Nine of us gathered before the break of dawn.
The word “gathered” is a bit of a stretch. Rummaged really. We rummaged around in the dark.
It is the spiritual life, mind you, this rummaging around in the dark.
The spirituality of Holy Week and Easter. Our rummaging. The darkness.
A veritable ransacking if you think about it.
Darkness and lostness. Denials and betrayals.
And fighting sleep.
Symbols of death.
Disciples who were heavy with the pull of gravity and the grave to where they could not stay awake in the garden with Jesus. Could not pull themselves out, for knowing themselves to be going down into the deep.
The story says that the women came to the tomb while it was still dark. . . (rummaging)
We want to feel it in our bones, know it in the fiber of our being, so there we are in the dark, tromping around in wet grass, bundled for cold in the wee hours of Easter Morning.
We imagine ourselves to be nearing the edge of the tomb, though a simple cold fire pit is what it actually is.
We stumble around and can’t find our stuff and whisper even though it doesn’t matter if any one hears us, it’s the instinctive behavior of operating in the dark or when something precious and holy is under way.
Brave bird-song not minding to wake up the world.
We act things out. That’s what ritual is about. We do it so we know it.
We act things out, not the full extent of the drama, but in symbol and gesture, we act it out.
We kindle new fire.
The cold dark empty echoing fire pit bursts into flame and we say:
“sanctify this new fire”, and
“The Light of Christ!”
“The Lord is Risen! Alleluia!”
“Grant that in this Paschal feast, we may so burn. . .”
The ancient church gave us a pillar candle, weighty, and worthy of leading the lot of us in procession for the whole of Easter season; their instinct that fire is the stuff of resurrection, and that we should carry it around.
The implement. The element. The power.
The uncreated light that fuels the life of the world.
So we kindle. New Fire.
Children intuitively see God in the lighting of wicks and, in fact, their inclination is to play with the flame! Our inclination is to say “be careful you might get burned!”
I think the nearness of God does burn, and I suspect that the resurrection will singe quite extensively, and I remember that story where the Holy Spirit lighted up an upper room, caught their hair on fire, and everybody suddenly spoke in different languages. What a hoot!
God in Holy Fire was playing with them!
Practicing the Resurrection is our taking up God’s invitation to play. Yes, with fire!
We played with fire. This Holy Uncreated Light.
Rummaging around in the dark and Practicing Resurrection.
In this Easter season we will lead the procession with the Paschal Candle, that tall pillar candle that we lit with the flame of the new fire before day break.
And we light our tall thin beeswax votives.
A practice of resurrection.
Our procession of resurrection.
Our ritual play.
We act it out. We want to feel it in our bones, know it in our fiber.
Flickering candles that compel us because of the flame, even if sometimes it seems just a preoccupation with the fire itself. That preoccupation is a good thing!
Recognize that fire as God,
Name it as the Light of Christ,
Carry it as your passion for God, your delight in the Holy One, your want for resurrected life and everlasting light!
This is our rummaging around in the dark for God, and bursting into flame with his Resurrection.
Lighting a simple candle: Death’s vanquishing!
and taking Christ’s victory over the grave as our own!
Playing with Fire, as is my want to do, with you,
(As an added flourish, I collected the stubs of our burned-out vigil candles from Maundy Thursday's altar of repose, and tossed them on the stack of wood as kindling. Thought you’d like to know.)
Sally took every opportunity when we were in Europe and she was 7, to light candles in churches and for some reason, lie prostrate. Right there in the middle of everything, foreign language, pilgrim feet all around, on marble floor and ancient plank, she laid herself down.
Lit a candle and hit the floor. Again and again.
What did she like about that? Where did she even get that idea? Not from me! I don’t do that!? Or at least, I didn’t. Until I saw her and felt inspired.
Gesture. Flame. Heat. Melting wax. Ancient of Days.
And no need to craft the particular syllables and consonants, because she said it all with her body.
Thoroughly known and utterly anonymous in faraway lands.
