Saturday, April 30, 2011

Saturday Music/Movie

This is the relatively new setting of Ubi Caritas, written by Welsh composer Paul Mealor, as sung yesterday by the choir of Westminster Abbey at the wedding of Prince William and Catherine Middleton (now the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge) as the motet in response to the sermon by the Bishop of London, Richard Chartres.

Where love and charity are, God is there.

Morning Prayer: Saturday in Easter Week

We thank you, heavenly Father, that you have delivered us from the dominion of sin and death and brought us into the kingdom of your Son; and we pray that, as by his death he has recalled us to life, so by his love he may raise us to eternal joys; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

(BCP 224)

Friday, April 29, 2011

Friday Afternoon Waterfall Break

Now that Lent is over, the "Friday afternoon break" photos are back.  For the weeks of Easter, I'll be posting pictures of waterfalls.  If you are writing a sermon or studying or just trying to make it through the day, I hope you'll feel refreshed from these photos!

Today's waterfall photo was taken in Northern Ireland.  But it looks very much like what we have in North Georgia.  Enjoy!

Destruction. It's not about Noah Any More.

Today the cleanup continues.  Whole neighborhoods were destroyed by the tornadoes that ripped through several Southern states, including mine.  I am pleased that Episcopal Relief and Development is working with the Episcopal Dioceses in these states to help in the relief efforts.  Good work is being done. (To read about what they are doing, as well as to donate to ERD, please click here.)

Something has been bothering me, though.  In the aftermath of the terrible destruction, I have been hearing interviews with survivors in which they report,"We prayed for God to keep us safe."

And when I hear it, although I am obviously very glad for their good fortune, I think about those who didn't survive, and I cringe a little.  I think about their families and how they might wonder, upon hearing the survivor's comments: "Wait, does this mean that those who were killed hadn't prayed?  That God put up a protecting shield around those who prayed and left everyone else unprotected?  That God decided who would live and who would die in the whirlwind?  That God kept that woman safe but left my mother to die?"  

We of course remember the Noah story, how God chose one family to ride out the flood in safety while everyone else is swept away.  And I think we often focus on the fact that Noah and his family were chosen to be saved.  But the point of the Noah story is not the selection of Mr and Mrs Noah and their sons Shem, Ham and Japeth and daughters-in-law Mrs. Shem, Mrs. Ham and Mrs. Japeth.  The point of the story is the rainbow in the sky as the sign that God would never again send a destroying flood, even though people don't live up to God's hopes for them.

I'm glad to know that people pray when they are in danger.  I'm glad to know that they feel that God helps them stay safe.  Calling upon God's name is not only natural but faithful when we are afraid.  (Save me, for the water is rising up to my neck! shouts the psalmist.)  Being in peril is very frightening, and it no doubt helps - and it is right - to call upon God to keep us safe and to feel God's presence amid the storms.  

And God's ways are certainly mysterious.  I have had some near-misses and sometimes felt a guardian angel has protected me from harm.  I am happy to pray morning prayers of thanksgiving for being brought to a new day in safety.   I believe that God cares for me and wishes for me to have abundant life.  I believe that God is with me, as God told Moses, and Jesus told his disciples - I will be with you, even unto the end of the age.

But there is an unintended consequence of thinking that God kept the people who didn't die in the tornadoes safe, which is to suggest that God abandoned the others.  That those who perished in these disasters were not beloved of God and perhaps even that they somehow deserved their fate.  Perhaps they didn't pray or didn't pray the right way or just "weren't chosen."  We can end up thinking that God has chosen to save us and chosen to abandon our neighbors who are in the middle of the destruction.  This leads to hubris - God saves me (because I deserve it) but not others.  We have seen in the media occasions for this thinking taken to extremes, from the Westboro Baptist Church group claiming that soldiers' deaths are God's punishment for allowing homosexual people to serve in the military to Pat Robertson blaming Haitians' political history from the early 19th century for the earthquake that devastated their island country last year.

I don't think that's how God works.  I don't know why some people die and others do not, but I do believe that we find God with us as we hide in the basement and also with us as we perish in the rubble.  Easter is about how not even death can separate us from God's love and care.  It doesn't mean we won't suffer or that we won't die.  It does mean that death does not have the last word.  It does mean that we don't die abandoned or alone, for God is always with us, especially when we are suffering.

"For [as Paul says in the Letter to the Romans] I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation [from tsunami to tornado], will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord."

Let us pray prayers of repose for the dead and prayers of thanksgiving for the living and prayers for strength for those working to restore power and clean up and bury the dead.  Let us pray prayers of gratitude for the mercy and grace bestowed upon us.  God is with us, no matter what.

Morning Prayer: Friday in Easter Week

Almighty Father, who gave your only Son to die for our sins and to rise for our justification: Give us grace so to put away the leaven of malice and wickedness, that we may always serve you in pureness of living and truth; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

(BCP 224)

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Night Gardening

One of the nice things about living where I do is that the springtime is warm and the flowers bloom pretty early and often.  On the other hand, the weeds grow fast, too.  And way before summer arrives, the temperatures can go up to 88 degrees (F) or so rather suddenly, which makes the flowers and the people quickly wilt, especially if the humidity is high as well.  We haven't had time to acclimate, to toughen up.  The suddenly hot, humid weather is especially not fun for gardening, either planting or maintenance work like weed-pulling or mulch spreading.  But I really wanted to get some annuals planted in the empty-all-winter planters and I had bought the plants already.

