The Love of Feeding and Tending
Are We Amazed?
I don't feel like I really have a right to this grief, certainly not the way her husband and family and closest friends do, but I am crushed. Other than the time spent reading her words, I only spent a weekend with Rachel Held Evans in real life. She stayed on the other side of our double on Panola Street when she came to New Orleans back in 2015; pregnant with her first child. We drove around and chatted, ate good food, and she led our first Mabel Palmer Lectures here at St. Charles on a Saturday then preached on Sunday--joining her voice to the long line of fine folks who have preached in this pulpit.
Time with her was easy. Like we'd been friends for years. We had Alabama football and our Southern, Christ-haunted landscape in common. She put everyone at ease and then allowed the expansiveness of her presence and the gentleness of her Southern accent to make the space she needed to untangle the old barbed wire of conservative evangelical theology that was choking the life out of so many of us. She held that space wide open for thousands of us.
It was three weeks ago tonight that I began to worry alongside so many others. She was hospitalized on Palm Sunday and shortly after was placed in a medically induced coma for all kinds of reasons the general public will likely never know. An infant daughter and three-year-old son. A loving, kind, gentle husband. Thirty-seven-years-old. The cruel, arbitrariness of sudden loss in one so young and so vital is nearly impossible to process. I so wanted her to wake up. I wanted a miracle. I wanted her to wipe the sleep from her eyes and mother her two little ones. I am heartbroken, even though I mostly knew her through her written words.
The Waving, Cheering Crowd
Mrs. Joseph is the first one I can remember, though I’m sure there were others. My recollections of her are splashed with primary tempera paint in old orange juice cans, dressed in a 1970s pastel, poly-blend suit, soft with laughter, and dancing to Ella Jenkins “Play Your Instruments and Make a Pretty Sound” as we moved with rhythm sticks and castanets. I didn’t know how radical Mrs. Joseph was for believing in the power of play and the full humanity of all children. I didn’t know she was a pioneer in racial equity before we had language for such a concept. At 4- and 5-years-old, I also didn’t know Ella Jenkins was a force of nature, graduating with a BA in Sociology in 1951! A woman! Of color! in 1951! And she learned interfaith multiculturalism from her Jewish roommates. And cherished musical diversity learned through Puerto Rican and Cuban friends. Then the beats she learned and the messages she inherited were infused in that music that my little body moved to with those rhythm sticks and castanets. Mrs. Joseph was telling us stories at the cellular level with music and art and play—telling us a story of how big and high and wide the love of God is.
Mrs. Conley taught us bible stories and made a birthday cake for Jesus. I remember going to her house for that Christmas party more than I remember almost anything else. Being in her personal space. She was an actual woman! With a real house! And a kitchen! And she didn’t just live at the church for Sunday School! If you asked me how old she was when I was an 8-yr-old in her Sunday School class, I would have surely guessed she was 97 or 103. Yesterday, my mother confirmed she was actually no more than 80—born around 1905. I don’t recall how the structure of her classes went, but I remember her gathering us in a semi-circle and telling us stories. She told us the stories of Jesus healing the sick and feeding the poor. The ones of him getting in trouble for loving tax collectors and sex workers and not casting stones in bogus trials with trumped up charges. She had us memorize verses of sacred text about loving our neighbors as we loved ourselves. And I took her seriously because why would you NOT?!
Marked with Oil
This morning we step onto the bridge of Holy Week that carries us from Lent into Easter. Culturally and socially, this is our initiation into Spring. Even if temps have already swelled into the mid-80s in recent days, and crawfish boils abound, it is the next week that officially welcomes linen and seersucker and little girls in white shoes. It feels good to have the palm branches waving and the music of worship returning to a more celebratory pace. What does the invitation of this week offer you? Perhaps we give ourselves to a little sacred imagination in reading today’s text and assure ourselves we would have been in the crowd yelling “Hosanna” for Jesus—we would have been ones who understood Jesus’ mission—we would have gotten it as he processed into Jerusalem. Or maybe, like me, you feel the pull of Spring and planting a summer garden and find yourself distracted by the pull of the ordinary with not quite enough patience for the extraordinary. If so, you know all too well how prone we really are to wander away from the palms and the passion.
In these last breaths of the Lenten season, we run the risk of letting go of the biblical story not just out of distraction but out of pure excitement for the cultural one. Enough with the introspection and self-denial or practices that draw us to our best. Let’s relax all of that and just live our lives already. Ah, but let’s resist the false dichotomy of that pull just a bit longer. Let’s give ourselves to this story for the week. Let’s hear the invitation to whole, integrated, purposeful lives. Let’s hold on just a little while longer.
We return to Luke this morning, where we have been anchored since Advent. And each time we’ve reached into Luke’s gospel, we have recalled the very particular time and place in which Jesus is born and living and preaching. Luke wants us to remember that Jesus was born when Quirinius is still Governor. Luke reminds us that Jesus is baptized in the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar—when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea.
Mary was the emotional one
she carried her heart on her sleeve
she got choked up when they said the blessing before a shared meal— when everything smelled so good and was perfectly laid out
with candles glowing and wine flowing
the way Martha always got it just, exactly, beautifully right—
she was a romantic that way
wishing she could climb inside that feeling and live right there
when everything and everyone was just exactly as should be
she was quick to say “I love you” and quick to lose her temper and quick to pick a favorite quick to get her feelings hurt quick to protect
quick to fuss
and quick to forgive everything with Mary was big
it was no different in her relationship with Jesus in fact, it was all just that much bigger somehow he saw her
she saw him
they got each other
oh, how she loved him
she was overcome with gratitude for what he meant to her the space he made for her
the protection and affection he offered their family