to offer, especially those super hero’s who can’t help but throw things at each other.

Easter is easy for me this year.  After suffering without coffee for 40 days of Lent, the last three mornings, I have hovered over my dark, warm cup, breathing in those sweet fumes and thanking God for guaranteeing us an eternity of abundance.  He is Risen Indeed!

On that note, Happy Easter!  I hope the resurrection hope shines the greater as you celebrate our coming King!

Maundy Thursday Reflection: Loving God by Loving Our Neighbor

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To read: Mark 12:28-34John 14:15-21

If you are reading this today my guess is that you know the answer to the question, “what is 2+3?”  You probably didn’t even have to think about it.  In fact, from what I understand about how our crazy subconscious mind works, you saw the formula and didn’t even register the 2 or the 3 but just thought 5.  I am also guessing if you have gone anywhere near a church in the last 20 or so years and I say, “quote John 3:16,” in no time at all the words”For God so loved the world” will fly out of your mouth.

Some questions are too easy to answer.

So it is that Jesus’ time of testing in front the Chief Priests, the Pharisees and Sadducees comes to a close with the dumbest question of all questions, at least to a 1st century Jew.  “Teacher, what is the greatest commandment?”

They grilled him about his authority.  They tried to capture him on taxes.  Then they brought a ridiculously complex hypothetical about the resurrection.  Now all that is left is something akin to 5 year old theology.  They may as well have asked him to sing the song, “Jesus loves me, this I know.”

The question about the greatest commandment was not an opinion question.  It was not the stuff of political debates or news columns.  It had a right answer and a wrong answer and everybody around Jesus had learned the right answer at the beginning of their lives.  The greatest commandment was that there was one and only one God and we are to love that God with everything we have.  This had been clearly established for thousands of years.

On that note, I have no idea what the teacher of the law hoped to prove by asking the question.  He may have seen the failure of his friends and grasped at desperation.  He may have been something akin to a sophomore theology student who had just heard a convincing but vain argument that “loving God” wasn’t the most important and he seriously wanted Jesus to weigh in.  We have no idea but somehow Jesus is reduced to kindergarten status in the teacher of the law’s eyes and a slow ball is lobbed right across the plate.

Jesus hits the home run.

I imagine Jesus rolled his eyes before blandly reciting Deuteronomy 6:4 and 5 to appease the onlookers.  But then, after quoting everybody’s favorite Bible verse, Jesus didn’t stop talking.  He answered another question that hadn’t been asked, “And the second is like it.  Love your neighbor as yourself.  There is no greater commandment than these.”

There is convincing evidence that the second greatest commandment had all ready been agreed upon as well by the theologians of Jesus’ day.  What he said did not surprise them in the least.  There was little to no debate on the importance of loving your neighbor, even though that command is buried in more obscure parts of the Old Testament.

And yet, by including the second commandment, and by saying, “it is like it” Jesus is doing something far more subversive.  That phrase which we translate “is like it” suggests much more equality in Greek than it might in English.  Jesus is saying, “The second commandment is exactly like the first.”  There is no distinguishing mark between them.  The second is the first.  The first is the second.  We love God by loving our neighbor.

Today is Maundy Thursday.  Contrary to popular belief it is not “Monday Thursday” which I assume refers to the first day back at work after a 5 day weekend that began last Saturday.  It is “Maundy” which is Latin for “Mandate.”  We so named this Thursday because at the Last Supper before he was betrayed Jesus told his disciples, “This is my new mandate, that you love one another.” (John 13:38).

That same night Jesus goes on to say, “Whoever has my commands and keeps them is the one who loves me.”  The commands are to love.  We love God by loving our neighbor.  There is no separation between love of God and love of neighbor.  The first greatest commandment is the second.

In Mark 12, I am not sure if the teacher of the law picked up on this nuance but he still seemed pleased.  He recited a common line from the Old Testament prophets that, “These are more important than burnt offerings or sacrifices.”

And Jesus replied, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.”

Tonight as we gather around the table of the Lord and hear again the new mandate to love one another, may we also not be far from the kingdom of God.

Heavenly father, in love draw us nearer to your presence.  And also with love breathe us out to continue to love one another.

Holy Tuesday Reflection: The Currency of Our Kingdom

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To read: Mark 12:13-17, Romans 12:1-2

I got a new credit card this morning in the mail.  It is white with silver lettering.  The horse and chariot of Wells Fargo gallop across it above an American Express logo.  It certainly looks pretty and somewhat majestic.  It even has one of those space agey computer chips on it to remind me that the world of Star Trek is but a breath away.

But the interesting thing about this credit card, from a historical standpoint, is not what image is on it but what image is not.  For millenia the various governments of the world have proudly stamped their image on our money to remind us of their sovereign authority.  Instead mine now has a corporation’s logo on it.  There is probably a PhD thesis to be written about the fact that corporations’ images now line our currency instead of politicians’.

