Using every dimension

Lent 5C
John 12:1-8

In the name of God.  Amen.

One of the main things that’s been racing through my mind again and again as we move toward Easter this year is the recognition that this is the first time we’ve made this spiritual pilgrimage together – I mean physically together – for three years.  This will be my fifth time to journey through Lent, Palm Sunday, Holy Week, and Easter with you.  But half of those times that have passed were spent in strange, even sometimes painful isolation.

One of the innovations of that time apart has been the display of Easter decorations that Michael dreamed up, and that we’ve used for celebratory times over the past two years – the candles rising up around the altar, pointing us toward the cross.  The huge branches of forsythia that we would collect and arrange as Easter flowers.  Even the way we were seated around the altar.  All of those things were initially designed to try to take the Resurrection of Jesus Christ and portray it on a flat screen – in two dimensions.

We did it because we had to – it was all we had at the time, and we had to try to capture the glory of the moment in whatever way we could.  But approaching this celebration now, from a new (old? renewed?) perspective, it occurs to me how sort of ridiculous that was – flattening the Resurrection.

We tried to stretch the drama as far as we could in our two dimensions, but the fact is, the Resurrection of Jesus Christ cannot be contained in two dimensions.  It takes every dimension we have – left, right; up, down; forward and backward, in and out, living in the present with an eye to the future and an ear to the past.

I think we’ve always known that.  But two Easters apart have taught us in as intimate a way as we could probably imagine, the value of our embodied selves.  We can’t flatten the Resurrection and we can’t flatten our community.  These are aspect of the Christian life that yearn to pop.  They’re not just pursuits of the mind, but yearnings of the heart, strivings of the soul…

This is part of the message that Jesus shares with us in the Gospel today: cling to what is fleeting; embrace it, appreciate it.  When it’s gone, it’s gone.

I wonder how much our experience of the pandemic might have been different if we’d known that that applied to this part of our life.  We all know, all too well, that flesh is fleeting, and that our time with our loved ones is precious.  But I don’t know anyone who went into the pandemic thinking that the church was anything but a stable fixture that couldn’t be moved – whether they took advantage of it or not.  I don’t know anyone who didn’t trust that the rhythm of church being available for the taking on Sunday morning would continue forever.  Even in places where there were (and are) legitimate fears that a particular community might not survive, there was never a fear that church would just stop being available in the ways we’ve come to expect and rely on.

And then that day came.  We shut the doors and tried to flatten our expressions of our inherently multi-dimensional faith.

Of course, this isn’t meant to diminish in any way our online ministry.  It was valuable to us all when it was all we had, and it’s still valuable to a lot of people – people that are every bit as much a part of St. David’s as anyone sitting in this room.  But I would bet that even for those of you who still primarily experience the church through our livestream – I would bet that you also recognize that there’s something different now that we have more multi-dimensional humans physically gathered together.  We’re not so flat as a community.  I would bet that this reality enriches our online ministry, too.

Jesus isn’t telling us to forget the needs of the poor (or any other group of oppressed or suffering people) – just like our physical gatherings can’t lead us to forget the needs of our online ministry.  But he did realize that our focus, at least at that time, needed to be on what was fleeting.  And that we would regret it if we missed this opportunity.  He would only be around for a while.  Seize the day.

I wonder how much our experience of pandemic might have been different if we’d known in advance that we’d be losing something that once seemed so immovable.

And I wonder how knowing now what we didn’t know then will change us going forward.  What will we cling to?  What will we let go of?  What were we clinging to that, in our experience of the past couple of years, now seems less important.  What was snapped from our clenched fingertips that now we’re trying to reclaim?

I suspect that a lot of the earlier days of living into a Resurrection reality were spent focusing on questions like this.  What is true now?

Jesus was pointing the way before he left.  Value the relationships.  Respect the embodiment of the community.  It’s good to feel stable, but remember that the world can shift in a radically different direction without us expecting it.  Identify what means the most and appreciate it while you have it.

I’m glad we’re together again.  I know more now how important that really is than I did back then.  And I’m eager to see who we are now – who our experience has made us to be…  What new dimensions have been revealed…  Amen.