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Posts Tagged ‘communion’

Bread of Life,
the Resurrection,
the Way,
the Truth:
with these names we praise you.

In such naming and praising
we set ourselves under your Truth.
In such naming and praising,
we set ourselves on your Way.
Then, we find that you are indeed
the Resurrection who leads us to new life.
You renew our strength
You send us out
as ambassadors of your grace and love.

For all your blessings,
so extravagantly given,
we praise your holy name.

Lord, our God,
you have made us
to live in communion with you.
You have promised that you
will be our strength,
our refuge,
a very present help in times of trouble.
You have promised that in company with Jesus
we shall find peace that passes understanding,
abundant life,
hope for the journey.

You know the questions
that fill our fears,
the worries
that cloud our sense of your presence with us.

We turn to you with them.
We ask you to take them.
Bless them with your powerful, transforming grace.
Break their grip on our hearts and minds.
Then give us your life and truth
so we may move into this week
full of courage
full of you.   Amen.

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“Thirsty Souls”

A sermon based on Exodus 17: 1-7

In a number of different contexts, I have been encouraging people to practice an ancient Christian tradition: lectio divina, or ‘holy reading’.

You take a passage of scripture and work through four steps with it. Here’s how I have described the steps:

Lectio Divina

Lectio Divina is a slow, contemplative praying of the scriptures. It helps us to listen deeply for God in the scriptures and engages us in conversation with the living God.

LectioRead the scripture passage  (or a portion of it, if it is long) slowly, preferably out loud. Do this several times (at least three times).  Pay attention to the words or phrases or images that speak to you.  Some unexpected word or phrase may emerge as you repeatedly read the passage.

MeditatioMeditate on the word or phrase that has drawn your attention as you read through the passage in the lectio stage. What thoughts, hopes, memories, desires, concerns, ideas come to mind?

OratioPray the word(s) or phrase(s) that you have been meditating on. Enter into an unhurried, loving conversation with God.  Interact with God as you would with one whom you know loves and accepts you. Offer to God the experiences that emerged in your meditation. Let the words or phrases from the scripture text speak to those experiences, with God’s healing grace.

ContemplatioRest in God’s presence, allowing yourself to receive God’s transforming love.

For many people, this is a different way of engaging the scriptures. As with any new skill or habit, people can feel uncomfortable with it. They tend to say, “I don’t get it”, or “I am not getting anything out of it”. When someone is learning to play the piano, it takes some time before they actually ‘hear the music’. When someone is first training to run in a long distance race, it takes some time before they find the rhythm. You learn to dance, to paint, to play baseball by making your way through a time period when you feel awkward.

Generally, we have been used to reading a passage of scripture in order to understand it. You ask, “What does this tell me about God or about Jesus or about how I should live the Christian life?” Some people get more serious about studying the Bible and seek to understand the historical background of a passage. What was the culture like when the story was happening? What did the words mean originally?

Other people, using the scriptures in their daily devotions, may approach a passage asking, “What does this tell me about prayer? about how I should treat my neighbour?” They stand back from the passage and figure out how it applies to their lives.

Many people have found these approaches helpful. However, a lot of people could not see how the Bible applied to their lives. There were some passages they just could not understand, no matter how much background information they got. Eventually, they gave up reading the Bible altogether.

Lectio divina does not invite you to understand the Bible. It invites you to stand under it. It says, “Do not step back from the scripture; step into it.” In lectio divina, you do not go to the scriptures to find out about God. You got to the scripture to encounter the living God, who is waiting to meet you there.

I encourage people to develop this practice because I am convinced that people do not first of all need to know more about God. They need first and foremost to know God. Years ago, I was at a workshop where the instructor asked someone, “Do you know the Shepherd’s Psalm?” The participant answered, “Yes, and I know the Shepherd too.”

We have thirsty souls: souls that are parched for the living God. Do you know what a thirsty soul feels like? When our throats are thirsty, they are dry and scratchy. When a soul is thirsty, it can feel like that deep yearning that hovers in the backgrIMG_3676ound of a busy life: a yearning that, when you stop long enough to attend to it asks, “Is this all there is?”

A thirsty soul can feel like a deep loneliness that does not go away, even when you have lots of family and friends.

