What follows is a devotion written for my congregation the week after Easter. With some adaption, I offer it to you as both academic year (in seminary) and appointment year (in the church) come to a close. May it encourage you to bring words of faith, hope, and love alive in your own life.
In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God. (John 1:1, CEB)
Mary Magdalene left and announced to the disciples, “I’ve seen the Lord.” Then she told them what he said to her. (John 20:18, CEB)
Words. As Easter passes and a semester draws to a close, words flood over us. Holy Week and Easter sermons. Final papers and essays. Graduation speeches, well-wishes, introductions, good-byes, and hellos. Lots and lots of words.
Some of those words are just words on a page. But some of those words matter a great deal. They represent lives shared and hearts changed. Words brought to life – embodied words – make a difference. Words incarnate can change the world.
Easter is all about words brought to life. Easter words change the world: Promises, kept. “He is risen, just as he said!” Names, spoken. “Mary.” “Rabbouni!” Commands, obeyed. “Go, and tell the others.” Testimony, given. “I have seen the Lord!” Those words changed everything.
Actually, those words have power because they point to the Word that changes everything: the incarnate Word of God who lives among us and brings God’s love to life. That is the Christian message in a nutshell: look at Jesus, and you will see God. In Jesus, the words of God – the creating, life-giving, redeeming words of God – are lived out. Jesus is the word of God. In him, God’s words become real to us. Words take on shape in a human life.
As Easter people, we, too, embody words. Author Barbara Brown Taylor writes:
Jesus is not alone in this word-made-flesh business…. Almost everyone has a word that he or she has a gift for bringing to life. For one person the word is ‘compassion.’ For another it is ‘justice.’ For someone else the word is ‘generosity.’ For another it is ‘patience.’ Until someone acts upon these words, they remain abstract concepts – very good ideas that few people have ever seen. The moment someone acts on them, the words become flesh. They live among us so we can see their glory. (“Second Sunday after Christmas Day, John 1:(1-9)10-18, Homiletical Perspective,” in Feasting on the Word Year C, vol. 1, Advent through Transfiguration [ed. David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor; Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox, 2009] 191)
We, like Jesus, live out words. What words we will live out, however, is up to us. Sometimes, in our busy over-scheduled days, the words we bring to life are words like irritable…grumpy… distracted…impatient. We don’t always embody words that point to God, as Jesus did.
But sometimes, we do get it right. Sometimes we live out words like love, grace, and truth.
I remember a man named Jose. Jose was the janitor at a homeless shelter on Chicago’s west side, where I once worked as a chaplain. I saw Jose often in the course of my work there, but didn’t speak to him much. His English was broken and slow, and my Spanish was, well, worse than his English. So we mostly just nodded and smiled at one another as we passed in the halls. But as I learned more about the history of that place, I learned Jose’s story too.
As a young father Jose got a job on the cleaning staff of a local nursing home. Years went by, and the neighborhood around the home deteriorated, the nursing home eventually closed, and the building sat empty. But Jose, who lived down the street with his family, didn’t want the abandoned building to become a drug hangout. So he maintained it. Impeccably.
Jose mowed the grass and planted flowers in the spring. He painted the worn siding when the old paint began to peel. He washed the windows. He repaired the sagging gutters. He kept the building looking beautiful. And he did it for six years. Six years of quietly taking care of an abandoned building. Six years of watching out for the neighborhood kids, making sure they had a safe, well-maintained lawn on which to play in an increasingly dangerous neighborhood.
Six years later, the board of directors of a homeless shelter found this building on Chicago’s west side, and it became their new home. Jose was hired as their caretaker.
For me, whenever I think of what it means to be faithful to a task, to a community, to a place, I see Jose’s face. He brought faithfulness to life.
We human beings are created in God’s image with the power of words – creative words – that bring to life the abstract. We have the power, through our lives, to bring love, peace, joy, and hope to life. We have the power, by the grace of God, to volunteer our own flesh to bring the glory of God into our world.
Consider, as you end well and start anew: What words do you allow to take shape in your life? Are they words that give life to others, that illuminate the character of God?