Archives for 2013

Were the Magi real?, Epiphany (A,B,C) – 2014

January 6, 2014

Isaiah 60:1-6Psalm 72:1-7, 10-14Ephesians 3:1-12Matthew 2:1-12

Were the Magi real? Did they actually make their way from a distant land in the East some 2,000 years ago, following a mysterious star all the way to Bethlehem? And did they really bring the Child Jesus those gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh?

Good questions.

Every year around this time of course, astronomers, both amateur and professional, offer some innovative scientific – skeptics might say “pseudo-scientific” – explanation for the appearance of the star. An unusual conjunction of planets, they most often explain. And reputable historians will be happy to tell you that soothsayers and traveling shamans were undoubtedly a colorful and important element of the ancient world. Then as now, people wanted to understand the deeper meanings of life.

So it all could have been just as related to us in the Gospel of Matthew. The gifts of precious metal and aromatic resins are perhaps a bit more problematical – not exactly what you might think to get a little boy for his birthday these days. Evidence perhaps – as some commentators and parents puckishly suggest – that the wise men did not have children of their own.

Still, whether the Magi and their star and gifts were real or not remains anybody’s guess. Many reputable Scripture scholars, in fact, question their actual existence. They remind us that much in Scripture was never intended to be taken literally. The stories of Jesus’ birth, they go on to say – the so-called Infancy Narratives – are simply parts of an ancient midrashic, or interpretive, genre of biblical narrative, not intended as strictly factual accounts.

So, were the Magi real?

Hard to say. Maybe – just maybe – we should give them the benefit of the doubt.

What does it mean to be “real” anyway? Perhaps the Magi are as real as real gets. After all, when you stop to think about it, there are a lot of people in our contemporary world who could stand to get real. We meet them at work and at the mall, sometimes even in our own families. And most of us, if we look at our own lives, would have to admit that they are filled with the unreal and with our own fair share of improbabilities – events and happenstances that we could hardly have predicted before their occurrence. Yet, here we are – in the flesh, with our all-too-real contradictions and accumulated paradoxes.

So, perhaps a small troop of mystics or sages arriving from the East – note, by the way, that Matthew does not mention the number three – are not so odd or implausible as we might at first think. The Magi were, to be sure, outsiders in most every sense of the word – gentiles after all, surely as incongruous and out-of-place as anything or anyone could be in the heartland of the ancient Jewish world. And most likely, if we read between the lines, they were clairvoyants and prestidigitators of sorts – practitioners of the occult arts, if you will – and filthy rich. How else explain those gifts, costly in any age? For all we know, the Magi may well have been the David Copperfields of their day.

Yet for all that, their agenda was deceptively simple and straightforward: to find the King of the Jews, to worship him and to bring him their gifts. And it is this simple agenda that leads them from their own far-off land to King Herod and beyond on an unlikely journey of discovery and epiphany.

What could be more real than that?

Epiphany remains for us in our own age an astonishing sign or manifestation of the hardly believable yet very much real – God’s wisdom masquerading as human weakness and folly. For as we readily see, God’s eternal wisdom is found not at King Herod’s magnificent court, but rather in the humble village home of a small and vulnerable child and his parents. Perhaps it does take show-business-like conjurers – themselves no doubt masters of surprise and the unexpected – to recognize the real in the impossible.

There is, of course, always a fine line between the real and the impossible. All too often it is indeed the impossible that inevitably comes to pass: An obscure South American cardinal with a heart for the poor is elected pope; a former rising oil executive known for the gift of reconciliation is appointed archbishop; and a humble man at long last unites the peoples of his native land after decades of Apartheid and rigid racial segregation.

There are wise men – and women – among us still.

But if there is a fine line between the real and the impossible, there is sometimes an even finer distinction to be drawn between true wisdom and our own self-deceptions and doubts. We must admire the perspicacity and persistence of the Magi making their way methodically and sure-footedly across wilderness and desert, seeking an out-of-the-question reality they were certain had come to pass. Few of us are so sure of ourselves and our paths. Too many among us never even dare leave home.

But the Magi, their task accomplished, return home from their journey “by another road” as the gospel tells us, and have not been heard from since. For all we know, they may still be on their way. For all we know, they may be journeying among us here and now in our congregations and communities, bequeathing to us from time to time their precious gifts of wisdom, knowledge and understanding – gifts that remain as rare today as gold, frankincense and myrrh in any age.

Perhaps that is why the church has given us this special festival day of Epiphany, to celebrate the wondrous and amazing things in our own lives. And to give us courage to follow, in our day, the star of the Magi as it leads us – just as it did them – to Bethlehem and the Child Jesus.

If the Magi are not real, who is?


— The Rev. Dr. Frank Hegedus, a priest of the Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles, is currently chaplain of Saint Margaret’s Anglican Episcopal Church in Budapest, Hungary, a ministry of the Church of England’s Diocese in Europe. Please visit and “like” Saint Margaret’s Facebook page at Isten hozott!

Welcoming the Light, 2 Christmas (A,B,C) – 2014

January 5, 2014

Jeremiah 31:7-14; Psalm 84 or 84:1-8; Ephesians 1:3-6,15-19a; Matthew 2:13-15,19-23 

We find ourselves in the gospel landscape of Matthew. It is a story of angelic messages delivered in dreams. It is a story without shepherds, without a manger, with no mention of other animals. It is a story that features some strangers, undocumented aliens from Persia or thereabouts – “Magi,” whatever such a word might conjure in our imaginations: astronomers, magicians, inquirers, maybe even the first-century equivalent of scientists! They come following and seeking the Light, the Word, the logos and, they say, “the Christ.”

It is a story of a gathering darkness and danger, featuring the irritability and selfishness of all human tyrants in the person of Herod. For Israel, Herod and his family represent the failures of the last attempt to convert gentiles into the world of the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. It is easy to understand that the Jewish people from the time of Herod forward cease all attempts at proselytizing and conversion!

Those familiar with the biblical narrative will see in Herod all the negative attributes of that earlier tyrant, Pharaoh, and the tell-tale signs of all future tyrants with names like Stalin, Hitler, Pol Pot, Amin, Hussein, Mugabe – the list is sadly endless. They will also see the child, Jesus, connected to three formative events in the history of Israel: born in Bethlehem, home to the shepherd King David; time in Egypt, the place from which the Exodus/Passover event occurred; and a reference to the Babylonian Exile.

