Sunday, September 14, 2014
WANTED DEAD OR ALIVE: JESUS OF NAZARETH
JESUS OF NAZARETH
WANTED DEAD OR ALIVE!
It is Holy Cross Day in the Church Calendar and that got me to thinking about Jesus: dead or alive. It got me to thinking about my dearest loved ones: dead or alive. Ultimately it gets me to thinking about all of us: dead or alive.
This past week, I went to visit some dear friends in the Cleveland area where I served as a parish priest from 1983-1990. We were all younger then and I baptized a slew of babies there including Bob and Cathy’s triplets. There were weddings and burials by the score as well and it was during my time there that we designed and installed a columbarium.
As it turns out one of the members of that congregation is very sick now and is much older, well into his 90’s. Not an easy time of it for him. And Cathy has suffered a massive stroke too. And I couldn’t let the time come and go without a visit to both of them and some other family and friends.
As I drove the more than 600 miles between home and Cleveland I became aware of the fact that it was a journey that united many memories, many places, and many people. My life is and has been an abundant one. I thought of my Toronto years, mom, HK as we called my step father, my brother Jim, school chums, Seminary days, and then of course my life at Epiphany, Euclid, where Cindy and I lived and our children were young. There were the hundreds and thousands of miles along I-90 and the New York State Thruway.
It was a journey that required many prayers, and a sense that God is with us in and through every mile. As God is with Don and his family and friends, and as God is with Cathy and her family and friends. It is a journey that requires many, many prayers.
In today’s Epistle, St. Paul reflects on the quarrels that are necessary in parish life and then in soaring language elevates the playing field to what is ultimately true for all of us. “We do not live to ourselves, and we do not die to ourselves. If we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord; so then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord's. For to this end Christ died and lived again, so that he might be Lord of both the dead and the living.”
I remember very well being at Epiphany and the joys and sorrows of being there. It was there that I discovered how to manage a “New Member Ministry” paradigm that gave much life to that congregation. It was while I was there that I discovered that I was bi-polar, and none of us really knew how to handle mental illness at the time.
Jesus got us though all that and has brought us to this new day. I wondered as many of us might, how many times are we to forgive one another? Shall we forgive shall we say 7 times? You know the answer to that one, “NO! You shall forgive seventy times seven. I know that today’s translation says seventy seven times…but the point is the same; the essence of spirituality is Forgiveness. It is in the nature of a full and abundant life that Jesus intends for us that we will live lives that are forgiven and forgiving at the same time. As today’s Gospel makes clear, in the same way that the King generously forgives his servant, so too that servant is under the same moral mandate to forgive the one who owed him a fraction of his former debt.
When I served at the Church of the Epiphany, in Euclid, Ohio, I began every Sunday morning celebrating the Eucharist in the Chapel. Over the altar in that Chapel there was a Christus Rex, for me the most beautiful Christus Rex I have ever seen.
The Christus Rex pictures Jesus in his Risen Glory, on a cross, crowned in victory and robed in glory. This is how the Early Church pictured Jesus. Not on a crucifix in agony and in death, as the church of the high middle ages imagined him, not an empty wooden cross as much of the Reformed Church sees him…but as the Risen One in Glory…the one who rose victorious over sin and death.
This is how I picture Jesus. Cindy and I had a chance to visit Epiphany this week while we were in Euclid. We got a chance to meet the new priest. I took some photographs of the church, a very beautiful Colonial building. And then of course I went to the chapel. Four candles were lit on the altar there, and the Christus Rex stood out by the candle light on a typical cloudy Cleveland day. I snapped a few shots of the cross with Jesus crowned in Glory robed in a chasuble of the resurrection.
How interesting that this is how the early church pictured Jesus. Mind you they were closer to the reality of the Risen One than we are. They were with him on the night he washed their feet and instituted the Eucharist as that meal designed to make him known to us for all time. He told us this one simple thing; love one another! They saw the trial and crucifixion and watched him die. The women went to the tomb on that first Easter morning and discovered it was empty. Lo and behold the gardener Mary saw was not there to trim the trees but to pierce through what we thought was the power of sin and death. They saw him in the upper room. Even Thomas touched the wounds on his hands and side. My Lord, and my God, he said!
He is alive. No matter how many baptisms, weddings, hospital calls, or funerals I did at Epiphany, I came to the altar on Sunday morning and smiled with the joy of faith when I saw that Christus Rex, the Risen Christ in Glory.
I wanted then what I want now. Jesus: Dead or Alive. Or perhaps more precisely, I want Jesus Dead and Alive. As he lives a life like he lives so I too want to live like him. As he dies a death like he dies, so too I want to die with him. As he rises from all the power that sin and death has in life so too I want to rise with him. This is why I am a Christian. Don and Cathy are struggling with their challenges just now in this life, as we all are. They have decided to dedicate their lives to Jesus. You and I have decided to dedicate our lives to Jesus.
I have a Facebook friend in California who refers to himself as a devout Episcopalian. Funny, I thought, you don’t see that turn of phrase on Facebook very often, but it pleased me when I saw it. Last week I invited you all to become pillars of the church as you prepare to greet your new priest. As of yesterday we have a new Bishop too! Lets be pillars of the church for our new priest and our new bishop and for one another.
Above all let’s be pillars of the Church for Jesus, the Risen One, the Christus Rex as we greet with joy this feast day of the Holy Cross. The world is still waiting for peace and justice. The world cannot have either until it too gets to know something about the Love of God that we meet in Jesus, the Law of God as we have received it from Moses, or the Mercy of God as we know about it from the Holy Koran. The world cannot have Peace with Justice until we all learn to love and respect one another. As a boy I had to pray for the Queen of England in the Anglican Church of Canada for 11 long years. This was a challenge for a kid born and brought up in Boston. But I grew to love and respect the folks in Canada. They gave me a very good education and universal singly payer health care beginning in 1967.
The time came for Cindy and me to leave Cleveland early on Friday morning. We had a long day ahead of us. I thank God for our love. We have our best visits during those long, long rides. We dream our dreams, hope our hopes, and call to mind our memories.
We also say our prayers for Don and Cathy. We visited Ward and Suzie and their daughter Abbey and her new baby boy Elliot while we were there. What a joy! There is much to think about as the ribbon of highway stretched out before us. And so I always come back to a prayer that sustained me lo these many years.
Come Lord Jesus and be our Companion along the way. Kindle our hearts and awaken Joy, that we may know you as you are revealed in Scripture and in the Breaking of the Bread. Come Lord Jesus. Amen.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.