T. Denise Anderson is acting director of Racial Equity and Women's Intercultural Ministries at the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and lives in Louisville, Ky.

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Carrying the Good News

by T. Denise Anderson 05-09-2022
June reflections on the Revised Common Lectionary, Cycle C.
Illustration of Black people at a cookout with a Juneteenth banner

Illustration by Chris Robinson

THE MONTH OF June will require spiritual caregivers to take note of tensions. We begin with the celebration of Pentecost, known as the “birthday of the church,” which will undoubtedly be a day of great joy for the faithful. But later in the month, we mark the grim anniversaries of shootings at Mother Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, S.C., and Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Fla. We will celebrate people who father, and we will wrestle with complicated feelings about the fathers in some of our lives (and even contend with heteropatriarchy in our structures and theology). And we will celebrate the Juneteenth holiday while this nation still incarcerates Black bodies at disproportionate rates and refuses federal protections against voter suppression.

Pentecost invites the church to consider our Spirit-given power to share the gospel, speak with authority to all corners of the earth, and set the captives among us free. It may be that we find ourselves working for equity and liberation harder than we ever have before, and a pandemic has only exacerbated our fatigue. But hopefully this will be an opportunity to go back to the well of the Spirit and draw nourishment for our continued journey. We are not alone, and no one is expected to single-handedly carry the work. The same power that increased the church’s number by 3,000 on its first day is still with us. This, siblings, is good news, because we will need that power for the work we still must do.

God Calls Us to Be Partners, Not Marionettes

by T. Denise Anderson 03-28-2022
May reflections on the Revised Common Lectionary, Cycle C. 
Illustration of a white feathery wing enveloping different colored people figures

Illustration by Zachariah Stuef

TO WHOM DO our lives belong? The Barmen Declaration, written in 1934, was a theological statement by a small group of German Protestants in response to the growing pro-Nazi movement within German Christianity. It stated, “We reject the false doctrine, as though there were areas of our life in which we would not belong to Jesus Christ, but to other lords—areas in which we would not need justification and sanctification through him.” The signers of the Barmen statement said this because the confederation of German Protestant churches (which would eventually become the state church under the Nazi Third Reich) was demanding allegiance to the state in all areas of life and faith. The close of Eastertide gives us an opportunity to consider, in our own time and place, to whom we belong and what that means for how we live now amid echoes of authoritarianism.

In this season, we read of Jesus’ growing influence and what it meant for his disciples to reckon with a world in which resurrection is possible. If the threat of death is muted, if not even prison can contain the good news, then how emboldened will a small-but-mighty movement become in the face of a powerful empire and its proxies? Can this good news still reach us—we who are worn from the immense grief of the last two years? Can we find our second wind to share this good news and build God’s reign? I believe Eastertide has a particular resonance for these times.

Our God Will Not Be Bribed

by T. Denise Anderson 03-01-2022
April reflections on the Revised Common Lectionary, Cycle C.
Illustration of silver coins and valuables floating in front of a window. The central coin bears Caesar's image.

Illustration by barbarian flower

WE TEND TO approach Lent passively. Some of that is appropriate. After all, we start Lent by putting ashes on our heads to symbolize our grief, and grief often makes us more still. But Lent is a season of intentional activity. To repent is to shift course. We continue to move, but in a different direction. We walk with God, following where God leads, no matter what we must leave behind.

This journey eventually leads to the cross, and later to resurrection. That’s when we find the journey has just begun. We were made to seek God, to question, to be in tension with mystery, to wrestle with God like Jacob, and to eventually find what we’re looking for. And when we come into contact with God in whatever ways are possible, we realize we cannot serve this God as one would serve an idol. We cannot operate out of empty ritual or rote adherence to any custom. We can’t appease or bribe this God. This God is not confined to our shrines, nor does God thrive off our material gifts and sacrifices. What this God wants is much more profound: repentance, trust, and a complete reorientation of one’s heart away from self and toward companionship with God. Many who’ve prepared to walk the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage did so by training on their own trails for months before making the trek. Lent similarly trains us for a lifelong journey of resilience, trust, and resistance to the forces of evil and despair.

