Archive for the ‘Gospel of John’ Category

Epiphany 2: How Did You Come to Know Me?

January 10, 2012


How Did You Come to Know Me? © Jan L. Richardson

Readings for Epiphany 2: 1 Samuel 3:1-10, (11-20); Psalm 139:1-6, 13-18; 1 Corinthians 6:12-20; John 1.43-51

“Go, lie down,” Eli tells the young Samuel; “and if he calls you, you shall say, ‘Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.’”

“For it was you who formed my inward parts,” prays the psalmist; “you knit me together in my mother’s womb.”

“Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you…and that you are not on your own?” Paul writes to the Corinthians.

“How did you come to know me?” Nathanael asks of Jesus.

With each passage, the lectionary this week presents us with a God who calls to us, seeks us out, draws close to us, inhabits us. Again and again the word know appears, its repetition pressing upon us how serious God is about wanting to know us, and us to know God.

This God who calls to us, who fashions us within the womb, who inhabits our own bodies, who recognizes us in the midst of our daily lives: for those of us who need some breathing room in our lives, this God can fairly overwhelm. Do we want to be this sought, this known from the inside out?

Yet the God we see in these passages is not an intruder invading our lives by stealth or by force. Nor—though too many have absorbed such an image—is God’s persistent presence with us a form of surveillance designed to keep track of everything we do wrong. Somehow, this God who pervades all of creation, down to our very cells, manages to offer a spacious hospitality that calls to us but does not confine us; that continually invites but will not force us; that simply asks us to see and hear and know the One who is ever in our midst and in our own selves.

This week, this day, how are you listening? Where are you looking? What holy space are you making for God in yourself? How are you opening yourself to the God who wants to know and be known by you?

Blessing for Knowing

To receive this blessing,
it may feel like
you are peeling back
every layer of flesh,
exposing every nerve,
baring each bone
that has kept you upright.

It may seem
every word is written
on the back of
something that your life
depends upon,
that to read this blessing
would mean tearing away
what has helped you
remain intact.

Be at peace.
It will not be
as painful as that,
though I cannot say
it will be easy
to accept this blessing,
written as it is
upon your true frame,
inscribed on the skin
you were born
to live in.

The habits that keep you
from yourself,
the misconceptions
others have of you,
the unquestioned limits
you have allowed,
the smallness you have
squeezed into:

these are not
who you are.

This blessing simply wants
all this to fall away.

This blessing—
and it is stubborn on this point,
I assure you—
desires you to know yourself
as it knows you,
to let go of every layer
that is not you,
to release each thing
that you hide behind,
to open your eyes
to see what it sees:

how this blessing
has blazed in you
since before you were born;
how it has sustained you
when you could not see it;
how it haunts you,
prickling beneath your skin
to let it shine forth
in full and unstinting
measure;
how it begins
and ends
with your true name.

P.S. For a previous reflection on John 1.43-51, click the image or title below:

Of Fig Trees and Angels

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Ascension/Easter 7: Blessing in the Leaving

May 29, 2011


Ascension II © Jan L. Richardson

Reading from the Gospels, Ascension Day (June 2): Luke 24.44-53
Reading from the Gospels, Easter 7, Year A (June 5): John 17.1-11

Throughout this Easter season we have seen how the gospel lections have emphasized the theme of knowing: knowing the risen Christ, knowing what he has done for us and to us, knowing what he desires of us and calls us to do, knowing what he is preparing for us—and preparing us for. The fact that most of the gospel readings for the Easter season take place at a table underscores the intimacy that comes in knowing—in knowing Christ, in knowing God, in knowing one another.

This theme of knowing reaches its stunning apex in the gospel texts for this week. The reading from John’s Gospel draws us once again to the table where Jesus has lingered with his friends on the night before his death. He finishes their final feast by praying for his disciples. In his prayer, Jesus is knowing all over the place: “And this is eternal life,” he says, “that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent….I have made your name known to those whom you gave me from the world….Now they know that everything you have given me is from you; for the words that you gave to me I have given to them, and they have received them and know in truth that I came from you.” Then Jesus, who knows these friends so well, releases them into the world and into the care and protection of God, who has known them from the beginning.

