Easter 5

So we’ve got a few things going on this weekend.  Between the flower sale, street fair, HomeFront, first holy communion, and church school recognition, perhaps we’re over-scheduled.  But it’s a glorious weekend, really, full of things that bring us together, things which benefit others, and things that forward the mission of our church.

 

One of the things I love about first holy communion is the class we do the night before.  The kids get to ask questions (and they always have questions I have to dig deep to answer), practice receiving communion (which means they taste the lovely fortified golden sherry we use for the first time, which is always entertaining), and they get to see and handle all the stuff, the chalice and paten and vestments and the like, all the stuff that makes up physical side of our very physical and ceremonial faith.

 

One of the best things to see and examine is always the priest’s host.  You know what the priest’s host is, it’s the big one that gets used no matter what at each Mass, the one that gets raised over the celebrant’s head at the elevation.  (As an aside, at the elevation, that’s less the priest offering up the bread or the wine to God as it is the priest proving to the people that he’s actually doing what he’s supposed to be doing.  There are no tricks in Christianity, and we prove it by holding things over our head so you can see it.  Speaking of tricks, the Mass inadvertently helped spawn some tricky words.  When we say in English, This is my Body, in the Latin we say Hoc est corpus meum, which sounds a bit like… hocus pocus.)

 

Anyway, here’s what a priest’s host looks like.  Host can be a tricky word, because it doesn’t seem to relate to the thing itself at all.  Again, we have a Latin problem.  Host comes from the Latin hostia, which means victim, or more specifically, sacrificial victim.  Jesus, who became a sacrificial victim on our behalf, told us that when we take bread in remembrance of Him, He would make that bread to be His Body, and so this indeed is a hostia.  You’ll see that baked right in are the words panis vitae, Latin for Bread of Life.  The kids always catch on to what panis sounds like, which is Panera, Panera Bread, which essentially just means bread bread.  Good luck going to Panera from now on and not thinking about that.

 

Speaking of bread… bread is essentially how we get to today’s Gospel lesson from John.  John tells us that “When he had gone out, Jesus said, “Now is the Son of man glorified, and in him God is glorified; if God is glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself, and glorify him at once.”  That sounds like Jesus had gone out, but that’s not the case.  The setting is the Last Supper.  Jesus had washed the feet of the disciples, predicted His betrayal, and then dipped a piece of bread in a dish (which could have contained olive oil or water) and handed it to Judas, who then went out, went out to set up his betrayal of Jesus.  This does not sound like a very glorious situation, but Jesus immediately said “Now is the Son of man glorified…”

 

When we think of someone being glorified, we think of them doing something glorious and everybody clapping or something.  Rarely in the history of mankind has someone been glorified by letting someone else leave to betray them to death.  But somehow Jesus was glorified.

 

By definition, the word glory means “very great praise, honor, or distinction bestowed by common consent.”[1]  Common consent is important there: we, as a group, glorify someone based on who that person is or what they have done.

 

But that’s not what happened here.  We didn’t glorify Jesus, God did.  And God glorified Jesus not for sitting there doing nothing, which is what it looked like, but for continuing to consent to the will of God, for allowing His betrayal, for willingly becoming a hostia, a saving victim.

 

Jesus was glorified right then, bestowed with honor and praise by His Father, and a couple thousand years later we get to join in glorifying Him, adding our consent, no more enthusiastically than when we take Him in, when we receive Him in His Body and Blood.

 

That is, in our very physical faith, how we glorify God and how we ourselves are glorified.  May those who receive the Sacrament for the first time today continue always in the will of God, and may we, with them, abound in the glory of God.

 

 

[1] John Foley, SJ: http://liturgy.slu.edu/5EasterC051919/reflections_foley.html

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Easter 4

So I’m wondering how many of you have had an interaction with a friend or family member or significant other that goes like this: “Honey (Bro, Friend), what’s wrong?”  And they replied, “If you have to ask, then I am not going to tell you!”

If you have to ask…

That’s ugly, right?  You know you’re in trouble when If you have to ask comes out.

