“… for Aaron shall be gathered to his people and die there. ” –Numbers 20:26

It’s an odd way to talk about dying. Scholars don’t all agree about the meaning of this idiom. The same word is used to talk about gathering wheat at harvest time, and for gathering people together for meetings. Some think it means being placed in the family graveyard, others think it means to be gathered into sheol or the afterlife. Others think it simply means to die peacefully.

I like the idea that it means to join a gathering of those who have already died. Hebrews says we are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses (12:1), and Revelation describes a huge crowd of people worshiping in heaven:

After this I looked, and there was a great crowd that no one could number. They were from every nation, tribe, people, and language.

–Revelation 7:9

Now, if you don’t like crowds, this doesn’t make heaven sound very attractive, but I’ve also read recently (here) that it’s comforting to tell people who are dying that they’re not alone. Saying this while you’re sitting next to them sounds reasonable, but we can only speculate about what will happen after the point of death. In Mitch Albom’s book The Five People You Meet in Heaven it’s not a crowd in heaven, just a few well-loved people. Even with just two, it’s still a gathering, right?

When Jesus was about to die on the cross, he told the man next to him, “Today you shall be with me in Paradise” (Luke 23:43). So whether or not there’s a crowd, or five people, there’s at least Jesus, and so, indeed, in death we’re not alone.

Another meaning of the word “gathered” is the thing one does to fabric to make it look like this:

I definitely don’t think that this is what happened to Aaron in Numbers 20:26, unless somehow in death we are sewn to other people. Or maybe we are SOWN, as we are being buried, just like we bury seeds. The word “gather” comes from the Proto-Germanic word gaduron which sounds like “garden.” Gardening does involve burying seeds.

Maybe I’m just being silly or grasping at threads, but it is rather interesting how much all these words connect to one another. Maybe someday when I’m gathered to my people, they’ll be able to explain all this stuff…


Prague Defenestration Site

I happened upon this word (defenestration) last week as I was working on my sermon entitled “All for One and One for All.”  My sermon talked about how we are all connected, as Paul describes in Sunday’s scripture (1 Cor. 12:12-27). I was googling to see if there were other uses of that motto made famous by Alexandre Dumas in The Three Musketeers. It turns out it was the rallying cry for Bohemian protestants in 1618 when they lost their exemption from converting to the king’s religion.  Their punishment for refusing to convert was defenestration.  They were thrown out of a window, which sounds much more like something from a Monty Python movie than an actual punishment.  Its effectiveness is also questionable, although when these protestants survived their defenestration, people said it was divine intervention.

The sermon text for this coming Sunday is the story of Jesus speaking in his hometown synagogue, and riling up the people so much that they want to throw him off a cliff.  (Luke 4)  It sounds quite similar to being thrown out a window, doesn’t it?  Maybe I’m overly fascinated by this idea because it sounds so silly to me, and so much like tossing things in the garbage or sweeping things under the rug or covering our eyes to pretend we aren’t in the situation we don’t want to be in.

Besides, defenestration is such an undignified way to die.  Maybe that’s partly the point.  Defenestration is what happened to Queen Jezebel (2 Kings 9:32) in response to her persecution of those who followed God instead of Baal.  It was conveniently simple since she happened to be leaning out the window at the time, taunting Jehu who was passing by the building.  All Jehu had to do was ask someone to push her and the deed was done.

Looking at the list of defenestrations throughout history it appears that more of them happen as an angry response than as a pre-planned execution.  This doesn’t surprise me.  Surely with time for greater thought, a more effective method would be chosen.  I have thrown things in anger.  I have a book that bears the mark of the wall against which I threw it when I was around ten.  I don’t remember what prompted that anger, but I will forever remember my response.

We say that when God closes a door he opens a window.  If our response is then to throw whatever we don’t like out that open window, what does that say about us?

Windows of opportunity show up at strategic points in Bible history.  Noah uses the window in the ark to test the waters, so to speak, by sending out a raven and a dove.  Rahab hangs a red cord out her window to signal the Israelite army which building to spare as they attack Jericho (Joshua 2). The Apostle Paul escapes through a basket lowered out a window (2 Corinthians 11:33).

In Malachi, God says, “Bring the full tithe into the storehouse, so that there may be food in my house, and thus put me to the test, says the Lord of hosts; see if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you an overflowing blessing.”

The windows of heaven then are the skies above through which God pours down his blessings, especially the rain that waters the earth and makes things grow.  Following this line of thinking, Jesus is describing a defenestration in Luke 10:18 when he says, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven.”  God threw Satan out the window.

Maybe that day God was preparing to create Marie Kondo and deciding what to keep or toss based on whether or not it gave him joy?

