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A Resurrection Story

John 11:25-26 (MSG)

 

“You don’t have to wait for the End. I am, right now, Resurrection and Life. The one who believes in me, even though he or she dies, will live. And everyone who lives believing in me does not ultimately die at all. Do you believe this?”

 

I am, right now, Resurrection and Life.

 

Do I believe this?

 

A few months ago, my mom had suggested using this verse for a Lectio Divina group that we were facilitating. I glanced at the verse. Nope. Definitely not. This verse made me very, very nervous.

 

As soon as I nixed the verse for our group time, I knew that I needed to return and spend some extra time with it. Why was I nervous?

 

What in me resists these words? Maybe it is the word “believe.” Maybe it is Jesus’ I AM statement. Maybe I felt pressure to figure out the whats and abouts and hows of belief in Jesus. The pressure for everything to make sense in my head and in my heart was too much.

 

I read through the verse again, taking time to sit with it for a while. The phrase: “I am, right now, Resurrection and Life” resonated in my heart.

 

Resurrection. Life. Right now. This is happening.

 

Resurrection: Going from death and a dying existence to a new, waking up, Real Life. That is happening in me right now.

 

I used to be afraid of dying not because I was afraid of what comes after death, but because I was sure that I had not lived the life I was meant to live. God seemed distant. I felt like I was surviving rather than living, barely making it from one moment to the next. I was exhausted in soul and body. I frequently thought: “I really hope that today is not my last day, I know I’m not even close to where I am supposed to be.”

 

Maybe Jesus calls to the dying and the already dead in spirit: Wake Up!

 

I’ve felt that call.

 

Maybe Jesus calls to the barely living: Die to the false selves you are holding on to. Let go of the shoulds. Let go of who you think you are supposed to be. There is new life, Real Life waiting for you now.

 

God breathes new Life. He calls to our souls: Wake Up! Come Forth. Live.

 

Somehow this is all happening in me.   Maybe I shouldn’t be afraid of the hows.

 

Resurrection. Is that like being born again? Somehow, some of us made being born again into a decision that we make for Jesus. Like we have control in that matter. Even though Jesus said, “Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.'” (John 3: 5-8 NIV.)

 

Frederick Buechner explains of these verses: “The implication seems to be that the kind of rebirth he has in mind is (a) elusive and mysterious and (b) entirely God’s doing. There’s no telling when it will happen or to whom.”[i]

 

I grew up at church. I was a sincere and earnest “believer” from my earliest memories. I asked Jesus to live in my heart when I was five. I still remember the moment clearly. I am thankful for my experiences and for the faith that was handed to me. But in my mid-thirties, I still needed to be born again. I even needed to die to my earlier experience and understanding of faith and God and Jesus. I needed to die to roles that I had assumed that were no longer mine to play. I have a feeling that I will need to be born again and perhaps again and again.

 

I don’t think I was born again when I was five. I was just learning to see with my first set of eyes. I know that it didn’t happen through a magic prayer or song. Words can’t get you there, even if they are from a sincere heart. Being born again didn’t mark the beginning of faith. I actually needed saving from the faith that I had grown into. Decisions, prayers, and faith may be part of the process of drawing us toward God, but they are not necessarily the beginning and certainly not the end of this new, waking-up, Real Life that is being born again.

 

This is frustrating for those of us who would like a map or a plan or some measure of control over our destinies. Can’t I just say a prayer and get on with it? What are the steps that I need to take to make this born-again thing happen?

 

Unlike the memory I have of asking Jesus to live in my heart, I cannot pinpoint a time and place where I was “born again.” All I know is that it is happening. Maybe we are left without a formula because–as history and religion proves–if we think there is a formula, we will try to control and manipulate it. New life emerged when I stopped clinging to the formula.

 

What is my part? I think it is mostly surrendering, letting go, and learning to trust. I started to experience the moreness, vastness, and nearness of God when I surrendered to my unknowingness, crying out to God “Here I am! Are you even there? I don’t know anything.”

 

This unknowing, unraveling, and unlearning somehow opened up my heart to a deep and rich experience of God.

 

New life emerged in the space created by letting go of much of my doing. I needed a time of rest, deep rest.

 

New life emerged as I entered into Quiet and learned how to Listen. We get to Listen! This is amazing.

 

Most of all, new life, Real, wide-awake life has been emerging in my heart gradually as God’s love has become real to me and I learn to trust that love.

 

“In repentance and rest is your salvation; in quietness and trust is your strength.” Isaiah 30:15. This isn’t a formula, but it is true. The first time that I saw this verse, I recognized my story. This is happening.

 

I know that getting to the point of surrender is a gift. I’m still surrendering. I’m still letting go and just starting to understand what it means to trust. I’m being remade, and I’m so very thankful. Maybe I am catching glimpses of this kingdom of God that Jesus spoke about. This is a gift that I am convinced is available to any person. (I’m not convinced of very many things.)

 

I know that I am a resurrection story. My story looks a little bit like these words from Isaiah 42:

 

I the Lord, have called you in righteousness; I will take hold of your hand. . . . I will lead the blind by ways they have not known, along unfamiliar paths I will guide them; I will turn darkness into light before them and make the rough places smooth.”

 

This is happening. New Life is happening. Resurrection and Life are happening. Right now.

 

What is your resurrection story?

 

 

© J.L. Sanborn, 2015. All Rights Reserved.

 

 

Hi. I’m Jessica and I am so thankful to take part in Janet’s blogging adventures. I am the mother of 3 little-ish people and wife to a great guy. I met Janet almost 2 years ago and am so thankful for that life-changing, life-giving encounter. I used to do lawyer things, and now I get to play queen with my daughter when I’m not transporting my kids to school. I share some of my musings about faith and becoming at jlsanborn.wordpress.com.

 

 

 

[i] Frederick Buechner, Listening to Your Life, p. 243 (Harper San Francisco 1992) .

 

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Our Story in God’s Story

The Meaning of Jesus’ Life, Death and Resurrection

Every year I try once again to read a book or discuss with a clergy person or friend the theology of the atonement, which means the meaning of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection.