The last, alas, obscured by the lectionary’s curious editorial choice to omit verses 16-18, which reads:

“When Herod saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, he was infuriated, and he sent and killed all the children in and around Bethlehem who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had learned from the wise men. Then was fulfilled what had been spoken through the prophet Jeremiah: ‘A voice was heard in Ramah, wailing and loud lamentation, Rachel weeping for her children;  she refused to be consoled, because they are no more.’”

To edit out these verses renders the story meaningless. Rachel, of course, was one of Jacob’s wives, believed to be buried in Bethlehem; and Ramah was the place of mourning for the Exile. It seems the lectionary is a bit squeamish about presenting the genocidal slaughter of so many innocent children in the Christmas season.

Lest we draw any wrong conclusions, Matthew offers a subtle distinction easily overlooked by the casual reader. Instead of suggesting that God in any way caused this unmitigated evil to occur, Matthew has changed his usual language to introduce Old Testament prophecy, “this was to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet” to the words “then was fulfilled what had been spoken through the prophet.” A subtle change, but a change nonetheless.

As Thomas Long observes in his commentary “Matthew,”  this change suggests that “the message is not that God summons evil to accomplish divine purposes, but that the scripture knows the tragic human destruction written into the fabric of history, and that not even evil in its most catastrophic form, evil as cold and merciless as the murder of innocent children, can destroy God’s ability to save.”

Rather than look for a silver lining, we are to join with Rachel, who represents all mothers everywhere who lose their children to such senseless tyranny, and weep over this tragic loss of life, and that the Son of God, the Light and Life of the world, is sent into exile. The terrible rage of Herod proves his helplessness, and the helplessness of all tyrants like Herod past, present and future. The child survives, returns, and lives on to this day!

We also learn something about the strategy of the Light in its unending battle to transform all darkness into Light. The Light cannot be destroyed, but it can be forced to withdraw; it can be hidden; worse still, it can be shut out. Surrounded as we are by great and little Herods in our day, it is easy to overlook that we must also contend with the Herod who resides in our own souls. We are all too capable of shutting out the Light that lives inside of us, and refuse to see the Light that lives inside others – all others. So often the Light remains hidden, and we are too busy to stop, look and listen for its presence in our midst.

The growing number of Episcopalians who experience and practice Centering Prayer are beginning to learn about the barriers we construct that shut us off from the God within, from others, and from our true selves. Together we sit in silence to let go of the busy-ness of our lives and the barriers we believe necessary to carry on such busy-ness, and listen quietly for the presence of the Light, the Word – the Word that becomes flesh to dwell among us.

In his letter to the Galatians, Paul describes it in the words, “Christ lives in me.” The German theologian Meister Eckhardt called it “the birth of the Son in the castle of our soul.” The Quakers call it “the Light Within.” All of them agree that this light appears by grace. The human soul, as it were, is its mother; the father is the eternal Spirit.

At Christmas we are to celebrate this coming of the Light, this virgin birth of Christ within each one of us. The Christ we promise in our baptism to seek and serve in all persons, loving our neighbor as ourselves.

The Holy Innocents, the victims of Herod’s holocaust, died for the Light, the Christ, though they did not know it. Their parents, like Rachel, mourned the death of these first martyrs of our faith.

This Second Sunday of Christmas means to ask us, Will we allow the birth of this Son in the castle of our souls? Will we let down a draw bridge across whatever moats we construct to keep Him at some distance from us? Can we join with those Holy Innocents in whatever way possible to bear witness against the Herods of our own time and place? How might we console Rachel to know that her children and all innocent victims of tyranny in fact live on in, with and through Christ throughout all generations?

In our reading from Ephesians today, Paul prays that the “eyes of your heart” be enlightened so that you may “know the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe.”

May Paul’s prayer and the lives of all those innocent children come alive in us this day.


— 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 Diocese of Maryland girls’ boarding school, where he teaches World Religions and International Baccalaureate (IB) English. His sermons are archived at

The name of Jesus on our lips, Holy Name (A,B,C) – 2014

January 1, 2014

Numbers 6:22-27; Psalm 8; Galatians 4:4-7 or Philippians 2:5-11; Luke 2:15-21

If we start with Christmas Day, December 25, and count eight days, we come to today, January 1. It is on the eighth day of Christmas that the church celebrates the Holy Name of Jesus.

We celebrate the Holy Name of Jesus on this eighth day of Christmas because it was on the eighth day that Jesus was circumcised and received this name. This story is told in a single verse of the gospel we just heard.

The shepherds, summoned by an angel, have visited the baby in the manger. They return home, praising God for what has happened. Then comes the focus of today’s celebration. “After eight days had passed,” we hear from the gospel, “it was time to circumcise the child; and he was named Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb.”

“It was time to circumcise the child.” Following the Law of Moses, Mary and Joseph have their child circumcised on the eighth day. Thus he becomes a participant in the covenant, a son of Israel.

Circumcision brings with it the shedding of blood. What happens to Jesus on his eighth day is the the first small step in the shedding of his blood for the redemption of the world.

His blood will be shed abundantly when his life draws to it close.

• In the Garden of Gethsemane he will pray so urgently that his sweat will resemble clots of blood falling to the ground.
• Blood will drip when he is scourged with whips by Roman soldiers, and when they press a crown of thorn branches deep into his head.
• Blood will drip as he carries his cross on the long walk to Calvary, and when spikes are driven through his feet and hands.
• And blood will drip even after he is dead, when the sharp point of a Roman lance cuts into his heart.

The blood shed at his circumcision is only a small beginning, the promise of what awaits him.

But something more than circumcision happens to Jesus on his eighth day. He receives his name. Among the Jews, circumcision is when a boy is named.

The name Jesus receives is heavy with significance. It is the same as that of Joshua, the Old Testament hero who leads Israel into the land of freedom. The name means literally “The Lord is salvation.” This is the name that Gabriel, at the Annunciation, tells Mary to name her child. It is the name that Joseph is told to name the child by an angel who appears to him in a dream.

And so it is not a name thought up by the baby’s parents. It is a name that comes from God. The name of the Savior, the salvation he brings, and he himself all come from God.

