Scripture Reflections

April 5: Palm Sunday of the Lord's Passion

Posted by Campus Ministry on April 5, 2020 at 6:04 AM PDT

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We cross the threshold into Holy Week today with Palm Sunday. Undoubtedly this is the strangest Holy Week in our collective memories. Today we will not wave palm fronds, nor process into the Chapel to participate in a reading of the Passion narrative. The palms I ordered weeks ago are wasting away. The prayerful assembly is scattered, unable to gather to acclaim Jesus as we enter into these days we call Holy.

But perhaps we are closer than ever to the Cross as a human family, and more connected to the experience of the disciples of Jesus. As we face the threat of COVID-19, we’re all experiencing grief and loss on a massive scale, at the same time. It might look different for each of us. For some of us, that grief is deeply personal: we know folks who are sick with this illness, or have already lost someone to this deadly pandemic. For many, precious plans have had to be cancelled: weddings, birthdays, trips, graduations, family dinners, are disrupted by the threat of illness. For others, these days hold looming vulnerability and anxiety – job loss, increasing isolation, and the stress of juggling many obligations in the midst of crisis. Still others are risking their lives each day to provide essential services and care for our community.  These days weigh heavy on us all, in different ways. All around the world, we are personally and collectively experiencing grief, loss, fear, vulnerability, and suffering, which means: all of us know the Cross.

The Cross of Christ is the radical symbol of God’s commitment to be with us in every human experience. Jesus, God-With-Us, who loves God’s people wholeheartedly, joins us even in this most common human experience: suffering and death. The scandal of the Cross is that it reveals what already is. In ourselves and in our families, our communities, our world. We are so used to numbing ourselves to pain and vulnerability, but the Cross demands that we see the pain, suffering, and injustice we usually can pretend doesn’t exist.  It brings it all out in the light. Like the current crisis, Jesus’ Cross confronts us with our own suffering, and that of our whole world.

It is always true that at any moment in the world, God’s people are suffering. The poor and vulnerable are always being crucified by public policies, corporate practices, and social systems that dehumanize, alienate, marginalize, and do violence to our human family. While we experience this global pandemic, we can no longer pretend that this is not true. We see more clearly how our world treats some as disposable, unimportant, and forgotten. It is clearer than ever that injustice forces many into unimaginable vulnerability. This crisis exposes how easily we turn our back on the poor, all in the name of money, power, consumption, and success. These days of crisis, like the Cross, illuminate the unjust reality of our world.

The Cross calls us to recognize and acknowledge our own pain and suffering, to encounter Jesus drawing near to us in our place of utter vulnerability, and to hear him inviting us to meet our suffering neighbor in love. During this pandemic we are experiencing a collective vulnerability, grief, and loss that binds us inexorably with all other people living in these days, and with those who experience suffering throughout time. At the foot of the Cross, may we be bound anew to Christ and to our neighbor in love, and journey onwards with hearts that yearn and act for God’s reign of justice and peace.

Our present reality is different than we desired or imagined. For the disciples that followed Jesus, his triumphant entry into Jerusalem quickly turned into danger, disappointed dreams, and death. Their vision of their own life and future crumbled before them, as Jesus was taken away, condemned to death, and executed. We know that the story ends joyfully for them. God shows decisively that nothing, not even death, can separate us from the love of God. As people of faith, we know God brings presence, transformation, and the promise of resurrection to all the places of death, destruction, and pain. However, we cannot skip ahead during this crisis to the days of joyful resurrection and reunion. We are being called now to remain with the Cross that confronts us, to befriend the suffering, to let our hearts break open, and to come to experience God’s transforming love anew in these days.

I find consolation and hope in befriending the disciples: people like Peter, who proudly proclaimed his steadfast faithfulness, but quickly vehemently denied any relationship with Jesus. Like Peter, we too may want to deny the possibility of vulnerability. Like the disciples, we too may want to run away in the face of suffering. That is okay. Our greatest ancestors in faith, the closest friends of Jesus, felt the same way. And yet we know that somewhere in those days, in the shadow of the Cross, they found one another, in their vulnerability, anxiety, shame, grief, pain and fear, and were bound again to one another in love. Like them, we do not know exactly how these days of crisis will end. For now, like Peter, I allow myself to weep bitterly, acknowledging the pain of this time, for myself and for all the world. Perhaps that is enough for now, to make these days Holy.

