Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Year A 7th Easter Ascension Sunday 2020 Getting Back to Better

Year A 7th Easter Ascension Sunday 24 May 2020
Video Worship from St. James the Less Episcopal, Ashland, VA
“Getting Back to Better”

Collect: O God, the King of glory, you have exalted your only Son Jesus Christ with great triumph to your kingdom in heaven: Do not leave us comfortless, but send us your Holy Spirit to strengthen us, and exalt us to that place where our Savior Christ has gone before; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen.

Acts 1:6-14
When the apostles had come together, they asked Jesus, “Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?” He replied, “It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” When he had said this, as they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. While he was going and they were gazing up toward heaven, suddenly two men in white robes stood by them. They said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up toward heaven? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.”
Then they returned to Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem, a sabbath day’s journey away. When they had entered the city, they went to the room upstairs where they were staying, Peter, and John, and James, and Andrew, Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew, James son of Alphaeus, and Simon the Zealot, and Judas son of James. All these were constantly devoting themselves to prayer, together with certain women, including Mary the mother of Jesus, as well as his brothers.

John 17:1-11
Jesus looked up to heaven and said, “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son so that the Son may glorify you, since you have given him authority over all people, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him. And this is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. I glorified you on earth by finishing the work that you gave me to do. So now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had in your presence before the world existed.

”I have made your name known to those whom you gave me from the world. They were yours, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word. Now they know that everything you have given me is from you; for the words that you gave to me I have given to them, and they have received them and know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me. I am asking on their behalf; I am not asking on behalf of the world, but on behalf of those whom you gave me, because they are yours. All mine are yours, and yours are mine; and I have been glorified in them. And now I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one.”

Jesus led the disciples out of the city. In paintings it is always on overlooks like this one. And as they were looking on, he was lifted up. No one expected that.

It is not normal. None of this is. It is not normal for the Son of God to walk in our midst. It is not normal for miracles to happen everyday by the touch of a hand. It is not normal to see what love incarnate looks like, with a face and a name. It is not normal for people to go floating up into heaven.

Ascension Day was last Thursday, 40 days after Easter. This is the Sunday after, and it is called Ascension Sunday. In today’s Gospel we see Jesus in his final moments with his apostles, sitting at the Last Supper before he heads out to Gethsemane, then inappropriate Government and Religious condemnation, then Golgotha. The authorities thought that once Jesus was out of the way; they thought that things could get back to normal. We all strive to balance the equation, to find equilibrium, to recenter into the routine. We all seek Normal.

I do not know about you, but since this began I have been having a doozy of a time in my dreams. I am not sure if I remember more of them, or if I am living with the stress and uncertainty differently and this is my brain’s way of shaking off the ick of these days. But in them, the strangest things seem perfectly fine and okay. Celebrities acting like friends and running errands together, growing fields of bubble gum, chasing llamas through the church, all reasonable in these nighttime diversions. But when I wake up, and I remember what I dreamed, again, I have to ask, “How did I think that was normal?”

When I think back just a few months, I ask the same question, how did I, how did WE, think that that was Normal? Forget Normal. We cannot go back. I DO NOT WANT TO GO BACK. But once we have seen a truth, it is impossible to go back again. 

As many of you have heard me talk about, in 1989 I had an opportunity to serve International Baptist Church in Hamburg, West Germany, for the last few months that there was a West Germany. Those days of living on my own, guiding people in the faith and learning how to do that, were so important and life changing. The hard part was that I still had half of college to finish. I knew what I wanted to do with the rest of my life and I wanted the rest of my life to start right now. But seminary and ministry would have to wait. And in that in-between time, there was a tension. Do I continue on the path I started, or do I just go back to the routine. Even trying to go back and make it through classes was a deep dive into confusion. I could not imagine two more years of college, then three of seminary. That seemed like forever. I could not just pretend that that life-altering nine months never happened. Now the strange thing was that my friends just did not understand. They just could not. They had stayed home. They had had normal, sequential growth. I had had exponential, explosive, throw-the-baby-out-with-the-bathwater upheaval in my life. I could ignore it, and die inside. I could embrace it and be transformed. I was doing what I wanted to spend my life doing. I was running around in the middle of history, knocking chunks out of the Berlin Wall. An 8:15 class has a hard time competing with that. 

I could choose to go back to Normal. Or, I could embrace and chase the Better.

With the Ascension, the Apostles had the same choice, they could go back to their nets, and their ledgers, their Normal day jobs, or they embrace the Better. Thankfully I chose that route, and my life has been the Better for it.

I feel like that I am at that cruxpoint again. I hear that cry in the streets these days. “We have to get back to normal!” Well not me. I do not want to go back to Normal. With the radical shift in our economy, our environment, our ethos, we have been given a huge gift if we take it. Or we could go back to Normal, and this will have all been a waste. A spotlight shone down and highlighted that the pace and the consumption of our culture is killing the planet and it is killing us. This gift was costly, expensive, and horrible for so many. As usual, the greatest burden was placed on the poor. The social inequities will be one of the first things we have to dismantle and rebuild when we slowly come out of this. 

Like what Jesus was called, this is a Stumbling Block. (See Isaiah 8:14) We can claim it or curse it, but it is still there either way. We either ignore it or cling to it. There is no other choice.

Beloved, like the Disciples, let us get back to Better. Let us step up to the biblical mandate of loving God, others, and self. Let us care for those “Disenfranchised” as Howard Thurman called them. Let us Go and Share this Good News we have found with Any and All, yes even the plants, the sky, the water, the cosmos. Let us take this and be transformed by it, or we will certainly transmit the pain and grief that is holding us right now and as I said, die inside. We are still in this world, and may our Savior and our God be glorified in what we say and do. And in this, may we all be One, as Jesus prayed.

Don’t go back to Normal. Let us run to the Better. Amen

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Year A 6th Easter WED 2020 Ascension (Observed)

Year A 6th Easter WEDNESDAY 20 May 2020
St. James the Less Episcopal, Ashland, VA
Ascension Day (Observed)

Collect: Almighty God, whose blessed Son our Savior Jesus Christ ascended far above all heavens that he might fill all things: Mercifully give us faith to perceive that, according to his promise, he abides with his Church on earth, even to the end of the ages; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen.

