Author: Bishopfisher

What has become clear to you this Easter?

PHOTO: By Ann @Unsplash

Happy Easter! It feels like we have been in Lent for over a year now. Thank you for staying faithful. It has not been easy being Church at the very time that the message and mission of the church has been more important than ever. Episcopal priest and spiritual leader, The Rev. Dr. Pauli Murray, once said “Hope is a song in a weary throat.” Thank you for all the weary throats that have sung out hope this year.

Ten years ago, while I was a priest at Grace Church in Millbrook, NY, our daughter Grace was a freshman at Dickinson College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. It was a year when spring break was just a week before Holy Week. We really enjoyed our time with our youngest daughter and on the Saturday before Palm Sunday, I was driving Grace on the four hour trip back to school. On the ride she asked me, “Dad when will you be getting me home for Easter.” I was surprised by the question and said, “Oh Gracie we can’t get you back home for Easter. You have classes up to Friday afternoon. Good Friday. Mommy and I are both priests. Holy Week is really busy.” She sadly said “Ok, Dad.” A couple of hours later we were in Carlisle stopped at a light, just a couple of blocks from campus. There was one of the signs saying “Episcopal Church this way.” Grace noticed it and said “Look Dad. There is the Episcopal Church where I will be sitting all by myself on Easter Sunday morning.”

Betsy and I got her back home for Easter.

I tell that story knowing many of you are sitting all by yourself this Easter. Very soon some of our churches who can do so safely will be open for in-person, indoor worship for limited numbers. It is my sincere hope by the fall that all our church buildings can be open.

But today we are still physically apart. I’m going to turn to the great spiritual writer, Thomas Merton, for a word of hope and grace. Merton looked at the origins of the word “alone.” He says it comes from “all one.” All one. Even when we are alone we are all one. All one with God and with one another on this Easter Sunday and throughout this year of Lent.

Ralph Waldo Emerson used to greet friends he had not seen in a long time and would ask them this question: “What has become clear to you since we last met?” A great question for all of us to ask each other when we see each other in-person as this pandemic ends. For me, what has become clear is what Merton says. We are all one.

And I think that gets us to one of two key insights of the many, many life changing insights from the Resurrection of Jesus we celebrate this day.

In John’s telling of that first Easter morning, Mary Magdalene recognizes the one she thought was the gardener to be Jesus. And although the text does not say it, she must have hugged him. Jesus responds. Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. Go to my brothers and say to them ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’

At first, we feel sorry for Mary. She wants to hold on to this person she loves so much. But Jesus’ answer is good news. The Risen Christ will not be confined to any one place. He will be with God the Father and that means he will be everywhere.

You know who really understood the power of this truth? St. Patrick. In the hymn attributed to him we sing these words: “Christ be with me, Christ within me, Christ behind me, Christ before me, Christ beside me, Christ to win me, Christ to comfort and restore me, Christ beneath me , Christ above me, Christ in quiet, Christ in danger, Christ in the hearts of all that love me, Christ in mouth of friend and stranger.”

We used to say that prayer with our children when putting them to bed. Our son Geoff loved that prayer and if he didn’t want to go to sleep yet he would keep the prayer going: “Christ in the basement, Christ on the roof, Christ at my school…” He was doing that to stay up, but he got the point. The Resurrection and later Ascension of Jesus means he is now, as Fr. Richard Rohr says, “the Cosmic Christ.” We are never apart from Christ. Our life and our death are now incorporated in the life of the Risen Christ.

And here is the second insight from the Easter miracle. I’m taking this from an opinion piece in The NY Times written by Esau McCaulley. This article was sent to me by The Very Rev. Jim Munroe, the former dean of our cathedral.

Looking at the empty tomb stories in all four gospels, he points out as I did in my Easter Vigil sermon last night, that the first Easter morning was a time of grief and anxiety. Even after being told Jesus was alive they left the tomb in fear. McCaulley writes: “The women did not go to the tomb looking for hope. They were searching for a place to grieve. They wanted to be left alone in despair. The terrifying aspect of Easter is that God called these women to return to the same world that crucified Jesus with a very dangerous gift: hope in the power of God, the unending reservoir of forgiveness and an abundance of love. Who could believe such a thing?”

McCaulley then brings the first Easter to this Easter of 2021: “To listen to the plans of some, after the pandemic we are returning to a world of parties and rejoicing. This is true. Parties have their place. But we are also returning to a world of hatred, cruelty, division and a thirst for power that was never quarantined… As we leave the tombs of quarantine, a return to normal would be a disaster unless we recognize we are going back to a world desperately in need of healing. The work that Jesus left his followers to do includes showing compassion and forgiveness and contending for a just society.”