So the other evening, I did a little "night gardening" - another Easter joy.  I started just around sundown and worked for an hour or so. This allowed me to plant annuals in the planters that are usually in direct sunlight without getting overwhelmed by the heat and also gave the plants a little time to adjust to their new home before the arrival of the next day's heat.  I was also limited, timewise, to just doing a little instead of deciding all of a sudden to overhaul the entire garden or something right then - and then having a sore back and scratches from thorns because I wasn't dressed for the job.

Another perk of night gardening is that my white flowers glow and release fragrance even more intensely on hot humid nights.  So in addition to the potting soil and water from the garden hose smell, I was also treated to the fragrance of tea and china roses while I worked.  I planted a new rosemary as well, which goes well with the roses, fragrance wise.  And, although we have lots of large insects, especially roaches and such, here, I didn't see much of them in the gathering dark.  I know they were there, but I wasn't seeing them; another plus.

And, saving the best for last, there was a great horned owl hooting from the huge oak tree just across the street.  I could just make out the silhouette, with his or her signature tufted ears, on a low branch.  We actually have a fair number of raptors in the neighborhood what with all our trees and proximity to a large park, and we often hear owls hooting in the evenings or sometimes the falcons that live down the street in a trailer when they're not out hunting and exercising.  I suppose the smell of gardening suggests to them the possibility of little rodents digging around in the yard - we have plenty of them, too.  This time there was just one owl - perhaps the others were observing other evening activities around the block.

So, it was still warm but bearable and then I had flowers to greet me in the morning.  I think I will do this more often - it's better than getting up early!


Another wave of devastation blew through the American South yesterday and last night.  This is becoming a weekly occurrence, it seems.  The metro Atlanta area where I live did not see more than heavy rain and winds with thunder and lightning, but our neighboring state of Alabama was hit very hard, particularly in the Birmingham and Tuscaloosa areas.  Some parts of Georgia also saw significant damage, especially in the northwest corner of the state, but there were also tornadoes, damage and deaths reported to the south and east of us as well.  The media reports nearly 200 deaths across the South and a great deal of destruction.

Please keep the people in these communities in your prayers.

Morning Prayer: Thursday in Easter Week

Almighty and everlasting God, who in the Paschal mystery established the new covenant of reconciliation: Grant that all who have been reborn into the fellowship of Christ's Body may show forth in their lives what they profess by their faith; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

(BCP 223)

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

The Pond

This is the pond in front of the house next door to the house in which I grew up.  It's not that much of a pond, and I'm not sure why it's even there in the first place.  It just is, and always was.

I spent a fair amount of time in and around this pond during my childhood years.  In summer, because it is shallow (I don't think it's deeper than four feet anywhere and much of it is only one or two feet deep), it often contracted, drying up sometimes to just a puddle surrounded by mud.

Whatever size, it was full of bullfrogs, which meant that in spring it was full of tadpoles.  Big fat ones.  We children (there were kids who lived in the neighboring house, too) would sometimes build tadpole labyrinths in the shallows, although the tadpoles were not always cooperative about swimming into them and we sometimes had to help them along.  We didn't need to put them in jars to watch, since they were so plentiful around the edge of the pond.  This was probably my most frequent childhood pond activity.  As an adult, I would walk by the pond and see the little pointed bullfrog snouts sticking up everywhere in the water, arranged in rows parallel to the shore as if they were attending an outdoor concert on the bank, and sometimes one's walk down the driveway would be accompanied by the percussive sound of frogs leaping into the water from the bank - plop, plop, plop.

Because of the frogs (and I suppose there were some fish in there - at least occasionally my dad would mention that he'd put some in), the pond often hosted egrets and cranes.  They were so elegantly beautiful, much too elegant for that scruffy little pond.  For many years, a great blue heron haunted the pond in the mornings and evenings, feasting on the frogs and whatever else was in there.  I loved to watch them walking so slowly through the water, stalking food, one foot reaching up and out before planting itself again.  Lots of birds nested in the trees on the pond's edge - no doubt there were plenty of insects to eat as well.  Sometimes we'd have ducks, too, and for a couple of years there were muskrats who had dug homes in the hill.  I particularly liked to watch the muskrats swimming across the pond, leaving a wide wake behind them.  I think the neighbors trapped the muskrats, though; I didn't see why they shouldn't live there - they added some excitement and interest to the place.  But I seem to recall that there was some adult disapproval about the muskrats.

Our various dogs enjoyed the pond, too.  Some of them made daily trips for swimming and drinking muddy pond water even though there was always fresh water in the tub at the horse barn.  They'd get in there and wade - even paddle if the water was deeper from recent rains - and then get out and shake the water everywhere.  The birds would sit in the trees, waiting for the dogs to finish their romp, and watch.  Sometimes the dogs would come all the way back to the house before doing the final shake, much to the consternation of anyone who was sitting outside on the porch.

In addition to the regular tadpole and frog hunting/watching work, there were two particularly notable but infrequent kid activities for the pond.  It wasn't deep enough to support a boat, but that meant that sometimes it froze almost solid in the winter.  We could sled down the steep hill from the road onto the pond for an exciting ride across the ice.  This didn't happen every year, so when it did, it was special.  First of all, we'd gather next to the highway for our starting place, which felt just a little dangerous.  And then we'd head down the slope - the courageous ones head first, the more timid ones sitting up.  And then let's see how far you go on the ice before running of out steam - or possibly cracking the ice!

