Saturday, March 22, 2008

Easter

The pain, denial, rejection, and suffering, of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane is over. The darkness of Good Friday has passed. The tomb of Holy Saturday, pointed us to examine the shadow side of life: of evil and darkness; toward all the ways people attempt to lock away God’s love.

Now, the tomb is split open and Jesus is on the move again. No human effort can ever contain God.

As a congregation we have walked the way of the cross, followed the footsteps of Jesus. We have washed feet, prayed through the night at the altar of repose, knelt at the cross, and rejoiced as the light of Christ came into the world once more.

Together we journeyed through the Triduum of Holy Week and embrace the most ancient traditions of our faith.Today we sing our Alleluia’s and celebrate Easter.

Each year Easter comes – it comes to assure us that nothing we do will ever stop God from doing God’s work in the world.

Celebrating Holy Week, worshiping though the three services of Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and The Great Vigil offers us a ritual reminder of the reality of human failure and God’s triumph.

Failure because of humanity’s ongoing efforts to confine and limit God. We confine and limit God whenever we ignore or hurt others: through the words we say, the actions we take or or the action we don’t take.

Easter comes no matter what for God can not be contained by human sin, human doubt, not even human certainty can limit God.

The Resurrection assures us that God will prevail and God’s love will fill our lives and fill this world, we cannot stop it, contain it, limit it…or fully know it…though we try.

And so on this Easter Day we find the church filled with flowers and music and candles. Gone is the barren simplicity of Good Friday. Signs of new life are every where.

Although we don’t have any in the worship space, Easter eggs are a primary sign of Easter.

On Good Friday afternoon I decorated eggs with the children of the parish. Some might find this an odd thing to do in the church, but it’s really not.Easter eggs come from a very long, ancient custom; eggs were a symbol of new life all around the ancient world.

Decorated eggs come from an ancient Persian custom for celebrating the New Year, which falls on the Spring Equinox of March 20th. Modern Persians, people from Iran, still celebrate this New Year with decorated eggs.

The ancient Hebrews, who lived under Persian rule for many years, adopted the use of eggs as a symbol of new life and incorporated them into the Passover Seder meal, a symbol of God doing a new thing by freeing God’s people.

And the ancient Romans used eggs as a part of their spring celebrations of new life.

Eggs and rabbits, common symbols of Easter, are ancient symbols of fertility, used long before there were Hebrew or Christian peoples

There is even a story about Mary Magdalene and eggs.

Some say that Mary is one of the most faithful disciples. Unlike the other disciples she stays with Jesus to the end. Our Gospel stories tell us that she was at the cross, stayed with Jesus even as he died. And then later she went to the tomb to anoint the body. It was Mary who discovered, on Easter Day, that Jesus was missing. It was to Mary that the resurrected Jesus first spoke. It was Mary who ran to tell the rest of the disciples that Jesus was on the move again.

The story tells us that at one point Mary went to Rome to see the Emperor Tiberius. She took with her an egg and began to tell the Emperor about the resurrection. He responded by saying that the resurrection was no more likely to have happened than if the egg she held could turn red.

At which point the egg in her hand promptly turned red.

In this story the Romans would have readily understood the egg as something that brings forth life from a sealed chamber. The egg quickly came to represent the tomb that held Jesus’ body, and the color red symbolized the spilling of his blood.
The Orthodox believe that the color red has protective power.
However, other colors commonly used today came gradually into use. Tan or ivory shades symbolized the fine linen cloth in which Jesus was bound before being placed in the grave. Green was used for the fresh vegetation of springtime. Blue represented the sky in all of its glory, and purple was used to represent the Passion of Jesus crucified.
Gathered together, all the many eggs of varied hues represent the glorious springtime in which Christians unite to rejoice at the Resurrection of Life.
As the people in the Orthodox Church gather after the Easter services, eggs are blessed and given to all. The worshipers then go about greeting one another with "Christ is Risen!.” They then hit their eggs together, cracking them. The cracking of the red eggs among the Orthodox symbolizes a mutual prayer for breaking the bonds of sins and misery and for entering the new life which comes from the resurrection of Jesus.
None of the eggs should remain unbroken.
Breaking the eggs emphasizes that Christ has conquered death and is risen, granting New Life to all. After cracking, the eggs are eaten, symbolizing the end of the Lenten fast.
Today, in the Christian Church of the western world, we use Easter eggs in all kinds of ways, but often without an awareness of their tradition. We hard boil eggs and decorate them with colored dye and stickers. Perhaps the Easter Bunny hides eggs around the house for the children to find in the morning. Some people blow out the inside of the egg and paint the shells in very fancy patterns. Often we use plastic eggs filled with candy treats. Today after our 10:00 service we will have an Easter Egg Hunt for the kids, eggs filled with sweet treats.

