Archive for April, 2022

Sacramental Vision

April 28th, 2022

Contemplative author and artist Christine Valters Paintner honors the formal sacraments of the church while also inviting us to celebrate the sacramental nature of all life and all beings:

One of the classic definitions of a sacrament is something that is an outward, visible sign of an inward, invisible grace. In the Christian church there are different rituals that are considered to be sacraments. The Catholic Church has seven sacraments, while other denominations count fewer among their number. However, this idea of sacramentality extends beyond the formal sacraments such as Baptism, Matrimony, Communion, and the Anointing of the Sick. This sense of sacramentality, rooted in the Incarnation, extends our vision out to the world so that everything can be a sacrament, meaning every person, creature, plant, and object can be an opportunity to encounter something of the Divine Presence in the world. Sacramentality is a quality present in creation that opens us up to the Sacred Presence in all things. Sacraments reveal grace.

When viewed through this expansive lens, we discover that the more we cultivate intimacy with the natural world, the more we discover about God’s presence. All of our interactions with nature can be sacramental, and all the ways nature extends herself to us are sacramental as well. Sacramentality breaks through our surface obsessions in the world and plunges us into the depth of the Sacred at every turn. It is a spontaneous reminder of God’s creative upwelling and expansive love, calling us to love beyond boundaries. St. Isaac the Syrian [seventh century] defines a charitable heart as one “which is burning with love for the whole creation, for [humans], for the birds, for the beasts, for the demons—for all creatures.” [1]

Paintner talks about the shift that takes place when we see life in this way:

This discovery that every creature and every created thing can be a window of revelation into the divine nature is an invitation to fall more and more in love with the world. To see that teachers of grace exist everywhere means to bring a sense of reverence to the way we walk in the world. When we encounter nature as sacrament, we can no longer objectify it. We can instead create the circumstances that nurture and nourish this kind of vision. . . . Sacramental vision means not only that we grow in our love of God’s ways in the world but also that we grow in our sense of kinship with creation. . . .

There is a sense of God’s incarnate presence in creation that shimmers forth to reveal the holiness of all things. Notice how your senses come alive when you walk out in the world aware of its sacramental nature. What do your eyes, ears, nose, mouth, and skin each reveal to you about how God is alive in the world around you?

Sarah Young…

Choice Points during the day.

Lamentations 3:22-26,  Because of the LORD’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. I say.

Proverbs 16:9, A man’s heart plans his way, But the Lord directs his steps.

Psalm 34:8 NKJV, Oh, taste and see that the LORD is good; Blessed is the man who trusts in Him!

April 27th, 2022

When God Meets Us

Popular Christian author Rachel Held Evans (1981–2019) has an expansive understanding of how Christians, as the body of Christ, can celebrate the sacraments together:

Something about communion triggers our memory and helps us see things as they really are. Something about communion opens our eyes to Jesus at the table. . . .

“God works through life, through people, and through physical, tangible, and material reality to communicate [God’s] healing presence in our lives,” explains Robert E. Webber when describing the principle of sacrament. “God does not meet us outside of life in an esoteric manner. Rather, [God] meets us through life incidents, and particularly through the sacraments of the church. Sacrament, then, is a way of encountering the mystery.” [1]

This is the purpose of the sacraments, of the church—to help us see, to point to the bread and wine, the orchids and the food pantries, the post-funeral potlucks and the post-communion dance parties, and say: pay attention, this stuff matters; these things are holy. . . .

Enter one another’s joy, one another’s family, one another’s messes, one another’s suppers.

Evans also encourages us to recognize and celebrate the sacramental nature of Jesus’ ministry:

Indeed, the word sacrament is derived from a Latin phrase which means “to make holy.” When hit with the glint of love’s light, even ordinary things become holy. And when received with open hands in the spirit of eucharisteo, the signs and wonders of Jesus never cease. The 150-plus gallons of wine at Cana point to a generous God, a God who never runs out of holy things. This is the God who, much to the chagrin of Jonah, saved the rebellious city of Nineveh, the God who turned five loaves of bread and a couple of fish into a lunch to feed five thousand with baskets of leftovers to spare. This God is like a vineyard manager who pays a full day’s wage for just one hour of work, or like a shepherd who leaves his flock in search of a single lamb, or like a father who welcomes his prodigal son home with a robe, a ring, and a feast.

We have the choice, every day, to join in the revelry, to imbibe the sweet wine of undeserved grace, or to pout like Jonah, argue fairness like the vineyard employees, resent our own family like the prodigal’s older brother. At its best, the church administers the sacraments by feeding, healing, forgiving, comforting, and welcoming home the people God loves. At its worst, the church withholds the sacraments in an attempt to lock God in a theology, a list of rules, a doctrinal statement, a building.

