Ascension Day is Coming – Celebrate the New Creation.

This ivory depiction of the Ascension was produced in Rome or Milan around 4th Century. vi Wikimedia

This ivory depiction of the Ascension was produced in Rome or Milan around 4th Century. vi Wikimedia Commons

Ascension Day is coming May 9th. In my last year’s post: Ascension Day is Coming – Do You Know What it Means?, I listed a number of resources for Ascension Day. This is not a celebration I grew up with and until recently I did not know that this is not just a celebration of the ascension of Christ, it is also a celebration of the new creation that God brought into being through the ascension of Jesus.  So this year I thought I would focus on Jesus as gardener of the new creation in my reflection.

This imagery is very special to me. As a keen gardener  I am intrigued by the concept of Jesus as the gardener of the new creation a concept which grows more powerful for me each year as I continue to garden and reflect on the God who is revealed as I do so. I wrote about this on Good Friday this year but as we approach Ascension Day thought that it was good to reflect on this imagery again,

From The Drogo Sacramentary a Carolingian illuminated manuscript on vellum of c.850, vis wikimedia Commons

From The Drogo Sacramentary a Carolingian illuminated manuscript on vellum of c.850, vis wikimedia Commons

Some theologians think that the whole theme of the Gospel of John is that of new creation. Most of the book of  John (chapters 12-20) takes place during one week in the life of Christ. John concentrates on themes. One theme is that Christ will redeem all of Creation (not just souls) through Re-Creation. In many ways Jesus death was like the planting of a seed (Unless a seed is planted in the soil and dies it remains alone, but its death will produce many new seeds, a plentiful harvest of new lives (Jn 12:24).  And then in John 20:15 we read: “she thought he was the gardener”  Why did it matter that Mary Magdalene thought that Jesus was the gardener?

The gospel of John begins with the words “In the beginning”. This immediately harkens us to the book of Genesis which opens with the same words. John then lays out a series of events in the life of Christ that mirror the Seven Days of Creation.  Read more

In the beginning God planted a garden – the Garden of Eden (Gen 3:8).  In the beginning of the new creation brought into being by the resurrection and ascension of Christ, God now in the form of the risen Christ, is once more seen as a gardener.  The hope and promise of these words which we so often skim over is incredible.  As we read in 2 Corinthians 5:17

“Therefore if anyone is in Christ he is a new creation, the old has passed away, behold, the new has come.”

The new has come – On Good Friday Christ was planted in a garden – his mortal remains were placed in a garden tomb just as we plant seeds in the ground. On Ascension day we celebrate the hope that planting foreshadowed. All around me seeds have sprung into life. New creation has indeed begun and we in its birth the promise of many lives renewed, restored and bearing fruit.

A couple of years ago Good Friday and Earth Day coincided and I wrote the following liturgy which seems to me to be very appropriate as we celebrate this new creation

God all of created life is groaning waiting for the future God has prepared for us,
We hope for the day on which all you have made will be rescued from death and decay,
We wait for the redemption of our bodies and the restoration of our world.

In my opinion whatever we may have to go through now is less than nothing compared with the magnificent future God has planned for us. The whole creation is on tiptoe to see the wonderful sight of the sons of God coming into their own. The world of creation cannot as yet see reality, not because it chooses to be blind, but because in God’s purpose it has been so limited – yet it has been given hope. And the hope is that in the end the whole of created life will be rescued from the tyranny of change and decay, and have its share in that magnificent liberty which can only belong to the children of God!

It is plain to anyone with eyes to see that at the present time all created life groans in a sort of universal travail. And it is plain, too, that we who have a foretaste of the Spirit are in a state of painful tension, while we wait for that redemption of our bodies which will mean that at last we have realised our full sonship in him. We were saved by this hope, but in our moments of impatience let us remember that hope always means waiting for something that we haven’t yet got. But if we hope for something we cannot see, then we must settle down to wait for it in patience. (Romans 8:18 – 25 (Phillips Translation)

God in this season of hope and promise bless the earth rich and fertile with life
God in this season of planting and growth, bless the seed we plant and nurture
As it falls into the ground to grow may we remember your body broken for us

Unless a seed is planted in the soil and dies it remains alone
But its death will produce many new seeds,
a plentiful harvest of new lives (Jn 12:24 NLT)

God as we sprinkle our gardens with the water that gives life,
May we remember lands that are parched and those that are flooded,
May we remember Christ that your life blood was poured out for us,
You were hung upon a tree and crucified,
So that together with all your creation we might be liberated into freedom.