Luke 24:44-53
Jesus said to his disciples, "These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you-- that everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled." Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, and he said to them, "Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. And see, I am sending upon you what my Father promised; so stay here in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high."
Then he led them out as far as Bethany, and, lifting up his hands, he blessed them. While he was blessing them, he withdrew from them and was carried up into heaven. And they worshiped him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy; and they were continually in the temple blessing God.

It always surprises me that we allude to the Ascension, but that we do not give it much focus. At my home parish (St Andrew’s, Oregon Hill), there is an amazing Ascension Window above the altar. According to legend, Grace Ahrents (who was paying for this church for working class Richmonders) had ordered this window as the prominent highlight for this church.

In it, Jesus is ascending, and the apostles are standing in awe worshiping him. Across his body is a brilliant red sash. They un-crated this window which had come all the way from England, and she took one look at it and sent it back. Now it would take a lot of gall to do that, especially since it is hard to imagine something as custom as a made to order stained glass window. The ultimate combination of art and science. But why would she send it back? Most of us are unaware, but a true red in stained glass at that time came in only one way; it required the inclusion of gold. Not gold paint, gold itself. And Mother Grace knew when she looked at this tribute to her lord and savior at his ascension, she would settle for nothing less than true red. She had paid for true red, and this woman would expect nothing less. Yes, she was a woman. Yes, she was a Yank. But she knew enough, and was secure enough to demand the very best for this church, and for her Lord and Savior. It is glorious to this day.

Too little do we stop and remind ourselves that Jesus sits at the right hand of God the Father. So our faith tells us. I will have some more to say on it on Sunday, but ponder this.

I have often seen a bumper sticker or meme on Facebook, “What Would You Do If You Weren’t Afraid?”

And if we remember who we are in Christ, that is the question we must always ask. If we are Christ’s Body here on earth, if we are forgiven, empowered, enabled, and commissioned what can stop us? If Jesus is sitting at the right hand of God, what can stop us? When people ask how we might get something done, often I will say, “Well, I know a guy…” and I will work my contacts and networks to help make amazing things happen. Sometimes I think how cool it is to have an “in.” But we have the ultimate “in” with Jesus. I repeat. “What Would You Do If You Weren’t Afraid?”

And with Jesus where he is and with his command to be about his work here and now, what is stopping us? We call ourselves a Resurrection People. And we are. That is what gets us in the Door. But how we really need to think of ourselves is as an Ascension People. That is what gets us OUT THE DOOR!

Ponder that today. May we, “Expect great things from God; attempt great things for God.” (William Carey, c. 1790) Amen

Wednesday, May 13, 2020

Year A 5th Easter WED 2020 What To Do

Year A 5th Sunday of Easter WEDNESDAY, 13 May 2020
St. James the Less Episcopal, Ashland, VA
“What To Do”

1 Thessalonians 5:12-28
But we appeal to you, brothers and sisters, to respect those who labour among you, and have charge of you in the Lord and admonish you; esteem them very highly in love because of their work. Be at peace among yourselves. And we urge you, beloved, to admonish the idlers, encourage the faint-hearted, help the weak, be patient with all of them. See that none of you repays evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to all. Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise the words of prophets, but test everything; hold fast to what is good; abstain from every form of evil.
May the God of peace himself sanctify you entirely; and may your spirit and soul and body be kept sound and blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do this.
Beloved, pray for us.
Greet all the brothers and sisters with a holy kiss. I solemnly command you by the Lord that this letter be read to all of them.
The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you.
Matthew 6:19-24
‘Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
‘The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light; but if your eye is unhealthy, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!
‘No one can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.

Good morning. We hear from the readings this morning that a LOT is expected of us. Moses gives a list of the Lord’s expectations, in many instances echoing the Big Ten commandments. In Matthew’s section of the Sermon on the Mount, we hear Jesus saying the motivation that should drive us to do good. In what we cherish, we reveal our heart. 

In the First Thessalonians reading, we see Paul doing some Open Heart surgery. He is talking to believers, and gives a slew of things that need correcting or maintaining. In his laundry list, he still could be speaking to us today.

  1. respect those who labour among you, and have charge of you in the Lord and admonish you; 
  2. esteem them very highly in love because of their work. 
  3. Be at peace among yourselves.
  4. admonish the idlers, 
  5. encourage the faint-hearted, 
  6. help the weak, 
  7. be patient with all of them. 
  8. See that none of you repays evil for evil, but 
  9. always seek to do good to one another and to all. 
  10. Rejoice always, 
  11. pray without ceasing, 
  12. give thanks in all circumstances
  13. Do not quench the Spirit. 
  14. Do not despise the words of prophets, 
  15. ...but test everything; 
  16. hold fast to what is good; 
  17. abstain from every form of evil.
In these 17 admonitions Paul sums up how to treat others, and more importantly how to be. We are to be like Christ. Loving at all times. Forgiving at all times. Moving people toward their best selves, not who they backslide into when they are at their worst. And when they do that, or we do that, we get reconnected and start all over again.

When I taught Middle School, there was a phrase I used a lot. And some days I said it to myself. When someone had a bad day, especially in interacting with their peers, I would make a point to say to them as they were walking out the door, “Tomorrow is a new day.” And more importantly I would mean it. We all need a do-over every so often. 

This is such a key part of our Christian faith, we Episcopalians even include it in our Baptismal Covenant.
Q: Will you persevere in resisting evil, and, whenever you fall into sin, repent and return to the Lord? 
A: I will, with God’s help.

And that is the beauty of our faith. We are empowered and enabled to be agents of faith on our own, and we are also bolstered and encouraged and forgiven and restored by God when we fall short, and as we all know, that happens far too often.