In today’s Bible story, thirsty souls showed up in the midst of a crisis about having no water in a desert. The people were afraid and angry and feeling powerless. They turned on Moses because they needed someone to blame.

They turned to Moses, because that’s what we often do with our thirsty souls. We look for someone or something to fill the emptiness or to stop the loneliness. We think that it is someone or something that we are yearning for.

One of the elemental lessons to learn in your spiritual journey is that your deepest yearning, your deepest thirst is for the living God.

Somehow Moses knew that. When the people started complaining to him, he knew that he could not give them what they wanted. he know that only God could do that. So, he turned to god. He prayed a direct, honest prayer. He does not begin with polite or vaguely religious words. He launches into prayer: “What can I do with these people? Any minute now, they are going to kill me!” In other words, “This is your problem, God! Do something!”

Sometimes our prayers don’t go very deep because we are too polite with God. We only bring the surface stuff into our conversation with God — the places where we are still in control; the places where we still retain the illusion that we are in control. It is harder to trust God with the ugly parts of our life, with the broken places in our souls.

Even after God provides water for the people, Moses call the location “the place of quarrelling; the place of complaint”. This, too, is part of the journey. There will be places and times when our thirsty souls cry out, quarrelling with others, complaining about what we do not have. This story signals that even our quarrelling and complaining are invitations to encounter God. Even our brokenness and yearning and emptiness are invitations to place our whole lives in God’s hands.

Interestingly, when God answered Moses’ prayer, God provided water but, more importantly, God provides God’s own presence: “Go to the rock that you will strike with a rock and water will come out AND I will be standing there in front of you.”

God is not just ‘there’ to meet your needs and to answer your prayers. God is standing there in front of you, longing to enter into relationship with you; yearning to be in communion with you. In every part of your life, God is reaching out to be with you and to share God’s great love and grace and transforming power with you.

Do you believe that?

Brennan Manning was an author and public speaker who, often, would invite people to trust that deep love of God and to enter into it. In one talk, he says, “In the forty-eight years since I was first ambushed by Jesus in a little chapel in the Allegheny Mountains in western Pennsylvania, and then, in the literally thousands of hours of prayer and meditation, silence and solitude over those years, I am now utterly convinced that on judgement day, the Lord Jesus is going to ask us one and only one question: “Did you believe that I loved you, that I desired you; that I waited for you day after day; that is desired to hear your voice?”  (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pQi_IDV2bgM)

Do you believe that? That is what your soul is thirsty for. Jesus offers you himself — living water to quench your thirst. That is the invitation the lectio divina offers: an invitation into the heart of God’s love and God’s great longing for you.

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A prayer based on Luke 7:36 – 8:3

Great is your faithfulness, O Lord, our Saviour,
Faithful in loving us
Faithful in finding us when we lose our way
Faithful in forgiving us
and healing us
and bringing us home to you.

Great is your faithfulness, Lord,
and we are grateful.

There are times when each moment
shines with your grace and your goodness;
we know ourselves bathed in your holy care
and our hearts sing out your praise.

There are times when we struggle
to keep going
and you shepherd us,
holding us with a love
that does not let us go,
feeding our souls
with your presence,
speaking your truth
that gives us strength and courage
for one more step,
and we gasp out our
‘thank you’, ‘thank you’, ‘thank you’.

But there are also times when we
barge through our lives
oblivious to your presence,
your gifts,
your call;
unaware of all we have received
from your abundant love.

Speak to us today:
speak the words that
draw us back to you;
words that recall all you have done;
words that deepen and renew
our love for you.

We open our and our minds
to your Spirit’s work,
for you are the one
whose broken body
and poured out life
are the food and drink
we need.

Amen.

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In the posts that follow, I outline some of the core convictions from which I am working and about which I believe  “soul-stretching conversations” (Craig Dykstra and Dorothy Bass) need to happen. I recognize that these convictions will not be shared by many people in the United Church of Canada. I hope that they provide a starting point for the conversations since it is in the conversations that the way forward will be found. I also outline some of the implications of those convictions for the ways in which we train leadership in the church.

 

Conviction #3

3) The early church was not a new system of beliefs but a new community, an alternative society, into which people were called by the work of the Holy Spirit.

