The Liturgy of the Word for May 10th, Easter V

This Service Webcast with Sermon was recorded in St Martin’s Church and produced by Ian Tulungen

If you are not a regular financial supporter of St Martin’s we invite you to

DONATE HERE

Thank you for supporting our ministry during this period of physical distancing

Order of Service

The Liturgy of the Word begins on page 355 of the Book of Common Prayer     

Prelude: Cantilene (Sonata XI) Josef Rheimberger, Steven Young on the St Martin’s Organ

Welcome

Introit: “Love bade me welcome” George Herbert’s poem Love III set to music by R. Vaughan Williams as part of his Easter Mystical Song Cycle. Sung by Gabe Alfieri, St Martin’s Choral Director accompanied by Steven Young, St Martin’s Organist

Love bade me welcome: yet my soul drew back,
            Guilty of dust and sin.
But quick-eyed Love, observing me grow slack
            From my first entrance in,
Drew nearer to me, sweetly questioning
            If I lacked anything.

“A guest,” I answered, “worthy to be here”:
            Love said, “You shall be he.”
“I, the unkind, ungrateful? Ah, my dear,
            I cannot look on thee.”
Love took my hand, and smiling did reply,
            “Who made eyes but I?”

“Truth, Lord; but I have marred them; let my shame
            Go where it doth deserve.”
“And know you not,” says Love, “who bore the blame?”
            “My dear, then I will serve.”
“You must sit down,” says Love, “and taste my meat.”
            So I did sit and eat.

First Hymn: 455 first and last verses sung by the St Martin’s Staff Singers, Steve Young accompanying

Alleluia, Christ is risen. The Lord is risen indeed. Alleluia!

Collect for Purity

The Gloria: S280, sung by St Martin’s Staff Singers, Steve Young, organ

The Collect for the Fifth Sunday after Easter

You can find a link to the readings for the day here

First Reading: Acts 7:55-60 read by Meg LoPresti

Psalm  31:1-5, 15-16, sung by Lori Istok, Staff Soprano

Second Reading: 1Peter 2:2-10 read by Fla Lewis

Gradual Hymn: 518 v1, Staff Singers with organ

The Gospel: John 14:1-14 proclaimed by Linda+

Gradual Hymn: 518 v4

The Sermon: Reflections from Mark+

The Nicene Creed: (pg 358 BCP) -(we recite together)

The Anthem: Schubert, Benedictus “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord” sung by Jacob Chippo, Staff Singer and Gabe Alfieri with Steve Young, organ

Prayers of the People: led by Linda+

The Peace

The Lord’s Prayer

The General Thanksgiving (pg 101 BCP)

Easter Blessing

Final Hymn: 194, Staff Singers with organ

If you are not a regular financial supporter of St Martin’s we invite you to

DONATE HERE

Thank you for supporting our ministry during this period of physical distancing

The Postlude: Fugue (Sonata XI) J Rheimberger with Steven Young playing

Words Matter

Stand alone Sermon Recording

In this week’s E-News message I wrote about the Golden Calf story in the daily Exodus readings as an example of what we human beings – left to our own devices – will do. We make gods in our own image, to create for ourselves comfortable gods; gods who are immediately to hand and can be molded to support our social world views; gods who reassure us in the face of universal anxieties.

It’s natural to want to feel that we are the special ones, the ones who fall under the protection of a merciful God. However, we cannot shelter under the protection of a MERCIFUL God if we exclude someone else from this same protection because they hold a worldview different from us. We cannot claim the protection of a God whose name is MERCY if we remain blind to our collusion in systems that:

  • devalue those lower down on the economic and social ladder
  • discriminate against others on the basis of race or ethnicity
  •  oppress and exploit others’ relative powerlessness.

Today’s gospel passage comes from a section of John’s Gospel known as the Farewell Discourses which take the form of a conversation between Jesus and his disciples immediately following the Last Supper. John 14 is a favorite at funerals, speaking as it does about prepared rooms in God’s heavenly mansion.

On Mother’s Day 2020 when many of us will be experiencing the bitter sweetness of expressing our love for the mother’s we are prevented from being with because of the Virus, in this reflection entitled Words Matter I thought we might take a little more time to delve beneath the surface of John’s words in chapter 14.

The text emphasizes what the old Prayer Book version of the Nicene Creed referred to as the consubstantiality between Jesus and God. Jesus and God are of one substance or shared identity. Thus, for John, Jesus is more than the Son of God, the title used by the other gospel writers. For John, Jesus is God the Son, the Word preexistent with the Creator before the beginning of time. Thus, John’s Jesus proclaims to his disciples that to know him is to know God, and vice versa – if you have seen me you have seen the Father, for the Father and I are one. Through this portrayal of Jesus’ teaching John is warning those members of his Beloved Community who felt they could bypass Jesus because they had accessed the higher knowledge (gnosis) that gave them direct access to God.

However, it’s when Jesus talks about going ahead to prepare a place for the disciples before coming back to take them with him, that John presents one of the most controversial of all Jesus’ teachings.

I AM the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.

This is a favorite text for those who long to restrict access to God only to others who are like them.

In capitalizing I AM we are reminded of Exodus 3:14 when God tells Moses to say to the Israelites when they ask who sent him: tell them I AM sent you. In Chapter 14, by deliberately evoking the ancient form of the divine name, John’s Jesus is including himself within it.

That Jesus says: I AM the way, the truth, and the life is taken by the Christian Right to mean unless you are a Christian, God is not interested in you. Only by saying Jesus is my Savior, will God accept you. John 14 is used as a way of telling us that God is only interested in Christians. It forms the bedrock of the hard and exclusive message that we are so used to hearing from the religious right. For if you can exclude others (Jews, blacks, women, LGBTQ persons, immigrants) from inclusion within God’s grace, by extension, you can justify attempts to marginalize and exclude many others because they don’t share the values of the comfortable god you have made in your own image.

Richard Swanson in his commentary on this text reminds us that the rabbis say that the Divine Name -I AM which is translated as LORD in our English Bibles appears only when God is acting to rescue, nurture, claim, and protect. In John 14, Jesus is not seeking to narrow the divine life’s entry qualifications. He’s doing the opposite. He’s deliberately invoking God of the Exodus who rescues, nurtures, claims, and protects –in other words, the merciful attributes of God. Swanson suggests we might better read John 14 as: MERCY is the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except by way of MERCY.

When Jesus speaks of going to prepare a place for his disciples, he’s not telling them that this place will be exclusive to them. He’s saying the opposite when we remember that John’s Jewish Christians had been excluded by the Jerusalem authorities from Israel’s covenant with God. Bearing this in mind we can see that John’s Jesus is seeking to reassure his followers that of-course, there will be room for them – alongside Israel, i.e. everyone else.

The essence of MERCY is that we don’t get to decide who is in and who’s out.

