holy week

The Stench of Resurrection

smellyeastermorning

This week I caught up with a colleague over a cup of coffee. It was there she told the story of an Easter morning debacle unlike any I had ever heard: A rat had crawled into the oven and died sometime during lent. When the oven was turned on to heat up breakfast casseroles, the dead (and now burning) rat began to perfume the entire building with its awful stench. “I don’t know if you’ve ever smelled anything like that, but I can’t even describe it,” she said. She went on to tell about how she and parishioners frantically opened windows, trying to rid the building of the gag-inducing smell. “Nothing says ‘Christ is Risen’ like the smell of burning rat flesh,” we laughed. Hilarious. Awful. Gross. As I reflected on it later, though, it occurred to me how poignant and maybe even appropriate the whole story was — the smell of death lingering in the air on Easter morning.

Just before Jesus raises Lazarus from the dead, Martha says to Jesus “Lord, already there is a stench because he has been dead for four days.” (John 11:39, NRSV)

There is a stench in the air on the day of resurrection. I don’t think we talk about that enough, but we probably should.

On Easter, the alleluias come back and the lilies come out. The trumpets sound, and the bells are rung. But the poor are still hungry. The prisoners are still captive. The terminally ill are still dying. Writer Barbara Johnson said it this way: We are Easter people living in a Good Friday world*. We who proclaim the resurrection know that it is very good news. “Death has been swallowed up in victory,” we proclaim, and we mean it. But this victory is not easily won and the death is not easily forgotten. We don’t like to talk about it, but there’s a stench, a smell, we can open the windows and bring in flowers, but it’s still there.

After Lazarus is raised from the dead, John 11 tells us another interesting detail in verse   forty four. He writes, “The dead man came out, his hands and feet bound with strips of cloth and his face wrapped in a cloth.” I remember a fairly disturbing coloring sheet from my childhood depicting this event. Lazarus, the walking mummy. The biblical narrative is matter-of-fact and doesn’t linger in details. Jesus simply tells Mary and Martha “Unbind him, and let him go.”  What does it mean to unbind a newly resurrected body and let him go?  What was it like for Mary and Martha to remove those strips of cloth from Lazarus’s  flesh? What did it smell like?

As we Easter people go about the work of cleaning up after the resurrection, we have a job to do: unbind him and let him go.  We participate in the work of resurrection, and it is hard work. It isn’t as clean as we have been led to believe, perhaps. There’s a smell in our nostrils we can’t quite get out.

Though the stench might seem to put a damper on the celebration, I have to wonder if it doesn’t do us a favor. It reminds us that even after the resurrection, death is lingering in the air.

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Original quote from “God’s Tear Bottle,” The Best Devotions of Barbara Johnson

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Easter 2015 | Sunday: Mystery

FOP2015_400Easter • APR 5

Mystery

Read 1 Corinthians 15:51–54.

Listen, I will tell you a mystery! (v. 51a)

When I talk to parents struggling to communicate the basics of faith to their children, I encourage them to learn to embrace a single word—mystery. So much about our faith is completely unknowable to human beings. How did God create the world out of nothing? Mystery. How can Jesus be fully God and fully divine at the same time? Mystery. How was Jesus raised from the dead? Mystery. Perhaps the most personal and profound mystery of all is this: What happens to us after we die? Paul explains it by saying we will not all die, but we will all be changed. This is the mystery.

On Easter morning all around the country, sermons are preached about new life, resurrection, and life after death. These sermons are inspiring and uplifting; they bring light to our darkness and hope to our despair, but for many, they are unsatisfying. I know this fact well even though I faithfully preach such a sermon every Easter. The reason these inspirational sermons are unsatisfying is that nobody—not me, not your pastor, not the Pope—nobody knows what happensafter we die.

Instead of trying to explain it, let’s embrace the mystery of it and give thanks to God Lent is a journey, and so is this life. May we never forget that among the many gifts God has given us, we have been given one more—the gift of not knowing. There is freedom in the mystery.

Enjoy the journey.

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, the Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer of us all. Amen.

These Holy Week Posts were published in the Fellowship of Prayer 2015 published annually by Chalice Press. Check out some of Chalice’s recent (and amazing) offerings such as: Sandya Rani Jha’s Pre-Post Racial America,Brian Christopher Coulter’s Be Holy,  and Stephen Ingram’s Organic Student Ministry. Of course, my book Seamless Faith: Simple Practices for Daily Family Life is also published by Chalice Press in 2014.

Holy Week 2015 | Monday: Cleaning House

FOP2015_400

MON • MAR 30

Cleaning House

Read Matthew 21:12–14.

Then Jesus entered the temple and drove out all who were selling and buying in the temple, and he overturned the tables of he money changers and the seats of those who sold doves. (v. 12)

Then Jesus entered the temple and drove out all who were selling and buying in the temple, and he overturned the tables of he money changers and the seats of those who sold doves. (v. 12) On Monday Jesus clears out the temple. “You are making my father’s house into a den of robbers” he says. Jesus is angry in this passage, violent. There is no way to sugarcoat that reality. Jesus in the temple isn’t docile and gentle, patting the heads of children who sit lovingly on his knee. He’s mad. Furious, even.

As we start our journey of Holy Week, pastors and priests, contemplatives, and devotionals often call us to be quiet and reflective, to go inside and undercover. What if, instead, we got mad? What if we got angry this Holy Week about all that is wrong with the world? Jesus shows us what it means to have a holy fury (often softened into “a righteous indignation.”) When we hear about mass hunger and war and human rights violations in our world, a right response might be a holy fury. We have the right (and perhaps even the obligation) to turn over the tables when we read of the sale of children into sexual slavery, robbing them of any opportunity for a normal and happy childhood. We have the right (and perhaps even the obligation) to turn over the tables when our rivers and streams are full of trash or when hatred and oppression snuff out the voices of love and freedom.

Think differently about what it means to observe this Holy Week faithfully.Take some time to think about what makes you angry. Where is your holy fury? What tables need to be turned over?

God of joy and anger, thank you for reminding us that there is a time and a place for a holy fury in our lives. Help me to be angered by the things that anger you. Amen.

These Holy Week Posts were published in the Fellowship of Prayer 2015 published annually by Chalice Press. Check out some of Chalice’s recent (and amazing) offerings such as: Sandya Rani Jha’s Pre-Post Racial America,Brian Christopher Coulter’s Be Holy,  and Stephen Ingram’s Organic Student Ministry. Of course, my book Seamless Faith: Simple Practices for Daily Family Life is also published by Chalice Press in 2014.