The other, summer activity, was having algae fights.  That gooey green algae that flourished in the shallow water, mixed with a little pond mud, was plentiful and just right for scooping up and throwing at the other kids.  I actually thought that was pretty gross but I do remember enjoying it when I was probably seven or eight and then having to undress in the garage and put my clothes directly into the washing machine so I wouldn't bring any of that pond-smelling goo into the house.  I was not very ladylike when I was seven or eight.

Ah, memories.  When I ran across this picture of the pond, so many of them came flooding back.  Today I give thanks for my memories.

Morning Prayer: Wednesday in Easter Week

O God, whose blessed Son made himself known to his disciples in the breaking of bread:  Open the eyes of our faith, that we may behold him in all his redeeming work; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.  Amen.

(BCP 223)

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Fifty Days of Joy

Lent is over.  The great fifty days of Easter are here.  Anybody out there keep Easter disciplines?

I thought not.  It is much easier to design a plan of sacrifice and solemnity (even if we don't keep it that well) than to plan out fifty days of joy.  I'm talking planning and discipline here.... of course it's not too hard to be happy, to enjoy life, and most of us when we fudged on our Lenten disciplines were doing so to sneak in a levity, a little fun.  But trying to make a discipline of joy and peace is pretty hard.  It seems, even, to go against the grain.  Shouldn't joy be spontaneous?

It's worth a try, though.  As Christians, we are called to be the reflection of God's glory, to be joyful in the Lord.  This doesn't mean we abandon our seriousness about being the hands and feet of Christ in the world and turning our backs on suffering and injustice.  But we are to be Christ's hands and feet with joy, with a heart that both breaks for the pain of others and heals others through love that is based on the sure knowledge that we are loved and valued and made worthy by God.

Still, how does one do that as a discipline?

Practice building up the muscles, I think.  Which is what our Lenten disciplines are supposed to do as well.  Instead of giving up chocolate, taken on feeding others.  Write every day about something beautiful.  Plan once a week to visit a museum or botanical garden or see a play or movie - find things that feed you so that you will have something with which to feed others.  Play - play with your animals, your kids, your partner, your friends (real and virtual).

And then let the Holy Spirit work.

What will be your discipline?

Morning Prayer: Tuesday in Easter Week

O God, who by the glorious resurrection of your Son Jesus Christ destroyed death and brought life and immortality to light: Grant that we, who have been raised with him, may abide in his presence and rejoice in the hope of eternal glory; through Jesus Christ our Lord, to whom, with you and the Holy Spirit, be dominion and praise for ever and ever.  Amen.

(BCP 223)

Monday, April 25, 2011

Easter Monday - The Day After

Easter Monday was, when I was growing up, an official public holiday in my state.  We got the day off from school and everything was closed - the bank, shops, the pharmacy, offices, pretty much everything.  From a child's point of view, it was just a spring day off.  Most people didn't do all that much for Easter so that they needed a day off, although as a clergy person I am quite aware of the Easter Monday (after many extra Lent, Holy Week, Vigil, Easter Day services) fatigue.  Where I grew up, we were pretty much all Baptists and Methodists, though, so there weren't all those extra services at the time.  We knew what Good Friday was, but most of us didn't do anything about it.  Yes, there was some extra cooking and there had been some clothes shopping or sewing during the weeks before, and there had been an Easter egg hunt at some point, but there wasn't much going on on Easter Monday.  I honestly don't remember ever doing anything on the day, but I was surprised when I moved to another state and discovered it was not a holiday there.

At any rate, I am definitely observing Easter Monday today.  The last few days leading up to Easter are intense - services offered morning noon and night daily during Holy Week - plus the Vigil plus multiple Easter Day services with extras like additional musicians, flowering the cross, egg hunts, additional services perhaps in "new" locations.  Easter eve and day were certainly glorious here.  The music! The flowers! The great sermons by my colleagues! The gorgeous / adorable Easter outfits on adults and children alike! It is all worth the effort! But good to have a day of rest afterwards.

Among other things, I served at one of the "additional in another location" Easter Day services - a Eucharist in the parish hall which was beautifully decorated and arranged in the round.  It was my job to set the table for the Eucharist - to put out the bread and pour the wine in preparation for the Eucharistic prayer.  This was my third service in twelve hours (having been at an evening vigil in one church and then a morning vigil in this one already) and I was a little tired.  I've done this duty more times than I can count, though, and am never anxious about it.  It comes as second nature.

I put out the bread - as much as would fit into the paten, as we had an SRO crowd - and began to pour wine into the pottery chalice.  And as I continued pouring, a glimmer caught my eye as the wine rose in the chalice, and I realized that something was bobbing around in the wine!  At first in my slightly fuzzybrained-from-only-4-hours-of-sleep state, I just looked at it curiously/stupidly.  Then, at the moment I recognized the bobbing thing to be a gold-foil wrapped mini chocolate bunny, I remembered that many a year someone on the flower guild or altar guild or a verger (I suspect the flower guild; in fact I suspect a particular person on the flower guild) has dropped an Easter treat into the chalice or nestled something among the wafers at this church.  The chalice trick is the best, as the pottery chalice would be dark inside and hide the treat much better than a silver one, plus the linen purificator is draped over the top.  One starts pouring in the wine, and gradually it becomes obvious that there's something in there.

