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.

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.

The Fifth Sunday in Lent, 2019 — 7 Apr 19

The Fifth Sunday in Lent, 2019

RCL Year C Lent 5
Isaiah 43:16-21; Psalm 126; Philippians 3:4b-14; Saint John 12:1-8

The Gospel jus proclaimed has been a Sunday Gospel in the Episcopal Church for only a few years. It has long been the Gospel on Monday of Holy Week.  It prepares us to celebrate the Lord’s death and resurrection despite its charming homeliness.  This Gospel causes us to bring to mind our response to him who is the resurrection and the life.

Mary, Martha, and Lazarus of Bethany—they’re a family worth getting to know through the Scriptures.  You remember that Jesus raises Lazarus from the dead, in the chapter before this one, after Jesus has a long discussion with Martha, which includes, “I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and whoever lives and believes in me shall never die.  Do you believe this?”  And Martha says, “Yes, Lord; I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, he who is coming into the world.”[1]

Now at a supper, after Lazarus was raised, Mary has her turn.  While her sister Martha is serving and Lazarus is sitting at table, Mary takes a pound of costly ointment of pure nard and anoints the feet of Jesus.  Martha made her profession of faith in words; Mary now makes hers in a deed of striking symbolic importance.  Jesus understands and proclaims the symbolism.  Mary anoints Jesus’ feet before dinner.  But symbolically, she anoints his body for burial.  He who is the resurrection and the life has to die in order to be the resurrection and the life.  Martha’s profession of faith doesn’t capture this.  But Mary’s does.  Together, Martha and Mary give us examples of how to respond to Jesus.

You can respond with thoughts and words, as Martha does.  Or you can respond with a deep symbolic devotion, as Mary does.  It doesn’t matter which response you make.  The kingdom is for everyone, everyone of good will, whose engagement with the Lord may be like Martha’s or like Mary’s.

Palm Sunday and Holy Week stretch before us.  Now we know that our response counts, whether it is like Martha’s or like Mary’s, thoughtful or heartfelt.  But we should remember that Jesus who dies and lives, who died and lived, doesn’t give us every option.  We cannot ignore him or be indifferent to him.  Next Sunday, on Palm Sunday, we shall call either for him or for Barabbas, and in that choice our whole biography will be written.

[1] Saint John 11:25-27.

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