Archives for April 2013

An in-between place, 7 Easter (C) – 2013

May 12, 2013

Acts 16:16-34; Psalm 97; Revelation 22:12-14, 16-17, 20-21; John 17:20-26

The Seventh Sunday of Easter always seems to be a sort of in-between place; the Feast of the Ascension was celebrated just a few days ago, and Pentecost is still another week off. Like the disciples, we seem to stand metaphorically staring into the heavens, awaiting the next chapter of our story to unfold.

The lessons for the day appear to have run out of resurrection appearances, and instead we get a delightfully odd grouping of texts, ranging from the curious tales of Paul and Silas in Philippi involving a slave-girl “who had a spirit of divination and brought her owners a great deal of money by fortunetelling,” an earthquake, and prisoners who do not escape; to the Apocalyptic visions of St. John the Divine; with a prayer from Jesus for all disciples in all times everywhere.

The Bible’s apocalyptic literature always strikes modern and even post-modern ears as strange. Interpreted literally, it has been used as the foundation of strange, scary and even dangerous Christian cult and fringe groups, many of whom like the Millerites of the 19th century, predict when the world will end and the day of the Lord begin. So we tend to shy away from these rich metaphorical verses, divorcing ourselves from the comfort and assurance they mean to offer people who live in frightening and uncertain times.

And who among us would deny that the times have become all too often frightening and uncertain? Spontaneous and even planned disasters and tragedies of horrific proportions seem to mar the landscape of our common life with greater frequency and untold damage to our individual and collective psyche. I am reminded of standing in one of Israel’s ancient cities looking down on the ruins of a Dionysian temple that had been toppled like so many pick-up sticks, massive columns scattered all about, by an ancient earthquake, and wondering out loud what sort of impression that must have made on the ancient inhabitants; what must have seemed like a structure that should last for centuries was scattered in pieces in just a few moments of earth-shaking horror.

This is something like we see in our portion from the Acts of the Apostles today. The slave girl with powers of divination is announcing to all who will listen that Paul and Silas are “slaves of the Most High God, who proclaim to you a way of salvation.” We are told that this annoys Paul, despite the fact that this is exactly what they are in Philippi to do! Perhaps Paul feels he does not need the services of a public relations campaign. At any rate, he performs an exorcism that silences the girl and frees her from demonic possession. Her owners realize they are going to lose a sure source of income, and have Paul and Silas imprisoned. Leave it to people to look at the wrong end of a miracle every time. The woman is restored to wholeness, free to live a life of freedom from slavery to her owners and the demon, and all anyone cares about is money. With stories like this in the New Testament canon, one wonders how it is that Christian charlatans throughout the ages justify taking money for performing exorcisms under revival tents or on television.

Despite being jailed, Paul and Silas pray and sing hymns into the night, when all of a sudden an earthquake opens the prison doors. The jailer is about to take his own life, believing the prisoners must have all fled, when Paul stops him from harming himself, saying, “Look! We are all still here!” Suddenly the horror of the earthquake gives way to the miracle that these Christians are truly out to save him, and before you know it, the jailer and his family are added to the thousands recorded in the Book of Acts that turn to Jesus.

In John’s gospel today, Jesus is praying. It is Maundy Thursday, the night before his execution. He knows he has been betrayed. He knows he faces capital punishment at the hands of the Roman Empire. Yet, thinking not at all about what lies ahead of him, he takes time out to pray for his disciples. And not just his disciples, but as he says, “also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one. … So that they may be one, as we are one.”

That is, he is looking far, far ahead. He is praying for us. He is praying for you and for me, and for all Christians everywhere.

Do we ever stop to consider just how disappointed he must be? We see his last act of devotion is directed to us so that we might be one, united with him, in him, with Jesus and the Father, as one people, one body, through one baptism. And here we are, nearly 2,000 years later, at a time in history when our profligate misuse of God’s creation is eliminating one species of creature daily, while at the same time we further splinter the body of Christ into more and more denominations and groups.

How is it that we conspire to contribute to the body of evidence that prayer is utterly ineffective by spending so much time, energy and resources – yes, money – asserting that our puny little corner of Christianity is the “true church”? People must say to themselves, “Why can’t these Christians spend more time trying to live into their Lord’s prayer for unity with one another, themselves and with God?” To borrow from Joe Hickerson and Peter Seeger, “When will we ever learn, when will we ever learn?”

Which brings us to today’s reading from Revelation, the last book in the Bible. The final words of Holy Scripture are “Come, Lord Jesus!” The Spirit and the bride say, “Come.” And let everyone who hears say, “Come.” And let everyone who is thirsty come. Let anyone who wishes take the water of life as a gift come. Come, Lord Jesus!

