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Revenge is Not the Way

The Third Sunday after Pentecost—Proper 7—Year A
The Rev. Cynthia K. R. Banks
June 25, 2017

Text  /  Video

The labor and the harvest

The Second Sunday after Pentecost—Proper 6—Year A
The Rev. Cynthia K. R. Banks
June 18, 2017

Text  /  Video

This HATE has got to STOP!

Trinity Sunday—Year A
The Rev. Cynthia K. R. Banks
June 11, 2017

Text  /  Video

Jesus will not leave us orphaned

Easter 6—Year A
The Rev. Cynthia K. R. Banks
May 21, 2017

Text  /  Video

Jesus and The Relational Way

The Rev. Cynthia Banks--Easter 5—Year A        (video link)

Acts 7:55-60

Psalm 31:1-5, 15-16

I Peter 2:2-10

John 14:1-14


John 14—oh, what a beautiful passage. Jesus said, “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places …” In the King James, it’s many mansionsIn my Father’s house are many mansions…” Good stuff. Rich images. Dwelling places, mansions, places to abide, places of presence. In God’s home, presence is spacious.

Jesus continues, “If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also. And you know the way to the place where I am going.” This is so tender, so hopeful, so reassuring. Jesus reminding his followers that he’s told them that he is preparing a place for them, and that he himself will take them to himself, so that in that glorious place where he has planted his presence, there his followers will be also.

This is intimate. Taking someone to yourself is intimate. And Jesus reminds them further that they know the way to that place, to that space where he is going. In the years they have spent in his presence, they have garnered some skills, they have gained some capacities to see and perceive and know the way that leads to this place that Jesus himself inhabits.

And this is so hard for us because we, in our flesh and blood material existence, think physical place, physical realm, physical time. But this is mystical language. This is the language of all the realms, and those include the physical realm but move far beyond it into realms that are objectively real, but beyond our objective, rational minds and imaginations. It’s Thomas, good ol’ keep-it-real Thomas, who gives voice to our confusion.

Thomas said to [Jesus], “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way? Lord, we don’t know this place where you are going. And if we don’t know this place, how can we possibly know the way. We don’t know the destination, and frankly, Lord, after the events of tonight, we’re not even sure of  our starting place. Our google maps app is not going to help us here. How can we know the way???

 And then Jesus drops down into the deep, deep waters. Hold on to your hats because he’s dropping us into the kind of mystical truth that will blow our minds and quicken our hearts. “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you know me, you will know my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.”

Okay, in these words of Jesus, what’s the phrase that gives you fits? (pause) No one comes to the Father except through me. And why does this phrase give you fits? (pause) That’s right, because it sounds exclusive, because it makes it sound like the only way to access God is through Jesus. And well, what do we do with all the people of all the other faiths? What do we do with all the other ways of knowing God? And what do we do with there being many mansions and many dwelling places in this spacious home of God? And off our minds are running down the rabbit hole with a thousand questions.

But let’s hit the pause button here. Context, context, context. What is the context of Jesus saying these things to his disciples? Jesus and his closest friends are sharing supper on the night before he will be crucified. Jesus knows that everything is falling apart. He knows he’s about to be betrayed by one of his inner circle, and he knows he’ll be denied by one of his closest friends and followers. He’s washed his disciples’ feet. He’s shown his love for them and made clear that this is the kind of love they are to show one another. They’ve shared bread and wine. The night feels heavy. The disciples are rattled. This is the energetic atmosphere into which Jesus is speaking these words.

Jesus is not trying to spin out a systematic theology that deals with who’s in and who’s out of the kingdom; Jesus is trying to reassure his disciples in a more Julian of Norwich kind of way—“Friends, it’s all about love, always and forever it’s about love, and all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.”

And there’s a subtle shift that happens over these verses, and it centers on the word translated as “know.” When Jesus first tells his disciples that they know the way, this knowing is really about what can be perceived with the senses; it’s more about skills and capacities and garnering knowledge; there’s some definition to this kind of knowing. And Thomas isn’t so sure of his knowledge. It’s like EOG’s and EOC’s are coming (that’s End of Grade and End of Class tests for those of you not living this reality right now), and Thomas fears he’s forgotten everything he knows.

But when Jesus answers Thomas, he says that if Thomas knows him, i.e. Jesus, then Thomas knows the Father, but this kind of knowing is a different word in the greek. It’s intimate knowing, it’s the word used to convey the Jewish idiom for the most intimate of relations between a man and a woman. This is knowing that is intensely, intimately relational. And what comes next shows us how hard this is to grasp.

 Philip said to [Jesus], “Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied. Expose it to our eyes, give us some proof. Prove this God thing, give us some facts, Lord, and it will be enough for us.

And Jesus goes right back to relational, intimate knowing. “You know me from dwelling with me, from communing with me, from being with me. Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and you still do not know me? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own; but this is about God in me, Philip. Trust me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me, and if you can’t trust what I’m telling you then trust me because of the things you’ve experienced with me and in me and through me.” Again, it’s a relational kind of knowing.

 But back to this darn “No one comes to the Father except through me. If you know me, you will know my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.”

