Detail of the Maestà altarpiece by Duccio di Buoninsegna, 1308, via Wikipedia.
Saint Philip and Saint James, Apostles
May 1, 2017
Some of the apostles are named in pairs on their day of commemoration. Simon and Jude are an example along with today’s candidates, Philip and James. Presumably this is because there is not enough information about them to warrant a day all to oneself. We trust they take no offense, especially when one notices that Peter is named on more than one day. I also assume the manner in which one is remembered on the ecclesiastical calendar does not cause arguments in Paradise at the same level of who will sit at Jesus’ right and on his left; although I think overhearing any apostolic banter on the subject might be fun. You know, being human and all.
We do have an occasion in the fourteenth chapter of John’s Gospel appointed for this Feast where we get a glimpse of one of the exchanges between Philip and Jesus. There are other poignant moments recorded between the two. Interestingly, each one of these conversations triggers an important moment of teaching by our Lord. This one occurs at the Last Supper as Jesus prepares the disciples for his leaving by revealing the essence of his relationship with the Father. Philip says to Jesus, “Lord, show us the Father and we shall be satisfied.” Jesus responds with some measure of apparent incredulity, “You have been with me all this time, Philip, and you still do not know me?”
When singing in a choir in high school, there was a day when our director had us lean back into the chest of one another in our section to feel the resonance of our voice vibrating through the other. It really was amazing as we not only experienced the voice of the other blending with and supporting our own, we also began to breathe together in a way where we became one voice. That exercise transformed a group of singers with a well-intentioned commonality of purpose, good in itself, into a magical expression of a single breathing organism. As a choir we were never the same.
Jesus’ relationship with God is one of unity of being. The life of prayer is one where we are invited by the Spirit of Christ to lean into him and know the possibility of a unitive experience ourselves. When this miracle occurs, by grace, our voices become one. We begin to breathe as God breathes and when we lift our hearts to the Lord, we discover our hearts beginning to realize a syncopation with the very heart of God in God’s hope for all creation.
Jesus was telling Philip that to know him was to know God and God’s heart-desire for the world. It is a world where because of Jesus’ death and resurrection we are called to do the work that Jesus did and “…in fact, will do greater works.” May we never limit, in word or action, the reach of his embrace.
Sermon at St. Mark's, Port Royal
The Second Sunday of Easter, April 23, 2017
St. Mark’s, Port Royal
Jesus of Nazareth is risen from the dead. This is THE Easter proclamation, especially in these Great 50 Days of Easter in which we now find ourselves. Of course, this is our central proclamation every Sunday and the reason we declare Sunday our Sabbath as distinct from the Jewish Sabbath of Saturday.
I wonder if you are aware that the very first responsibility of a bishop as indicated in the ordination liturgy is to be “one with the apostles in proclaiming Christ’s resurrection?” Today in Acts we read, “This Jesus God raised up, and of that all of us are witnesses.” So our entire life is to be a witness to this truth – Christ is Risen! We have the great joy of renewing this truth through those receiving the laying on of hands today.
How might Thomas inform our witness as he is presented to us in today’s Gospel? He refused to believe the testimony of anyone else, even that of his closest friends. Then came the night when Jesus appeared to him in that upper room and Thomas was challenged by Jesus’ invitation to touch the wounds still visible in his resurrected body. Thomas yielded with perhaps one of the greatest statements of faith in the entire New Testament: “My Lord and my God!”
What do we do with all of these references to a body? It was C.S. Lewis who said such references “make us uneasy, they raise awkward questions.” To be sure, the Scriptures seem to take great pains to tell us of one after death who speaks, eats fish on the beach, bears wounds from a horrible execution – albeit a different kind of body which appears in a room with locked doors. The Gospel writer, John, is seeking to portray the Jesus in the upper room as the same Jesus who was crucified.
However it all occurred, no explanation is given. Although I always think here of new studies in quantum physics, the behavior of atoms and parallel universes, we’ll set that aside for now. Thomas, and therefore we, are confronted with the body of Jesus, resurrected. Out of this encounter Thomas makes a great leap of faith. I am not an expert in equestrian competition, but my daughter loves to ride. One of the things that impresses me most is how she guides a horse to leap over a hurdle. I marvel at her apparent calmness, not true of her father by the way. I did some reading about this and teachers say that even the greatest riders face a common obstacle: their own perception. Some of the most respected equestrian study guides devote entire sections to the rider’s perception. Unless the rider can approach the obstacles with a certain anticipatory confidence, he or she will never be adept at jumping. One author gave this advice: “Take your heart and throw it over the fence. Then jump after it.”