Are we among those who hear? Are we thirsty enough to come? Are we willing to let “anyone who wishes” to take the water of life as a gift? How long can we pretend to hold people – faithful, seeking people – at arm’s length with all sorts of conditions, rules, rituals and behaviors, from the waters of life? Are we to be gatekeepers or those people who open the floodgates of God’s unconditional love and mercy?

Are we really prepared to cry out with one voice, like John the Revelator, imploring Jesus to come?

The Seventh Sunday of Easter in Lectionary Year C poses some very serious questions to those of us who claim to be disciples of Jesus Christ. Is it any wonder that some congregations opt to celebrate the Ascension today rather than wrestle with all that today’s lessons have to challenge us with?

The Seventh Sunday of Easter offers us these odd stories in an attempt to shake us open, just as the earthquake opened the doors of the prison in Philippi, and loosed the chains on all those in the prison. The world is looking to us to live into our Lord’s most devout moment of prayer. The world looks to us to be unbound so that we might be those people who make the waters of life, the waters of God’s unconditional love and mercy, truly and honestly available to all persons.

Yet, we find it so hard to believe that we can do this.

It should be no wonder that the last words in the Bible are “Come, Lord Jesus!” If ever we need him to come into our lives, it is here and now, in this time and in this place.

The Good News is that he promises he is with us to the end of the age!

Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!

 

— The Rev. Kirk Alan Kubicek has served as rector and assistant in a broad variety of parishes over the past 28 years. He is currently chaplain and teaches at St. Timothy’s School for girls, the diocesan girls’ boarding school in the Diocese of Maryland, where he teaches World Religions and International Baccalaureate (IB) English. His sermons are archived at www.perechief.blogspot.com.

Bulletin Insert: 7 Easter (C)

Mother's Day Proclamation

Download bulletin insert as PDF:
full page, one-sided 5/12/13
half page, double-sided 5/12/13

Spanish bulletin inserts are available on the Sermones que Iluminan website.

Julia Ward Howe, 1902  (photo courtesy of the US Library of Congress)

Julia Ward Howe, 1902
(photo courtesy of the US Library of Congress)

Mother’s Day has been celebrated on the second Sunday in May since 1908; but an earlier celebration, Mother’s Day for Peace, was initiated in 1870 on the second Sunday in June by Julia Ward Howe.

Born in New York City in 1819, Howe was raised as an Episcopalian Calvinist and grew into a fervent abolitionist. She is perhaps best known for writing the words to “The Battle Hymn of the Republic,” after meeting President Abraham Lincoln in 1861.

Following the American Civil War, Howe remained active politically, promoting pacifism and women’s suffrage. In 1870 she wrote “Appeal to Womanhood Throughout the World,” later known as the “Mother’s Day Proclamation,” urging women around the world to rise up against war.

“Appeal to Womanhood Throughout the World”

Arise, then, women of this day!
Arise, all women who have hearts,
Whether our baptism be of water or of tears!
Say firmly:
“We will not have great questions decided by irrelevant agencies,
Our husbands will not come to us, reeking with carnage,
For caresses and applause.
Our sons shall not be taken from us to unlearn
All that we have been able to teach them of charity, mercy and patience.
We, the women of one country,
Will be too tender of those of another country
To allow our sons to be trained to injure theirs.”

From the bosom of the devastated Earth a voice goes up with
Our own. It says: “Disarm! Disarm!
The sword of murder is not the balance of justice.”
Blood does not wipe out dishonor,
Nor violence indicate possession.

As men have often forsaken the plough and the anvil at the summons of war,
Let women now leave all that may be left of home for a great and earnest day of counsel.

Let them meet first, as women, to bewail and commemorate the dead.
Let them solemnly take counsel with each other as to the means
Whereby the great human family can live in peace,
Each bearing after his own time the sacred impress, not of Caesar,
But of God.
In the name of womanhood and humanity, I earnestly ask
That a general congress of women without limit of nationality
May be appointed and held at someplace deemed most convenient
And at the earliest period consistent with its objects,
To promote the alliance of the different nationalities,
The amicable settlement of international questions,
The great and general interests of peace.

— Julia Ward Howe, 1870

Bible Study: 7 Easter (C)

May 12, 2013

Steven King, Virginia Theological Seminary

“The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.” (John 17:22-23)

The Revised Common Lectionary (RCL) readings:
Acts 16:16-34; Psalm 97; Revelation 22:12-14, 16-17, 20-21; John 17:20-26

Acts 16:16-34

Immediately upon reading this story from the book of Acts, I am struck by the language of the apostles in this story. The apostles encounter a woman who is in a sort of trance-like state and speak to the spirit that is in her, commanding it to come out of her. They are then accused of upsetting Roman society and customs and disturbing the city. This sounds a lot like Jesus’ ministry, doesn’t it? Those who have been commissioned by Christ to go out and make disciples are now taking on the very things Jesus did – even speaking to spirits! We, too, as followers of Christ are given the commission to follow Christ and spread the Good News to the world. We may not be able to speak to spirits, but we certainly have our own gifts that can help draw others to God.

What are your spiritual gifts? How can you use them to spread the Good News of Jesus Christ?

What are the things that enhance and hinder you in doing this?

Psalm 97

This psalm is full of grand and spectacular language for God. “His lightnings light up the world. … The mountains melt like wax before the Lord” (v. 4-5). These incredible images for God and God’s power are awe inspiring. They are hard to even imagine. And yet, the most incredible aspect of all of these images is that God still knows each of us individually and loves us. Yes, God is all powerful and ruler of both heaven and earth, even mountains fall down before the Lord. And, also, God knows us personally and loves us incomprehensibly. Let us all rejoice in this love!

How do you experience both the power and the love of God?

Revelation 22:12-14, 16-17, 20-21

The book of Revelation was addressed to seven churches throughout Asia Minor as they faced persecution for their faith. It can be read as encouragement in the faith and to rest in the Lord, who is both the beginning and the end, the Alpha and Omega. Verse 17 reads, “Let everyone who is thirsty come.”

This is the last Sunday of Easter, and as we move into the season of Pentecost, let us remember that Christ has defeated death and raised us to new life with him. My prayer is that in the season of Pentecost, even when it becomes difficult in the face of evil and suffering, I will draw on the power of the Risen Lord to not only know more fully the source of the Living Water but also to draw all who are thirsty to that source.

What practices or prayers sustain you in your faith journey?

What do you hold onto in the face of evil and/or suffering that helps you remember the power of the Resurrected Christ?

John 17:20-26

There are many striking portions of this passage. First, Jesus prays to the Father on behalf of the disciples. And not only that, Jesus prays that those who believe in him may be one. In this prayer, Jesus asks that we all be one in order that the world might know him and know that God loves them. This is a powerful call. It seems like a daunting task to unify all to God, but the fact of the matter is that we can all work toward this. We do this work because in Christ, God has first loved us, and in drawing all to each other and God we can further show that love to a world in need of it.

What work can we do to unite us all to each other and God?

How can this unifying work show God’s love to the world?

Bible Study: 6 Easter (C)

May 5, 2013

Josh Hosler, Virginia Theological Seminary

“Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.” (John 14:27)

The Revised Common Lectionary (RCL) readings:
Acts 16:9-15; Psalm 67; Revelation 21:10, 22-22:5; John 14:23-29

Acts 16:9-15

My wife and I once enjoyed a relaxing weekend in Port Townsend, Washington. As we roamed the town, we came upon an outdoor yard sale at the house of four young adults who lived together. The next thing we knew, we were playing croquet with them; we stayed for several hours! Had we not had a hotel room to return to, we might have woken the next morning on their couch. To this day, I hold these young people up as a model of hospitality to which I still aspire.

How open is your home? Have you ever made an instant connection with someone, of the kind that might lead to such hospitality? Lydia of Thyatira had just such an experience that day by the river when she met Paul and his companions. She could have listened with interest and then moved on, grateful for the momentary food for thought. But instead, she was inspired to open her home to them and feed them back. Through this show of hospitality, Lydia opened herself to receive God’s hospitality as well.

As a dealer in purple dye, which was only used by the well to do, Lydia no doubt had ample resources to share with her new friends. Perhaps your home isn’t amenable to such a possibility. What are some other ways you can be ready to stretch your comfort level and extend hospitality to the stranger God places in your path?

Psalm 67

Lately I’ve been reading the Bible to my 7-year-old daughter at bedtime. Occasionally we’ll come across the word “awesome,” and she’ll laugh at what seems to her a colloquial expression. Even I, in my youth, was distracted in church by the word “awesome,” a word my friends and I used to refer to just about anything we liked.

I have tried to explain to my daughter that the kind of “awe” we hear of in the Bible is a bit like fear, a bit like amazement, and a bit like gratitude. In today’s psalm, we pray, “May all the ends of the earth stand in awe of him.” In a secular world in which people are as likely to chalk positive occurrences up to luck, karma or science as to God, it’s easy to forget what that “awesome” feeling is like.

Yet I think we have all felt it. We may have felt it while standing under a huge sky full of stars, or while on a boat in the middle of the ocean, or at the top of a canyon. We may have experienced it at the birth of our child, or when much-needed money appeared just in time, or when we have fallen in love. As people of faith, we credit God as the originator of all good gifts. This week, keep an eye out for those things in your life that are truly “awesome.”

Revelation 21:10, 22-22:5

One morning when I was about 12 years old, I woke from the most amazing dream of my life. Inspired by C. S. Lewis’ “Chronicles of Narnia,” I dreamed I had died, along with my entire family, and that I found myself in a beautiful, sunny land with green, rolling hills. All my friends were there, and new friends as well. My brother and some other boys were playing together, had a disagreement, and got into a fight. But they found that their blows did nothing to harm each other, so they shrugged and stopped fighting. The great lion Aslan was there, too: he divided us into groups and had us sit down on the grass to eat together. We reached into our pockets and drew out as much food as we wanted. There were games and fun, and there were deep, important conversations. Above all, there was a growing realization that this was forever: that we would never have to be parted or miss anybody ever again, and that death was only a memory.

