Jesus stays, Jesus stays.

“Crucify him!  Crucify him!”

Last Sunday, we played our part, joining in the dramatic reading of the events leading up to Jesus’ death.  We yelled “Let him be crucified!” along with the jealous crowd (Matthew 27).  Someone told me afterward that she always waffles about whether or not to say those words out loud with the rest of the congregation; it makes her uncomfortable, and it just sounds so horrible.  I knew what she meant–I closed my eyes this year when I joined in the shout; I just couldn’t bear seeing the angry crowd in front of me, it felt so real.

The horror is that it is real.  In dozens of ways, we shout “Crucify him!” every day.  When we respond in anger, when we deceive and rationalize, choosing the easy way out instead of the truth, we turn our backs on the reality that God offers us.  It’s like throwing God’s playbook into the trash and letting the door slam as we walk away.  We insist on our own way and our own wisdom, just like Adam and Eve in the garden, just like Jesus’ disciples who were scattered in Gethsemane’s garden–just like every human throughout time; except for Jesus himself.

What a strange God we worship.  What kind of God leaves his abode to come down to this broken place called earth?  Once arrived, what kind of God takes on the limitations and stresses of human life, living inside the confines of a human being?  As a human, what kind of God endures a fraudulent trial leading to trumped-up death charges and a humiliating spectacle of an execution? What kind of life is that? What is he revealing to us about the truth of love?

As Jesus hangs on the cross (as he did at this very hour), people mock him; someone asks, “If you saved others, why can’t you save yourself?”  Another says, “If you’re really God, the way you say you are, why don’t you come down?  If you did, we’d surely believe you then!”  Can you imagine the temptation Jesus might have faced?  Indeed, in the garden with his disciples the night before, he has already laid his cards out with his Father, begging that he not actually have to go through with the whole thing, desperate to find another way out.

Abandoned and hanging on a cross, Jesus, the Son of God, stayed.  While he was spit on, ridiculed, beaten, and nailed, he refused to turn his back on the people who were torturing him.  Jesus never pulled the release valve, Jesus never left us.  He was committed to showing humanity what love means by never turning his back on us even if that meant that he would have to die.  There was finally nothing else left for Evil to try except to force God’s hand by threatening him with death if he didn’t give up on people.  Jesus stayed.

The same crowds who had shouted a few days earlier that he was their hero turned quickly into the angry, jealous crowds who pushed at him to crack and then turned their backs to let him die. How often do we experience the same swift change in our lives?  Our best friend suddenly becomes our most effective attacker; our well-ordered life is shaken into a disaster; the most reliable part of our day is ripped out from under us, leaving a gaping hole.  We all suffer abandonment that leaves us wondering which way is up.

Though we may not know which way is up, or how to keep moving through the mess of life, or how to withstand the attacks of someone we love, Jesus has shown that God will stay right next to us.  Staying meant death, but Jesus chose not to use his power as God to get him out of the mess humanity had made around him; he only ever called upon the power of God to help others, never himself.

Jesus still calls upon the power of God to help us, even though we’re just as fickle and cowardly and arrogant and skeptical as the crowds who surrounded him at his death.  Jesus never left them alone, even when the price to stay was death.  Even though we turn our backs on God, he will never leave us alone. Jesus stays, Jesus stays.

trust fall – #mymessybeautiful

I have a new friend named Glennon.

This week, I’ve been reading her book, Carry On, Warrior.  I don’t quite agree with everything she says in it, but I don’t quite agree with all my husband’s convictions either, so it doesn’t bother me much.

She talks an awful lot about truth-telling.  She invited anyone who wanted to tell some truth on the internets to link it up with her site, momastery.com, all to coordinate with the release of the paperback of her book.  I’ve felt sort of ambiguous about this, because I feel a little bit like Anne Shirley when Rolling’s Reliable takes over her novel, but a big enough part of me wondered if I might just not want to say something too truthy that I’m here.

So, here is my trust fall:

I struggle to believe that God loves me (and I’m a priest).

We live in an accomplishment-oriented society; our culture tells us that we have to achieve to be accepted and loved.  Popular interpretations of the parable of the talents don’t help–”If you don’t do your very best with all the ‘talents’ you’ve been given, you’ll be called lazy by God and thrown into the outer darkness!”  (Matthew 25)  This leads us to despair when we don’t think we’ve done enough, and it leads us to toxic amounts of achievement (perhaps especially at elite institutions *kicking hornets nest* *still wearin’ my duke blue devil horns headband*).

My broken understanding of love often leads me to over-function for others–thinking, hoping, desperate-to-believe that if I do enough for someone, she will give me love.  This is a dangerous belief for a priest to have–there’s always plenty to do for your congregation to try to earn their love, and even more so, there’s always more you could do for God.  The voice of fear in my head accuses me, “You’re lazy to not stay until the very last parishioner goes home.”  “A truly devoted priest would do ALL THE THINGS before leaving for the night.”  Of course this tempts me into thinking that everything depends on me (when really, everything depends on GOD).

Earning love isn’t a thing.  If we’re motivated to do good deeds or to go to church or to work hard because we think that it will help God will love us if we do them, then we’re missing the whole point of Christianity, and the whole point of love.

Love cannot be earned.  Love cannot be lost.  Love is a choice.

Doing bad things doesn’t ever make us unlovable (to God).  Making “wrong” choices doesn’t set us back on God’s love-o-meter.  Because the love that we show each other is always broken and imperfect, our understanding of who we are in God’s eyes can get messed up.