In the reading from Luke for Ascension Day, we see the risen Christ appearing one last time to his disciples. He opens their minds, as Luke tells us, “to understand the scriptures,” and he impresses upon them that what was written about him, they have seen with their own eyes. Jesus then takes them to Bethany: this place so familiar and dear to Jesus, the place where Mary and Martha and Lazarus lived—his close friends who knew and were known by Jesus. And from this place Jesus leaves, blessing his beloved companions as he ascends.

As we spiral back around these stories this year, what still takes hold of me is this: how Jesus prays for and blesses his friends as he leaves them. How the leaving is part of the blessing. As if the blessing can happen no other way than by his departure, by his letting go of the ones whom he has loved—these ones whom he will never cease to love but must release into their own lives, so that they may enter into the blessing and enact it on this earth.

This week provides a good occasion to remember that the English word bless comes from the Old English word blod—blood, referring to the use of blood in ritual acts of consecration. The blessing that Jesus gives as he goes is one that will infuse the community with his love, his grace, his lifeblood. He gives a blessing that will run in the veins of those he has called to be his body; a blessing that will beat in the hearts of those whom he is sending into the world.

As we prepare to leave the season of Easter and cross into Ordinary Time, what blessing do you need? What word or gesture of grace and love do you need to infuse you and sustain you to be a blessing in this world? Is there a blessing that might depend on your letting go, on releasing something—or seeking to be released from something—so that there will be a space for the blessing to enter?

Ascension Blessing

It is a mystery to me
how as the distance
between us grows,
the larger this blessing
becomes.

As if the shape of it
depends on absence,
as if it finds its form
not by what
it can cling to
but by the space
that arcs
between us.

As this blessing
makes its way,
first it will cease
to measure itself
by time.

Then it will release
how attached it has become
to this place
where we have lived,
where we have learned
to know one another
in proximity and
presence.

Next this blessing
will abandon
the patterns
in which it moved,
the habits that helped it
recognize itself,
the familiar pathways
that it traced.

Finally this blessing
will touch its fingers
to your brow,
to your eyes,
to your mouth;
it will hold
your beloved face
in both its hands

and then
it will let you go,
it will loose you
into your life,
it will leave
each hindering thing
until all that breathes
between us
is blessing
and all that beats
between us
is grace.

P.S. For a previous reflection on this passage, click the image or title below:

Ascension/Easter 7: A Blessing at Bethany

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Easter 6: Love and Revelation

May 22, 2011


Love and Revelation © Jan L. Richardson

Reading from the Gospels, Easter 6, Year A (May 29): John 14.15-21

On a day more than six hundred years ago, in the English town of Norwich, a woman walked into a cell attached to the parish church. She intended to stay there for the rest of her life. The original name of the woman is unknown, and the cell where she would live as an anchoress—a woman devoted to a life of contemplation and solitude—no longer remains. It is likely that she took her name from the church in whose cell she lived: the Church of St. Julian.

Nearly everything we know about Julian of Norwich comes from a manuscript that she composed in her cell. In it she tells of how, at the age of thirty and a half, she became desperately ill. Just as she thought herself at the point of death, her pain suddenly departed. As Julian continued to pray, she was visited by a series of sixteen visions or revelations—what she called “showings”—in which she came to experience and know God’s love for her.

Julian recorded her visions in a short text, and then, after nearly two decades, she expanded on them in a longer text that incorporates the insights that she gained through years of reflecting on and praying with the visions. Together Julian’s texts became the book known as Showings, or Revelations of Divine Love.

In the final chapter of Showings, as Julian comes to the end of the remarkable work in which she has revealed to us a God whose endless mystery encompasses a deep desire to know and love us in all our human particularity, she writes,

And from the time that it was revealed, I desired to know in what was our Lord’s meaning. And fifteen years after and more, I was answered in spiritual understanding, and it was said: What, do you wish to know your Lord’s meaning in this thing? Know it well, love was his meaning. Who reveals it to you? Love. What did he reveal to you? Love. Why does he reveal it to you? For love. Remain in this, and you will know more of the same. But you will never know different, without end.