My need for this is to make peace in my heart with the whole story of Jesus. My desire comes down to this: I live in a small and simple world in which I want God to be accessible, understandable (yet ultimately unfathomable), real and touchable. I also want to be challenged to do something significant and heart-felt in response to God’s presence in my life. So I prefer a theology or way of explaining Jesus’ life, death and resurrection that makes sense to my heart and soul, not just to my mind. And I want to live out my beliefs about Jesus in a life giving way.

This year I stumbled on a view of the atonement that has been right under my nose for about twenty years. My clergy friend, Gary Klingsporn, cited it, cogently, in a chapter he wrote for a book we co-authored. I include it as the core of what I’m writing here, along with added features that I have personally experienced in my journey with God. Essentially this view illustrates how we find our story in God’s story. I embrace this view as the one that resonates most at this point in my life and my faith. I will describe it for you in the way I understand it and then name it for you at the end of this essay.

God came into the world for love’s sake

First, God chose to come into the world out of love for us. He loved us so much, he wanted to show us that he could identify with our lives and our work. God wanted a closer relationship with us and one way to be close to us was to be one of us and live amongst us. Jesus was born to be God’s unconditional gift of love to the world. God’s utmost desire for us is to live in intimacy with him and in him.

 

Jesus lived out God’s love in the world

Jesus lived fully in God’s love and through God’s Spirit. Jesus healed people, called them to make significant changes, embraced all the outsiders and marginalized folks, taught the crowds with stories and simple questions (“do you want to be healed?”), took on the religious establishment and hypocrites, and mentored his close followers (both men and women). He did all of this by going off regularly into the hills or mountains to pray and to be refilled by God. Perhaps he needed to remember the divine long song that he heard at his baptism, “You are my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” He was anchored in his beloved. He knew that he was God’s human face of unvarnished love.

God entered into our suffering

God, through Jesus, entered fully into our humanity by living and suffering and dying on the Cross. So we know that God can enter all of our suffering and darkness and be present to us intimately in any of our pain. Why is suffering God’s entry point? I’d like to think that we just naturally want to be closer to God, but my experience as a spiritual director has shown me that we are drawn closer to God primarily by pain, which most of us try to avoid. That pain may result from illness, death, lack of meaning or purpose, abuse, addiction, divorce or any number of other things.

No matter the source of our pain or suffering, all of it is forever held in the heart of God. In fact, God tells us that he comes and makes his home in us. He is within us, waiting for us to come and lay our burdens down. Scripture says God stores all of our tears in a bottle and keeps a poignant ledger of all of our pain. God’s story is really our story, since there is nothing we have suffered that he hasn’t already experienced. In this way, God is a God of love and a presence in our pain.

God rose and transformed suffering and death

But the Cross, and our suffering, are not the end of the story nor the last word. Jesus rose from the dead and once again became present to his followers, promising them that he would leave his Spirit with them so they would never be alone. Meaning arose directly from his suffering. His story lived on in a new way. So, we, too, are called to rise from our suffering to see the light of a new day. Jesus always goes before us, as the angels told the women at the empty tomb.

Jesus does not leave us alone either. He offers us his Spirit, which is as close as our breath. In fact we could say that we live and breathe Jesus’ Spirit, he is that close to us. His Spirit gives us clarity, courage and compassion to live out our lives in life-changing ways.

What does this mean for us? There is a gift in our suffering

So if we see our story in God’s story, how does it interpret our suffering? If we attend to the deeper meaning of our suffering and embrace it with the help of a loving God and a healing process, we experience a transformation. We can see the deeper purpose, the larger call, the healing presence within the suffering, even if we are never fully cured or the memories still linger. Even Jesus used his scars to show whom he was and that he had healed. And those of us who cause suffering, by inflicting pain on ourselves and/or others are urgently called to admit our actions and take responsibility for them so we can be healed and restored as well. We can’t undo what we have done but we can make amends.

We can all move beyond our pain to a new way of life, a healed and restored life. We know, even in our pain, the peace of God, which surpasses all human understanding. God attends to the details of our lives in loving, healing and often humorous ways and our intimacy with God grows—perhaps more in times of suffering than any other time.

 

The price of intimacy and healing

The closer we get to God, the more of his holy intimacy we experience. And with that intimacy we pay a price, a price that confirms our covenant with and surrender to our loving God, just as Jesus and his followers did in the risks they took and the way they lived out their lives. Jesus’ intimacy with and surrender to God brought him to a Roman Cross. How? His life of love was too radical for some. His unwillingness to be an earthly king provoked others. His life-giving stance flew in the face of authorities on all sides. His miracles prompted a larger and larger following, culminating with Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead, propelling the Sanhedrin, the leading Jewish authority, to position him to be the scapegoat so the rest of the Jewish nation would be saved from the wrath of the Romans.

When we experience intimacy with God and his love, we begin to look at ourselves in the new light of this unconditional love and we are called to release all that is not of God. Our price of this intimacy will be unique to us and may require releasing, letting go, making peace, and facing places of pain or estrangement from God in our lives, but it will also be life giving. We may not see how life giving it is while it is happening because we live in the little picture and God operates in both the little and big pictures!

God may call us to release things that will surprise us as he reveals what it means to go deeper. We may be called to change our work. We may release friends who are toxic; even family members. We may be asked to leave the comforts of home. We may be asked to tell the whole truth of our lives and make amends. We may be called to address our sin, which is, in my experience, anything that gets in the way of deeper intimacy with God. This would include, of course, the seven deadly sins plus two; lust, pride (which some say is the root of all the others), sloth, anger, self-deception, envy, greed, fear and gluttony…or anything over which we harbor resentment, revenge, shame or guilt. In short, we may need to “die” to ourselves in order to live more fully in God!

The deepest truth in our “death” and surrender is this: In this process we find our place of restoration. God restores us to who we were always called to be when we were first created and brought into the world, to live out our “sealed orders,” as the great healer, Agnes Sanford so aptly describes. We were created in God’s own image. Now we are able to reclaim that image and bring our restored selves fully to the world. But God invites us even one step further…

God calls us to be healers in the world

As we heal from our pain, and weigh the call of intimacy with God, we will be invited to reach out into the world in miraculous ways, to pay forward what we’ve experienced as a result of our healing and intimacy with God. Many times our call is to work in the very areas of our own healing, to share our newfound strength with the world. Jesus lived out his intimacy with God through showing radical love to the people he encountered, no matter what the consequences. He taught his followers by the way he lived. And his followers lived out their lives differently as a result. So we can live our lives differently. What it really means to live a Christ-like life is to let God be as instrumental in our lives as Christ invited God to be in his life. It may be different for all of us but it is equally transforming. We are truly restored, and indescribable joy flows through our lives.

