Sunday, April 23, 2017

The Second Sunday of Easter

There have been conflicting reports, you know, of what happened on Easter morning; who saw him first, or whom they saw, or what they said, or where they were. Be that as it may. The afternoon passed away. And what had been said or heard in the morning seems to have been forgotten, lost in the anxiety of the afternoon.


And that evening, gathered, afraid, disciples gathered, closed the doors of the house behind them, and waited, in a locked room, for they knew not what. They were afraid.


By the time John wrote his gospel, it was the people of their own nation that they feared; the ones who had betrayed their Lord, they thought, would tip the word to the soldiers and they, too, would suffer at the hands of Rome.


But it was not Rome that came. It was he, himself, alone, who appeared among them. And his first words were words of comfort, of greeting, and, yes, of challenge. Peace be with you.


Shalom be with you, it means. And shalom means the peace and the reign of God. That is comfort. It is greeting. It is also challenge. For their vocation, their business, was to proclaim that kingdom at hand.


That was his work, until then, and now it was theirs. And, after he had shown them that it was truly him, he spoke again. As the Father sent me so I send you.


And then he breathed on them: he breathed, and said, receive holy spirit. He breathed on them the very breath of God, that had enlivened Creation at the very beginning, in Genesis, when the spirit, the breath, had moved upon the primordial waters.


It was the same breath, by the way, that Ezekiel prophesied to, in the valley of dry bones. That was a vision Ezekiel had, that all of Israel was like a boneyard, a deserted battlefield strewn with the remains of defeated warriors, but that at God’s words those dry bones had come together again and with God’s breath upon them they were kindled again into new life.


And now Jesus, their Lord, their Master, was breathing that holy breath upon them, putting that same spirit into them, that they might find new life and share it, spread it, throughout the world.


Receive holy Spirit - and the breath came into them.


The once-dead man, Jesus, had brought them new life.


They had been given a message and a mission: to bring the world the news of the kingdom of God - and now they had the power to achieve it: to speak and to act, that God’s love, God’s reign, might be known in the world.


This meant that the kingdom of the power of love had conquered the kingdom of death. And the ones who followed his way were there to proclaim it.


But hold on there! What if I have not seen? Can I yet believe?


Not everybody was present that evening. In fact, one of the twelve, Thomas, speaks up on behalf of those who have not seen.


Speaking to comrades who were wrought with despair the last time he saw them, Thomas says I won’t believe it until I see it - and not only that, have tangible evidence in my own hands, my own body, that it is true. I have to see, I have to touch, before I can join you in your happy party.


Eight days later they are all together in the same house, doors closed again, and Christ reappears: Christ reappears, reassures, and reconciles the “doubter” Thomas to community. And Thomas, through his stupendous confession, returns and more than returns to fellowship. For it is not a return to how things were Before - this day begins a new relationship with Christ, and therefore in Christ with the other disciples.


Their whole relationship to each other, God, and themselves, is changed, made new by the transforming power of the resurrected Jesus: who is here among us today, in the reconciled community of the beloved-by-God.


God is with us! In the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of the bread and in the prayers… he is here with us as we go forth into the world in the name of Christ.


What Christ gives us in this story of the locked-up house, and the freed-up disciples, is more than a new set of rules: it’s the good news of a living Lord, a life-giving breath. God is present with us, empowering us, enlivening us.


Breathe on me, Breath of God, fill me with life anew, that I may love what thou dost love, and do what thou wouldst do.

Jesus Christ our Savior, you have delivered us from sin and death. You have filled us along with your first disciples with the enlivening power of your spirit and made a new beginning; grant us strength and humility, love and courage, hospitality and faithfulness, wisdom and compassion, mercy and grace, to enter into life, and to welcome into the new life in Christ the stranger we meet who becomes our brother, the foreigner who becomes our kinsman, the enemy who becomes our friend, the opponent who becomes our teacher, the sorrowful who becomes a wellspring of joy: all the gifts of the Spirit we anticipate may we receive with abundance of grace, through your transforming love. Amen.




