by Rev. Sam Gutierrez
A number of years ago, I led a group of university students on a four hour walk. We spent weeks memorizing the Psalms of ascent (ancient Jewish pilgrimage songs) and then embarked on our own version of a pilgrimage to “Jerusalem”—a nearby medium-sized hill. We left early in the morning from the university and meandered our way through streets, old neighborhoods, new housing developments and poorly marked trails. As we walked, we talked. We got to know each other. I saw students who didn’t know each other walking side by side sharing stories and building relationships. We sat in parks to rest and we recited the Psalms we had memorized together.
Jesus also walked. Jesus never flew in a plane, rode on a train, drove a car or zipped through dusty streets on a moped or motorcycle. Chances are he never rode in a chariot either—he was too poor for that. Jesus walked. As Jesus walked, he taught, healed, blessed, prayed, challenged, called and formed disciples. Walking is the pace of discipleship. It’s the speed of faith formation. Anything else is just too fast. Human beings were made to walk. Walking is the rhythm of relationship.
I love Thanksgiving. I love the food, the flavors, the variety. But there’s another aspect of Thanksgiving that I like just as much as the feast—the after-dinner walk. This particular walk is mostly a necessity, the result of eating too much. But walking with those who have gathered around the table deepens relationships in a way that eating together does not. Walking is about going on a journey together even if it’s only around the block. It’s the shared journey that bonds. It’s walking shoulder to shoulder. It’s about facing the same direction with purpose.
I’m sensitive as I write this to those who can’t walk because of illness, disability, or age. If you can’t walk, do not be discouraged. Walking is not only physical, it’s also a feeling. It’s a posture. It’s a pace. It’s about slowing down and creating time to build relationship. It’s about breathing deep and paying attention to your surroundings. It’s about journeying alongside someone as they share their story. Thankfully, you don’t have to walk physically to embody the “spirit” of the walk.
I’m also sensitive to our current reality. Because of social distancing, for many of us walking is the only exercise we can do right now. Maybe for the season of Easter (the 50 days following Easter Sunday) we can engage in a “Jesus practice”--the practice of walking. While we walk, we can:
Friends, let me say it again—Jesus walked. What does this mean for faith formation? What if walking wasn’t simply a circumstance of the times that Jesus had to endure, but a way of discipleship?
Jesus walked… maybe we should too?
Rev. Sam Gutierrez
Alleluia–Christ is risen! “Alleluia” is a common refrain during the Easter season. It means “Praise the Lord!” Easter is the second major feast day in the Christian liturgical calendar, followed by a fifty day season allowing us to explore the wonder, depth, and far-reaching implications of Easter morning.
There are many verses in the gospels that pertain to the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. One of my favorites is John 20:7 (ESV) “…and the face cloth, which had been on Jesus' head, was not lying with the linen cloths but folded up in a place by itself.” On that Sunday morning two thousand years ago, Jesus woke up from his death sleep. His eyes opened and he untwisted the funeral robes he was wrapped in. Next, he folded the cloth covering his face and placed it neatly on the ground. This simple and silent moment speaks loudly about God’s redemptive work. Death is defeated once and for all, but not with fireworks, bullhorns or flashy billboards. God’s defeat of death is marked by Jesus calmly and quietly folding up the death cloth.
Yet in that moment the world shifted on its axis. Nothing has ever been the same.
Easter is not only the defeat of death, but is also God’s stamp of approval on the Jesus way—the path of peace and nonviolence. God does not resort to redemptive violence; God saves the world through redemptive suffering—by taking the violence upon himself. This is why the first Christians were called followers of “the way.” This “way” is the way of love. The church is called to follow Jesus in his way of love and to join God in his work of healing and reconciliation—praying for and loving enemies rather than excluding them and exterminating them. The radical gospel movement is towards inclusion rather than exclusion, towards reconciliation rather than retribution.
