Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return!. How familiar are those words spoken on Ash Wednesday in services around the world as believers are signed with a cross of ashes on their foreheads. Familiar? Yes. But what do they really mean? What are we being asked to remember?
“Let the one among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” Again he bent down and wrote on the ground. And in response, they went away one by one, beginning with the elders." (John 8: 2-11)
For some, aging brings a critical, cynical, judgmental stance. Well (with a huff)... When I... In our day... However, in this poignant story from John, the elders recognize their own sinfulness and the truth of Jesus' words. They quietly turn and leave. In so doing, they create a safe conditions for others to follow suit. If the elders can set aside their egos, reputations, and own their sinfulness, so too can the younger members of the community.
The sick, the worried, the curious, the lost press in on Jesus for healing. But among the hopeful, there are also the doubters. Oh, they don't espouse their doubts out loud and while they hold their tongues, their hearts are critical and suspicious. Here is the key, Jesus knows. He knew what they were thinking and he knows what we are thinking. There are no private thoughts when it comes to Jesus. He knows. Mark 2: 1-11
The woman who "washed the feet of Jesus with her tears" sat aside social custom, worries of personal critique, maybe even fear of physical threat. She entered the house of a Jewish leader – she knew him and he knew her – if not her personally, at least her reputation. She comes and falls before Jesus, the tears flow. She does the most slave-like act of foot washing – not with some clean water and dirty stained cloth but with her tears. She brings herself to Jesus’ feet. Sorry. Sorry. Sorry. Does she ask for forgiveness – maybe not, but certainly for healing. Her life, her choices, have brought her to this point of publically displaying her need for healing.
A "day in the life" of Jesus. Jesus cures a demoniac, heals Simon's mother-in-law, and he preaches and heals "the whole town." Finally, he rises very early and went off to a deserted place where he prayed. Whew. Jesus knows the stresses and strains of a demanding life. He offers us some important lessons.
The "temptation in the desert." How easy it is to read this poignant passage as a story and one we have heard countless times. But take a deeper look and think about the experience - the real experience of being in the unforgiving desert. Broiling in day, freezing at night. Hungry and incredibly thirsty. Waiting. Feeling called to be here but "why?" Why? And, then the Evil One shows up.
40 days from birth to presentation - over a month of being a family. I wonder about the ordinariness of that time. Ritual purification, the daily routine of a young family with a new born. Have they gone home? They still had to deal with the enrollment/census. Tired. Stressed. Worried. Not just the worries of normal new parents, but the parents of Emanuel.
Then the day of presentation. They have made the trip to Jerusalem. It is time. Law guided. The Law providing a framework for acting. A routine. Expected. Faithful. Joseph buys the birds, the prescribed offering. They enter the Temple. A young Jewish couple. Probably others there as well. Routine. Prescribed. Expected. Cultural. Ritual. Everything is normal and then, everything stops.
Luke tells the poignant story of the night of Jesus' birth. It has been a long day for the shepherds and they sit quietly around the fire while the sheep settle down for the night. Just another day of familiar routine. And then, time stops. The night sky fills with light and the other worldly announcement of the Saviors birth. Everything changes - for them and for us.
I pulled out the map in the back of my Bible and see that this trip is 65 miles as the crow flies. However, these are not crows. This is one young, very pregnant woman along with her husband - solid and steady, but also he had to be concerned if not downright afraid. This is high risk. If Joseph had indeed been married before and had children, he knew far more what to expect then Mary. The logistics of this must have been a concern. This must have been a "must do" trip. No one would willingly take it on their own. Too risky. Not just for Mary, but for their child, especially this child. From the moment of the angel's announcement, nothing has been normal about this situation.
Named. Formed. Continually created. Called. Rescued. Forgiven. Healed. Saved, not condemned. Loved. It has taken me a lifetime to come to hear and to feel these revelations as personal truth, not religious dogma or cliche. It has also taken me years to feel that I can and should share my own spiritual learnings with others. I am called to walk in faith, not fear. Walk! Yes, Lord.