Archives for April 2009

May each of us meet the risen Lord and know him, 3 Easter (B) – 2009

April 26, 2009

Acts 3:12-19; Psalm 4; 1 John 3:1-7; Luke 24:36b-48

Have you noticed that many of the post-Easter stories about the resurrected Jesus are centered on meals? The disciples knew the Lord in the breaking of the bread at Emmaus, as we recall in today’s collect; and Jesus comes among the disciples and shows his risen humanity by eating a piece of broiled fish in the gospel reading today.

Meals are a very central part of the ministry of Jesus. Some meals get him into trouble, as when he chooses to eat with “sinners” and those outside the faith. Other meals are acts of abundance, as when Jesus feeds the five thousand by taking what is available and blesses, breaks, and distributes it until and all are fed. His last evening of fellowship with his disciples is focused on a meal, during which he institutes the Lord’s Supper.

Eating together is a sign of celebration of relationships being lived out. Most congregations like having meals together because they like being with each other, eating good food. So do families.

There are sacred and holy things that underlie the common meal. We know they are signs of Christ’s risen presence among us. Jesus’ use of the Passover meal to institute the Lord’s Supper ties the ritual meal, a meal recalling God’s deliverance, with a new relationship with Christ and one another. It becomes the spiritual meal that brings us all to a common table, in right relationship with God and each other. That is why it has become central to our common life as Christians.

Healing is part of the experience of eating with the risen Lord. Several years ago, a woman moved back to a small town, followed shortly by her son, who was dying of AIDS. The community accepted them both, but after his death, she had a difficult time with church and God. She was often angry and short-tempered. However, she continued to stay involved with the community, and then one weekend she attended a workshop about Bible study, followed by a fellowship meal. The next day she came to her pastor in tears and said, “You know, after the study yesterday, the meal last night, and Eucharist this morning, I’m not angry anymore.” The power of the communal and spiritual meals was a significant element in her inner healing.

Righteousness is also part of the meal experience, “righteousness” meaning right relationships based on the just treatment of all people. Scholars tell us that one fundamental difference between our world and that of the early church is that the early church existed in a world with a clearly defined ruling class and a subjugated class. So, there were people with whom you ate, and people with whom you did not eat. Slaves, the poor, Samaritans, and gentiles were kept separate from those of wealth and privilege. Jesus re-wrote the rules by associating with and eating with people of all categories; they were all God’s people to him.

Recently a small church, after many conversations, decided to host a meal for people in the neighborhood, most of who were of a different ethnic and social background. With the assistance of the local mayor, they invited people to come – and they came! The evening was centered on a meal prepared by the church members. The children played with a soccer ball while the adults sat at the table and talked. The mayor awarded door prizes to everyone, and afterward, people remarked how much fun it had been. They are considering doing it again. This is the kind of meal the risen Jesus calls us to, a table for others as well as ourselves, a righteous meal to which all are welcome.

Finally, the meal becomes a source of our hope. In today’s psalm, which is also included as part of the service of Compline in the Book of Common Prayer, the psalmist says: “Many are saying, ‘O, that we might see better times!’” All of us live with some fear and concern over our current economic situation. As more and more of us feel the stress of the times, our prayers for stability, for jobs for all, for honesty and fairness in our economic system, bring us to utter the psalmist’s words as our own – that we might see better times.

The psalmist continues with the great words of praise, even in the midst of these troubling times of war and economic distress: “You have put gladness in my heart, more than when grain and wine and oil increase.” And so the Eucharistic meal becomes the source of our comfort and hope that we might see better times and lie down in peace.

At the center of the Resurrection is the meal of celebration: the bread and the cup. Christians understand other meals in relationship to the Eucharist, and when they include all who are hungry or thirsty, they are a foretaste of that heavenly banquet where we will one day feast with him in paradise.

The disciples knew the Lord Jesus in the breaking of the bread. May each of us meet the risen Lord and know him.

 

— Ben Helmer is an Episcopal priest in the Diocese of West Missouri.

We’re all in this together, 2 Easter (B) – 2009

April 19, 2009

Acts 4:32-35; Psalm 133; 1 John 1:1-2:2; John 20:19-31

Poor Thomas!

We’re at that time of year again. Easter Day is past and once more we’re reading about Thomas, who evidently just can’t believe Jesus has been raised from the dead.

But don’t we love this story? We love Thomas.

