Even In A World With A Mask On Its Face

By Ken Woodley

Imagine being one of the apostles near the Mount of Olivet during the scene described in verses six through 14 in the first chapter of the Book of Acts. There we are, with the risen Jesus, who is giving us our marching orders: to be his witnesses, empowered by the Holy Spirit, to the ends of the earth.
If being with the resurrected Jesus isn’t mind-blowing enough, we then watch as he is lifted up and taken out of our sight in a cloud. As we’re gazing up toward heaven, two men in white robes suddenly appear at our side and ask why we’re looking up into the sky. Jesus, they tell us, has been taken away from us into heaven but will come back in the same way.
What a conversation we would have had during the day-long walk back to Jerusalem after this experience. Dumbfounded silence would have been interspersed with gushing voices falling over each other recounting what had just happened.
But, what had just happened?
In all likelihood, I suppose, the two men were angels. They match the description of the two who appeared to Mary Magdalene when she went to Jesus’ tomb on Easter morning.
The one thing I know better than anything else—the one thing I know best of all—is that there is a ton of stuff that I don’t know. This passage from the Book of Acts is among the many things I cannot explain.
And that makes me very happy.
You and I—all of us—need far more than what the human mind could possibly conceive. The transformation of humanity into a world of love and compassion requires far more than anything I could dissect and explain. This time of global pandemic underscores this truth with a million exclamation marks.
Knowing that God is in the process of lifting us all toward one another—if we allow it to happen by not misusing our free will—is incredibly reassuring.
We can feel ripples of God’s movement, like a breeze against our skin or a river’s current and the pulling of a tide along the shore as we wade out together.
But I cannot take the wind in my hands and hold it tightly, even for a second. Rivers and tides flow right through my fingers. I cannot begin to grasp the awesome fullness of what is happening and how it is happening.
There are clues all around but I won’t pretend to solve the mystery before your very eyes.
God is on the case and I thank God for that.
All I know is what I have faith in: there is an awesome transformation underway and taking shape. It is, indeed, happening. Even in a world with a mask on its face.
The love and grace of God will eventually prevail in the world because it will some day prevail in our hearts. Prevailing in the human heart, one human being at a time, is how that love and grace shine like beams of light into the friendless corners of the world that surround us.
The alternative, so often clearly illustrated, is darkness spreading one human heart at a time.
So, here we are. Gathered with Peter and John, wherever we are in this world. Gathered with James and Andrew, with Phillip and Thomas. Here we are, gathered with the mother and brothers of Jesus.
Gathered with each other.
Something wondrous has happened on our journey to Jerusalem—and is unstoppably underway—that we cannot fully explain.
Or stop.
And we wouldn’t have it any other way.

The Holy ‘Ghost Writer’