And what happens when we are living out our lives in total surrender to God’s amazing grace is that we experience God’s eternal presence right here on earth, God’s kingdom among us. And then death, for us, is a deeper and richer reunion with God, who adores us, and with those who have gone before us (the clouds of witnesses) who are beckoning us “home” to join the heavenly hosts. And so the final word is never death. The final word is LOVE.

If we could only know how wide and deep and broad God’s love is…and that nothing can separate us from this unconditional love. Here is a poem I wrote about how I experience that love, my intimacy with God. This poetic form is called a French Pantoum.

 

I am God’s Now

I am God’s now

My desire, to know my Beloved

Intimacy comes with a price

My life has been restored

My desire, to know my Beloved

No other love compares

My life has been restored

Eternity comes into view

No other love compares

Intimacy comes with a price

Eternity comes into view

I am God’s now

This theology is called Narrative Theology, finding our stories in God’s story and seeing that God is lovingly involved in all the details of our lives. Thanks to Gary for writing about this view in our book, Who Are You, God?, in the chapter called “What can we expect from God?” I am also grateful to Bob Guelich, my co-author of the Critical Journey, for naming what it really means to be Christ-like.

ÓJanet O. Hagberg, 2015. All rights reserved.

Reflections on this essay:

How do you resonate with this way of thinking of Jesus’ life, death, resurrection?

When have you experienced God suffering with you or being present to your pain or suffering?
When have you experienced a new meaning, purpose or a call from an experience of pain, disappointment, betrayal or suffering, whether of your own doing or at someone else’s hands?

What does it mean to you to let God be as involved in your life as Jesus invited God to be? How does that feel to you?

What would keep you from moving closer to God or letting God move closer to you?

Threatened with Resurrection

(Although I wrote this several years ago, it remains my favorite Easter message so I publish it each year. I hope it resonates with you as well. Happy Easter.)

 

I awoke early Easter Sunday morning expecting to feel joy and relief after a difficult Lent in which I was called to finally heal my divorce issues and be internally free. That healing has been a graced conclusion to a multi-year process of letting go of fear, resentment and vindication. In this healing I began to see my ex-husband as a gift in my life. I was letting go of my old hurts and entering into a whole new phase of my life; a life of love.

 

So I awoke expecting joy and instead I awoke with the title of an achingly inspiring poem in my heart. It is Julia Esquivel’s magnificent poem, “They Threatened Us With Resurrection.” Julia is an exiled poet, writing about people in Guatemala who disappeared in the political unrest there but who inspired others to move beyond the losses. I have had that poem and the idea of being threatened with resurrection at the back of my mind ever since I read about it in one of Parker Palmer’s books. But to awaken with this idea of being threatened with resurrection on Easter Sunday was more than coincidence. Something was going on in my inner world that needed tending.

 

In my prayer time I realized that I had a vague sense of uneasiness in letting go of my pain, which I had been doing gradually for several years. God had been so faithful to me in staying with me during this healing process and I was so grateful. As a result I developed a deeper level of intimacy with God, learned to trust God with my life, and was now living into a season of grace. This journey was my source of transformation; in it God brought me to my knees and then taught me how to stand up again with a heart of forgiveness.

 

I began to wonder if I was really afraid to move into this resurrection time because I might lose my intimacy with God if I was not in pain. I knew it was not healthy to wallow in pain or stay in an unhealed place, but how would I navigate this resurrection dilemma? Would I need to come up with more pain in order to be close to God or could I trust God for intimacy beyond pain? It did feel a bit threatening.

 

My spiritual director helped me by listening and then asking me if there were times I felt close to God when I was not in pain. I went inside and got quiet. Of course, there were times of intimacy with God when I wasn’t hurting. But I had lost track of them in this threatened place. I began remembering times I feel close to God when I was not in pain; my tears of deep emotion when I hear about people who sacrifice for others, when I am overcome by beauty, when I am honored to be with people in their times of transformation, when I am writing, when I pray, when I listen to a Tchaikovsky symphony. I felt a sense of relief spreading over me, relief that I do feel intimacy with God in times of calm or joy. That thought led me to a truth that God has been giving me recently in my prayer time but which I had also forgotten in my threatened state.

 

The truth from God is that joy emerges from pain that is well attended. When we do our inner work, joy is one of the outcomes. When we face into our fears God faces into them with us. When we forgive others for things that never should have happened we are free from the burdens of resentment and anger. When we disentangle from being enslaved by our chronic pain we heal. We let go of the heavy burdens so joy has room to grow.

 

Another deep truth emerged as I was pondering how joy emerges from pain. This one came from the Fra. Giovanni. “Our joys too; be not content with them as joys. They too, conceal diviner gifts.” This intriguing quote led me to ponder how a consideration of joy might usher in a whole life of resurrection.

 

I wanted a life of resurrection joy, not the happiness that comes and goes at a moment’s notice. I can feel happy when my athletic team wins or I can feel hopeless when I hear of another tragedy, but how can I feel joy in the midst of everything. I wanted to feel joy somewhere deeper and not have it disappear just because I was having a bad day. Joy, I think lives in a deeper place within us and has a permanent address. It is a life stance, a signature on the soul, a way of seeing God in all things. It emerges from transformation, from pain well attended. It leads to interior freedom and it comes from a life not threatened by its own resurrection.

 

For me the diviner gift of joy is what emerges in our lives when we drink sacred water from deeper wells and pass that water along to others. As we courageously live out our calling from God joy emerges and spreads. People feel calmer while in our presence even if they are in pain. They long for that calm themselves and it gives them hope. Sometimes we find ourselves gently laughing even in painful times and it casts a softer light on the circumstances, like a balm for the wound. Joy is apparent in people’s eyes and on their faces, even in their physical stance. It can’t be hidden or bluffed. Living it out with gratitude is a diviner gift.

