THOUGHTS FROM OUR PRIEST-IN-CHARGE
Monday, June 1, 2020
My dear people,
Just in case you’re interested in the Maxwell Anderson text to “Lost in the Stars” which I read at the beginning of my sermon yesterday, here ’tis:
LOST IN THE STARS
Before Lord God made the Sea and the Land
He held all the stars in the palm of his hand
And they ran through his fingers like grains of sand
And one little star fell alone
So the Lord God hunted through the white night air
For the little dark star on the wind down there
And he stated and promised
To take special care
So it wouldn’t get lost again
Now a man don’t mind if the stars grow dim
And the clouds blow over and darken him
So long as the Lord God ‘s watching over him
Keeping track how it all goes on~
So the Lord God hunted through the white night air
For the little dark star on the wind down there
And he stated and promised
To take special care
So it wouldn’t get lost again
But I’ve been walking through the night, through the day
Till my eyes get weary and my head turns grey
And sometimes it seems maybe God’s gone away
Forgetting the promise that we’ve heard him say
And we’re lost out here in the stars
Little stars and big stars
Blowing through the night
And we’re lost out here in the stars
Forgetting the promise that we’ve heard him say
Little stars and big stars
Blowing through the night
And we’re lost out here in the stars
As you know, reading this verse brought me to tears, and that was for more than one reason. But as our nation and our world seems to be spinning out of control, we can certainly understand the poet’s concern that:
“. . . sometimes it seems maybe God’s gone away Forgetting the promise that we’ve heard him say”
And surely friends, it is our job “at all times and in all places and under all circumstances” to proclaim the promise of God’s love as well as to prove our belief kin that promise by how we live and act and treat each other.
Racism, nationalism, sexism, Nazism, injustice, oppression and inequality of any kind deny that promise and take our BREATH away. When Jesus was crucified, he essentially died of SUFFOCATION. But we know that before his death “HE BREATHED ON” his disciples with a BREATH that can neither be suffocated nor taken away: the Holy Spirit. It is up to us now, as much as ever, to use GOD’S BREATH to speak the language of God’s eternal love for ALL PEOPLE by speaking truth, seeking justice, advocating for the poor and powerless, providing health care for all, asylum for the refugee and succor for all in need.
Why? So that we may never be:
“. . . lost out here in the stars Forgetting the promise that we’ve heard him say”
View our recorded Zoom virtual worship service for May 31, 20, The Day of Pentecost:
27 May 2020
My dear people,
The lilies-of-the-valley, which have created a carpet of leaves on the floor of the garden behind my home and spread elsewhere as well, are just beginning to bloom, as they always do in the month of May, the month in which many Christians remember the Virgin May who is sometimes called the “Queen of Mary.”
There is an old tradition that these tiny, gorgeous, bell-like flowers, with an enormous fragrance, first sprang forth miraculously from the earth at the foot of the cross precisely where the tears of the Virgin Mary fell. In fact, there are those who refer to the lilies of the valley as Our Lady’s Tears. A lovely tradition indeed!
Despite the beauty of the season and the improvement in the weather and the promise of impending summer, there is much about which we might – and recently have – shed tears: and sorrowful ones at that.
We might weep for ourselves and the on-going exigencies of wondering and worrying about how to be safe and stay sane in the throes of a global pandemic. There are, however, some lilies beginning to grow where some tears have fallen. Last evening Jim Griffin, asked by Michael to be proxy Sr. Warden, and Jean Pettinato, as a member of our Parish Nursing Program, and I attended a Zoom meeting with Bishop Kevin and other diocesan leaders to discuss crafting individually-tailored plans to return to our parish church buildings. There are, in fact, lilies beginning to spring forth from where those tears have fallen. As you know, cultivating growing things takes time, intelligence, science, care, and agreeable conditions for success. We are taking the necessary time – and I assure you, we are not dragging our feet! – in this matter. We are relying on the gathered intelligence from the Center for Disease Control and the information gathered by our diocesan leadership in this matter. We are relying on science and not making plans based on wishful thinking, or economic exigencies or political partisan politics. We are engaging in on-going rational and logical thinking in this matter. You will know in absolutely every step of the way where we are in the decision-making process.
Very soon, you will hear from Jean, and separately from Jim, with a report about last night’s meeting, and suggestions about early first steps for us to take. A primary concern for us at St. John’s is the nature of our aging and aged congregation which places us among the most vulnerable to the virus.
As you know, all proposals for returning to the campus at St. John’s will require the action of your vestry. Nothing will come to the vestry for action which has not first been discussed with and approved by Bishop Kevin personally. That’s how this will work – and work it will. Lilies will grow where tears have fallen, for sure. We must, however, be patient.
I will leave you with these words from the book of James 5:7, which Johannes Brahms crafted so beautifully into his Ein deutsches Requiem:
So seid nun geduldig, lieben Brüder, bis auf die Zukunft des Herrn. Siehe, ein Ackermann wartet auf die köstliche Frucht der Erde und is geduldig darüber, bis er empfahe den Morgenregen und Abendregen.
Be patient therefore, brethren, unto the coming of the Lord. Behold, the husbandman waiteth for the precious fruit of the earth, and hath long patience for it, until he receive the early and latter rain.
Say nothing of the Virgin’s Tears and our own lilies-of-the-valley!
Bless you,Fr. Ron
Our Zoom Worship Service – Sunday, May 24, 2020 – 7th Sunday of Easter:
Our Zoom Worship Service Sunday, May 17, 2020 – 6th Sunday of Easter:
18 May 2020
My dear people,
It was forty-five years ago today that I was ordained at Christ-St. John Lutheran Church in West New York, New Jersey. I remained in that congregation for the next twenty-four and a half years. During those years we worshipped in German and English and Spanish.
I shared this with you yesterday during the sermon, in an attempt to make the point – the point that I believe Jesus was making – that the IMPORTANCE of the GOSPEL is that it be sincerely and joyfully proclaimed in a sensitive and INTELLIGIBLE fashion to all people, at all times and in all places.