So today, my prayer for you is to live up to Paul’s words. Maybe try them on for size, just for today: Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances. Do not quench the Spirit. Amen

Monday, May 11, 2020

Year A 5th Easter 2020 Grieving... Together

Year A 5th Sunday of Easter, 10 May 2020
Video Service from St. James the Less Episcopal, Ashland, VA
“Grieving… Together”

Collect: Almighty God, whom truly to know is everlasting life: Grant us so perfectly to know your Son Jesus Christ to be the way, the truth, and the life, that we may steadfastly follow his steps in the way that leads to eternal life; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

John 14:1-14
Jesus said, “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also. And you know the way to the place where I am going.” Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you know me, you will know my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.”
Philip said to him, “Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied.” Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and you still do not know me? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own; but the Father who dwells in me does his works. Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; but if you do not, then believe me because of the works themselves. Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father. I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If in my name you ask me for anything, I will do it.”

Good morning, friends. I was surprised when we sent the Friday updates out. Within minutes I started receiving emails from folks who said it really meant something to them. One was three words, “simply quite beautiful.” I was really shocked by that. But it struck me that maybe something in what I said was resonating. So I shared it on Facebook and was overwhelmed by how many people reacted, responded and shared it. Maybe that Holy Spirit prompting me to be vulnerable really was something meant not just for me. I am learning more and more these days that God has not abandoned any of us, ANY OF US, but the Holy Spirit is moving in powerful ways for the good of all of us. This is what I shared on Friday, in case you missed it.

“Today is Friday. These days I seem to have to remind myself of even simple things like that. We are now deep into a new normal. Some of us are afraid to admit that there is a relief in a slower schedule, a more livable pace. Some of us are very scared, desperate to make ends meet, but afraid that going out could be a death sentence. Some of us are angry that these emergency measures were taken or are continuing. Some of us are enraged at the choices others are making, and we belittle or react too negatively to them. 

We all deal with our grief in different ways. And we are all grieving. The biggest reality, that most of us are not yet openly discussing, is that we are all grieving right now. This is a global trauma that will shape the decades to come. We are coming up on the known death toll of 1 1/2 times the US troops killed in the Vietnam War. Think how long our nation had to deal with that trauma.

I had a real blue spell earlier this week that caught me off guard. I did not know where it came from, but thankfully I could take a space to stop, name what I was feeling, and do the inner work to ask where it was coming from and where my energy needed to focus to get to a healthier and better place. I prayed. I journaled. I learned from it and was able to take healthy positive steps toward wholeness and health. The warning signs were when I acted out of character. Thankfully I was able to see it before it continued.

Richard Rohr said, "If you don't transform your suffering, you'll transmit it." This can come out in so many ways. Snapping at those we love. Being rude to someone who means nothing to us, like a person at a drive-thru or shop. Numbing ourselves with food or drink or distracting entertainment. Those are all ways of transmitting or avoiding your pain. I hope you will take some time today and ask where you are in your grief over this season we are in the midst of now. Where are those who you hold in your care? Can you find healthy, productive, and life-giving ways to affirm, care, and support them (and yourself)? Can you express where you are and what you need right now?

Know that now is not easy. It won't be. What do you need to make it the new normal you want? What do you need to let go of to do the same? Those answers are as unique as your fingerprint.

I am praying for you.

All God's blessings,
Now being a big guy, 6 foot five, whose nickname is Rock tends to lead me to not open up readily. I am a big guy with a big persona. Admittedly. But even in these days, even big guys are feeling it. We all are.

In today’s Gospel, I hear Jesus confronting and dealing with grief.
Jesus said, “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also. And you know the way to the place where I am going.
Leading through hard times is something that is never easy. But when I have had to gather and calm people, especially in fearful moments or days, there are some consistencies.

1. Naming it.

Things are bad. You are normal and right to be feeling afraid.

2. Showing Level-headed leadership. 

We are making a plan, and we will work the plan. We have good people making decisions and we will lean on their expertise to make the best decisions, and we will change things as necessary. It will all be okay.

3. Assuring us of a future.

The hard times will pass, and there is a future in this world, and sometimes in the world to come.

In the Gospel reading for today, Jesus is grieving, and modeling for his intimates healthy vulnerability, healthy leadership, and healthy faith. He is showing those closest, and us, that we are not promised a picnic. Hard days will come. We obviously know that now. But they will not last. And we will have loving, caring leadership to help us get through. As Jeus said, “And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also.”

Friends, “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in…” God’s Son, our Lord. And trust the Holy Spirit, especially in these days.

In speaking with my Spiritual Director this week, we talked about how the Spirit is moving in a mighty and powerful way around the world. He described it as “we have all entered into liminal space.” In other words, we are at a threshold moment. I so truly believe that, and by following those promptings of the Holy Spirit God’s dreams for us and for our whole world can come true. And we when stand at a threshold, it begs a choice. Will we stay where we are, or will we enter. Jesus promises, “Come unto me all that are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest.” Amen

Wednesday, May 6, 2020

Year A 4th Easter WEDNESDAY 2020 Lead A Life Worthy

Year A 4th Sunday of Easter WEDNESDAY, 6 May 2020
Video service for St. James the Less Episcopal, Ashland, VA
“Lead A Life Worthy”

Collect: O God, whose Son Jesus is the good shepherd of your people: Grant that when we hear his voice we may know him who calls us each by name, and follow where he leads; who, with you and the Holy Spirit, lives and reigns, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
1 Thessalonians 2:1-12
You yourselves know, brothers and sisters, that our coming to you was not in vain, but though we had already suffered and been shamefully maltreated at Philippi, as you know, we had courage in our God to declare to you the gospel of God in spite of great opposition. For our appeal does not spring from deceit or impure motives or trickery, but just as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the message of the gospel, even so we speak, not to please mortals, but to please God who tests our hearts. As you know and as God is our witness, we never came with words of flattery or with a pretext for greed; nor did we seek praise from mortals, whether from you or from others, though we might have made demands as apostles of Christ. But we were gentle among you, like a nurse tenderly caring for her own children. So deeply do we care for you that we are determined to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you have become very dear to us.
You remember our labour and toil, brothers and sisters; we worked night and day, so that we might not burden any of you while we proclaimed to you the gospel of God. You are witnesses, and God also, how pure, upright, and blameless our conduct was towards you believers. As you know, we dealt with each one of you like a father with his children, urging and encouraging you and pleading that you should lead a life worthy of God, who calls you into his own kingdom and glory.
Matthew 5:17-20
Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfil. For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth pass away, not one letter, not one stroke of a letter, will pass from the law until all is accomplished. Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, will be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.