 

During the time I was writing this essay I was teaching a class in which I had the opportunity to read a poem that helped to tell a painful but healed part of my divorce story, the very story that started me on this essay. In the hearing of my poem and story, one woman in class not only identified with me but felt a call to go deeper into her own healing as a result. Even though I knew it would be painful for her, I felt a deep joy knowing that she would be finding a different part of herself as a result. I could also feel the joy growing in her. She even glowed as she told her story to our small group. And she contacted a friend who she thought might also benefit from her experience. The diviner gifts of joy…When I see this amazing healing grace, how can I be threatened by resurrection?

 

Joy emerges from pain well attended…

 

© Janet O. Hagberg, 2010. All rights reserved.

The quote of Fra. Giovinni is from Prayers for Healing, edited by Maggie Oman, selection for April 20th.

 

Reflections on this essay

How have you been threatened with resurrection in your life?

 

What could you do to grow into that resurrection stance in life?

 

What stimulates joy for you?

How do you distinguish between happiness and joy?

 

How have you experienced joy as a diviner gift, seeing it pay forward?

 

 

Up From Our Graves

I am a bit anxious writing this essay because I have to admit that the main Christian belief about Christ’s death and resurrection does not resonate in my soul. Each Lent I face the same dilemma; that the sacrificial substitution of Jesus because of my sins, and the idea that Jesus is the lamb that was slaughtered in my place, brings up old feelings of guilt and shame, not of inspiration and love. The message I got as a child was that I was so bad, and filled with sin (even before I was born), that it was my fault that Jesus had to die. I’ve heard hundreds of people’s faith stories as a spiritual director and a healer, and I have come to believe that more people have left the church and faith as a result of externally inflicted guilt and shame than have entered it.

I’m not saying that this view of Jesus’ death is wrong or untrue, just that it has never drawn me closer to God, motivated me to live a different life, or helped me deal with my sins. This theology, which is predominant in the church, coupled with the fact that Maundy Thursday or Good Friday often fall on my Birthday, make it hard for me to celebrate, and help me understand why Lent is a trying season for me.

So with this dilemma, which I think I share with a lot of people, how can I experience the cross and the resurrection differently in order to respond more deeply? In my prayer time recently I felt God gently opening a new way for me, perhaps too simple for some people, but more relevant for my life.

The Cross: Letting Go to God

As I experience God’s deep love for me and I reframe my childhood image of God, I can see how close Jesus was to God, how much time he spent in prayer and how God worked through him; teaching, healing, feeding and transforming. Jesus gave his whole will over to God and trusted God for the bigger story of his life, the ultimate truth: God is pure love.

I hear Jesus encouraging me to let myself be so loved that I am able to let go to God too. Jesus invites me to offer myself to God and to let God hold me and soothe me, even in pain, as the angels did for Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane the night he was arrested. When I feel God’s love and involvement in my life, I feel I am called to a similar kind of self-offering, an emptying of myself to be what God chooses for me, to lay my burdens down before God and let God change me.

The next thing I hear Jesus asking of me is simply to be with him, to comfort him, to embrace his loss and my own, to face his pain and my own, to let myself be held and heard. Jesus asks me to trust that whatever is happening—no matter how it feels to me–God is still available to me and goes through it with me. Jesus last words from the cross were “Into your hands, I commend my spirit.”

Most challenging of all, Jesus invites me to die to the world and to be alive to God as he was—not to hide from God any more. This can mean so many things to each of us, but essentially it means releasing to God all that is in the way of our increased intimacy. Ultimately I think it means letting go of control.

Barbara Brown Taylor, in her book, God in Pain, says that letting go means chasing God instead of ourselves. She says, “We can do everything in our power to protect our lives the way they are—if we successfully prevent change, prevent conflict, prevent pain—then at the end we will find that we had no life at all. But if we hate our lives in this world, which as far as I am concerned can only mean if we hate the ways we cheapen our lives by chasing after comfort, safety, and superiority in this world—if we hate that enough to stop it and start chasing God instead—then there will be no end to the abundance in our lives.” (Pp.62-63).

Jesus is suggesting that in our self-offering, we give our whole selves, free from our particular encumbrances. That means “leaning in” to God and releasing our personal gods; security, ego, care taking, performing, perfecting, martyrdom, being right. I personally think this is why there is a three-day time-out between Good Friday and Easter Sunday. It takes time to process our journey with God and to be emptied so God can use us. For many of us those three days represent three years or thirteen years or thirty years!

So the main question Jesus asks us from the cross is this: what in you needs to die with me?

How do we know what we are being asked to release? We ask God to put us on this path to self-emptying and see what happens. We surround ourselves with supportive people to help us on this journey. And then we fasten our seat belts.

The Resurrection: Walking Hand and Hand with God

The meaning of the resurrection emerges from our self-emptying. Jesus is asking us to be ready for God to come to our graves and raise us up from them, from whatever we were chasing instead of God or whatever was controlling us. God is eager to bring us to a new way of being, to the fullness of ourselves, to whom we were created to be. God is also eager to give us God’s spirit and to live within us as we move about our daily lives, transformed, cleansed and calm, walking  hand in hand with God.

In order to rise from our inner graves we need to forgive ourselves and let God forgive us. Then we are free. Free to forgive others. Free to reach across boundaries and lines that may have frightened us before. Free to seek out new friends. Free to teach and serve without recognition. Free to care for others without rescuing them. Free to take risks to love more fully. Free to let God’s spirit loose within us. Free to become God’s incense in the world.

In Ezekiel 37, that famous chapter called the dry bones chapter, we find God asking the human if he thinks the dead bones can live. As the human watches the scene, the bones and sinews come back together. Muscles surround the bones. Skin forms. And God breathes life back into the body. When we allow God to raise us up from our graves and put our bones and sinews back together, breathing life into our deadness, we become whole again. We become an invaluable part of God’s economy by helping others to come back to life too. God breathes the spirit into us and places us in our own new land. This is how we know that God has spoken.
When we walk hand in hand with God we bring beauty and joy with us because we are filled to overflowing with God’s spirit. People will feel that spirit when we enter the room. We don’t bring chaos, drama, pity or self-loathing any more. We bring God’s calm and humor. It does not mean we have no problems but that we are now walking hand in hand with God who gives us the capacity to embrace our issues and not run from them.

So the main question Jesus asks us from the open grave is this: What in you needs to be resurrected with me now?