And so I think it is helpful to know that this tradition is not just some modern Easter game, but one that is grounded in ancient customs symbolizing new life.

As Christians we adopted ancient customs of Spring and new life and reinterpreted them through the resurrection of Jesus. After the tragedy of the crucifixion of Jesus, who was abandoned by most of his friends and left to die a horrible death on the cross, something new was experienced by the people of the early church.

Somehow, in someway, Jesus was present to them once again. But this presence of Jesus was not like a ghost…not some vague figment of what was once the person of Jesus. Nor was it a healed and cured Jesus, as if the crucifixion had never happened. The resurrected Jesus comes to the people as one who is both dead and alive, he bears the marks of his death on his hands and his feet.

And yet he lives.

He lives in a new way…

He does not need to open doors. He is just there, present to all people in new ways. His being contains the marks of his suffering and the reality of his new life.

It can be a challenge to some modern people to take these ancient traditions of our Christian faith and understand them. How can these ideas make sense in our lives today? How do we come to trust in the resurrection as a reality in our lives? Where is the truth in the resurrection and how can it be meaningful for us?

I think each of us lives with experiences of tragedy and suffering. There are seasons in life when we struggle and wonder if life will ever feel right again.

No one is exempt from times like these.

But over time, over a life time, we are often able to see that these times of suffering eventually leave and our lives settle down.

But, like the wounds of Jesus, we carry the marks of our suffering.

However, when suffering has been fully integrated into our being it make us, whole. Wholeness includes both suffering and wellness…

For example, only from experiencing suffering can we develop a sense of empathy for the suffering of others.

Our Christian story helps us understand the seasons of life in order to make meaning out of such events and circumstances. It is from that place of common suffering that we are able embrace the thread of human life, to show compassion and love for others, because we have all suffered.

As Christians, it is from this place of suffering and in our experience of being healed, renewed, and restored to a life of wholeness,that helps us grasp just a hint of the resurrection.

God comes to us as a human. Some people suggest that in the person of Christ God learns what it means to live a human life, to love, to suffer, to grieve and to die.

In taking on human form God says that God accepts humans, each one of us, just as we are. The resurrection is a sure and certain sign that God is with us. In the midst of our darkest days God holds us up. Into the chaos of our broken lives God sustains us. From the shattered hopes and dreams God scoops in and begins to help us sort life out, creating a new sense of order, a new sense of life, a new direction.

Our lives, made new in the resurrection, are healed, not because our suffering and tragedies disappear, instead those experiences continue to live in us, but in a new way.

Therefore our suffering also becomes the very place, the way we know God, understand hope, and center ourselves in faith. In this new life we are better people because of our suffering.

More compassionate. More humane. More real.

I’m not suggesting that we go out seeking ways to suffer….suffering will find us all on its own.

I am suggesting that in and through the experiences of suffering we also find the ways that God is present with us. Ways in which, because of our egos we may not know as fully during the times that life is good. Suffering makes us vulnerable and vulnerability opens us up in ways we least expect. And when we are open we come to know God. When we are open we are able to receive the love that God always offers.

As Christians we know God most particularly and fully in the person of Christ. For us Christ is the fullest expression of God’s love poured out for humanity.

The miracle is that in being loved we learn how to love.

In the resurrection we become the vessel through which God’s love continues to made manifest in the world. Over the next 8 weeks we will reflect on this idea and then at Pentecost we are reminded that Christ has given us the Holy Spirit.