By Ken Woodley

Think back, for a moment, to the best meal you’ve ever had in your life. Whether at a fine restaurant or cooked at home, with family at Christmas or over a campfire in the woods by a lake.
A meal that lives long in memory, and may even be one that you’ve enjoyed while surrounded by the coronavirus.
Okay, hold that thought as we listen to what Jesus has to say about the Holy Spirit in the 14th chapter of the Gospel of John:
“I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever. This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him because he abides with you, and he will be in you.”
Of the three figures of the Holy Trinity, the Holy Spirit is the most difficult for many people to fully grasp. God we understand. Jesus we comprehend. But the Holy Spirit? The Holy Ghost? Ghosts aren’t part of our everyday lives. Except this one.
One can think of the Holy Spirit as a “feeling” that comes upon us when we are deep in prayer or, as can happen, when our mind is on something else entirely. A feeling that reminds us of God and Jesus, gives us a feeling of their presence and what it means in our lives, a feeling of inspiration, a feeling of insight, a feeling of hearing, seeing and understanding the spiritual more clearly, suddenly and sometimes only for an instant. An instant, however, that lingers in memory—like the best meal you’ve ever had.
Think of God as the Master Chef. Master Chefs express themselves through their culinary masterpieces. God’s back in a kitchen that is literally out of this world and God is cooking up the best meal we could ever possibly be served—an expression, or articulation, of God’s life-transforming love and grace. That’s what God, the Master Chef, prepared for us: love and grace that change our lives.
Now, think of Jesus as the meal, itself, as the way God’s love and grace were expressed and articulated into the world. God served love and grace to us through Jesus and the meaning and ministry of his life, death and resurrection.
But how does the Holy Spirit fit into all of this? Think of the Holy Spirit as the aroma of that meal that God prepared for us and then served to us through Jesus. Though the Master Chef, the meal and its aroma are three distinct and different things, they are also, somehow, part of the same thing.
Think about aromas. We can’t see them. We can’t touch them. But they sure are real. They are like spirits of what has been prepared for us and then served as a meal. They are culinary “ghosts” but we know for a fact they exist. We smell them every day.
The aroma of a meal is part of the meal, itself. The aroma comes directly from what has been prepared. The aroma of a steak is literally part of the steak. The Holy Spirit is no different—It just doesn’t have anything to do with a rib-eyes.
And all aromas do something quite special.
Think back to that best-meal-ever in your life. If you could somehow smell the aroma again it would bring that meal back to life for you. The aroma would remind you of every nuance, nook and cranny of that meal: how it looked, the way it felt on your tongue and, especially, its flavors.
That is exactly what the Holy Spirit does. The Holy Spirit allows us to feel, to “taste” the expression of God’s love and grace that was prepared and served to us through Jesus.
Jesus promised us the Holy Spirit to ensure we’d never go spiritually hungry. God’s love and grace are being served every day and COVID-19 cannot shut that down.
The Holy Spirit makes deliveries wherever you are, and there is always “take-out,” as well, no matter where you find yourself.
Simply enjoying the meal, however, is not God’s dream for us, nor why Jesus lived for us, died for us, and was resurrected for us. Being transformed by God’s expression of love and grace—even just a little bit—is why God brought all the ingredients together and invites us to the feast.
No degree of transformation is insignificant. Consider how one single comma, rather than the tiny dot of a period, can change the meaning of a sentence that alters the plot of a chapter that transforms the end of a novel.
Our own life stories are being written every day and a Holy “ghost writer” is just waiting to be our co-author.
So keep typing.
And follow that scent.

God Doesn’t Do Social Distancing

By Ken Woodley

What a place God’s house must be.
In the Gospel of John, Jesus tells us not to let our hearts be troubled because in his Father’s house there are many dwelling places.
Some translations of the second verse of the 14th chapter describe God’s house as a place “of many rooms.” The King James version uses the phrase “of many mansions.”
I like “dwelling places” best because it suggests, or allows one to imagine, a place beyond standard housing architecture.
A “dwelling place” might be anything anywhere. A mountaintop overlooking a beautiful valley or the sea. A deep forest filled with the song of the wood thrush. A dwelling place is not confined to a room in a building. Though, don’t get me wrong, if God’s house is filled with many rooms I’m totally cool with that. I don’t need a mansion. A room will do nicely. Imagine the view through the window.
A house filled with many dwelling places or mansions seems rather fanciful and altogether beyond our imagination. And the thought of Jesus coming back to take us there is an incredible one. Some folks, in fact, might find it hard to believe.
But there are clues to this future reality all around us, in and out of the pathways of our lives. If we look and feel closely into our souls and think about the world around us—however troubled that world feels today—we’ll sense that truth.
Consider how many “dwelling places” the Holy Spirit of God and Christ share with us now.
And all without putting any “social distance” between us and them.
The places where we can encounter their Holy presence is without limit: Our home. Our car. The hammock under the tree. The front porch. A meadow. A mountaintop. Or the final few yards of a dead-end street.
Wherever, in fact, we find ourselves in meditation or prayer is the place where the Holy Spirit can find us and abide with us for a sacred moment. Even at times when our thoughts might seem drifting away from God, in fact. Indeed, spiritual cul-de-sacs and wilderness times sometimes find God blazing a trail straight to us in response.
And, thankfully, we don’t have to maintain a distance of six feet from our prayerful meditations and the Holy Spirit’s loving reply, which so often comes in the form of that feeling of “peace which passes all understanding.”
This Love is the real thing. If five million people are deep in prayer at the same time the Holy Spirit of God and Christ have no difficulty being in five million different “dwelling” places at the same time.
Where each of us dwells in a moment in or out of prayer in this life is where the Holy Spirit will brush against our soul.
So, if that is not only possible but a daily fact of life in every corner of the world right this minute, what might be possible after our souls make that final spiritual journey to dwell in God’s house?
The sky isn’t the limit.
Nothing is.
But, however wondrous, heaven is for another day.
For just a moment, let’s allow our very real coronavirus anxieties to slip through our fingers like water flowing downstream and hold on to this truth: all of us are sharing the same dwelling place with God’s loving Holy Spirit right now.
No matter what language we speak. No matter the color of our skin. No matter where we live. No matter what.
Perhaps the current demands of social distancing will allow us to see that truth with greater clarity when we are once again find ourselves in a crowd, or right next to someone on a street corner.
Maybe when that blessed day arrives we’ll do a better job of treating all people as a member of our family and a child of God.
Because the truth is that, long before the COVID-19 pandemic, too many of us all over this world were already keeping our “social distance” from people who needed our love, instead.
That’s no place for us, or anyone, to dwell.