I shared with you St. Paul’s concern, from 1st Corinthians 14, that:
“. . . .the one who speaks in a tongue should pray that they may interpret what they say. For if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays, but my mind is unfruitful. So what shall I do? I will pray with my spirit, but I will also pray with my understanding; I will sing with my spirit, but I will also sing with my understanding.Otherwise when you are praising God in the Spirit, how can someone else, who is now put in the position of an inquirer, say “Amen” to your thanksgiving, since they do not know what you are saying? You are giving thanks well enough, but no one else is edified.”
The point is that religion, as Jesus understood it, has no ‘professionals,’ and holds no ‘secrets.’ The Gnostic Heresy tried that one on a long time ago, and was resoundingly denounced by the church. [You know, as a Lutheran, I was not allowed to join any club or fraternal lodge – even though based on Scripture – which kept secrets, because my job was NEVER to keep secrets about the Gospel!]. So when it comes to the Gospel there is NO secret language, NO secret hand-shake, NO secret vocabulary. NO secret tongue. Period!
On looking for an excuse NOT to communicate the Gospel, the question is sometimes asked: “How can we communicate God’s love, if THEY won’t learn to speak ENGLISH as we did; or the way our forefathers did (and we didn’t have to!)?” Do you sense an ‘edge’ or an ‘attitude’ just in how that question is posed? That attitude communicates something like: “This is our secret language; unless you learn it you will not be admitted to the secret society of God’s love for us and our kind.” There is absolutely NOTHING EVANGELICAL about that kind of attitude. [I’m using the word “evangelical” here to mean “of the Good News” and NOT as a description of a denominational preference! The word comes from the Greek word “aggelos” which means “messenger” and is the same root as the word “angel.” Just FYI double ‘gg’ in Greek is pronounced “ng.”] That is an attitude which is way too prevalent in our world and in our country. NO! You did not hear me say that it’s not a good idea to learn English. If you live here and don’t have the language, you will certainly be at a disadvantage. BUT, neither did you hear me say that if your neighbor, an immigrant, an asylum-seeker, a foreigner does not speak English that he or she should not be a beneficiary of the Good News just as freely and fully as we are. There are NO BARS TO SHARING THE GOOD NEWS OF GOD’S LOVE FOR ALL PEOPLE. But, as we know, there are a few excuses. Sometimes one of those excuses is “they need to learn English.”
You and I both know that way before we ever get to a common spoken lingua franca, we speak a very intelligible and clearly understood lingua franca of attitude, posture, gesture and yes, politics, which clearly betray exactly what we think long before we ever speak a word. You’ve heard of ‘body language.’ Well, I believe there is also un-spoken ‘religious body language’, which is also expressed not only in our bodies but also in our attitudes and our spirits toward others.
Religion often sees itself as having the right kind of ‘religious behaviors.’ These are theologies, attitudes, forms of worship and languages of prayers which make what we really believe about God, and ourselves and others patently clear. People KNOW whether or not ours is a God of welcome, love, succor, encouragement, mercy and love, or not. That happens long before we ever SPEAK a word with our mouths. It happens long before they may ever come to see us at worship, or hear our prayers or speak “English the way we do.”
Paul implies that if what we say with our mouth does NOT coincide with how we live – i.e. those attitudes and body languages and spiritual attitudes of ours – we will be seen as hypocrites! Funny isn’t it that Paul and Jesus agree with God! Paul and Jesus understand – AND PENTECOST PROCLAIMS – that language and all that which is “foreign” to us is not, will not be, and cannot be a BARRIER to the proclamation of God’s love which we are called and enabled to share by the grace of the gift of God’s Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit will make us and God’s love INTELLIGIBLE to others, not arcane. Simply put: “religious body language’ communicates either for good or for ill. Actions do indeed speak louder than words!
This Thursday (the 21st) is ASCENSION DAY. If we were in the church building and worshipping on that day, we would extinguish the PASCAL CANDLE at the reading of the Gospel. Alternatively, if we did not celebrate on Ascension Thursday, we would extinguish the Paschal Candle at the reading of the Gospel on PENTECOST SUNDAY (the 31st). This quiet act is the great symbol that Jesus has finally been taken up into heaven never to be seen again in flesh.This is also the initiating act of the church’s major celebration of the descent of the HOLY SPIRIT on the disciples and the charge to them (and to us) to continue the em-BODY-ment and proclamation of God’s love “to all nations,” and in their own languages!
As we come to the end of the Easter Octave and anticipate what we will celebrate in the ASCENSION and at PENTECOST, let us acknowledge that we understand that by ourselves, and without the Holy Spirit, we are completely incapable of embodying Christ, as the church or proclaiming God’s Gospel with either the right attitudes or the right languages. Let us acknowledge that without the presence of God in our lives, in the person of the HOLY SPIRIT, our religion would be empty hypocrisy: “a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.” Let us humbly ask for God’s Holy Spirit to descend upon us all – individually and corporately – so that we may be empowered to share God’s love INTELLIGIBLY with all people, at all times and in all places, as freely as God has shared that love with us.
We used to sing a lovely song at summer camp. I’m sure many of you know it. Simply sung and simply put it was: “They will know we are Christians by our love!” Love is the God we worship. Love is the language we speak. Love is our lingua franca. Love is the universally-understood language of God. Love is often spoken WITHOUT A WORD. And love is never sincerely spoken WITHOUT BEING UNDERSTOOD!
Bless you in being UNDERSTOOD for what you believe by how you live!
P. S. THIS IS FROM THE BIRDS! Just after 5am this morning, I went out on the front porch, with my first cup of coffee in hand, and delighted in the ‘morning chorus’ of birdsong. Chirping and tweeting and twittering and whoo-whooing, and cawing and even screeching. I was astounded by the joyous cacophony.
It occurred to me that although I don’t understand the vocabulary of what the birds are saying to each other (and I’m not sure that the the dove’s coo is understood by the cawing crow), I do understand this: that is – all of it – the extraordinarily beautiful sound of MATING CALLS and invitations to love-making. I wonder, dear friends, whether we hear the extraordinarily beautiful call from God to us, in Pentecost, to join the daily “morning chorus” in order to sing the song of God’s love for all people?
11 May 2020
My dear people,
Yesterday we managed – yet again – another successful Zoom-session worship service. I cannot tell you how much it pleases me to see and be in touch with you, and to hear and watch the interaction among yourselves. I’m told that our attendance total was 43. I know for sure that there were folks there from New Jersey and Massachusetts.
We began with words of caution about adopting the cultural celebration of “Mother’s Day” into the church calendar. You may have noticed that I purposely shared my concerns BEFORE worship began. You’ve heard this from me before. However, it bears repeating. What we receive as “Mother’s Day” today – was NOT what was intended by its founders. In fact, the founders Ann Jarvis and her daughter Anna opposed what “Mother’s Day” soon turned into and what we know now as Mother’s Day: commercial cards, carnations, etc. It’s worth a peek at the history of the celebration on-line.
My concern is that for very good reason, many women find “Mother’s Day” offensive and hurtful. “Mother’s Day” is quite naturally gender-specific and therefore – despite the ‘Father’s Day’ sequel – not sufficiently inclusive to be a part of our celebrations of the Universality of the Gospel : for all people, at all times and in all places. And those “places” include the physical as well as emotional and mental and spiritual. I remind you that there are those women who have wanted and were not able to have children. Women who had children they didn’t want. Women who had children they wanted but couldn’t care for. Women who had children who predeceased them. For example, Ann Jarvis herself bore between eleven and thirteen children over the course of seventeen years. Of these children, only four survived to adulthood. Her intention was NOT commercial greeting cards and color-coded carnations! Her concerns were sanitation to prevent infant death from childhood diseases and healing, clothing, feeding and caring for wounded soldiers from BOTH sides of the Civil War. Her concerns seem to be way more like those of people today – both men and women – who advocate, against great odds, for UNIVERSAL HEALTH CARE – to address epidemic health crises! “Mothering” understood as “ministering” to needs, and advocating for the poor and understanding SCIENCE’S relationship to HEALTH – as opposed to gestation and the biological function of females – is what, I believe, “Mother’s Day” was originally intended to celebrate and encourage. Now that does coincide with the Gospel!
Another challenge we faced yesterday was the problematic text from John 14, in which Jesus says to Thomas: “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” I am aware that this text bothers many folks, including myself. It appears to be the slogan of an empire: unless you agree with “our understanding” of who Jesus is, you are not Christian! Surely, Jesus never said those words! I do believe that the early church put those words in Jesus’ mouth to authenticate itself and enlisted adherents. That’s just my guess. But what I do believe this text might say to us is that “Christianity” may be more about Jesus’ understanding of what God believes about us than our understanding of what the church says about Jesus!
I came to that conclusion by suggesting that this text might be useful for those who find it difficult if we were to adjust the translation. I suggested that we might simply re-translate the first person singular nominative pronoun “I” as a first person singular possessive pronoun “mine.” That would render the text something like: “Mine [or my Way] is the way and the truth and the life. No one “gets” to the Father except this way!” Now, I can live with that. Could there possibly be any other way to God than truth and life? That was Jesus’ way. And I really don’t believe that anything less that truth and light and life and love are Godly. Do you?
A little bit further on, in the very same pericope [how’s that for a fancy church word, meaning the Scriptural ‘clipping for the day’], we read that Jesus said to Philip: “Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; but if you do not, then believe me because of the works themselves.” Now I find that really helpful. Apparently someone knew – early on in the life of the church – that there was going to be a problem with what the church was coming to believe about Jesus. And somehow, the voice of Jesus seems to sneak through the chatter of the church to speak the truth again, clearly and plainly. Here, Jesus himself essentially says: No matter what you believe about me – believe what you SEE ME DOING. Believe what you see in HOW I LIVE MY LIFE. Then, who cares what you ‘say or think’ about me. If you follow me and do what I do in loving service to others, it absolutely WILL NOT MATTER what you think, or say, or confess about me. You will be engaged in doing GOD’S WORK and therefore you will be showing the world what GOD THINKS about you and all of your brothers and sisters in the world. That seems to be a good enough definition of CHRISTIANITY for Jesus; and I suppose if it’s good enough for Jesus, it should be good enough for us!
So then, here’s the question: “How do we say what we believe about Jesus in what we do as opposed to what we say?”
Bless you, each and every one.
Zoom service for May 11, 2020, the 5th Sunday of Easter links, part I and II:
Our worship service via Zoom from Sunday, May 3, 2020. 4th Sunday of Easter can be viewed here:
Bishop Kevin’s May 3 Sermon at the Cathedral
THOUGHTS FROM OUR PRIEST-IN-CHARGE:
2 May 2020
My dear people,
I know there are lots of people who go camping in the out-of-doors. I have very fond memories of working nine wonderful summers at three Lutheran church youth camps, at Shawnee-on-the-Delaware. Those properties are all now within the Delaware National Recreational Area. Those camping programs have long since moved to Bear Creek, near Wilkes-Barre. I have often wondered about the “attraction” of camping. Certainly, in those days, at least, some of the “attraction” of camping had to do with “doing without.” Doing without a very comfortable bed. Doing without a fully-equipped kitchen. Doing without electricity and central heating and air conditioning. Doing without communication: ‘phone, radio, TV. And that was in the days before cell ‘phones. We slept outside, or in rough cabins. When we did not cook out of doors we ate in a barn which had been converted into a mess hall. We hiked. We lit fires and used flashlights – or found our way in the dark. And in reverting to – and imagining – earlier times and ways of doing things, we “endured” the charming inconveniences of camp life and learned from them. In “doing without” together, we had UNMITIGATED FUN and forged LIFETIME RELATIONSHIPS with folks we had never met before.
Since then, I have perceived that things have changed in camping. More recently, as I have bicycled through Promised Land State Park, I have mused at the campers there, and all the accoutrements they brought with them: comfortable beds, fully-equipped kitchens, indoor plumbing, satellite dish TV, cell ‘phones, microwave ovens, all terrain vehicles, etc. I can only suppose that they too are having fun, but certainly with very few inconveniences, by comparison with my youthful camping experiences. My guess is, that despite the fact that they are camping, by “doing with” and taking every imaginable comfort along, they may not be having the same kind of fun we had by “doing without” and learning how to deal with and accommodate our lives to our more primitive situation. To me, that was a major piece of the camping experience and a source of great pleasure and fun, and, after the fact, even a source of some pride. We did it!
That, of course, brings me to today and our on-going situation in responding to the COVID-19 virus. We are, at the moment – and for VERY GOOD REASON – having to “do without.” We are having to do without a great deal of that which has been convenient and comfortable for us. We are being challenged for a longer time than our patience wants to endure. And yet, I am somehow certain, that just as my experiences at those camps at Shawnee-On-The-Delaware were INCONVENIENT, they were also PRODUCTIVE and CONSTRUCTIVE times in which I learned much about myself and others and during which my future work in the church was richly fertilized. My hope and prayer for us at this time is that this season of “doing without” – as were those nine summers I spent “doing without” at Camps Ministerium, Miller and Hagan – will be for us an instructive, productive, enriching and life-enhancing time, despite, and maybe even because of, “doing without.”
Being in the out-of-doors and in the wilderness is being in God’s garden just as much as being in the highly managed (and some might even say ‘tortured’) highly patterned and parterred Luxembourg Gardens in Paris!
The gardens – the campsites – the wildernesses – in which we live and move and have our being ALL belong to GOD. We believe, teach and confess that God chooses to meet us in whatever garden we find ourselves and wherever and whenever that may be. Yes, She does, ‘walk with me and talk with me’ in the garden! But never is God mine alone. His are the gardens – all of them. Hers are the people in those gardens: all of us. His is the presence with us “at all times and in all places.” We are firmly convinced that we are never – ever – alone in the garden. God is surely with us right here, right now, in this season!
We always referred to our time at camp as a “season.” Hers too is this “season” in which we now find ourselves. We hear and believe again what Jesus says in “The Great Commission” in Matthew’s Gospel: “And lo, I am with you always.” Even unto the end of this ‘season’ and into the next.
When I asked how he was doing during this crisis, James’ nephew, who is out of work in London said: “Uncle, Ron, I am getting ready for my next season of blessings.” Let’s join him in that, here and now, in God’s rich garden of blessings.
Bless you, Fr. Ron
May 2, 2020
My dear people,
In addition to the Prayers of the People which came from the Lutheran World Federation and which we used during yesterday’s liturgy, I want to share with you the prayer I offered at the conclusion of our service. I read it from a 1761 edition of the Book of Common Prayer. Bibliophiles will be interested to know that that copy was printed at Cambridge by the famous 18th century type designer John Baskerville.
From the service for the Visitation of the Sick, I used the following prayer, adjusting the pronouns to plural, for our use. The old-fashioned use of what looks to us like the letter ‘f’ for the letter ’s’ when printed within words is retained here. Those are not typos!
O Blessed Lord, the Father of mercies, and the God of all comforts; We beseech thee, look down in pity and compassion upon us thy afflicted servants. Thou writeſt bitter things againſt us, and makeſt us to possess our former iniquities; thy wrath lieth hard upon us, and our souls are full of trouble: But, O merciful God, who haſt written thy holy Word for our learning, that we, through patience and comfort of thy holy Scriptures, might have hope; give us a right underſtanding of ourselves, and of thy threats and promises; that we may neither caſt away our confidence in thee, nor place it any where but in thee. Give us ſtrength againſt all our temptations, and heal all our diſtempers. Break not the bruised reed, nor quench the smoking flax. Shut not up thy tender mercies in displeasure; but make us to hear of joy and gladness, that the bones which thou haſt broken may rejoice. Deliver us from fear of the enemy, and lift up the light of thy countenance upon us, and give us peace, through the merits and mediation of Jesus Chriſt our Lord. Amen.
Although we may disagree with some of the ‘ideas’ about the nature of God in this ancient prayer, there is much in it that is good and beautiful. I commend it to your use in these unusual times, in which the entire world is either ill or threatened with illness and death.
Bless you, Fr. Ron
Please enjoy our worship service from April 19, 2020:
The Second Sunday of Easter – 19 April 2020
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. A-men.
For the very same reasons that the Johannine account of the raising of Lazarus disturbed me a couple of weeks ago – and for that matter, the Easter accounts of the empty tomb, last week – this text does too. Quite simply put: I, just as Thomas did, doubt! I want empirical evidence. I want to see in order to believe. I want to touch that resurrected erstwhile corpse which still bears the wounds of crucifixion. Despite the risen Savior’s admonition, often reported in Latin as “Noli me tangere” or “Do not touch (or do not cling to) me,” recorded in John 20:17, I want to ‘touch and see,’ rather than simply to believe, without the use of my senses. That seems sense-less to me! What is empirical evidence all about anyway? And Jesus’ advice to un-bind Lazarus and “let him go” prefigures this statement from the risen Christ to “let him go!”
My mothers advice to me as a child: “Don’t touch that. It’s not yours. You might break it!” Touching and breaking things makes them ours! MERCHANTS’ SIGNS: “YOU BREAK IT. YOU BOUGHT IT!”
“Right on, Thomas. I’m with you! And yet, even you, get a second chance. Jesus comes back – and suspending the natural orders of matter, time and space – appears to the disciples, including you – in that locked room, and invites you personally to see, touch, and believe. I would find that same opportunity very helpful indeed. I’m sure everyone else here, in the 21st century, would too.”
But, my friends, as you and I both know, that’s NOT going to happen. Seeing and touching Jesus, in order to believe, is – for us – NOT an option. I’m sorry about that. And quite frankly, I feel put out and a bit cheated by that reality.
So, what’s left for us to do? We have exercised our first option. We have read John’s report literally: as if it were ‘historically’ factual, if not scientifically improbable. As you know by now, I have a lot of trouble with that. So, I am left to struggle with these texts for meanings which I believe to be there but missed by me, if I simply read them cursively.
I have a growing suspicion, that when the disciples were locked in that room out of fear — fear of their own kind, fear of their own tradition, fear of the challenge of the Gospel for which Jesus gave his life and for which theirs might be sacrificed too — that they looked at each other — a rag-tag, grief-stricken pack of traitors, all of whom denied and abandoned their Lord — and saw the Christ of the Gospel em-bodied in themselves. THEY WERE FINISHED. They sensed that if the message and work of sharing the unmitigated love of God for all of Her children were to continue, it was, finally and unequivocally, up to them : they THEMSELVES. They, in fact, constituted the wounded, broken, crucified and now rising body of Christ himself. Together, I believe, they experienced what psychologists today refer to as an “A-ha moment” or what the advertising moguls have coined a “V-8 Moment!” In a moment of extraordinary clarity, they came to understand that no matter how beaten down, defeated, and unlikely their chances of success were – that if the Gospel were to live on, it required a body. Heretofore, the only body they knew who did that was Jesus. So they knew that now it was up to them to re-constitute that body – they had to re-in-CORPOR-ate Christ. And if they did not give their bodies to become the Christ – as Mary gave hers at the Nativity – then the battle would have been lost. Then, Jesus’ life-giving work would have failed. Then, evil would have won.
But not so! Locked up (or down!) together, they realized who they had become and were becoming. It is here where I really begin to enjoy this text because I believe it shows us the birth of the church – and the re-birth or resurrection of the ‘Body of Christ’ in the body of the church – long before Pentecost, when we acknowledge and celebrate the eventual descent of the Holy Spirit upon the early church.
So, left in the middle of their grief – either with the dead or apparently-missing body of Jesus – the church begins to grasp, very early on, that what had become so important to them [the Divine] came to them in what was so common and ordinary to them [the flesh]. They all knew that which was Divine gave them life – and they wanted to live. They knew that a body had been killed. But, they were also learning that THE BODY – their corporate body – did not have to die with that single body, but could live on as THE BODY and that The Very Body of Christ which gave them what they needed to live life abundantly and whose TRUTH was ETERNAL. In that way The Body of Christ could indeed rise from the dead, could indeed live on and could indeed proclaim the Good News, if they allowed themselves and their very own bodies to be grafted into the business of living out the Eternal Truth shown to them by Jesus and believed by them now, ever more strongly!
Christ could be risen. Christ would be risen. Christ was risen. And now friends, it is up to us! The proclamation must be made by us – or the truth will not be known. The world – with Thomas and with me and with you – wants to see, and touch, and feel. The world wants to put its fingers in the holes in His hands and thrust their hands into His side, in order to believe! And, why not? So, just as it was with Thomas, we return again and again to the enclave of the Christian Community to find there the PROOF – the absolute EMPIRICAL PROOF that CHRIST IS RISEN bodily! HE IS RISEN INDEED – in you, in me, in the church whenever and wherever the truth is told, the Gospel proclaimed and our physical bodies are used together to raise Christ from the dead to live again in this world and eternity.
Christ is risen. He is risen indeed. Alleluia.
Our Easter Sunday Sermon may be heard here:
My dear people,
Herewith the sermon I had written for use on Easter Day. After having received some gentle criticism about ‘reading’ Palm Sunday’s sermon – I decided to lay aside the manuscript yesterday and preach as usual. You can see the difference if you want to compare this written text with what ‘really happened’ by tuning into the recording of yesterday’s liturgy which is available on our web page and social media pages.
I wish you a very rich and blessed Easter Monday!
12 April 2020
My dear people,
Who would ever imagined CLOSED CHURCHES on Easter Day?
Who could ever have imagined the Temple in Jerusalem destroyed? Do you remember the hate-filled pogrom by SA paramilitary forces which smashed and burned synagogues in Germany on the night of the 9th of November, 1938? Do you remember the hateful destruction, by the Taliban, of the ancient (6th c.) and beautiful Buddhas of Bamyan in March of 2001? Do you remember two consecutive mass shootings which occurred at mosques in a terrorist attack in Christchurch, New Zealand, during Friday Prayer on 15 March 2019? The attack, carried out by a single gunman who entered both mosques, began at the Al Noor Mosque in the suburb of Riccarton at 1:40 p.m. and continued at Linwood Islamic Centre at 1:52 p.m.It killed 51 people[ and injured 49. And let’s remember — or maybe learn about — the fact that there have been at least a dozen burnings of African-American churches in our own country in the 21st century alone; and not all of those were in the south.
[This, as I speak to you from the home of a black man many of us knew and loved who was born in Charlottesville, Virginia where, as a child, he was forbidden to go into the library by white racist ignorance and hatred. That’s the same Charlottesville where the infamous Unite the Right rally — a white supremacist and neo-Nazi rally, which our CURRENT national leadership was loathe to condemn — was conducted from August 11 to 12 in 2017.]
The closure of churches today as a part of the national and international effort to fight the spread of communicable disease is neither a terrorist act nor an act of destruction of worship spaces such as those I just mentioned. That is not the kind of loss we are experiencing here. Rather, this temporary ‘loss’ of ours is a noble, right and good thing. It is a matter of private and public health that our churches are closed for the time being: Easter notwithstanding. And the church, you may know, has had experience and lived through plagues of communicable diseases such as this one – and possibly even worse ones – before.
Here, for example, is part of a rubric from the Rite for the Visitation of the Sick from the 1552 Book of Common Prayer:
¶ In the tyme of plague, Swette, or suche other lyke contagious tymes of syckenesses or dyseases, when none of the parysh or neyghbours can be gotten to communicate wyth the syck in theyr houses, for feare of the infeccion. upon special request of the diseased, the minister may alonly communicate wyth hym.
Now, the destruction of houses of worship by ignorance, hatred, malice and fear must always be remembered, abhorred and prevented. And it is particularly poignant on this holy – and I trust, for you, happy – Easter Day to remember that Jesus had an idea [and who’s surprised: a radical one at that] that God could (and maybe even should!) be worshiped OUTSIDE of buildings: just as we are doing right now.
Do you remember this? In John 2:19 Jesus answered and said to them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” Those words were spoken just after Jesus upset the tables of the money changers in the Temple : an event known to us as the ‘Cleansing of the Temple.’ And, of course, those whose usurious behaviors, which took place in the Temple BUILDING, were threatened and angry that Jesus was suggesting that their livelihood and their abusive economy (taking advantage of poor people by selling that which was not theirs to sell: God’s favor) was irreligious and wrong. They who heard this believed Jesus’ reference to his body as the ‘Temple of the Lord,’ and his prediction to re-build that ‘Temple’ in three days, was a seditious terrorist threat against the Temple building itself. [By the way, it took 46 years to build that Temple in Jerusalem. It was no small thing.]
Now we’re getting down to the real meat and matter of Easter. Easter is about resurrection. And Easter is NOT a once a year commemoration celebrated only on the first Sunday after the first full moon after the first day of spring. NO! Easter is celebrated at every Eucharist. Easter is always before us. The fair linen on the altar [always there, except on Good Friday] is a symbol of the Jesus’ winding sheet which is seen by the first witnesses of the resurrection lying empty and folded in the tomb. For us, it remains unfolded and open on our altars, all year long, silently proclaiming: “He is NOT here. He is RISEN!”
Jesus had a clear vision about the love of God for all people which could neither be bought nor sold nor confined to a place, a people, a language, a culture or even to a particular theology. Jesus understood that those who believe, teach, confess and practice the truth that God IS love, constitute the Body of Christ, which itself is a Temple: in fact the ONLY TEMPLE, the only place of true worship. And that body is one which cannot be destroyed; and that body is one that is always being renewed and resurrected. That’s why there is such great joy at every baptism : the Temple of the Body of Christ continues to be built! That is why there is such great joy at the celebration of every eucharist : the Temple of the Body of Christ continues to be nourished. That is why there is such great joy at the rites of passage and growth such as confirmation and holy matrimony : the Temple of the Body of Christ continues to grow and mature. That is why there is even joy at the burial of the dead. Amid the grief of our loss of those we love, we have the hope that the Body of Christ – built by God in the first place – is a Temple which belongs to God alone and one which God builds with living stones, and one which cannot be destroyed. And if we are a part of that eternal structure in this world, we are certain that we shall continue to be members of that same eternal body, and building blocks of that same eternal Temple, in the next.
This is what gives us the great HOPE of EASTER resurrection. Our Temple cannot be destroyed or closed down. In three days, Jesus says, I will rebuild the Temple – and us with it!
Our Bishop posts the following message: As we continue to learn more about the current pandemic, we are discovering that more drastic measures must be taken in order to protect, not just the vulnerable, but all people in our communities. In light of recommendations from medical experts, our Governor, and our President, I once again call upon all congregations of the Diocese of Bethlehem to suspend in-person gatherings, including worship, until May 3, 2020. Please visit diobeth.org for more information
A PRAYER FOR OUR TIMES: O God, you desire that your church bear witness to you at all times and in all places: grant unto your faithful people, in the middle of all the distress and challenges of these extraordinary times, boldness to confess your name and the truth of your love for all people, everywhere.
Give us the Holy Spirit to be in your world and among your people in appropriate ways. May the examples of those who care and risk and serve others in this trying time of frightening contagion, show forth your glory and proclaim your loving intentions for all your people.
Help us, O Lord, to lift up the weak, to comfort the sorrowing, to speak peace to the desolate and the afflicted. Support us in speaking, as did Jesus, Eternal Truth to temporal power.
All this we ask in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ who healed the sick, gave sight to the blind, made the lame walk, raised the dead and taught the grieving how to rejoice. A-men.
Maundy Thursday, 9 April 2020
My dear people,
This past Sunday – Palm Sunday – we experienced our first “Cyber Dry Mass”: “virtual” worship together – at a distance – by means of tele-communication. I felt – and I know others did too – that as an alternative to gathering personally, which is not yet possible for us, this first effort was a successful one.
We talked about the histories of the Medieval ‘Dry Mass’ which included what we call on Sundays the “Liturgy of the Word of God” : the Collect, the Gloria, the Lessons, the Prayers, etc. but did NOT INCLUDE the Offertory, Consecration or the Communion. In the past, there were ‘reasons’ other than quarantine, for that. A priest was required to celebrate one mass a day but restricted to only one mass a day. So, if a priest had celebrated his mass in the morning and needed to preside at a funeral or wedding later in the day – he was limited to saying a ‘Dry Mass.’
In fact, in my early days as a Lutheran – and I know this was the case in other traditions as well – the ‘normal’ or the ‘average’ Sunday service was in fact a “Dry Mass.” We celebrated Holy Communion less frequently than we do now: usually only once a month. So on all the other Sundays we did exactly what is described as a Mediaeval “Dry Mass” and is sometimes called “Ante-Communion,” meaning that part of the mass liturgy which precedes the offertory and comes “Before the Communion.”
The church and the world are not strangers to infectious contagions. And, we are fortunate to live in times when we understand – better than ever before – how diseases spread, and how to respond to those threats. Interestingly, there are historic rubrics and ecclesiastical guidelines which inform us what was done about these situations in the past.
On Sunday I quoted the rubric from the rite for the Visitation of the Sick which was printed in the 1552 Book of Common Prayer :
¶ But yf any man either by reason of extremitie of syckenes, or for lacke of warning in due tyme to the Curate, or for lacke of company to receyve with him, or by any other just impediment, do not receyve the Sacrament of Christes body and bloud; then the Curate shal instruct him that yf he do truly repent him of his synnes, and stedfastly beleve that Jesus Christ hath suffred death upon the crosse for him, and shed his bloud for his redempcion, earnestly remembring the benefites he hath therby, and gaving him heartie thanks therfore: he doeth eate and drinke the body and bloude of our Saviour Christ, profytably to his soules health, althoughe he doe not receyve the Sacrament with hys mouth.
And although such a ‘mass’ might be called ‘dry’ it could never be understood to be anything other than ‘spiritual,’ as our own experience has taught us!
All of this is a prelude to our consideration of MAUNDY THURSDAY.
Thursday in Holy Week has always been a very special day for me. That, I suppose, in part, because Holy Thursday has been a day of expanding meaning throughout my ministry. There is always more to learn and discover as I dig deeper into the history, practices and customs which gather around this very special day. The Germans call this day Gruendonnerstag or Green Thursday. The historical explanations for this are both complex and un-clear. Gruen may have indicated a repentant sinner – the custom of eating green vegetables as a part of the Lenten fast – or etymologically – mourning. Spanish is a bit more straightforward in referring to the day simply as Jueves Santo or Holy Thursday. In England we get Maundy Thursday which is understood to derive from the Latin word mandatum : “Mandatum novum do vobis ut diligatis invicem sicut dilexi vos” ”A new commandment I give unto you: That you love one another, as I have loved you, that you also love one another.” The words Jesus spoke to his disciples at the ‘Last Supper’.
In recollection of Jesus washing the feet of his disciples, there is a Mediaeval English custom which perdures to this day, in which the monarch used to wash the feet of the poor and distribute money for food and clothing to them. The Pope too, to this day, washes and kisses feet on Maundy Thursday. For the British Monarch, that has now evolved into a highly-formalized ceremony, called the Royal Maundy, during which the monarch distributes little leather pouches of specially-minted coins (known as Maundy Money) to as many men and as many women as the monarch is years old. Today, the recipients of those ‘gifts’ are not necessarily ‘poor’ but usually elders who have provided significant and humble service to their churches and communities. The Royal Maundy takes place on Maundy Thursday in a different cathedral in England every year. Interestingly, this is the only time the British Monarch ever walks toward her subjects (in service): to distribute the Maundy Money. Otherwise, it is they who approach her throne.
As you know, Maundy Thursday is also the traditional day for bishops to celebrate the Chrism Mass, which involves the blessing and consecration of the oils to be used throughout the dioceses in the coming year for all baptisms, confirmations, sick calls, etc. This very moving service traditionally includes a rite for the clergy to renew their ordination vows.
In parish churches such as ours, the Maundy Thursday liturgy always includes the usually very uncomfortable but always moving rite of foot-washing, which emphasizes the full account of what happened at the Last Supper, the profoundly stunning stripping of the altar signifying the subsequent abuse and the abandonment of Christ after the meal, and leaving the church denuded, prepared for the silent adoration of the crucified on Good Friday.
Now, let’s get down to brass tacks and think a little bit about this most significant of pre-Easter days, and particularly about Maundy Thursday this year!
You are probably aware that in April this year faithful people the world over will celebrate Passover, Easter and Ramadan. I find that significant. It’s what I meant, when I said, above, that Maundy Thursday has been a day of “expanding meaning for me” . . . as I dig deeper and learn more about the history and customs related to this day.
In the United States, of course, April contains an important tax deadline for us to “render unto Caesar.” There is no secret, that in our hemisphere April shows the splendid signs of Spring: longer days, re-birth in the natural world, things sprouting in the garden, the return of the robins and the geese. Say nothing of the rhythm of the moon. Speaking of rhythms, you do know that Easter is always celebrated in the West on the first Sunday after the first full moon after the first day of Spring. And in the East it must also follow Passover, in order to retain the flow of Biblical-historical events. But, there is also a melancholy reality to this time of year as well. You may recall T. S. Elliot’s famous first lines from The Waste Land:
April is the cruellest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain.
Winter kept us warm, covering
Earth in forgetful snow, feeding
A little life with dried tubers.
My guess is that the coincidence of major religious festivals at this time of year – and this month in particular – is way more deeply buried in our common humanity that we can imagine. It is not surprising to imagine that long before religions were ever codified and people started to think that the way they thought and believed made them superior to others, that EVERYONE EXPERIENCED the rhythms of nature, as we still do, in the rise, development and conclusion of life. Religions, I believe, attempt to make sense of life itself and its inexorable rhythms. And so, in the midst of a global health crisis, we find ourselves having to take stock again – as of old – of a BROAD VIEW of CREATION and HUMANITY. The pandemic we are experiencing is about as UNIVERSAL as things get. We know for a fact that we are ALL in this TOGETHER, just as we have ALWAYS been TOGETHER in life and its global and universal rhythms! Let us take advantage of our current dis-advantage. Let us reclaim the center and core of our particular beliefs about Jesus, who, I believe, encouraged us to look at the world the way things always were, even BEFORE RELIGION and the way things are RIGHT NOW during a global pandemic. We do live in a world in which we are REALLY ALL TOGETHER and understand ourselves ALL to belong to the SAME GOD, without whom we are ALL surely lost!
Disease – just like sin – is no respecter of persons. We can all get physically sick just as we are all – at times – spiritually sick. We say at every mass: “We are by nature sinful and unclean and cannot save ourselves.” I think Jesus understood this aspect of the human condition as no one else ever has. Jesus also had a crystal clear understanding of the Divine Nature of our universal Creating Parent who hates none of Her children and — now this is where it gets hard for everyone, perhaps especially ‘religious people.’ — who intends life and wholeness and forgiveness for even, in Jesus’ own words: “the LEAST of THESE” : that means EVERYBODY, that MEANS THE WHOLE WORLD, that means men and women, the rich, the poor, the young the old, the healthy, the ill, the ‘righteous’ and the ‘unrighteous,’ the ‘deserving’ and the undeserving,’ etc. Simply put, Jesus believed and spent his life believing that God, in fact, loves YOU — and even me — and every other sinner in the world. Period. And if that love – which can only come from God alone – is not sufficient “for us and for our salvation,” nothing else will help. No, not even our precious religious differences!
So, I think it is safe to say that Jesus saw the world as suffering a pandemic of the human condition [“sin, death and the power of the devil”] and understood the solution to be a full and sincere grasp of the unimaginable love of the Creator God for all people everywhere. That love was most beautifully expressed in His simple gesture of washing feet: not because they ‘deserved’ washing but because they ‘needed’ washing. That love is most beautifully expressed in His sharing of the simplest of meals, in which God’s intention to BE WITH and NEVER TO ABANDON humanity is believed and celebrated, just as it is at every mass: wet or dry!
Jesus believed in the Creator God’s divine desire to heal all creation, and perhaps most especially his closest friends whose abandonment and lethal denials he suffered most poignantly. Jesus’ suggestion to us of how to do that in our lives is what this day – this Maundy Thursday – is all about.
These words of Jesus are simple. These words of Jesus are plain. These are the words of Maundy Thursday for the world:
”A new commandment I give unto you: That you love one another, as I have loved you, that you also love one another.”
So, here’s the question: If a disease can make us understand that we, in fact, live in a global community, and are universally connected, albeit by disease, should not the love of God — which Jesus modeled so profoundly and powerfully in his life and death — make us see that those with whom we live are, as much as we are, the same objects of the same Divine love which none of us deserves but which all of us need in order to live and move and have our being?
A blessed Maundy Thursday to one and to all.
5 April 2020 Palm Sunday Sermon
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. A-men.
It is customary in churches throughout the world to read, re-enact or even sing the History of the Passion of Our Lord during the service or mass on Palm Sunday. I remember being profoundly moved, in Westminster Abbey, on Palm Sunday in 2017, when the choir and soloists sang the old, old story from St. Matthew’s Gospel in that gorgeous and ancient space. My vivid memory is of the soloist who sang the voice of Jesus. That same account from St. Matthew’s Gospel is appointed for use by us again this year.
You know the story as well as I do. And, I encourage you to give it your full attention and re-reading as you might if you were in church on Palm Sunday.
You may know that it is often the case that Palm Sunday attendances are larger than Easter attendances at church. There are probably many reasons (and possibly even some excuses) for that. But let us imagine that it is far easier for people to connect with, to grasp, and to understand the brutal realities of the “passion history” than it is to grasp and believe the intention of the author of the Gospel account, which is to bring us to belief in the resurrection of Christ at Easter.
We don’t have to look far to find betrayal, sloth (disciples too tired to ‘wake and watch’ with Jesus – depicted in the window over our altar), horror at the truth, mockery of Him who told the truth, physical and psychological abuse (hitting, spitting and name-calling), financial gain being made on someone else’s mis-fortune (gambling for Jesus’ garments), ignoring visions that things ought to be different (Pilate’s wife’s dream), etc. Does any of that sound or look at all familiar to you today, in our world and our own country? We don’t have to stretch our imaginations very far, to see the same things happening around us today, do we? Who know? Maybe our ability to understand and identify with these harsh realities contributes to the ‘popularity’ of Palm Sunday (or Passion Sunday) in a way that Easter does not. We get – and we ‘get’ all too well – the nasty stuff and the ugly stuff in the History of the Passion. And, if the truth be told, we are not only the recipients of such ugliness, we are, from time to time – and this MUST be confessed – engaged in committing these offenses ourselves as well. Haven’t we just spent all of Lent thinking about the importance of taking responsibility and the need for confession, repentance and absolution, and turning around and back toward God?
So, here we are, yet again, at Palm Sunday. And although Covid-19 prevents us from gathering in the same place, we are still able to gather in the same Spirit. I still love a parade. I’m sure you do too. Some parades, such as the New Year’s Rose Bowl parade in Pasadena, California, the New Year’s Day Mummers’ Parade in Philadelpia and [although I lived and worked in and around New York City for more than 30 years] the Thanksgiving Macy’s Day Pararde, are all parades I have only ever – in all of my 72 years – seen from a distance, on TV. And, I still love to see them!
It’s easy for us to remember and to cheer on the ‘GRAND MARSHALL’ as he rides by, often on a glorious stallion. And on Palm Sunday we too watch, yet again, our Spiritual Grand Marshall parade humbly by, seated on an ass. We do love to shout “Hosannah” and “Alleluia.” But, at the end of the day, and at the end of that parade, we must be honestly sober about the disappearance of our own enthusiasm for Him who comes in the Name of the Lord. After that parade, after the palms and the garments are strewn in His way, and after the sound of our Hosannahs! is silent — AFTER all that, AFTER the hoo-ha of the parade — that’s when group pressure, the darkness of human sinfulness, the selfish love of money, sin, death and the power of the devil become more attractive to us than our own personal integrity, than the light of truth, than generosity toward others and even – or especially – toward the undeserving. That is when truth, forgiveness, justice, peace and health for us and for all people become crucifiable along with our real “GRAND MARSHALL” and our own True God.
We know that we are capable and often guilty of abandoning Jesus, right after we praise and glorify him. We often prefer to protect ourselves and our idolatries rather than the truth of God’s love for all people. Eventually, we too betray and allow Jesus to twist in the breeze as we seek some false security in something other than the truth. Palm Sunday is NOT EASTER. Palm Sunday is, however, the culmination of LENT – and, oh my, what an astounding reality we face on this day! Palm Sunday may be more about US and our duplicity than it is about Jesus and his integrity and truth telling – even unto death. The week that follows Palm Sunday [Holy Week] really uncovers us and our humanity. The week that follows Palm Sunday will find us – all of us – asleep in the garden and unable to wait and watch and pray. The week that follows Palm Sunday will find us – all of us – guests at the Lord’s table asking: “Is it I, Lord? Is it I?” The week that follows Palm Sunday will find us dipping our sop in the cup with Judas, or will find us allowing Judas to take the whole rap for the guilt of abandoning and betraying the Savior, knowing that that is a guilt in which we ALL share.
It very well may be that, in fact, it is easier for us as humans to understand, grasp and embrace the ugly realities about ourselves that the Palm Sunday Procession guides us toward, than to grasp the promise and hope of truth-telling and Easter and the Resurrection. Remember, we do, in fact, regularly and publicly confess: “we are by nature sinful and unclean and cannot save ourselves.” Alas………..
And although Palm Sunday may teach us more about ourselves than we are comfortable with or even want to know, Palm Sunday is NOT the end of the story. Rather, we believe, teach and confess something more than ourselves and greater than our human condition. We believe, teach and confess the unimaginable love of a Creator God who hates nothing and no one She has ever created, and whose intention is to forgive and to heal and to save. We, in fact, have hope beyond ourselves and beyond our sinful and unclean human ‘condition.’ We have hope in One True God: the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel, Leah, Jesus, Mary and Joseph!
repared: Easter packs a punch. And that punch is HOPE!
More about that next Sunday…………..
Bless today, as you greet Him who comes in the Name of the Lord!