Hope when sin hurts

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“Jesus’ table is not a potluck.” Andrea’s words continue to echo in my head, settling me deeper into grace.
It has been a month of staring sin in the face and having it shake me to the core. I have learned in a new way that I cannot fix sin—my own or anyone else’s. I cannot negotiate with it or tame it or talk it into reasonableness or submission. Often I can’t even know for sure where my own sin ends and the sin of another begins, nor where the line is between sin and God-created human limitation, need and personality.
And so I came yesterday, the first day of the week, the first day of the month, to Jesus’ table. I came yesterday, Easter in the Orthodox church, carrying in my mind and soul and body the questions and the weight of sin’s effects that I was eager to lay down. I came with Esther Hizsa‘s ponderings ringing in my head, listening again to her wrestle with the questions of daily relationship in a fallen world:

“How could I live with myself when the victim of my wrongdoing has to deal with the mess I created, in whole or in part? Conversely, how could I live with what has been done to me?
As I wrestled with this, I came across Hebrews 9:28 which reminded me that Christ is the only one able to bear sin. We are sinners, but Christ alone is the sin-bearer. For the first time, I understood that we were never created to bear sin—even our own. When we discover we have sinned, we are meant to give that sin, and its consequences, over to God.” (Stories of an Everyday Pilgrim, p. 150)

Jesus is the sin-bearer. When sin seems blatantly obvious to me and I need grace to forgive (myself or others), and when things are less clear, I find help here: Jesus knows it all and bears it all. With Paul, I can choose to trust the Judge who is both Truth and Love to weigh it all and bear it all—and end up able to praise us:

“I do not even judge myself. My conscience is clear, but that does not make me innocent. It is the Lord who judges me. Therefore judge nothing before the appointed time; wait till the Lord comes. He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of men’s hearts. At that time each will receive his praise from God.” (1 Cor 4:3-5)

“Jesus’ table is not a potluck.” I don’t get to bring perfectly seasoned egg sandwiches or a fluted bowl of raspberry trifle, gentleness or wisdom—or even an ability to sort out exactly what is sin, or whose it is—to His table. I can come only with my nothingness and need, my empty hands open to receive startling grace.
As Andrea and Tim and Ellie stood there at Jesus’ table, did they feel what we could see? Spring sunshine flooded through the windows, illuminating every hair on their head, the grace and hope of Jesus’ resurrection painting them glorious.

Dust you are: the Easter edition

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The long journey through Lent is over. We’ve walked with Jesus to the cross and seen him rise from the grave.

Every time we walk this path it’s a little bit different. We are a little bit different.

The only typical part of my journey this year was that first day of Lent when I brushed my bangs aside and let my forehead be marked with a cross of ash. The rest of this Lent I’ve danced that dual truth—that I am dust, and that I am His—in a way quite different than other years. I didn’t make it through a Lenten devotional. I struggled to enter the Passion narratives. And on Easter Sunday as I heard the trumpets shouting “Christ the Lord is risen today” and I proclaimed with the church around the world “He is risen indeed!”, I found my heart too numb to ring with joy.

I lived the first half of Lent in the womb of God, the second being a baby. The refrain that echoed through my Easter day was a child’s lullaby:

Hush my dear, lie still and slumber,

Holy angels guard thy bed.

Heavenly blessings without number

Gently falling on thy head.” (Isaac Watts)

Pastor Darrell spoke of the two angels in the empty tomb of Jesus, one where his head had lain and one at his feet, just like the angels that rested at the two ends of the mercy seat on the ark of the covenant. “There”—at the mercy seat formed by the crucified and risen body of Jesus— “I will meet with you.” (Ex 25:22) There—on this strange bed guarded by angels—I can rest.

 ___________

I smelled my fellow pilgrim before I saw him, a young man walking down the aisle about ten minutes before the end of the service. Had he just remembered it was Easter? He knew he needed to come near.

He walked in and sat for a moment in the end of a pew about six from the front, placed his cardboard box with a few belongings in the aisle beside him. He glanced around, saw, perhaps, the trays of little squares of bread being passed along the aisle. What was going on? Was he too late?

There was a table at the front, pastors waiting behind it. Leaving his seat, the man went forward, stood uncertainly a few feet from the table. How to receive the blessing he longed for?

An usher came and stood with him, asked, perhaps, whether he could help him. And then the pilgrim was kneeling before one of the pastors.

The encounter lasted only a moment before he stood and, reclaiming his cardboard box, headed back out the door. But I had seen myself kneeling there at the table in blue jeans and old sneakers, seen the welcome and felt the risen Lord touch my shoulder. I was confused; He smiled on me. I longed for His love; He touched me.

