Never Alone

Jesus was dead.  This must be distinctly understood or nothing wonderful can follow.

Jesus was dead.  Everyone knew it.  Many of them heard his words, predicting his own demise.  Then they watched him die.  They didn’t want to believe their ears.  Then, they couldn’t believe their eyes.

Even when it’s foretold to us, we doubt the truth.  Especially if the truth is an ending.  In those moments, we may feel we’ve lost our faith.  As we stare into the abyss of the unknown, we may beseech God for comfort.  Often, we doubt God’s power within to guide us through whatever comes next, no matter what the cost.

Our eyes deceive us into believing appearances, rather than promises.  Few of us have the depth of Jesus’s faith: A trust in God so strong that God can deliver us from anything, even death.  Never mind that crucifixion is irreversible.  The only way out is through.  We forget, that with endings, also come beginnings.

Often, we love the joys of Christmas, but struggle with the death which is part of Easter.  Few of us enjoy the mourning process after a death, whether a literal one, or another type of loss or change.  Many of us crave the “And they lived happily ever after” part which comes before “The End.”

Still, something in the Easter story draws us in, because we want to believe in something greater than ourselves, a power and presence which rises up, and continues, even after death.  This is the Presence and Power of God, with us and within us, the Presence and Power I believe Jesus understood.

I’ve thought about this a lot recently, as I’ve been honored to officiate many memorials – including one for a dear friend – and to hold sacred space and trust with those who mourn.  I’ve heard heart-warming stories about each person, what they contributed to the world and who they loved.  At every memorial service, I remind the congregation that those who have died continue to live, because they live on, in us, in all which we are and continue to be, for as long as we live, also.  They’re with us and within us – even though we can’t see them.

This understanding, I believe, is part of the awe the Marys and the 11 Disciples felt when Jesus appeared to them.  When they lifted up their eyes, expanding their vision, they saw Jesus in all his glory.  Then, he gave them the Great Commission, telling them to go forth to share his story and teach his ways of living.  He didn’t want them to mourn or fear.  He left them with this assurance: “Remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:20)

On Easter, we also remember, Blessed Readers: We are never alone.

Happy Easter!

© 2016 – Rev. Jennifer L. Sacks.  All rights reserved.

Spring Forward

This past Sunday, most of us in the United States turned our clocks forward. Some of us enjoy this change; others, not so much. Either way, in autumn, we’ll turn the clocks back. Yet, our forward motion isn’t predicated on the seasons; it’s predicated on our choices. Because as much as we might wish to turn back the hands of time, the only clocks we can turn back are the ones which we just set forward.

Our acceptance of this is also one of our greatest powers. It certainly was for me at a time in my life when I didn’t have the same spiritual understanding I have now. No matter which way I turned, every pathway I tried was filled with road blocks, dead ends, poison ivy or jagged cliffs. At one point I thought maybe I’d just give up and stay stuck. One night I even dreamt of standing barefoot in a circle of broken glass.

Then, I surrendered, turned to God in prayer, and dove deeper into my inner well of faith. As I continued my prayer practice, I dreamt one night of climbing a mountain (in waking life, I’d never climbed more than a small hill). As I put one foot in front of the other, I found that even though the altitude was high, I could breathe easily. And when I glanced behind me, the only things I could see were lush, green trees and bright, beautiful flowers. Then, I knew there was no going back. The only way out was to follow the pathway ahead. When I awoke, I took the first steps to transform my life and connect with all the people, places and things which would support me in that process.

No matter what has happened in my life since, I have held that image of the lush mountain landscape as a symbol of transformation. In my work as a pastor, I’ve been honored to witness many others transform their lives also as they’ve traveled their own unique paths.

Reflecting on that image of a lush landscape also allows us to turn the past into fertilizer – the wisdom of our own life experiences – to nurture new growth and transform ourselves and our circumstances. This is how we deepen our faith and expand our spiritual understanding, rather than our intellectual thinking and habitual doing.

Then, we discover, as we release our desire to know every fine detail, that we don’t need to know how or exactly where the path leads. We know that’s God’s job. Then, we stop trying to be who we were, so we can become who we truly are.

© 2016 – Rev. Jennifer L. Sacks. All rights reserved.

Grow Deep Roots

Those of us traveling a Lenten journey to Easter have reached midpoint.   While we know we’re almost there, we also know, we aren’t there yet. We anticipate growth, although we can’t fully see it.

Sometimes, while we’re awaiting outer evidence of inward belief, we get impatient and want to rush the process. We forget that most of life happens in God time, not human time. So, the ancient wisdom of the theologian Tertullian (155–222 CE) is both profound and reassuring: “It’s God’s nature to be patient. One of the signs that Holy Spirit [the activity of God] has descended is that patience and waiting are always by its side.”

So, we’re assured. Holy Spirit is here, present and active. Time is on our side. Gardeners, farmers, horticulturists and Jesus also teach this, as in the Gospel Writer called Luke’s (see Luke 13:6-9) brief “Parable of the Fig Tree.”

A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard; and he came looking for fruit on it and found none. So, he said to the gardener, “See here! For 3 years I’ve come looking for fruit on this fig tree, and still I find none. Cut it down! Why should it waste the soil?”

The gardener replied, “Sir, let it alone for one more year, until I dig around it and put fertilizer in it. If it bears fruit next year, well and good; but if not, then you can cut it down.”

This agrarian image, suitable for people of the 1st century accustomed to living off the land, still provides wisdom in the 21st century. Because one of Jesus’s key teachings, shared repeatedly, is that we are here to live life abundantly. This means we’re meant to be fruitful and productive in our life’s purpose, however we define it — as we align ourselves with God, and the climate, weather and other conditions at hand.

Perhaps you’ve noticed, Blessed Reader, conditions infrequently align with us. So, Jesus’s wisdom about fig trees reminds us: Growth and maturity — irrelevant of one’s calendar age — take time. For fig trees, it may be as early as 2 years or as long as 6, or longer.

We can do little to accelerate when fig trees will mature. Time and patience are key ingredients for nurturing their growth, with a generous helping of faith and trust. And just as fig trees need to grow deep roots, so do we need to dig into the infinite depths of faith already within us, even as we prepare to rise up.

The exact time required depends on our life conditions and circumstances. Yet, no matter what they are, our maturity comes in knowing, we can’t fully control them. This is part of the growth and maturation we can experience during Lent.

And, it reassures us when we discover: Sometimes, all our efforts are for naught. Sometimes, growth means plucking up or chopping down. So we can begin again. Anew. All the while knowing, resurrection is on the way.

© 2016 – Rev. Jennifer L. Sacks. All rights reserved.