Incarnate spirituality. God, in the body.
Sally has always been, of my three children, the least ready to give words. But there, in Italy and France, in Cathedral and Crypt, she was utterly at home.
There. Sprawled out. On the floor. As Prayer.
This incarnate spiritual life.
Our bodies tell stories.
Our bodies pray.
Our bodies know God.
Our Wilderness journey is taking a turn.
If we keep walking, Lent will give way to the Passion this Sunday, and as in the Labyrinth, we get closer and closer to the center, still-place, of the cave.
The hollowed-out niche in earth and stone where there lies a body in a cave,
the edge of which delivers us Resurrection at dawn.
It seems to me that Holy Week is the stuff of 7-year-olds saying their prayers.
Foreign tongue. Silent tongue. Bodies sprawled.
So, we would do well to access our “inner child” for this turn in our Wilderness journey toward The Passion:
the inner child, who embraces mystery,
explains nothing, beholds everything,
and believes the perfection of candle lighting and melting wax;
the inner child, who pauses in silence to watch and wait;
the inner child who can pretend and imagine and pay attention to the interior;
the inner child who loves God in the body, and just for good measure
(and perhaps for the fun of it),
throws it down on the pavement, prostrate.
in the days of The Passion and Holy Week, here’s to being thoroughly known and utterly anonymous, in faraway lands.
Hoping to see my fellow pilgrims along this way.
Marshall won the smart phone race to get Siri to define ‘prodigal’ for us last Sunday morning. So then our sermon conversation wrapped around the notion, of:
Having or giving on a lavish scale
Spending resources freely and recklessly
Spending without holding anything back
[Webster, via Siri]
So, what, we asked, describes the picture of prodigal living in Luke 15?
The obvious giveaway in the text is that it wasn’t just the renegade son.
The father was just as prodigal when the son returned, broke and broken.
His running to meet him when he was still far off,
a kiss to bless him, an embrace to take him back.
A ring, a robe, a pair of sandals for his feet.
And then of course, a Resurrection Feast with the fatted calf,
for ‘this, my son, was dead, and is alive again’
Complete and thorough Restoration.
And then, throw in the Epistle that changes the reconciled into reconcilers and we off on a mission to live a prodigal life ~ loving without holding back, wastefully extravagant, risking, reckless about restoring relationships, raising the dead to life.
I am connected with a group called the Wild Church Network.
A contributor to the network brought the earth into the conversation as a prodigal.
The earth. And don’t we know it? Reckless giving, abundance, spending on a lavish scale.
The violet volunteering in the broken pot comes to mind.
Our community garden comes to mind, stretched across the swath
where the earth was scored, it’s complexion scarred.
A grave was dug, and a pipeline laid down. So we could live.
And like a perennial-cut -and-come-again Zinnia, the earth
continues to give recklessly, without holding back.
15 garden plots abound,
tomatoes and chili peppers flush in the summer sun,
sweet potato vines and blackberry brambles
stretch far and wide in playful profusion,
okra and pole beans reach skyward in glory
as if to announce the coming of the kingdom of God
deep down under the earth, roots and tubers in silent stillness, rest.
This Prodigal Earth,
the wastefully extravagant giver of goodness,
the reckless high-risk presence under our feet,
supporting our very lives;
The Earth, as it says in the Psalms, rejoices and sings praise.
AAaaand, the fox is back!
Blessing us to and fro!
Take a moment to write or draw on a prayer flag or two as we offer our thanksgivings, hopes and dreams, praises, wants and desires, to the earth, from Equinox and Earth day to Easter. Supplies are on the table by the coffee pot.
Seeking to live a prodigal life, with you,
Let the sea roar,
Let the floods clap their hands,
Let the hills be joyful together.
Reverend Ruth Pattison
Rev. Pattison serves the people of Highpoint Episcopal Community Church as the Parson, exercising her gifts for collaborative leadership through preaching, liturgy, and the pastoral arts.