Trench Warfare, as I am sure most of you know, was one of the horrors of the First World War. Conditions were cramped, damp, uncomfortable and very dangerous in the many miles of trenches dug to protect battle lines. Bombardments and high casualty assaults moved the front line precious little. The soldiers who had to go through this ordeal developed a special camaraderie. They are called Trench Buddies. Those who suffered together and then survived formed a bond that is hard to compare to any other events.
Isn’t that true in our lives? We have bonds formed with friends through shared experiences, and though we are apart for years, when we run into them, the bonds of affection and shared stories surface. We laugh at memories. We remember lost friends with tears in our eyes. Stories can even do this on a national level. George Washington did tell a lie, and yet the story of him never telling a lie, “Yes, I did chop down the cherry tree,” persists even though it is clearly not historical. Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, however, also bonds us together, and it is very historical, and inspiring.
The events of Holy Week and Easter are for the Christian Faith the core story of who we are, how we are joined together, and what our common hope is. Jesus is our dearest friend. His life shows us what God looks like because every aspect of his humanity reflects the holy goodness of God. Yet in this sordid network of human competition, sin, and cruelty, this goodness is pushed away, outcast, even destroyed. However , God does not allow the story to end there. God returns Jesus to us. God announces this is the future of Humanity. It is as if God says, “Choose it. If you have trouble (and you will) ask me to help you choose it.”
The Entrance into Jerusalem, The Last Supper, the Arrest at night, the Trial at night, the Lashing, the Crowning with Thorns, the scattering of the disciples, the Crucifixion, the grief of Mary and the other women at the cross, the long dark and desperate Saturday, all followed by the Empty Tomb and the Encounters with the Risen Christ become the story through which we understand the Spiritual Life. This is a story that not only creates the bond between us, it is the story that interprets to us all of life, its goodness, its challenges, its suffering, and the ultimate glorious triumph of God. This story is, as the novel suggests, “The Greatest Story ever Told.” In fact it is the story of the Universe.
And yes, I will cheapen the exaltation of this meditation by a now issuing a crass promotional invitation asking you to come to church this week, on Thursday, on Friday, on Saturday, and on Sunday. Retelling this story is the most important thing we do each year. Retelling this story together in Liturgy makes us Spiritual Trench Buddies. Blessings and Prayers
April 6, 2017-- “Springs in our Spiritual Legs”
Have you ever heard the expression "a spring in her step"? It means that the person in question is quite happy, bouncy. Recently I learned that our legs actually are springs! They are designed to absorb and reuse the energy we have when we bang into the ground while taking a step. Without the springs in our legs to absorb and reuse that energy, walking would actually hurt our backs! We know this because the old-fashioned peg leg prosthetics caused all sorts of health problems, and in making new prosthetic legs we have to put spring like mechanisms to protect the person wearing them!
This makes a parable for our spiritual life. Our spiritual life is often called in the Hebrew Scriptures, "walking" with the Lord. The idiom used to describe being a follower of Christ in the New Testament is "Following the Way". This throughout the Bible walking is an image for following a spiritual "path", loving and serving God and neighbor, seeking spiritual health and potential in Christ.
In our real life, we need springs in our legs in order to walk without hurting ourselves and in our spiritual life we also need springs in our spiritual legs in order not cause harm. We need to have a sense of humor about our spiritual insights and beliefs. We need to be humble in our opinions. This need for springs in our spiritual legs is nowhere more true than in a spiritual community. Core to our Christian faith is community. You might note that even our concept of God includes the mysterious community of Father, Son and Holy Spirit! In communities’ humans are always constantly bumping into each other, sometimes intentionally (sad) and sometimes by accident or carelessness (not as sad). In a spiritual community, we need to be able to absorb and reuse the energy of bumping into one another and into God. It is hard to see how an adept Christian spiritual practitioner could ever be rigid. His back would be broken pretty quickly.
Our metaphors are not perfect. Our practice is not perfect. Sometimes we must compromise. Sometimes our minds struggle to understand holy things beyond the grasp of us simple organic beings. We see this in some of the great stories, especially perhaps in Abraham's interrupted sacrifice of Isaac, and this Holy Week, in the crucifixion of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. These stories have impact, shock. No human mind can fully absorb the shock of these stories. Our spiritual legs must absorb some of the energy and reuse some of it as we wrestle with the spiritual truths they point toward. To take these stories in rigid stride might damage us spiritually.
It has become a cliché but it is true: the spiritual life must be comfortable with ambiguity. This is not because spirituality is flawed. It is because the human spirit reaches for things beyond our current reach. The elasticity in our spiritual legs allow us to walk the spiritual path without harming ourselves or others, and that path leads to the great blessings Jesus is so excited to share with us! This surely should put spring in our step!
~ Father John
St. Elizabeth's Episcopal Church ◊ 1188 Hamp Mill Rd ◊ Dahlonega, Georgia 30533 ◊ 706-864-5423