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.

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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.

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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.

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Bible Study, Easter 2(A) – April 23, 2017

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

Acts 2:14a, 22-32

It is fitting that Peter’s Pentecost speech comes to us on the Second Sunday of Easter. While Peter’s audience had just experienced the exhilaration of the Spirit’s outpouring, the church today is recovering from Easter Sunday. Peter’s speech provides the rhetorical jolt needed on this “Low Sunday” that lacks the lilies, crowds, and glorious hymns from the previous week. These words are the first of thirty some speeches in the Book of Acts and, indeed, the first of the innumerable attempts by Christian leaders to explain the faith. Our task is to hear this inaugural attempt at Christian witness both as “good news” and as “new news”. Attention to Peter’s delivery recalls some of the precariousness of the moment: Peter’s refutation of the charge of drunkenness against the apostles (omitted from the lectionary) reveals an uneasiness early in his sermon. This is then steadied by Peter’s usage of Old Testament scripture, which places his effort on more familiar—and more eloquent—footing. This portion of the sermon ends on a powerful note, though, as Peter reminds the audience that “all of us are witnesses” (2.32) to Christ’s resurrection. The “all” refers to both the disciples on the Pentecost stage with him as well as those celebrating 2000 years later, trying to hear the words afresh.

  • What parts of Peter’s speech “cut to the heart” (2.37) of the modern reader?
  • How does the Church maintain the quality of its proclamation throughout the highs and lows of the calendar year?

Psalm 16

In the Acts reading above, Peter/Luke uses Psalm 16 to advance a Christological argument. Given that it is the only portion of the Old Testament in the lectionary, it might be fruitful to consider the verses outside that setting. The Psalm describes an intimate relationship with the Creator, as first and second person pronouns abound throughout and metaphoric imagery implies a tactile closeness. In addition, unlike the many psalms that are in response to particular suffering or trouble, Psalm 16 portrays a relationship of sustained trust. Such an interaction bestows certain blessings on the faithful—blessings that are both material and spiritual in nature. Interestingly, the word “trust” itself is never mentioned—ironically appropriate given the speaker’s understanding of God’s presence as one whereby “my heart teaches me, night after night” (16.7).

  • What are some examples of a “goodly heritage” that God has bestowed in your life?
  • Would you describe your prayer/ devotional life as comparable to verse 7, or more contingent and variegated?

1 Peter 1:3-9

The Epistle reading offers a different understanding of faith from Psalm 16 as the epistle author connects faith with persecution and suffering. At the time of its writing, 1st Peter would have provided comfort to Christians whose families have disowned them because of their new identity. To our modern ears, however, it provides a measure of discomfort about the costs associated with a life in Christ. We are wise to think deeply about the nature of suffering and the power dynamics associated with “various trials.” Beyond that, for both sets of readers, the reading communicates that knowledge of Christ indeed does not equate, necessarily, to either earthly happiness or pain. Rather, the end result of faith in Christ, is to “love him” and the “salvation of your souls.” (1.8-9)

  • In the comfortable settings of Western Christianity, how should the “genuineness of faith” be appropriately “tested by fire”?

 John 20:19-31

The story of “doubting Thomas”, unique to John, renders yet another understanding of faith. It does so in a courtroom-like drama, familiar to the Gospel, where notions of witness and testimony are examined in a taut narrative. Attention to Thomas’ declaration in 20-28 and his strong convictions earlier in the Gospel are responsible for this, along with perhaps the humble realization that we all would likewise require tactile evidence for faith. Thomas would, in fact, make a rather poor witness in today’s courtroom. When Jesus tells him to put his finger in his side, Thomas has the opportunity to become the star witness for all sorts of subsequent theological and historical questions. But, due to the immediate and exclamatory nature of his answer, one doubts that he indeed followed through on Jesus’ directive. Rather, he declares a verdict similar to the one from 1st Peter: by seeing Jesus, Thomas believed in and loved him.

  • When you hear/ read good news, what is your reaction?
  • What prevents us from seeing God in the world around us?

Charles Cowherd is a Middler at Virginia Theological Seminary. A postulant in the Diocese of Virginia, he lives in Alexandria, VA with his wife Michelle – a mental health therapist.

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

 

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.

Download the sermon for Maundy Thursday.

 

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

 

Good Friday

Great Vigil of Easter

Bible Study, Easter (A) – April 16, 2017

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

Acts 10:34-43

Imagine a science fiction scenario for Easter 2017. All the pulpits of Christendom become ‘Time and Space portals.’ The preachers who step into all the pulpits around the world on this particular Easter morning are immediately shuffled to another pulpit in Christendom. A priest is Minneapolis suddenly finds herself in the pulpit of a tiny Romanian village Church, a Nigerian Pentecostal pastor finds himself suddenly standing before a large group of sailors on the deck of a US Navy aircraft carrier–you get the idea. Not only are they all the Easter morning preachers switched to another pulpit, they are also switched through time. An Anglo-Saxon bishop from the tenth century finds himself standing on a suburban Baptist mega-church platform with a tiny wire mic wrapped around his ear, a middle aged Episcopal priest from Austin, Texas suddenly materializes in a first century house church in Antioch.

