Archives for March 2017

Seeing through Doubt, Easter 3(A) – April 30, 2017

[RCL] Acts 2:14a, 36-41; 1 Peter 1:17-23; Luke 24:13-35; Psalm 116:1-3, 10-17

The walk to Emmaus is a lovely story, filled with nostalgia and pathos, and graced with details. It has attracted great artists because only art can do it some justice. The evangelist Luke was an artist with words, and the painters who were inspired by him have only added to the beauty of the description. Instead of sermonizing on it, it’s better to relive the story.

It is early morning, on the first day of the week, after the dawn that was to change the world. Startling revelations have been shaking the disciples who are hiding in a certain home in Jerusalem. Women have been coming and going, some exclaiming that they have seen the Lord, others recounting the words of angels. Their eyes are so filled with light that those who see them almost shun them. John and Peter run to the tomb only to find it empty. All this was witnessed by the two people who start out on the walk to Emmaus and home.

It makes sense to think of them as husband and wife. One of them is named as Cleopas. The other is unnamed, but there is a reference to a woman disciple whose name was Maria Klopas, (in the Greek). Easy to miss a vowel in transcription. Several prominent writers/theologians—among them Bishop George Bell and Dorothy L. Sayers, who wrote in the nineteen-forties—believed that the second person was a woman: Mary Cleopas.

So let’s try to imagine the scene. The disciples, disheartened and depressed, had hidden in a home in Jerusalem, after the arrest and murder of their beloved teacher. Because the Zebedee family (James and John) were of a priestly lineage, it is possible that they had a family house in the city, in addition to their place in Galilee. So, we will assume that the women are looking after the mother of Jesus in that particular Jerusalem house, since Jesus, as he was dying on the cross, had entrusted her to his dear friend John. “This is now your mother,” he had told his friend.

Several younger women have gone in the dark to the tomb, to wash and anoint the body of the Beloved, only to find the tomb empty. Mary Magdalene stays there but the rest run to tell the disciples and his mother. Confusion comes in and out of the house during the morning hours. Is it possible? Can we believe what these emotional women are telling us? If it is not true, can our hearts endure another hammer blow? A perfectly human reaction to extraordinary news from ordinary human folk.

Cleopas must have arrived at the house to escort his wife back home to Emmaus now that her task of mercy is done. Confused and heavy-hearted, they start on the trip downhill. Luke tells us that Emmaus was about sixty stadia (10-12 kilometers) from Jerusalem, and though the exact place has not been determined, we will take the writer at his word. It is a cool spring morning with birds singing and sheep moving nearby, but they are feeling sad with only occasional twinges of hope. Mary is telling her husband about the report of the other women, the wild hope that stirred in them, but also of the confusion that followed. Cleopas had talked to some of the men but they had not seen the Lord, so their depression had fallen upon him also. “None of them has seen him,” he repeats.

The sun is rising and they pause, put their bundles down, to drink a bit of water and rest. Afterward, as they bend down to pick up their belongings to continue the walk, someone else appears next to them, and they wonder why they had not heard or seen him before. He says to them, and there is amusement in his voice, “What have you been discussing? I saw you walking and talking earnestly.”

It’s their turn to be astounded. The greatest and saddest event of their lives had occurred in the last three days. How was it possible that there were people left in their world who didn’t know that they had lost the one they loved, the one who had made life worth living? When a beloved person dies, it is difficult to understand how the earth still spins and the sun still rises and life goes on. Their reaction is perfectly natural after such enormous grief. Cleopas asks the stranger: “Where have you been? Are you the only one who hasn’t heard what happened in the past three days? The best of men, a great prophet, one who did nothing but good, was killed. We had hoped he was our liberator.” The stranger is quiet, listening. The wife jumps in. “But something else happened earlier this morning. Friends of ours went to his tomb and found it empty.” She hesitates, both excited and doubtful. “The women saw a vision of angels. And the angels told them—he’s alive.” Her voice moves from excitement to bewilderment.

The stranger doesn’t pause but keeps walking and they follow, mystified. And then they hear his sigh and his words: “Oh, how foolish you are and how slow your hearts are to believe all that the prophets have told you!” Husband and wife look at each other in amazement, but they don’t respond. And now they listen as the stranger tells them stories from their long history and tradition, from the Exodus to the prophets to their own time. They hear the references to God’s anointed and, little by little, they understand that he is talking about their beloved friend and teacher, and now everything falls into place: Jesus’ words about himself as he taught them and as he healed so many illnesses; Jesus’ continued references to his Father; Jesus’ suffering and crucifixion. They understand that all this, even Jesus’ death, had been God’s plan from the beginning, and now hope fills them that not all is lost. In fact, everything is gained.

But look, time passes so quickly as they are listening to his words! They are almost at their village. They can see the walls of their home. The stranger offers his farewell and makes as if to continue but panic grips the couple. They don’t want him to go. The wife, practical and hospitable, says, “Look, sir, it will soon be night. Please, come and stay with us.” And the stranger does not refuse. In the manner of Middle Eastern people through the ages, they invite him to eat with them, and he agrees. There is a lamp burning on the table and a loaf of bread next to the water and wine. He reaches for the bread and, confronted by holiness, they watch as he prays, breaks the bread in two pieces and offers it to them. “Ah,” they cry out, “it is the Lord!” Recognition now fills them because of the familiar gesture of the Beloved, but now he is gone from their presence. His work is done but they are bereft. How is it that they had not recognized him all those hours he walked with them? They are ashamed. But that doesn’t last long. They have seen the Lord. They must share it with the others. Despite their tired legs, they return to Jerusalem.

They go to the same house where earlier they had left their fear-filled friends. But now they are all awake, rejoicing and sharing the good news with one another. “We have seen the Lord!” It becomes the most joyful refrain, whispered in amazement and then proclaimed in loud conviction. “We have seen the Lord!” Cleopas and his wife add to the chorus: “Yes, he was known to us in the breaking of the bread.”

May he be known to us also in the breaking of the bread.

 

Katerina Whitley, a writer, biblical storyteller and retreat leader lives in Boone, NC. www.katerinawhitley.net

Download the sermon for Easter 3(A).

Alleluia! Christ is Risen! Easter A – April 16, 2017

[RCL] Acts 10:34-43; Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24; Colossians 3:1-4; John 20:1-18

We, the faithful in Christ, gather this morning, not just with our friends and families, but also with Christians around the world and across time, joyfully proclaiming what is perhaps the most ancient creed in Christendom: Christ is risen! For the next fifty days, this great and powerful Easter proclamation will mark our liturgy, define our purpose, and affirm our most deeply held belief.