In today’s America we cannot hide any more from the ugly truth that we are implicated in a system that teaches some that it’s OK to kill a black man for being in a place they don’t think he has a right to be in. Those of us who enjoy easy access to health care are conspirators in a system that questions this as a basic human right; something dependent on ability to pay. Those of us who have the financial capacity to send our children to the best schools are implicated in a system that denies quality public education to everyone else. The essence of MERCY is that we don’t get to decide who is in and who’s out.

The danger for us lies in remaining complicit with:

  • an economic order that exploits most of the population by depriving them of the necessity of a living wage
  • a system driven by the principle of uncontrolled consumption that has led us to the brink of environmental and ecological catastrophe
  • our sleep walking through election cycles that return a political philosophy that has actively eroded our precious public institutions and civic protections; that has shrunk government to the point that it is incapable of a nationally coordinated response to a health pandemic like COVID-19

Words matter, and the word that matters is MERCY. MERCY is the way, the truth, and the life, for no one can come to the Father except by way of MERCY.

Liturgy of the Word with Sermon for Easter IV

Order of Service

Prelude: ‘Variations on “Bunessan” Robert J. Powell with Steven Young is at the console of the St Martin’s organ

Service begins on pg 355 of the Book of Common Prayer

Alleluia, Christ is risen. The Lord is risen indeed!

The Introit: I got me flowers a George Herbert poem set by R. Vaughan Williams’ in his Easter Mystical Song Cycle and sung by The Men and Boys of St Matthew’s Church with Gerald Finley, Baritone. This song cycle is part of our choral repertoire which Gabe Alfieri sang at Easter, 2019

I got me flowers to straw thy way:
I got me boughs off many a tree:
But thou wast up by break of day,
And brought’st thy sweets along with thee.

The Sun arising in the East,
Though he give light, and th’East perfume;
If they should offer to contest
With thy arising, they presume.

Can there be any day but this,
Though many suns to shine endeavour?
We count three hundred, but we miss:
There is but one, and that one ever.

The Gloria: Healey Willan, Mass XII, sung by the St Martin’s Choir, recorded last Christmas Eve, directed by Gabe Alfieri with Steven Young, organist.

The Collect: for the Fourth Sunday after Easter

The Readings: Here is a link to the Preparing for Sunday Lectionary page

Acts 2:42-47, proclaimed by Laura Bartsch

Psalm 23: pre-recorded by St Martin’s Chapel Consort

1 Peter 2:19-25, proclaimed by Elizabeth Welshman

Gradual hymn: 440 vv 1-2, St Martin’s staff singers w/organ

The Gospel: John 10:1-10 proclaimed by The Rev. Mark Sutherland

Gradual hymn: 440 v 3, St Martin’s staff singers w/organ

The Sermon: The Rev. Linda Griggs -(the text appears below)

The Nicene Creed: (pg 358 BCP) -(we recite together)

The Anthem: There Is a Balm in Gilead, St Martin’s Chapel Consort

Prayers of the People: Linda+

The Peace

The Lord’s Prayer

The General Thanksgiving (pg 101 BCP) and Easter Blessing

The Postlude: Trumpet Tune in C by Michael McCabe with Steven Young is at the console of the St Martin’s organ

The service was recorded, edited, and produced by Christian (Ian) Tulungen

Service Audio cast including the Sermon
Stand alone Sermon Audio

On Deployment

 “The Church is not empty; it has been deployed. “

This is a social media meme that became viral (pardon the pun) about a month ago, as clergy frantically pondered how to do Church during Holy Week and Easter, grieving with our parishes as we faced a time that is traditionally filled with hectic activity, high attendance, and high expectations, all the while knowing that no virtual/online/ webcast/livestream/zoom liturgy could possibly substitute for the visceral experience of being together and worshipping together during one of the most important seasons of the Church Year.

As I noted in my Good Friday meditation, this is not a situation any of us wanted, but it is where we are, and with God’s grace we are called to understand how to make meaning from this moment.

“The Church is not empty; it has been deployed.”

The flock has until now been safe within the sheepfold, protected by the walls and the gate from all who wish it harm. But now the gate has moved aside and the flock has been called reluctantly out of the fold into open land and uncertain territory. We blink in the harsh light of this new time and long to turn around and head back to our comfortable shelter. But instead the Shepherd insistently calls us onward, away from the fold. We are on a new journey.

Even as the restrictions of the past weeks are gradually lifting in the community, we still face an indeterminate amount of time before we can be back in the church, and even then we need to be realistic about the fact that there may be new resurgences of the virus before a vaccine is ready. This will probably mean that this will not be the last time we will be confined to our homes, unable to gather for worship in person.

So for now the sheepfold remains off limits, and we don’t know for how long, or when we will be called away again once we are back. We can’t really conceive of what “normal” will look like.

We are in a liminal place, trying to understand our identity in new circumstances, when we have only our old circumstances as a frame of reference.  Who are we now, and is that different from who we were several weeks ago?

What does it mean for the Church to be deployed?

In order to understand this we need to go back to the beginning.

All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. 

Acts 2

Scholars differ as to whether Luke, the author of Acts, was writing this iconic passage descriptively or prescriptively; was he telling how it was, or how he wished it to be? Regardless, what we have here is a Gospel vision of a community saturated by the Holy Spirit and living out its call to follow Jesus in a particular way, in a spirit of faithfulness, fellowship and generosity. This early Church was in liminal space–a period of transition from being a group of Christian Jews still meeting in the Temple to being a separate community that would eventually move beyond those walls with a new understanding of itself and how to live out its faith.

Those who had been baptized devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers… 

Those of us who have been baptized, or been part of a liturgy of Holy Baptism, will (I hope) recognize this description of the new community; this verse is the primary template of our identity as followers of Christ. As baptized Christians we have entered into a covenant of engagement with scripture and the traditions of the Church, and to worshipping and praying together for ourselves, each other and the world.

This is who we are. And it is really important to remember that we have been called into this identity and that it has stood in some form or another for two millennia, through the ups and downs of countless historical upheavals and crises. The Church can withstand a pandemic. This may even be our opportunity to thrive. Not that we are casting off those crucial marks of our identity that remind us who we are, but that we have learned to experience them in new ways. Through technology we have managed to remain in contact with one another, and even to increase our reach—this past week we were joined at Zoom Morning Prayer by a worshiper calling in from Athens, Georgia. Our online Meditation classes have gone from 5 to 20 attendees.  I’ve noticed from our Zoom Coffee Hours that we are gradually learning to listen in a different way because only one person can speak at a time in a large group and we must pause more often, and think a little more carefully before speaking. Technology definitely has its frustrations, and these are well documented, but it elicits gifts as well.

Yes, we miss Eucharist—the “breaking of bread” at God’s Table and meeting together at the altar rail.  Bishop Knisely has called this moment a time of fasting, and I think this is helpful. Fasting is a discipline intended to bring us closer to God. When we remember what it is we are missing through our fast, we remember the One who created, liberated and sustains us. We can remember that the sacred can be found in the ordinary; that invisible grace permeates the outward and visible world. We can learn to seek the holy where we are.

