Archives for March 2016

The Good Shepherd, Easter 4 (C) – 2016

[RCL] Acts 9:36-43; Psalm 23; Revelation 7:9-17; John 10:22-30

Today many churches will celebrate Good Shepherd Sunday, especially those parishes and congregations that have “Good Shepherd” in their titles. “The Good Shepherd” is a title that Jesus used for himself in a famous section of the Gospel of John in which he declares, “I am the Good Shepherd.” The passage is so meaningful for the Christian understanding of who Jesus of Nazareth is that parts of it are appointed for this Sunday in all three years of the Church’s lectionary.

The background and implications of Jesus’ claim to be the Good Shepherd make it particularly consequential. Throughout the Old Testament—but with special pointedness in the prophetic books—the kings and other rulers of Israel and Judah are called shepherds. This designation makes sense because kings and rulers were entrusted with looking out for the welfare of God’s people. They were responsible for defending them from attack, for administering justice, for taking care of the poor and needy, and for making provisions for the worship of the Lord.

As the Hebrew prophets make clear, however, the rulers of Israel and Judah failed on every count. They “fed themselves and not the flock,” and they had “scattered the sheep of the Lord’s flock”. They proclaimed the hope that the Lord would intervene on behalf of the people, God would be their true Shepherd. God spoke to Ezekiel promising:

“I myself will search for my sheep, and will seek them out. As shepherds seek out their flocks when they are among their scattered sheep, so I will seek out my sheep. I will rescue them from all the places to which they have been scattered on a day of clouds and thick darkness.”

Throughout the Psalms the Lord is presented as the Shepherd of Israel and the one who guides the people like a flock. The best-known example of the Bible’s shepherd-imagery for God is the psalm appointed for today, Psalm 23. Many Christians know its words by heart:

“The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not be in want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures and leads me beside still waters.
He revives my soul and guides me along right pathways for his Name’s sake.”

In rich symbolism, the psalm movingly depicts God as the true king of Israel and shepherd of God’s people. God gives them everything they need, and nothing is missing from God’s generous provisions. Sustenance, refreshment, beauty, and safety are all to be found among the Lord’s gifts for God’s people. The Lord’s strength defends them from their oppressors and saves them from dangers the way a shepherd protects their sheep from wolves, bears, and lions:

“Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I shall fear no evil; for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.”

God’s people rejoice, surrounded by the abundance of God’s love forever:

“Surely your goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”

This understanding of God as the Shepherd of Israel forms the backdrop for Jesus’ teaching in the Gospel of John.

Jesus begins what is known as the Good Shepherd discourse by describing the relationship between the sheep and the shepherd: God knows them by name, and they recognize God’s voice. The relationship is direct and personal. God is not some far-off deity who is uninterested in God’s people. God loves them and calls them by name.

Like the Old Testament prophets Jesus contrasts the Lord’s care for people with the failure of the Jewish leaders who came before him. He exposes them as false shepherds. Instead of caring for the flock of God they were thieves and robbers from whom the sheep needed protection. Jesus insists that the false shepherds only came “to kill, to rob, and to destroy” but that he came to save the sheep and to give them “abundant life”. Jesus teaches that as Israel’s true Shepherd, the long-awaited Messiah, he knows us, loves us, and provides for us with the same knowledge, love, and care that God, Israel’s Lord, offers to God’s people. He even promises us the gift of eternal life.

By laying claim to the role of the Good Shepherd, Jesus is claiming for himself a position reserved for God alone as becomes evident from the section of the Gospel we hear in today’s readings. The crowd demands that Jesus answer them clearly whether or not he is the Christ, the Messiah. Jesus further angers them by telling them that they really ought to have discovered that for themselves when they had heard him teaching and when he had done might signs before their eyes, but they had not listened or seen because they were not God’s sheep. He appears to rile them even more by pressing the question further. He declares, “The Father and I are one.” It was a remarkable statement, and it provoked a dramatic response—the crowd took stones in order to kill Jesus!

There appeared to be no two ways about it: Either Jesus was correct, and he was the Good Shepherd being opposed by some outsider sheep, or he was a blasphemer who deserved the harshest punishment. The crowd’s violent reaction further illustrates the importance of the question that faces every person: Who is this Jesus? Is he a blasphemer, or is he who he says he is? Is this Jesus the Christ? Is he the Good Shepherd?

