my miscellany

Easter Day, 2019 — 21 Apr 19

Easter Day, 2019

RCL Year C Easter Day
Acts 10:34-43, Psalm 118:1-2 and 14-24, I Corinthians 15:19-26,
Saint John 20:1-18

Today marks your new beginning, whether it feels like it or not. The empty tomb gives you a new beginning every moment of your life.

Think of Mary Magdalene’s new beginning, as you heard it proclaimed in the Gospel of the Resurrection. She goes to the tomb the morning after the Sabbath, on the first day of the week, and finds, instead of his body, his empty tomb. At first, she thinks someone has taken his body away, as she tells Peter. When he arrives and enters the tomb and sees the linen cloths, his new beginning has begun. Then John, the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, also enters, and he sees its gaping emptiness. He sees, and he believes; he adjusts to his new beginning quickly. Peter, as you know, in time recollects himself, so that he could say, as he does in the first reading, “You know…how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power; how he went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him.”[1] For Mary and for Peter and John, every moment becomes a new beginning. Nothing remains, or will remain, the same—for eternity.

I believe that is why you are all here this morning. Whatever else you know, you are aware of how extraordinary Jesus was. Because of his love and mercy for the outcast and the people on the margins; because of his power to heal the sick and afflicted, to bring peace and sanity to the disturbed and even the possessed; because of his loving honesty that afflicted the powerful, the comfortable, and the self-righteous; because of his amazing sense of inner security and peace and his fearlessness in the face of all the things that make us fearful. If slow at his new beginning, Peter was right later when he spoke the first reading today.

So that we may not be slow in the face of the empty tomb, in the face of our new beginning, we all need to understand two things.

One. It was inevitable that Jesus would go through his suffering and death, terrible as it was. Jesus knew this and said so. The disciples, led by Peter, would not hear it, but Jesus insisted on it. Actually, Jesus’ death was more than inevitable. It was necessary. The necessity stems from the fact that God is not only almighty. God is almighty love. God, the God of almighty love, created human freedom, and with that freedom, God allowed for the possibility that we would choose not to love him in return. God took the risk, out of love, that we would choose to get lost. It was necessary for God to come among us, and in coming among us, endure the worst we had to offer, so that he could bring us back with his almighty love.

Two. Although it was necessary that Christ die, it was impossible for death to hold onto him. In words from a hymn, “They cut me down, but I leapt up high. I am the Life that will never, never die.”[2] We do not speak of a resuscitated corpse. But neither do we speak of a disembodied spirit, a soul, or a ghost. On this side of things, on earth’s side of heaven, all that was left was an empty tomb and some grave cloths left behind. On the other side of things, on heaven’s side of earth, the risen Lord shows us something entirely unexpected and new. Saint Paul describes the mystery: “It is sown a physical body, it is raised a spiritual body.”[3] The Epistle to the Colossians has it: “You have died, and your life is hid with Christ in God.”[4]

Again, today marks your new beginning, the beginning of an eternity of new beginnings, whether it feels like it or not. Dearly beloved in Christ, let us take hold of this gift of unending new beginnings today. Let us let go of all the dead things that waste so much of our time and energy. Let us leave them behind for others to gawk at, like the burial linen in Jesus’ tomb. Let us get a grip, as they say, on the life he gives us over and over again, which is hid with Christ in God and which will take us through everything, even death. And let’s be ready to tell people the Good News, the reason why we are here, why we have a new lease, a new beginning, on this the most glorious day of Creation.

[1] Acts 10:36-38.

[2] Sydney Carter, “Lord of the Dance,” 1963.

[3] I Corinthians 15:44.

[4] Colossians 3:3.

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.

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