Of course, proclaiming that joyful phrase today amidst the beautiful flowers, the gorgeous music, and in the company of those we love comes easily for most, if not all of us. And yet, for as much as we enjoy the more festive aspects of Easter, the truth is that these things, by themselves, don’t tell the whole story.

Along with praise-filled shouts of “Alleluia,” the whole story of Easter also includes shouts of war and hate; of fear and pain; of confusion and misunderstanding. In the wake of the recent terrorist attacks in the United Kingdom, and in the shadow of war and violence that plague our streets and our planet, these emotions are viscerally familiar to all of us. And although we may lose sight of it here this morning, these emotions also filled the hearts of the faithful on that first Easter morning.

The Gospel of John sets the scene: “Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed.” Then, John tells us, she ran to share the news with the others. And while John doesn’t tell us this part himself, when people get news, they don’t typically run unless it’s really good news or really bad news!

Mary, it seems fair to say, is distraught—shocked that the body of her beloved Lord isn’t in the tomb where he had been laid just three days ago. When she reaches the other disciples with the news, they take off running as well, reaching the tomb only to confirm what Mary had told them. They depart, their hopes dashed; their Easter alleluias muted.

This is where Easter ended: The disciples returned home—confused, saddened, and unsure of what would happen next. John tells us that they “as yet…did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead.”

And who could blame them really? They had put so much trust in Jesus, only to have it squashed by powers and principalities. What were they to do now? Where would they go? Who would they believe in next?  These were the questions that raced through the disciples’ minds as they came to grips with their grief and disappointment.

But Mary wasn’t ready to let go just yet.

Mary stays behind, weeping while she examines the emptiness of the tomb, making sure that no detail or clue goes unseen or unexamined—desperately searching for some shred of evidence; grasping for even the faintest possibility.

Just then, she sees two angels sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying. They ask her why she is weeping and she says, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.”

We can hear the weight of grief in her voice. And if we’re honest with ourselves, we’ve all had similar moments to the one Mary is experiencing. Moments when we’ve found ourselves desperately searching for God, only to be met with emptiness and sadness. Have you ever come to church, yearning for the peace and comfort of the sacraments, only to find that God doesn’t seem to be there? Has your prayer life ever felt dry and fallow? Have you ever found yourself wondering whether church itself might be futile?

In moments like these, we find ourselves in a kind of spiritual mourning, wondering where Jesus has gone, and why he seems to have been taken away. St. John of the Cross called these moments the “Dark Night of the Soul”—when prayer, sacrament, and community no longer bring comfort, and the transcendence of God’s presence seems to have evaporated.[1]

There is a well-meaning tendency among many Christians—especially those who have never wrestled deeply with their faith—to liken these moments to a kind of spiritual weakness. “If you only prayed a little harder or believed a little deeper or trusted a little more, then everything would be okay,” they tell us. We needn’t look much further than the shelves of our local bookstore for a seemingly endless litany of books offering prescriptions that promise to fix our spiritual life.

But as the Trappist monk and priest Thomas Keating reminds us, “The spiritual journey is not a career or a success story. It is a series of humiliations of the false self that become more and more profound. These make room inside of us for the Holy Spirit to come in and heal.”[2]

In other words, we can’t work our way into God’s good graces because God doesn’t deal in performance evaluations and goals and targets. God doesn’t show up on our time or in a manner of our choosing; and our relationship with God cannot be converted into a checklist or a “how to” guidebook.

This is the lesson that Mary learned on that first Easter, and it’s the one that God is still trying to teach us 2,000 years later. In the midst of her desperate search for clues about what might have happened to Jesus’ body, a man walks by and asks Mary why she is so distraught. And desperately hoping that he would know something she didn’t, she says, “If you know where he is—if you’ve taken him somewhere else—just tell me where and I will take him myself.” If you will just tell me what to do or where to go, I’ll do it! It’s as if she’s saying, “Give me a target! Give me a goal! What are the five simple steps that I need to accomplish?”

And that’s when it happens: Jesus calls her by name! “Mary!” And when she hears it, she is overcome! She cries out, “Rabbouni! Teacher!”

With these words, Mary experiences the very first Easter moment! She realizes that Christ’s difficult and at times unbelievable teachings are true—that what he promised at the Last Supper has come to pass!

Mary’s witness to the first Easter is about far more than beautiful worship and festive celebrations. Mary brings us face to face with the depths of our humanity. Her witness is a mosaic of the human experience—grief and joy; uncertainty and affirmation; depression and determination. This is the true witness of Easter!

Even in the depths of our despair and grief, when things just seem to keep piling up with no end in sight, and even when we just don’t know if we believe it anymore, the God made known to us in Jesus Christ has a way of showing up where we least expect him!

But if we’re not careful, we’ll close the book as if the story ends right here. Mary recognizes the Resurrected Lord and everyone lives happily ever after. But this isn’t the end of the story. In fact, if we keep reading, we realize that Easter isn’t a story at all! It’s a commissioning!

Once Mary recognizes Jesus, he says to her, “…Go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” The moment that Mary leaves the garden, the Good News of Easter gets loose and begins to transform the world! Mary bears witness to the fact that, even in the face of death itself, God will have the last word!

Through her first Easter witness, Mary teaches us that grief and joy, uncertainty and affirmation, desperation and determination, are all inescapable parts of our humanity. She teaches us that our lives of faith aren’t about success or opportunities for advancement; rather, they are holy mysteries that will surprise, unsettle, and transform us. But most important of all, she teaches us that in the resurrection of our Lord Christ, we know that love, hope, and peace will ultimately prevail!

And so, in this Eastertide, may we proclaim that Christ is risen, not simply in church, but also in the world around us. May we proclaim it, not simply with our lips, but also with our hands and hearts. And as we live into the joy and promise of Easter, may we go forth into the world, looking for the Resurrected Christ in places we may not expect.

May we search for Christ amidst those who are cast down and rejected; among those who have nobody to care for them; and in the company of those who have never known the loving embrace of friendship. The world needs this now, perhaps more than ever before. But most of all, may we not simply proclaim the Good News, may we also believe it so that the whole world may see Christ in their midst and proclaim, “The Lord is risen indeed!”

Alleluia!