In his book Mere Christianity, Anglican layman and theologian C.S. Lewis suggested that one might ask if perhaps Jesus was simply a lunatic, but that no one who listened to Jesus’ message about the care and the loving protection of God could seriously argue that Jesus was a madman. Therefore, instead of simply dismissing what Jesus says, we must take his claims seriously.

Many who first heard Jesus’ claims to be one with God demanded evidence, signs that would demonstrate the truth of what he said. They wanted proof. Jesus gave them an answer when declared, “I am the Good Shepherd; I know my own, and my own know me…and I lay down my life for the sheep… No one takes it from me; but I lay it down of my own accord, and I have power to take it up again.” The proof that Jesus gives that he is the Good Shepherd is his loving self-sacrifice for the people of God and the power of his resurrection. Put another way, Good Friday and Easter Morning are the proof that Jesus of Nazareth is who he says he is.

On this Good Shepherd Sunday, we ought to celebrate God’s great love as it is revealed in Jesus Christ’s total gift of himself on our behalf. He is the Good Shepherd who laid down his life for the sheep and took it up again, and it is he who has given us the abundance of eternal life. As Christians we receive this gift as we hear Jesus’ voice calling us each by name and as we trust him with our whole life in the knowledge that commended to the Savior’s keeping we shall never ripped away from God’s love. Amen.

Download the sermon for Easter 4C.

Written by The Reverend Dr. John J. Lynch

The Rev. Dr. John J. Lynch is the rector of Christ the King Episcopal Church in Yorktown, Virginia, having previously served in the Diocese of Honduras. He is also the Province III Chaplain to the Order of the Daughters of the King. In addition to his pastoral responsibilities, Father Lynch writes and publishes the Spanish-language blog “El Cura de Dos Mundos”.  

Jesus Will Meet Us, Easter 3 (C) – 2016

[RCL] Acts 9:1-6, (7-20); Revelation 5:11-14; John 21:1-19; Psalm 30

John’s Gospel ends with four appearances that the resurrected Jesus makes to different groups of disciples: four scenes of Christ revealed alive, four assurances that death could never contain the life that Jesus lived and lives. First, on Easter Day, we heard how Mary encountered Jesus in the garden outside the tomb, and mistook him for the gardener, before God’s light flooded in and she saw him revealed as her teacher. Last Sunday, we heard of two encounters with Jesus: late on Easter Day, Jesus appears to the disciples in the house where they had been staying — only Thomas is missing and does not believe. So Jesus returns again the following week, and this time Thomas is there, and sees with his own eyes, and confesses his belief. And Jesus says to Thomas, “Have you believed me because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”

These appearances take place in Jerusalem, in the days just after Jesus’ execution. The terror of the preceding week has dissipated, but Jesus’ disciples are still filled with fear, not quite sure how to go on. They don’t know what’s coming next. John does a masterful job showing that fear transforms into joy. First Mary stands outside the tomb, weeping because Jesus is dead. And in the next moment she stands there weeping because he is alive. This whole section, John chapter 20, is imbued with a heavenly light. Think about how your memories of deep despair and deep joy seem more intense: your wedding day, or the funeral of a loved one. The picture you keep in your mind is brighter, more colorful, more deeply ingrained.

But then life goes on, and many ordinary days follow. So it is with the fourth and final appearance that John records, in chapter 21. Some time has passed — John doesn’t say how much. But the disciples have left Jerusalem and returned to their home in Galilee, back to the safety of the countryside and away from those terrible forces that Jesus confronted in the city: the chief priests and Pharisees in the temple, and of course the Roman governor and his soldiers.  Jesus’ loyal followers are home, but you get the sense that they don’t quite know what to do with themselves or what to make of those strange appearances that happened just after Jesus’ death.

Peter decides to go fishing, and several of the others decide to go out on the boat with him. They don’t have any luck, but the next morning, as they are coming back to shore, they find a man standing there who tells them to cast the net again, to the right side of the boat this time — and of course, the man is Jesus, and of course, they haul in so many fish that the net is nearly torn.  And Jesus invites them to sit down on the beach, around the fire he has made, to break bread with him once more: from the last supper to the first breakfast, if you will.

This is the last appearance of the risen Jesus that John records. But this is not Jesus’ last appearance. Look with the eyes of faith, and we begin to see Jesus in the oddest places: on the seashore, in the garden, on the street corner. Sometimes Jesus is hungry and cold and asking us for money. And other times he is inviting us to sit down for an unexpected meal. But always, always, Jesus is challenging us to live lives of kindness and compassion, of sharing and generosity, of justice-making and peace.  In a word, the abundant life that Jesus has brought us is a life of love: it comes from love and is intended to bring more love into the world.

