Easter 3

Obeying the urge during this Coronatide felt by many, Doan and I have been purging the rectory of things we never use and things that would serve others better.  We haven’t had a DVD player in years, and so why do we still have all my old DVDs?  In stacking them up to give away, I saw my old copy of City Slickers.  Billy Crystal is an unhappy Manhattan yuppie on the verge of turning 40, and he’s roped into joining his two friends on a cattle drive in the southwest led by Curly, Jack Palance, in all his rough and gruff glory.  

Billy Crystal didn’t want any of this to begin with, but after meeting Curly he’s legitimately frightened.  In one of the best scenes, Crystal is trying to talk his friends out of the trip.  His friend Ed says, 

“This guy, Curly, is a true cowboy. One of the last real men. He’s untamed, a mustang. It’ll do us good to be in his world for a while.”   

(All the while Curly is approaching them from behind Mitch) 

Crystal says “Do us good?  Didn’t you guys see?  The man was hanging the hired help!  And, did you notice his eyes?  He has crazy eyes.  He’s a lunatic!  We are going into the wilderness being led by a lunatic!” 

At that point Crystal notices everyone’s terrified faces looking behind him, and Crystal says, “He’s behind me, isn’t he?” 

“As they were saying this, Jesus himself stood among them.”  He’s right behind me, isn’t he?”  Luke records that the Apostles were “were startled and frightened,” and why wouldn’t they be?  Would you not be afraid of the man you saw brutally murdered on Friday standing before you on Sunday night? 

There was another reason to be afraid.  They had, as a group, performed about as badly as they could have in the preceding three days.  One of them, dead already, had betrayed Jesus into the hands of His killers.  They all had abandoned Him, took off to save their own skins.  John at least snuck up with the women to watch his friend die.  Peter, remember, three times denied even knowing Jesus, finally cursing and swearing up and down that he had nothing to do with Him.  Jesus died the worst death imaginable, all but alone, and the best His followers could do afterward was huddle for fear in an upstairs room. 

Then the news of the unimaginable.  Jesus had talked about rising on the third day, but what did that mean?  How to make sense of what the Magdalene was saying?  And then Cleopas and his friend arrived, telling their story of talking to Jesus on the road to Emmaus, finally recognizing Him in the breaking of the bread.  

It was this story that was being told, by the way, when Luke referenced “As they were saying this.”  So as they were coming to grips with the unimaginable joy that would be the Resurrection, some of them, at least, were coming to grips with facing a resurrected Christ despite their unimaginable shame. 

He’s right behind me, isn’t He?  Yes He was.  “”Why are you troubled, and why do questionings rise in your hearts?  See my hands and my feet, that it is I myself; handle me, and see; for a spirit has not flesh and bones as you see that I have.”  Jesus surely knew they were troubled, afraid, and confused.  So He literally ate with them, a sign of peace if there ever was one.  He opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, to understand the things of God that we have so much trouble understanding, and then He told them “that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be preached in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.  You are witnesses of these things.” 

Repentance and forgiveness of sins.  If anyone needed to be forgiven for directly, personally sinning against Jesus, it was the majority of the group in that upper room, and not only did Jesus forgive them, He sent them to proclaim that forgiveness is not only possible, but on constant offer.  We too are to be witnesses of these things, witnesses to the unimaginable joy that is the risen Lord; witnesses to that Lord who is not just behind us, but as St. Patrick wrote,  

Christ be with me, Christ within me,
Christ behind me, Christ before me,
Christ beside me, Christ to win me,
Christ to comfort and restore me.

 

Whatever you’ve done, whatever your shame, even if you’ve denied Jesus three times and cursed Him up and down, He is behind you, lifting you up, proclaiming you forgiven, proclaiming you His.   

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Easter 2

Ah, the Second Sunday of Easter, when we always hear the story of St. Thomas the Apostle, Doubting Thomas, as I wish people would stop calling him.  Thomas is one of my favorite Apostles (when you’re a priest, this kind of thing happens, like when you become an adult and end up with a favorite burner on your stove).   

