Monthly Archives: April 2014

To be further clothed

All is in order for the ordination and consecration of Matthew Gunter as the Eighth Bishop of Fond du Lac.

At the rehearsal yesterday afternoon, we practiced helping Matt put on his new vestments. Some are familiar to him already — stole and chasuble — but some will feel awkward and uncomfortable at first.

Which way round does the miter go?

We wish not to be unclothed, but to be further clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up in life. He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who has given us the Spirit as a guarantee. (1 Cor. 5:4b-5)

Almighty and everlasting God, by whose Spirit the whole body of your faithful people is governed and sanctified: Receive our supplications and prayers which we offer before you for all members of your holy Church, that in their vocation and ministry they may truly and devoutly serve you; through our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen. (BCP 100)

We will all be changed

Listen, I will tell you a mystery! We will not all die, but we will all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For this perishable body must put on imperishability, and this mortal body must put on immortality. When this perishable body puts on imperishability, and this mortal body puts on immortality, then the saying that is written will be fulfilled: “Death has been swallowed up in victory.” (1 Cor. 15:51-54)

Lay claim to Jesus

Br. James Koester offers this reflection today for Brother, Give Us a Word:

It is our time to lay claim, not just to the message of the Cross but of the Empty Tomb as well. Now is the time for us to lay claim to hope and health and life. Now is our time to lay claim to Jesus.

We will all be changed

“Hope and health and life” all describe change.

We hope for something better, something as yet unseen but witnessed by others. Like the apostles, we worry that it might be “an idle tale,” too good to be true, but over time the undeniable change in others builds hope in us.

Health is more than the absence of illness; it’s the embrace of wholeness. Where in Lent we often practice giving up things that are bad for us, perhaps in Easter we can embrace the One who is good for us — Jesus, the Son who “has life in himself” (John 5:26).

Living in Jesus is like being invited to step through a doorway with him. It’s as if we have been in the tomb, too, and we see the light shining brighter as we duck through the opening, as we are reborn, into larger life.

 

Bearing witness to victory

The last enemy to be destroyed is death. For “God has put all things in subjection under his feet.” But when it says, “All things are put in subjection,” it is plain that this does not include the one who put all things in subjection under him. When all things are subjected to him, then the Son himself will also be subjected to the one who put all things in subjection under him, so that God may be all in all. (1 Cor. 15:26-28)

Flying our flag

At the parish I serve, St. Thomas Church in Menasha, WI, our rector’s sermon on Easter Day urged us, in the face of other people’s grief and loss, not to tell them what they should believe about the resurrection, but instead simply to “fly your own flag” of witness.

This is wisdom for so many situations.

People struggling with substance abuse, dealing with issues of mental illness, in despair at the loss of a job, or grieving at the death of a loved one, may not be able to look to God directly and may resent being told what to believe.

But perhaps seeing our flag, hearing our simple witness, will “give them courage and hope in their troubles” (BCP 389).

Like Mary Magdalene, whose banner might simply read “I have seen the Lord” (John 20:18), we bring hope into other people’s lives by bearing witness to the possibility of victory.

Victory

Br. David Vryhof, whose meditation is shared today at Brother, Give Us a Word, reflects on the healing power of looking to God:

Jesus embodies that death-defeating, life-giving power, and even an evil force bent on destruction and death cannot overcome his strength to save and heal. Do not give in to despair. Look to God and believe.

In the picture Resurrection by Pierro della Francesca, the central image my rector used in his sermon, we see Christ rising from the tomb and planting his flag of victory over death and the grave.

Perhaps our own flags of witness — “I have seen the Lord” — are what the people around us need to see in order for them to believe that victory can be theirs, too.

Making all things new

Now I would remind you, brothers and sisters, of the good news that I proclaimed to you, which you in turn received, in which also you stand, through which also you are being saved, if you hold firmly to the message that I proclaimed to you — unless you have come to believe in vain. For I handed on to you as of first importance what I in turn had received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, and that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers and sisters at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have died. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me. (1 Cor. 15:1-8)

Of first importance

“Christ died for our sins … he was buried … he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures.”

Paul makes this simple statement here just a few years after the founding of the church in Corinth in 50 or 51 AD, and Christians repeat it to this day in the words of the Nicene Creed (BCP 358).

