Author: Bishopfisher

The New Reality

Saints Peter and Paul, from an etching in a catacomb, 4th cen.

Welcome to a reflection for the Fourth Sunday of Easter. Throughout the Easter Season we get a passage from the Acts of the Apostles. And once again I think what happens in the Acts of the Apostles speaks to us in this pandemic.

One of my favorite theologians, Walter Brueggemann writes,

“The whole book of Acts is about power from God that the world cannot shut down. In scene after scene, there is a hard meeting between the church and worldly authorities, because worldly authorities are regularly baffled by this new power and resentful of it. At one point, in chapter 17, the followers of Jesus are accused of turning the world upside down.”

Walter Brueggemann

As our Presiding Bishop, Michael Curry says, “this new world is really right side up.” They proclaimed the Resurrection of Jesus and therefore the old powers of death were no longer defining reality. The new reality was oh so present in the passage we read on the Fourth Sunday of Easter.

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

Acts 2: 44-47a

Sounds good, right? They even renamed one of the new members “Barnabus” which means, “son of encouragement.” Wouldn’t you love to have a son or daughter of encouragement in your life right now? Someone saying, “You can do this. I believe in you.” And maybe you could be a son or daughter of encouragement for someone else.

“Distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need.” Throughout history there are always people in need. And this pandemic has expanded the list of those in need. It has torn back the curtain on societal and political and financial forces that create an enormous chasm between rich and poor.

I’m inspired by all of you who distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. Many of you are distributing food, taking in family members, contributing to organizations that are in direct contact with those in need, sewing masks for under-equipped medical staff. Those are acts of the apostles for our day.

If you read all 28 chapters of Acts, you will see that everything was not as perfect as it was in today’s passage from chapter two. There were disagreements, mistakes, failures. But the Jesus Movement kept on going because it was immersed in prayer, and because it was humble enough to be a learning community. Let me give you one example.

In Chapter 12, Peter was arrested by King Herod. He was bound in chains and several guards watched over him. When the guards feel asleep, an angel came to Peter and set him free. Peter escaped the prison. The next day when Herod heard Peter got away, he ordered all the guards executed.

Go to Chapter 16. This time Paul and Silas are arrested. I told you the early Christians were always in trouble with the government. This time the guards took extra precautions. Paul and Silas were placed in the “innermost cell” with their feet fastened in stocks. There was no angel this time, but an earthquake that broke open the chains and made the doors fly open. Paul and Silas could have easily escaped. But they didn’t. They stayed right there. When the guard came the next morning and saw the doors open, he took his sword out to kill himself, knowing that his boss would have him executed for letting the prisoners escape. Then he heard Paul’s voice, “Do not harm yourself. We are all here.” The jailer ran in, saw Paul and Silas, and realized they stayed to save his life. He was so moved by this act of compassion he said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” And by that he meant REALLY saved. What would it take to turn away from a world of cynicism and hate and toward a new world of hope and love? To show he was not merely giving intellectual assent to this new way of living, the jailer “washed their wounds.” He joined their mission of mercy, compassion and hope.

You see, the church learned and grew in compassion from Chapter 12 to Chapter 16. From Peter’s arrest to that of Paul and Silas. And in our day, our time of a pandemic, can we choose to stay in place, at home, to slow down the spread of this disease and so save the lives of others? Do we still have a learning church – a church that grows in sacrificial love?

Remember the Easter message: Love is stronger than death, and to that love you are returned.” Amen.

+Doug

The Risen Jesus: Still there, still present, but unseen.

Maximino Cerezo Barredo (Spanish, 1932–), “Emmaus,” 2002. 

Welcome to a reflection on the Gospel for the Third Sunday in Easter. Easter is not just one day. It really is a season. And throughout this season, I have been amazed at how much these stories of resurrection speak to our time in a pandemic.

This week’s Gospel is the Road to Emmaus. Cleopas and an unnamed disciple are walking the seven miles from Jerusalem to Emmaus. Whenever someone is “unnamed” in a Gospel story, it is meant to represent the reader. You and I are the unnamed disciple.

As they walked along , “talking about all these things that had happened,” the Risen Jesus joins them but they don’t know it is Jesus. He asks them what they are discussing and they stand still, looking sad. Cleopas says, “Are you the only one who does not know what has happened in these days?” Then they tell him about the crucifixion, the death, the empty tomb and how confusing it all is.