Which brings us back to where we began a few minutes ago. Where are we? We are deployed. We are a flock cast out of our fold and led into an uncomfortable landscape. We are finding new ways to do old things. But our Shepherd wants more from us than that. If we are to live out our Covenant fully where we are, we need to remember who we are. And who we are lies not just in how we worship, but in what that worship, through the Spirit, calls us into.

The landscape into which we have been led is admittedly pretty bleak. This time of pandemic has laid bare the issues of economic, social, and environmental injustice that have plagued this country and our world for decades and more, but now are more starkly evident than ever. The catalogue of bad news, especially for our most vulnerable neighbors, is heart wrenching and frightening for anyone with eyes to see and ears to hear. But this is not a time to be fearful. The Good Shepherd’s call to compassion, justice and healing is the same as it ever was; nothing has changed. What has changed is the urgency of the call and the opportunity of this liminal moment. We can’t pass it up.

I came across a series of questions that may help to equip us for this landscape; questions that we might bear in our hearts and minds as we engage, not only with our spiritual world, but with our secular and civic worlds as well. Think about the decisions and priorities we set as individuals and communities. As we do so, ask:

Does it heal?

Does it bring hope?

Does it remake a part of the world so that people can rebuild their lives?

Does it invite us to participate in God’s work of transformation?

We are deployed.  We are called to courage by a Shepherd who walks with us through this Valley, and when we return to the fold, whenever that will be, it will be a different place because we are different; because we will have remembered who we are; the Body of Christ empowered by the Spirit, and renewed in faithfulness, fellowship and generosity. A transformed people, as ready now as the early Christians were to move beyond the walls and to transform the world. Amen

Service of the Liturgy of the Word for Easter III

We are trying a different format for the Sunday Worship by returning to the more familiar pattern of the Liturgy of the Word – the first half of the Eucharist service, beginning on pg 355 of the BCP. If you don’t have a BCP you can find it online here.

Order of Service

PreludeCantilena by Eugene Butler with Steven Young is at the console of the St Martin’s organ

The Introit: Rise heart, thy Lord is risen a George Herbert poem set by R. Vaughan Williams’ in his Easter Mystical Song Cycle and sung by the Choir of King’s College, Cambridge. This song cycle is a part of our choral repertoire which Gabe Alfieri sang at Easter 2019

The Gloria: Healey Willan, Mass XII, sung by the Gallery Choir of St Mary Magdalene Church, Toronto. Willan is part of our repertoire, last sung on Christmas Eve

The Collect: for the third Sunday after Easter

The Readings: Here is a link to the Preparing for Sunday Lectionary page

Acts 2:14, 36-41 read by David Whitman

Psalm 116: 1-3,10-17, chanted by Jacob Chippo, St Martin’s Chapel Consort

1 Peter 1:17-23, read by Beth Toolan

Hymn 180 vv 1 & 4, sung and recorded remotely by the St Martin’s Chapel Consort

The Gospel: Luke 24:13-35 proclaimed by The Rev. Linda Griggs

The Anthem: Keep us in thy hands, O Lord, George Frederick Handel, Sung and recorded remotely by Gabe Alfieri and Lori Istock of the St Martin’s Chapel Consort, accompanied on a period organ by Steven Young

The Sermon: The Rev. Mark Sutherland -the text appears below

The Credo (Nicene Creed): Healey Willan, Mass XII, sung by the Gallery Choir of St Mary Magdalene Church, Toronto. Willan is part of our repertoire, last sung on Christmas Eve

Prayers of the People: Mark+

The Peace

The Lord’s Prayer

Hymn 182: vv 1 & 5, sung by the St Martin’s Chapel Consort recording remotely

The General Thanksgiving (pg 101 BCP) and Easter Blessing

The Postlude: Trumpet Tune in A by Michael McCabe with Steven Young is at the console of the St Martin’s organ

The service was recorded, edited, and produced by Christian (Ian) Tulungen

A late addition to the prayers for the dead is Joe Bishkoff, who died last evening. Rest in peace, Joe. We remember Cheryl at this time.

Service of the Liturgy of the Word
Mark’s+ stand alone sermon audio

You will have heard the saying that the mind only sees what it already knows, or a variation – the mind only recognizes what it is already on the lookout for. This is because the mind is like a very sophisticated pattern mapping machine. The act of remembering – to see something again – involves the mind mapping an old memory template onto a new experience.

I suspect it’s a common experience to hear a piece of music and love it immediately. The reason we love the new song or tune is because it’s not new to us at all. The new arrangement of the notes evokes existing sound memory stored away in a very old part of the brain known as the hippocampus -from the Greek hippokampos – sea horse, a part of the brain shaped like this strange sea creature.

Our senses gather new information and then cross reference it against stored memory. When we hear a piece of music and are baffled by it, or instantly dislike it – it is because we have no stored template against which to map the sounds. You’ve heard that the native peoples who first encountered Columbus could not see his ships. They had no stored template against which to map objects so outside their previous experience.

The thing about the storage of long-term memories is that the mapping of new to previous experience is an unconscious process – its more than “oh yes this reminds me of that time” etc. The unconscious triggering by new of older experience is problematic for us because we don’t know it’s happening.

Two consequences flow from this. The first is that nothing is ever really forgotten, it’s just that associations between present and past experience become hidden from our conscious awareness. The second is summed up by Freud’s dictum: what we cannot remember we are destined to repeat – unfortunately over, and over, and over, again!

Understanding the meaning of present-time experience requires remembering. Remembering is a conscious process of re-membering -of reassembling the fragments of forgotten memory into newly conscious configurations. Instead of unconsciously repeating past experience we re-member it into new experience, i.e. modified behavior that opens the possibility for a new outcome with a different result.

Grief breaks the links in the chain of re-membering. Grief is a powerful tool of forgetting all but the anger and depression of loss. Working through grief, which is after all a natural human reaction, usually does not require the help of a skilled therapist, but it always requires the help of a compassionate listener; one who accompanies the grieving on their journey of healing. In this process the denial and rage of grief is transformed back into a capacity for faith, hope, and love.

In chapter 24 of his gospel we find Luke’s story set on the Emmaus road. This is the first two post resurrection appearances of Jesus, recorded by Luke. Last week I spoke and wrote about John’s treatment of Jesus’ post resurrection appearance. John tells tales differently from Luke. Yet both Evangelists explore the connection of Jesus’ post-resurrection body to our human experience.

Luke is a teller of human shaped tales; by which I mean Luke’s Jesus is intimately concerned with the suffering nature of human experience. On the road to Emmaus – a town a couple of miles outside Jerusalem – we are invited into the heart wrenching portrayal of two men’s grief and its transformation at the hands of a seeming stranger who falls into step alongside them.

The two disciples are in the grip of the forgetting of grief. As they travel along, ostensibly escaping the now painful associations of Jerusalem as a place of dashed hope, we can observe that a change of scene does not stop them ruminating in the grip of their loss.