I didn't do the V-8 head bop, but I did think, "D'oh! They got me! I should have been expecting this!"  I was able to keep from laughing out loud as I fished it out while the choir finished its anthem, and we went on with the Eucharist.  Although I'm sure laughing out loud at the Eucharistic table on Easter morning is a good thing to do.

I just wish I'd had the presence of mind to take the chocolate bunny home with me to eat after the service!  I wonder who ended up with it?

I hope your Easter Monday, however you observe it, is filled with joy and maybe even a surprise or two.

Morning Prayer: Monday in Easter Week

Grant, we pray, Almighty God, that we who celebrate with awe
the Paschal feast
may be found worthy to attain to everlasting joys;
through jesus Christ our Lord,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

(BCP 222/3)

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Resurrection: A New Life of Freedom

Sometimes folks get a little squirmy talking about resurrection. We rational people cannot quite make this out - it defies the laws of the universe. Dead things stay dead. If they turn out not to be dead, it's because they didn't die. Oh, sure, through modern medicine, sometimes someone "dies" and is brought back. But basically, dead is dead and that's that.

And of course, if the laws of the universe turn out somehow not to work, not to be reliable, then the world could collapse into chaos any old time. (I might contend that the world is pretty chaotic right now, but....) We need the rules to be reliable. So dead people stay dead and resurrection is not something that can actually happen.

And yet, this is what we claim on Easter - Alleluia, Christ is risen! The Lord is risen indeed!

And there are all kinds of explanations that go with it - that Christ defeated death, or cheated death, or tricked the Devil; that God vindicated the innocent and just Jesus of Nazareth; that he died for our sins or because of our sins, that he died so that we might be saved, that he died because anyone who went around undermining the state and the religious authorities could expect such a fate. All of that is worthy of much reflection, and I may get around to writing some of them at some point, but today I want to concentrate on resurrection and freedom.

This does not mean that I think the resurrection was "metaphorical." I believe that God acted in history, both in the incarnation and in the resurrection. Something happened - our faith is not built on, nor could it have lasted on, a metaphor for 2,000 years. Or as John Updike wrote in his poem Seven Stanzas at Easter:

Let us not mock God with metaphor,
analogy, sidestepping transcendence;
making of the event a parable.....

At any rate, whatever our debate about what it was that happened to Jesus after he died, in this life, for us, resurrection is not just about what happens to us after we die or at the end of the world (although I recognize that for some folks, this is the main point of religion and going to church). I am the Resurrection and the Life, Jesus says.  It's also about new life in this life, here and now. If the resurrection means that we are now free, then what does that mean?  And, perhaps more importantly, how do we live differently now, knowing that we are free?

For those of a more Puritan mindset, what ought to happen is that in our new life in light of our salvation, we should be extremely obedient to all kinds of rules. Because Jesus may have died for us, but any old time we could slide back into hell and lose our salvation. So that we are not all that free, really. We are just free to live by the rules. Those who live with this mindset are very concerned about the idea that if there is not the threat of hell or losing salvation or being cast into the outer darkness and all that, then people will just be lax and do anything they want if they are already assured of their salvation. There has to be a line, and it cannot be crossed, and this is because God is so awesome and we are so unworthy. Many of us remember Jonathan Edwards and his sermon Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God. And granted, he was focused on converting people with this sermon, but you know how that goes. After all, we are all sinners, and who could be sure that God would not take out his wrath even more vengefully against someone who was supposed to be a Christian and then slipped.

I suppose there are some people who will not do the good thing unless they know that they will be punished otherwise. Certainly, advocates of the death penalty use this argument frequently: The thread of the death penalty will keep people from killing other people. So far, I haven't seen that working out so well. But I digress.

So, what kind of freedom do we have because of the resurrection? Given that one of the major themes throughout all the scriptures is the building up of the community, I'm thinking that freedom is not the right to just do whatever one pleases and damn everybody else. First of all, the notion of personal freedom was not really in the vocabulary of any of those who penned the many writings in the Good Book nor of the theologians writing in the first several centuries after the resurrection.

I'm thinking about freedom from a host of things that weigh us down. Anxiety, depression, fear, anger to name just a few. And here is where the actual resurrection comes in: If we are assured that God loves us and has adopted us as God's own children, that when we die or at the end of the world, we too will be raised to some kind of new life and not just be nothing or be tormented.  We have come from God and we will return to God, just as we heard on Maundy Thursday.  And so if death is not the worst thing that can happen to us (because when we die we will return to God), then we can let go of a lot of our "stuff." We don't have to be anxious any more, because we believe that somehow God will make things all right and that it isn't our job to direct God in that all-right-making. We don't have to be afraid, either, because no matter what happens - even when we die - God is with us. We don't face these things alone.

My own story about letting go and becoming free is this: Nearly thirteen years ago, I was diagnosed with cancer. I had two young children at home, aged three and seven. Immediately, my friends and church community gathered around me. They cared for my kids while I went to doctor appointments. They cooked for us, they brought me flowers, they came to sit with me. When I was in the hospital, my husband had a phalanx of friends with him - so many that they had to go out of the waiting room to an outside garden because they'd filled the inside room up.