Friends, what has become clear to you since we last met? What has become clear to you this Easter? A theologian once said, “The resurrection is in part about the sheer toughness and persistence of God’s love.” 

May we rejoice today Easter 2021 in the toughness and persistence of God’s love. And may we recommit to going out into the world dedicated to Jesus’ Mission of Mercy, Compassion and Hope. Amen.

+Doug

Ash Wednesday: Christ’s own forever and that means now

Our prayer book is very clear what Ash Wednesday and Lent are all about. They are about facing our own mortality – remember you are dust and to dust you shall return. And it is about acknowledging sin and repenting for it.

I have heard it said that Lent is redundant this year. With this pandemic we are constantly being reminded of our mortality and our vulnerability. And sin is all over the place:

  • The sin of the January 6 insurrection at our Capital
  • The sin of racial injustice which has been with us for 400 years is getting clearer and clearer
  • The sin of wealth inequality has become glaringly obvious as the numbers coming to our food pantries have doubled or tripled or quadrupled.
  • And our sinful neglect of God’s creation has brought about climate change.


I’m proposing we have another theme this Lent. I’m proposing we have another “remember” in addition to “Remember you are dust”.  Here it is “Remember you belong to God and you are claimed as Christ’s own forever.” And forever includes now.

This prayer by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. should be our Lenten prayer for 2021:

“God we thank you for the inspiration of Jesus. Grant that we love you with all our hearts, souls and minds, and love our neighbors as ourselves, even our enemy neighbors. And we ask you God, in these days of emotional tension, when the problems of the world are gigantic in extent no chaotic in detail, to be with us in our going out and our coming in, in our rising up and in our lying down, in our moments of joy and our moments of sorrow.”

The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King


Now belonging to God does not preclude struggling with God. Let’s look for a moment at a statement by Jesus in today’s gospel that I have always struggled with. Jesus tells us to not pray in public but when we wish to pray we should “go to your room and shut the door.” Now for people like me that make our living praying in public, this is a harsh saying. So for most of my life I have simply ignored it. But then I found an insight from one of my favorite theologians, Walter Brueggeman, and finally I understood.

Brueggeman points out this teaching of Jesus is by way of classic rabbinic overstatement- a type of speech Jesus employed frequently. Of course we are supposed to pray as a community- remember the “where two or three gather” statement. And someday we will gather together in this church, while we stay faithful to community prayer now through zoom and live-stream. But perhaps we need to pray alone as well because there might be some things we want to say to God that would not be polite to say in public. Look at the words of our liturgies – beautiful language awash with praise and thanks to God. But what if life has dealt us some unfair blows? Are there times you just want to argue with God? Aren’t there questions you would like to ask God that are not polite questions? I remember our daughter Caragh, when she was a teenager, asking one of those questions. She said, “Why is it that every time something good happens, we thank God. And when something bad happens it is all our fault?” Good question.

When we go to our room and ask the tough questions, when we go and shout at God that life is so unfair, when we dare to wrestle with God, one of two things can happen. We may succeed in wrestling some answers from God. Great. But perhaps we lose. Perhaps we don’t get the answers. But in losing we meet a God who is not our equal. We meet the BIG God. The God who is bigger than we are. The God who made billions of stars. And we realize the task of life is not wrestling with God but surrendering to God. We belong to that God.


To continue this Lenten theme I’m going to skip ahead a few days to Sunday’s gospel- the first Sunday in Lent. It is from Mark. You all know the story. It happens right after the baptism of Jesus. At his baptism a voice from heaven says “You are my Son, the Beloved, with you I am well pleased.” Remember Jesus has not done anything yet. No miracles, no healing, no great sermons. But he is beloved.

Then he goes to the wilderness where he is tempted by Satan for 40 days. Now Mark does not tell what the temptations are. Matthew and Luke do. And Michael Curry has given us preachers permission to move around the Bible as we preach. Matthew and Luke mention the devil tempting the hungry Jesus with turning a stone into bread. If you really are the Beloved of God you can do this. You can’t be the beloved of God and be hungry. That wouldn’t be fair. But Jesus refuses the devil’s reasoning. Jesus holds together being hungry and being loved by God. The devil is saying “you deserve better than this. If God loves you, then you would never be hungry. Come with me and you can be full and fulfilled.” Jesus has to deal with this lack of fulfillment throughout his life. Jesus is continually frustrated – AND knows he is loved. Jesus has his heart broken – and knows he is loved. Jesus is tortured to death – and knows he is loved and love is stronger than death. Jesus does not need everything to break his way to know he is loved. God’s love of him is unconditional.