Open up O heavens and pour out your righteousness
Let the earth open wide
So salvation and righteousness can sprout up together (Is 45:8 NLT)

As we watch for the first sprouts of new creation
We remember your resurrection promise,
A new world is breaking into ours with abundance and wholeness

Look I am making all things new…
On each side of the river grew a tree of life
Bearing twelve crops of fruit with a fresh crop each month
The leaves were used for medicine to heal the nations (Rev 21:5; 22:2 NLT)

Jesus our hope lies not in your death but in your resurrection,
Not in your dying but in your rising again,
We wait in hope for your promise to be fulfilled,
Death is conquered, resurrection has begun,
May your healing be revealed in our bodies,
May your healing power be seen throughout the earth,
May we all participate together in the coming of a new heaven and a new earth.

Mary was standing outside the tomb crying, and as she wept, she stooped and looked in. She saw two white-robed angels, one sitting at the head and the other at the foot of the place where the body of Jesus had been lying. “Dear woman, why are you crying?” the angels asked her.  “Because they have taken away my Lord,” she replied, “and I don’t know where they have put him.”  She turned to leave and saw someone standing there. It was Jesus, but she didn’t recognize him. 15 “Dear woman, why are you crying?” Jesus asked her. “Who are you looking for?”   She thought he was the gardener. “Sir,” she said, “if you have taken him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will go and get him.”  “Mary!” Jesus said.  She turned to him and cried out, “Rabboni!” (which is Hebrew for “Teacher”).  “Don’t cling to me,” Jesus said, “for I haven’t yet ascended to the Father. But go find my brothers and tell them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’”  Mary Magdalene found the disciples and told them, “I have seen the Lord!” Then she gave them his message.  (John 20: 11 – 18 NLT)

Hallelujah, Christ is risen
You who are the gardener of the new creation,
Cultivate the new seeds that have sprung into life,
Bring growth, bring blossom, bring fruit,
May your new creation flourish in us, through us around us,
So that all the world may say together,
Christ is risen he is indeed Hallelujah.

Amen

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Stillness and Sleep by Kimberlee Conway Ireton

Today’s post by Kimberlee Conway Ireton (author of The Circle of Seasons: Meeting God in the Church Year) was inspired in part by chapter 1, “Learning to Breathe,” of Return to Our Senses: Re-imagining How We Pray. It beautifully reflects my curent theme of Practicing Resurrection.
CloudySky3

CloudySky2

CloudySky1

It’s Easter. For another five glorious weeks it’s Easter. I love that the Easter season is so long. It goes on and on and on. N.T. Wright suggests that we balance the 40 days of Lenten fasting with 40 days of Easter adding. From Easter Sunday to Ascension, he says, we should take up, embrace, include, toss our spiritual hats in the air, and celebrate.

This year for Easter, I’m embracing two much-neglected practices in my life (I think they’re much neglected in almost every American’s life, but that’s beside the point): sleep and stillness.

Sleep

As the mother of four children aged 2 to 9, I am chronically tired. My kids have more energy in their pinky toes than I have in my whole body. I run out of energy long before the day runs out of hours, long before it’s time to put my kids to bed.

So for Easter, instead of forcing myself to just. keep. going, I’m stopping. When my kids go to bed, if I feel tired (and most of the time I do), I go to bed, too. When I put my 2-year-old boys down for a nap, if I feel tired, I let myself fall asleep with them, instead of making myself get up, fold laundry, do the dishes, check email, or whatever not-so-imperative thing I think I have to do.

I am giving myself the gift of sleep for Easter.

Stillness

I am also giving myself the gift of stillness. Two books that I’ve recently read have prodded me to let myself just stop and simply be.

In Deepening the Soul for Justice, a marvelous little book by Bethany Hoang (director of the IJM Institute for Biblical Justice), Hoang writes of the IJM practice of “stillness,” a half-hour at the beginning of each work day in which all employees turn off cell phones, email, social media and stop all work (before they’ve even begun, no less!) in order to seek God in prayer and Bible reading and, well, stillness.

In my life, a half hour of stillness is hard to come by on a daily basis. Most days, at least one of my kids wakes up before I do and usually one or more is awake when I fall exhausted into bed at the end of the day. But I do have days when I can carve out a half hour during the boys’ nap…or afterward, if it’s sunny and I can send all four kids outside to play. I wish I could say I practice a half hour of stillness every day. I don’t. But it’s been such a blessing to even have it as a goal, to be able to say, this is important.

And it is important. It’s important for my mental health, but it’s also important for my physical health and crucial to my spiritual health. As Hoang points out in her book, “if our attempts to seek justice do not first begin with the work of prayer, we will be worn and weary. And our weariness will not be that deeply satisfying, joy-filled tiredness that comes from the worthy battles of justice, but rather a bone- and soul-crushing weariness.”

