Grief in the Easter Season

A post, written about a week after my stepfather’s passing, and published today on Loyola Press’s blog site:

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Easter season

I am taking a break from blog posts for a while as I grieve the unexpected passing of my father (stepdad) on April 21st. I am finding it helpful to scale back on my commitments at the moment. Thanks for your understanding.

Meanwhile, here are a few old posts from the Loyola Press site on the Easter season:

Four Ways to Receive Joy

Living Our Way Into Easter Joy

Celebrate for 50 days

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Resurrection and Mary at the Tomb

My latest post at Loyola Press’s web site:

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Resurrection Fra Angelico


Image: Fra Angelico’s Resurrection of Christ and Women at the Tomb


In this fresco of the Resurrection by Fra Angelico, one senses both wisdom and playfulness. The women have been mourning at the tomb. Their countenances reveal that they have discovered that the body is missing, but they are still trying to make sense of the meaning of its absence. Perhaps they think the body of their beloved Jesus has been stolen. The woman standing at the center expresses through her body the language of quest. She has been on a quest to find the Lord and now he is not where she expected him to be. She looks down, as does another woman, while the other women look toward the angel. None of them see Jesus.

Meanwhile there is Jesus right behind them, in radiant glory, full of splendor, resurrected! The angel’s finger clues in the women: the angel points up towards Jesus, not down to the tomb and the place of death. Of course, we know from the Gospel accounts that eventually they will see Jesus, and recognize the one that they had been grieving is alive. But for now, they are still looking the wrong way, because they keep looking to the place of death, and so they remain lost in their confusion. Yet the Resurrected Christ is no less Resurrected just because the women do not yet know of it.

At the same time, these women are among the first to encounter the Resurrection because they, at least, came to the tomb. The men and probably other women, too, departed, giving up on the possibility of new life, even though Jesus had promised to them that he was to prepare a place for them, so that where he was, they also would be. Yet such words must have seemed too good to be true in the trauma of the crucifixion. Both the looking downward and the flight away from the tomb are understandable: after all, human concepts alone cannot grasp how death can lead to new life. The women came prepared to tend to a dead body, and with such expectations, they could not see the living one, because they kept looking in the place of death, and following their own narratives instead of being open to the Lord’s creative, resurrective power.

In our own lives, personally and politically, we tend to get caught up in our own narratives of what is possible and what is not. We look around us at the available scripts and, like the women at the tomb, forget to in a new direction where we may see God. For example, the political situation between the US and North Korea is escalating. Both countries are only looking at conventional answers that may lead only to death and not to life and to peace. We need to look for a third way, or even a fourth or a fifth way. Instead of looking down into the empty tomb, we need to look for life outside the tomb. What are the non-violent solutions that can move us forward toward peace? Where are the creative answers? Is there a different way to pose the question itself so that the answer leads to life and not to death?

Sometimes in our personal lives, too, we look only into the empty tomb without also looking for where the Resurrected Christ is alive and in our midst. Perhaps, as was the case for these women, the answer is right before our eyes, if only we turn around. For we find the living Christ in moments of peacemaking, small and great acts of reconciliation, and decisions to choose love over fear. Perhaps we need the simple assistance of a person near us who can point us in a new direction, an angel in our own midst. God is always seeking to communicate with us, but do we look and listen? Perhaps we need to turn around something in ourselves–for example, think about past experiences of fear and confusion like those that the disciples experienced not as instances of failure, but rather as the moment right before the Resurrection, the moment right before sunrise, when the Lord rises and radiantly shines his light upon us.

Where are the places in your life that need Resurrection? What are the conventional narratives that keep you from finding the living Christ? What are the small signs of burgeoning new life in your midst? Who are the angels that point the way? And when the Lord speaks your name, will you be ready?


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Christ in Limbo

Christ in Limbo. Fresco by Fra Angelico

On Holy Saturday, the world between the Crucifixion and death of Christ and the Resurrection is quiet. It’s an in between, a liminal space, that is hard for us to make sense of. Surely it was also difficult for the friends of Jesus. After the traumatic and difficult events of the Passion, so swiftly after the loving acts of foot washing and sharing in a meal, the silence must have been its own challenge. The disciples must have wondered what to do with themselves. Peter who ran away, like others, must have been struggling with his failure to follow Christ even to death. The women and disciple who remained faithful at the Cross no longer even have the activity of providing comfort to him and one another to occupy them. The space between Good Friday and Easter Sunday can be a lonely space.