One of the earliest confessions of faith in the Church was “Jesus is Lord” (1 Corinthians 12:3). Jesus is Lord and, therefore, Caesar, the empire, or other forms of power, are not. Jesus’ message included the declaration that in his person and in his work, the reign of God had begun: a new era, a new social order had arrived. The early church was not a new system of beliefs but a new community, an alternative society, into which people were called by the work of the Holy Spirit.
Through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, “the reign of God launches an all-out attack on evil in all its manifestations. God’s reign arrives wherever Jesus overcomes the power of evil” (David Bosch, Transforming Mission, p. 33), especially among the lowly, the despised, and those on the margins of society. Gathered by the Spirit at Pentecost, the Church is a unique social community that is a sign, witness, foretaste and servant of God’s transformative resurrection work in the world. Its purpose is that of “representing God in and over against the world, pointing to God. . . In its mission, the church witnesses to the fullness of the promise of God’s reign and participates in the ongoing struggle between that reign and the powers of darkness and evil. . . The history of the world is not only a history of evil but also of love, a history in which the reign of God is being advanced through the work of the Spirit. Thus, in its missionary activity, the church encounters a humanity and a world in which God’s salvation has already been operative secretly, through the Spirit” (Bosch, p. 391).
The mission of the church offers the reign of God in concrete forms. It invites people to allow the Spirit of Christ to adopt them into God’s story in place of the stories of consumerism, therapeutic moralism, technological mastery, or militarism.
Walter Brueggemann, in “Counterscript:  Living with the elusive God” (Christian Century, November 29, 2005, p. 22 – 28), describes the dominant script of our society as “therapeutic, technological, consumerist militarism: therapeutic referring to ‘the assumption that there is a product or a treatment or a process to counteract every ache and pain and discomfort and trouble so that life may be lived without inconvenience; technological meaning that every problem can be fixed, solved, made right through human ingenuity; consumerist describing the approach to living that turns everything (including humans) into a commodity that can be bought and sold; militarism that uses violence to protect and maintain our privilege”.

In order enact this countercultural alternative in its own life, the church will often be intentionally small so that it can offer authentic hospitality, reconciliation and healing. Its nature will be primarily relational rather than organizational so that there can be genuine accountability. It will be structured towards assisting its members to enter into Spirit-gifted service in the world.

Some Implications for Leadership Training

A)  In a church whose mission is about offering reconciliation, healing and hope to all people, the church will need to journey more and more deeply into the practice of communion — the words, the gestures, the practices that are strong enough to heal the divisions and conflicts that are part of relationships with other people. This means that the regular practice of the sacrament of Communion will take a central place in the life of the church. At the Table, the risen Lord feeds the church and gives it the strength it needs for its radical work. The vision for a world of peace where all people thrive in flourishing communities is renewed. The community receives Christ’s forgiveness and reconciliation and grace in its own relationships so that it can offer those graces in a hurting world. Leaders in such a community will need to be working on their own healing. They will need skills and resources for guiding others in the art of forgiveness and reconciliation. Leadership training will need to be highly relational, including mentoring and coaching.

B)  God’s mission involves confronting the lies that the world tells people. The community will need to be led in developing the capacity for telling the truth to one another.

The leaders of a church will themselves need to be authentic in word and in deed.
C) Leaders will need to be trained to engage the scriptures so that they have the capacity to “discern the world anew according to the script of the Bible with particular attentiveness to the character of the Bible” (Walter Brueggemann, “That the World May Be Redescribed”, Interpretation, (October 2002), 360.)

They will need to be trained in what it takes to help people relinquish the powerful dominant scripts that are killing them and killing their communities.

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The worship service in which was first preached is available at Reformed Worship week 6.

Scriptures: Genesis 3: 1-7

The story is told of an Irish priest who was travelling though the countryside when he noticed an old peasant sitting by the side of the road. When the priest got closer, he realized that the peasant was praying. The priest was very impressed and said to the peasant, “You must be quite close to God.” The peasant looked up from his prayers and said, “Yes, he is very fond of me.”

The basic desire of human beings — the core desire behind all our other desires — is to be in communion with God. David Buttrick is a great preacher and the son of a great preacher. He teaches about preaching. He writes books about preaching. He has come to the conclusion, “Pastors think people come to church to hear sermons. They don’t. They come to pray and to learn to pray.”