Paul goes on to say Christ appeared to Cephas (Peter), then to the twelve, then to more than 500, then to James, then to all the apostles, then to Paul himself.

These things happened.

They connect with the record of God’s saving acts recorded in scripture.

Real people, known to the first witnesses of the resurrection, also experienced Christ’s appearing.

Not just all people, but all things

In his Easter week meditation for Brother, Give Us a Word, Br. Mark Brown of the Society of St. John the Evangelist reflects that:

Something that pertains to the whole cosmos is happening in the death and resurrection of Christ. From the depths of the inner worlds to the furthest reaches of outer space. “Behold, I am making all things new” — not just all people, but all things.

IMG_0692

Life is being renewed in Christ, but that doesn’t mean we don’t still have to work at driving away “wrong desires” or “keeping God’s law” or  following “the way of peace.”

We also still have to use the plunger on clogged toilets, as Lovely Wife and I discovered this morning.

Even the “things” sometimes resist this new creation in Christ, but as witnesses ourselves to the resurrection, we can see now that they are shot through with new promise — that even our struggles fit somehow into a larger pattern of new life at work in the world around us.

Signs of resurrection, seeds of hope

Signs of resurrection

Everything changes on Easter!

We reintroduce the Alleluias …

We recite or sing Christ our Passover in place of an Invitatory Psalm for the next 50 days …

We rehearse the salvation history of the Passover and the Exodus from Egypt (Exodus 12:1-14).

We remind ourselves in the stirring cadences of the Prologue to the Gospel of John of the present reality … “from his fullness we have received, grace upon grace” (John 1:16).

Alleluia! Christ is Risen! The Lord is risen indeed! Alleluia!

Seeds of hope

A student in my Education for Ministry (EfM) class gave me a lovely gift in an Easter card this year.

The brothers of the Society of St. John the Evangelist share a daily reflection on their website entitled “Brother, Give Us a Word.” They have also made the Easter Week reflections available as meditation cards.

IMG_0690On this morning’s card (Resurrection), Br. Geoffrey Tristram asks:

How do we allow those seeds of hope and resurrection deep within us to burst into new life? One way is to open our eyes and see the signs of resurrection all around us.

Even the simple changes to Morning Prayer are “signs of resurrection.” The birdsong and the rain I hear through the window are part of the “bursting into new life” going on outside. The steps I have been following in my recovery are “seeds of hope” deep within me.

Alleluia! Christ is Risen! The Lord is risen indeed! Alleluia!

Easter Day

O God, who for our redemption gave your only-begotten Son to the death of the cross, and by his glorious resurrection delivered us from the power of our enemy: Grant us so to die daily to sin, that we may evermore live with him in the joy of his resurrection; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen. (BCP 222)

Rejoicing, restored, redeemed, and reconciled

At Evening Prayer on this Easter Eve, we read from Paul’s letter to the Romans:

There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death. (Romans 8:1-2)

For the 19th year now, I will carry the Paschal Candle into the darkened church tonight at the Great Vigil of Easter and sing the ancient Easter proclamation called the Exsultet (BCP 286).

Rejoice

What we do, as followers of Christ, is rejoice. Paul wrote to the Romans about the reason why: “The law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set us free from the law of sin and death.”

Rejoice now, heavenly hosts and choirs of angels,
and let your trumpets shout Salvation
for the victory of our mighty King.
Rejoice and sing now, all the round earth,
bright with a glorious splendor,
for darkness has been vanquished by our eternal King.
Rejoice and be glad now, Mother Church,
and let your holy courts, in radiant light,
resound with the praises of your people.

Restored

Time bends in upon itself on this particular night. It is not only now, but also that Passover in Jerusalem when Jesus was crucified, and even that first Passover in Egypt when God’s people escaped from slavery.

In God’s salvation history we are now and always experiencing restoration from bondage to grace and holiness.

This is the night, when you brought our fathers, the children of Israel,
out of bondage in Egypt, and led them through the Red Sea on dry land.
This is the night, when all who believe in Christ are delivered from the gloom of sin,
and are restored to grace and holiness of life.
This is the night, when Christ broke the bonds of death and hell,
and rose victorious from the grave.

