The Five Gates of Grief – Gate 3

Episode 3 in the Five Gates of grief series.

St Paul wrote,”We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labour pains until now..” Romans 8:22
What he didn’t know was how much additional pain we humans would cause to this planet since he penned that line!

In this video we explore our grieving, “The Sorrow of the World” and how this grief can become a resurrection for us and the planet.

“Come out, come out, whoever you are” – Easter 2B

John 20:19-31
When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.”

A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.” Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name

If you have read me before you will know I am a helpless digger into etymological meanings. I just can’t help myself.
I have always been amazed by this resurrected Jesus who, when he comes to the disciples, isn’t thwarted by the fearfully locked doors.
Coming to the passage again, I decided to check out the Greek text referring to the locked door.  What I discovered was wonderful.

First I read that the Greek word for closed is “kleiso”.  As I stared at the screen and pronounced the word to myself, it sounded so familiar. “Kleiso”
There they were. The called ones, the disciples of Jesus, suffering post-traumatic stress to be sure, locked away, behind kleisoed doors.  John’s anti-semitic editorialising doesn’t really help either. “For fear of the Jews”, isn’t helpful because it wasn’t “the Jews” that had been the problem, it was the religio-political elite that had. What Borg and Crossan in “The Last Week” call the systems of dominance and oppression. “The Jews” suffered under these systems too.

So here John presents us with a closed room containing a closed communitity. “Kleiso”, closed by their fear.
It reminds me of the modern church.
Fearful of everthing.
Only now it isn’t “the Jews” of  John.   Ironically the modern church is ghettoed by our fears of “Muslims”, and “Gays” and “Abortionist baby killers”.  Closed rooms, closseted disciples, closed minds. It is dreadful what fear will do to disciples.

As I mused, I got to thinking about how gay and lesbian people talk about “coming out“.  Escaping from the closet of fear, and experiencing the freedom of that emergence.
I remembered a book  by Karl Popper I had read at University.  It was titled, “The Open Society” and I mourned that the church seems always to be the opposite, “The Closed Society”, overcome with fear.  Popper in The Open Society, examined the emergence of Democracy from Hellenistic to modern times.

It was then that I realised why “kleiso” the Greek word for closed, had niggled me.  It sounded so like another Greek word that is common in church usage. “Kleiso” is linked etymologically to “Ecclesia”, the Greek word that came to describe the church!

The Ecclesia (literally translated “not closed”) was “The Open Society” of Greek democracy. Not closed, unsealed, outed and free. The ecclesia was one of Greek society’s greatest gifts to the modern world. It was a concept that celebrated freedom from systems of dominance and oppression. How wonderful that the Church mothers and fathers chose Ecclesia- not closed, to describe the community of Jesus’ early followers.  In this upper room encounter it was clear that the tomb busting resurrected saviour was not to be cocooned by fear, and neither were the disciples to be.

That must be why Jesus breathed his life giving spirit-breath onto,(or was it into) them. It is as if he was saying to them “You are not to remain  ‘kleiso’ you are ‘ecclesia’. Come out!”

So I continue to be bemused.

I wonder if the ghettoed suspicious fearful church of 2012 can still feel the resurrection breath on our cheeks.  I have no doubt that the risen Jesus is still breathing on us. He isn’t stopped by closed doors. That isn’t the challenge to ecclesia.  It isn’t the doors as much as it is the closed minds and hearts that keep us in bondage.

“Breathe on us breath of God”

A Risen Jesus? It’s a no brainer! Easter 3a

Luke 24:13-49

Now on that same day two of them were 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, and how our chief priests and leaders handed him over to be condemned to death and crucified him. But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. 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.” 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. As they came near the village to which they were going, he walked ahead as if he were going on. But they urged him strongly, saying, “Stay with us, because it is almost evening and the day is now nearly over.” So he went in to stay with them. When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight. They said to each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?” That same hour they got up and returned to Jerusalem; and they found the eleven and their companions gathered together. They were saying, “The Lord has risen indeed, and he has appeared to Simon!” Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread.

