Fr.-Tom-in-YemenReports of Fr. Uahunnalil  have now been denied by the Chief Bishop of the Middle East and Cardinal Schohborn has walked back from the cross (so to speak)

Cardinal Schönborn of Vienna has confirmed last night, that the Salesian priest, Fr. Thomas Uzhunnalil was crucified by ISIS on Good Friday. Father Tom was with the Sisters of Mother Teresa who were killed in Yemen. May he Rest in Peace. Source Salzburg.com/F


In hope, in spite of the facts.



David Cameron: A very Happy Easter to you and your family – YouTube

PM is the only senior elected official of any country in the West who has spoken out in support of Christians who face Genocide!  The Queen and The Prince of Wales have as well.   Makes me proud to be of British descent.

Happy Easter from Memphis!   John+

Resurrection Never Crossed our Minds.


April 2, 2016 – Saint John’s Episcopal Church – Memphis Tennessee

Jesus carried to his tomb

Jesus Carried to His Tomb – Tissot

Resurrection never crossed Mary’s mind in the dark deserted streets.  The garden, very near the place, called skull,  where Jesus was nailed, then hoisted on a rough-hewn cross, its splinters almost the size of the nails in his feet.  She barely remembered walking from the cross beside the Aristocrat Joseph, who generously rescued Jesus from a common grave, and Nicodemus, a Senator, as the two men, their aides and servants carried the dead weight through the blooming grove, toward the manicured lawns surounding Joseph’s new tomb.

She shifted the heavy jar of myrrh in her arms. Myrrh’s complex earthy scent, hinting of foreign lands, was universally used at burial. Its strong odor was useful at such times. Smell, evokes the most vivid memories.  Ever after, the faintest whiff and Mary was in the  garden, the stars, dimming at the hint of dawn in the East, as she neared the tomb.

The men had carefully rolled the round stone into its slot across the entrance.  She saw them do it.  There is a dark hole where the tan stone should be.  His body, limbs out of socket, limp as a worn out rag, covered with blood, was gone. The great stone rolled aside, witness to the absence of tortured remains. She hurdled heedless of feet in the dawn to warn his men that some ghoulish mischief had befallen his body. Romans do not disturb the dead.  Nor, Jews, usually. Who would rob a grave on Passover?

Resurrection never crossed the minds of the men huddled by the fire, hiding from the mighty whose henchmen might be searching at that very moment.  They flinched at the door knock.


John & Peter Run to the Tomb – Tissot

Resurrection never crossed the minds of the two as they left the others walking quickly, suddenly running like school boys;  John, the younger by over a decade ran as the young run sprinting ahead only to wait, a quick glance, hesitating, while Peter, as Peter would, barged right in.  John followed.  The burial clothes of thin linen bands, wrapped in haste; adequately, were quickly finished before Passover sundown.

The burial clothes were more than there; they lay as if Jesus simply vanished, evaporated rising right through them as they collapsed neatly onto themselves in a way, not to be faked.  Oddly, the head cloth neatly folded lay near the wrappings, testifying to subtle divine presence.

Ressurection crossed John’s mind and he believed.

Suddenly, hideous events on Friday were made new sense, aroused suspicions of glory and strange saying of Jesus were strange no more.  His absence translated by hope become coherent to ears that listen, ears that hear.

They departed slowly, thoughtfully – wondering if this meant what they thought it meant, unsure but with small bright potential joy in their hearts where before was only despair.

A movement peripheral, a man, [only a gardener would stir so early,]. Passing through the hedge, Mary, voice breaking inquired of grave-robbers … “Mary,” and she knew his voice; it was he, the one who said his sheep know my voice, and saying her name called her clear as ever.   Resignation fell away, not as amnesia forgets, but remembering with power a greater vision, redeemed by holy intervention.

She grabbed him, weak with vertigo as deep grief leapt into singular joy in a single bound. Gently, he loosed her hands, telling her he had not yet ascended to his Father; an entirely different order of homecoming, embraced by the peculiar, mystical love of the Godhead.

She must let him go, not for loss this time but for gain, gain for all, for all time.  The spare, precise truth, brought Mary and all who will ever believe to his God and their God and his Father and their Father.

Resurrection had never crossed Mary’s mind until she met Resurrection face to face and it was ENOUGH.


Resurrection never crossed our minds in the tyranny of the immediate. I-phones, e-mails, constant litter of data: important to nobody but forwarded by somebody to everybody.

Resurrection never crossed our minds in the routine of sameness, body tired, minds fuzzy with the demands of a new day, while the old day, it’s red-flagged emails, all caps, shouting, invades the new day.

Resurrection never crossed our minds even in the Week Holy, as the world continued, the  relentless, urgency of the trivial, blotting out the ultimate, flattening all affect into numbness.

We slouch into our several pews late, tired, distracted, our minds arriving minutes after our bodies dropped into a seat.

Today the first Sunday after the first full moon after the Vernal Equinox, the Queen of Feasts: This EASTER lies at the end of a long relay race beginning on that Eighth day of the Week, the day Mary went early in the dark; John and Peter came and went and Mary loitering near the cave met Jesus alive, [changed but somehow the same] – full of resurrection.

Resurrection never crossed our minds when Meister Eckhart said that the savior’s birth is always happening. But if it happens not in us what does it profit? What matters is that he be born in us.

The Resurrection

The Resurrection -Tissot

 Resurrection never crossed our minds until we, too long removed from that day encounter him who was absent then, only to be fully present for all time. Sometime, somewhere, when we finally hit the wall that defeats the best moves of our egos — when we find something we cannot fix, there we will meet Jesus and Resurrection will finally cross our minds and he will not only be born in us but resurrected as well and it will be ENOUGH!

 In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.

to the tomb

The Disciples Peter and John on their way to the tomb on the morning of the Resurrection – Eugene Burnand  1850 – 1921

Be a Peter or a John; Hasten to the sepulcher, Running together, Running against one another, Vying the noble race. And even when you are beaten in speed, Win the victory of showing who wants it More— Not just looking into the tomb, but going in.

-Saint Gregory of Nazianzus (4th cent.)


March 25, 2016

View from the cross

View from the cross – James Tissot

Abraham always said, “Here am I”, when God called.  He had said yes when God called him to abandon all that he had known and to follow him into a land and a future and a promise.

Tennessee Williams, “The future is called ‘perhaps,’ which is the only possible thing to call the future.  And the important thing is not to let that scare you.”

Abraham had to be terrified.  It had to be the worst nightmare any person could imagine.

God told him to go into the land promised to him:  And he went.

God promised to make him the Father of a great nation:  And he went.

God told him that after years of childlessness, Sarah would have a son: Isaac (laughter).  And he was born.

Naomi Rosenblatt:  “God has been building Abraham’s faith and trust over the course of his adult lifetime by giving him tangible tokens of their covenant:  the land, sons, a vision of his future.      . . . Armed only with his faith in the future and his trust in God, Abraham confronts his own worst nightmare — the death of his son, his clan at his own hand.”

RATNER, Phillip

Philip Radner

In the Christian tradition, the OT lesson is known as “The Sacrifice of Isaac.  It is known in Hebrew as the “Akedah”  “The Binding”.   In human terms, it is a better name.  Abraham is in a bind, more in a way than Isaac.  Abraham has three long days during his trek to Mount Moriah to consider his choices:

  1. Simply to reject God and His command which would mark the end of the covenant.
  2. To sacrifice his only remaining son to a God whose will he can no longer comprehend, would also negate the dream Abraham has journeyed toward for so long.


Thomas Ferguson writes, “As long as your dream (dream as fantasy) is alive you’re not living.  As soon as your dream dies you start living.  The dream keeps you from living.”

On the way to Moriah, the dream may not have died, but it was certainly not the same.  And then at the last minute, the angel of the Lord stopped his hand.

Rosenblatt continues, “When he is asked to give up what he loves most, and then has his hand stayed at the last moment, Abraham learns that God values human life above all else and does not require its sacrifice.” p. 200

We have just begun the yearly remembering that Good Friday (I read recently that originally it was called ‘God Friday”) which is certainly true and what God did that day was indeed good, in consequence if not in method.

That remembering must go outside the reality we understand, situated as we are in time and space.  The sacrifice of the Son, Second Person of the Trinity happened before the “foundation of the world” before Creation.   Then in time and space, the only Son of God was born among us, fully human and fully God, died on the Cross in time and space for our sake.

Alan Falk 2000

View from the cross – James Tissot

  Early,  I suspect within days if not hours of the resurrection,  someone said,  “I’ve been thinking,  “the story of Father Abraham, blessed be he,  binding Father Isaac, blessed be he,  is a type, a pre-figuring of  what just happened to Rabbi Jesus.  Someone else interrupted, “The Holy One, Our Lord called Father, allowed the sacrifice of his son.  God did that thing from which he prevented Father Abraham.

That is why this lesson is read on Good Friday.  Christians have come to see in the story of the old man and his son on the summit of Mount Moriah, the place where the temple stood, a prefiguring of the sacrifice of Jesus on a nearby hill.

The writer to the Hebrews sees the events of Good Friday to be the expression of God’s love for humanity. “Christ offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins.”

The mystery of faith is “How can this be?”   How can it be, that God could love humanity so much that He demanded of Himself what He will not demand of Abraham.

Some has said,  “It is Love, not the nails, kept Jesus on the cross.”

Soren Kierkegaard once said, “that if there is one thing that unites us as Christians it is our forgetting — our overlooking — how much we have been loved by God in Christ.”

 It is important on this day to simply be here to remember with power.  We are quick to say that Jesus has died and then move on to Easter, not stopping and being there where it happened.  So let us stop and be here, and reflect in silence on what God has done for us in His Son.

 In hope, in spite of the facts.



Maundy Thursday



Maundy Thursday – James Tissot

It is interesting that the Church followed the story line of Matthew, Mark & Luke + Paul in the reading from his first letter to the Corinthian Christians when they established the core act of worship for the Church.  So ever since the Church has gathered to break the bread and drink the wine as the principal metaphor of Christ’s continuing presence in the world. 

  Have you ever thought how things would have been different if instead the Church had cued on the Gospel reading from John? What if foot-washing had become our central Sacrament rather than communion.  Think of all the glaring questions we could be debating:

  1. How to wash feet?
  2. Should they be immersed?
  3. Should they be sprinkled?
  4. Should the right or left foot come first?
  5. Who is authorized to wash feet?
  6. Can women’s feet be washed?
  7. Perhaps most importantly could women wash feet?

 We laugh but are not similar arguments about Eucharist and Baptism in the same category? What is going on here?  What is Jesus telling us?

 During Supper, Jesus got up from the table, took off his outer robe and tied a towel around him. The word, “took off” or literally laid down is the same word the Jesus used when he spoke of laying down his life.  When he took up his clothing again it is the same word as taking up his life again. There seems to be a connection between the foot washing and the death/resurrection of the Lord.


Womn Washing Jesus’ Feet

  This is what Paul was speaking to in the Epistle to the Philippians last Sunday when he remarked that equality with God was not something that Jesus exploited but humbled himself taking the form of a servant.  I will not go into all the discussion of Greek thought which that represents but let me say that Paul is saying that servant-hood and glory are each genuine expressions of who God IS!  Taking the towel is taking the role of servant. 

People walked everywhere and so feet got dusty when you arrived at your destination. Each house had a pitcher of water and basin + towels provided for people to wash their own feet.  Mosaic Law provided that Jewish servants did not have to perform such menial tasks. Jesus makes the point that for God nothing is menial. The very core of our understanding our understanding of God is that He is self-giving.

 So Jesus did for his disciples what they were not willing to do for each other and to those beyond the group.  Not much has changed has it?  Jesus is still more willing to reach out to us than we are to reach out to him and each other.


 There is also an ancient tradition that the spirit enters and leaves us not through the head but through the “soles” (souls) of the feet.  The pattern of whorls is the path of the wind of life as it entered and left the body.  So there is a spiritual idea about feet — that we to which we pay little attention to may be of profound importance.

So tonight we hear the call of God.  By our baptism we are to be servants to all that we encounter in the world.  Servanthood begins in baptism and is acted out in worship tonight so that we may serve in the marketplace. There is really a profound connection between getting to know each other “hand to foot” that is terribly important.

 To put aside our embarrassment at WASHING feet and having OUR feet washed by someone else.  Being embarrassed is not fatal.  A South American priest has said, “Embarrassment is as close to suffering as most of us have ever been.

 Tonight we remember just how much we really need each other.  I am never more aware of that truth than when we bury our children. We need each other to be real.  We are not perfect.  We are not always wise. We are lonely – we are afraid – we long for people who will forgive us and love in spite of what we sometimes are and sometimes are not.

jesus washing peters feet by ford madox brown

Jesus washes the feet of Peter – Ford Peter Maddox


 There is something about the washing of feet that breaks through all of our cosmetic differences and barriers. No one must do this, but I encourage you to stretch a little.

 We are a blessed people.  Remember that one is not blessed at the expense of others but for the sake of others.  We bring food tonight for the hungry as Christians have been doing for hundreds of years.  We are called to remember that human beings are more alike than they are different.

 Parker Palmer defines grace as, “the constant availability of abundance with the question always being am I open to it or not?”

Tonight like our Lord, we also are called to lay aside our pride and our dignity, as he laid aside his life as a sign of our life in him.  He came among humanity as a servant.  Let us claim his name now act like him.  There is something about getting to know people hand to foot that is transforming and liberating. Let us do for each other what he did for those with him that night.                                                                                                

 In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.


May Light Perpetual Shine Upon Them.

Yemen nuns

I just learned the details of the Martyrdom of the Sisters of Mercy in Yemen. I feel sick. It is tempting to live in lovely denial, whistling “don’t worry, be happy,” On the other hand one could simply relax into the chronic anxiety of our time, despairing because of the facts.

A couple of years ago, I began to end my correspondence with the phrase, “In hope, in spite of the facts.” I want to look honestly and carefully at the facts as hideous as they are AND live in hope.  Why,  Jesus promised never to leave us or forsake us, even to the ends of the earth (including Yemen).  Let us embrace hope, in spite of the facts.

  ©  John Sewell+