But our God is in the business of transforming ordinary things into holy things, scraps of food into feasts and empty purification vessels into fountains of fine wine. This God knows his way around the world, so there’s no need to fear. . . . There’s always enough—just taste and see. There’s always and ever enough.

April 26th, 2022

The Body of the Cosmos

Father Richard continues to emphasize the centrality of the Eucharist in a Christian life: 

The Eucharist—or what many Christians refer to as communion—becomes our ongoing touchstone for the Christian journey. It becomes a place to which we must repeatedly return in order to find our face, our name, our absolute identity, who we are in Christ, and thus who we are foreverWe are not just humans having a God experience. The Eucharist tells us that, in some mysterious way, we are an ingested God having a human experience! 

This continues in Romans 8:19–25 (as creation), 1 Corinthians 10:16–17, and 11:23–25 (as bread and wine), and in 12:12–13 (as people). In each of these Scriptures, and in an ever-expanding sense, Paul expresses his full belief that there is a real transfer of human and spiritual identity from Christ to Creation, to the elements of bread and wine, and through them to human beings.

Thus Eucharist, like Resurrection, is not a unique event or strange anomaly. Eucharist is the Incarnation of Christ taken to its final shape and end—the very elements of the earth itself. It is all one huge continuum of Incarnation. It is indeed one sacred universe, all things turning around one thing (uni versus), the divine. [1]

Vietnamese Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hahn (1926–2022) wrote about “Jesus and Buddha as brothers.” On the Christian communion ritual, he writes:

The bread that Jesus handed to you, to us, is real bread, and if you can eat real bread you have real life. But we are not able to eat real bread. We only try to eat the word bread or the notion of bread. Even when we are celebrating the Eucharist, we are still eating notions and ideas. “Take, my friends, this is my flesh, this is my blood.” Can there be any more drastic language in order to wake you up? What could Jesus have said that is better than that? You have been eating ideas and notions, and I want you to eat real bread so that you become alive. If you come back to the present moment, fully alive, you will realize this is real bread, this piece of bread is the body of the whole cosmos.

If Christ is the body of God, which he is, then the bread he offers is also the body of the cosmos. Look deeply and you notice the sunshine in the bread, the blue sky in the bread, the cloud and the great earth in the bread. Can you tell me what is not in a piece of bread? The whole cosmos has come together in order to bring to you this piece of bread. You eat it in such a way that you become alive, truly alive. . . . Eat in such a way that the Holy Spirit becomes an energy within you and then the piece of bread that Jesus gives to you will stop being an idea, a notion. [2]

April 24th, 2022

The Sacramental Principle

Father Richard Rohr introduces the heart of sacramental theology, that our particular and ordinary circumstances are the places where we meet the Universal Christ:   

Every resurrection story found in the Gospels affirms an ambiguous—yet certain—presence of the Risen Christ in very ordinary settings, like walking on the road to Emmaus with a stranger, roasting fish on the beach, or looking like a gardener to Mary Magdalene. These moments from Scripture set a stage of expectation and desire that God’s Presence can be seen in the ordinary and the material, and we do not have to wait for supernatural apparitions. We Catholics call this a sacramental theology, where the visible and tactile are the primary doorway to the invisible. This is why each of the formal sacraments of the church insists on a material element like water, oil, bread, wine, the laying on of hands, or the physicality of marriage itself.

By the time Paul wrote the letters to Colossae (1:15–20) and Ephesus (1:3–14), some twenty years after Jesus’ era, he had already connected Jesus’ single body with the rest of the human species (1 Corinthians 12:12–31), with the individual elements symbolized by bread and wine (1 Corinthians 11:23–26), and with the entire Christ of cosmic history and nature itself (Romans 8:19–23). This connection is later articulated in the Prologue to John’s Gospel (written decades after Paul’s letters) when the author says, “In the beginning was the Logos, and the Logos was with God, and the Logos was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of humanity” (John 1:1–4), all grounded in the Logos becoming flesh (1:14).

The core message of the incarnation of God in Jesus is that the Divine Presence is here, in us and in all of creation, and not only “over there” in some far-off realm. The early Christians came to call this seemingly new and available Presence “both Lord and Christ” (Acts 2:36).