A Very ‘Sheepish’ Memory

By Ken Woodley

I don’t know about you, but sometimes my memory—my ability to recall—needs to be recalled by the manufacturer.
On more than one occasion, for example, I’ve come around the corner of an aisle in a grocery store and heard someone call me by name.
I knew that person.
I knew I knew that person.
That person knew I knew them.
But I could not recall their name at that moment to save my life, or the life of anyone else.
The explanation is one I understand: I was totally pre-occupied with my own thoughts, that had nothing to do with shopping, while simultaneously trying to remember all of the things I needed to buy. Had I seen the person from a distance it would have given what sometimes passes for my brain time to remind me of their name.
Or, that’s what I tell myself.
But I know it’s not just me. I’ve also been on the receiving end of “name non-memory.” I’ve said hello to someone and the look on their face tells me all I need to know. They can’t remember my name to save their life. Or anyone else’s life. I understand. Been there and forgot that.
So how utterly amazing is it that Jesus knows all of his sheep by name?
Totally astonishing.
Just think how many sheep Jesus has shepherded throughout the whole wide world over the past 2,000 years. Yet, Jesus knows us all by name.
But he also knows more than that. Jesus is aware of all that we have been, all that we are, and all that we can be—if we follow our Good Shepherd.
Jesus knows when we need to lie down in green pastures. And when we feel, in our soul, the holy spirit of Jesus guiding us to a restfulness that feels like a green pasture it is more than okay for us to do just that—to stop being so busy, physically and mentally, and chill out in the abundance of the green pasture he has led us to.
Likewise, when we feel Jesus lead us beside still waters there is a reason for it. Pause. Refresh. Rest. Drink in the feeling of peacefulness reflected toward our soul by those still waters.
No matter what else is going on in the world. And there’s a lot going on in the world, which sometimes feels to us like one huge valley of shadow.
We mustn’t feel like we have to keep pushing ourselves through what surrounds us and going and going and going. If we do, we run the risk of pushing ourselves beyond Jesus, too, like a sheep going beyond its shepherd.
Then we get lost and, let me tell you, life’s “wolves” love it when that happens. Fear is one of those “wolves” and that wolf is roaming widely and wildly right now all around us, and all around everyone else.
Whenever Jesus seeks to revive our soul, there is a very good reason and we should let him do it.
Don’t feel guilty about it. Let it happen. Jesus knows better than ourselves what we truly need. We can see up to the bend in the road. Only Jesus can see around the bend.
So don’t worry about what’s around the bend, either. I say that knowing full well there is an awful lot to worry about out there. But I also know that worry doesn’t make anything go away, nor does it make anything even slightly better. Jesus counsels against worrying for that very reason and because he knows how worry can deteriorate us inside.
The rod and staff of Jesus will comfort us and when we need it most we will feel our head anointed with oil and our cup running over. That is: we shall feel the certain peace inside us that passes all understanding.
That sense of peace doesn’t last forever. It comes and goes. But we very much can hold on to the fact of its existence.
Goodness, love and mercy will have followed us no matter where we went—even when we wandered off—and we will know deep down inside that we shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.
We may forget someone’s name in the grocery store next week—especially if they’re wearing a mask—and someone might forget our name tomorrow. Especially if we’re wearing a mask.
But Jesus never will.