This is why many of the lectionary passages during the Easter season are drawn from the book of Acts. Following the resurrection, the lectionary texts highlight how the good news of Easter works its way from the garden tomb into streets, cities and homes. The early church speaks and lives the message that death has been defeated, fear has been unmasked, and “the Jesus way” is the only way to bring healing to our world (and our hearts).
Easter is a feast day—I pray you were able to feast and to celebrate the risen Christ with your loved ones at home. But the season of Easter continues for the next fifty days—fifty days to pray, read, talk, eat, laugh, reflect and dive deep into the far-reaching implications of Easter morning. Take a moment to reflect on God’s quiet and calm defeat of death, when Jesus took off the cloth covering his face, folded it up, and placed it neatly to the side. Alleluia!
Rev. Sam Gutierrez
A few years ago, some friends and I toured the home of the multi-talented artist Prince. We waited outside patiently while a volunteer told us about the artist, his home/studio, and how he built it with the intent of opening it to the public after his death.
After passing through a door where Prince’s penetrating eyes were painted above the frame, we entered an open and light-filled space that was said to be the place where he felt most comfortable. On one side of the large space was his private eating area and on the second floor was a bird cage housing two white doves (Majesty and Divinity) whose quiet cries were spilling into the space below.
The tour guide asked us to observe a moment of silence and pay our respects to Prince, whose ashes were in a tiny purple box on a podium in the center of the room. I was surprised because although I had anticipated seeing lots of purple during my tour (I was not disappointed), I had not anticipated standing in the presence of Prince himself. As I stared down at the little purple box, a disturbing thought flooded my heart, “That’s how we all end up—as ashes in a box.”
Reflecting on my experience later that night, I had to be honest with myself about my own fear of dying. While I journaled, I uncovered an even deeper fear—my fear of being forgotten. Prince will be remembered for a long time. He had an impressive studio and home, starred in movies, and gave an iconic super bowl performance in addition to his countless records, accolades and awards. But what about me? What have I done? What will be left behind when I die? Will anyone remember me?
The sad truth is, in a short period of a few generations, almost everyone is forgotten. Maybe some of us keep detailed records of our family tree, but even then, all that might be left of a person’s entire lived existence are some pictures and a few scattered details. It’s enough to make a person fall into despair and wrestle with questions of legacy, meaning, and how to live a truly significant life.
As I thought about all of this, I remembered a story when a criminal hanging on a cross next to Jesus turned to Jesus and said “remember me when you come into your kingdom.” (Luke 23:42) I had never given much thought to that criminal’s request, but now the Spirit was whispering in my heart, “That’s the key!”
If I am honest with myself, I have to admit that sometimes I am motivated by my fear of being forgotten. I am desperately attempting to create something that will last. But my anxiety settles when I remember that there is Someone who will remember me—someone who will remember my name and who I was. Someone who knows me and knows everything about me. Strangely, I have much in common with that thief hanging next to Jesus.
Lately, whenever I feel fear about my own mortality and my place in the history books, I pray the prayer of a criminal, “Jesus, remember me.” I can feel my fear start to diminish as the Spirit confirms deep down in my heart--Jesus will.
By Pastor Sam Gutierrez
As we grow into spiritual adulthood, we come to see more and more clearly that following Jesus will cost us something. It requires us to die to our selfishness. It requires us to lay down our wills. It requires us to abandon false pursuits. In other words, following Jesus means… we have to die.
Jesus teaches us to pick up our cross and follow him. Jesus never asks us to do something that he himself is not willing to do first. During Holy Week, we see Jesus struggle to lay down his life and trust in God’s provision, goodness, and care. It’s not easy to do. With surrender comes a great deal of struggle. Dying is hard. Yet, the call of Jesus remains, “follow me.”
Holy Week begins on Palm Sunday and concludes the following Sunday on Easter morning. The days between are a journey that includes Jesus’ confrontation with religious authorities, washing the disciples’ feet, a final meal, and Jesus’ crucifixion and death.