 

When I think of the cross as letting go to God and the resurrection as walking hand in hand with God I feel deeply loved but also challenged to give more of myself to God. I feel God counting on me to be available and faithful. I like that. It makes me feel worthwhile to God. This inspires and motivates me to draw closer to the One who created me for fullness of life in the first place.

Ó Janet O. Hagberg, 2013. All rights reserved.

Reflections on this essay

1.What is your view of Jesus’ death and resurrection? Where did you learn it and how has it changed for you over the years?

2. What in you needs to die with Christ?

3. What are you chasing instead of chasing God?

4.  What in you is crying out for resurrection?

5. How is God asking you to be faithful in the world?

6. What does joy look like in your life?

Multiply That by Infinity

Have you ever been

so filled with joy

you felt you might

burst with delight

All of your dreams

vibrate with possibility

colors shimmer with energy

the air is heavy with hope

Time stands still if only

for a brief instant

and you glimpse

through a thin veil

the miracle of eternity

Multiply that by infinity

And you have a glimpse

of God’s heart

 ©Janet O. Hagberg, 2006

Reflections on this poem

1. When have you felt time stand still and vibrate with possibility?

2. How does this poem relate to the hope of Easter?

3. Where is the joy in your life currently?

4. How does God’s heart reveal itself to you?

Up From Our Graves

I am a bit anxious writing this essay because I have to admit that the main Christian belief about Christ’s death and resurrection does not resonate in my soul. Each Lent I face the same dilemma; that the sacrificial substitution of Jesus because of my sins, and the idea that Jesus is the lamb that was slaughtered in my place, brings up old feelings of guilt and shame, not of inspiration and love. The message I got as a child was that I was so bad, and filled with sin (even before I was born), that it was my fault that Jesus had to die. I’ve heard hundreds of people’s faith stories as a spiritual director and a healer, and I have come to believe that more people have left the church and faith as a result of externally inflicted guilt and shame than have entered it.

I’m not saying that this view of Jesus’ death is wrong or untrue, just that it has never drawn me closer to God, motivated me to live a different life, or helped me deal with my sins. This theology, which is predominant in the church, coupled with the fact that Maundy Thursday or Good Friday often fall on my Birthday, make it hard for me to celebrate, and help me understand why Lent is a trying season for me.

So with this dilemma, which I think I share with a lot of people, how can I experience the cross and the resurrection differently in order to respond more deeply? In my prayer time recently I felt God gently opening a new way for me, perhaps too simple for some people, but more relevant for my life.

The Cross: Letting Go to God

As I experience God’s deep love for me and I reframe my childhood image of God, I can see how close Jesus was to God, how much time he spent in prayer and how God worked through him; teaching, healing, feeding and transforming. Jesus gave his whole will over to God and trusted God for the bigger story of his life, the ultimate truth: God is pure love.

I hear Jesus encouraging me to let myself be so loved that I am able to let go to God too. Jesus invites me to offer myself to God and to let God hold me and soothe me, even in pain, as the angels did for Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane the night he was arrested. When I feel God’s love and involvement in my life, I feel I am called to a similar kind of self-offering, an emptying of myself to be what God chooses for me, to lay my burdens down before God and let God change me.

The next thing I hear Jesus asking of me is simply to be with him, to comfort him, to embrace his loss and my own, to face his pain and my own, to let myself be held and heard. Jesus asks me to trust that whatever is happening—no matter how it feels to me–God is still available to me and goes through it with me. Jesus last words from the cross were “Into your hands, I commend my spirit.”

Most challenging of all, Jesus invites me to die to the world and to be alive to God as he was—not to hide from God any more. This can mean so many things to each of us, but essentially it means releasing to God all that is in the way of our increased intimacy. Ultimately I think it means letting go of control.

Barbara Brown Taylor, in her book, God in Pain, says that letting go means chasing God instead of ourselves. She says, “We can do everything in our power to protect our lives the way they are—if we successfully prevent change, prevent conflict, prevent pain—then at the end we will find that we had no life at all. But if we hate our lives in this world, which as far as I am concerned can only mean if we hate the ways we cheapen our lives by chasing after comfort, safety, and superiority in this world—if we hate that enough to stop it and start chasing God instead—then there will be no end to the abundance in our lives.” (Pp.62-63).

Jesus is suggesting that in our self-offering, we give our whole selves, free from our particular encumbrances. That means “leaning in” to God and releasing our personal gods; security, ego, care taking, performing, perfecting, martyrdom, being right. I personally think this is why there is a three-day time-out between Good Friday and Easter Sunday. It takes time to process our journey with God and to be emptied so God can use us. For many of us those three days represent three years or thirteen years or thirty years!

So the main question Jesus asks us from the cross is this: what in you needs to die with me?

How do we know what we are being asked to release? We ask God to put us on this path to self-emptying and see what happens. We surround ourselves with supportive people to help us on this journey. And then we fasten our seat belts.

The Resurrection: Walking Hand and Hand with God

The meaning of the resurrection emerges from our self-emptying. Jesus is asking us to be ready for God to come to our graves and raise us up from them, from whatever we were chasing instead of God or whatever was controlling us. God is eager to bring us to a new way of being, to the fullness of ourselves, to whom we were created to be. God is also eager to give us God’s spirit and to live within us as we move about our daily lives, transformed, cleansed and calm, walking  hand in hand with God.

In order to rise from our inner graves we need to forgive ourselves and let God forgive us. Then we are free. Free to forgive others. Free to reach across boundaries and lines that may have frightened us before. Free to seek out new friends. Free to teach and serve without recognition. Free to care for others without rescuing them. Free to take risks to love more fully. Free to let God’s spirit loose within us. Free to become God’s incense in the world.

In Ezekiel 37, that famous chapter called the dry bones chapter, we find God asking the human if he thinks the dead bones can live. As the human watches the scene, the bones and sinews come back together. Muscles surround the bones. Skin forms. And God breathes life back into the body. When we allow God to raise us up from our graves and put our bones and sinews back together, breathing life into our deadness, we become whole again. We become an invaluable part of God’s economy by helping others to come back to life too. God breathes the spirit into us and places us in our own new land. This is how we know that God has spoken.
When we walk hand in hand with God we bring beauty and joy with us because we are filled to overflowing with God’s spirit. People will feel that spirit when we enter the room. We don’t bring chaos, drama, pity or self-loathing any more. We bring God’s calm and humor. It does not mean we have no problems but that we are now walking hand in hand with God who gives us the capacity to embrace our issues and not run from them.

