Saturday, April 30, 2011

2 Easter: Resurrection & The Lamb's High Banquet

The Lamb’s high banquet called to share,
            arrayed in garments white and fair,
                        the Red Sea past, we now would sing
                                    to Jesus our triumphant King.

Protected in the Paschal night
            from the destroying angel’s might,
                        in triumph went the ransomed free
                                    from Pharaoh’s cruel tyranny.

Now Christ our Passover is slain,
            the Lamb of God without a stain;
                        his flesh, the true unleavened bread,
                                    is freely offered in our stead.

O all-sufficient Sacrifice,
            beneath thee hell defeated lies;
                        thy captive people are set free,
                                    and endless life restored in thee.

All praise be thine, O risen Lord,
            from death to endless life restored;
                        all praise to God the Father be
                                    and Holy Ghost eternally.

Hymn 202 in The Hymnal, 1982
Latin 7th-8th cent.; tr. John Mason Neale (1818-1866) and others
Music: Ad cenam Agni providi, plainsong, Mode 8, Paris MS., 12th cent.

The 2nd Sunday of Easter (sometimes called “Thomas Sunday”) brings to and end the Octave of Easter, the sole remaining full Octave in our calendar. This week now ending has been one long liturgical celebration of the first day of Easter. This Sunday completes the celebration by recalling Jesus’ appearance to the disciples on the evening of Easter Day, and then again a week later (this time, with Thomas present)—thus neatly bringing together the two Sundays in one liturgical unity. This also reveals the essential unity of time and eternity present in all celebrations of the Eucharist, in which the Resurrection is continually proclaimed.

The above hymn also links together the Paschal Mystery (referenced in the collect for this Sunday) with the Eucharist, looking back to the events of history but then pointing us to the character of freedom that permeates the Christian life now lived in the light of the Resurrection. Written at the Early Church’s close, it still rings with the sense of unity, orthodoxy, holistic vision, and victory that characterizes ancient, catholic Christianity. May it be the spirit of contemporary, authentic Anglican Christianity in our parish, diocese, and province.

Collect for the Second Sunday of Easter
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.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Christ rising from the dead

Christ our Passover has been sacrificed for us; *
  therefore let us keep the feast,
Not with the old leaven, the leaven of malice and evil, *
  but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth. Alleluia.

Christ being raised from the dead will never die again; *
  death no longer has dominion over him.
The death that he died, he died to sin, once for all; *
  but the life he lives, he lives to God.
So also consider yourselves dead to sin, *
 and alive to God in Jesus Christ our Lord.  Alleluia.

Christ has been raised from the dead, *
  the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep.
For since by a man came death, *
  by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead.
For as in Adam all die, *
  so also in Christ shall all be made alive.  Alleluia.

1 Corinthians 5:7‑8; Romans 6:9‑11; 1 Corinthians 15:20‑22

The Great 50 Days have begun. A joyous Eastertide to all!

Friday, April 22, 2011

Holy Week Journal 2011: A Good Friday Meditation

A Meditation on the Passion
(For Good Friday, and for Friday devotions through the year)

In this meditation, Bishop Lancelot Andrewes combined all of the accounts of Christ’s Passion into one simple overview. It invites us to contemplate the mystery of God’s love for us in Christ and the depths to which he went to embrace us and raise us to glory.

To use this meditation, go through each line slowly, recounting the event as describe in Scripture and picturing it mentally. Reflect on how this part of the Passion speaks to you, and how it is experienced in the lives of others—for Christ’s Passion raises to consciousness the suffering of others. Offer what arises in the heart to God.

This meditation does not end with Christ’s death: it continues to the Second Coming. This reminds us that the Crucifixion we recall on Good Friday (and all Fridays) may never be understood in isolation from the rest of the Paschal Mystery and the story of salvation. If it is, we will likely see only the sorrows of the Cross rather than its power and hope. Remember: we may not weep for Christ on the Cross—it was his purpose and desire to go there. Rather, we may (and must) weep for the sins that put him there.

Only when it is understood as part of the mystery of redemption may we see the Cross as Christ saw it: not only an instrument of shameful death, but his glorious throne whereon God’s victory over sin and death would be won, and the means of eternal life for all marked with it in baptism.

