4 Lent Year C 3-6-16
©Holly Lyman Antolini
Lections: Joshua 5:9-12; Ps. 32; 2 Cor. 5:16-21; Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32
Instruct us and teach us in the way that we should go; guide us with your eye, until we see through you our blessedness, our rest, our home in ourselves, in each other and in you. AMEN.
Laetare! Rejoice! No matter where you have been; no matter what you have done (or have left undone), you belong here, here in the center of God’s love! You are home! You are blessed!
This is the vision to which we are invited on this “Laetare Sunday,” this “Rejoicing Sunday,” this moment of respite and refreshment as we reach the center of our Lenten journey, this little “rise in the pilgrim’s road” halfway through the 40 days toward Easter, named “Laetare Sunday” because of the old Latin introit from Isaiah Chapter 66, “O be joyful, Jerusalem!” long used to open the worship for this Fourth Lenten Sunday. This is the vision to which we are invited when we lift our heads up from the quotidian rivalries, the endless internal inventory of our shortcomings and those around us, and allow ourselves to see ourselves and the human world afresh, to see ourselves and all around us through the eyes of Jesus, the eyes of forgiving love, the eyes of resurrected love. This is the transfigured vision of those who have been through Passover from death to life, who have crossed the River Jordan like the people of Israel in our reading from the Book of Joshua, who, at the end of their long pilgrimage in the wilderness, have entered the ever-proffered Promised Land of God’s loving gaze, God’s loving embrace.
This is the vision Paul is trying to evoke in his Second Letter to the Corinthians, when he says he no longer regards anyone “from a human point of view.” He no longer regards the people he encounters, filtered and diminished by a running tally of their shortcomings (or his own). Rather, he says, we’re invited to see forward instead of looking backward, to see in each new person we encounter the new creation coming into being. In this new vision, we are to see the new possibilities of belonging to each other, “not counting our trespasses against each other,” but becoming instead “ambassadors” for the hopeful love of Christ. Ambassadors for the resurrected Christ, the Christ who sees not our misbehavior but our potential, who understands what we’re up against trying to live up to that potential in the teeth of the history of our demonstrated capacity for mutual destruction. Christ who knows what the temptations are to succumb to guilt, to fear, to despair instead of expanding into a larger, more generous, more amply beneficial good. Christ who, in his humanity having “been made sin who knew no sin,” as Paul says, knows the temptation to castigate and separate, rather than to discern the good in each other and connect. Christ who knows how easily, like the envious and resentful elder brother in Luke’s parable of the Prodigal Son, we dismiss instead of blessing each other, racing down the road with our robes hitched up, bare legs churning, all dignity forgotten in our ecstasy to find the loved one we thought we’d lost. In fact, we really ought to call Luke’s parable “the Prodigal Everyone,” since as the younger son is prodigal with his inheritance, the elder son is prodigal with the love of his father lavished on him without let-up, and the father himself is utterly prodigal with his forgiveness and celebration, fatted calf and all.
Have you ever been prodigal with your blessing? Have you RECEIVED a blessing prodigal in its generosity? Do you NEED one, LONG for one?
Here’s poet Galway Kinnell trying to name such prodigality, such a ministry of blessing, such a capacity to reconcile the homely with itself, to welcome the totality of us – good and bad together, no matter our history – home. No wonder the poet puts this capacity for a reconciling blessing in the hands of St. Francis, the one person who, of all human beings, seems to have understood most intimately and been most intimately transfigured by the loving resurrection power of Jesus Christ. Kinnell’s poem is called “St. Francis & the Sow.” Sow, as in “pig,” you know. The same pig whose pod-food the Younger Son in Luke’s parable was reduced to eating before he finally came to himself and realized he had loving and generous forgiveness to run home to.
St. Francis & the Sow
stands for all things,
even for those things that don’t flower,
for everything flowers, from within, of self-blessing;
though sometimes it is necessary
to reteach a thing its loveliness,
to put a hand on the brow
of the flower
and retell it in words and in touch
it is lovely
until it flowers again from within, of self-blessing;
as Saint Francis
put his hand on the creased forehead
of the sow, and told her in words and in touch
blessings of earth on the sow, and the sow
began remembering all down her thick length,
from the earthen snout all the way
through the fodder and slops to the spiritual curl of the tail,
from the hard spininess spiked out from the spine
down through the great broken heart
to the sheer blue milken dreaminess spurting and shuddering
from the fourteen teats into the fourteen mouths sucking and blowing beneath them:
the long, perfect loveliness of sow.
Have YOU ever been blessed “to reteach a thing its loveliness?” Have you ever had a transfiguring moment when you “began remembering all down your thick length” that you are utterly loved and lovely?
Alongside St. Francis, we have Fr. Gregory Boyle, the Jesuit brother who founded Homeboy Industries in LA, a remarkable organization that hires and trains people coming out of prisons, gang members and drug addicts and people with every corner of their bodies tattooed and every reason why you WOULDN’T want to hire them. I’ve been there, during my “Holy Currencies” workshop with the Rev. Dr. Eric Law, and I KNOW what transfigurations happen there when people are truly seen and truly blessed by the steady hand on their creased forehead, the hand of one who doesn’t pretend they hadn’t done terrible things but DOES see beyond those things to the person they can become. Here’s what Fr. Boyle says, “We operate as if there are people out there who don’t belong to us. Ask Jesus to identify somebody who doesn’t belong to us, you’re going to get a big fat zero. Jesus will not be able to come up with a name.”
“I talk a lot about kinship,” Fr. Boyle says, “and I say, “No kinship, no peace; no kinship, no justice; no kinship, no equality.” We’ve become focused on peace, justice and equality, when the truth is, none of those things can happen unless there’s some undergirding sense that we belong to each other, that we’re connected, that we matter. But the good news is, if we focus on kinship, the byproduct of that effort is peace, justice and equality. It’s how it happens. Our mistake is that we focus on peace, justice and equality [first, instead seeing with the vision of the resurrected Christ, the vision that focuses on kinship and belonging first], and we herniate ourselves trying to get peace, justice and equality, and then we’re surprised that we burn out and that we never really get close to it.”
[https://www.faithandleadership.com/gregory-boyle-save-world-or-savor-it, underlining mine]
Sounds like blessing to me. Sounds like we need to take up St. Francis’ posture, and bless “the long perfect loveliness of sow.” Or ne’er-do-well son, or mean-spirited son. Or me. Or you. Each and every one of us, kin to every other of us. Every political candidate too, by the way. And all the homely kinfolk wearing their hats and “rah-rah-ing” for them. Tenderness is the connective tissue. You want a Lenten discipline? Try feeling tenderness for every person you encounter. Including yourself. No can do, without Jesus at the center of it. But if you can do it, even once, it will be a transfiguring thing.
Laetare! You are prodigally blessed. Can you feel it?