This dream felt like a promise, and it has sustained me ever since. I think this passage from the Revelation to John is intended to be a promise as well. In John’s vision, the very cosmos is changed: not only is there no need of a temple, but there is not even need of the moon or sun, for light pervades everything. There is no more war or fighting, for the very leaves of the trees are able to heal broken nations. The tree of life, which God prevented Adam and Eve from touching when he banished them from the garden, is now available to everyone. A river waters everything all around; perhaps it flows with the waters of baptism. In this place, we are all marked and sealed on our foreheads as God’s own forever. Today, rest in this promise and know that it is for you, too.

John 14:23-29

“Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.” These words are common on the lips of Jesus and of angels throughout the Bible: “Be not afraid.” But why on earth not? Am I not allowed to own my feelings? Life is terribly uncertain, and I have plenty to be afraid of! Jesus, would you deny me this honest experience?

Yet here is peace – peace of a kind the world does not and cannot give. Do you know what it is like, this peace that passes understanding? We may be tempted to wonder, “How can I attain this peace?” However, Jesus assures us that this peace is already in our possession. Perhaps the problem is in denying it is there.

The key seems to be keeping Jesus’ word. What does that mean? In the course of John’s gospel, it means following the new commandment that we “love one another” as Christ has loved us. When we live in love and for love, our actions unlock the very peace that we were not able to see in our fearfulness. “Perfect love drives out fear” (1 John 4:18). So which will you do first today: stop fearing, or start loving? Whichever you choose, Jesus tells us that one naturally leads to the other.

Bulletin Insert: 6 Easter (C)

Older Adult Ministries

Download bulletin insert as PDF:
full page, one-sided 5/5/13
half page, double-sided 5/5/13

Spanish bulletin inserts are available on the Sermones que Iluminan website.

cc photo by Ignas Kukenys

cc photo by Ignas Kukenys

Older Americans Month is celebrated each May to honor and recognize older adults for their contributions to families, communities and society. The United States Administration on Aging’s theme this year, “Unleash the Power of Age,” celebrates older adults as productive, active, and influential members of society, who can share essential talents, wisdom and life experiences with our communities.

This month, Episcopal congregations are encouraged to make a particular effort to be hospitable and welcoming to older adults, ensuring that people of all ages are valued, and that resources and assistance are provided as we go through the lifelong process of aging.

To help congregations think about the inter-generational aspects of their churches, the Episcopal Church’s Older Adult Ministries Task Force created a checklist: “Is Your Church Older Adult Friendly?” available at http://library.episcopalchurch.org/document/your-church-older-adult-friendly.

“We have found the resource to be a great starting place for conversation,” said the Rev. Howard Anderson from the Diocese of Los Angeles. “We have made pew cuts for wheelchairs, a visitor’s process, which allows us to keep an eye on the elders, formation opportunities, special receivers for the hearing impaired, and [American Sign Language] interpreters. We still have work to do, though.”

The checklist is part of a larger resource, “Aging Is Changing,” which is available on the Older Adult Ministries web page, http://www.episcopalchurch.org/page/older-adult-ministries.

“‘Aging Is Changing’ helps congregations engage in ministry with and by older adults,” explained Ruth-Ann Collins, the Episcopal Church’s officer for Lifelong Formation. “It is filled with personal stories and has over 60 examples of successful programing from across the Episcopal Church.”

For more information about current programs for older adults and to offer ideas, please contact Ruth-Ann Collins: rcollins@episcopalchurch.org.

Bulletin Insert: 5 Easter (C)

Sustaining Hope in the Face of Climate Change

Download bulletin insert as PDF:
full page, one-sided 4/28/13
half page, double-sided 4/28/13

Spanish bulletin inserts are available on the Sermones que Iluminan website.

cc photo by Joydeep

cc photo by Joydeep

This week, May 1-2, the Episcopal Church and the Church of Sweden will sponsor an environmental event, Sustaining Hope in the Face of Climate Change, at St John’s Episcopal Church, Lafayette Square, in Washington, DC. The public is invited to attend, free of charge, and the roundtable discussions on Thursday, May 2, will be videotaped and available on demand at www.episcopalchurch.org.

These videotaped discussions will be ideal for congregational viewing, Sunday school, discussion groups, adult forums, and other community gatherings.

Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori will present opening remarks on Wednesday evening, May 1, and the keynote address will be offered by Mary Evelyn Tucker, senior lecturer and senior research scholar at Yale University and co-founder and co-director of the Forum on Religion and Ecology. This will be followed by remarks from Dr. Kevin Noone, the Swedish secretariat for Environmental Earth System Sciences at the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences and a research scientist in atmospheric chemistry and physics at the Stockholm Resilience Centre at Stockholm University. A question-and-answer session will be followed by a closing statement by Church of Sweden Archbishop Anders Wejryd.

