Friday, March 25, 2005

Don't know much about . . .

For our Maundy Thursday service, we try to "re-create" the events of that evening. We begin with the Sacrament of Communion in an "upper room" ( a classroom on our CE wing's second floor). Then, as we sing a Taize song, we go "with" Jesus to the garden (and if the weather permits, we go into our outdoor garden); and after that, we "follow" Jesus to the sanctuary, for the reading of the trial portion of the story, and conclude with a reading of Psalm 22.

Folks who attend always comment on the meaning of the service, and mention how the 'movement' aids in their journey of faith. After tonight's service, someone told me that of all the services during Holy Week, including Easter with all its alleluias, this was the most meaningful. I found that to be an interesting statement, and realized after a bit of thought, that I felt the same way. Why is that?

Well, I don't know what it is like to be asked to bear the sins of the world and to do it all by myself, but I have sat around tables whereI found myself wondering about the motives of some of the other people sitting with me.

I don't know much about death (even though I've conducted a lot of funerals), butI do know a little bit about the struggle to be faithful to God's call to obedience, even when that call leads to pain, to suffering, to death.

I don't know anything (even thoughI trust in the promise) about resurrection, but I do know something about being willing to put my life in God's hands, even when I go into that darkest valley of all.

I don't know where it is all going to end, this journey I am on as I follow Jesus(though I do have some hints, and hopes). But Maundy Thursday reminds me that I am not alone on that journey, even when it looks like I am.

Maybe that is why the day means so much to folks, including me.

(c) 2005 Thom M. Shuman

Sunday, March 20, 2005

Save us!

Save us!

on this day,
hosannas burst from our lips,
and bessings dance around us

while thorns
slowly twist
around our hearts;

on this day,
we eagerly strip off
our cloaks
to pave a gentle path for you

while we hide
grave clothes
behind our backs;

on this day,
we shout your praises
and welcome you
with open arms

while the Evil One
plants nails
in our souls;

on this day
and every day:

save us!

(c) 2005 Thom M. Shuman

Monday, March 14, 2005


"I lift up my eyes to the hills --
from where will my help come?" (Psalm 121:1)

He arrived in America ten years ago, coming from Cameroon to be a college student. As he prepared to transfer from one airport to another to catch a flight to Cincinnati, he discovered that someone had stolen all his luggage, including the cash and travelers checks he had hidden in them (because someone had warned him about the potential for being kidnapped for his money in America).

But, in faith, he journeyed on to Cincinnati, where he encountered the usual problems so many immigrants do with a new language, a new culture, a new educational system, a new life. But he persisted, in faith, because he knew God was good, and God was faithful, and God would be with him in every circumstance.

He worked hard, he studied hard, he sought to be a good person, a good Christian, a good husband, and eventually, a good father. But the stress of dealing with so much newness, so many struggles caused him to have a stroke when he was in his early 20's. He went home from the hospital to find that his wife had left him, because she didn't want to have to deal with a person with a disability.

But he continued in his journey, in faith, seeking to improve his health, seeking to find the jobs needed to pay off his educational and medical bills, seeking to be a good father to his son. And when his fiance in Cameroon encouraged him to find a good Presbyterian church before she arrived, he came to us. And he and his almost-five son have been a true blessing and gift to us.

Yesterday, he met with the Session of our church to become a member, and as he told his story, of his struggles, his pain, his faith, over and over we heard the phrases, "God helped me, God led me, God was with me, God was faithful."

And then I asked him the three questions we ask new members:
Do you believe in Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior?
Do you renounce evil and place your reliance on God's grace?
Do you promise to particpate actively in the life of the church and be involved in its worship and mission?

Not passive "I do's" or "I will's" but strong, strong affirmations from a life that has discovered the answer to the question of the Psalmist:

"My help comes from the Lord
who made heaven and earth." (Psalm 121:2)


(c) 2005 Thom M. Shuman

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

The Garrison Keillor of the Gospels

This Lenten season, I have come to appreciate John as the Garrison Keillor of the Gospel writers (for those of you unfamiliar with him, Keillor is a radio host here in the States of a radio program called "Prairie Home Companion" which is filled with stories of the human condition.

At the very beginning of his gospel, John tells us that "the true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world" (1.9). And how do we know this light has come into the world? John tells us stories to show us.

Jesus begins his ministry at a wedding. And at the worst possible moment of this wonderful, joyous occasion, the wine runs out. And in the midst of a social disaster for an entire village gathered to celebrate, Jesus starts to build his new community. And on Good Friday, the community watches him transform death into life.

Then a wise man, someone who has studied the Bible back and forth, and who has served numerous times on the governing board of his church comes to Jesus with his questions. He wants to believe that what Jesus says and does is true, but since what Jesus says and does goes against all that he has learned and believed, he comes in the shadows of the night and of his soul. And goes away with the light of new knowledge. And on Good Friday, all wise people will discover the truth of the One who comes to save the world.

Jesus then goes into "enemy" territory and has a conversation with an outsider, a non-believer, a woman! They talk about worship, about God, about water, about broken relationships. And the woman goes away, her emptiness gone, her thirst for relationships filled, her despair turned into hope. And on Good Friday, women will stand at the foot of the Cross, as the Living Water cries out, "I thirst."

Jesus meets a man born blind from birth. He refuses to get into a theological or medical discussion about why this happened. He simply makes a muddy paste from the dust of the earth and his spit, coats it on the man's eyes, and tells him to wash it off. And while everyone runs around wanting to know the details, all the man can say is "once I was blind, now I see." And on Good Friday, our blindness is wiped away as we see the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.

Jesus stands at a sealed tomb. And what does he do? He weeps. Imagine that! The Word who called forth all creation into being weeps; the One who flung the stars into the night sky, cannot see them because of his tears; the God who breathed life into humanity cannot catch his breath because of his sobs. And just as on the first morning of eternity, he calls forth life out of the chaos of death and grief.

And on Easter morning, from a shadowed tomb, the Light of the world comes forth, to bring us new life, new hope, new sight, new wisdom, the new kingdom, the new creation of God.

(c) 2005 Thom M. Shuman