I am told by the psychologists that people can be grouped as to whether they are thinkers or feelers. According to this typology, developed by Carl Jung and popularised by the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator , thinkers process data and make decisions based on rational thought and are therefore called “head” people. Feelers or “heart” people on the other hand, process information and make decisions based on the congruity of the information with their feelings.  So a thinker will walk out of the cinema saying, “That was a great movie, the plot was so clever and cohesive”.  The feeler will walk out of a movie and say, “That was such a great movie, I cried and laughed all that way through

Another school of thought suggests that the dominance of brain hemisphere will determine how we respond to the world. Left brain dominant people will favour logic and reason, whilst people whose right brain hemispheres are dominant will come at things from less structured and more intuitive, creative orientations.

It would seem that the two disciples dragging themselves home to Emmaus after the trauma of Jesus’ death were trying to think the problem through with their left brains.  Granted, they were exhausted with grief.  The name of their home town, Emmaus means “warm springs” and I would like to speculate that after the day they had just had all they wanted was a warm soak and a good night’s rest.  I sense their tired irritation in the way they respond to the unrecognised stranger who engages with them on the walk home. “Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place there in these days?

The left brained reader will be pleased to know that a walk of seven miles would take about an hour and forty five minutes. Enough time to get into quite a testy discussion with someone who seemed to be obtuse.  Jesus, the unrecognised companion, who always begins where we are; responds to their thinking, left brain questions and explains, from the scriptures, all the reasons why the death of Jesus was necessary. After the one hundred and five minute journey is finished, the two travellers invite the stranger home in the way middle-eastern hospitality would demand.

It is as they sit down for the evening meal, doing their duty instead of opting for the more selfish soak in the warm springs, that the stranger breaks the bread and is recognised as Jesus himself.  The fellow traveller is indeed the companion! (Latin: com panis = bread sharer)

In the moment of recognition he also vanishes! Am I the only one who hears the echoes of “Don’t touch me Mary” and “He is not here, he is risen,.. he has gone ahead of them into Galilee”?  It seems that one cannot really grasp nor hold onto this risen Lord.  One can only glimpse with insight as these warm-spring Emmaus wonderers, bow with reverence like Thomas, “My Lord and my God” , and follow him with the other disciples to the places where he is going ahead of us, like Galilee.

The shift in the Emmaus disciples is immediate.  From left brain thinking dominance, their feeling function and right brain intuition takes over.  These irritable grieving men feel a warm spring rising in their hearts at the recognition of the risen Christ.  It is a warmth that with a Pentecostal wind, could become a blaze!

You see, we don’t have to open our hearts only on Mother’s day, as significant and important as that day may be. Each encounter with nurturing selfless, bread sharing warmth from another human being, first modelled by our Mothers, can be for the honest pilgrim a moment of resurrection encounter. 

It may happen anywhere at any time. All it needs is an open heart, an open mind and an open eye.  Oh by the way, some grief, irritability and exhaustion could also help!

You can never go home again

John 21:1-19

After these things Jesus showed himself again to the disciples by the Sea of Tiberias; and he showed himself in this way. Gathered there together were Simon Peter, Thomas called the Twin, Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two others of his disciples. Simon Peter said to them, “I am going fishing.” They said to him, “We will go with you.” They went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing. Just after daybreak, Jesus stood on the beach; but the disciples did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to them, “Children, you have no fish, have you?” They answered him, “No.” He said to them, “Cast the net to the right side of the boat, and you will find some.” So they cast it, and now they were not able to haul it in because there were so many fish. That disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on some clothes, for he was naked, and jumped into the sea. But the other disciples came in the boat, dragging the net full of fish, for they were not far from the land, only about a hundred yards off. When they had gone ashore, they saw a charcoal fire there, with fish on it, and bread. Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish that you have just caught.” So Simon Peter went aboard and hauled the net ashore, full of large fish, a hundred fifty-three of them; and though there were so many, the net was not torn. Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.” Now none of the disciples dared to ask him, “Who are you?” because they knew it was the Lord. Jesus came and took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish. This was now the third time that Jesus appeared to the disciples after he was raised from the dead.