The sacramental principle is this: Begin with a concrete moment of encounter, based in this physical world, and the soul universalizes from there, so that what is true here becomes true everywhere else too. And so the spiritual journey proceeds with ever-greater circles of inclusion into the One Holy Mystery! But it always starts with what many wisely call the “scandal of the particular.” It is there that we must surrender, even if the object itself seems more than a bit unworthy of our awe, trust, or surrender. The purest form of spirituality is to find God in what is right in front of you—the ability to accept what the French Jesuit and mystic Jean Pierre de Caussade (1675–1751) called the sacrament of the present moment. [1]

Real Presence

In his book The Universal Christ, Father Richard shares that he wrote this teaching on the Eucharist on Easter Sunday 2017 with “great joy”:

When Jesus spoke the words “This is my Body,” I believe he was speaking not just about the bread right in front of him, but about the whole universe, about every thing that is physical, material, and yet also spirit-filled.

Seeing the Eucharist as a miracle is not really the message at all. I can see why we celebrate it so often. This message is such a shock to the psyche, such a challenge to our pride and individualism, that it takes a lifetime of practice and much vulnerability for it to sink in—as the pattern of every thing, and not just this thing.

The bread and the wine together are stand-ins for the very elements of the universe, which also enjoy and communicate the incarnate presence. Why did we resist this message so much? Authentically eucharistic churches should have been the first to recognize the corporate, universal, and physical nature of the “Christification” of matter. While Catholics rightly affirm the Real Presence of Jesus in these physical elements of the earth, most do not realize the implications of what they have affirmed. The bread and wine are largely understood as an exclusive presence, when in fact their full function is to communicate a truly inclusive—and always shocking—presence.

A true believer is eating what he or she is afraid to see and afraid to accept: The universe is the Body of God, both in its essence and in its suffering.

The Eucharist is an encounter of the heart when we recognize Presence through our own offered presence. In the Eucharist, we move beyond mere words or rational thought and go to that place where we don’t talk about the Mystery anymore; we begin to chew on it. Jesus did not say, “Think about this” or “Stare at this” or even “Worship this.” Instead he said, “Eat this!”

We must move our knowing to the bodily, cellular, participative, and thus unitive level. We must keep eating and drinking the Mystery, until one day it dawns on us, in an undefended moment, “My God, I really am what I eat! I also am the Body of Christ.” Then we can henceforth trust and allow what has been true since the first moment of our existence. The Eucharist should operate like a stun gun, not just a pretty ceremony. We have dignity and power flowing through us in our bare and naked existence—and everybody else does too, even though most do not know it. A body awareness of this sort is enough to steer and empower our entire faith life.

This is why I must hold to the orthodox belief that there is Real Presence in the bread and wine. For me, if we sacrifice Reality in the basic and universal elements, we end up sacrificing the same Reality in ourselves

A Promise for All Creation

April 22nd, 2022

For Catholic theologian Elizabeth Johnson, the resurrection of Jesus is a promise of new life for all creation:

As the first fruit of an abundant harvest, the risen Jesus Christ pledges a future for all the dead, not only the dead of the human species but of all species. In Jesus crucified and risen, God who graciously gives life to the dead and brings into being the things that do not exist will redeem the whole cosmos. As Ambrose of Milan [d. 397] in the fourth century preached, “In Christ’s resurrection the earth itself arose.” [1]

The reasoning runs like this. This person, Jesus of Nazareth, Wisdom incarnate, was composed of star stuff and earth stuff; his life formed a genuine part of the historical and biological community of Earth; his body existed in a network of relationships drawing from and extending to the whole physical universe. As a child of the earth he died, and the earth claimed him back in a grave. In his resurrection his flesh was called to life again in transformed glory. Risen from the dead, Jesus has been reborn as a child of the earth, radiantly transfigured. . . . The evolving world of life, all of matter in its endless permutations, will not be left behind but will be transfigured by the resurrecting action of the Creator God. [2]

Writing at the beginning of the pandemic, Franciscan theologian Ilia Delio reminds us that we can celebrate the risen Christ in our lives and in the natural world:

Where is this risen Christ? Everywhere and all around us—in you, your neighbor, the dogwood tree outside, the budding grape vine, the ants popping up through the cracks. The whole world is filled with God, who is shining through even the darkest places of our lives. To “go to church” is to awaken to this divine presence in our midst and respond in love with a yes: Your life, O God, is my life and the life of the planet. . . . We have an invitation to go to church in a new way, by praying before the new leaves budding through dormant trees or the wobbly flowers by the side of the road pushing through the solid earth. . .  [With Francis of Assisi], we too can sing with the air we breathe, the sun that shines upon us, the rain that pours down to water the earth. And we can cry with those who are mourning, with the forgotten, with those who are suffering from disease or illness, with the weak, with the imprisoned. We can mourn in the solidarity of compassion but we must live in the hope of new life. For we are Easter people, and we are called to celebrate the whole earth as the body of Christ. Every act done in love gives glory to God: a pause of thanksgiving, a laugh, a gaze at the sun, or just raising a toast to your friends at your virtual gathering. The good news? “He is not here!” Christ is everywhere, and love will make us whole.