Good morning. I wanted to focus on this theme, “right living.” It flows through this morning’s readings. The verse that struck me most was that last one from St. Paul to the church in Thessaloniki. 
Verse 12: “As you know, we dealt with each one of you like a father with his children, urging and encouraging you and pleading that you should lead a life worthy of God, who calls you into his own kingdom and glory.
We look at this differently when we see things from a different perspective. 

Jesus told a story of two brothers. One did what was asked of him after saying he wouldn’t. One said he would do it, but then didn’t. Attitude, and Follow Through both make a big difference, but actions speak much louder than words. We can talk a good game, and appear to be pious and holy like the best of saints, but we can still be a stinker on the inside with a rotten core. When God was speaking through Samuel to call David he summed it up well, “Man looks on the outward appearances, but God looks on the heart.” And the Heart is the heart of the matter.

We do what we ought because that is what freedom is. One of the great tragedies of our day is that somewhere along the way we picked up the spoiled brat way of thinking that Freedom is doing what we want. One of the great strengths of our nation was that we believed if people were given the ability to choose the best, and they were educated so that their choices were worth something then we would have the greatest nation, the most godly nation, the bright and shining city on the hill that would be an exemplar of the human mind and spirit, and that it would bring glory to God.

But somewhere we allowed a lie to come in and speak as if it were truth. “I can do what I want and nobody has any ability to tell me what to do.” Nothing can be further from the biblical mandate that we are our brothers’ and sisters’ keepers, as they are ours. We are all mutually accountable and beholden to one another. I uphold the minority opinion’s rights, and one day they will uphold mine. Somewhere along the way we made it a game where there were winners and there were losers. Sometimes that language was blatant. God forgive us. When we devolved to that level of discourse we all lost. We all became Losers.

Today there are debates on caring for the Least of These. Others saying that more will be hurt if we do not get back to normal soon. Either way a hard choice will have to be made, and both will cost us dearly. It reminds me of a joke.

A chicken and a pig loved their farmer, and they wanted to do something nice. So they decided to make him breakfast in bed. The chicken thought it was brilliant. Eggs and bacon. What could be better, the chicken thought. The pig stopped him though, and reminded the chicken, “What for you would be a gift, for me would be the ultimate sacrifice.” Some are demanding this very ridiculous stretch on our front pages. That is hard to believe. I pray for wisdom and caution in these days.

We are encouraged to make the choices we make out of love. If it is out of obligation it is not love. In our personal ethics, and in our societal ethos, both require us to move and find our truest selves in the love of God, neighbor, and self. As St. Paul said, may we live a life worthy of God. Amen

Saturday, April 25, 2020

Year A 3rd Easter 2020 All the Way Home

Year A 3rd Sunday of Easter, 29 April 2020
Video from St. James the Less Episcopal, Ashland, VA
“All the Way Home”

Collect: O God, whose blessed Son made himself known to his disciples in the breaking of bread: Open the eyes of our faith, that we may behold him in all his redeeming work; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

1 Peter 1:17-23
If you invoke as Father the one who judges all people impartially according to their deeds, live in reverent fear during the time of your exile. You know that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your ancestors, not with perishable things like silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without defect or blemish. He was destined before the foundation of the world, but was revealed at the end of the ages for your sake. Through him you have come to trust in God, who raised him from the dead and gave him glory, so that your faith and hope are set on God.

Now that you have purified your souls by your obedience to the truth so that you have genuine mutual love, love one another deeply from the heart. You have been born anew, not of perishable but of imperishable seed, through the living and enduring word of God.

Luke 24:13-35
Now on that same day two of Jesus' disciples were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, and talking with each other about all these things that had happened. While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and went with them, but their eyes were kept from recognizing him. And he said to them, “What are you discussing with each other while you walk along?” They stood still, looking sad. Then one of them, whose name was Cleopas, answered him, “Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place there in these days?” He asked them, “What things?” They replied, “The things about Jesus of Nazareth, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, and how our chief priests and leaders handed him over to be condemned to death and crucified him. But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things took place. Moreover, some women of our group astounded us. They were at the tomb early this morning, and when they did not find his body there, they came back and told us that they had indeed seen a vision of angels who said that he was alive. Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said; but they did not see him.” Then he said to them, “Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared! Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?” Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures.

As they came near the village to which they were going, he walked ahead as if he were going on. But they urged him strongly, saying, “Stay with us, because it is almost evening and the day is now nearly over.” So he went in to stay with them. When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight. They said to each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?” That same hour they got up and returned to Jerusalem; and they found the eleven and their companions gathered together. They were saying, “The Lord has risen indeed, and he has appeared to Simon!” Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread.

Friends, good morning. I will be short today, but I hope that we will give you something to chew on, at least in your spiritual cud. 

The road to Emmaus is one of the profound stories of the Church, we share it often and readily because many of us have had that epiphany moment when we see Jesus made clear to us. It may have come from a worship service, a profound life event, a slow emerging over days and weeks with someone who modeled a Christ-like lifestyle in their own way. We identify readily with Cleopas and the other guy.

I so wish we knew the name of the other guy, and if we do some cross-Gospel investigation the other guy may be female. And if they are female, they are probably Cleopas’ wife who would be Mary who witnessed the crucifixion, and most likely the mother of St. James the Less. Pretty cool. I had never heard this possibility before, and being the Church of St. James the Less I would love to think that his parents were the disciples who had their eyes opened hours after the resurrection.

So all that being said, and one of the key things in my shifting into a more sacramental theology is the phrase: “Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread.”

