Lenten Letters

To my fellow pilgrims in this season of Lent

Last Sunday, I was delighted to be part of a warm and wonderful time of worship that was centred around a vision of being “all-in” with God who, through the humble birth and painful death of Christ, has certainly demonstrated that God is “all-in” with us.

In John 12:1-8 this week, we see that idea come to life in the picture of Mary kneeling before Jesus – her Teacher, her Saviour, her Friend – in humble adoration. As she looks upon feet that have walked the length and breadth of her world and that will soon be wounded for love’s sake, she, in an extravagant and unselfconscious act, removes the stopper from an alabaster jar and anoints them with a fragrant treasure, wiping his feet with her hair.

Judas recoils with horror at the waste. 

He’s not upset about her blatant disregard for rabbinic law which allowed for only a few drops of inexpensive oil to perfume the water used for foot-washing by a really caring and hospitable host. Neither is he referring to the waste of what was probably her only inheritance and the economic implications that such an act would have on her future security as an unmarried woman. He is really bemoaning a lost opportunity to “give money to the poor” while lining his own pocket.

I recoil too. Not at the waste, but at the intimacy and humiliation implicit in her act. At the thought of spending time on my knees on a hard floor. At the idea of touching someone else’s calloused feet. At the image of my freshly-washed-every-morning hair clumped together in oil, wet with my tears. At imagining all of those men standing, watching, gaping in judgment over me.

Being a decent-enough disciple is not terribly difficult. Especially when we can use the priorities of God’s kingdom to advance our own agenda, reinforce our opinions of others through “God’s words”, satisfy our needs for belonging and affirmation, and create our own little piece of heaven here on earth for others who know how to behave appropriately in our space. 

But being “all-in” with God in the way that Mary was in that moment of pure and unashamed devotion – well, that just makes me uncomfortable. How about you?

***

Fast forward a few weeks in your imagination to the well known stories that we will again hear over Holy week and Easter:
~ of Judas whose love for money and whose own ideas of what the Messiah should do leads him to betray Christ with a kiss, to regret his choice, and to hang himself in sorrow;
~ of Mary whose love for Jesus leads her to the foot of the cross; a witness of his death and then, after taking a similar vial of perfume to his tombstone to tend to his body, of his resurrection.

This week in Lent, I invite us to sit with these two characters and the discomfort that each of them may bring us as we consider what it might cost us to be “all-in” with God – and what it might cost us if we aren’t. And, in our discomfort, may we encounter God’s unconditional, extravagant love which accompanies and sustains us in the searching and the questioning, the wondering and the wrestling. For God is “all-in” with us regardless of whether or not we’re quite there yet.

Yours, in Christ,

Yvonne 

Day Twenty Nine: Liminal Living

Psalm 148

Isaiah 61:10-62:3

Luke 2:22-40

Galatians 4:4-7

“Year’s end is neither an end nor a beginning 
but a going on, with all the wisdom that experience can instil in us.”

Hal Borland

What beautiful, and pertinent, Scriptures, for this liminal time: the old year making way minute by minute for the new …

… like Mary emerging from the period of ritual separation or purification following her son’s birth to present Jesus at the temple and offer her sacrifice of doves (Luke 2:22) …

… or Simeon, who had been waiting his whole life for the coming of the consolation of Israel, declaring that he was ready to be released in peace now that the Light was out in the open for everyone to see (Luke 2:29-30) …

… or faithful Anna, an elderly prophetess who spent all her time at the temple, fasting and praying, now breaking into an anthem of praise and thanksgiving to God at their Redemption come into the world (Luke 2:37-38) ….

Zion’s righteousness
blazing down like the sun at dawn;
Jerusalem’s salvation
flaming up like a torch in the darkness
(Isaiah 62:1)

– that now
when the fullness of time had come,
we might receive the Spirit of adoption
in our hearts
through that self-same child
and cry,
“Abba,

Father!

Daddy!!”

(Galatians 4:4-6)

not because of anything that we have 
attempted,
resolved,
done,
or not done,

but because God has clothed us
with the garment of salvation
and covered us
with the robe of righteousness
(Isaiah 61:10).

In this liminal space, we have the opportunity to experience neither a beginning nor an end, but an ongoing growth and transition
from slave to child,
from child to heir,
with God
and in God
and through God (Galatians 4:7).

Our experience of 
the earth bringing up its shoots 
in each shifting season
or of a garden causing that which is sown in it to spring up long after we have forgotten what we had even planted in a particular patch 
is a powerful testimony to the faithfulness and the capacity of God 
to bring righteousness and praise to full bloom within our lives in the coming year.

Rather than resolving,
planning,
striving,
failing,
(or even succeeding),
perhaps the invitation of this new year
is to rest,
to trust,
to receive 
what God would give God’s children.

May the Turner of our Nights and Days
give us hope in each beginning,
thankfulness in each ending,
and the peace of his presence
for each moment in between.

