by whitneyrice

Thursday: Final Table

So, I hate to cook, and I’m terrible at it.

Well, “hate” is perhaps too strong a word.

But I missed a lot of days in the “Stuff Women Are Supposed To Know How To Do” classes, otherwise known as “American Gender Socialization,” and I’m just really bad a lot of that stuff.

I cook poorly, I can’t wrap a gift properly, I seem to lack maternal instincts entirely, and I don’t decorate to the point that friends have said my apartment looks like a padded cell.

As you might imagine from someone who does not enjoy cooking nor has ever bothered to really learn, I have never seen a cooking show in its entirety.

I know there are entire television networks devoted to food and cooking, hosted by celebrity chefs.

And I admire greatly people who cook as a hobby, hunting down obscure recipes and turning out glorious creations that are as much art as sustenance. But I will never be among them.

I count myself lucky to occasionally enjoy the fruits of their labors, and offer to wash the dishes in thanks.

Due to my lack of familiarity with culinary culture, I was surprised to hear of a specific tradition in the restaurant business among chefs, and the book someone wrote about it.

It turns out that once chefs reach a certain point of proficiency, they like to engage in a little thought experiment with each other.

You’ve heard of the question: “If you were abandoned on a desert island, what one book or album would you want with you?”

Well, chefs and cooks ask each other and themselves: “If it were your last night on earth, what and how would you prepare for your final meal?” Continue reading

Wednesday: For the Sake of the Joy

The remarkable truth about Holy Week that we find so hard to grasp is the fact that everything and everyone is redeemable.

There is no tragedy so great, no action so unjust, no person so evil that he or she cannot be redeemed by the saving work of Jesus Christ.

We say we believe that, but most of the time we are carrying around grudges and shame and wounds that we, in our heart of hearts, don’t think Jesus can heal.

Because why would he want to? Why would he bother with redeeming our sins when he could just sweep in on a white horse and carry us off to heaven?

Well, Jesus doesn’t work that way, and we’re never going to understand his work on the Cross if we don’t understand what redemption is.

Sometimes people think that redemption is erasure of bad things.

It’s just gone, like it never happened.

But that is not redemption.

God is not doing a retroactive censorship of our lives, blacking out the parts that we’d rather not remember.

Redemption is a threefold process. It consists of forgiveness, illumination, and healing.

Erasure, elimination, forgetting and cutting out the deeds of sin and pain does not happen at all in redemption.

They’re still there. But they are fundamentally changed.

Let me explain. Continue reading

Tuesday: Where I Am

Jesus says something very important in our gospel lesson today. He says, “Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also.”

We’d like to think of ourselves as servants of Jesus.

Well, we’ve just been given a very simple test of whether we are in fact servants of Jesus.

We ask where he is, and then we evaluate whether we are there also.

This seems like a simple test at first.

Where is Jesus right now? Well, he’s everywhere and nowhere, at the right hand of God the Father and present in the Eucharist and living in our hearts.

Jesus is in a lot of places.

So in that sense, it’s not a very helpful test. But let’s ask where Jesus is just in this gospel lesson and see where we end up.

We begin with the Greeks at the festival.

They have clearly heard of Jesus and they approach Philip saying, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.”

Well, let’s start there. Is anyone approaching us to ask to see Jesus?

Are we living in such a way that people, strangers, know that they could approach us to ask about Jesus?

If someone has heard something interesting about Jesus, would they know that we are someone who could tell them more, show them more? Continue reading

Monday: Preparing for the Day of His Burial

We return as we always do on Monday of Holy Week to the little house in Bethany.

Ears still ringing from the raucous crowds thronging the streets of Jerusalem yesterday on Palm Sunday, perhaps our own voices are hoarse from shouting “Hosanna to the Son of David!”

Our unspoken hope was that if we proclaimed it loudly enough, maybe this year we won’t hear our own voices a scant week later shouting “Crucify him!”

