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Easter

Easter 2018: The Peace That Passes Understanding

Easter 2018: The Peace That Passes Understanding

Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb...
— John 20:1
Peace Flags at Benton Chapel for Easter 

Peace Flags at Benton Chapel for Easter 

While it was still dark, I walked into St. Augustine’s Chapel Ash Wednesday. “A Peace that Passes Understanding” was the communal reflection for the Lenten season, and so I wanted to begin Ash Wednesday in silence before the first folks arrived for ashes at 7. All of a sudden I was jolted as I heard yelling in the fellowship hall. Two young men who participate in the overnight young adult homeless program at our chapel were in an argument that was escalating quickly. Within seconds, one of the young men picked up a big baptismal bowl sitting on the altar and hurled it into the wall smashing it. Tables were overturned and chairs were launched. In the few minutes it took to separate them and regain peace, everyone in the chapel was visibly shaken. a small glimpse into what must be experienced by groups following the wake of sudden violence was opened up a crack. 

That disturbing outburst was a reminder of how fragile peace can be. It was a powerful lesson in how the violence of poverty, racism, trauma, mental health, and fear are poised to tear through any of the false walls we believe peace builds to shield us from the truth. Peace does pass our understanding. Our fragile and finite minds cannot grasp the depth and hope of peace that keeps our hearts in the knowledge and love of God. The peace that passes our understanding isn’t an idealistic quiet mountaintop setting; it is the peace in the midst of a wilderness of tables overturned in the temple, of disciples bearing crosses, and in the midst of loving in the face of violence and oppression. The peace that passes our understanding is a proclamation of faith as we strive for justice grounded in love. The peace that passes our understanding is what carries us through the wilderness with courage, humility, and direction.  

The only writing I have from my father, who was an episcopal priest and died when I was five, speaks powerfully about such a peace. The writing is simply a tiny slip of paper that fell out of his prayer book that my mom gave me at my ordination. On that piece of paper are written the words, “In the shadow of his cross may your soul find rest.” In other words, while in the midst of our struggle, may you find peace. My father’s words remind me that the great peace of Easter begins on Good Friday—in the shadow of the cross.

It was in the shadow of the cross where the disciples witness Jesus’s faith and forgiveness. There must have been a deep peace that surpassed her understanding that grounded Mary Magdalene and John to face the uncertainty, fear, and potential violence. While she was still living in the shadow of the cross that Easter morning, she was steady enough to gather the herbs and begin the journey. She headed out prepared to anoint a dead body, not because she thought he was risen. But in the face of injustice, oppression, violence, she was willing to confront the soldiers with her meager offering to anoint the body.  

The story of the Resurrection begins with the words, “While it was still dark….” The shadows of the cross were long as the sun was just rising on Jerusalem that Sabbath as Mary heads out with grief guiding her to the body. And that single act of faithfulness is enough to carry her with a peace that passes understanding to the source of love.

The peace that passes understanding leads her through despair, leads her to brush aside fear, and to hold onto love. The shadows of the Crucifixion became the grounding of a deep peace that changed the world. And that story is powerful enough to unravel all the upheaval, violence, and fear that keep us from experiencing peace. 

It sustains Mary through meeting angels and feeling the earth shake. It catches her when she falls at the feet of love resurrected. That peace is strong enough for all of that--to lead her to be the first preacher and to offer generations to proclaim peace in our own times of struggle.  

During this season, I have glimpsed at such peace that underlies the story of Easter—that peace is our deepest truth. A couple of weeks ago I spoke at a large healthcare company conference about resiliency and women’s leadership. When I finished speaking, I invited two of the powerful women graduates of Thistle Farms to join me on stage and talk about what gives them strength and how they experience healing. We were sitting on three, big oversized chairs with individual mikes like a living room. As the first graduate spoke, tears began to pour down her face. I did not know it at the time, but she was going through a difficult personal tragedy. 