As Lesser Feasts and Fasts tells us, “The Gospel according to John records several incidents in which Thomas appears, and from them we are able to gain some impression of the sort of man he was.  When Jesus insisted on going to Judea to visit his friends at Bethany (and where the authorities openly want to kill Him), Thomas boldly declared, “Let us also go, that we may die with him”.  At the Last Supper, he interrupted our Lord’s discourse with the question, “Lord, we do not know where you are going; how can we know the way?”  And after Christ’s resurrection, Thomas would not accept the account of the other apostles and the women, until Jesus appeared before him, showing him his wounds.  This drew from him the first explicit acknowledgment of Christ’s divinity, “My Lord and my God!” 

“Thomas appears to have been a thoughtful if rather literal-minded man, inclined to skepticism; but he was a staunch friend when his loyalty was once given.  The expression “Doubting Thomas,” which has become established in English usage, is not entirely fair to Thomas.  He did not refuse belief: he wanted to believe, but did not dare, without further evidence.  Because of his goodwill, Jesus gave him a sign, though Jesus had refused a sign to the Pharisees.  His Lord’s rebuke was well deserved: “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe” (But) The sign did not create faith; it merely released the faith that was in Thomas already.”[1] 

That faith took Thomas around the world.  He definitely evangelized the Parthians, a kingdom in what is now Iran, and he ended up on the southern, western coast of India, where he founded seven churches.  Christians in that area, on the Kerala coast, still refer to themselves as the Mar Thoma Church, the Church of Thomas.  A less certain tradition has it that Thomas made his way to China and Indonesia, though both places have ancient traditions of Thomas evangelizing there.  Less certain still, but also way cooler, is the insistence of the Guarani tribe in Paraguay that Thomas was also with them 2000 years ago.  In 1639, a Jesuit missionary wrote that they “claim that a very holy man (Thomas the Apostle himself), whom they call “Paí Thome”, lived amongst them and preached to them the Holy Truth, wandering and carrying a wooden cross on his back.”  A couple-hundred years later, the tribesman led a sociologist to a pile of stones that Thomas would sit on and tell them about the Lord.[2] 

Thomas did all this because he had seen the risen Lord.  Quite simply, Thomas was a witness to the Resurrection; although he didn’t believe his friends when they told him about it – and who would, considering the performance of most of them over the previous few days – Thomas laid eyes on Jesus, he saw His body and His wounds and heard His voice, and his life was changed forever.  

Lots of people come to church on Easter.  They come and they see the beauty of the church and the splendor of the flowers, they’re transported by the majesty of the music and they hear the account of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and they, like Thomas, are, let’s say, skeptical.  Maybe it’s because they’re hearing it from me.  Maybe they too will not believe until they see in his hands the print of the nails, and place their fingers in the mark of the nails, and place their hands in his side.   

And then there’s you all, who come to church on the Second Sunday of Easter.  You are those who have not seen, at least not as much as Thomas did, and yet believe; your lives have changed, changed because Jesus, having risen from the dead, changed life itself.  The Lord may not will that you make your way around the world like Thomas, but He is about to send you back out into the world with that same faith, that same message, that same good news of God in Christ Jesus.  Where will you go, and who will you tell?  Who will meet you and believe?


[1] Lesser Feasts and Fasts 

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thomas_the_Apostle 

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Easter

I heard a story this week that was both an Easter story and a Bishop Van Duzer story, which makes it just my kind of story.  A priest friend of mine related it to me after he saw people on Facebook starting to post the tradition Greek Orthodox Easter greeting, Christos Anesti, “Christ is risen!”  The traditional response is Alithos Anesti, “Truly, He is risen,” or as we would say, “The Lord is risen indeed!” 

So anyway, one Easter long ago when Bishop Van Duzer was still just the Very Rev. Albert W. Van Duzer, Rector of Grace Church, Merchantville, he was greeting people at the door after the service.  Up came a family visiting for the first time, and the husband shakes Fr. Van Duzer’s hand and says, “Christos Anesti.”  To which Fr. Van Duzer replied, “Nice to meet you, Christos, I’m Albert Van Duzer.”