May we be prayerful, mindful, and joyful of our responses to whatever happens in our lives, and always be careful around open windows.

Advent Peace

In these darkening days,
we come seeking peace.
We seek serenity within ourselves.
We seek harmony within our families.
We seek goodwill among our neighbors.
We seek a ceasefire among all nations.
We seek not just the absence of conflict,
But the presence of shalom–
the abiding peace
the healing life
the unrelenting justice
that God calls us to in Christ.
Let us worship with Divine hope.

–Joanna, a Mennonite pastor

Call to Worship: Advent Peace

Good Friday or Black Friday?

1a28ae7a1cb42451baa88c0b60fc1c73I used to think it was really weird that we call the day Jesus died “Good Friday” and not “Black Friday.” Instead, Black Friday is the day everybody goes crazy with their Christmas shopping.  Don’t we have those backwards?  Black Friday is a really good day to go shopping, and Good Friday is a really dark day . . . literally, actually.  Mark says, “At noon, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon” (Mark 15:33).

I’m not the first person to wonder about this, and probably not the last.  Many who are wiser than I have theories about how we got here, the best of which says that “good” used to mean “holy” and that it’s actually Holy Friday.[1]

BC Comics answers the question quite nicely:


But before we move on and just leave it at that . . . maybe I’m pointing out the obvious, but the name given to the day after Thanksgiving is the perfect foil to Good Friday.  On Black Friday we have historically seen the worst displays of greed and selfishness, and it is the height of irony that it happens right after we have a day dedicated to thankfulness.  The origins of the name “Black Friday” are muddy (read more here), but the day has grown into its name well.

In his letter to the Romans, Paul could be describing some of the scenes we see on Black Friday:

“There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands; there is no one who seeks God. All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one.” –Romans 3:18-19

And lest we think we’re ok because we don’t go shopping on Black Friday, so we’re not so bad, Paul adds:

“. . .all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” –Romans 3:23

But the Good News that makes Good Friday good is that God is good and faithful, and loves us all so much that he provided a solution.

“all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.” –Romans 3:24

Such an amazing gift . . . one we see paralleled in the story in Genesis when Abraham takes his son Isaac up the mountain to be sacrificed, and at the last minute finds a ram in a thicket. Abraham then sacrifices that ram instead of his son (Genesis 22:13). (Read the whole story here.)

A thicket is a dense area of bushes or trees.  My brain is often like a thicket, a particularly foggy one sometimes. Maybe this is why I resonate with the people in Exodus that God calls “stiff-necked” for their stubbornness and tendency to complain about everything.   My thicket today is this whole Good/Black Friday bundle of nomenclature and etymology and all its theological implications, and most of all the blackness that inevitably pervades my mood on Good Friday.  Yes, I know Sunday is coming.  I know the good news is that Jesus doesn’t stay dead, he is resurrected.  But despite that, Good Friday still gets me down.

Maybe the real thicket is that bundle of sin and shame that Jesus bore on the cross on this day.  l know the theology around our sinful nature begun when Adam and Eve sinned in the garden (Genesis 3). I know that Jesus willingly died for us (John 10:11-18).  On this day that knowledge sinks from my head down into my heart and makes me sad.  Some say this is what is really happening in that little verse that says “Jesus wept” (John 11:35).  I know the pain of watching people that you love deeply go through pain.  Whether it’s physical pain or emotional pain, it’s so hard to watch.  We want to do something.  We want to make them feel better.  We want to take their pain away.  Knowing that feeling, I think we get a glimpse of what Jesus might have been feeling.

And since he is God, he did do something that we would do if we could.  He took on all our pain and redeemed it on the cross.

Here we find another thicket.  Theology is sometimes impossibly dense about what exactly transpires in Jesus’ death and resurrection and in our believing in him.  Paul in Romans spends a plethora of words on what boils down to this: “a person is justified by faith apart from the works of the law” (Romans 3:28), faith in Jesus who died for us and conquered sin and death through his resurrection from the dead.

e6d0ee3baa2d44335aaaf0bfc37a0c99--foggy-forest-landscape-illustrationI know Sunday’s coming.  I know we’ll be joyful and thankful on Easter.  I know today wouldn’t be what it is if the resurrection hadn’t happened. But for today the good and the black are still roiling around in the thicket.

And it’s ok.  God is still here.  This is a not a bad place to be, even if it is a hard place.  “Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation” (2 Corinthians 7:10).

May we appreciate Jesus’ work on the cross all the more, and know sincerely the joy of the resurrection by having walked through this day with sober understanding of the depth of our need for a savior.

Thanks be to God.


My Good Friday playlist . . .