Listen to Me Continually…….

Psalms 62:8 Trust in Him at all times, you people; Pour out your heart before Him; God is a refuge for us.

John 8:36 If therefore the Son shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed. 

Proverbs 19:21 Many are the plans in a person’s heart, but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails.

John 10:27 My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me

God is With Us Through It All

April 21st, 2022

Father Richard shares how we can receive the miracle of new life by embracing our own difficulties and “deaths” as Jesus did

Death is not only physical dying. Death also means going to the full depths of things, hitting the bottom, going beyond where we’re in control. In that sense, we all go through many deaths in our lives, tipping points when we have to ask, “What am I going to do?” Many people turn bitter, look for someone to blame, and close down. Their “death” is indeed death for them because there is no room for growth after that. But when we go into the full depths and death of anything—even, ironically, the depths of our own sin—we can come out the other side transformed, more alive, more open, more forgiving of ourselves and others. And when we come out the other side, we know that we’ve been led there. We’re not holding on; we’re being held by a larger force, by a larger source that is not our own. That’s what it means to be saved! It means that we’ve walked through the mystery of transformation.

The miracle of it all—if we are to speak of miracles—is that God has found the most ingenious way to transform the human soul. God uses the very thing that would normally destroy us—the tragic, the sorrowful, the painful, the unjust deaths that lead us all to the bottom of our lives—to transform us. There it is, in one sentence. Are we prepared to trust that?

Jesus’ death and resurrection is a statement of how reality works all the time and everywhere. He teaches us that there’s a different way to live with our pain, our sadness, and our suffering. We can say, “Woe is me,” and feel sorry for ourselves, or we can say, “God is even in this.” And that’s what Jesus did on Good Friday. 

None of us crosses over this gap from death to new life by our own effort, our own merit, our own purity, or our own perfection. Each of us—from pope to president, from princess to peasant—is carried across by unearned grace. Worthiness is never the ticket, only deep desire. With that desire the tomb is always, finally empty, as Mary Magdalene discovered on Easter morning. Death cannot win. We’re finally indestructible when we recognize that the thing which could destroy us is the very thing that could enlighten us.

Friends, the Easter feast is a reminder to all of us to open our eyes and our ears and to witness what is happening all around us, all the time, everywhere. God’s one and only job description is to turn death into life. That’s what God does with every new springtime, every new life, every new season, every new anything. God is the one who always turns death into life, and no one who trusts in this God will ever be put to shame (Psalm 25:3).

Romans 8:6. New International Version … The mind governed by the flesh is death, but the mind governed by the Spirit is life and peace.

Genesis 1:26-27
Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over ..

Romans 8:6
The mind governed by the flesh is death, but the mind governed by the Spirit is life and peace. … So letting your sinful nature control your mind leads to death .

April 20th, 2022

An Uprising for Justice

Theologian and Episcopal priest Kelly Brown Douglas compares the Risen Jesus’ instruction to his disciples to meet him in Galilee (Mark 16:6–8) and our own encounter with the risen Christ when we stand against injustice.  

In asking his disciples to meet him in Galilee, Jesus was indeed calling them to imagine something different for the world. Jesus was asking them to imagine a world where life, not death, is centered. . . . The Resurrected Jesus resurrected his disciples by inviting them away from the despair of death that was the cross into the hope of new life that was the resurrection. A community that had given up on the possibilities for life, that had lost faith in the gospel that Jesus preached, was called back into life-giving ministry. This is what the invitation to Galilee was all about.

When I remembered this Galilean invitation, as I stood in my own existential despair of crucifying Black deaths, it was as if I was being invited to Galilee to meet the resurrected Jesus. . . .

Douglas participated in a protest in support of Black lives and was filled with unexpected joy and what she calls “resurrecting hope”:

As I stood there in what seemed like a sea of people, my [spontaneous] laughter was nothing less than a signal of transcendence pointing me to the resurrecting hope that had disrupted the seeming futility of crucifying Black death. . . .

