I have always been intrigued by Lydia. Acts describes her as a worshiper of God, one whose heart has been opened, a dealer in purple cloth, and a woman willing to offer her home for others to stay. She is often associated with images of hospitality in the church.
Monday lectionary email, archived here on Friday.
On a recent work trip, I took a break to see Beautiful, the Carole King musical. I had not realized her songs' impact on me. I sat mesmerized as I heard the story of King's life woven together by songs she had written or co-written. I could sing along with every single song. They were not just the story of her life--I wondered if they had something to do with my own life and its trajectory as well.
“You, Lord, are both Lamb and Shepherd.” So begins “Christus Paradox,” a hymn penned by Sylvia Dunstan more than three decades ago. According to notes on the hymn text, Dunstan first scribbled down the lyrics--rich with paradoxical, tension-laden images of Jesus--while she rode the bus home after a difficult day of prison chaplaincy.
"I dream of walking the streets of Damascus," sighed a Syrian refugee whose radio interview I heard on my evening commute. His voice trailed off into a wistful silence. I had been engrossed in his story, but at the interview's end, my mind connected the refugee's lament and longing for a Damascus road story of long ago.
There is a richness and depth to this week's text from John's Gospel, fertile ground for reflection. Below are some assorted thoughts the story of Thomas inspires in me.
Each year when I sit down to write my Easter sermon, I remember Doris Olson. Doris was a pillar of the church, and when I arrived as the new pastor, she came to my office and told me a story.
On Good Friday we face conflicting urges, on multiple fronts. On the one hand, I don't want to be one of the Christians who Gardner Taylor called "a Resurrection people, but not a Crucifixion people." I don't want to rescue Jesus from the cross--the weekly tendency of many preachers, and I think a poor interpretation of "bringing the good news." It is a reality: Jesus died.
I have a friend who visits his mother's burial site each year on the anniversary of her death. When the day comes, the mood is always solemn and deeply reflective--and tremendously difficult for other people in his life. What they don't know is that this annual ritual is generative, corrective. It helps anchor my friend for the rest of the year. I have another friend who almost never visits his parents' gravesite.
During Holy Week, it's common for worship leaders to ask people to consider their place in the drama of Jesus' final days. To what extent do we betray him, deny him, insult him, crucify him? When do we, like the crowds, find ourselves gawking at suffering with prurient glee? When do we, like the thieves, alternately ridicule the truth, then believe in it? When do we, like the centurion, make our confession--though perhaps a moment too late?
Several years ago I taught a Sunday School class on the Saint John's Bible, a beautiful hand-calligraphed and illustrated version of the Bible that took several years and a whole team of artists to create. I showed the class a video about how the project came together, and the class was spellbound, as I knew they'd be. The illuminations make you want to lean into the scripture. The Saint John's Bible fosters awe and wonder toward the God who gives us not only the sacred story but also the artists who make it come alive. Near the end of the video, the narrator shares the cost of this tremendous project.