Praise, Blessing, and Thanksgiving

For the death of Christ,
In his obedience unto the death of the cross:
For the things which he suffered,
In his being pressed on every side:

In Gethsemane, Gabbatha, Golgotha – the pains, pangs, the shame, the curse of the cross

That he willed
1  To be betrayed by his own disciple
2  Sold for 30 pieces of silver
            1  vexed in soul
            2  very weary
            3  full of anguish
            4  exceedingly sorrowful, to death
            5  in agony
            6  to utter a loud cry and shed tears
            7  sweat blood like dew on the earth


1  his disciples should fall asleep; to be betrayed by a kiss
2  that his disciples should flee; to be left alone
3  denied by a strong oath, and by a curse
4  subjected to the powers of darkness
            1  seized by hands
            2  arrested as a robber
            3  tied up
            4  dragged off to
                        1    Annas
                        2    Caiaphas
                        3    Pilate
                        4    Herod
                        5    Pilate again
                        6    the Praetorium
                        7    Gabbatha
                        8    handed over
                        9    Golgotha
                        10  Cross

1  Annas and Caiaphas
2  Accusation
3  False witness
4  Condemned of blasphemy
            1  derided in many ways, insulted by servants
            2  beaten up
            3  slaps of the hand
            4  blindfolded
            5  beaten
            6  spat at
            7  jeered at
            8  blasphemed

1  accused of sedition
2  to be denied at the end
3  to be replaced with Barabbas
4  to be hounded to the cross by the will of the crowd

1  dressed him in a gorgeous robe
2  treated him with contempt; sent him back to Pilate

1    renewed demands for his death
2    to a very shameful death
3    handed over to the will of the soldiers
4    dressed in scarlet
5    a stick for a scepter
6    a crown of thorns
7    falling on their knees they jeered
8    they called him king in derision
9    they spat on his face
10  beat him about the head

1  to a pillar
2  beaten with sticks
            a baptism of blood
            Behold the Man! (a grievous sight)
            Away!  Crucify!
            His blood be on us
            sentence of death

to be loaded with the cross
            to sink
            to be given myrrh to drink
            stripped – the shame, the grief
            stretched on the cross
            fixed with nails
            hands and feet pierced
            set in between thieves
            and one of them repenting

            to be mocked by the passers-by
            to be blasphemed by one of the thieves
            My God, my God
            to be derided when he called upon God
            to be given vinegar to drink
            to bow his head
            to give up his spirit
            to have his side pierced with a spear
            when dead to be called a deceiver

            Father forgive
            Mother, behold you son
            Today with me
            My God, my God
            I thirst
            It is finished
            Father, into your hands

1  the precious death
2  the opening of the side
3  blood and water
4  the begging of the body
5  the taking down from the cross
6 the burial in another’s grave
7 for three days
            1  triumph over cosmic powers
            2  mighty resurrection
            Appearance to Magdalene
            to the women
            to Peter
            to those going towards Emmaus
            to the ten without Thomas
            to the eleven with Thomas
            at the sea of Tiberias
            to James
            to the five hundred
            (Transfiguration recalled and understood)
            3  the glorious Ascension
            4  seated at the right hand
            5  distribution of gifts
            6  standing up at our behalf as advocate, as priest
            7  the turning to bless for the second time
            8  the judging of the living and the dead
(Translated by David Scott)

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Holy Week Journal 2011: Holy Wednesday


Holy Wednesday is connected to Judas’ betrayal of Jesus. Many different theories have been advanced about exactly why Judas did this; no single theory ever seems to be convincing to me (the Gospel, significantly, does not try to nail this down; rather, it accepts that it did happen and that it indeed had to happen—a much healthier way of dealing with such imponderables in life). Instead, the story of Jesus’ betrayal invites us to contemplate what it means to betrayed and to betray others.

In many authoritarian societies, betrayal is the essence of governmental social control. Individuals are encouraged to betray others to the state in order to gain benefits or secure safety. This sets off a chain-reaction of secrecy, fear, and doubt. Reports out of Syria today speak of how most people do not share their thoughts with any but family or life-long friends: the government has planted innumerable informants throughout society. Letting one’s guard down for even a moment could cost one freedom or life itself.

Jesus lived in such a time and place; spies for various religious and governmental groups where all around. The disciples were used to this. With Judas, though, the situation was different. He was one of them. His betrayal of Jesus was much more profoundly painful. It meant the inner life of the apostolic community had been breached. What was safe after this? As the words of Psalm 55 recall, this is pain at its most personal:

For had it been an adversary who taunted me, then I could have borne it; or had it been an enemy who vaunted himself against me, then I could have hidden from him.

But it was you, a man after my own heart, my companion, my own familiar friend.

We took sweet counsel together, and walked with the throng in the house of God.