All of us are to deliver our sermons as we prepared them. While each of these sermons would be remarkably different in many ways, we could hope that all of them would sound like the sermon that Peter preaches in Acts chapter 10.

  • So, if you were to preach, would your Easter morning sermon sound something like Peter’s?
  • Would your sermon give a clear account of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ?

Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24

This Psalm contains a tiny peek into the liturgical practices in ancient Judaism. There are instructions for “all Israel” to say, “His mercy endures forever.” There is a crescendo from the individual singer to the whole nation praising the Lord.

The Psalm is exuberant and speaks of a new reality coming to light. The day of victory is here, and God’s people are throwing a party of praise unlike any other. The fact that this psalm was written long before the first Easter should remind us that God had acted many times in the past for the people of God. God had delivered them many, many times and this psalm is a testimony to one such deliverance.

Our Easter celebrations should give us a model for how to celebrate all the works of God in our lives, both great and small. We are generally an unthankful people, but, with enough reflection, many of us can see many things that we can be thankful for–things that are marvelous in our eyes.

  • Have you had cause to celebrate lately?
  • How did you celebrate that victory?

Colossians 3:1-4

After attending all the Lenten activities, after coming to worship on Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and maybe even for a bit on Holy Saturday, you may feel that you need bodily resurrection. Catholic Christians, such as ourselves, journey with Jesus to the open tomb so well, that we can actually feel, in our bodies, a deep sense of life, death, and resurrection. Our worship is supposed to work this way. This is why we change our calendars this time of year. This is why we slow down enough to read lengthy passages of Scripture and hear the central story of our faith again and again.

We focus so much on the story of Jesus passion and resurrection because we believe what St. Paul wrote to the Colossians, that we “have been raised with Christ.” We have experienced the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus with him. As closely as we have walked with Jesus to the cross and empty tomb, our final union with Christ still awaits. Our revelation, our revealing still awaits us. Our search for meaning is fulfilled in the living Christ. When we think of Jesus, who is above us, the things down here cannot drag us down.

  • What are some things “down here” that are distracting you?
  • How did it feel to walk with Jesus through Lent and Holy Week?

John 20:1-18

John tells the story of Easter morning chaos. There is confusion, mistaken identities, and rejoicing. The emotions are intense. Disciples run in desperation. Mary is weeping. She is weeping with intensity and passion. She cannot stop herself. We hear her sobs echo down through the ages as she stands not only next to the grave of Jesus, but next to all the graves of the world. For thousands of years we have taken our loved ones, parents, children, teachers, and friends and placed them in the ground. We have covered them with dirt, and all we can do is weep.

Mary is weeping at this grave as she searches for the dead body of her friend and teacher. She is not finding what she expected. In her weeping she hears the question from Jesus, “Why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?” Like Mary, we must weep in our confusion when we stare into the open grave of this world. But, like Mary we hear the question in our weeping, “Whom are you looking for?” Like Mary, we are so sure we know what we are looking for that we cannot see the resurrected Christ or the resurrection he brings to us in our darkest hour.

A new reality is here, a new humanity in Jesus Christ. A new vision of eternal life is ours in Christ and we will not see it if we, like Mary and the other disciples, are merely expecting to find the dead body of a young hero. No, the Jesus of Easter is alive and comes to us in word and sacrament, and we are filled with the joy of that first Easter.

  • Why are you weeping?
  • Whom are you looking for?

Written by David Peters, who served as an enlisted Marine and an Army Chaplain, deploying to Baghdad, Iraq in 2005. His ministry experience includes youth ministry, hospital and military chaplaincy, as well as parish experience in Central Texas. He is a graduate of Biblical Theological Seminary (M.Div.), Erskine Theological Seminary (D.Min), and the Episcopal Theological Seminary of the Southwest (MAR). He contributed a chapter “A Spiritual War: Crises of Faith in Combat Chaplains from Iraq and Afghanistan,” to the award winning book, Listening on the Edge: Oral History in the Aftermath of Crisis, edited by Mark Cave and Stephen M. Sloan (Oxford University Press, 2014). David aslo blogs for the Huffington Post and Oxford University Press and is the author of two books, Death Letter: God, Sex, and War (Tactical 16 Press, 2014) and Post-Traumatic God: How the Church Cares for People who have been to Hell and Back (Morehouse, 2016). His memoir, Death Letter, is currently being adapted for film by director LaJuan Johnson and producer Ecky Malick. His sermon, “Learning War and Reconciliation,” won the Reconciliation Preaching Prize from Trinity Wall Street. On 9/11/2015, he preached it to first responders at Ground Zero in NYC. In 2013 he founded the Episcopal Veterans Fellowship, a missional community for veterans ministry that now includes fellowships in several dioceses. He works in the veteran community as a spiritual director and leads projects that seek to tell the story of Moral Injury and reconciliation to a larger audience such as the forthcoming documentary “Coming Home” by Deidox Films. David currently ministers as an Army Reserve instructor at the U.S. Army Chaplain Center and School at Ft. Jackson, SC and as the Associate Rector at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church, Austin, TX. He enjoys long-distance running, reading novels, extra-dark chocolate, and bicycle commuting. He is the father of three sons and is married to the lovely Sarah Bancroft, a museum curator and the Executive Director of the James Rosenquist Foundation. Follow him on Twitter @dvdpeters or Instagram @trail.padre. Read more about his work at www.davidwpeters.com