We would miss the significance of the name of Jesus if we took that name as only a label, a way to distinguish one person from the next. The name of Jesus points us to who he is, who he is for us: the Savior, the one who delivers us, rescues us; leads us, as did the Old Testament Joshua, into a land of freedom, a different way of life.

The name of Jesus is, as today’s collect states, “the sign of our salvation.” Given to us by God, this name is a verbal sacrament, something spoken that conveys to us the grace of God. When this name is used by us with faith and reverence, it is for us a prayer. Indeed, of all prayers it is the best. No other prayer is so simple. None is so great.

Do you want to pray, my friends? Not only with your lips, but from your heart? Then use this holy name. Whatever your condition, whatever your circumstances, this holy name can be your prayer.

Say the name of Jesus with faith and reverence many times each day. Let this prayer, this name, rise and fall with the rhythm of your breath. JESUS! JESUS!

Let the name of Jesus become for you a holy habit, a second nature. You will never wear out this word. You will find in this great name enough sweetness and consolation, enough courage and joy to last you a lifetime, whatever may come upon you. The saints of the church from many centuries and many countries bear witness to the power and renewal they have found in making the name of Jesus their frequent, oft-repeated prayer.

There is a story about the power in this prayer, a story recounted by a member of the Dominican Order, Paul O’Sullivan.

The year is 1432. The place is Lisbon, Portugal. A terrible plague has broken out. All who are able to do so, flee from the city, and thus they carry the plague to every corner of the country. Thousands of men, women and children are swept away by the cruel disease. People die from it everywhere – at table, in the streets, in their houses, in shops, in marketplaces, in the churches. From one person to the next it spreads, or from a coat, hat or any garment used by the plague-stricken. So many people die from the disease that bodies lie unburied in the streets of the city.

Among those left helping the sick is a bishop named Andre Dias. He sees that the plague grows worse each day, so he urges the people, both those dying and those not yet afflicted, to repeat the Holy Name of Jesus. “Write it on cards,” he said, “and keep these cards on your persons; place them at night under your pillows; put them on your doors; but above all, constantly invoke with your lips and in your hearts this most powerful Name.”

Bishop Dias goes about as an angel of peace, filling the sick and dying with courage and confidence. The poor sufferers feel within them a new life. Calling on Jesus, they wear the cards on their persons and carry them in their pockets.

Before long, the sick begin to improve, those near death rise from their beds, the plague ceases, and the city is delivered from the worst suffering ever to inflict it.

The news spreads across the entire country. Soon everyone is praying the Holy Name of Jesus. In a very short time, all Portugal is free from the dread disease. Grateful for what has happened, the people continue to love and trust the Holy Name, to call on and honor the Name of their Savior.

What happened in Lisbon was not magic or superstition. It was what all prayer is: not an attempt to change God’s mind, but an opening of ourselves to God’s purpose. The people of Lisbon prayed fervently the name of Jesus, opened themselves to divine mercy to a remarkable degree. They became different. Their world became different.

We can become different, our world can become different, through an increasing reliance on the Holy Name, a fervent praying of the Holy Name. What are the plagues that beset us as individuals, families and as a society? Do these afflictions make us indifferent, apathetic, cynical? Or do they drive us to prayer and to action that reflects our prayer?

A new year lies before us. We do not know what it contains. But we can pray with fervor the Holy Name of Jesus.

• Perhaps some of us will die during the new year. We can leave this life at peace with God, with the name of Jesus on our lips.
• Some of us may face great trials. We can meet them confidently, with the name of Jesus on our lips.
• Some of us may experience wonderful joys, new opportunities, unique blessings. We can express our gratitude, with the name of Jesus on our lips.

A new year lies before us. May it be for each of us a year when we pray our Savior’s Name with faith and fervor, a year when we discover that this world can be a very different place through the power of the Holy Name.


— The Rev. Charles Hoffacker is an Episcopal priest and writer. He is the author of ”A Matter of Life and Death: Preaching at Funerals” (Cowley Publications, 2003).


The light of Christ, 1 Christmas (A,B,C) – 2013

December 29, 2013

Isaiah 61:10-62:3; Psalm 147 or 147:13-21; Galatians 3:23-25, 4:4-7; John 1:1-18

Have you ever noticed that when you get together with your family and start telling stories about when you were growing up or what happened years ago, the same events sound very different as different people tell the story? Depending on who’s describing it, the guy who used to live across the street was a scrooge or a saint; or moving from one town to another was either a disaster, a wonderful escape or a thing indifferent, hardly noticed. Same event, different folks in the family, different points of view.

This is not unlike the wonderful poetry of the first 18 verses of John’s gospel we just heard. This is the Christmas story, the third time the Bible tells it. It’s the same story we heard on Christmas Eve, the story of the manger and the shepherds and the angels. And it’s the same story Matthew tells in his gospel, with Joseph’s dreams, the wise men and the flight to Egypt. But the point of view is different, and John’s gospel sounds strange to ears more accustomed to crowded inns and angel choirs. That’s because different folks in the family are telling the same story.

You see, Luke, who wrote the familiar story we heard on Christmas Eve, was a bit of an historian. He was very concerned with getting the dates and rulers right, and with locating everything in time and space. He also may have been a gentile, and he was clearly very concerned about people who, like the gentiles, were considered outsiders. So, Luke is more interested in shepherds – who were social outcasts – than in kings. And Luke tells the story from the perspective of Mary – a radical move since women were even lower on the social ladder than shepherds.

Matthew is more traditional. He was certainly a Jew and may have been a scribe. He was very concerned with making it clear that Jesus fulfilled all of the Old Testament prophecies as the Messiah, the King of Jews. So, shepherds didn’t interest him as much as the royal wise men from the East. The child is surrounded by his peers. And he paid a lot of attention to the flight to Egypt because of the parallel between the Exodus and Jesus’ own return from Egypt to Israel. Also, the more conservative Matthew tells the story of Jesus’ birth from Joseph’s point of view.

Then there’s John. John may have heard of the stories in Matthew and Luke, but he’s not primarily an historian or a Jewish royalist. John is a theologian and a mystic. So he writes of the meaning of Jesus’ birth, and he writes from his theology, and from the holy imagination of his prayers. But he’s still telling the same story – all three are talking about the same birth – all three are saying the same thing.