 When you hear “Father” in this context, what do you see? (pause) Old white grandfatherly guy with long flowing white beard. And who is the “me” here? Yes, it’s Jesus, but this is John’s gospel; this is the gospel of “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God…And the Word became flesh and dwelled among us.” This is the gospel of the Incarnation, God made flesh.

There is no getting to our Divine Source, which is what “pater,” “Father,” means, there is no getting to our Divine Source without understanding that Divinity dwells in our flesh. God is insanely, intimately, relational with our human flesh. That’s what Jesus icons for us.

There is no getting to Divinity somewhere out there without understanding that Divinity dwells so richly in here, dwells so richly in this earthen vessel called humanity.

And you can’t discover this Divinity in the abstract or in the realm of show-me facts; you can only discover this Divinity in the intimacy that comes when you dwell with another, abide with them, commune with them, live with them, set up household with them.

It’s in living our lives with God-made-flesh, in Jesus, in one another, that we discover the Source of that merciful, compassionate, steadfast, unfathomable Love that companions us in our dying and in our rising.

Jesus isn’t teaching his disciples about exclusion; he’s teaching them about the intimacy of relationship with the Divine. Jesus, God—they aren’t an idea; as we discovered last week, they are a portal, a passage, a channel carrying us into the Love that moves beyond words and expresses itself in the flesh.

It’s a little unnerving to think of God dwelling that intimately with us. No wonder Thomas wants to resort to a spiritual maps app and Philip to provable facts. Working it out in relationship is always the harder row to hoe.

Coming to the Divine Source in this way will always be the way of dying and rising, it will constantly ask us to search out a deeper truth that is discovered as we seek to live in alignment with this creative Divine Source, but dwelling in this most intimate of relational spaces with Divinity itself—this truly is the complete, the full, the abundant life that Jesus both describes and promises us.

So, all this mystical teaching, what does it have to do with us and our lives? Well, we can dismiss this passage as exclusionary teaching that has no power to touch us, OR, we can leap with all our heart into the relationship that Jesus is inviting us to know, with all our heart and soul and mind and yes, body.

We can fret about not having our directions in the spiritual life all laid out by every turn and landmark, we can yearn for proof that our senses will accept, OR we can take the lover’s leap that is more intuitive that logical.

And like the disciples, maybe we do a little more trusting—maybe we trust, that even though we may not quite grasp this teaching today, maybe we trust that there will come a time when our hearts will simply know that which our minds struggle to conceive, and in that conception, hidden in the deeper places of our hearts, in that intimate conception, we truly will be born anew. Amen.

The Rev. Cynthia K. R. Banks

St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, Boone, NC
May 14, 2017

The Lord is My…Portal!

The Rev. Cynthia K. R. Banks–Easter 4—Year A                      (video link)

Easter 4—Year A
Acts 2:42-47
Psalm 23
1 Peter 2:19-25
John 10:1-10

Any guess as to what Sunday this is? Ah, Good Shepherd Sunday. On the 4th Sunday of Easter, we always get some portion of John 10, and in John 10, Jesus is doing his darnedest to respond to some of his critics who were challenging his authority to heal. In John 9, Jesus has just healed that man born blind. He’s dealt with all the “who sinned this man or his parents” questions (to which he responded, “Neither”). And he’s talked about what makes us truly blind, and the religious leaders, who felt in the know, are getting agitated, “Surely we are not blind, are we?”

What if that response by the Pharisees, what if that wasn’t a response with attitude, but was an actual, earnest question. Could we be blind? Could we really be missing the boat? But we’re supposed to know better—oh no, surely we’re not blind to what really matters, are we?”

It’s interesting, but Jesus doesn’t respond by pulling out his C.V. and  comparing his bonafides; he doesn’t recite a litany of those under whom he’s studied; he doesn’t share a bibliography of all the books he’s read—all things I’m tempted to do when challenged. No, he just launches into extended metaphors, designed to pull his listeners in deeper where they might hear something that they’ve not yet been able to hear.

In this year’s passage, we get the part about sheepfolds and shepherds, bandits and thieves—juicy stuff. The first part you can sort of follow. You’ve got your basic sheepfold with a gate. The shepherd enters by the gate. The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep hear his voice. Your thieves and bandits don’t go through the gate—they’re sneaky—they climb in by another way. The sheep follow the shepherd because they know that voice; they don’t follow strangers because they don’t know those voices.

We can follow this. We might even be able to identify some of the thieves and bandits who steal our attention and distract us from those things that truly matter—the drive for power or esteem or affection or security or control, or the litany of lack that keeps us running on that wheel, round and round and round, never stopping to rest in the sheepfold or breathe deep of that good fresh air out in the pasture.

There are so many voices calling out to us in our culture; it’s easy to miss the voice of the shepherd. As it was in the beginning, is now, and shall ever be. The text tells us, “Jesus used this figure of speech with them, but they did not understand what he was saying to them.” Again, the “them” are those who are wrestling with the fact that Jesus has raised their consciousness about their blindness. Do you ever like it when someone raises your blind spot to your awareness? I don’t, and my first stop is always going to be defensiveness. Seeing the truth of what is being pointed out to me, that comes a little further down the road. So, images, stories, metaphors—they help to lower those defenses and can often provide just enough distance for me to look at myself.

