Saturday, April 19, 2014

It's Easter!

photo by Piero Amorati/ flickr
"Why couldn't everyone some Easter Sunday noon
Glance in the ditch as I did
See the snow run off the church-top hill
see the snow run off in sunny rivulets
Slam the wagon to a skidding stop,
Then look at lilies in full bloom,
   their heads in sky
Their roots
in cold

 I slipped my shoes and stockings off
Rolled up my suit pants
Waded in
(Did water ever feel so cold?)
And plucked a few to carry home
Telling my family
And myself.
In ways at which the church can only hint
That life eternal springs from coldest waters
And blossoms well in slightly thawing earth."
   --Stephen O. Swanson

Every Easter I remember a scene at the Passion Play in Oberammergau in Germany I saw years ago. The play opened with Jesus riding into Jerusalem for the last time. The play ended with the Resurrection. And in-between, the drama of the last days of Jesus’ life took six hours to tell.

I was not prepared for the Resurrection scene. The crucifixion had been particularly graphic. The stage went dark after Jesus was taken down from the cross by his loved ones. In the last scene of the drama the weeping women move through the darkness and stood behind these huge doors that represented the sealed tomb. They knocked on the door and nothing happened. Then an angel came and without saying a word she unrolled an aisle cloth from the door down, down the steps toward the audience. As the women looked on, the door slowly began to open. Light, dazzling light slowly filled the stage and bathed the darkened room where we sat with light. After a long pause through that open door and the streaming light Jesus came. He walked down the steps and from stage left and right a hundred children come running forward and grabbed his legs laughing and laughing as the chorus sang joyously.

That’s Easter for me. Year after year, the memory never grows old. Light and hope and new beginnings and love and laughter. Somehow my old nine-to-five appointment book is disturbed once more. The predictability of my days is thrown off kilter. The thus and so-ness of my life--worries about money or health or children or just the weary world—is suspended for just a moment. And I can make it another year.

                            --rogerlovette /

Station 14: Jesus is Placed in the Tomb

photo from Contemplative Imaging / flickr
"Now in the place where he was crucified there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb in which no one had yet been laid. There, accordingly, because of the Preparation Day of the Jews, for the tomb was close at hand, they laid Jesus."
      --John 19. 41-42

We come now to the last station. Funny, this word station. It is a stopping-off place. It is a place to stand until the train comes by. But we’ve come to the last station. This is the end of the line. There are no more stops to make. All out, the conductor says. All four Gospels tell this story in one way or another. Joseph, rich and prominent took a great risk in infuriating his own people and confronting Pilate. He asked for Jesus’ body. Romans just let the body rot on the cross—left for the birds to come and do their terrible work. But Pilate relented. He must have been tired of these Jews and their demands.

Who were these two that came to do the saddest work, the dirtiest work—taking the body down from the cross? Not the disciples. Not even the Mother as some art has depicted. Not even Simon who by now surely was repentant. No. On stage there comes Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus. Nicodemus. Who earlier had come by night asking Jesus’ questions. But not now. Both prominent and perhaps rich, too—come in broad daylight. Joseph gives his own tomb for Jesus’ body. He and Nicodemus move the body ever so slowly to the burial place.

Perhaps this station reminds us that even any of us might find ourselves in this drama. Even the rich and the prominent. Sometimes the Gospels and Jesus’ words have been hard on the rich. Not here. The circle widens. Everyone is invited. Everyone can have a part.

These two men did not know the end of the story. They do know that graveyards are final places. There is no sadder or harder spot. We have all been there—or will. Knowing that the chapter is over. Life seems to be over. There is nothing left, really. We all shuffle out of the train now. This is the last stop. We move away from our cemeteries with heavy and broken hearts.

George Buttrick has written that here we write: ‘Finis’ as boldly as we can. We have seen the suffering and the agony. And then the silence. The terrible silence. But Buttrick says where we write ‘finis’ God adds another word: “to be continued.”

We don’t know that when we say goodbye to our loved ones. When all around us life looks broken and jagged. Here we face reality in its starkest terms. Jesus is placed in the tomb. All of us have been there—or will.

One griever said of her loved one’s death: “the shine went out of everything.” And when Joseph and Nicodemus wiped the sweat from their brows and dusted off their garments and moved away from the tomb they had done all they could do. There was nothing left. Dark Friday and dark Saturday are like that. We just move away.