I have a feeling that story was only attributed to Bishop Van Duzer; maybe Gayle can confirm or deny.  Either way, Christ is most certainly risen indeed.

The story of the Resurrection is recounted in all four Gospels, of course, and while each of the evangelists, the writers, include different details and flourishes, Mark’s narrative still manages to stand out.  Mark’s resurrection narrative, in fact his entire Gospel, ends with the words “And they went out and fled from the tomb; for trembling and astonishment had come upon them; and they said nothing to any one, for they were afraid.”

On Good Friday, the New York Times published an Opinion piece by Esau McCaulley entitled The Unsettling Power of Easter.  Just as an aside, Esau McCaulley is a very cool name.  Mr. McCaulley writes of his experience of Easter growing up in the Southern black church tradition, with its music and preaching, the clothes and the general raucousness.   

Mr. McCaulley then speaks of his experience with what he called the two Easters: “One is linked closely to the celebration of spring and the possibility of new beginnings.  It is the show that can be church on Easter.  The other deals with the disturbing prospect that God is present with us.”[1]

The disturbing prospect that God is present with us.  We don’t often think about the presence of God in that way, but the Resurrection can bring us there.  St. Mark tells us that the Magdalene, along with Mary the mother of James, and Salome went off to the graveyard where Jesus was buried very early in the morning, before the break of dawn.  This is quite a scene: three women heading to a cemetery under the cover of darkness, not knowing what they will find or how any of their plan might work.  Guards had been posted – would the guards let them in?  The tomb had a huge rock rolled against it, round and rollable but having the approximate weight of a Lincoln Town Car. And yet off they go to a graveyard in the night because their Teacher, their Master, their Lord, and their friend, was dead.  None of this could be expected to end well. 

And yet, this is not the scary part.  As Mr. McCaulley points out in his article, death, with its terrible power, is something we’ve come to know, to expect, to deal with.  “Easter is (the) frightening prospect.  For the women, (for the Magdalene and Mary and Salome), the only thing more terrifying than a world with Jesus dead was one in which he was alive.”[2]

The disturbing prospect of God being present with us.  “And entering the tomb, they saw a young man sitting on the right side, dressed in a white robe; and they were amazed.  And he said to them, “Do not be amazed; you seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified.  He has risen, he is not here.”

What to do now?  The women “fled from the tomb; for trembling and astonishment had come upon them; and they said nothing to any one, for they were afraid.”  This is the logical and understandable reaction to being told by an angel that the Man you saw die on a cross was somehow now alive but had gone home and was waiting for you there.  The Mary’s and Salome, they told someone about it eventually, because Peter and John rushed to the tomb in disbelief, not yet conceiving the inconceivable, until they too saw the tomb empty, the burial clothes neatly folded and left behind.

What to do now?  Just like the Magdalene and Mary and Salome and Peter and John, we too live in a broken world, a world broken by hate and distrust, surrounded by death, by grief and despair.  And just like them we too have met Jesus, crucified, dead, and buried and yet now alive, present with us in Word and Sacrament and in His Holy Spirit.  So it was with them, it is now with us: what we do now is to bring the disturbing prospect of God being present with us into the world, so that the world may be disturbed by hope, stirred by grace, trembling with astonishment at the power of the Resurrection.  Alleluia, Christ is risen!  The Lord is risen indeed, Alleluia!


[1] https://www.nytimes.com/2021/04/02/opinion/easter-celebration.html?campaign_id=9&emc=edit_nn_20210402&instance_id=28767&nl=the-

morning&regi_id=48995189&segment_id=54740&te=1&user_id=08d4f178efaab23cdaa1b1500055774c

[2] Ibid

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Good Friday

Good Friday, as we know, is shrouded in death.  We know it’s coming; we’ve waited for it, literally, we’ve sat Vigil with Jesus, waiting, watching, even, for His death. 

I wasn’t sure if, in a year that’s been defined by death (or the avoidance of it), if talking about death on Good Friday would be easier or harder than any other year.  But it occurred to me that what changed this year was the rhythm of death, how it came in waves and in ways that were difficult to handle, to make sense of.