Standing in that small space of Black Lives Matter Plaza in front of the White House was the most motley and diverse crew of God’s sacred creation that I had seen come together in protest. They reflected an “otherwise way of being in the world.” They were Black, white, brown, Asian and non-Asian, Latinx and non-Latinx, queer and non-queer, trans and non-trans, bi-gendered and non-bi-gendered. They were also young and old and everything in between. . . . People were there advocating, each in their own way, for a world that looked more like God’s just future: a future where all people were living in the peace that was justice. They were embodying that very future. [1]

CAC teacher Brian McLaren envisions much the same in a world saturated by the Risen Christ’s presence: 

Resurrection has begun. We are part of something rare, something precious, something utterly revolutionary.

It feels like an uprising. An uprising of hope, not hate. An uprising armed with love, not weapons. An uprising that shouts a joyful promise of life and peace, not angry threats of hostility and death. It’s an uprising of outstretched hands, not clenched fists. It’s the “someday” we have always dreamed of, emerging in the present, rising up among us and within us. It’s so different from what we expected—so much better. This is what it means to be alive, truly alive. This is what it means to be en route, walking the road to a new and better day. Let’s tell the others: the Lord is risen! [2]

April 19th, 2022

A Feast of Hope

In a homily offered on Easter Sunday 2019, Father Richard Rohr shared the good news of the resurrection: 

The Brazilian writer and journalist Fernando Sabino (1923–2004) wrote, “In the end, everything will be [all right]. If it’s not [all right], it’s not the end.” [1] That’s what today is all about, “Everything will be okay in the end.”

The message of Easter is not primarily a message about Jesus’ body, although we’ve been trained to limit it to this one-time “miracle.” We’ve been educated to expect a lone, risen Jesus saying, “I rose from the dead; look at me!” I’m afraid that’s why many people, even Christians, don’t really seem to get too excited about Easter. If the message doesn’t somehow include us, humans don’t tend to be that interested in theology. Let me share what I think the real message is: Every message about Jesus is a message about all of us, about humanity. Sadly, the Western church that most of us were raised in emphasized the individual resurrection of Jesus. It was a miracle that we could neither prove nor experience, but that we just dared to boldly believe.

But there’s a great secret, at least for Western Christians, hidden in the other half of the universal church. In the Eastern Orthodox Church—in places like Syria, Turkey, Greece, and Egypt—Easter is not usually painted with a solitary Jesus rising from the dead. He’s always surrounded by crowds of people—both haloed and unhaloed. In fact, in traditional icons, he’s pulling people out of Hades. Hades is not the same as hell, although we put the two words together, and so we grew up reciting in the creed that “Jesus descended into hell.”

Instead, Hades is simply the place of the dead. There’s no punishment or judgment involved. It’s just where a soul waits for God. But we neglected that interpretation. So the Eastern Church was probably much closer to the truth that the resurrection is a message about humanity. It’s a message about history. It’s a corporate message, and it includes you and me and everyone else. If that isn’t true, it’s no wonder that we basically lost interest.

Today is the feast of hope, direction, purpose, meaning, and community. We’re all in this together. The cynicism and negativity that our country and many other countries have descended into show a clear example of what happens when people do not have hope. If it’s all hopeless, we individually lose hope too. Easter is an announcement of a common hope. When we sing in the Easter hymn that Christ destroyed death, that means the death of all of us. It’s not just about Jesus; it’s to humanity that God promises, “Life is not ended, it merely changes,” as we say in the funeral liturgy. That’s what happened in Jesus, and that’s what will happen in us. In the end, everything will be all right. History is set on an inherently positive and hopeful tangent.

Universal Restoration

Father Richard writes about the early church’s belief in universal restoration and the eventual victory of Divine Love:

A number of Church Fathers during the first four centuries of Christianity believed in what’s called apokatastasis, or“universal restoration” (Acts 3:21). [1] They believed that the real meaning of Christ’s resurrection was that God’s love was so perfect and so victorious that it would finally triumph in every single person’s life. They were so sure about this that their thought partially gave rise to the idea of purgatory as a place. In the dying process or even after death, God’s infinite love can and will still get at us! They felt no soul could resist the revelation of such infinite love. (Most Catholics were never taught that the original folk belief in purgatory represented an overwhelming sense of God’s always-victorious love and mercy. Like many great mysteries, it deteriorated into its exact opposite, a place of punishment—which is all a worldview of scarcity can devise.)

From my reading of the history of the Catholic Church and its dogma, universal restorationwas never condemned as heretical. We didn’t have to believe in it, but we certainly could. Isn’t it interesting that we Catholics canonize saints, pronouncing them to be in heaven beyond a shadow of a doubt, yet this same Church has never declared that a single person is in hell or purgatory, not even Judas or Hitler? The Church might just be holding out for a possible universal restoration.

