Relying on the Kindness of Strangers: A reflection on Isaiah 55

Isaiah 55:1-11

Ho, everyone who thirsts,
   come to the waters;
and you that have no money,
   come, buy and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk
   without money and without price. 
2 Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread,
   and your labour for that which does not satisfy?
Listen carefully to me, and eat what is good,
   and delight yourselves in rich food. 
3 Incline your ear, and come to me;
   listen, so that you may live.
I will make with you an everlasting covenant,
   my steadfast, sure love for David. 
4 See, I made him a witness to the peoples,
   a leader and commander for the peoples. 
5 See, you shall call nations that you do not know,
   and nations that do not know you shall run to you,
because of the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel,
   for he has glorified you. 

6 Seek the Lord while he may be found,
   call upon him while he is near; 
7 let the wicked forsake their way,
   and the unrighteous their thoughts;
let them return to the Lord, that he may have mercy on them,
   and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon. 
8 For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
   nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord. 
9 For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
   so are my ways higher than your ways
   and my thoughts than your thoughts. 

10 For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven,
   and do not return there until they have watered the earth,
making it bring forth and sprout,
   giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, 
11 so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth;
   it shall not return to me empty,
but it shall accomplish that which I purpose,
   and succeed in the thing for which I sent it. 

It’s a cold Thursday evening in March and it’s raining. I’m driving home from work and trying to make good time because I’m meeting friends. I’m stopped at a red light, right at the stop line, with cars lining up behind me, and I’m listening to a podcast. The light turns green and I take my foot off the brake and move it to the gas pedal, and press. There’s a horrible sound like something snapping and the car won’t go. Foot back on break, then on gas, still no go. Still a horrible sound. I put my four-way flashers on and turn the ignition off in the car. I turn the car over and it starts, great, foot off break, on gas, and then horrible sound and no-go.

I’m wracking my brain as to what is going on. I know nothing about cars. I turn the car off. I call my husband and I get out of the car to look underneath because it sure sounds like the bottom has fallen out onto the road. Nothing. Everything looks fine. Cars are honking as they pull out and around me, and I notice there is a car still behind me. The light cycles and the person behind me gets out of their car, they ask me if I’m ok, I say yes but my car won’t go. They politely ask if they can try, I say yes, they do, no different results than me, just “whoa, that sounds bad”.

I call a tow truck and the person says they are going to pull into a nearby gas station but they will come back to help. I wonder what they could possibly do to help, but minutes later they come back with a gas station employee and a plan to roll the car around the corner into the gas station. I direct traffic as best I can while they back the car up, swing it around, and roll it into the station. The stranger checks again to see if I’m ok, I say yes and that a tow truck will be there shortly. I thank them and head towards my car to stay out of the rain. The stranger pauses to check one more time if I’m ok, and then they head off.

Earlier that day I’d been reading yet another commentary on today’s scripture from Isaiah. I’d been through my usual scripture study resources and had come up short, no one seemed to have the insight I was looking for, that I knew was there. I love Isaiah, I think of him as the poet-prophet we need most for our time, one who can speak to us still today, and yet I couldn’t quite unlock this passage and what wisdom might be there for us. It was Hebrew Bible scholar Walter Brueggemann whose writing nudged me in the most helpful direction.

In Isaiah 55 we begin with a generous but perhaps confusing invitation: “Ho, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and you that have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price.” How can I buy if I have no money? How can I buy something that has no price? I worked many years in a retail sales floor environment, and have heard the same awkward joke plenty of times from customers when they can’t find the price tag: “Oh, no price? I guess it’s free!” And while in that work context I’d usually feign a smile and give a friendly, “oh, I wish I could just give it to you!” here in Isaiah, that’s exactly what the prophet is saying:

There is no price.

It really is free.

And later on, we are again invited: “Listen carefully to me and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food.”

Not only is the food free, but it is good, and it is rich. Satisfying and tasty, food so delicious the poet says we will be delighted by it. This is not the “free” pizza your boss orders to entice you to stay and work late. This is not the “free” sample you get at Costco to entice you to buy more. This is satisfying free food given with no expectation of anything in return. Perhaps at this point you wouldn’t be surprised to learn that the Gospels draw heavily on Isaiah to provide insight about the story of Jesus.