Written by the Rev. Marshall A. Jolly, rector of Grace Episcopal Church in Morganton, North Carolina. He studied at Transylvania University (BA, American Studies) and Emory University’s Candler School of Theology (MDiv & Certificate in Anglican Studies). His published works include essays on Christian social engagement, theology in the public square, and preaching, appearing most recently in the Journal of Appalachian Studies and the Anglican Theological Review. He is the editor of Modern Metanoia, a preaching resource authored by Millennials, and enjoys exploring the nearby Appalachian foothills with his wife Elizabeth.

[1] See TJ Tetzlaff’s essay for Easter Day (Year C), entitled, “The Unlikely Evangelist” in Modern Metanoia 14 March 2016, http://modernmetanoia.org/2016/03/14/easter-day-c-the-unlikely-evangelist/

[2] Thomas Keating, The Human Condition: Contemplation and Transformation (New York: Paulist Press, 1999), 38.

Download the sermon for Easter.

Doubt Strengthens Faith, Easter 2(A) – April 23, 2017

RCL] Acts 2:14a, 22-32; Psalm 16; 1 Peter 1:3-9; John 20:19-31

One of the greatest blessings we encounter as Christians is the freedom to admit when we have doubts.  As faithful Christians, we should have the audacity to ask tough questions concerning our faith and traditions.

For some, doubt is synonymous with having a lack of faith, but doubt and faith are two sides of the same coin. They are the Ying and Yang, if you would, of the Christian life.

According to Paul Tillich, doubt isn’t the opposite of faith; it is an element of faith. Rather than suppress our doubts, we should explore them and allow them to set us on a journey of discovery and a deepening of our beliefs and convictions. In our Gospel reading today, Thomas asked for proof, and we also want proof as well that our faith is not in vain.

Thomas often gets a bad rap for doubting the resurrection of Jesus; however, he was no more doubtful than the other disciples and apostles.

The other disciples didn’t believe that Jesus had risen until he appeared to them, so why should we expect Thomas to be any different?

In fact, we applaud Thomas for his insistence on wanting tangible proof. After all, Thomas was well aware that Jesus wasn’t the first messianic figure on the scene to be crucified by the Roman occupiers. Thomas showed great religious restraint and demonstrated the proper amount of rational doubt.  But when Jesus appeared to him, Thomas proclaimed without reservation, “My Lord, and my God.”

Doubt can be a wonderful tool that propels us into deeper learning, earnest soul searching, and spiritual revelation. Faith based on absolute certainty leads to fanaticism, but faith tempered with doubt is mature and stable.

Many believers struggle with their own doubts brought about by life’s unpredictability and tempestuous nature. We have very real struggles in our lives that generate an uncertainty about where God is to be found in all the turmoil.

Sometimes we look to spiritual giants, the superstars of Christianity, and feel inferior in our own personal walk in comparison. However, the greatest in the Kingdom sometimes deal with the greatest doubt.

Mother Teresa’s diary reveals a saintly person who struggled with a type of doubt that would crush the faint of heart. She wrote to her spiritual confidant, the Rev. Michael Van Der Peet, in 1979, “Jesus has a very special love for you. As for me, the silence and the emptiness is so great that I look and do not see, listen and do not hear.”

For the last nearly half-century of her life Mother Teresa felt no presence of God whatsoever — neither in her heart or in the Eucharist. That absence seems to have started at almost precisely the time she began tending the poor and dying in Calcutta and— except for a five-week break in 1959 — never abated.

Although perpetually cheery in public, Mother Teresa lived in a state of deep and abiding spiritual pain. She bemoans the “dryness,” “darkness,” “loneliness” and “torture” she was undergoing. She compares the experience to hell and at one point says it has driven her to doubt the existence of heaven and even of God.  Nevertheless, she continued to love the least in God’s creation and dedicate her life to Christ to the very end.

Mother Teresa isn’t alone in her struggle with doubt. The Polish-born Jewish-American author Isaac Bashevis Singer states that doubt is part of all religion, that all the religious thinkers were doubters. The art critic Robert Hughes said, “The greater the artist, the greater the doubt. Perfect confidence is granted to the less talented as a consolation prize.”

Catholic priest Henri Nouwen wrote, “So I am praying while not knowing how to pray. I am resting while feeling restless, at peace while tempted, safe while still anxious, surrounded by a cloud of light while still in darkness, in love while still doubting.”

Despite Fr. Nouwen’s own struggle with doubt, he was able to mentor and encourage countless thousands through his writings, lectures, and sermons. One particular quote from a book of his has been a lifeboat for many who find themselves overcome with the waves of life’s stormy doubts: “Have the courage to trust that you will not fall into an abyss of nothingness, but into the embrace of a God whose love can heal all your wounds.”

Faith is a daily, ongoing exercise. It is a risk. Doubts arise. We struggle with God. And hopefully, faith grounded in the goodness of God triumphs — even when we do not have all the answers and life doesn’t make sense.

Will we believe in a God of love who wants to be near us and has our best interest at heart? Or will we believe in a God who plays games with us, and is ultimately cruel and uncaring? Will we believe in a God who stands beside us in our troubles, or one who is distant and difficult?

The author of Hebrews writes, “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” Faith is not void of doubt, but requires a daily commitment to developing our spiritual walk despite life’s uncertainties and sometimes cruelties.

Faith doesn’t take away our doubts, but is strengthened by them.  And faith doesn’t deliver us from our problems and heartaches, but gives us the strength to persevere through them and lead others as well as they navigate around the abyss of nothingness.

May his resurrection power be at work in our lives as we learn to allow our doubts to strengthen our faith.

Amen.

Written by The Rev. Timothy G. Warren,  a 26-year retired Air Force veteran with more than 15 years’ experience as an educator in the private and public sector. Fr. Warren is pastor of St. Francis (Independent Old Catholic Church), an emergent outreach ministry that serves at-risk teens and young adults in the High Desert Region of Southern California, and President/Executive Director LifeSkills Development, a nonprofit dedicated to providing assistance to at-risk young adults. Fr. Warren is also a member of the High Desert Interfaith Council.

Download the sermon for Easter 2(A).

Life After Breath, Easter Vigil (A) – April 15, 2017

(Service readings referenced: Genesis 1:2 & 2:7 and Ezekiel 37:1-14)

 May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be always acceptable unto thee. O Lord, our strength, and our redeemer. Amen.

Now I want you all to close your eyes, go ahead, close them for just a moment. Now take a deep breath. Take it in through your nose and out through your mouth. Feel it deep within. One more, and this time mean it. Okay, you can open your eyes.

Breath. What an amazing gift. Breathing seems so simple sometimes. In fact, most of the time, we do it without even a conscious thought. I mean, how many times throughout the day do you stop and think. Wow, I am breathing. This is amazing! Probably not very often.