The two roundtable discussions, which will be available online, will be featured on Thursday afternoon, May 2, facilitated by David Crabtree, anchorman of WRAL-TV in Raleigh, North Carolina.

The first discussion, “Envisioning Hope: A Faith-Based International Response to Climate Change” will feature Bishop Julio Murray of the Diocese of Panama; Dr. Willis Jenkins, the Margaret Farley associate professor of Social Ethics at Yale Divinity School and author of the prize-winning “Ecologies of Grace: Environmental Ethics and Christian Theology”; and Mary Minnete, director of Environmental Education and Advocacy for the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, Washington Office and the North American representative to the Action by Churches Together (ACT) Alliance Climate Change Advisory Group and the current chair of the National Council of Churches Eco-Justice Working Group.

The second discussion will be “Responding in Hope: The Local Church’s Response to Climate Change,” featuring comments by the Rev. Dr. Margaret Bullit-Jonas, priest associate of Grace Church, Amherst, Massachusetts, and co-chair of Religious Witness for the Earth; the Rev. Henrik Grape, a priest in the Church of Sweden who coordinates the church’s environmental network and a member of the Climate Group of Christian Council of Sweden; and Cassandra Carmichael, director of the National Council of Churches’ Washington office and director of the NCC’s Eco-Justice Program.

Opening our minds to the Ascension , Ascension Day (C) – 2013

May 9, 2013

Acts 1:1-11; Psalm 47 or Psalm 93; Ephesians 1:15-23; Luke 24:44-53

The commemoration of the Ascension passes us by in this country. In places where the Eastern Church is prevalent it’s an important feast day, up there in importance with Christmas and Pentecost. In many places, it’s a work holiday. Always falling on a Thursday, the word “Ascension” passes through lips casually, but it is doubtful that those who speak it contemplate its meaning. In our church it is celebrated but on a minor key; we have to admit that the Ascension is a difficult image to create in our minds and it’s difficult to make sense of it. Coming 40 days after Easter Day, it is mostly ignored since it falls on a Thursday.

On feast days, it’s interesting to look at some of the remaining customs of ancient people, because even under the veneer of superstition and legend, a core of truth may be found. In many parts of Greece where the Orthodox observe the day with great joy, village people stay up on the night of Ascension staring at the skies. Legend tells us that those “who are pure in heart” see a light ascending to the heavens. For some reason, in Greek villages the day is associated with shepherds, so milk features greatly in the recipes set aside for just this day. And the water of the sea becomes symbolic also: This is the first day of the year when people enter the sea either to swim or to wade, and then to carry some of the water home to ward off evil.

The first custom, that of looking at the skies, reminds us of the unquenchable longing of the early Christians for the Lord’s return. There is a poignant scene in Lloyd Douglass’ book, “The Robe,” where Christians are pictured as always looking to the distance as if waiting for someone, longing for someone, so convinced were they of Jesus’ imminent return.

Luke is the only one of the evangelists who gives a particular image to this event, starting with the end of his gospel and continuing it in the Acts of the Apostles. Fascinated by his words, countless great artists and iconographers have painted their interpretation of Jesus’ Ascension. In these paintings, icons, and frescoes, Jesus is literally ascending, his feet no longer touching the earth, sometimes surrounded by angels, a cloud above ready to hide him from human eyes. And thus it is that many of us probably imagine the Ascension.

There is nothing specifically right or wrong in this image. We are visual thinkers. Words help us create images that we remember even though we have seen them only in art or in our own minds. This is not the place to inquire in what form Jesus returned to the Father. Some hints are given throughout the stories of Jesus’ post-resurrection appearances: He enters a room suddenly, without using a door; he appears next to couple walking together on the road to Emmaus; he cooks breakfast for Peter and his friends by the shore. But he disappears just as suddenly as he appears. So the hints tell us that though the resurrected body is visible, the qualities it demonstrates are different from the body that was crucified. This is enough for us.

Two details are surprising in this final story in Luke’s gospel. One is found in verse 45: “Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures.” There is something liberating in this statement. Our minds must be open to understand, not closed. We see so much evidence today of minds that refuse to understand the truth of the scriptures, preferring to stay closed and limited by what they think they understand. Reading the Bible with open minds, open because Christ has done the opening, reveals something new each time we read a passage.

The other detail is that even though Jesus disappeared from their midst, the disciples “returned to Jerusalem with great joy.” These are the same people who, with great fear and grief, had hidden during the crucifixion and burial. Why are they joyful now? Their dearest friend has disappeared from their eyes. They will not see him again and this time apparently they know that he will not be making another post-resurrection appearance. Why are they joyful now? Is it that now, finally, they truly understand him and believe him?