We love to chuckle indulgently over his lack of faith, because we certainly don’t have trouble believing. We’ve even given him a nick-name: doubting Thomas. It’s become so much of a cliché that we can hardly believe Thomas is capable of anything except doubting.

This story seems so simple. Thomas wasn’t there when Jesus appeared to the apostles the first time – and when he heard about that, he simply found it hard to fathom. “I won’t believe until I see it for myself,” he says. And lo and behold, Jesus calls his bluff.

We could say, “End of story”; but of course, it’s not.

There’s a whole lot more to this reading than a simple story of doubting Thomas. To begin with, it isn’t all that simple – and yes, this story also says something about us. Like Thomas, we too are part of a community built on faith.

So, let’s take a look again at what this story is all about.

The apostles are gathered in a room on the first day of the week – the same as they had done when Jesus was with them. Jesus suddenly appears among them. He breathes on them, imparting to them the life of the Spirit. But for some reason, Thomas wasn’t there. He only hears about what happened, and he simply can’t believe.

The following week, the apostles, including Thomas this time, were in the room when Jesus again appeared among them. Jesus offered Thomas the chance to touch his hands and his side, but Thomas doesn’t seem to need to do that. Instead he offers Jesus his profession of faith: “My Lord and my God.”

The thing about this story that should be a lesson to us is that Jesus appears each time within the assembled community. Jesus doesn’t appear to Thomas alone. But he also doesn’t appear to Thomas in the group to embarrass him. Jesus appears to the group because it is within the group that they could continue learning about him, supporting each other, and being effective witnesses to the life of faith Jesus offers them.

In the final verses of today’s gospel passage, Jesus tells the disciples that many would come after them who would not have the same experience of him that they did. No one would again walk and talk with him as the disciples had; and yet, these others would also come to believe. Even the writer of this gospel says that the things about Jesus that were written in this gospel were written so that others may come to believe in Jesus as the Messiah and that through believing would have life in his name.

So, in one sense, Jesus was offering Thomas a chance to experience seeing him risen from the dead the same way the other disciples had. In doing that, Jesus also further strengthened the faith of that particular gathered community.

In another sense, Jesus is strengthening us all. We, too, are a gathered community – getting together at the beginning of the week in very much the same way the apostles did. They gathered to share their real life experience of knowing Jesus and working with him.

The apostles remembered him saying, “Do this in remembrance of me.” We gather to share in that story. For us, it is a remembrance of the story handed down to us, but unlike many of the family stories we tell, this is not just a remembrance – we continue to share in the presence of Jesus through the Eucharist. How that happens is a mystery, but in that mystery lies the powerful sense of belonging that draws us back here each week.

This image of the community gathered in prayer for strength and to keep the story alive is a very important one for all of us in the church today. On Easter, in churches all over the world, the paschal candle was held high and brought into dark churches. “The Light of Christ!” and then “Thanks be to God!” was sung by thousands of congregations of several different traditions.

Remembering how the time zones work, we realize that the Light of Christ was being proclaimed, was being brought into the darkness to give light to that darkness pretty consistently for about 24 hours. Imagine the Light traveling from the first dawn of Easter to the last. Imagine all those voices singing and shouting that Christ is alive! Imagine being a part of a whole world acting as one community sharing its faith with one another and with the world. That’s how our community has grown from that tiny group of twelve apostles and a band of followers. It doesn’t get any better than this.

And yet … and yet … today we also realize that the excitement of the Resurrection and the first sightings of Jesus didn’t make those early disciples perfect. It didn’t take away all doubt, all fear. The disciples were still hanging about the room, afraid of possible repercussions. Thomas wondered and was honest about it. Change from being the followers into being the ones responsible for doing what Jesus did was still a bit scary.

We see a lot of ourselves here. So, what do we do with this?

It’s a story about faith, remember. It took faith for those disciples to stick together after the crucifixion. It took faith for them to hang on when they couldn’t see Jesus anymore. It took faith for them to believe they could work out their new life together – to believe that the risen Jesus would always be there for them. That Light that filled our hearts with joy and exultation on Easter is the same Light that guides us now. It’s the same Light that will help us continue building community with all its ups and downs, confidence builders and doubts.

As Episcopalians, we do believe that we are loved by the God who made us. When in our humanness we give in to doubt, we are not cut off from the love or strength of God; we’re offered the same chance as Thomas to experience the reality of God’s love. Because in the community of faith, we are always accepted at God’s altar and in the company of our fellow believers or our fellow doubters. We’re all in this together.