Many of us though, have had moments in our lives where we did realize we were breathing and it was a glorious moment. Like the time you ran a marathon and though you might not make it. Or the day that your breath was heaving and fast and seemed so hard to grasp as you gave birth to your first child. Or the day you watched a loved one take their last breath. Those breaths we remember, but so many go unnoticed. Breathing is so easy, that most of us can do it in our sleep.

Let’s take one more for good measure, shall we?

Who taught you how to breathe? Well that’s sort of a silly question. No one taught you how to breathe, you just breathe. It’s simply innate, a function of our physical body. We know how to breathe simply by breathing.

Breathing is a scientific process by which we take in oxygen, our diaphragm flattens, our abdomen is engaged, the oxygen flows into our blood and through our body, just in time for us to breathe out and let go of carbon dioxide. Scientifically explained, but where did it come from? Where did we get our breath?

Earlier in the service we heard the creation story from the book of Genesis, and in this account from Chapter one, we hear that “a wind from God swept over the face of the waters.”

This should sound very familiar to those of you who have attended a worship service using the prayers from Enriching Our Worship because in that service we celebrate the Holy Eucharist with a prayer that reads, “From before time you made ready the creation. Your Spirit moved over the deep and brought all things into being: sun, moon and stars, Earth, winds and waters, and every living thing.”

Now, in the second creation story, the one found in Genesis, chapter 2, it says, “Then the Lord God formed man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and the man became a living being.”

Now, all of this time, we have been talking about our breath as a simple systematic, scientific, physical function, but here is where the Bible throws us through a loop.

As you know, the Old Testament was originally written in Hebrew.

The original Hebrew word here for breath, ruach (pronounced Roo-ak) also means spirit and it also means life and wind.

Where we would often distinguish these words, the Bible uses them interchangeably.

Let’s let that sink in for a moment.

Maybe this would be a good time to take another deep breath.

In the Hebrew Scriptures; breath, spirit, life, and wind are the same word. Ruach.

In our reading from Ezekiel, we hear God say that God will give that same breath, that same ruach, to the dry bones and cause them to live.

The dry bones in the valley do not have life in them at first. They are dead, they have no breath and no spirit. But God commands Ezekiel to prophesy to the bones, and in doing this “the breath (the ruach) will come into them and they will live.” In this way, the body is a shell, a clay vessel, which God fills with breath, with life, with spirit.

Now, before I leave you in the Old Testament, I want to show you how the words breath and spirit are linked in the same way in the New Testament.

Yesterday, on Good Friday, we are reminded of the story of Christ’s passion and death, and in this narrative, we learn about the breath of Jesus. In Luke’s account, Jesus says, “‘Father, into your hands, I commend my Spirit.’ Having said this, he breathed his last.”

The words Spirit and breathed in this verse from Luke, chapter 23, both words, spirit and breath, come from the same Greek word, pneuma. So, we could translate this verse, “‘Father, into your hands, I commend my breath.’ Having said this, he gave up his Spirit.” In this moment, Jesus dies.  The concept of breath and spirit and life are all linked in the Greek word pneuma, just as they were in the Hebrew word ruach.

If we stopped there, at the crucifixion, the story would be over. There is no more breath. There is no more life. There is no more spirit.

But the story does not end there. We do not sit in the power of darkness forever, because we are an Easter people.

In the midst of darkness, light breaks forth and we are given a new Spirit, a Holy Spirit, a new life, a new breath, that speaks goodness and love to the world. We turn on our lights and ring our bells and cry out Alleluia!

We use our breath to preach forgiveness and mercy, kindness and compassion, joy and peace. We use our new breath to give new life to the world.

By the new life and new Spirit that we are given in Baptism we take up the call to “Let the whole world see and know that things which were cast down are being raised up, and things which had grown old are being made new, and that all things are being brought to their perfection by him through whom all things were made.”

In this Easter season, we sing Alleluia with the sure and certain hope that Christ is risen.

In this Easter season, we rejoice in the power of the Holy Spirit.

In this Easter season, we go forth to live a life inspired by Christ Jesus who rose from the dead, and who showed us that there is life after death, for there is life after breath.

Amen.

Written by The Rev. Melanie Slane, who currently serves as Assistant Priest at Emmanuel Episcopal Church in Webster Groves, Missouri. She and her husband Chris, also an Assistant Priest at Emmanuel, live in St. Louis with their two year old son, Constantine, and their two month old son, Aristotle. Slane is a 2013 graduate of The Virginia Theological Seminary in Alexandria, where she earned a Master in Divinity. Before moving to St. Louis, she served as Assistant Rector at The Church of the Epiphany in Washington, D.C. Slane also gained experience in asset based community development while serving as a missionary in the Philippines from 2009-2010, where she worked with a group of native women to start a small business in organic jam-making. Her ministry has also taken her to the Turkey, The Navajo Nation, Tanzania, Hong Kong, Israel, and Palestine. She is a graduate of The University of Missouri, with a Bachelors of Science in Business Management; she is a native of St. Louis, Missouri.

Download the sermon for Easter Vigil (A).

Let Your Idols Fall, Good Friday (A) – April 14, 2017

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

This is really not a day for words. When we grieve, all words are too much.

It is much better for us to take in the facts about how Jesus was treated: the injustice, the spiritual blindness, the narrow thinking, the positioning for power. It is better that we just sit with that grief and blackness, make a space inside of ourselves for the death of Jesus; and just abide in it.

We must abide with Good Friday, not because it leads quickly to the empty tomb, but because Jesus did die. It is better that we not fill it with too many words and instead marvel at this death and consider our part in it.

In this lengthy Passion narrative from the gospel of John we are not spared any detail. There is a great deal here but the scene when Pilate asks the chief priests if he shall crucify their king is very interesting. The priests answer, “We have no king but the emperor.”

Here we see that the powers-that-be have no compunction with violating their very identities to get what they want. Two things are happening here and both have to do with idolatry.

The first thing that is happening is that the priests are telling the Empire, manifest in Pilate, that their only king is the emperor. This is in direct violation of God’s explicit dislike of kings. Hundreds of years prior to this scene the people of Israel had asked God for kings so that they can be like the other people in the region.

God warned them then that kings would take their sons for soldiers, tax them to death, and all the other things that come with human kings. God’s desire was that he would be their king; that is what would have distinguished them from the other people in the region. But when the people persisted God allowed kings to rise among the Israelites, provided they carried God’s anointing.