It reminds me of the gospel story we just heard: “if the people celebrating Hanukkah that year in Jerusalem had to ask Jesus if he would plainly fess up to being the Messiah, then Jesus was not going to answer.  They either already knew Jesus was the Christ or they did not and if they did not, it was because they were refusing to make the logical connections between Jesus’ work and his unity with God the Father.  So their query was one-part a trick question, one-part a prelude to exactly what does follow just beyond the fringe of this lection; namely, an attempt to kill Jesus for blasphemy.

“So Jesus’ reply to their question really did amount to his saying, “If you have to ask, then I am not going to tell you!”  They had no ear for a tune.  They had no ability to hear the Good Shepherd’s voice.  Jesus could make any claim for himself that he wanted but they were not going to believe him, listen to him, or most certainly follow him.  Their ears were not attuned to hear his message, their eyes were not sharp enough to see the Father who stood behind Jesus every miracle.”[1]

But they knew well enough to ask the question. That should count for something, right?  But Jesus didn’t think so, and so we have to wonder why.

I think the short answer is this: God had spoken to His people for generations, telling them, especially through the prophets, what kind of savior He was to send, telling them what the Christ would look like.  Think about how Isaiah described the Christ: “He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.  He was despised and rejected by mankind, a man of suffering, and familiar with pain.  Like one from whom people hide their faces he was despised, and we held him in low esteem.  Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering, yet we considered him punished by God, stricken by him, and afflicted.  But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed.”

Surely the religious leaders in Jesus’ time had heard that Scripture read aloud thousands of times.  Surely they had it memorized, set to music, inscribed on the walls, and had their children recite it back to them.

But somehow they missed it.  I don’t blame them.  Being in a long line of religious leaders who don’t always see what’s right in front of them, I miss stuff like this all the time, mainly because when God is trying to give me something over here – something wonderful, something edifying, something actually good, instead I’m looking for something over here – ooh, look, something shiny!  Many in Jesus’ time were looking over here, looking for a war against the Romans, looking for a leader sent from God who would break the yoke of Roman oppression.  But God had been over here the whole time, just where He said He would be, of course, but we missed it.

What’s wrong with this picture?  If you have to ask, then I’m not going to tell you.  Not really.  I’m not that arch.  I think we look for Jesus all the time, which is a good thing, of course, but sometimes we look for Him where we want Him to be.  We try to make Jesus be who we want Him to be: surely Jesus is a warrior or a pacifist or a capitalist or a socialist or whatever or whatever.  I like Jesus more when He agrees with everything I believe, don’t you?

But that’s the classic mistake.  That’s looking over here for what we want versus looking over here where God said He would be.  Maybe that’s the challenge of the day: when we look for Jesus and think we’ve found Him, does He say If you have to ask….


[1] Scott Hoezee, This Week

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Easter 2

“On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being shut where the disciples were…”  Where, oh where, were the disciples?

They were in the Cenacle, the Upper Room, of course.  The disciples were there a lot; it was a useful and convenient place to be.

The word cenacle, from the Latin cenaculum, just means dining room.  We call it the Upper Room because it’s on the second story of a rather large building on Mount Zion, right outside of the Old City section of Jerusalem, and, well, because both Mark and Luke referred to it as the Upper Room.

The Upper Room still exists, and as you might imagine, it’s a popular stop for pilgrims to the Holy Land.  Now, when I imagined the Upper Room, I imagined a dining room, maybe a big dining room, maybe the size of our Chapel.  I wish I could tell you how big it actually is, but even though I googled every way I could think of asking “How Big Is The Upper Room”, I never got any dimensions.  I did get lots of pictures, however, and it’s a BIG dining room.  It’s at least a third again bigger than our parish hall, and Luke recorded that there was once at least 120 people gathered in there, so it’s much bigger than most of us, including Da Vinci, ever imagined.

Today, it looks a bit like an Italian restaurant that was converted to a mosque, because that’s essentially what happened.  Roman crusaders re-did the place in the 12th century, and then when Saladin took Jerusalem, at some point his followers turned it into a mosque.  The place itself remains disputed territory.