But, metaphor #1 didn’t work to lower those defenses with Jesus’ listeners. So, Jesus has to try again. So again Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. All who came before, thieves and bandits; sheep didn’t listen to them. I am the gate. Whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy.”

Jesus is the gate. It doesn’t quite roll off the tongue, does it? The Lord is my shepherd—oh, that’s lyrical. The Lord is my gate, not so much. What does this even mean?

So, when you hear gate, what comes to mind? (pause) Something to keep something in, and something to keep something out. When you hear gatekeeper, what comes to mind? (pause) A block. Someone who’s going to keep me from getting where I want to go. Someone who might protect me. Or, someone who’s trying to protect someone or something, and won’t give me access. It’s an access-mediator. Who in this room likes gatekeepers? Really, be honest now. Most of us, deep down, we don’t like gatekeepers. So, to hear that Jesus is the gate—this starts to stir up some not good feelings and associations, and it definitely lacks the emotional impact of “the Lord is my shepherd.”

Part of this is a problem with translation. The word in greek is θύρα, and it doesn’t actually mean “gate;” it means “door,” as in “entrance,” as in “passage way,” as in “portal.” Oh, now we’re cooking. I love portals. Portals are passages to other dimensions, other worlds—think Narnia, or the drama Once Upon a Time or Dr. Who or Harry Potter. Portals are magical and mysterious, luminous and liminal. I can totally warm up to magical and mysterious, luminous and liminal.

Jesus is the passage way, the entrance, the portal to another life. And what kind of life? “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” Jesus came that they/we may have ζωή life, full and whole and complete life, and have it, not just abundantly, but have it exceeding abundantly, over and above, περισσός—exceeding some number or measure or rank or need—this is abundance that is, literally, off the charts.

Wow, that’s really different than the connotations of gates and gatekeeper.

What if we don’t look at this passage as describing who Jesus is going to keep in or out of the either the sheepfold or the pasture, but instead, look at Jesus as a portal to life that is full of grace and overflowingly abundant?

What if we don’t look at Jesus as a bunch of metal attached to hinges, but instead, think of him as a passage that carries us into a space we aren’t currently living in. A space where we are so full that all that’s described in the Acts passage doesn’t seem like a pipedream, but becomes the natural outpouring of what flows when we are living the abundant life. A space where all who trust in this life are together and hold all things in common and sell all those things that possess us freeing up resources and energy to distribute to all, as any have need. No merit system here, no worthiness criteria, just need. This abundant life overflows into their prayers and the way they break bread together, in their eagerness to go deeper into this life, and in their commitment to be in communion with one anothercommunity we would call it today. This abundant life is glad and generous, full of heart, eager to praise, with a sense of having grace and joy with all people. And this abundant life that flows from the heart of God is so daggone attractive, so compelling that day by day, people are added to the community; day by day, people are being made whole, being “saved” in church talk. Five times “all” or “everyone” shows up in this passage from Acts. It’s full and inclusive and expansive.

What if we understood that Jesus is the portal into this kind of life?

Do we believe it’s possible? Do we trust that this can in fact happen? Or do we dismiss it as a naïve fantasy? Why are people more drawn to see Jesus as a gate or gatekeeper, than to see Jesus as a door and portal into the abundant life?

What might shift in us if we understood him in this new way? After all, we do share in his life, we are the body of Christ, so what changes in us if we see our role, not as gates and gatekeepers, but instead see our lives as portals, passageways, doors into the abundant life? How might this abundance take root in our lives, and what fruits might it manifest? What outward and visible signs would people see in us that would reveal this inward and spiritual grace? What would shift in our relationship to resources and possessions? How might we view those in need and our connection to them? What would it look like if we saw those in need, not as a problem to be fixed, but as the natural place where love and life flow from the wellspring of life that is exceedingly abundant within us? What wonders and signs might be done at our hands? How might awe come upon us and everyone we meet? Where might our devotion carry us?

On this 4th Sunday of Easter, we’re three weeks into the season, and the fog is starting to clear. Resurrection life isn’t just something that happened to Jesus, but it’s something that’s happening to us. It’s time to move through the portal, to jump into mystery, to cross the threshold, to experience illumination.

How we view Jesus carries us places. Don’t make the mistake of thinking he’s confining; he’s been dying, and rising, to transport us into that life that is more than we can ask or imagine.

All we have to do is follow his voice, and he will take us where we so long to go.

As we make this passage and travel in this way, soon we will discover this abundance rising up within us, and like magic, our lives themselves will have become that cup that is running over, not because it’s what we set out to do, but because life this full just has to be shared. Amen.

The Rev. Cynthia K. R. Banks
St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, Boone, NC
May 7, 2017

Breaking open our narratives

The Rev. Cynthia K. R. Banks–Easter 3—Year A                              (video link)

Easter 3—Year A
Acts 2:14a, 36-41
Psalm 116:1-3, 10-17
1 Peter 1:17-23
Luke 24:13-35

Are you feeling that Easter joy yet? Some of you “yes”? Some of you “no”? Well, if you’re a “yes”, then you are way ahead of the disciples and the Church. If you’re a “no”, you are right on target because the Church has, once again, taken us right back to that same day.