Holy Week is one of the most significant weeks in the Christian Liturgical calendar. Here are five key moments from Holy Week to pay special attention to:
Jesus enters Jerusalem as the city swells with pilgrims from all over the region to celebrate the feast of the Passover. As Jesus enters the city, people place palm branches on the ground before him, celebrating his arrival as if he is a victorious king returning from battle. But Jesus rides a donkey, signifying that he is a different kind of king—a humble servant who identifies with the poor. His victory will be one of self-sacrifice and ultimate love, not military might.
On Maundy Thursday, Jesus eats his final meal with his disciples and washes their feet. In bending down and washing his friends’ and enemy’s feet, Jesus demonstrates true spiritual maturity and models for us the right use of power and authority – to serve others rather than self.
The suffering and crucifixion of Jesus. Jesus redeems the whole word by laying down his life and trusting completely in the love of the Father. Jesus’ life, broken and poured out, shows us the depth of the Father’s love for us. Jesus cries out from the cross, “It is finished,” meaning that Jesus has completely paid for our sins and has done everything that needs to be done to bring about the reconciliation and renewal of the whole world.
A strange, empty and “in-between” day. Jesus is dead. The hopes and dreams of the people who followed Jesus also died on Friday. Hope is gone. The light of the world has been extinguished. This is the end of the story…or is it?
Jesus is raised from the dead. His resurrection is a stamp of approval of his faithful obedience to the Father and a decisive victory over sin – a triumph of life over death. Hallelujah! He is Risen! Yes, He is Risen indeed!
Holy Week has the potential to form us in powerful ways. The invitation is to participate and find our story inside the big story of God’s loving, redemptive work. The main lesson of Holy Week is if you want to live, then you have to die.
Holy Week will look and feel different this year. The “shelter in place” mandate means that we will be walking the Holy Week road with those in our households and watching online worship services. But we also walk with Jesus – who is with all of us – in our homes and in our hearts. He is calling us to lay down our lives and follow him through the pain of Golgotha. He is calling us to rise with him on Easter morning. Alleluia.
Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?”
By Cameron Warne
“Fear not, for I am with thee and you are mine” – Isaiah 41:10 / 43:1
A few years ago, I produced an album called Fear Not. It was a project exploring fear in all its facets – physical, global, spiritual, personal, etc. and the title track is one of my favorite songs to sing. I have performed it in many different environments, but none were like this past Sunday when I sang it to a video camera in an empty church. The lyrics had new layers of meaning in light of the Coronavirus and I was left feeling a bit unsettled and confused.
Did you see me when I hid..?
You were brave today to walk out in your skin
Did you see me when it got carried away?
I, like many of you, have been struggling with fear this week. It's only natural with an 'invisible enemy' on the loose. When we don't know what to say or what to pray (or even what to do), Love intercedes on our behalf with wordless groans (Romans 8:26). When our hearts are searched and strip-mined and fully sapped of all strength, they are quietly and silently mended - new wineskins and patched pots that are able to hold the weight of peace. Peace is the heaviest weight of all. Peace is always fluid.
The Estonian composer Arvo Pärt wrote:
Music is my friend.
A towel to dry tears of sadness.
A source for tears of happiness.
Liberation and flight.
But also a painful thorn.
In flesh and soul.
I'm discovering new things about ‘Fear Not’. It's a song about leaning into our fear. It's a song about paradox, uncertainty and longing. It's as much about the thorns as it is about the balm. This is the cross and this is our Lenten journey.
T'was Grace that taught my heart to fear
And Grace, my fears relieved
(from ‘Amazing Grace’)
Listen to ‘Fear Not’:
By Sam Gutierrez
“When he came to his senses… he got up and went to his father.” / Luke 15:20
One of my favorite hymns was written over 250 years ago by Robert Robinson. One verse comes and goes so quickly that if we're not paying attention the melody will easily carry us into the next compelling stanza. But if we pause for a moment on the lyric - prone to wander, Lord I feel it - we'll realize that these seven words summarize the inclination and journey of every human heart. Sometimes strong, sometimes subtle, our hearts feel a strange pull to leave home and wander in foreign lands in search of something other.