From her anchorhold, with her stunning simplicity, Julian echoes and embodies what her beloved Jesus says to his friends in this week’s gospel passage. At the table where he gathers with his disciples on the night before his death, he persists in telling them what he wants them—needs them—to know about who he is, what he has done, what he will yet do, what he is calling them to do after he is physically gone. In this passage, Jesus becomes very clear about why he wants them to know these things, and what underlies and encompasses and is the reason for their knowing.

“They who have my commandments and keep them,” Jesus says, “are those who love me; and those who love me will be loved by my Father, and I will love them and reveal myself to them.”

The knowledge that Jesus shares with his followers is not for the purpose of giving them worldly power. It is not designed to make them feel important, or to initiate them into secrets meant for a select few, or to make their lives easier. He does not intend for them to use the knowledge as a weapon to threaten or diminish others. What Jesus reveals to his friends—his friends at the table that night, his friend in the cell at the Church of St. Julian, his friends throughout the ages—he does for one reason:

For love.

Jesus speaks of love and revelation in the same breath. He wants his friends to understand that loving and knowing are of a piece, that loving draws us deeper into knowing and being known by the one whom we love. Here on the threshold of his death, Jesus cannot go until he assures them that he will not leave them bereft but will, in fact, continue to love and help them. He cannot leave until he tells them that by their loving, they will remain in relationship with him; through their shared love, he will yet reveal himself to them and be known by them.

What knowledge does your loving lead you to? As you stretch yourself into loving others, what becomes revealed to you—of them, of yourself, of God? How has love challenged or changed what you know? How are you opening yourself to its presence in your life?

Blessing that Knows Your Name

Chances are
there will come a day
when you will forget
every last word
of this blessing.

It does not matter.

Let this blessing
slip through
your fingers.
Let it roll from
the smooth plane
of your palm.
Let each line
disappear
and every syllable
fall away.
Let this blessing
return
to where all
blessings begin.

Let it leave you
until all that remains
is the place where
it pierced you—
whether like fire
or like breath
you could not say,
only that you heard
your name as it entered,
then heard its own
as it blew away.

P.S. For a previous reflection on this passage, click the image or title below:

Easter 6: Side Orders

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Easter 4: Blessing of the Gate

May 9, 2011


Blessing of the Gate © Jan L. Richardson

Reading from the Gospels, Easter 4, Year A (May 15): John 10.1-10

Once again, for the fourth time in this Easter season, the lectionary turns toward the theme of knowing. Beginning with Easter Sunday, the gospel readings have beckoned us to pay attention to where we pay attention, to how we turn ourselves toward the Christ who comes to us. To the women at the empty tomb, to Thomas in the locked room, to the two at the Emmaus table, Jesus shows himself, inviting others to see and recognize him, even to place their hand within his very flesh so that they may know and trust who he is.

And here again this week the gospel lection impresses upon us how keen Jesus is for us to know him, to follow after the One who first knows us. Knows us by our own name, Jesus tells us in this Sunday’s text from John’s Gospel.

Jesus recognizes, of course, the import of knowing another’s name. Throughout the scriptures as well as in mythology and folklore, we see how knowing someone’s name often means having a kind of power; one’s name holds something of a key to one’s nature. Yet with Christ, this knowing is always steeped in grace, not control. “He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out,” Jesus says in this passage where he describes himself as the good shepherd. The gate of Christ swings toward freedom, not captivity. The shepherd does not assume a role of domination, of power-over that constrains and confines; he is one who pours his power out on our behalf, that we may enter into the places where we can flourish. “…that they may have life, and have it abundantly,” Jesus says.

As the Easter season continues to unfold, this theme of knowing will persist. As we travel through these days of resurrection, how will you open yourself to the Christ who desires to know you and to be known by you? How well do you want to be known? Are there any corners of your heart that you resist being known? Might those very spaces become a place of prayer, a doorway, a gate that opens into freedom?

Blessing of the Gate

Press your hand
to this blessing,
here along
the side
where you can feel
its seam.

Follow the seam
and you will find
the hinges
on which
this blessing turns.

Feel how
your fingers
catch on them—
top,
bottom,
the slightest pressure
sending the gate
gliding open
in a glad welcome.

Wait, did I say
press your hand
to this blessing?