Redeemed and reconciled

We realize we are powerless to overcome our sins, but God can and will redeem us. We try to hide from God in our shame, but God sees through to our loveliness. We think we’re all alone, but God continually acts to reunite us with one another and all of creation.

How wonderful and beyond our knowing, O God, is your mercy and loving-kindness to us,
that to redeem a slave, you gave a Son.
How holy is this night, when wickedness is put to flight, and sin is washed away.
It restores innocence to the fallen, and joy to those who mourn.
It casts out pride and hatred, and brings peace and concord.
How blessed is this night, when earth and heaven are joined and we are reconciled to God.

Why do we call this Friday “Good”?

Just as every Sunday is for Christians a reminder of Easter and the resurrection, every Friday is a reminder of Good Friday and the crucifixion.

At Morning Prayer every Friday, we pray:

Collect for Fridays

Almighty God, whose most dear Son went not up to joy but first he suffered pain, and entered not into glory before he was crucified: Mercifully grant that we, walking in the way of the cross, may find it none other than the way of life and peace; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord. Amen. (BCP 99)

Just as we live in the light of the Resurrection, we walk in the way of the cross.

Fr. Richard Rohr says:

I believe that the Mystery of the Cross is saying that the pattern of transformation unto God, the pattern that connects, the life that God offers us is always death transformed. The only pattern is the pattern of death and resurrection. We submit to it with trust because Jesus did.

Rohr calls this One Big Pattern “transformative dying.”

On the other side of that dying, whether it is physical illness and death, or the “daily dying to self” of the prayer book, or admitting our powerlessness over our sin, on the other side of that dying we find the truth.

The American author Reynolds Price says that the Gospel of John can be compressed down to a single sentence, “the sentence mankind craves from stories”:

The Maker of all things loves and wants me.

The Maker of all things loves and wants me — loves and wants every single one of us, loves and wants all of us so much that God was willing not only to endure the limitations of becoming human, but also to endure the suffering and death that is our lot in life.

Because he died and rose again, we too can experience “transformative dying,” can claim our small part of the one big pattern.

That’s why we call this Friday “Good.”

Collect for Fridays

Almighty God, whose most dear Son went not up to joy but first he suffered pain, and entered not into glory before he was crucified: Mercifully grant that we, walking in the way of the cross, may find it none other than the way of life and peace; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord. Amen. (BCP 99)

New in the kingdom of God

While they were eating, he took a loaf of bread, and after blessing it he broke it, gave it to them, and said, “Take; this is my body.” Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he gave it to them, and all of them drank from it. He said to them, “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many. Truly I tell you, I will never again drink of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God.” (Mark (14:22-25)

What a difference six months makes!

I have come to realize a truth that I had only intellectually known before. As the Collect for Guidance says, “in all the cares and occupations of our life … we are ever walking in God’s sight” (BCP 100).

Six months ago, I was completely discouraged and at the end of my own power. Today, I woke up glad, looking forward to the day.

I could not manage my own life; no human power could have relieved my problem. But God could and would if I sought Him.

“In these holy mysteries,” the Collect for Maundy Thursday reminds us, Christ “gives us a pledge of eternal life” (BCP 221).

In the holy mystery of a man sharing a meal with his friends (and his betrayer) …

In the holy mystery of a teacher serving his students …

In the holy mystery of the incarnate God dying a criminal’s death …

In the holy mystery of  an empty tomb on an early Sunday morning …

That day when the Risen Christ breaks the bread and drinks the cup with us — “new in the kingdom of God” — is about to dawn again.

In that dawn, we can be glad — in every dawn, because of that one, we too can be “new in the kingdom of God.”

The sufferings of the present time

And I said, “Oh, that I had wings like a dove!
I would fly away and be at rest.

I would flee to a far-off place
and make my lodging in the wilderness.

I would hasten to escape
from the stormy wind and tempest.
(Psalm 55:7-9)

The Hermit’s Song

I wish, O Son of the living God, O ancient, eternal king
For a hidden little hut in the wilderness that it may be my dwelling.

An all-grey little lake to be by its side.
A clear pool to wash away sins by the grace of the Holy Spirit.

