psalm

Easter and a Love Supreme

DURING THE EASTER SEASON, the first reading in our lectionary becomes, strangely, a New Testament reading. Most of the year, we immerse ourselves in the scripture we share with the Jews, but after the resurrection we traipse through the book of Acts. The claim being made is that the history of God’s chosen people continues in the history of the church. God is still working signs and wonders. And these include the sharing of goods in common, the fact that there are no needy people among us, bringing awe and distress among our neighbors, and a dawning kingdom brought slightly closer. Just like in our churches and communities today, right?

These Easter texts are also deeply sensual and material. God’s reign is imagined as a banquet with rich wines and marrow-filled meats. Love between sisters and brothers is like oil running down the head, over the face. The resurrection texts themselves insist on this point more emphatically than any other: Jesus is raised in his body. This is the beginning of God’s resurrecting power breaking out all over the creation God loves. What could ever be impossible after a resurrection? Our limited imaginations of the possible (Can we make budget? Can we get a few more votes on this bill? Can we improve lives in this neighborhood?) are shown for the bankruptcy in which they are mired. A new order is here. We pray, God, make our imaginations match the sensuousness, the materiality, the grandeur of what you have already accomplished and, more daringly still, what you promise yet to do.

Jason Byassee is pastor of Boone United Methodist Church in Boone, N.C., and a fellow in theology and leadership at Duke Divinity School.

[April 5]

Food Porn or Heavenly Banquet?
Isaiah 25:6-9; Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24; Acts 10:34-43; John 20:1-18

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Rewrite Those Epitaphs

Courtesy Odyssey Networks
Rewrite Those Epitaphs. Courtesy Odyssey Networks

Sunday, April 6 is National Epitaph Day.

Reading through a list of bizarre and unique holidays is fascinating for any month. Looking at this list during Lent can provide new perspective. We know “April Fools Day” unfolds as March gives way to April. But the first week of April provides ample opportunity for celebrating events such as National Peanut Butter and Jelly Day, Don’t Go to Work Unless its Fun Day, Go For Broke Day, National Sorry Charlie Day, No Housework Day, and Draw a Picture of a Bird Day. Which of these holidays do you want to celebrate?

National Epitaph Day stands out amid the myriad of options in its simultaneous opportunity for solemn reflection and humor that defies the grave. Epitaphs provide an opportunity to have the last word, to exert one last bit of control, to imagine the poetics of our lives summed up in just a few words of prose. One calendar of observances provides this invitation: “[National Epitaph Day] day is a chance for control freaks everywhere to plan out what their gravestone is going to say.”

As I Walk Through the Sudden Valley: A Psalm, a Prayer

Courtesy 20th Century Fox
Gob Bluth. Courtesy 20th Century Fox

Author’s note: If you know me, you’d know that that I think the most important thing (of the things we worship ) is Jesus. And you’d also know that I love Arrested Development, with almost the same type of devotion I typically reserve for God. As a former “professional  church lady,” crafting prayers was right in my wheelhouse. So I’ve composed a psalm entirely out of Arrested Development quotes based on the ACTS style of prayer, because it is right, and a good and joyful thing, always and everywhere to give thanks to God. And also … not Aunt Lindsay’s nose.

Oh God. (AD 2:13)

I love you. (AD 1:7)

We all must seek forgiveness. I’ve always tried to lead a clean life. My brother and I were like those Biblical brothers, Gallant and, um … Goofuth. (AD 2:14)

God the Farmer

Food-related coverage in this issue was supported by ELCA World Hunger (www.elca.org/hunger)
 

The Psalms are the icons of the Bible. Icons are paintings of Christ or another holy figure used in worship and devotions in the Eastern Orthodox tradition. They are, like the Bible itself, understood to be inspired by the Holy Spirit. The psalms resemble icons in that they are the most visual part of the Bible: They speak to our religious imaginations in memorable verbal images; they create pictures in our minds. Icons are considered to be “windows into heaven.” They are an opening from our world into the world to come. But of course one can look through a window in both directions: Icons open out from this world into the kingdom of God, and at the same time they let us see our world from the perspective of that one.

And that is exactly what the psalms do: They reveal to us our world, our own lives, from a God’s-eye point of view. When you ponder a psalm deeply, you find your ordinary perspective on the world challenged and gradually changed.

I want to focus on Psalm 65, which speaks to us powerfully about God and creation and our own place in the created order. As you read it, think of yourself as encountering an icon, a holy image given us so the eyes of our hearts may be enlightened, as the Apostle Paul says (Ephesians 1:18), so that we may see our world and ourselves as God might see us.

In this verbal icon, I see four things that might surprise us, enlightening the eyes of our heart.

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Psalm 65

Food-related coverage in this issue was supported by ELCA World Hunger (www.elca.org/hunger)


Psalm 65
(translation by Ellen F. Davis)

To You, silence is praise, O God in Zion,
and to You vows are paid. O You who hear prayer,
before You all flesh comes. Misdeeds—
they are stronger than I am; our transgressions—
You are the one who makes atonement.

Privileged are those whom You choose and draw near
to dwell in Your courts.
May we be satisfied with the goodness of Your house,
Your holy temple.
With awesome works, in righteousness, You answer us,
O God of our salvation,
the Confidence of all the ends of the earth,
and the furthest reaches of the sea.

He sets firm the mountains in his strength;
He is girded with might.
He silences the roar of the seas, the roar of their waves,
and the din of the nations.

Those who inhabit the ends of the earth
feel reverent-fear at your signs;
the reaches of morning and evening,
You make them ring with joy.

You visit the earth and water it;
You abundantly enrich it—
God’s stream, full of water.
You set their grain—yes, You set it just so.
Drenching its furrows, settling its hillocks,
You soften it with showers; its growth You bless.
You have crowned the year with Your goodness,
and Your wagon-tracks drip richness.

The pastures of the wilderness are dripping,
and the hills are girdled with rejoicing.
The meadows are clothed with the flocks,
and the valleys robed with grain.
They shout out; they even sing.

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