What I meant was
press your hand
to your heart.

Rest it over that
place in your chest
that has grown
closed and tight,
where the rust,
with its talent
for making decay
look artful,
has bitten into
what you once
held dear.

Breathe deep.
Press on the knot
and feel how it
begins to give way,
turning upon
the hinge
of your heart.

Notice how it
opens wide
and wider still
as you exhale,

spilling you out
into a realm
where you never dreamed
to go
but cannot now imagine
living this life
without.

P.S. For a previous reflection on this passage, click the image or title below:

Easter 4: In Which We Do Some Sheep Wrestling.

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Easter 2: The Illuminated Wound

April 24, 2011


Into the Wound © Jan L. Richardson

Reading from the Gospels, Easter 2: John 20.19-31

“Have you believed because you have seen me?” Jesus asks Thomas as he, at Jesus’ invitation, reaches his hand into the wounds of the risen Christ. “Blessed are those,” Jesus goes on to say, “who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”

While Jesus accords special honor to those whose faith does not depend on sight, surely he does not mean that the gift of blessing is reserved solely for those who can make the leap of imagination toward belief. Christian history would indeed come to label Thomas with the moniker—something of an epithet—of “Doubting Thomas,” (though elsewhere, in John 11, Thomas displays remarkable courage and devotion to Jesus) and cast a suspicious and sometimes deadly eye on doubt. At the same time, through much of its history the Christian tradition has offered tools and gifts specifically designed to foster sight and thereby deepen belief.

Thomas would have found good company amongst many Christians in the Middle Ages, when there arose a form of devotion that gave particular attention to the wounds of Christ as an entry into prayer and contemplation. The writings of medieval mystics both helped give rise to this form of devotion as well as to articulate it. With an approach to both flesh and spirit that can be challenging for us to comprehend in our day, these mystics saw in Christ’s wounds, particularly the wound in his side, an array of meanings. In their prayerful imagining, Christ’s wound became, among other things, an opening through which he offers his life-giving sustenance as a mother shares her milk with her child; a womb-space that offers the possibility of rebirth; and a place of union between lover and beloved.

These ideas about Christ’s wounds made their way into images that medieval artists created for the purpose of devotion. We see this, for instance, in paintings that depict the wounded Christ and his mother. As Christ offers his wound to the viewer, Mary offers her breast with a nearly mirrored gesture that suggests the similarity of the sustenance they give. We see signs of this devotion also in a number of illuminated manuscripts that include life-sized renderings of Jesus’ side wound. Divorced from his body, the wound itself becomes an object of contemplation, making an intriguing portal into the page and doorway into prayer.

This kind of depiction of Jesus’ wound sometimes appears in illuminated prayer scrolls that were used by women in childbirth. The women placed the prayer scrolls around themselves as birth girdles, with the depiction of Christ’s wound serving not only as an object of contemplation but of hoped-for protection as well.  One can imagine the laboring women saw this wound-symbol as a confirmation that Jesus, who knew what it meant to suffer in bringing new life, offered sustenance to them as they did so. More than one writer has remarked on the striking similarity that the depiction of Jesus’ wound bears to female genitalia (noting also the similarity between vulva and vulnus, wound), prompting one to wonder if those who clung to Christ’s wounds in prayer noted the similarity of these portals by which new life enters. (But, as another writer has noted, how could they have missed noticing it?)

While such a vivid approach to the wounds of Christ may strike our 21st-century sensibilities as odd or gruesome, this form of contemplation was not seen as an end in itself. In the myriad ways that mystics and artists reflected on Christ’s body, it seems clear that they understood the flesh of Christ as a threshold: that his wounds were an entryway, a portal into God. As Sarah Beckwith describes it, the wounded body of Christ offered a rite of passage that held the possibility not only of a deeper relationship with him but also a redefinition of oneself.

Contemplating the wounds of Christ could also prompt medieval Christians to touch the wounds of the world. In his book on traditional religion in 15th- and 16th-century England, Eamon Duffy notes that “the wounds of Christ are the sufferings of the poor, the outcast, and the unfortunate.” He goes on to write that devotion to the wounds of Christ often translated into acts of charity. Such acts became a tending of the living, wounded, corporate body of Christ.

