Tag Archive for Easter

From Weeping To Wonder: Bishop’s Easter Sermon

The Russian Orthodox have a wonderful Easter tradition. After the church service (which is far longer than this one), they gather for dinner and every person who comes to the dinner has to tell a joke. That is because Easter is a great and joyful event. Jesus has triumphed over evil. Laughter is a sign of his victory and the Russian Orthodox believe laughter drives the devil out of the house. So let’s borrow from that tradition and begin this sermon with an Easter joke – one that is also a true story.

One Easter morning at another church the priest invited the children to gather around him and he asked this question: “What is Easter?” Hands shot up. The first child said, “Easter is when we get chocolate bunnies.” The priest said, “True, but that is not what Easter is really all about.” The next child said, “Easter is when the bunny leaves us eggs.” The priest acknowledged her but was getting frustrated. He called on another child who said, “Easter is when Jesus died on the cross for us.” “No,” said the priest, “But thank you, we are headed in the right direction.” Finally a child said, “Easter is when Jesus came out of the tomb!” The priest was so happy someone got it. But then she added, “And if he sees his shadow and goes back in the tomb, we get six more weeks of winter.”O

The devil has just left the church.

Let’s reflect on Easter. I’ll base these reflections on Scripture but let’s put them in the context of what Franciscan Richard Rohr calls the “first source of revelation” which is nature itself.

You all know I spend a lot of time on the Mass Pike – a lot of time. For my first four years as bishop, I spent most of that time doing one of four things: taking phone meetings, listening to NPR, listening to the music of Bruce Springsteen, or thinking about the next place I was going to and what I needed to do there. But then one day, a few months ago, I noticed the sky. This is easy to do on the Pike since there is nothing blocking it in front of you as you drive along.

 

Cloud formations are amazing! They are moving. They have layers upon layers, depth upon depth. And, they are of infinite variety, as the time of day or the weather changes. As I look at that sky, I am filled with a sense of wonder – wonder at God’s creation. Now don’t worry. I can still see the road while seeing the sky. And I still do one of the four things mentioned above. But more and more, I just want to check in on God’s sky, and wonder with it. What do you see in creation that captures your imagination? What leads your soul to awe and wonder?

Now, we go to the second source of revelation – Scripture. The readings for Holy Week take us on a journey from weeping….to wonder. Ponder that with me.

The weeping begins before we ever get to the cross. In Luke’s Gospel, Jesus himself weeps over Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. After the arrest of Jesus, Peter denies knowing Jesus three times; when the cock grows, he weeps. As Simon Cyrene carries the cross, behind Jesus, women follow him “wailing.” And in John’s Gospel, when Mary Magdalene goes to the tomb early Sunday morning, the body of Jesus is not there, and she weeps.

The Holy Week story begins in weeping but it does not end there. The discovery of the empty tomb by grieving women turns to wonder. It is a wonder that is both exciting and frightening. Mark’s Gospel is so clear about this. A young man in a white robe at the empty tomb tells the women that Jesus is not here. He has been raised. They are given instructions to, “go tell, he will see you in Galilee.” The women “fled, for terror and amazement had seized them. And they said nothing to nobody, because they were afraid.” Mark’s Gospel ends with that sense of wonder.

But the other gospels take the wonder further. Let’s look at John’s gospel. Mary Magdalene knows the tomb is empty but still she weeps because she fears the body has been stolen. A gardener asks her why she is crying. When she verbalizes her fear, the gardener says her name, “Mary!” She knows at that moment that the gardener is the risen Lord. Mary embraces him; but he won’t let her cling. Jesus has to move on – throughout all the world.

The late theologian, Marcus Borg, puts it so well:

“The tomb could not hold him. He is loose in the world. He is still here. He is still recruiting for the kingdom of God.”

I invite you to wonder about this during these holiest of days. The Risen Savior is on the loose and he knows all our names.

Now, I know this video message is getting long, and you have so much to do to prepare for these Holy Days. But let me bring out one more dimension of weeping and wondering. Don’t worry; I’m bringing this reflection home.

In John’s Gospel, the weeping and the wondering all happen in a garden. In the opening of John’s Gospel, he invites us to reflect on what happened “in the beginning,” in the Garden of Eden. Adam and Eve – you know the story. Why do they leave the garden? They are banished in shame and tears after the sin of eating the forbidden fruit.

Adam and Eve Banished from Paradise, c.1427 (fresco) (detail) Brancacci Chapel, Santa Maria del Carmine, Florence, Italy

Another garden – Gethsemane – is where Jesus prays on the last night of his life, as the disciples sleep, according to Mathew, Mark and Luke. Why does Jesus leave that Garden? He was “seized” and bound by the Temple police as the disciples deserted him in their fear.

Now to the last garden – the garden that contained the tomb which could not hold Jesus. If the Garden of Eden was the beginning of Creation, this garden is the beginning of the New Creation. If the Garden of Gethsemane was a place where the disciples slept and deserted Jesus, the Garden of the New Creation finds Mary awake – she recognizes the presence of the Risen Christ in the gardener. Jesus does not leave this Garden “seized” and in the hands of the violent – but free to appear anywhere and anytime bringing God’s imagination. Mary does not desert Jesus – she wants to cling to him. She leaves the garden not in shame and fear but with wonder and a mission.

May we leave this Easter with wonder and a mission. May we leave ready to go to those who weep – the poor, the oppressed, the marginalized, the refugees, the addicted, and the people in our everyday lives who are weighed down in burdens – ready to wonder what God’s New Creation might look like for them and for us. May we go forth committed to the New Creation in which our endangered earth demands respect and care. May we go forth waking ourselves up to the wonder of cloud formations and to all the grace that comes into our lives everyday if we but look.

I can’t end this sermon without quoting St. Paul about the difference the Resurrection of Jesus makes in our lives. I know this sermon is getting long but I promise you I’m bringing it home.

All preachers have a “go to” line. After all these years, you know mine is “Jesus’ mission of mercy, compassion and hope.” St. Paul had a “go to” phrase. It was …”but now.” As in Ephesians – “For once you were in darkness, BUT NOW in the Lord you ARE light.” Later in Ephesians: “Before you were far from God, BUT NOW you have been brought near by Christ.” Paul writes “but now” 27 times in his epistles.

The Risen Jesus changes things. He transforms weeping to wonder. You have met Jesus. What is your “but now?” How is your life different in Christ?

Let me offer you some possibilities:

  • I was anxiety ridden. BUT NOW I keep hearing Jesus with his “go to” line: Be Not Afraid. I am with you.
  • I was addicted to (fill in the blank). BUT NOW I have been set free.
  • I used to think of people in stereotypes. BUT NOW I recognize the dignity of every human being.
  • I used to keep whatever I earned. BUT NOW I live generously.
  • I used to complain a lot. BUT NOW I am grateful.
  • I used to be cynical BUT NOW I live in hope.

Easter tells us that Jesus’ mission of mercy, compassion and hope is unkillable. Commit to the Jesus Movement that is out to change the weeping of this world into the wonderful dream God has for it.

Amen.

+Doug

Holy Week: Changing Humanity’s Mind About God

Throughout Holy Week, I invite you to see the awesome strength of love unfold in the life of Jesus – a love that is stronger than the violence and the powers of this world, a love that is stronger than death, a love that includes and does not exclude, a love that reconciles and heals, a love that changes the lives of you and me.  Notice too, during this week, how Jesus’ sacrifice is not intended to change God’s mind about humanity. It is about changing humanity’s mind about God.

Palm Sunday — On this day, as Jesus enters Jerusalem humbly on a donkey, Pontius Pilate enters in grand style with his horses and heavily armed troops. Pilate is there to “keep the peace” at a time when the city is overflowing with those who are gathering for the Passover. He will keep that peace by crucifying anyone who might oppose the Roman Empire. Two parades – one offers a new way of living and creating a world of mercy, compassion and hope, and another parade celebrating power for some and oppression for most.

Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday — During these days Jesus teaches in the Temple. Perhaps the whole key to the drama of Holy Week and why Jesus becomes so dangerous to the Roman authorities and the Temple leadership lies in the “riot in the Temple.” Many theologians have written insightfully about this event. One book I recommend highly is Rabbi Jesus by Bruce Chilton. The money changers had replaced the area of the Temple where the Gentiles could worship. That is why Jesus screams, “My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations, but you have made it a den of robbers!” On an even deeper level, Jesus was challenging the whole “sacrificial system” of the Temple which was intended to appease a God who did not need appeasing. It avoided the divine calls of their own prophets down through the centuries who proclaimed, “Is this not the fast I choose: to loose the bonds of injustice, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke?”