Meanwhile, though, tradition tells us that Christ was rescuing the souls in limbo. Not only does this idea affirm that Jesus comes for all times, not only his own or afterwards, but it also has a spiritual significance. In the silence of seeming inactivity, God is often at work beneath the surface. We may see nothing of God’s action overtly, but meanwhile Christ may be at work transforming whole worlds. Thus, I think our basic stance in the waiting space of Holy Saturday is trust: trust that God is at work and that the resurrection is on its way.

Perhaps you also have some spaces in your life that are “in between.” Can you trust that God is at work, preparing for the Resurrection? And what do you yourself need to do to be ready?

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Cornelis Engebrechtsz
Photo from wikimedia commons 

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Foot washing and vulnerability

A lot happens at the Last Supper, especially if one puts together the various Gospel accounts, which emphasize different aspects. Luke, for example, focuses on the Passover meal in keeping with a theme of banquets and eating together that carries through the whole of his Gospel. John focuses on the foot washing and Jesus’ promise that he will not be separated from them forever. Along with love, there is also betrayal. Judas leaves partway through the meal after Jesus identifies his betrayer as the one who will dip bread in the same dish as he does—one who amongst the many gathered there must have reclined very near to Jesus, suggesting some sort of closeness of friendship between them before the betrayal. Luke’s account mentions an argument that breaks out during the meal, over who would be the greatest among them. As I read it over again, I was especially struck that such an argument would take place on the same night that Jesus performed the foot washing. But then I looked back at the details of John’s account, and indeed it says that Jesus arose from the supper in order to perform the foot washing. They were already partway through the meal when it took place. Perhaps, then, if we put together the two accounts, Jesus’ act of washing Peter’s feet is a response to all the arguing.

Many, many arguments are ultimately rooted in a kind of pride: in this case, it seems to be a desire for honor, but we can easily extend the same idea of pride to think about all the ways that we defend ourselves against acknowledging our own limits: wanting others to think that we are right and they are wrong after a conflict, when the truth is probably that it is a mix of everyone’s weaknesses, or wanting to save face rather than to acknowledge ourselves as sinners and as broken people. Imagine, though, abandoning the back and forth of who is right or wrong in an argument, and instead performing an act of love that says, I care for you and do not care about my own esteem in this situation. This is what Jesus models for us.

Jesus, then, gets up in the middle of the meal and goes to wash his friends’ feet. Peter protests. This is the act of a servant. He’d rather wash Jesus’ feet. It is always easier to give love than to receive it. We tend to think the opposite, but I can think back to services now more than a decade ago at my former church, where all the members of the congregation took turns both washing one another’s feet and being the one to wash. It is far more vulnerable to let one’s own feet be washed. Our feet have a whole history to them: histories of injury or trauma, signs of aging, rough and smooth spots. This history is visible. Sometimes they smell. It is always more vulnerable to receive love, to truly receive it into all of our rough and injured places, than to give it, because in giving it we also feel our own strength. In letting others love us, we feel our own neediness and weakness. Indeed, Jesus himself had just experienced this when his own feet were anointed by Mary of Bethany, in a passionate and public display of her love for Jesus. Jesus did not turn away that kind of love, but received it. He let it in.

Jesus, then, responds to his friends’ desires to outdo one another in esteem and says, Love one another. Loving one another means washing another’s feet, as a servant.  Jesus’ act of love also means allowing another to wash my own feet, and letting myself be vulnerable to those who, like Jesus, know me well enough to see all my weak spots. Love one another is mutual.

One way I like to pray with this passage every year is to imagine being at table with Jesus and allowing him to wash my feet, and to see whose feet Jesus invites me to wash. We can also think about who has been Jesus for us, washed our own feet for us even in our weakness and sin. As we then celebrate the Eucharist and share in the Lord’s supper, we are reminded how much our bodies are like his own, but ones that the Lord also will transform, from suffering into new life and resurrection.

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