Come closer. Ponder the mystery. What seems finished is not finished. What seems to be the end is not the end. There is more. Much more. We grievers need to stay here for a while. For in this last sad station—a glimmer of hope comes. Maybe not yet—but hope will come. 

                      --Roger Lovette/

Friday, April 18, 2014

Philomena--A film of a Mother's Love

I first saw the movie, Philomena on an international flight. Even with the droning of the plane’s motors, the passengers milling around and the flight attendants moving back and forth—I found tears on my cheeks. This does not happen often. Philomena touched  me at some primal level. After I arrived home I rented the movie for my wife to see. I was as moved at the second viewing as I was at the first.

It is the true story of an Irish woman’s search for her lost son. As a young naive teenager a young man talked her into having sex. Out of that brief encounter she found herself pregnant. Her father—embarrassed and ashamed--sent her away to a Catholic Abbey in another part of Ireland that that took in such girls. She had a little boy and he became the love of her life. That young mother was forced to work for four years of hard labor to pay off the cost of her stay. One day she discovered that the nuns had adopted out her son without her knowledge. Fifty years later she was still wondering about her boy.

For fifty years her only tie to her child was a tiny photo she had of her little son before he was taken away. She kept that pregnancy secret all those years. Finally one day she confessed to her daughter. That daughter contacted an out of work journalist she knew that might help. But the man had no interest in writing a human interest story.

But her insistence and desperate desire to find her child pulled the writer into her life and her search. Out of that search the journalist, Martin Sixsmith wrote the story called The Lost Child of Philomena Lee which was published as a novel in 2009.

So this was the true-to-life story of one mother’s love for a child she lost fifty years before. With the help of the journalist she was able to discover the truth of her son’s life. The sub-theme of the film was the cruelty and judgment of the nuns and the church they represented fifty years before. Thank God the church has changed immensely since those hard and brutal days.

But what brought tears to my eyes was the depth of the mother’s love for her child even after all those years. Judi Dench who played the mother was magnificent. The pain in her face and the hurt of this woman’s heart came through again and again. As the credits rolled by at the end of the movie you see the real mother, the real son, the Journalist, the real nuns and the picture of the author that wrote the story.

I will not tell you the ending. I simply say not many movies come along these days that deal with the triumphant of the human spirit. Philomena is such a movie. I recommend it to everyone.

                         --rogerlovette /

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Station 13: Jesus is Taken Down From the Cross

photo by Sean O'Dowd/ flickr
"Even bein' God

ain't no 

bed o' roses."

-- Green Pastures,
Marc Connelley

Our journey is about over. But not yet. We stand beside the Thirteenth Station of the Cross. It has taken us a while to get here. The via dolorosa—the way of sorrows-- is always a long journey. But not as long as that tortured journey of Jesus.   Like so many of us he, too cried out in despair: “My God why have you forsaken me?” And after three long anguishing hours—he whispered: “It is finished.” And Jesus died. And so here we stand as so many of us have stood when someone we love dies. We don’t know what to say. There is nothing to say. With enormous sadness we, in slow-motion, begin to do what we have to do. Here Jesus’ disciples have the unbearable task of taking his dead body down from the cross.

In Marc Connelly’s old play, Green Pastures there is a powerful scene when God looks down from a window in heaven and watches what is happening on the cross. On stage there is a moment of hushed and terrible silence, as God watches his beloved on die. And then, all at once, God covers his face with his hands. And so here, once again he is with any of us who have grieved over the death of someone we love. There is nothing to say. But Isaiah was right: "Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows..." Jesus wept days before at Lazarus' tomb. And here in the saddest of the Stations—God weeps, too. Not only for Jesus but for anyone anywhere who has lost someone precious.

We now know this is not the end of the story. The disciples did not know that. And when death comes to close to us—we, like those disciples, forget that this is not the end. It seems like the end. How could it possibly be otherwise? Our only response is silence. There is nothing to say as we stand here on the holiest of ground. And as we weep, God weeps too.

                --Roger Lovette /

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Easter Prayer--For Everybody

The list fell out of my Bible. Just a tiny piece of paper.
It’s old and turning a little yellow—and filled with names.
 And names scratched out.
But I see beyond the names and the scratched-outness...
 I see a face, many faces.
They go back a long way.
Some are family members.
Some are friends from across the years.
Some are just people
  I saw in a photograph somewhere.