 At some point pretty early in that process of recognizing my own mortality (which is what everyone who is diagnosed with a serious medical issue goes through), I realized that my family would be fine, whether I was around or not, now or later. I was not the center of the universe. They were loved and cared for, as I was, and if I could not care for them for any reason, others would. They had a community that loved them; I had a community that loved me. I could let go of my panic and my futile grip on all the "musts" and "shoulds" - I could trust that the future of the world or my husband and children's world did not completely hinge on my own personal orchestration.

And so I was able to let go of my life. Just let go, and let the doctors do their work, and let my friends feed us, and let God love us all as God always does. If this was my time, so be it.

And that is how I got my life back. I let go my need to hang on to my life, and I got a new life, not only cancer-free thanks to good medicine and good doctors, but also a life that was a lot more free. I was not in charge of the world any more, and that was incredibly freeing. I could let people help me.  I could see how things might turn out without life-sucking anxiety ruling the day. And I healed so quickly.  I just felt so light.  I felt that I was being held up by everyone else and I could just be, and heal.

I wish I could say that such an event was a once and for all, just like Jesus' death. It wasn't - there are many things that still enslave me, there are times when I still get all anxious about making the world work the right way, especially for my children (even though, needless to say, they are no longer three and seven).

This is why we have to have Easter again every year.  So we can remember who it is who rules the world - and who it is who creates community. I don't think the people who gathered around my family then did so because they were afraid God would squash them like bugs if they didn't. I think they did so because they knew that love is what life is all about.

Alleluia - Christ is Risen! The Lord is risen, indeed!
Happy Easter!

Easter Morning Prayer

Almighty God, who through your only-begotten Son Jesus Christ
overcame death and opened to us the gate of everlasting life:
Grant that we, who celebrate with joy the day of the Lord's resurrection,
may be raised from the death of sin by your life-giving Spirit;
through Jesus Christ our Lord,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever. Amen

(BCP 222)

Saturday, April 23, 2011

The Easter Vigil

Dear friends in Christ: On this most holy night, in which our
Lord Jesus passed over from death to life, the Church invites
her members, dispersed throughout the world, to gather in
vigil and prayer. For this is the Passover of the Lord, in which,
by hearing his Word and celebrating his Sacraments, we share
in his victory over death.

Rejoice now, heavenly hosts and choirs of angels,
and let your trumpets shout Salvation
for the victory of our mighty King.

Rejoice and sing now, all the round earth,
bright with a glorious splendor,
for darkness has been vanquished by our eternal King.

Rejoice and be glad now, Mother Church,
and let your holy courts, in radiant light,
resound with the praises of your people.

   All you who stand near this marvelous and holy flame,
   pray with me to God the Almighty
   for the grace to sing the worthy praise of this great light;
   through Jesus Christ our Lord,
   who lives and reigns with him,
   in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
   one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
              The Lord be with you.
Answer      And also with you.
Deacon      Let us give thanks to the Lord our God.
Answer      It is right to give him thanks and praise.

DeaconIt is truly right and good, always and everywhere, with our whole heart and mind and voice, to praise you, the invisible,
almighty, and eternal God, and your only-begotten Son,
Jesus Christ our Lord; for he is the true Paschal Lamb, who
at the feast of the Passover paid for us the debt of Adam's sin,
and by his blood delivered your faithful people.

This is the night, when you brought our fathers, the children
of Israel, out of bondage in Egypt, and led them through the
Red Sea on dry land.

This is the night, when all who believe in Christ are delivered
from the gloom of sin, and are restored to grace and holiness
of life.

This is the night, when Christ broke the bonds of death and hell,
and rose victorious from the grave.

   How wonderful and beyond our knowing, O God, is your
   mercy and loving-kindness to us, that to redeem a slave, you
   gave a Son.
   How holy is this night, when wickedness is put to flight, and
   sin is washed away. It restores innocence to the fallen, and joy
   to those who mourn. It casts out pride and hatred, and brings
   peace and concord.
   How blessed is this night, when earth and heaven are joined
   and man is reconciled to God.
Holy Father, accept our evening sacrifice, the offering of this
candle in your honor. May it shine continually to drive away
all darkness. May Christ, the Morning Star who knows no
setting, find it ever burning--he who gives his light to all
creation, and who lives and reigns for ever and ever. Amen.

(BCP 285-287)

Holy Saturday Music/Movie Double Feature: Orthodox Lamentations and Trisagion

In the (Greek) Orthodox tradition, lamentations are sung at the tomb on Holy Saturday (although they are sung on Friday night after sundown).  An altar with an icon of Jesus in the tomb (an epitaphios) is set up and the priests all gather around it to sing three sets of Lamentations, which are based on a cantor chanting the verses of Psalm 119 (the longest psalm) and responses by the choir.  At the end of the Lamentations, the epitaphios is carried around the church, accompanied by the chanting of the Trisagion (which is a funeral custom in that tradition).

Here is music from the first two Lamentations.  Notice the drone of the basses in the background, another Greek tradition.  This is a lovely way to sing prayers, with the drone carrying the prayers together.


And here is the Trisagion:


Holy Saturday Morning Prayer

O God, Creator of heaven and earth:
Grant that, as the crucified body of your dear Son
was laid in the tomb and rested on this holy Sabbath,
so we may await with him the coming of the third day,
and rise with him to newness of life;
who now lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.