The Journey Toward Emmaus

By Ken Woodley

The Road to Emmaus is all around us.
There is no set formal path. No particular interstate highway or country lane.
The Road to Emmaus just is—stretching out in every direction.
North. South. East. And west.
We journey upon it each day, whether we realize it or not. Every paved mile that we drive is upon the Road to Emmaus. Each sidewalk step that we take is upon the Road to Emmaus.
Left, right, left.
Through the woods.
Across a field.
Upstairs and down.
The Road to Emmaus is, consciously or not, part of the journey to every destination we consciously try to reach.
For our entire life.
Forward, or backward, day by day.
Curiously, however, we often fail to sense its presence. There are so many distractions along the way. One moment we are deep in contemplative prayer and the next we suddenly find ourselves in the middle of life’s often tumultuous cacophony of noises.
We become like the two disciples described in the Gospel of Luke, walking toward Emmaus and so busy talking about the crucifixion of Jesus and rumors of his resurrection that they fail to see that he is walking right there beside them.
The experience is not unlike walking out from a forest of wondrous peace onto the Las Vegas strip.
But even Vegas is part of the Road to Emmaus.
The Road to Emmaus is everywhere—no exceptions.
And Jesus is there—no exceptions.
Jesus is there, waiting for us to recognize him.
Waiting for us to recognize him in our hearts.
To recognize him in our souls.
To recognize him in each other when we walk his footsteps into the world.
Every day and every step we take hold such promise.
Every day and every step offer us the chance to make the dreams that Jesus has for us come true in this world that so desperately needs those dreams to come true.
But how?
Sometimes, we just need to pull over into a spiritual rest stop and let the tumultuous cacophony of the world’s traffic of distractions wash over us and away.
Often, we most readily recognize the Road to Emmaus—and who journeys upon it by our side—only when we stop for a moment to look around and feel the scenery of our soul and the sunrise of our hearts burning within us.
That is when Jesus is able to “break bread” with us, even if there is not a crumb or a crust or a loaf in sight.
Quite possibly, however, another person is by your side, walking the same steps on the Road to Emmaus. In close proximity physically, but also close in the spirit of friendship or love. So close that it is as if the two of you are one single loaf of bread. It can happen right here in the middle of a service or service project at St. Anne’s. In opening up your hearts to each other—in breaking this human bread—Jesus is able to reveal his presence among you in a way that is impossibly palpable.
And there is true communion.
Even at this time of COVID-19 when so many of us are working remotely from home, staying sheltered and perhaps even completely alone. We’re not going anywhere unless it’s absolutely necessary.
But that changes nothing.
Because the Road to Emmaus is almost entirely inside us.