The English language has a poverty of words for love. We have to modify love with other words if we want to try and be precise about what we’re talking about: we talk about “romantic” love, “familial” love, “brotherly” love, and so on. Greek does a better job of this, as we can see in the conversation that Jesus has with Peter after they finish breakfast.  Jesus asks Peter, “Do you love me?”  And Peter answers him, “Well Lord, of course, you know I love you.” But Jesus doesn’t seem satisfied with this answer, so he asks Peter again, and Peter again gives the same answer.  In fact, this exchange happens three times.

Now why would Jesus ask Peter this question three times? It turns out, in the original Greek, Jesus and Peter are using completely different words for love. What Jesus actually asks Peter is: do you agape me?  And Peter answers: yes Lord, you know that I philia you.

Agape and philia. Jesus wants agape: the kind of love that is life-transforming, wholly consuming, that means commitment beyond feelings. Agape is the self-giving love that sacrifices its own needs for the good of others. The kind of love that God has for us, in other words.  This is the love Jesus showed us on the cross, and Jesus is asking for this kind of love in return.

But all Peter can offer is philia: I have affection for you, Lord. I like you, well enough. That’s what philia is — more like, than love.

We shouldn’t be too hard on Peter though. Perhaps he was just trying to be honest about the kind of love he was capable of giving Jesus in return.  Peter saw Jesus’ brutal execution with his own eyes, so he is well aware of what can result from too much agape love. Letting go of yourself for the good of the other is not an easy calling.

A remarkable and beautiful thing happens at the end of this exchange though: the first two times Jesus asks the question, he says, “Do you agape me?” And Peter answers, “Lord, I philia you.” But the third time Jesus asks, he changes the question and uses philia instead of agape, the same word for love that Peter had been using all along.

Peter is hurt, perhaps because he feels embarrassed by Jesus’ lowered expectations. But in reality, he has no need for embarrassment: the point is that Jesus loves us enough to meet us where we are. If all we can offer is philia, then Jesus will meet us there, and keep walking with us. Jesus knows that the agape love with which God holds together the universe is more than enough to go around: it can make up for our deficiencies in love. And as we walk with Jesus and our hearts grow more open, God’s agape love will come pouring in, until we are so full that it begins to flow through us and out into the world.  This is the abundant life that Jesus wants for us: will we follow him into it?

Amen.

Download the sermon for Easter 3C.

Written by the Reverend Jason Cox

The Rev. Jason Cox has served as associate rector for Youth Ministries at St. Columba’s Episcopal Church in Washington, D.C., since 2011. Prior to working at St. Columba’s, he directed the Episcopal Urban Intern Program, a year-long service and discernment program for young adults, in the Diocese of Los Angeles. Before ordination, he served as an intern in the Episcopal Urban Intern Program, working with homeless clients in a transitional housing facility on L.A.’s skid row.

My Lord and My God, Easter 2 (C) – 2016

[RCL] Acts 5:27-32; Revelation 1:4-8; John 20:19-31; Psalm 118:14-29 or Psalm 150

Doubt is a complicated matter. It can indicate a critical mind, one that asks questions, and never takes things at face value. The opposite is a gullible mind: one that is the delight of unscrupulous sales persons, dangerous politicians, and many televangelists.

There’s another type of doubt, one driven by deep emotion, an emotion stimulated by loss. It’s a form of despair, a despair that clings to loss and refuses to believe that there is any future other than one described by that which is lost. Life will never be the same again. Friends assure us that we will get over our loss of a job, an ambition, our loss of a relationship or the death of a dear one but we don’t want to hear it. We can’t believe it. Saint Thomas’s doubt is of this second type.

Instead of becoming the patron saint of those who never take things at face value, Thomas might well be the hero of people who are never on time. For some reason he missed the earliest encounters with the Risen Lord. About his statement: “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.”  We will get to that in a moment.

Thomas first makes an entrance in Saint Johns Gospel shortly after Lazarus rises from the dead. He tells Jesus that all the disciples will go with him to die. Later, when Jesus tells them that he is going away to prepare a place for his followers, Thomas assumes that Jesus is talking about some geographical destination and says that he doesn’t know where Jesus is going or the way there.