(BCP 221)

Friday, April 22, 2011

Good Friday - The Burial

Text:  Matthew 27:55-67

Many women were there, looking on.  They saw the whole thing.  
They had been with Jesus the whole time.  They started out with him in Galilee, ministering to him on the way, having taken over that job from the angels who had ministered to him in the wilderness.  After having been witnesses to his life of traveling, teaching, healing, barrier-breaking, today they are witnesses to his horrible death.  The beating, the mocking, the spitting, the nailing, the bleeding, the dying.  Two of them, Mary Magdalene and one of the other Marys, were witnesses to his burial as well.  They saw everything.
Women, of course, didn't count as witnesses, not even two of them, according to the custom in that time and place, as if they couldn't be trusted to tell the cold hard truth, to stick to the facts.  And so apparently nobody paid them any mind as they followed, watching, abiding with Jesus when all the others had deserted him, watching from afar, watching from across the street, perhaps sitting on the wall of the garden.  The men -  Joseph, Pilate, the leaders of the Temple - went about their business, and then soldiers came to guard the tomb that the Marys had already been watching over in silent witness.  
They are like the Greek chorus in the ancient plays, just offstage but who see and interpret the main events, except that here they are "on mute," as it were.  Silent.  Silenced.  We do not hear what we ought to hear, shrieking, wailing, crying out about injustice, crying out like the prophets cried out:  violence!  violence!  violence!
If this were a scene in a movie, we would see the action, and there would be music playing - Barber's Adagio for Strings, perhaps - but no dialogue.  We'd see the women watching silently. We'd see Joseph approach Pilate, see Pilate nod or wave his hand. We'd see Joseph wrapping the body of Jesus in the clean white linen, we'd see the tomb and the stone, we'd see Joseph walk away.  We'd see the women still sitting on the wall across the pathway, watching it all.  The actual dialogue would only begin with the sharp voices of the Pharisees and Chief Priests complaining to Pilate:  "When that imposter was alive he said he would be raised after three days.  Order a guard to stay at the tomb so  his disciples don't steal the body and then claim he was raised."  And Pilate will growl, "See to it."
Only the voices of those who wish to control the spin are heard.  They believe they can control the message. They are sure the other side is up to no good.  Oh, the irony, they believe they will be - must be - the official witnesses.  They will stick to their facts to sway everyone to see the imposter for what he was.  He deserved it, they will say from their offices and their homes and their club meetings.
Nowhere do we hear the voices crying out: Violence!  Violence!
Instead we hear calculated name calling,  plot-hatching,  spinning,  efforts to discredit Jesus, the one who welcomed all, who healed, who broke down barriers and refused to observe the social codes that entrenched into outcast status people who were poor, people of the wrong gender or age, people with illnesses both physical and mental, people who were voiceless and powerless, held hostage to their bodies, their minds, their gender, their social standing, their accidents of birth.  
And those men think that they can put him in the tomb and seal it up and put a guard around it and control the message.  But the women are watching and they see it all.  And through their witness, we can see it all as well.
This is not necessarily about gender.  There are always people who count and people who don't count; there are always people who are cut down when they mess with the status quo, when they threaten the power structure, when they champion people the powerful want to keep pushed aside.  There are always people who use their power to try to control the message and use smear tactics and lies to appeal to our lower instincts and skew the story to play on our fears.  But women and children are often the witnesses to violence and they are often silenced through intimidation.  Or they are simply dismissed.  They may even cry violence, but does anyone hear?  Does anyone listen to them?  Believe them?  Believe anyone who dares to speak out against what the powerful have decreed to be the truth?
Whose eyes see what happens to the people who die on our streets every day here in our own city?  Is it nothing to us who pass them by? Who watches over the bodies of those who have no one to speak for them, to cry violence as they are shoved to the margins, discounted, blamed for their own misfortunes?  Who ministers to them while they arrange their cardboard boxes under the interstate and succumb to the cold, the heat, starvation, addiction? Who follows behind them as they run from their abusers and stand on the side of the road, hating themselves for the things others do to them, while tears of shame and despair stream down their faces?  Who abides with them as they die? Who sees to giving them a decent burial? Who cries out, Violence!  while the powerful control the message, issuing their opinions from their offices and their homes and clubs?  
And so now Jesus is buried and we offer up our lament.  The fact that we know how it will turn out does not lessen the need for grief. Grief for what we do to each other, grief for the soul crushing that hatred and killing does to both victim and perpetrator, that kills some and hardens others and frightens us from naming violence for what it is.  Grief for all who suffer in this life, and for those who cause the suffering, and for those who cannot bear to look, and for those who will not face their own complicity.  
Let us grieve and lament, and be gathered into the tomb, perpetrator, victim, and bystander together, for it is from that darkness that salvation will rise.

Good Friday Morning Prayer

Almighty God, we pray you graciously to behold this your family, for whom our Lord Jesus Christ was willing to be betrayed, and given into the hands of sinners, and to suffer death upon the cross; who now lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.