But we do not have that for us. We have been separated from the bread. This is a hard time for those of us for whom the Altar of Christ means so much. I ache for it.

One of the things that this Bishop has asked of the clergy is that we also forego the Eucharist. We already have limitations on having Eucharist alone, but surely we could celebrate with our families. We could. But we don’t. If the people are having to fast from the Eucharist, we are called to be one with them. So no cheating on our part. I look forward to the time when we can celebrate together, once we are all together again. And we all pray that that will be soon.

But today I want to emphasize the other part of the story. The bread is the easy part, the comfortable part. But we gloss over something just as significant when we jump straight to the breaking of the bread.
Jesus walked with them all the way home.

That is what I am holding onto today. It is a simple message, but one that has helped us for generations. A few weeks ago, we had some fun in response to one of our Facebook posts asking about favorite hymns. “In The Garden” was an obvious favorite. You may know the chorus:
And he walks with me, and he talks with me, and tells me that I am his own.And things we share as we tarry there, none other has ever known.

And just as important, and a bit less sentimental, is the end of the Gospel of Matthew, “I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”

Jesus walks with us. We are not on these paths alone. We take these sad sojourns, but through it we can gain clarity. He can point out what was before, and what it means to us now. He can point to obvious things we missed.

I cannot say how much comfort I find in that. Friends, none of us knows when or how this will end. But this I can say, that even in this Jesus is walking with us. 
For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. [Romans 8:38-39]
When God called Moses one of the ironic things that God says in the conversation at the burning bush is something that is applicable to all our faith walks. 

He said, ‘I will be with you; and this shall be the sign for you that it is I who sent you: when you have brought the people out of Egypt, you shall worship God on this mountain.’ [Exodus 3:12]

Now the applicable part of that is not the details but rather the understanding. We cannot see the whole thing, the big picture. The God’s Eye Point of View is God’s job, not ours. God calls us to take the next step, and to have faith. Moses was asked to bring one of the mightiest nations on earth to its knees by way of its slaves. No small task. And the proof, when it is all done you will see that I was with you when you worship me back here.

Faith is a proposition. With each other, and with God. When the followers on the road to Emmaus walked with Jesus the invited him into relationship. Their preconceptions would not allow them to see him for who he was, but he stayed with them anyway. And at the end of the road, their faith came to fruition.

Friends, Jesus is walking with us. We may not see it till the end of the road. But even if you cannot see it, feel it, or believe today, I believe it. And I trust that you can one day to, if not today. As Peter says in today’s reading, “live in reverent fear during the time of your exile.” Not fear as in scared, but reverent fear like awe-filled respect. Even in our exiles, Jesus is with us, and will be ALL THE WAY HOME. Amen.

Wednesday, April 22, 2020

Year A 2nd Easter WED 2020 All In

Year A 2nd Sunday of Easter WEDNESDAY, 22 April 2020
Video from St. James the Less Episcopal, Ashland, VA
“All In”

Collect: Almighty and everlasting God, who in the Paschal mystery established the new covenant of reconciliation: Grant that all who have been reborn into the fellowship of Christ's Body may show forth in their lives what they profess by their faith; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

I Peter 2:9-10 (End of read passage, vv. 1-10)
But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvellous light.
Once you were not a people,
   but now you are God’s people;
once you had not received mercy,
   but now you have received mercy.

John 15:1-11
‘I am the true vine, and my Father is the vine-grower. He removes every branch in me that bears no fruit. Every branch that bears fruit he prunes to make it bear more fruit. You have already been cleansed by the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me. I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing. Whoever does not abide in me is thrown away like a branch and withers; such branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask for whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples. As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.

I am reading Amazing Grace about the amazing Englishman who fought and defeated the slave trade in the British Empire, which led to its disestablishment worldwide. Yesterday afternoon I read the chapter on his conversion. Known for his intellect, wit, singing voice, and tiny stature, William Wilberforce was a powerful politician driven and ambitious who became a complete and total sell-out to his faith. In college he had refused to sign a statement of ascent to the Nicene Creed. But after a trip with a powerful thinker and clergyman, he begins to find that he is believing the very things he renounced just a few years before. What Wilberforce came to realize was that if he truly believed what he found himself believing, that it would have to play out in his life. It could not be halfway, or lip-service only. For him to believe his life would have to show it. His best friend happened to be the Prime Minister, William Pitt. And once he knew he truly believed he would have to step down from his position in Parliament and devote his life to this new reality.

In our reading today, we see Peter recognizing a new reality in Christ. 
you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.Once you were not a people,   but now you are God’s people;once you had not received mercy,   but now you have received mercy.
We are God’s people. We have received mercy. As the old hymn intones, “No turning back, no turning back.”

As I mentioned in my email article yesterday, I feel that we have crossed a cultural Rubicon. I feel that after this plague, most especially in the USA, we will need to be different. There is no longer a choice. The pace, the animosity, the divisions served no one, and the culture of convenience has created an underclass we now deem “essential” when before we treated them as disposable. (And we still do.) God forgive us!

I hope and pray we can move to the culture that Jesus described as the Kingdom of God/Heaven, and that Martin Luther King, Jr. described as the Beloved Community. I am praying and focusing on what is to come. If all of this goes by and we are unchanged, what a waste. What a sinful waste.

What are you feeling God is saying to you about what is to come? What do you feel God may be asking of you as we emerge from this season?

Kasey and I were talking the other day, and I shared with her my favorite quote. It is always funny when we get to know new people and we get to share the things we hold most dear. It is a slow process, and what I take for granted, she found new and refreshing. William Blake has a poem with this line:
And we are put on earth a little space,
That we may learn to bear the beams of love...
And part of that “little space” is this little space we find ourselves in is an opportunity for us to learn to bear, and SHARE, the beams of love we receive from an everliving, everloving God. God bless us. What are we willing to let go because we truly believe this, like Wilberforce? Amen

Sunday, April 19, 2020

Year A 2nd Easter 2020 Trials of Faith

Year A 2nd Sunday of Easter, 19 April 2020
Video from St. James the Less Episcopal, Ashland, VA
“Trials of Faith”

Collect: Almighty and everlasting God, who in the Paschal mystery established the new covenant of reconciliation: Grant that all who have been reborn into the fellowship of Christ's Body may show forth in their lives what they profess by their faith; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

1 Peter 1:3-9
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! By his great mercy he has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who are being protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you rejoice, even if now for a little while you have had to suffer various trials, so that the genuineness of your faith-- being more precious than gold that, though perishable, is tested by fire-- may be found to result in praise and glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. Although you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy, for you are receiving the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.