So the main question Jesus asks us from the open grave is this: What in you needs to be resurrected with me now?

 

When I think of the cross as letting go to God and the resurrection as walking hand in hand with God I feel deeply loved but also challenged to give more of myself to God. I feel God counting on me to be available and faithful. I like that. It makes me feel worthwhile to God. This inspires and motivates me to draw closer to the One who created me for fullness of life in the first place.

Ó Janet O. Hagberg, 2013. All rights reserved.

Reflections on this essay

1.What is your view of Jesus’ death and resurrection? Where did you learn it and how has it changed for you over the years?

2. What in you needs to die with Christ?

3. What are you chasing instead of chasing God?

4.  What in you is crying out for resurrection?

5. How is God asking you to be faithful in the world?

6. What does joy look like in your life?

Unless a Grain Falls

 Sermon by Barbara Brown Taylor

 John 12:20-33

Last week a woman came to see me for some help with her power bill. After I handed her the check, she said, “What kind of church is this, anyway?” I told her it was an Episcopal church, which did not appear to help her any. “I never heard of that before,”  she said. “What do y’all believe?” I started to tell her, but she had specific things in mind. “Do you believe you have to be saved?” she asked me. While I was trying to decide whether to give her the long answer or the short answer, she said, “Let me put it this way: Do you believe Jesus died for your sins?”

“Of course,” I said, and while she still looked a little sorry for me, as if she knew I was saying something I did not fully understand, she decided to let me pass. “Well, so do I,” she said, tucked the check in her pocketbook and left.

That was the end of it for her, but not for me. By asking me about the connection between my life and Jesus’ death, she opened up all the old uncomfortable questions for me again. Yes, I believe Christ died for the sins of the whole world—only how did that work, exactly? Were they all piled up there at the foot of the cross, sins past and sins to come, and when he breathed his last they simply vanished.

Or was it more like a ledger in the hands of an angry God, with every person’s name followed by a long list of debts? Every time God wrote down another one, God said, “Someone is going to have hell to pay for this.” Then one day Jesus said, “I will. I’ll pay the whole thing,” and that was that. God closed the book and threw it in the trash. Only how did something that happened two thousand years ago affect what I may do tomorrow? Does Jesus go on dying for our sins? And what kind of God would require that?

Since Christ’s death and resurrection are central to this faith we profess, I think it is extremely important that each of us struggle with what those events mean to us, both as individuals and as a community. It is not enough to repeat what we have been told. If we really believe there is a connection between our lives and Christ’s death, then the least we can do is spend some quiet hours asking God to teach us about that.

The twelfth chapter of John contains most of what Jesus had to say about his own death in that Gospel. According to John, he said it in Jerusalem during Passover, the last week of his life, when some Greeks who were in town for the festival asked to see Jesus. Their request was a sign to him that his hour had come.

These were not local people who had heard about him from their neighbors. They were Gentiles from across the sea who wanted to meet the Hebrew holy man. When the authorities heard about it, they would step up their efforts to arrest him. The more famous he became, the more dangerous he was to them. Something had to be done about him, and soon.

“The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified,” Jesus told them, and not only them but the whole crowd standing around. “Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls to the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit,” he said.

It is a statement about the redemptive power of suffering, both his and ours, and it is no easier to hear now than it ever was. What he is telling us is that if we do everything in our power to protect our lives the way they are—if we successfully prevent change, prevent conflict, prevent pain—then at the end we will find that we had no life at all. But if we hate our lives in this world, which as far as I am concerned can only mean if we hate all the ways we cheapen our lives by chasing comfort, safety, and superiority in this world—if we hate that enough to stop it and start chasing God instead—then there will be no end to the abundance of our lives.

Those were the two choices he laid out for his listeners, the same two available to him as the net drew in around him. The first way, the way of self-protection, was closed to suffering. If he chose it, he could do a couple of things. He could stop walking around in the open and go underground instead, sleeping in a different hideout each night. Or he could simply tone down his message. That would work too. He could find more pleasant ways to phrase things. He could stop eating with outcasts and start showing more respect for organized religion. If he loved his life and wanted to save it, that is.

If, on the other hand, he loved something more than his life, then there was a second way open to him. Call it the way of self-offering. That way contained not only the possibility but the probability of suffering—not as the main goal but as a by-product of the main goal. If he kept walking around in the open where anyone could get to him, if he kept speaking and living his confrontational message, then eventually he would suffer for it. There were no two ways about it. He was crossing lines of power you do not cross without getting electrocuted. His only choice was whether to cross them or not.

But he did have a choice, which is essential to his story. There are so many kinds of suffering in this world that have nothing to do with the gospel. There is nothing redemptive about famine, genocide, or incest. There is no choice for those who suffer from such things, and no one should have to endure them. The only kind of suffering I am talking about today is the kind Jesus chose—again, not as his goal but as a by-product of his goal—which was to be fully who God had created him to be no matter what it cost.

A grain of wheat cannot grow unless it dies. That is how Jesus put it. If you encase it in plastic and hang it around your neck, it will never be good for anything but a bauble. For the seed to do what it was meant to do, it has to be given up. It has to fall into the earth and be buried. It has to sit down there in the dark until its hour comes, when it will swell, crack, and hatch new life—a green shoot that will climb toward the sun until it breaks through, becoming a golden stalk of wheat that bears much fruit. If you dig around in its roots looking for the seed, you won’t find it anymore. It is dead and gone. It gave up its life so there could be more wheat in the world.

This is a very different understanding of Jesus’ death than the one most of us were taught, which was that Jesus died to atone for our sins. According to John, Jesus died to fill the world with wheat, with so many sons and daughters of God that no one would ever want for bread again. Only in order to do that, the seed had to be planted. It had to die, or it would never grow.

If Jesus had saved his life, gone on a speaking tour, and written some books, there is no telling how long his movement might have lasted—a hundred years, maybe, or at least until the books fell apart. But because he was willing to lose his life—because his message mattered so much to him that he was willing to show people what it meant instead of just telling them about it—his seed bore much fruit, more than it ever did while he was alive.

