April 28, 2013

They Thought I'd Gone

This week, we glance back at Good Friday and Easter in the words of the song (Lord of the Dance) and in the companions explanation on the Road to Emmaus. Jesus has asked Cleopas and his friend to explain the events in Jerusalem. They say, ‘our leaders crucified him’. You can hear the horror in their voices as they say it. But then the conversation continues and the tone changes to incredulity.

“Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things took place. Moreover, some women of our group astounded us. They were at the tomb early this morning, and when they did not find his body there, they came back and told us that they had indeed seen a vision of angels who said that he was alive.        Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said; but they did not see him.” (Luke 24:21-24)
In the movie Jesus of Nazareth, Mary Magdalene comes to the disciples huddled in fear in the upper room. She bursts in full of her wonderful news, only to be met with blank looks and skepticism. She says something along the lines of “you don’t believe me. You think I am mad. I know He was dead. I wept at his feet at the cross. But I saw him. He said my name.” Her contempt for their cowardice is convicting and Peter along with the others risks leaving the safety of the locked doors to run, with John, to the tomb.
As the song, Lord of the Dance, says, “They buried my body and they thought I’d gone, but I am the Dance and I still go on.” The men on the leaving Jerusalem and heading for Emmaus did not yet understand that they were talking to the One who danced right out of the grave. They were walking with the One whom the women claimed was alive!

We aren’t all that different from the disciples. We don’t always see Jesus walking with us or understand all that the Empty Tomb means. Saint Ephrem (4th Century poet, musician, theologian) sums up how Christ defeated death in his sermon which says, in part, “The cross of Christ gives life to the human race. Death trampled our Lord underfoot, but he in his turn treated death as a highroad for his own feet…concealed beneath the cloak of his manhood, his godhead engaged death in combat, but in slaying our Lord, death itself was slain He who was also the carpenter’s glorious son set up his cross above death’s all-consuming jaws, and led the human race into the dwelling place of life… Your murderers sowed your living body in the earth as farmers sow grain, but it sprang up and yielded an abundant harvest of men raised from the dead.” (read the sermon) The final line reminds me of the Lord of the Dance and of the Easter hymn Now the Green Blade Rises by John Clum. 
What locked doors are we-you and I-hiding behind, fearful to let the Lord of the Dance in? Because our Lord has triumphed we can take courage, like Mary Magdalene, to be brave enough to speak convicting words of love to the world. The men on the road to Emmaus thought their hope was dead. Instead, it was just STARTING! The Love of God has conquered all that we might fear. Just like the hymn tells us, “Now the green blade rises from the buried grain, Wheat that in the dark earth many years has lain; Love lives again, that with the dead has been: Love is come again, like wheat that springs up green.”
We should join with St. Ephrem, who ended his sermon with a call to action. Come then, my brothers and sisters, let us offer our Lord the great and all-embracing sacrifice of our love, pouring out our treasury of hymns and prayers before him who offered his cross in sacrifice to God for the enrichment of us all.”
Next week, Jesus reveals himself to the travelers.

April 21, 2013

I Cured the Lame

We continue with our Dance on the way to Emmaus as the men resume their conversation with the Stranger who has come up to them. They tell him in Luke 24:20-21, our chief priests and leaders handed him over to be condemned to death and crucified him.” As it says in the song “Lord of the Dance”:

I danced on the Sabbath & I cured the lame
The holy people said it was a shame!
They whipped & they stripped & they hung me high
And they left me there on a cross to die!

Jesus came to challenge the status quo and the leaders did not like that. Healing on the Sabbath was breaking the Law that said no work could be done on the holy day. So, “they left me there on the cross to die.” And that death was the core of the pair’s disappointment and sorrow. “But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel,” they tell their Companion.
All the days of walking with Jesus and listening to him preach and watching him heal had made them believe that he was the Promised One, the Messiah. Their conviction that Jesus was more than an ordinary Rabbi was brought up short when he died, leaving them with just the forlorn words, “we had hoped…”

There are probably no sadder words than “we had hoped…” for a baby, “we had hoped…” to purchase a new house, “we had hoped…” for whatever. There times when we feel that our hope has evaporated. We pray and pray and nothing seems to be happening. Or we struggle to make sense of senseless acts of violence in the news. Or we mourn a loss and life seems empty and pointless. Cleopas and his friend felt that same hopelessness as they trudged from Jerusalem to Emmaus.

In those times, Jesus walks beside us. Often we, like Cleopas, do not recognize His presence. The unexpected note from a friend makes us smile. That is the Lord offering hope. A bit of good news offers a ray of sunshine. That is God in the situation. We read of self-less acts of heroism by everyday people. That is Jesus acting through them.
Just this past week, we were reminded of the pain caused by the misguided hatred of humanity when bombs exploded in Boston. With Cleopas and his friend we can ask, where is Jesus? We can think that hope is lost and that there is only darkness. However, in the Dance of Life, the Lord of the Dance is not conquered when our hopes are dashed. Instead, that is often when God's work really starts. Our God still Dances on the Sabbath and cures our lameness, our hopelessness, our sorrow, our despair. We, individually and corporately, can be the hands and feet of God to the hurting world.

Next week, we’ll see how the “Dance goes on.”

April 14, 2013

They Came with Me

In this time that is called the Great Fifty Days, between Easter and Pentecost, this blogger invites you to come along with the disciples on the Emmaus Road and contemplate the joyful dance we are invited to enter with our God.

