EASTER

SUFFERING IS THE PROMISE LIFE ALWAYS KEEPS!

cross 3

Victor Safonkin

Nowhere in the New Testament is there a description of the resurrection itself. That mighty act of God was unseen and it is indescribable. When the women reach the tomb, the resurrection has already taken place. What they find is the sepulchre empty and the stone rolled away. Their first reaction is not joy but perplexity. They have come to pay their last respected and they do not know what to make of this. They fear that the body of Jesus has been stolen in an act of desecration.   No one was expecting Jesus to rise from the dead. Many Jews believed in a general resurrection at the end of history but no one expected a particular resurrection within history.  In our own day such a notion seems strange, a sort of wishful thinking, as if we are whistling in the dark to assuage our fears in the face of the universal evidence of fallibility and death.  And yet at the same time we seem convinced that if we could just get enough power, know enough and expand beyond our limitations that we can fix it ourselves.

Jake is struggling through Grand Central Station in New York City with two huge and obviously heavy suitcases when a stranger walks up to him and asks “Have you got the time?”

Jake puts down the suitcases and glances at his wrist. “It’s a quarter to six,” he says.

“Hey, that’s a pretty fancy watch!” exclaims the stranger.

“Yeah, it’s not bad. Check this out” – and he shows the man a time zone display not just for every time zone in the world, but for the 86 largest cities. Jake hits a few buttons and from somewhere on the watch a voice says “The time is eleven ’til six'” in a very Texas accent. A few more buttons and the same voice says something in Japanese. Jake continues “I’ve put in regional accents for each city”.  The display is unbelievably high quality and the voice is simply astounding.

The stranger is struck dumb with admiration.

“That’s not all”, says Jake. He pushes a few more buttons and a tiny but very high-resolution map of New York City appears on the display. “The flashing dot shows our location by satellite positioning,” explains Jake.

“I want to buy this watch!” says the stranger.

“Oh, no, it’s not ready for sale yet; I’m still working out the bugs”, says the inventor.

“But look at this”, and he proceeds to demonstrate that the watch is also a very creditable little FM radio receiver with a digital tuner, a sonar device that can measure distances up to 125 meters, a pager with thermal paper printout and, most impressive of all, the capacity for voice recordings of up to 300 standard-size books, “though I only have 32 of my favorites in there so far” says Jake.

“I’ve got to have this watch!”, says the stranger.

“No, you don’t understand; it’s not ready -“

“I’ll give you $1000 for it!”

“Oh, no, I’ve already spent more than -“

“I’ll give you $5000 for it!”

“But it’s just not -“

“I’ll give you $15,000 for it!” And the stranger pulls out a checkbook.

Jake stops to think. He’s only put about $8500 into materials and development, and with $15,000 he can make another one and have it ready for merchandising in only six months.

The stranger frantically finishes writing the check and waves it in front of him.

“Here it is, ready to hand to you right here and now. $15,000. Take it or leave it.”

Jake abruptly makes his decision. “OK”, he says, and peels off the watch.

The stranger takes the watch and walks away.

“Hey, wait a minute”, calls Jake after the stranger. He points to the two huge, heavy suitcases, “Don’t forget your batteries.”

For every advance there are unforeseen consequences.  In all truth humanity is unlikely to be powerful enough, know enough or become immortal on our own terms.

It is done another way in the Divine economy. John records Jesus saying, “Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains only a single grain; but if it dies it yields a rich harvest.” These words of Jesus define the paschal mystery – the mystery of faith; namely, in order to come to fuller life and spirit we must constantly be letting go of our present life.

There are two kinds of death and two kinds of life.

Two kinds of death

There is terminal death and there is paschal death. Terminal death is a death that ends life and ends possibilities. Paschal death, like terminal death, is real. However, paschal death is a death that, while ending one kind of life, opens the person undergoing it to receive a deeper and richer form of life. The image of the grain falling into the ground and dying so as to produce new life is an image of paschal death.

There are also two kinds of life:

There is resuscitated life and there is resurrected life. Resuscitated life is when one is restored to one’s former life and health, as is the case with someone who has been clinically dead and is brought back to life. Resurrected life is not this. It is not a restoration of one’s old life but the reception of a radically new life.

Jesus did not get his old life back. He received a new life – a richer life and one within which he would not have to die again. The mystery of faith, the paschal mystery, is about paschal death and resurrected life. The resurrection is the triumph of life over death. God is the God, not of the dead, but of the living. Therefore his Christ must be found, not among the dead, but among the living. The last word lies always with God and life.   John Polkinghorne, in Searching For Truth, Meditations on Science and Faith, writes that the resurrection of Jesus is a triple vindication.

