Ever since I was little I’ve had an image of heaven as a place where everything would be absolutely perfect. Some of this likely came from the old family Bible that I’d often pull off the bookshelf to look at. It had realistic painted images throughout, but I loved the ones from the Garden of Eden in the book Genesis. Eve’s portrait was enchanting, especially given her silky blonde hair and dreamy blue eyes. At some point in my elementary school years I learned that heaven would be perfect just like that garden, and so the illustrations in that old Bible merged with my images of heaven.
Sometime over the winter, my favorite pair of jeans got a hole in them. Now this hole’s placement isn’t in a spot that I can just overlook, especially given my chosen profession. I’ve even given up wearing them around the house on my day off in case I forget that hole is there and venture out into public. So this great pair of Gap jeans has sat unworn on the top shelf of my closet for the past few months. I feel like I’m just prolonging the inevitable, letting them sit there until I get my Marie Kondo on and tidy up. I’ll then thank those jeans for the joy they’ve brought me over the years, and summarily toss them out.
In our reading from John on Maundy Thursday, we heard Jesus’ giving the disciples a new commandment—that they should love one another. He said to them: “Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
On a silent and holy night some 2000 years ago, an angel of the Lord appeared to shepherds living in some fields who were keeping watch over their flocks. The angel proclaimed good news of great joy for all people by announcing the birth of a little one who would be found in a manger. Suddenly that angel was joined by a multitude of the heavenly hosts praising God and saying: “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors.”
I’ve always been enamored with those incredible, fun-loving creatures who live in the Shire in JRR Tolkien’s books called hobbits. Now I’m not a diehard ask me any sort of trivia question follower; I just love their devotion and loyalty, their ability to enjoy life and those around them. You may not remember this, but when it’s a hobbit’s birthday, they give presents to their friends, family and neighbors who show up to their birthday celebrations rather than receiving gifts from them. Their focus on their birthday is to be grateful for those other people in their lives and not on what they can get in terms of cool presents.
We long to live in a world where consequences match the actions. We want the bad guy to get it in the end (or sooner, frankly). We see this often in movies and novels—when that character that’s been a pain finally gets his just deserts. So when bad things happen to good people, we get upset, claiming life isn’t fair and that God is either to blame or should do something to remedy the situation right now.
I absolutely loved the study of Iconography while in seminary. Religious iconography entails the images or symbols associated with a specific person or event in the biblical narrative found in paintings, stained glass, and the like. A person “reads” iconography by knowing the symbols or the stories being depicted. For example, the early church used the story of Jonah and the great fish as a precursor of Jesus’ resurrection since Jonah sat in the belly of that fish for three days—just like Jesus in the tomb. So on the sides of ancient coffins you’ll encounter depictions of a huge sea creature with two legs hanging out of its mouth. Those in the know would immediately think of the resurrection.
You and I are often defined as “consumers,” as those who consume. And, according to most measures both economic and otherwise, we’re darn good at it. We devour and use up and utilize and yes, we even squander, destroy and waste things and food and news and people.
Eternal One, far too often we are blinded in this world by the darkness rather than the light. We believe far too readily that things will always be the same, that they cannot be transformed. Let your light shine in us and through us, that we might reveal your glory to the world. Amen.
We Americans have a love-hate relationship with our bodies.
I’m not sure if it’s helpful to cast blame as much as it is to just be honest about our current situation. We spend billions of dollars on products, procedures, and the like to make our physical bodies match the image in our minds of what is beautiful. Our bodies age, and so our eyes don’t quite focus like they used to, or our hair isn’t quite as there as it once was. We tire out more quickly, or our memory starts slipping, or things we used to do easily when we were younger now give us trouble. Never mind the issues we have around food and weight that begin way too early in life. Our relationship with our bodies is complicated.