I keep coming  back to the list.
It is loaded with pain and hurt.
That list is weighty with the burdens of life.
The scratch marks remind me of all those who
   slipped away into the mystery.

There are folk there that never finished their business—
   And now it is too late. Maybe not.
There is old age which wanders
  across that page back and front—
Alzheimer’s, ALS, bankruptcies, divorces,
  worries, worries, worries.

There are the names of people who lost someone
   And feel lost them.
Parents who buried their children much too young.
Young men and women in their prime

Beside every name today—even the scratched-out
I whisper one word: Easter.
Suicide: Easter.
Depression: Easter.
Locked away mindless in some nursing home: Easter.
Beginning marriage yet again—some for the third time: Easter.
Trying desperately to stay sober or clean: Easter.
Hoping for a cure: Easter.
But more.
Putin: Easter.
Obama: Easter.
Ukraine: Easter.
Boston: Easter.

And for everybody out there and me, too—
  Easter. It’s the best prayer I know.
           --Roger Lovette

                                                --Roger Lovette/


Boston Marathon: We Remember One Who Fell

"Surely Jesus has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows..."

This Holy Week--seems appropriate to tell this story...To understand the heart break, pathos and courage of last year's Boston Marathon--we need to focus on the human side. Someone who was a casualty on that jubilant day that turned into a nightmare.

Jeff Bauman was standing on the sidelines waiting for his girl friend to run across the finish line in Boston. The bomb went off. This is his story as told by Josh Hayner who won a Pulitzer for the New York Times for photography.

Jeff Bauman is truly a profile in courage. Read it and weep and rejoice in the human spirit.

                                           --Roger Lovette/

Monday, April 14, 2014

Station Twelve: Jesus Dies on the Cross

photo by Contemplative Imaging/ flickr
"Christ nailed up might be more
than a symbol of all pain.
He might in very truth
contain all pain.
 And a man standing
on a hilltop
with his arms outstretched,
a symbol of a symbol,
he too might be a reservoir
of all the pain that ever was." 

--  John Steinbeck

As we come to the Twelfth Station we ponder the mystery--Jesus, God's son, died on the  cross. Nothing captures this Station more than a story that comes out of France. It was a Good Friday afternoon, three students stood and watched the crowds go in and out of the great Cathedral. A French Bishop swears the story was true.

One student said: "How can people be so superstitious to believe Christ died for our sins?" As they talked one of the young people grew bolder. "Are you afraid to go in and tell the priest what you just said? I dare you." The student nodded and all three went into the Church and found the priest.

"I have come," he said, "to tell you that Christianity is dead. I think all religion is just superstition." The priest looked at the young man ans asked: "Why did you come to tell me this--especially Good Friday of all days?"

The student said, "My two friends here dared me to do this. The priest looked into the faces of the other two. "All right," he said, "you took a dare from them; now take one from me. Go out into the cathedral. At the altar there is a large wooden cross with the figure of Christ with his hands outstretched. I want you to walk down the aisle, look up at the cross and say: "Jesus Christ died for me and I don't give a damn."

The young man dropped his eyes and did not want to do this. But to save face with his friends, he slowly went down the aisle to the altar. In a few minutes he came back. "Well, I did it."

The priest said, "Do it once more after all it means nothing to you."

The young man reluctantly went back to the cross. It was hard for him to speak as he looked up at the outstretched Jesus.. He finally said quietly: "Jesus Christ died for me and I don't give...a..." This time the student did not go back to the priest. He started for the door. But the priest stopped him."OK, just do it once more--and you can go." The two friends and the priest watched him. People kept coming and going but no one noticed the young man who walked back up the aisle. He stood at the altar for a long time looking up at Jesus on the cross. Suddenly he did the strangest thing. He dropped to his knees, bowed his head, and clenched his hands in prayer.

When people heard the Bishop tell the story, some said: "That sounds like a preacher story to me." But the Bishop always ended the story like this: "I know this story is true because I was that young man." *

"Turn your eyes upon Jesus
Look full at his wonderful face , 
And things of earth will grow strangely dim,
In the light of his glory and grace."

*I am indebted to John Alexander McElroy who tells this story in Living With the Seven Last Words (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1961) pp. 18-19

                         --Roger Lovette /