Clouded by the forgetting effects of grief, they don’t recognize Jesus. For them Jesus is dead. Because they had never encountered an individual resurrection there was no memory template of resurrection filed away in their hippocampus, capable of informing their current experience.

And as they walked, the stranger – who to their astonishment seems to know nothing of Jesus or his death, begins to transform their loss by mapping it to their stored scriptural memory.

This process leads them to a point of re-membering – reassembling the fragments of memory into a blindingly new awareness – triggered in them as Jesus takes bread, blesses it, brakes it and gives it to them. Now suddenly, they’re able to map their experience of loss to something already familiar. The moment their eyes opened – Jesus vanishes. The work of healing is now complete; their healing has been assured as they exclaim in astonishment to each other: “Were not our heart burning within us while he was talking to us on the road?” You see, they knew all along, it’s just they had forgotten they knew it. In their burning hearts Jesus began to remap their grief to faith, hope, and love. They now get up and hightail it back to Jerusalem; healed men.

The Road to Emmaus is for Christians a universal symbol of journeying into new discovery. We awaken to the anxiety and fear of finding ourselves in an unprecedented global pandemic emergency. In other words, we’re on the Road to Emmaus – a journey of discovery -of re-membering humanity’s desperate and urgent need for healing.

Sung Morning Prayer for the Second Sunday after Easter

The Rector’s Introduction to Morning Prayer

Led by the St Martin’s Chapel Consort, Morning Prayer begins on Pg 79 of the Book of Common Prayer or online here.

This morning’s hymns are 178 which follows the third reading and 205.

The psalm is 16 found and the Psalter section of the BCP.

The readings are Acts: 2:14, 22-32, 1 Peter 1:3-9, John 20:19-3.

The Canticles are 17, The Song of Simeon, and 15, The Song of Mary.

The Anthem is “O Sacrum Convivium” by Roger T. Petrich.

Gabe Alfieri, Choral Director is Cantor and the Organ prelude and postlude are played by Steven Young on the St Martin’s organ.

Christian (Ian) Tulungen, Editor and Producer.

Audio Podcast of Sung Morning Prayer with Sermon
Stand Alone Sermon Audio

Being Human – John 20

Their world had been utterly shattered by Jesus’ death on the cross. None of them had expected the disastrous turn of events of just three days ago – had it really been only three days – it felt to them like a lifetime – the disastrous turn of events on that Thursday evening and Friday morning.

If his death the following day was not enough, early in the morning of this, the third day – they had awoken to the disturbing news of the disappearance of Jesus’ body from the tomb where they thought they had safely buried him. Their world, broken apart, Jesus’ disciples had reason to be in an apprehensive state of mind, retreating to the relative safety of their inner group; meeting in subdued mood in an out of the way place, safe behind a bolted door -avoiding attracting unwanted attention.

We too have awoken over a matter of weeks and days to a world utterly changed; awakening to an utter shattering of our world view; awakening to a world in which all our normal expectations are now questionable – we hear this story of Jesus’ disciples gathering on the evening of the third day following his death – with new ears this year.

Feelings of being alone and isolated in a world that now feels very threatening and dangerous brings us into a profound identification with Jesus’ disciples’ sense of social isolation – so powerfully depicted by John’s account of Jesus’ first post resurrection appearance. Like them, we now know as never before what it feels like to be really afraid.

John records several post resurrection appearances in which Jesus mysteriously appears among his disciples. I am reminded of Bishop Tom Wright’s response to the suggestion that the Gospels are the work of early Christian imagination – at best fanciful fiction and at worst religious propaganda. He poses the question in response: why if you wanted to tell a convincing story of Jesus as the Messiah would you tell it this way? Wright is asserting the old adage that fact is often stranger than fiction. It’s the strangeness of the Gospel stories – esp. these stories of post resurrection appearance in John, that bears testimony to the truth of the strange events behind their depiction.

From our modern perspective it’s easy to recognize elements of magical realism in these depictions. For instance, Jesus seems to come and go through solid objects such as walls and bolted doors; suggesting a no longer physical body but some spiritual apparition. John is not suggesting a spiritual apparition, or an internal psycho-spiritual experience within the minds of the witnesses. His story is of Jesus with a post resurrection body that while in some way changed is still very much like ours. His is still a body that is corporeal (physical) enough to be touched; still a body that can eat and drink; a body that still bears upon it the history of its bodily wounding.

We usually ask the wrong question about such stories. Obsessed with the question of what’s real or not, what’s true or false we miss the point of the way John tells his stories of Jesus’ post resurrection appearances. To go back to Wright’s question that if John had wanted to be utterly convincing why would he have told the stories this way? It appears that John tells his stories to evoke faith in his readers by showing that the post resurrection Jesus is still the Jesus they had known in the flesh. A Jesus with a body now somehow changed but still emblematic of his all-too-human, experience.

Have you ever wondered why Jesus’ post resurrection body still bears the wounds of his cruel and unusual death? Surely if God had raised him to a new super-enhanced state of being the wounds would have disappeared – as in the hands of a skilled plastic surgeon, the scars of his all too human wounding would have been erased.

But John is reminding us of what we know to be most true in our own experience. None of us possess bodies free from wounding at the hands of life. We move on, we may even triumph over events that have wounded us deeply, but the record of our experience remains evident by the scars we still bear. Our scars remain essential reminders of how we have become who we now are.

Whatever the post resurrection state of Jesus’ body, God intends it to still bear the record of his human suffering – so as to continue to be a body like yours and mine – a body we can identify with.

Have you ever wondered about the role Thomas plays in John’s story? It has often been read as a story about doubt. But it is really a story about touch. Thomas doesn’t doubt the account of his friends as to what they had seen. He protests that he needs his faith to be confirmed by his senses – his all too human desire for touch. Thomas demands to touch Jesus; he won’t settle for anything less.

Touch or its absence has become an area of contemporary wounding. Touch, one of the primary ways of connecting with one another is now the one thing forbidden to many of us who may find ourselves isolating alone. The touch and caress of loved ones is denied to the dying who must now die alone with only perhaps – if they are lucky – the touch of the nurse at their bedside.

Even if we are living within a family, touching anyone else, that unconscious gesture of reaching out to another – of establishing mutual connection -something we instinctively did all the time – is now forbidden to us. And being touched by someone outside our zone of safe bodies is something we now shrink back from.

Our faith, our self-confidence, our sense of being connected with others shrivels within us when we can no longer touch. Thomas represents the human protest of our need to touch in order to know what is real.

John’s first depiction of the post resurrection appearance of Jesus is a story in two parts; a story of two encounters seven days apart. At the end of the second encounter with Jesus he puffs the Holy Spirit into his disciples.

The NRSV translates John’s Greek as breath -breathing – he breathed on them and said to them “Receive the Holy Spirit”. There is something rather serene – something rather English about this action. By contrast John’s Greek phrase labete pneuma hagion carries multiple meanings but the first of which is puff. Like the action of a mouth to mouth resuscitation – puff inflate – puff inflate, this is not a serene action. It’s an urgently intimate action. Mouth to mouth – puff inflate – puff inflate!