Because Jesus was willing to die, God could raise him from the dead. Because Jesus was willing to die, people could discover that death was not the worst thing that could happen to them. Because Jesus was willing to die, a new community could form in his name, one that redefined its life on the basis of his death.

One of the main points in that redefinition was a new view of suffering. It was no  longer something to be avoided at all costs, nor did it mean that God was mad at you. It might in fact mean that God loved you very much, because when someone on a path toward God deliberately chooses the self-offering that goes with that path, then suffering becomes one of God’s most powerful tools for transformation. It is how God breaks open hard hearts so that they may be made new. It is how God cracks open closed lives so that they can get some air into them again.

When Jesus died, this power was made manifest. By absorbing into himself the worst that the world could do to a child of God and by refusing to do any of it back, he made sure it was put to death with him. By suffering every kind of hurt and shame without ever once letting them deflect him from his purpose, he broke their hold on humankind. In him, sin met its match. He showed us what is possible. These are just some of the fruits of Christ’s death, things that could never have happened if he had not been willing to fall to the ground.

Each of us has a grain of wheat with which to cast our votes.

So here we sit, the local field of wheat who owe our lives to him. If he had not died, we would not be here. Because he did, we are. He has spoken to us about the way of life and the way of death, letting us know that these are the only two choices and that none of us may abstain. When the hour comes, each of us has a grain of wheat with which to cast our votes. It is the grain of our lives, and all of creation is holding its breath to see what we will do with it. Amen

From God in Pain, Teaching Sermons on Suffering, Nashville, Abingdon Press, 1998, Ronald Allen, editor

Threatened with Resurrection

I awoke early Easter Sunday morning expecting to feel joy and relief after a difficult Lent in which I was called to finally heal my divorce issues and be internally free. That healing has been a graced conclusion to a multi-year process of letting go of fear, resentment and vindication. In this healing I began to see my ex-husband as a gift in my life. I was letting go of my old hurts and entering into a whole new phase of my life; a life of love.

So I awoke expecting joy and instead I awoke with the title of an achingly inspiring poem in my heart.  It is Julia Esquivel’s magnificent poem, “They Threatened Us With Resurrection.” Julia is an exiled poet, writing about people in Guatemala who disappeared in the political unrest there but who inspired others to move beyond the losses.  I have had that poem and the idea of being threatened with resurrection at the back of my mind ever since I read about it in one of Parker Palmer’s books. But to awaken with this idea of being threatened with resurrection on Easter Sunday was more than coincidence. Something was going on in my inner world that needed tending.

In my prayer time I realized that I had a vague sense of uneasiness in letting go of my pain, which I had been doing gradually for several years. God had been so faithful to me in staying with me during this healing process and I was so grateful. As a result I developed a deeper level of intimacy with God, learned to trust God with my life, and was now living into a season of grace. This journey was my source of transformation; in it God brought me to my knees and then taught me how to stand up again with a heart of forgiveness.

I began to wonder if I was really afraid to move into this resurrection time because I might lose my intimacy with God if I was not in pain. I knew it was not healthy to wallow in pain or stay in an unhealed place, but how would I navigate this resurrection dilemma? Would I need to come up with more pain in order to be close to God or could I trust God for intimacy beyond pain? It did feel a bit threatening.

My spiritual director helped me by listening and then asking me if there were times I felt close to God when I was not in pain. I went inside and got quiet. Of course, there were times of intimacy with God when I wasn’t hurting. But I had lost track of them in this threatened place. I began remembering times I feel close to God when I was not in pain; my tears of deep emotion when I hear about people who sacrifice for others, when I am overcome by beauty, when I am honored to be with people in their times of transformation, when I am writing, when I pray, when I listen to a Tchaikovsky symphony. I felt a sense of relief spreading over me, relief that I do feel intimacy with God in times of calm or joy. That thought led me to a truth that God has been giving me recently in my prayer time but which I had also forgotten in my threatened state.

The truth from God is that joy emerges from pain that is well attended. When we do our inner work, joy is one of the outcomes. When we face into our fears God faces into them with us. When we forgive others for things that never should have happened we are free from the burdens of resentment and anger. When we disentangle from being enslaved by our chronic pain we heal. We let go of the heavy burdens so joy has room to grow.

Another deep truth emerged as I was pondering how joy emerges from pain. This one came from the Fra. Giovanni. “Our joys too; be not content with them as joys. They too, conceal diviner gifts.” This intriguing quote led me to ponder how a consideration of joy might usher in a whole life of resurrection.

I wanted a life of resurrection joy, not the happiness that comes and goes at a moment’s notice. I can feel happy when my athletic team wins or I can feel hopeless when I hear of another tragedy, but how can I feel joy in the midst of everything. I wanted to feel joy somewhere deeper and not have it disappear just because I was having a bad day. Joy, I think lives in a deeper place within us and has a permanent address. It is a life stance, a signature on the soul, a way of seeing God in all things. It emerges from transformation, from pain well attended. It leads to interior freedom and it comes from a life not threatened by its own resurrection.

For me the diviner gift of joy is what emerges in our lives when we drink sacred water from deeper wells and pass that water along to others. As we courageously live out our calling from God joy emerges and spreads. People feel calmer while in our presence even if they are in pain. They long for that calm themselves and it gives them hope. Sometimes we find ourselves gently laughing even in painful times and it casts a softer light on the circumstances, like a balm for the wound. Joy is apparent in people’s eyes and on their faces, even in their physical stance. It can’t be hidden or bluffed. Living it out with gratitude is a diviner gift.

During the time I was writing this essay I was teaching a class in which I had the opportunity to read a poem that helped to tell a painful but healed part of my divorce story, the very story that started me on this essay. In the hearing of my poem and story, one woman in class not only identified with me but felt a call to go deeper into her own healing as a result. Even though I knew it would be painful for her, I felt a deep joy knowing that she would be finding a different part of herself as a result. I could also feel the joy growing in her. She even glowed as she told her story to our small group. And she contacted a friend who she thought might also benefit from her experience. The diviner gifts of joy…When I see this amazing healing grace, how can I be threatened by resurrection?

Joy emerges from pain well attended…

© Janet O. Hagberg, 2010. All rights reserved.

The quote of Fra. Giovinni is from Prayers for Healing, edited by Maggie Oman, selection for April 20th.