The opening of their minds to understand the scriptures has much to do with this joy. “You are witnesses of these things,” he tells them. What a powerful word this is: “witnesses.” They have witnessed a new creation, and they know it. They have witnessed love in action. They are now witnesses to the resurrection.

The fear of death has been replaced by the joy of knowing life. They believe in his promises. The Paraclete, the Advocate shall come. They will stay in Jerusalem to await the coming of the Holy Spirit.

Above all, they have been given a job to do. Their life has a purpose and this fills them with joy. In our reading from Acts, Jesus tells his disciples: “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

We are included in that last phrase, “the ends of the earth.” The disciples fulfilled their mission. They did the work. Now it’s up to us to continue it.

 

— Katerina Whitley is the author of “Around a Greek Table” (Lyons Press, 2012). She lives and writes in Louisville, Ky.

A season of Easter feasts

Enjoying a liturgical year of Greek cooking

Around a Greek Table: Recipes and Stories Arranged According to the Liturgical Seasons of the Eastern Church. Katerina K. Whitley. Lyons Press, 2012. 256 pp.

Around a Greek Table: Recipes and Stories Arranged According to the Liturgical Seasons of the Eastern Church. Katerina K. Whitley. Lyons Press, 2012. 256 pp.

This Easter season, enjoy traditional Greek Easter dishes featured in Katerina Katsarka Whitley’s new cookbook, “Around a Greek Table: Recipes and Stories Arranged According to the Liturgical Seasons of the Eastern Church.”

Whitley, born a Protestant in Thessaloniki, Greece, shares the flavors and memories of her childhood with 100 unique recipes, arranged and categorized in accordance with the Orthodox church’s liturgical calendar: Easter, the seasons of Pentecost, Advent and Epiphany.

“I have used the liturgical calendar as a frame because it has an order that appeals to me and that has affected Greek cooking for generations,” Whitley explains in her introduction. “As a writer of recipes, I am singling out not the many fasting periods of the church, but the many feast days and the seasons that follow them” (p. xiv).

“Around a Greek Table” interweaves recipes with Whitley’s memories of growing up surrounded by a Greek Orthodox community, stories of her family, and interesting facts about Greek mythology, Greek culture, and Greek history.

The first chapter focuses on Easter Day – and although many Christian churches celebrated Easter several Sundays ago, there is still time to enjoy these recipes in celebration of Greek Orthodox Easter, which falls on May 5, this year. Eleven dishes are featured for Easter Day, and a complete menu is also provided for planning a Paschal meal: Easter bread (tsouréki) , Easter soup (mayirítsa), fig and walnut salad (saláta me sýka), oven-baked lamb with potatoes (arní toú foúrnou), and green peas in sauce (arakás me sáltsa), with fresh fruit, coffee and baklavá for dessert.

The second chapter, “The Easter Season,” includes popular Greek dishes such as flaming cheese (saganáki), grape leaves with rice filling (dolmadhákia), meatballs (keftedhákia), and spinach with rice (spanakórizo).

Although presenting traditional Greek recipes, Whitley offers her own methods of preparation: “In this collection of recipes, you will find ways to cook vegetables as the Greeks have done for generations, but with my own adaptations for a light diet that is both delicious and beneficial” (p. 29), she explains.

The dishes are beautifully photographed by Jasmin Hejazi, and the writing is easy to follow and understand, even for inexperienced cooks (such as myself; my mother and I had a wonderful evening trying out some of the recipes and cooking a memorable Greek meal together).

Whether you begin with the traditional Easter dishes or skip straight to the moussaká, “Around a Greek Table” offers a delicious way to explore the liturgical calendar.

 

— Sarah Johnson is a writer and editor for the Office of Communication of the Episcopal Church.

Bible Study: 5 Easter (C)

April 28, 2013

Susan Butterworth, Episcopal Divinity School

“I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.” (John 13:34)

The Revised Common Lectionary (RCL) readings:
Acts 11:1-18; Psalm 148; Revelation 21:1-6; John 13:31-35

Acts 11:1-18

The Acts of the Apostles depicts Jesus’ early followers as observant Jews and the beginnings of the church as rooted within Judaism, yet is concerned with the expansion of the church from those origins to a movement spread throughout the Roman Empire.

In the first part of today’s passage, verses 1-3, Peter’s fellow apostles and the Jewish believers in Jesus (the circumcised believers) confront Peter as he returns to Jerusalem from baptizing the Roman centurion Cornelius in Caesarea. They demand an explanation for why he has broken the Jewish law by entering a gentile house and eating unclean food.

