Breastfeeding God

We can assume that Jesus was a breastfed baby; after all, he survived. Before the human-made miracle of baby formula and without access to a potential wet nurse, breastfeeding was the only option. So that first Christmas (which I seriously doubt was a silent night) certainly included Mary breastfeeding her baby, Jesus. Even being the firstborn son of God did not change that. From the moment he entered the world, Emmanuel (“God with us”) needed Mary’s milk to live.

Women are often painted as a weak or defenseless sex, but those who know actual women recognize that as a blatant lie. She who has the power to incubate human life, push it out of her body and fiercely protect it while guiding it through the world is more powerful than we can even fathom. God incarnate was born to this woman, deceptively labeled by most of society in her time and ours as vulnerable, yet immensely powerful nonetheless. God in Jesus would get used to being mis-characterized, stereotyped and potentially shamed just for being who he was, from the moment he first nursed at his mother’s breast. Yet while political maneuvering and the fate of all creation hung in the balance, Mary was Jesus’ whole world. Her breasts flowed with life and sustained his life.

Jesus was dependent on his mother’s responsiveness to his needs, but also on the power of human instinct. After giving birth, one strategy for beginning breastfeeding is to place the newborn on her mother’s abdomen a little bit away from the breast, then let her scramble-crawl to the breast to latch herself. It is astounding, but they can do this. Newborns minutes old with no command of their muscles follow the scent and their instincts to the source of life. Maybe Jesus did this too. Although his life would be guided by faith that we do not live by human food alone, the scramble to mother for first food is innate.

Colostrum is a symbol of that essential reality. The first milk after the birth of a child – colostrum – is made of different stuff than the breast milk that comes later. It is protective, immunizing, irreplaceable. Even mothers who know they will not be breast-feeding long-term are encouraged to try for the sake of that first food which their infants can get no other way. Colostrum also has a mild laxative effect, so the newborn human can perform that essential organic function: producing their first stool. In this, even God the Heavenly Father cannot supply what Mary can: antibodies and the blessed ability to poop.

Even when the baby latches well and breastfeeding seems to go smoothly, it is alarmingly frequent. Tiny newborn stomachs can’t hold much at once and their miniscule but mighty sucking power wears out quickly. But everyone is worn out after the miracle of birth, the pain, soreness and swelling; so (except for the potential interruption of shepherds) everyone should be able to claim some unconscious time from pure exhaustion that first night. Maybe that is when the “Silent Night” lyrics can be hummed.

Then comes a fresh challenge – for us it was on the second night – of cluster feeding. It felt as if our daughter awoke, instantly furious, every twenty minutes that night. I was so grateful that we were still at the hospital so I could ask the nurses, in my sleep-deprived delirium, what in the world was happening with my baby. There was nothing wrong with her. She was doing her part to bring in my milk supply. That “helpless” newborn nurtured her own food supply by demanding frequent feeding. The oxytocin hormone released from all that breastfeeding sustained me through so many sleepless nights and bonded us despite the exhaustion. Did Jesus “cluster feed”? Could he generate love in his mother through repeated demands on her body? Every child attempts to do so; why not God?

While God in the person of Jesus was embodying the instinct and dependency of being fully human, perhaps God the Father/Creator was experiencing what it also is to be the non-birthing parent. Whether as an adoptive parent or partner to the birthing mother, the limited influence and helplessness of the One Without Milk looms large. And it lasts for awhile. My husband claims that our daughter head-butted him within her first hour of life, so upset was she at discovering (while being held skin-to-skin) that he did not have the breasts of milk. I believe him; her determination is legendary. The Milkless One can certainly provide and care for the breastfeeding child in other ways, but they are often confronted with their lack of ability to meet that essential need. The bonding and attachment must be more intentional, repetitious, and insistent in the face of preference for the other. If that is not a metaphor for the dance of faith, I don’t know what is. Yet God chose to know that helplessness intimately, when Jesus was born of a human mother, laid at her life-giving breasts.

This post was re-published on Red Letter Christians on December 27, 2017.

The Happy Baby

Holding onto our feet, we rolled from side to side on our backs, following lots of back-bending and twisting. “Everybody loves a ‘happy baby’!” quipped the yoga instructor. That is what this move is called, but my train of thought derailed at that point and I started pondering: “Yes, why do so many people prefer babies to older kids?” This is certainly the case in the adoption world. For many prospective adoptive families, the younger the children the better. And to me as a pastor, the parallels to integrating into a “church family” and our preference for “happy babies” are striking.