In some ways, this idea is so foreign to us in our consumer world, that it’s not quite understandable. What would it look like to expect no reciprocity at all? No quid-pro-quo? Provisions with no expectation of payment or return?

The idea is so foreign that many of the commentaries I read trying to prepare for today, got a bit stuck in these first few lines about food, talking about how a preacher should preach the importance of eating “healthy” food. But I am not a nutritionist nor dietician and I suspect you aren’t here to receive unsolicited advice about what you should or should not eat. So let’s dig a bit deeper together, and try to use our imaginations to understand what this prophet is calling the Israelites to, and then maybe us as well. I’ll give you a hint, I had my ah-ha moment, when that stranger, who rolled my car into the gas station, drove off.

The context for this scripture is debatable – it might be part of the section we call “deutero-Isaiah” (most scholars divide Isaiah into two or three parts). So it could be part of what comes before it and addresses the Israelites who are in exile in Babylon. They are away from their homeland, feeling betrayed by God and wrapped up in a system very unlike their own, that they have nonetheless had to find ways to live within. Or it could belong with the section right after it that we surmise is from right after the Israelites’ return from Exile to their promised land. That’s the land where, many generations prior, in the story of Moses leading them out of Egypt, God had promised they would not have to worry about food.

Either way, whether it’s folks still in exile, or those freshly returned, we have an audience of traumatized people who have had to navigate how to live inside of a culture whose values and ideals don’t align with their own. People who went from a mode of living that involved things like leaving enough food behind when you harvest so that those who are less fortunate can glean it. A cycle of jubilee where all debts are forgiven, so no one ever ends up carrying multi-generational financial burdens. And a day of sabbath rest each week where no one has to work.

But during their exile in Babylon they had to participate in their oppressors’ economy, one of a different kind than their own, and nothing was done without quid-pro-quo – you do this for me and I’ll do something for you. It was an uneasy balance of trying to conform to the culture of the place they found themselves in, and still try to maintain their unique identity. Perhaps we may understand these feelings of living inside of a culture whose values don’t always align with our own.

A week or so ago I was taking a walk through a mall on my lunch break and was overcome with a feeling of wondering why we were all there in that temple of consumerism trying to fill the holes in our lives by buying more things… a practice I am guilty of participating in too. I told myself that lunch time on a Tuesday wasn’t a convenient moment for an existential crisis about consumerism, so I paused to take a few deep breaths, and I kept walking. But I suspect I’m not the only person who experiences uneasiness sometimes about what we are participating in, and hyper awareness when our choices don’t reflect what we believe about the sacredness of creation or the worth of all persons.

Enter the poetry of Isaiah – into the lives of the Babylonian exiles, and into our lives as well. There is a measure both of comfort and of calling to accountability. Isaiah brings a reminder that God’s economy is different, there’s no money in it, and there’s a generous invitation back to God’s way. The Jews are invited back to their covenant with God, back to the values of neighbourliness. Back to sharing without expectation of payment or return. There is an invitation to repentance not as a confession or guilty feelings, but repentance as making a turn back to God’s path. It is a reminder that no matter what has happened, God’s table remains spread, and the invitation to return to God’s covenant remains in place no matter what. This is what Jesus preached as well, a call to return to covenant with God.

Isaiah says “call upon God while God is near” – reminding the Israelites and us that in spite of being in the thick of a culture that seems to try to isolate us, force us to compete, and encourage us to hoard goods out of fear, God is still continually near. A God whose presence can be felt when we remember we are part of a community.

And the last comforting part of the poem is a reminder that we are part of God’s much larger creation. Isaiah says God’s word is like the rain and the snow that come down, sprout seeds, and ultimately give us bread to eat. The poet returns to the feast at the beginning and reminds us that none of it is possible without the rest of the natural world, on which we depend for our survival.

If we were to read a little further past where today’s passage ends, we’d hear an assurance that the even mountains will break forth in song and the trees will clap their hands when we return to covenant with God. Right relationship with God brings us into right relationship with the whole of creation.

So here we sit in the third week of Lent. Perhaps for Lent you have embraced a practice of letting go of something that interferes with your relationship with God, or perhaps you have taken on a practice that helps you grow closer to God, or maybe you have decided that this is a Lent where you just need to stay the course through overwhelmingly challenging world events, and not add or take away anything. Regardless, I have invitation for you.

