Most Gracious and all wise God; Before whose face the generations rise and fall; Thou in whom we live, and move, and have our being. We thank thee for all of thy good and gracious gifts, for life and for health; for food and for raiment; for the beauties of nature and the love of human nature. We come before thee painfully aware of our inadequacies and shortcomings. We realize that we stand surrounded with the mountains of love and we deliberately dwell in the valley of hate. We stand amid the forces of truth and deliberately lie; We are forever offered the high road and yet we choose to travel the low road. For these sins O God forgive. Break the spell of that which blinds our minds. Purify our hearts that we may see thee. O God in these turbulent days when fear and doubt are mounting high give us broad visions, penetrating eyes, and power of endurance. Help us to work with rewed vigor for a warless world, for a better distribution of wealth, and for a brotherhood that transcends race or color. In the name and spirit of Jesus we pray.
Welcome to a reflection on the 5th Sunday of Easter. Today’s Gospel begins with words we long to hear in this time of a pandemic. “Do not let your hearts be troubled,” says Jesus. Let’s spend a few minutes seeing how that might be true for us – even now.
The apostle Philip interrupts Jesus. Now Philip is a saint but this was not one of his finer moments. He says, “Lord, show us the Father and we will be satisfied.” In other words, “show us the Creator of it all. Show us the one who gives us all the answers. Why do we suffer? Why do we die? Why is there evil in the world? Give us those answers and we will be satisfied.” Throughout history we have asked those questions. Maybe we are asking them in this pandemic.
Four hundred years after Philip, St. Augustine will become one of the greatest theological minds of all time. He is in the theologian Hall of Fame. He was obsessed with the big questions and the big answers. He wrote seven books about the Holy Trinity. One time , when he was writing still another book on the Trinity, he was walking along the beach on the Mediterranean and saw a child running back and forth from the sea to a hole he had dug in the sand. The child carried a bucket, filled the bucket with seawater, dumped it into the hole he had made and did this over and over again. Augustine asked him why he was doing that. The child replied, “I’m trying to put the sea into this hole.” Augustine responded, “You can’t do that. It won’t fit.” The child, who was an angel in disguise, said “Neither can you put the Mystery of God into your mind. It won’t fit.”
Philip was like Augustine before that encounter with the angel disguised as a child. Show us the Father, show us all the answers, and we will be satisfied. There is another apostle in today’s gospel. It is Thomas. Unlike Philip, he asks a humble question: “How can we know the way?” Jesus says, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life.” The way of sacrificial love – compassion, mercy and hope – is the way. A way that we will not always understand, a way that is greater than anything we can fit into our heads, it is a peace that passes all understanding. And that way will emerge everywhere and forever because love is stronger than death.
I was blessed to come across a poem recently that says this truth far more powerfully than I can articulate it. It is called, “A Coming Alleluia” by The Rev. Erika Takacs. One should never explain a poem before it is read, so don’t tell the bishop, but here is something to keep in mind. The poet will refer to the “old mother hen.” This comes from Luke 13:34 when Jesus uses this maternal image of himself and says this: “How often have I desired to gather you together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings.”
Here’s the poem written for our Easter Season, written for our season of a pandemic.
“They say there will be no Easter this year.
No lilies to fill a bright room
with a fanfare of pollen.
No garden, no angel,
They say that our journey
Born in sackcloth and ashes
will lead us at last to nowhere.
And so we sit worried
that the tomb, this year,
will be found, for once,
That Mary and the others
will leave with their spices
and come back home with nothing.
That this year the women will finally end their work- anoint and then leave empty.
Ssh. Be still.
Do you not hear her?
Clucking close by like an old mother hen, brooding and sighing and stretching her wings?
Fear not, she says,
for I did it before
In the silence
in the dark
in a closed and locked room
In a world that had known
Did I not proveThe Rev. Erika Takacs
once for all
that there is nothing you can do,
no decision you can make
(for good or for ill)
that can stop
Do not let your hearts be troubled. Jesus is rising. Even now. Especially now.
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.
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.
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.