John does begin the story earlier – he reminds us that Christmas really begins where Genesis begins, in the beginning, with God in creation. So, using language evocative of Genesis, John begins by talking about the Word of God. The Word here is God in action, God creating, God revealing himself, the one whom the church has named the second person of the Blessed Trinity. This Word was with God, and this Word was God.

Then John tells the Christmas story – in nine words. “And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us.” He who was with God in creation, the one who is God revealing himself to humanity, this one became a person, became flesh – as completely human as you and I. Not God in a people-suit; not a really good person who God rewarded and made special; not a super angel God created early and saved up for Bethlehem.

But a person, who was the Word – who was God’s own self. Soaring words for the most down-to-earth thing that ever happened. But it’s still the Christmas story, still the story Matthew and Luke tell – the story of the birth of Jesus.

In addition to telling the same story, Matthew, Luke and John also share one special way of telling it: There is one image, one symbol, and only one, that they all use to talk about the birth in Bethlehem. Can you think of what it is?

They all talk about light – the light of the star, the light that shone around the shepherds, the true light that enlightens every man. These all echo Isaiah’s vision of vindication shining out like the dawn, of salvation like a burning torch. Where Christ is, people, who understand talk about light. They have to – there’s no better image of what’s going on. The light shines in the darkness, John proclaims. And somehow we understand this, and we understand that this truth cannot be better expressed in any other words, with any other image.

In large part, I suspect we understand this because we know about darkness ; we know what it’s like to live in and with darkness. Remember what it’s like to try to walk through an unfamiliar room that is completely dark, or to wake up confused in the middle of the night in someone else’s house, trying to get somewhere.

We know what it’s like when we don’t know where things are, or what we’ve just bumped into, or whether we’re going where we want to go, or if our next step will be OK, or if we will break something and make a mess. We know how easy it is to go in circles in the dark, and to get turned around, and to stub a toe and get angry and hit whatever’s handy.

And we know what it is like to live like this in broad daylight.

What John, and Luke and Matthew all say about Christmas is that a new light begins to shine. Gradually, quietly, but with absolute certainty, and by that light we can begin to see.

By that light we can begin to see who we are and who we are created to be. For it is in the person of Jesus that what it means to be a human being is finally made clear. In him we see that our lives are made whole only as we surrender  in love and service; in him we see that really being alive means risking everything for – and because of – the love of God and the Kingdom of God.

In him we see that hope needs never be abandoned – never – and that we contain possibilities beyond our imagining.

Also, by that light that has come into the world we begin to see God clearly for the first time. “No one has ever seen God,” John reminds us. But God is made known to us in Jesus. This means that everything we ever thought about God, everything we had figured out, everything that we were sure we knew about God – all of this is put to the test in Jesus. Who God is, in relationship to us, is fully revealed in Jesus. Not in one saying or one parable, or one miracle,  but in all of Jesus – in his life, his ministry, his teaching, his death and resurrection; in these all together we finally have the light we need to see God.

The light of Christ, the Word made flesh, comes among us at Christmas, and we celebrate its coming into the world. God had revealed himself and his love to us in Christ.

That first Christmas, the light shone – and it continues to shine. By that light we have been given the power to become children of God and to take our places with the light.

The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it. This is the Christmas story. This is our story.

All of those other lights – the ones on trees, shopping centers, houses and office building – these are, at best, a faint reminder of the light we celebrate during this holy season, the new light that shines from Bethlehem and from the very heart of God that is our gift, our legacy, our prize, and – always – our sacred calling to name and to share.


—  The Rev. James Liggett has recently retired as Rector of St. Nicholas’ Episcopal Church in Midland, Texas. He is a native of Kansas and a graduate of the University of Houston and the Episcopal Divinity School. He has served parishes in Kansas, Texas and Oklahoma. 

Did you find what you were looking for?, Christmas Day (A,B,C) – 2013

December 25, 2013

Isaiah 62:6-12; Psalm 97; Titus 3:4-7; Luke 2:(1-7) 8-20

“Did you find what you were looking for?” You have likely heard this phrase uttered many times over these past few weeks during Christmas shopping forays. It’s rather ubiquitous, isn’t it? “Did you find what you were looking for?”

Most of the time, you likely answered, “Yes, thank you,” or perhaps you inquired about something you had not been able to find. And in the context of purchasing something, you probably didn’t give your answer much thought beyond the immediate transaction.

But today, on this Christmas Day, let’s consider the question again: “Did you find what you were looking for?”

On this day we once again hear the old familiar story of an unwed teenage mother-to-be named Mary and her fiancé Joseph making the trek from Nazareth to Bethlehem under orders to be enrolled from their Roman overlords. The birth of Mary’s son happens, and we hear that a messenger from God appears to shepherds who get the initial report of the birth of the Messiah. The messenger gives them a sign by which they will find the baby, and a great number of the heavenly host appear to glorify God. The shepherds decide to go check this out, and they find things just as the angel had reported to them. They found what they were looking for!

We know this story, don’t we? Even if all we know of it is hearing Linus deliver its strains in King James English as a monologue in “A Charlie Brown Christmas,” we know this story. We know the shepherds found what they were looking for: the baby Messiah, the Anointed One. What they perhaps did not know and could not fully comprehend in that moment over 2,000 years ago is what this child would mean for them – and for us.

While Luke tells us the events of Christ’s birth, in essence, answering the “What happened?” question, we are left with another question: “Why did it happen?” Why did God choose to come to us and live as one of us?

Part of the answer is found in the three short verses from today’s reading from the Letter to Titus:

“When the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of any works of righteousness that we had done, but according to his mercy … so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.”

This passage is paraphrased to clarify the point of the author: The birth of Christ happened to save us.

It happened precisely because we could not save ourselves from the mess of living life on our own terms. If we could have done so, we would have, right? But human history has proved that we can’t do it in and of ourselves. So God took the initiative and set about this saving work, not because we earned it in any way, but solely because of God’s grace.

What a radical idea this is – especially in light of our capitalistic meritocracy-based culture. We did not earn this salvation – it was freely given to us by God’s grace. Grace is that unmerited, unearned love that God has for all of creation. The letter goes on to say that this grace “justifies” us, which means it makes our relationship with God right and balanced. God initiates making the relationship with us right. Make no mistake, we have the obligation to respond to this invitation and participate in a right relationship; however, we are not the initiators of that action – God is.