Day Twenty Two: Home

2 Samuel 7:1-11,16
Luke 1:46b-55
Romans 16:25-27
Luke 1:26-38

This year was a tumultuous one for my family and I as we sold the house that we had dreamed of, built, and lived in for fifteen years; packed a lifetime of memories into 52 boxes; and immigrated to an unfamiliar land with the hope and the promise that God would go ahead to prepare a place for us ….

In the midst of all the uncertainty and anxiety lay this grace: that we had a home to go to, a place of our own where we would be sheltered and safe while jobs, schools, church, furnishing etc. slowly fell into place.

Home. Our home. From the moment we inserted the key in the lock and opened up a welcome space, all of the unfamiliarities and inconveniences and heartaches suddenly seemed manageable.

Home.

King David had found one in the conquered city of Jerusalem. All settled in, he was suddenly conscious of the fact that while he enjoyed the comfort and protection of his cedar house, the Spirit of the Lord had been residing in a plain tent since the liberation of the Israelites from slavery in the land of Egypt.

Yet even as he ponders building a dignified sanctuary for the Lord, God declares:

“ I shall build you a house.
I who took you from leading sheep to leading my people,
who raised you from a humble shepherd to a conquering king;
I who have been with you and gone before
and granted you victory after victory over your enemies –
I will appoint a place for my people
and ensure that your family and your royal kingdom are permanently ensured”
(2 Samuel 7:11-16, paraphrased).

Home.

A home worthy for a king: the King of Creation, our Prince of Peace.

And so God sent the angel Gabriel to a small village called Nazareth, in Galilee, to a young virgin named Mary who was engaged to be married to a man from David’s line.

And Gabriel appeared to her and said:

“Good morning!
You’re beautiful with God’s beauty,
Beautiful inside and out!
God be with you,”
(Luke 1:28, The Message).

Mary was perplexed – and probably more than a little shaken – to receive such a greeting from this divine messenger.

As we may well be when we realise that God does not want to be housed in an ornate temple that we visit on sacred days or even relegated to the mysterious heights of heavens …

but God chooses to make God’s home with and within us.

God is with us:
settled into the ordinary and the everyday of our routines,
present  for our wonderings and our worryings,
sitting in on our questions and our conversations,
welcoming the visitors to our door
and walking with us through the neighbourhood …

… God is home

… we remember and we celebrate – particularly this night.

Light a candle or leave a light on this night as a symbol of welcome and invitation to God who longs to make home with you.

Last lessons: Extravagance

*Monday of Holy Week: John 12:1-11*

 Jesus said,
“Leave her alone. She bought it so that she might keep it for the day of my burial. You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me.”
Verses 7-8

Oh Lord who raised Lazarus from the dead,
and, in your last days, reclined at the dinner table with followers and friends,
~ savouring the intimacy,
~ unearthing the essential,
~ contemplating the road ahead,

in grateful adoration, I kneel before you this day:
my Saviour,
my Rabbi,
my Companion …

my Treasure:
~ cherished,
~ worshipped,
~ sought after,
~ centre and sustainer of my life.

Like perfume from the alabaster jar,
may my unstoppered confessions spill
and find your welcome and defence:
~ that I have forgotten the cost of your unconditional love while putting a price tag on on my own offer of forgiveness and friendship,
~ that I have held onto and hoarded – for good reason and poor – my time, my resources, my grace,
~ that I have been so caught up in my plans, my agendas, my desires, that I’ve lost sight of your will and your way,
~ that I have been ignorant of your presence, of your need, in light of the urgent and the tangible that crowds in on each day.

As I look upon these feet that walked within my world,
freshly anointed,
soon to be wounded,
~ wipe away all of my transgressions,
~ make me attentive to the immediacy of your kin(g)dom,
~ and fascinate me with the fragrance of your chesed.*

Amen.

 

* Chesed – Hebrew term referring to the loving-kindness of God, describing God’s special love for humanity.

The power of a name

When someone loves you, the way they say your name is different. You know that your name is safe in their mouth.
~Tess Scott

In John 20:11-18, angels, titles, roles, designations – mommy, wife, daughter, reverend, sister, friend – cannot break through Mary’s blinding loss and grief. Yet by uttering her name, Jesus changes EVERYTHING!

What, then, does the name that I use for God change?

What would I name You, God?

Father, with a lap more expansive than the night sky You created and all-enfolding arms,     stronger than the mountains but gentler than the ocean’s breeze?

Redeemer, with a servant’s hands and humble heart and broken body upon the cross?

Liberator, who flings wide the gates of death and turns the valley of trouble into a door of hope? 

Do I name You Love, with and within me; patient, forgiving, reconciling, enduring, inspiring, alluring?

Or God of Israel, Holy One, full of power and might; zealous for my affections; worthy of may adoration?

Nay, Lord, though these You are, and thousands more beside … friend, teacher, master, healer, Spirit, Light, Shepherd, breath, living waters, eternal word ….

At Your invitation, I dare this day to call you “lover,” “husband” – my beloved, my betrothed;
  to risk a deeper intimacy with you than I have ever known;
   a full surrender;
    an absolute and unequivocal “yes” to life walked with You day by day and hand in hand.

To You alone
who knows my secret name,
my hidden depths,
I give my life
as I say “YES!”