Although we plaster the moniker “doubting Thomas” on this man, it is not really accurate. The man in the Gospel is not a pessimistic character prone to doubt. He’s just looking for proof – an empiricist of sorts. After all, dead people don’t come back to life. Not the old body and especially not some new resurrected body. Thomas then is a bridge, a bridge for all future believers who find it difficult to throw their hearts over the fence of the threshold of death into resurrection territory. “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe.” The account gives us mistaken turnings, confused demands and puzzled longings. Such is life for all of us. The struggle of faith is not a smooth, level road to perfection. Misunderstanding and a bumpy ride are par for the course. Thomas represents us in our humanity. Rather than judge Thomas, which the Gospel does not do, the Gospel hopes we will identify with him!
And look how Jesus responds. The first thing he does for his companions locked in that room, holed up in death and doom: death by fear; death by guilt; death by alienation; is offer them empowerment and invitation – unconditional, open arms, welcoming us to new life and new possibilities.
Rather than savoring alienation, Jesus responds with complete acceptance. Note that he comes into the room with the traditional Jewish formal greeting, “Shalom Aleichem.” “Peace be with you.” The first thing they experience from Jesus is that he remains in relationship with them. He still cares for them. It is the miracle and power of relationship that is maintained by Jesus. He is the one who continues to have faith in the disciples, in us, even when we are not able to do so ourselves.
The bond is restored through this great gift of love that continues to show up in seemingly impossible situations. He sees them in their confused, fearful state and offers peace and when they see the scars, they know. Jesus honored and restored them. Alienation is ended. He offered what they did not deserve in this moment – love and acceptance. We might call this in the words of I Peter “a new birth into a living hope.” Without it they stay behind locked doors, never make the leap, and never become witnesses of the One raised up.
Christian community is rooted in that love offered in the upper room that night. It is that which empowers us to go forth and be servants of Jesus. We are now set free from all of our locked rooms, whatever they might be, to be God’s person in God’s world. Go ahead. Throw your heart over the fence. He’s already there, waiting to receive you with a word of “Peace be with you.”
Feast Day Reflection: St. Mark
Detail of an 11th century mosaic of St. Mark in St. Sophia Cathedral, Kiev, Ukraine, via Wikimedia Common
St. Mark the Evangelist
April 25, 2017
The first sentence of Mark’s Gospel as appointed for today declares, “The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” Indeed, we know that the word “gospel” means “good news.” We call Mark “the evangelist,” or, “good news bearer.” To be bearers of the Good News of Jesus is the responsibility of every Christian person.
In one sense the very person of Jesus of Nazareth is the Good News. We see in his humanity a reconciled, whole person who lives in perfect union with God, himself and the creation. It is good news because what we see in Jesus is God’s desire for all of us. Of course Jesus was not merely telling us that we are to imitate him in some way. He was and is, in the power of the Spirit, proclaiming that God is bringing about the transformation of the entire creation in us and through us. Along the way you and I are made a new creation too.
This promise of God is sacramentalized in our baptism and renewed in confirmation. I am keenly aware that as I lay hands on someone and am holding her or him in prayer, that there standing before me is also God’s good news. The resurrection of Jesus is God’s declaration that the new creation is assured and happening even now as we walk the earth, right in the midst of humanity’s behavior that too often seeks to thwart and frustrate that vision of a reconciled world. Jesus’ life shows us that the wonder and beauty of God is working in a myriad of ways that we can never make happen left to our own devices.
Some of these ways are delightfully subtle. I was listening to a deacon of the church describe her ministry to the inmates of a jail. Need I note that in some way we are all inmates, imprisoned by something, captive to something? She said that one of the incarcerated said to her one day that she often uses a word that has become very important to him. My mind went to words like, “love, forgiveness, hope.” Much to my surprise his word was “when.” He noted that when she spoke to the imprisoned she never said, “If you get out of here one day.” She always said “When you get out of here.” For him that was good news. She was the bearer of the Good News of Jesus breaking through in an unexpected way through the simple word “when.” It happens because she shows up.
