Friday, April 13, 2012

Give It Away

Scripture appointed for Easter Day includes Isaiah 25:6-9; Acts 10:34-43; Mark 16:1-8

“The boxwoods planted in the park spell LIVE.
I never noticed it until they died.
Before, the entwined green had smudged the word
unreadable. And when they take their own advice
again - come spring, come Easter - no one will know
a word is buried in the leaves…”

So begins Andrew Hudgins’ poem “Christ as a Gardener.” I’ve nipped off those few lines because I like that image of a word buried in the leaves.

Perhaps you’ll go rustling among the leaves of the Easter story, looking for the message that once spoke to you and might again, or a word you’ve yearned to hear, have yet to find, but long for, believing you will somehow recognize it when you hear it.

Like the poet’s boxwood, the Easter message we seek now may not be shaped quite like it was when we first heard it. Intervening falls and winters have entwined that message with conflicting claims, may have smudged the word unreadable.

The poet’s eye was caught by ragged remains of the original shaping of those boxwoods, but what inspires him is not what was but what will be, when power is released and those bushes burn with all the chemical reactions that we mean by springtime—when they take their own advice and rise, fresh shoots shaping renewal of life more eloquently than any human words can tell.

Easter’s message brings it own good news, that such a power is available to the human spirit. As we look for a word buried in the leaves of the first-century story, let it be a word that frees us to notice that certain power, released then, active to bless us now in this twenty-first century. Whatever living word we find in Easter, make it one that helps us recognize how God keeps releasing that certain power now.

Poet Luci Shaw describes that power in a poem that speaks to Jesus:

were the kind who used a new math
to multiply bread, fish, faith.
You practiced a radical sociology:
rehabilitated con men &
call girls. You valued women,
aliens, & other minority groups.
A general practitioner,
you specialized in heart surgery.
Creator, healer, innovator,
shepherd, story-spinner,
weather-maker, botanist,
alchemist, exorcist, iconoclast,
seeker, seer, motive-sifter,
you were always beyond us,
ahead of your own time, & ours.

And we would like to be
like you…
Grant us degrees in all
the liberal arts of heaven."

At the end of this poem, Shaw reminds the reader how it was that Jesus released the power to be like him: gently and simply, he took cool water and a towel and washed the feet of whomever God had given him. Doing that, he took the biggest step he could in downward mobility, to the very bottom of the totem pole of household servants, the one who washed the feet of guests at the front door. A stunning move by one whom, we heard earlier, God had anointed with the Holy Spirit and with power.

All his short life long, Jesus gave away power. To disciples, he never said “Worship me,” but “Follow me. Do as I do. And do it not by your own strength of will but by letting my mind be formed in you.” Harnessing this power that he kept giving away, sharpening it, deepening it, would be his kind of praying: Hallowed One, your will be done on earth as in heaven.

Crowds surrounded Jesus with all the wraths and sorrows of this world, and each person, one by one, became the recipient of his power. Until so much Judean Spring had come, so much divine power spread among so many so freely, that no one could fail to recognize: here was the fulfillment of the prophet’s vision, God making a feast for all peoples. Until, that is, certain powers-that-be-- the kind that be in all times and places, powerful men who accumulate power and share it only with those who do their will-- until they too recognized the potential, and clamped down hard on Jesus the light of the world.

If there is a word buried in the leaves of this story, it could be the word of the boxwoods: LIVE, for in him was life, and this life was the light of all people.

What has become of the Easter message in these past twenty centuries? Much entwining, smudging the word unreadable; and that’s a verdict Jesus’s closest friends and followers would likely agree on. His church, his people, have too often been marked by the futile effort to keep power, too often resulting in abusing power, rather than being known for choosing his way, to give power away.

Until “they take their own advice again—come spring, come Easter…” and fresh shoots of vision, courage, and authentic mission cause the bush to burn in renewal.

For the story is not finished. Having done their worst, the powers-that-be disposed of his body behind a heavy stone sealing the mouth of a tomb. This was not enough to end what God had begun in Jesus.

By the power Jesus had given away, he, the Word of God, could not be silenced in that tomb.

The closing words of Mark’s Gospel today say that “Jesus himself sent out through (his followers), from east to west, the sacred and imperishable proclamation of eternal salvation.”

Jesus the Word is not buried in the leaves of what happened to him in the first century. His power, released throughout his followers, ensured that his story has not been finished. His certain power continues to bless this world, person by person, so long as it continues to be given away.