Tag Archives: resurrection

Keep your clothes on | Sermon for Proper 7C

 

The men were roughly clothed, generally in coarse blue cloth, very carelessly put together. The women came in with their invariably noiseless, gliding step, in very wild garb; they were shrouded in blankets, their heads closely covered with various wrappings ….

Susan Fenimore Cooper, daughter of the famous novelist, shared these impressions in a series of articles called “Missions to the Oneidas” in The Living Church in 1885 and 1886.

I spent this past week at the Episcopal Tri-History Conference in Oneida, Wisconsin.

Parishioners at Church of the Holy Apostles and members of the Oneida Nation were our very gracious hosts as participants from the three historical societies of the Episcopal Church met to consider the encounters between Episcopal and Anglican churches and the indigenous people of North America.

Despite the appreciative portrayal of writers like Susan Fenimore Cooper, the tragic history of those encounters is more about European and American colonists’ attempts to “civilize” indigenous people or, frankly, to take their land, send them to distant reservations, and transport their children to residential boarding schools in order to “kill the Indian and save the man.”

The archivists and historians in the US and Canada have become painfully aware how church and state conspired over the last three centuries to make indigenous people and their cultures disappear.

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I wonder if the prophet Elijah standing by the entrance to his cave on Mt. Horeb appeared like the Oneida women, wrapped in his mantle and shrouded in the “sound of sheer silence.”

He, too, was being threatened with disappearing – Jezebel and Ahab had marked him for death after he prevailed over the false prophets loyal to the king and caused rain to fall after three years’ drought. He had run forty days and nights into the desert, far from his home.

But God gave Elijah a command: Stand on the mountain. Wrap your mantle around you and do not be swept away by the wind, the breaking rocks, the quaking ground, the fire, the noise.

Elijah must not fear those who seek his life, but he is to go back across the desert and fulfill God’s mission.

Keep your clothes on, and keep speaking truth to power.

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What a powerful jolt Jesus got as he stepped off the boat after crossing the Sea of Galilee!

“What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg you, do not torment me!”

The poor Gerasene man’s many demons shouted in his head and caused him to shout at Jesus.

Jesus gives the demons a command – leave this man alone – and they rush out into a herd of pigs, leaving the man sitting at the feet of Jesus, “clothed and in his right mind.”

Though the townspeople are even more freaked out than they had been by the naked man living in the tombs – and he and they both probably wish he’d leave with Jesus – the man is sent home instead to share the good news of what God has done in his life.

Keep your clothes on, and keep sharing good news with your family and your neighbors.

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Paul had neighbors all around the Mediterranean, and Galatia must have been a fairly cosmopolitan Roman province, where “Jews and Greeks, slaves and free,” men and women lived and worked.

He really struggled to keep the members of his congregation there from going back to the old Law, though, to rules and regulations about who was in or who was out, what food was right to eat, what days were appropriate to observe as festivals.

Paul also struggled, according to Edward Blair, against “the Jewish nationalism of the time, which was emphasizing separation from Gentiles and strict loyalty to everything Jewish, not only in Palestine, but in the Roman world as well” (Blair 297).

His people’s focus on legalism and political separation, their disunity, is disheartening to him. “I am afraid that my work for you may have been wasted,” he says.

“As many of you as have been baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female, for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.”

Keep your clothes on and act like you are one in Christ Jesus!

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Bishop Mark MacDonald is now the National Indigenous Bishop of the Anglican Church of Canada.

In his keynote address at this week’s conference, Bishop Mark spoke about the resilience of Native American communities like the Oneida Nation and like many of the First Nations among whom he ministers in Canada.

The Oneida, for example, though they sided with the colonists in the Revolutionary War, lost their land in New York state to their neighbors and had to relocate to Wisconsin. Here in Wisconsin, the same New York fur traders and logging companies who had driven them from their land tried to do it to them all over again.

Nevertheless, over the past 200 years, the Oneida Nation has rebounded in many ways. On the civic side the Oneida Nation is a leader among Native American communities, and on the religious side Owanah Anderson, the former native missioner of the Episcopal Church, praised Holy Apostles as “the Canterbury Cathedral of Native American ministry.”

But Bishop Mark went on to talk about a harder truth. Despite centuries of policies enacted by church and state meant to dispossess them of their land, wipe out their language, and eliminate their religion and culture, the conversion of indigenous people to Christianity has been widespread. Some 80% of First Nations people in Canada are baptized, Bishop Mark said, a much higher percentage than their “more rapidly secularizing” neighbors.

He suggests that about 5% of indigenous people practice their traditional religion, and about 5% practice “normal” European Christianity. The broad middle – most of whom are baptized, remember – make their way in the world as best they can, and are to be commended for their resilience in the face of efforts (even by fellow Christians) to make them disappear.

The resilience of communities like the Oneida, Bishop Mark says, “reeks of resurrection. It smells like the Gospel!”

The resilience of others in the face of hardship and death may smell like the Gospel, but that Gospel often comes shrouded in clothes that look strange to us.

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Some keep their clothes on and act like they are one in Christ Jesus, but they’re wearing beaded necklaces, praying to the Great Creator, and singing in their native language.

Some keep their clothes on and share good news with their neighbors, but we find their their political views troubling.

Some keep their clothes on and speak truth to power, but their club music is loud and unfamiliar (and we don’t know the dance steps).

Some keep their clothes on and share good news with their neighbors, but their stories of mental illness and stigma, recovery and healing make us uncomfortable.

Some keep their clothes on and act like they are one in Christ Jesus, but they make us aware of our own biases and cause us anxiety when they behave differently than we do.

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It’s in the differences between us, and the resilience with which we all deal with the situations we live in, that the Gospel will be found if we have eyes to see – to see past what Mother Teresa calls “Christ in all his distressing disguises.”

It’s in the power of the resurrection over everything that threatens to make anyone disappear that we recognize we have all “come within the reach of Christ’s saving embrace” (BCP 101).

We all came up out of the same waters of baptism, we were all reeking of the oil of anointing, and we all put on a new baptismal robe.

Let’s embrace our enemies, our neighbors, even our fellow-Christians – as strange as they may seem – like Christ Jesus would and does embrace them! Let’s make sure that we are looking for resurrection rather than looking to make anyone disappear.

That’s what it means to keep our clothes on and clothe ourselves with Christ. Amen.

 

 

 

Featured image: Oneida woman ca. 1900 from Sarah Orne Jewett Text Project.

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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.

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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)

By the oaks of Mamre

Icon of the Trinity by Andrei Rublev

Icon of the Trinity by Andrei Rublev

Today’s readings provide an object lesson in the power of the Daily Office to trigger associations in the Christian imagination.

We begin with the Old Testament reading from Genesis in which Abraham is buying some property from the Hittites in order to bury his wife Sarah in a cave in a particular field facing Mamre.

So the field of Ephron in Machpelah, which was to the east of Mamre, the field with the cave that was in it and all the trees that were in the field, throughout its whole area, passed to Abraham as a possession in the presence of the Hittites, in the presence of all who went in at the gate of his city. After this, Abraham buried Sarah his wife in the cave of the field of Machpelah facing Mamre (that is, Hebron) in the land of Canaan. (Genesis 23:17-19)

The canticle which follows, the Song of Moses, is one of the songs we sing at the Easter Vigil, when we recount Christ’s resurrection from the tomb and his victory over death.

So we have this association between the Genesis story and the resurrected Christ. Sarah is laid to rest in a cave; the cave where Christ was buried is empty when the disciples arrive there on Sunday morning. Every cave reminds us Christians of the cave which could not contain Jesus.

But the association goes deeper.

Just as Sarah’s tomb faced the oaks of Mamre, where she and Abraham laughed with the three travelers who were really God (Genesis 18), so we rejoice in the garden outside of Christ’s empty tomb and worship him as our risen Lord.

The chain of associations triggered by today’s readings — and by every day’s readings — helps us see Jesus throughout Scripture, from creation through the appearance to Abraham and Sarah, to his incarnation and passion.

We come to see and name him as one of the persons of the Trinity, as “Christ, the king of glory, the eternal Son of the Father” (BCP 96).