If Jesus were to ask us that same question right now, we would tell him all about COVID-19. We would tell him about loved ones getting sick, some of them dying alone in hospitals, about the courage of doctors and nurses and hospital staff, about sheltering at home to keep the virus from spreading, about the millions of jobs lost, and the chaos at the top levels of our government.

After Cleopas and the unnamed disciple answers Jesus’ question, Jesus speaks. He reminds them of the Scripture passages about suffering and entering into Glory.

In our time and in our place, what Scripture verses do you think Jesus would interpret for us now? Maybe they would be these:

“Many are saying ‘oh, that we might see better times! Lift up the light of your countenance upon us, O Lord.”

Psalm 4

“Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I shall fear no evil; for you are with me.”

Psalm 23

“In you, O Lord, have I taken refuge…Be my strong rock, a castle to keep me safe…Into your hands I commend my spirit, for you have redeemed me, O Lord, O God of truth.”

Psalm 31

“You shall not be afraid of any terror by night, nor of the arrow that flies by day. Of the plague that stalks in the darkness, nor of the sickness that lays waste at mid-day…because he is bound to me in love, therefore will I deliver him, I will protect him because he knows my name.”

Psalm 91

As they continue to walk, evening draws near. Cleopas and the other disciple convince the one they still don’t recognize to stay with them. They finally recognize Jesus when he takes bread, blesses it and breaks it. Gospel writer Luke describes what happens: “Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him, and he vanished from their sight.”

There are some scripture scholars, who really know their Koine Greek – the language the gospels are written in – who say this is not the best interpretation into English. They say the original is not “and he vanished from their sight.” They say the meaning in the original Greek is, “and he disappeared among them.”

“He disappeared among them.” The Risen Jesus was still there, still present, but unseen.

Cleopas and the other disciple say “Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?”

At the core of our faith is the continued presence of the crucified and Risen Jesus disappeared among us in the form of the Holy Spirit. Every time we go back and read those psalms I quoted before, or the stories of Moses and David and the prophets and Jesus himself, may our hearts burn within us. May we know that the love of God is stronger than death, stronger than any virus and it reaches into our lives wherever we are. We will get through these days and months with our God who is ever present. Amen.

+Doug

Because of Thomas

Hands of Proof, by Hyatt Moore

Welcome to a reflection on the Gospel for the Second Sunday of Easter and for the sixth Sunday of this pandemic in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. In my prayers and study of the Easter season Gospel stories, I have been amazed at how much they speak to our situation in this vulnerable time.

And this Sunday, when we hear the mislabeled story of “doubting Thomas,” I think we discover an apostle who is truly speaks to this moment in history.

In all of the gospels, Thomas speaks rarely and those times are all in John’s Gospel. In Chapter 14, Jesus is telling the apostles that in his Father’s house there are many dwelling places. And that he – Jesus – is going to prepare a place for them. He tells them they “know the way” to the place that he is going. Thomas, honest and humble, says “Lord, we do not not where you are going. How can we know the way?”

“How can we know the way?” Isn’t that a pandemic question? When will this end? Will it end and come back? Will society be forever changed? Thomas knows what it is like to live with uncertainty, and to receive the answer of Jesus: “I am the way.” Jesus’ way of compassion is the way.

A few chapters earlier we hear Thomas speak when Jesus says he he is going to Bethany, which is near Jerusalem. Jerusalem was the center of the Temple’s and the Empire’s resistance to him. It is a place to be feared for the followers of the Messiah but Thomas says “Let us go also that we may die with him.” Thomas is committed to Jesus no matter what. Can we be committed, no matter what? I am inspired everyday but the doctors and nurses and first responders who go toward the sick and dying. I am inspired by those who do the sometimes difficult work of staying at home to keep this disease from spreading.

And then we get to Sunday’s Gospel. It is evening of the day Jesus rose from the dead. The disciples locked in a house out of fear. And the Risen Jesus appears to them. But Thomas is not with them. John’s Gospel does not tell us why Thomas was missing. I have a theory. Could it be that Thomas is not there because he is still doing the work of Jesus? This apostle who was not afraid to die with Jesus is still doing what Jesus did. He is healing the sick and feeding the hungry. For Thomas, Jesus’ death does not stop the mission he gave us. It’s just a theory, don’t tell the bishop.