The entire cosmos awaits a word of God’s victory over everything that deals death to the creation, you and me. We are the watchmen of Isaiah 52, guarding the ruins of our own Jerusalem’s as we long to sing for joy at the sight of the one whose feet brings good news, who publishes peace, who brings good tidings of salvation…who says, “Your God reigns.” In Jesus we are liberated in his promise of “when,” not “if.”
Easter Day: April 16, 2017
Church of the Messiah, Myrtle Beach
Perhaps some of you will recognize the words of the prophet Marvin Gaye, Motown musician from 1971, when he asked, “What’s Goin’ On”:
There’s too many of you crying Brother, brother, brother
There’s too many of you dying
You know we’ve got to find a way
To bring some lovin’ here today
We don’t need to escalate
You see, war is not the answer
For only love can conquer hate
You know we’ve got to find a way
To bring some lovin’ here today”
What’s goin’ on is this: Our world is starving. For what you might ask? It is starving for a more transcendent vision of itself that is able to see beyond politics, policies, the latest gadget to entertain us, ideologies, violence, better business practices, or even stock market fluctuations. The transcendent vision for which our world longs is about a new heart, a transformed consciousness. Our world is longing, right in the midst of the horrors and absurdities in Syria, Egypt, North Korea, or right down the street for that matter, to see human beings being fully alive, fully awakened to our humanity in the highest and best sense of what it means to be truly human. It was Bishop Irenaeus of Lyon who said way back in the 2nd century: “The glory of God is a human being fully alive.” It’s about finding “a way to bring some lovin’ here today.”
This is what our Easter celebration announces and calls us to do. It is our main work in Christian community, that is, to become a people who embody ever more fully and radiate ever more clearly in our lives that pure, unbounded love that is God. It is that love that could not be contained in the death of the tomb and has erupted into the universe.
The first century Church received this invitation recorded in the Book of Acts and now we of the 21st century Church are invited to the same: “We are chosen by God as witnesses, we who eat and drink with him after he rose from the dead.” And so we gather at this Table—to become what we eat. It is the invitation to allow the mind of Jesus, his divine consciousness, his way of thinking and feeling and perceiving, his way of responding to life out of pure love to be fully integrated into our being and consciousness. Then we are to live it in our own Judea’s and Jerusalem’s, to be the living Body of Christ in the midst of the world’s death.
I wonder if you remember the story of “The Rabbi’s Gift?” In it a mystical rabbi tells a struggling and dying community of elderly monks, wondering if they had a future at all, that one of them is the Messiah. Nothing seemed to be more impossible. But this vision captivated them as their curiosity heightened and the brothers wondered who it could be. “The Messiah? Really? Here? One of us? Nah.” It can’t be they think. But fascinated they still wonder, “Could it be Cuthbert? He has great compassion. Could it be the Abbott? He is wise. Maybe Cyril. He is devout and prayerful, although he can be a bit crotchety at times. But who? Could it be? Could it…?”
Slowly, over time, a new spirit began to arise among the community. A gentleness and deep strength, a sweetness, began to be recognized as a profound charism recognized by strangers who came upon them as they became eager to experience this life-giving spirit. Over time they found themselves mysteriously touched and reassured, inspired and freed, empowered and strengthened – mysteriously transformed – so much so that new life sprang up all around their mountain valley and everyone heard a new song coming from their midst.
This is the story of resurrection. The Messiah, the Christ, is risen among us. The Christ is risen within us. The Christ is one of us. The Christ is all of us. Too often, we, and the world around us, suffers from a profound lack of imagination about ourselves. We are confined, trapped, perhaps even imprisoned by assumptions of what reality is and get carried away all too easily by the inertia of the familiar, of what we think we already know, by fear and anxiety, and we get stuck. We are held captive by seeing too narrowly, thinking too small-mindedly, loving with limitations, even as we long for something more transcendent, more grand that occasions wild and self-abandoned dancing and celebration.
When will we ever understand that our life in Christian community is not about the maintenance of an institution, nor about the management of an organization, nor about the packaging and marketing of a commodity called “god.” It is about the profound and challenging transformation of our very selves by God’s grace into the mystery of divine love. If that is not our life’s work, if we do not immerse ourselves in the spiritual disciplines of prayer and worship, study and reflection, fellowship and sacrament and silence; if we do not reach out our hands and feet and hearts into the neighborhood and touch the suffering of the world with love AND allow it to teach us; if we are not willing to give ourselves over to the gift of being divinely transformed by Love into Love, then we have nothing to offer to this world.