 

JoAnn Lopez, Campus Minister for Liturgy and Resident Minister in Campion Hall

April 3: Friday of the Fifth Week of Lent

Posted by Campus Ministry on April 3, 2020 at 6:04 AM PDT

Our daily readings tell of Jeremiah, the psalmist, and Jesus who are all in very tough situations. Jeremiah has just been taken into custody by a priest, Pashur, and the psalm, which is ascribed to a king, shows him surrounded by his enemies. Even our gospel passage from John involves a tense scene where those opposed to Jesus are poised to stone him for what they describe as “blasphemy.”

While we are (hopefully) not literally surrounded by mortal enemies, the situation we are currently facing actually does have many people around the world fearing for their lives. Others who aren’t worrying for their own health do worry that they could be asymptomatic carriers of the Covid-19 virus and could unwittingly infect someone else. So we “stay home and stay healthy” to keep others and ourselves safe, but in doing so, we are physically cut off from the communities of which we are a part. For many of us, fears and anxieties come creeping in as we make our way through very unusual and uncertain times.

Gratefully, the characters in our lectionary reading today give us a strong reminder about what it is to be people of faith. Directly following what scholars call Jeremiah’s “sixth lament,” the prophet delivers a part of a thanksgiving psalm, “Sing to the LORD, praise the LORD, for he has rescued the life of the poor from the power of the wicked!” Even in the face of great peril, Jeremiah is sure of the Lord’s saving grace and sings praises to his God. In the gospel reading, Jesus professes his (blasphemous!) faith that he is the Son of God – that “the Father is in [him] and [he is] in the Father.” Both Jeremiah and Jesus have assurance of God’s presence with them and from that assurance comes their courage and their strength.

So, let us today remember that, like Jesus, we are children of the ever-present God. In the knowledge that God sees our heart and our mind, we are confident that God knows us and is with us, loving us, every moment of every day. In both our moments of great faith and our moments of wavering faith, let us take heart as we bring the words of the psalmist to mind, “In my distress I called upon the Lord, and he heard my voice. My God, my rock of refuge, my shield, the horn of my salvation, my stronghold!”

 

 

Erin Beary Andersen, Associate Director of Campus Ministry

April 2: Memorial of St. Francis of Paola, Hermit

Posted by Campus Ministry on April 2, 2020 at 6:04 AM PDT

Image of many small, purple flowers growing around the base of a tree's trunk.

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It seems appropriate in this time of responsible distancing to look to the life of St. Francis of Paola. In the mid-fifteenth century he followed the simple path of St. Francis of Assisi, living as a vegan and promoting non-violence. He felt close to God and experienced great peace when he lived apart from the world. At the same him he engaged with the world to promote simplicity, peace, care for all living creatures, and devotion to God. This is a timely message for us at this time when so much scarcity is exposed in our world, especially the disparity in access to health care and financial resources that are putting people’s lives at risk. This time of isolation and sacrifice can be for many a source of fear and constant anxiety each day. As our lives are filled with these very real worries we look to the words of Jesus in Luke’s Gospel. He lovingly encourages his followers to not be afraid and to trust in the great abundance of God’s love. Paul, while he was suffering alone in prison, encourages the community Philippi to be hopeful, as he was hopeful, looking beyond his suffering and anticipating the resurrection. Paul sets himself as an example of one whose life is not perfect, but who is striving to be like Jesus and live in hope. The memorial of St. Francis, the readings from Paul in prison, the reminder that I am a member of Christ’s “little flock”—all of these help me to use my imagination to see beyond todays isolation and tension. To imagine what it is like to balance contemplation and action in small ways, to remember those in unchosen isolation in prison, to reach beyond today’s scarcity into the immeasurable treasure of God’s love.

 

Tammy Liddell, Director of Campus Ministry

April 1: Wednesday of the Fifth Week of Lent

Posted by Campus Ministry on April 1, 2020 at 6:04 AM PDT

In the wake of what is likely to be an historic pandemic, COVID-19 (Coronavirus), there has been a mishandling of leadership both from the administration and from church governance that has caused widespread panic and confusion, as evidenced in the plunging stock market, emptied grocery stores, and trite social media posts about “having faith.” Coronavirus is at the forefront of our collective imaginations as information regarding its impact is daily changing and we are adjusting to new ways of communicating and interacting in the world. Schools and houses of worship are closed as are restaurants and bars, and as businesses try to stay afloat, many folks are working around the clock to make sure seniors and other vulnerable populations are contacted and cared for. Yet despite repeated warnings and even executive orders, churches and other large groups are still gathering, hundreds of college students are still swimming at beaches with no regard for social distancing, and even this administration with all its hubris is failing to model best practices and worse yet expressing more concern for the economy than for the people.