I have been blessed to have experienced little personal betrayal in life. I have, however, been seen as a “Judas” by others. One friend understood my clumsy and na├»ve attempts to help in a time of crisis as a form of betrayal, and has never spoken to me since—going so far as to quote the above psalm verses to me in an e-mail. While I knew I had no intention of betrayal in mind when these events took place, I could not help but understand a bit of Judas’ sorrow after realizing what he had done. Betrayal eats at the soul of all involved. My former friendship is a sealed book now, and may remain so until the grave. Such is the power of betrayal.

But this is precisely where Jesus—here as elsewhere—refuses to participate in sin. We see no evidence in Jesus of rage against Judas. It was all part of the necessary journey Christ took into the heart of human brokenness. Even at the edge of the abyss, when in the Gospel according to John, Jesus and Judas both knew what was to happen, Jesus reaches out to Judas and offers him the “sop,” the choice piece of bread dipped in the dinner’s juices. There is no hate on Jesus’ part: there is only acceptance, openness.

Betrayal stings with a pain like little else in life. That pain was something Christ had to taste in order for him to embrace the totality of our alienation from God and each other. This embrace shows us that we, too, are able to walk through our own experiences of betrayal, loss, shame, and sorrow—if we follow in Christ’s footsteps, allowing him to lead the way and handing over to him the burden we cannot bear alone. Then we able to join him and run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God, as it says in the Letter to the Hebrews.

So, let us bring our experiences of being betrayed or betraying before God this day. We need not hide these wounds with Christ, who seeks to heal of us all our brokenness. He gives the medicine we need: his own life and witness. As Hebrews tells us: Consider him who endured such hostility against himself from sinners, so that you may not grow weary or lose heart. Christ has this power. We need not follow Judas’ course, or remain forever locked in the pain of our betrayal.

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

Monday, April 18, 2011

More than a Religious Technician

A priest friend of mine, serving in a diocese far away, recently remarked that he no longer would consider calling graduates from one particular seminary to serve as his assistant. He said—with only a small amount of sarcasm—that the grads he had worked with from that particular school seemed to know pitiable amounts about theology, scripture, liturgy, or pastoral practice: the only thing they seemed to really be “educated” in was self care. “Imagine thinking that being ordained was an 8-5 job,” he said.

I don’t need to imagine. Like most clergy, in my weaker moments I’ve fantasized about this. Being able to go home at day’s end and not think about the pastoral life any more—concentrating on “my own stuff.” I particularly like to do this when I am in self-pitying moments. “It’s all so unfair,” “No one knows what I have to deal with,” and the like.

I say “in my weaker moments,” because that is exactly what they are. When I choose to let being a priest become a “job,” or a career (and it is a choice, consciously made or not), I open the door to all sorts of false logic about life. Suddenly it’s all about me: my limits, my feelings, my strengths, &c.

When I was a child, if I stood between my mother and what she was looking at, she would sometimes say: “you make a better door than a window.” This is true about clergy. Part of the nature of ordained life is to become ever more transparent to God’s work in us. “It is not I who live, but Christ who lives in me,” says St. Paul in Galatians. We are meant to point to God, to be a window through which others may see God at work in the world, in the lives of particular humans in particular situations.

The only way a follower of Christ can possibly live faithfully is by offering all of one’s life, all of one’s various trials and needs, to Christ. By handing them to him, we are relieved of the burden we cannot bear, and are given clear instruction about we not only can, but must do at this moment. Without this essentially Eucharistic way of living—giving thanks and offering to God—the demands placed on us, lay or ordained, will likely crush us. Without this, we become doors rather than windows. No matter how much we paint or decorate it, it remains a door that obscures the view.

As the years progress, I am noticing a shift in the language and “culture” of many clergy. I hear much less about the art and craft of being a cleric—the life of prayer, the gradual deepening of the journey into the unspeakable mystery of Christ and the sharing of the fruits of that journey—and much more about the latest books or seminars, various “proven techniques.” One hears a lot about self-care, but much less about humility; a great deal about relevance, but not too much about spiritual depth or maturity. It is a concerning trend, and I cannot help but wonder if the general decline of many parishes is not connected to it.

The role of priest or deacon has little to do with being a sort of religious technician. It is to be an icon of the Christian life, in all of its struggles as well as in all of its riches. We are meant to live in the paradox of knowing when to rest, while also being available and present even at odd hours or in difficult situations. We know we will fail at this, and when we admit to our failures in humility to others, they learn not only that we are open to just criticism, but that being a Christian means accepting one’s faults in humility, and then calling on Christ and returning to the road of discipleship. It is all part of the vocation.