I invite you to wonder where in your life you might return to covenant with God in God’s economy of no quid-pro-quo, an economy of richness and plenty instead of scarcity. I started with a story about the stranger who helped me out when my car stopped working last week. As with many stressful moments I remained cool and collected until I was safe, and as I went over in my mind what just had happened, the part that brought a tear to my eye was the helpfulness of that stranger who expected nothing in return for their kindness. And yes, my car is ok now, it’s been repaired. But the part of this story I keep telling to anyone who will hear is the part about the stranger. I think many of us think that strangers like that no longer exist – maybe it’s because of our own reluctance to offer assistance, maybe it’s because there have been times we have found ourselves in difficult situations all alone, seemingly without help. My ah-ha for today was realizing that God’s economy of generosity is alive and well. Evidenced by that roadside stranger.

A good sermon, I’ve heard it said, should afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted. But friends I invite you to both of these today. First, to allow your comfort to be afflicted by the stranger in need, be they Ukrainian refugee, transgender child, or difficult colleague, and take the risk of offering generous, lavish care. And second, I invite you to be open to the stranger who may come to your aid. I myself was reluctant to accept the assistance of the stranger who helped me, I thought it would be easier for them to drive away and leave me to figure it out for myself.

But by accepting the kindness, it not only helped me and other cars on the road to stay safe that day, but also accepting that kindness let me testify to you that the world is teeming with kindness right under the surface. There are strangers abundant, who know another way is possible, and God’s covenantal call to loving community is present, all the time, just waiting for you to say yes.


What will you turn away from, what will you turn towards?

A Reflection on Mark 6

Mark 6:1-13

He left that place and came to his home town, and his disciples followed him. On the sabbath he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were astounded. They said, ‘Where did this man get all this? What is this wisdom that has been given to him? What deeds of power are being done by his hands! Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon, and are not his sisters here with us?’ And they took offence at him. Then Jesus said to them, ‘Prophets are not without honour, except in their home town, and among their own kin, and in their own house.’ And he could do no deed of power there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and cured them. And he was amazed at their unbelief. 

Then he went about among the villages teaching. He called the twelve and began to send them out two by two, and gave them authority over the unclean spirits. He ordered them to take nothing for their journey except a staff; no bread, no bag, no money in their belts; but to wear sandals and not to put on two tunics. He said to them, ‘Wherever you enter a house, stay there until you leave the place. If any place will not welcome you and they refuse to hear you, as you leave, shake off the dust that is on your feet as a testimony against them.’ So they went out and proclaimed that all should repent. They cast out many demons, and anointed with oil many who were sick and cured them.

Today’s scripture is one that, at least to me, feels very real, one that is relatively easy to imagine, to picture in your mind. One with a lot of tangible moments to hold on to.

Let’s start with Jesus’ return to his hometown of Nazareth. In the chapter just before this one, Jesus was preaching to crowds, casting out demons, calming storms, healing people who touched his robe, and people were asking “who is this that does these things?” And they started following him.

But then, Jesus goes home.

Who among us has not had that awkward moment in a gathering of family, whether biological, chosen, or church family, where we are trying to express something important that we have discovered or something we deeply feel needs to be shared, only to be giggled at or dismissed once we have shared?

“Oh that’s just Shannon, she’s always going on about that stuff.”

“Where did that come from?”

“Yeah sure, you seem all deep, but we all know what you’re really like! You’re the one who always cheats at cards!”

“Wow, after all that schooling, with your fancy language, it’s like you barely speak the same language as us anymore.”

“Where did this man get all this? What is this wisdom that has been given to him? What deeds of power are being done by his hands! Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon, and are not his sisters here with us?”

These hometown folks aren’t asking, in wonder, “who is this?” in the same way the witnesses to his previous deeds did, instead they are asking “who does this guy think he is?”

Sometimes when we go through changes in life – whether those changes were chosen or not – the changes are actually hardest for the people closest to us to accept. They’ve known us so long as the child or adult who is a certain way, that when we change, they don’t always see it. And if they do see it, they even may view it as a betrayal, obstinance, or dismiss it as rebelliousness.