Download the Bible Study for Easter Day (A).

Bible Study, Palm Sunday (A) – April 9, 2017

[RCL] Isaiah 50:4-9a; Psalm 31:9-16; Philippians 2:5-11; Matthew 26:14-27:66

Isaiah 50:4-9a

This part of Isaiah is interesting. If we look closely, it has a careful balance of human responses to God and each other. First, we find the value of listening and speaking. As God gives the prophet the gift of words, it is to use them to sustain the weary. And as God gives the prophet the power to listen, it is so that the prophet hears, and more importantly, understands God. This understanding is a pivotal part of the prophet’s obedience to God.

Then the passage shifts to a more physical sense of response to God and each other. Mentions of being struck, pulling out a beard, and spitting give a very negative sense of responding to God and each other through physical means. This is particularly interesting because the passage closes with a question of declaring guilt, which is the standard our communities still use in determining who is a free citizen and who is not. But those declarations are only words.

  • How do we use our bodies (in all senses, by speaking, by listening, by acting) as centers of spiritual renewal and connection to God and each other?
  • If this passage is telling us anything, it is that words and how we hear them are significant. How do you use your own words? How do you listen? Would that change based on today’s scripture?

Psalm 31:9-16

When all feels lost, when we find ourselves at the bottom of the well of life, when everything seems to be working against us, it can be easy to just give up. It can be easy to throw in the towel, stop trying to climb out, and just exist in a state of perpetual sadness and fear. But the psalmist today gives us another alternative. When we feel as though we have nothing left, no one to turn to and nothing we can do to change that, God is still present. We can still cry out to God for mercy and love.

  • What is your standard mode of operation when things are tough? Do you lash out? Hide away? How can you bring God into those moments with you?

Philippians 2:5-11

This passage is an incredible and wild statement for its time. Particularly in a time of Roman rule, the typical leader came to conquer by strength and might. When Jesus arrives on the scene, that is largely the expectation of the people. He is supposed to overthrow the Roman empire and lead the people of God into a new and peaceful kingdom. But that is not what Christ does. Instead, Christ models the life of a servant, emptying himself even to the point of death. This was a radical notion at the time.

  • How do we respond to radical ideas?
  • Think of those things which have never been done, things that go against our cultural expectations of how things should be done, and imagine how you might embrace or push back against that sort of thing which goes against it all.

Matthew 26:14-27:66

The reading from Matthew for Palm Sunday is full of the images we associate with the Passion: the betrayal by Judas, the agony in the Garden of Gethsemane, the three denials of Peter, and the angry mom of a crowd crying out for the crucifixion of Jesus. What we focus on today is the constant tension we find between humanity and divinity. It is highlighted again and again.

Christ knows who will betray and deny him. Christ can stay awake and alert in the garden. Christ can look his betrayer in the eyes and call him ‘friend.’ The humanity in the narrative comes in the form of Judas falling prey to monetary bribes, the disciples constantly falling asleep, Peter being so filled with fear that he denies knowing Christ, and the crowds being so worked up that they allow the chief priests and scribes to convince them that Barabas is the one they should pardon.

But the tension is also housed within Christ, himself. Although he knows his path, he pleads for release. And although he knows the consequence of his betrayal, he still calls Judas friend. And even though Peter falls victim to fear and shame, he is still the one chosen to build the church on. These are all ways that humanity and divinity are playing tug-o-war with each other throughout this passage.

  • In what ways do our own wills match or mismatch with God’s will for us?
  • How do we respond when we are in opposition? Do we repent like Judas? Do we get angry like the crowd? Do we weep like Peter?
  • What can we learn from these responses?

Written by Samantha Gottlich, a senior M.Div. student at Virginia Theological Seminary and a candidate for holy orders in the Episcopal Diocese of Texas. She is author of Faith Rules: An Episcopal Manual, and soon-to-be published Lectionary Levity, a lectionary-based preaching resource focused on humor in the pulpit. She is an avid reader, dreamer, and seeker of God’s love in the world.

Download the Bible Study for Palm Sunday (A).

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.

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

 

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

 

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