God, it seems, is in the habit of taking a bad situation and improvising some good out of it. But today, in this passage from John, these priests are denying God’s choice for a king and they are putting their faith in the Roman Emperor so that they can make the political alliance necessary for the assassination of their enemy Jesus.

Along with this political posturing is the fact that since the chief priests have allied themselves with the Emperor for their peace and security, they have replaced God with the Emperor. This is idolatry. Idolatry is when a created thing is put in place of the uncreated source of life and love. Idolatry is when we find our security, power, identity in anything other than God. The priests have committed the sin of idolatry.

Idolatry is the most pervasive and insidious of sins. If Good Friday teaches us anything it is that our notions of what God is and can do need to be cast down like the idols they are.

In the life of the spirit the casting down of personal idols usually follows a pattern. The first idol that needs casting down is the idol of things: thinking that the things that surround you make you a worthy person. You are not your things, our things do not give us worth. Only God gives us worth. That’s why God is worshipped and things are not.

The next idol that needs casting down is the ego. You are not that great. You are also not all that bad either. Self-deprecation, too, is an activity of the ego. The ego: not the healthy bit that makes you a person, but the ego that manipulates people, things, and facts for your own purposes. This idol must come down.

In the life of the spirit these idols have been well within the bounds of good advice and general spirituality.

The next idols that need destruction are within the particular purview of the Abrahamic faiths, and, I think, are especially Christian.

The first of these idols is the idolatry of faith. The idolatry of faith is when we begin to use the story and beliefs of God to judge and separate others. This is when we carve in stone the stories of our tradition as reality to such a level that we lose sight that they are a chronicle of people’s encounters with the God of love and turn the activity of faith into the judgement seat of faith, separating those who are in and those who are out. The idolatry of faith is broken by true faith, which is trust, trust the stories and traditions about God, they are not God themselves, but instead urge us into truth faith, pointing to God.

The next idol does not have a hold on everyone, but it is still a powerful idol.

This is the idol of doubt. This idol tells us that only doubt and suspicion of the stories of God can bring us closer to the true God. It is an idol that says, “If you would simply think like I think about God, then you will perceive the truth.” None of us possess the full knowledge of the unknowable God, and some beliefs should be doubted, but when doubt becomes the enemy of faith instead of its steward, then it has become an idol.

The final idol that needs to come down is the hardest one of all, but it is the one that Good Friday most explicitly addresses: the idolatry of God. The idolatry of God means that we have set ideas of exactly what God is and can do. If I were to use an everyday word for the idolatry of God I suppose it would be expectation: high expectations, low expectations, horrible expectations, impossible expectations, immature expectations.

When we destroy the idol of God we truly live by faith; living fully, as one moment unfolds from the last, trusting that God is with us in love, come what may.

In Good Friday we see our image of God literally killed. Good Friday, with the death of Jesus is an enactment of the death of all idols, including, most explicitly the idol of God.

God does not die. Messiahs do not die. Yet, Jesus does die, and in the death of Jesus the final idol is destroyed and in this death we are released from all idols and left with the present moment in Christ, redeemed and free.

This freedom is jarring, and it is appropriate that we commemorate the death of idols as we do today. Grieve for the loss of your idols.

Abide in stillness over the death of your graspings for anything other than God. Let your idols fall at the foot of the cross and sit awhile in death and grief, and wait.

Wait, because God has a surprise in store.

Amen.

Written by The Rev. Josh Bowron, who serves as the rector of St. Martin’s Episcopal Church in Charlotte, NC. Bowron holds an M.Div. from The School of Theology at the University of the South and is also currently working on a Masters of Sacred Theology there, with a particular interest in modern Anglican theologians. He enjoys a zesty life with his wife Brittany and their three children.

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Great Vigil of Easter

How well did you receive? Maundy Thursday (A) – April 13, 2017

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

“I have set you an example that you also should do as I have done to you.”

Tonight we enter the holiest time of the holiest week of the Christian year: the Triduum. The Triduum, meaning “Three Days” of our Lord’s passion, death and resurrection is the central focus of the Christian faith. The Triduum is one extended liturgy in three distinct parts beginning with Maundy Thursday and ending at the Easter Vigil.

The Orthodox describe tonight’s portion of this great liturgy as consisting of four parts: the sacred Washing, the Mystical Supper, the transcendent Prayer, and the Betrayal itself. It begins with intimacy and ends with the betrayal of that same intimacy. Through this liturgy we embody the great beauty, vulnerability and tragedy of Christ’s great act and commandment of love.

As Jesus faces his final hours, knowing what was coming, he begins by taking the place of a servant in an act of intimacy. Isn’t it interesting how Jesus has no trouble at all with washing the disciples’ feet? He quite naturally takes the role of the servant and just begins to wash the feet of each disciple. There is no self-consciousness about him, no discomfort.

The disquietude comes from Peter who, steeped in the honor/shame social systems of first century Palestine, cannot fathom a teacher doing the work of a slave. This just isn’t right!

But Jesus is clear: “Unless I wash you, you have no share with me.” In Peter’s inimitable and impetuous style, he leaps beyond just feet and asks for his hands and head to be washed too. At this point, at least, he’s all in!

As you consider this scene, let’s ponder a question. Which role would you be most comfortable playing: Jesus, the one who is active and giving, or Peter, the one who is receiving? We live in a culture which values doing over being and is deeply rooted in both a utilitarian ethic and a mythology of independence.

Our American culture is prone to measuring personal worth based upon what we can do or contribute to society. Take our ability to “contribute” away, and our culture’s message is that you have no worth, no value.

This culture forms and shapes us into people who spend the bulk of our lives wanting to be the active agents, the ones who do, while we often either ignore or shun receptivity both in ourselves and in others. Being a “receiver” is often negatively viewed as being a “taker,” a “slacker,” a “leech” or “burden on society.” Our mythology of independence only reinforces this utilitarianism. We often see the need to receive graciously as an affront to our God-given independence. Being dependent on others is the dread of many, especially as we age or face a terminal diagnosis.

The two cultural forces of utilitarianism and independence become most deeply problematic as we face the end of life. One of the deep spiritual distresses faced by the dying is their inability to “do” for others and how worthless it makes them feel.

Clergy and hospice chaplains often hear this expressed in comments such as, “I hate being a burden to my family” or “All I do is sit here and rot.” Sometimes this anguish manifests in angry words and lashing out at the very caregivers who work so hard to make sure their loved one have their needs met.