The great wonder at the heart of our faith is that God’s great desire is to be in communion with us. The Creator of the universe, the mystery who is the source of life itself, loves us with a deep and steadfast love. In spite of all that we have done to hurt each other and offend God, God is still “very fond of us.”  It is not always easy for us to remember that.

We get distracted as we get busy making our way in the world. There are children to get to soccer games and piano lessons; there are demands and expectations at our places of work; there are worries about our own health and the health of those we love; there are meetings and appointments to attend and goals to accomplish. In the process, we lose touch with God, this God who is “very fond of us” and who is the source of our life.

Genesis 3 tells the story of a conversation between the serpent and the woman in the garden. It tells us that our troubles begin when we start talking about God instead of to God. “Did God say . . . ?” asks the serpent. “God said . . .” replies the woman. “But, did God really mean . . . ? Do you think that’s right . . . ?” The first conversation about God takes place.

The woman no longer lives trusting the spaciousness of God’s love. She enters a fascinating world where discussions about God and about what we believe about God distance people from God. God becomes an idea or a set of beliefs. These days, we live in a culture with many different ideas about God, about what God is like, about what God wants, about what it takes to find God. At some point (often in our early twenties), we sort through the various beliefs and ideas and concepts and we decide what we are going to believe about God.

An important part of our spiritual journey is to face our doubts and explore our options. Only as we ask the difficult questions will our faith mature. Many people are trying to confront adult problems with beliefs that were given to them as children in Sunday School. They quickly discover that those beliefs are not nearly adequate for the complexities that they face.

Yet, as important as it is that we develop some mature reflection about our beliefs, that is not the same as developing a maturing relationship with the living God.

Anselm was one of the church’s great thinkers about God. He wrote a book, Monologion, which set forth proofs for God’s existence. He wrote brilliantly and with great power. Then, he realized that, however many right things he had said about God, he had said them all in the wrong language. He re-wrote the book and named it Proslogion. It included all that the had said about God; however, this time, he wrote it to God. It was a personal answer to God, addressing the questions that a personal God asks us. He wrote his theology as a prayer.

That transition from thinking about God to talking with God is absolutely critical for all of us. It is especially critical when life takes you through dark valleys. We are a people facing many challenges. Some of us are worried about health issues. Some of us are coming to terms with the changes that come with aging: the loss of friends and family; moving to a different place; being confronted with the mystery of death and dying, sometimes our own death and dying, sometimes that of those dear to us. Some of us are facing pressures at work. You are in a job that is stressful, demoralizing and dehumanizing, yet you cannot get out of it because you have responsibilities that you need to live up to. Some of you are facing the huge privilege of raising children and you are finding how difficult that is in a culture that has forgotten how to raise its children well. It is especially difficult for you to do that as Christians trying to live into the vows you made at your children’s baptisms. Increasingly, the culture does not share the same stories and traditions as you do as a follower of Jesus. Increasingly, the culture has very different ideas about what it means to grow into one’s full humanity.

There are concerns about the state of the world’s economy, about climate change, about social disintegration in our cities. When I think of all that you are facing, I long for all of you to know the great gift of prayer. As the Protestant Reformer, Martin Luther, said, “I wish I could teach you to pray the way my dog goes after a bone.” This is not prayer that is simply a matter of bringing your wish list to God. It is not prayer than informs God about all the troubles in the world and in our lives and then spells out the ways we would like God to help. It is not the kind of prayer that informs God about the good projects you have taken on and then asking for God’s blessings.

It is the kind of prayer that is a matter of entering into God’s presence, into the wide spaciousness of God’s love and grace. It is prayer that focuses more on God than on us. Such prayer places our troubles and concerns into the context of God’s powerful grace. It is learning to let go of our need to control the outcome. It will mean that, sometimes God will lead you to green pastures and still waters and restore your soul. Sometimes God will disturb you, leading you in new directions, asking you to abandon cozy fantasies and to risk the hazards and unknowns of living by faith. Sometimes such prayer will be a matter of waiting — waiting in silence and in the stillness, aware that God is still in action, preparing other people, preparing other circumstances, working in our hearts and souls. Then, when the time is right — in God’s time — God will call you into action. Says Eugene Peterson, “Waiting in prayer is a disciplined refusal to act before God acts.” That is difficult.