Maundy Thursday  Could it be at the Last Supper, as Jesus gave away his Body and his Blood, he was bringing about a great escape? Oh yes, Jesus really died the next day, but before Pilate and his executioners killed him, he had already given himself away. Jesus had given himself to us – Body and Blood. His mission would continue to live even as he died because he made us the Body of Christ; we are the ones who continue to do what he did. Pilate could not kill the mission of Jesus.

Good Friday — Theologies of the Cross have many dimensions. One dimension I heard in a sermon by The Rev. John Osgood several years ago. He said “the reason we spend hours and hours praying before the Cross, is to instill in us that when we see the Cross we see suffering. That means when we see suffering, we will see the Cross.” In other words, in the suffering of this world, we will see Christ present. We will see Christ; the one who did not run from the cross but embraced it so there will be no place that is ever God-forsaken.

Easter — Easter is the life changing reality that with God nothing is impossible. As our Presiding Bishop has said “The Resurrection of Jesus Christ is about the eternity of hope.” It is the eternal “Yes!” of God to all that is and will be. Love is stronger than death. This truth – this gift of life that never ends – allows us to live and love in freedom. We open ourselves to new possibilities, to new hope, to new ways of living. And, isn’t that Resurrection – a new way of living?

We can share the resurrection when we ask the hurting people of this world the same question the risen One asked Mary Magdalene: “why are you weeping?”

  • Resurrection begins when we ask immigrants and refugees, “Why are you weeping?”
  • Resurrection begins when we ask the families who have lost loved ones to gun violence, “Why are you weeping?”
  • Resurrection begins when we ask our earth dying of global warming, “Why are you weeping?”
  • Resurrection begins when we ask people of color, “Why are you weeping?”
  • Resurrection begins when we ask transgender persons, “Why are you weeping?”

 

The Great 50 Days

Remember Easter is not a day but a whole season. It seems to me that we give an ample effort to the holy season of Lent and to the great feast of Christ’s passage from death to new life.  We don’t tend to plan the Easter season with equal energy or passion.  What might mark these days with great joy in your congregation? How might your prayer deepen with gratitude for the mystery of Easter? We can start with Easter 2.

Momentum Sunday

Easter 2 is for the survivors – the remnant who never miss a Eucharist no matter how “high” or “low” the celebration.  What if we kept the momentum of the resurrection in our life together and made Easter 2 a joyful, engaging event?  It’s good liturgy and it’s good for the mission of Christ’s Church, so I encourage you to transform “Low Sunday” into “Momentum Sunday.” Bring the choir back. Keep the liturgy highly spirited. Consider having an adult education class on Sunday morning about the basics of prayer and the varieties of prayer for those who might have come to church on Easter for the first time in a long time.

  • “How to Pray” or “Prayer 101”
  • “The Five Bible Stories Everyone Should Know”
  • “Why the Church Makes a Difference in the World.”

Have ministry tables in the church hall to provide information about the many things your church does. Don’t slow down when the Resurrection invites us all to New Life in Christ. Expect them to return.

My prayers are with all our congregations, with all our ministers – lay and ordained – as we prepare to enact the most sacred mysteries of our faith. Be as certain as I am that we who have died with Christ will be raised with him in glory. This is our faith. This is our most precious truth.

+Doug

God Owns the Finish Line

 

BOSTON, MA - APRIL 21: Meb Keflezighi of the United States crosses the finish line in first place to win the 2014 B.A.A. Boston Marathon on April 21, 2014 in Boston, Massachusetts. Meb becomes the first American winner of the Boston Marathon since 1983. Today marks the 118th Boston Marathon; security presence has been increased this year, due to two bombs that were detonated at the finish line last year, killing three people and injuring more than 260 others. (Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images) ORG XMIT: 459367095 ORIG FILE ID: 485910909

BOSTON, MA – APRIL 21: Meb Keflezighi of the United States crosses the finish line in first place to win the 2014 B.A.A. Boston Marathon on April 21, 2014 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)

On the first anniversary of the Boston Marathon Bombings, Vice-President Joe Biden said, “We are Boston. We are America. We respond, we endure, we overcome and we own the finish line.*

It was meant as a statement of encouragement to all those who were struggling with pain, physical and emotional, from that horrific day. Those explosions at the finish line were not the last word.

Let’s take that sentence out of the patriotic context and put it in a theological context. After the horrific execution of Jesus on Friday, we celebrate that God owns the finish line. Sin does not own the finish line. Death does not own the finish line. God and God’s abundant grace own the finish line. Jesus Christ is Risen today and that reality stands at the center of our faith and gives us hope beyond hope.

Duccio di Buoninsegna (13th cen)

Duccio di Buoninsegna (13th cen)

On that first Easter Sunday, at early dawn, Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and other unnamed women went to the tomb. But the body of Jesus was not there and they are told by two men in dazzling clothes – angels maybe or perhaps those two men from the Transfiguration on the Mountain – that Jesus is risen. They go back to tell the apostles the good news-you see women are preaching the first sermon in the era of the Resurrected Christ-and the response is the worst one a preacher could hear: “this is just an idle tale.” You say Jesus is risen and that means nothing to us. Blah,blah,blah.

How did the apostles move from dismissing the Resurrection of Jesus as an idle tale to a reality that changed their lives – a reality for which they would give their very lives? How can we move from the Resurrection of Jesus being a nice story to life-giving, life-saving grace? How can we know, really know, that God and not evil and destruction, owns the finish line? I think the answer may lie in wisdom given to the women at the tomb by those two men in dazzling clothes.

While the women are “perplexed” and “terrified”, they are told to remember. Remember what Jesus said and did. Allow me to illustrate this by way of a story that happened in a first grade class. The teacher collected some well-known proverbs and sayings. She gave her first graders the first half of each famous saying and asked them to come up with the rest. Here is what the children came up with:

  • Better to be safe than….pick a fight with a fifth grader.
  • Strike while…the bug is close.
  • Don’t bite the hand that…looks dirty.
  • Where there’s smoke…there’s pollution.
  • A penny saved…is not much.

Ok, now I have one for you. Love one another. What’s the next part? Love one another…as I have loved you.

The “I” in the statement is Jesus. If we are going to understand what it means to love, we are going to have to understand Jesus. And if we are going to understand resurrection as something real and not just idle chatter, we have to understand Jesus. We need a personal relationship with Jesus.

Now you may be thinking “I thought the sign outside says this is an Episcopal Church. This preacher sounds like some evangelical.” Maybe so, but resurrection makes no sense without this relationship and the church makes no sense without it. Think of it this way. Did you ever go to a grammar school concert or a play or a soccer game when your child or grandchild or niece or nephew is NOT in it? It is painful. It goes on forever. But if your child is in it, you watch enthusiastically. You have your phone recording it; you are nudging the person next to you saying “watch this.” The personal relationship makes all the difference.

In a little while, I’ll be at the altar praying with you. If you are just watching me, I guarantee it is going to be really boring. But if you are saying “hey, this is my God we are praying to, my Savior offering me the Bread of Life and the Cup of Salvation”, then the whole situation changes.

We will go beyond idle chatter to real faith, if we remember. If we remember what Jesus said and did. If we remember his mission of mercy, compassion and hope. If we remember his power to forgive, his ability to heal, the way he could bring life forth from people thought to be dead. What would happen if we remembered Jesus constant invitation to put away our fear – that paralyzing fear that keeps us from generosity – and remembered Jesus’ preaching and actions that proclaim abundance? Grace so abundant that one lifetime cannot use it all up? What happens when we remember Jesus saying that to gain life, we must give it away? What happens when we remember that Jesus was always transforming things – water into wine, bread and wine into Body and Blood, sin to forgiveness, illness into health, oppression into freedom, outsiders into membership in the beloved community. Jesus never left things the way that they were. So of course, when Jesus dies, death is not going to stay death. When we remember all that, resurrection is no longer idle chatter. Instead of being bewildered by the empty tomb, we say of course the tomb is empty. Of course God raises Jesus to New Life – it is completely consistent with everything Jesus said and did and believed. And as in all things, Jesus did not rise from the dead to show off. He did it so he might take us with him.

The two men in dazzling robes give us another way to move from idle chatter to real faith.

“Why do you look for the living among the dead?”

Later on, at the Ascension of Jesus, these same two men are going to ask “why do you stand looking up toward heaven?” The import of these two statements from these very consistent men in bright clothes is the same. Look for Jesus among the living. Remember the prayer he taught you. “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” Heaven is not an escape clause in the covenant we have with God. God wants to bring heaven to earth. God wants to own the finish line here. Jesus will always be wherever there is transformation from the ways of death to the ways of life.

And that, my brothers and sisters, is when things get messy. Because life is complicated, people are complex, and we struggle to know how to be Christ in this world.

Let me give you an example of that. It is 1964. It is the height of the Civil Rights Movement. Thousands of Episcopalians, including hundreds of the clergy, pressed Congress to adopt the Civil Rights Bill. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was invited to speak at the General Convention of the Episcopal Church. Dr. King praised Episcopalians for “making the Gospel of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ relevant and meaningful in this period of social transition.” That is finding Jesus among the living, in social transformation. He also warned Episcopalians about ignoring the great revolution that was stirring the nation. At that same Convention the bishops approved a resolution supporting one of the central principles for which King stood – the right of citizens to disobey unjust laws of segregation. The House of Bishops voted for that resolution but the House of Deputies voted against it, so it did not pass.

Dr. Martin Luther Kin, Jr. addresses the 1964 General Convention at the ESCRU dinner.

Dr. Martin Luther Kin, Jr. at the ESCRU dinner, General Convention, 1964.

These were all good people – struggling and disagreeing as to what Christ was calling them to do. But the willingness to engage in that struggle is exactly what we have to do, in 1964 and in 2016, if we are to look for Christ among the living. The willingness to engage in the issues of our time – be it climate change or the public health crisis of gun violence or income inequality or ongoing racism or intolerance toward immigrants – is to move from idle chatter about the Resurrection to real faith.

Let me share some wisdom from one of our deacons, Terry Hurlbut. He serves in All Saints, South Hadley. One day in 2015 I was discussing the 50th anniversary of the many important events in the Civil Rights Movement and the sacrifices people made. Terry said:

“Sometimes I wonder what I would have done in that time. Would I have stood up for equal rights for all? What would I have done then? And suddenly I realize those times are now. Those times are my times. What will I stand for now?”

To me, that does not sound like idle chatter. That sounds like looking for Christ among the living.

We have glorious hymns to sing with this outstanding choir and we have communion – the very life of the Risen Christ among us – to receive. I need to end this sermon. Let’s do it with some personal reflection.

I invite you to sit as comfortably as you can on those hard pews. If it is helpful, close your eyes and breathe – just breathe. Breathing is a gift from God.

As you breathe, remember this. Two thousand years ago God raised Jesus from the dead. God rolled away the stone from the tomb and set Jesus free for the fullness of New Life. Right now, what is keeping you from being fully alive? What is the stone keeping you in the tomb? Is it anxiety? Is it some long-held anger or resentment? Is it jealousy? Is it a constant feeling of not being good enough? Is it an addiction? What is it that keeps you and me from embracing the fullness of the one and only life we have? Whatever it is, it is not the finish line. Because God owns the finish line. God rolled back the stone that kept Jesus in the tomb and God wants to do that for us. Jesus is here among the living, transforming everything into grace. Will we let the God we know in Jesus be God in our lives?

I invite you to slowly open your eyes and come back to this place. Consider continuing that meditation at home. Each and every person here is part of the Jesus Movement that wants to change the world from the nightmare it is for so many into the Dream God has for it. And that Dream is for you and me and for all creation. Resurrection is not an idle tale. Death, and what feels like death, does not own the finish line. God does and what we know from Jesus is that God offers endless, abundant life. Right here. Right now. Amen.

+Doug

*I first heard Vice President Biden’s “finish line” remarks in a sermon given by The Rev. Buddy Rodgers at St. Bart’s Church in New York City on Easter, 2014.

Resurrection starts with compassion.

 

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Bishop Fisher’s Easter sermon given at Christ Church Cathedral- 10 am (English) and 12:15 (Spanish).

Alleluia, Christ is Risen! What a joy it is to be with you this morning, gathered together in the love of God, and share some thoughts, and maybe even some feelings, about Resurrection. Because the New Life offered by our God is not an idea. It is not just something to think about. It is something to experience in the depth of ourselves – in our souls – in the very heart of who we are as we try to live authentic lives that make a difference in this world.

I have long been fascinated by the Gospel stories of this day. Mark, Matthew, Luke and John all begin by telling us in different ways and by different witnesses that “Jesus is not here.” And then, with the exception of Mark, they tell us where he is or where he is going.

Children playing hide and seek

When my son Geoff was four years old, he loved to play hide and seek. Every night when I came home from work he would want to play that long-loved game, handed on from generation to generation. And he wanted to “win” at hide and seek. That meant saying, “Ok, daddy. I’m going to go hide. And you can look anywhere in the whole house…except in the closet in the basement.” Or “in the attic”. Or wherever he was going to hide.

In the cosmic game of “hide and seek” with God, the Resurrection of Jesus tells us where God is hiding. Unlike the way Geoff played the game, the Gospels tells us where we won’t find Jesus. We won’t find him in the tomb. And, like Geoff, the Gospels gives us a big hint as to where we will find him – in our lives and the life of this world. Hang in there with me for the next twelve minutes as I ramble on about the Resurrection as the Gospel of John tells it. You will know I’m near the end when I tell another version of the game of “hide and seek.”

“While it was still dark” 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.

As Mary walks in the darkness, we learn something about what it means to be human. None of us get out of this life without experiencing loss, grief, disappointment. For some there is the darkness of depression. But while it is still dark, in the world and in her soul, Mary gets up to anoint a dead friend.

MeisterEckert_Au700 hundred years ago there lived a great saint in Germany. His name was Meister Eckhart. He was a mystic – acclaimed for his brilliant mind and deep insights into life and into God. One time he was asked what someone should do in times of grief or depression. “Tell us, great wise man, the secret to life in such times.” His profound answer was this: do the next thing. Whatever you have to do next – go to work, make dinner, help the kids with their homework – do that. “Ok, great,” said his interviewers, “what happens after that?” To which the saint replied, “Then do the next thing. And the next thing after that. Don’t think far ahead. Don’t try and figure it all out. Just do the next thing. Do what is in front of you. And while you are doing that, God is acting. God is healing you. Even though you do not see it.”

1300 years before Eckhart gave this advice about being human, Mary Magdalene did the next thing. She went to anoint a friend’s dead body while it was still dark. As a faithful Jewish woman she knew her Hebrew Scriptures and perhaps she remembered the very first line of the Book of Genesis: “In the beginning…when darkness covered the earth” God created the world. God does some of God’s best work when all is dark.

New Life begins when darkness meets compassion. Did you notice what the two angels said to Mary as she stood at the empty tomb? They don’t say “Alleluia, Christ is Risen.” They don’t say “Hail, Thee Festival Day.” They don’t say “Now the green blade riseth.” They do say “Why are you weeping?”

Not only do the angels say it, but Jesus himself repeats the exact same line to Mary “why are you weeping?”

Now, let’s do a quick study in the bible and in marriage communications here. In the Bible, anytime something is repeated twice, it means “pay attention!” In other places in John’s gospel, Jesus says “Amen. Amen I say to you.” “Amen” said twice. And then he follows it with some profound insight that might make our lives a whole lot better. It is like that in marriage. This winter, my wife Betsy said to me “when are you going to get the snow off the roof?” I heard her, kind of. Later she said a second time “when are you going to get the snow off the roof?” and I knew this was important.

“Why are you weeping?” said twice. Friends, this must be an important. We better pay attention to this. How does the darkness end? How does the New Life of Resurrection begin? It begins with compassion. Why are you weeping? Why are you in pain? I want to help.

Resurrection started with compassion 2000 years ago and it is still true today. Last month I was at the House of Bishops meeting. There is a lot of wisdom shared in those meetings. Bishop Laura Ahrens of Connecticut offered a great insight into the Baptismal Covenant – you know those promises made for you when you were baptized and to which we re-commit ourselves at every baptism. “Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons and in all creation, loving your neighbor as yourself?” “Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being?” Bishop Laura has changed those questions. She can do that, she is a bishop. Laura says “WHERE will you seek and serve Christ in all persons and in all creation?” “WHERE will you strive for justice and peace?” “WHERE will you respect the dignity of a human being?” Resurrection is not abstract. It is our possibility here and now, on earth as is in heaven.

Resurrection becomes possible when we ask the hurting people of this world “why are you weeping?”

  • When we ask immigrants “why are you weeping?”
  • When we ask the families who have lost loved ones to gun violence “why are you weeping?”
  • When we ask our earth dying of global warming “why are you weeping?”

Then we open ourselves to new possibilities, to new hope, to new ways of living. And, isn’t that Resurrection – a new way of living?

Easter Jesus Mafa

That New Way of living is dynamic and creative and never settles for living in the past. Resurrection life will never settle for “it is what it is.” We know this because of the bittersweet moment when Mary, having been called by name by the Risen Christ is hugging Jesus who is so concerned about her tears. What a great moment. It is no longer dark. Her friend who was dead is alive. Mary wants to embrace the “aliveness” that is Jesus. And what does Jesus do? He says “don’t cling to me.” That might seem cruel. But it is simply the truth. Christ is constantly on the move. Christ cannot be locked down. The great preacher Barbara Brown Taylor says it this way: “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, perhaps. Better we should let him take us into the white-hot presence of God, who is not behind us but ahead of us every step of the way.”

The Risen Jesus is on the move. Are we moving with him?

  • Are we moving from cynicism to hope?
  • Are we moving from self-centeredness to generosity?
  • Are we moving from using up creation to caring for creation?
  • Are we moving from exclusivity – who is in and who is out – and moving toward exclusivity – where all are embraced as the beloved of God?

That is where the dynamic, creative Christ is going. Breathe deep Resurrection air, friends. He won’t let go of us as he goes there.

And how do we know he won’t let go of us? The gospel writer John tells us when Jesus left “Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, ‘I have seen the Lord’: and she told them that he had said these things to her.” Jesus won’t let go of us because we have the community of believers. Not individual believers on our own, but a community of believers – also called, the Church.

Here comes another “hide and seek” story. That means the sermon is ending and we are getting closer to those great hymns led by our awesome choir. Those hymns that help us experience Resurrection in our soul, in our very bones.

book1-LG

The story comes from Robert Fulghum, the author of Everything I Ever Needed to Know I Learned in kindergarten. He tells the story of a time he was in his office and he heard children outside playing “Hide and Seek.” He thought to himself what a frustrating game that is. If someone hides really well, all that happens is people get really annoyed. He prefers a game he calls “Sardines.” In this game, one person hides, but when he is found that person hides with him. Then when the next person finds them, they hide with them as well. They are all huddled together – hence “sardines.” The more kids who find them and join the huddle, the more fun it becomes. Until they can’t keep from laughing, and their laughter gives away the location so everyone can find them.

Fulghum wonders if that is what church is meant to be. People who have found the Living God and we come together and laugh. The others want to join us so they might laugh, too. And we laugh because our destiny is not death, but glory. And, breaking into Fulghum’s analogy, I would add that they join our laughter because we first enter into their sorrow: “why are you weeping?” And we offer new possibilities – new life given by the “aliveness” of our God. The God who we find in the Risen Christ who is truly among us, leading us out of death and into a world of mercy, compassion and hope. Amen.

+Doug

 

 

Reflections on Holy Week

holyweekApril 7, 2014

I don’t want to rush the holy season of Lent to a close, but I am writing about Holy Week in this blog, a week early, because in the last days of Lent I will be in Oklahoma City for the conference RECLAIMING THE GOSPEL OF PEACE: An Episcopal Gathering to Challenge the Epidemic of Violence. I will write a blog from there about the conference. Although I think the main themes and theology of Holy Week will be in abundance at Reclaiming the Gospel of Peace, I want to devote a special blog to this very special week.

On Ash Wednesday we told one another a great truth: “Remember you are dust and to dust you shall return.” It is a great truth but not the whole truth. At the Cathedral on Holy Tuesday the clergy will renew our vows in a service open to all.  We will anoint one another with oil on the forehead where the ashes were imposed and say “Love is always stronger than death, and unto that love you have now returned.” It is the other half of the great truth.

Throughout Holy Week, I invite you to see the awesome strength of that love unfold in the life of Jesus. A love that is stronger than the violence and the powers of this world. A love that is stronger than death. A love that includes and does not exclude. A love that reconciles and heals. A love that changes the lives of you and me.  Notice too, during this week, how Jesus’ sacrifice is not intended to change God’s mind about humanity. It is about changing humanity’s mind about God.

Here are the briefest of reflections on the days of Holy Week. The blessed preachers of Western Massachusetts will have a lot more to say and with much more depth – as will the Holy Spirit speaking in the soul of each of you.

Palm Sunday — On this day, as Jesus enters Jerusalem humbly on a donkey, Pontius Pilate enters in grand style with his horses and heavily armed troops. Pilate is there to “keep the peace” at a time when the city is overflowing with those who are gathering for the Passover. He will keep that peace by crucifying anyone who might oppose the Roman Empire. Two parades. One offers a new way of living and creating a world of mercy, compassion and hope. Another parade celebrating power for some and oppression for most.

Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday — In these days Jesus teaches in the Temple. Perhaps the whole key to the drama of Holy Week and why Jesus becomes so dangerous to the Roman authorities and the Temple leadership lies in the “riot in the Temple.” Many theologians have written insightfully about this event. One book I recommend highly is Rabbi Jesus by Bruce Chilton. The moneychangers had replaced the area of the Temple where the Gentiles could worship. That is why Jesus screams “My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations, but you have made it a den of robbers!” On an even deeper level, Jesus was challenging the whole “sacrificial system” of the Temple which was intended to appease a God who did not need appeasing. And it avoided the divine calls of their own prophets down through the centuries who proclaimed “Is this not the fast I choose: to loose the bonds of injustice, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke?”

Maundy Thursday Here is a theology of the Last Supper that I have not read anywhere else. So don’t tell the bishop. Could it be at the Last Supper, as Jesus gave away his Body and his Blood, he was bringing about a great escape? Oh yes, Jesus really died the next day. But before Pilate and his executioners killed him, he had already given himself away. Jesus had given himself to us- in every way- Body and Blood. His mission would continue to live even as he died because now we are the Body of Christ; we are the ones who are to do what he did. Pilate could not kill the mission of Jesus.

Good Friday — The theologies of the Cross have many dimensions. One dimension I heard in a sermon by The Rev. John Osgood several years ago. He said “the reason we spend hours and hours praying before the Cross, is to instill in us that when we see the Cross we see suffering. That means when we see suffering, we will see the Cross.” In other words, in the suffering of this world, we will see Christ present. We will see Christ; the one who did not run from the cross but embraced it so there will be no place that is ever God-forsaken.

Easter — Here is the life changing reality that with God nothing is impossible. As our Presiding Bishop has said “The Resurrection of Jesus Christ is about the eternity of hope.” It is the eternal “Yes!” of God to all that is and will be. Love is stronger than death.

Remember Easter is not a day but a whole season. I encourage you to transform “Low Sunday” into “Momentum Sunday.” Bring the choir back. Keep the liturgy highly spirited. Consider having an adult education class on Sunday morning about the basics of prayer and the varieties of prayer for those who might have come to church on Easter for the first time in a long time. Have ministry tables in the church hall to provide information about the many things your church does. Don’t slow down when the Resurrection invites us all to New Life in Christ.

Our Book of Common Prayer provides a very helpful instruction for what to do during Lent. But there is no such instruction for the holy season of Easter. Here is one I wrote a few years ago. Use it if it is helpful.

“Dear People of God: In the weeks after the Resurrection of Jesus, the apostles overcame their fears, and experienced forgiveness, peace, joy, amazement, and hope. Their hearts burned within them as they understood the scriptures in a whole new way. They ran from place to place, telling the Good News. They were filled with New Life.

“I invite you, therefore, in the name of the Church, to a Holy Easter Season. Take into your souls the words of the angels: ‘do not be afraid.’ Face your fears. Forgive someone – perhaps even yourself. Allow yourself to be amazed at what God is doing. Read the scriptures and find a God of love. Go on an adventure. Try new things. Get creative. Use your imagination. Expand your horizons.  Be joyful – God has a hold on you and will never let go. Tell others the Good News. Practice mercy, compassion and hope. Praise God. Amen.”

+Doug