With infants, adopted or birthed, parents have the optimal opportunity to imprint on them our own habits and behaviors as the standard for “normal”. We are the ones establishing the patterns that the synapses in their little brains recognize as familiar, both cognitively and emotionally. Attachment forms just by meeting their basic needs, without needing to debunk their previous experiences of broken trust. It’s easier to make them fit into our family – easier for them, easier for us – even though infants certainly run the show for awhile just by crying.

In mainline Protestant congregations, we love “happy baby” baptisms. Children of the congregation as our new members fit so seamlessly into who we already know ourselves to be as a “church family,” if only there would be enough of them. We imprint upon them the right way to worship, participate in education, volunteer, and take part in the umpteenth annual _______ supper, and they believe this is how church is and ever shall be. They do not enter the family agitating to change it, or challenging our ideas of who we are and what is most important to us.

In our adoption process, my spouse and I knew that older children are harder to place, so decided we would be open to children up to age 6, setting that limit largely for ease of language acquisition (since we were adopting internationally) and for the child to start school at the same age as their peers. Those were our parameters to make it easier on the child, but also if we’re honest, to make the transition easier on ourselves. They have a better chance of blending in, catching up, and assimilating. As one parent said in a support group we were a part of, “We knew we were signing up to be a conspicuous adoptive family, but we didn’t know we were also becoming a ‘special needs’ family.” Some of those invisible needs that are never going to show up in the paperwork manifest later as behavioral, emotional, or cognitive challenges. Older children come with more history, and if they are in the care of the state, that likely entails neglect or abuse. The older they are, the more aware children might be of the emotional trauma of the whole story that led to them being available for adoption.

So it is with those who come to faith, or to our specific congregation, from a different denominational background or church culture. They might be joining our church family because they have suffered neglect or some form of abuse in another church or tradition. They may be coming to faith for the first time because of things that have happened in their lives and likely a relationship that showed them some love. If any of these is the case, I hope we are attentive enough to recognize that this is not going to be easy on any of us, and the whole family might change as a result. I hope we create the space for our newer family members to process what they’ve been through, and safe space to tell us how what we do might be in a code they don’t understand or otherwise exclusionary. New members could be mirrors leading to self-awareness and renewal for our church family. But assimilation needs to be set aside as a goal, overpowered by the new standard of actively cultivating belonging for everyone. Resembling each other, except in sharing the love of Christ, is not a defining feature of the family Jesus created. Neither is fitting in without friction, or requiring no adaptation by anyone else.

A “happy baby” is not the goal for church families, although it is a nice massage for the lower back.

Posted where?

Martin Luther posted the 95 theses on the outside of the church door to initiate debate.

Dr. Corrine Carvahlo, a speaker at the Joint Ministerium (gathering of pastors and deacons from both metro synods of our church body) this morning noted that detail about this day 500 years ago which sparked the Reformation. It struck me because I have shared a self-deprecating description of myself many times: I am almost never the one in a meeting with the brilliant idea that defines the direction we should go. But I am sometimes the one who says the thing that someone else springboards off of to frame the right direction. I excel at the meeting alley-up! In any time, how are we to know what must be done, without others chiming in to hone or even take our ideas for reform in a new direction? And clearly, when we’re talking about the ongoing need for reform of the Church, the folks we most need to hear are those with a view of the outside of the door. Dr. Carvahlo went on to talk about Millenials not as “Nones” and all that implies, but as potential “Reformers,” from the outside. The discrepancy between the good news of God’s unconditional love for the world, and how the people who claim to know that behave, is vast. If we want to keep moving more fully into witnessing God’s presence in the world, then we have to initiate debate on how we can change. In this debate, no single one of us holds the truth of how we will get to the most fruitful outcome, but somehow we will discover it in the process of talking it out together.

Liturgy for Closing

(May this, and I, be a resource. I’d be glad to correspond with anyone planning a church’s closing worship service.)

The closing service of this particular church I was shepherding, unusually, included Confirmation/ Affirmation of Baptism: 4 teenagers had taken years of instruction, but had not yet been officially “confirmed” and wanted to do that in this congregation which had formed them in the faith. Their faith statements ended up bearing testimony to how this congregation had shaped them.