And the reason God makes this relationship right is so that we might become heirs, children of God, with a hope of eternal life. Eternal life is an often-misunderstood concept and often posited as “going to heaven when you die,” which turns it into some kind of celestial evacuation plan. But that isn’t what the scriptures mean by the term eternal life. Eternal life is living fully and freely in the present now, loving God and each other. This lifetime of loving presence happens right here and now and continues forever.

So when we think about the birth of Christ beyond the story of what happened and consider why it happened, it leads us back to the question, “Did you find what you were looking for?” Perhaps you haven’t considered that question in this context, but do so for just a moment.

You are here, in this church, on Christmas. Why did you come? You didn’t have to come, you know. Oh, sure, some here will give a nod to attending church on Christmas being part of your family tradition, or maybe it was to appease parents or grandparents, and some of you are accustomed to regularly attending church. But regardless of why you think you are here, ponder in your heart for a moment what you are really seeking, because perhaps something deeper brought you here. What are you really looking for?

If we are honest, we all have a deep longing – a sense of something missing in our lives. Some call this the “hole in our soul.” It is the nagging feeling that we are incomplete and lacking. We humans are consciously aware of our fragility, our finitude, our faults and our failings. It is a fearful thing to acknowledge this truth. Most of us spend our lives running away from this stark reality by attempting to fill this hole in our soul with anything that promises to fulfill or fix us.

But try as we might, we cannot fill this hole ourselves because it was placed there by God when we were breathed into existence. It was placed there for a purpose: to draw us to say “yes” to God’s free gift of love in Christ.

Christmas is the proclamation that God spoke an eternal “yes” to us by slipping through the back door of history as a helpless baby, to grow up and live with us, die for us, and be raised from the dead to prove once and for all that our fragility, finitude, faults and failings are not the last word.

Christ is still renewing, redeeming and giving life to us – all of us, no exceptions.

No matter what your life circumstances are this day, God called you here to speak a word of eternal life and love to you: a love that you didn’t have to earn or prove yourself worthy to receive. God’s movement is toward us and for us in the birth of Jesus Christ.

This love is mystical, and it is the only enduring and life-giving way to fill the hole in your soul. It comes to us through Word and Sacrament and is present through this community.

So come. Come to this Table. Come as you are. Come here today and you will find what you are looking for.


— The Rev. Anjel Scarborough is priest-in-charge at Grace Episcopal Church in Brunswick, Md. She and her husband are the parents of two teenage daughters. She can be followed on Twitter @ReverendMom and blogs at


Making room, Christmas Eve (A,B,C) – 2013

December 24, 2013 

Isaiah 9:2-7; Psalm 96; Titus 2:11-14; Luke 2:1-14 (15-20)

Christmas is an occasion that brings families together. Surely there is at least someone here tonight wondering how he is going to be able to sleep on that fold-out couch that awaits him. That bar across the back starts to get really uncomfortable sometime in the middle of the night. And someone else is wondering how she’ll fair on the floor whether in an air mattress or in a sleeping bag. That’s what it likes when families gather, the house overflows with people, and we make room.

In the Palestine of Herod the Great, families also looked out for their own. And extended families could get quite extended in some circumstances. This is what makes Mary and Joseph’s dilemma such a problem, as Luke’s gospel tells us that Mary, “gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.”

What were they doing in a stable with no bed for their baby but a manger, which is a polite word for a feed box? Where was their family? Bethlehem was Joseph’s ancestral home. If Joseph had to go to Bethlehem, so would have his brother and sisters, father and mother, and his cousins, too, at least whichever of those family members were still alive. Each of them would have had to have found room in Bethlehem, and once they found room, they would have been obligated by duty to make room for Joseph and his very new, so obviously pregnant wife, Mary.

So why were Mary and Joseph in a stable? Perhaps the family had piled into the inn and Mary and Joseph were living in the overflow section. That explanation would work, except for Mary’s pregnancy. Even an elderly uncle or an odd second cousin could have given up a bed for a woman on the verge of childbirth.

Mary and Joseph were in a stable as there was no room for them in an inn. The shepherds did not find a stable overflowing with extended family knocking themselves out to make some better arrangements for the new baby. The shepherds found a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger. No mother-in-law, no aunt, no cousins and no sisters-in-law. Just a very young mother, doing for her baby what she knew to be best, with the father trying to make things a bit better, the best he could under the circumstances.

Why this happened is a mystery. We can guess, as some have, that it was because Joseph was older, and Mary was his second wife. He had no surviving relatives to make room for him and his young bride. Or we can guess with others that the scandal of Mary’s pregnancy had stretched the limits of family to the point that the Holy Family was left out when it came time to sort out sleeping arrangements back in Bethlehem.

But what we know, and know with certainty, is that Mary and Joseph were left to fend for themselves. No family had made room for them in Bethlehem. In a town packed to the rafters with fellow ancestors of King David, no one could find room for Mary and Joseph, who had every reason to feel quite alone as they laid their baby in the manger.

This scene makes Jesus’ words of the coming judgment in Chapter 25 of the Gospel of Matthew all the more poignant:

“‘I was hungry, and you gave Me nothing to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me nothing to drink; I was a stranger, and you did not invite Me in; naked, and you did not clothe Me; sick, and in prison, and you did not visit Me.’ Then they themselves also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry, or thirsty, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not take care of You?’ Then He will answer them, ‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me.’”

Mary and Joseph were strangers, and no one invited them in. And those who shut their doors to Joseph as he looked for room for his great-with-child wife, were shutting their doors on God incarnate. When they did not make room for that one pregnant girl, they did not make room for the maker of heaven and earth to be born among us.

Yet, the story of Christmas is a story of good news of great joy for all people, not just those surrounded by family tonight, and not just those who will celebrate by exchanging expensive gifts. Christmas is exceedingly joyful good news because in coming to a couple who were themselves lost and left out, God turned the world upside down.

For the Christmas story did not start with Mary and Joseph alone in that stable in Bethlehem. Nor did the Christmas story begin with the angel appearing to Mary, or even with the prophets who foretold of the event centuries earlier. The Christmas story began with God looking on creation, so lovingly made and so needlessly gone astray.

God’s bold and daring plan was incarnation, the Word of God becoming human. In becoming human, God sided with the oppressed and the outcasts, and showed it by coming first to poor, lowly and even despised people.