In verses 4-17, Peter repeats the events of Chapter 10, a device that Luke uses for emphasis. As Peter explains the vision in which God has informed him emphatically and repeatedly that what God had cleansed he was not to regard as unclean, he affirms the point that the Holy Spirit had directed the conversion of the gentiles by recounting a simultaneous vision on Cornelius’ part that he should send to Joppa for Peter. When Peter arrives at the house, he begins to proclaim the gospel, but the Holy Spirit falls upon Cornelius’ household just as it had upon the Apostles on the day of Pentecost. Peter remembers God’s words and gifts on that day, and understands that it is God’s will that the gentiles be saved.

In the final verse, 18, the Apostles and Jewish believers are silenced. They too understand that the gentiles have been given salvation through belief in Jesus, and praise God.

The passage is pivotal in the spread of the gospel from the Jewish followers to the wider world of the gentile Roman Empire. It also makes the distinction between baptism by water, a human act, and baptism by the Holy Spirit, an act of God.

What are some of the differences and similarities between water baptism and spirit baptism? Which comes first? Is one more public than another?

Even though the Holy Spirit came upon the Apostles at Pentecost, they are slow to understand God’s purpose and command that the gospel be preached to everyone. Not all of the Apostles come to this understanding at the same time. Can you think of other examples of times, either in the Bible or in your own experience, when understanding God’s call comes as a process as well as a specific moment of enlightenment?

Psalm 148

Psalm 148 is a hymn of praise. A cast of all the created are called upon to praise God the creator of all the universe. In verses 1-6, the inhabitants of the heavens are exhorted to praise their creator. In verses 7-14, the elements of the earth are called to praise God’s glory. God is the exalted and splendid creator of heaven and earth, and the children of Israel, his loyal servants, are especially near to him.

Today’s passage from Acts ends with the Apostles praising God, saying, “Then God has given even to the Gentiles the repentance that leads to life” (Acts 11:18).

What parts of Psalm 148 might the Apostles have included in their praise? Try writing some additional verses that the Apostles might have prayed in an extemporaneous outpouring of praise in response to Peter’s explanation of events in Acts 11:1-18.

Revelation 21:1-6

This passage describes the revelation of heavenly Jerusalem. A revelation or apocalypse is generally a first-person narrative in which the writer relates one or more visions about the future and/or the heavenly world. The writer of the Revelation to John is both an oral prophet in the tradition of Daniel, Ezekiel and Isaiah, and a scribe whose written words claim the authority of coming directly from God, the one who was seated on the throne.

In the Revelation to John, particularly in today’s passage, we have an example of Christian visionary literature built on the foundations of Jewish apocalypses. The image of the divine throne and the precise layout of the heavenly city contain echoes of Ezekiel 1 and Ezekiel 40-42, while the new heaven and a new earth and the absence of weeping and crying are echoes of Isaiah 65.

Indeed, even the reference to the holy city Jerusalem supports an essentially Jewish frame of reference. References to the testimony of Jesus Christ and the seven churches of Asia suggest that the writer was a Christian prophet of Jewish origin. His historical context may have included both the destruction and loss of Jerusalem and the Temple by the Romans in 70 C.E., and persecution of the Jewish followers of Jesus. Some of the text of the Revelation to John is built on graphic images of destruction. Yet the text as a whole is a glorious act of worship, telling a story of God’s enduring presence in the salvation offered by Jesus Christ. The vision ends on a note of hope and faith.

The beautiful language of the King James version of this passage contains the words: “And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes, And there shall be no more death, neither sorrow nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain, for the former things are passed away.” Meditate on this poetry for a few moments. What do these words mean for you? How might you use them in a pastoral context?

John 13:31-35

This passage introduces what is commonly called the “farewell discourse,” in which Jesus announces his impending death to his disciplines and offers both comfort and instructions for how they should behave when he is gone.

In verses 31-33, he emphasizes glorification: the enduring and mystical relationship between the Son and God the father. He calls the disciples “little children,” highlighting his oneness with the Father. At the same time, this term of endearment expresses his love for them. Here he turns to two additional themes of his ministry: the commandment to love one another and the Father’s presence in the disciples. “You will look for me,” he says, possibly to tell them of new ways in which they will find him after his departure.

He refers to the Jews, in contrast to his disciples, the Jewish followers of Jesus, and emphasizes how his own followers shall be known: by their love for him, which mirrors his love for them. It is essential that the community of followers of Jesus demonstrate God’s love as a shining light for the world to see.

Glorification can mean either giving praise or the manifestation of that which is worthy of praise. Read verses 31 and 32 carefully. The words “glorify” and “glorified” appear five times. What does Jesus mean by the word? Does the word “now” change or clarify Jesus’ meaning?

This passage contains the famous words: “I give you a new commandment.” What is new about the commandment to love one another? What is radically new about the way that God has shown his love for us in Jesus? What does it mean to be a disciple under this new commandment?

