The Fourth Sunday in Lent – March 22, 2020
Even in isolation, separation and suspension of gathering for worship, the Holy Spirit is poking us: come, get up, rise on this morning. Don’t count this as the Second Sunday under COVID-19! We are midway to the splendid feast of Easter.
“Get UP,” as my mother used to shout to us kids from the bottom of the stairs. “I am not running a restaurant here. It’s time for breakfast.” She’d also invoke the Nike mantra long before there was anything but Keds and Converse: “Just do it!” In one way or another, she was saying “Don’t ask so many questions because you might not leave enough room for the answers to show themselves.” Of course, in her born-during-The Depression-Brooklyn way, that would come out of her mouth as “Shut up… Get moving”. She had a good point. There are times in life when you do not know the answer to the question “Why?” I remember my father telling me that, too, during a really rough patch in my early adult life: “When things are at their seeming worst, don’t roll on your side and pull the covers up over yourself. Even if you don’t know how you will get through the day, just start the day. Your body will remember a way. It’s just like football or my time in the Marines. You practice and train so that your body knows what to do without you thinking or fearing. And then you do things you wouldn’t have thought possible. Your body does it. Go with it”.
It’s true. My mother was giving those orders in 1966; my dad consoling me in 1978. And here we are in 2020. And I am sure you have similar stories. And they are true. They are, in your own remembered events and ways of telling, Gospel stories—sharings of our reasons for getting up and getting going. These stories shared have the ability to refresh us. That is what today is all about in our church cycle of prayer and reflection. Under conditions that weigh us down, we yet get up: the spirited-ability is within us. Our bodies carry a “GET UP” DNA. Jesus Christ is rising up in us every day. The experiences of this do not always, or even usually, have churchy frames or overtly religious tonality to them. But that’s because we mortals think we should be seeing a “religion”, “faith” or “God”-flashing neon sign. But that’s not the way the Lord sees. The Lord looks on the heart of things to see the simple, daily light of life.
It’s true; it’s as basic as bread and drink. That’s why, on Refreshment Sunday, the tradition is a practice, a training, a discipline for the body to help us remember that even in rough patches there are sweet tastes. It doesn’t look much like “discipline” to be able to have a piece of cake during what was the traditional Lenten fast. But that little bit of sweet was/is a spark, wherein the awakened sense of taste crosses over time and space: “I know that flavor from childhood… this is a taste of things to come”. And the awakened sense of taste tells your sight not to roll over and pull up the covers but to get up, open your eyes and truly see. Your body fires up. Your other senses re-boot. You tilt your head to better hear. You sniff. What do I smell? You reach out to touch; you feel a touch. The body, your body, you rise up. A piece of cake and cup of tea communicate goodness; memory and hope; now. This kind of “communication” puts the body back in communion with itself—the parts are coming together as a whole; coming back together even when having been apart. Your very body is in this ongoing process… of worship… every day, not one in seven.
It’s true, and it’s not just what’s going on in you. It happens to each and every one of us, every day. No wonder we want to come together, to celebrate and give thanks for all the ways in which God in Christ is in us, because God in Christ is also between us. And when we are together, sharing this good news, we have a taste and glimpse of many bodies coming together as One in the Christ who is in each of us and who like a mom, dad, grandparent, best friend, son, daughter or serendipitous stranger puts that certain something on the table that has us gather round.
It’s true. The table, the altar; the elements of bread and wine: They are all in your reach right now. You find them in your dining room, in your cupboard—wherever you live, move and have your being; wherever you store your memories and your hopes.
Bring them out. Get up. It is time for our shared meal. On this day, in these weeks, we are not in a state of suspended animation. Rather, even under our current conditions, by our body’s spiritual DNA, by our faith, even in a time of suspension, we are animated.
This morning on Facebook, I read this post by our good friend Father William Ogburn: “My internal Sunday alarm wasn’t notified about the suspension of Mass. I’ve been up since 5am”. And I replied, his having given me the insight that instead of living in suspended animation, we are in animated suspension. I asked Father William, “Is being an early riser a foretaste of being raised with Christ?” And I continued — “I know it sounds humorous but we do know our Redeemer lives and that we will be raised up on the last day. This faith, which we each live daily and celebrate together weekly leaves a mark on us, impresses upon on our bodies. Each day of our giving thanks to God for Jesus Christ and for all the good in our lives does something to us. An impression of Christ deepens; each of our bodies becomes more Christic; each of our senses in each of our bodies becomes more sensitive to the presence of God all around us and in us—each one of us, between us, and in all of us together.
This “impression” upon the body is akin to a hum or vibration. In these days, when we cannot give thanks in person corporately—by making Holy Eucharist—we are yet reverberating. Our bodies are rising early on the Lord’s Day.
In our “animated suspension” we can see that we are becoming, more and more every day, the Eucharistic elements. Our flesh and blood, up early on this Refreshment Sunday, are the bread and wine we offer for making Holy Eucharist.
I thanked Father William for his Face Book post, for “presenting yourself as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God…” His sharing his early morning reality proclaims how, even in suspension, we are, to the core of our God-given being, alive with Christ. Therefore, we are keeping the feast. Thanks be to God!
To which Father William replied, “Awake O Sleeper, rise from your death, and Christ will shine on you!”
© Thomas F. Reese 22 March 2020