How else can we explain our nation’s states being forced to battle and outbid each other over lifesaving medical gear or faithful parishioners continuing to worship in person in gatherings of hundreds for fear their salvation is somehow at stake. What we find is that sometimes our leaders want us to serve their self-interests and bow down to the gods they have erected rather than to the God who created us. Before our lives would be spared, they want us to profess the goodness of their name and their glory rather than the Glory of God in the highest.

This is certainly the case in our reading today where we learn about the three wise Hebrew men, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, who King Nebuchadnezzar has appointed over all the affairs of Babylon. One minute these three men are wise in Nebuchadnezzar’s eyes, the next he is throwing them into the fiery furnace because they refuse to bow down to his idols. And bow down they would not. Many times, this scripture is taken to mean if we have faith even the size of a mustard seed, anything we ask for will be granted to us by God in heaven. Certainly, the words of these three men seem to suggest just that as they declare to the King with boldness, “If our God, whom we serve, can save us from the white-hot furnace and from your hands, O king, may he save us!” But these three men seem to understand that the God we serve is not a genie lamp that we can rub, and our wishes will be granted. The God we serve is not a vending machine where we get to insert faith and out comes our reward. No, these three Hebrew men are indeed wise as they surrender their future to God. They have done all they can to stand, but they do not tie God’s hands. Instead they declare, even if God will not save us, we will not serve your god or worship anything but the Lord.

Maybe this scripture is about faith, but what I see here is resistance. It’s resistance to oppressive forces that would have us believe in the midst of the coronavirus outbreak that it’s “every man for himself.” It’s resistance to the idea that the elderly are expendable so long as our economy gets back on track. Resistance is having the courage to wake up every morning. It’s facing another day of uncertainty. Resistance is being true to that which we value most. It’s not letting our fears override our sense of hope for the future or our enduring belief in a God who will always be with us even in the darkest of times.

 

 

Rev. Victoria Carr-Ware, Ecumenical and Multifaith Campus Minister

March 31: Tuesday of the Fifth Week of Lent

Posted by Campus Ministry on March 31, 2020 at 6:03 AM PDT

An image of a tealight set against darkness, illuminating a small circle of light around it.

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In today’s first reading, we have a story about affliction and deliverance. The Israelites find themselves tormented by serpents, which, we are told, “bit the people so that many of them died” (Nm. 21:5). When Moses brings the Israelites’ cry for an end to their suffering to God, God responds by telling the Israelites to build a statue of the serpent and mount it on a pole. Anyone who is bitten by a serpent should look at the statue and would be healed. And so that’s what they did. And it worked.

What to make of this curious story? Would that we could simply build a statue of coronavirus such that anyone afflicted by this insidious disease might be cured simply by looking at it. Unfortunately, this is not the nature of the deliverance available to us in this moment. So what wisdom does this story have to offer us today?

Today’s reading reminds us that there is wisdom in visibility. There are fearsome corners of our hearts and of our society that rarely see the light of day and yet continue to afflict us with suffering. Moments of challenge, like this collective one where we find ourselves now, have a tendency to put under fluorescent light those things we would rather keep in shadow. We see this on both individual and societal levels. As an individual, I have felt my fears and anxieties raging in recent weeks, and many of my own unskillful habitual responses have been cast in sharp relief. On a collective level, this crisis has illuminated in glaring detail countless toxicities built into our system. We are suddenly confronted with the truth of our interconnectedness as issues like lack of affordable healthcare and housing threaten to snowball an already inconceivable crisis.

Today’s reading asks us to bring those parts of ourselves we would rather not look at—those places where we need healing—into view, so that, together with God, we might begin to heal them. “Hide not your face from me,” the psalmist writes, “in the day of my distress” (Ps. 102). Just as God does not turn away from us in our shadows, so, too, we might approach those corners of our lives and society that are asking for healing with a spirit of tenderness and curiosity, but also with an unwavering commitment to not look away.

Where would you like to invite healing into your life and the life of the world?

 

Anna Robertson, Campus Minister for Retreats