I would imagine many of your have been on both sides of this story, feeling sometimes like Jesus, like your family just don’t get you, or that it’s not worth bothering to even share your thoughts because the people who know you are not going to take you seriously. But I also know that I’ve been on the other side of this – I’ve been the family member that giggles about someone’s supposedly deep idea. I’ve made assumptions about people I know well, not realizing they may have changed. I’ve not bothered to listen to someone because “everything” they said in the past was not worth listening to.

So in many ways, I empathize with the folks in Jesus’ home town. It isn’t easy to listen to someone you think you know say surprising things.

Perhaps you have experienced that too? I can think of times where even in this community, people have brought new ideas that are dismissed because “we tried that in the 1970’s and it didn’t work” or doubted the authority of someone new or someone young – “since when did you become so knowledgable on this subject?”

Which is why I’m so glad to see that we have allowed this past year to help us see with new eyes, and open ourselves to new ideas, whether it is as simple as adding a webcam to the sanctuary to share services live with people far away, or seriously entertaining big dreams of community living or other creative paths forward.

What happened when Jesus’ home town didn’t want to believe in him? They missed out. The scripture tells us “he could do no deed of power there” and he only healed a few sick people. The scripture tells us this is always what happens to prophets in their home town, but I’d like to think it isn’t an inevitable conclusion, that the hearers had a choice, that we have a choice. In fact, I would venture to say that God is luring us to that other choice, to listen to the crazy ones, to take them seriously, because the crazy ones are the ones who change things, usually for the better.

I love that this story is paired with the next one, about how Jesus moves on after his hometown fails to get on board with his mission. He moves on and goes to other villages teaching, and he sends the disciples out, two by two. The disciples are told to keep things simple, to take no more than the clothes on their back and a staff. No bag, no lunch, no money. It is presumed that, unlike Jesus’ home town, there are plenty of people waiting to welcome the stranger, to listen to good news, to be given hope.

From this I am reminded that discipleship does not have to be fancy or elaborate, it doesn’t require a special set of tools, only a willing heart, and some trust in the goodness of the world. It doesn’t presume that all will be welcoming, and it subtly reminds us not to get discouraged by those who aren’t open to a hopeful message, simply shake it off and move on to the next opportunity to connect.

We are told the disciples proclaimed “that all should repent”. And while this word “repent” can sometimes feel troublesome, and is often used these days to describe the process of disclosing what we have done wrong and asking for forgiveness, the word literally meant to stop and change direction – to turn 180 degrees. It is describing the process of discovering a different way of being that is a change of course from where we were headed before.

Repentance can sound a bit scary. What would you like to turn away from or turn towards in your own life? What should our congregation or larger church turn away from or turn towards? These are questions that are before us every day. And, if someone were to knock on our door, and show us a different way, how receptive would we be?

I feel sometimes like the world is knocking on my door:

The racoon that stared at me from my patio door the other night, looking for water as a respite from the heat, water I’d set out every day for the past several days, but hadn’t set out that night.

The heat itself, pounding at my door, reminding me of the realities of climate change, and that this past week is likely to become the norm, not the exception.

Worthy organizations in need of donations and volunteer time.

All knocking and asking me to turn a different way, to change course and examine what I’m doing to contribute to climate change. To change course and examine how I am helping the needy of my community. To change course and offer water to a thirsty world on fire.

So while your first inclination may be to think ill of Jesus’ home town for not accepting him, I would encourage you to examine your own heart of hospitality and listening when it comes to the people you know best and longest.

And while your first inclination may be to put yourself in the sandals of the disciples going out to share, I’d encourage you to think about putting yourself in the shoes of the people answering the door when the disciples knock – will you welcome them in? What will you turn away from? What will you turn towards?


Making a Home in the Wilderness

Shannon wearing a dark rain coat, dark green bucket hat, and a barely-there smile. She looks tired. There are pine trees in the background.
It’s me in 2001!

“Spirit, when we cannot part the weeds
Of our own traditions and old languages,
When the old pathways feel choked
With briars and thorns,
Would you make a path in the wilderness
For us to find you in new ways, 
New words,
New practices, 
New permissions? 
Would you meet us in the wilderness 
and set out a feast? 
We are hungry and thirsty.
We will tell you the truth of our lives
And of this world.
And we will listen to the truth you speak back…”

-Sarah Bessey “A Rhythm of Prayer”

“Wilderness” is such a rich metaphor for spiritual life. In the Light House virtual community where I’ve been travelling with other contemplative women for the past year our theme in March was “Wilderness” and I was amazed by the multi-faceted richness of the theme. I love the solace, respite, wisdom, and healing that I’ve found in physically visiting wild places, and I also know the fear and longing that happens when I’ve found myself in the metaphorical wilderness outside of my faith community or life in general.

