Year 2021 Is Our 175th Anniversary!
Readings: 1 Samuel 3:1-20, Psalm 139:1-5, 12-17, I Corinthians 6:12-20, John 1:43-51
The Collect for the Second Sunday of Epiphany:
Almighty God, whose Son our Savior Jesus Christ is the light of the world: Grant that your people, illumined by your Word and Sacraments, may shine with the radiance of Christ’s glory, that he may be known, worshipped and obeyed to the ends of the earth; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, now and forever. Amen.
The word of the Lord was rare in those days; visions were not widespread.
— 1 Samuel 3:1b
Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and said to him,“Follow me.”
— John 1:43
“DOMINE, QUO VADIS?”
(“Lord, where are you going?”) — John 13: 36
Dear Advent Family and Friends,
I, together with many others, have found myself perplexed, angered, and shocked since January 6 by the dark and horrendous events perpetrated in and on this nation. I was immensely saddened by the loss of lives. Beyond that, I have found myself profoundly saddened by a sense of loss of something else that I have no real ability to precisely delineate at present. This, I freely acknowledge. I have tried thoughtfully and prayerfully to write of this loss in numerous drafts; but to no real end. Given the pertinent readings for this Sunday, what follows is but another attempt.
Although those events occurred on the day many of us celebrate as the Feast of the Epiphany (the manifestation of Christ to the nations), traditionally known as the Feast of Lights, I now find myself in the uncomfortable position of having to acknowledge once more the paradox of the world in which we live; a world where darkness and evil is present as well as goodness and light. I find myself remembering a quote from Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple in the film version of Nemesis: “Yes, yes, I believe in evil, everlasting life, and, oh yes, goodness!” with a selfsame emphasis on ‘goodness.’ For me that redemptive goodness or godliness has been made known in and through Christ Jesus.
At present I also find myself saddened by a stark realization. The Jesus, I and so many others (admittedly in my case haltingly, at my best) have tried to follow, and continue to try to follow, is not the same Jesus to whom many others give their allegiance. As testimony to this were the numerous placards and invocations of the insurrectionists on January 6. That is a Jesus and god I do not recognize. What seems particularly, and at present, most evident in this nation is an evolving mutant and virulent strain or version of an American-Jesus. This is a dark comedy in one sense, given that the word ‘evolve’ is anathema to so many who follow that Jesus. Aside from the American hyphenation of that Jesus, which has been peculiar to this country throughout its history, similar strains of that dis-ease have manifested themselves time and again during the long arc of Judeo-Christian history. It would be less problematic if such visions or versions of that Jesus, indeed of that god, were not so widespread; but they are! In that god (or gods) much dis-ease, and evil has been and still is engendered. It extends well beyond our little section of the world.
To be clear, those who adhere to that representation of god in Christ Jesus are not really evangelical, proclaiming ‘good news’ to all people, nor catholic ‘universal.’ The followers of that Jesus are not really religiously conservative; holding on to the best of the past, nor radical; grounded and rooted in the faith once delivered. I find myself exhausted by the chattering classes’ continual misuse of these words as opposites. They are not in themselves antithetical, and none of them really apply to the followers of that Jesus. No, that Jesus, that god, is a product of an entitled privileged belief that is always separating an ‘us’ from a ‘them;’ and turns the gift given into a possession owned. This is contrary to the Jesus made known to us in Scripture. This Jesus, God in Christ, possesses us. Thanks be to God!
It is this Jesus who is the one who finds us where we are, the one who holds us; the one who lifts us up when we fall, both figuratively and even at times literally. It is this Jesus that we encounter in today’s reading from the conclusion of the first chapter John. The previous verses witnessed the beginning of Jesus’ formation of the beloved community. Where we start the reading this Sunday, there are already three disciples. Two, Andrew and one other, had formerly been disciples of John the Baptist, but when John said: “Look, here is the Lamb of God!” The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus.”— John 1:36, Andrew then found and brought (he was evangelizing) his brother Simon Peter to Jesus. All these events took place at Bethany across the Jordan. With today’s reading the location changes to Galilee and the calling of Philip and Nathanael. Jesus found Philip and said to him, “Follow me.” Philip found Nathanael and said to him, “We have found him… Jesus son of Joseph of Nazareth.” After a back and forth with Jesus centered on Jesus’ qualifications and then Nathanael believing, he too becomes a disciple.
Today’s reading of John centers on being found (Do I hear Amazing Grace?) and following Jesus (Do I hear I have decided to follow Jesus?). Jesus does not tell Philip where he or the disciples are going. Neither does he tell any of us. All he says is “Follow me.” It is an imperative.