John 20:19-31
When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, "Peace be with you." After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, "Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you." When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, "Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained."

But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, "We have seen the Lord." But he said to them, "Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe."

A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, "Peace be with you." Then he said to Thomas, "Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe." Thomas answered him, "My Lord and my God!" Jesus said to him, "Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe."

Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.

Yesterday I was a bit like Thomas. I went out.

I went out despite the fears and worries. I went out because we needed to get some more essentials. Was Thomas on a food run, too? Because of refrigeration it had been weeks since I had made the last one. Woohoo. But I think similar feelings were there. We know that Thomas was not hidden away with the other apostles. But we know that he was out.

Was he in disguise? Was he fearful? Not so long ago it was illegal to wear a mask in public, and now it is not only recommended it is the new norm. I took off my shoes before I came in the house. So many new ways of doing things. So different.

The disciples, who for three years handled crowds and were in the middle of it all, are now hiding away from the Romans and the religious leaders. And Thomas goes out into it.

I am trying to envision my family telling me when I got home that something world-changing had taken place in the hour and change I was gone. How would I respond? 

God calls us all to faith. God wants us to be a part of this NOW. Doubts are natural, and they are part of the process for faith to grow. To build up our faith muscles, we exercise our doubts. Or should that be exorcise? God does not want our doubts, but I think God understands. Jesus is very patient with Thomas, inviting him to stick his fingers in his hands and side. I do not see Jesus being facetious here. He is taking it to as simple a place as it needs to be. “Here, Thomas, check it out…” Notice Thomas believes much sooner than that. 

Each and every one of our doubts are our own. We all have things that we believe easier than others. As Frederick Beuchner said (and was made famous by John Irving in A Prayer for Owen Meany), 
“Without somehow destroying me in the process, how could God reveal himself in a way that would leave no room for doubt? If there were no room for doubt, there would be no room for me.”
Our doubts are uniquely our own. And God works through them to get us to where we need to be.

That is what Peter is getting to in today’s New Testament reading. I want to pick this apart a phrase at a time, from I Peter 1.
You… are being protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. 
Peter is telling us that no matter how things are now, ESPECIALLY NOW, that God is with us, molding us in preparation for eternity. Now we are so fixated on timing, saving it, wasting it, prolonging it, for it is precious. But when we enter Eternity, time is meaningless. “We’ve no less days to sing God’s praise than when we’ve first begun.” In eternity, we have just as much 1,000 years into it as day one.
In this you rejoice, even if now for a little while you have had to suffer various trials, so that the genuineness of your faith...
We go through things, trials of our faith, and in so doing, our faith is refined and is strengthened. Now do not see God as causing the trials. Too much to get into all of that today. Life hands you lemons, not God. But God helps you make lemonade out of the stuff that Life hands all of us. In those instances, and we all have them, we can grow. We do not suffer so that we can grow. We all suffer. That is life. We are all waging a war, mostly unseen, unknown. Ian MacLaren reminds us: “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.” Going on… 
the genuineness of your faith-- being more precious than gold that, though perishable, is tested by fire-- 
“Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” Hebrews 11:1 Our faith is refined in the crucible of Life. And our Faith is our learned response. When Steph and I have faced hard days, I knew I could count on two things. I could count on God, and I could count on her. Like calluses on my hands from hard work, they come through work and only through work. Faith is like that. It is easy to say we believe when things are easy. But true faith, genuine faith comes from refinement by trial. 
[Our faith] may be found to result in praise and glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. 
We would not want to be found wanting when Jesus comes again. I saw a button once, meant as a joke, but its implications are not funny. “Look busy, Jesus is coming.” But in our faith, it is so much more than “looking busy.” Our faith is real when it has been worked and tried. When we face the insurmountable or the impossible with a calm resolve that God is with us. Will God change things for us? Probably not. But in the chemo wards and prayer closets, in our ICUs and IOUs, God is with us. When Jesus comes again, we want to praise and glory with sincerity and joy when Jesus shows up.
Although you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy, 
We wait in patience. We would have to be patient. We have been waiting for a hundred generations for his return. But will he find us faithful when he comes? We have not seen him, but we love him. But my whole life, and maybe a hundred generations more, we look with anticipation for his return and the “indescribable and glorious joy.”
for you are receiving the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.
And here we have it. Our reward. We keep the faith, and the outcome of that faith, the salvation of our very souls. The only thing that we can take with us. The only thing that is truly our own. Every single thing you think you own. Every single relationship that is so important. Every single moment and place and thing that you cherish will one day be stripped away. All that you have is your soul. 

And friends, like Thomas, our faith is tested. We all face trials. We all have doubts. We all are invited to take a step further into faith. We are invited to take those trials, and transform them by applying our faith. Do we choose to see through the dark and the shadows and envision the light? Do we embrace the light in the midst of the storm? That is our choice. That is faith.

One of the strange things that our technology has enabled, that now is a hindrance, is my phone. It is designed to look at me, literally, and through recognizing my face it lets me into my phone. On my quick trip to the store, I tried to check my phone for my list to make sure that I got everything I needed. I am so used to just picking up my phone, there is a muscle memory built in. I do not think about it, because I do not have to think about it. It just happens. But not with a mask on. It was not designed for these times of masks. That is what we are getting at. We were not designed to live in our doubts. We were designed to live in faith. With God, we can take off the protective layers of our doubts and see things for real, eye to eye, face to face.