One community member spoke about how we contemplatives, as light-bearers, can be companions to others in the wilderness. I had fun thinking about metaphors for this: guides, sign-holders, rangers, flaggers, trail-blazers, lookouts, scouts… I could go on! And it made me think about how there are probably those who, through experience or disposition or training, are better equipped for the wilderness, and perhaps even called to be there for others.

I was involved in Girl Guides (like Girl Scouts in the USA) growing-up, and spent much time learning to navigate wilderness and developing tools to find my way through it. And here I don’t just mean literally learning how to pitch a tent, cook over an open fire, and use a compass to find my literal way through unknown areas, leaving trail markings behind for myself and others (although yes, I learned all these things and more). But I mean all of these things in a metaphorical way as well – making shelter for myself and others by being welcoming and taking on leadership when required, nourishing body and soul together, and using what we do know to navigate the unknown. One could say that much of what I learned made me who I am today.

In my twenties (2001) I was asked to help out as a last-minute replacement leader for a big summer Girl Guiding event. Thousands of women from around the world were descending on a small patch of wilderness in the interior of the Canadian province I live in, BC. We were all scheduled to arrive at different times so as not to overwhelm the area. My Mom and my sister were also headed there with a different small group than the one I was with.

My group travelled through the night, on a bus, and arrived rather bedraggled around 6am. We hiked to our designated area, carrying our equipment, and before we could set-up camp, we had to clear the spot that had been staked-out for us. It was difficult and tiring work and even more so since we were exhausted from the journey. We used gardening tools and our bare hands to try to tame our little stake of wilderness. Once we had cleared, our energy for setting up our tents and tarps waned, and then it began to rain.

My sister and I smiling and standing side by side with arms around each other's backs. I'm in a black and blue rain jacket with a green bucket hat, my sister in a yellow rain jacket and straw cowboy hat. In the background are women milling about and scrubby pine trees.
My sister and I

The co-leader I came with and I did our best to lead the charge, but in our own exhaustion I accidentally gave her a black eye while wielding a piece of equipment! Things were not looking good, and I realized what we really needed was help. So I went out to find my sister and my Mom, who I knew had arrived the evening before. Scouring the maps I found the area I’d likely find them in, and after a bit of a hike through the rain, I came upon their group’s camp site. As I walked up to those familiar faces and stepped under their shelter and out of the rain, I started to weep. They welcomed me in, hugged me tight, handed me a hot cup of tea, and pulled me into a chair by their fire. Overwhelmed by the hospitality, I could barely make out my plea: “I can’t stay, we need your help!”

Immediately my sister and her friends sprang into action. They picked up their tools and headed off to help my bedraggled group, while I lingered a few minutes to finish my tea with Mom. My sister and her friends taught my group some new tricks and guided them through the process of setting up the camp, never taking over, always assisting and supporting. It was just the confidence boost they needed, and to have young people only a couple of years older to mentor and shepherd, they no longer felt like they’d been defeated by the wilderness.

My Mom and I smiling and standing side by side with arms around each other's backs. I'm in a black and blue rain jacket with a green bucket hat, my a blue bucket hat and clear plastic raincoat. In the background are women milling about
My Mom and I

The struggles of that experience didn’t end on that first day, but, the sense of community support fed and nourished me for the rest of the week. I learned a lot about resilience, about asking for help, about letting go of control, and of trusting my own inner resources when things got tough. The leader who I replaced had chosen activities I wouldn’t have necessarily chosen for myself, and there are other stories about mountain climbing and interpretive dance from that week that I will save for another time! Most of the week was spent outside my comfort zone, and I grew all the more because of that.

When we left, that piece of wilderness we tamed on the first day had been transformed into a campground where others could then visit and enjoy the beauty of that landscape. The work we did paved the way for others. Through the years I’ve often returned to this story and the lessons of that week. Wild places in me were also transformed that week.