This passage from John’s Gospel has much to say in the face of our culture’s idolatry of utilitarianism and independence; for our worth is not measured in what we do, it is measured by who we are … and whose we are. The world’s great lie is that doing is the be all and end all – and this is a lie! We are beloved of God because we are God’s very own.

As God’s beloved child, you are enough just because you are. As such, the ability to be a gracious receiver is as important as being a generous giver. There is a season for both and both are necessary to have a share in Christ. For if you cannot receive the ministrations of the people who love you the most on this earth, how will you ever know how to receive the glory of God in this life or the next?

An antidote to the corrosive effects of utilitarianism and independence are found in cultivating gratitude in receiving. Giving thanks to both God and expressing it to others who have given of themselves to you imparts love and blessing to the world. This can be done by all of us, no matter the conditions of our lives: from childhood to the deathbed, all of us can express gratitude and love to those who give of themselves to us.

Gracious receptivity is the other side of the coin of being a generous giver: we are called in baptism to be both. Unless we learn to receive the ministrations of others, we have no share in Christ. This mutuality of love, both in giving and receiving, is at the heart of Eucharistic spirituality. The Eucharist is the incarnation of Christ’s self-giving and receiving Christ in the sacrament prepares us to go out and share that love with others.

The new commandment to love one another requires both giving and receiving. We cannot attend to just one part of this and rightly call it love. If one only gives, it places the receiver of our giving at a safe distance and denies both intimacy and vulnerability. If one only receives, it reduces us to spiritual infants and fosters emotional dependency.

Attending to merely one aspect of expressing love is a distortion. To love well is to be able to give and receive.

As St. John of the Cross once noted, when we die God will only ask one question of us: “How well did you love?” How well did you give? How well did you receive?

Amen.

Written by The Rev. Anjel Scarborough, who serves as the rector of Grace Church, Brunswick MD and is wife, mother, iconographer, writer and retreat leader.

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Good Friday

Great Vigil of Easter

The Light Shines in the Darkness, Wednesday in Holy Week – April 12, 2017

[RCL] Isaiah 50:4-9a; Psalm 70; Hebrews 12:1-3; John 13:21-32

You’ve probably heard the story of the two wolves. It’s often told as coming from one of the various First Peoples, usually Cherokee, but it’s one of those stories that is so pithy and true that it almost doesn’t matter what the real source is…it gets passed around and told and retold, over and over, because we all sense how true it is…because we’ve all experienced it ourselves.

It goes like this.

There are two wolves, and they live inside each of us. They are always fighting. One is darkness and despair…it is fed by, and produces, things like anger, envy, greed, arrogance, lies, false pride, and ego.

The other is light and hope. It lives for, and produces, things like joy and peace, humility and generosity, faith, hope, and love.

These two wolves live in each one of us, and they are constantly struggling for dominance. And the question is always…which one wins?

The answer is always…whichever one you feed.

There’s another story that has been passed around and told and retold. It’s a story that many in our contemporary world only know in very broad outlines.

It’s about a good man, a wise counselor, a wonderful teacher. Some say he was divine. We say he was the Son of God. He ran afoul of the authorities and was killed. Then he rose again. It’s a a story we all know here in the church, we’re all familiar with it.

We’re familiar with it, because like the story of the wolves, it’s tells our story, our true story. We are a part of this story just as the wolves are a part of us. We absorb the details of this story every time we move through Holy Week.

We participate in the triumphal entry into Jerusalem, with the palm branches and the shouts of “Hosanna.” We know that the king has come riding on a donkey. We know this because we’ve seen amazing things, miraculous things: Lazarus raised from the dead, for example. He was there at dinner just a few nights ago.

And the night Mary took all that oil, so much of it, such an extravagant gesture, and anointed Jesus. Almost as if she was preparing him for burial. And Judas was upset because he thought it was a waste of money. Judas often worried about money.

Jesus asked God to “glorify his name.” And there was this sound, this incredible, uncanny sound, it was a voice that said, “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.” And Jesus said, “Now is the judgment of this world; now the ruler of this world will be driven out.” And then, he said something about being lifted up, and drawing all people to himself, and about “walking in darkness” and us becoming “children of light.”

This is our story. Darkness and despair, light and hope, doubt and conviction. We each have all of that inside of us. We walk in the dark and try to be bearers of the light. Or we try to walk in the light, but live in fear that our own darkness will be revealed. Either way, we know this to be true. Darkness and light, despair and hope both come as part of the package.

We tell and retell this story every year. And every year there is this moment when someone close to Jesus betrays him. We don’t like this moment, but we know it to be true because we’ve all felt the icy pain of betrayal when someone close has turned on us. And we’ve all felt the sickly shame when we’ve betrayed someone else. We’ve all felt the darkness flood in and threaten to overwhelm us.

You can feel it now. That dark wolf, the night in our veins. There is darkness all around. Judas has just left. The authorities are anxious. Everyone is on edge.

Will the Romans crack down? Will there be raids and deportations? Perhaps even executions? When Judas leaves, John makes a point of saying that it is night. You can hear the wolf howling at night. We know what’s coming.

The darkness will grow. The arrest. The trial. The crucifixion. By tomorrow night, that wolf will threaten to devour all of us. By Friday, Judas will not be alone in the darkness. Peter will have denied Jesus. We all will have deserted him. And when someone asks, “didn’t I see you with him?” We will all deny it and say, “No. I don’t know him.”

But we also know how this ends. We also know that this is not the end. The betrayals and the denials are not the end. Even death is not the end. We know that beyond all of this darkness, past this night, there is an empty tomb.

Yes, inside of us there are two wolves. One is darkness and despair, and one is light and hope. And it really does matter which one you feed.

As children of the light, we are called to spread the light, and with it to spread joy and peace, and faith and hope and love. And it also matters that we remember—as we enter the darkest nights of our story—that no matter how powerful the darkness seems to get, that we are never alone. Because we have Jesus—“the pioneer and perfecter of our faith.”

We have Jesus who has walked this road before us, and who continues to walk this journey with us.

It is important to remember that no matter how ravenous the dark wolf gets that we are not alone, because we are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses. Saints who have also been through trials who have had doubts and faced despair, who have stumbled and fallen, but who have continued, and “have run with perseverance the race.”

It is important to remember as we enter these Three Holy Days that the darkness will come but the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness does not overcome it.

Amen.

Written by The Rev. Richard Burden, who serves as the Rector of All Saints Parish in Brookline, MA. Prior to coming to the Diocese of Massachusetts he served in the Diocese of Lexington.