Jesus chose this particular room, by the way.  He had made arrangements with the owner of the building to have a place for what became the Last Supper.  This is the room in which Jesus washed the feet of the disciples, in which He taught and prayed for hours, in which He instituted the Eucharist.  It was the last room He chose for Himself.

And so the disciples, it seems, grew attached to that particular room.  It was in that room that they locked themselves away after the Crucifixion; where they saw Jesus after the Resurrection, once without Thomas and once with; where Matthias was chosen as an Apostle; and it was in that room that the Holy Spirit descended upon them on the Day of Pentecost.

I like to think of this place as our Upper Room.  This is where the action is at for us, the place where we gather, where we feel safe, where the Spirit of the Lord descends upon us.  The actions of Jesus with His Apostles are the actions we re-member here, that we participate in here.  The Upper Room in Jerusalem, then, is not just a place, but a type of a place, and so the descendants of those Apostles have rooms of their own.

Surely they were quite attached to that room, but eventually they would have to leave.  But because of what happened in that Upper Room, they would leave its safety and familiarity to go out to change the world.  They would go out not faithless, but believing.  Every time we have to leave our Upper Room, I pray that we leave with that same faith, ready to change the world.

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Easter

Happy Easter, everybody!  This church is my favorite place in the world, and it’s always a delight to see all of you delight in it, to worship with you in the beauty of this place and in the holiness of beauty.  My thoughts this week have been with those who will not be worshiping in their favorite places this morning, especially the parishioners of Notre Dame in Paris, of Mount Pleasant Baptist, St. Mary Baptist, and Greater Union Baptist in Louisiana.  Church buildings are more than just stone and wood and glass; they contain our story written in stone and wood and glass.  Victor Hugo called this “the freedom of architecture,” the freedom to write our thoughts in stone, to build our story around us.  The story contained in our stone and wood and glass is that of how Jesus passed from life to death to life again, breaking the power of death, making us free to live.  Everything in here, and everyone in here, tells the story of freedom; the freedom to love, the freedom to hope, the freedom to live without fear.

But the story of Easter did not begin with freedom of any kind.  The one who came to free us Himself lived in a locked-down land, ruled over by way of fear and greed.  Having walked through Holy Week, we know the story of Jesus’ last days: the final prayers with His disciples, the teaching of love and humility; His arrest and trial, the scourging and crucifixion, His death and burial.

What came next is the story we heard today from St. Luke.  His disciples were enslaved by fear, but they hadn’t scattered – they huddled together in that same Upper Room where they had their last supper with Jesus.  The men were too scared to leave the room (except Thomas, who it appears did whatever he wanted to); but the rest of them were scared of being arrested and tried, scourged and crucified, and so it fell to Mary Magdalene and Joanna and Mary the mother of James and the other women to go to Jesus’ tomb to care for His body.  This tradition continues: both the tradition of women taking care of the dead and the tradition of women doing what needs to be done when the men are too scared.

But when the women arrived at the tomb, they did not find it as they expected.  Up until their arrival, their main problem was how they were going to get into the tomb to begin with.  You see, the tomb was sealed with a large stone.  These stones were either disk-shaped or cork shaped, and either way, they averaged 3 to 6 feet in diameter and weighed anywhere from 1000 to 6000 pounds.  Moving it was going to be a legitimate problem, except for one thing: Mary Magdalene and Joanna and Mary the mother of James and the other women had not realized that that morning, while they were preparing their spices and making their way to the tomb, that the world had changed.

The world had changed, irreversibly and irreparably.  Up until that morning, the dead stayed dead.  That fact was both devastating and somehow comforting.  This we know: the dead are dead, and so we gather our spices and say our prayers and we make our way in the world.