To the executives and overachieving workforce, she said, “I have no words right now, but I know I need to show up and keep the faith.”  She described how in the midst of the chaos she was in, she could trust herself and the community and keep going. Her strength, her tears, her faithfulness were the living embodiment of how we can live into this deep and abiding peace. She was the truth that when we can walk and live in peace, we can have a clearer memory, more strength, and the freedom to weep. There was such grace and truth in her witness, that the executives sitting in that room wept with her. They recognized themselves in her, and she showed them how in the midst of life that can be unfair, hard, and frightening, peace can give us courage. She, like Magdalene herself, invites us to the truth of peace, the strength of peace, and the freedom of peace, even if we don’t understand it. 

Today is the day to proclaim peace as a statement of faith. We don’t have to wait for the mountaintop. We can proclaim it in the valley. We don’t have to wait to proclaim it in the courtroom. We can proclaim it on the streets. We don’t have to wait until the paths are straight. We can proclaim meandering it in the desert.  

That peace, offered by the Prince of Peace, even in the face of trauma, broken hearts, and shattered baptismal bowls, is enough to keep us going. We are sons and daughters of peace. Peace has been etched on prayer cloths for centuries across the world and in our hearts. We are surrounded by peace and given it as the first sign of the Holy Spirit who breathes it into us. That is the ancient hope that carries us to love. The Easter story preaches to each of us that when we keep believing in peace, it carries us beyond grief. The stone has rolled, the shroud has fallen and we are free. We can proclaim peace with all those we love who have died and live on in love and the memory of God. Peace carries us through the wilderness to the garden. All we grieve is still a part of us and all our hopes are not in vain. It’s not hard to imagine Magdalene, graduates of Thistle Farms, you, me, or a young man that smashes a primal element in the sanctuary—searching for peace with such longing that we search for life in a tomb.  With just a glimpse of love’s fragile truth we can proclaim peace in the shadow of our crosses and live into the hope fashioned on the first morning of creation. We can be at peace in the truth that love lives. Such deep peace allows us to make our song at our own Easter morning, “Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia.”

Sermon: Easter 2017 –The Sacred Thread

Sermon: Easter 2017 –The Sacred Thread

An image of a woman weaving in Thistle Farms'  new social enterprise

An image of a woman weaving in Thistle Farms' new social enterprise

As dawn was breaking on an Early April morning, I was sitting near the windows at the Chapel weaving some of the 1000s of prayer ribbons created by the community of St. Augustine’s. We committed to spend this lent writing prayers on ribbons to hold our thoughts, the names of those we love, the history of our dead and what we long for. For six weeks, acolytes processed torches bearing thistle farms candles tied with our handwritten prayers. As I was weaving, I read the prayers slowly for all sorts and conditions of humanity penned with love. It’s beautiful watching how a single word woven with other words allows a community to pray for the whole world.  It occurred to me how weaving and praying are in communion.  As I picked up a ribbon, I was praying with the child who wrote simply, “my mom." 

I was praying for peace as I read the names of the worn-torn places scrawled onto ribbons interwoven with prayers for strength. As the light grew brighter the weaving was coming to life in the secret hours of the morning. Prayer feels hallowed when our hands do the work so our minds settle to see the sacred threads each day offers.  In such moments we  feel the blessedness that we have woven from the love, longing, and life we have made.

I remember the holy weaving that depicted the resurrected Jesus with a bright green background surrounded by images of the four gospels.  It was a three story high tapestry made by one of the official World War 2 artists, Graham Sutherland. It hung behind the altar in Coventry Cathedral, erected to bring reconciliation after the war dropped a bomb on the original cathedral. During a summer in my early twenties I gave tours in that sanctuary and learned about the amazing tapestry woven by French women who worked 11 years to bring the image to life.  The tapestry took the place of the usual high altar carvings or windows to invoke wonder not just for the image itself, but for the way single strands coming together offer a glimpse of heaven. 

There must have been a thread of hope to lead Mary Magdalene and the other Mary in the story of Matthew to face the soldiers on Easter Morning. The story of the Resurrection begins with the words, “while it was still dark." The light has not yet risen on Jerusalem on the Sabbath as Mary heads out with grief as her guide to carry her to the body.  And that single sacred thread is enough to weave together the love story. Such a thread was enough to lead her through despair, to brush aside fear, and to hold onto love.