There were multiple pastors who had served in this mission start’s 10 year history, some of whom would be present at the last, and some who would not: pastors, interim pastors, and pastoral interns. The bishop had encouraged me to not emphasize a “parade of pastors” doing all different parts of the service, because that could take away from the life of the congregation itself, (and, I noted, also provided more opportunities for someone to perceive a slight if their part was not as important as another). But most importantly, the former leaders of the congregation needed to be able to grieve too. Having only been there 2 months myself, I could facilitate that sacred space by leading, and crafting a small, meaningful way for the former leaders to participate, while everyone remembered their experiences together.

As some long-standing congregations close, the physical things used in worship and the building itself may be decommissioned. For us, worshiping in another congregation’s space, using their font, pulpit, etc, that was unnecessary. But the actions taken and the people of their congregational life certainly needed to be remembered. In this ritual at the end of the service, each former pastor, intern, or interim pastor led one petition of these prayers of thanksgiving, some of them reading lists of names. As the ritual began, each pastor took their place in a different part of the worship space near something that pertained to their part: baptismal font, pulpit, offering baskets, etc. I did the final prayer for individuals and situations in our world, before we all returned to our seats and the service concluded with a blessing/laying on of hands and final song.

Photo montage set to music

Thanksgiving for the Mission of Congregation Gracious God, you have inspired Congregation through the Power of Community to follow Jesus, act in the world and pass on the faith. We lift up with thankfulness those who have shared in its ministries of Word and Sacrament. Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer.

The Word We give thanks, O God, for those who have preached at Congregation, called pastors, interim pastors, and especially those seminary students and interns prepared for service through this community. A list of names is read, of those who regularly preached and taught the Word at Congregation. Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer.

Holy Baptism Holy Spirit, this community has held the promises made by and for many baptized in our midst. Strengthen these your children, to continue living lives of faith. A list of names is read, of those who were baptized at Congregation.

Holy Communion Jesus, Bread of Life, you poured out your very self for all people. We celebrate the open table for the Lord’s Supper at Congregation. We give thanks for many have been nourished here through the bread and cup, but also through community that claims “All are welcome. No exceptions!” Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer.

The Big Give and The Drawer
We lift to you, Gracious God, the good work of the organizations supported through The Big Give. We humbly ask for your blessing on the continued work of The Drawer, providing new socks and underwear to people in need. Focus each of us on ways we might make a difference in the world, on our own and together. Lord in your mercy,
hear our prayer.

We pray for our world in need of the light of Christ: for communities recovering from disasters, especially in Puerto Rico, Florida, Texas, California and Mexico. For those struggling with addiction, facing illness without health care, and communities oppressed by racism and poverty. We pray for those connected with Congregation in their time of need: ______________. Into your hands, O Lord, we commend all for whom we pray, trusting in your mercy; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.


Congregational Records In remembrance and with thanksgiving we hand over the documented history and official records that symbolize the joys and sorrows of the people of God in this congregation. Receive and preserve them so that the ministry of this congregation may be remembered. (I got this wording from another congregation’s closing service)

Declaration on Leave Taking With thanks to God for the ministry of this congregation, I declare Congregation’s Ministry of Word and Sacrament to be closed in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. May the light of your faith be undiminished and continue to shine as you leave this place. Amen. (I got this wording from another congregation’s closing service)

Those who wish may move to the center for a laying on of hands and blessing.

Blessing May Congregation’s ten years of light shine in your heart and mind all the days of your life.
May the joys and sorrows you experienced together guide your engagement in other faith communities. May the relationships and experience of community comfort and inspire you to share your lives in Christian love with others., May the Light of Christ shine through you wherever you go.

Closing Song




That’s not a God I recognize

Gospel: Matthew 20: 1-16

Inspiration for this sermon came from Stanley Saunders’ commentary on Working Preacher.