Someone said that the question faith asks in each circumstance is “What is God’s invitation to me in this?” In illness or crisis or disappointment; when the way forward is blocked, “What is God’s invitation to me in this?” Is God developing trust and patience in you? Is God trying to turn you in a different direction? You wait, expectantly, for the Spirit to lead you deeper and deeper into the community of the Trinity where love is the song we learn to sing.

The woman in the garden did not do that. She moved away from that intimate trust in God’s love. She reached out to take what seemed to her to be good and delightful even though it was not hers to take. In the process, she lost the goodness of the garden.

The rest of the story is the story of God’s great, untiring efforts to restore the communion that was lost. In Jesus, God invites us back into that relationship of deep, abiding love. In Jesus, we are found by the God who is reaching out to us in our lostness. In prayer, open yourself to receive God’s presence. Allow yourself to be held by the One who holds all things together. Find yourself at home.

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This is the fourth in a series of reflections on a seminar at the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship’s Symposium“The turn ‘toward the formative’ in contemporary worship. The seminar was moderated by John Witvliet. The presenters were: Miranda DodsonAaron NiequistGlenn PackiamJeremy Zeyl.

There were a number of gems of insight and wisdom that the presenters offered in the seminar.

For instance, one of them offered this insight about communion:  You never take communion. You receive communion. “Taking” is what happened in the Garden of Eden. “Receiving” (life, salvation, healing, hope from the Triune God) is what will put the world back together.

Another: “Ministry is a work of the heart and we labour with a broken tool all the time.”

And: “God is most reliably present where you are experiencing the limits of your own power.”

From Ambrose: “You see with the eyes of your head. The really challenge is to see with the eyes of your soul”.

When considering changes in worship: “The deeper the trust, the sharper the turn you can make; however, the sharper the turn, the slower your speed needs to be.”

“The community is gathered around Christ first and foremost” (not around the leaders with a passive audience)

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Although it is well past Easter, I’m just getting around to typing this sermon up (yes, I still write my sermons out by hand). Many thanks to Craig Barnes and Ed Searcy for their reflections that proved so helpful.

Gathered in Christ

A sermon preached by the Rev. Dr. Christine Jerrett at Central United Church, Sarnia, Ontario on April 8, 2012

Scriptures: Romans 5: 1-11
John 21: 1-14

Easter happens after a long, frustrating night of fishing and no fish are caught. Easter happens after failures and futility and coming up empty. At least, says the gospel writer John, that’s how it happened for Simon Peter.

Three years earlier, Simon had been a fisherman with his brother and his father on the Sea of Galilee. Then, Jesus showed up on the shore and said, “Come, follow me. I’ll teach you to fish for people.” Simon left the life he knew and started following Jesus and was renamed Peter. Then, Jesus was crucified and everything Simon Peter was living for was gone. His life was broken by cruelty. His hope was crushed by cowardice. Everything that held his world together was lost. His dreams and his hopes abandoned him. He was confused; uncertain as to how to move forward.

Craig Barnes has written that that describes the dominant experience of our time: confusion, loss, a sense of being abandoned. One age is dying. A new age is still struggling to be born. Nothing is nailed down anymore. We grow certain about less and less. How do you find your way forward when you are in the midst of that? Where do you find hope for living?

Peter said, “I’m going fishing.” He wanted his old life back. He wanted things to go back to ‘normal’. However, he discovered that there was no ‘normal’ to go back to. His old life was no longer ‘there’ to go back to. He spent the whole night fishing but caught nothing.

Have you ever been there? If you have not, someone you love has. It is a hard place to be. It is hard to be in that space where life as you know it is over but the new life, the new day, has not yet arrived. We have a name for it in the church: Holy Saturday.

Ed Searcy is a minister at University Hill United Church in Vancouver, B.C. He often reminds his congregation that Easter weekend is the heart of our life as Christ’s people. Three days — Good Friday, Holy Saturday, Easter Sunday — shape our life together. Those three days shape your life as a follower of Jesus. Those three days point you to the work of God in your life.

Good Friday is the day of loss and grief. It is the day when life as you know it ends. A job is lost. You become ill or disabled. Someone you love dies. Friends desert or betray you. Then, life takes you where you do not want to go.

We never get much of a crowd out at Good Friday services. This year, three congregations worshiped together and there were still plenty of empty pews. Who can blame people, though? Who wants to face the loss and the sorrow and the grief that comes into our lives? Most people would rather go fishing or golfing or cruising — anything but enter into that difficult time.