  • Vindication of Jesus himself – A priest friend of mine was once confronted by woman, upset by all the controversy in the Church. She said to my friend, “If Jesus knew how his Church had turned out he would turn over in his grave!”  All too often we live as if that were true.  Good Friday marks a failure. The death on the Cross of a well-intentioned but ineffectual man.  “He saved others let him self himself,” they had said.  But he did not save himself. He experienced the consequences terminal death. He was really dead. But now it is revealed that the reports of his death, though true, were not the end of the story.  He is vindicated. He death is a paschal death. His message of love and life through surrender is vindicated.
  • Vindication of God – Someone once caught W. C. Fields, the great comic actor, reading the Bible. Mr. Fields was not a believer so the man was puzzled at the sight. “What are you doing the man asked?” W. C. Fields replied, “Looking for loopholes.” The good news, Mr. Fields is that you don’t need loopholes. God has acted. Despite the appearances on Good Friday, God did not abandon the one man who wholly trusted himself to him, and stood by him in death and beyond death. God proved himself indeed to be the God of the living.  God is vindicated by the resurrection
  • Vindication of human hopes. It is almost to much to hope for.  It is like awakening from a nightmare and with a start realizing that we are safe after all when we thought all was lost. The old barriers, the hard crust of alienation that grew around the human heart is pierced by the power of new life. God loves us. As Polkinghorne says,  “The intuition deep in our hearts that life has a meaning and fulfillment which death will not be allowed to frustrate, the truth of the assurance that came to Julian of Norwich that in the end all shall be well and all manner of things shall be well. Death is real and a real ending, but it is not the ultimate end, for only God is ultimate. The last word on human destiny does not lie with the fact of death but with the greater fact of a faithful Creator and a merciful Redeemer.  If we matter to God now, as we certainly do, then we shall matter to God forever. At death, we shall not be cast aside like broken pots on some cosmic rubbish heap. Human beings are not naturally immortal, but the faithful God will give us a destiny beyond our deaths. As Christians we know that this is not a mere theoretical possibility, for we have the resurrection of Our Lord as the foretaste and guarantee, enacted within history, of the destiny that awaits us all beyond history.”

Alleluia, Alleluia, Christ is risen. The Lord is risen indeed, Alleluia, Alleluia.

The Sunday After All Saints Day

All Saints – All Souls & The Communion of the Saints
November 6, 2016

All Saints on November 1 is the day of remembrance of all the saints, those whose lives display pronounced activity of the Holy Spirit, but who did not have a particular day set aside for them, there being only so many days after all. The next day is All Souls Day. What is the difference? On All Souls, we honor all the faithful dead of the Christian faith.

all-souls-day

On Wednesday, November 2, 2016, at ten minutes after noon a congregation gathered at the Saint John’s Cemetery to celebrate Eucharist. As traffic raced by on Central Avenue and planes roared overhead in the clear fall air folk joined saying their prayers and remembering the faithful departed.

The ancient Romans buried their dead outside their cities in necropolis (Greek) for cities of the dead. It was in such a place that Saint Peter was buried by the side of the road across the street from the Circus of Nero. This site lies beneath the Basilica of Saint Peter in Vatican City. We do not call our place of the dead a necropolis rather we use the word cemetery a word also coming from the Greek that means a place of sleep. The early Christians were making a theological distinction between those believed to be dead as a “doornail” and those who fell asleep in Christ in the hope of the resurrection and those who have no such belief.

Also, the Romans had a custom called a refrigerium, a memorial meal eaten at the graveside of the person that was replaced by the Eucharist over time in Christian practice. We gathered at Saint John’s Cemetery as heirs of hundreds of generations of Christians who had gone before us, who in their generation prayed for the dead who die in the Lord and who have in their time joined those who sleep awaiting the Lord’s return.

john-polkinghorne

I return again and gain to the eloquent words of John Polkinghorne in his book, Faith of a Physicist, “The resurrection of Jesus is the vindication of the hopes of humanity. We shall all die with our lives to a greater or lesser extent incomplete, unfulfilled, unhealed. Yet there is a profound and widespread human intuition that in the end, all will be will. … The resurrection of Jesus is the sign that such human hope is not delusory. …This is so because it is part of Christian understanding that what happened to Jesus within history is a foretaste and guarantee of what will await all of us beyond history, ‘For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be make alive,’ (I Cor. 15.22).

The proper preface for the dead at the Eucharist sums up the hope of all who believe, “Through Jesus Christ our Lord; who rose victorious from the dead and comforts us with the blessed hope of everlasting life. For to your faithful people, O Lord, life is changed, not ended; and when our mortal body lies in death, there is prepared for us a dwelling place eternal in the heavens.”