Jesus does NOT start telling this parable by saying, “God is like a wealthy landowner.” So why do we insist that the wealthy, capricious landowner, wielding power and money arbitrarily, represents God? We make the point of this parable: “God’s ways are not your ways, it’s not going to be like the justice you recognize.” That feels like the deeply unsatisfying ending of Job to me. I don’t accept it. The worst part is that when we associate God with the rich and powerful, it sometimes unconsciously slips into a reversal: the rich and powerful are like God. They can do whatever they want, they are above judgment, and the rest of us have to scramble to figure out how we’re going to react. No. This is why I’m glad Jesus doesn’t compare a wealthy landowner to God. He doesn’t say, God is like the unfair boss.

What he actually says is, “the kingdom of heaven is like this.” I’m going to interpret “this” as the whole parable. Again, we all have our go-to meanings for the “kingdom of heaven.” For some reason mine is usually that everything is as it should be. Everything is fixed, just, fair and therefore happy. But there are no gymnastics of interpretation that can get that picture of the “kingdom of heaven” out of this parable. Instead, the kingdom of heaven is like this: unfair things happen all the time. There will always, always be rich or powerful people pulling the strings. Sometimes, it may be us, and we need to check ourselves, on how we are wielding our privilege. Other times, when we find ourselves in those hordes of workers who are not getting a fair deal, the good news is that although we cannot control how those in charge act, we can control our own reactions. We can divide over jealousy and fight over favor. Or we can decide that is not how our story is going to go. That’s what I got out of Martin Luther’s treatise “Freedom of Christian,” written a couple years into the Reformation. We are free to choose, to serve our neighbors. We are not enslaved by our selfishness or fear of working or buying our way into heaven. We are free to take on this better, more godly burden, of living not for ourselves, but for others.

So, how do we want our story to go, then? One detail of the parable eggs me on here: A denarius was worth enough for a laborer to feed their family for a day. One day. It’s hardly a living wage. Not enough for housing, or any other necessities. The landowner is sowing division between the workers by paying them the same for different loads of work. We never question his right to do whatever he wants with his money (the landowner calls himself generous), but what he is paying any of them is not enough to survive, much less thrive. The kingdom of heaven is like this?

I believe we live in this “kingdom of heaven” right now.

The kingdom of heaven is like a story that provokes a reaction. It is like the experience of hearing this parable! We must struggle with who we know God to be, questioning where others would put God in stories of power and justice. Followers of Jesus should never be comfortable watching the rich and powerful “benevolently” doling out their own form of justice. We should certainly not be equating them with God. Especially if we realize we are the ones who could be described as the rich landowner in a given scenario. We must view everything through our theology, who we know God to be because of Jesus. We are compelled to do justice with our actions and with our words, especially by debunking the false justice and false descriptions of God we hear around us. Some of us will do that by protesting in the streets. Others will do it through teaching, writing, creating art or caring for the vulnerable. Others will have difficult conversations with those whom we love, about money and justice. We will call our congregations and our national denomination to account when we hear resources being equated with God’s favor.

The prosperity Gospel leads to injustice. The “prosperity Gospel” is basically that wealth indicates God’s favor, and that if you please God, you will be materially blessed. The prosperity gospel allows the rich to get richer, and the rest to fight over scraps because that is all they deserve. It can end up in: “everything happens for a reason” theology too, where those who died in the earthquake in Mexico this week must have done something wrong. That’s not how the God I know acts. I rebuke that theology. A prosperity gospel doesn’t want the cross, just the empty tomb. And you cannot get to resurrection without death first.

But where is God in this parable, if not in the seat of privilege doling out wages according to God’s own whim, sewing discord among the workers? God is in the flesh with the workers who would be turned against each other, ready to take the abuse of those who are frustrated with the powerful constantly assert their right to manipulate and arbitrarily steal their dignity. Jesus was in line for his measly denarius, with all the other day laborers. He freely chooses to suffer with his fellow workers in the vineyard. We choose the same. And the kingdom of heaven is here when we make that choice.

Don’t forget, God is also the one telling us this unsettling parable to stir up our spirits until we say, “Something’s off with that interpretation.” Jesus’ audience are disciples who have already argued about their positions and been told repeatedly: “The last shall be first and the first shall be last.” And its going to get worse than that. The “firstborn child of God” will become so very last that he will be criminalized and executed, abandoned by all including a seemingly absent God. Will Jesus’ disciples still hope God will swoop down and fix things then, or will they (we) finally recognize that the kingdom of heaven is in the middle of greed and suffering and injustice, where God is responding IN PERSON to all that is not right with the world, and never will be until the very last day?

