Friday, August 31, 2012

small smile

   I hang up the phone with a smile on my face.  It’s strange because I’ve just been talking with a woman in my church whose husband has just passed away.  He had suffered a severe stroke some weeks back, had fought hard, but had eventually succumbed to the damage.  I had been up to the hospital to see him.  He was in pain.  Nonresponsive.  In those moments there’s really only one thing you can do.  I lowered myself into the chair at his bedside and began to pray.  Perhaps, more often than not, that is the only thing we are really supposed to do after all.  Surrender the pain, the confusion, the anger: asking the Lord to “come and see” the sorrow, like Mary when she meets Jesus after Lazarus has died.  We find in Mary the invitation each of us has to ask Jesus into our sadness, our grief, our sorrow.  And he comes, himself weeping.  My Saviour isn’t afraid to cry.  We can enter into the grieving together.

   Death has a way of infiltrating our senses.  The colour of the wall looks muted.  Familiar sounds dull.  We find ourselves doing menial tasks without much thought—keeping busy, I suppose—or we’re crumpled, deflated, emptied of all that feels good and right.  I remember hearing the news that my Grandpa Cain had died.  I think it was the first day of school, 1999.  Dad told me.  I was standing in the kitchen by the dishwasher, myself suddenly awash with a strange mixture of relief and sadness: relieved that the pain and sickness were finally over; sad that it had ever happened at all.  Lord, come and see.

   So what caused the smile this morning?  It was the remembrance that beyond the death and pain, there is indeed a light that shines out the clearer.  A light that does not nullify or ignore the potency of such a sting, yet bathes us afresh in memory and witness anew.  The light is hope.  Hope that rushes to the tomb and finds only folded grave-clothes.  Hope that carries still the scars of sorrow, yet is healed and made whole.  Hope that calls friends to a shore-breakfast of the morning’s catch.  Hope not as abstract principle: Hope who is a Person.  That Person who is no longer dead, but living again.  The same Person who promises that same hope for us: that death be forever broken of its power, that life be restored and renewed again in the morning of New Creation.  This is the Hope of Resurrection—made real and alive in Christ himself.  And this is why I smile, for in that simple phone call—a small gesture, attempted by a pastor to bring comfort, to simply be and be still in the presence of those in mourning—I could hear Hope already awakened and alive in her heart.  And it was beginning even then to spill over and fill me with hope.  The pain isn't over, certainly.  But it is no longer all that is.
“There, peeping among the cloud-wrack above a dark tower high up in the mountains, Sam saw a white star twinkle for a while. The beauty of it smote his heart, as he looked up out of the forsaken land, and hope returned to him. For like a shaft, clear and cold, the thought pierced him that in the end the Shadow was only a small and passing thing: there was light and high beauty for ever beyond its reach.”  -  J.R.R. Tolkien, The Return of the King
Amen.  Come and see us, Lord Jesus, come and see.

Thursday, July 05, 2012

the company we keep

Hello!  It’s been some time since posting.  The last month has been full: two weddings with a trip both west and east, moving to full-time pastoring at the Church, saying good-bye to my work and employers at PRT, celebrating our 3rd anniversary, camping with Sarah and her brother, Josh, and enjoying this beautiful summer.

This week I wanted to provide some sermon resources for what I shared on July 1st.  I’m not sure if these will be regular addition or not, but if they can be beneficial to anyone who couldn’t make it out to church or is simply interested in diving more deeply into the text and ideas of last Sunday.

Click here to access the sermon notes, summary and reflection questions for our message from July 1st.

The Peace of Christ,


Summer Laundry

Thursday, May 24, 2012

where the eating and the remembering are one

This past Mother’s Day, Sarah and I were having coffee with Mom and Dad and my Auntie Laurel and Uncle Don, and somewhere along the way they got talking about what life was like during their childhoods.  “There were no supermarkets,” said Uncle Don.  Their memories grew more and more elaborate as they recalled early-morning milk deliveries, fresh baked bread from the bakery, old propane tanks along the house, tabs at the corner store, woodstoves and glass pop bottles.

Remembering is a key part of what it means to be human.  We could almost say that our memories are essential to who we know ourselves to be.  We reminisce over the little moments, and we pay homage to the big events like where we’ve lived, who we’ve known—who we’ve loved.  When we take the time to savour these memories, we find ourselves being drawn to see our lives as a story and as a journey.  We learn how we came to be living here and now.  Good remembering can teach us who we are.