I think that it parallels other experiences of wilderness I have had, ones not so literal: the interior wildernesses of feeling alienated from the holy and my community. Asking for help, and recognizing that there are others who have been in similar situations, I believe are both essential to navigating our wildernesses. And because I’ve learned to navigate those wildernesses, I can be a guide for others.

The Pleasure of Anticipation

There’s something about patience and anticipation heightening enjoyment and pleasure, don’t you think?

Last May I was ecstatic when my local farmers market started offering an option to order fresh produce online and pick it up at a local farm. We were still in a time with COVID restrictions when it was really difficult to find fresh produce that was good quality, and going to grocery stores felt scary. This option seemed perfect.

Fast forward to my third order and the photo above. The strawberries were sitting in my kitchen, and I’d been anticipating this moment with these strawberries for two weeks. Two weeks before I’d seen other people with strawberries on farmers market pickup day, and I was very envious as strawberries had been sold out when I placed my order. I vowed to get some.

Four days later I went to place my order six hours after orders opened, strawberries were sold out.

On pickup day I looked longingly at the strawberries in other shoppers’ boxes again.

I got home and set an alarm in my phone for 10 minutes before orders started. I ordered as soon as orders opened, and rushed to the virtual checkout with strawberries in my virtual basket (asparagus was sold out before I made it to the checkout though). I checked out with strawberries, and then I waited for three days for pickup day.

When I picked up my order I could *smell* the strawberries, and they looked like the most beautiful berries I’d ever seen. I resisted the urge to grab one right then and shove it in my mouth, at that time COVID was feeling very scary, I wasn’t yet carrying hand sanitizer with me all the time, and I felt I must be vigilant about washing my hands before eating them.

So I waited until I was home and washed up. I finally picked one up, rinsed it off, and popped it into my mouth. Of course, THEY TASTED AMAZING!

I think they were so amazing partly because they’re local and organic and freshly picked, and partly because of the weeks of patient anticipation of the joy and pleasure to come.

How wonderful is it when we have the time to really notice and savour our desires! It can make satisfaction all that sweeter.

Easter 2021 – some good news

John 20:1-18

There are a lot of choices to be made before an Easter service finally comes together. What anthems should the choir sing? Who will preach? What hymns will the congregation sing? Which gospel’s scripture account will we read? What angle will the preacher take on that scripture? How many Hallelujah’s are too many? Which aspect of the doctrine of the resurrection will be the focus? What is the Easter good news for this year?

Well, looking back over the past year, this preacher has to say that good news can feel hard to find. Rising violence against those of Asian and Pacific Island descent, the need to still remind people that Black Lives Matter, women driven out of the workplace in droves to stay home and care for children and vulnerable family members amidst a pandemic, rising daily COVID case counts, increasing disparity between rich and poor, an earth that we continue to wreak havoc on and treat like so many disposable items in our culture, all the while thinking we can surely just figure our way out of all this mess.


Good news is hard to find.

And so I turned to the gospel stories, to companions in Biblical interpretation, and to a belief in the fundamental goodness of the world. I persist to demand hope, to demand a blessing for us, to demand good news, to demand the right to celebrate resurrection. Not out of some innocent or naive wish for it to all to just “return to normal”, but from a stubborn belief that life does prevail.

Now, if you were to look back at my previous Easter sermons you’d hear me preach on different parts of the narrative that stand out as important.

The importance of remembering the tragedy of the cross and not moving too quickly to the resurrection. The fear of the disciples about what was going to happen next. The reminder that the resurrection of Jesus body means bodies matter to God, they aren’t just soul containers, bodies are of value.

The scripture I often turn to is in Mark, the gospel where Jesus and the disciples are always on the move. And it ends in this same sense of movement forward, a non-ending where we the reader don’t know what’s going to happen next after they find the empty tomb. I appreciate Mark’s call to the reader to decide what to do next.

But this year I found myself unfulfilled in going back to what was important in other years. This year I needed more assurance, more enthusiasm, a true celebration of resurrection. And I found myself drawn to the version in John, which you could read as a call story of a disciple – Mary.

The slice of John that is John 20:1-18 begins in the dark – which is John’s reminder to us that the characters who we meet in the dark don’t yet understand what is going on. Mary Magdalene finds the empty tomb and runs to tell two of the disciples. They all come back and confirm it is empty, and the two disciples return home.

