A Note from Jim: April 6th, 2023
As I write this note, my background music is the sound of St. Martin’s: today–and most of the time–this is a very busy place. All around, as the campus blooms and greens, there’s activity.
Holy Week, in particular, is this wonderful admixture of solemnity and joy, the very theme of Lent that has been evident since February.
Of what is that mixture composed? I started to wonder some weeks back. Of course St. Martin’s is a place where all sorts of ministries, grand and humble, go on all the time. The Parish Hall is almost always bustling with life, and now that it’s warmer and days are longer, the whole campus is beginning to show signs of what I remember from my time with you last summer, when sometimes every bench seemed to be occupied with people talking, meditating, sometimes just having a nap.
This week, I’ve been trying to spend some time every day outside listening to the birds of St. Martin’s. They, unimpressed by human folly–or unaware of it– just go on chirping and warbling and cheeping and singing; their chorus is just plain unadulterated beauty to my ears... I heard recently on a BBC podcast that spending just two minutes attending to birdsong at dawn can shift the human mood toward happiness for up to eight hours. I don’t know if that’s true, but I do know that spending some time under the springtime trees outside my office always moves me away from frenetic hyperactivity to a place of greater calm and higher productivity and attentiveness. For someone like me, that is a great gift.
Holy Week is a time when we’re invited into the most profound experiences of humankind, places of the darkest kind of pain, aching loss, the betrayal that sometimes attends love, and all the costs of love itself. My favorite theologian, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, lamented often about a phenomenon he saw at work in the church in Germany in the years between World War I and the second World War. As the church struggled to find a voice as National Socialism’s messages of exclusion and hate began slowly to take root in the fertile soil of a stressed Germany, many in the church articulated a faith that simply required saying “I do.” In the saying, the faithful were promised the abundance of God’s grace and love. Nothing more was asked or required. Bonhoeffer called that cheap grace.
Jesus the Christ had no trick with that kind of grace. The love and life they modeled for us was, yes, powerful and abundant. And it was never cheap. Living into the life and love of Christ is often, perhaps always, costly, just as costly sometimes as the life Jesus lived and whose crushing end we remember this week, when the cross is always before us.
We are surrounded by signs of that cross, and God’s love requires that we too respond with sacrificial love. This week we pray again for the hundreds of victims of gun violence. Each life lost is a crack in God’s heart and a tear in the fabric of the human community. We pray this week that we may attend to our torn planet, working to remedy what we have shredded, before it’s too late. This week, we remember in our community life all those with whom we share this city whose entire lives have been red-lined by economic injustice and disparity into abject poverty. Our siblings keeping warm on the subway grates and steam vents of the streets of Philadelphia break, or who shelter in ancient tunnels and caves along the rivers bring tears of sorrow and frustration to Jesus’ face. Their cries break God’s heart of love and they call us into sacrificial life–life of action and not merely words or aspirations. God’s great heart of love is cracked open by our venality and blindness. It also is wide open to us, as wide as the arms of Jesus on the cross, in invitation to new ways of being, new ways of witness, new ways of love.
Those things are costly, yes. They are also redemptive and ultimately joyful.
Easter does not offer cheap grace. The Resurrection celebration is a sign of the daily reformation and renewal that is promised us by Christ and that is absolutely possible when we actually do walk in love. That walk, at its best, is a journey we take together, filled with the brave and fearless joy of the children of God. Join me in the weeks ahead, then, to consider the lilies, how they grow, and the birds, how they sing, calling us to be menders of God’s great broken heart of love.
Tags: Clergy & Staff