The true meaning of the raising of Jesus is that God will turn all our human crucifixions into resurrection. This is a social, historical victory for God. Part of why we could not accept it is that we want individual people to “get their due.” But the real biblical message is that God is loving history much more than only loving individuals. This should have been apparent from YHWH’s relationship with Israel which was always corporate, both in its covenants and in its chastisements. We are all in this together, biblically speaking.

In her thirteenth showing, Julian of Norwich (1343–c. 1416) asked Jesus, “In fear and trembling, ‘Oh, good Lord, how can all be well when great harm has come to your creatures through sin?’ And here I wanted, if I dared, to have some clearer explanation to put my mind at rest.” And to this our blessed Lord . . . taught me . . . ‘Since I have brought good out of the worst-ever evil, I want you to know, by this, that I shall bring good out of all lesser evils, too.’” [2]

Could God’s love really be that great and that universal? I believe it is. Love is the lesson, and God’s love is so great that God will finally teach it to all of us. We’ll finally surrender, and God will win in the end. That will be God’s “justice,” which will swallow up our lesser versions. God—Love—does not lose!

The Invincibility of God’s Love

Archbishop Desmond Tutu (1931–2021) shares a hopeful vision for the transformation of all death into new life, all evil into good. 

Dear Child of God, it is often difficult for us to recognize the presence of God in our lives and in our world. In the clamor of the tragedy that fills the headlines we forget about the majesty that is present all around us. We feel vulnerable and often helpless. . . . But we are not helpless and with God’s love we are ultimately invincible. Our God does not forget those who are suffering and oppressed. 

Tutu shares an experience he had when gathered with other church leaders during the most difficult days of apartheid:

We met at a theological college that had closed down because of the government’s racist policies. During our discussions I went into the priory garden for some quiet. There was a huge Calvary—a large wooden cross without a corpus, but with protruding nails and crown of thorns. It was a stark symbol of the Christian faith. It was winter: the grass was pale and dry and nobody would have believed that in a few weeks’ time it would be lush and green and beautiful again. It would be transfigured.  

As I sat quietly in the garden I realized the power of transfiguration—of God’s transformation—in our world. The principle of transfiguration [Richard: very similar to how I describe resurrection] is at work when something so unlikely as the brown grass that covers our veld in winter becomes bright green again. Or when the tree with gnarled leafless branches bursts forth with the sap flowing so that the birds sit chirping in the leafy branches. Or when the once dry streams gurgle with swift-flowing water. When winter gives way to spring and nature seems to experience its own resurrection.  

The principle of transfiguration says nothing, no one and no situation, is “untransfigurable,” that the whole of creation, nature, waits expectantly for its transfiguration, when it will be released from its bondage and share in the glorious liberty of the children of God, when it will not be just dry inert matter but will be translucent with divine glory. . . .

All over this magnificent world God calls us to extend [God’s] kingdom of shalom—peace and wholeness—of justice, of goodness, of compassion, of caring, of sharing, of laughter, of joy, and of reconciliation. God is transfiguring the world right this very moment through us because God believes in us and because God loves us. What can separate us from the love of God? Nothing. Absolutely nothing. And as we share God’s love with our brothers and sisters, God’s other children, there is no tyrant who can resist us, no oppression that cannot be ended, no hunger that cannot be fed, no wound that cannot be healed, no hatred that cannot be turned to love, no dream that cannot be fulfilled.

Following Christ Crucified

April 15th, 2022

Surrendering his life on the cross out of love for all creation, Jesus somehow places himself (and therefore God) in solidarity with all suffering. Black Catholic theologian M. Shawn Copeland challenges those who would follow Jesus to likewise grieve in solidarity with humanity’s suffering through the centuries:  

To know and to follow Christ crucified is to know and love those children, women, and men who are poor, excluded, and despised, made different and unwelcome, lynched and crucified in our world. . . . 

If we would follow Christ crucified, we would hear the echoes of ululation and bitter weeping in Gaza and in Rafah, in Baghdad and in Beirut, in Cairo and in Kigali. . . . 

If we would follow Christ crucified, we would press to our hearts the tears that flowed from the eyes of Cherokee, Seminole, and Choctaw children and women and men who limped through the cold and hunger from Oklahoma to Arkansas and Alabama and Mississippi. . . . 

If we would follow Christ crucified, we would recover the tears that fell on the floors of the camps at Auschwitz, Treblinka, and Sobibór. . . . 