Bible Study: 4 Easter (C)

April 21, 2013

Will Prosser, Berkeley Divinity School at Yale

“My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me.” (John 10:27)

The Revised Common Lectionary (RCL) readings:
Acts 9:36-43; Psalm 23; Revelation 7:9-17; John 10:22-30

Acts 9:36-43

Although this passage appears to be about individuals, it is about community. While the focus may, on the surface, appear to be on Peter, that misses the depth of the story. Peter willingly comes to the city from which Jonah left on his mission to the gentiles of Nineveh in order to give Tabitha her life back. As Richard Pervo points out in “Acts: A Commentary” (Fortress Press, 2008), this is not a resurrection in the manner that Jesus experiences, for Tabitha is restored to her old life, not a new one. However, Peter’s actions affect the whole community, not merely Tabitha.

Before entering the room, the widows, the poor and needy of the community, show Peter the sustenance that Tabitha provided them. Once in the room, he sends everyone out, and after he prays, Peter turns to Tabitha. Pervo notes that the verb used here for “turn,” epistréfei, is the same word used for “conversion.” After Peter reveals the newly risen Tabitha to the community, there are many who believe and are converted.

This is a story of responsibilities expected of believers in the world of a resurrected Jesus. Tabitha’s rising is a harbinger of things to come. In this way, Peter brings the Good News of the resurrected Christ to the community in Joppa.

This story also reminds us that everyone should be privy to this news. Tabitha’s name is given in both Aramaic and Greek, for this story was probably meant for both audiences, and Peter, in the last verse, resides with a tanner. A tanner is someone who works with the blood and offal of animals, and as Robert Wall notes in “The New Interpreter’s Bible” (Abingdon Press, 2002), this would most definitely be considered unclean for those following Jewish law. This is no longer a message for certain individuals or communities. We are meant to bring the gospel to everyone.

What are some ways in which we can show the gospel, rather than just telling of it to different communities?

What is Christian responsibility, and how do you attempt to fulfill it?

Psalm 23

This is one of the most beloved psalms in Christianity and Judaism, and often even those who are not of those faiths know of this psalm, which begins “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.” While this is a psalm of comfort that we will often whip out for funerals, this is by no means a depiction of an idyllic reality. The person who wrote this psalm is not untroubled because there is no darkness, but because the Lord is present with him in the darkness. The writer is untroubled because he has faith in his shepherd in the darkness.

However, we must honestly wrestle with the sixth verse when the writer claims that goodness and mercy will follow him always. The analysis of this psalm in “Feasting on the Word,” (Westminster John Knox Press, 2010) informs us that the Hebrew verb for “follow” can also mean “to pursue”; so the verse could be saying that no matter what choices the writer makes, the goodness and mercy of his host’s, the Lord’s, table will pursue him.

How would you articulate your faith? What kind of psalm would you write?

Revelation 7:9-17

This vision from the Apocalypse of John shows our reward. Just as the crowds greeted Jesus with palm branches upon his entrance into Jerusalem, he is praised with palm branches in his victory in heaven. In “The New Interpreter’s Bible” (Abingdon Press, 1998), Christopher Rowland points out the irony that in the Gospel of John, the Pharisees complain that the whole world followed after Jesus, and that is certainly what we see here.

Of course, one of the great paradoxes of the early Christian church is how robes can be made white by pouring scarlet blood on them. I think that this is symbolism of the life of Jesus. There is no rational understanding of how God could be both God and a human, but it happened. And there is no rational understanding of how one man’s sacrifice and resurrection would give eternal life to the world, but it happened. If these things happened, then why couldn’t robes be washed in blood and be made white? However, to gain that promise, to reach the life when God will wipe away all tears and abolish hunger and thirst, we must come through “the great ordeal” that represents our lives.

How do you feel about this vision? Are there things that make you uncomfortable? What are the things that give you hope?

How would you bring this hope to others?

John 10:22-30

In her analysis of this text in “The New Interpreter’s Bible” (Abingdon Press, 1996), Gail O’Day brings up an important point of clarification: The Jews in this story refers to the Jewish religious establishment. Likely, the majority of people involved in this story were Jewish. And this reading is the only time in the Gospel of John when Jesus is asked directly if he is the Messiah. The Samaritan woman questions Jesus’ possible identity as the Messiah, and Martha proclaims that Jesus is, but this is the only time in this gospel when Jesus is asked directly.

Notice, however, that Jesus does not claim in his answer that he is the Messiah, for his answer shows that he is much more than just the anointed one. Instead, as Ernst Haenchen explains in “John 2” (Fortress Press, 1984), Jesus goes on to discuss the nature of his relationship with God, how he and God are unified in purpose and goal. This is how Jesus and God are “one.”

Much in the same way that “goodness and mercy” will always pursue the writer of Psalm 23, Jesus says that his sheep will never be snatched out of his hand. The resurrected Christ gives us the blessing of eternal life, and once it is given, we can never lose it.

What do you do with this confidence? How does it appear in your life and church?

How would you instill this confidence into your community?