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Eternal flame

Today we remember President John F. Kennedy, on the anniversary of one of the most heart-breaking moments in our national history. We’re compelled to stare at the images of the motorcade and the bedlam. Pour over accounts of the man who shot him or not, was it conspiracy or not, was it even this man who did the shooting or not.

It is a moment the people of November 22, 1963 needed to get through. Yet, we hang on. Do we have some unfinished business there? Are we not satisfied with the story? Do we really believe it even happened? This Camelot. This ideal. This wunderkind of a man, youthful good looks, fine tailored suits, oratory that stirred, calling us to action toward a future that held such promise.

Eternal Flame JFKHow could a force that vibrant and a life so dynamic have been snuffed out. It is fitting that we remember him by a flame, the “eternal flame” — A memento that helps us over the difficult time. Suggests that his memory and direction and energy and ideals live on, even in us. In those who stand by and pay our respects in remembrance of him. We snap a photo to honor him and remember the moment.

Odd, that. Snapping a photo of a flame, especially an eternal flame. As if we can capture it, print it and make it our own personal reminder of this moment and this man. Perhaps we would do better to savor it in our minds. Let it take hold there and seep down deep into our souls. Allow it to take root. Because those photos are always so disappointing later. They never quite do justice to their object.

I wonder, too, about those photos taken in the bright light of day. The flickering flame, dancing and moving on the breeze, fed by an unseen source of fuel. There’s a life to that. But not to the snapshot. Not to the still life. And perhaps, especially, not in the daylight. After all, the flame is best seen at night, when it gives light rather than competes for it.

We’re all taking pictures and videos these days. They are shared far and wide. In fact, their worth is often measured by how many click-throughs they achieve or how many views they get. The most poignant ‘go viral.’ An interesting term: the spread of a disease.

Unfortunately, the photo of President Kennedy that got my immediate and longest attention is the one just after he is shot. He is slumped and Mrs. Kennedy dives backward in desperation. After this I am drawn to the photo of his son John saluting his father; it is the boy’s 3rd birthday. Why are we compelled by images like this?

Perhaps by emotion or pain or memory or perhaps by inquisitiveness and disbelief, in that instant we hold the story still. The photos are iconic because, through them, we see more. That’s why we stare and stare. From the distance of 50 years we both look back and look ahead. Are we safer? better prepared? more aware? Are we different?

In an instant, we lost a president. The shock waves of that moment took hours and even days to reverberate around the world. Today, they would be so instantaneous we would be struck almost simultaneously with the news. Imagine that moment…

There is a light that flickers even in that stillness. Even in that darkness.

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. …In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” (John 1, 5)

We need not be afraid of the dark. We have a light that dances and lives.

Who would turn away the bread of life?

“Oh no, I couldn’t,” my neighbor says to my offer of a fruit tart.

“You’re SO disciplined,” my other neighbor comments, as she helps herself.

I have invited them to my house to share the tarts. I have made them especially for the occasion. Prepared them lovingly, presented them carefully and attractively, included only healthy ingredients. And yet, one declines, and it is said of her…you are disciplined.

I come to the communion rail and accept the piece of bread from the hand of the pastor. “Wendy, this is Christ’s body, broken for you.”

I dip it in the cup and hear, “Wendy, this is the blood of Christ, shed for you.”

I say amen. And I eat. Not to be graphic or anything, but some of it sticks to my teeth and the roof of my mouth. And I think, oh, I want to consume every morsel. Wouldn’t want to waste a crumb. And then I remember my kitchen table and think…

What if I came to Christ’s table and said, “Oh no, I couldn’t”?

Ironically, my neighbor declined the tart as an expression of guilt. Speaking but not saying, I can’t eat that tart because I feel guilty about the weight I’ve gained. It’s not discipline she is speaking, it’s shame. I wonder how many don’t approach Christ’s table because they are ashamed. Unaware of the grace offered there. How many decline His offering because others might see them and judge them unworthy.

It is certainly true that I haven’t earned the right to eat that bread and drink that wine. But Christ died so I might change my “Oh, I couldn’t” to His “Yes, you can.” And not only that. He stands beside me as I do and says, “You’re so disciplined.” And He means it.

God is a God of paradox. In His Kingdom, consumption is disciplined. Who turns away the bread of life? Eat up and follow Me.

We do have an odd and often unhealthy relationship with consumption in our country because we know our own willpower to be lacking and our discipline to be weak, especially when no one is watching. Funny how in community, when everyone is watching, we can discover a “renewed discipline.”

As Holy week approaches and Easter morning dawns I pray we can gather as especially large and forgiving communities and resist the urge to look right and left at who might be thinking what about our presence. Let’s be disciplined about looking one way. Upward at the cross. Perhaps we will hear the words again, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.”

And for a moment we will feast without guilt or shame at a table where we are completely welcome. We’ve been invited. Our host expects us to eat what He has prepared.

***I wish all who read this a most Holy Week and a joyous Easter. The KC will continue in the week that follows. He is risen indeed. Amen.***

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