When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my lambs.” A second time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Tend my sheep.” He said to him the third time, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” Peter felt hurt because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” And he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep. Very truly, I tell you, when you were younger, you used to fasten your own belt and to go wherever you wished. But when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will fasten a belt around you and take you where you do not wish to go.” (He said this to indicate the kind of death by which he would glorify God.) After this he said to him, “Follow me.”

It was that master of integral thought, Ken Wilber who first woke me up to the reality that, “You can never go back…” No matter how great the trauma, nor how strong the nostalgia, there really is NO place like home. It doesn’t exist anymore.

Living and counseling as I do in the beauty of Port Alfred, or as the locals call it “at the Kowie” referencing the river that mouths into the sea here, I find myself using the analogy of the river often. I refer particularly to the reality that you cannot put your hand into the same river twice. It is a Zen saying that highlights the Buddhist emphasis on impermanence. You see, the river is always changing and so the second time you put your hand into the waters, the river has already changed and isn’t the same river anymore. We cannot go back.

Yet this is exactly what Peter and the other disciples do after the Resurrection. Some would say, they were back in Galilee because Jesus told them to go there. Others like John Shelby Spong would posit that their dreams of ministry and mission for the Kingdom had been totally destroyed, and that Peter’s statement, “I am going fishing.” And the other disciples’, “We will go with you” are statements of resignation to having to return to the way of life they left when Jesus called them away from those very shores three and one half year before. They soon learn that you cannot go back, and that you cannot cast your nets into the same lake twice. Their efforts to ply their previous trades are fruitless. That is, until Jesus appears on the beach. Unrecognizable, his resurrection influence on their gutted world is evident even though his identity is not. Isn’t this a beautiful illustration of Prevenient grace? You don’t have to recognize Jesus to experience the fruitful blessing of his risen presence.

There are two other details in this fish barbeque scene that lure my preaching mind for some deeper reflection during the coming week.

Firstly, the fish is already on the fire. It is essential for the disciples to realize that Jesus is sufficient to himself. He doesn’t need them to fish for him, in fact the dependence is all one way. The church is totally dependent on Jesus and not the other way around. Some of the worst preaching I have heard, is preaching that fails to emphasize this truth. I am sure we have all heard this kind of saying, “The Lord really wants to bless you but he can’t because, …” The sentence is completed with any number of conditions that try to sluice-gate the flow of grace to the congregation. “You have too much sin in your life”. “You haven’t got enough faith”. “You haven’t paid your tithe” Take your pick, it’s all rubbish! Heresy created by not noticing that the fish that Jesus is about to share with his destitute disciples, is already on the grill before the boat (the iconic symbol of the church) pulls ashore. “I have food you know not of.” Remember? When will the church stop trying to control the flow of grace?

Secondly, is it not sad that Peter is the only one who is prepared to jump ship to get to the risen Lord? Too many years in too many pastoral appointments in a mainline denominational church, have demonstrated to me that few Christ followers will leave the comfortable confines of the iconic boat, and swim to Jesus in the sea of challenge and faith (even if they can’t walk on it as Peter momentarily did earlier). In these days of pedophilic scandal, diminishing attendances at worship, conflict riddled clergy and council relationships, we still cling to the gunwales and want to keep our feet dry. Why are we clinging to this leaky vessel, fast becoming the ghost ship of the damned? Are we cursed to cling to the 153 fishy dogmas, doctrines and rules, when Jesus already has fish, that he wants to feed to his flock, cooking on the beach?

Peter and the disciples went home and discovered that though it may have been “where the heart” was, it certainly wasn’t where Jesus wanted them to be.

How utterly consoling is the conclusion to this abortive homecoming.

On the same shores (or is the spoonerism correct “shame sores“) where scant three years earlier Jesus spoke life changing, home leaving words; he speaks them again… “Follow me

We can never go home again, that’s true.

What is also true is it’s never too late to leave home and follow.

Come on”, says Peter, “Jump ship! There is fresh fish cooking on the beach!