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Maundy Thursday

Good Friday

Great Vigil of Easter

Let go into Jesus, Tuesday in Holy Week (A) – April 11, 2017

[RCL] Isaiah 49:1-7; Psalm 71:1-14; 1 Corinthians 1:18-31; John 12:20-36

Being there for one another in times of trouble is harder than it appears on the surface. We often define a friend as someone who will be there for us when we need them, but what does that really mean?

Our first instinct when something terrible is happening is to turn away, to run and escape, to get out before the terrible thing can suck us in as well. Car accident, caner diagnosis, job loss, lingering battle with grief—we shy away as if they were contagious.

If we make the decision that we’re not going to run away but instead stay with our friend who is suffering, our next instinct is to try and fix it, to say, “No, look, do this, change this, fix this and you’ll be fine.” It takes a very disciplined and patient sort of love to truly be there for someone in crisis without trying to fix it, an art that many of us sometimes despair of ever mastering.

It is exactly that sort of love that we can often look back and recognize in God’s response to our own dark moments. God doesn’t abandon us, but neither does God very often step in and fix us or our circumstances. God stands with us with the bravest and strongest love of all, the love that undergoes suffering with us rather than sparing us or Godself.

Holy Week is the test of whether we can summon that sort of love within ourselves for Jesus. The Greek visitors to Jerusalem for the Passover in our Gospel today say something that has the potential to convict us in our relationship with Jesus.

They come to Philip, one of the disciples, and say to him, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” We have to ask ourselves, is that statement true of us? Do we wish to see Jesus? Do we really wish to see him completely, in his fullness, in his moments of glory and his moments of pain?

Each of us will find one aspect or another of Jesus difficult to want to see. Some of us find ourselves drawn to Jesus most in his times of humanness and trial. We love him most when we see him summon his courage in his moments of human vulnerability. Others find themselves drawn to Jesus in his moments of glory and power. They love the heavenly Christ, the cosmic Word who undergirds creation and subdues the raging waters and scatters miracles from his fingertips. Jesus is all of these things. He is fully human and fully divine.

We see both sides of his nature in this very Gospel story. You can find which part of Jesus you relate to and which part seems foreign to you by how you react to his words in different parts of this text. When do you love Jesus more? When he says, “Now my soul is troubled”? Then you’re probably in closer relationship to the human side of Jesus. Or do you find yourself thrilling when he says, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified”? Then you’re probably in closer relationship to the divine side of Jesus.

There’s absolutely nothing wrong with finding yourself touched and moved to see Jesus as a man or Christ as God, one more than the other. But it is important for us to reach for understanding and encounter with the opposite side of Jesus, the part we don’t understand and identify with as much. And that is because we want the words of the Greeks in Jerusalem to be true of us. We want to be able to say, “We wish to see Jesus,” Jesus in his fullness, Jesus in his complexity, Jesus as all he came to us to be and do.

What can the parts of Jesus we neglect teach us about the parts of ourselves we neglect? Are we comfortable with our own power? Are we comfortable with our own weakness? Which do we run from when we see them in ourselves? Which do we run from when we see them in each other?

It is a lifelong quest of spiritual growth to step into our fears rather than running away from them, to step into what we perceive as darkness that should be hidden away and find it the very path to resurrection and new life. If we can learn to embrace the wholeness of Jesus, the parts of him that we understand and identify with, and the parts that seem mysterious and foreign, we are one step closer to embracing the sun and the shadow within ourselves and each other. We are one step closer to seeing that humility and glory each have their place and their value.

There is something about approaching this precipice with Jesus during Holy Week, entering these days with him that are literally a life and death situation, that should make us want to abandon all our complex plans for ourselves and our churches and our loved ones. As Jesus’ allies and earthly power are stripped away from him and he bears it with such grace—more than that, he uses the lessening of these extraneous things to drive him to the center of his purpose on Earth—it leads us to repent of our attempts to control people and events around us. It leads us to let ourselves be willingly stripped of the illusion of power and control. We long to be reduced to the simple and heartfelt and honest desire in the Gospel, “I wish to see Jesus.”

For what is Holy Week but Jesus letting go of all control of his life and his power? We know he could have swept away all resistance to his rule, saved himself from trial and execution without breaking a sweat. But he let go. He abandoned himself, not to hopelessness and death, but to hope and faith. He let go and believed that his love for us was worth sacrificing everything, and the love of his Father would call him back to life on the third day.

Can we approach these final days with Jesus that lead us to such a terrifying and painful place with the same faith that he displays? Can we really be there for him with the faithfulness that a true friend shows in time of crisis, the ability to be present through suffering without trying to fix it? Do we really want to see Jesus as he is in all his glory and all his pain?

The answers to those questions will be the answer to a deeper quandary, whether we’re ready to submit ourselves to death and resurrection, our full selves, the spectrum of our strength and weakness, to the cleansing and purifying fire of Calvary.

Can we let go of our plans, our defenses, our precious control, and go to the Cross with naked honesty, nothing hidden and nothing denied?

It becomes clear that we cannot force honesty or courage on ourselves. We cannot force ourselves to be faithful to Jesus or to ourselves or our friends.

We have to follow Jesus’ example and let go. Let go into what? Into the one whose every human cell and every divine power was filled with one compelling purpose, to love us. Let go into our beloved Jesus.

Amen.

Written by The Rev. Whitney Rice, who serves as the Associate Rector at St. Francis-in-the-Fields Episcopal Church in Zionsville, Indiana. She comes to ordained ministry by way of the University of Kansas and Berkeley Divinity School at Yale. See more of her work at www.roofcrashersandhemgrabbers.com.

Download the sermon for Tuesday in Holy Week (A).

 

Sermons for the remainder of Holy Week can be found here:

Wednesday in Holy Week

Maundy Thursday

Good Friday

Great Vigil of Easter

The Ultimate Act of a Merciful God, Monday in Holy Week (A) – April 10, 2017

[RCL] Isaiah 42:1-9; Psalm 36:5-11; Hebrews 9:11-15; John 12:1-11

At the regular celebration of the Holy Eucharist, we hear these familiar words: “After supper he took the cup of wine; and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them, and said, ‘Drink this, all of you: This is my Blood of the new Covenant, which is shed for you and for many for the forgiveness of sins.”

These words, the “words of institution,” are basically a quotation from the scriptural account of the last supper that we find in Mark’s and Matthew’s Gospels. For many, these are comfortable words that speak of the great sacrifice Christ made on the cross for the forgiveness of our sins. But for others, these are uncomfortable words because they worry that talk of Christ’s blood as a sacrifice implies notions of an angry God demanding the death of his innocent Son to appease his anger toward sinful human beings. Both the comfort and the discomfort people take in these words are legitimate. Indeed, we may find both reactions within the self-same heart.