But the world changed that morning, and Mary and Mary and Joanna and the other women were the first people in history to know it.  But being the first, they had to deal with it.  They had to deal with the big bright frightening angels, with the news that the Man they saw beaten and killed was somehow risen from the dead.  They had to deal with the fact that the impossible was now possible, and even more, that now that the impossible has happened, the impossible was the new natural order of things.   They were the first to have to deal with freedom; the freedom to love, the freedom to hope, the freedom to live without fear.

How they dealt with it is written all around us in stone and wood and glass.  Their story is our story, because we all must deal with the knowledge that Jesus Christ is risen from the dead, a fact that is both comforting and somehow devastating, because it means that with God, the impossible is the natural order of things.  It means that, in Jesus, nothing can stop us from living lives filled with hope, filled with love, filled with unspeakable joy.

Maybe this church is my favorite place because in being here with all of you, our stories are now written in this place, written alongside Mary’s and Mary’s and Joanna’s and all who have witnessed the freedom that can only be found in the risen life of Christ Jesus our Lord.

Pray for those who, for whatever reason, are not in their favorite places this morning, and I pray that you have a blessed and happy Easter.

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Good Friday

Behold the wood of the Cross.  That’s what Good Friday is about.  Even if you wanted to look at other things, we’ve conveniently taken most of those things away or covered them in black cloth.  What we get today is the Cross, because in the real-time economy of the Triduum, the three services that span from Maundy Thursday to the Easter Vigil, the Cross is what happened today.  But the Crucifixion was just the final stop.

Here’s the short narrative of the events of Good Friday (courtesy of Fr. Sammy Wood):

  • Already weak from a sleepless night in the garden, a night under so much pressure that his sweat ran red with blood, Jesus is arrested, bound, dragged across the Kidron Valley.
  • Hustled from Annas to Caiaphas, the high priest, and finally to the Praetorium where Pilate waits.
  • Soldiers strike Jesus with their fists.
  • Pilate has him scourged — bound to a post, Jesus is lashed with a cat-o-nine-tails, a whip of cords, long strands weighted with lead or bone expertly designed to flay, lacerate, to tear open the skin. Scourging was so brutal, so degrading, that Roman citizens were exempt from it; it was only fit for non-Romans. And slaves.
  • A robe thrown over bleeding skin, just to be ripped off again.
  • Thorns plaited into a crude crown, pressed down into skin.
  • Nails driven deep through flesh into wood, raised on a cross, dropped in a hole.
  • Finally pierced with a spear in his lifeless side.

    Thankfully, we know the story does not end there, but it does end there for today.  We are meant to sit, if only for a little while, with the wood of the cross, and without Him who sacrificed Himself on the altar of that cross.

    We are meant to take all that in, to take in that it was us, humankind, that prepared a cross for the very God who gave us life.  We know the rest of the story, but that’s a story for another day.  The cross is what happened today.

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Maundy Thursday

There’s a lot going on tonight, right?  Any one of the things we’re doing tonight, the washing of feet, the celebration of the institution of the Eucharist, the procession of the Blessed Sacrament to the Altar of Repose, the stripping of the altars, the Vigil – any one of them would be enough, and one of them would and could be a full liturgy in and of itself.

There’s a lot going on tonight because there was a lot going on on the night we’re memorializing.  That first Maundy Thursday evening was a long evening, and even if Jesus wasn’t in a rush for the night to end, He had to rush to pack in all that needed to be done and said.

And all that was done and said had a particular theme: humility.  Humility in the presence of God, humble service to each other, humility growing in relation to power growing.

The humility of washing feet is not difficult to explain.  In a time and place that treated the whole world as a sewer, most things were a little – or maybe a lot – grosser than they are now, at least for us.  Washing feet meant getting involved with dung and bugs and dirt and spit and rancid food and all that came with those things, and only the people in the worst circumstances, slaves, indentured servants, the totally disenfranchised, washed feet.  For Jesus to do it was shocking, but surely that was the point.  Humble yourselves as I have humbled myself.

