examination for life – a visit from Jesus

Image you know someone who has always dreamed of visiting the Great Wall of China. It probably wouldn’t come as a surprise to hear that someone would want to visit the Great Wall. Parts of that wall were built as long as eighteen hundred years ago by the first emperor of China – most of it was built about 500 years ago during the Ming Dynasty. It’s an historic, long and winding wall that was first built for the purposes of security and defense, and later was used as a means of regulating trade along the Silk Road. The oldest parts of the wall were made of earth and stone and wood – while the majority was constructed from brick and stone. The Great Wall of China now measures 9,000 kilometers or more in length and of course is a UNESCO world heritage site. There are tens of thousands of people who dream of seeing the Wall – this amazing feat of human engineering – tens of thousands who dream of having those ancient bricks and steps beneath their own feet.

So imagine this person you know, who has dreamed of visiting the Great Wall of China – and imagine they are finally able to make the trip. They save up enough money to pay for the airfare. They put together an itinerary; they make reservations at hotels; they book a seat on a tour bus. And the day arrives when they finally get to the wall – they step out of the bus and walk up to the wall. Oh it is glorious. They see it stretch of endlessly in one directly and in the other – they walk up the few steps onto the wall, and for a few minutes they look this way and that.

And then they turn around, go back and get on the bus, and take their seat. “Okay, I’ve seen it, I’m ready to head back to the hotel whenever you are.”

Now that would be a very strange ending to the story, wouldn’t it? That great dream; that hope of seeing the Wall; those months of saving and planning. Only to get there, have a quick look, and turn around to leave. Continue reading

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poem for palm sunday

PALM SUNDAY

     hymn

Time-pressed sedimentary, igneous, metamorphic rocks
Burst with anticipation that, human voices stayed,
Their moment of unlocked eloquence and
Soaring speech might finally arrive.

But vocal chords reverberate with ancient choruses,
Embodying praise for earth divinely imagined, given,
Gathering sentiments of quartz, kingfisher and crocodile:
Hosanna! King! Saviour!

     recoil

Impossible words, these,
An unlikely thing, this,
For ears untrained, minds unprepared,
Hearts hardened and unremitting in (un)generous doubt.

We would muzzle rocks,
And mock too-easy faith and hope,
Unless our own in human ingenuity unleashed,
In mean and method, device and digital tomorrow.

     walk

Whisper of fabric, cloaks lifted again across shoulders,
Palms tossed aside, withering echo of a song.
He silently surveys ancient bricked courtyards,
Seeking in crack and crevice, faithfulness and mercy.

Disappointment and departure,
Reculant in sad reversal of pomp and procession,
Bethany re-christened ‘disappointment,’
Thud of stone over Lazarus’ grave.

     persist

Resistance is ours only,
ultimacy not granted to our ‘no’,
flintlike, his face,
‘yes’. 

     three days

Wrestling with Jesus – on Palm Sunday

This morning we are looking at a passage from the New Testament – from the twenty-first chapter of Matthew’s gospel. Of course it’s the familiar story of the triumphal entry – it’s the story of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem, on the way to his death.

But before we look at this text, I’d like to take us way back in the biblical narrative for a moment – all the way back to the narrative of Genesis – all the way back to a story about Jacob. In Genesis 32, Jacob is on his way back to meet his brother Esau – a brother he is convinced is murderously angry with him. And when Jacob gets nearer to the territory where his brother lives, closer to the moment of encounter, he sends his whole entourage on ahead. He sends all of his family and livestock and servants on ahead. And he spends the night alone in the main camp. We read these words in Genesis:

The same night, Jacob was left alone; and a man wrestled with him until daybreak. When the man saw that he could not prevail against Jacob, he struck him on the hip socket; and Jacob’s hip was put out of joint as he wrestled with him. Then the man said: “Let me go, for the day is breaking.” But Jacob said, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.” So the man said to Jacob: “What is your name?” And he said, “Jacob.” Then the man said: “You shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with humans and have prevailed.” And there he blessed him. The sun rose upon Jacob as he passed the town of Penuel, limping because of his hip. Continue reading

palm sunday lamentation

When we imagine the first Palm Sunday, and when we re-enact it in our worship

there is a celebratory waving of palm branches,

            there are joyful cries of hosanna,

there are children dancing with ribbons,

Palm Sunday is all of these things. It is joy, it is celebration – it is, in the broadest sense of the word, laughter. God has come to his people. Jesus is the king who brings the reign of God to our world. Joy makes sense.

When we read the narrative of that first Palm Sunday from Luke chapter 19, we find an apt and beautiful conclusion in verse 40. That verse gives a great sense of completion to the story. In verse 40, Jesus says to the religious leaders who object to this procession of disciples – Jesus says to the religious leaders: “I tell you if my disciples were silent, the stones themselves would shout out blessing and glory.” Continue reading

Palm Sunday Reflections

I am among you as one who serves. 

In abstract – in general, we can get our heads around this idea. Sure, Jesus is one who serves. Jesus washes feet. Jesus touches the leper. Jesus heals a sick child. Jesus provides food for the hungry crowd. In the abstract – in general we can get our heads around this idea.

Many of you will be familiar with Mark Twain’s novel, The Prince and the Pauper – and if not familiar with the novel itself, you will be familiar with one of the many television programs or movies or stage plays that have retold that classic tale. Two young men, through a chance encounter, discover that they look almost impossibly alike – yet they come from dramatically different worlds. The one is a prince, heir to the throne and to great power and wealth. The other lives in poverty, among the poorest of the poor.  The look-alikes as you will recall, decide to exchange places for a time – and as that wonderful little phrase goes, hijinks ensue. Each is more than a little lost in the other’s world. Each takes more than a few days to find his bearing in a world that functions according to a different set of rules. The pauper doesn’t know which fork to use at a royal dinner. The prince doesn’t know how to respond to the violence or injustice to which he is treated.

Continue reading