It takes time to come to terms with resurrection life. Very few of us leap there as soon as it happens. We spend a lot of time letting go, dying in spiritual language; why on earth would we think we can rise on demand? Sometimes it happens, and our world turns back into life on a dime, but most of the time, it’s a slog; it’s slow; it’s painstaking; it’s halting; it’s fits and starts.

So, let’s see what we can glean from Luke’s gospel today.

Now on that same day two of Jesus’ disciples were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, and talking with each other about all these things that had happened. While they were talking and discussing, and this isn’t just your normal chit chat, this talking is the kind of talking you do when you are keeping company with another, the King James translates it as “communing.” And discussing, this is the kind of exchange you have when you are throwing thoughts and ideas back and forth as you are seeking to understand something, seeking to make sense of something. This is the kind of keeping company and throwing things back and forth you do when you are trying to make sense of a broken heart.

While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and went with them, but their eyes were kept from recognizing him. Their eyes were prevented from knowing him. The phrasing here is that same word we encountered last week in John’s gospel when Jesus was talking about retaining another’s sinsholding fast, seizing on something and refusing to let go. They had locked onto something that kept their eyes from seeing; they just couldn’t perceive the One in front of them, like they absolutely could not recognize him. What had they locked onto that kept their eyes from seeing and their heart from perceiving? Hold on to that question.

And Jesus said to them, “What are you discussing with each other while you walk along?”

They stood still, looking sad. That question stopped them cold. Incredulous, one of them, whose name was Cleopas, answered him, “Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place there in these days?”

He asked them, “What things?”

Oh, that did it. Then, the floodgates opened and out poured the story. You know how it is when there is a story inside of you that just has to get out, that has to get told, and all the details come tumbling out, sometimes faster than you can get the words out, sometimes faster than the listener can take in, sometimes faster than a brain can order what it’s saying or hearing.

Here’s what they said,  “The things about Jesus of Nazareth, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, and how our chief priests and leaders handed him over to be condemned to death and crucified him. But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things took place. Moreover, some women of our group astounded us. They were at the tomb early this morning, and when they did not find his body there, they came back and told us that they had indeed seen a vision of angels who said that he was alive. Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said; but they did not see him.”

Breathe. This was the story they told. This was the story they were throwing back and forth to each other before the stranger came alongside them. This was the story they had been running through their mind and through their heart for three days. This was the story they had locked onto, and this was the story that kept them from recognizing what was now unfolding right before their eyes.

Part of that narrative was about their expectations. They had a certain image of who Jesus was and who he was supposed to be and how his trajectory was supposed to unfold. A prophet mighty in deed and word; they had hoped that he was the one they’d been waiting for who would redeem Israel. But it had all gone horribly wrong. It had ended in death; it had ended with their hopes being dashed. Nothing can get a narrative shaped in our head like crushed expectations.

When things don’t turn out as we expect, our world spins out of control, and our brains scramble to make sense of it, to find some pattern.  It doesn’t even matter if it’s an inaccurate pattern or a bad pattern; we just need a pattern to get our world back in control, to get it set back right, even if that right is now full of darkness and pain.

And just when their brain had settled on that grief stricken pattern it all shifted again. You can almost hear the exasperation in their voices, Now, some women have astounded us. They went to that tomb; he wasn’t there; they saw a vision; some angels told them he was alive; some of us went to check it out; it was just as the women said, and they didn’t see him.” And the brain officially goes into freakout mode. What pattern can you fit this into? No wonder the two disciples were throwing this story back and forth trying to make sense of it. Heck, they were just trying to form these events into a narrative, period!

Even been there? Ever been on that rollercoaster trying to make sense of events that don’t make sense? Expectations dashed? Expectations raised? Expectations changed? Expectations shattered? Expectations exceeded? Even if the plummeting turns to rising, it’s still change, and it still feels like the world is spinning out of control, and it still feels like we have just left the tracks, and where will this end? And so, we work and work and work to form the narrative.

And yet, and yet, that narrative we construct, it can keep us from recognizing the life that is in fact happening right now, right before our eyes. The narrative they constructed, they laid hold of it, they seized it, and it kept them locked from being able to recognize that Love had come again and Life was in their midst.

Jesus sets about helping them to soften their narrative, to expand it, to widen it. Then he said to them, “Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared! Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?” Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures. He went back through the whole narrative and pointed out all the things that would allow them to see him.

But sometimes our narratives get pretty fixed. When our brains seize on a story, it’s hard to override that and let our heart dare to see something beyond the story we are telling ourselves. Our hearts are indeed slow to trust when they have been broken.

And ultimately, the two couldn’t relinquish their story. Not even Jesus’ masterful reinterpretation could set them free.

Jesus was about to give up. As they came near the village to which they were going, he walked ahead as if he were going on. But the two disciples then did the most ordinary thing—routines embedded deep within their being compelled those two disciples to compel Jesus to stay with them. Sometimes, what our minds cannot grasp, some deeper place in our soul conspires to get us to see. Sometimes, it is our routines, our traditions, our norms of hospitality and civility that get us where we need to go.