Jesus’ disciples, on that first Good Friday, could not make sense of His death.  How could the Messiah, the One who is coming into the world, the One who would free Israel from every oppression, how could He die?  Why on earth would He allow Himself to be rejected and betrayed, to be led to the slaughter, to be scourged and torn, to be mocked and reviled, to be stripped and nailed to a cross?  What could be accomplished by a death like His?

The underlying truth is that every death is a disaster.  Death is a total, utter negation of everything that leads up to it.  Many nonbelievers, in their more honest moments, admit the unmentionable: death seems to mock our every hope and achievement.

“And after seeing so many loved ones die, whether old and frail, middle-aged and struck down by infirmity, young and suddenly disappeared, I realize that nothing less than a God who would face our death could suffice.

“Could a God truly love and heal us, all so burdened with sin and its weight of death, if that God, too, had not been filled somehow with sorrow, even to the point of death?”[1]

Good Friday, as we know, is shrouded in death.  We know it’s coming; we’ve waited for it, and it has come.  Having known every joy and every sorrow, all the changes and chances that afflict the human experience, Christ Himself, the Son of the Living God, has gone before us in death so that He can go before us in life, true life in this age and in the age to come.    


[1] https://liturgy.slu.edu/PassionB032821/theword_kavanaugh.html

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Maundy Thursday

Some of my clearest memories of growing up an acolyte at Trinity in Red Bank come from Maundy Thursdays, or specifically, stripping the altars on Maundy Thursdays.  My father was in charge of getting everything possible out of the sanctuary, and the idea, of course, was to do it reverently but quickly.  The operation got easier as I got taller – I know taller is relative here – but it was still emotionally stirring to see the sanctuary go from fully appointed to stripped bare, not stripped of its beauty, just its adornment.

The things we do on Maundy Thursday follow, in something close to real time, the events of the last night Jesus was alive, at least in His old body.  Jesus thought it important to teach His disciples as much as He could that night, and so He taught them how they should act, how they should be, for the rest of their lives.  To give them an example, He stripped off His fine tunic, got down on the floor, and washed their dingy, disgusting feet.  Jesus didn’t find a throne and sit for a kingly portrait; He found a basin and became the portrait of perfect servitude.  If I am being completely honest, the foot washing portion of this service is probably the liturgical act I dread the most each year, but I also can’t say I’m not disappointed that we can’t do it this year, in the age of Covid. If there was ever an action that reminded a priest of who he is, and a congregation of who Jesus is, it’s the washing of feet.

After Jesus had gotten everyone cleaned up, they sat down for dinner.  Jesus knew it was His last supper, so He thought it would be a good time to completely change the nature of worship, the way we look to God and the things we bring to Him, He even changed the nature of bread and wine.  We gave His action a fancy name, the Institution of the Holy Eucharist, and that’s why today, right in the middle of Holy Week, we have a feast, the feast of the Institution of the Holy Eucharist.  We are celebrating the anniversary of the first time bread and wine became the Body and Blood of our Lord.  In just a few minutes, we will do what He did and say what He said.

Jesus then went off to the Garden of Gethsemane to wait and to pray.  He asked His Father if He could be spared that cup of wrath He was given to drink, but the answer was no.  Jesus asked His disciples to watch with Him, to pray, to stay awake, lest they fall into temptation.  In just a few minutes, the Body of our Lord will be processed to our little Garden, so lovingly prepared, and we will watch with our Lord. 

When the watch was over and Judas had done his work, Jesus was stripped of His garments and taken from His disciples.  We will strip the finery off the representation of Christ’s Body, the altars of this church, just as He was stripped of His finery, and we will carefully wash them with wine and water just as Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea so lovingly prepared Christ’s Body for His burial. 