The idea of God becoming human in lowly circumstances is wondrous, for it means that God knows you and loves you even as you are, whether you spend tonight alone or trying to sleep on a fold-out couch in a house full of extended family. The miracle of Immanuel, “God with us,” is that we see that though Mary and Joseph may have been forsaken by others, they were never forgotten by God.

Jesus was raised by Mary and Joseph – people with nothing but their love of God and neighbors to recommend them for the job. They had no status, no power and no wealth. The only thing they really had to offer was love. Having nothing to offer but love is exactly what the creator of heaven and earth had in mind all along.

And we who gather tonight in the warm glow of the light of God’s love should be challenged by this vision of a world turn right-side-up by a baby in a manger. For having seen that he who the universe could not contain may be found in a stable, and in the bread and wine of communion, how much better our eyes are to be focused on seeing our Lord in the people in need all around us. And it is this vision of the world that is indeed good news of great joy for all people.


— The Rev. Canon Frank Logue is the Canon to the Ordinary of the Diocese of Georgia.

Those who give back, The Transfiguration (A.B,C) – 2013

August 6, 2013

Exodus 34:29-35; Psalm 99 or 99:5-9; 2 Peter 1:13-21; Luke 9:28-36

Immediately leading into this story of the Transfiguration is Peter’s confession, followed by Jesus telling the disciples he is going to Jerusalem where he will die, and an important teaching on what it means to be a disciple of Jesus: Pick up your cross and follow me.

If we were watching a movie of Luke’s gospel, directed by Luke the evangelist himself, he might come up behind us, tap us on the shoulder and say, “Now pay attention to this next scene! This is the heart of the matter.”

Indeed, this episode on a mountaintop is at the very dividing line of Luke’s gospel. It is nearly dead center. Up until now there has been activity in and around Galilee. From here on, it is a march to the scaffold: the journey to Jerusalem and the cross.

What we find on this mountaintop is a massive appeal to our corporate memory as a people of God. Moses went up to a mountaintop to receive direction and instructions from God and even to argue with God. When he would return to the people, his face would be shining brightly, so brightly he would have to veil it. Elijah hid in a crevice on a mountaintop, withstanding wind, fire and earthquake until he heard the “still, small voice” of God. Whereupon he immediately covered his face as he came out of the crevice to face the Lord, the God of Israel.

So as Jesus heads up a mountain to pray, we are already remembering what goes on up in these regions closer to the heavens, what some refer to as “the thin places”: places where people encounter the Holy and listen to God. And just in case our corporate memory is failing us, Luke paints the picture more precisely by putting Moses and Elijah there with Jesus, all three dazzling in glory, dazzling white, shining like the sun.

If you were Peter, James or John, I suspect at the very least there would be an audible gasp. If up to this point there has been any question at all about who this fellow Jesus is, imagine what is going through their minds now! It is like a return to the 40 years in the wilderness, the defining period of what it means to be a people of God – days of wandering; living in tents; living on manna, bread that is given daily.

It is like a return to the age of prophets such as Elijah who regularly challenged the domestic and foreign policies of the politicians and religious authorities. Elijah, who lived in the wilderness, at the margins of society, who mingled with foreigners and resident aliens, living in tents, booths, accepting the hospitality of total strangers, living on bread that is given daily.

Once a year, every year, for the eight-day Feast of the Tabernacles, Peter and his people would build booths and sleep in them for eight nights to remember the years of tenting on the land. To remember the days of Moses and Elijah. No wonder he wants to build some booths. No wonder he feels the need to do something to celebrate their corporate memory among such revered guests.

Quickly, however, the one in charge of the narrative speaks from off stage to remind one and all that this is not a story about Peter, James and John, and it is not about us or our experiences of the Holy. “This is My Son, my Chosen; listen to him.”

It is about the Son. The Chosen. And about listening: listening to God’s Son.

It is worth pondering that when the one in charge of the story speaks and names the dazzling one, we do not hear the words, “Jesus,” “Christ,” “messiah,” “rabbi,” “master” or even “lord.” The primary name given to the dazzling one is “Son.” More specifically, “My Son.”

We are told to listen to “My Son.” My Son says, “Bear your cross and follow me.” And as we follow him down into the valley, what do we find? Another man’s son. The father is bereft. The son is possessed. The son convulses and foams at the mouth. The disciples have been of no use at all.

My Son says, “Bring your son here.” The demon makes one last attempt to conquer the boy, throwing him down on the ground. My Son puts an end to the demon. The boy is restored to his father. The text says that My Son “gave him back to his father.” The demon had taken the boy. Then My Son gave him back. Demons take. My Son gives back.

The crowd is astounded. All were astounded;  there was not one person who was not astounded “at the greatness of God.” Do we allow ourselves to be astounded? Astonished? Amazed?

Note how subtly My Son becomes God. One could almost miss it altogether for sake of being so astounded and all. It would take several hundred years for the church to wrestle with this insight.

We cannot even begin to know who Jesus is if we separate these stories out. What happens on the mountaintop is important, and does have meaning. But that meaning is inextricably bound to both the question Jesus puts to the disciples before going up the mountain, “Who do you say that I am?”  and to what happens down in the valley.

Jesus will not be known any other way. Not through any clever novelization or cinematic inventiveness. Not through reading and discussing books about him. Not through watching movies and debating the merits of the movies about him. He will be known in our listening to him and following him. And in the breaking of bread that is given.

That’s why we are here. To listen to him, to follow him, and to eat our daily bread, so we might complete his work in the valley of this world. To be those people who do not take, but those who give back. How often do we take the time to be still, be silent, and listen to him?

Perhaps this is what Transfiguration means: listening to him and following him so that we may be transfigured, so that those around us may be transfigured, so that the whole world might one day be transfigured just like God’s Son.

We do this by becoming those people who do not take. We are to become those who give – those who give back.


— 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 Diocese of Maryland girls’ boarding school, where he teaches World Religions and International Baccalaureate (IB) English. His sermons are archived at

Interdependence Day, Independence Day – 2013

July 4, 2013

Deuteronomy 10:17-21Psalm 145; Hebrews 11:8-16; Matthew 5:43-48

“Independent.” It’s a word with almost universally positive connotations. People fill up their resumes describing how this or that experience made them more independent. As our children grow up and take on more challenges by themselves, we articulate their growing independence as evidence of maturity. Academics and intellectuals cherish the thought that they are “independent thinkers.”