They urged him strongly, saying, “Stay with us, because it is almost evening and the day is now nearly over.” So he went in to stay with them. When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight.

They couldn’t recognize him in the story, but they knew him in the breaking of the bread. They knew him in that mystical moment that is beyond our narratives. They knew him in that wordless act that spoke everything their hearts needed to know. Then their eyes were opened, and they knew him, they knew him.

 And this opening is deep and hard. It’s the kind of opening that happens by dividing or drawing asunder, it’s a thorough, rending opening, all the way into the depths of the soul that awakens our deep desire to learn and understand. Their narrative had to be rent to let the truth of his Life and Presence penetrate into the deepest regions of their soul, then they knew him—their heart knew him, their mind knew him, their body knew him, their soul knew him. And once they knew him, he didn’t need to stand before them.

They didn’t need the story because they had the experience.

After he vanished, they said to each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?” Once that experience of his Presence opened and penetrated into their heart and soul, then they could make sense of that burning in their heart, that nascent, kindled fire of recognition, and then, the big story, the big narrative that holds all of our stories made sense. God created us and all that is. God loves us and all that is. Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again. We die with him; we rise with him. Death no longer has dominion over him, or us.

That same hour they got up and returned to Jerusalem; and they found the eleven and their companions gathered together. Their companions had had their own experience of resurrection. They were saying, “The Lord has risen indeed, and he has appeared to Simon!” Then the two told what had happened on the road, and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread.

All of this raises questions for us on this 3rd Sunday of Easter.

What narratives are we running that we might need to release in order to experience the resurrection life that is right before our eyes?

Where is bread being broken in our normal, ordinary experiences when we least expect it, and is that breaking of the bread penetrating down into our hearts and souls, opening our eyes to see resurrection all around us?

Where are our narratives in need of some reworking, and with eyes now opened to see, can we allow them to expand, can we allow our narratives to live and breathe and flex to match the resurrection reality that is constantly drawing us into a bigger life. It’s not that our narratives are bad; to be human is to form story and tell story, to ourselves and to one another and to the generations to come. The problem comes when we fix that narrative and it settles like concrete, unchanging, and things are forever the way our narrative says they are.

If today shows us anything, it’s that the story is always getting bigger; there is always more to learn, there is always more to see; there is always more to open to, always. And so often, it won’t be our minds that take us there, but the burning in our hearts when we experience him in the breaking of the bread.

So, tell the story you have to tell, but don’t cling to it. Lay it down long enough to encounter the stranger around the table, in the breaking of the bread. Then, with your heart kindled and your soul ablaze, set about seeing everything with fresh eyes, open to the life that is beckoning you forward. Then watch, as the threads of your story are rewoven, knit together with the Risen Christ, and rejoice as a whole new chapter begins. Amen.

The Rev. Cynthia K. R. Banks
St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, Boone, NC
April 30, 2017

Thomas, Wounds and the Risen Christ

The Rev. Cynthia K. R. Banks–Easter 2—Year A                                             (video link)
Acts 2:14a, 22-32
Psalm 16
I Peter 1:3-9
John 20:19-31

There is so much going on in this passage from John today! It’s evening on that day, the first day of the week. Mary Magdalene had come earlier in the day to tell them all that she had seen the Lord! You would think that would have brought the disciples out en masse to check out this good news, but no, where are they? Huddled in a house where they had gathered after their hopes were dashed and their hearts were broken, locked up in their fear.

But Jesus came and stood among them, not in front of them, not behind them, not over them, but stood among them, came right into their midst, and said to them, “Peace be with you.” “Peace be with you.” I’ve always heard this word for “peace” and thought “shalom,” that peace with a deep sense of wholeness, but shalom is the word in hebrew. In the new testament, the word in greek is εἰρήνη, and it has a different feel to it. εἰρήνη is peace with a sense of tranquility and rest and quietness and oneness. One of the definitions is actually, a state of national tranquility, exempt from the rage and havoc of war. Jesus comes into his disciples’ midst and the first thing he does is wish them tranquility and quiet and rest.

After he said this, he showed them his hands and his sides, those places that marked his wounds. Resurrection doesn’t erase our wounds; it doesn’t pretend those wounds never happened, but resurrection allows those wounds to call us into a deeper experience of Jesus. Jesus showed them his wounds. Then the disciples rejoiced when they experienced the Lord. It wasn’t just that they experienced his wounds, but they experienced his Risen Presence amidst those wounds.

Then Jesus wishes them peace again, and invites their torn up, fragmented, fearful souls to be one again. Jesus continues, “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.”

Wow. How did the Father send Jesus? God sent Jesus into this world in the Incarnation, in the Word made flesh, God made flesh. God sent Jesus into the fabric of our living as he ate with us and drank with us and healed among us and taught us and forgave us and wept with us. God sent Jesus into the heart of suffering on the cross; God sent Jesus into the heart of nothingness and waiting in the tomb; and God sent Jesus back into life that we might know that love and life are bigger than death. As God sent Jesus into every corner of our human existence, so Jesus sends us.