These imaginative approaches to Christ’s wounds, and the access they offered to medieval folk who sought intimate acquaintance with him, do not dismiss or justify the violence of the crucifixion story. Encountering these visual images, however, has challenged me to wonder what sort of doorway they offer to me, and to us, in these days that, as they ever have been, are so profoundly marked by violence.

I have come to see more clearly the ways that being in the world and loving one another—even from our most intact, integrated places, much less our less-intact ones—exposes us to wounding, to the giving and receiving of pain. Christ’s wounds exemplify this. They underscore the depth of his willingness to enter into our loving in all its hurt and hope and capacity for going horribly wrong. In wearing his wounds—even in his resurrection—he confronts us with our own and calls us to move through them into new life.

Christ beckons us not to seek out our wounding, because that will come readily enough in living humanly in the world, but rather to allow our wounds to draw us together for healing within and beyond the body of Christ, and for an end to the daily crucifixions that happen through all forms of violence. The crucified Christ challenges us to discern how our wounds will serve as doorways that lead us through our own pain and into a deeper relationship with the wounded world and with the Christ who is about the business of resurrection, for whom the wounds did not have the final word.

As Thomas reaches toward Christ, as he places his hand within the wound that Christ still bears, he is not merely grasping for concrete proof of the resurrection. He is entering into the very mystery of Christ, crossing into a new world that even now he can hardly see yet dares to move toward with the courage he has previously displayed.

As we move into this Easter season, how do we see the wounds of Christ in the wounds of the world? How might we be called to reach into those wounds—not to wallow in them, not to become overwhelmed by them, but to touch them and minister to them and help to turn them into doorways that draw us deeper into Christ?

In this season of resurrection, may you see the risen Christ all around you. May you be blessed in your seeing, and lean yourself into the new world that he offers to you.

P.S. For previous reflections on this passage, see Easter 2: Into the Wound and Easter 2: The Secret Room.

[To use the "Into the Wound" image, please visit this page at janrichardsonimages.com. Your use of janrichardsonimages.com helps make the ministry of The Painted Prayerbook possible. Thank you!]

Beckwith and Duffy references:

Sarah Beckwith, Christ’s Body: Identity, Culture, and Society in Late Medieval Writing (New York: Routledge, 1993), 60.

Eamon Duffy, The Stripping of the Altars: Traditional Religion in England c. 1400-c. 1580 (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1992), 248.

A portion of this reflection has been adapted from Garden of Hollows: Entering the Mysteries of Lent & Easter © Jan L. Richardson.

Easter Sunday: Risen

April 20, 2011


Easter II © Jan L. Richardson

Reading from the Gospels, Easter Sunday (April 24):
John 20.1-18 or Matthew 28.1-10

Easter Blessing

If you are looking
for a blessing,
do not linger
here.

Here
is only
emptiness,
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
mouth.

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:

risen
risen
risen.

P.S. For a previous reflection on Easter Sunday, see Easter Sunday: Out of the Garden. I am also offering daily reflections throughout Holy Week at the Sanctuary of Women blog and would be delighted to have your company there as well. And if you haven’t seen the videos that Garrison Doles and I recently released for Lent and Easter, I welcome you to check them out here: Listening at the Cross and The Hours of Mary Magdalene. Know that I’m holding you in prayer throughout this Holy Week, and I wish you a joyous Easter!

[To use the "Easter II" image, please visit this page at janrichardsonimages.com. Your use of janrichardsonimages.com helps make the ministry of The Painted Prayerbook possible. Thank you!]

Holy Saturday: The Art of Enduring

April 19, 2011


Holy Saturday II © Jan L. Richardson

Reading from the Gospels, Holy Saturday (April 23):
Matthew 27.57-66 or John 19.38-42

Blessing for Holy Saturday

This blessing
can wait as long
as you can.

Longer.

This blessing
began eons ago
and knows the art
of enduring.

This blessing
has passed
through ages
and generations,
witnessed the turning
of centuries,
weathered the spiraling
of history.

This blessing
is in no rush.

This blessing
will plant itself
by your door.

This blessing
will keep vigil
and chant prayers.

This blessing
will bring a friend
for company.

