my miscellany

Good Friday, 2019 — 19 Apr 19

Good Friday, 2019

RCL Good Friday
Isaiah 52:13—53:12, Psalm 22, Hebrews 10:16-25, Saint John 18:1—19:42

As large as the canvas was last night, so it is small today. It’s as if the Almighty intends to focus our attention on a detail of the whole, a detail that is essential, without which the canvas could not be.

I’ll try to introduce it to you carefully, so as not to cause you to look aside. For today of all days is the day when we are to look and to look without reserve, without hesitation, and, most of all, without flinching. Because, once we look, the focus revolves to us. As much as today is about Him, the successive days are about us, specifically how we live and whether we live as though we have understood what he does for us today.

Today is especially difficult if you have trouble accepting compliments. Today we are helpless to do anything about what we witness. We are like the hundreds of Parisians who stood looking on while their glorious Cathedral burned. There wasn’t a thing that they could do to stop the damage. They were powerless in the face of devastation neither glimpsed nor imagined before. But unlike the burning of Notre-Dame, the horror we witness today is for our benefit, and yet we have trouble accepting it. The compliment is too large. The benefit to us is too magnificent.

That little detail on the gargantuan canvas redounds to our benefit. Our hesitation to accept it, our inability to glimpse it, perhaps concerns the immense value of the gift to us. The Lord Jesus, having debased himself last night to wash his disciples’ feet, takes even a further step today.

The glory of today is that he can do and does more than his abject abasement of himself at the Last Supper. He does for us on the Cross what we cannot do for ourselves.

From the very beginning, the Divine accounting, the Almighty’s economy, has been established with stakes we cannot raise, with collateral we cannot amass, and live to speak of it. The cost of our sins is our foothold in humanity. If we pay the bill we have ordered, we do so at the cost of ourselves.

And, from the very beginning, the Divine accounting, the Almighty’s economy has included the great gift that we are obliged to witness today. That great gift Isaiah foresaw and previewed when he prophesied: “Surely he has borne our infirmities and carried our diseases; yet we accounted him stricken, struck down by God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the punishment that made us whole, and by his bruises we are healed.”[1]

Like the Parisians, we have no alternative but to look on while the Lord does for us what we cannot do for ourselves. We cannot look away, because it is clear that He undertook his Passion and His Crucifixion to benefit us and all human beings at all times, to give us our lives back, when justly we owe them, when the Almighty has every fair right to claim them as His own.

The spectacle is too much to take in, like the collapse of the great wooden spire that stood so proudly and elegantly above the transept. But think of what a horrific spectacle it would be if we let the Lord be slaughtered and refuse the benefit He intends us to enjoy. That is much worse.

And so, as much as we are powerless today to help ourselves, so tomorrow our power is the stronger. We have the power to choose to accept his gift and to live as he would have us live. This was the plan of the Almighty from the very beginning. His accounting, His economy, allow us to accept His gift and to thrive in His ways from generation to generation. It is entirely possible and even providential, that we “look on [H]im [W]hom [we] have pierced”[2] and live, having accepted the Lord’s great gift. Is not that the Lord’s doing and the Lord’s providence? And did not the Psalmist see it clearly when he declared, “My soul shall live for him; my descendants shall serve him; * they shall be known as the Lord’s for ever.”[3]

[1] Isaiah 53:4-5.

[2] Saint John 19:37. [KJV]

[3] Psalm 22:29.

Maundy Thursday, 2019 — 18 Apr 19

Maundy Thursday, 2019

image source: http://www.turnbacktogod.com

RCL Maundy Thursday
Exodus 12:1-14, Psalm 116:1 and 10-17, I Corinthians 11:23-26,
Saint John 13:1-17 and 31b-35

The canvas tonight is bigger than any I know. It’s bigger than Rembrandt’s The Night Watch, almost twelve feet by fourteen and one-third feet. Tonight’s canvas enlarges every Feast and Fast in the Church’s calendar, but there is one thing in it to remember above all the others. And through it all, there is the marvelous which is not only possible but always potential and which finally occurs in the Resurrection of the Lord.

Tonight’s canvas includes the Institution of the Lord’s Supper which you heard in the Epistle, itself the earliest written account of the Last Supper in the New Testament. And behind it is its prototype, the Institution of the Passover which you heard in the Old Testament Reading. The Passover and the Lord’s Supper are meals celebrating the end of bondage, the release from captivity, actual and figurative, as well as liberty, and the gift of freedom to be what God intends us to be. We Christians believe that the Lord’s Supper fulfills and completes the Passover, for in it we pass over from slavery to sin, to ultimate freedom in the Resurrection of humanity.

All of this lives on tonight’s canvas. But the main thing, the most important thing, is what Jesus teaches his disciples in the Gospel. He takes off his outer robe and puts on a towel, and he washes their feet. You need to know that in Jesus’ culture, the lowliest slave could not be compelled to wash another’s feet.

In this symbolic act, Jesus transforms himself into someone lower than the lowliest. He is willing to do for them what no one could be forced to do for them. He teaches them that doing for each other such things perpetuates his presence among them. And then he commands them to “love one another” just as he has loved them.[1]

As God is my witness, I have rarely seen that love in Christian communities in over three decades of Priesthood. But I have seen it here, in this parish. I have seen it in the people here tonight in the most awful of circumstances. I have received that love here. And when people share the Lord’s love, when they become lower than the low for each other, they stand, in every good sense, in the doorway of the marvelous and in the doorway of the supernatural. They stand in the doorway of eternity.

Tonight’s canvas is huge, but when we study it, we find that Jesus has given us a sacramental means to ensure his presence. But he has also given us a moral and ethical means to ensure his presence, and he has commanded and enabled us to do both. Insofar as we truly identify with him, we shall do both.

[1] Saint John 13:34.

Palm Sunday, 2019 — 14 Apr 19

Palm Sunday, 2019

RCL Year C Palm Sunday
Saint Luke 19:28-40;
Isaiah 50:4-9a, Psalm 31:9-16, Philippians 2:5-11, Saint Luke 23:1-49

We have just made the choice of our lives. As I said last Sunday, it’s the choice in which our entire biography is written. We’ve just demanded that Pilate release for us a murderer and an insurrectionist, Barabbas, instead of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

It’s true, you may say, that we didn’t actually do it. We weren’t in Jerusalem that day when Pilate hands Jesus over to his soldiers to be crucified. But the choice that the people in Jerusalem made they were able to make, because they are like us. The sin that lived in them finds a home in us as well. We are powerless to control that sin even minimally. Our power and our strength run out before they can tame that wildness and the perversity of a creature turning on its creator. We can turn shockingly easily. We can do it, we have just done it, almost effortlessly. It’s our second nature.

We are trapped, it is true, but we have hope. We have the hope spoken of in the reading today from the Prophet Isaiah: “The Lord God helps me…and I know that I shall not be put to shame; he who vindicates me is near.”[1]

Amen, brother. Amen, sister. From the very beginning, God made it so. God made it so, that salvation and redemption are only a half-step away. For the One we’ve turned on is Himself our Savior. The One we’ve turned on reaches out for us every minute and every day of our lives. He reaches out for you today in this Eucharist. Take his hand. Let him lead you home.

The Psalmist, I think, experienced these extremes. He knew the power of his sin when he said, “I am as useless as a broken pot.”[2] But a few breaths later, a mere half-step, if you will, he was also able to demand, “Make your face to shine upon your servant, * and in your loving-kindness save me.”[3] That this may be so is why we are here.

[1] Isaiah 50:7-8a.

[2] Psalm 31:12.

[3] Psalm 31:16.

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