Tag Archive for Momentum Sunday

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

“When the student is ready, the teacher will appear.”

Sermon given this morning at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church, East Longmeadow

faith for repeal 129

There are numerous advantages to being the child of a priest (commonly called PKs – priests’ kids or preachers’ kids). When everyone is too tired to cook on Sunday nights, you can always go to the Parish Hall and find out what is left over from coffee hour. And when a PK is little there is the great thrill of hearing a story about you used in the sermon. When my children were young, whenever I would use a story about one of them, the other two would say, “Hey, Daddy, use a story about me next time.” And then in God’s wisdom, as the children grow older their enthusiasm for being mentioned in the sermon matures into prayer. As in “Oh God, please not a story about me!”

Another advantage to being a PK, since Holy Week and Spring Break are often the same time, when your friends are on vacation you have the opportunity to go to church everyday. And if both your parents are priests and serving two different congregations, like Betsy and me, you get to go to two services on the really big days: Christmas Eve, Good Friday, Easter Sunday. One time at Easter, after they went to Grace Church, Millbrook with me, our children went to Betsy’s Church in the next town. When they came home they told me: “In her sermon mom asked why the Risen Jesus appeared to the disciples but did not come back and appear to Pontius Pilate. After all, he really needed to see Jesus. It was a good line, Dad. Everyone laughed. You should have used that line.”

It’s a few years later, following up on the wisdom of my wife and kids, I will explore that question. Why didn’t Jesus appear to Pilate or Caiaphas or Herod? And why when he did appear to the disciples, did they not listen to him? And why was Thomas (my favorite apostle) the one to truly understand what Resurrection is all about? We are going to do this in ten minutes. Are you ready?

There is a saying in Zen: “When the student is ready, the teacher will appear.” I think that explains why Jesus did not appear to Pilate or Caiaphas or Herod.

Jesus before Caiaphas

Think about Pilate. He was all about power. If the Risen Jesus had appeared to him, he probably would have called for the guards who did not secure the tomb as tightly as he ordered and had them executed. Jesus did not appear to Pilate because he would have no part in that. Or maybe it was because of that dream that Pilate’s wife had. Remember in Matthew’s Gospel, while Jesus is on trial, Pilate’s wife sends him a note saying “I had a dream about this man. Do not harm him. He is innocent.” If Jesus appeared to Pilate, he would have to go back to his wife and hear the ultimate “I told you so!”

No, Pilate was not ready to see Jesus. Nor was Caiaphas, the High Priest that year. Caiaphas was so obsessed with his way of worshipping God (the traditional Temple sacrifices) that he could not be open to God acting outside that system. Again a Zen quote might help us understand. In Zen we are told that religions point us toward God, like fingers point us to the moon. But instead of looking at the moon, we look at the fingers and argue about which finger is the best one. We argue about which religion is the best one. And we miss God. Caiaphas is so committed to his religious tradition as the only way, he can’t see God acting outside the system. Think of how often Christianity has been like Caiaphas.

And why didn’t the Risen Jesus appear to Herod? Remember at the trial “When Herod saw Jesus, he was very glad, for he had been wanting to see him for a very long time and was hoping to see him perform some miracle.” (Luke 23:8) Or as Herod sings with tremendous mockery in the play Jesus Christ Superstar “So if you are the Christ, You’re the great Jesus Christ, Prove to me that You’re no fool, Walk across my swimming pool.” No, if the Risen Jesus appeared to Herod, he would have thought it some magic trick.

No, they were not ready for the teacher to appear. And here’s the more shocking truth – neither were the disciples! When Jesus comes to them on that first Easter night, they are locked in the upper room for fear. Ok, we can understand that. They saw Jesus dead and buried on Friday, the female disciples had seen the empty tomb on Sunday morning, but the other disciples were not ready to believe yet. Easter Sunday night they are in the upper room and Thomas is not with them. Fear is all they know. But now in comes the Risen Jesus saying “peace.” Saying I forgive you for deserting me at the cross. Do not be afraid anymore. In John’s Gospel he empowers them with the Holy Spirit right then and tells them to go out and spread the good news. After these very explicit directions from Jesus, where are they a week later? Still in the upper room with locked doors. Still afraid. Theologian William Sloan Coffin says “Fear seeks safety, not truth.” They were still caught in their fear, so they sought safety.

jesus-appears-to-the-disciples

Thomas, however, did not seek safety. Why wasn’t Thomas there that first night? Here is my opinion. It’s not written down in a book of theology anywhere and might not be orthodox – so don’t tell the bishop! In addition to the apostles, Jesus had many, many followers. And many of them were poor or sick or grieving. Remember Jesus and the early church had a special ministry to widows – people who were poor because only men could earn money. Could it be that Thomas was not there on Easter night because he was out taking care of the widows and the poor and the sick? Jesus was dead but the mission continues.

This idea fits with the Thomas we know from other gospel stories. Remember when Jesus wants the disciples to go to Jerusalem with him? Jerusalem is where Jesus will face death. It is Thomas who says “We may as well go and die with him.” Thomas has no fear. And he has no illusions as to how things should be. He just follows Jesus and does his job.

Perhaps we could understand Thomas in contrast to another disciple, Philip. When Jesus preaching one of his last sermons, Philip interrupts him and says “Jesus, 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? Get us those answers and we will be satisfied.”

Four hundred years later, St. Augustine will be one of the greatest theological minds of all time. He is in the Theologian Hall of Fame. He understood God as Trinity and he was obsessed with the idea. He wrote seven books about the Trinity. And not little paperbacks – big, thick books. One time, when he was writing still another book about 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. He carried a bucket, filled the bucket with seawater, dumped it into the hole he had made and did this over and 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. Show us the Father and we will be satisfied. Thomas does not say that. Thomas says “show me the wounds and I will be satisfied.” Thomas knew Jesus was the one dedicated to those who hurt in this world. He knew Jesus brought to us the God of mercy, compassion and hope. Thomas refused to believe in an abstract God. He would only believe in a “real God” and so he exclaims “My Lord and My God.”

The-Maesta-Altarpiece-The-Incredulity-of-Saint-Thomas-1461_Duccio-

The-Maesta-Altarpiece-The-Incredulity-of-Saint-Thomas-1461_Duccio-

For Philip, God is the explainer. For Thomas God is the source of all compassion. For Philip, life is demanding answers. For Thomas life is humble service. Of course the Risen Jesus would appear to Thomas and he would respond from his soul. The student was ready.

In today’s gospel, after this powerful scene in the upper room, the gospel writer John jumps away from the story and says Jesus did a whole lot of other things that are “not written in this book.” But these stories, and this story about Thomas and the fearful disciples, are here so YOU might believe. It’s not about them. It is about you and me.

What do we believe? Like Philip, are we waiting for all the answers? Are we demanding a God we can fit into our heads? Or, like Thomas, are we willing to join the Jesus Movement that wants to turn the world from the nightmare it is for so many into the dream God has for it?

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