Jesus knows what is coming, and he comes here to the house in Bethany for strength.

Perhaps we can do the same.

But as always with Jesus, and especially during Holy Week, there is a dose of keen insight awaiting us, insight about our selves and our motives that we might have been happier without.

Jesus draws strength from his dearest friends: Martha with her untiring service, practical and steadfast, Mary with her extravagant devotion, intense and demonstrative, and Lazarus who loves with neither deeds nor words, but his simple, quiet presence.

Martha speaks with her hands, Mary speaks with her tears, and Lazarus speaks with a small smile and the love shining out of his eyes as he sits at table with Jesus for the last time.

The goodbye, unspoken in any direct terms, vibrates in the room with palpable intensity.

Is Jesus going to come to your house tonight?

Are you his trusted confidante, someone who loves him not for the miracles and the prophecies of his kingship but for himself?

Are you his companion at meals uncounted?

Have you shared table fellowship with him, times of laughter and feasting, over weeks and months and years of friendship?

Has he raised you from the dead? Continue reading

PaIm Sunday: Proving Scripture Wrong

Palm Sunday is an invitation of the most extreme kind.

If you picture a polite and proper written invitation to an important event, it’s usually on pretty white paper and arrives quietly in your mailbox with a diffident request for an RSVP.

Palm Sunday is an invitation to events that shatter the status quo and reconfigure the universe, and it arrives with strikes of lightning, booms of thunder, and crowds shouting themselves hoarse in the streets of Jerusalem.

We are here now to make our answer to the invitation of Palm Sunday.

Jesus is hailed by the crowds today, and we throng along with them, waving our palms with bright, self-congratulatory allegiance to our matchless king.

And then we have a choice.

Many of us will go home and not darken the door of spiritual encounter until Easter Day.  But that is a mistake.

As your priest, I’m selfish and I hope you come to some of the darkly beautiful liturgies that lie before us this week.

But what I really want is for you to enter the sanctuary of your heart to be with Jesus.

Whether you come to this building between now and next Sunday is beside the point.

Verse 12 of Psalm 31, our psalm for today, struck me as I began to work with Holy Week this year.

“I am forgotten like a dead man, out of mind.”

In some ways, I feel like this is Jesus’ greatest fear. Continue reading

Useless Love: Bethany and Leningrad

Realistic. Practical. Sensible. Those are words we all like to use to describe ourselves and our churches.

We are Christians who believe in an amazing story of death and resurrection, but in the end we have to come back down to earth and live in the real world.

Someone has to make sure the budget balances.

This is exactly the attitude of Judas in our gospel story today, the attitude Jesus condemns.

We don’t normally think of ourselves in the same category with Judas.

And a great deal of the time, those practical considerations do need to guide our behavior as individuals and communities.

But Jesus profoundly values Mary and her gesture in this gospel.

He finds her pouring of fragrant oil over his feet and wiping them with her hair deeply meaningful, and he will not allow this beautiful, intimate moment to be ruined by the mean-spirited practicality of Judas.

What makes Judas even more blameworthy—and even more of a warning to us!—is that he overlays his criticism of Mary with a virtuous moral justification.

“We could have used that money to serve the poor!” he laments with outward heartfelt piety and inward smug self-righteousness.

Have you ever seen this happen at church?

Someone takes the moral high ground, not out of love but because it places him or her in a position to score points on someone else.

“I’m more Christian than you are,” is a game that has no winners.

Jesus saw this and Jesus cuts right through Judas’ posturing.

In this moment, Mary and her gesture mean more than Judas and his proposed action.

That’s hard for us action-oriented Americans to take!

All the beautiful gestures in the world won’t get the pledge campaign launched or the nave vacuumed or the food pantry stocked.

Or will they? Continue reading

How To Bless God Even When You Feel Like You’re Stuck In a Pigsty

As we build our life of faith, we ask to be conformed to the Mind of Christ, so that we might be ever more able to live faithfully as the Body of Christ.