The post resurrection Jesus now puffs the New Life of God’s Spirit into his disciples as God has puffed it into him. Breath is the autonomic (unconsciously automatic) action that sustains our life. And in the way John depicts this, we hear the echo of the second Genesis account of the first human life – when God puffs life into Adam’s lungs – animating him through the action of inflating him with the Spirit of Life.

The tragic irony is not lost on us as our hospitals currently fill to over flowing with unconscious patients on ventilators – mechanical devices that are breathing for them – one puff at a time.

Told in any other way than the way John tells this first account of the post resurrection appearance of Jesus would be to run the danger of severing Jesus from the reality of our human experience. Then he really would be selling a work of fiction that places the post resurrection Jesus in a league of his own, with a body so unlike ours as to leave us cut off from it – a body so unlike ours that it is completely inaccessible to us.

The resurrection of Jesus is not a superhero fable – it’s a story of continuity -of connection with the spiritual hope housed in our physical vitality – of the faith, hope, and love that animates and validates our experience of being all too human.

As the reading from Acts vividly shows, the disciples did not hide away in fear for very long. We read that: Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed the crowd. Inflated with the power of the Spirit of New Life, the work of the Christian Community in the world began.

Although the prospect that social isolation will not end soon enough, I want to remind us that we have not stopped being part of the Christian Community in the world. Any cursory reading of all the parish initiatives currently in play shows us that our work as a Christian Community in the world continues though we’ve just switched down to a lower gear that is giving us a different kind of traction.

Be strong in your faith, resilient in your hope, and loving in your response.

Alleluia, Christ is risen. He is risen indeed, Alleluia!

Our Easter Service follows the pattern of the Agape Meal. This is a celebration of table fellowship and an expression of the unity of the Christian Community. Although bread and wine are used, they remain unconsecrated and so this is not a Eucharist. For us, Eucharist requires the presence of priest and congregation in the same space.

The Agape Meal was a common practice of the early church and forms a bridge between the Jewish Passover Meal and the Eucharist. The words of blessing come from the remembrance of Paul in 1 Cor. rather than directly from Jesus at the Last Supper.

You might like to have your own bread and wine to hand so as to participate virtually, at the time of breaking and sharing.

Image courtesy of Pinterest

Easter Day Service

The link will be live from 9:30am

The Rector’s Easter Message

Hope Defiant!

There are moments in history when disaster clarifies our vision of the world. Thus I find myself in an historical frame of mind as I reflect on the meaning of Easter, this year. History offers an unnerving coincidence. The last great influenza pandemic that swept the globe happened in 1918-19 when an estimated 500 million people contracted an H1N1 virus commonly named as Spanish Flu; resulting in an estimated 50 million deaths of which 675,000 occurred in the US, alone.  

I mention the 1918-19 pandemic simply because I am struck by a historical symmetry. The chronology of the CORVID-19 Pandemic occurring almost exactly 100 years later is uncanny. I am not suggesting I know the meaning of this symmetry other than to present it as evidence that humanity thrives within a complex internet of nature, which despite a century of astonishing medical and technological progress still has the power to swiftly bring civilization to its knees. Medical and technological progress offers little added protection against the lethal ingenuity of biological and environmental nature; a timely reminder before which the repentance of humility is the only authentic response.

The lethal ingenuity of biological and environmental nature is a timely reminder before which the repentance of humility is the only authentic response.

The Malvern Conference of 1941 offers a second historical symmetry between then and now. In the midst of the darkest days of Britain’s struggle for national survival against Nazi tyranny – there gathered a major conference of notable literary, political, and church leaders. Called and chaired by Archbishop William Temple at a time when the fate of national survival seemed to be in some doubt, these men and women gathered to re-vision a future restructuring of British Society after war’s end. What audacity, indeed!

The pandemic of 1918-19 and the Malvern Conference offer historical windows through which to re-vision a post Coronavirus world. Malvern drew the blueprint for Britain’s postwar social reconstruction, particularly in the reforms to public education and healthcare spearheaded by the incoming Labour Administration in 1945. To translate into American historical terms, Malvern was the beginning of Britain’s New Deal.  

Both these historical events remind me of the curious symmetry concealed in history’s sweep. If the authentic response to our continued vulnerability to the lethal ingenuity of the natural order is Good Friday’s repentance of humility, then the authentic response to a historical reminder of the possibilities for social re-visioning -of the order that emerged out of Britain’s Malvern Conference and America’s New Deal – is Easter’s defiance of hope.

I coin the phrase defiance of hope to capture the two essential elements of hope. The first is that hope is generated not by joy but by sorrow and loss. There can be no Easter hope without Good Friday’s loss. The Malvern Conference and Roosevelts New Deal were both visions of hope born out of periods of terrible suffering and loss. The second element is the defiant nature of hope. Hope takes its stand not in the absence of -but in the face of fear. In defiance of the destructive power of loss and suffering, hope faces evil down and calls it by name.

This Lent, we have journeyed towards Easter against the backdrop of a world of darkening skies and of mounting fear. The economy has unraveled in a matter of weeks- catapulting millions of our fellow citizens into the greatest experience of economic insecurity since the Great Depression. We have had to physically isolate ourselves from one another, as the ICU units fill to overflowing with the gravely ill and the morgues spill out into refrigerated trucks stationed in their empty parking lots.

And yet, and yet! We arrive at Easter’s hope bowed but not cowered. We arrive amazed by learning again that which we appear to have found it easier to turn our eyes from. In fact, the Coronavirus Pandemic has as nothing has before – so quickly and so nakedly exposed the weakness of our social and economic fabric. The hollowness of 30 years of neo-capitalist individualism collapses before our eyes as urgent stimulus measures cast aside the sacred doctrines of tax cuts and corporate profit. The dangers of sectarianism along with all the other isms that tear our society apart are in the twinkling of the eye exposed to the light of day. The ism of race has taken on a new poignancy as we are forced to face up to the long-term consequences of a profit driven health care system that has excluded from effective healthcare large sections of the African American and Latino communities.

This year, the defiant hope of Easter is no longer a comfortable sentiment, but a searing imperative to re-vision our society. The defiance of Easter’s hope propels us as a society, as a people whose lot is interdependence one upon another – to with an urgent determination and passionate courage re-vision a future completely different from our recent past.

The raising of Jesus is not to spiritual life in heaven, but new life on earth.

The resurrection of Jesus is for Christians the opening of a new chapter in the long story of creation.  God raised Jesus to new life as the Christ to demonstrate God’s ultimate intention for the whole of creation. What God had hitherto hinted at in the dreams of Israel’s prophets – God has now inaugurated through raising Jesus – not to spiritual life in heaven, but new life on earth. – a new life on earth that now continues through the Holy Spirit’s empowering of the life of the Christian Community.