That’s an awfully tall order for us, eh? So, when Jesus had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”

We think this day is all about Thomas, but Thomas is only a piece of this day. Jesus’ first encounter with the disciples is all about receiving the power we will need to go to all the places Jesus will send us. And it’s about understanding full well how much this is going to demand of us by way of forgiving and where we will resist this call by way of holding on.

Receive the Holy Spirit, if you forgive the sins of anyforgive, let go, yield up, keep no longerthen those sins are sent away.

If you retain the sins of anyif you lay hold of them, if you continue to hold them, if you hold fast to these sins in order to hold power over someone—understand that holding those sins is not benign, but in that holding fast to the sins of another, death itself will be holding onto you. That other person will be held in this grip of death, and so will you.

To be sent by Jesus as God sent him is to let go and release. For most of us, this is more than we can do—that’s why he gives us the Holy Spirit to help us—As St. Paul noted, “God working in us can do infinitely more than we can ask or imagine.”

So, Thomas isn’t with them in the evening on that day. That, in and of itself, is interesting. When the rest were locked away in their fear, where was Thomas? Could it be that he actually believed Mary Magdalene and was actually out and about looking for the Risen Christ? The others tell Thomas that they have seen the Lord, but Thomas wants to see and experience the Lord himself. He wants to see and touch those wounds. Thomas wants to experience how it is that your wounds don’t kill you. Can you blame him? Don’t we all want to experience that truth? When your world, and everything you thought you knew, has been turned upside down, it’s hard to trust that God is still with you until you experience that Risen Presence for yourself and see that aliveness radiating out of those nail-marked places.

Jesus gets it.

A week later, the disciples are again in the house, and the doors are still shut, but they aren’t locked anymore. Slowly, we’re making some progress here, and this time, Thomas is with them.

Again, Jesus comes among them. Again, he wishes them peace, tranquility, quiet, rest, oneness. Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe. Touch the wounds, Thomas, reach out and touch the wounds. Don’t withhold your trust, but lean in; you can trust this, Thomas, you can trust this.”

And then, the dam broke for Thomas. All that pent up hope came rushing forth—“My Lord and my God!”

What happens next is interesting, and our translation botches it. We hear Jesus asking Thomas a question, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” It sounds like an indictment.

But that’s not how the greek reads. It’s not a question, it’s a statement. “Thomas, you have believed, you trust because you have seen me. In touching the wounds, you have come to trust that my resurrection life lives on.” It’s not an indictment of Thomas; it’s an acknowledgement of what Thomas now knows in his heart and soul and mind and body. It’s an integrating moment. Jesus is acknowledging that Thomas has now come into peace; Thomas is one with Jesus, and so is one with himself. It’s what Thomas needed to find that oneness for which he longed.

Then, Jesus turns to a wider scope, a wider lens. “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe. Blessed are those who have not had the benefit to experience me in such a tangible, undeniable, hands-on way, and yet have come to trust.”

And this, too, is the best of news.

Sometimes, we are Thomas, and we meet Jesus in the depth of the wounds. It’s intense; we feel it; it shakes us to the core, and we know the Risen Christ is among us.

And sometimes, we don’t experience anything at all, at least not anything that we can identify. But rather, it’s a slow, almost imperceptible turning of our heart. It’s more of a recognition event, as Cynthia Bourgeault calls it, and something deep, deep in our being makes that leap of trust without any evidence at all to back up the leaping of our heart.

Either way, we can come to trust that the Risen Christ is among us, and the peace he speaks over us is the balm our souls are longing for. His peace can bring tranquility and stillness and rest for our weary, torn up, fragmented, fearful souls. Amidst wounds and brokenness, it is possible to be one. We don’t have to hold on to all those things done unto us, but we’ve been given the power of the Holy Spirit, so that we can risk letting go, setting the other free, and ourselves, along the way.

And all of this, all of this, is so that we might have life, ζωή, zoe, life that is real and genuine and active and vigorus, the absolute fullness of life.

This is what is waiting for us this side of Easter. It may take some fits and starts. We may have to start from behind locked doors, so fearful are we of trusting this good news. We may inch toward unlocking those doors, but still need to keep them shut.

But it doesn’t matter where we start, Jesus is coming through, and he will stand among us no matter our fearful state.

We may need to see his Risen Presence in his wounds to know that ours hold the potential to radiate resurrection as well. Or, we may be able to take that leap of trust as we turn into that much quieter turning in the deeper regions of our heart.

All that matters is that we trust that Jesus is going to find a way to come among us. All that matters is that Jesus longs to wish us the peace for which our souls are longing. All that matters is the abundant life is still there to be found amidst our deepest crucifixions.

Don’t be surprised if in the touching of the most unexpected, broken places of life, you find yourself saying with Thomas, “My Lord and my God.”

Whether it’s evening on that day, or one week later, it’s time to let go and trust that even those wounded places are alive with Christ.  Amen.