Be that as it may, after I went to activate my new card online, I realized my old card had a balance.  So in one or two clicks I paid it off and cleared my debts, giving to Visa that which belonged to Visa, giving to Wells Fargo that which belonged to Wells Fargo.

It was a fitting practice to perform right before returning to Mark 12 where a second group takes a stab at trying to trap Jesus in his words.  The Chief Priests, who I wrote about yesterday, were very forward, almost blunt.  The Pharisees, living up to their reputation, are much more conniving.  They try flattery first to get Jesus feeling comfortable before they blindside him with a question.  I enjoy the CEB’s interpretation of the verse:

“Teacher, we know that you’re genuine and you don’t worry about what people think. You don’t show favoritism but teach God’s way as it really is. Does the Law allow people to pay taxes to Caesar or not? Should we pay taxes or not?” Mark 12:14

I have no idea what favoritism or teaching God’s way or genuineness has to do with paying taxes and Jesus doesn’t seem to either.  Jesus also seems to know what Minna Antrim would later say, “Between flattery and admiration flows a river of contempt.”

Seeing right through them, Jesus asks for a coin, refers to Caesar’s image on it and blandly says, “So then give to Caesar that which belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God.”  Put more simply, “Pay your bills.  Clear you debts and then give everything else to God.”

I wrote a couple weeks ago that the image of God is written on us.  After all we were created in it.  So when we sacrifice ourselves to God, we give to God that which belongs to God.  We are the currency of God’s kingdom, a kingdom without money but nevertheless with great power.

But Jesus’ reply also looks forward to his own crucifixion, that moment where he became a dead sacrifice, completely sold out to God’s mission and God’s kingdom.  On the cross, a very Roman and very Caesar cross, Jesus gave us the ultimate example of one who gave to Caesar that which belonged to Caesar and to God that which belonged to God.  Jesus became our currency.

The Pharisees were hoping to trap Jesus in treason, a feat the Chief Priests later accomplished through the clever use of the word and metaphor of “king” before Pilate.  But the Pharisees’ clever question in the temple only succeeded in foretelling that which was coming, the moment when Jesus as “the image of the invisible God” would give back to God that which belonged to God, the perfect sacrifice for the sins of the world.

But we, who also bear God’s image, would do well to remember that the cross doesn’t exactly let us off the hook.  Remember our call is to pick up our crosses and follow Jesus, becoming living sacrifices who are no longer conformed to the patterns and images of Caesar or Wells Fargo or Visa or Master Card  and their worlds but are transformed by the renewing of our minds into people who know and do God’s pleasing and perfect will.

Dear heavenly father, we who bear your image give ourselves to you again today that we may know and follow your perfect will for us. 

Holy Monday Reflection: The Kind of Hero We Need

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For those of you closet Christians, this is a quite notable week in our faith.  It all began yesterday as we celebrated Palm Sunday, the reenactment of Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem.  From today to Wednesday we study the teachings of Jesus in the temple.  Then on Thursday we gather together for a “Maundy” or “New Commandment” Service where we wash feet and sing about love.  Friday night we descend into darkness as we extinguish candles during a Tenebrae service.  On Saturday we wait.  And then on Sunday the party gets going!

If you are a Christian, this is our week.  It is our time to fast, to pray, to meditate and to attend the special services and to long for the salvation that only Christ can bring.  The goal of Holy Week is to give ourselves over again to the story that we believe changed the world.

But there is another story happening Friday that my news feed won’t shut up about.  It is the epic showdown between Batman and Superman.  And don’t get me wrong, I am kind of excited for Batman Vs. Superman, or BvS as us cool kids are calling it now.  And like most cool kids I am more excited for the “B” than for the “S.”  I fell in love with the Batman mythos through Christopher Nolan’s trilogy, whose stunning second act, “The Dark Knight,” is considered one of the best movies ever made.

The closing act of that movie gave us an iconic line about heroes as Commissioner Gordon tells his recently rescued son, “Batman is the hero we need but not the one we deserve right now.”  That line, right up there with the best of all movie lines, still resonates today.  Sometimes our hero doesn’t look the way we want the hero to look.  Sometimes the hero we need is not the one we want or deserve.  Sometimes the conquering king is actually a crucified criminal.  Sometimes the way, the truth and the life is a carpenter’s son from the middle of nowhere.

That can be quite unsettling.  As a pastor friend and New Testament scholar once reminded me, “The good news doesn’t sound like good news to some people.”

In Mark 11, after Jesus’ triumphal entry, those in established authority roles get nervous.  To them Jesus is not gospel.  He is threat.  He threatens to steal their followers.  He threatens to expose their arrogance and ignorance.  He threatens their long held beliefs.  He threatens their prejudices and power.  And they are not cool with that,  In fact, to them he just might be the kid in the crowd who yells, “Wait, that emperor isn’t wearing any clothes!”

So the chief priests go to Jesus and ask, “What kind of authority do you have for doing these things?  Who gave you this authority?” (Mark 11:28).

Jesus is rather coy.  He asks them a question about where John the Baptist’s authority came from, a very clever question because there is not a right answer.  I imagine they stuttered and stammered as they weighed their lack of options before spitting out, “Um, we don’t know.”