Working for the perfection of creation might seem like an impossible dream. However, through the defiance of hope, God’s work is being carried out through the Christian Community in the world. That this is not our work alone, takes nothing away from the reality that it IS nevertheless, our work!

We live in the time between the resurrection of Jesus and final consummation of the renewal of all creation. The Easter defiance of hope is to live as if the promise yet to come is already being fulfilled – that:

things which were cast down are being (present tense) raised up, and things which had grown old are being made new, that all things are being brought to perfection.

Solemn Collects for Good Friday.

There are moments in history when disaster clarifies our vision of the world. This Easter we arrive at such a moment.

There are moments in history when disaster clarifies our vision of the world. This Easter we arrive at such a moment. The Coronavirus, through exposing the glaring deficiencies of our social structures, now starkly reveals to us how over previous decades American society has taken a wrong turn. In 2020, the message of Easter could not be clearer. It is now time as a nation to once again raise up that which has been cast down and work for the renewal of that which has grown old. This is the meaning and the message of the defiance of resurrection hope!

HAPPY EASTER EVERYONE – WHAT A CELEBRATION WE SHALL HAVE WHEN WE CAN BE TOGETHER AGAIN!

Bergognone’s Cristo Risorto

The loss of Easter giving is significant financial burden for all churches. We are deeply appreciative of your generosity and support during this challenging period.

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The Good Friday Liturgy

The Solemn Liturgy traditionally forms the final of the Three Hours Devotion that where Good Friday is is public holiday run from 12-3pm. In the US because Good Friday is not a public holiday the Liturgy is normally celebrated in the evening. Due to Coronavirus restrictions on movement and association the music that otherwise would be sung by our choir is replaced with Youtube recordings.

The service opens in silence on pg 276 BCP with only the sound of the nails being hammered into the cross.

Readings: Isaiah 52:13-53:12; Psalm 22:1-11 sung by the St Thomas Choir of Men and Boys, NYC; Hebrews 10:1-25

The Passion according to John (Chapters 18-20), is sung to the setting by Victoria, and peformed by the Keene Vocal Consort.

The Solemn Collects pg 277 BCP follow a pattern of intercession, sung Kyrie, and concluding collect. The Kyrie is sung by Gabe Alfieri.

The Veneration of the Cross

This image of the crucifixion taken from our Stations of The Cross provides a visual focus for your veneration of the cross during which the anthem Popule Meus (Oh my people, what have I done unto you, how have I offended you, answer me) is sung to the setting by Victoria, and performed by Musica Ficta with Raul Mallavibarrena.

Final Collect pg 282 BCP

Final Hymn: It is Finished, tune by J.S. Bach, Gabe Alfieri, baritone, Steven Young, Organ.

It is finished! Christ hath known
All the life of men wayfaring,
Human joys and sorrows sharing,
Making human needs his own.
Lord, in us thy life renewing,
Lead us where thy feet have trod,
Till, the way of truth pursuing,
Human souls find rest in God.

It is finished! Christ is slain,
On the altar of creation,
Offering for a world’s salvation
Sacrifice of love and pain.
Lord, thy love through pain revealing,
Purge our passions, scourge our vice,
Till, upon the tree of healing,
Self is slain in sacrifice.

Gabe Alfieri, Baritone and Steven Young, Organ

The Liturgy ends in silence

The Good Friday Liturgy Podcast
Ian Tulungen, Producer

                                                                                                           

Audio of Good Friday Meditation from The Rev. linda Mackie Griggs

Crucifixion – Isenheim Altarpiece

Text of the Good Friday Meditation from The Rev. Linda Mackie Griggs

At a Crossing

A little over five hundred years ago Matthias Grunewald, a German artist, completed his masterwork; the painting of a monumental and complex altarpiece. The central panel portrays the Crucifixion. But this is not an ordinary depiction of Jesus on the cross. His emaciated body hangs in agony, his hands, feet, and side pierced and bleeding. But it is his skin that draws the eye—it is sickly pallid, in some light with an almost greenish cast, pock-marked by sores. Always a heart-wrenching image, this Crucifixion is particularly painful to gaze upon.

This is because Grunewald painted this piece as a commission for the chapel at the Monastery of St. Anthony in Isenheim; a hospice for victims of plague and leprosy. Patients were able to gaze on their sick and wounded Lord, knowing that he suffered with them—his sores and his pallor a mirror of their own.

I wonder if they wanted to reach out and touch this image of Jesus? Even if they didn’t dare to actually do it—I wonder if they had the desire to offer to him the comfort they received from the nuns and monks who prayed with them and carefully tended their wounds and sores? Did they want to touch their Savior with the same reverence and care?

It may seem like a strange question. But on this particular Friday that we call Good, as we contemplate the suffering and death of Jesus, it’s especially pertinent because today we are not where we would like to be. This Lent and Holy Week have been out of our control. This day—this entire week—we mourn our rituals. For me, what I miss most about Good Friday is the ability to touch–to venerate the Cross, to place my hand upon it and pray in thanksgiving and repentance. And to watch in awe and love as others do the same—kneeling at the foot of the large wooden cross, reaching a tentative hand, resting it upon the rough splintery wood, letting the impact of Those Mighty Acts of Holy Week wash over them. Watching them literally reach out with the same reverence and care with which they accept the Eucharist. It breaks open the heart to be a part of such mingled sorrow and love.

But this year we can’t do that. We can’t because this time of plague has rendered our churches dark and empty. We have not been able to wave our Palms, to wash one another’s feet, to partake in the Last Supper, to watch with Jesus at the Altar of Repose in the Chapel or to rest our hands upon the Cross set before the Nave Altar. And so we grieve.

We grieve because we have not chosen this Lenten and Holy Week discipline. It has been forced upon us. We grieve what we have lost in this season of physical separation. And in that loss and grief lies the irony.

Our empty churches today, like no other Good Friday, reflect the desolation of Golgotha—the meaning of “forsaken.”

This is where we are, like it or not. This is where, among the irony, anxiety, and desire that it be otherwise, we must make meaning.

As we gaze upon Jesus we find ourselves at an intersection.

We are gazing upon One crushed by disaster, his arms reaching out to enfold the sick and the dying, the exhausted and the overwhelmed, the caregivers and the mourners, the doctors, nurses, EMTs and drivers of portable morgues. Jesus reaches out to the unemployed and the fearful, the ones who don’t have the luxury of staying home, the ones without adequate protection, the ones trying to keep it all afloat in a sea of pain, grief and uncertainty. Jesus enfolds them all in his loving embrace, at one with their sorrow.

We are at an intersection of what we love and what we fear. The cross lays bare for us the tension between our fear of suffering and death and our love of the One who suffers and dies with us.

We are at the intersection of our sin and our salvation. We gaze upon the One crucified by Empire—by principalities and powers. We are confronted with all the ways in which we crucify one another and the earth—the cruelty, complacency, complicity and callousness that we have inflicted upon God’s beloved in the name of our desire for power and control—our fear and denial of our own inadequacies taken out upon others. And the Crucified One simply reaches out in love, compassion, healing and forgiveness, telling us only that we know not what we do.