And in the context of geo-politics, almost no other word carries the aura of statehood, sovereignty and completeness more than the word “independent.” It is the holy grail of would-be nations, a way to say that one has finally arrived.

July 4th is, of course, imbued with that special aura more than any other national commemoration – even to the point of sanctity. There are many good reasons why this should be so. Humans are hardwired to be in community and to have shared bonds of identity and rituals that reinforce that identity. The commemorations we have as the United States of America throughout the year can help to make us a cohesive community, give us a shared sense of pride and purpose, and help us to strive onward toward common goals and aspirations.

However, observing anything religiously without asking ourselves on a regular basis why we’re doing it is certain to lead to all sorts of problems. Just take a look at any conversation that Jesus had with the Scribes and the Pharisees, and the message that those encounters have for us in the church today. They ought to give us a sober reality check.

So it is with Independence Day. We’ll find it a more meaningful and authentic day of commemoration if and when we take the time to unpack it first.

Independence Day, as we know, marks the point at which the United States was able to break free of the orbit and authority of England. We only need to look to Jesus to know what good authority looks like – he tells his disciples that true leaders are servants. If leaders are not prepared to submit to their own authority and to experience the daily life of the community, as a part of it, then something has gone very wrong.

The American Revolution was a result, at least in part, of the almost total chasm between the – in every sense of the word – distant rulers and their subjects. The Founding Fathers strove to ensure that this chasm was closed and that it would be more difficult to open in the future. Naturally, their work was imperfect, but it is right that Independence Day should mark those noble sentiments. That the communities already living here when the settlers arrived were mostly not afforded the benefits of those sentiments is, of course, at best an irony and at worst a national disgrace.

In the epistle reading appointed for today, Paul writing to the Hebrews, we have to be careful not to read too much into it. It does not legitimize belief that any of us – individuals or communities – have a God-given right to a particular piece of acreage on this planet. God has given this whole world into our care and we are all citizens of it, under his gentle and loving rule. We are not owners, but custodians. When God led Abraham to the Promised Land, he did so on the understanding that custody of a place involved certain obligations.

Our first reading, from Deuteronomy, makes God’s law clear for those who would set up a nation: Welcome the stranger with love, feed and clothe them and act with justice to the weakest and most marginalized in that community, expressed in that reading as “widows and orphans.”

One of the most overlooked – but most important – parts of grammar is the preposition. What preposition should we insert before the word “independence”? We would probably say that we’re celebrating independence “from.” But what if we saw it instead in terms of independence “to”? Freedom is never just “freedom from,” it’s also “freedom to.”

The Founding Fathers didn’t just want to be free from foreign rule, they also aspired to create a new way of being in community. They wanted to build somewhere that was more equitable and safeguarded against anyone getting too much power and influence. Our celebrations of Independence Day need to include sober reflection on how we have compromised those ideals.

One of the biggest questions we need to ask ourselves on this national day is, What does the word “independent” really mean? Strip away from it all the positive connotations we looked at earlier, and what are we left with? That we don’t want to be dependent on anyone or anything. Suddenly the word loses much of its shine. If we close our doors to the stranger, then it’s a short step to closing our hearts and our minds to them, too.

Jesus warns us of that kind of living in today’s gospel reading. “If you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others?” he says. It also suggests that a culture of individualism and self-reliance can, when left unchecked, turn into a mistrust of others. Being dependent on others is not always sign of weakness or of compromise; it can be a sign of strength. It is the ultimate sign that we trust another person, and it recognizes that we are, in fact, the Body of Christ, where we need everyone, with their gifts and specialisms – and idiosyncrasies – in order to be complete.

So, on this Independence Day, let’s also think of it as “Interdependence Day”; a day when we celebrate not only being free from unjust rule but also a day when we commit ourselves anew to extending liberty and justice to everyone who seeks it, without partiality.


— The Rev Nils Chittenden is missioner for Young Adult Ministry in the Diocese of North Carolina, and chaplain of the Episcopal Center at Duke University. After attending seminary at the University of Cambridge, he was ordained in the Church of England in 1995. His ministry since then has been varied, encompassing cathedrals, campuses and community organizing as well as parishes. He moved to the U.S. in 2010. He and his wife have two cats and two beehives.

Nativity of John the Baptist (A,B,C) – 2013

Determining the significance of a prophet

June 24, 2013

Isaiah 40:1-11; Psalm 85 or 85:7-13; Acts 13:14b-26; Luke 1:57-80

People old enough to have been adults during the turbulent ’60s will remember how controversial Martin Luther King, Jr., was at the time. It was said that he and his people had no right to stir things up with all his confrontational tactics. In the South they said he didn’t understand the negro’s place, nor the way Southern society had to be structured. But in 1966 – toward the end of his career – when he led a March in Cicero, just outside of Chicago, he ran into a maelstrom of white hatred every bit as angry and violent, and he got just about nowhere. Even clergy in Northern churches were very hesitant to speak favorably of King. His “Letters from a Birmingham Jail” were meant to win them over.

In those days it would have brought on laughter and derision among most Americans to be told that King would become the greatest Christian prophet of 20th century America, and that a national holiday would be declared in his name.

Obviously, we’ve gone through a national period of reflection and re-evaluation; many minds have been changed as well as the social structure and culture of this county because of Martin Luther King.

This change of heart and culture toward King is a useful example regarding the man whose birth we observe today: John the Baptist, someone who appeared strangely out of the wilderness wearing something woven out of camel’s hair, living on a diet mostly of bugs and wild honey.

And John the Baptist must have had a big voice and a powerful message about the Kingdom, because we are told that Jerusalem and all Judea emptied out and came to hear him: large crowds getting themselves baptized with a baptism of repentance. And he wasn’t afraid to speak out, calling soldiers and tax collectors not to abuse their offices, calling the more pious people – scribes and Pharisees – a “brood of vipers,” for a false religiosity, and noisily embarrassing King Herod for marrying Herodias, the divorced wife of Herod’s half brother. John the Baptist was put in prison for that, and Herodias saw to it that John lost his head.