Later in John 13:34-36, Jesus says: “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” Simon Peter said to him, Lord, where are you going?” Jesus answered, “Where I am going, you cannot follow me now; but you will follow me afterward.” Continuing from this passage is Peter’s protestation that he will follow even unto death. Upon the Lord’s arrest, Jesus rebukes Peter for cutting off the right ear of the slave Malchus; shortly thereafter comes Peter’s threefold denial of knowing this Jesus. In the last chapter of John, after the resurrection, and following the fish fry, the risen Lord tells Peter twice, “Follow me!” This is the end of Peter’s scriptural journey, of following and not following this Jesus.
There is a codicil to this found in the late 2nd Century apocryphal Acts of Peter, although it may have been an earlier separate writing. The account centers on Peter’s death. Peter, fleeing Rome during the persecution of Christians under Nero, encounters the risen Lord and once more inquires, “Lord where are you going?” He receives the answer that he is going to Rome to be crucified again. Peter realizes that he is once more on the way to making the same mistake of denying and abandoning his Lord and the community of believers. He sees the encounter with Jesus as a sign. He returns to Rome and is crucified head down; at his request, as he was not worthy to be crucified as was Jesus.
Tomorrow, January 18, is the Feast of the Confession of St. Peter, Apostle. In his heights and in his valleys, in his vacillations, St. Peter is a type for most of us Christians in our faith journeys through life, both when we seem to find ourselves in a pleasant place, and when we seem to be wandering in a wilderness; even when Christ Jesus is crucified every day through the injuries in this world, we refuse to bear or lessen. But remarkably, and by grace, this Jesus who found Peter time and again, still finds us and holds us up. All that is asked by this Jesus Christ is to follow him; that we too may shine with the radiance of Christ’s glory. As the old knight said in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade: “You must choose, but choose wisely.” This Jesus or that Jesus?
“Let us persevere unceasingly in our hope,
and in the pledge of our righteousness,
that is in Christ Jesus.”
— Polycarp of Smyrna
Epistle to the Philippians
In Christ’s love, my love and prayers,
IMAGE: Crucifixion of Saint Peter. Caravaggio (c.1600)
Readings: 2 Samuel 7:1-11, 16, Canticle 3 or 15, Romans 16:25-27, Luke 1:26-38
The Collect for the Fourth Sunday of Advent:
Purify our conscience, Almighty God, by your daily visitation, that your Son Jesus Christ, at his coming, may finding us a mansion prepared for himself; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.
“And Mary said, Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word. And the angel departed from her.” — Luke 1:38 KJV
When I find myself in times of trouble
Mother Mary comes to me,
Speaking words of wisdom, let it be.
And in my hour of darkness
She is standing right in front of me
Speaking words of wisdom. Let it be.
And when the broken-hearted people
Living in the world agree
There will be an answer, let it be.
For though they may be parted
There is still a chance that they will see.
There will be an answer: Let it be.
“A Christmas and Before (Advent 4) Letter”
By. Fr. Paul Wanter
Dear Advent Family and Friends,
I start this letter with a confession. Usually, whether rightly or wrongly I do fairly quickly make up my mind on any given decision that needs to be made; and that after weighing pros and cons. However, for the whole of this Advent Season and the two previous weeks, that is since we ceased in-person services, I have wrestled internally with what to do about Christmas; the Feast of the Incarnation and what God once did. My mind has changed daily, and on some days from one moment to another. With this current pandemic, I have found myself in the uncomfortable position — being of two minds on any number of issues — with time increasingly in short supply: I have finally decided to hold one in-person Service on Christmas Eve beginning at 4:00 p.m. The former pre-shutdown strictures will be followed (masks required, social distancing individuals and family groupings, communion in one kind, music but no singing, etc.). I am hoping the weather will be mild enough, and we sufficiently clothed enough, to enable us to sing some few well known carols outside prior to entering the Church; this under the new playground canopy and socially distanced. I do know that some of you do not want to attend a Christmas Service in-person and others do. I equally respect and honor both decisions.
With a social distancing limitation as to the number of those who can be seated, I do need to know beforehand if you are planning to attend. Please text or email (firstname.lastname@example.org; (859) 707-1643) me a reservation as soon as possible; if a family grouping, please note the number in the family. Thank you.