Boy, do I know that weariness, though it comes not from fighting for justice, but from trying to raise four children to be rational, emotionally healthy human beings and kind-hearted, whole-hearted Christ-followers. Only far too often I’m trying to do that work on my own strength, instead of starting with prayer, continuing in prayer, ending in prayer, day after day after day.

Hoang says that the work of being still (and it is work, this carving out of time and quiet in the midst of a child-full life) is a “declaration to ourselves and to God that the first work of seeking justice is the work of prayer.” In my own life, I need the reminder that the first work of parenting is the work of prayer. And so: stillness.

But legalist that I am, my practice of stillness can easily turn into just one more item on my to-do list, which is where James Bryan Smith’s gentle counsel comes in. In his book The Good and Beautiful God, Smith encourages his readers to “find five minutes each day to sit in silence. Get a cup of something warm and delicious, find a comfortable chair, and just sit quietly. That’s all.”

That’s all. Five minutes. A warm drink. Silence.

I sit in the rocking chair in our living room, so I can look out the window at the eastern sky. I sip hot tea. I keep a notebook on the sideboard beside me so I can jot down anything I don’t want to forget (like the fact that I still need to schedule a vet appointment for the cat or that there’s laundry that needs to be put in the dryer). I stare out the window, watch the clouds scud northward, the tips of the maple across the street tossing in the wind, the dance of the dangling lady-of-the-valley blossoms just outside the window.

It is amazing how this one practice of simply sitting and sipping tea and staring has come to be one of the most treasured parts of my day. If my boys keep sleeping and my older two keep playing elsewhere in the house, my five minutes sometimes stretches into ten or fifteen or thirty. I am doing nothing, just sitting and staring.

But James Bryan Smith assures me that this simple practice of just sitting “will help you slow down and become more present, more able to focus on God in your midst. It might lead you into a regular practice of developing ‘rests’ that make the notes (your actions) in your life become beautiful music.” This is what I want: a beautiful life that reflects our beautiful God.

And so I sit, declaring to myself and to God that stillness is the rock in which any work I do must be rooted because God is the Rock of stillness in whom I am rooting myself in these moments and, as Bethany Hoang avers, “God alone can move and act through us to bring about greater levels of transformation than we could even begin to dream about on our own.”

“Now to him who is able to do far more than all you can ask or imagine, according to the power at work within you, to him be glory and honor in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.” —Ephesians 3:20-21

*****

It’s still Easter! There’s still plenty of time to celebrate the season. Christ, our God, died and rose again that we might have life and have it to the full. I invite you to embrace sleep or stillness (or both!) for the remainder of this season, to let the way of quiet release usher you into the marvelous reality of Christ’s resurrection, a gift of such lavish grace that all we can do is receive it.

Can Solar Cooking Stop Rape in Africa?

This video brought tears to my eyes when I came across it a couple of years ago. Practicing resurrection, redemption, renewal indeed. It is amazing to think that rape and violence against women could be reduced by solar cooking. Solar cooking can bring peace and dignity to women’s lives. What impact I wonder could our own creativity provide for people at the margins?

Practicing Resurrection – Get Out into God’s Creation

Spring has come

Spring has come

Spring is here – at least in the Northern Hemisphere and it makes me realize how important it is to connect the rhythm of our faith to the rhythm of God’s world. It was only when I sent Easter in the Northern Hemisphere for the first time that the wonder of the resurrection burst upon me. And even now I am awed by the blossoming of God’s world in a way that assures me resurrection really has happened and God’s new world has begun.

At lunch today I will once again be speaking on Spirituality and Gardening. The increasing popularity of this topic makes me realize how much others crave the same kind of connections between their faith and the world around them. As I always say in these seminars: In the Bible I read about the death and resurrection of Christ, in the garden I experience it. In the Bible I read about the abundance of God’s provision, in the garden I experience. The story of God is constantly being lived out God’s world, affirming who God is and who God intends us to be. 

Like me many urban dwellers have discovered the joys of vegetable gardening in the last few years and in the process have grown in their intimacy with God. Hopefully, they start small and then as their taste buds explode with the delight of vegetables straight from the garden something strange happens and they become obsessive about converting their lawn into edible vegetation.  There is nothing quite like the wonderful sweet flavour of tomatoes picked straight from the vine or of corn that has gone straight from plant to the pot.  And to experience the delight of leeks and carrots that have been dragged out of the frosty ground is out of this world.