We do these things because they are so important that we shouldn’t speak about them above a whisper.  These things are better off being done, so that word’s don’t take the majesty of these things and turn them into mere eloquence.  So let us do those things the Lord has done for us, and those things the Lord has commanded us to do.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Palm Sunday

So, a couple weeks ago, I posted our Holy Week and Easter schedule online, and because of the magic of internet algorithms, I was immediately bombarded with ads for all things Easter.  Easter egg hunts; a service that will hide Easter eggs on your lawn on Easter morning for the delight of the children; a company called Manhattan Fruitier that will send gourmet Easter baskets anywhere in the world; but the first and most blaring ad was from BJ’s, who will provide fully prepared Easter meals so you can, in the biggest and boldest letters possible, “MAKE EASTER EASY.”[1]

Make Easter easy.  As the rector of a busy parish that takes these feasts seriously, I’d like to make Easter easy.  And that’s exactly what most people tend to do, no?  We get our palms one week and the next week Jesus is risen!  We’re resurrection people, right?

Kinda.  Easter, whether we like it or not, is not easy.  There’s a week between Palm Sunday and Easter; it wasn’t a easy week for Jesus, and if we take part in the week’s events, it won’t be a particularly easy week for us.

Holy Week kicks off, as you can clearly see, with Palm Sunday.  Palm Sunday is usually the third largest Sunday of the year for our parish, in terms of attendance, and that’s good – it means you’re all not only marking the day, but preparing for the week ahead. 

Palm Sunday starts off pretty well; it’s fun, really.  There’s a mysterious donkey that the disciples are supposed to find, and having found it, the donkey is prepared, almost vested, for its duty in carrying Jesus into Jerusalem.  Then there’s the image of a grown man riding an adorned donkey into a city swelled with visitors, the faithful spreading their garments and branches of palm on the road, lest even the donkey be forced to trek through the dust and grime. I wish we could sing this year, so we could sing, we could shout it out with them, “Hosanna to the Son of David!  Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!  Hosanna in the highest!”

But the Palm Sunday liturgy, much like that first holy week so long ago, quickly takes a turn.  The Passion of Our Lord is read, and so we quickly turn our lively “Hosannas” to the more gruesome “Crucify him!”

We do this because, so long ago, they did it; they did it because that’s what humans have a tendency to do, and so, in so many ways, we took part then as much as we take part now. 

In 1633, Rembrandt painted his Raising of the Cross, which is striking in many ways.  First is the unusual depiction of the Cross being raised: the Cross is tilted and in motion, there’s a disoriented look on Jesus’ face.  But apart from Jesus, the most visible thing in the whole painting is Rembrandt himself: Rembrandt painted himself as being a participant in the crucifixion.  In doing so, he joins with us today as we shout, “Crucify him!”

To get to Easter, we must come to the Cross.  Because on that Cross hung the world’s salvation.  On that Cross, Jesus took on all the shame, all the guilt, all the humiliation that the world can throw at a fellow human being, and in willfully taking on the guilt of the sin of humankind, He took our place on that Cross.  All while we shout, “Crucify him!”

No, Easter isn’t easy.  If we drum up the courage to walk with Jesus to the Cross, we will inevitably face not only what we did to Him, but also come face to face with ourselves and what we are capable of.  And if we can do that, we can know and feel all that Jesus has saved us from when He was raised on that Cross.

Palm Sunday reminds us that Easter isn’t easy, but it is the joy of mankind.  So Hosanna to the Son of David!  Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!  Hosanna in the highest!


[1] The “Make Easter Easy” idea came from Fleming Rutledge’s Palm Sunday sermon published in The Undoing of Death.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Lent 5

So my friend Mike was in the Rumson Pharmacy in the late 90s.  It was Mothers’ Day, so he was there to buy a card for his mom, and that’s when he ran into Bruce Springsteen in the card aisle.  Patti Scialfa was off collecting items in the store and Bruce was trying to figure out how to by Patti a Mothers’ Day card without her seeing him.  Bruce and Mike hatched a plan to have Mike buy the card and slip it to Bruce, but when they got to the counter, Patti was just putting down her stuff.  The girl at the counter wasn’t paying much attention, just scanning and bagging Patti’s items, and when Patti requested that the bill be put on their house account, the girl said, “Okay, name?”  There was a beat, and Patti said, “Springsteen.”  Upon looking up and seeing Patti and Bruce, the counter girl turned red and just ran off.  It’s not always convenient to be famous.

