Dear John ~ 24 March 2016

Dear John,

So Easter’s coming Sunday. You probably remember enough from your pastor-years to recall how this is a pretty big day. I love seeing all the joy and laughter, some folks stepping it up a little with their Sunday clothes and all the kids wired for the candy they’ve had or the candy they know’s coming their way. The sun’s typically bright, the dogwoods and the daffodils showing off. The music has extra oomph. It’s a grand day.

But I also know it’s an important day because this story we’ll be telling, this moment where we remember that Jesus rose from the dead and kicked evil to the curb – this day is pretty much the whole ball of wax, isn’t it? St. Paul seemed to know a thing or two, and he said that if Jesus didn’t raise up from the dead, then we’re all in a major heap of doo-doo. I tend to think everything in Jesus’ life pointed to this climactic moment when he sloughed off those grave clothes and walked back into this world he loves, this world he’d literally gone to hell to salvage. Some folks think that Jesus got a resurrection because he had to have a cross, but I think Jesus got a cross because he had to have a resurrection. What do you think about that? I don’t know, maybe that’s parsing truths that don’t need parsing. I know this though – what I most need, what most everyone I know needs, is a resurrection. I think most of us live fully aware of the death rattle; we’re just wondering if the story’s really true. We’re wondering if Life and Love really do win in the end.

But here’s my problem, John – I’ve been pondering my sermon for a mess of days now, and I’ve got nothing. Nada. At the moment, my heart feels flat as a pancake. Dry. Dull. Dead. Maybe that’s right, for now. My pastoral workweek calendar says I’m supposed to have a sermon prepared by 5 p.m., but my soul knows that first comes an evening where Jesus shares what must have been a very lonely meal with his disciples, clueless as they were to how he was pointing toward death. First comes a Friday we’ve named Good, though it’s the strangest good I know. Today, I’m leaning toward resurrection, but my soul knows there’s the valley of the shadow of death to walk through between here and there. Why can’t the story of God’s salvation of the cosmos fit into my nicely arranged to-do list?

I’ll tell you this: I do hope some worthwhile words present themselves to me before Sunday. The folks with whom I’ll gather to announce Resurrection are kind and generous, and most will put up with me and my bumbling ways. But still, I would like to have something helpful to share. Every hope I have is bound up in this Jesus who put death in a chokehold and refused to let go. I’d like to do it justice, if I’m able. 

So all that to say – light another candle for me. And if you get some flash of inspiration and want to write a sermon to pass my way, I’m all ears. 


Your Friend,

8 Replies to “Dear John ~ 24 March 2016”

  1. Hi, Winn. Thanks for your writing. Your words are a gift. They have a way of staying with me long after I read them. May your sermon for Easter show up as a powerful witness to resurrection. Because you’re right. That’s what we need. Blessings.

  2. There’s a modern parable that captures the notion of eternal life. Like all good parables it bears repeating.

    “Once upon a time, twin boys were conceived in the same womb. Seconds and minutes and hours passed by as the two dormant lives developed. The spark of life glowed until it fanned fire with the formation of their embryonic brains. And with their simple brains came feeling and with feeling came perception; a perception of surroundings, of each other, and of self. When they perceived the life of the other and their own life, they knew that life was good. And the fetuses laughed and rejoiced, the one saying: “Lucky are we to have been conceived and to have this world.” And the other fetus chimed in, “Blessed be the mother who gave us life and each other.”

    Each budded and grew arms and fingers, lean legs and stubby toes. They stretched their lungs and churned and turned in their newfound world. They explored their new world, and in it found the life cord. They found the life cord that gave them life from the precious mother. And so they sang, “How great is the love of the mother that she shares all she has with us.” And they were pleased and they were satisfied with their lot.

    But weeks passed into months, and with the advent of each new month, they noticed that they were…changing. They noticed that they were…growing older. And each began to see a change in themselves and one said: “We are changing. We are growing. What can this mean?”

    “It means,” replied the other, “that we are drawing near to our…to our…birth. We are drawing near to our birth.” And then a chill suddenly crept over the two, and they were both afraid. For they knew that birth meant leaving behind their secure world.

    They knew that birth meant going beyond what they knew. Said one to the other, “Were it up to me, I would live here forever. I would stay in this womb forever because I know it’s safe here.”

    “We must be born,” said the other. “It has happened to others who were here before us.” For indeed, there was evidence of life there before, evidence that the mother had borne others.

    “But might not there be life after birth?” said one to the other.

    “Well, how can there be life after birth?” cried the other. Have you ever talked to anyone who has been born? Has anyone ever re-entered the womb after birth? No!!!” He fell into despair and in despair, he moaned, “If the purpose of conception and all growth is that it is to be ended in birth, then truly, this life is pointless.

    Resigned to despair, the one stabbed the darkness with his unseeing eyes and he clutched his precious life cord to his chest and said: “If this is so, if I must be born, this life is pointless and there must be no mother after all.”

    “But there is a mother,” protested the other. “Who else gave us nourishment in our world?”

    “Oh, we get our own nourishment from the womb and our world has always been here, if we look hard enough we will be able to figure out how the womb came to be. Besides if there is a mother, where is she? Have you ever seen her? Does she ever talk to you? No. We just invented the mother because it satisfied a need in us. It made us feel secure and happy.”

    Thus, while one raved and despaired, the other resigned himself to birth. He placed his hands in the trust of the mother. Well, hours passed into days and days fell into weeks, and it came time. It came time for them to be born. And both knew that their birth was at hand. And both feared what they did not know. And as the one was the first to be conceived, so he was the first to be born. The other followed after. And they cried as they were born out into the light.

    They coughed up fluid, and they gasped the dry air; and when they were sure that they had been born, they opened up their eyes, and they found themselves cradled in the warm love of the mother. They lay open mouthed, awestruck at the beauty of the mother that they had never seen before.” (Henri Nouwen, Our Greatest Gift: A Meditation on Dying and Caring (Harper: San Francisco, 1994), pp. 19-20) (On-ray New-EN)

  3. Thank you, Winn. Glad I didn’t miss this one because your words had nothing canned or frozen to bring to the real blood meal I long for.

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