That thread of hope after Jesus’s crucifixion became the beginning of a story that changed the world. And that story is powerful enough to unravel all the shame and fear that keep us from experiencing hope. It sustained Mary through meeting angels and feeling the earth shake and catches her when she fell at the feet of love resurrected.  That first fragile thread was strong enough for all of that and to lead her to be the first preacher, to offer those threads for generations to proclaim love as the most powerful force that still ties us together.  We still sing of those threads even as we face death: Blessed Be the Tie That Binds, May God Be With You Till We Meet Again.

It makes sense to be drawn to weaving in the face of the despair, such as experienced by survivors of war who have fled Syria and have nothing when they land at beaches in Greece except a few items and a life vest.  And so for months Thistle Farms under the direction of Abi Hewitt made plans with Luma Muflah from Fugees Family, Ann Holtz from Awakening Soul, Rev. Frannie Kieschnick A Thistle Farms Board Member and visionary, and I Am You to begin the first social enterprise in Ritsona with a group of women to weave the life vests into welcome mats. 

Last Sunday, Tara Armistead, Cathy Brown, Ryan Camp, Regina Mullins, Luma, Frannie, Ann and I flew to Greece, none of us sure if the fragile first threads from those vests would be enough.  We didn’t know what we would be confronting and if weaving with the women was going to be possible.  The luggage holding the spools of thread and the shuttles had been lost.  The not for profits who ran the camp were unsure about where to weave and how to help manage a social enterprise that would pay women to weave. It is hard enough to start a business, but to start in the midst of a setting where people walk slowly because there isn’t anywhere to go, where lines of identical boxes form a quarter acre of densely populated sects in the middle of an abandoned and dusty military base, where language barriers flourish, and where lines look like snakes and people in charge have massive key rings, is really difficult. 

But on the second day as the sun was climbing on a clear blue Greece spring morning, new weavers and the group from thistle farms gathered in our first circle to welcome one another. One by one the women from the Ritsona camp shared their hopes to help the community, to remember how their ancestors in the middle east wove, to have purpose and meaning, and to help their children. Once they started talking I knew the thread of hope would be enough.  That circle is a circle we know.  We have seen that circle a thousand times; in the hills of Rwanda and the farmlands of Ecuador and right down the street on Charlotte Avenue in our Thistle Farms Circle.  

That circle binds us, even if it is in the face of trauma, broken hearts and inadequate space, and it is enough to start wharfing a loom and weave vests and scraps of cloth. Soon Arabic conversations filled the weaving room as the shuttles from the two looms called out a powerful rhythm.  That beating of threads together on big looms became more powerful than all the other issues, and the mantra for the week became simply, “no matter what, keep weaving." 

Thread by thread we tore and bound the vests that had traumatized so many.  They spoke about the cost of those vests as they ripped them into strips and talked all day about whatever came up. When the first mat came off the loom everyone cheered.  There are another 1000 mats to go. We are committed to helping make this business work since less than .01% of any of the refugee families there will be invited to immigrate.  And while the women of the camp may have fled war, they cannot flee the violence of poverty.  That single thread, woven into a single mat and laid on our altar, is enough to build a community. 

And It has always been that way. 

Like a first ribbon tied, like a thread from a tapestry woven from the ashes of war, or even like a string from a discarded life vest, we are holding on to an ancient hope that binds us together in love. And the Easter story preaches to each of us that when we take hold of that thread, hope can pull us beyond grief itself. The stone has rolled, shroud has fallen and we are free. We are tied to all those we love who have died and live on in love and the memory of God. It binds the wilderness of lent to the garden in Jerusalem in a single band of love. All we grieve is still a part of us and all our hopes are not in vain.

It's not hard to imagine the Magdalene and the other Mary running to the disciples, starting to weave the story together. The meaning still fragile and not accepted easily.  But, Magdalene picks up the the pace as she cannot contain the hope and needs to share it. Let us weave our prayers into the hope fashioned into the first morning of creation. A single thread is enough to bind us to the Easter story.  No Matter What, Keep Weaving.  It means we can live in hope, dedicated to justice and truth, knowing we are connected to all that is love.  The thread is ours for the beholding and allows us to make our song even at our own Easter morning, “Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia.”

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