So, maybe we should stop labeling Thomas as “doubting Thomas” and be grateful to him for showing us that it’s OK to question and that it’s perfectly normal to have doubts.

But we should also learn from his story that, as a community, we have the responsibility to share the story we’ve been told and to be a strength to each other and to those around us. We do this all week long, wherever we are, by living faithful lives.

We realize also that it’s in the Eucharist that we find the strength to do all this. As we live this out, we’ll see ourselves getting stronger and stronger. We’ll be a congregation that others will want to join, because they’ll see that this is a place where it’s OK to question as Thomas did; that this is a place where everyone’s gifts are appreciated; that this is a place where all are welcome.

Remember, Jesus says to all of us, “Blest are those who have not seen, but believe.”

 

— The Rev. Dr. Susanna Metz is executive director of the Center for Ministry in Small Churches at the School of Theology, Sewanee, Tennessee, and assistant professor of Contextual Education. She is also publisher of “Tuesday Morning,” a quarterly journal of ministry and liturgical preaching.

Christ is Risen, Easter Day (B) – 2009

April 12, 2009

(Acts 10:34-43 or Isaiah 25:6-9; Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24; 1 Corinthians 15:1-11 or Acts 10:34-43; John 20:1-18 or Mark 16:1-8)

Those of you who have nearly lost someone near and dear will find the gospel today within your experience. In wartime, families hope to avoid and yet expect the knock on the door. There stand uniformed and grim-looking people who have come to announce that a young person is missing in action or dead.

Others have sat in one of those ambitiously cheerful waiting rooms, expecting a surgeon to appear to tell them the worst or perhaps the best. Time seems to stand still. Hope comes and goes. Perhaps we pray or tell God off or both. Our companions try to comfort us, awkwardly. There’s always one person who is brave enough or foolish enough to assure us all will be well. We’d like to believe, but Uncle Charlie always looks on the bright side.

When we hear that the young soldier is alive after all or has been found and is safe and well, we thank God. We affirm our belief in miracles. When our loved one is safely in recovery we think Uncle Charlie was so right!

Please don’t believe for a moment that the disciples were so faith-filled on Easter morning that they expected to meet the Risen Jesus. First-century Jews were no more used to people emerging to life after death than we are. Many of them believed that at some future time the righteous would rise and inherit a new earth. Many, like perhaps some of you, didn’t really believe in life after death, let alone dead people coming to life. They went through life with no hope of a future life, and yet they worshipped God, perhaps hoping for a better deal now, or on the off chance that God had something great in store for them.

The gospel records are quite clear that the disciples had no idea what Jesus was talking about when he said he would rise again. St. Peter begged Jesus not to risk his life and had been called “Satan” for his troubles.

The gospel choices for today, one from St. John’s gospel and one from St. Mark’s, tell the same story in different ways.

John concentrates on Mary Magdalene. She loved Jesus so much, was utterly downcast and grief stricken, crying her eyes out as she stumbled into the tomb and found it empty. She had seen Jesus die, really die, cruelly, on the Cross. She came to be close to him just as some of us have wanted a last look at a loved one in the funeral home. Even that is taken from her. She turns and senses someone close, probably a gardener up early. “Where have they taken him? Where have they put him?” she blurts out. She is sure that the religious leaders have removed him so that his tomb won’t become a site of pilgrimage.

It is only when the “gardener” says her name, “Mary,” that she knows it is the Lord. When someone who loves you speaks your name, there is something special, something wonderful about the way it sounds.

Jesus tells Mary not to cling to him, but rather to go and tell his followers that he is alive.

Mark, in his usual hurried style, tells of a group of disciples going to the tomb. It is empty. A young man tells them to go and tell the disciples that Jesus is alive. They run back but then say nothing.

Perhaps Mary does tell the waiting group of friends what she has experienced. Perhaps it is Peter and John, Peter the new leader and John the Beloved, who speak with authority and love. We don’t know.

In both the John and Mark versions there’s something important for us to grasp about Easter. Jesus warns Mary not to hang on to him but to tell the good news. So much of our religion is about us. We want Jesus to live in order that he may give us what we want, or keep us safe, or heal us, in this life. Even if we believe in an after life, our belief is vague. We are rather like the people in Jesus’ day who go through the actions of religion with some hope of being rewarded now.