Why has it taken us so long to discover what people in most other parts of the world have always known – store bought food just doesn’t taste real even when it is organic and “picked from the vine”.   Even a friend of ours who is a well known celebrity chef has just discovered in his 70s that food grown in your own backyard is better than any restaurant gourmet meal.

There are many other benefits to growing your own food too. Working in the garden gets us outside into God’s good creation.  As I mentioned in a previous post on nature deficit disorder, I don’t think that we realize the consequences to our health – both physical and spiritual of lives that are spent inside under artificial light.  Insomina, depression, and of course obesity are all linked to sedentary indoor lives.   A growing number of people are talking about nature deficit disorder. Kids in particular suffer from nature deficit disorder and as I talk about in this post: attention deficit disorder can be alleviated by encouraging kids to spend more time outdoors.

There is also evidence that exposure to soil bacteria could improve our health by boosting our immune system.  And believe it or not even Sniffing Compost Makes You Happy – Literally

Other studies suggest that just looking at nature can improve our health and reduce the time it takes us to recover from surgery.  So imagine what a difference a whole afternoon outside can do.

Getting our kids involved in the garden can have even more benefits. In her article Go Outside and Play: Four Reasons Why Exposure to Nature is Essential To a Child’s WellbeingSuzy DeYoung talks about the amazing health benefits of getting kids outside.   According to the EPA indoor air pollution is the US’s number one environmental health concern.  They encourage kids to get outside and play but I think that working in the garden can be even more beneficial.

There is also evidence that spending time outside in nature stimulates our creativity and imagination.  And gardening certainly adds to that creativity – because once we have produced all that food we need to work out what to do with it which means that we become more creative in our cooking and our preserving of food too.  At least that has been my experience.

 

Living into the Resurrection – What Does It Mean?

Mural outside Simple Way

God’s peace is at the centre of our equipping

The focus for my next few weeks will be “Practicing resurrection”. I am starting each morning by asking myself the question: “How do I plan to practice resurrection today?”

This morning I found my thoughts focusing on my images of God’s new world – what I call God’s resurrection created world. What do I think this will look like? Unless I have a clear vision of this world there is no way that I can live into it.

Usually I confine this kind of imagining to Sundays. God’s rest on the seventh day was a rest of satisfaction, when he looked around at all that had been accomplished in the previous six days and said “It is good.” That is the kind of Sabbath rest that we are meant to live into. What I try to do on Sundays (and some Sundays are more successful than others) is relax and rest in the presence of God and God’s shalom world.

I was really inspired some years ago by the Jewish philosopher Abraham Heschel who said that the Jews regarded Sabbath as a glimpse into the eternal world. I realized that my Sunday practices looked nothing like what I hope God’s eternal world will look like. So I started to try and realign my Sunday activities to reflect more of what my vision of God’s future eternal, shalom filled world will look like.

Easter tends to be a more successful season for this focus in my life. Thinking of the resurrection makes it easy to reflect on my images of God’s eternal world – A world in which the language is love and the culture centres on mutuality and generosity. A country where there is no more crying or oppression or pain, a place where justice will come for the poor and the sick will be healed, a place where God’s creation is restored and there is abundance and prosperity for all.

This is a world with very different values and culture than ours. In fact I think that many of us will suffer severe culture shock when we enter this world because we have spent so little of our time and energy living in this culture here. 

So this morning I thought about where I have caught glimpses of God’s shalom world in this past week. I got quite excited as I thought about the people I have connected to and some of the friendships I am developing. I was encouraged as I thought about my friends in Parish Collective, The Overflow Project and Mercy Ships and the wonderful work they all do in reaching out to their neighbourhoods and the marginalized around the world. I also experienced a deep sense of satisfaction as I thought about the day Tom and I spent in the garden on Saturday planting the spring garden.

I went to church Easter Sunday very much aware of God’s presence with me which of course made it much easier to enter into the spirit of Easter in the liturgy and particularly in communion. Sunday afternoon we celebrated Easter with a richly multicultural community of friends – a glimpse into the diversity of God’s international family.

I thought too about the things I have done that are not representative of God’s resurrection created world – the times I got irritable with Tom, times I resented sharing the bounty God has provided us with, times I turned away from those who are hurting and in need because I wanted to put my own needs ahead of theirs. Because of Christ’s resurrection we can live in a way that is very different from the culture around us but we need to keep reminding ourselves of what that culture looks like and what we need to do to live into it.

Sunday for me, is always a day to realign my life and all my activities not just to the celebration of God’s shalom future but to how God can use our lives to bring glimpses of that future into our world. Obviously Easter Sunday and this season after Easter, is a very special opportunity to do this.