The humility of the Eucharist is the humility of self-sacrifice, of the willingness to do the will of God rather than follow your own will.  As Paul wrote, Jesus, “being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men, and being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.”  Jesus knew the humiliating death that awaited Him, but knowing that having had Him with us once on earth, going on without Him would be excruciating for us.  And so He gave us the means of having Him with us, even in us, in the Bread and Wine of the Eucharist, in His Body and Blood.

The humility of the Vigil, the Watch, can be found in the waiting, in the active waiting and listening for the voice of the Lord.  In the first Watch, Jesus’ humility is never more evident.  Knowing what’s coming, Jesus prays “Father, if thou be willing, remove this cup from me: nevertheless not my will, but thine, be done.”  When we sit quietly with the Lord in prayer, when we echo Jesus’ words, Not my will, but yours, be done,” our lives can be transformed, made free to do and receive greater things than we can ask or imagine.  Waiting with Jesus, saying His words, allows us to enter into the very humility of the God we serve.

There’s a lot going on tonight, a lot to take in and live through.  May we all reach the morning a little closer to our Lord, whose humble act of sacrifice has given us nothing less than a life worth living.

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Palm Sunday

I’m not really into it, but I have friends who love generational studies.  “Millennials think this way,” they’ll say, “as opposed to Baby Boomers who think this way.”  I don’t buy it, really – the more people I meet, the more I’m convinced that people have always been the same, and the differences are usually more about the world they’re reacting to than the generations themselves.  One thing I’ve noticed is that as a member of Generation X, I did not grow up in what could be called ‘protest culture’ like say, a Baby Boomer did.  My first instinct when presented with a large problem is not to gather with lots of other people and protest; but then again, this may speak to the context of my upbringing more than anything else.  Unlike many, still, in this country, I grew up and remain remarkably free.  That’s not always the situation here, it’s certainly not the situation at all in most parts of the world, and it was violently not the situation in first century Israel.

Which brings us to Palm Sunday.  Palm Sunday is nice, right?  You get some free palms, a gift from some far-off sunny place.  Even the reading of the Passion gives us the novelty of hearing something read in parts.  “Hosanna!  Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”  Kinda fun.

But the first Palm Sunday was a protest of sorts, and an illegal protest at that.

“Israel was not a free country.  They were a country that was occupied by a foreign empire and bitter adversary.  People did not have the right to peaceably assemble, much less assemble to declare a teacher to be a king over and above the mighty empire.  There is not supposed to be any ruler of Israel except Rome’s emperor.  And yet, (there they were), gathering, chanting, cheering.

“While we may think little of it today because we’re so familiar with the story, giving a royal welcome to a religious teacher and shouting, “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!” was a highly subversive act at the time.  Rome ruled with an iron fist, and they took subversive action seriously.  Those gathered on this first Palm Sunday were risking their lives, and they knew it.

“But they still clamored forward to see, to shout, to protest the oppression and celebrate the one they thought might free them.  And today, we stand with them.  Today, we declare that we, too, have only one ruler, and that there is no person, (no party, no thing at all) that is above Christ.  Only Jesus gets the royal welcome.”[1]

Until Friday, at least.  On Friday we will shout something else.  Hosanna in the highest will turn to Crucify him, even if we don’t want it to.  Outside of just following what happened, Holy Week is a lesson in human nature, in how quickly we can go from risking our lives declaring someone as our new king to practically begging the old king to rid us of him.  It’s a reminder of that part of us we do everything to suppress, thank God, the part of us that say’s that we’re comfortable being oppressed, and even worse, we’re comfortable with the oppression of others.  We’ll stick with sin and death – it’s just easier.

Thankfully, Holy Week is also a lesson in godly nature, a reminder of just how far God is willing to go redeem us, to set us free from all that oppresses us, even if what oppresses us is us.  It’s a reminder that despite the lowest parts of our nature, God loves us, He yearns for us, He bleeds for us.  It’s reminder that sin and death have been conquered on the Cross.

And so today we wave our palms and lay down our coats at His feet.  It’s our protest against everything in us and in the world that separates us from God and each other, and we declare that we, too, have only one ruler, and that there is no person, (no party, no thing at all) that is above Christ Jesus our Lord.

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