Jesus tells Mary to go “tell” that something extraordinary has happened. Jesus is Risen. Jesus tells Mary that he has not completed the action yet. The Resurrection is not primarily about eternal life. The Ascension completes that part of the whole. The Resurrection is about new life, a new world, a new country. This new country isn’t geographical. It is made up of the dead, the living, and those who are not yet born, who in their lives “tell” that Jesus lives, and work in Jesus to lay the foundations of a new heaven and a new earth.

St. Mark tells us that the disciples ran from the empty tomb and didn’t say a thing! Perhaps they are as embarrassed as we are to blurt out our faith that “Christ has died, Christ is Risen, Christ will come again.” So we talk about justice, and good works, and piety, and the outward things of religion. We become experts on how the service should be taken or how the parish spends its money. We say nothing at all about the crux and core of Christianity. Christ is Risen.

All the religious things we involve ourselves in, justice and mercy, worship, and parish affairs are good in themselves. Yet without the presence of the Risen Christ at the heart of what we believe, we are, as St. Paul said, “of all people the most miserable.”

Christ is Risen. Be glad, wipe away your tears and then go tell the Good News.

 

— Fr. Tony Clavier is rector of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, La Porte, Indiana, in the Diocese of Northern Indiana. He is also dean of the Michigan City deanery.

Let him Easter in us, Easter Vigil (B) – 2009

April 11, 2009

(RCL) The Liturgy of the Word :

Genesis 1:1-2:4a [The Story of Creation]
Genesis 7:1-5, 11-18, 8:6-18, 9:8-13 [The Flood]
Genesis 22:1-18 [Abraham’s sacrifice of Isaac]
Exodus 14:10-31; 15:20-21 [Israel’s deliverance at the Red Sea]
Isaiah 55:1-11 [Salvation offered freely to all]
Baruch 3:9-15, 3:32-4:4 or Proverbs 8:1-8, 19-21; 9:4b-6 [Learn wisdom and live]
Ezekiel 36:24-28 [A new heart and a new spirit]
Ezekiel 37:1-14 [The valley of dry bones]
Zephaniah 3:12-20 [The gathering of God’s people]

At the Eucharist: Romans 6:3-11; Psalm 114; Mark 16:1-8

Gerard Manley Hopkins has a wonderful poem, “The Wreck of the Deutschland,” where he uses the phrase “Let him Easter in us.” In this phrase, he uses the noun Easter as a verb. Hopkins writes, “Let him Easter in us, be a dayspring to the dimness of us.”

It is a splendid phrase. It is a beautiful prayer really, “Let him Easter in us.” In fact, I think this is a great way to look at the real truth, the transforming reality of Easter. Let Easter get into us. Let Easter come and live where we live. Let Easter permeate our souls. Let him Easter in us, and be a dayspring to the dimness of us. Isn’t that really what we all desire most? Not Easter as a noun, about a long-ago event. But, rather, Easter as a verb, as something that transforms our present lives, as something that gives us new life now, as something that gives us hope and meaning and courage. Isn’t that what every human heart longs for? Let him Easter in us!

Philips Brooks, a nineteenth-century Episcopal bishop and author, once said, “The great Easter truth is not that we are to live newly after death, but that we are to be new here and now by the power of the resurrection.”

The good news of Easter is that there is the possibility of new life now. The power of the resurrection is not something that simply awaits us after death, but something that comes to us now, that comes to us always, that proclaims the good news that new life is possible here, now, today.

It does seem like in so many ways, people are longing for an experience of Easter in their lives. A widow whose husband died at a much too early age. A man who is struggling with a new career at midlife and fears his ability to cope with new challenges. A colleague who fell into a deep, clinical depression and struggles to live through the day with meager energy. In so many ways, so many people are longing for new life, for God to Easter in us, and be a dayspring to the dimness of us.

One could say that the women who arrived at the tomb early on that first Easter morning also needed to experience Easter as a verb. Look at how the Gospel of Mark tells it. The women came to the tomb thinking that the story had ended, that it was all over between them and Jesus. They had gone to attend to the dead body of Jesus, to anoint him, to wrap him up, and to give him a proper burial, and we may suppose to mourn the loss of their Lord.

What they get when they arrive is a breathtaking announcement that God has raised Christ from the dead and that he has gone ahead of them to Galilee where they will see him. What they get is Easter as a noun, and we have no reason to believe that they doubted that God had, in fact, raised Christ from the dead. It’s just that the reality of the event was so overwhelming that they were dumbfounded. As Mark says, “they went out and fled the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.” They experienced Easter as a noun, but they had not yet experienced Easter as a verb because they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.

Our other gospels and tradition tell us that the women eventually did experience Easter as a verb, because they did eventually go and tell the other disciples that Christ had been raised from the dead. He Eastered in them and they were transformed from a group of terrified people, who were frightened and fearful, to apostles, to people who boldly went forth from the tomb and proclaimed the good news that because Christ is risen life is stronger than death, love is stronger than hate, and God’s peace is more powerful than human violence.

Let him Easter in us, and be a dayspring to the dimness of us. Easter is a verb. It is something that happens to us. Easter is true when it lives where we live and permeates our souls.

A few years ago, John Dominic Crossan and N.T. Wright engaged in a public dialogue on the meaning of the resurrection. They expressed some sharp differences of opinion, but, rather surprisingly, they both agreed that the real meaning of the early Christian witness to the resurrection was about the transformation of our lives and our world right now.

Bishop Wright puts it this way:

“Those of you who are going to preach on Easter Sunday, please note that the resurrection stories in the Gospels do not say Jesus is raised, therefore we’re going to heaven or therefore we’re going to be raised. They say Jesus is raised, therefore, God’s new creation has begun and we’ve got a job to do.”

Crossan says that the resurrection means:

“God’s Great Clean-Up of a world grown old in evil and impurity, injustice and violence has already begun … and we are called to participate in it. The end of the world is not what we are talking about. We’re talking about cosmic transformation of this world.”

Now, when two New Testament scholars with as widely divergent as views as Wright and Crossan agree on something, we should take notice. The great Easter truth is not that we are simply to live newly after death, but that we are to be new, here and now, by the power of the resurrection.

Easter is something that happens in us. Easter is a verb. The good news of Easter is not simply that God has raised Christ from the dead. The good news of Easter is also about the possibility and the promise that new life is available to each one of us here and now. God has raised Christ from the dead and we can claim this new life and make it our own.

Right now, at this moment, we can let go of past hurts and grudges, and start over. Right here, right now, we can overcome our fear and fixation on death and trust in the Lord of life and love. Right here, right now, wherever we are, we can claim new life in our families, in our jobs, in our relationships, in our churches, in this broken but beautiful world. We can be new “here and now by the power of the resurrection.”

God’s “Great Clean Up of the world” has begun, and we can joyfully participate. We can let Easter get into us; let Easter come and live where we live; let Easter permeate our souls. We can let him Easter in us, and be a dayspring to the dimness of us.

Alleluia! Christ is risen. The Lord is risen indeed. Alleluia!

 

— The Rev. Dr. Joseph S. Pagano is rector of Emmanuel Episcopal Church in Baltimore, Maryland. He received a Ph.D. in theology from Marquette University in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

Death confronts us on this night, Good Friday (A,B,C) – 2009

April 10, 2009

Isaiah 52:13-53:12Psalm 22Hebrews 10:16-25 or Hebrews 4:14-16; 5:7-9John 18:1-19:42

The readings for this sad day and night should stand alone, without the need of a sermon. So it is with trepidation that one approaches this sacred time, aware that the sermon writer cannot add to the tragic story, only make a feeble effort at an interpretation that may sound more personal than universal.

Written in stark prose, the gospel story tears at the heart. Writing in incomparable, grave poetry, Isaiah and the psalmist inspire, terrify, even confuse. How can a Christian read the Second Isaiah passage and the opening words of the Psalm of Dereliction without making the connection with John’s telling of the last hours of the beloved Jesus? It is impossible to separate the two; no wonder the early church saw the Suffering Servant of Second Isaiah as the prophetic precursor of Jesus of Nazareth. Many of the images of Isaiah find flesh in the hours of the Passion.

Listen again to the words of the prophet: “He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth.”

The gospel writer speaks of a baffled Pilate who goes in and out of his headquarters in confusion over this prisoner. Pilate asked Jesus, “Where are you from?” But Jesus gave him no answer.

The psalmist writes:

“All who see me laugh me to scorn;
“They curl their lips and wag their heads, saying,
“He trusted in the LORD, let him deliver him.”

The gospel writer recalls:

“And the soldiers wove a crown of thorns and put it on his head, and they dressed him in a purple robe. They kept coming up to him, saying, ‘Hail King of the Jews!’ and striking him on the face.”

After the night-long mock trial, the dragging of the innocent Jesus from Annas to Caiphas to Pilate, the story reaches its climax. Here the writing is at its simplest, allowing us to imagine the horror, to enter into the suffering without any commentary: “So they took Jesus; and carrying the cross by himself, he went out to what is called The Place of the Skull, which in Hebrew is called Golgotha. There they crucified him.”

Death confronts us on this night. The death of One who is well loved. The death of One who is condemned unjustly. The death of One who is young and who dies horribly. How many of us have faced such pain? How many parents the world over can identify with the sorrow of his mother because they too have lost a child? How many mothers and fathers have seen a son or daughter destroyed because of war? And how many of us have lost beloved friends? On this night let us confront the reality of death and let us think of all those who are suffering because of the death of a loved one, because of the death of an innocent. This night we remember, we pay attention, we grieve.

God gave us the capacity to grieve. We are allowed to shed tears and to cry out in supplication. Listen to the testimony of the epistle to the Hebrews writer: “In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to the one who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission.”

It doesn’t say that he was saved from death; but it does reassure us that he was heard. For those of us who grieve over the world’s suffering, this teaches us not to expect miracles but to be reassured that we have a God who hears our cry and understands our pain.

This, after all, is the Christian message of the Cross – that God entered our human experience fully, even unto death. A God who hears us is a God who shares in our suffering. Once more the epistle to the Hebrews testifies: “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize without weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin.”

Isaiah had written: “By a perversion of justice he was taken away. Who could have imagined his future?”

We are his future. How well have we continued his ministry? On this night of remembered death, let us also remember to grieve and to cry out to a God who hears us.

 

Katerina Whitley is a lecturer at Appalachian State University and the writer of Walking the Way of Sorrows: Stations of the Cross (Morehouse, 2003) and other books of Biblical storytelling.

Peter got it right, Maundy Thursday (A,B,C) – 2009

April 9, 2009

Exodus 12:1-4, (5-10), 11-14Psalm 116:1, 10-171 Corinthians 11:23-26John 13:1-17, 31b-35

Peter got it wrong. We shouldn’t be surprised in the least. The gospels have taught us to expect Peter to be the eager disciple who energetically jumps to the wrong answer and is ready to act when listening and learning is called for.

Peter sees Jesus get up from the table, take off his outer robe, and tie a towel around himself. Then he watches as Jesus pours water into a basin and begins to wash the disciples’ feet. You can almost hear the wheels turning in Peter’s mind as Jesus wipes the wet feet with the towel that was tied around him. Peter is waiting until it is his turn. He lets the other disciples take part, but he will never let the master be his servant.

Then as it is his turn, Peter asks, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?”

Jesus replied, “You do not know now what I am doing, but later you will understand.”

Impetuous Peter doesn’t want to wait. He understands perfectly well that Jesus is serving his disciples in the humblest of ways and he isn’t going to play along. Disciples wash their teacher’s feet, not the other way around. Peter says flatly, “You will never wash my feet.”

Then in language that has long reminded the church of baptism, Jesus says, “Unless I wash you, you have no share with me.” This changes everything for Peter. If foot washing is a sign of being part of Jesus, then he wants to be drenched – soaked from head to foot.

Picking up on the baptismal line of teaching, Jesus seems to push it further in saying, “One who has bathed does not need to wash, except for the feet, but is entirely clean.” In this same way, one who has been baptized needs only repent of his or her sins to be made clean again. One doesn’t have to be baptized a second time.

But the connection to baptism was not Jesus’ main purpose that evening. It was the night before he was to die. The disciples did not know this yet. But Jesus is using his last evening to get across his most important lessons one more time. In case they missed the significance of his washing their feet, Jesus points out that he has done this to give them an example to follow, saying, “If I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you.”

This is where we expect Peter to strip off his outer robe and start working his way around the gathering washing up the other disciples. But this time, he seems to understand that something more is going on here than a lesson about washing feet. It is an example Jesus is giving. An example of service rather than a command to spend one’s days cleaning road grime off feet.

It might not have been easy to get across, but Jesus clearly connected with this message about servant leadership. Peter and the other disciples might have left the table still wondering about when and where they were to wash each other’s feet. But everything would change in a few hours. The next night they would be gathered in mourning at the death of their rabbi. Much later, sometime after the shock of Good Friday and the joy of Easter, this foot washing lesson sank in. We know the point got through because with the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, the disciples really came to understand their call to ministry and were empowered to act on it.

Later, when remembering that night before he died, Peter and the others would have seen foot washing from the far side of the cross and the empty tomb. Having seen how complete was their teacher’s love and commitment, those words of Jesus, “I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you” must have sounded so different. Then even Peter knew that the life of service to which his Rabbi called him would involve much more than washing the feet of those he might have considered beneath him. After washing their feet, Jesus said, “Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.”

Jesus’ example was much more life changing than the humble act of washing feet. Jesus had been obedient unto death, even death on a cross. He had loved as God loves, and in the process, so upset the status quo that various groups who couldn’t agree about anything agreed that Jesus must die. Jesus was restoring outcasts to community. Jesus was breaking down the dividing walls between those who were “in” and those who were “out.”

Those in control, Jews and Romans alike, knew they had to stop this new movement before it got out of hand. In this, those who opposed Jesus were no different from those in power in all times and places, working to keep their influence and authority. Yet Jesus would not give up on his revolutionary love, even when the price of that love was torture and death.

The disciples did come to understand Jesus’ actions fully. Seeing the foot washing anew in the light of Jesus’ death and resurrection, they came to understand that the only real power and authority belongs to God. We mortals who spend our lives trying to build up that sense of control for ourselves chase an illusion. And here all the paradoxes Jesus had been teaching could be heard anew: the last shall be first; those who love their life lose it; and the master comes among us as a servant. These paradoxes spoke to the deeper truth in Jesus’ life and ministry.

Jesus did not call his followers to lead in the same way that others led, by lording over them. He called those who would come after him to lead through their service to others. Jesus called those who would follow him to love as he had loved, with more concern for the other person than for ones’ self.

Simon Peter would come to live fully into Jesus’ example of loving others. Peter was part of that first band of disciples who turned the world upside down with a revolutionary way of loving. The disciples followed Jesus in working from the bottom up to help the world see outcasts and victims not as those cursed by God, but those in need of God’s love and healing and redemption. They came to serve others, even the gentiles, who at first seemed well outside the bounds of their mission.

What is most amazing is that the early church never seemed to take up foot washing as a sacrament alongside baptism and communion. Yes, the act of washing feet was preserved, but never in quite the same way. To this day, some groups practice foot washing, others do not. But all Christians hold on to the essential truth that in serving others in need, we are living in to Jesus’ command to love one another as he loves us.

Tradition tells us that Simon Peter became a scapegoat himself. The early historian Eusebius tells us that Peter was put to death by the Roman Emperor Nero. It seems that following the burning of Rome, someone had to take the blame, and why not that new sect who refused to offer sacrifices to the Roman gods?

Peter went to his death boldly, not giving up on the love we are to have for others that Jesus taught that night before he died in the humble act of washing feet. In response to that self-giving love of Jesus, Peter gave up his own life willingly. Peter served others by giving the example of faithfulness unto death.

Peter got it right.

 

— The Rev. Frank Logue is a church planter in the Diocese of Georgia and the vicar of King of Peace Episcopal Church in Kingsland, Georgia.

In Christ crucified we begin to experience authentic life, Palm Sunday (B) – 2009

April 5, 2009

The Liturgy of the Palms: Mark 11:1-11 or John 12:12-16; Psalm 118:1-2, 19-29

The Liturgy of the Word: Isaiah 50:4-9a; Psalm 31:9-16; Philippians 2:5-11; Mark 14:1-15:47 or Mark 15:1-39, (40-47)

It is often questioned why Palm Sunday is also the Sunday of the Passion. What starts off as what is sometimes called the “Triumphal Entry” to Jerusalem at the beginning of the Liturgy seems to race all the way forward to Good Friday by the end of the liturgy of the Word.

The stock answer, of course, is that it’s because so few people make it their business to go to church on Good Friday to hear Saint John’s Passion. This way at least a Passion narrative is read and heard by those who only come on Sundays.

It has also been observed that Mark, which is our gospel for Year B, can be viewed primarily as a Passion narrative with an extended introduction. That is, to understand Mark at all, one must look at the cross. The whole narrative in Mark moves us toward the cross. As one reads the full version of the Passion, we immediately sense how the Passion events seem to play themselves out in horrifying slow motion.

As much as we would like to have Jesus not go to Gethsemane, as much as we might wish to stop Judas, as much as we would like to get after Peter for his three denials of Jesus, in Mark, the cross is not to be avoided. As we will see and hear on Easter, even the young man sitting in the empty tomb will say, “You are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who has been crucified. He was raised.” For Mark, Jesus is the Crucified One more than the Risen One.