The Rev. Cynthia K. R. Banks
St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, Boone, NC
April 23, 2017

You will see the Risen Christ in Galilee

The Rev. Cynthia K. R. Banks–Easter Day—Year A                                       (video link)
Acts 10:34-43
Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24
Colossians 3:1-4
Matthew 28:1-10

After the sabbath, when it was getting on toward dawn on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary, went to see the grave. When last we met Mary Magdalene and the other Mary, they had watched their beloved die; they’d watched Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus take his body off the cross and wrap it in a linen cloth and lay it in a tomb. The men had left—it was the day of Preparation—but the women had lingered. But sabbath obligations eventually drew them away. Though their bodies were occupied doing other things, their minds and their hearts and their spirits were still sitting vigil at that tomb. You know how it is when a loss has rocked you, you may be going about your normal routines, but your heart, your mind, your spirit is most definitely somewhere else.

So, it is no surprise that as that dawn was breaking, they were beating a path right back to that place where their beloved Lord lay dead. It’s interesting, but there are two words in greek used to describe this place of burial. Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus, they lay Jesus in a tomb, a sepulchre, a tangible place to preserve the memory of the one who lay there. But the women go to see the place where the body was buried. For them, this isn’t so much about memory; they are not that far along in their journey of grief; for them, this is about loss.

And they didn’t go just to look at that grave; this wasn’t any old kind of seeing, but this was the seeing that you do with your heart, the kind of seeing you do when you are attentive to something, when you want to consider something at the deepest level, when you are trying to discern the meaning of your experience.

But lo and behold, when they arrived, there was a great earthquake, a great shaking. I’ve always thought that earthquake was necessary to get that stone to start rolling, but in Matthew’s gospel, the angel’s got the rolling-the-stone-away part covered. This great shaking is set loose by the energy that is moving across the realms—the veil between heaven and earth can be so very, very thin. This shaking comes when that divine realm we call heaven has a word to speak to the realm where we live and move and have our being.

And this shaking isn’t just about those realms opening to one another, but there is something else at work here.  Maybe it was necessary to shake the women out of their grief; maybe it’s necessary to shake us out of whatever blinders we have on this morning.

For some of us, we, like those women, may well be in a place of grief and loss, yearning to hope and fearing to do so at the same time.

For others of us, the blinders are more subtle—we know the end of this story; we know that Jesus will rise, and so resurrection becomes one more milestone to mark, but it doesn’t really touch us and turn our world upside down. So, we need a great shaking to shake us out of the familiar and reorient out heart to what is actually unfolding before our eyes.

Well, that angel rolls away the stone with an appearance like lightning and clothes that are white as snow. The response of the guards is terror and then to shake like crazy, same word as the shaking that angel’s descending from heaven set loose. But their shaking doesn’t wake them up; it deadens them. In their fear, they lose their capacity to see with new eyes.

And then, that angel sets about doing what angels always do. What is it that the angels always say? That’s right, “Fear not!” “Do not be afraid; I know you are looking for Jesus who was crucified.” And this word for looking is different than the seeing that drew the women to the grave—this looking is about seeking, searching, desiring, longing to find. That angel knows that what drew those women to that tomb, and draws us here today, is a deep, deep longing to find that which we’ve lost. The angel names that longing, but then shatters all of our expectations.

With our hearts shaken open, words fall into them that seem too good to be true—“I know you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. He is not here, for he has been raised, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay.” And yet a third greek word pops up for see—this one is to discern clearly, to perceive with the mind, to experience, to know. This isn’t about proving that he’s gone from the burial chamber; this is about experiencing that he’s alive, this is about knowing with all of our hearts that Love has come again.

Come and know this,” the angel says, “Then go quickly and tell his disciples, ‘He has been raised from the dead, and indeed he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, there you will experience him, there you will know the reality of resurrection.’”

So, the women left the tomb quickly with a good bit of terror and great joy and they ran to bring these tidings to the disciples. They hardly get down the path when Jesus meets them with joy, and they came up to him, and they held on tight to his feet, and they kissed his hand, as you do when joy meets joy and overflows.

Jesus tells the women the same thing that angel said, “Do not be afraid; go and proclaim to my brothers to go to Galilee and there they will see me.”

“Do not be afraid. Do not be afraid. Do not be afraid of resurrection. Go and share the news. Tell everyone to go Galilee. Go to that place where your life is lived, go to that place where you make your living, that place where you dwell with your families, that place where you gather with friends, go to that place that is as ordinary as ordinary can be. Tell everyone to go there, and there they will see me.”

We come here today to taste joy and taste resurrection in the beauty of the flowers and the glorious music, we come to taste joy and resurrection in the freshly baked bread and the sweet wine, we come to taste joy and resurrection in the irrepressible, uncontainable, bouncing-off-the-walls joy of children.

We come here today to see the place that holds our loss, trying to sort through the pieces, and that seeing turns into seeking and yearning, and that seeking turns into experiencing and knowing with all our hearts what our rational minds struggle to take in—you can’t seal this life away. Love has come again. Life has swallowed up death.

Resurrection isn’t a myth but is ground of our being. And just as that tomb couldn’t contain the Risen Christ, this wondrous morning won’t contain him either. We taste it here, but we will experience it and know it as he meets us in our Galilees. So, the shaking happens here; we throw off our graveclothes here, but resurrection is waiting on down the path to greet us with joy; resurrection is calling out to us not to be afraid of this new life; resurrection is promising to meet us as we go back to our lives this afternoon and tomorrow morning and the day after that.