This blessing
will pack a lunch
and a thermos
of coffee.

This blessing
will bide
its sweet time

until it hears
the beginning
of breath,
the stirring of
of limbs,
the stretching
reaching
rising

of what had lain
dead within you
and is ready
to return.

P.S. For a previous reflection on Holy Saturday, see Holy Saturday: A Day Between. I’m also offering daily reflections throughout Holy Week at the Sanctuary of Women blog.

[To use the "Holy Saturday II" image, please visit this page at janrichardsonimages.com. Your use of janrichardsonimages.com helps make the ministry of The Painted Prayerbook possible. Thank you!]

Good Friday: What Abides

April 19, 2011


Good Friday II © Jan L. Richardson

Reading from the Gospels, Good Friday (April 22): John 18.1-19.42

Blessing for Good Friday

You will know
this blessing
by how it
does not stay still,
by the way it
refuses to rest
in one place.

You will recognize it
by how it takes
first one form,
then another:

now running down
the face of the mother
who watches the breaking
of the child
she had borne,

now in the stance
of the woman
who followed him here
and will not leave him
bereft.

Now it twists in anguish
on the mouth of the friend
whom he loved;

now it bares itself
in the wound,
the cry,
the finishing and
final breath.

This blessing
is not in any one
of these alone.

It is what
binds them
together.

It is what dwells
in the space
between them,
though it be torn
and gaping.

It is what abides
in the tear
the rending makes.

P.S. For a previous reflection on Good Friday, see Good Friday: In Which We Get Nailed. And blogging daily throughout Holy Week at the Sanctuary of Women blog.

[To use the "Good Friday II" image, please visit this page at janrichardsonimages.com. Your use of janrichardsonimages.com helps make the ministry of The Painted Prayerbook possible. Thank you!]

Holy Thursday: Take a Blessing

April 18, 2011


Holy Thursday II © Jan L. Richardson

Reading from the Gospels, Holy/Maundy Thursday  (April 21): John 13.1-17, 31b-35

The story is told of St. Brigid, the beloved Celtic saint and leader of the early church in Ireland, that a man with leprosy came to her one day. Knowing the saint’s reputation for hospitality, the man says to Brigid, “For God’s sake, Brigid, give me a cow.” Brigid’s response suggests this man may have made a habit of such requests; though normally lavish with her generosity, Brigid tells the man to leave her alone. He persists.

Brigid asks the man how it might be if they prayed that God would heal him of his leprosy. “No,” the man tells her, “I get more this way than if I were clean.” Brigid, in her turn, persists with him, urging him to “take a blessing and be cleansed.” The man acknowledges he is indeed in much pain; he gives in and accepts the blessing and the gift of healing it brings. So great is his gratitude to Brigid—and to God—that he vows his devotion to Brigid and pledges to be her servant and woodman.

Sometimes it can be daunting to receive a blessing. As this man with leprosy recognized, a blessing requires something of us. It does not leave us unchanged. A blessing offers us a glimpse of the wholeness that God desires for us and for the world, and it beckons us to move in the direction of this wholeness. It calls us to let go of what hinders us, to cease clinging to the habits and ways of being that may have become comfortable but that keep us less than whole.

This can take some work.

Part of the challenge involved with a blessing is that receiving it actually places us for a time in the position of doing no work—of simply allowing it to come. For those who are accustomed to constantly doing and giving and serving, being asked to stop and receive can cause great discomfort. To receive a blessing, we have to give up some of our control. We cannot direct how the blessing will come, and we cannot define where the blessing will take us. We have to let it do its own work in us, beyond our ability to chart its course.

On the night that Jesus takes up his basin and towel and begins to wash the feet of his disciples, Simon Peter learns how difficult and how wondrous it can be to “take a blessing,” as Brigid put it. He resists, then allows himself to receive, the grace of it dripping from his toes.

This blessing will indeed require something of Simon Peter and of his fellow disciples. When Jesus has finished the washing, put on his robe, put away his towel and bowl, he turns to them and says, “Do you know what I have done to you?…If I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you. Very truly, I tell you,” Jesus continues, “servants are not greater than their master, nor are messengers greater than the one who sent them. If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them.”