"Breathe on me, Breath of God." #508, The Hymnal 1982.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Easter Prayer

Jesus Christ our Savior, you have delivered us from sin and death. You have brought with the dawn of this day a new beginning and an empty tomb; grant us strength and humility, love and courage, hospitality and faithfulness, wisdom and compassion, mercy and grace, to enter into life, and to welcome into the new life in Christ the stranger we meet who becomes our brother, the foreigner who becomes our kinsman, the enemy who becomes our friend, the opponent who becomes our teacher, the sorrowful who becomes a wellspring of joy: all the fruits of the Spirit we anticipate may we receive with abundance of grace, through your transforming love. Amen.

Holy Saturday and Easter

Holy Saturday 

.82 red - that was the vote. A strong consensus in the affirmative on the proposition. That was the vote of the scholars assembled two decades ago. Using established criteria they evaluated the historical basis of every saying and every action attributed to Jesus in the gospels. Scholars of history and the Biblical text, they could approach received opinion with a detached, even skeptical eye.

They would discuss each proposition brought before them and come to a consensus - or not.

What they did was vote. A red bead in the ballot box affirmed the proposition: YES. A black vote meant NO.

Sometimes they widely disagreed. Sometimes dissenters were few and consensus was strong. On this proposition one dissenter before the vote said something very similar to what Hamlet said to his friend, “There is more in heaven and earth than is contained in all your philosophy.”

It was Holy Saturday and they voted. The consensus was strong: .82 red (out of a possible 1.0).

The proposition before them was this: Jesus’ body decayed.

That is as far as that method can take you. (Holy Saturday) What you can see, what you can measure, what could be recorded with a camera or microphone if one existed at the time - that’s the kind of historical fact their criteria could evaluate.

But --

We know there is more. We have, some of us, perhaps in this room, experienced more than that. And so the question is, what if Jesus rose from the dead? What if it’s true?

Easter Sunday


If the Resurrection is true, Jesus is true: he is indeed the Son of God, the Savior, the one in whom the fullness of God is pleased to dwell, our best hope of seeing the mind of God and therefore the meaning of the universe; and to know him is to have a relationship with him, not an intellectual proposition to demand our assent, but a living Lord to call for our obedience.


If it’s true that Christ is risen, evil has been vanquished. No longer can the powers of this world – Pilate, Temple guard, the coterie of power brokers – none of them hold sway after all. The real power is in God’s hands, the hands of a Savior.


If it’s true that Christ is risen, the gates of death have been shattered, torn from their hinges – he has walked freely through them. Beyond death there is life, new life in Christ. Baptism, the immersion into the waters of mortality and re-emergence into life, shows us that as we die to sin, we are raised to new life in Him.


If Christ is raised, life means something beyond itself. Our petty purposes and grand schemes, the bumps and slingshot wounds of daily life, the deep disappointments of tragic news and wearing sorrow, come around the compass to a new bearing: the compass-needle of our lives now points beyond ourselves; our true direction is found in Christ.


If it is true that Christ is risen, then Jesus is alive – now. You can get to know him – in the breaking of the bread, the sharing of the cup, the anointing, baptism, prayers and peace; you can get to know him through friend and stranger: his image is all around you.


If it is true that Christ is risen, he is offering us a friendship of transformative power: both stern teacher and careful shepherd, he guides us through the painful metamorphosis of our lives into a new life of sacramental meaning and purpose.


If Christ is risen indeed, then we are right to believe in LIFE against DEATH, a revelation of life that is the opposite of the obsessive vision of death and violence so often purveyed in our worldly world, as if it were the end of the story.


If Christ is risen, then the limits are off. If Christ is risen indeed, LIFE is possible – we can do anything through the One who strengthens us.


If Christ is risen, the life of the world – politics, science, art and music, all of it – matters; it is redeemed, it is transformed, it has value and purpose and honor because God has given life value and purpose and honor through the resurrection of his Son.

If it’s true that Christ is risen, then justice is a given. It is going to happen. And how can we do less than work for justice, when God has given his own Son that we might be free?


For by raising his Son from the dead, God has given all of us new life. God sent his Son into the world – bringing his justice indeed – not to bring it condemnation but to redeem it, not to render it meaningless but to give it meaning. For God gave his Son so that who ever put his trust in Him would not perish – would not be sent down to death and shadow – but would be brought into the light and life and love and laughter and joy of the day that dawns today, the new life in Christ that we celebrate on Easter morning.


