Seasons of Creation 2017
Just as the river in Ezekiel flows from the Temple and the river in Revelation flows from the throne of God – our Gospel today points us to one of the greatest symbols of God’s love flowing into the world – the empty tomb. Imagine a spiritual river flowing out of the empty tomb filling the whole world. And the first folks to put their toes in that river are Mary Magdalene and the other Mary. Thank God for the faithfulness of these women. They went, as Matthew says, to see the tomb, to investigate. Where were the men? Fled to Galilee. And what did the angel tell these two faithful Apostles to do? They were to go tell the others that Jesus was raised and “indeed he is going ahead of you to Galilee. There you will see him.” Jesus is going ahead of them into the world – not going away from the world. Like a mighty river rising from a very small source, Jesus’s presence and his love is still spreading from that source – the empty tomb – to fill our entire world. That is the picture that Matthew in his last chapter wants to leave us with. There is no ascension story at the end of Matthew’s gospel. The book ends with our great commissioning to “make disciples of all nations.” Get busy working in the world to make others aware of the love of God! And the final sentence of the Gospel is a final reminder as the love of God flows out to include all people: “And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” Just like the promise in Genesis that cycles would follow on cycles, just as the promise of the river that it would always flow, Jesus is promising to be with us – not remote in some far-off throne room in heaven – but to be as near to us as that river. Surrounding us in God’s love, bringing life to everything that Jesus touches.
“God doesn’t give us more than we can handle.” A common saying. Perhaps you’ve heard it many times in your life, or have even spoken it yourself. It’s a saying I’ve always pushed back against from a place deep within my gut, not necessarily understanding why, until I studied theology, and then I knew why. My image of God doesn’t include someone sitting upon a throne in heaven, dolling out bad things to people at opportune times, with the purpose of disrupting or destroying their lives, always attentive to the balance of good and evil in their lives at any particular moment, so people can be just on the edge of the good— or worse yet, bringing on the bad thing in life to selected people at the worst possible moments of their lives, just when they are starting to turn things around, or when they are spiraling downward. My image of God is a flow of love, a source of desire for goodness for each part of the created world, a pull deep within each one of us for wholeness, and an inherent life-force reaching toward a rich and abundant life designed for everyone, lived within the healing embrace of Christ. So how would I, how do you, reconcile this image of a God who looks at us through eyes of love, with the God conjured up in this popular saying that seems to imply God is actively involved in bringing bad things into our lives?
Because Jesus stayed in the tomb, contained with the earth, with the massive round stone rolled across its entrance, Jesus sanctified, made holy, saturated with the presence of God, the darkened container he was put in, and therefore sanctified all the darkened containers we put ourselves into. But the point of the story of Jesus is that he didn’t stay there. And his resurrection invites and implores us not to stay there either. God’s mercy, love, and compassion draw us into these places of alienation and disconnect. We resist going there often, sometimes by saying, “We’ve always done it that way” as a reason not to move into that place of uncertainty, where the old begins to fade away before we can see the new. Or sometimes we resist the draw into exile because it’s easier to fortify the sides of our containers with bolstered arguments or fiery threats. But the pattern of faithful living, that paschal mystery we often speak of, moves us into a place of exile, of self-reflection, of noticing the places of disconnect between what God has asked of us and what we are doing, to the land, or in our lives, or in our relationship with God, for they are all connected, of acknowledging what we have done or left undone that has caused harm. But then the Spirit turns us again toward God, when God’s mercy, love, and compassion can strip from us all that we have falsely created, to return us to what God has created within and around us. If we listen closely enough, in these times of exile, which our own lives may be in now, or our country may be in right now, we can hear God’s voice saying, “Come and see, I am bringing you to a new way of experiencing me. Come and see.”
There are moments in our lives, sometimes fleeting or seemingly nearly beyond our grasp, when we catch a glimpse of something beyond the ordinary, when everything lines up and everything seems right. We may describe these moments as “being in the flow”, or of a sense of wholeness or peace that overcomes us, or experiencing a surge of newness, or a spark of creativity, or a place of deep and holy nourishment, or stumbling into a thin place. These come to us by grace, for we can never orchestrate them, but only enter into them when they are revealed to us. While in these states, we are experiencing what this Forest Season of Creation is all about – that living place where nourishment abounds, where both birth and death happen, where the life-force is strong, where there is a sense of being held as part of a greater whole.