But Mary seems not satisfied with just leaving. She weeps there at the empty tomb, and I imagine her slowly being bathed in golden morning light when eventually, Jesus calls her by name, and Mary sees the risen Christ. Her first inclination is to hold onto him there in the garden, but Jesus challenges her to instead go and tell the good news that he is ascending to the father.

Mary does indeed follow this call to be a disciple, to go and proclaim, but not initially in the way Jesus told her to, instead she sums up the experience in five simple words: “I have seen the Lord.”

Mary, here, is our first Easter preacher, and says it better than I ever could, simply “I have seen the Lord.”

Death and darkness may be all around, but I have seen the Lord.

Fear and uncertainty may cloud our eyes, but I have seen the Lord.

I may not know what the future has in store for us, but I have seen the Lord.

In these times, we too are called to share the simple good news that in spite of all that is around us, death does not get the final word, you, like Mary, are called to be a disciple and to share the good news, and it doesn’t have to be complicated, simply that you have seen the Lord.

Two nights ago, a colleague of mine, Rich, appeared in my dream. Rich died of cancer just over a month ago. In my dream he was happy, healthy, had his usual good-natured sense of humour, and I was so excited to sit and talk with him. I don’t remember all we said, but I felt like I’d been gifted with his care once more. Rich was a man of deep faith who wanted to spread the good news of Christ. In that dream I saw a glimmer of Christ’s resurrection, a reminder that death is not the final word.

I don’t know about you, but I feel like I am coming out of perhaps the darkest and coldest winter I’ve ever experienced. When the snow and deep cold came for a long stretch of time in mid-February of this year, I was sure that some of the plants in my patio pots had given up, my Hellebores in fact had toppled over and looked like they’d never lift back up. I too felt toppled over by the months of dark days and disconnection. But here are the Hellebore’s blossoms, and today there are more buds still yet to bloom. So it is with my soul.

A white china bowl with burgundy Hellebore blossoms from my garden floating in water.​
A bowl of Hellebore blossoms from my garden.

And while daily case counts for COVID are up, and words like outbreak and exposure have become a normal part of our vocabulary, I also can no longer keep track in my mind of how many people I know who have already received their first vaccine dose. “Sorry I can’t make it to your Easter service sister” said Joy the other day, “I have my appointment booked on Sunday morning for my first vaccination.” And she proceeded to tell me the story of how two persistent people on the phone did not give up on getting Joy booked for that appointment as soon as they possibly could. Bending rules and coming up with creative solutions so my immune-compromised sister could be safe.

And I think of those who stand at the foot of ancient trees here in BC to protect them, because all life is sacred.

And I think of the church members I know who are persistent in protecting the rights of transgendered people, because trans rights are human rights.

And I think of each of you, putting on your mask every time you go out because you care about your neighbours and you don’t want them to get sick.

And I can tell you with Mary’s exuberance and enthusiasm and spirit of celebration, that I have seen the Lord! In so many ways on so many days, I have seen the Lord, I have heard the Lord, Christ lives! Hallelujah!!

So, why do you weep, brothers and sisters? What are you looking for here in our protected virtual garden of church? Do not hold on to what has been, go and proclaim the good news that death is not the final word, that you believe in life, that you have seen the Lord!


Easter Talk 2015

“Easter morning”
By Bruce Prewer

Black light transforms
the clouds in the east,
the swamphens wake
at this new dawning.

Against the sky
sacred ibis wend
like angel forms,
to hopeless mourning.

The sun comes up
and the magpies sing.

God is alive
in everything this Easter morning.

hand holding crocus

In the gospel of Mark, everything happens Immediately.
Immediately he goes to the next town.
Immediately he moves along.
The story pushes forward at a brisk pace, leading us across the countryside, following this Jesus who never seems to stop moving ahead to spread his message. No pausing to erect monuments, no attempting to persuade. If you aren’t liked in a place, shake the dust from your sandals and move on.
My experience of reading Mark aloud all in one was one that seemed to move ahead too quickly. I read it aloud with my sister one day while I was in grad school and I remember being surprised at how the story flew by. That afternoon sticks out to me as one of those frozen moments in time we have. There are all these wonderful things happening in the story, these beautiful healings and teachings and parables, and then suddenly he is heading towards Jerusalem and I know what is about to happen! I feel like I’m in a movie and I want to yell at him to go back, to stay away, to just keep being an itinerant preacher. But there was no turning back. And before I knew it, the story was over, and I felt heartbroken.
Mark ends abruptly, leaving us with little closure.
There is the tragedy of the crucifixion and there is the grieving.
Then suddenly he is gone and with that same sense of immediacy, he is not there!
They are afraid. They don’t know what has happened.