Death no longer can claim the last word; beyond death is the triumph of the Son of the living God: life everlasting, flowing as a river, in the presence of the Son of the living God.


And we are called to enter the new life in Christ now, today, as we speak, on Easter morning: Christ is alive!


And this present moment is the moment of freedom: we define ourselves as we choose life; we define ourselves as his people, children of the day. We live no longer in darkness, no longer subject to the powers of sin, but in the full light and joy of the Day of the Lord.


This is the Day that the Lord has made – the day when behold! He has made all things new – let us enter into that new day, and the work and the play and the love and the laughter, the burden of sorrow shifted onto the broad shoulders that carried the Cross, the joy of his emerging Kingdom present & effervescent in our hearts and in our lives – this is the Lord’s Day; indeed He is risen: Let us rejoice and be glad in it! Amen.


--------------------


Easter Day Year A:  Acts 10:34-43. Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24. Matthew 28:1-10.

A New Zealand Prayer Book, p. 592-3

John Pritchard, Living Easter Through the Year (SPCK, 2005) p. 33-36.

Friday, April 14, 2017

Good Friday 2017

It’s hard not to hear his suffering in light of the prophet and the psalm; hard not to hear our and others’ suffering in light of his; for in this suffering as in his triumph, God is near us, and our resurrection, our vindication, is enclosed in his.


We identify his sufferings with our own, ours with his. As he seeks solace in God’s mercy, so we seek our comfort with him.


He is our representative, we feel.


The Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, the traditional place of pilgrimage, for the death and resurrection of Jesus (“see where they laid him” - “he is not here; he has been raised”) encompasses and shelters the traditional sites of Jesus’ crucifixion, preparation for burial, and tomb.


The church has been built, repaired, demolished, rebuilt, partly wrecked, worn out, and once again repaired. Pilgrims over centuries have scratched crosses into its walls, marking their passing.


At first visit, it is unfamiliar, even unrecognized: “What is this place? Where do those stairs lead? What is inside that little building?” Inside the little building, covered with a marble slab, is the tomb we are told where Jesus lay for three days.


Inside you go, taking your turn, and kneel. Rest your forehead on the cool of the marble. Close your eyes. All is dark.  


What we experience during the sacred three days from Maundy Thursday through Good Friday to Holy Saturday marks Jesus’ descent into the depths of humiliation, death, and despair, all on our account.


For surely he could have eluded this demise, if he had chosen: if he had chosen to abandon everything he believed, everything he felt called to be.


He came into this world to witness to the truth, he told Pilate, and he stayed faithful to the truth to the end.


Pilate, as we have noted on Palm Sunday, was more than an unusually brutal Roman official; he had become the emissary of the kingdom of despair, a tool of the empire of death. For he believed he could control the situation. “I have the power,” he told Jesus, “to have you crucified or to set you free.”


He thought death would have the final word. But he was wrong.


“For love is strong as death, passion fierce as the grave.” (Song of Songs 8:6)


(The inevitability, the utter given-ness of love, defeated him.)


Pilate sat on the judgment seat - and passed the sentence.


So they led him out - out of Pilate’s sight, out into the streets - and took him to the Place of the Skull, Golgotha, and fixed his torn and naked body to the cross.


There he was out of reach of the ground, hanging, suffocating.


John tells us a soldier, seeing he was dead, thrust a spear into his side. Blood and water poured out.


Blood and water poured out: And for us as we recalls these events, we see that God pours out his love for us in the wine - of the cup at the Eucharist, and in the water - the water of the font at Baptism.


Love never ends.


And this self-offering of Christ is always available to us.


God’s love for us is always conveyed to us, in sacrament of bread and wine, of water at Baptism, and in the Word we hear, take in, and make part of our souls.


We are called, then, to take in the news of his death, and make that part of our lives, that we may share that life, transcendent, and that love, triumphant, with the world: with our neighbors, our town, our friends, those we love, those far away.


Jesus’ life is a gift to all of us; in it we share God’s love.


Isaiah 52:13-52:13. Psalm 22. Hebrews 4:14-16, 5:7-9. John 18:1-19:42.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Maundy Thursday 2017

He took the bread, blessed it, broke it, and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body, broken for you,” and ... “This wine is my blood, shed for you.”


This bread is bread for the world. It is our covenant bread, our daily bread, our food, what gives us life.


Simply, as simply as the Lord’s Prayer puts it, we depend on God for the bread we need each day.


And we depend on the Lord for the bread from heaven that sustains us unto eternal life.


This joyous meal, this solemn feast, comes on the eve of a great betrayal. For on the very night that he took the bread and broke it and gave it to them, one of the twelve men closest to Jesus sold him out.


Fearful, anxious, greedy - not sure what we know of the emotions of the betrayer. We know that he failed him. And from there the gift offering of Jesus’ life for humanity became inevitable. He had already given his life, day by day, but now he would not hold it back but yield it up when to try to save himself would have veered him from his course.
For Jesus’ whole life was given for our salvation. The collect for last Sunday, remember, was both about his Incarnation and his Crucifixion:


Almighty and everliving God, in your tender love for the human race you sent your Son our Savior Jesus Christ to take upon him our nature, and to suffer death upon the cross, giving us the example of his great humility: Mercifully grant that we may walk in the way of his suffering, and also share in his resurrection; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.


His great humility, celebrated in the hymn of Philippians 2: 5-11, is shown in his gift of himself, not holding equality with God as a prize to be hoarded, but freely taking on our nature, became one of us, that we all might be saved.


Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus:
Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God:
But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men:
And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross. (Philippians 2:5-8, KJV)


Tonight we celebrate what made every night different from its moment on: we remember the humility of the servant that Jesus became to humankind, as he took on servants’ tasks, and showed his followers that the way to glory led through the path of service, and even to Calvary.


And so when we break this bread, we proclaim his death and his victory over death, until he comes anew.


Come Lord Jesus come into our hearts and dwell there as sovereign: forever.




The gift of love in the sacrament of Christ's body and blood. (Dennis Michno)

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Palm Sunday 2017


When I visited the Holy Land in January 2015, I was among a group of travelers that walked down from the top of the hill just east of Jerusalem toward the valley below.


On the Mount of Olives, in the Dominus Flevit Church at the Garden of Gethsemane, the cross on the altar forms crosshairs like a gunsight, focused on The Rock, the site of the Temple, where Jesus was bound on Palm Sunday.


From the Mount of Olives he rode, descending into the Kidron Valley, and was hailed as he approached the town walls, by a crowd. A crowd of people, celebrating the arrival of the one they hailed as the Messiah, the coming king of the Jews, the promise of ages fulfilled.


Jesus did not disappoint them, that day. He ascended into the Temple precincts atop the giant platform Herod built. He looked all around, at everything (familiar from his yearly family visits) and went out.


Please note that the gospel of Luke tells us (2:41) that these were not strange sights to him (“Now every year his parents went to Jerusalem for the festival of the Passover”) but we see through his eyes the whole set-up of the Temple of the time: the soldiers at the gates, the Fortress not to be missed that overlooked the scene, - handy by bridge or stairs to quell Temple riot or small disturbance, - the courtyards teeming with holiday people, the coffers that ring when pilgrims bring offerings to the God they love. And the Temple authorities, looking on, cooperating, getting along with the Roman Empire and getting enriched by it.


Jesus sees it all and through his eyes we see it - and see it also as it is supposed to be - a house of prayer for all people, together at last in peace to worship one God together.


He goes out. - and returns for days to sit and teach in the Temple compound, the loving God whose peaceable kingdom is on the brink of becoming established.


It is real enough in his followers, his words and deeds, his demonstrations of its power not confined to miracles: for the people sing Hosanna to their king.


This is disturbing, potentially revolutionary, blasphemy! The people who represent the powers that be realize the present dangers of riot, insurrection, overthrow of their established order. Call it - disturbance of the peace, of the Roman peace that is control and profit.


So they plot and worry and one who is as afraid as they are sells him out, tells them where to find him, catch him, on the quiet, isolated from view, and bring him to in-justice.


We see the trial, so-called, acted out - and a very different crowd, Pilate sympathizers, emperor-loyal, coached to cheer the chains they wear, betrayers to a man - they, their livelihooods put at risk by this outsider - they say to Pilate, “Crucify him!” And so Roman justice goes to work “for fear of the Jews” - that is, those Jews who are already on their side, willing to see a man die “for the sake of the nation” - and themselves.


On the Via Dolorosa you begin at Pilate’s palace - or rather, beneath it, where the soldiers played dice, a scorecard scratched in the stone, the prize a prisoner’s clothes.


And then as the path through the marketplace, a busy thoroughfare then as now, twists and turns through the workaday scene, people going about their business as in their midst the soldiers went about theirs, leading a prisoner to the execution place, his shoulders burdened with crosspiece-weight of his own instrument of execution, whipped onward, public spectacle - Don’t Cross Rome, Don’t Even Think to “Question Authority” - and finally up a little hill he is fixed above the ground a little way, shortly, just enough to get his feet clear, but enough to hang - and die.


Eventually we are told the charge against him: This is Jesus, the King of the Jews. Mocking. Truth.


A man whose kingdom was not of this world, the world of an emperor, Augustus, called Son of God, whose own centurion at the last could say, This man truly was the Son of God!”


And they take him down, we are told, two pious men find him a tomb nearby, and women who mourn him begin to prepare the spice that sweeten the corpse - the last duty of devotion.  And night falls early on the scene.

That is where we leave it today, Palm Sunday: a man executed under Pontius Pilate’s orders.





Sunday of the Passion: Palm Sunday

The Liturgy of the Palms



The Liturgy of the Word

http://www.custodia.org/default.asp?id=2738 Dominus Flevit Church



Saturday, March 11, 2017

Protestantism "Lite"?

The question came up in class the other day, as we reviewed the reformation of the Church in England in the 16th century. Was the Anglican church of Elizabeth’ day “Protestantism Lite”? Is this a fair or accurate characterization of what the English Reformers achieved?


No. The 16th century reformation of the church in England was a battle for souls. Nobody took it lightly.

Mixed as their motives, goals, and values may have been, the English Reformers sought to get Christianity right - in thought and action.


To use a metaphor, the Reformers of the Church in England in the 16th Century sought not to water down an imported product, like a German lager made “lite” by Miller or Coors, but to make an English ale even better. The church in England had existed and endured since Roman times (witness 3rd Century Saint Alban, “the protomartyr of Britain”). [The Book of Common Prayer served as a kind of Reinheitsbegot - brewmaster's standards and practices - for public worship.]   


Granted some of the brewmasters had learned methods and ingredients in their Continental sojourns - and there was some violent disagreement over methods and ingredients - but the reformers all had the sincere desire to get it right - “it” being Christian worship in England.


People do not die for a joke, but they will give their lives for something greater than their own self-interest or even self-preservation. Tyndale, Jewel, Latimer, Ridley, Cranmer, and others, even the victims of the Smithfield Fires, are among these witnesses.


The testimony of John Jewel to a sincere and well-thought out theology and way of prayer, the diligent efforts of William Tyndale and others to offer a Bible to the people in a language they could understand, the prayers of Thomas Cranmer and the Creeds, the impassioned preaching of Hugh Latimer and the articulate explication by Nicholas Ridley of the real presence of Christ in the sacrament of bread and wine, all give evidence that these people sought not some compromise version of Christian belief, or a halfway house between Rome and Geneva, but a way, sometimes broad and sometimes difficult to traverse, that had its own integrity and enduring witness.


Perhaps the greatest gift of the Protestant Reformation, Moorman observed, was the sense of personal responsibility and integrity. Certainly these men, and even some of the political leaders, felt a responsibility beyond their own interests to look after the people under their care.


And they gave us something beyond the boundaries of their land: an enduring way forward, not in compromise but in good faith, to pursue the truth of the Gospel in the company of friends.

First Draft Saturday March 11, 2017 JRL+

Re: UA Humanities Seminar, "The Protestant Reformation", Spring semester 2017.


Cf. English Reformers, Library of Christian Classics, T.H.L. Parker, ed., Westminster Press.