Peace,
John W. Sewell+

Resurrection Never Crossed our Minds.

EASTER DAY

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.

james-tissot-st-peter-and-st-john-run-to-the-tomb-illustration-for-the-life-of-christ-c-1886-94

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.

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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.)

The Convenient or the Real?

faux_chocolate_bunnies_8_m2

Arriving on Easter morning, having bypassed Good Friday reduces the Day of Resurrection to a Rite of Spring consisting of plastic eggs and chocolate bunnies. – John Sewell

How The Resurrection Makes Sense

JOHN POLKINGHORNE

How to understand the Christian hope of the resurrection of the body against the background of modern science? A physicist and Fellow of the Royal Society, who is an Anglican priest, explains how he brings his scientific researches to bear on his Easter faith. John Polkinghorne was formerly president of Queens’ College Cambridge.

John PolkinghorneWHAT is a human person? A smart tap on the head with a hammer will show that we depend in an essential way on our bodies. So are we simply bodies, merely material beings? What about the soul?  In the history of much Christian thinking, and in much popular piety, people have thought of themselves as if they were apprentice angels. In that case, the “real me” would be a spiritual component, trapped in a body but awaiting release at death. Today, that is an increasingly difficult belief to hold. Studies of brain damage and the effects of drugs show how dependent our personalities are on the state of our bodies. Charles Darwin has taught us that our ancestry is the same as that of the other animals. Earth was once lifeless and life seems to have emerged from complex chemical interactions. Many scientists think that we are nothing but collections of molecules and they write popular books to assert this belief.

Yet that also is a pretty odd thing to believe. Could just a bunch of chemicals write Shakespeare or compose Handel’s Messiah, or discover the laws of chemistry, for that matter? There is something more to us than the merely material. Yet, whatever that extra something is, it is surely intimately connected with our bodies. We are a kind of package deal, mind and body closely related and not wholly detachable from each other. It is a puzzle.

Strangely enough, a clue about how to wrestle with the problem may be offered to us by modern science itself. For a new kind of scientific paradigm is in the making. It is called “complexity theory”; so far it has only reached the natural history stage of studying particular examples.

The Blue Apocalypse - Aaron Arkkelin

The Blue Apocalypse – Aaron Arkkelin

Physicists naturally started by considering the simplest systems available. After all, they will be the easiest to understand. Recently, the use of high-speed computers has extended our scientific range. As complex systems began to be explored, an unexpected realization dawned. Very often these turn out to have a quite simple overall behaviour, ordered in some striking pattern.

Heating water in a saucepan can provide an example. If the heat is applied gently, the water circulates from the bottom in a remarkable way. Instead of just flowing about any old how, it forms a pattern of six-sided cells, rather like a honeycomb. This is an astonishing phenomenon. Trillions of molecules have to collaborate and move together in order to generate the pattern. The effect is a simple example of a new aspect of nature that scientists are just beginning to learn about.

Traditionally, physicists thought in terms of the bits and pieces that make up a complex system. The exchanges of energy between these bits and pieces look extremely complicated. It turns out, however, that if you think about the system as a whole, there can be these remarkably orderly patterns of overall behaviour.

In other words, there are two levels of description. One involves energy and bits and pieces. The other involves the whole system and its pattern. At this second level, using computer-speak, we could say that what we need to think about is the information that specifies the pattern.

 Saint Thomas Aquinas

Saint Thomas Aquinas

We have become used to the concept of cyberspace – the realm of information accessible through our computers. That world is one of human contrivance, a world of virtual reality. We are less used to the idea, in fact because it is so unconsciously familiar, that we live in a world of intrinsic information-generating capacity, the world of actual reality and so the world of God’s creation.

We human beings are immersed in this realm of being in which energy and informational pattern complement each other. It is a world altogether richer than its pale shadow in cyberspace, for people are much more than computers made of meat. Our powers of thinking, including our access to meaning and to mathematical truths that cannot be established within the confines of the purely logical formulation we may be considering, show that we transcend the limitations of the merely computational.

One might ask what all this has to do with the human soul and coherent hope. What-ever the soul may be, it is surely the “real person”, linking what we are today with what we were in the past. That real me is certainly not the matter of my body, for that is changing all the time, through eating and drinking, wear and tear. We have very few atoms in our bodies that were there five years ago. What provides the continuity is surely the almost infinitely complex pattern in which that matter is organised. That pattern is the real person, and when we talk about the soul, that is what we are referring to. The infant science of complexity theory encourages us to take this kind of thought very seriously.

SUCH a manner of thinking need hardly come as a surprise to Christians. After all, the ancient Hebrews certainly did not think of human beings as apprentice angels. They took the package deal view that we are bodies full of life. St Thomas Aquinas thought the same. He helped the Church to free itself from the straitjacket of Platonic thinking imposed upon it through the great influence of St Augustine, with its reliance on a dualistic picture of soul and body as distinct entities. Instead, Aquinas made use of the then newly recovered insights of Aristotle. In Aristotelian thinking, the soul is the “form” (that is, the pattern) of the body.

Saint Augustine of Hippo

Saint Augustine of Hippo

In these terms, we can understand in a coherent way the great Christian hope of a destiny beyond death. That hope is to be expressed in the classic terms of death and resurrection, and not in spiritualist terms of “survival”. Death is real and a real ending, but it is not the ultimate end, for only God is ultimate. The last word on human destiny does not lie with the fact of death but with the greater fact of a faithful Creator and a merciful Redeemer.

Of course, as far as embodiment in the matter of this world is concerned, the individual pattern that is the human soul will be dissolved at death. It makes sense, however, to believe that God will hold that pattern in the divine memory and then reimbody it in the environment of the new creation at the resurrection of the dead.

Our real hope that death is not the end has to depend on our belief in the trustworthiness of God. Appeal to that belief was exactly the way in which Jesus countered the disbelief of the Sadducees (Mk 12: 18-27). He reminded them that God was the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. The patriarchs mattered to God once and so they must matter to God for ever. Israel’s God is “God, not of the dead but of the living”. If we matter to God now, as we certainly do, then we shall matter to God for ever. At death, we shall not be cast aside like broken pots on some cosmic rubbish heap. Human beings are not naturally immortal, but the faithful God will give us a destiny beyond our deaths.

Jesus teaching at the Temple - James Tissot

Jesus teaching at the Temple – James Tissot

We can take with all due seriousness all that science can tell us about ourselves and this world and still believe that God will remember the patterns that we are and will recreate them when we are resurrected into the life of the world to come. As Christians we know that this is not a mere theoretical possibility, for we have the resurrection of Our Lord as the foretaste and guarantee, enacted within history, of the destiny that awaits us all beyond history.

Easter III

Abraham's Oak - Henry Ossawa Turner

Abraham’s Oak – Henry Ossawa Turner

Pausing, looking back toward where the story began there is symmetry, a type–antitype. The place God began his self-revelation was at Mamre, which wasn’t much even then except for one world-class oak, In fact the place was known as the Oak of Mamre as the tree gave it about its only reason for being.

God and two archangels some say or perhaps God, the Trinity, dropped by for lunch with Abraham and his wife Sarah. Since most have not seen an archangel and no one at all has seen the Trinity, it’s a little hard to know where one left off and the other began. It is safe to say that neither wife nor husband recognized their guests until all was revealed over lunch.

Abraham & the Three Angels - James Tissot

Abraham & the Three Angels – James Tissot

Abraham bent over backwards showing hospitality that day and Sarah would have baked a cake if they had given her warning. The holy ones gravely accepted Abraham’s spread under the spreading branches and then got on to the business at hand. You know how it turned out of course. The childless couple had a boy come new-year and Sodom and environs became the Dead Sea by year end.

Turning toward home, see the script? Cleopas and his companion are running away from home and bump into Jesus and then it all becomes clearer over supper. Both stories come to the moment of insight because of hospitality. Extending ourselves in service of the comfort and welcome of the stranger will often lead to gifts unforeseen. Do not neglect hospitality for some have entertained angels unawares. So you never know who might put their wingtips under your table, either expensive shoes or feathers. Prepare to hear the good news.

Jesus came near Cleopas and his un-named companion on the road from Jerusalem and Emmaus. Let’s get the actors straight on our program before we get confused. Hegsippus (early historian) records that Cleopas was the brother of Joseph the husband of Mary and step-father of Jesus our Lords. His companion may have been his son, Simeon. who became bishop after James, Jesus’ brother, was martyred?

road-to-emmaus1

Cleopas and company are running away from the scene of the crime. Their deepest hopes have become their deepest wounds. There is no one more cynical than a deeply wounded idealist. Their eyes were “held” so they did not recognize him. When they explain their distress, Jesus showed them, beginning with Moses and so showed them that another way to read and understand the Scriptures was exactly what happened to Jesus. Thus he reframed their history and made bad news into good news.

Anyone who has lived for very long has come to know that sometimes the only thing worse than the disappointment of not getting what we want is the remorse of getting exactly the thing longed for only to learn how bad it was for us and our souls. Of course, hopefully we learn from the consequences of getting what we want. It may well be that our “wanter” is broken. Actually it has been since Adam at the apple. It may be that God knows better what we need and want than we do.

Emmaus - James Tissot

Emmaus – James Tissot

They come to Emmaus, perhaps to the family home, where Cleopas and his older brother Joseph were brought up. It was there it happened. They were sitting at the old family table, the very one that for all their lives on Friday they had the prayers and only the day after the Passover Supper where again they had eaten and told the story of rescue, how God brought them out of Egypt into the promised land and where they hoped for Messiah, the anointed one of God.

Here Jesus did what is always done at this table, all Christian tables, at this service of Holy Thanksgiving.

Supper at Emmaus - Abraham Bloemaert

Supper at Emmaus – Abraham Bloemaert

The four movements of the Eucharist, He took, he blessed, broke and gave.

He Took

In reply to Satan who suggested he turn loaf-shaped stones into bread Jesus said, “Man does not live by bread alone.” Of course he doesn’t live without it either. In the only story told by all four Gospels (other than the passion) Jesus took a lunch of 5 loaves and 2 fish and fed 5000 people. If Jesus is God, then he was on the ground floor when the Universe began and if you can make matter from scratch then he can stretch molecules of bread in hand.

Supper at Emmaus  - Diego Velazquez

Supper at Emmaus
– Diego Velazquez

What folk should have learned that day was (and is), whatever we make truly available to Jesus can (and will) be used. In addition, we should have learned by now that when Jesus takes something (any old thing) it is transformed and it becomes enough..
Now, think of all the “castoffs” of our lives. . It is a hoot seeing what Jesus does when he up-cycles what we distain into something needful. Today, look around, take inventory and then offer what we find to Jesus. He can do more with less than anyone I have ever I have ever known.

HE BLESSED

A couple makes promises and then is married but when they are blessed their relationship is filled with divine content. Having taken the bread, ordinary stuff to sustain life in the body, Jesus now makes the bread “different/holy” and it is no longer just bread, but, like Manna in the wilderness, it is the bread of Heaven.

Blessing changes things. It changes relationships. It changes effect. It changes value. To be blessed by God gives dignity and worth. If we are worthless by all human standards not so with God, divine love and blessing creates value where none existed before.

What we will give up, Jesus will take up. What Jesus takes up, he blesses as he did that day when the children came running to him. And what he blesses has merit and dignity if for no other reason, because he blessed them. If God can do that with ground wheat seed mixed with water and baked, what can God to our lives?

HE BROKE

The most solemn moment in any Eucharist is the “fraction” – the actual breaking of the bread. On a day with low humidity there is a discernible “cracking” sound heard through the room. In that moment we are confronted symbolically with the suffering of Christ.
The rubric (stage direction) in the Prayer Book is, “The celebrant breaks the consecrated Bread. A period of silence is kept.” What can we do in face of his sacrifice other than be silent? I believe that the breaking of the bread is all the broken things in our lives, our souls and bodies, those things done, those things left undone, are all (everyone) broken there as well. It is a good breaking, like re-breaking a leg that was inadequately set, in service of fullness of life.

HE GAVE

What Jesus’ taking, blessing and breaking make, he gives. It is food. It is life. It is healing. It is celebration and it is joy. Above all it is Viaticum, literally “food for the journey.” That which God requires of us, God in grace provides us. We need not grow hungry, forced to eat fast-food along the shoulder of the road. Lest we succumb to the junk-food at the Jiffy Mart, Jesus provides us nourishment such that we will arrive prepared to do what needs doing.

When we come for “solace only, and not for strength; for pardon only, and not for renewal;” (BCP. Page 372) then we miss the best part. And what is the best part, you ask?
Why, the best part is going out and doing what Jesus said for us to do and seeing that indeed it is happening. What’s not to like? Join a ministry team and find out. These are the four movements of the Eucharist.

THEY WENT

In truth there is a fifth movement: they went. Having the last say, the Deacon exhorts, “Go and do what needs to doing. If you have been fed – be bread.” (My language)

emmausJesus gave them the bread, they eyes were no longer “held” and they recognized him. Then he vanished. Then, no longer tired; (interesting how that happens) Cleopas and company marched immediately from Emmaus back to Jerusalem with the news of Jesus’ resurrection. Upon arriving they discover that the risen Christ has been busy and there afore them.

Our hearts burned as he reframed the scriptures to include Messiah’s “failure” death upon a tree, they marveled. It’s really a simple matter, you see. Their unconscious got it even if their eyes were “held” and the same, beloved, is true in our own day.

Ever since Emmaus, Christians know that Jesus shows up when the bread is broken. We don’t have to see him with our physical eyes. Our hearts will tell us even when our eyes fail us. Pay attention to the awaking fascinations of your soul. The soul turns unconsciously to God, as sunflowers follow the sun. .

JWS

THE SEVENTEENTH SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST

8310~Protect-Me-Jesus-PostersAll too often in my life, I have seen the Gospel used like a blunt weapon. I recall that in a congregation of a denomination that shall remain nameless there was a cantankerous old woman who gave the folks there trouble from time to time.  At least once or twice a year she would be thrown out of the church – turned out for loudly disagreeing with the preacher and leadership of the church.  And the Gospel reading for today is the very passage they used on her.  My friend (I was in high school at the time) would keep score of the proceedings with great glee and give me a blow-by-blow account. The entire warfare was waged with great vigor. [I suspect that the people would have been disappointed had she ruined their day by behaving.]

So out she would go, only to be let back in when she repented or at least made noises that passed for repentance. That old lady may well have been one of those folks who had learned all the words but never knew any of the music. But then I never heard much singing of the music from the congregation either.

It occurs to me that how this passage is interpreted or implemented says as much or more about the community than it does the person who is tossed out.

What is Jesus up to here?  Here as so often I am indebted to Robert Farrar Capon. He points out a few things that I think give clarity to the reading. First we need to look at the context: where is this passage? What happens before it? What happens after it?  How does this fit into the economy of the scriptures? As Capon says, this is a passage (among others) which the Church has based the long-running love affair with excommunication.

The story just before this one is the story of the man who left behind 99 sheep in order to go out and find the one who was lost, which when he finds it he rejoices over it more than over the 99 that were never lost.  Why would he in the very next breath impose a three strikes and you’re out rule? Skip over today’s reading and in the next passage we find Peter asking if he should forgive someone who has sinned against him 7 times?  And Jesus, that spoil sport, says, “Don’t forgive him 7 times but 70 times 70.”   Go figure. At the very least he seems to be saying that if the unity of the community is to be broken, then work to stay connected with the offender and if someone is going to leave let them leave you.70 times 70

70 times 70

But, wait, what is it that Jesus says to the disciples?  He says, “Let those who sin against you be to you as a Gentile and a tax-collector.”   We know what Jews of the period thought of Gentiles and tax collectors.  But is Jesus a typical Jew of the first century?  No, I don’t think so?  If you think about it, Some of Jesus’ best friends were tax collectors!  The writer who recorded this was a tax collector. Jesus was amazed by the faith of the Gentile woman from Sidon. Jesus ate, drank and partied with sinners, tax collectors and such.  You can tell a lot about a person by who they will eat with.  People are often judged by the company they keep. Jesus certainly kept some questionable company. So what is he getting at?

1621The Calling of Saint Matthew - Hendrick Brugghen -

1621The Calling of Saint Matthew – Hendrick Brugghen –

Well after the three strikes and you’re out past the passage gets even more obscure. Whatever is bound in heaven is bound on earth and whatever is loosed on earth is loosed in heaven.  And if two of you agree on earth about anything you ask, it will be done for you by my Father.  For where two or three are gathered in my name. I am there among them.”

As Capon says, it appears that the primary reference of the entire chapter is the way that forgiveness seeks out the lost. So the company of the faithful who follow Jesus are to be characterized, not by excommunication as soon as we get the third strike, but rather by a commitment to forgiveness. The Father in Heaven will ratify and confirm that forgiveness with all his grace. In addition, when 2 or 3 gather in Jesus’ name there Jesus, the Good Shepherd – the friend of tax collectors and sinners will be discerned to be among them.

William Dyce - Good Shepherd

William Dyce – Good Shepherd

So what are we called to by our Lord, the Good Shepherd, the lover of the lost, least and the sinful? Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law.  Pay what is owed, says Paul, and then owe no one anything except to love one another.

God has shown his unmotivated love, by that I mean that God’s love is not based our being lovable or pitiful. God’s love is a choice God makes that is not influenced by anything outside God. It is this kind of love God exhibits by giving his son while they were yet sinners. …Nothing can separate them from the love of God in Christ Jesus [as Paul writes in another place in this letter to the Romans…] If God’s love – his willing them (and us) the good and abundant life – has created them as a community, then on the principle of acting follows upon being, they must be a community characterized above all by the same quality and are indeed “obliged” to a community that “walks in agape/God’s love.”

You shall love your neighbor as yourself. What would happen if this described the parish of Saint John Memphis, Tennessee?  I don’t know about you but I’d like to have that kind of a reputation and I’d like to live in such a community.

We are called to be a sign to the world. A sign is a symbol that transmits that which it represents. A hundred dollar bill is a sign.  It is a symbol of the economy and it transmits that economy.  People take that specially prepared piece of paper in exchange for goods and services.  The church is to be sign: We are to be God’s people – his hand and feet transmitting the love that animates us.  We are to be the Good News!

We are to proclaim to anyone, who will listen, the resurrection of Jesus from the dead.

  •  By our baptism we are to be a living sign of that resurrection by dying with Christ in his death and rising with him in his resurrection.
  • At this Eucharist and at every Eucharist, wherever two or three are gathered in his name the risen Jesus is present his resurrection to heal and make whole those who accept his gift of abundant life.

All too often, to our profound shame, we have not been the sign we are called to be. As Capon puts it, “We have “’rules for limited forgiveness’ – that could have been written by the Committee for the Prevention of Wear and Tear on the Righteous.” We have forgiven less than we have counted strikes.

The story is told of a knock on the door.  A woman opens the door only to be greeted by a poor man.  He said, “I’m in trouble and have nothing.  I would like to do some work, if your have something I could do to earn a little money.” The woman said, “Well I do have something you can do.  Here’s a can of paint.  Go out behind the house, there’s a porch that needs a coat of paint.   When you’re finished, I’ll pay you twenty dollars. A couple of hours passed and there was a second knock at the door.  The man said, “I’ve finished.”  She gave him twenty dollars.  He turned to walk away, stopped, turned back and said, “Oh, by the way, that’s a Ferrari not a Porsche!”

Years ago I studied communication skills called Neuro-Linguistic Programming.  The motto of that movement was, “the quality of your communication is the response that you get.”

What response are we getting?  It matters. It matters for eternity.

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

EASTER DAY

2008 – Saint John’s Memphis, Tennessee – John W. Sewell
The English author and Christian, G K Chesterton wrote, “Fairy tales do not tell children the dragons exist. Children already know that dragons exist. Fairy tales tell children that dragons can be killed.”
We do not gather today to tell each other that death exists. We already know that death exists. We gather today to tell each other that death is defeated. This is the day of resurrection!
Mary Magdalene in the desert - Puvis de ChavanneMary Magdalene in the desert – Puvis de Chavanne

Mary from Magdala came early in the morning on the first day of the week accompanied by other women to the tomb of Jesus. They brought spices to complete the burial rites. When they arrived the stone was rolled away from the tomb entrance. Then they realized that something had happened. On this morning of resurrection, with your indulgence, I want to borrow from Robert Farrar Capon and his meditation on death and resurrection.

“Let me borrow for our purposes imagine an egg, the ubiquitous Easter egg, and let that represent the whole time of my life. Now since the first of the grips on my life is my own, I shall represent that by putting the egg in my left hand and closing my fist around it: behold, my times are in my hand. But since the other grip on my life is God’s or more precisely, the grip of Jesus who as the Eternal Word of God makes and reconciles me at every moment – let me represent that by making a second fist over my left hand with my right. Behold again: not only my times but even my very holding of them are totally in his hand as well. The illustration is going swimmingly. We have even touched base with Psalm 31:15: “my times are in thy hand.”

three_eggs

Three  Eggs

Examine next, however, the differences between those two grips. As I hold my life, I have only a weak and partial purchase on it. Any one of a thousand accidents can snatch it from me in an instant. And even if nothing goes wrong, I can hold onto only the smallest portion of it at any given moment: of all my times, only the present is really in my grasp. The past I hold only in remembrance – mental, physical or psychological; and the future I hold even less adequately – in guesswork, hope or fear.

Worse yet, I hold none of those times fully. As far as my present is concerned, I have an effective grip only on what I’m actually paying attention to at the moment. The pencil in my hand is under control; the bread I forgot I was making is now a hopelessly over-risen mess in the kitchen. And as fat as past and future are concerned, things are worse still. Even if my memory of the past is better than it was of my bread there is no way I can go back to remedy a single mistake or improve a single performance – or even make sure I have not remembered the whole of it partially, tendentiously or wrong. And as fat as the future is concerned, there is simply no way of getting to it al all. Except of course by waiting. But that does no good because by definition the future as such never arrives. When it does turn up, it’s only one more present: what is really yet to be just hides out there in the dark as before.

Broken Egg

Broken Egg

In other words, not only is my grip on my times weak and partial, it is also unreconciled and unreconcilable. Imagine the hard-boiled egg that represents my life as a peeled, sliced one. And while you’re at it make it extremely large so that it can have as many slices as I have days – but leave all the slices together as a whole egg. Now then. As I go through the egg of my days slice by slice – beginning with my birth at the big end, proceeding delightedly through the days of youth and yolk and coming at last to the ever-decreasing slices of nothing but white – I can have a real influence only on the slice I happen to have reached and on the portion of it I have managed to pay attention to. If I wasted or abused a previous slice I can do nothing to help that now; any yolk I didn’t eat today remains uneaten forever.

The dodo egg - Madeline von

The dodo egg – Madeline von

In God’s grip however – as he hold the slices of my time – all my days, past or future, are simply present. To me they may be then and then but to him they are all now. The yesterday I cannot reach is as accessible to him as the pew we sit on this morning is to us. The future I can only guess at is as known to him as any other slice of the whole egg he holds in his everlasting now. God, in other words, is the eternal contemporary of every moment of my times. Accordingly, there is no moment of them that is ever lost to him – and consequently no single, briefest scrap of my life that is not as he holds it safely ensconced in eternity.

Eternal life therefore, is not another life after this one but simply this life as held eternally by Jesus – by the Wisdom of God who mightily and sweetly orders all things, even the things we disordered. And death? Well, for openers death is just one of the boundaries delimiting the things that make up a particular life. But it’s a good deal more than that, and if you now put all the images together you’ll see how.

hard-boiled-egg-slicesBring the peeled sliced egg down to size againand put it back in my left fist inside my right fist. Then ask: what happens when I die? Well, obviously I lose my grip on the egg: my left hand, if you will, becomes …nothing. All its records of its dealing with the egg, all its knowledge of details, all its mistakes, all its missed opportunities simply cease to exist when it does. When I’m dead: I have no brain to think with, no nose to smell with, no eyes to see with – nothing at all good, bad or indifferent with which to hold onto a single thing.

But when my grip goes, God’s grip does not. The egg about which the left hand could do so little even while it had it, is still held for endless exploration in the right hand. All the days I could not keep are stored for me at home in him. My death therefore is not simply an end; it is an absolution. It is my release from my own radically imperfect way of holding my life and my introduction at last to the best of all possible ways of holding it in the hand of Jesus.

Jesus came to raise the dead: to take those who had completely lost their grip and give them back every last one of the days that he, as their resurrection and there life, had always held for them. He never met a corpse that didn’t sit right up then and there because, although it may have been dead as a doornail on its own terms, it was alive willy-nilly in him and just couldn’t help showing it.

Pietrolussu - Lazarus just as it happened

Pietrolussu – Lazarus just as it happened

When Jesus cam to raise Lazarus, the dead man’s sister Martha had her doubts. Like the rest of us she could imagine eternal life only as something out there – as a blessing to be achieved only after the protracted clanking of some religious or philosophical contraption. And therefore when Jesus told her her brother would rise again, the furthest thing from her mind was that it would happen on the spot: “I know,” she said “he’ll make it at the last day.” but what Jesus in effect said to here was: “Wrong! He’s made it now. I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me, eve though he’s dead, will still live. And whoever lives and believes in can’t possibly die in eternity – because in eternity is exactly where I’ve got him for good.” Lazarus, in short, might lose his own grip on his life but he could never shake loose of Jesus’. Ergo forth he comes when the Word who holds him speaks his name.

One more refinement of the illustration and we’re through. If you want to do justice to the note of believing that Jesus insisted on with Martha, put a glove on the left fist. Do you see now? The life of faith is simply the constant willingness to trust that just beyond that glove there’s another hand that holds out life along with us. We are invited to believe not that we will rise or that we will have eternal life, but that we have it right now and that we can enjoy it at the price of nothing more than slipping off the glove of unbelief that’s the only thing separating us from it.”

Now go back with me to the beginning of this day of resurrection. There at the tomb are the women, timeless icons of faith and redemption. Consider Mary of Magdala – she stands at the tomb on that morning as the counterbalance to Eve at Eden. As Craig Keener puts it, Mary at the tomb is the reversal of Eve at the fall. As she was at the fall now Mary is at the arising. As Eve ate to the lost of innocence now Mary delivered from demons is witness to the restoration of humanity to the new walk of life.

Mary Magdalene and the Holy Women at the Tomb - James Tissot

Mary Magdalene and the Holy Women at the Tomb – James Tissot

Eve was witness to the coming of death now Mary is witness to the coming resurrection. One saw the victory of death — the other the victory over death.

The ubiquitous Egg – is a symbol hope and resurrection and a symbol of the perfect state of unified opposites. Our God has acted and now the old splits of good & evil, sin & virtue, life and death are overcome and united in the resurrection of Jesus Christ, our Lord.

My friend, David Bargetzi, says that it is a greater sin not to dance in Easter than not to fast in Lent.

Resurrection is come let’s dance.

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