Easter Blessing
by Jan Richardson

If you are looking
for a blessing,
do not linger

is only
a hollow,
a husk
where a blessing
used to be.

This blessing
was not content
in its confinement.

It could not abide
its isolation,
the unrelenting silence,
the pressing stench
of death.

So if it is
a blessing
that you seek,
open your own

Fill your lungs
with the air
that this new
morning brings

and then
release it
with a cry.

Hear how the blessing
breaks forth
in your own voice

how your own lips
form every word
you never dreamed
to say.

See how the blessing
circles back again
wanting you to
repeat it
but louder

how it draws you
pulls you
sends you
to proclaim
its only word:


Because Mark leaves us hanging a bit, you

are invited into a space of creative imagination as we wonder where Jesus might be. Where will we find him? How will we see him? How will we know it’s him?
Mark’s immediacy turns into excitement and anticipation.
The tomb couldn’t have been robbed – the stone was too big. What happened? And more importantly, what happens next?
WE decide what’s next! We seek to find out where he is
What happens next both in the scriptures and today, is people start seeing him.
We are in the midst of the church year, the story isn’t over yet, in fact, the story is just beginning…

The Messiah
by Ann Weems

Look for the Messiah where you will,
but you’ll find him where you live.
He will not be separated and kept apart
from those who cry to him.
He will be found right in the midst
of the daily, routine, ordinary stuff of life.
So wherever you’re living
Look for him.
In the ordinary niches of that living
look for the holy
that the holy might be find in you.

Mary is called out to by the man she thinks is the gardener, yet when he speaks her name, she sees Jesus.
The disciples encounter a stranger on the road to Emmaus and invite him to share a meal. The man breaks bread, and suddenly they see Jesus.
The early church gathers at Pentecost and in hearing one another and witnessing spirit fire they see Jesus.
A young man in the woods prays for guidance and sees Jesus.
A young woman meets a hard living man on the street, invites him to share a meal, and in him she sees Jesus.
A group of friends gather to pray and wash one another’s hands, and in each other’s eyes they see Jesus.
Someone sits at the shoreline watching the sun set over the mountains, and in the beauty and peace of that moment they see Jesus.
We take deep breaths, we feel our bodies swell with air and spirit, and we breathe in and breathe out Jesus.
The resurrected body is your body, is my body, is the earth’s body. Jesus is working to share love and transform the world using your body. Today we celebrate bodies, celebrate love, celebrate life.

by Jan Richardson:

May we go forward to begin anew.
May we go forward with memory.
May we go forward as his body.
May we go forward in grace.
May we go forward in the fullness of time.
May we go forward to approach this world with reverence.
May we go forward knowing ourselves Beloved.

May we bear this love.
May we proclaim this love.
May we live this love
now and always.

Christ is risen.
Christ is risen indeed!

Day One Entry: Apr 2, 2014

oops & grace

Today the bus driver missed the bus loop, stopped dead, then realized he’d have to go all the way around the long block to have another go at it. Some days I might have been annoyed or frustrated, but today I was slightly amused, and largely empathetic. We all make mistakes – we get distracted, we are thinking about the next thing, we goof up – it happens. So rather than getting mad, I got human.

I thought of times I’ve made mistakes in the job – yes even the chronic, recovering perfectionist makes mistakes – and thought of the forgiveness and grace offered to me and what a gift that was. The gift of grace and forgiveness for each other and for ourselves is a priceless gift, hard to give, even harder to receive. And yet it is a unique and beautiful aspect of our humanity, that we can extend grace to one another.

It’s ok to make mistakes, we all do, so let’s make sure we cut each other a bit of slack and be gracious and forgiving, let’s be human with one another.

13° Mostly Sunny
Coquitlam, BC, Canada

Shannon McAdam