He must have found a safe place to hide in his grief and despair after the crucifixion because he missed the first encounters in the garden, on the road to Emmaus, and in the first of the two encounters in the upper room.

We really don’t know enough about Thomas to assess his character, let alone to accuse him of being a habitual doubter. He’s Jewish. He’s a twin but we don’t know who his twin was. He’s devoted enough to Jesus to at least contemplate dying for him. He doesn’t want to be separated from his Lord. He wants to know where Jesus is going and how to get to him. And for all that, Thomas isn’t there for Jesus when he is arrested, tried, and put to death. He runs away.

After the crucifixion, as he hides in the city, he must be a bundle of fear, grief and guilt. There are few human emotions so devastating. To then discover that his friends, equally guilty, equally grieving, had been visited by Jesus and given authority to heal the very emotions with which he suffered was more than he could absorb or manage. Filled with shame he blurts out: “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.” Thomas won’t believe it for himself. He certainly won’t believe it from the mouths of his friends, who have been empowered to restore relationships: “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”

But Thomas still hangs around, even though he is convinced that nothing can ever get better for him, that he deserves nothing better. The next week Jesus appears again, says Shalom, and immediately invites Thomas to touch his wounds. Like a dam bursting, Thomas’s fear, grief, shame, and hopelessness floods out and he collapses in adoration. “My Lord and my God”.

The writer of John’s Gospel, perhaps the Beloved Disciple perhaps not, concludes the story by telling us why he selected this one from among all the incidents he could have recounted. He writes: “Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.”

In one way or another we all stumble into life moments when we are seized by fear, remorse, grief, and loss. Our lack of belief that things can get better isn’t atheism or agnosticism, but rather a deeply personal conviction that we are the exception, the one left out. We may even believe that the Christian community is empowered reconcile, restore and forgive and that priests and bishops are chosen agents of reconciliation. There’s a much-neglected service of reconciliation in the prayer book. Yet we still exclude ourselves as if clinging to remorse rather than the life we deserve.

I wonder whether “John” points us deeper in that direction, that “Way, Truth and Life”? Is there significance in the gap of a week between encounters, one that the first Christians would have grasped? Is this a seven-day gap between Lord’s Days? As we do, the Early Christians offered the Shalom, the Peace, before the Eucharist, during which Jesus comes among us and invites us to explore his wounds. As we touch him, he enters us and, by faith, we let loose everything that has obscured his presence. He offers new life when we couldn’t believe one possible, and we drop to our knees and murmur: “My Lord and my God”.

If legend is true, St. Thomas obtained new life and took the message of reconciliation and forgiveness as far as India. His tomb, venerated by Christians and non-Christians alike is the heart of the Mar Thoma, Lord Thomas, Church with whom we enjoy communion.

Download the sermon for Easter 2C.

Written by The Reverend Anthony Clavier

The Reverend Anthony Clavier is the Vicar of St. Thomas’ Church, Glen Carbon, with St. Bartholomew’s, Granite City, Illinois.

Bulletin Insert: Third Sunday of Easter

Letter to the Church on Reconciliation

April 10, 2016

The leaders of the Episcopal Church’s House of Bishops and House of Deputies issued the following letter to both houses and all Episcopalians regarding the church’s commitment to racial justice and reconciliation on March 12. 

At General Convention this summer, our church made the strongest commitment in a generation to racial justice and reconciliation. As the leaders of the House of Bishops and House of Deputies, we were tasked by Resolution C019 to lead in this holy work, and thus to enable every diocese, ministry, and baptized person in our church to live and bear witness to the teaching of Jesus to love God and love our neighbors as ourselves (Matthew 22:37-40), by respecting the dignity of every human being, and working to transform the unjust structures of society.

To honor that call, we gathered on February 3 and 4 in Austin, Texas, to share our own gifts and stories, to learn some of the church’s historic and current activities, and to begin to discern a way forward. Rather than proceed with quick fixes or instant program, we adopted two essential practices: deep listening to stories and patient commitment to mutual transformation over the long haul.

Today, we write to welcome sisters and brothers in both Houses and ultimately all Episcopalians to join us in this ministry. The pain of racial injustice and division has wracked our church and the many communities where we both proclaim and embody the gospel of Jesus Christ. Our collective prayer and action can begin to heal what is broken and nurture the Beloved Community that is God’s dream for all.