If we would follow Christ crucified, we would retrieve the tears that flowed from the eyes of children and women and men who crowded into flimsy boats and old trucks and shipping containers to suffocate and die in front of fences strung across the desert, at abandoned check points on the outer edge of rural towns, and at heavily guarded borders near rivers and waterways. . . . 

If we would follow Christ crucified with attention, reverence, and devotion, we would recognize that the tears and blood and moans of the innocent have been absorbed into the air we breathe, have seeped into our streams and . . . oceans, into the earth in which we plant and from which we harvest and eat.  

If we follow with attention, reverence, and devotion the moans and tears of the brutalized and burned, raped and mutilated, enslaved and captive across the centuries, we are led to the ground beneath the cross of the crucified Jewish Jesus of Nazareth. . . . 

If we, who would be his disciples, recall the night before he died, we are led to a table, from a table to a garden, from a garden to a courtyard, from a courtyard to a hill, from a hill to a grave, from a grave to life. The table holds the self-gift of his very flesh and blood; the garden is watered by his tears and blood; and the cross holds him, even as the One whom he knows and loves lifts him up from the grave to release him into the surprise of hope and life.  

[Richard here: The Paschal Mystery we honor this Holy Week cannot be made clear for Christians without Christ’s surrendering love to God. It begins with the Incarnation and culminates in the Resurrection—for him and for each of us!]


Good Friday: “Ends and beginnings” – Holy Week Devotions

The Rev. Dr. Hannah Ka


"Torn" by Mike Moyers. Permission for use granted by artist, 2021.
“Torn” by Mike Moyers. Permission for use granted by artist, 2021.

Fifth in a series of devotions for Holy Week written by United Methodist pastors.

Scripture: Mark 15:33-41

Artist: Mike Moyers 

“Torn Veil” by Mike Moyers. Learn more about the artist here.

From noon until three in the afternoon the whole earth was dark. At three, Jesus cried out with a loud shout, “Eloi, eloi, lama sabachthani,” which means, “My God, my God, why have you left me?”

After hearing him, some standing there said, “Look! He’s calling Elijah!” Someone ran, filled a sponge with sour wine, and put it on a pole. He offered it to Jesus to drink, saying, “Let’s see if Elijah will come to take him down.” But Jesus let out a loud cry and died.

The curtain of the sanctuary was torn in two from top to bottom. When the centurion, who stood facing Jesus, saw how he died, he said, “This man was certainly God’s Son.”

Some women were watching from a distance, including Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of James (the younger one) and Joses, and Salome. When Jesus was in Galilee, these women had followed and supported him, along with many other women who had come to Jerusalem with him.


A dimmed light in theater cues the ending of a scene. The darkness signals the curtain to close. A part of the story has ended. If the protagonist is dead at this end, then we know it is a tragedy. Jesus’ death is a disappointment for those who hoped that he would rise as a new political leader to overthrow the oppressive colonial power of Rome and rebuild the nation that would protect them. For those who executed his death sentence, it is a clear victory against a rebel. This seemingly failed attempt closes the curtain on the story, at least for many human eyes.
From the wider viewpoint of faith, however, it is not. It signals something totally otherwise. At the moment of Jesus’ loud cry and his last breath, there the curtain in the temple is torn in two. This is the curtain that the God-fearing and Law-abiding Jewish people had put up to keep some out. It is torn “from top to bottom” (v. 38) because God breaks the division between the holy and the ordinary and erases the line between what is acceptable and unacceptable.
The death of Jesus is an opening. God opens the closed curtains that we so often put up and walks into our lives. God is not only within our reach, but also reaches out to all humanity with the redeeming grace of the cross. God treasures our ordinary life as a part of eternity. God turns the ends of human tragedy into new beginnings because God’s redemptive story always eradicates any human-made divisive binaries we put up on earth. God follows neither the Roman Empire nor the Jewish Law. God builds a new kin-dom on earth according to God’s all-embracing love. God is… and God does. 

For reflection

  • “New beginnings are often disguised as painful endings.” by Lao Tzu. 


O God, help us feel your presence in our daily lives, in our pain and our despair. Open our eyes to see your new beginnings in our endings. Guide us to live as a part of your redemptive story. Amen. 

The Rev. Dr. Hannah Ka is Pastor of Discipleship at First United Methodist Church in San Diego, California. Media contact: Joe Iovino, United Methodist Communications.

God Surrenders to Us in Love

April 14th, 2022

Franciscan teacher Ilia Delio sees the Incarnation as God surrendering to us in humble, human form: 

Surrender [to God] expresses one’s belief that God is love and love never fails. We would be remiss to think, however, that surrender is a movement in trust and love only on our part, as if God might be waiting for us to hand over the reins of control. Such an idea misses out on the tremendous mystery of God as love, for our surrender to God is based on God’s surrender to us. . . . 