When Thomas comes back, the disciples tell him “we have seen the Lord.” Thomas replies with the most misunderstood statement in all of the Gospels: “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and I put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in in his side, I will not believe.”

For this we commonly call him “doubting.” Or could it be that Thomas really knows Jesus? Thomas knows Jesus as the Way. The way of compassionate love. You see, Thomas does not want an angelic, abstract, spiritualized Jesus who is Risen above it all. He wants the real Jesus, the wounded Jesus, who will stay with the wounded of this world and who will take the wounded of this world to where he is.

We know how the story ends. The wounded Jesus appears to Thomas. And Thomas says the most profound expression of faith uttered by any of the apostles: “My Lord and my God.”

In our days, days of terrible suffering, times when some of us are dying without the physical presence of family and friends, a time when many are in financial need, we might ask, “where is God?” Because of Thomas we know where God is. We know that the wounded and Risen Jesus is right here among the wounded of the world. And we know his way – the way of compassionate love – is the salvation of the world. Amen.

+Doug

The Bishop’s Easter Message: Love is Stronger Than Death

April 12, 2020

Welcome to an Easter reflection at a time when we need, really need, to feel the presence of the Crucified and Risen Jesus. Every day during this pandemic I have been saying this prayer from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Written in 1968; I believe it speaks to our time.

“God, we thank you for the inspiration of Jesus. Grant that we will love you with all our hearts, minds and souls, and love our neighbor 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 and 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 sorrow.”

“When the problems of the world are gigantic in extent and chaotic in detail.” Easter began in just such a moment. In John’s Gospel we hear that “while it was still dark” Mary Magdalene went to the tomb of Jesus. Mary Magdalene got up from bed after what was probably a sleepless night spent reliving the horrific death of her friend Jesus. How would she ever get those images of a tortured man out of her head? And “while it was still dark” she left her home and walked to the tomb to go and anoint the body of the one she thought could save Israel. Mary walked to that tomb in sadness, in grief, in disappointment, in loneliness.

After Mary sees the empty tomb, Peter and the other disciple go in, see the tomb is empty and return home. Mary stays, weeping. As she wept she looked into the tomb and saw two angels. The angels don’t say “Alleluia, Christ is risen.” They don’t say “Hail, Thee Festival Day.” They say “why are you weeping?” She tells them why. And then the one she thinks is the gardener – who is actually the Risen Jesus – asks her the exact same question: “why are you weeping?”

You see friends, New Life, resurrected life, begins when compassion comes into the darkness. “When the problems of the world are gigantic in extent and chaotic in detail” that’s when Jesus and his Mission of mercy, compassion and hope rises.

The next thing that happens in the story is that Mary hugs Jesus. At a time of physical distancing we might feel jealous of Mary. But Jesus says “don’t cling to me.” He has to be on his way. The great preacher Barbara Brown Taylor explains: “The only thing we cannot do is hold on to him. He has asked us to please not do that because he knows that all in all we would rather keep him with us where we are than let him take us where he is going. Better we should let him HOLD ON TO US. Better we should let him take us into the presence of God, who is not behind us but ahead of us every step of the way.”

Death could not hold Jesus. When the problems of this world are gigantic in extent and chaotic in detail, the Risen Jesus cannot be held down. Jesus, the crucified, risen, compassionate one holds us in faith, hope and love. And gives our spirits New Life.

Remember Ash Wednesday? That might seem a world away. On that day ashes were placed on our foreheads with the words “Remember you are dust. And to dust you shall return.” That is a true statement. But is only part of the truth. On Easter we hear the rest of the truth: “Love is stronger than death. And to that love you are returned.”

Death could not hold Jesus. But resurrection on that Easter Sunday was not just for Jesus. It was also resurrection for Mary Magdalene. In the darkness and the chaos she experienced the compassionate love of Jesus. And she joined him in a mission of compassionate love in this world. A mission that goes on even “when the problems of the world are gigantic in extent and chaotic in detail.” A mission we see every day in the hospital workers and first responders who keep healing at the risk of their own lives. A mission of compassionate love that expresses itself in the many ways we stay in contact with friends and neighbors and church members even while we can’t physically present. A mission of compassionate love expressed in staying home to keep others safe. Because you see St. Paul got it right:

“Love is patient. Love is kind. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends. And now faith, hope and love abide, these three. And the greatest of these is love.”