(BCP 221)

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Crazy Love

"Jesus, knowing that he had come from God and was going back to God, got up and washed their feet."  He did something his friends considered unthinkable (Peter:  "You will NEVER wash my feet, Jesus!"), taking off his robe and tying a towel around his waist and serving his friends, serving even the one who was to betray him, by washing their feet.
He could do this because he knew he had come from God and was going back to God.  He had no doubt, no fear, about that.
What would we do, what could we do, if we knew - truly knew, truly believed, truly lived - this?  If we truly knew, believed, lived in the surety that we have come from God and are going back to God, could we do the unthinkable?  Could we do something daring and uncharacteristic?  Could we serve others, touch others, be in relationship with others, even others we might be afraid of, be wary of, be suspicious of?  Could we even wash someone like Judas' feet if we knew that we came from God and were going back to God?
For some reason, we have difficulty believing that as it was true for Jesus, so it is true for us.  (Oh, but he's JESUS!  And we're not.)  And yet, we, too, have come from God and will return to God  (for as we say in Eucharistic Prayer A:  O God, in your infinite love you made us for yourself) and so we are safe, we are saved, we are free to risk loving and serving not only our friends but our enemies.  And we are not diminished by that love or that service, but rather we are freed for that love and that service.   
We are, like Jesus, made free by the knowledge that we came from, and will return to, God.  And so perhaps what we would do, could do is to feel free to follow Jesus, who said on this night, after he showed them how to do the uncharacteristic, the daring, the unthinkable, "I give you a new commandment:  love one another just as I have loved you.  The world will see and know that you are my disciples if you have love for one another."  
We are safe, we are God's, we are loved.  Jesus loved his disciples, he loved even Judas, he loves even us secure in the knowledge that he came from God and would return to God.  And so in that knowledge we also can, we also are free to, do something crazy like love.  

Maundy Thursday Morning Prayer

Almighty Father, whose dear son, on the night before he suffered,
instituted the Sacrament of his Body and Blood: 
Mercifully grant that we may receive it thankfully in remembrance of Jesus Christ our Lord, 
who is these holy mysteries gives us a pledge of eternal life; 
and who now lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, 
one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.

(BCP 221)

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Lent Madness part deux

Today is the day!  Head over to Fr Tim Schenck's blog at Clergy Family Confidential (click here!) and vote for your favorite saint!  (Hint:  It's Perpetua, aka The Perp.)

(No, this is not The Perp in the picture - it's the Blessed Virgin Mary.  But The Perp was also a mom, and this painting was done in a prison cell, and if you read all about Perpetua you'll see the connection.)

Vote early and often!

The Dinner Party

Text:  John 13:21-32

We seem to have come in during the middle of a dinner party.   Jesus has just said something - since our reading begins, “So after saying this...”
After saying what?  
And then he goes on to have this strange conversation with some of the disciples in which, as is often the case, they don’t understand him - someone is going to betray him, what does he mean, who is it?  
And then he gives Judas bread and says something to him, yet another thing the disciples don’t understand, and Satan enters into Judas (what is that about?), and Judas goes out, and Jesus starts talking about being glorified and I don’t think he’s talking about the burgers at the Varsity that come with lettuce and tomato.  And the disciples figure Jesus has sent Judas out on an errand even though it’s the middle of dinner.
In a weird kind of way this is like dinner at my house.  Maybe yours, too.  People are busy with their own thoughts, their own concerns.  We only half hear each other.  We are not quite paying attention.  What was that you said?  What are you doing? What are you talking about?  People are coming and going in the middle of the meal.  I’m sorry, is this important?  I don’t get it!  Of course not, you missed half of the story.  Somebody needs to get some more milk.  The point, if there was one, gets lost in all the confusion.
But of course this isn’t a regular dinner party.  This is the last supper, John style.  It’s not just any old meal - it’s the farewell meal, the last meal with Jesus after he has told them what their life’s work is to be as his followers.  He has washed their feet and told them that he has set an example for them.  Here’s the punch line from that scene: They are to serve one another, and if they act on what they have been told, they are blessed.  They will be doing the work that Jesus has given them to do.  That’s what Jesus was saying just before we came onto the scene.
It seems it didn’t register, though, at least not for long.  Here is your work, Jesus says. Don’t just know what you are supposed to do, but actually do it.
And then immediately the coming and going and questions and interruptions begin.  Jesus says someone isn’t going to do the work; someone isn’t going to love but will be a betrayer.  Someone has gotten lost.  And the subject is changed, suddenly and firmly.  Is it me?  It’s not me, is it?  Who is it? I can hear the hissing whisper: Ask him who it is!
And they move on, away from the commandment to serve one another and on to the part about Judas.  There’s no turning back now.
Alas, I know this part well, too.
Once the subject is changed, I don’t need to focus on the work Jesus has given me to do if I can allow myself to become distracted by finding someone else to blame for not doing the work Jesus has commanded.  I can put the onus on them along with the focus.  The concern becomes about Judas and his failure and not about me and my shortcomings.  And then I am lost.
What was it Jesus was saying when we came in?  ("Ask him who it is!")
It’s hard to be truly present to Jesus and the work he gives us to do.  For one thing, it is not plain on its face what it is that we are to do. Jesus wants us to figure out ourselves how to live out his commands, in our own time and in our own place, but that takes some focus and patience and clarity and it’s easier just to find fault with others.  We’re happy to be distracted, to shift the focus elsewhere while the important thing gets left behind, pushed aside, for the side show, again and again.  Because following Jesus can be confusing.  We just don’t know what to do - what if we’re wrong? What if we didn’t hear Jesus correctly? What if we’re not good enough? What if, what if, what if?  And then we're lost.
Thomas Merton has a lovely prayer that speaks to this dilemma:
“MY LORD GOD, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road, though I may know nothing about it. Therefore I will trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone. Amen”
Jesus himself has walked that road, and is even now in the shadow of death as Good Friday approaches.  Even if we don't know, he knows where he is going.  But he has promised that he will always meet us at the table.  That's where the road starts.  It's like home base.  No matter who else is there or not there, no matter what we have done or not done, no matter who is coming or going, Jesus will be there to welcome us.  In our confusion, our doubt, our distraction, we are never lost. We will always find him at the table.