By the point in John’s gospel when the Greeks asked to see Jesus, as my friend Fr. Bret Hays has pointed out, “Jesus might have preferred to keep a low profile.  He was certainly known to seek refuge and renewal in solitude, but Jesus was no stranger to the public eye.  His first miracle was changing water into wine at a large wedding.  He had preached to large crowds, and fed them. Just before this story, he performed the last and greatest miracle of his public ministry: he raised Lazarus from death quite publicly, in front of many witnesses.  You don’t get to stay anonymous after accomplishing that.

“John doesn’t tell us why these Greeks wanted to meet Jesus.  They may have been curiosity-seekers looking for amusement or controversy in the bustle of a festival.  They may have been people of great faith who wanted to follow the charismatic rabbi they’d heard so much about. Their intentions could even have been hostile.  All we know is that they wanted to see Jesus.

Well, that’s almost all we know.  John drops one clue about the Greeks.  He names the disciple whom the Greeks sought out — an unusual detail.  Among the twelve disciples who made up Jesus’s inner circle, Philip and Andrew were the only two who had Greek names.  The other disciples’ names, of course, were Hebrew.  The simple explanation is that the Greeks wanted to talk to someone who was more likely to understand their language.  The symbolic explanation is that the Greeks wanted to stay in their comfort zone, and symbolism weighs especially heavily in John’s Gospel.

“They want to see Jesus, but what does his name mean to them?  Which Jesus do they want to see?  The compassionate healer, the feeder of multitudes, the exorcist, the rebel, the mystic, the teacher, the preacher, the king?  Whatever image they had was not necessarily wrong, but it was certainly incomplete, for at that time he was not yet the sacrifice, nor the risen one.  Jesus knew this only too well, because he knew himself, he knew God, and he knew God’s plan.  Jesus had revealed facets of himself, but he knew that the fullness of his identity could only be revealed when his hour had come.  And that hour was only just arriving.  The fullness of Jesus’s identity could only be revealed on the cross.”[1]

“I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself.”  He said this to show by what death he was to die.  It’s tough to know what the Greeks were hoping for, who they thought they would see, but if we give them the benefit of the doubt, then they were hoping to see whatever it was that Jesus wanted them to see – that Jesus was the point, not their expectations. 

What Jesus gave them was more than anyone could have expected: a look into His identity, His purpose, and even the voice of God.  They got to hear the purposes of God straight from the Son of God, that God honors those who seek only to honor God, those who are willing to give even their lives for the glory of being called a child of God. 

We are quickly approaching Holy Week and Easter, perhaps the time of the year during which, if we pay attention, we can best see Jesus and hear the voice of God.  It’s all there, it’s all possible, if we say in our hearts, “We wish to see Jesus.”


[1] Fr. Bret Hays, from his sermon on Lent 5, 2018.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Laetare Sunday

It’s Laetare Sunday, Rose Sunday, a Lenten Sunday set aside especially for rejoicing.  Much like Gaudete Sunday, the Third Sunday of Advent, the Fourth Sunday in Lent has a name (most of them did back when the Mass began with an introit), and both Laetare and Gaudete can be translated as “to rejoice.”  “Rejoice, O Jerusalem, and come together, all ye that love her…” 

For us right now, in the midst of Lent, and in the midst of a Lenten season folded into a pandemic, I’m happy to hear the echoes of the Exsultet, the traditional proclamation of Easter that’s sung at the Great Vigil of Easter.  The Exsultet begins “Rejoice now, heavenly hosts and choirs of angels…” 

I’ve always found it a little funny how it seems like we’re being commanded to rejoice: Rejoice, now!  Rejoice, O Jerusalem, and come together!  I guess I forget that for humankind, even when not in the midst of so many and great dangers, it can be tough to remember to rejoice, to remember joy.  

I am rejoicing today, though, and appropriately enough, the second line of the introit echoes why: I was glad when they said unto me: We will go into the house of the Lord.  After a year in which our buildings were closed more than they were open, it is especially joyful to go into the house of the Lord, to go in together, companions on the way to the Cross and then on to the open and empty tomb.  