In response to all this wondering, the forty days of Lent can be summed up with one powerful word – Return.
Many times over the course of our lives we leave the well-marked path of wisdom. We wander, we take short-cuts, we blaze our own trail and eventually without fail - we get lost. When the pain of our wandering forces us to stop and stand still, we begin to sense a homing beacon inside of us. We listen and hear a compassionate voice whispering in the depths of our hearts. Lent is an invitation to tune our ear and listen to that voice.
Lent is also an invitation to weep over the string of disasters left in our wandering wake. Then, to gather our empty stomachs and sad hearts and bravely start the journey home. While we journey on our way, we find courage and strength knowing that the whisper heard in the depth of our being belongs to Someone who has been patiently watching and eagerly waiting for our return. The porch light has been left on and the front door left ajar.
However, if for some reason our souls have been desensitized to subtle call of home, then Lent has an assertive backup plan: trumpets. One of the traditional passages for the beginning of Lent is Joel 2. The passage starts with a shout, “Blow the trumpet in Zion, sound the alarm on my holy hill...” The heralding horn blast is meant to startle you awake and call you to attention, urging you to stop falling asleep to your one important life.
As we enter this season of Lent, think about all the ways you leave home, wandering in search of something that will satisfy. Like the prodigal son, you may be tired of being in a far-away country, waist-deep in waste. If that’s the case, then Lent is a perfect time to make a change. It’s time to wake up, weep over your wandering, and start the journey home.
The good news of the gospel is that before we even consider returning home, God has been out searching for us. Lent is about turning but the moment we turn, we find God there – with open arms, having traveled a great distance to find us and welcome us home as beloved sons and daughters.
Rev. Sam Gutierrez
I love dimmer switches. I was happy when the house we moved into this past summer already had dimmer switches installed in almost every room. Often, turning the light on “full bright” is a little too glaring, so I find a spot just below that adds a little more ambiance to the room – it’s easier on the eyes and creates a more relaxed vibe.
The season of Epiphany is like a dimmer switch. During this liturgical season, through various biblical stories, the light is slowing brightening and we begin to see more clearly that the vulnerable baby born in a manger is the glorified king of heaven and earth.
The season of Epiphany begins with the feast of Epiphany on January 6 and ends the day before Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent. Depending on where Easter falls (it’s a moving holiday) the season of Epiphany can be as short as 4 weeks and as long as 9 weeks. The word Epiphany means “to appear” or “to bring to light” (hence dimmer switch) – it’s a season of increasing light and ends with the lights on maximum: Transfiguration Sunday. On the mountain top, Jesus’ glory is revealed and we catch a glimpse of his divine nature – a vision that’s a little too bright for human eyes.
The beginning of Epiphany is framed by three key stories from the life of Jesus. The first is the visit of the Magi from the East. This story tells us that Jesus came for all people (not just the Jews) and the good news stretches East and West, North and South – redemptive news for the whole world. The second framing story is the Baptism of Jesus. In this narrative, the dimmer switch gets turned up a few notches – we learn more about the true identity of Jesus - the beloved Son in whom the Father is well pleased. The third framing story is the first miracle of Jesus when he changed water to wine at a wedding feast in Cana. The water basins that were used for ritual cleansing were changed into lavish amounts of wine. Wine symbolizes the intoxicating love, generosity and grace that Jesus came to initiate and demonstrate.
Epiphany is a rich, but unfamiliar and overlooked season. January is considered a cold and dark month – the merriment of the Christmas season is over, the new year has begun and we’re back at work or in school. Culturally, these weeks are marked by a return to routine.
But liturgically, Epiphany is a season of quiet hope with a watchful eye towards God’s promise to bring wholeness to the entire galaxy in the person of Jesus. It’s also a time of spreading this good news and so we look for little ways to spread hope to those around us. We pray for our friends, neighbors, relatives, children, family members and spouses who don’t know Jesus yet. We believe that “in him was life and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” – John 1: 4-5
Taking it another step: