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Today, on Passion/Palm Sunday, we witness Jesus’ fateful ride into Jerusalem. His triumphal entry into the holy city is a time for celebration. The disciples line the streets—they take off their cloaks and lay them on the ground along Jesus’ way—and they shout, “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord!” So great was the joy that, when asked to silence his disciples, Jesus replied, “I tell you, if these were silent, the stones would shout out.” And I can’t help but wonder if, just maybe, the stones were indeed crying out, and the people there simply didn’t have ears to hear.
But the celebration was short-lived. In his words and deeds, Jesus proclaimed a new reality. He proclaimed a reality in which all would have access to wholeness, to the abundant life that is God’s desire for creation. He proclaimed an economy in which the poor would no longer be poor; a community in which all would be beloved; and an empire in which Caesar would no longer be emperor. But the implications of this reality were not acceptable to those in power—for the poor to escape poverty, the rich must cease to be rich; for all to be equally beloved, those with special privilege must cease to be privileged; and for Caesar to cease being emperor, well, anyone who would suggest such a thing must be a traitor. And so Jesus was executed as a traitor to the Roman Empire. And, as the sky darkened and Jesus breathed his last, I can’t help but wonder if the stones were crying out then, too.
Today, the stones continue to cry out—and not only the stones, but even the mountains. And today, they lament not only the death of Christ, but also the death of their kindred. The National Memorial for the Mountains identifies over 470 mountains in the Appalachians that have been destroyed by mountaintop removal coal mining, and the destructive process continues, not only leveling mountains and destroying habitats, but also polluting waterways and making affected areas more flood-prone. Many of us are unwittingly connected to this horrifying practice. In Nashville, NES uses coal from a mountaintop removal mine. The mountains cry out, and few of us have ears to hear. We inadvertently support companies that destroy mountains to feed our energy addiction.
At the cross, we are confronted by the tragic nature of the reality in which we live, which is often governed by injustice, suffering, and violence; sin, death, and evil. For the crucified Savior, there is little we can do but mourn. But, by God’s grace, we can work to save other innocents from the same fate. Likewise, there is little we can do for the mountains that have been destroyed but mourn. But we can work to prevent other mountains from meeting the same fate.
As we look forward to the resurrection, we see a glimmer of hope. But today, we mourn, and the mountains cry out.
1. As the disciples celebrated Jesus’ arrival in Jerusalem, celebrate the arrival of spring. When you pass pear trees, dogwoods, and other blossoming trees, stop to admire the beauty of creation and to give thanks to God for the renewal of life.
2. As we mourn the crucifixion of Jesus, take a moment to pray for mountains that have been and are being destroyed, as well as all of God’s creatures that are affected by the destruction.
3. Join the fight against mountaintop removal. For Tennessee Residents, visit LEAF to find out what steps you can take to help pass the Scenic Vistas Protection Act to make mountaintop removal illegal in TN.
O God of joy, we rejoice in the rebirth that accompanies spring.
O God who suffers with us, we cry out and mourn the passion of Jesus. We weep for his suffering, the unjust suffering of others, and the suffering of all creation.
O God of hope, we yearn for the day when you will finish the work of redemption that you have already begun.
1When the Lord brought back those who returned to Zion, we were like those who dream.
2Then our mouth was filled with laughter, and our tongue with shouts of joy; then it was said among the nations, “The Lord has done great things for them.”
3The Lord has done great things for us, and we rejoiced.
4Restore our fortunes, O Lord, like the watercourses in the Negeb.
5May those who sow in tears reap with shouts of joy.
6Those who go out weeping, bearing the seed for sowing, shall come home with shouts of joy, carrying their sheaves.
Lent is supposed to be a time of mourning. It is a time of tears, as Christians confess personal sins and, just as importantly, our participation in systemic evil. Just like the people of Israel who had been carried away to Babylon, we recognize our bondage to the evil systems which rule over us. Environmentally speaking, this means we must confess our captivity to consumerism; we are in bondage to the burning of fossil fuels for transportation, to the use of non-biodegradable plastics on almost everything we buy, to the purchasing of food produced with pesticides, etc., just as surely as the Israelites lived in bondage to Babylon. We can no more exit our self- and environmentally-destructive economic system than Israelites like Daniel could have stopped serving the governmental system which held them captive.
The reality of our captivity seems pretty obvious to us, at least if we’ve spent much time thinking about it. What might be less obvious to us Christians is that we are also in exile from the land of God’s promise. We are not exiled from a specific geographic location, but, what is perhaps worse, we are exiled from creation itself. Think about your typical day. For those of us with cars, we do most of our traveling in air-conditioned vehicles. When we arrive at our destinations, we enter air-conditioned buildings, often with few windows. Even for people who walk, our cities have become vast concrete deserts. There might be sparse ornamental vegetation, in nicer areas, but in many places cockroaches and a few weeds are the only creatures that can survive there, save the rats. Just as the people of God were exiled from Israel, from the land which told them of God’s loving faithfulness, now we are exiled from creation itself.
But if we are in exile from creation and bondage to an environmentally destructive economic system, what hope do we have? What can we possibly do about our predicament? No doubt some action is appropriate; even in these barren circumstances we must sew some kind of seed for the sake our own survival. But perhaps the first action we must take is to mourn our desperate situation and to admit that we are profoundly in need of God’s salvation. We must weep out our need for God’s help, asking God to “restore our fortunes” These tears accompany our efforts; they water dry ground as we re-plant prairies with native grasses or as we establish urban gardens in degraded soil. We remember that God has saved us from captivity and exile before. It is not out of despair but out of hope that we mourn; our hope is that
“those who sow in tears [may] reap with shouts of joy, [and] those who go out weeping, bearing the seed for sowing, shall come home with shouts of joy, carrying their sheaves.”
We are nearly overwhelmed by the condition we find ourselves in, exiled from the beauty of your creation and captive to a way of life that is destroying the earth. In our privileged position, it’s easy to turn our backs on this truth. It’s easy to buy one more shirt, to watch more tv, to eat or drink too much, or to participate in any one of a thousand means our culture offers us to avert our attention from this dreadful, threatening reality. Help us not succumb to these temptations; deliver us from evil. Help us face our world’s environmental crisis and respond as you surely must respond; help us to mourn, for love for you demands suffering with your suffering loved one, the creation. But we ask for more than this. Make our tears worth something by using them to “restore our fortunes”, to “bring us back from captivity”. Then, with the children of Israel, we will proclaim “the Lord has done great things for us”. As you have delivered us before, let your children once more be filled with joy.
1. Familiarize yourself with the environmental health of your locality. What’s the air quality like? How clean is the water? What are the endangered species in your area? A few websites that might be helpful include:
2. Plant something. In rainy springtime, planting is itself an act of profound faith. One never knows what frost may come or if the ground will even be able to sustain life. But farmers, and most of us unwitting consumers, depend on the fact that some of those seeds will grow into the food we need.
3. Spend some time in a place where environmental restoration has happened. It is hard to pray in remembrance of deliverance, as this Psalm does, if one has never experienced it. Urban community gardens are especially hopeful examples.
“I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.” John 6:35
Like Joseph, who rebelled against his father’s wish to see his second born son become greater than the first-born, we often falsely believe we know the right and proper order of the world. Born into the “First World,” many of us believe we have the right to our lives of abundance. Our privileged status in the world gives us claim to a greater portion. Though many of us dare not speak these words aloud, our actions reflect this belief. We squander the things we own; knowing that there will always be more and forgetful of those whose portion grows smaller. We often fail to see our connection to the whole, believing instead that we are solitary beings, only responsible for ourselves. Yet, if we think we are entitled to our portion, we have failed to hear God’s challenge to live differently in the world.
Rather than being liberated by God’s promise of eternal life as read in John 6, we have become enslaved to our consumerist lifestyles. Though we may long for stability, for things that do not perish, we settle for the perishable. Even things that have stood the test of time are discarded in favor of the new and fashionable. Fooled by our culture into believing nothing is everlasting, we secretly do not believe that God’s life, love, and grace are sustaining. Christ’s promise to be “living bread” is lost on those of us who rarely feel the real pangs of hunger.
Binding ourselves to continual death rather than life, we enslave the rest of creation as well. Our consumptive practices are cause for the whole creation to cry out against us. Paul reminds us that creation is groaning, longing to be free from the bondage we have enslaved it to. Unaware of our place within creation and oblivious to our responsibility for others, we fail to hear God’s call to justice.
As global markets expand, we are reminded again and again that we are interconnected, interdependent beings. Our (unearned) privilege in the web of creation should entice us toward contemplative lifestyles and thoughtful action. No more entitled, no more blessed, no more righteous, we must learn to find our place within this web, striving for peace and justice in the whole.
- Becoming prayerfully aware of the often taken-for-granted resources in your life. For example, thank God for water each time you turn on a facet and then pray that soon all people will have clean water.
- Count the number of disposable objects you use in your daily life (i.e. water bottles, coffee cups, paper towels, soap dispensers). Consider whether you can opt instead for more durable, sustainable objects.
- At your next trip to the grocery or convenience store, buy goods that are the least “packaged” or have used ecologically friendly packaging (paper, cotton, or glass as opposed to plastic)
- Consider donating to TVA’s Green Power switch, helping Tennessee raise funds to become more energy efficient through renewable energy sources.
Lord, create in us hearts that thirst for justice and hunger for peace. Remind us daily of our part in your web of creation and keep us mindfully aware of our tendencies toward isolationism and individualism. Allow us to perceive the groaning creation and create in us hearts that groan with others. Help us to hold onto the things that give life, and let go of the things that bring death to us and to others. Allow us wait patiently for your grace and yet live for your Kingdom now. Amen.
“Listen, so that you may live.”
God offers abundant life to us all. “Everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and you that have no money, come, buy and eat!” However, we sometimes choose un-life, life “lite,” almost life. In our desire for “more,” we end up choosing less. Obsessed with making fluffier, identical loaves of bread, we bleach flour of its nutrients; in making “more” grain to make “more” bread, we genetically modify our wheat. “Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy?” Instead of giving our money for bread “lite,” God calls us to feast and delight ourselves in “rich food.” Instead of relegating the labor of creating “almost bread” to lab technicians and machines, perhaps God calls us each to seek the satisfaction that comes from our own labor.
The passage from Isaiah does not simply commend us to make better decisions at the grocery store, to make our own bread or grow our own gardens. God beckons us, “Incline your ear, and come to me; listen, so that you may live.” Abundant life does not simply come from a good loaf of bread, but rather comes from intimate relationship with God, which God establishes in holy covenant with us. Only in deeply listening to God will we hear the promptings of the Holy Spirit, as we attempt to live in harmony with the rhythm of the seasons and in caring relationship with our sisters and brothers.
Until we invite God’s ways and thoughts into conversation with our own, we will continue to wallow in our “almost life.” We will continue to eat bread which leaves our bodies wanting, which leaves our fields wanting.
As Derek noted last week, the whole of creation is hoping, groaning, left wanting – for its own fulfillment. As in Jesus’ parable of the young fig tree which had not yet borne fruit, we heed the words of the gardener to wait awhile longer while he puts manure down.
While we hope for God’s fulfillment of God’s purposes in creation, we listen intimately to God, we celebrate those places where we see glimpses of that fulfillment (in mature trees bearing fruit, in loaves of nutritious bread), and we do the good work to which God calls us. We lay down the manure, we advocate for grocery stores to be built in “food deserts,” we build community gardens. All this, so that we may echo God’s words, “Everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and you that have no money, come, buy and eat!”
We hope that you are finding the nourishment you need to continue the practice(s) you have taken up these 40 days of Lent, and we pray that your practices are nourishing you and your relationship with God and others.
Some new ideas for practices to take up this week, or later on:
- Create your own “manure” of sorts, by saving your kitchen’s fruit and vegetable waste, grass clippings, and leaves, and beginning a compost bin. Compost bins need not be complicated, expensive, smelly, nor must you have outdoor space (you can buy boxes of worms to do the job for you inside!).
- “You that have no money,” try out dumpster diving. Make a dash to the grocery store, bakery, or restaurant as they’re closing and taking out the trash (or any other time), and check out the bags stuffed with just-expired items.
- Advocate for grocery stores to be established in food deserts. Food Security Partners of Middle Tennessee (link to the left) is running a campaign called “Re/Storing Nashville.” There, you can share your own “grocery story.”