Reflections on this essay

How have you been threatened with resurrection in your life?

What could you do to grow into that resurrection stance in life?

What stimulates joy for you?

How do you distinguish between happiness and joy?

How have you experienced joy as a diviner gift, seeing it pay forward?

MARY, MOTHER OF JESUS

Becoming a sacrament for Jesus

Sacrament; an outward visible sign of God’s invisible grace

Scripture reference: the four Gospels, Acts

Synopsis: Mary’s story told from a mother’s perspective

1. Mary was an unmarried woman whose fiance had to have an angel instruct him not to abandon her. She experienced enormous suffering and lived through a time of political unrest in which a ruler tried to kill her son, but they escaped with him to another country. Her son got himself murdered in the biggest scandal of the century and everything she believed in was gone. Then thankfully it all came together in the end.

2. Mary had an unusual conception and birth with angels, shepherds, wise men and cattle attending her, in an inn, in a town she was not familiar with. She and her husband fled when Jesus was a baby to avoid his murder. She now knew there was something unusual about this baby. She knew her role was to understand and support him. She became a visible means of invisible grace.

3. At age 12 her son was lost from the family on their trip home from Jerusalem. She was frantic with worry and finally found him in the temple where he rebuffed her. She then saw his greater role in the world and she watched him grow in wisdom and knowledge. (But she probably kept a closer eye on him as well!)

4. At a wedding in Cana, the wine had run out and she, knowing what he was capable of, told him the wine was gone. He rebuffed her but she knew she could stand firm and support him here. She gave him that look! Then she told the staff to do exactly what he said. The result: his first miracle. Turning water into wine. “Thanks Mom,” he may have said!

5. At a public gathering she asked to see him and he said no. She realized this was a time of separation for them and that he had greater teaching to do now. It was a difficult time but she did pull back since she truly understood his work. She was invisible grace; a sacrament.

6. At the cross Mary was there at Jesus’ feet when most had abandoned him. She was in agony with grief. Her son was killed in a horrible death. She stood with John, the beloved disciple. Jesus recognized her and told John to take care of her. She was still his mother. She was still there for him.

7. After the resurrection she was there to see him again in the upper room with the disciples. She was present for the founding of the church. She stood by her son through birth, growing, learning, separation, death, and resurrection. She was a sacrament for him; a visible sign of invisible grace.

Quiet time reflecting on the story with the following questions

How would you imagine Mary using her shawl in her story?

When have you felt like you’ve played a humble but important role in someone else’s life? What was your role?

What experiences do you hold in your heart, knowing you do not understand them but that they hold a deeper meaning for you to ponder?

Who has been a sacrament in your life, a visible sign of invisible grace? Jesus with skin on!

How has God called you to be a sacrament for others?

What did Mary do, in summary, to insure the genealogy of Jesus?

Dear Fellow Journeyers,

For Lent this year, I invite you to go on a journey with me back to ancient Israel, to the lives of five of the most courageous women who have ever lived. (their lives will also apply to men, so hang in there, guys). These five women are the only women mentioned in the geneology of Jesus in Matthew 1 (verses 3-6, 16). I wondered who they were and why they were listed along with all those men in a very patriarchal culture.

I discovered that they all took incredible risks to trust God’s leading in their lives and in the darkest moments in their stories. So come along with me as we meet Bathsheba, Mary, Rahab, Ruth and Tamar.

You might wonder, why take up courage for Lent? Well, I’ve found that it takes courage to heed the call from God to come closer when we don’t know exactly what that will entail. It takes courage to amend our lives, to take the journey of self emptying, to feel intimacy with God and to allow ourselves to be filled with God’s unconditional love.

Back to the Five Women; As a visual and artistic image I’ve chosen a shawl as their symbol. Shawls are ancient articles of clothing and often sources of comfort. You may want to have a shawl near you or around your shoulders as you read and process these stories. (Guys can get one of their favorite flannel shirts!) Ask yourself, as we engage with these woman, how  each of them would best be remembered using a shawl. For example, Ruth may have carried all of her belongings in her shawl as she left for her homeland.

Uriah’s wife, Bathsheba

The unnamed woman

 The woman who found her name, her voice, her future

Scripture reference: II Samuel 11,12 and I Kings 1, 2

Synopsis:

1. Bathsheba has no name in the genealogy of Jesus except Uriah’s wife. She was married to an army general, Uriah, who was well respected. Things were going well. She took one of her usual baths in the privacy of her rooftop and had no idea what was about to happen to her. She becomes a pawn of power.

2. King David walked out on his roof, which was higher than hers, and saw her bathing. He was struck with her beauty and told his men to bring her to him. He took her sexually. Since women were property in her culture and he was king, she had no choice but to obey. And to make matters worse, she got pregnant by David.

3. Then King David planned a military attack and put her husband in front of the troops deliberately so that he would be killed. Sure enough, he was killed. David took Bathsheba as his wife.

4. The prophet, Nathan, confronts David with what he was done and predicts their baby will die as a result of David’s acts. The baby does die. So Bathsheba has lost her husband and child as a result of the king’s behavior. She is powerless but she trusts God to lead her. She is in her darkest moment but she listens to God.

5. Bathsheba starts over. She finds a way to claim her name and her voice. She has another baby boy, Solomon (remember him?). She claims her power and earns her name again with David by making him promise to make her son, Solomon, king when David’s reign ends. She stands her ground in her old age and when there is a fight over the kingship she makes David keep his promise to make Solomon the next king.

6. Solomon is made king and Bathsheba has a special role as his mother. He was a great and wise king. He keeps the David line alive and is an important figure in Jesus’ lineage. Bathsheba found her name and her identity. She was a pivotal figure in keeping Jesus’ genealogy going by not letting the terrible circumstances of her life silence her.

Take some quiet time, reflecting on the story with the following questions:

How would you imagine Bathsheba using her shawl in her story?

When have you felt like a pawn of people with power over you? How did it affect you?

When have you faced a crisis or tragedy and felt you had no voice, not even a name? How did you react?

When have you started over or taken a stand to find your name, your voice, your identity—to become visible?

What identity or special gift has God given you? How has this gift or identity strengthened your faith?

What did Bathsheba do, in summary, to keep the genealogy of Jesus going?

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