Wednesday of Holy Week Morning Prayer

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

(BCP 220)

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Holy Tuesday

Text:  John 12:20-36

Jesus, along with everyone else, has gone up to Jerusalem for the Passover festival.  The city is full of people, not only the devout but also those who want to be in a happening place.  Jerusalem is a happening place during Passover.  So happening that the Romans are a little nervous about the whole thing. 

Some Greeks are there, and they find Philip.  "Sir," they say to him, "we want to see Jesus."

Who knows who these Greeks were.  Greeks were not Jews; they were outsiders, not part of the tribe.  They may have been gawkers, people looking for the latest fad or celebrity.  They may have been curious about the guy who has been causing a scandal, making waves.  They may have been curious about his message.  Who knows?  But they wanted to see Jesus.

And so Philip told Andrew and Andrew went to Jesus.  They didn't get in the way.  The text doesn't tell us anything else, other than that Jesus took this to be the sign that his hour has come, now that Gentiles have come to him.

But it occurs to me that when outsiders show up, we might not know what to do.  We might immediately brand them as outsiders and look at them with suspicion until we know what their motives are, where their curiosity lies, whether or not they are safe.   We even do this at church.  Outsiders come, and we might first say, "Why are they here?" before we say, "Welcome!"

Tuesday in Holy Week Morning Prayer

O God, by the passion of your blessed Son you made an instrument of shameful death to be for us the means of life: Grant us so to glory in the cross of Christ, that we may gladly suffer shame and loss for the sake of your Son our Saviour Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

(BCP 220)

Monday, April 18, 2011

Holy Week Saints and Sinners

During Lent, my cyber friend Fr Tim Schenck, a clergy colleague who blogs at Clergy Family Confidential (see blogroll, right), has been hosting Lent Madness on his blog, in which saints from the earliest days of Christianity right up to fairly recent history have been vying for the Golden Halo by way of capturing reader votes.

Fr Tim has had in mind helping us all learn more about the Saints of the Church both new and old as well as entertaining us with quirks and kitsch in succeeding rounds, although some of us who shall remain unnamed on this blog have chosen "Votes for Women" as a subtheme for the program.

Lent Madness is down to the Final Four this week and Fr Tim in his wisdom or folly (we don't get to vote on that) has chosen four "celebrity bloggers" to advocate for and/or trash talk about the Final Four Saints:  C.S. Lewis, Clare, Thomas Becket, and Perpetua.

Please visit Fr. Tim's blog for further details, but here is a hint:  one of the celebrity bloggers, c'est moi.  

Vote early and often!


Singing "O Sacred Head Sore Wounded" is one of the "joys" of Holy Week. Bach's chorale from his St Matthew's Passion is a beautiful expression of Holy Week piety - familiar, yet not overused the way Christmas songs can be - that never fails to move me to tears when I sing it.

Yesterday, I watched, while standing at my chair in the chancel, a group of teenagers - most of them my son's friends - carrying a huge cross down the aisle of the nave, which they attached to a hook and wire hanging from the ceiling, and stood it up right in front of me.  I've seen that cross almost every Palm/Passion Sunday for eighteen years - it's about ten feet tall and very heavy and plain - but watching those teens I've known for years bringing it in and putting it up right in front of me made the drama especially poignant. It was hard to keep singing - like a wreck, my eyes were riveted to what was going on three feet away. 

They were very intent on their task and attended to the raising of it with workmanlike precision, and all the while the congregation sang on "Ah, keep my heart thus mov-ed to stand thy cross beneath, to mourn thee, well beloved, yet thank thee for thy death..... Lord, let me never, never, outlive my love for thee.... My days are few, O fail not, with thine immortal power, to hold me that I quail not in death's most fearful hour; that I may fight befriended, and see in my last strive to me thine arms extended upon the cross of life." And at the end of the singing, the sound of the hammer, fixing the cross upon its place at the crossing while boys and girls dispersed ... and my heart was mov-ed and my eyes were full of tears.

I spent the first couple of years after coming back to church (after a long absence) sitting in this very nave with tears leaking out most every week. Tears of regret, of sadness, of joy, of relief, of surrender. The grand drama of the Holy Week liturgies particularly entices me to connect or re-connect with my own brokenness and the brokenness of the world we live in. 

The world where violence is on view everywhere and lying and cheating are part of everyday life. The world where justice still does not roll down like the waters. The world in which those whose job it is to protect the vulnerable choose instead to protect themselves and their peers. The world where people are still spitting on one another and mocking and calling one another names. The world my children and those teens I watched on Sunday are learning to navigate.

The world God desires to transform into the new heaven and new earth, the time when God will wipe away every tear.  As Rev. Ames said in Marilynne Robinson's novel Gilead, "Augustine says the Lord loves each one of us as an only child, and that has to be true. 'He will wipe away the tears from all faces.' It takes nothing away from the loveliness of the verse to say that is exactly what is required." 

Yes. That is exactly what will be required.


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