Is it possible to disentangle some of the elements involved in this tension and to ease the conflict we find in ourselves?

I think the answer is a qualified “yes.” Our reading from Hebrews can help. A proper understanding of Hebrews shows that the idea of Jesus’ death as a sacrifice to an angry God is not biblical. However, a proper understanding of Hebrews may raise challenges of its own. So, yes, I think we can help ease the discomfort we have with the idea of Christ’s death as a sacrifice to an angry God. But a better understanding of the biblical background of Christ’s death as a sacrifice may cause a different type of discomfort. Perhaps there will be some comfort in knowing we are troubled by the right things.

In Hebrews we hear, “For if the blood of goats and bulls, with the sprinkling of the ashes of a heifer, sanctifies those who have been defiled so that their flesh is purified, how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to worship the living God!” The appropriate background for understanding this passage is the Old Testament notion of a sin offering. Sin offerings in the Old Testament are decidedly not sacrifices made by humans in order to appease an angry god. Such an idea may be found in other ancient religions, but not in ancient Israel. To understand how the author of Hebrews used the notion of sacrifice to interpret Christ’s death, we need to know what the Old Testament actually says about sin offerings.

Sin offerings in the Old Testament deal with the purification of the sinner and the sinful community. The first thing to note is that sin offerings are not made by humans to God. This contrasts with thank offerings which are made by humans to God. But in sin offerings it’s actually the other way around. Sin offerings were given by a gracious God to humans as a means for the removal of sin. God is not the object of appeasement. Rather, God is the giver of the means of the forgiveness of sins and the restoration of God’s people. So sin offerings should properly be seen as the gracious gifts of God to a people who are thereby cleansed from their sins and restored to covenantal relationship.

The central act in a sin offering involved the blood of a pure and unblemished animal being poured out and smeared on the altar. We need to keep in mind that for the Israelites blood was the symbol of life. The life of the unblemished animal had the power to restore the defective life of the sinner. Therefore, it was the life-bestowing power of blood – not the death of the animal – that resulted in the change in the sinner.

It does this by covering the sinful life by the pure life-blood of the sacrifice. Once the offence that divides humans from God is covered, the barrier between them is removed and the way is opened for renewed relationship. Note, the blood of the sacrifice is directed toward the sin. It is not directed toward an angry God. It is actually God’s gracious gift for the removal of sin.

Hebrews draws on these ideas about sin offerings to interpret the death of Jesus. In Jesus’ death, he offers a sacrifice for the purification of our sins. What we need to keep firmly in mind is that if Jesus is offering a sacrifice for us, it is not primarily about his death, but rather about his pure life-blood poured out for us. It is not a death that appeases an angry God, but rather a pure life that covers human sin. The sacrifice cleanses us from sin by covering our offenses and restoring us to covenantal relationship with God.

This means that Jesus’ death is not something that is offered to appease the anger of a wrathful God. Rather, Jesus is the self-offering of a gracious God to forgive our sins and to restore us to right relationship. The point isn’t the death of Jesus, but rather the life-giving power of his sacrifice offered for us.

Hebrews says Jesus is both high priest and the sacrifice. In the Old Testament priests would make sin offerings using the blood of goats and bulls. These sacrifices needed to be offered over and over again for the recurring sins of the people. The sacrifice of Jesus is different because he is the perfect Son of God, who offers his life once and for all. Therefore, Jesus mediates a new covenant in his blood.

This is the ultimate act of a merciful God who gives his own life for the restoration of God’s people. It is not a human act offered to an angry deity. It is the self-offering of a gracious God for us and for our salvation. When we hear the words of institution in the Holy Eucharist, “This is my Blood of the new Covenant, which is shed for you and for many for the forgiveness of sins,” we should think of God’s love and God’s life offered for us.

An understanding of Hebrews helps with the discomfort many feel about seeing Jesus’ death as a sacrifice made to an angry God. As we have seen, it is more properly understood as the gracious self-offering of a merciful God to forgive human sin and to restore us to covenant relationship. It is an act of grace not an act of appeasement.

As we move ever more deeply into the Paschal Mystery of Christ’s death and resurrection that we celebrate in Holy Week, perhaps we would do well to remember that there are other biblically informed ways of understanding Christ’s death.

In Peter’s sermons in Acts, he sharply distinguished between the crucifixion as an evil act done by evil people and the resurrection as the true saving act of God who reverses the evil of the crucifixion. Paul often speaks of the crucifixion as Christ’s defeat of the enemies of sin and death. And John’s Gospel faces the shame of the cross with irony and paradox because to the eyes of faith the cross is actually Jesus’ exaltation and glorification.

The church in its wisdom has never officially defined how Christ’s death is saving. That it is saving and that it is an act of a loving God for the life and salvation of the world seems bedrock to Christian faith. But the stark reality of the crucifixion of Jesus will always cause some discomfort no matter how we interpret it. And perhaps that is how it should be.

For without that discomfort what would resurrection mean?

Amen.

Written by The Rev. Dr. Joseph S. Pagano, associate rector at St. Anne’s Church in Annapolis, MD. Dr. Pagano’s ministry at St. Anne’s is focused on Adult Christian Formation, Outreach, and Pastoral Care. Dr. Pagano’s gifts for preaching, teaching, and care are all grounded in joyful and grateful service to God, to the Church, and to the world. Dr. Pagano received a Ph.D. in Theology and Ethics from Marquette University. His research interests focus on theology and contemporary society, science and religion, religious pluralism, and the theology and ethics of H. Richard Niebuhr. He holds an M.Div. from Princeton Theological Seminary and a B.A. from the University of Pennsylvania. He previously served parishes in Milwaukee, Wisconsin and Baltimore, Maryland. He also served as Assistant Professor of Theology at Mount Mary College in Milwaukee, Wisconsin and currently serves as an Affiliate Faculty Member in the Theology Department at Loyola University in Baltimore, Maryland. Dr. Pagano is married to the Rev. Dr. Amy Richter and is delighted to serve with her at St. Anne’s. They have co-authored two books, A Man, A Woman, A Word of Love, and Love in Flesh and Bone.

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Sermons for the remainder of Holy Week can be found here:

Tuesday in Holy Week

Wednesday in Holy Week

Maundy Thursday

Good Friday

Great Vigil of Easter