At this stage, we look forward to convening one or more church-wide gatherings where many voices can share about racial justice and reconciliation, including the myriad racial, ethnic and cultural realities that play out across Latin America, Europe, Asia and deep into indigenous communities on this continent. We have also asked the Presiding Bishop’s staff to research options for the following:

  • A gathering for listening with Anglican partners in the Global South, with particular attention to colonial and neocolonial patterns of relationship
  • Vehicles for sharing stories, developing relationships, and listening to the Other
    Age-appropriate formation and education opportunities for dismantling racism
  • A summary of the church’s current ministries and gifts for racial justice and reconciliation
  • A census or audit to gain a clearer understanding of the church’s demographic make-up and its historic and current participation in systems of racial injustice

Please join us in spending the remainder of this holy season of Lent in prayer, asking God to prepare our hearts to share and to receive the stories and truths that challenge each of us most. Join us in looking to transformation well beyond a single triennium or even the nine years of a primate’s term, beyond the United States alone, beyond new statements and policies. We share the longing of our Lord Jesus Christ for metanoia — to turn, to be reborn as a Church engaged in behaviors, commitments and relationships that reflect the love of the One who called us to be one.

In the deep love of Christ,
Presiding Bishop Michael Curry
President of the House of Deputies Gay Clark Jennings
House of Bishops Vice President  Mary Gray-Reeves
House of Deputies Vice President Byron Rushing
House of Bishops Vice President Dean Wolfe
House of Deputies Secretary Michael Barlowe

Download bulletin insert as PDF:

full page, one-sided 4/10/16
half page, double-sided 4/10/16

black and white, full page, one- sided, 4/10/16
black and white, half page, double-sided 4/10/16

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

Sermons for Holy Week

Here are the sermons for Holy Week 2016:

Shareholders and Partners with Jesus, Maundy Thursday (C) – 2016

What is Truth?, Good Friday (C) – 2016

Practice Resurrection, Easter (C) – 2016

Bulletin Insert: Second Sunday of Easter

A Word to the Church from Episcopal Bishops

April 3, 2016

The Episcopal Church House of Bishops met in retreat March 11 – 15 at Camp Allen Conference Center in Navasota, TX. While meeting in retreat, they unanimously approved the following Word To The Church on civil discourse and our current political climate.

On Good Friday the ruling political forces of the day tortured and executed an innocent man. They sacrificed the weak and the blameless to protect their own status and power. On the third day Jesus was raised from the dead, revealing not only their injustice but also unmasking the lie that might makes right.

In a country still living under the shadow of the lynching tree, we are troubled by the violent forces being released by this season’s political rhetoric. Americans are turning against their neighbors, particularly those on the margins of society. They seek to secure their own safety and security at the expense of others. There is legitimate reason to fear where this rhetoric and the actions arising from it might take us.

In this moment, we resemble God’s children wandering in the wilderness. We, like they, are struggling to find our way. They turned from following God and worshiped a golden calf constructed from their own wealth. The current rhetoric is leading us to construct a modern false idol out of power and privilege. We reject the idolatrous notion that we can ensure the safety of some by sacrificing the hopes of others. No matter where we fall on the political spectrum, we must respect the dignity of every human being and we must seek the common good above all else.

We call for prayer for our country that a spirit of reconciliation will prevail and we will not betray our true selves.

Download bulletin insert as PDF:

full page, one-sided 4/3/16
half page, double-sided 4/3/16

black and white, full page, one- sided, 4/3/16
black and white, half page, double-sided 4/3/16

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

Bible Study, Easter 3 (C) – April 10, 2016  

[RCL] Acts 9:1-6, (7-20); Revelation 5:11-14; John 21:1-19; Psalm 30

Acts 9:1-6, (7-20)

Here we have Saul in deep shock from his experience on the road to Damascus. We know that he will become one of the greatest persons of profound faith in God. But isn’t Ananias’ faith in God as shown in this story extraordinary? The Lord tells Ananias in a vision that Saul is praying and that Saul too is having a vision. Saul sees “a man named Ananias” coming in, laying hands on him so that Saul may regain his sight. Ananias doesn’t say, “that must be another man named Ananias.” He doesn’t say, “Lord, I don’t know how to do that.” He knows that God wants him to do this and he has faith that it is possible. He does have fear though and he tells God about it. The Lord assures Ananias that Saul is a part of his plan. Saul will be a vessel of God’s message to all people. That is all it takes. Ananias goes to Saul and does what God has asked.