The kingdom of heaven is already breaking in among us, but not yet deciding everything for us. We have choices to make, theology to digest and then to speak aloud. Your God is not like a wealthy landowner? Tell me more about your God.

Preached at Zion, S. Mpls

“This church is like a family…”

Our church is like a family,” or “We are the family of God!” So many of us say some version of that metaphor on a regular basis. I’m pretty sure I heard it within the very first meeting I had with many of your Council leaders, at a coffee shop in St. Paul. But what do you mean by that?

* Turn to someone close to you and say the first thing that pops into your head; don’t over-think this. What do you mean when you call this congregation ‘a family’?

Some of those things you named might have been assumptions in Jesus’ day, but also the  family was security, legacy and support in old age, your identity (since it was not an individualistic culture at all).

So, how do we get into a “church family”?

*Turn again, to the other side, and share briefly: How did you get into this church family?

In the first reading, from the Gospel of John, Jesus is establishing the church that will live on after his death, and it is a family formed by adoption. Now, this adoption plan is made by a child for his mother, but it’s the same process. Like in adoptive families you know, the new relationships formed will change the lives of all involved. And its going to take ongoing commitment.

We all know there’s a difference between being counted as part of a group and really experiencing belonging. When we think about families formed by birth, sometimes we just assume that “belonging” happens automatically, but to really love and be loved takes effort. It’s the concept of attachment. For those of us raised by the parents who birthed us, our emotional attachment to them develops when we are infants, as they meet our needs. Every time. Even in the middle of the night. It is loving, but it is work. When we have to build attachment later in life, maybe through adoption or with potential spouses, especially after we’ve been hurt by others, it takes even more effort. It takes repeated words and actions, actions and words that prove “you belong to us. Nothing will change that. This is forever.” We all test those boundaries, try to push past the limits to see where they are, if we will still be loved if we do this, or reveal this about who we are. It takes complete commitment to being family no matter what, in order to build a secure attachment.

It is a choice, a commitment to be part of the family of God. But not a choice that we can undo, since it is made by God. We opt in, in some ways, claim our membership in the family by being drawn to Jesus, but then it’s the mutual responsibility of all the family members to keep relating, reconciling, loving each other. It’s a different meaning than “choosing” a church or “joining” a church, than our consumer approach to finding a community that will meet my needs. Look closely at these two Gospel stories. Jesus makes the family ties. People who have stuck close to him, he declares to be his family. I kind of wonder if Mary and John were on board with this new relationship – Jesus’ adoption plan for them – or not. Perhaps they got on each other’s nerves, or felt competitive for Jesus’ attention. They wanted to be close to Jesus, but perhaps not particularly each other. Do you ever feel that? Church would be great if it weren’t for the people. They became a family anyway.

The second story is a bit of a slap in the face to Jesus’ birth family. “My family are the ones who love God, and are seeking to stay close to God, to do God’s will,” Jesus says. Belonging in this family is not about being entitled or gaining special access to God’s attention. It’s about serving God’s will, not being served. And that’s really tough, because we turn everything we can into a means to gain recognition, pats on the back, a way to exert authority, to show how much we matter, or just to be reminded that we are lovable. But being part of this family is not an entitlement. None of us own any branch of Jesus’ family simply by being born with a certain heritage. We have to ask ourselves, are we actually seeking to do the will of God, or to hold onto the patterns or identity that make us comfortable?

Being part of a family is an active process, not passive. Doing nothing will indeed produce a result, of our relationships atrophying. We are as individuals always changing and so are those with whom we are in relationship. And somehow, so is God. We describe ourselves as being made in God’s image, and we understand God as the Trinity – Father, Son and Holy Spirit or Creator, Redeemer, Sanctifier, however you want to say it. God is, by nature, in relationship. Being in relationship means that we are committed to being changed by one another. So leaving a household of the Family of God because of a disagreement destroys attachment not only for those who leave, but for those who stay. Can’t we talk about, even argue about, the really hard things in our family without breaking apart?

And from that hour the disciple took her into his own home.” They didn’t pay lip service to “being a family.” They just did it. This viral video was going around awhile ago, asking people to stop inviting people to church. If you want to share your faith, invite them into your life instead. Care about them where they are. Share your faith in conversation. Re-enforce the love you have for them – for Christ’s sake – so often that they know to whom they belong when they pick up their briefcase, or put on their backpack and go out into the world.