And part of that process is taking on some of the characteristics of God—as lofty and intimidating as that might sound at first!

We usually think of asking God to bless us. But in the Way of Love, God is asking us to bless the world.

And all of our spiritual practices make us ready to say yes to that calling.

Many of us might feel pretty inadequate to take on something as big as blessing the world.

In that, we have something in common with our brother the Prodigal Son.

In our story from Luke today, one of the most well-known and beloved in the gospels, we hear of a young man who made certain choices.

To some, those choices might seem rash, selfish, and short-sighted.

To others, they may simply seem like the folly of youth.

The Prodigal Son actually sounds eerily like a denizen of 21st century America, a natural product of a highly individualistic, self-centered, and hedonistic society.

Continue reading

The Wild Prayer of Lent

If wilderness is the landscape of Lent, then prayer is the road that takes us there.

We live in a blind and busy city most of the time, a crowded confine of social norms, work and family obligations, and a general “business as usual” status quo.

It can be difficult to sustain a dedicated prayer life in the chaotic swirl of trying to keep up with our calendars, care for our dear ones, and cope with the unsettled tension of our common life.

The great gift of Lent is the call into the wilderness. It is an invitation to let the dust of daily life settle, and the graced silence of the desert begin to soothe and open our weary hearts.

But the wilderness cannot invade the city. It can’t come knock on our doors and drag us out into an encounter with the Holy.

We have to say yes.

Continue reading

Trump in the Desert

Our gospel story today from Luke is the most sustained inside look at Jesus’ private spiritual life that we get anywhere in the Bible, along with his experience in the Garden of Gethsemane.

How interesting that we are allowed inside to see his heart at his moments of greatest trial and temptation.

How very like Jesus to humble himself and show us his moments of greatest danger and even near-defeat, to help us know more solidly than ever how present he is to us when we are tempted, tried, and tested by life.

What are the three temptations Jesus faces from the Devil really all about?

Jesus rejects “power, prestige, and perks,” as Richard Rohr puts it. He resists the temptation to manipulate his environment, manipulate his position in society, and manipulate God.

But at a deeper level, he’s rejecting the temptation to take on a false identity.

He will not be the dominator, the miracle worker, the king, the favorite of God. Because that is not who he is.

I was talking with some friends last night about the destructive and often frightening specter of President Trump and what he means in our country right now.

It can be tempting for those of us who find his racism, misogyny, xenophobia, and unrelenting stream of lies exhausting and demoralizing to call him evil.

Continue reading

What to Do When You’re Squeamish About Miracles

The great twentieth century mystic, Thomas Merton, was standing at the corner of Fourth and Walnut in downtown Louisville when he had a great revelation.

“I was suddenly overwhelmed with the realization that I loved all those people, that they were mine and I theirs, that we could not be alien to one another even though we were total strangers. It was like waking from a dream of separateness…I have the immense joy of being [human], a member of a race in which God Himself became incarnate. As if the sorrows and stupidities of the human condition could overwhelm me, now that I realize what we all are. And if only everybody could realize this! But it cannot be explained. There is no way of telling people that they are all walking around shining like the sun.”

Walking around shining like the sun.

That is apparently what Moses was doing after his encounters with God on the mountain.

And that is what Jesus was like in the Transfiguration.

Jesus put aside his glory because he had a lot of specific work left to do in the world and he couldn’t do it if people were so awestruck by him in his glorious form that they fell on their faces and trembled at the sight of him.

It was hard enough to avoid doing that when he healed people and multiplied loaves and fishes looking like a perfectly ordinary person.

Not twenty minutes after the Transfiguration Jesus was back down in the marketplace healing a young boy with epilepsy and going about his good work.

Jesus didn’t need the appearance of physical glory to get people’s attention. The goodness that flowed out of him nonstop did that all on its own.

But why did Moses hide the evidence of his encounter with God?

Why did he veil himself when his face was shining? Continue reading

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