Watch Jesus

Dearly Beloved,

Grace and peace to you.


One of them struck the slave of the high priest and cut off his right ear. But Jesus said, “No more of this!” And he touched his ear and healed him.

— Luke 22.50-51

The church has theologized the heck out of the story of Jesus’ passion. When the doctrinal bricklayers get hold of it, it becomes little more than a monument, an audiovisual aid for a theological statement. But listen. It’s a story.

If you want you can read it as a story about the working out of God’s “plan.” But violence and injustice are not a part of God’s plan. Face it: that’s more like our plan. This is a story about our cruelty; about oppression and injustice, and the evil of military, political, economic and even religious coercion; about how individual evil lodges in social structures. It’s a story about death squads and hate speech, about Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib, about Oscar Romero and Martin Luther King, Jr.; about inciting angry mobs (yes, even these); about the demonic nature of capital punishment.

It’s story about fear. Everybody is scheming, or dealing in lies and threats and death, or fluttering into a panic with swords and defensive strategies, or posturing with false courage, or else in deep denial, arguing over who’s the greatest.

But mostly this is a story about a person. Throughout the story, watch Jesus. Keep your eyes on him. In every scene, at every turn, every opportunity, what is he doing? He’s just loving people. He gathers to eat with his beloved, and he gives himself to them. He washes their feet and prays with them. When Peter brazenly promises to stand by him, Jesus knows better, but he gently draws Peter back in, and gives him a way to go on, even before he fails. When they arrest him and violence breaks out, he stops it, and heals the very one who has come to arrest him. Even as he is crucified he provides for the care of his family and his community; he extends his love to the criminals executed with him, and blesses the people who kill him. It’s all about his undying love.

We’re easily distracted by the swords and tunics, the blood and violence. But watch Jesus. Watch his love at work, reaching out to the lost and shattered, reaching out even to you. In the end, despite all the tragedy, what this is, is a love story. And it’s about you.

Deep Blessings,
Pastor Steve

_______________________________

Copyright © Steve Garnaas-Holmes
unfoldinglight(at)hotmail.com

Your will be done

Dearly Beloved,

Grace and Peace to you.

“Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me; yet, not my will but yours be done.”
— Luke 22.42

God, you know better than I the troubles I hope to avoid.
I want to pray for safety, for comfort and security.
I want to pray for things to go my way,
for my life to be easy and pleasant.
But your Spirit in me will not pray for that.
Your delight for me is not in my circumstances, but in my soul.
Your will is neither that I suffer nor escape suffering, but that I love.

Your presence in me draws me toward you, into your blessing,
into your bottomless love and forgiveness.
In your compassion I am not afraid to go with you
into the dark places, the hurting places.
In your healing I do not resist entering the wounds of the world.
In your presence I need no other security.
I don’t ask to be delivered from suffering,
but to be delivered into your hands.
I don’t ask for things to go my way.
I ask that I may go your way.
I pray that your will be done, not to me, but by me.
I pray that I may trust you deeply,
and receive your blessings freely,
and that in that grace I may be loving,

now and always.

Deep Blessings,
Pastor Steve

_______________________________

Copyright © Steve Garnaas-Holmes
unfoldinglight(at)hotmail.com

Passover

Dearly Beloved,

Grace and Peace to you.

From slavery in the Egypt of our sin,
slavery to what we have to do,
you free us.

You do do not send plagues but suffer them,
the death of your firstborn,
the loss of your every Beloved.

There is no sacrificial lamb
that is not you, no one made to suffer
who is not Christ crucified.

No blood is shed that is not yours,
sacrilege and tragedy,
surrendered.

There is no pain or violation
that is not yours, defiling
and yet forgiven.

No sin is paid for, but is absorbed,
suffered, and every sacrifice
compounds it.

We always think it right
to slaughter the innocent,
to require you to require absolution,

murderers disguised as supplicants,
lost to the power of our violence,
robbed of ourselves.

Centurions, we stand bloodied
over the steaming carcass and stammer,
“Oh, my God.”

Your uncomplaining blood frees us
from the tyranny of having to pass
our anguish on to others.

The angel of death, the demon
who would have us to end us,
passes over.

Through the Red Sea of your tears
we go with your blessing,
where only the forgiven pass.

Holy One, Lord of Tenderness,
slaughtered and ever beseeching,
spare us from our deathfulness.

Forgiving One,
unreturning our violence,
set us free.

Deep Blessings,
Pastor Steve

_______________________________

Copyright © Steve Garnaas-Holmes
unfoldinglight(at)hotmail.com

Hosanna

Dearly Beloved,

Grace and Peace to you.