You remember the story of the disciples in Luke 24:13-35 who were on the road on Easter. It had been an emotional week. There was the joyful entry into Jerusalem to the crowd’s adulation, but only days later, the same crowd crying “Crucify!” These men, Cleopas* and his friend, were followers of Jesus. They weren’t part of the “Twelve”, but like many others they had followed the Rabbi from Galilee with great anticipation. The men were some of those who, in the words of the song (Lord of the Dance) joined the Dance:
I danced for the scribe & the Pharisee
But they would not dance & they wouldn't follow me
I danced for fishermen, for James & John
They came with me & the Dance went on

So we meet the pair going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem,  and talking with each other about all these things that had happened.  While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and went with them, but their eyes were kept from recognizing him.     And he said to them, ‘What are you discussing with each other while you walk along?’ They stood still, looking sad. Then one of them, whose name was Cleopas, answered him, ‘Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place there in these days?’ He asked them, ‘What things?’ They replied, ‘The things about Jesus of Nazareth, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people…” (vs. 13-19).
Jesus comes up to them, but they don’t recognize Him. You have probably had the experience of not recognizing someone when they are not in their normal context. Perhaps it is your child’s teacher who you bump into at the grocery or a friend you haven’t seen in a while or a neighbor you see at a restaurant. Sometimes you think, “I know that person,” but can’t quite put a name to the face, and other times you don’t recognize them at all until they speak to you and remind you of the connection.

Certainly Cleopas and his companion weren’t expecting to have Jesus join them on their 2 hour walk to Emmaus. It isn’t surprising that they don’t recognize him right away. Jesus asks what they were talking about and Cleopas is stunned that anyone would not know all that happened in the past week. Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place there in these days?” he says in amazement.
Jesus, as so often with God, lets Cleopas and his friend explain their disappointments to him before revealing Himself. God knows exactly what our needs and concerns are, but God waits for us to bring those problems to God. If you are a parent, you can relate. It would be easier to give your toddler what you know he wants. However, you also know she won’t grow up to be well functioning unless you make her tell you that she wants a snack or that particular toy. It’s part of learning to interact, but can be painful for us as parents to wait and insist that the need be articulated.

God waits for us to bring our disappointments and needs to God because, like the toddler, we have to learn to articulate what we want. Have you ever noticed that when you are take time to pray about something it suddenly seems less onerous or the solution presents itself?
Jesus let Cleopas and his companion tell him “about Jesus of Nazareth, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people.” It was important for them to explain what they were feeling in order to be ready for the transformation that was coming.

The Dance can only go on if we are willing to let go of our pre-conceived notions of Who God is and How God is supposed to act and respond. It’s something I admit I struggle with. We probably all do. Like the toddler, we want God to do things our way. “I want” is a favorite phrase. Perhaps we need to let God lead in the Dance and do more following…
Dancing involves following the lead of our partner. In the Dance of Life, Jesus is supposed to lead and we end up tripping over our feet when we try to be in charge. Next week we’ll continue to contemplate this song and the story of the road to Emmaus. Meanwhile…let’s try letting God lead the steps.

*There is an interesting ancient tradition that says Cleopas was brother of St. Joseph, and also father of James (the Less) and Jude and grandfather of James (the Greater) and John.

April 7, 2013

I Danced in the Morning

I danced in the morning when the world was begun
I danced in the Moon & the Stars & the Sun
I came down from Heaven & I danced on Earth
At Bethlehem I had my birth:

I love the images in the Sydney Carter song, Lord of the Dance, which I had forgotten for a while. Thanks to a performance of the Celtic tour Lord of the Dance I was reminded of it. Back in 2009, I wrote a study based on my book Miriam’s Healing and looked at how her life danced near and far from God. During Advent of 2010, I returned to the theme of Dancing with God in a blog series about those who danced with God to the Nativity.
This series will be a little different. We’ll look at the verses of the song and consider them in light of our post-Easter walk. As we look at this song and the journey of the disciples on the Road to Emmaus, (Luke 24:13-35) we could find our hearts burning and feel moved to share the message we proclaim Sunday after Sunday.

The first verse (“I danced in the morning, when the world was begun…”) reminds me of the scene in CS Lewis’ The Magician’s Nephew, where Aslan sings Narnia into being. Aslan’s song causes all the earth to come alive and give birth to plants and animals. I’ve always thought that was a delightful image of creation. This image of Narnia is a crocheted piece by Frances Covey. (Isn't it great-hard to believe it's crocheted!)
A voice could be heard singing in the darkness. A deep and wonderful voice. And as it continued it was joined by a host of twinkling, starry voices.
After a while the starry voices grew fainter, while the voice of Aslan rose and swelled to the mightiest and most glorious sound. And as he sang, the sun arose, laughing for joy and spreading its beams across the land.
And that was the beginning of Narnia.” (CS Lewis, Chronicles of Narnia, Magician’s Nephew)

After the varied emotions of Holy Week-from “Hosanna!” to “Crucify”, we come to the excitement of Easter when we shout “Alleluia! He is Risen!” The Easter season is about how to live into that Easter faith, living joyfully each day.
Sometimes the let-down after Easter can make us a bit less than enthusiastic. God invites us to come right into the dance, though. The dance started at Creation and continues still.

The disciples on the Road to Emmaus were downcast as they went from Jerusalem. The Jesus comes to them. Then he said to them, ‘Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared! Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?’ Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures.” (Luke 24: 25-27)
Where are you in your Easter journey? Are you still on a high from the joyful and beautiful music and images? Are you exhausted and glad it’s over so you can get back to ‘normal’? Are you still shouting “Alleluia” or are you back on the road, not even sure Easter is real?

Wherever you are, Jesus come alongside, to walk and be in relationship and open the scriptures. He invites us to laugh like the Narnian sun and to dance!
Dance then, wherever you may be
I am the Lord of the Dance, said He!
And I'll lead you all, wherever you may be
And I'll lead you all in the Dance, said He!

Next week, with the disciples on the Road, we will meet Jesus.