You are blessed if you do them.

A blessing is not finished until we let it do its work within us and then pass it along, an offering grounded in the love that Jesus goes on to speak of this night. Yet we cannot do this—as the disciples could not do this—until we first allow ourselves to simply receive the blessing as it is offered: as gift, as promise, as sign of a world made whole.

During this Holy Week, I am offering a series of blessings for Holy Thursday, Good Friday, Holy Saturday, and Easter Sunday. As we move through these days, may these blessings come as gift, as grace. In this week, may you take a blessing, and become one in turn.

Blessing for Holy Thursday

As if you could
stop this blessing
from washing
over you.

As if you could
turn it back,
could return it
from your body
to the bowl,
from the bowl
to the pitcher,
from the pitcher
to the hand
that set this blessing
on its way.

As if you could
change the course
by which this blessing
flows.

As if you could
control how it
pours over you,
unbidden
unsought
unasked

yet startling
in the way
it matches the need
you did not know
you had.

As if you could
become undrenched.

As if you could
resist gathering it up
in your two hands
and letting your body
follow the arc
this blessing makes.

P.S. For an earlier reflection for Holy Thursday, visit Holy Thursday: Feet and Food. I am also offering daily reflections at the Sanctuary of Women blog, where this week we’re traveling in the company of the women of Holy Week and Easter.

[To use the "Holy Thursday II" image, please visit this page at janrichardsonimages.com. Your use of janrichardsonimages.com helps make the ministry of The Painted Prayerbook possible. Thank you!]

Lent 5: Learning the Lazarus Blessing

April 3, 2011


Lazarus Blessing © Jan L. Richardson

Reading from the Gospels, Lent 5 (April 10): John 11.1-45

He cried with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” (John 11.43).

I wonder if it gave him pause. I wonder if Lazarus, stirring in his four-day tomb and beginning to feel the grave clothes weighing on his waking skin, had to take a moment to consider. When he heard that cry from beyond the threshold of his tomb; when he awoke to that voice, beloved but already growing strange to ears that had begun to settle into the silence; when that command came and challenged the dead calm of the grave, did Lazarus give a thought to staying put? It cannot have been easy, feeling the pulse of life tickle at the flesh already loosening from his limbs. Was he tempted to simply roll over and turn his face toward the wall so that he could continue his slide into decay?

Nobody goes into the tomb to pull Lazarus out; no one crosses into his realm to haul him to this side of living. Lazarus has to choose whether he will loose himself from the hold of the grave: its hold on him, his hold on it.

Only when Lazarus takes a deep and deciding breath, rises, returns back across the boundary between the living and the dead: only then does Jesus say to the crowd, “Unbind him, and let him go.” Not until Lazarus makes his choice does the unwinding of the shroud begin, and the grave clothes fall away.

I have written about this passage—a favorite of mine—on other occasions and invite you to visit Lent 5: Unbinding Words and Unbinding Words: Part 2. As we move deeper into the Lenten path, what might you need to let go of, to loose yourself from, so that you can move with freedom into the life to which Christ calls you?

Here is a blessing for your journey ahead. Peace to you in your waking, rising, living days.

Lazarus Blessing

The secret
of this blessing
is that it is written
on the back
of what binds you.

To read
this blessing,
you must take hold
of the end
of what
confines you,
must begin to tug
at the edge
of what wraps
you round.

It may take long
and long
for its length
to fall away,
for the words
of this blessing
to unwind
in folds
about your feet.

By then
you will no longer
need them.

By then this blessing
will have pressed itself
into your waking flesh,
will have passed
into your bones,
will have traveled
every vein

until it comes to rest
inside the chambers
of your heart
that beats to
the rhythm
of benediction

and the cadence
of release.

Bonus round: For a song that will bless your ears and your soul, click the player below to hear the wondrous “O Lazarus” by my husband, Garrison Doles. It’s from his CD House of Prayer.

[To use the "Lazarus Blessing" image, please visit this page at janrichardsonimages.com. Your use of janrichardsonimages.com helps make the ministry of The Painted Prayerbook possible. Thank you!]

Resources for the season: Looking toward Lent

And blogging daily at Sanctuary of Women during Lent…