Quite near, a beautiful wood around it on every side,
To nurse many-voiced birds, hiding it with its shelter.

From A Celtic Primer, Brendan O’Malley

How often this kind of lovely picture comes to my mind — especially on days like today when I am conscious of my difficulties and frustrations.

“If only I could just escape, if only I could just get away, if only I didn’t have to face it, if only ….”

That sort of fantasizing, however, really leads nowhere. Even if I could flee to a hermit’s “little hidden hut,” it would still be me sitting inside it, stewing and agitated.

While going to a quiet place, physically apart from other people, is sometimes important, the more important separation here is called detachment.

I must learn to separate myself from the anxiety and circular worries, center myself in God’s presence, and renew my trust in his goodness.

That’s a habit of mind more than a physical location. That’s probably what Jesus meant when he talked about “going into your interior room to pray.”

When we cannot “fly away” physically, we must find a place of quiet inside and there “be at rest.”

Even Jesus himself struggled for that inner peace as Thursday night turned into Friday morning and he prayed that the trouble building around him could pass from him.

His sense of the Father’s presence gave him the confidence to face into the storm.

I wish, O Son of the living God, for a measure of that same confidence.

Collect for Wednesday in Holy Week

Lord God, whose blessed Son our Savior gave his body to be whipped and his face to be spit upon: Give us grace to accept joyfully the sufferings of the present time, confident of the glory that shall be revealed; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Following the way of the cross

From the Society of St. John the Evangelist -- www.ssje.org

From the Society of St. John the Evangelist — http://www.ssje.org

A Facebook friend whose opinion I respect, William Henry Benefield BSG, posted yesterday about reading the Passion Gospel during Holy Week:

“Perhaps one day, parishes throughout the world on Palm Sunday and Good Friday will have all of us present — the baptized Eucharistic assembly — saying or chanting the part of Christ during the Passion and not playing the ‘crowd’ as our liturgical tradition so often dictates. Our theology teaches us we are the Body of Christ … so it looks and sounds rather strange, not to mention theologically questionable, for us to be shouting ‘Crucify, Crucify’ and ‘Give us Jesus Barabbas.’ Maybe one day we the Church will finally realize who we actually are, break with the previous liturgical tradition when chanting the Passion on these two sacred days, and claim our true identity in the world.”

I’ll admit I had never heard of that being done before, as William said he had experienced at an Episcopal church in New York City.

His thoughtful post got me thinking, and I enjoyed figuring out why I disagree with him.

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It seems to me that while we are the Body of Christ, we are not Jesus. The tension in our lives of faith is between living “in Christ” or “following the crowd.”

I think playing the part of the crowd in the Passion is entirely appropriate as a way of realizing that “while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 4:8). It also helps us accomplish the movement Paul describes to the Colossians: “You have stripped off the old self with its practices and have clothed yourselves with the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge according to the image of its creator” (Col. 3:9b-10).

Our creator, “being found in human form … humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death — even death on a cross” (Phil. 2:8).

In our old self, I think we are the crowd, preferring spectacle, resistant to change, and easily led. By the grace of God and through the self-offering of Jesus, we are given a new way.

Being the Body of Christ means stripping off the old self and following the way of the cross instead of following the crowd.

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While I completely agree with the ancient homily for Holy Saturday that William shared — “together [with Christ] we are now one undivided person” — I’m also conscious at this time in my life that I am not always the “one person” I want to be. Like Paul, I “find it to be a law that when I want to do what is good, evil lies close at hand” (Romans 7:21).

Like AA members do when they share their stories of encouragement, hope, and strength, perhaps we in the Church use the Passion Gospel during Holy Week to remind ourselves “what we used to be like, what happened, and what we are like now.”

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The collect for today, Monday in Holy Week, is very familiar to us as the Collect for Fridays at Morning Prayer.

I hope it will remind you as you journey with Jesus during this Holy Week what you used to be like, what happened as a result of his obedience and death, and what you are like now.

May this Holy Week open the way to life and peace for you.

Almighty God, whose most dear Son went not up to joy but first he suffered pain, and entered not into glory before he was crucified: Mercifully grant that we, walking in the way of the cross, may find it none other than the way of life and peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. (BCP 99).