  • What fear do you have about a task you feel God may be calling you to?
  • Would sharing that fear with God free you to step out with confident faith to do that task?
Psalm 30

Psalm 30 starts out sounding like a typical praise psalm. It begins full of joy that God has stopped the writer from dying. But there is an abrupt change in tone at verse 8. We have a glimpse of the dark moments that came before. Perhaps the psalmist lost his sense of security when he became sick. This may have been the moment he felt that God hid his face. The writer appeals to God saying that once he is dead, he won’t be able to praise God and proclaim his faithfulness. How can I love you, God, when I’m dead? Then in verse 12 there is another turn. The psalmist pleas were heard, He is restored to health and promises to exalt God and give thanks forever.

  • How can we stay “as strong as the mountains” even at those moments that we feel God’s face is turned or our prayers aren’t answered?
  • Do you think we might stay “as strong as the mountains” when we feel God’s face is hid, by calling upon the Lord for help and asking for mercy?
Revelation 5:11-14

The book of Revelation is written in the apocalyptic style and is a literary genre that we modern readers find difficult. We are unfamiliar with so much of the symbolism. What is clear in this passage though is that both God, the one seated on the throne, and Jesus, the Lamb are equally worthy of Universal praise.

  • Can you picture this image in your mind and imagine yourself singing with full voice, joining with angels, the symbolic living creatures, elders, and every creature in heaven, earth, and sea, calling for blessing, honor, glory, and might to the Creator and Redeemer?
John 21:1-19

This Gospel passage is full of parallels with other Gospel passages. In Luke, Jesus told Peter to throw out the nets after a fruitless night of fishing. The nets were miraculously filled with fish then too. Peter has been in a boat before and tried to get to Jesus walking on the water. Here he jumps into the water and swims to Jesus. Peter has been near a fire of burning coals before while being asked a question three times. He denied that he knew Jesus three times. Here Jesus redeems Peter by asking three times “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Three times Peter says “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.”

  • Do you ever feel that Jesus is saying to you “If you love me, feed my sheep?”
  • What are some ways that you feel others have “fed” you?

Written by Greg Hamlin

Greg is a lay leader seminarian at Bloy House in Southern California. He and his wife, Karen, are involved members of St. James’ Church in South Pasadena. They have two grown daughters. Anouska is a graduate of Brooklyn Law School, and Natasha is working on a Marriage and Family Therapy degree at Fuller Seminary.

Bible Study, Easter 2 (C) – April 3, 2016

[RCL] Acts 5:27-32; Revelation 1:4-8; John 20:19-31; Psalm 118:19-24 or Psalm 150

Psalm 118:14-18

The psalm is infectious with the clear truth telling that it conveys: “The Lord is my strength and my song!” It is an affirmation of the life that God imbues us with, and the realization that we never need be scared of death, for God secures our spiritual freedom. Lest we simply clap our hands with joy, the psalmist reminds us that we have a countervailing obligation. We will declare the works of the Lord. Our lives are called to declare the fact that, from the edge of the precipice, God has taken us by the hand and lead us to new life.

  • How does your life declare God’s works?
  • How do you see God’s saving grace in the world around you?
Acts 5:27-32

In its closer context, Acts 5:27-32 is part of the larger narrative of the initial missionary adventures of Peter and John in Jerusalem. After having been shown some leniency by the high priest, Peter and John are brought before them again for teaching the Good News to the people of Jerusalem. We see the punch/counter-punch of claimed authority that, in the true spirit of the risen Christ, upends the earthly authority (the high priests), in favor of Christ’s redeeming love. This redeeming love compels Peter and John to continue to spread the Good News in the face of strict orders to desist.

  • How often are we asked to choose between our wants and desires, and a life in Christ?
  • How do we proclaim the Good News in a society that may have a difficult time hearing it?
Revelation 1:4-8

“So it is to be.” We cannot stop Jesus’ ever-growing love once it is in our hearts. We have experienced the joy of resurrection and the Good News continues to ground us in the life of and for Christ. However, there is more to come, for God is that “who is and who was and who is to come.” This title for God appears nowhere else in the Bible. It speaks to the truth that God is eternal and has always been. Equally important is that God will come again to bring order to the world in ways that will make all its peoples wail.