Will Lent Reveal Our Authentic Self?

by T. Denise Anderson 01-31-2022
March reflections on the Revised Common Lectionary, Cycle C.
Illustration of a Black woman using a paint roller to paint her pink background white

Klaus Vedfelt / Getty Images

A CURIOUS THING happened among many congregations in my very white denomination after George Floyd was killed: Churches that had been at best timid to enter the work of racial justice dove into it headfirst. Colleagues dusted off their blogs to share their thoughts. Church leaders laced up their sneakers to participate in marches. It appeared that a reckoning had occurred for countless people in the faith. They finally got it and could no longer stay silent, not while a global pandemic amplified the existing inequities in our society. It was time to act.

This would seem like good and right action, except many began this work having previously wounded leaders of color who’d tried for years to call them into it. Worse yet, there was little to no attempt to remedy their errors or circle back with the people they’d hurt. They were eager to move toward action but had to be reminded that the past still needed to be addressed before the future could be entered with justice.

If there is a “right” way to approach Lent, it involves holding our past and future in tension. The Greek words for repentance and reconciliation both connote a reciprocal change. The person on a wayward path makes a U-turn. The transgressor trades places with the transgressed. Our texts challenge us to examine who we have been, are, and are willing to become, because all of it matters to the future we will build.

Awe at God's Big Reveal

by T. Denise Anderson 12-29-2021
February reflections on the Revised Common Lectionary, Cycle C. 
Illustration of a pink and blue cake with a slice removed to reveal galaxies and stars

Illustration by Adrià Voltà

EPIPHANY IS NOT an all-at-once revelation of God’s presence with us in the person of Jesus Christ. The entire world was not made aware of Jesus’ arrival at the precise moment it happened. The Magi didn’t make their trek to see the Christ child until he was a toddler. Often Jesus’ own disciples didn’t know who he was when they first encountered him. And little if any positive change occurred in the sociopolitical climate for Israel. The reveal of the Messiah’s identity, and the change that would come with it, happened at a painfully slow pace.

In February, we continue the journey of revelation. We recall stories from the Hebrew Bible and Christian Testament of longing and resignation that give way to revelation and encouragement. We see how the faithful through the ages held onto faith as they faced great threat. We see how, despite the prosperity of the wicked, they somehow recognized the hand of God at work.

Perhaps we find ourselves proclaiming to a people who thought a new administration or other promising change would usher in more favorable conditions. Perhaps we personally struggle with how to hold onto hope, not to mention how to encourage our communities to do it. These Epiphany season texts hold us in our lack of clarity and waning faith, reminding us that we are not alone. While we await a substantive change, may the text in some way help our unbelief.

What God Is Doing in the Shadows

by T. Denise Anderson 11-17-2021
January reflections on the Revised Common Lectionary, Cycle C.
Illustration of a fish looking up through a net in the ocean

Illustration by Jacqueline Tam

I’M NOT SURE where I thought we would be by now, but I didn’t think we’d be here. A global pandemic has ravaged and killed too many of our loved ones to name, though we could have contained it through collective measures. Climate change continues unabated despite decades of warning and appeal, and we may have missed our window to prevent its worst impacts. We’re experiencing perils that are unnecessary and completely caused by our selective will.

Christmastide and the Epiphany season are opportunities for us to recall and perhaps draw hope from the story of God’s inbreaking into a desperate human condition. But we must also remember that, despite God’s extraordinary proximity to humanity in those days, trouble persisted. Jews were still under a repressive occupying power. They were worshipping in a temple built by a leader invested in his own oppression, put in power by their oppressor. Very little seemed to change. If anything, it appeared to get worse.

As with the people in those times, so it is with us today. We who read the text get a peek behind the veil of worldly power to see what God was doing in the shadows. We see what was obscured from those who cried to their Creator or who’d perhaps run out of tears to shed. We see what they could not see at the time. The preacher and teacher will need to pull back anew this curtain for the people—and for self.