Companionship is another theme of the day, as our Gospel lesson from John telling us about Jesus feeding the multitude with just five barley loaves and two fish.  “Etymologically, the word “companion” derives from the Latin cum panis, which means “with bread.”  A companion is one with whom you share bread.”[1] 

Jesus performed plenty of bread-based miracles, of course, on top of talking about bread and yeast, both in parables and in plain language.  That’s because without bread (or noodles, depending on where you’re from), you’re essentially out of luck.  Grains, while keeping me plump, keep most people alive, and so they’re a potent symbol of life.   

Perhaps that why Jesus called Himself the Bread of Life, the Panis Vitae, the true bread which giveth life to the world.  We prayed in our Collect of the Day that the Lord may “Evermore give us this bread, that he may live in us, and we in him.”  That we, having received the Bread of the Altar, may become (with apologies to the Jesuits) true companions of Jesus, a bread-based miracle if I ever saw one.  

So on this Laetare Sunday, I am truly rejoicing.  Rejoicing in being made a companion of Christ; rejoicing that in sharing the Body of Christ, the Bread of Life, we have all been made companions of each other and companions of every follower of Jesus, the living and the dead; and rejoicing that it can once again be said, We will go into the house of the Lord.   

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Lent 3

The comedian Steven Wright is a bit of an acquired taste, but I love his strange take on things.  One of my favorite jokes of his is “I went to a place to eat.  It said ‘breakfast at any time.’  So I ordered French Toast during the Renaissance.”  What made me think of Steven Wright this week was his joke that went “Last night somebody broke into my apartment and replaced everything with exact duplicates… When I pointed it out to my roommate, he said, “Do I know you?”

In today’s Gospel, Jesus comes home, so to speak, to find that things just aren’t right; the place isn’t how He left it.  All the pieces were there, but slightly moved, the flow of the place was somehow different.  And, not for nothing, the occupants of the place didn’t recognize Him in His own home.

The Temple was quite a thing, much larger than most of us imagine.  It was expanded and beautified by Herod, of all people, and despite him being a prodigious builder, the Temple was said to be his finest work.  “It sat on what we now call the Temple Mount, an area of some thirty-five acres.  Only priests could enter the temple itself, which took up a small part of the mount and was surrounded by three courts: Israelite men could enter the court closest to the temple. Israelite men and women could occupy the next court.  But the Court of the Gentiles, which was the court farthest from the temple, was the closest any non-Jew could get to the sanctuary.

As John tells us, Jesus came to the Temple as the Passover was at hand, and so this was a remarkably busy time.  “From around the world, first-century Jews came to the temple at Passover to sacrifice to the Lord.  It was impractical to bring sacrificial animals long distances; so, they were available in Jerusalem — for a price.  Most Jews also paid the temple tax at Passover, and money-changers were there to convert Roman coinage into appropriate currency: pagan mottoes on Roman money made it unacceptable for (the Lord’s) house.  Though not inherently evil, these practices became occasions for sin.  Pilgrims paid exorbitant rates to change money, and sellers exploited those in poverty, overcharging for the poor man’s offering of pigeons and doves.  To make things worse, these merchants set up shop in the Court of the Gentiles, making it useless as a place of prayer due to the hustle and bustle the buying and selling created.”[1]

This was the problem: all the correct people were there, the furniture all looked the same, but the whole operation had been moved around.  The backyard furniture was in the kitchen, and jackals had taken over the living room.

Jesus was less than pleased.  But we should not mistake His actions as an instance of the Son of God throwing a temper tantrum or losing His cool – every indication in the text makes it sound like He knew what He was going to do before entering the courtyard.  And, Jesus might have done this twice.  St. John puts the Cleansing of the Temple at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, right after the Wedding at Cana, while the other three Gospels puts the incident near the end.  Some have a tendency to think that someone, either John or Matthew, Mark, and Luke, got the timeline wrong, but any number of historians and commentators, both ancient and modern, think that, having seen that the first cleansing didn’t take, Jesus just went and did it again.  Like the little girl in the El Paso commercial whose family is arguing over soft or hard taco shells, “Why not both?”