We are at the intersection of love and loss. This is where we always find Jesus, but nowhere more so than here on the Cross, where we are not only confronted by the reality of suffering and death but enfolded within the knowledge that Jesus shows us how to find the way through these things, not to deny them. The transforming love of the Crucified One holds us, safe and hopeful in this moment and in this place, even as we lament.

This is where we are. And on this Good Friday, this is where we belong.

Maundy Thursday Service

Last Supper Via Zoom

Agape & Table Fellowship is not a Eucharist, which cannot be celebrated without people being present. Instead, this is an ancient service where bread and wine are blessed and shared to emphasize the bonds of love and fellowship that hold us together in community for we who are many are one body because we all share in one bread.
We invite you to a virtual participation in this video service of table fellowship by having a small loaf of bread and a glass of wine ready to share at home.

Due to Coronavirus restrictions on movement and association the music otherwise sung by our choir is from You Tube recordings.

Hymn: 577 God is love, Choir of All Saints, Margaret, St London.

Readings: Exodus 12:1-14; John 13:1-15

Psalm: 116:10-16 Guildford Cathedral Choir, England.

Ubi Caritas: Taize Community Choir, France.

Sanctus: Taize -St. Maria Himmelfahrt, Frankfurt, Germany.

Hymn: 171 Go to Dark Gethsemane, Renee Pflughaupt, Clarinet, Joel Hekmann Viola, Paul Soulel, Organ.

Opening Prelude: 2 Variations on “Wondrous Love”, Steven Young, St Martin’s Organ

Maundy Thursday Agape & Table Fellowship Service
Technical producer Christian Tulungen
Photographer David Brookhart

Expectations Dashed; Reflections on Palm Sunday 2020

This year because of restrictions on travel and association Youtube pre recordings have been chosen by Gabe Alfieri, Choral Director, to present the music the choir would otherwise have sung. Hymn 154 All glory laud and honor comes from the choir of King’s College Cambridge. Psalm 31 is sung by the choir of Ely Cathedral. The Anthem is Weelkes’ Hosanna to the Son of David sung by the choir of King’s College, Cambridge. Hymn 435 At the name of Jesus is sung by the Cardiff Festival Choir.

The Prelude Vexilla Regis by C. A. Fauchard and Postlude Come, Now, Almighty King by M. Whitney are played by our Organist, Steven Young on the St Martin’s organ.

The Service begins on page 270 of the Book of Common Prayer.

Palm Sunday Service Podcast
The Rector’s Sermon for Palm Sunday

He had come to celebrate the Passover. Having traveled from Bethany, Jesus entered Jerusalem through one of its eastern gates to wild acclaim from the crowds that greeted him by stripping the fronds from the palm trees lining the road.

Some 160 years before, at the end of a brutal series of insurrections against a foreign oppressor, the events of which are recorded in graphic detail in the Books of the I and II Maccabees, a triumphant Judas Maccabeus led his victorious partisans into the Temple, bearing palm branches with which they cleansed and rededicated it after the defilement by the Syrian tyrant, Antiochus Epiphanies. The waving of palm branches is the clearest revelation of what was in the minds of those who thronged the route. The waving of palm branches reveals how they saw Jesus as a second Judas Maccabeus, a liberator who would free them from Roman oppression.

The waving of palms was not a spontaneous gesture. It was the eruption of Jewish collective memory. It was a political action that reveals the inner expectations of the crowds lining the route into the city.

Why does Jesus enter the city riding a colt, the foal of a donkey? After all no where else is it recorded that Jesus travels by any other means than by walking on his own two feet. This further unveils the complex political nature of the expectations surrounding Jesus entry to Jerusalem; expectations in which Jesus seems to be – to this extent at least, complicit. By entering riding a donkey, Jesus is explicitly invoking another collective memory, this time one of prophecy announcing the coming of the messiah.

for lo, your king comes to you; triumphant and victorious is he, humble and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.

Zechariah 9

Jesus’ entry to Jerusalem contains a volatile brew of conflicting messages. So far so good. Popular expectation of Jesus as liberator conforms with Jesus own identification of himself as the messiah as announced by Zechariah. What has yet to be revealed however is that this is a far as Jesus intends to go in associating himself with the popular expectations of the messiah as earthly king and political liberator.

Hopes are raised that will soon be dashed.

Holy Week commemorates the events beginning on Palm Sunday of Jesus’ last week in Jerusalem before the Passover. Three narratives or storylines intersect and clash with an alarming result as Pilate, the crowds, and Jesus all become caught up in an escalation of events none it seems, could control. The storyline of worldly oppression and political violence intersects with a storyline of populist resistance and nationalist longing for liberation – at whatever cost. Both confront the third storyline – which emerges from Jesus reinterpretation of messiahship as the next installment in the epic narrative of God’s love and vision for the world.

Events take an unexpected turn and rapidly spiral out of control, culminating on the eve of the Passover with Jesus celebrating the Last Supper with his disciples, followed by arrest, mock trial, and crucifixion the following day.

Last year I wrote:

Holy Week is the week during which we accompany Jesus on the way of his passion. For some of us, this can be an intensely personal experience as our own experiences of loss and suffering – our passion surfaces in identification with that of Jesus. For most of us, however, the nature of our Holy Week experience is less personal and more communal. We journey with Jesus as part of a community that journeys to the cross -bearing within us not only our individual maladies and sufferings but the maladies and sufferings of the world around us.

Sermon for Palm Sunday 2019

This year repeating these words takes on an especial poingnancy. Journeying with Jesus along the road of his passion in Holy Week 2020 is an immediate and visceral experience for all of us. No one remains untouched. We are all directly experiencing our own versions of the passion in which fear and the unpredictability of the future play havoc with our sense of normal expectation.

Of course this is exactly how it was for Jesus – something we normally lose sight of because we know the end of the story and we assume he did too. Because the Tradition tends to ascribe a degree of omniscience to Jesus, assuming without evidence that as Son of God, he knew all things ahead of time.

This is a moot point. Because none of us is privy to exact mind of Jesus, my point is that projecting divine qualities into the still very human Jesus is not helpful at all for us. The point about his passion is that the human Jesus suffered. That is he really suffered rather than just appeared to suffer buoyed by the assurance of a happy ending- in the end.

Some of us individually, through knowing real suffering have had a personal experience of a close identification between Jesus’ suffering and ours – because the rawness of personal suffering opens us to the consolation of God’s love. However, this Holy Week we are all – individually and as a community exposed to the rawness of the kind of suffering Jesus underwent to a degree that – personal loss aside – few of us could ever have anticipated or expected.

The crowds – who thronged the way as Jesus rode into Jerusalem were in the coming days to experience their hopes dashed. We now know something about our normal expectations being dashed.