This Is Why He Is On The Way

By Ken Woodley

Happy Easter?
How happy can Easter really be for someone who has lost a loved one?
How happy was the first Easter for Thomas? He had just lost a loved one and Easter was one of the saddest days of his life.
While his best friends were giddy with astonished joy as they related the story of Jesus appearing to them in the upper room, Thomas was wrapped in sorrow.
“Peace be with you,” Jesus had told the disciples before showing them his wounds.
Imagine their joy at spending time with the resurrected Jesus.
But Thomas had not been with them. He’d missed out and Thomas was so unhappy that he went down in history as Doubting Thomas.
“We have seen the Lord,” his fellow disciples had told him, their faces undoubtedly split wide open by huge smiles, their eyes alight and sparkling with happiness—just as ours might be at the end of an Easter morning service, wishing happy Easter to all we see.
But how happy could Easter have possibly been for Thomas, who had lost Jesus to the hammer and nails of the crucifixion?
“Happy Easter” was just two words that meant nothing to him.
Or, worse, they rubbed salt in his wounds of sorrow.
“Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe,” Thomas had replied.
I might have spoken those same words if I had been standing in the shoes of Thomas.
But Jesus appeared again, and this time Thomas was there. A week later, Jesus gave Thomas a chance to touch his wounds and “Happy Easter” suddenly became two words that meant everything to him.
Thomas joined his friends as resurrection witnesses, trying to convince others that Jesus had risen, that “Happy Easter” could pour its meaning into the deepest of our earthly sorrows—even into the place deep inside our heart where we mourn the loss of someone we love most dearly.
Easter matters because resurrection is promised to us all. Easter would indeed be a hollow mockery to our human hearts if it were just something experienced by Jesus alone.
If Easter was just a “Jesus event” it would be pointless. God rose from the dead? Big deal. But Easter is not just a Jesus event. Easter is a you and me event. Easter is an event our departed loved ones have already experienced for themselves. Jesus said so. Some day, we shall join them. Jesus said so.
“Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God, trust also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go to prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me, that you may also be where I am,” Jesus tells us in the 14th chapter of the Gospel of John.
There are days and nights and weeks and months when our tears of sorrow will make it hard for us to read those words but there are no tears on Earth that can wash the promise of those words away.
Can I prove it? Probably not. But doesn’t the world—don’t you and I—desperately need something far more wondrous than anything I can prove? That is precisely what God’s love has given us. But it is okay to doubt it.
If we doubt then we are in good company. We are locked in that upper room in all of our sorrow with the disciples. And Jesus is coming to touch the mark of our deep wounds. Jesus doesn’t doubt our wounds. He knows we all have them.
This is why he is on the way.

Among The Flowers Of Golgotha In 2020

By Ken Woodley

The whole world has become Golgotha—the place of the skull.
I feel the nails more deeply every day,
like the rising tide of a virus washing further and further up the beach
and then flooding the streets, seeping beneath doors and finally splashing through my open window.
With every sunrise the nails are hammered deeper and deeper.
At sunset they find places to pierce me that I never knew existed.
I have called out, cried out and, as a last resort, whispered
but there is no answer.
I feel excommunicated from my very soul.
Why have you forsaken me?
I bear this cross with every step I take.
Nailed to it behind the steering wheel, standing in line with it at the grocery store while wearing a mask, falling asleep with it at night
when I dream of crosses
and hammers
and nails
because all of the other dreams have been crucified.
My dream of you, as well.
Even the sky seems pierced at night
with small and distant twinkling
that is too far away from me to reach
and too far away to reach me.
The last echoes of a great and wondrous
light of love that speaks no more words to me.
And I remember when it used to sing.
With nowhere else to turn, I go looking for my own tomb.
My last resort.
And find it.
There in the darkness of a garden before dawn.
There I see the stone has been rolled away.
There I find my own tomb empty.
Waiting for me to fill it.
And I begin to weep.
All of my words are gone.
Only tears remain.
Every last hope withered, like petals fallen from wilted flowers.
The darkness seems to move now.
Coming toward me.
“Why are you crying?” I hear it ask.
But, no, it is not the voice of darkness speaking.
My God! Not the voice of darkness at all.
Vowels and consonants of light touch my skin and then embrace me.
The sky begins to bloom from what had seemed like the final and eternal winter.
Water colors defying gravity flow upward,
painting the parting and departing clouds,
and in this holy dawn I see your face.
Just as I remembered it.
The look of love within your eyes takes root in my heart and soul.
There are flowers all around.
I, too, am blooming
and you are my gardener, Jesus.
My petals open,
pulling out the nails.
Resurrection surrounds me,
filling me with the melody of new life.
Your harmonies free me completely
from the shrouding silence.
I begin to sing with a voice I never knew was mine.
Until now.
But there is even more.
“My voice,” you explain, “belongs to everyone.
“And my heart,” you add, laying your hand upon my shoulder.
“Especially my heart.”