Nevertheless, this is where the gospel begins: on Good Friday. The gospel begins with Jesus not abandoning you when you feel most abandoned, but entering into your suffering; walking with you in it. Even when the path you walk takes you through the valley of the shadow of death, he walks with you.

Holy Saturday is that time between Jesus’ death and resurrection. It looks like nothing is happening. It can feel as if your life is stalled. You cannot go back to your old life but you are not able to move forward either. There is nothing you can do to fix what has gone wrong. You cannot find a solution no matter how hard you work at it. Whatever God is up to in your life, you cannot see it. Mostly it feels like God is absent, missing, unable to move against the chaos and the darkness. Holy Saturday is a time of waiting: you want to do something but every way forward is blocked.

Not until Easter arrives do you realize that God has been at work in ways beyond your comprehending. On Easter morning, as morning is now “coming to be”, as John puts it, the risen Christ shows up. He usually shows up unexpectedly. If this morning’s story is any indication, you won’t recognize him at first. He does not swoop in like a hero to rescue you. He doesn’t solve your problems for you. He does not fix whatever is wrong. Instead, he provides you with what you need to get through such a time.

“You haven’t caught anything, have you?” he asks. “Try fishing on the other side.” Jesus invites you to enter into a new life, a different way of being. When you listen and do as he says, you discover that the new life which is given is given lavishly, abundantly.  It is full of the presence of God.

Good Friday, Holy Saturday, Easter Sunday: this is the shape of your life with God. This is the bedrock truth of your life, even though your experience of God may be different as your life changes: No experience you have can take you beyond God’s reach. God loves you too much to abandon you any day of your life.

At University Hill congregation, the people ask each other, “How is the gospel with you? Are you living in Friday or Saturday or Sunday today?” God is up to something in your life. The question helps you recognize it and trust it and live into it.

The challenge comes when you find you’re spending most of your time in Good Friday and Holy Saturday instead of Easter Sunday. You can believe that God is at work; you can believe that God has a good purpose for your life. At least, you can want to believe that that is true, but that is not the way the human spirit works.  When you go through long periods of experiencing God’s absence and hiddenness, you can have doubts and questions that will not go away. It gets hard to hold onto faith; to keep believing.

That is why Jesus doesn’t just tell us about God’s steadfast love and faithfulness. Jesus offers a meal. Over and over again in the scriptures, he gathers the people together. He takes bread and blesses it. He breaks the bread and gives it to them. Then, he takes the cup and blesses it and gives it to them, saying, “This is my life poured out for you.”

We are used to hearing those words when we remember the Last Supper that Jesus had with his disciples. However, if you look at the other meals that Jesus shared with people, those same actions are repeated over and over and over. Jesus take, blesses, breaks, gives. Take, bless, break, give. Ed Searcy says that it’s like a figure skater, practising her figures over and over and over until they become part of her muscle memory. She doesn’t have to think all the time about every little move. The body remembers, making the moves even when the mind cannot. It’s like a musician, practising scales and chords and arpeggios over and over and over until they become part of his muscle memory. The music can be played long after the mind cannot concentrate.

Take, bless, break, give.

Take, bless, break, give.

That is what God is up to every day of your living. God is taking what you have and even, even those parts of your life that seem wasted, useless, and too full of failure or compromise or grief to be of any use anywhere. The Holy Spirit takes all that intoa Christ’s suffering love, blesses it, and offers God’s presence within it. God breaks it open and works within it, changing and transforming it so that it becomes something new. It becomes a gift given to you and to the world. It becomes food for the journey. It becomes a way of serving others.

Take. Bless. Break. Give. Those are the figures we practices as Christians, over and over and over again. We practice so that, when life takes you to Good Friday or Holy Saturday, you will know deep in your soul’s muscle memory, that God is at work. God is taking your life and working a blessing into it. God is breaking your future open so you can be given a new life, full of resurrection.

Easter happens. After long nights of frustration and futility, despair and discouragement, ‘as the morning is coming to be’, Jesus stands on the shore, calling you into a new life, a resurrection life, a life full of the gifts and grace of God. He was there all along, making a new beginning. Now you get to enter into it. Thanks be to God.

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