I recently came across a 2016 podcast in the On Being series by Krista Tippett, in which she interviews Br. David Steindl-Rast, a Benedictine monk at the Gut Aich Priory in St. Gilgen in Austria and a teacher and author on the subject of gratitude, who is the founder and senior advisor for A Network for Grateful Living. A Benedictine monk for over 60 years, Br. David was formed by 20th-century catastrophes. He calls joy “the happiness that doesn’t depend on what happens”. And his gratefulness is not an easy gratitude or thanksgiving — but a full-blooded, reality-based practice and choice.
Why do I share this at Pentecost? Because he defines “spirituality” from “spiritus” that means “life”, “breath”, “aliveness”. Spirituality is aliveness on all levels. It must start with our bodily aliveness. But of course, when we say “spirituality”, we also mean aliveness to interrelationships, aliveness to our confrontation with that great divine mystery with which we are confronted as human beings and which we can look away from or forget or be dead to. We come alive to it. When people are grateful, they come alive.
This morning, we have a different agricultural image to consider. Last week, it was sheep farming; this week, it’s vine growing, which is somewhat more familiar to us, here in this part of the country. In today’s metaphor, Jesus says that he is the vine and his disciples are the branches, and by extension so are we, who have been brought to life by him.
Christ is risen, indeed, and the Easter cry isn’t only for Easter, of course. For while each and every Sunday is a celebration of the resurrection, we have 49 days between Easter and Pentecost in which to focus our attention on the resurrection and all that God accomplishes through it.
At the same time, I am also mindful, on this day and with this text, of what God does not accomplish and, I suspect, so are all of us. We are in the midst of a seemingly endless pandemic, our economy is dismal, we are swamped by crime and corruption, infrastructure is collapsing around us, thank goodness not so much in our part of the world, and each one of us has personal difficulties or tragedies to contend with.
And so, sometimes we come to church on Easter or in the weeks after, and our alleluias ring hollow and Easter acclamations wear a bit thin. If this is you, or if you think it might characterize some of your friends and family, then the story of Thomas is right on the money!
I share with you a reflection and a prayer for Palm Sunday. May you have a blessed Holy Week.
From an Oration by Andrew of Crete:
Let us go together to meet Christ on the Mount of Olives. Today he … comes of his own free will to make his journey to Jerusalem … and proceeds of his own free will towards his holy and blessed passion, to consummate the mystery of our salvation. He comes without pomp or ostentation. He will be meek and humble, and he will make his entry in simplicity.
(no I didn’t forget the reading link… there are just not any appropriate readings…)
We are coming to the end of Lent. This coming Sunday is Palm Sunday when we remember Jesus’ triumphant arrival in Jerusalem and his Crucifixion, though the two did not happen on the same day… It makes for a Sunday of much joy and even more sorrow.
But this is not just the last week of Lent… today is also the feast of the Annunciation – a Solemnity for our Roman siblings, a Festival for our Lutheran siblings, and in the Anglican Tradition a Principal Feast. Our Orthodox siblings count it as one of eight major Feasts of our Lord – since what is being announced to Mary is the incarnation of Jesus. Throughout Christian Tradition it is a big deal. So, we’ll come back to it…
As Lent progresses we are called to turn our thinking from repentance, our work at the start of Lent, to Jerusalem – specifically Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem… a journey of sacrifice that leads to crucifixion. Today’s scripture readings are clearly part of that shift.
The shift is not just a call to think literally about the city of Jerusalem and the pending crucifixion. Embedded within the shift is a call to change the way we think about God.
Why do monastics spend so much time with the Psalms? I think the following reflection by Kerry Hasler-Brooks goes some way towards answering that question.
Two years ago, I heard Kathleen Norris read her poetry, and I immediately got a copy of her much-loved book Dakota: A Spiritual Geography and read it straight through.
I have since read the book three times and some portions many more, used it in a sermon, and discussed it with first-year college students in a class on reading, faith, and place. In the book, Norris tells of an abandoned faith resurrected in a small South Dakota town and in an ancient monastic liturgy that taught her to read, recite, hear, and know the Psalms deeply, beyond time, beyond herself.
As we enter the second week of Lent it might help to keep in mind that Lent is a period of forty days starting on Ash Wednesday and continuing until Holy Saturday – just before Easter Sunday. It is not by chance that the number of days is forty… this is the number of days that Jesus spent in the wilderness after his baptism.