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I’m embarrassed to tell you . . . I’m addicted to The Gilmore Girls. The Netflix reruns of this TV series offers all 156 episodes AT ONCE, feeding into my insatiable appetite to turn on the Gilmore Girl’s word, and turn off my brain and veg. “Just one more episode,” I tell myself, as the previous one ends.

For some time, it had become clear to me that my best friends were now the Gilmores. So Lent seemed the opportune time to say goodbye to them, and drag my sorry self off the couch. This may sound ridiculous, but I have grieved them. I mean really, how do you say goodbye to your best friends?

Yet, I knew that if I let them go, God could somehow slip into the space made available.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus begins to prepare his disciples for the coming shock, that he will be killed. He wants them to know that there is a plan and he knows about the plan, and that he trusts the plan, so they don’t freak out and go crazy (which they did anyway). He wants them to know that there is more to come after his death . . . that this will not be the end.

Jesus tells them this parable to illustrate his point:

Unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies,
it remains a grain of wheat; but if it dies, it produces much fruit.

This description of a grain of wheat was something that the disciples could relate to. They understood that after the fruit of harvest, the wheat had to die off, and find its way back into the ground, for new grain to sprout up.

Everyone here has experienced what Jesus is talking about. Small deaths happen to us daily, sometimes multiple times a day. You may have experienced a small death as you let go of something you wanted to do, to be here for mass. Maybe you were reprimanded by your boss because you did something wrong at work. There are many ways we experience little “unasked for deaths” each day.

Then, there are “voluntary deaths”. Lent is an invitation to voluntarily die to something, in order to open to something more.

And finally, there is our physical death at the end of our lives, which is usually unasked for. All of the previous deaths, whether voluntary or inflicted upon us, are practice for our final letting go.

Jesus emphatically tells the disciples in the gospel today, that death is the ONLY WAY to enter into resurrection. We understand this from Jesus’ own death and resurrection. The enormity of God’s love became known through these events.

But, the disciples didn’t get what he was saying, and for the most part, neither do we.

I think it’s fair to say that we are almost always stunned when “unasked for” death, small or large, comes our way. It’s interesting that you don’t see a grain of wheat kicking and screaming when it falls to the ground. Yet, we almost always do. Rarely do we trust what is happening.

Often, when tough times come, we cry out with anger and shock.

”Why is this happening to me or to someone I love!” It’s so easy to forget that this could be part of the Christian story. No one skips difficult times, whether it is due to our own mistakes or sin, or an event we have no control over. But, Jesus tells us, in no uncertain terms, that it is all fodder for love’s growth.

A friend of mine didn’t have to voluntarily enter into Lent this year; Lent found her. Her husband got ill and she retired early to take care of him. Since then he has declined very slowly, and in the process, she is losing her mind. Going from working full time for 35 years to being at home all the time, is an adjustment that will never be easy for her. And with no reason to believe that her husband will get better and no reason to think that he won’t be around for a good time longer, she wonders how God could do this to them. I understand her lament. How painful this situation must be. Yet, since the dawn of the human history, people have gotten sick and died. It must be part of the plan.

Vietnamese mystic, Thich Nhat Hanh, speaks of un-asked for suffering by saying, “I would not want to send my children to a place of no suffering, because they would not learn understanding.”
How is this possible to take in?!!!!

Author, Renee Brown writes, “What goes wrong with us is part of our gift to the world.”

Jesus says, Unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it won’t produce fruit.

I am in the death business. As a hospice chaplain, I practice spiritual midwifery with those in the last segment of their lives and with the families who love them.

Through this, I’ve come to understand, that the expanse of God’s love available in people who have faced life’s challenges and found their way to resurrection, is deeply reflected in the way they face physical death. They trust that transformation occurs in the process. They know, at some level, that all is well. Now, that doesn’t mean they don’t experience fear, or doubt or physical pain, it means that fear and doubt and pain don’t win out; hope and love do.

Last week, I was with a deeply faith-filled woman who has recently lost her husband to death. Through her tears, she said, “At times, I have been in so much pain that I didn’t even want to live. Yet, I vaguely knew that God was with me, and that gave me hope that I could get through this.”

The Paschal Mystery at work in her life, prepared her for this day.

Lent is the practice of letting go; of voluntarily dying to something or opening to something, in order to expand our territory of Love. It is also practice for the unasked for deaths that life will bring. When I turned off the TV, in a very small way, I opened myself up to this. And as I trudged through the silence of my evenings, I began to catch glimpses of God in my conversations with my husband, Andy, our snuggling together in bed to read, and in time spent in prayer as I looked back over my day.

Let us volunteer to die to stuff that keeps us at a distance from God, and in doing so, love will widen in our hearts. Let us practice the art of letting go, and prepare ourselves for the inevitable larger deaths that will surely come our way.

Amen.

Kristie Lenzen
March 21, 2015
5th Sunday of Lent

Photo by Warner Bros.

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