Thursday, April 16, 2015

Open Eyes

"...open our eyes to see your hand at work in the world about us." (From Eucharistic Prayer C, The Book of Common Prayer, page 372)

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Easter is not confined to a day, to that Sunday morning that falls each year after the full moon that occurs on or after the spring equinox. Easter begins at the empty tomb but does not end there. It unfolds over fifty days, culminating at Pentecost.

The claim that Jesus was raised from the dead - that his body is not there but is to be found in the world, is the beginning of a journey, not a litmus test of belief. Trusting that claim sends us out into the world. Every time a loved one dies we have a choice to renew the claim that Jesus' death is the first fruits of resurrection, and that in death our lives are changed, not ended. Resurrection is a way of life.

This Easter Season, I've been reflecting on a thread that begins at the empty tomb as the fourth gospel writer remembers it, and then continues on the road to Emmaus as Luke tells that story.

First, from the twentieth chapter of John's Gospel: there is this exchange between Mary and the man she mistakenly believes to be the gardener, but who is in truth the resurrected Christ. Perhaps Mary does not recognize him because she is till in shock, and grieving. Whatever the reason, she is blind to who is right before her very eyes, at least until he speaks, calling her by name. Only then are her eyes opened.

Something similar happens on the road to Emmaus. In fact in this case the two disciples are walking along with a stranger who is telling them all sorts of important stuff. But still, their eyes are kept from recognizing him, at least until he stays with them and takes, blesses, breaks, and gives the bread. Then, Luke says, "their eyes were opened." And then, of course, he is gone; the recognition is fleeting.

I find my prayer this Easter season to be rather simple: open my eyes, oh Lord.  Let me see what is right before me - not trying to see too far down the road, or behind me, but open fully to the present moment where You are. 

Spring is finally arriving in New England, where we had a very long winter. There are signs of life all around me. I spend a lot of time in my car these days, but I have to say it is a very different experience when my roof is open than when it is closed. I'm trying to pay attention, to keep my eyes open, to see God's hand at work in the world around me.

Not just in nature. I work closely with congregations, but in a very different capacity than I did as a pastor. Now I am everywhere and nowhere. I come in and then I leave. But I'm finding that if I work at it, I can be more mindful and more present - I can come in with a curious heart. Sometimes as an "outsider" I can see things that those who are too close to it all (especially if there is conflict) cannot see. I'm learning that the goal is not usually to tell them what I see so much as it is to ask the questions that help them to see for themselves. "Look over here...what's up with that?"

Here is the faith claim I want to make: the empty tomb is a metaphor that keeps reminding us that Jesus is not there, but he's everywhere else. By metaphor I don't mean it isn't true or it didn't happen that way. I just mean that we can't turn the empty tomb into a golden calf. That's the last place we go to find Christ! The invitation is to find the risen Christ at every table where the bread is broken - not just sacramentally, but at every meal where we give thanks for our daily bread. The invitation is to find Christ out in the garden (or talking with a stranger we presume to be the gardener) or walking along the way with your bishop on a pilgrimage through the holy ground of a diocese. Or even sitting next to a stranger on an airplane and instead of putting earphones in or staring at a book, turning to engage in conversation when she introduces herself. (This last one is especially challenging for me.)

Brian Wren puts it so well, and I'm trying to live like I believe it -  with open eyes, an open heart, and open hands:
Christ is alive! No longer bound to distant years in Palestine, he comes to claim the here and now and conquer every place and time. // Not throned above, remotely high, untouched, unmoved by human pains, but daily, in the midst of life, our Savior with the Father reigns. (See the full text of the hymn here.