This Holy Spirit abides in us. It is the Holy Spirit abiding in us that enables us to move from sorrow to hope to new life. It is usually not because anything outside changes,it is because something inside of us changes.

The miracle of the resurrection and the gift of new life is our Christian tradition, ever real, even as it is mysterious.

Mary Oliver, my favorite poet says it well in this poem called “Logos”

“Why wonder about the loaves and the fishes?
If you say the right words, the wine expands.
If you say them with love
And the felt ferocity of that love
And the felt necessity of that love,
The fish explode into many.
Imagine him, speaking,
And don’t worry about what is reality,
Or what is plain, or what is mysterious.
If you were there, it was all those things.
If you can imagine it, it is all those things.
Eat, drink, be happy.
Accept the miracle.
Accept, too, each spoken word
Spoken with love.”


(Mary Oliver, “Why I Wake Early” Beacon Press, 2004).

Thursday, March 20, 2008

The Triduum

Tonight begins the Triduum, the holiest of liturgies in the life of the church. We will celebrate one worship service that begins with Maundy Thursday and the washing of feet. It continues with an overnight prayer vigil at the Garden of Repose, keeping watch with Christ, symbolized by the consecrated bread and wine and lighted candle.

The watch ends with the Good Friday service at noon. This service will be somber, gathered around a barren altar, even the clergy will sit in the pews. Only the consecrated bread and wine and a candle will be on the altar. We will offer a meditation instead of a sermon. There will be props for the meditation, dice, sandals, a mallet, nails, a rough hewn cross. We will leave in silence after eating the bread and wine.

The Great Vigil, held Saturday night, reminds us of our salvation history. We light the paschal candle in the darkness of the outdoor courtyard, symbolizing the light of Christ coming into the world anew. The first half of the service is in darkness, with only individual candles to light our worship service. We will hear scripture read, offer prayers, bless the new waters of baptism. And then it will be Easter. The lights will come on to reveal flowers and life in all its fullness. We will process to the Gloria. We leave rejoicing.

Sunday is Easter Day. It will be a big service here. I look forward to it. However following the Triduum, Easter Day services are a relief. It is after all "just" a Sunday service, much like any other Sunday (as it should be), just more people.

I pray that the people in my new church find this Holy Week to be filled with a deep sense of spirituality. I hope they "enjoy" the Triduum and all it means. I hope all goes well, no major faux pas.

I pray that your week goes well, however you celebrate it.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Holy Week

Today I drove two hours north to attend the Diocesan Chrism Mass at the Cathedral. It was interesting to be present at this annual Holy Week gathering of clergy and renewal of ordination vows, particularly to be present at such a big gathering of clergy and know no one. I knew almost everyone before I left the Diocese of Chicago. Now I know no one. Well, except the deacon who drove up with me and one clergy person who attended CREDO with me a year ago. Luckily that person recognized me and introduced me to others. I missed seeing all my friends and colleagues, but it was still ok.

The Chrism mass was a lot like the one I am used too...in form and structure. Glad to have somethings feel familiar. Actually a lot feels familiar. I love the feel of the air outside, dry and warm and fresh. I like the mountains and vast open spaces. I like having a staff.

The rest of the week will be busy - a lot of meetings tomorrow (Wed) plus a funeral. Various meetings on Thursday plus the Maundy Thurs. service. Then Friday services followed by the Great Vigil on Sat. and then Easter Day. Next week life will begin to seek some kind of equilibrium. I hope.

I hope your week is going well.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

A Story of Faith


A reflection for Palm-Passion Sunday and the beginning of a new ministry

In the year 1863 Hannah began the voyage of a lifetime. Married only a few years and with two small children, William about 3 and Harriet an infant, Hannah left Manchester, England for the United States, leaving her husband Jonathon behind. Hannah and Jonathon were married in 1857 in the Cathedral in Manchester, and now a mere six years later she was setting off on her own, with two children in tow, and third on the way.

Hannah sailed from England to New York City on a ship called the Antarctic, leaving Liverpool on May 23, 1863. It was an old ship with many leaks, requiring the sailors to spend several hours each day bailing water. The drinking water was bad and had to be boiled before consumption. Small pox broke out. Seven passengers died on the seven week journey from Liverpool to New York, one of them being the baby Harriet, Hannah’s infant daughter.

Immediately upon her arrival in NYC Hannah, now six months pregnant, and her young son, departed for Nebraska. The Civil War was raging in the US and travel was dangerous. The envoy traveled by train and boat through New England, across the Niagara Bridge, to Chicago. From Chicago they traveled by cattle car and then steamer to Nebraska. From there, in her 7th and 8th months of pregnancy, Hannah joined a wagon train to Salt Lake City. It is likely that she walked the entire way, carrying her son, while the wagon hauled their few belongings.

I first heard Hannah’s story following my mother’s death in 2004. Among her belongings I found a book of our family genealogy, and in it Hannah’s story. I think Hannah’s story parallels my own life, but in reverse.

Hannah left the Church of England to join the Mormon Church. I left the Mormon Church to join the Episcopal Church, well, not counting the sixteen year hiatus in between. I too have traveled across this great country for my church, although I drove in car. I have a renewed sense of admiration for her having made this drive. It took me two days to get here from Illinois, it took her five weeks to walk from Nebraska to Utah.

If she and I could talk, what stories would we share?

I would tell her that her son Jacob married Katie and that their son Roland married Martha. Roland and Martha were my great grandparents whom I knew well and loved deeply. Their son was my grandfather, my mother’s dad. Jacob and Katie, Roland and Martha, my grandfather and my mother are all buried in the Salt Lake City Cemetary, on the mountains over looking the valley.

I remember the family home in Idaho, built by Jacob and Katie. In this home I visited Roland and Martha, ate fresh-picked strawberries for breakfast, and played in my great grandmothers sewing room, the turret room.

Family stories are important; they remind us of who we are and where we’ve come from.

On this Palm Sunday we hear the story of Jesus, his entry into Jerusalem, and his final days on earth. It is a familiar story; we hear it every year at the beginning of Holy Week. It is a story that builds on our salvation history, what God was doing in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. It is our family story, the family story of who we are as a Christian people. But, even as it is familiar, this story can offer us new insight. Each year, as we hear this story, we are marking an ending and a beginning. Scripture reminds us that Jesus points us toward the end of an old way of life and toward a new way. The fact is new things are happening to us and to the world around us all the time; we are not the same people we were a year ago. What is important is how we see our faith story in and through these new things.

Maybe we hear the grief in the passion story in a way we never have before. The grief Jesus expresses as he waits for his final hour. Maybe we hear the fear in the disciple’s voices as they deny Jesus and run away? Maybe we hear the sorrow in Mary’s voice as she prays for her son? Maybe we hear the anger in the voices of the dissenting crowd who want to blame Jesus for all that has gone wrong. Maybe we hear the hope Jesus hints at even as he faces into an uncertain tomorrow.

Regardless, there is always something new in this familiar story, something waiting for us to hear it.

This year, one of the new things we will hear is our own story and the way it is taking a new turn. New as we begin our journey together as parish and priest. As the next weeks and months unfold I hope to hear your stories. I hope to hear where your lives have taken you, the paths you have traveled, the hopes and dreams you still have for this parish and your life in it. I invite you to call me for coffee or tea, to lunch or for dinner. I want to spend time with you and hear your stories.

It is in the sharing of our stories that we build community. It is in the way we know and love one another that we get a glimpse of how God loves us. We trust that what God was doing, and continues to do in the life, death, and resurrection of Christ, will show us the way to love. Showing us how to love God, love self, and love others. Show us how to love in times of sorrow and times of joy. Sharing our stories builds on this. Living together as a faith community and creating new stories builds on this. We add our story to the stories of the past. The stories we create now will become stories of the future.

Today begins our journey to the cross. Together we will walk through celebrations of bread and wine, through human weakness and denial, through the brokenness of this world, through the death of God’s son, and into new life. As we celebrate the profound love God offers us in this, the holiest of weeks, let us also celebrate our new life together and the stories we will create.

Imperfect....Listening

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