Now there’s a difference between a simple reminder and these sort of active, full-bodied acts of remembering.  Being reminded is, I would like to think, a thing that happens to us—something outside tweaks our brains to recollect a fact or appointment.  “Dance Lessons @ 6:45”,  “Pick up the kids @ 3:00”, “Get lettuce on the way home.”  That sort of thing.  Reminding might lead to remembering, but it is not in and of itself of the same quality.

Remembering involves action.  We retell the stories.  We re-enact the moments.  We draw others into the memory.  “Remember when the van broke down with the wedding dress inside?”  We allow the meaning of an event or a person to saturate our minds, our hearts, and our imaginations.  It gets inside us.  We become changed.

If remembering is so essential to human life, it is therefore essential to the Christian life.  The people of God are called to be a remembering people.  We are a people who are being changed and made anew through the love of Him whose life has invaded our lives: Jesus Christ.  “The Word became flesh and blood and moved into the neighbourhood.”  (John 1:14 The Message).  When we immerse ourselves in the story of Scripture we find that God is often teaching us that we must learn how to remember well if we are to stay in stride with all that is going on in this Father-created, Christ-redeemed, Spirit-blessed world.  Take these stones, build this altar, make a memorial, eat this meal.  This kind of remembering involves real people: hands and shoulders which carry altar stones, feet to walk across riverbeds, voices raised in adoration, eyes lifted, words spoken, legacy passed on.  Biblically speaking, remembering is an embodied thing.  There’s more going on here than just the firing off of electrons in our brains.  Our whole selves are present in active remembrance.

The Church is to be a remembering people.  She is a community of memory and of hope.  The Bible draws our attention both to our pasts in gratitude, and to the future glory in anticipation and expectation.  We live out our remembering in the present: in the already and not yet of the Christ's Kingdom.  All of this is bound together, sharpened, clarified, and exalted when we gather together the worshipping, praying, witnessing community to the most poignant act of remembrance:  the sharing of a meal.

Alexander Schmemann, one of our best writer-poet-pastors on the subject, gets us pointed in the right direction:  In Genesis we find that man is created hungry.  God provides for him trees and fruit, a garden, of which to eat.  God gives the world to man to become his food.  In eating, man takes the world into himself and it becomes sustenance to the flesh and blood of man.  The world is transformed into life.

In the Bible the food that man eats, the world of which he must partake in order to live is given to him by God, and it is given as communion with God. . . . All that exists is God’s fit to man, and it all exists to make God known to man, to make manes life communion with God.  It is divine love made food, made life for man.  God blesses everything He creates, and in biblical language, that means that He makes all creation the sign and means of His presence and wisdom, love and revelation:  “O taste and see that the Lord is good.”[1]

          So we come to the table, a place of family and sharing together.  We come to eat.  We take food into ourselves and it nourishes us and is transformed into life.  Only here, we find that Christ has offered himself as food for us.  He becomes the Life which will nourish and sustain and transform us:  “Take and eat.  This is my body.  This is my blood.  Do this in remembrance of me.” 

          As Stanley Grenz so right puts it: "We not only announce the truth we also mysteriously participate in this grand event."[2]  We retell the "old, old story", we respond to his gift of himself to be our food--our nourishment, our sustenance--our life.  He invites us to the table, to join with the family for the meal.  

          And so we come: eating, remembering, and living.

   “Let me go over with you again exactly what goes on in the Lord's Supper and why it is so centrally important. I received my instructions from the Master himself and passed them on to you. The Master, Jesus, on the night of his betrayal, took bread. Having given thanks, he broke it and said, 

   This is my body, broken for you. 
      Do this to remember me.
   After supper, he did the same thing with the cup: 
      This cup is my blood, my new covenant with you. 
      Each time you drink this cup, remember me.

   What you must solemnly realize is that every time you eat this bread and every time you drink this cup, you reenact in your words and actions the death of the Master. You will be drawn back to this meal again and again until the Master returns. You must never let familiarity breed contempt.”

1 Corinthians 11:23-26 The Message

[1]Alexander Schmemann, For the Life of the World (Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1963), 25.
[2] Stanley Grenz, Theology for the Community of God (Grand Rapids: Broadman & Holman, 1994), 522.