Let your eyes be opened ever wider to the ground that is shifting beneath your feet, and let your hearts be opened wider still.

Let your sorting turn to seeking turn to knowing. Then go, tell your brothers, tell your sisters, you won’t find him in the tomb, but you will see him in your Galilee where resurrection is waiting to greet you with joy. Amen.


The Rev. Cynthia K. R. Banks
St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, Boone, NC
April 16, 2017

Welcome to the Dance!

The Rev. Cynthia K. R. Banks–Easter Vigil—Year A                                (video link)
Exodus 13:17-18, 20-22
Gospel of Truth 4:1-8
Genesis 1:1-2:4a
Exodus 14:10-31; 15:20-21
Ezekiel 37:1-14
Ephesians 1:17-22
Romans 6:3-11
Psalm 114
Matthew 28:1-10

What a night! All the momentum of this season, all the momentum of this week, all the momentum of the cosmos, it all converges here, tonight. We mark creation. We mark liberation. We mark dry, dead bones that find their way back together to dance again with divine breath. The eyes of our hearts are waking up, “Enlightened,” Ephesians says, and hope is not far behind. We hear of dying with Christ and being raised into newness of life as he dances his way out of the tomb. And, as on that night back in December, there is an angel; there is always an angel, calling out, “Fear not! I know you seek the crucified, but he is not here; he has been raised!”

The ancient chant calls us to “Rejoice now,” and not just us, but “heavenly hosts and choirs of angels and all the round earth.” “This is the night…This is the night…This is the night, when Christ broke the bonds of death and hell and rose victorious from the grave. How holy is this night…How blessed is this night.” It’s almost too much to hold, so all we can do, in every way we can imagine, is make music and sing and let our hearts burst with joy.

And we’re ready to let loose a bit; trust me, we’re ready. It’s been a long, hard week. As we have journeyed through this Holy Week, we have peeled back layer upon layer of our humanity. We have lingered in the shadows of our motivations and actions. We have watched our courage fail, and we have seen our better angels depart, leaving us face-to-face with our conflicted, broken humanity. And we have watched God’s Presence go deeper, deeper, deeper. Into the dark, we have descended, and there we have waited, wondering if all was lost. But then, the match is struck, the new fire is kindled, the candle is lit and, just like that pillar of fire long ago, this holy candle lights our way, not back to our old life, but beckons us on to new life, resurrection life, life like we’ve never known it before.

What a night, dear Robert Holland, to baptize you! Into this swirl of image and sound, symbol and ritual, we will plunge you into the waters—over you they will flow catching you up in the eternal dance of the love this is always flowing. We will mark you as Christ’s own forever and an indissoluble bond, the Prayer Book calls it, will be forged between you and Christ, forever. There will come a time, a long way down the road, when the truth of this bond, when the reality of this bond will be the best news ever.

You are woven into a relationship that is beyond your undoing—you can’t do anything to make God love you more, and you can’t do anything to make God love you less. Tonight, God proclaims to you, what God proclaimed to Jesus at his baptism, “You are my Son, the beloved, in you I am well pleased.” Robert, the world will tell you many things about who you are, but tonight, know this— beloved son of God, one in whom God is well pleased, this is your core identity. Your worth has already been determined, which means you are free to live and love with abandon.

Whew, all that freedom is a lot to handle, and so these baptismal vows that your parents and godparents will say on your behalf, they’ll be there to guide you in this radical way of love.

More than anything, Jesus will show you how to dance. The paschal dance, they call it. It gets its name from the feast we celebrate tonight. It’s the dance of death and resurrection. It’s the dance of loss and new beginnings. It’s the dance of losing it all and learning how to live and love again. It’s the dance that Jesus dances this night as he moves from death into life and bids us to follow.

Robert, baptismal life is not a guarantee of a pain-free life. In fact, it’s pretty much a guarantee of a life with a good bit heartache because this way of life will teach you how to live with your heart wide open, reaching out across divides, holding things that are often in tension—yep, the baptismal vows will flat land you in a world of trouble.

But baptismal life holds within it a promise that is better than some too-good-to-be-true-pain-free-guarantee—because we all know that the fine print on that guarantee says “There ain’t no such thing”baptismal life holds within it a promise that is better than that illusory guarantee, and that promise is this—you will never, ever have to move through this life alone.

Robert, tonight, you are knit into Christ’s body, both the mystical Risen Christ whose presence spans the realms, and the very tangible body of Christ in the community of those who live and follow his way. Woven into the fabric of this body, you are secure; you will always have a thread to follow.

Robert, thank you for giving us all the chance to celebrate just a little bit more tonight. For you remind us, that Jesus isn’t the only one raised to new life tonight, but through these waters, we are raised, too.

As we watch you tonight, we can’t help but smile because we know that this is the night when we all go skipping into resurrection life.

Welcome to the dance, Robert, welcome to the dance.  Amen.


The Rev. Cynthia K. R. Banks
St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, Boone, NC
April 15, 2017