Even when we doubt God, or ridicule him, or turn away from God all together, he doesn’t leave and he doesn’t stop loving.

Today is Maundy Thursday. At the Last Supper with his disciples, Jesus gave his followers a mandate – to love one another (John 13). Tonight, in churches around the globe, people will gather to remember this event again. Throughout the following hours, Jesus showed his disciples, and the whole world, what it means to love.

As people mocked him, 42 “He saved others,” they said, “but he can’t save himself! He’s the king of Israel! Let him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in him. 43 He trusts in God. Let God rescue him now if he wants him, for he said, ‘I am the Son of God.’” (Matthew 27:42-43)  Jesus stayed on the cross.  Even when his companions abandoned him, he stayed there, bleeding and hanging.  Jesus stayed.

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Jesus, the Son of God, God himself, stayed with humanity.  God came, and God stayed, no matter what people did to him.  God still comes, and God still stays with each of us.

My calling as a priest isn’t to be the perfect example of love any more than it is the call of every person to love.  We’re all witnesses to God’s love by the very fact and miracle that each of us exists.  My calling as a priest is to listen with other curious people, to sit and stay with suffering people, and to offer Jesus as healing for our brokenness.

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This essay and I are part of the Messy, Beautiful Warrior Project — To learn more and join us, CLICK HERE! And to learn about the New York Times Bestselling Memoir Carry On Warrior: The Power of Embracing Your Messy, Beautiful Life, just released in paperback, CLICK HERE!

original artwork by Roger Hutchison

what a ridiculous outfit

- said by myself, about myself; 10pm last night.

It’s Holy Week over here in Christianity, and as my place of work is rather permissible about dress code, I’ve been wearing a black nightgown since Sunday.20140416-133002.jpg

Sometimes it’s called a cassock, and at the Cathedral, they’re rarely worn (ours is not a particularly stuffy diocese), but I love the frippery and was inspired to wear my black pajamas throughout Holy Week by a Lutheran pastor friend in upstate New York (it occurs to me that he may wear his cassock morning-to-night throughout Holy Week because he serves something like four different parishes, and it’s just impractical to take it off every time he gets in the car to drive to the next church for a service, nevertheless).

I was struck yesterday when a colleague joked with me, “and where’s your big wooden cross?!”  And now you, dear readers, may have a laugh: I hadn’t thought of the cassock as a symbol of suffering or asceticism until that very moment.  Then I realized, of course!–many might see and assume that I was shaming myself, covering my body with black so to be clearly marked as sinful and dead.

My motivation is quite, quite different, however: it’s been my understanding that part of the reason priests have worn cassocks throughout history is to remind themselves that they are dead to themselves (this notion takes stark form when priests lie on the ground during the first set of prayers at their ordination to the priesthood) and alive in Christ (Romans 6:11).

For one, it’s been a bit warm in South Carolina this week, and reminding myself of the moment I laid on a cold stone floor on a December evening is a relieving memory indeed.

For another, wearing a big black dress cuts down on the whistles directed at me while walking down the street.  People stop seeing Emily as an object or a skinny blonde (brunette?) and instead see me as a curiosity, or maybe even as a person.

Finally and mostly, I am a priest, called to point to Jesus in front of others (just as we’re all called to do!), and Holy Week gives me the push I need to drag the beautiful drama of the relationship between God and people out into the world.  We put on special clothes when we go into the sanctuary to worship, clothes that remind us of what we believe we’re doing.  For this week, I’ve gathered up the courage to dance around Columbia’s public streets in those clothes, marching my belief in Jesus as the Son of God into every place I walk.

For whatever reason, I flourish on contradiction; I am addicted to irony.  I joyfully prance around in dark, trench-coat-like clothes, knowing that the death of my ego is the beginning of my real life.  My church growing up didn’t allow women to be spiritual leaders, but instead of leaving the whole project behind, I held onto my Evangelicalism for dear life and became a minister anyway.

Isn’t the biggest (and best) irony of all time that God came to earth to be a human, and if that wasn’t enough, he lived as a poor servant, and if that wasn’t enough, he allowed himself to be unjustly put to death–and if that wasn’t enough, HE CAME BACK TO LIFE! (but I’m getting ahead of myself–it’s not Sunday yet, people.)

 

Why sing in church?

St. Augustine is remembered for having said, “He who sings prays twice.”  Though I can’t find it in his writings, there’s something true about this quotation.  Singing is proven both to lift ones mood and to enhance one’s ability to remember the words they’re saying—an embarrassing amount of my memory is dedicated to all the songs from Disney’s Little Mermaid and Beauty and the Beast.

Even more so when we are singing to and about God, we are open to the way that God can use the words we’re saying to encourage us, convict us, inspire us, and energize us.  When we join together in the hymns, the psalms, and in spiritual songs, we call out to God both as individuals and corporately, inviting God to change our outlook on life and to dig himself deeper into our minds, hearts, and imaginations.

I’m always struck by the Sanctus – “Holy, Holy, Holy…” which we sing and pray together at the beginning of the Eucharistic Prayer; it’s a song that’s recorded in Scripture and as we say it in the service, it’s the song that angels and archangels and all the company of heaven sing to God continually.

What a stunning thought, that we, standing here in Columbia, South Carolina, join with all these creatures and with people throughout space and time, worshipping God through song.

One of the striking things about peoples’ accounts of near-death experiences is that they almost always mention that they heard singing.  What if our singing hymns on Sunday mornings bring us closer to God, and to heaven?