- Buy a loaf of nourishing bread at a local bakery such as Great Harvest.
- Start a garden where you live, or help out with a community garden. They’re popping up all around Nashville.
(from The Evangelical Reformed Churches in German-speaking Switzerland, 1972)
Lord, you love life; we owe our existence to you. Give us reverence for life and love for every creature. Sharpen our senses so that we shall recognize the beauty and also the longing of your creation, and, as befits your children, treat our fellow creatures of the animal and plant kingdoms with love as our brothers and sisters, in readiness for your great day, when you will make all things new.
Authored by Jessica Bridges on behalf of Eco-Concerns
First Rays of the New Rising Sun
Hope is often construed as a bittersweet idea. On the one hand, we associate this word with optimism, courage and resiliency, characteristics that describe preserving expectation of good prospects. On the other hand, hope also seems to imply that life as we find it now is unsatisfactory, ambiguous and frustrating. During the Lenten season, it is especially tempting to adopt dispositions that affirm both sides of hope: a desire for a better future born out of dissatisfaction with the present. Indeed, what else can our hope for resurrection in Jesus Christ mean than a final and permanent liberation from the powers of sin that distort our present lives?
I believe that this is a mistaken and impoverished perspective on hope. Hope is not simply the expectation for a future free from certain undesirable things. Hope can also refer to the expectation that what is inchoate or incomplete now will blossom into fullness later. A gardener plants seeds with the hope that with care they will sprout into flowers. Students enroll in college, hoping to earn a degree. All kinds of people begin rigorous work-out programs hoping to improve their health and confidence. In this use of the word, hope refers to a steadfast and enduring disposition that enables the person to see a course of action through to its end, regardless of the costs incurred and the pain suffered along the way.
Considering Lent, hope not only describes the desire for a life free from sin and death; it also describes the desire creation maintains for God to finish what God started in the life and resurrection of Jesus Christ. In other words, the resurrection refers not only to a victory over sin alone, but to the perfection of human flesh through the Goodness of God. Maximus the Confessor wrote that God became incarnate to unite the creaturely human body with Godself in order to fix it permanently to the Goodness God created it to enjoy forever. The life of Christ leading up to the crucifixion revealed what a human life ineluctably joined to God’s Goodness could look like. The inclusion of the flesh of Jesus in the resurrection of the Son revealed that the end God has in store for human creatures extends beyond the creature’s natural death to share in the eternal life of God, an eternal life the creature shares while nevertheless retaining the integrity of its unique goodness. The resurrection, then, also refers to the perfection of this creaturely flesh through the perfect and harmonious union forged between itself and the divine Goodness.
Looked at from this angle, the resurrection of the body as its perfect and unhindered union with God need not only refer to a human possibility, but also to a possibility that embraces the whole of creation. In Romans 8:23-24, Paul writes that 22We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now; 23and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies.” The whole creation longs for what Jesus Christ has in full: perfect union of flesh and divinity. Thus, as Maximus insisted, the incarnation and resurrection of Jesus Christ grounds the hope of humanity and non-human created things alike. The whole creation places its hope in Christ.
Hope, then, is a much more complex notion than it seems. In addition to waiting for deliverance, it includes waiting and working toward the fulfillment of a “project” so to speak. This Lenten season, try to recognize the hope our fellow creatures exercise in the practice of their everyday lives in the incarnation sense reflected upon above. Where is hope manifest in the human and non-human creatures around you? In what way does the hope you have intertwine with the hope they have? Finally, how is the Spirit of Christ at work in the strivings of the creation around you, drawing toward ends it cannot imagine nor work toward without the cooperative grace of God?
Jesus Christ, send us your Spirit so that from its promptings we may learn how to place all our hope in You. Teach us of your Goodness through sharing it with us. Give us the eyes to see the goodness of creatures that are not like us and the ears to hear the groanings of their desire for you. Give us the humility to share with them our hope and to delight in the hope they themselves uniquely possess. May we be a help and not a hindrance to their strivings, may we delight in rather than ridicule the least and the greatest of the creatures we encounter. In the creative exchange of hopes and longings teach us how to share in the witness the creation bears of your Resurrection.
In Christ’s name,
Authored by Derek Axelson on behalf of Eco-Concerns