When Jesus Walked Into My Room On The Way To Calvary

By Ken Woodley

Cast against the walls of this room

by one lamp’s mute tongue of flame,

my shadow describes all of me

that I have ever known.

It’s all anybody thought I could ever be.

And all I ever thought of myself.

Blow out this flame

and I would be gone entirely,

swallowed by the darkness

of their predictions

and my faith

in their lack of faith

in me.

But that shadow’s definition disappeared

like a reflection on a wave

the moment you walked into the room

and your silhouette joined mine.

Loneliness became oneness.

You sat down beside me

in a room that was no longer empty.

You poured some wine and broke some bread.

You asked about the mountains I had climbed

and understood when I told you about my valleys.

Even the deepest and most dark.

You said there was one last mountain

left for me to scale

and then you would have to go.

That mountaintop, you said, is these seven words:

You are the light of the world.

And believing that truth, you added, is the only way up.

I could tell that you were serious

so I began to climb them without waiting

and you smiled at me.

Astonishingly, I did not fall.

When I reach the summit, you promised

as you rose and turned to go,

I will have also scaled my shadow valleys.

Where are you going? I asked,

as you walked through the door into the rest of the world.

You had, I heard you answer, one more mountain

of your own to climb.

Receiving ‘Communion’ During COVID-19: We Can Do This For The Remembrance Of Him

By Ken Woodley
The image of the human palm, evidencing an open hand, is a powerful symbol. A hand willing to give and to receive, to accept, to welcome, to open doors. Open hands most often reflect an open heart, as well.
An open-handed Savior was riding into Jerusalem 2,000 years ago with a heart opened wider than the world.
Appropriately, there were palms along his path, pulled from trees and laid before him, and also the palms of those reaching out toward him as he rode purposefully forward.
But there were plenty of fists awaiting him at the end of his journey, too. Hammering fists and nailing hearts.
What a stunning “crossroads” of human reaction to a message of love and redemption.
And now here all of us are, striding through our own sort of Jerusalem “crossroads” moment toward Easter. We’ve been experiencing Palm Mondays and Tuesdays. Palm Wednesdays and Thursdays. Palm Fridays and Saturdays, too. COVID-19 has created its own recreation of Palm Sunday every day.
In so many ways, the world around us seems to have closed its hand and made a fist. We reach out for a “savior.” Anyone or anything to rescue us from the hammering fear and nailing heart of this pandemic.
But we’ve endured pandemics before. COVID-19, in fact, is merely sharing the stage with others that have plagued humanity for centuries: pandemics of racism, intolerance, hate, greed, apathy…the list is quite nearly endless.
And we’ve never found a vaccine for any of them.
One day, we shall find a vaccination for COVID-19 but as this Easter approaches there seems no hope at all for halting the ravages of those other pandemics.
Or is there?
Jesus, in fact, gave his life delivering the “good news” that a cure for all of those pandemics of the human heart are right here, right now—that they are, in fact, right inside the human heart, itself.
Before the palm of any open hand becomes a closed fist, instead, a human heart has already closed tightly into a weapon of pandemic possibilities. Making a fist of the human heart has always been the worst pandemic of all. But, thankfully, we have the cure right here in the open palm of our hand.
That is why Jesus gave his heart to change ours.
To have communion with us in the turning of another cheek, the re-shaping of a single sword into just one more plowshare.
That is why Jesus rode through the back gates of Jerusalem while the might of Rome galloped through the front gate.
On the night when a human heart betrayed him, Jesus made one simple request of his disciples—and of us: He initiated a final “communion” with his disciples by sharing bread and wine, and he asked them—he asks us—to “do this for the remembrance of me.”
Cancelled church services should not stop us from sharing this communion with Jesus, especially during Eastertide. We can’t let COVID-19 have that much power over us.
All of us can—yes, we certainly can—celebrate “communion” with Jesus in our own homes. By ourselves, if we live alone, or as a family. With wine or grape juice (whatever feels right to you) and bread, along with simple prayers, we can do what Jesus asked us to do. And safely. Each of us with our own cup and our own piece of bread.
Some may have the Book of Common Prayer at home and the Bible, of course, is rich with words we can choose to celebrate this “communion.” Though never discount the power of the words you find in your own heart at that moment.
We, as lay people, won’t be making any claims about turning the wine into the blood of Christ or the bread into the body of Jesus. Instead, we will let the Holy Spirit translate this “communion” deep within our soul.
The experience will undoubtedly differ from faithful heart to faithful heart, but nobody could ever get me to believe that by accepting his invitation we’re not opening the door for Jesus to join us.
We may just discover, in fact, that COVID-19 deepens the intimacy of our relationship and journey with Jesus. With his death and resurrection, Jesus tears the curtain of the temple which had been separating us from the “Holy of Holies.” Clearly, he wants us to step inside.
As Jesus tells us in the Gospel of John, “On that day you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you.”
In those words, Jesus describes the deepest possible “communion.”
Even were every church service cancelled forever, the only real barrier to our “communion” with a loving God is ourselves.
Let us receive the “communion” Jesus offers and do so for the remembrance of him.
That sacramental moment is a gift from Jesus to us all.