So they took branches of palm trees and went out to meet him, shouting, “Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord— the King of Israel!”
— John 12.13

Hosanna, “Save us!”

Save us, God, from all our shiny false gods
who take from us our honesty
and give us a drugged heaven of complacency.
Save us from our successful saviors
who protect us from reality,
our mighty armies that defend us from each other
at the cost of our souls.
Save us from our fear of being ourselves,
our fear of the Nothing of which are created
our fear of death, as if it could
take us from ourselves, or from you.
Save us from all the junk that we cling to,
that rusts even as we clutch it to our chests,
that sinks even as we hold it to stay afloat.
Save us from the selfishness that we justify.
Save us from trying to be saved instead of spent.
Save us from our despair, our resentments,
our poisonous replacements for compassion.
From the fear that we breathe
and the prayers that we lob at one another,
from the distractions that wrench us from this life,
save us.
From the lives we try to construct of our own desires,
save us.
From the habits and attachments and addictions
that run our lives into the ditch every time—
and yet we follow them as slaves—
save us.
By your mighty love, your wrenching truth,
your re-orienting forgiveness, your grace
that takes us and blesses us and breaks us and gives us,
that delivers us into the Heaven of this world,
that bears us into the infinite, eternal life of this moment,
that resurrects us always into your presence,
your love, your delight,
save us.
Hosanna. Hosanna in the highest.

Deep Blessings,
Pastor Steve

_______________________________

Copyright © Steve Garnaas-Holmes
unfoldinglight@hotmail.com

Full circle

Dearly Beloved,

Grace and Peace to you.

“You will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.”
— Luke 1. 31-33

As we approach Holy Week we stumble upon one of those quirks of a literalistic interpretation of scripture: today, March 25, is exactly nine months before December 25, and therefore celebrated in the Roman tradition as the day of the Annunciation, when Gabriel announced the coming of the miraculous child to Mary. Never mind that the Bible says nothing of when Jesus was born; let’s take it as it is.

This week Jesus’ life comes full circle, and we see the fulfillment of Gabriel’s promise: not that Jesus came to die, but that he came to love. Now we see Jesus on the cross, his throne, reigning in love, his compassion supreme over all forces, even the greatest powers of evil and violence, even the power of death itself. None of these puny forces can stand up to his gentleness; even the most crushing blows evil can think of do not budge Jesus in the least, or begin to dent his tender forgiveness. It’s as if Caesar is trying to stomp on a little flower, and it won’t even bend. Love is invincible. Christ’s forgiveness is absolute. He reigns forever, and of his realm of healing, forgiveness and grace there will be no end.

As you stand here and contemplate the cross, under the reign of the Son of the Most High, I wonder if the promise comes full circle again? I wonder if I hear the voice of Gabriel. Is such sovereign compassion conceived in you today?

Deep Blessings,
Pastor Steve

_______________________________
Copyright © Steve Garnaas-Holmes
unfoldinglight(at)hotmail.com

The peace of Christ

Dearly Beloved,

Grace and Peace to you.

As he came near and saw the city, he wept over it, saying, “If you, even you, had only recognized on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes”
— Luke 19. 41-42

Peace is not mere quietude; it’s harmony. What makes for peace is not an ideology or a political strategy or any formula. It is active engagement in relationships marked by compassion, respect, nonviolence and justice. It requires self-sacrifice and the willingness to reconcile and connect across perceived “otherness.” It requires the desire to live in harmony with one another and care for each other’s well being. It requires us to honor others, no matter how different they may be. It requires us to be vulnerable, and when we receive ill treatment or even violence it means we do not return it. It requires forgiveness. In other words what makes for peace is love.

It’s not an idea, but a way of relating. And the only way to know it is to experience it. To recognize the things that make for peace we have to receive peace. We have to experience the deep harmony, grace and connectedness in which God sustains our lives, so that we can live in that peace with others. So we come to Jesus’ cross and behold the peace of Christ. In Jesus’ peace, in his forgiveness and unfailing love and steadfast nonviolence we see how God loves and heals and forgives and frees us, how God gives of herself for the sake of reconciliation, how God suffers our violence and injustice and does not return it or retaliate. In the cross we see that nothing can deter God from living in harmony with us. And we see how inviolable our souls are, how it is God and not our own efforts that secures our life, so that we can have courage to risk for the sake of healing, justice and reconciliation, so that we can take up our cross for others.

Come to the cross, to the place of our deepest anguish, and find God there, granting peace. The peace of Christ be with you.

Deep Blessings,
Pastor Steve

_______________________________

Copyright (c) Steve Garnaas-Holmes
unfoldinglight(at)hotmail.com

Triumphal entry

Dearly Beloved,

Grace and Peace to you.

