Sunday, April 26, 2020

Easter isn't over.

Do you miss your weekly worship services? 

I'm sure your local pancake house, bakery, bagel or donut shop does. No crowds of happy and hungry folks seeking to keep the joy going when they leave their spiritual gatherings. And there are so many more who show up on Easter morning to share breakfast tables and good feelings. 

For Christians, Easter is not just a day; it's genuinely a season that lasts far longer than Christmastime. Forty days of celebrating until Pentacost Sunday align with the ancient Jewish festival by the same name  or Feast of 50 Days after Passover. 

Forty days after the first Easter, the church of Jesus Christ was born. And some people began to dramatically change the way they lived. In fact, besides the beautiful music, one of my favorite parts of Easter is reading about the early church, just after Jesus departed this world. His command was to "love one another." And so they did.

"All who believed were together and had all things in common;
they would sell their property and possessions
and divide them among all according to each one’s need.
Every day they devoted themselves
to meeting together in the temple area
and to breaking bread in their homes.
They ate their meals with exultation and sincerity of heart,
praising God and enjoying favor with all the people." 

(Acts of the Apostles 2:44-47)

Imagine living in a community like that, where everyone shares everything. In fact, the early church was so tight, its members lived communal lives. 

Now imagine my joy when I read this on a street pole in my Chicago neighborhood:

"Need Help? Want to help? Logan Square Mutual Aid is here for you. This pandemic has hit us all hard. We are your neighbors reaching out to help.
If you need: food, prescriptions pickup, caregiving, medical supplies, or help and community in general we are here to give it.

"If you can give: Your time, your expertise, your resources, your voice, we would love to have you help out."

I had to call the number at the bottom of the flyer. The voicemail recording welcomed me in English and Spanish, inviting a phone number and my specific  needs. If you visit the Web site you can experience the love:

"In the midst of a global pandemic and recession, the best and most effective thing we can do—apart from social distancing—is to be there for each other". That's the essence of Logan Square Mutual Aid.

Today, so many are looking for answers. For hope in the face of confusion and lives lost. And they feel helpless with no where to go.

COVID-19 has closed temples, mosques, synagogues and churches worldwide. Believers are cut off from each other. Unable to gather to celebrate Easter and its promise of salvation and new life. A life based on unconditional, universal love. 

Yet in Logan Square, Chicago, the spirit of the first Christians is alive and well and experiencing a resurrection. 

Sunday, April 19, 2020

A cool cup of water.

He lined up his shot and dribbled left. Thud! The kick sailed past my right side as I leaned the other way. Goal!

It only lasted a few minutes but we played a fun cat 'n' mouse game with a bright green soccer ball. Two-out-of three goals or saves won this shooter versus goalie match on the edge of Holstein Park, Chicago's northwest side. Andre was the lad's name who had created a goal with two orange cones along a high cyclone fence. It was actually the right field homer barrier of the baseball diamond. Our chance meeting yesterday occurred in the sprawling outfield where maybe a dozen or so folks frolicked in the sun Saturday afternoon. It was a merciful moment of light in the darkness of a viral pandemic that meant we wouldn't get close enough to shake hands or high-five. I had to cross in front of Andre's homemade net and soccer shooting practice to chase after our 4-year-old granddaughter.  Andre was about 12 and I a grey-bearded 63. We were two total strangers. But for a moment, I felt like a young dad again, challenging a much younger child to a quick contest. Coincidentally, our older son and his wife looked on as did our two preschool granddaughters and their grandma, smiling behind her mask.

I did manage to make one save and Andre kicked the third shot wide. We considered it a tie. As we wrapped up, I told him my name and he said, "I'm Andre. You're a good goalie!" He was very generous. That was it. We'd probably never recognize each other if we passed on the street, since we got no closer than say 25 feet apart. It was safe, physical distancing and yet the game was fun and we made a connection. Thanks to Andre sharing himself and his sport, my day shined a little brighter.

As we walked home soaking up sun, we savored the moments with beloved family at a safe distance. Others passed doing the same. People nodded and smiled behind homemade masks. Some courteously stepped out of the way to allow us to pass. At one point, we stopped to take in a two-story painted mural of a gigantic fluffy puppy. It towered at least 30 feet above our excited grandkids. The real pooch barked in the fenced yard. His owner tamed him so she could explain how she now uses the painting in her Zoom conferences with kids. She's an elementary school teacher and loves telling her story.

Jesus said, "whoever gives one of these only a cool cup of water ... will surely not lose his reward." (Matthew 10:42) He was encouraging followers to welcome and comfort those building the kingdom of God. And these days, we're parched by fear, unknown danger, and uncertain futures. A smile from behind a mask, a friendly gesture, an extra step to ensure the safety of another is a long quenching drink from the well of humanity and unconditional love.

I was so grateful to gulp down the day. Peace.

Saturday, April 11, 2020

Changing. Healing. Rising.

There are many ironies about Easter 2020 amidst the viral pandemic.

Crucifixion kills by asphyxiation. COVID-19 cripples the lungs and some victims die on ventilators.

We are sheltered in place, isolated in tiny groups to protect ourselves from a deadly affliction. On the first Easter, Jesus' disciples and his Mother were huddled in an upper room in Jerusalem, hiding from those who had demanded the death of their fellow Galilean.

Roman soldiers mocked Jesus with a crown of thorns. The coronavirus is named for its crown-like characteristics.

