“The stone is rolled back, not papier-mâché,
not a stone in a story…” —John Updike

Declaring something has a little air to it, a little flare to it, which is why we should refrain from declaring any random and self indulgent thing.

Declaring must be tethered to something big, although it may start out small.

It can start as small as a seed, as microscopic as a chromosome, the cilia of a flea, the photo-plankton of the deep, some tangent of a dream in which we pass through a series of infinitesimal doors and when we awake that little memory will be on our lips and we can declare what we’ve seen, what we’ve heard amid the squawking of the birds.

Except declaring, as I’ve said, must merge with something big, a universal belonging that’s yours, your own and that which you will never privately possess, a belonging that’s hers and his and theirs and in between all the ridiculous places we’ve met and that, as soon as we try to seize it and to take control of it, we wonder why the bitter traces of belonging sting us like a nest of hornets in our hands.

And here’s where the business or the art or the wondrous play of declaring really clears a person’s throat. Death. In the face of death we’re baffled and stymied and imagine ourselves drifting through the stratosphere whereas secretly we wanted it to work. We wanted what we saw and heard and smelled and touched and tasted of life to hum, to hit a stride and to run into the sun cresting over a green hill. We wanted life to work and were sad when it seemed to malfunction. And then we settled for death—death with its markers in stone, in wood, in steel, death with its obituaries stuck between the pages of an old book. We settled for death with not much to declare.

Yet, as I am read by what I read in the writings of Mark 16, our urge to declare delves deep into the fleeting layers of time—deep into what’s yours and what’s mine—and sinks anxious roots in the primordial possibility. What if it’s one person’s experience over two thousand years ago to ground all experience? What if what we know of life’s joy is the seed that made Mary pregnant? What if what we know of life’s pain has become the stuff only his chromosomes can handle? What if what we know of love and peace and justice—all the random encounters we have with goodness—what if they are the dots that only he connects? And what if he connects them through us?

These questions, you see, lead directly here and to the opportunities that we have to declare. Don’t say them too quickly without thinking about the repercussions or the consequences for your behavior or for your mission in life. But once you’ve had the chance to breathe and to reflect upon the breathless Christ Jesus, breathing again, my hope is that we will declare what we declare in this very air, as the sun rises.

Scott Kinder-Pyle, Latah Valley Presbyterian Church
Easter, April 24, 2011

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No Answer–Amazing!

April 18, 2011

Jesus gives no answer. That’s probably an over-looked detail in this holy-week observance. Jesus gives no answer. And in this world where Google makes us experts in nearly every discipline or craft known to humankind and to the alien life forms we’ve yet to discover—giving no answer may be the hardest exercise of faith.

Many of you may already be familiar with the famous line of Saint Francis of Assisi who said something like, Preach the gospel and if necessary use words. And I like the sentiment of that. I like its moxie. In many respects words are overrated and depleted of their energy. And yet, I’m not sure that’s what’s happened for Jesus of Nazareth, standing before the governor of Palestine. In my view, Jesus has all kinds of words available to him, and if he wanted to, I think he could have persisted in arguing and making answer after answer.

Words, however, must do more than reach back into the past, where they’ve been honed and crafted into poems and into letters and into grandiose novels. Words must also reach forward into two things, two things that will become very evident in the gospel story.

What I’m saying is this: all the words and questions and answers that Jesus has given—all of them reach for the pain that he must suffer on the cross. And, you see, without that suffering the words of Jesus just don’t carry the freight that they need to carry.

Words like love and words like kingdom of heaven, for example, don’t really point to anything unless we see the Son of God willing and perfectly able to endure the mocking and the torture and the horrific feeling of being abandoned and cut off from God’s Holy Spirit.

So, this week, we marshal out the answers and we drill one another in the story of redemption. But let’s not forget that at its very center this story is the story of one who finally “gave him no answer, not even to a single charge, so that the governor was greatly amazed.”

Let’s not forget: the world at large is no longer waiting for us to explain and make sense of the Bible for them. Biblical knowledge and charismatic preaching will only take us so far. And then there’s the plunge. Then comes the face to face participation in suffering. Jesus, of course, promises to meet us there. And once we’ve been there, with him, my sense is that the words and the answers do return to our minds and to our lips. But they don’t return without venturing to this place, where Jesus gives no answer and simply waits for God’s vindication.