It works the same way for us. Can we have our hearts broken and know God’s love? Can we be unemployed and know God’s love? Can we have cancer and know God’s love? Can we live in the midst of a pandemic and know God’s love? Michael Curry is right. It all begins with God’s love, and that love working in us, will transform the world from the nightmare it is for so many into the dream God has for it.

The Jewish people have a wonderful insight into remembering God’s love given to us before we ever accomplish anything. They believe an angel places the soul in the body and then seals it by placing a finger over the mouth of the child. That is where we have a little indentation over our lips and under our nose. It is where the angel’s finger was when he sealed in that spirit. That is why when we try to remember something we instinctively place our index finger onto that little crevice. We are trying to remember and we are trying to remember our divine origins. We are made by God. We are made holy.

A long time ago, someone poured water over your head and said “I baptize you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” And then oil was placed on your head with the words “I claim you as Christ’s own forever.” Forever we belong to Jesus. And forever includes now. Hungry we are his. Sick we are his. Sad we are his. In everything good and holy we are his. Unconditional belonging is in the very heart of God. Martin Luther King’s prayer got it right. Let’s remember we are God’s beloved this Lent.


Amen.

January 6th is pivotal. I invite us to a day of prayer.

After our mother died in 1977, my sister was going through her things and found her “nurse’s handbook.” On the blank first page our mother had written a prayer called “9 Consecutive Hours.”

Excerpt from a prayer written down by Mrs. Louise Fisher.
PHOTO: submitted

The prayer begins, “O Jesus, who hast said ask and you shall receive, seek and you shall find, knock and it shall be opened to you. Through the intercession of Mary, Thy most Holy Mother, I knock , I seek, I ask that my prayer be granted.”

Then she writes In parentheses, (Make Your Request). That is followed by two more prayers, each ending with, (Make Your Request).

It appears she said those prayers every hour for 9 consecutive hours. My sister made a copy of it and framed it for me. It has a prominent place in our dining room.

Wednesday January 6 is a pivotal day in our democracy. The world will be watching us as some members of the Senate and the House of Representatives, urged on and intimidated by the out-going President, will seek to overturn November’s election and the will of the people. Wednesday is also The Epiphany. We remember the light that guided three travelers to the manger. We celebrate the God who came in humility and embraced the plight of the poor. We remember that when faced with the threat of violence we can take another way. We can choose the Prince of Peace. As this important day approaches, I invite us to a day of prayer.

Pray however the Spirit leads you. For me, I will use my mother’s prayer. And in the space where it says, “Make your request,” I will pray this:

“Jesus, our country is in danger. May our constitution and the rule of law hold in the face of all assaults on our democratic institutions. We ask for a peaceful transition of power that will continue to be an inspiration throughout the world. Keep us from violence and give us hope. Amen.”

+Doug

A Pandemic Cannot Stop Your Love For Us

PHOTO: An angel waits for her role at the Christmas Pageant at Church of the Transfiguration
TEC Stock image used with permission

Many years ago on Christmas Eve, at the famed Riverside Church in New York City, the renowned William Sloan Coffin was scheduled to preach. The Christmas Pageant preceded his sermon. They had come to the point where the innkeeper was to say there was no room in the inn for Joseph and Mary.

The part seemed perfect for Tim, an earnest youth of the congregation who had Down’s syndrome. It was one line and he had practiced it over and over again with his parents and the pageant director. He had this! So there Tim stood in the sanctuary, a bathrobe over his clothes, as Mary and Joseph made their way down the center aisle. They approached Tim, said their lines, and waited for his reply. “There’s no room in the inn,” he boomed out just as rehearsed. But then, as Mary and Joseph turned to travel further, Tim suddenly yelled, “Wait!” They turned back startled. “You can stay at my house,” he called.

Bill Coffin did not wait for the pageant to end to deliver his sermon. He strode to the pulpit right then and said, “Amen!” Later he said it was the best sermon he never preached.

Mary, Joseph, baby Jesus, you can stay at my house. In this Christmas season when our church buildings cannot be open, let’s say that again and again. Mary, Joseph, baby Jesus you can stay at my house. We miss being in Church so much. But your presence is still here. A pandemic cannot stop your love for us.

Theologian and spiritual guide Richard Rohr says this: “We are not human beings having spiritual experiences. We are spiritual beings having human experiences.” Now there is a lot to unpack there. But let’s go with it as true. We are not human beings having spiritual experiences. We are spiritual beings having a human experiences. Now we are having the human experience of a pandemic with all the economic and social disruption and suffering it is causing. How do we live as people of faith in this time?