It is a season for celebrating our restored relationship to God, our reconciliation to our neighbours, our renewed responsibility to steward God’s creation. So why not jump start your celebration of God’s resurrection culture, by spending time reflecting on God’s eternal shalom world, this resurrection created life that God expects us to live into? Get a vision for how your life and your activities could make a difference in the lives of others and in God’s world. We cannot bring God’s eternal world into being by our own efforts but we are meant to live as citizens of that new world and live with the values and customs of that new world at the centre of our lives.

Practicing Resurrection – Being Radical by Brian “Wolt” Wolters

Easter Sunday has come and gone and its time to practice resurrection living! As I mentioned in my post Practicing Resurrection yesterday, Easter is not just a day it is a season, in fact it is the framework for the rest of our lives. Over the next few weeks I plan to share a number of stories of creative ministries and initiatives that do just that. Today’s post is written by Brian “Wolt” Wolters, director of The Overflow Project.  It was first published as Being Radical, Good Friday on the MSA website as part of a series on the Overflow Project. The MSA team are all joining the initiative this year and we hope you will too.

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Over the past several weeks I have found myself coming up with excuses to drive to work instead of ride my bike.  Even before I get in my truck I tell myself, “Oh, one more day of driving and then I’ll start riding my bike,” or even on a sunny day I’ll say “Oh, it may rain today, so I’ll just drive.”

Why is it that we often have good intentions of doing something we think is best, but then opt for something easier or more convenient? Why do we form habits as human beings that prevent us from being radical?

Many books explore these questions. Some prescribe easy “steps” or even “recipes” for breaking out of patterns and molds that develop over time. On the flip side, other materials suggest creating new habits for life change like setting aside time for prayer and exercise daily.

Insert Good Friday.  Jesus’s death on a cross is radical I think.  He does not conform to culture or take the easy, most comfortable option.  He also does not say oh today, I’m going to start “effective habits.”  He even goes against his own desire and chooses to die!  If you want a vivid reminder the horror of his death, pick up the Mel Gibson film, The Passion of Christ.

The reminder of Jesus death on Good Friday inspires me to be more in tune with God’s voice for my life – instead of my own desires –  and explore being radical by forming new habits and breaking old ones. I pray I am who God made me to be and that I my eyes open to see my comfort zones.

I shared these thoughts about Easter with MSA last year, and am just as excited about The Overflow Project’s initiative this year.  The opportunity is great: to join with others in a unified effort to live with a little less and be able to give a little bit more, following the mold of Jesus death on the cross and celebrating on Easter his resurrection.

Perhaps today is a day to break a habit or start a new one. Jesus leads us in His way and with His death.

An opportunity to celebrate his resurrection on Easter exists.

Join in a challenge for the 50 days of the Easter season.


This is the fourth post in a Friday series about The Overflow Project that was published on the MSA blog, leading up to the 50 Day Challenge starting on Easter.

Periodically during the 50 days, various Challenge participants with share how they are taking the challenge and what they’re learning.

If you decide to take the challenge, please register on their page and share your story!

The Overflow Project is an initiative committed to a new way of living, a way of living that breaks down the walls that divide rich and poor. Using a 50-Day Challenge, The Overflow Project helps individuals, groups and churches simplify their lives in order to give generously. Donated funds provide clean drinking water – a vital resource for community and economic development.

Even Resurrection Pauses For Sabbath Rest

Photo by Monette Chilson

Photo by Monette Chilson

It is Holy Saturday, that day between death and resurrection when most of us pause to draw breath. What did not occur to me until I read these words Even resurrection pauses for Sabbath rest, in the Episcopal Relief and Development Lenten guide this morning, that today, for the Jews is indeed the sabbath day. This full day of Jesus time in the grave is the day into which all their hope and longing for the future is poured. A day to look forward with anticipation to the day when God does indeed make all things news.

The last words that Jesus cried before his death are It is finished. The work that God has sent me to do is done. It is indeed time to pause for rest, but what is God’s sabbath rest all about? Sabbath rest is not a rest of exhaustion, a pause before we get going with the next busy thing. Sabbath rest is a rest of fulfillment, of satisfaction for a job well done and as I sit here this morning I can well imagine God resting in the satisfaction of the amazing job that Jesus had just completed.

For the Jews Sabbath also carries with it a sense of longing and promise. It is the culmination of their week, that day on which they hoped to glimpse God’s eternal world and on this Sabbath rest 2,000 years ago they did glimpse it, though they did not know it. As Jesus entered Hades and released those who had died, the first signs of God’s resurrection world emerged in expectation of the fullness of God coming into the world on Easter morning.