This congregation is like family for many of you – and all the different things you mean by that. But it is also one household of a large, extended family. The family of God is vast and diverse and surprising, actually, in whom it encompasses. So, how will you convey that to others and have confidence in it for yourself, if this particular household of the world-wide family of God doesn’t continue to stay in one place?

Know that Jesus makes some surprising relationships for us. When you are actively seeking to follow the will of God, you will be surprised who becomes your family. You are not entitled to anything, but you are so loved. You are Jesus’ siblings, you know.

Preached on Sept 9, 2017

Scripture readings:

John 19:25b -27 Meanwhile, standing near the cross of Jesus were his mother, and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. 26 When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing beside her, he said to his mother, “Woman, here is your son.” 27 Then he said to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” And from that hour the disciple took her into his own home.

Matthew 12:46-50 While he was still speaking to the crowds, his mother and his brothers were standing outside, wanting to speak to him. 47 Someone told him, “Look, your mother and your brothers are standing outside, wanting to speak to you.” 48 But to the one who had told him this, Jesus replied, “Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?” 49 And pointing to his disciples, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! 50 For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.”

Sermon on the Day of Voting to Close

Read Mark 16:1-8

The end. I think it is obvious why most of us prefer John’s account of the resurrection instead of this one. If we, with these women who were closest to him, thought that following Jesus was going to give us hope in a way that feels triumphant and victorious, that idea ends right here. Resurrection is joyful, trumpet-blowing news … eventually. But at first it means you know nothing about how this life works anymore. These women knew their role, anointing the body. Quiet, pious, behind-the-scenes work, which they had no doubt done before and would do again, according to the traditions that had been passed down to them. Now Jesus, whom they had seen crucified, was no longer dead, and they were commanded go and announce God’s message to all the male disciples. (Who wouldn’t believe them until they saw for themselves.) This not only changes what these women know to be one of the guarantees of life (death), but who they know how to be. It’s amazing news that also terrifies them.

We’re looking into the empty tomb today too. It’s an amazing and terrifying thing to say as a congregation: “Our old way of life and expectations of church died. What might life after that death look like?” You face questions of belonging for a group that feels like a family and imagining what the legacy is of this mission start that got so much of your time, energy and love. I am wondering with you: what new life can come of this? Eventually, those first women must have told people about the empty tomb, since the word got out that Jesus rose from the dead, and we have other gospels which tell us they did. But Mark’s scared ending resonates, in this time and place. We can trust the truth of it, because we have known resurrection that feels more like a punch in the gut than Easter lilies and butterflies.

Thankfully we have to another Gospel to read: John 20:1-18

Mary Magdalene’s first reaction to the disappearance of Jesus’ body was grief on top of grief. Now she wasn’t just weeping because Jesus whom she loved was dead, but because she couldn’t even grieve properly. Counselors sometimes call this “complicated grief.” Maybe your relationship with the deceased was strained or you feel guilt along with the loss you are grieving or you think it’s not a publicly-acceptable reason to grieve (sometimes people wrongly feel like they can’t publicly grieve a loss such as a miscarriage or leaving a job when you chose to take another job, something like that). When our grief is complicated, and there’s no resolution, the unresolved grief can come out sideways as anger or destructive behaviors. So don’t bury your grief too quickly. Mary does the best thing possible: reaching out to others who can share in her grief. Peter and John went to the tomb, but then left again. Mary was still there weeping. In my mind, they let Mary down. Those two inner circle disciples who witnessed the Transfiguration, John says “they saw and believed, even though they didn’t yet understand the resurrection.” But here’s something they do know: Mary is one of them, and she is seriously grieving. That is not complicated. You might not know what resurrection means yet for this faith community and your faith life in particular, but you know how to support one another in times of loss. Thank you for showing up today, and for staying with each other for more than a glance in the tomb.

This is where Jesus meets us, just outside the empty tomb, so we know for certain that there is life after even complicated grief. We have plenty of gardeners here, who, when you speak to each other by name and with love, will reveal that Jesus is alive and making plans. We are seen; we are known; we are loved. Mary, Peter, John: No matter how you react to the empty tomb, the Gospel is on the loose! We are just figuring out how we are going to participate in that.