But then Jesus tells them a parable about the misuse of authority.  Like most parables it points out to the Chief Priests that they had asked the wrong question.  They wanted to know the source of authority.  Jesus wanted them to know about the misuse of authority.  Jesus told them about a vineyard owner who sent several messengers to collect his share of the profits.  They beat and killed all of the messengers who were sent until the owner finally sent his son, whom they also beat and killed.  Then Jesus closes the parable with, “But the stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone” (Mark 12:10-11).

This is not good news to those in authority.  Jesus is not the hero they want at this point and the gospel has become threat.  The stone we builders rejected has become the stone that holds the entire building up.  That tells the world we don’t know much about building after all.

In the same way the gospel reminds us that we are not all that great about religion.  The prophet the theologians and pastors and good church people rejected has become the savior of the world.  The vigilante the police force is trying to capture has become the symbol of justice in our city.  The ingredient the expert chefs threw out is now on the menu of every restaurant in America.

One of the reasons we take great care in telling the Easter story during Holy Week every year is because we need constant reminder that we are the foolish builders, the misguided theologians, the over zealous police force, the lousy cooks.  Yes, we don’t want the world to know it.  Like most people, I would prefer if you all believed I knew what I was talking about.

But in the end our salvation can only come by accepting the truth that the hero we rejected, the one we crucified has become and will always be the savior of the world.

We should not be like those chief priests who immediately wanted to arrest Jesus on the spot.  Instead we should accept the truth of our errors for what it is and turn towards Jesus the author of eternal life.  Only by admitting our ignorance and arrogance and repenting towards the truth can we enter into the glorious Easter morning.

Dear heavenly father, help me to accept the cornerstone and grant me newness of life this Holy Monday morning.

 

 

Why Lent, Why Fast Part 4: Feast Days!

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Very early on in Christianity the new believers began meeting every Saturday night or Sunday morning to celebrate the Resurrection of Jesus.  They thought the Resurrection was such a world changing event, they celebrated its anniversary every single week.  Contrary to popular belief, they did not believe Jesus created a new Sabbath on Sundays.  They just were so appreciative of the reality of the resurrection, a resurrection that guarantees our own resurrections, that they threw a dinner party for it once a week and invited anybody who wanted to come join them!

For that reason, when they eventually began the season of Lent, they allowed those fasting to break their fasts on Sundays, a practice which continues to today.  The thinking was that if Lent is suffering with Christ, we should not suffer on the weekly anniversary of the Resurrection.

With that said, I have never celebrated the feast days until this year.  I figured the practice was a little trite and some part of me felt guilty for breaking my fast for the Feast days.  I am not sure what changed in me but this year I decided I should celebrate the Feast days just to see what happened.  Spoiler alert: I found the practice quite meaningful.

Not only did the feast days better accentuate Sundays as the miniature celebrate of Easter that they are, but it also made the weekly fasting more meaningful.

The very first Sunday of Lent, I had just finished my very painful detox of caffeine.  I was so miserable at that point, that the very thought of giving my body that which it had been craving, only to take it away again seemed cruel.  And if I hadn’t decided to celebrate the feast days before that moment, I would have gone without coffee that day and probably all 45 days of Lent.

But I always do what I set out do, so that first Sunday I brewed some coffee.  After pouring it into my mug, I took a moment to smell the glorious aroma.  I then sipped, very slowly and very cautiously the bold, black substance on my walk to church.  The very next day I was suffering with Jesus again with headaches, chills, spasms and lethargy.

Now it has been five weeks and the preoccupation with caffeine is almost entirely out of my body, if not yet out of my soul.  I am not lethargic.  I am not shaky.  I feel just as energized as I did with coffee and I certainly don’t get any withdrawal symptoms on Mondays.  But Sundays certainly have a new enthusiasm and energy as the caffeine provides double the energy it formerly did!

But the feast days have not been about the renewed energy.  They have been about that first smell of coffee, that wonderful aroma drifting up into my nose.  Smell, after all, is the least appreciated sense.  I heard once that aromas are locked into our memories long after sounds and tastes and sights are gone.  The very waft of a smell can bring back a flood of nostalgia or hatred.  A smell can alter our mood quicker than any of the other senses can.  And on the weekdays without coffee, I miss the smell the most.  So on Sundays when I first hover over the mug, the smell reminds me that as dour and dark as this world may be, there is a newer, brighter day coming when our bodies shall be raised from the dead.  Those who are dead in Christ shall be made alive!  We are new creations!  Jesus is making all things new!  I long for Easter that much more and for the better world that Jesus’ second return will bring.

This morning I talked to my congregation about the necessity of not losing hope.  I argued that when we lose hope we crucify Jesus all over again.  When we escape our strongholds of hope, we become enslaved again by fear and rage and death.

And sometimes all we need to remain in the safety of hope is the smell of dark coffee on a Sunday morning.

Tune back tomorrow for some Holy Week reflections.