  • In the absence of underlying health factors or chance event we firmly hold a presumption of continued good health. The Coronavirus challenges such presumptions, for we are all equally vulnerable.
  • For some of us, the normal expectations of job security and predictable business stability have been dashed by the breathtaking arrival of the pandemic.
  • Outside of periods of economic recession many of us – esp. in a community like ours, firmly held a presumption that our financial investments were on the upward swing. The Coronavirus has serious upended this presumption.

We have real reasons to be afraid in this time of pandemic. Through fear many of us are experiencing a quality of isolation that is truly awful. Fear, isolation – a sense that some of us may die alone untouched and unaccompanied by those who love us, together with the uncertainty about what lies ahead opens a window on the nature of Jesus own very personal suffering.

I believe that all Jesus knew for certain was the he was somehow he was part of a larger unfolding project. By travelling the road God had set out for him he understood that God was in the process of bringing about a greater purpose. In the meantime his only course of action was – to face down his fear, bear his aloneness, and keep putting one foot in front of the other – inching painfully forward along the path that only revealed itself step by step increments.

What we all know now is that our world is going to be different when the pandemic is over. Can we believe that the only thing certain is that we also play a part within a larger unfolding project of God’s desire for the remaking of the world. We do not believe that God has inflicted Coronavirus upon us as some terrible punishment, yet, in the midst of this pandemic we need to wake up to see how God invites us to consider making crucial changes to how we live in and with the natural order of the world, going forward. Following Jesus’ example we also are called to be instrumental in furthering God’s greater purpose. And like him, we too must have confidence to summon our courage and strengthen our hope so to face into the uncertainty of unfolding events, knowing that our God is with us every step of the way.

The crowds who thronged the road of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem found their expectations and hopes to be quickly and cruelly dashed causing them to turn away from him. Will we also like them turn away from accompanying the Lord on the road of his passion?

Sung Morning Prayer for The 5th Sunday in Lent

Led by the St Martin’s Chapel Consort, Morning Prayer begins on Pg 78 of the Book of Common Prayer or online here. This morning’s hymns are 142 (opening) and 150 (closing). The readings are Ezekiel 37:1-14 & John 11:1-45. The psalm is 130 found and the Psalter section of the BCP. The canticles are 18, The Song of The Lamb, & 17, The Song of Simeon, both on pg 94 of the BCP. The Anthem is The eyes of the all wait upon thee, O Lord, by Berger.

Sung Morning Prayer
Linda’s+ Sermon titled Bound

“Now a certain man was ill, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha.”

A man falls ill. It begins with a slight cough. A fever that won’t go away. It gets steadily worse. It gets harder for him to breathe. The family is frantic with worry. They know someone who can help; they send word, “Please, our brother is dying—come quickly.” Days pass though, without a response, and the man dies.

“If only you had been here, my brother would not have died.”

If only. If only they used hand sanitizer, or gloves, or soap…If only he hadn’t taken that cab…If only she hadn’t gone to that party…If only he hadn’t sat in his Nana’s lap…

If only. “Our bones are dried up…we are cut off completely.”

Rarely do lectionary passages sync as well as the story of the Raising of Lazarus and Ezekiel’s vision of the valley of dry bones. And perhaps even more rarely have these two passages more viscerally articulated the moment in which we hear them today.

Our bones are dried up—we can feel the crackling of the skin of our hands from repeated application of soap, sanitizer and vigorous rubbing and drying—trying to protect ourselves from a microscopic enemy. We have been reduced to a skeletal framework of needs and anxieties—groceries, medicine, juggling work and kids in the same space. Many, many of us have been reduced with breathtaking speed to bare subsistence; the next paycheck, the next meal, the next night’s place to sleep. Dry bones.

We are cut off—from one another—working from home, meeting only in cyber space. The simple act of physical human contact is now suspect, and we long for a simple handshake or hug in a way that was inconceivable only a few weeks ago. Isolation—dry bones.

If only. So many if-onlys.

Our most plaintive if-onlys—the ones that we, like Martha and Mary, bring straight to Jesus—these if-onlys come from a place of deep loss and grief, compounding regrets and memories of the past with fear of a future that has a hole in it where something beloved used to be. But where the grief of Mary and Martha was for the loss of their brother, the grief that many of us experience now, at this point, is for something less tangible than the death of a loved one. Less tangible, but no less real. So first of all we need to understand and internalize the fact that the feeling that we have is grief. Then we try to wrap our minds around what– if it’s not an actual physical death—then what is it we are grieving–what it is that we have lost? A job? Autonomy? Health? Peace of mind? A sense of vocation, mission, the future? One of the most heartbreaking pieces I read this week was written by a college junior, entitled, “I Just Don’t Think We Have the Luxury to Have Dreams Anymore.’” To be twenty years old and so lost already. Dry bones.

Grief is a dry time; made all the harder if we feel that we grieve alone. Notice that Martha and Mary were surrounded by their community, as was the custom—all of them in solidarity with the pain and loss of the two sisters. That’s what we do, and why it is so hard now to be in isolation—we usually come together to support each other; to weep and commiserate at first, and then eventually, we hope, to make some kind of meaning out of the loss—to find that the gratitude for what has been loved and lost outweighs the ache. And then we try to find a way forward. In the burial service we say that in death life has been changed but not ended. But turn that around a bit; our life at the far end of the grief process—in spite of what we initially felt—by the grace of God we find that our life, our world, has been changed, but not ended. That’s how, if we will let it, we may discover that grief isn’t just a time of emotional adjustment to loss, it can be a process of transformation. These bones can live again.

How do we transform from the grief of this moment? How do we make meaning from this time without resorting to bromide and platitude?

Gaze upon Jesus. Look upon him in this moment as he stands with his friends and their community outside the tomb, his heart full of love and loss; the resolve in his face crumbling as the tears well up.

“Jesus began to weep.”

His tears have bound him to us. They are a visceral declaration that we are likewise bound to one another. We don’t suffer as individuals. We suffer together. Jesus didn’t—and doesn’t– weep in isolation—he wept in solidarity with the community.

When one is in pain, we all are.

I do not subscribe to the idea that God deliberately tests us by sending trials and tribulations to see how well we measure up. I do believe that the inevitable crises that we face provide opportunities for learning and making meaning. And in this moment, when we are wrapped up by the bindings of anxiety, fear, and isolation we can look upon the weeping face of Jesus and learn anew how deeply we are bound to each other and to realize that nothing, nothing can truly separate us from God or from one another.

The tears of Jesus break our hearts—open—to generosity, creativity, and yes, perhaps even joy as we see opportunities to reach out—safely—to our siblings in Christ in and around our community, as well as to honor and pray for the health and service workers whose caring reach puts themselves at risk for others’ sake. We now know more than ever that, in the words of poet Lynn Ungar, “our lives are in each other’s hands.” And while the moment is difficult, the lesson of that is a blessing.

“…suddenly there was a noise, a rattling, and the bones came together, bone to its bone. I looked, and there were sinews on them, and flesh had come upon them, and skin had covered them…” And the Lord said, “I will put my spirit within you, and you shall live.”

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