Knowing various “tricks of the trade” can be helpful, but they are only that: tricks. They are like a birthday candle attempting to match the sun’s light. People do not want to see only the clergy person (and if they do, then they are mistaken in their desire, and/or we are grossly in error in feeding this perversion of ordained ministry); they want to see Jesus through us, to see the full light of day, not just the well-cared for but opaque door of clericalism.

If all we give them is an assortment of the latest techniques, or keep talking about our own needs, they will quickly learn that instead of being windows to heaven, we have become closed doors. The Church needs true pastors, not clever technicians.

Holy Week Journal 2011: Palm Sunday

Tender Love and Walking in the Way of Suffering

Almighty and everliving God, in your tender love for the human race you sent your Son our Savior Jesus Christ to take upon him our nature, and to suffer death upon the cross, giving us the example of his great humility: Mercifully grant that we may walk in the way of his suffering, and also share in his resurrection; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen. (Collect for Palm Sunday)

This prayer sums up the exquisite and complex character of Holy Week: God’s tender love for the human race and the suffering that love must endure so that we may share in Christ’s resurrection and be restored to our true identity and purpose.

To the casual observer, Holy Week can seem like climbing a mountain: beginning at a the base on Palm Sunday and making a laborious “assault on the peak” on Good Friday before coming down again to celebrate at Easter. The tendency in our secular society (and a Christianity deeply compromised by secular concepts) is to see our Christian life as just such labor. But this is to miss the point: the suffering is Christ’s, the resurrection is Christ’s, and we are the recipients. We are not making the assault on sin and death: God in Christ is the one who—once and for all—overcame the enemy and scaled the heights so that we might share in the Victory. This is the Mystery of Salvation, the Paschal (from Pascha, meaning Easter) gift.

Each Palm Sunday inaugurates a new immersion in the truth of the Paschal Mystery, not a new run at climbing Mount Calvary our selves. The rest of our life is a response to the Mystery of Christ’s self-offering and resurrection, becoming more like him by living “the example of his great humility,” as the Collect puts it, in the power of the Holy Spirit given us in baptism.

The liturgies of Holy Week proclaim the essence of the Christian Faith: “Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again.” Into this mystery new Christians are baptized, and baptized Christians are renewed. The tender love of God in Christ is manifested, and we are invited to take up our own cross and follow him, knowing that the mountain has already been conquered, the wall between us and God broken down, the chasm separating us and our brothers and sisters overcome. Now, it is time to renew our walk with Christ, so that we do not re-build the walls, dig new chasms, or forget his gifts.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Holy Week Journal 2011: Preparing

“You have heard it said…. But, I say to you…”

When Jesus spoke to the people, he brought to them a fresh, direct encounter with God. He did not bring them words about God; he brought them into contact with God. And he does so still.

Holy Week is the most explicitly direct time in the Christian Year. True, there are sermons preached at most of the services, but they are dwarfed by the impact of direct experience in these rites. During Holy Week there is a primal re-commitment to physical participation, a hands-on experimentation that leads to first-person learning for individuals and the entire community. We move beyond “having heard it said” and into having it told to us ourselves. The past, present, and eternal mingle in the Now of God; the True is revealed in the midst of time—if we are there to experience it.

Physical participation in worship is increasingly counter-cultural. As the norm for things becomes more and more electronic, decoupled from physical learning, the value of gathering, sharing, and experiencing together in physical worship can seem remote. Yet, all the evidence I have seen points to the necessity of integrating our minds and our bodies. Living radically compartmentalized lives sickens us physically, emotionally, and communally.

When we share in the liturgies of Holy Week we will share in the story salvation in such earthy, personal encounters as the Palm Sunday procession, the dimming lights of Tenebrae, the intimacy of Maundy Thursday’s footwashing, the touch of the Cross’s rough wood at the Solemn Veneration on Good Friday, the splash of New Life in the immersion of baptism and the overcoming of death’s veil when the Resurrection is proclaimed at the Great Vigil of Easter. These are not words about God, they are direct experiences of God’s action. We are not told exactly what to think, feel, or do: we are immersed in the reality of what has been done for us and must respond much as the first disciples. There is no actual difference. The question, the need, the situation remains constant. We are all one in this.

This direct participation in worship is extremely ancient. It was the norm for Christian worship before we in the West retreated into our books and our minds. That retreat has become a prison in many cases. Thankfully, we are beginning to recover an authentically Western participatory liturgical mysticism, of which this parish is one example.

By God’s grace, and by the blessing of a rich observance of the Prayer Book’s rites, we have been offered the key to break free from this prison of our own making. That key is to worship and journey towards the Empty Tomb together, letting God speak to us directly and anew.

May we walk the Way of Holy Week together as One Body, wherever we are in Christ’s Vineyard.