 ___________

It is finished and He has done it and no matter whether I come singing hallelujah or dancing lament, wearing a new Easter dress or ancient blue jeans, I am His and He is mine and nothing can separate me from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Heavenly blessings without number gently falling on my head.

 

Taking it deeper:

What does it mean for you that it is finished and you can come as you are and rest in God’s love?

For those who have been following the Lenten “Dust you are” series of posts, is there something from this dusty journey through Lent that you’d like to take with you as you continue the journey with Jesus beyond the tomb, some new way of loving Him—and receiving His love—with your body as well as your soul?

Dust you are: living the mystery together

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There are three ministers sitting at the front behind the communion table. I’ve come full today, full of the sadness and fear and anger I’d tried to leave behind but couldn’t. And I’ve come empty, hungry for Jesus. I’m so grateful He calls me to come as I am.

The senior minister, Darrell, is in the middle with Andrea on his right and Abe on his left. Darrell stands, welcoming us all to the table and speaking the words of institution as he lifts the loaf and breaks it. I watch as Abe and Andrea pass the trays of bread to the servers to share with us. Darrell asks that we hold the bread until all have received and can partake “because we’re all in this together.”

Then, to his right, Andrea stands and lifts the cup. Her clear voice rings out, “And then He took the cup. . .” I was raised in a church where women couldn’t speak the words of institution or distribute the elements. My heart is in my throat. Something is happening and Jesus is in this place and we are on holy ground.

I expect her to suggest that we take the cup when we receive it as a sign that even though we are brought into the body we each come to Jesus individually. She asks instead that we wait once again and drink together. That breaks me right open and tears run down my cheeks because don’t we all have times we need to be reminded that this is the ultimate truth, that we really are part of Jesus’ body, all in this together, with each other and for each other and that’s how it’s meant to be?

We’re singing “Let the weak say I am strong” and part of that strength comes from sensing your fellow cells squished up against you in this living, breathing, growing body. There are moments Jesus’ life flows through you to feed them and warm them and hold them up and there are moments the flow is reversed. And often those moments aren’t very far apart.

I watch as the mystery unfolding in front of me deepens. Andrea returns from passing the trays of tiny cups to the servers. Darrell has stepped out from behind the table. He speaks to her a few words I can’t hear and she smiles and steps in behind the table, into the middle, into his place, and sits in his seat. Darrell sits in hers, then stands again to collect the emptied trays as the servers return.

This is the Lord’s table and I’ve just watched Him step out of His place and put me—a straggler and a struggler and a woman1 —in it, right in the middle of the Trinity where I can sit, surrounded and honored and safe and then where I can stand again—Jesus now wearing my flesh—and offer His blood and His body, His life and His strength, to my fellow ministers and to the world.

There are no words Darrell could have spoken which would have carried that message to my heart the way his action did.

There is truth that has to be embodied and joy that has to be laughed and grief that has to come out in wet and salty tears. There is love that has to be knelt and danced and lived and longing that can only be expressed as you lie clinging to the feet of Jesus.

Our body is not an accessory to our souls. It’s not a mere house for the more precious and lasting part of us. Rather, as Old Testament scholar Johannes Pedersen says, ‘The body is the soul in its outward form.”2

 

Taking it further:

Speaking of Genesis 2:7, Celeste Snowber Schroeder says,

“The Hebrew literally tells us that ‘God breathed in the nostrils the breath of life and the human became a nephesh,’ most often translated as soul. The passage does not say that the human was supplied with a soul as some other attachment to the body, but by the breath of God the human became a living body-soul, a living human being. So man and woman in their total essence are souls. As articulated by Old Testament scholar Johannes Pedersen, ‘Soul and body are so intimately united that a distinction cannot be made between them. They are more than ‘united,’: the body is the soul in its outward form.’ In the beginning of creation we were designed as one: body-soul.”3

What questions does this raise for you? What difference might this understanding of soul and body as two facets of the same whole make in your life (in your work, your decisions, your relationships, the daily practice of your faith and the way you read Scripture)?

 

Notes:

This is not to imply either that Andrea is a straggler or a struggler, or that women are in general any more so than men. We’re all dust, and the great mystery of grace is that Jesus puts any of us in this place where He wears our flesh and loves others through us. But since I’m a woman and have the church background that I do, the grace of Andrea being placed in that seat enabled me to glimpse and receive the grace more deeply.

Johannes Pedersen, Israel: Its Life and Culture (London: Oxford University Press, 1959), 171.

3 Celeste Snowber Schroeder, Embodied Prayer (Liguiori, Missouri: Triumph Books, 1995), 22.

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This is the fourth in a series of Lenten posts exploring what it might look like to live fully alive to God with our bodies as well as our souls. Click on the links to read the first three:

Dust you are: an invitation

Dust you are: a call to pay attention

Dust you are: love in the desert