So again, Jesus was not pleased.  A place, the place of prayer was now a place sanctioned for ripping people off, and it looked more like a flea market or a carnival than a temple courtyard.  Imagine if I put a carnival ticket booth in the back there (go to St. John the Divine if you don’t want to imagine), and imagine that I made it so you could only pay your pledge with Christ Church Bucks, but the exchange rate was $1.75 for each Christ Church Buck.  If Jesus didn’t come Himself to whip me out of here, I’m confidant all of you would.

Jesus came into His own house, and they did not recognize Him.  They didn’t recognize Him because they had long ago stopped looking for Him, waiting for Him, and instead turned their attention to truly ungodly things.  It’s our job to make sure that never happens here, because as we have seen, Jesus takes that kind of thing personally.


[1] https://www.ligonier.org/learn/devotionals/jesus-cleanses-temple/

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Lent 2

On the day before I was ordained a deacon, I had to attend an almost all day retreat with Bishop Councell and my fellow ordinands, six of us in total.  The bishop had questions for us about how we would go about our ministries as deacons and then, presumably, as priests, questions both spiritual and practical.  How would we find God in the day to day life of ministry?  What resources could we lean on for help?  Have you thought at all about how to present yourselves: What you will wear?  Maybe a haircut might be helpful?

One of guys mentioned that he was going to be working not at a parish but at a non-profit agency, and so he didn’t plan on wearing his clerical collar around the city, lest he be stopped by someone on the subway or on the street, and that’s when we all learned a valuable lesson.  Bishop Councell – he was always incredibly nice, of course; his picture is next to the word ‘pastoral’ in the dictionary – Bishop Councell nicely explained that this man should consider wearing his collar everywhere, because, I quote, “Ministry is found in the interruptions.”  Being stopped on the street wasn’t someone taking time out of your ministry, it was your ministry.  He concluded by saying that wearing a clerical collar – and bearing the stress of constant interruptions – might be a part of the cross the ordained have to bear.

Of course, we all have our cross to bear.  But I do wonder sometimes if we’ve turned too many things into crosses.  Everything from your annoying brother-in-law to the habit you want to kick to well, whatever, have become crosses to bear.  But when Jesus said “If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me,” He wasn’t referring to the mildly annoying.  He Himself was headed toward a cross, a big wooden instrument of shameful death.

The cross meant death, and worse yet, a death sentence handed down by a sometimes brutal and arbitrary overlord.  Crucifixion was considered the proper means of execution for slaves, prisoners of war, and revolutionaries.  Before most were actually crucified, they were scourged, whipped with chains both front and back, and most eventually evacuated on themselves.  The cross meant death while naked for all to see, stripped of not only your clothes but any dignity you might have had left.  Even after you were dead, the Romans often just left you there for the birds.  The cross meant dishonor in waves, a progressive shaming.

As we heard in the Gospel, Peter had a little trouble with Jesus saying that He must suffer many things, and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes, and be killed.  Any of us would, right?  Peter’s life had been changed, his hopes fulfilled, his future freedom seemed certain.  The Messiah, the Savior of the world was standing in front of him – heck, they were friends, right? – there’s no way he’s going to let Jesus talk like that.  Rejected and killed?  You mean rise and conquer, right?  Crosses are for the one’s who get captured, defeated.  The shame of it all.

What Peter needed, and what we all need even now, was to see things as God sees them.  To learn that there’s no shame in enduring shame for the life of the world.  To learn that death and victory are not mutually exclusive.  He needed to learn that the Man he was busy rebuking would by His death conquer death; that Jesus would take His cross, that instrument of shameful death, and make it to be the means of eternal life.

“If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” If we do as Jesus commands us here, it means doing more than enduring the hardships of life; it means accepting that we, as mortal, will die.  But following Jesus does not mean that you die as opposed to not dying; it means that you die with Christ, in Christ, having lived in such a way that they too will know Christ.  To take up your cross and follow Jesus is live a life full up with the power of Christ, ready to lay your life down for Him, knowing that He Himself will raise you up.  If we all have a cross to bear, what a cross it is.  

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment