Saturday, May 13, 2017

Cranmer on Communion

As the bread and wine which we do eat be turned into our flesh and blood, and be made our very flesh and very blood, and so be joined and mixed with our flesh and blood, that they be made one whole body together; even so be all faithful Christians spiritually turned into the body of Christ, and so be joined into Christ, and also together among themselves, that they do make but one mystical body of Christ, as St Paul saith: (1 Cor x.) ‘We be one bread and one body, as many as be partakers of one bread and one cup.’
What, then, can be more comfortable to us that to eat this meat, and drink this drink? whereby Christ certifieth us, that we be spiritually, and truly, fed and nourished by him, and that we dwell in him, and he in us. Can this be shewed unto us more plainly, than when he saith himself, ‘He that eateth me shall live by me?’ (John xi.)

Thomas Cranmer, from the First Book of the Sacrament. Love’s Redeeming Work. Oxford, 2001. 31-32.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

martyrs and mothers

In the name of God, source of all being, eternal Word, and holy Spirit. Amen.

The modern martyrs in their deaths and in their lives follow a pattern, a pattern we can follow back through the lives of saints to the early martyrs of the church. There is some formula to this, not out of laziness, without care for factuality, but intentionally as a pointer to us later followers of Jesus that they are indeed followers of Jesus, even into the lion’s mouth of death.

Janani Luwum, Archbishop of Uganda, arrested and called at night to the palace of the tyrant Idi Amin, was confronted by the dictator himself: Will you stop speaking out for your people? No! He refused. And so the dictator pulled out his own pistol and shot him down on the spot. Later his body was found, he’d been “shot trying to escape” or words to that effect.

Kaj Munk, the Danish playwright, premiered a new play in the days of the occupation, just at the feast of the Holy Innocents, after Christmas. It compared Hitler to Herod. That was too much. His body was found in a ditch, he’d been shot by the Gestapo.

Medieval martyrs and ancient witnesses, earlier in the history of the faithful, made testimony at the cost of their lives to the truth of the gospel.

Early Christians took heart, knowing that they followed the footsteps of their Lord.

And so we have Stephen, the deacon, the first martyr of the church, remembered this day, in the story of the book of Acts. His story patterns for us how disciples might joyfully follow Jesus, even in the midst of persecution and the threat, and fact, of imminent death.

Three times we see his story pattern after Jesus’ own passion. First, he sees what Jesus promised; his Lord at the right hand of the Father. This infuriates the crowd (already pretty upset for his description of their folly). And so they move in. As they begin to put him to death he cries out in words that resonate down the centuries, and back to the Cross of Christ, “Forgive them, they do not know what they are doing.” And then, as he succumbs, the prayer “I put my soul into your care”.

These words are his witness. The story of his witness is a gift to us.

We do not know much about who was there; apart from Saul (later Paul) no one is named.

We do have much more to go on, in the accounts of the resurrection of Christ. And first among the witnesses to his resurrection are the women at the tomb.

The angel said to the women,
“Why look for the living among the dead?”
“He is not here, he is risen!”
“Go tell my friends, set out for Galilee, there they will see me.”

It is the women, among them Mary of Magdala, who are the first witnesses to the empty tomb and the first to carry the message of the risen Christ.

And among them, as after his ascension they await the next chapter, is Mary his mother.

She is the one who saw it all. From Annunciation and Nativity, childhood and precocious youth, to his ministry wanderings and his fateful journey to Jerusalem, Mary was present. She was there at his crucifixion, and we learn (from Acts 1:14) that she was with the disciples as they wait for the Spirit to descend.

A mother’s witness. A mother’s martyrdom. From early days, she heard and saw all these things, and cherished them in her heart.

What sorrow it must be to know your son will die.
As so many mothers know.

So today, Mother’s Day, we remember not only the witness of the martyr Stephen, but the gift of mothers: a gift of life, a gift of love, of love as strong as death.

O God who so loved humankind that through your holy Spirit you conceived in Mary your only Son, our Lord, so grant us the obedience, and the fortitude, to follow the pattern of her witness, and the example of your saints, as we proclaim the death of Jesus, his resurrection and ascension, even as we await his coming in glory. Through that selfsame son, Jesus, Amen.

Said the angel to the women, "Why seek the living among the dead? He is risen; he is not here, alleluia, alleluia!"

"Be not afraid: go tell my friends to set out for Galilee, there they will see me, alleluia!"

-- Eastertide antiphons at New Camaldoli

Sunday, April 30, 2017

A platter of hummus and some pieces of bread

We have know the risen Lord, Alleluia, in the breaking of the bread. Alleluia, alleluia.

On the last day of a Holy Land trip with some disappointment I learned that while we would be visiting the celebrated village Emmaus / Abu Ghosh seven miles from Jerusalem, we would not be staying for lunch at its celebrated landmark, the restaurant boasting a place in the Guinness Book of World Records for the world’s largest platter of hummus.

Instead we would only have time to visit the (Crusader era) church commemorating the encounter “on the road to Emmaus” of two disciples on the afternoon of Easter Sunday with an unrecognized man who turned out to be Jesus.

At first they thought him to be ill-informed as, while in their grief-struck flight from the city they went over the events of the past few days, from Palm Sunday to Good Friday and on to the supposed-hysterical reports of the women who found the tomb empty that morning, he asked them what they were talking about and, with all the sarcastic astonishment of tourists in the know, they react: “Are you the only one who doesn’t know what’s been happening?”

Then he in turn with patience interprets the events of the past few days, not on the surface level of what’s happening but on the deeper level of what is really going on, preparing them for the deeper revelation of what is really going on in the Breaking of the Bread, that is, the revelation of the Messiah.

In his converse on the road the apparent stranger lays out for them, we are told, all about the Messiah throughout the Scriptures.

I sometimes thought of this Emmaus story in seminary, in the course Systematics 100, because each week we’d read a new theologian, and I thought it could be that we are trying to fit God (or Christ) in a box and just when we think we’ve got him in there with the lid closed, he leans over our shoulders, and asks, Hey, guys, what’ve you got in the box?

What really opens their eyes is not theological argument by itself but the experience of the living Lord, his loving presence, … as they are there with him, in conversation, their hearts burning as they hear the Word, and then their eyes, opening wide, as he takes, blesses, breaks, and offers, the Bread that is his own Body.

What happens to us when we listen to the Word he speaks to us?

What happens when we accept the Bread that he offers us?

Yes there is sustenance, nourishment, and reassurance of his presence.

And yet there is even more going on, when we accept that bread.

We become what we receive. -- Rabbi Thomas Louchheim pointed us to these words in the communion song “El cuerpo de Cristo” last Tuesday during the celebration of the 50th anniversary of ordination to the priesthood for Bishop Gerald Kicanas.

It is not only about how he is present in the bread (or how we take in that bread) it is about how we are incorporated into him.

It is not just about getting the body of Christ into you - or how that happens - it’s about getting you (incorporated) into the Body of Christ.

When have you been on this road, away from disaster and disappointed hope, headed perhaps back to the familiar, the secure, however wise your decision to leave it in the first place?

When have you fallen in with strange company and learned something new, something that changed your perspective?

When have you received the bread, blessed and broken, that changed your life? That caused you to look with fresh eyes on the world around you, on your companions and yourself?

How about today?

Abide with us - abide in us.

Abide with us as the stranger encountered on the road.

Abide with us as the unrecognized teacher revealing the hidden mysteries of faith.

Abide with us as the patient companion, the inquisitive fellow, who seeks us out for fellowship and a mutual opening of hearts.

Abide with us as the priest, who takes, blesses, breaks, offers… himself, that we might see him and hope anew when hope was lost.

Abide with us as the Messiah you yourself prepared us to accept, the one who is Redeemer and Salvation for all people.

Abide with us as the mysterious stranger who knows our hearts and warms us to the core.

Abide in us as the fire within, enkindle by knowledge and love, en-flaming experience, your holy spirit, lead us into all truth, not merely pointing the way, but being the way.

For you are the Road on which we must travel, the journey’s end at its beginning, the impetus of our movement and the welcome of our rest. AMEN.

AEaster3 2017 4/30 Tombstone, A.T.

John Schiavone, Amen. El Cuerpo De Cristo. (OCP, 1995)

Sunday, April 23, 2017

locked rooms

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.