  • What will this world look like?
  • Who will we be in such a world?
John 20:19-31

Alleluia. Christ is risen! Jesus appearing to the disciples in spite of the locked doors indicates to us that Jesus has transcended the earthly, physical reality, while at the same time confirming his bodily risen-ness. However, this is not simply a dead Jesus walking amongst the living. Jesus came and stood among them and said “Peace be with you.” The English translations of this phrase use the past tense “said”, whereas the Greek uses the present active “says”, cementing Jesus’ living presence through physicality and voice. Jesus, and the Good News he embodies, has gloriously conquered death! Moreover, present before us is a Jesus wounded, suffering for those who seek the fulfillment of his redeeming love. Thomas, often derided for his skepticism, is one such who needs confirmation of that love.

  • How is it that Thomas was not able to comprehend the news of the risen Christ from his fellow disciples who witnessed Jesus’ presence just a week before?
  • When we fail to see Christ in our lives and in others how is our ability to witness to his love is similarly obscured?
  • How can we open our hearts to Jesus so that we, along with Thomas, can fully proclaim him as “My Lord and my God!” to those who might doubt?

Download the Easter 2C Bible Study.

Written by Michael J. Horvath

Michael Horvath is a postulant in the Diocese of New York and currently a Middler (second year) Master of Divinity student at The General Theological Seminary in New York City.

Practice Resurrection, Easter (C) – 2016

[RCL] Acts 10:34-43 or Isaiah 65:17-25; 1 Corinthians 15:19-26 or Acts 10:34-43; John 20:1-18 or Luke 24:1-12; Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24

Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark…things happen early in the morning. Mornings are mystical and sacred, the earth rises from its slumber to greet the coming day, but this morning did not feel mystical, this morning did not feel sacred. Mary Magdalene did not want to get out of bed but the orange glow in the east was spreading across the sky. The day’s doings were calling.

Sitting on her bed Mary said the customary prayer; “Blessed are you Lord God, Ruler of the Universe. I offer thanks to You, living and eternal King, for You have mercifully restored my soul within me; Your faithfulness is great.” (Modeh Ani, traditional Jewish first prayer of the day.) But the words didn’t offer the usual comfort. This morning the words were just words.

The last few days seemed a blur. The Passover meal, with its prayers and rituals, family and friends gathered to recite the ancient story, seemed so long ago. Jesus’ strange words that night as he passed the bread, “Do this in remembrance of me”, now made eerie sense. She didn’t really think it would happen. But he was gone. They had come for him. Right there in the garden. The garden where they often went to pray, to talk with Jesus. The garden that held so many happy memories, so many stories. Then he was gone.

She had followed the next day, in disbelief with the other women, as he made the slow agonizing walk to his death. Mary had stood there numb and in shock as they drove the nails, as he breathed his last. She had comforted his mother. The words didn’t come. The words couldn’t come. All she could do was hold on to his mother. She followed to the garden as they laid him in the tomb. He was dead. It was finished.

But the burial rites needed to be done. Sabbath meant they couldn’t do the customary anointing. But today, early on the first day of the week while it was still dark, she had a job to do. Mary dressed as if in a dream. This was not happening. She made her way down the street to the waiting women. With a silent nod they joined in slow procession to the garden, to the tomb. How were they going to move the stone?

The stone had been rolled away! It was empty! How could this be? What have they done? They have taken him. One final insult from the people who had robbed her of her friend, her teacher, her Rabbouni. They must have taken his body to deny him the proper burial. The stone was rolled away.

With tears trailing after her, Mary ran to Simon Peter. “They have taken him!” is all she could get out. Then the flood of tears came. They have taken him. Looking into the empty tomb with the stone rolled away someone was sitting there. “Why are you weeping?” “Don’t you understand? They have taken him!” A voice from behind her: “Woman! Why are you weeping? Who are you looking for?” That voice. It sounded familiar, but it couldn’t be. “They have taken him! Do you know where?”

“Mary!”

“Rabbouni?!”

That voice. The familiar voice of the impossible. How can this be? This is not possible. “Destroy this temple and in three days it will be rebuilt,” echoed in her head. He’s alive! Jesus is risen! “Go Mary. Tell the others.” New tears as she ran to tell the good news. “I have seen the Lord! I have seen the Lord!”

Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, things happen.

Early on the first day of the week Mary Magdalene expected to find death but instead she found new life. We have stood in Mary Magdalene’s shoes. We know only too well what it means to expect death but find new life. We know what it feels like to follow on Good Friday only to be confronted with Easter Sunday. We have stood there peering into the empty tomb with the stone rolled away experiencing the impossible. The thing is, we don’t go looking for resurrection – resurrection finds us.