Leaving The Shadow Of COVID-19

By Ken Woodley

The tomb-like shadow of COVID-19 is all around us, getting closer and closer. Headlines wash over us like a tidal wave of bad news getting worse.
So much of our daily life seems to have died already. Basic stuff. Schools are closed. We can’t shake a stranger’s hand, or that of a friend. With Easter approaching, we can’t even go to church anymore.
But there is something we can do:
We can wait with Lazarus in Bethany.
In faith.
With certainty.
COVID-19 isn’t the only thing coming over the horizon and around the bend.
Jesus is coming, too.
Jesus is on the way.
Look into the distance and see the dust rising from the road, punctuating his approach on foot.
His footsteps are a drumbeat of purpose.
We didn’t have to strain to hear Martha and Mary dictating their message to Jesus. “Lord, they whom you love are dead,” they had told him.
They were talking about us.
You and me.
We’ve been in the shadowy “tomb” of COVID-19 for days and days and days.
Mary and Martha have, in fact, given up hope.
Martha runs to meet Jesus at his approach.
“Lord, if you had been here,” we hear her tell him, “my brothers and sisters would not have died. But even now I know that God will give you whatever you ask of him.”
We look at each other.
You and me together in this “tomb.”
Our eyes meet.
Our hearts know the answer.
Martha is right.
Now, Mary joins her, kneeling at the feet of Jesus.
“Lord, if you had been here, my brothers and sisters would not have died,” she tells him, speaking of you and me, together in this tomb, knowing both Mary and Martha are correct.
But Jesus is here now. And with Jesus it is never too late.
“Where have you laid them?” Jesus asks, wondering where he will find us, you and me together in this “tomb.”
Jesus is deeply moved. He weeps. The tears roll down his cheeks.
Now he stands there, just outside our “tomb.”
Remove the stone, Jesus tells them. The stone that seals us in this “tomb.”
We don’t just see the stone being removed—we feel it. The lifting of the shadow’s weight that was so ponderous, the burden we found hard to bear, the mountain-high shadow that held us prisoner in this “tomb.”
Jesus now calls us. “Come out,” he cries.
And we do.
We move into the light of his presence, the light of his love.
“Unbind them,” Jesus says, speaking of you and me, “and let them go.”
We are, in that moment, resurrected from our places of fear. You and me. Freed from this “tomb” and able to rise back into the fulness of our spiritual journey, able to see through the shadow of COVID-19 to the other side.
That is the promise that Jesus offers everyone.
Hear him speaking these words:
“Leave now.
“It’s time to go.”
And he’s right.
It is.
I don’t know what’s around the next bend in this road, but I do know that I am not alone.
Neither are you.
Come on. Let’s go. It’s time to be leaving this shadowy tomb.