Amen.

+Doug

The Rt. Rev. Douglas J. Fisher, Bishop

Keeping Watch Together

Screen grab from nightly Compline feed on ZOOM

For the past two weeks I have been leading Compline at 8 pm every evening via zoom. We get quite a number of participants as we all look for community, prayer and hope in this time. Compline has beautiful prayers to help us do just that. My favorite is:

“Keep watch, dear Lord, with those who work or watch or weep this night and give your angels charge of those who sleep. Tend the sick, Lord Christ; give rest to the weary, bless the dying, soothe the suffering, pity the afflicted, shield the joyous; and all for your love’s sake. Amen.”

I have said that prayer for many years, but somehow it seems written for this time of pandemic. As do the psalms for Compline, such as this one: “Many are saying, ‘Oh that we might see better times! Lift up the light of your countenance upon us, O Lord.”

Here are a few other prayers and meditations I have use these past two weeks in the midst of Compline. My friend and bishop classmate, Rob Wright, says this:

“Music is not cancelled.

Prayer is not cancelled.

Rest is not cancelled.

Compassion is not cancelled.

Hope is not cancelled.

Study is not cancelled.

Memories are not cancelled.

Phone calls are not cancelled.

Faith is not cancelled.

Planning is not cancelled.

Dreaming is not cancelled.

Laughing is not cancelled.

Imagination is not cancelled.

God is not cancelled.”

The Rt. Rev. Robert Wright

On another night I quoted this from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in 1968:
“God, we thank you for the inspiration of Jesus. Grant that we will love you with all our hearts, minds and souls, and love our neighbor 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 and chaotic in detail, to be with us in our going and our coming in, in our rising up and in our lying down, in our moments of joy and our moments of sorrow, until the day when there shall be no sunset and no dawn.”

The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

We normally associate Dr. King with moments of glory on spiritual mountaintops and great dreams. But the time he felt the Divine Presence most deeply was at a time of confusion and despair. One night when he was home alone, he answered the phone. The caller told him unless he ceased his activity for civil rights, he would kill him and all his family.” Martin got off the phone and rested his head on the kitchen table. There he confessed his fear to God. And he asked God for a way out of this work so he would not look like a coward. While Martin sat there in fear, he felt the Divine Presence in the room. An heard a voice saying to him : “Martin, have courage. Stand up for justice. I am with you always.”

In this time of fear and confusion, may we feel that same Divine Presence.

We all know the hymn “Now Thank We All our God.” But do we know the context? The author is Martin Rinckart, a Lutheran pastor who was serving in the walled city of Eilenburgh in Saxony, Germany during the plague of 1637. It was very overcrowded with refugees from the 30 Year War. In the plague, all the clergy died except Rinckart. In that one year, he did over 4,000 funerals, including that of his wife. And yet, in the midst of all that devastation, he wrote these words:


“Now thank we all our God, with hearts and hands and voices, who wondrous things hath done, in whom this world rejoices; who from our mother’s arms hath blessed us on our way with countless gifts of love, and still is ours today.”

Martin Rinckart

When our children were little and all upset about something, we would tell them to stop and think of five things they are grateful for. (Sometimes our Caragh would react by saying “I hate five fings.” Perhaps in the spirit of Rinckart, we can stop and thank God for “five things.” And may one of those be the doctors, nurses, hospital workers and first responders who are saving lives at the risk of their own.

St. Paul wrote:

“Love is patient. Love is kind. Love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends..For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known. And now faith, hope and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.”

1 Corinthians 13:4-8a; 12-12

In a time when we have been sheltering at home for many days, perhaps alone, but perhaps with one or many more people, it might be good to remember the wisdom of Saint Paul. When stress builds, remember Love is patient and kind. It does not insist on its own way. It bears all things. Endures all things. Love never ends.

And in these confusing, anxious times, when we see dimly in a mirror, when we know so little of what might come, can we live in faith and hope and love? Knowing the greatest of these is love.

Our Diocese will keep offering compline via zoom every night as long as this pandemic continues. God bless you all.

In Christ,
+Doug

___________________________________________________________________________

Episcopal WMA is inviting you to pray Compline with Bishop Fisher

Time: Mar 28, 2020 08:00 PM Eastern Time

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