Jesus’ resurrection is about God loving us so much that God is willing to go to any length to find us in all the wrong places. Because like Mary, we go looking for God in the familiar, in the places we expect to find God. But in Jesus’ resurrection God finds us when we are down and out, when we are at the end of our rope, when all hope seems lost. God rolls back the stones that bind and confine us. God stands waiting with a familiar voice to call us to new life. Call us to “Go and tell.”

Resurrection has no meaning, no purpose, no place unless like Mary Magdalene we go and tell it! Resurrection has no meaning if we cannot share the Good News of Easter to a world living in Good Friday! Resurrection has no meaning unless we are willing to live as Easter people.

Go and tell of your life transformed by the one who healed the sick and cured the lame.

Go and tell of the one who blessed the broken and welcomed the outcast.

Go and tell that “Do this in remembrance of me” is real.

Go and tell that God has work for us to do in our neighborhoods and street corners.

Go and tell that God was there, God is here and God will be there!

Go and tell that God find us and loves us into redemption through Christ Jesus our Lord.

In truth resurrection isn’t an event it is an experience. We are called to go and tell not only with our lips but also with our lives. Go and tell of the resurrection power of God’s love and hope.

Wendell Berry in his poem “Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front” puts it like this:

So, friends, every day do something
that won’t compute. Love the Lord.
Love the world. Work for nothing.
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it.
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance.
Ask the questions that have no answers.
Invest in the millennium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.
Say that the leaves are harvested
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.
Put your faith in the two inches of humus
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.
Listen to carrion – put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come.
Expect the end of the world. Laugh.
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts.
Be like the fox who makes more tracks than necessary,
some in the wrong direction.
Practice resurrection.

We need to practice being witnesses to resurrection in a world clinging to Good Friday!

This Easter, may you open your whole self — heart, soul, mind, and strength — to God’s inspiring call to new life and renewed love. May you feel God luring you, prompting you, goading you, cajoling you, calling you and encouraging you — each day and in each new present moment — to practice resurrection. “We have seen the Lord!” Alleluia! Amen.

Download the sermon for Easter C.

Written by The Reverend Deon K. Johnson

The Rev. Deon Johnson has served as Rector of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Brighton MI for the last nine years. A Liturgical Consultant, Deon specializes in helping communities revision their worship spaces to better reflect both their needs and the theology of welcome found in the Eucharist. In his spare time Deon enjoys working on websites and is an avid photographer.

 

Bulletin Insert: Easter Day

Celebrating the Resurrection

March 27, 2016

Censing the Altar – Church Beyond the Walls – Providence, RI – Diocese of Rhode Island

Today, we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ, Son of God, from the dead.

Many Episcopal churches will celebrate this most holy day with festal traditions and customs; these might include featuring brass quartets and tympani, flowering a wooden cross, or censing the altar and congregation with fragrant smoke. Many will sing “Jesus Lives” or “Jesus Christ is Risen Today,” while others will gather at sunrise in fields, parking lots, beaches, and forests for an a capella service. For many others, the day may be celebrated simply, without any of these practices.

Still, wherever the Church meets, worshippers will encounter the Paschal Greeting:

Celebrant:                   Alleluia. Christ is risen.

Congregation:             The Lord is risen indeed. Alleluia.

With these words, spoken in a hundred languages the whole world over, the Church affirms the miracle and mystery of Easter: that Jesus, the One who was humiliated, broken, beaten and killed, lives. We celebrate in the sure and certain hope that he has destroyed the power of death and the grave, and “opened for us the way of eternal life” (Catechism, Book of Common Prayer, p. 850). In such a simple greeting, and throughout our worship, we acknowledge the joy and wonder of the Resurrection. In each proclamation of the risen Lord stands an invitation for renewal, not just for ourselves, but for a world sorely in need.

A Collect for Easter Sunday

Flowering Cross - St. Peter's, Glenside, PA

Flowering Cross – St. Peter’s, Glenside, PA

Almighty God, who through your only-begotten Son Jesus Christ overcame death and opened to us the gate of everlasting life: Grant that we, who celebrate with joy the day of the Lord’s resurrection, may be raised from the death of sin by your life-giving Spirit; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

Download bulletin insert as PDF:

full page, one-sided 3/27/16
half page, double-sided 3/27/16

black and white, full page, one- sided, 3/27/16
black and white, half page, double-sided 3/27/16

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