His “triumphal entry,” they call it,
riding into the city on a donkey.
Listen, you can tell where this is going
just by looking at him.
Dust of the roads on his feet,
speckled by sinners’ tears.
The smell of fish and baking bread,
incense and lepers on his clothes,
blood on the hem of his garment,
the frame of a man who walks a lot.
Rough knees and kind hands.
Eyes that sparkle with sadness,
everyone’s sadness, taking it all in,
and a smile that weeps with you,
that knows a world’s sorrow
without telling, and a world’s joy.
See how he notices the burdened ones,
the weepers and limpers,
the crutched and shunned ones,
old ones who hover in doorways,
a ragman collecting shame and shadows,
and those who live in them,
how it seems as if he’s gathering names?
Feel that wind? This praise is a spring snow:
it will soon vanish into what we really mean.
These are his royal subjects,
the cast-off and mangled,
possessed and dispossessed.
He draws these tatters and disasters into a kingdom,
rides his patient donkey down the road,
down into the crowd where it opens like a wound,
resolutely down into the tragedy and our longing
where we feed on him and he is with us.
No threats can stop him,
no force, no cross deter him from this,
(and not some aftermath) his hope, his throne,
his triumph.

Deep Blessings,
Pastor Steve

_______________________________
Copyright © Steve Garnaas-Holmes
unfoldinglight(at)hotmail.com

The Lord needs it

Dearly Beloved,

Grace and Peace to you.


When he had come near Bethphage and Bethany, at the place called the Mount of Olives, he sent two of the disciples, saying, “Go into the village ahead of you, and as you enter it you will find tied there a colt that has never been ridden. Untie it and bring it here. If anyone asks you, “Why are you untying it?’ just say this, “The Lord needs it.’ ” So those who were sent departed and found it as he had told them. As they were untying the colt, its owners asked them, “Why are you untying the colt?” They said, “The Lord needs it.”

—Luke 19.29-34

Sometimes God requires something of us—maybe as grand as our vocation, or as simple as our belongings. The Creator who is still creating, the Savior who is even now healing the world, needs something of ours, or something of us, to do this holy work. “The Lord needs it.” We never know when God will take our simple gift and make something powerful with it, even miraculous. We can’t know what gifts she will need, or when a stranger will appear on our doorstep on behalf of God to beg of us that one needful thing. All we can do is be ready with all that we have, and all that we are, to allow the Beloved to take what is needed. We live in prayerful openness, in ready willingness to give this day, this moment, this breath, to the unfolding of God’s grace. The call will not likely be expressed in so clear a way as four simple words. It may come as a silent inner murmur, or a cry from the world. However the call comes, we are ready to fully surrender anything at all, and even live each moment, simply because “the Lord needs it.”

Deep Blessings,
Pastor Steve

_______________________________

Copyright © Steve Garnaas-Holmes
unfoldinglight@hotmail.com

Anointing

Dearly Beloved,

Grace and Peace to you.

Mary took a pound of costly perfume made of pure nard, anointed Jesus’ feet, and wiped them with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume.

— John 12.3

Every morning
before you are raised from the dead,
the Beloved, who adores you
and understands what you are about to suffer,
anoints your feet
with the costliest perfume
made of pure glory
and wipes them with her hair.
The day is filled with the fragrance
of her love.
And all day long she breathes in
the smell of your body in her hair.

Deep Blessings,
Pastor Steve

_______________________________
Copyright © Steve Garnaas-Holmes
unfoldinglight(at)hotmail.com

Mary Christ

Dearly Beloved,

Grace and Peace to you.

Mary took a pound of costly perfume made of pure nard, anointed Jesus’ feet, and wiped them with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. But Judas said, “Why was this perfume not sold?” … Jesus said, “Leave her alone. She bought it so that she might keep it for the day of my burial. You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me.”
— from John 12.1-8

Mary is Christ,
standing with another in his pain,
companioning him in his death,
pouring out her life for another’s balm,
enduring scorn with gentleness and compassion,
peering through her fallen hair
into the kingdom of hope.
She embraces death as all of ours,
seeking not to flee it but to face it with grace,
concerned not with how she can be saved
but how she will be spent.
She is the model for our faith:
taken in passion,
blessed in generosity,
broken in sorrow,
given in love,
filling the house with the fragrance
of her healing miracle.
All you faithful, honor her:
let down your passion’s locks
in the crowded rooms of this life,
your fingers trembling over the feet
of your doomed Beloved,
the fragrance of his death in your hair.
Pour yourself out for those who suffer,
and the one you will not always have with you
will be with you always.

Deep Blessings,
Pastor Steve

_______________________________
Copyright © Steve Garnaas-Holmes
unfoldinglight@hotmail.com