Life in the Spirit
Some of the most poignant pictures flashed across the world in the wake of natural or military disasters are those of orphaned children. Their inherent vulnerability is compounded by their victimization; they seem to be wandering about aimlessly. With unguarded expressions they cry out with grief and fear. They are so helpless, and they look so hopeless. To be orphaned means to be alone.
Judging from the lectionary texts, this fifth Sunday of Easter would be best named the Sunday of Mixed Messages. In the Gospel, Jesus begins with the comforting words "Do not let your hearts be troubled" (John 14:1) but the passage is about his leaving those closest to him. Those among us trying to cope with the loss of loved ones can only shout back "but of course my heart is troubled!" The letter of Peter celebrates the stone rejected as cornerstone, and then complicates matters by proclaiming the stone simultaneously an obstacle.
Follow the leader!
The Fourth Sunday of Easter has traditionally been known as 'Good Shepherd Sunday,' since readings today elaborate this theme. Their particular focus today is on leadership. Whose leadership will we follow? In the ancient Near Eastern world, kings were often characterized as shepherds of their people, because they were responsible for every aspect of their welfare. This same characterization is used in the Bible to describe the providence of God (Ezekiel 34).
I am the aunt of thirteen wonderful nieces and nephews and three "grands." Thus, I do have some experience with babies and young children. Parents (and aunts and uncles) will recognize that when young ones are happy to greet you or want to be "raised up" their whole body gestures for such embrace. However, if they do not want to be picked up or held, their body becomes stiff and resistant. Throughout this Lent and Holy Week, perhaps we have become more open and ready to be "raised up" once again with Jesus our Christ.
The procession with palms and the reading of the Passion mark the beginning of the most significant week in the annual Christian cycle - leading us from the joyful entry of Jesus into Jerusalem, through his passion and death, to the resurrection of Easter. However, this Holy Week is not intended to simply be a "walk down memory lane" with our heads. Rather, it is an invitation to become engaged in Jesus' journey and to make connections with our own journey in our heart, mind, and soul. How are we to live and to face our challenges as Jesus faced his?
The Scripture readings for the Fifth Sunday of Lent invite us to come out of our place of captivity and to place our trust and hope in God who can transform death into life and can make the impossible possible.
One of the striking things about the Bible is its wealth of images, many of which have worked their way into our ordinary language and literature. The readings for this Sunday contain two such images, one of the "shepherd" and the other of "light." Both invite our reflection in the course of this season of Lent.
If you have ever traveled by rail, at some point you may have heard or seen a message warning you to "mind the gap," urging you to pay attention to the space between the platform and the train in the process of boarding or leaving the train. Some say the particular expression began with the London Underground but now variations are found across the globe drawing passengers' attention to the potential risk of ignoring that space.
This Sunday's lectionary presents us with an option that should be accompanied by a "mind the gap" caution. One of the lengthiest, and deeply theological and political, conversations in the Gospels occurs between Jesus and the unnamed Samaritan woman in John 4:5-42. However, the lectionary offers an option for an abridged version that leaves out several key verses including 4:16-18, and half of verse 39.