According to Christian Scripture, Jesus appeared to many of those he loved, after his resurrection. He made sure they knew he was alive and well. Some didn't recognize him at first. Mary Magdalene thought he was a gardener at the tomb he'd just escaped. That same Easter day, when he joined two apostles on the road to Emmaus, his friends thought he was a stranger. Only when he broke bread at dinner and gave it to them did they recognized him as the one who had hosted the Last Supper. And on Easter Sunday night, Jesus miraculously appeared in that upper room where his followers were hiding. But he had to assure the first Christians he was not a ghost -- even eating fish to prove he was genuinely risen and alive. Jesus breathed on them, lungs restored, saying, "Receive the holy Spirit." (John 20:22)

Those who knew him best did not immediately comprehend this resurrected body. His glorified state. It was a profound transformation of flesh and spirit like the wormy caterpillar that becomes a spectacular butterfly. What once slowly crawled now flies unrestrained.

The physical and spiritual process of prayer, fasting and almsgiving that is Lent is designed to help us repent in time for the resurrection. Repent means to exercise the mind or rethink. This Easter, will our friends recognize us or will we have changed so much that we are in some way, unfamiliar?

As we stay home in our "upper rooms," will we reach out with our phones to touch the forgotten and welcome them into our lives? Will we leave the snarky comments and our judgement in the past like empty cocoons?

Will we find the courage to see the beautiful in the rainy day and not complain one bit? And remember the sun is shining above the clouds? Will we listen to friends and family patiently, joyfully when we're tempted to speak about ourselves?

And whenever the virus abates, will we remember to be grateful for each day we have and each person we encounter? Will we remain filled with the humility we feel as we watch others risk their lives helping the sick? Perhaps, we'll soon forget this pestilence and take our lives for granted. Will we again cling to material things and position and ignore the dignity of those in need or struggling?

The first Easter changed the world in remarkable ways. In time, a handful of believers became billons. Like a few loaves and fishes multiplied to feed a multitude. But even at that momentous event, Jesus had first told his disciples, "Give them food yourselves." (Mark 6:37)

His teachings, sacrifice and death gave birth to a new way of life, born from a womb that was the upper room of Easter hiding. Jesus healed and transformed his followers by the unconditional love and compassion we were all created to give. "Love your neighbor as yourself." (Mark 12:31)

This Easter 2020, we will be in our hiding places awaiting a miracle, a cure. But Jesus has already shown us the way to heal ourselves and the world. Happy Resurrection Sunday!

Sunday, April 5, 2020

Passing over.

My spiritual DNA is Hebrew. That's true of all Christians.  "... because salvation is from the Jews." Jesus said that to the Samaritan woman at Jacob's well. (John 4:22) Before he left Samaria, she and her neighbors came to realize they had met the prophesied Messiah.

Christians believe Jesus was indeed the mashiach, or in Greek, Christos or "the Christ,"  "the anointed,"  "the chosen." Adonai or the Lord, Yahweh, the Creator of the universe had long promised a savior to His chosen people, the Israelites.

So, at this time each year, there is a fascinating intertwining of spiritual roots, vines and branches. The weeklong Jewish Passover and feast of unleavened bread with Christianity's Holy Week that culminates in Easter.

“I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer ..." Jesus said as he prepared to begin his passion, death and resurrection. (Luke 22:15) It was there, the Last Supper, that a new Passover began for Christian believers. 

The first Passover came thousands of years earlier, at a time in Egypt not unlike our current global circumstances and pandemic. Jews who ate that first Seder meal, stood with sandals on their feet, girded loins, and carrying staffs in their hands. They hastily dined on roasted lamb, unleavened bread and bitter herbs. They were in a hurry to escape from bondage. No time to wait for loaves to rise. 

That Passover marked the 10th of ten plagues inflicted on Pharaoh and his people who had enslaved and oppressed the Israelite nation for more than 400 years. Locusts, flesh infesting boils, swarms of frogs and a Nile River that ran red like blood horrified the Egyptian nation. None was more devastating than the 10th, the angel of death sent by Adonai to take the life of every first-born Egyptian, including their beasts. 

But Moses, the chosen mediator for his people had prepared them. Each Hebrew family had slaughtered a lamb for that first Passover of the Lord, and saved its blood to mark their outer doorways as a sign of faith. It was this mark, the blood of the lamb that would protect them from the deadliest plague. For them, the 10 afflictions would be replaced by Ten Commandments. Moses received this spiritual and moral code from God, as his rescued people wandered in the desert in search of their freedom and divine inheritance -- the promised land. 

Centuries later, when Jesus celebrated Passover in Jerusalem, thousands gathered for priests to slay their sacrificial lambs and kid goats at the Temple. They captured the blood in bowls, splashing it on a massive altar. This spectacle commemorated the miracle of mercy for a nation, when the divine shattered Egyptian shackles and set Israel free, saved by the sign of blood -- God's very life force in animals and humans. 

Today, we wander our streets, navigating unseen danger in social deserts across the world. Like pilgrims seeking refuge, we wear medical masks, many homemade, to ward of an invisible virus and protect others -- if we might be carrying COVID-19, this modern day plague. 

Yet, we know that if we escape this evil, there will be another time when we must "passover" from the temporary to the eternal. From this life into the next. Death will come and we will inherit the everlasting. A place where time is not kept. 

That was the promise Jesus offered. Not a global cure of earthly suffering. But an inner peace built on the knowledge that the death of lamb of God was a final Passover sacrifice that would mark every nation, and every person for safe passage to the promised land. 

B' Shalom.