Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Beyond the Walls


Yesterday's Istanbul walking tour included a visit to the Kariye Museum, an old Byzantine church that was converted to a mosque but then again to a museum in the 20th century.  It's original name was the Church of the Holy Savior Outside (or Beyond) the Walls.  It's sometimes called the Chora Church.
"Anastasis" (Church Beyond the Walls)

Hands, Lifting to Life
The 14th century mosaics are stunning: one cycle depicting the life of Jesus and another the most interesting (and apocryphal) life of Mary.  One of the loveliest mosaics shows Mary taking her first steps as a toddler!  

And the frescoes in the parecclesion (just to the right of the nave) are equally impressive.  Perhaps most arresting is one known as Anastasis ("Resurrection") -- in which a powerfully determined Jesus raises Adam and Eve out of their tombs.  Underneath Jesus' feet are the gates of hell, with all manner of chains, prison keys and instruments of oppression.
Hell's Fear, Keys, Chains
It's not an image I've been drawn to, not in years of preaching and teaching.  But something about it, something about it now is both compelling and daring.  That the Living Word reaches for us, moves boldly to save and redeem.  That that same Living Word indeed comes to release every captive and set free every prisoner.  It's a powerful and courageous articulation of Easter faith.  And I need that.  I have to believe the world needs it too.

I'm thinking, this afternoon, of those California families in who've lost loved ones to unimaginable violence in Santa Barbara.  I'm thinking of the Turkish families, hundreds of them, who've lost loved ones in a terrible and avoidable mining disaster.  And I'm thinking of all the other ways we're bound and frightened and diminished by fear.  I'm less interested in a triumphant Christ -- and much more drawn to a strong and committed Jesus.  This is the One I see reaching for us, reaching for the captive in us, lifting us to something better and genuinely human.
God's Good News is Liberation: Istanbul
Here in Istanbul, it seems particularly clear that, however that genuinely human project is drawn up, it has to be a collaborative and respectful project.  It has to have both theological depth and true humility.  Somehow I have to look to Jesus with all openness and humility, and trust my Muslim and Jewish and atheist neighbors to look to their traditions with the same spirit.  Only then, I think, is our rising meaningful and compassionate, rather than proud and destructive.

I like so much the name of that old, old church: Church of the Holy Savior Beyond Walls!  I've come so many miles, and left behind so many responsibilities, yet there is a kind of discovering that happens here.  And it is so powerful and lively and renewing.  I see Jesus on the walls of that old church -- and it's as if for the first time.  I can't quickly sum him up, or figure out his agenda (let alone his 'plan' for my life).  He's both on the walls, in plain sight, and very much beyond them.  Jesus is indeed a mystery, but a provocative one, one I dare to question and contemplate.  Even here.

And on the streets of Istanbul, as in the streets of Santa Cruz, I'll look for his hand.  A hand that lifts.
Sunset over Istanbul
Watermelon Seeds, Roasted for Sale
Mosaic at Chora: Woman Grabs the Hem of Jesus' Garment
Ready for Prayer at Mosque