Jesus’ public ministry doesn’t really begin until after John’s martyrdom. And when the crowds begin to follow Jesus for his teaching and healing powers, before long Herod gets wind of it, and feels thunderstruck that maybe this guy is John brought back from the dead, a prophet that not even the king can suppress.

Reading between the lines, one can form the strong suspicion that what we have in John the Baptist is a very powerful and commanding figure, one who – like Martin Luther King – requires some time and reflection to sort out his true significance.

Indeed, he may have seemed – for a time – a rival to Jesus’ own ministry. John had followers who persisted with his ministry. We are told in the Book of Acts that Paul ran into a group of people out on a mission in Asia Minor who had been baptized into repentance, but had no knowledge of baptism by the Holy Spirit. Among them was a figure of considerable esteem who knew the Bible and could speak very persuasively of his faith. Once baptized in the Holy Spirit in Jesus’ name, he was a powerful advocate and apostle for Christ.

Thus we see a kind of merging or reeling in of what might have become a different offshoot of Judaism, a religion founded on John the Baptist. This reeling in occurs, for example, when some disciples of John, loosely wondering after John’s martyrdom, come up to Jesus and ask, “Are you the One, or should be wait for another?”

But before seeing how Jesus answers this point-blank question “Are you the one?” suppose we pause and reflect on the example of how it was that we managed eventually to appreciate the full stature and significance of Martin Luther King. It took some time, some reflection on his speeches, his writings, his nonviolent strategies, the real changes that came cascading forth in our society, and the hope for things yet to come, because of him.

Yes, Jesus was baptized by John, and John witnessed to Jesus’ stature as not being worthy even to tie Jesus’ shoes. But it appears that John’s magnetic force was so powerful his followers couldn’t see beyond him to his real significance.

Jesus answers the question “Are you the one?” in an operational way:

“Go tell John what you see and hear: the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up and the poor have the good news preached to them.”

He then goes on to speak of that rough-hewn man in the wilderness they all went out to see: a prophet and more than a prophet, a forerunner. And Jesus quotes from Malachi using the very last sentence of our Old Testament: “Behold, I send my messenger before thy face, who shall prepare thy way before thee.”

It is the prophetic expectation of Elijah come back to prepare the way for the Messiah.

But the final appreciation for the significance of John the Baptist comes from the portrait given us by the Gospel of Luke. Here we find John comes from a priestly family. The angel Gabriel appears to the father, Zechariah, saying that Zechariah’s wife, Elizabeth, though advanced beyond child-bearing years, will have a son whose destiny is to play the role of the forerunner Elijah. Zechariah, being doubtful about this, is struck speechless until the child is circumcised. Then he speaks the words of the hymn we know as the Benedictus Dominus Deus, very likely a hymn of the primitive church to express their veneration of John. The hymn closely follows the Magnificat of Mary, expressing the promise that the covenant of God with his people is carried forward by John with the promise of salvation of the lowly and protection from enemies, offering forgiveness of sins, light from darkness and the guidance of holiness of righteousness.

Furthermore, we are told in Luke that Mary and Elizabeth were kinswomen, related, and rejoiced in companionship over their pregnancies.

In this way, by couching it in his birth, the gospel of Luke brings to full fruition the stature and significance of John the Baptist.


— The Rev. Armand Larive is a retired priest in the Episcopal Diocese of Spokane and the author of “After Sunday: A Theology of Work” (Bloomsburt Academic, 2004).

‘It is finished’, Good Friday (A,B,C) – 2013

March 29, 2013

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

“It is finished.”

Many said words like those that day. Pilate pushed himself up from the judgment bench and sighed, “Jesus is finished, another political troublemaker out of the way.”

The religious leaders looked at one another and said in hushed tones, “Jesus is finished. No more offense from him.”

The soldiers as they turned their backs and walked away: “Finished. It is over, our unpleasant but necessary work for the day.”

The crowds as they watched Jesus breathe his last and his head slump down, lifeless: “Finished. The spectacle is over.”

All comments on the moment, comments on the day, comments made by those with limited vision.

Not so with Jesus’ final word, tetelestai, which is Greek for “It is finished.” This is a word of cosmic import, a word of timeless importance, of universal significance. It is finished. Jesus’ last word. It’s just one word in the language of the Bible.

“It is finished” – his concluding declaration, his last word, the final punctuation on a sentence begun before the beginning. With this word of completion, finality – “finished” – we are reminded how all began: in John’s gospel:

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him. In him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness and the darkness did not overcome it. … And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth. From his fullness, we have all received grace upon grace.”

And so Jesus’ word, word of Word incarnate, this one word, which we translate as “it is finished,” is the final punctuation on a sentence begun before all that is, before we were knit together in our mothers’ wombs, before the first light, first life, first spark, first dream, first bursting forth of creation.

The final punctuation on a sentence spoken in love, spoken across space, time, through ages, prophets, patriarchs, matriarchs, sages, and in these last days, spoken to us by a son: Jesus.

The final punctuation on a sentence spoken, lived in love; spoken, sung, breathed, in words such as “And I, when I am lifted up, I will draw all to myself.” Words such as “Love one another as I have loved you.” Love, spoken in actions: touched and touching, taught and teaching, love reaching out, healing, embracing, lifting; calling “beloved” those called wrong, weak, small, outcast, other, sinner.

The Word incarnate spoke love in words, in deeds, spoke love in handing himself over, giving himself up, pouring himself out, until there is nothing left, nothing more needed, just one last breath, one last word. God’s sentence of love spoken across time, space, boundaries, on the cross – spoke its final syllables, in gasps, in an agonized whisper, in pain, yes, but with precision, point and power. This is no giving up, this is declaration: “It is finished.” Period.

Jesus’ word brings forth our words of prayer:

O Jesus, to you, now lifted up, with your arms of love stretched out on the hard wood of the cross, in your loving and giving until all is completed, to you in your finishing, we bring all our incompleteness, all our unfinishedness, all those things done and left undone: our fractional loving, our fragmentary living, our unrealized intentions, our unfulfilled potential, our unarticulated praise, our unprayed prayers, our underachieved service, our ungiven forgiveness, our conditional charity, our inadequate hope, our wanting faith, unfinished us, unfinished me. And you say, drawing each of us and our incompleteness all to you, “It is finished.” Period.


The Rev. Dr. Amy E. Richter is rector of St. Anne’s Episcopal Church in Annapolis, Md.