It has been said “every time a baby is born, it is proof that God has not given up on the world.” My family has been blessed with two births this year. Our granddaughter, Charlotte, was born on April 28. And Elizabeth, called Bee, was born on June 6th. Both were borth in New York City where the curve was starting to flatten but the virus was still rampant. On June 6th, 5 week-old Charlotte needed emergency stomach surgery. Betsy and I sat and waited to hear if Charlotte would come through the surgery OK. At the same time, we waited to hear how the labor was going and anticipating the birth of Bee. Talk about having a human experience! The surgery on Charlotte was successful and everything went well in the birth of Bee. Thank God.

The Rev. Betsy Fisher and Bishop Doug holding Charlotte (left) and Bee (right).
Photo: submitted

“Every time a baby is born, it is proof that God has not given up on the universe.” That is exactly what the Gospel writers Luke and Matthew tell us so clearly. Luke tells us that the birth of Jesus causes an angel to go to shepherds and proclaim, “I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people. To you is born this day in the city of David, a savior who is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you. You will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.”

Matthew is a lot more low-key about the events of that night. He just writes, “She had borne a son and he (Joseph) named him Jesus.” But Matthew tells us a lot more about what happened after that. There is the story of the Magi and King Herod’s plan to kill the baby by killing all babies two years old and younger around Bethlehem. This results in Joseph and Mary taking the baby and fleeing to Egypt for two years. They remain there until a dream tells Joseph that King Herod is dead and it is safe to go back to Israel. 

Two years living as refugees in a foreign land with no Zoom calls with the grandparents and the aunts and uncles. Two years of staying faithful in the midst of suffering. 

2020 has been a brutal year for our country, for our world, AND God has not given up hope. I’ll end with a poem from Madeleine L’Engle which has touched my soul this Advent and Christmas. It is called, “First Coming.”

He did not wait for the perfect time.
He came when the need was deep and great.
He dined with sinners in all their grime,
Turned water into wine.

He did not wait till hearts were pure.
In joy he came to a tarnished world of sin and doubt .
To a world like ours, of anguished shame 
He came, and his light would not go out.

He came to a world which did not mesh,
To heal its tangles, shield its scorn.
In the mystery of the Word made Flesh
The Maker of the stars was born.

We cannot wait till the world is sane
To raise our songs with joyful voice,
For to share our grief, to touch our pain,
He came with Love: Rejoice! Rejoice!

First Coming, By Madeleine L’Engle

Amen.

+Doug

We Have to Choose Christmas: The Bishop’s Christmas Message

Christmas is always an emotional time. And it has its own Spirit that can carry us away. We all get caught up in the experience of a dark church singing Silent Night as the candles are lit and the light spreads.

In most years, we get caught up in Christmas. But this year we have to choose it. We have to make a choice for Christmas.

Recently I was reading a Christmas sermon by Warren Swenson. He says the biblical passage from the Christmas Eve service that we should pay special attention to this year is the Letter to Titus. Now you might be saying “what is that?” I remember Luke’s story of the census and the innkeepers and the shepherds and the angels and the manger. I remember all the great Christmas hymns. No one ever comes out of a Christmas Eve service saying, “Wow. That reading from Titus was really awesome.”

But it is there. The second reading. Here is part of it:

“For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all…Jesus Christ gave himself for us that he might redeem us from all iniquity and purify for himself a people of his own who are zealous for good deeds.”

The grace of God has appeared bringing salvation to ALL. Presiding Bishop Michael Curry did not preach about Titus in his Christmas message but his words help us understand it. “Mary gave birth to her first born son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn. There, in the simplest bed, lies the One for whom no room was made. And yet strangely, there lies the One whom not even the universe can contain.”

The grace of God has appeared bringing salvation to all. And what is our response to that greatest gift? Titus says it is a people of his own who are zealous for good deeds.

I have been inspired over and over again by the generosity of our churches to community organizations that are addressing the rising food insecurity of this time and other social needs. And checking in on one another. And finding ways to be community in such a challenging time. And by doing the good deed of wearing a mask.

And may we be zealous in choosing the resilient spirit of Christmas this year. We might not be caught up in Christmas because some of our traditions are not happening the way we always did them. And there is a deep sadness to that. But we can choose to live in the Spirit of Christmas. No one says this better than Howard Thurman, a leader in the Civil Rights movement and a great theologian.

“I will light candles this Christmas
Candles of joy, despite all the sadness.
Candles of hope where despair keeps watch.
Candles of courage where fear is ever present.
Candles of peace for tempest-tossed days.
Candles of grace to ease heavy burdens.
Candles of love to inspire all my living.
Candles that will burn all the year long.”

We are blessed by God taking flesh in Jesus and the gift of salvation. May we respond zealously with the good deed of choosing to be a light in this world. May God bless you with a resilient Spirit this Christmas.

+Doug

Photo Credits: TEC Stock collection; used with permission