This day is the great invitation to invest once again in God’s great vision for the creation as found in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. It is no idle tale. Wherever we can bring mercy, justice, release and reconciliation, there Christ is risen. It is then that we live out the pattern of Jesus’ own giving of himself. For what was his purpose? It was love, nothing else but love. Go now into the world. Look for the living among the living. The risen Jesus awaits you, present in God’s people. It is there you will see him and discover, “What’s Goin’ On.”
The Great Vigil of Easter, April 15, 2017
Let’s play a game. I’m thinking of a number between one and 300,000,000. Any guesses? How about 299,792,458 (meters/sec/sec)? Does that specific number ring any bells for anyone? (Hints: warp drive, deep space, meters/sec). What was God the Creator thinking or doing – if those categories even make sense here – when the universe was put together with that scientific principle at its core? Now lay that next to tombs, death, a great earthquake, angels, appearance like lightning, shaking/trembling guards, an empty tomb. And then! The one executed as a criminal is found to be alive while offering greetings, amidst admonitions not to be afraid (yea right), and directions to go and tell. See you a little later in Galilee.
Matthew the Gospel writer wants us to see something here, and his intent is that in these events we are to discover the intersection of heaven and earth. That’s the confluence that happens for me when I gaze into a clear night sky and feel very small. That’s what happens for me when I look at points of light from stars and realize that they are so far away that even the speed of the light coming from them at 299,792,458 meters/second may have come from a star that no longer exists, having burnt out its solar furnace of hydrogen thousands even millions of years ago. It’s mystical. It is a place where earthly things, heavenly things, godly things, come together and intertwine.
Perhaps all of us are familiar with the phrase “all hell broke loose.” Usually not a good thing. Why is it that we don’t say more often, “all heaven broke loose?” That’s what happens when the two Mary’s approach the sealed tomb. An earthquake occurs, not as a means of opening the tomb but as a result of the angel of the Lord breaking in on the scene, rolling back the stone that separated Jesus from the life he lived, and sitting upon it in an obvious sign of divine triumph.
All of the action here, including the reaction of the guards and the appearance of the angel like lightning and clothing as white as snow, is Matthew’s way of asserting that God is erupting into the world in a new and decisive manner. God’s new reign, even with evidence to the contrary, is now established and changes the Creation’s trajectory from death to life, brokenness to wholeness, despair to joy, hatred to love. This is the trajectory on which we are placing Abigail, Casey and Reese this night as they are baptized. Our response, and perhaps our most appropriate response if we are paying attention, is like that of the guards who are shocked into a frozen state of amazement.
Matthew’s core point then is that there is no naturalistic way of speaking of the resurrection. It is not about human capacities or possibilities any more than the speed of light is about the human possibility to create it. It is entirely about God’s capacity and determination. If death is the final conclusion to even the most beautifully lived life, and if death is to be defeated, it is not just because human goodness somehow just lives on. It is not merely an episode of Star Wars where human good triumphs over evil, as fun as that is. Jesus’ resurrection is God acting at the boundary of life we call death and God doing something altogether new. Angels and earthquakes, references to lightning and snow, fear and tombs and yes new life are the only ways Matthew can make clear that we are being confronted by God’s possibilities and not merely our own.
God can restore ANYTHING. We see this in the Matthew account when the angel tells the women not to be afraid. They were looking for their fallen leader and the reason they need not fear according to the angel is because “he is not here, for he has been raised as he said.” To drive the point home the angel says almost offhandedly, “Come. See the place where he lay.”
The tomb is empty! This is important so that we humans don’t again think everything in life hinges upon you and me getting it right and that somehow human goodness, on its own, will triumph. The empty tomb says that notwithstanding all the sad evidence in the history of the human story that manifests hurt and harm, God has acted to overcome the hurt and harm to Jesus, which is of course our hurt and harm. That first Easter and this celebration of Easter is a promise that in the divine reign fully realized, the same is true for all of us and the entire creation. Because “he is not here” there is deep hope for the world. The baptism of Abigail, Casey and Reese is a sign of this truth and hope. Because Jesus is raised, they are raised with him, to new hope, new possibility, and new love. Parents and Godparents are saying that they will do everything in their power to help these three precious children know that and God’s love for them.
You cannot go anywhere that God is not. Just as Jesus goes ahead of the disciples into Galilee, he calls us to our own Galilees, the places where we live, with the families we have, our workplaces, our country, our world. This is where we meet and see the Christ. It is done and accomplished in community, in the midst of the mission God has inaugurated and pursues even now. He invites us to join. 299,792,458 meters/sec/sec. The Light is among us. The Light is showing the way. The Risen One, who is Resurrection Light, is our hope.
Reflection for Easter Day
Myrrhbearers on Christ's Grave, fresco c. 1235 in the Mileševa monastery, Serbia. Via Wikipedia
April 16, 2017
Easter Day always brings to mind fond memories from childhood. One that sticks in my mind, perhaps just for the simplicity of the event, is of my two sisters and me in new Easter clothes standing in our front yard in northeast Baltimore. All the while my Mom and Dad are attempting to get us to hold still long enough to get pictures of us in our fresh regalia. This was a big deal. Even as a child I realized that the cost of the new clothes had a significant impact on the family budget.
We knew something special was going on. We knew not only because of the new clothes, but also because such a fuss was being made over us. We also knew something was happening at our home parish, The Church of the Messiah, which was the reason for the dress up. Everything felt new. It was in the excitement of the air. The day itself seemed new. There was a freshness and aliveness among the people as at no other time. I didn’t know why, but this young boy felt new as well. In fact, I knew I was new! Something was happening.
Now I know more clearly that something was happening because something had happened on that first Easter Day. It was not the resurrection of an idea, or a belief system, or a feeling, but of Jesus of Nazareth. Something happened to Jesus himself. The Scriptures are clear about this. “You are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised: he is not here” (Mark 16:6). And because something happened to Jesus, something is happening amongst his people. We may not be able to explain it all, nor do we need to. Even the Scriptures don’t explain it, they proclaim it – Christ is Risen. So we too gather in a community of worshipful attention and intention to proclaim that something happened to Jesus. By proclaiming that truth, we look for and expect that something is happening among us.
At Easter we gather to shout God’s victory, not our own. We are raised because Jesus is raised. Out of that hope we are invited to live a life in thanksgiving for that gift with hearts bursting with joy, and thereby bring God’s transforming love to bear in all that we do. This new life takes shape as we witness for God’s peace, God’s justice, God’s embrace, and the defeat of anything that keeps anyone in the bondage of not knowing the freedom of God’s hope for her or him. It is precisely within this life that the proclamation of hope to those in need and pain takes place. Jesus’ resurrection is a radical affirmation that it is right now where eternal life becomes real in us as a people of healing for the world.
The great liturgical theologian Aidan Kavanagh said, “The Jesus of our faith died, rose, and became a people.” So we gather as a community to worship the One who is hope. As Christ is alive among us we are given the assurance that nothing can snuff out the life in us that Jesus has resurrected. Nowhere is it clearer to me than in the simple truth of God’s people struggling along with me to embrace our own gifted humanity. We discover along the way that God’s new life is right in the midst of us. We are alive and new once again. Something is happening!
Good Friday Sermon
Good Friday 2017
Estill Federal Correctional Institution
“Carried our sorrows…Wounded for our transgressions…Healed by his bruises”
On this day, one cannot find a better outline for the passion narratives of Jesus’ death than this fourth Servant Song of Isaiah. One does wonder if Jesus himself had this servant figure in mind as he reflected upon his own ministry and what God was calling forth from him. And certainly, the early Church and the Church right up to the present, view Jesus the Christ as the appropriate figure to be described by this Servant Song, regardless of what the Servant’s original identity may have been.
The accounts of Jesus’ crucifixion are imbedded with descriptions of this servant. Listen: “He was despised and rejected by others; a man of suffering…He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth…They made his grave with the wicked and his tomb with the rich.” The Gospel writers surely had the Servant Songs beside them as they composed their narratives, and why wouldn’t they? They had before them what was their Scriptures – those of the Jewish people which became our Scriptures also. After all, they were Jews writing about the extraordinary life, death and resurrection of another Jew – Jesus. What could have been more natural, or faithful, or inspired, than to use their own Scriptures to help them describe those awe-full, degrading and miraculous events of Good Friday and Easter? We are forever bound up in an inextricable link with our Jewish sisters and brothers, who themselves are celebrating Passover this week, even as we now celebrate the Christian Passover of Jesus’ death and Resurrection.
So it is that the Christian Church has appropriated this passage as a description of the life, ministry and work of Jesus of Nazareth whom the Church confesses as the suffering servant of God. The uniqueness of the passage is that the Servant himself carries or bears the “iniquity of us all” when “all we like sheep have gone astray.” He was “wounded for our transgressions…upon him was the punishment that made us whole.” Suffering becomes the means by which Jesus accomplished his work, and thereby was effective in the rescue, or salvation, of others.
There are three foci of this Isaiah passage that stand out if we apply them to Jesus as the Servant. Each one is intended to be life-changing for God’s people, you and me, and give us a reasonable hope for living on this troubled earth and in our sometimes troubled lives.
This is the Good News of Good Friday, why we call it Good. Today is the counter-narrative to the world’s tired old narrative that might makes right, and those who live by the sword will really live. Not so, says the Lord of Hosts; not so says God the Creator; not so says Jesus; and he says it not merely in his words, but in a deed. It is the event of the Cross. It is God’s yes to the world’s no. Our hope then is found in God’s yes. It is the Yes of the Cross.
Reflection for Good Friday
Golgotha by Bertalan Székely (1835-1910), via Wikimedia Common
April 14, 2017
What do we do with a dead Savior? Why do we focus our attention today on suffering and a torturous execution at the hands of a corrupt religious institution, a fearful politician, an erratic and deceptive local government complete with crowd hysteria, all in the midst of one of the most glorious and sophisticated empires the world has ever known?
It was Mahatma Gandhi who said, “A man who was completely innocent, offered himself as a sacrifice for the good of others, including his enemies, and became the ransom of the world. It was a perfect act.” Jesus’ self-offering was just that, a willing oblation, as he was lifted up on the tree where the whole world might see the way of perfect peace, justice and love. He did so as a gift to every human being that ever lived and ever would live.
I was never more convinced of this truth than when I was washing the clothes and bed linens of people brought into the dying and destitute home in downtown Calcutta, India. Many had horrible diseases such as cholera, dysentery, AIDS or leprosy. Most came in with lice. The cast off clothes and bed sheets that came to me were not pretty. One day, while scrubbing, pouring into the tub before me adequate amounts of disinfectant and breaking loose what had been trapped in the folds of the cloth, I felt something in my hand below the surface of the darkened water. I could not see even inches below the surface. When I brought the object to the light of day, there before me in the palm of my hand, out of the muck of Calcutta’s suffering poor, was a cheap plastic rosary. Still wet with the water of the washtub was the cross and Jesus on it, crucified. To this very day I do not know from where what happened next came, but I know I heard someone sing “Alleluia” as that image of Christ on the cross was lifted by my hand through the water’s meniscus to be gazed upon by my own eyes. I remember turning to seek the source of the sound.
I would find it difficult to believe in a God who stands aloof and indifferent to the suffering of the world. On the cross, we see that God in Christ has come right into the midst of it. On the cross, we see the sorrow of all humanity, every victim, everyone abused, every injustice committed, every betrayal. We also see every act of love, every act of forgiveness and reconciliation, every desire for peace, every justice accomplished, every truth uttered. Jesus is at the center of it all. On the cross we see in him nothing but pure, embracing compassion. Hope hangs there, exposed for all to see.
It appeared on that cross that all he proclaimed and stood for died with him. The Gospel, the Good News itself, was nailed there. In the death of Jesus it seemed that not only the medium, but the message too had been exposed as fraudulent. Yet John’s Gospel is clear that when Jesus proclaims, “It is finished,” it does not only mean that Jesus has done what he came to do, that is die. It is also an expression of victory. It means God has triumphed. We ourselves turn the mockery of the cross on its head when we dare to call this day, “Good.”
Reflection for Maundy Thursday
Christ Washing the Disciples' Feet, fresco by Giotto c. 1305, via WikiArt.org
April 13, 2017
Just for the fun of it we’ll begin with a little Latin. The liturgical name for today is taken from the first antiphon of the ceremony of the washing of the feet, “mandatum novum,” John 13:34. It is obvious from where the English words “mandate” and “command” derive.
We find in the scriptures appointed for this day three mandates. In Exodus, concerning the Passover, the Israelites are told “You shall keep it as a feast to the Lord.” In I Corinthians, Paul, recounting the events of the meal on the night Jesus was betrayed, passes on Jesus’ words, “Do this in remembrance of me.” Then in John’s Gospel we hear from Jesus directly a new commandment following his washing of the disciple’s feet, “Love one another; even as I have loved you, that you also love one another.” There are no “may” rubrics here that give permission to opt out – declarative statements all around.
All of the events referenced, the Passover, the Lord’s Supper and the Foot Washing, are living sermons. Each one is about love; God’s active love for us and our love for each other which is a way of loving God. These great expressions of love are portrayed in the simple yet intimate acts of feeding and washing. Is it not in moments of such service, diakonia, when we often are able to show our love in the offering of oneself to another? Paul is saying there cannot even be a Eucharist in a community whose members do not love one another.
I think immediately of when my children were small and the delight, usually, of the high chair ceremony. This was high church. We got our positions, the vested bib was in place, and a jar of food was warmed in the special bowl for this mealtime alone, adorned with the family children’s spoon. Tradition is important. In this case the washing followed the eating, but bath time was also a highly ritualized event.
I am reminded too of such moments on the other end of life. Times when my parents were ill and dying and once again vested in bibs and gowns, feeding and washing, intimate moments of connection through the love of eye contact and being close in deeply held thanksgiving that did not need words. The gratitude was thick in the air and it went both ways. Lots of remembering occurred.
One could argue that it was all sacramental in that each tender moment was an expression of the love that goes beyond oneself and is directed toward another. Jesus’ death and resurrection, and the ways in which we remember him and one another, hold this entire cycle of life from birth to death. It gives life to all, the giver and the receiver, and transforms the relationship. A bond is forged that is indelible, never to be forgotten, and in such moments not a single morsel is lost because there time has no meaning. Eternal life is made present. It is the sacrament of the moment. It is cosmic.
So it is with the pattern of the life of faith. Such acts of Gospel love epitomize the paradox of the Gospel where at a table or wash basin the offerings of hospitality usually attributed to a common servant become revolutionary. The three days initiated today, in their unity, invite us to this revolution of love.
An Easter Letter from Bishop Adams
“Alleluia. Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us.
Therefore let us keep the feast. Alleluia.”
Dear Friends of The Episcopal Church in South Carolina,
Holy Week and Easter greetings to all of you. The sacred time and space of the Triduum of Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter is a unified proclamation of the central event of Christian faith and life. It is a grand opportunity to make the good news of Christ known and experienced through story and song with all the senses engaged.
I know many of you have been working hard to prepare and I trust you will enter into this most holy time with the utmost seriousness it deserves as well as with the joy-filled privilege it presents. This week especially I hold all of the liturgical participants in prayer, clergy and lay leaders, for faithful preaching and faithful planning. For the Feast of the Resurrection I will be at Grace Church Cathedral for the Easter Vigil as celebrant and preacher, and then on Easter morning at the Church of the Messiah, Myrtle Beach. Even as I will be present in those particular places, all of you will be on my mind and heart.
The verse above is known as the Pascha Nostrum. It offers us a vision for how we might participate in the Easter event. Keeping the feast is a response, the “therefore,” to the passion event of Jesus’ death and resurrection. One way to keep the feast is Eucharist. There is also, however, the feast of our life to which God calls us in faithful discipleship.
So the “therefore” continues as we are sent out to continue the feast through our own humanity and as we engage one another. How does your life become more clearly a sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving, to use St. Paul’s words? Do you seek the possibility that all you do may be a proclamation of God’s good news of being set free? Is your life a response to grace as you become a window to the Easter promise of a transformed humanity and world? Can your life become a means of invitation to the feast of God’s mission of justice for the entire creation?
Feast well dear friends as Christ bids you to the table – the table of the altar and the table of the world.
Blessings in the Risen One,
Bishop Skip Adams
The Right Reverend Gladstone B. Adams III was elected and invested as our Bishop on September 10, 2016. Read more about him here.