Also, on this question of why the Passion seemingly intrudes upon Palm Sunday – “It never did when we were younger!” the people cry – it is the Passion that places the entry into Jerusalem in some sort of understandable context.

We may as well face it, Jesus and his rag-tag parade of the poor, the halt and the lame, sinners and outcasts, and he himself riding into town not on regal horseback but on a pathetic little donkey, does not a particularly triumphal entry make. It is at best, in the midst of Passover, Jerusalem’s busiest week of the year, it was an annoying little demonstration that symbolically challenged the occupation of Rome and the authority of the religious professionals, the Pharisees, the priests, and the Herodians.

We are to remember that all the way back in Chapter 3 of Mark, we read, “the Pharisees went out and immediately conspired with the Herodians against him, how to destroy him.” The Herodians were those Jews who were already conspiring with the ruling party of the successive Herods, who in turn were in a political alliance with Rome. They were considered by the people to be collaborators with the occupying enemy, Rome.

That is, we must recognize that the little demonstration we call Palm Sunday was, in at least one dimension, a political demonstration. Taken together with the next event in Mark, which is the episode at the Temple with the animals and money changers, it is easy to see how once word got to Pilate, whose primary responsibility was to maintain public order, something would have to be done to calm things down so that the Passover celebration could come off without any further disruption.

Also, given the fact that people in the streets wanted nothing more than to get rid of the yoke of Rome, Barabbas – which curiously translates as “son of the father” – a known insurrectionist, becomes a more attractive captive to liberate since he at least was willing to take to the streets and kill as many Romans and collaborators as necessary to inspire some sort of wider scale insurrection or civil war.

The key to this whole story very well may be that Jesus refuses to fight the pain that has been inflicted on him by inflicting pain. He refuses to overcome injustice with an easy, optimistic plan for progress. He refuses to fight back against the shame poured out upon him by a mighty, flashy display of Rome’s imperial power: crucifixion.

As we pray at Station Five of the stations of the cross:

“Heavenly Father, whose blessed Son Jesus came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many: Bless all who, following in his steps, give themselves to the service of others; that with wisdom, patience, and courage, they may minister in his Name to the suffering, the friendless, and the needy; for the love of him who laid down his life for us, your Son our Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.”

Service. We speak of a service economy, and businesses looking eager to “serve” the public. But such service comes of self-interest. It is not service in terms of laying down one’s life for the customers’ sake, but rather it is service intended to impress – like Pilate, whom we are told wished “to please the crowd.” Jesus does not serve to impress or please, to win the favor and sympathy of those whom he helps, let alone those whom he confronts. Jesus is the chosen one of God who has displayed his power over demons and disease, who chose to serve and refused to avoid suffering and even death on a cross.

Why?

Because all those things that we decry as the power of sin in our world and in our lives, even death itself, will not be overcome by force. They will only be overcome by the service and ransom of the very one, the only one, who needs neither to serve nor to pay off any debt.

Could this have been done any other way? Perhaps it could have, if we could live lives without suffering and sin and death; which, of course, is another way of saying, “No.”

What we see in Mark’s version of this narrative is a Jesus who does not so much defeat death but rather refuses to avoid it. His forsaken cry from the cross should not be tempered into anything but a true cry of desperation that echoes the truth of the pains we experience in our lives – individually, as well as collectively as the church, as a community, and as a nation.

Make no mistake about it, this entire narrative takes place within the context of an international military and political occupation and conflict. Jesus rises above the petty political, religious, and military background noise. He literally is raised above it all on the cross. He defeats sin through bearing sin. He defeats death by dying on a cross.

In Christ crucified we begin to experience authentic life. Such life is not easy in a world still mad with power and prestige, a world that wants to sell a path of service to others as a commodity to be purchased rather than as a life lived like Jesus lived his. It’s a good thing the good news can only be given away!

 

— The Rev. Kirk Alan Kubicek is rector of St. Peter’s Episcopal Church in Ellicott City, Maryland, a parish in the Anglo-Catholic tradition. He also travels throughout the church leading stewardship events for parishes, dioceses, clergy conferences, and diocesan conventions. He has long been involved in the work of The Episcopal Network for Stewardship (TENS), and the Ministry of Money. He frequently uses music and storytelling in his proclamation of the Word.