Friends, in these uncertain and fear-filled days, have faith. Have faith in the one who loves you through your doubts and in your doubts. God has faith in you, that one day your faith will be genuine. God loves you so much that God is willing to play the long game, and work us patiently with us, even through our doubts. Thanks be to God! Amen 

Sunday, April 12, 2020

Year A Easter Sunday 2020 Tucked Away

Year A Easter Sunday, 12 April 2020
Video from St. James the Less Episcopal, Ashland, VA
“Tucked Away”

Collect: Almighty God, who through your only-begotten Son Jesus Christ overcame death and opened to us the gate of everlasting life: Grant that we, who celebrate with joy the day of the Lord's resurrection, may be raised from the death of sin by your life-giving Spirit; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Colossians 3:1-4
If you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth, for you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life is revealed, then you also will be revealed with him in glory.

Matthew 28:1-10
After the sabbath, as the first day of the week was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb. And suddenly there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord, descending from heaven, came and rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow. For fear of him the guards shook and became like dead men. But the angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid; I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. He is not here; for he has been raised, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples, ‘He has been raised from the dead, and indeed he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him.’ This is my message for you.” So they left the tomb quickly with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples. Suddenly Jesus met them and said, “Greetings!” And they came to him, took hold of his feet, and worshiped him. Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.”

When I was a child, my dad had built me a little indoor slide, basically a box, with a ladder on one side and a slide coming off the other. As much as I loved that, just as much if not more so, there was a round hole that let me climb into the box. I would crawl in, curl up, and just sit. Tucked away in there I felt safe. I am not sure what I was afraid of, but tucked up in there, I felt nothing can get to me. It was my hiding place.

In the many summers I spent at camp, there is a praise song based off of Psalm 32:7. Sitting around a campfire, singing this, gave me such a sense of peace.
You are a hiding place for me;    you preserve me from trouble;    you surround me with glad cries of deliverance.     Selah
Even King David, who wrote the Psalm, cherished that felling of being tucked away.

A lot of us feel tucked away right now. Hidden. Some feel safe. Some feel isolated. Some are flaunting going out. We have a range of emotions all over the map. Jesus was tucked away as well.

The officials thought that they had rid themselves of a dangerous nuisance.

The disciples thought that this man that they had devoted their lives to for three years was gone for good.

The women who went to care for his remains, expected there to be a body, a body of someone they adored beginning the slow decay of mortal remains.

But while they thought Jesus being tucked away was a finality, for him and for us it was the Beginning. From those three days of silence and sorrow, the greatest event in human history transpired. The Resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ.

I miss you. I really do. I miss seeing you, especially on this day of all days. This is a day to dress up. This is a day for candy and laughter. This is a day for kids looking for eggs in long grass. This is a day for community.

Alleluia! The Lord is Risen!
The Lord is Risen indeed!

I miss hearing you respond back. This place should be echoing in the joyous exuberance of THE LORD IS RISEN INDEED!

But it is not. It cannot. It is what it is. We are apart because we love and live for the Least of These. We are all doing what we can to care for those for whom this would be a death sentence.

Just like Jesus. As we sang in the beautiful hymn:
What wondrous love is this, O my soul, O my soul!What wondrous love is this, O my soul!What wondrous love is this,That caused the Lord of bliss,To bear the dreadful curse,For my soul, for my soul,To bear the dreadful curse for my soul.
Think of what Jesus did for us, out of love. And you can tuck that away.

Speaking of tucked away, that is where I want to spend the rest of my time this morning. We revel in the Resurrection this morning. This is the lynchpin of our faith. And from that EVERYTHING else emerges.

That is what can lead St. Paul to say what we read in our New Testament reading, Colossians 3:1-3:
If you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth, for you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.
Sisters and brothers, we are the Children of the Resurrection. That is what brings us together in the family of God. Through faith in his Son, we have been adopted into the line of Faith that goes back to Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebekkah, Jacob and Rachel. That lineage of faith, through Christ, continues in us, and through us.

In these days of either dismissal or fear, we need not run to either extreme that our cultural divide drives us to go toward. For if we are in Christ, we seek that which is above. Some of you have heard me say it this way, Jesus invites to reframe and step up. We look at what is, not from our narrow biased or partisan perspectives, but from God’s point of view, all-seeing, all-knowing, all-loving. And with that we can rise above the situation we find ourselves in and raise to a higher level of existence.

Again, “If you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above...” In a world that is going crazy: stir-crazy, fear-crazy, enraged-crazy, whatever, we need to rise above the level of these problems. We set our minds on the things above, and in that and because of that we need not fear. Come what may, we are confident that this world is not our home. “Our life is hidden with Christ in God…” What is most real, what is most our home, is our life hidden in Christ.

In these days of hiding from, I am inviting you to reframe and step up. We are not quarantining and self-isolating to save ourselves. Our lives, if we are in Christ, are not our own. We are in Christ, and so we need not fear. We are in Christ, claimed in his Resurrection. Promised Rebirth through his Resurrection. We could view our predicament as dire, or dreaded. But I claim the Resurrection.

While I am tucked away here and now, I know something far greater than anything we face, come what may. I may be tucked away in isolation, but this is for but a season. I am tucked away with Christ in God FOREVER.

I am tucked away with Christ in God. Nothing can take that away. Nothing will ever take that away. The Cross could not take that away. Pilate, Herod, the Sanhedrin could not take that away. Hell itself, when Jesus descended to the dead, could not take that away. Friends, we are tucked away in the very hand of God and nothing or no one can ever snatch us out.

We do not know what tomorrow may bring, but the Resurrection promises to all of us we are safe and secure when we shall find ourselves home. Our lives, our true lives with Christ, have already begun. Tuck that away. It is more sure than the sun coming up in the morning. Amen

Saturday, April 11, 2020

The Liturgical Name For What We Are Going Through

A Liturgical Name For What We Are Going Through
By The Rev. Rock Higgins

This year many of us are fearful and grieving our way through Lent. My children joked with me that they never knew that we were giving up church for Lent. As a priest, the loss is deep. For many of us, clergy or not, it is profoundly felt. My greatest vocational joys are leading God’s people to connect personally and collectively with the Almighty. Now, though, we are seeking ways to do that without direct connection, without the spontaneous feedback of body language, dialogue, touch. I grieve the loss of our community, in its gatherings anyway. Added to that, I am an extrovert, and topping off my energy levels is another aspect of this time which is tangible and missed. We have the loss of joint liturgy. I can say the words, “The Lord be with you!” over Facebook Live, but the words ring hollow with the lack of any heard response. The different responses of each parishioner when I place the bread in their hand during the Eucharist . An intimacy develops between priest and parishioner that is unspoken, unknown to anyone else, each person unique. These things help establish a sense of normality in our lives. They are gone. The grief is great.

When our Bishop rightly made the call to cease public worship, my first thought was for Holy Week. My favorite liturgies in the whole year are the Triduum. Each and every liturgy, beautiful and haunting in its own right. All four. Yes, all four.

As I have been thinking through these emotions particularly towards Holy Week, though, I have gone through the liturgies and collects in my head, and it struck me that we actually do have a rite that speaks to where we are. We often ignore it. For me, since I started as the Rector in my current parish, it became my practice to include it. A faithful eight or so actually join with me. It is so overshadowed by its counterparts that it is ignored at best, unknown to most.

Slipped in between the horror of Good Friday and the eventual joy of Easter Vigil is a quiet service that sits with our grief and our fear; it recognizes it and honors it. It is the liturgy of Holy Saturday.

Think of the feelings that the disciples shared as given in Scripture. They were between the known, which was horrific, and the fearful unknown, that ended up being far greater than they could hope for or imagine, but they sat in ignorance of what was to come. We have heard with great trepidation what we have heard about Wuhan or Italy or emerging hot spots here in the States. It is on its way, if not already here. Those looming feelings of dread so closely mirror the disciples’. What might that tell us? In our liturgies we have the gift of Holy Saturday.

In the Book of Common Prayer, it sits on pages 283. That is all. A single page. A collect with 6 readings, 2 of those optional. It speaks to the isolation, the fear of the unknown, the potential death waiting outside our door.

The Collect speaks to the historical events, while conveying the emotions that are all to applicable to our times:

O God, Creator of heaven and earth: Grant that, as the crucified body of your dear Son was laid in the tomb and rested on this holy Sabbath, so we may await with him the
coming of the third day, and rise with him to newness of life; who now lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

We are in this In-Between Time. Death is lurking at our door. For the Disciples it was the authorities, religious and Roman. If they could do it to Jesus, it could happen to them. For us, we may have the virus and not even realize it. We isolate. We quarantine. We await the coming of resurrection. But will that resurrection from our self-entombment be for us?

Just as we skip this service, USAmerican culture does not deal with sorrow, grief, or fear well. We ignore it. If we do not recognize it, like some fantasy-filled child in their imaginings, it is not there. Holy Saturday demands us to see and know that death has come, and it could come for us, we just do not know. And that unknowing is the rub. The reason that Governor Cuomo of New York said in a press conference on March 22 this: “The goal for me: be socially distanced, but spiritually connected. How do you achieve [being] socially distanced, but spiritually connected.”[Source] That is where the Church’s call is today, and giving this season a name is a way to begin the response.

We do have a name if we choose to use it, and a liturgy that reminds us that resurrection is coming. But it is not just a day or a single liturgy; we find ourselves in an unintended Season of Holy Saturday. And for many of us recognizing and dealing with these fears and the associated feelings is something entirely new.

This year we will not have the distractions of coloring eggs, or preparing outfits on Holy Saturday. We have no details to fuss over about a huge family dinner. We are sitting in the unknown, awaiting the unknown. So many variables, many terribly negative, only up the anxiety. But as we sit here, we can be the hope of others that can help get them through.

Our liturgies’ strength is through their disciplines. The daily readings in Lent work well for us. They point to Lent’s focus on self-discipline, repentance, and mending of ways. And they direct us to making that connection to God throughout the good times and the bad. One of the readings from Holy Saturday ends with this, which could not be more appropriate:
The end of all things is near; therefore be serious and discipline yourselves for the sake of your prayers. Above all, maintain constant love for one another, for love covers a multitude of sins. I Peter 4:8
Focus on your prayers. Maintain your love of one another. Socially distanced. Spiritually connected.

We can lead people to embrace what is, recognize the realities of their worries and their worries’ cause, and guide the people to look forward in hope to the Easter that is to come.

One caution though, we are not spiritualizing our self-distancing as a retreat or spiritual time-out. I have seen much of that online. This undesired time to turn into spiritual retreat is a privilege many of our most fearful elderly and newly unemployed will not be able to see. That is why this shift to a Holy Saturday approach is so important. NOBODY chose this. NO ONE wanted this. But it is here. And as we sit in that reality, as we process those emotions, Holy Saturday gives us words, and meaning, and hope.

Another part of our liturgy is that EVERY Sunday is considered a little Easter. In that spirit, whenever we gather again, and it may be months from now, we will have an Easter celebration with greater meaning, purpose, and joy. I so look forward to that day.

Lastly, in the Holy Saturday liturgy, we are instructed to pray the spoken anthem from our Burial rites. As the Holy Saturday liturgy directs, I close with it here as well.

In the midst of life we are in death;
from whom can we seek help?
From you alone, O Lord,
who by our sins are justly angered.

Holy God, Holy and Mighty,
Holy and merciful Savior,
deliver us not into the bitterness of eternal death.

Lord, you know the secrets of our hearts;
shut not your ears to our prayers,
but spare us, O Lord.

Holy God, Holy and Mighty,
Holy and merciful Savior,
deliver us not into the bitterness of eternal death.

O worthy and eternal Judge,
do not let the pains of death
turn us away from you at our last hour.

Holy God, Holy and Mighty,
Holy and merciful Savior,
deliver us not into the bitterness of eternal death.

During this imposed season, may we look to the one who is with us always, even in pandemic.