The surrender of God in the person of Jesus Christ is the great mystery of God. God does not hold back and wait until we get things right; rather, God loves us where we are and as we are. In the Incarnation, divine love has found us and has surrendered to us. It has handed itself over to us to do as we please. 

What do we do with this tremendous gift of divine love so freely given to us? Some of us are blind to this love, so we ignore it. Others do not believe that God surrenders—completely in love with us—and therefore reject it. Still others fear that a God of self-giving love could be weak, and so they question the divine love. But for those who breathe in the Spirit of God, the surrender of God in love is the greatest act of humility, and one can only receive this love in poverty and humility. Receptivity marks the person of surrender. [1]

For Father Richard, Saints Francis (1182–1226) and Clare of Assisi (1194–1253) are powerful examples of people who surrendered their lives to God, and discovered who they really were in God:  

God is the only one we can surrender to without losing ourselves. It’s a paradox. I can’t prove it to you, and it sure doesn’t always feel like that, but I promise it’s true. Francis and Clare lost and let go of all fear of suffering; all need for power, prestige, and possessions; and all need for their small self to be important—and they came out on the other side knowing something essential: who they really were in God and thus who they really were. Their house was then built on “bedrock,” as Jesus says (Matthew 7:24). Such an ability to really change is often the fruit of suffering, and various forms of poverty, since the false self does not surrender without a fight to its death. If suffering is “whenever we are not in control” (my definition), then we can understand why some form of suffering is absolutely necessary to teach us how to live beyond the illusion of control and to give that control back to God.

Francis and Clare voluntarily leapt into the very fire from which most of us are trying to escape, with total trust that Jesus’ way of the cross could not, and would not, be wrong. 

Holy Thursday: “Denial and forgiveness” – Holy Week Devotions

The Rev. Jonathan Tullos


"Peter's denial" by artist Rosana Casco
“Peter’s denial” by artist Rosana Casco

Fourth in a series of devotions for Holy Week written by United Methodist pastors.

Scripture: Mark 14:66-72

Artist: Rosana Casco

“Peter’s Denial” by Rosana Casco. Learn more about the artist here.

Meanwhile, Peter was below in the courtyard. A woman, one of the high priest’s servants, approached and saw Peter warming himself by the fire. She stared at him and said, “You were also with the Nazarene, Jesus.”

But he denied it, saying, “I don’t know what you’re talking about. I don’t understand what you’re saying.” And he went outside into the outer courtyard. A rooster crowed.

The female servant saw him and began a second time to say to those standing around, “This man is one of them.” But he denied it again.

A short time later, those standing around again said to Peter, “You must be one of them, because you are also a Galilean.”

But he cursed and swore, “I don’t know this man you’re talking about.” At that very moment, a rooster crowed a second time. Peter remembered what Jesus told him, “Before a rooster crows twice, you will deny me three times.” And he broke down, sobbing.


When we talk about Peter’s denial of Jesus, the question that often comes up is “Why did Peter deny Jesus?” The simplest answer always seems to be that Peter was merely fulfilling the prediction that Jesus had pronounced over him at the last supper. Or, to say that Peter lacked faith. Though Peter was an apostle, we must remember that he was human and had human emotions such as fear. Let’s also remember that Peter was dealing with the impending death of his friend and mentor, so he was also dealing with anger and grief. It might be easy to be dismissive of Peter’s denial but we must remember that we might well react in the same way if we are honest with ourselves.

And what about Jesus? Would He be angry at Peter’s denial? Think about this: When Jesus made this prediction, Peter was sitting at the table for the Passover meal and He fed Peter anyway. Perhaps it was this example of grace and mercy that kept Peter going, allowing him to continue the work he had been tasked with even after Jesus died on the cross. Peter’s story does not end at the denial. Peter went on to be forgiven and to be the very foundation of the church. Likewise, our stories do not have to end when we deny Christ through our living. What joy, this wondrous mercy and grace brought! Thanks be to God. 

For reflection

  • How can God redeem my denials of Him? 


Father, thank you for stories like Peter’s that remind us so much of ourselves. Jesus, give us strength when doing the bold thing takes a back seat to our fear. Holy Spirit, help us to follow the examples of both Peter and Jesus, in staying the course and in showing others the grace that we want shown to us. Amen. 

The Rev. Jonathan Tullos is the pastor of Salem UMC and Pleasant Hill UMC, in Lucedale, Mississippi. Media contact: Joe Iovino, United Methodist Communications.