Greetings, and may God’s blessing be upon us always and for all time. As Christians we are called to be a pilgrim people following the Star. No, not the star once followed by the Magi, but the One to whom they were led by it. During the Season of Christmas, and indeed, that of Epiphany and Epiphanytide, may we affirm and celebrate God in Christ come among us, and made known; made manifest. May we all once more respond to this priceless, yet freely given, gift of love. May we yet again, both during this time and always, affirm that the light of Christ’s presence overcomes the darkness both within and without, and in so doing witness to Emmanuel; God in Christ, with us.
As an eight-year-old I was relocated by parental move to a new state, and city. Maybe dislocated would be the more appropriate word as everything was or seemed very different. I certainly was saddened by the move and disorientated; probably for the first time in my life. There was a keenly-felt absence of extended family, old friends and familiar surroundings. Nowhere was this more evident than in the public school in which I found myself then placed. It was an old dreary building with equally old, dreary and harsh teachers; or so it and they seemed at the time. To a certain extent, in recollection, it seems so even now. Everything in that recall remains a monochrome in gray tones.
What has led me down this pathway at present is the recollection of a picture that hung in the hallway immediately outside the classroom door. It was one of many in that long hallway, but it is the only one I have continued to remember. It was a print or etching in shades of gray of a man and woman standing in a field praying; both with bent heads, the woman holding her palms prayerfully together and the man holding his hat in both hands, both obviously having stopped in the midst of some manner of farm work.
Visually, whether good or bad art, it spoke to me; even if I knew not then, why or how. Looking back on the eight-year-old I was; one who intentionally looked at that picture every time I entered the school in that first year, I realize now it had become a talisman or sign for both acceptance of change, and even, an underlying if unknown constancy of presence.
It was in my late teens that I learned the print was a copy of The Angelus by Jean-Francois Millet, a 19th Century French painter. It is here that that painting/print and today’s Gospel reading intersect. The Angelus also is a catholic devotional prayer of some great age which is traditionally said daily (by some three times a day, by others twice in evening and morning) to commemorate the Incarnation. Of the three central foci of the prayer two are derived from today’s reading — The Angel of the Lord announced unto Mary: And she conceived by the Holy Ghost; and Behold the handmaid of the Lord: Be it unto me according to thy word; and last: And the Word was made flesh: And dwelt among us is, of course, from the first chapter of John’s Gospel. Interspersed are three Hail Marys and it concludes with a collect: We beseech thee, O Lord, pour thy grace into our hearts, that we who have known the incarnation of thy son Jesus Christ, by the message of an angel, so by his cross and passion may we be brought unto the glory of his resurrection, through the same Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
This devotional, The Angelus, I only learned after I became an Episcopalian and when I became a member of a decidedly Anglo-Catholic parish. It was used daily at the beginning of Morning Prayer and the Holy Eucharist (one Service!), and at the conclusion of Evensong. It is one of the prayers that I can, and do say, from memory; witness the traditional language. Even then, I’m not at all certain about the concluding collect which is also used on the Feast of the Annunciation. The Prayer Book traditional language text has we may, whereas I have always said may we. Either I have transposed the two words at some point, or the one version (PB) positions some degree of certitude that I haven’t yet attained. I suppose the hopes, desires, and aspirations are the same.
Of course the center of today’s Gospel reading and The Angelus is God’s action in time and one young woman’s individual response which changed all time, and echoes and heightens those of many individuals before in Scripture and many after in Scripture and beyond; and given the prophets not always readily. Be it unto me according to thy will is echoed in that woman’s Son’s prayer: …, thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as in heaven, and yet again, in his prayer in the garden the last night of his earthly life.
The difficulty for most of us is the discernment of God’s will. Or perhaps not. Maybe the difficulty for most of us is more often than not, at best, we place our wills or our wants before those of God, or, at worst, we lay claim to God’s will for any or all of our actions. Following upon the latter, there then becomes a greater difficulty in the acceptance of God’s will, and to some degree the will of others, when they contradict our neatly constructed certitudes.
We are all of us, or most of us, to varying degrees difficult. The one constancy is God’s love despite this. That love was made flesh and dwelt among us. It only took one individual to respond. Incarnation occurs whenever any individual responds to that love by love.
“The Bethlehem Within”
Could but my soul, O God,
Become a silent night,
Thou wouldst be born in me,
And set all things aright!
Ah would my heart but be
A manger for thy birth,
Thou would once more become
A child upon the earth!
Though Christ a thousand times
In Bethlehem be born,
If he’s not born in me,
My soul is all forlorn:
The cross on Golgotha
Will never save my soul;
The cross in my own heart
Alone can make me whole.
Wishing all a most Merry Christmas!
In Christ’s love, and with my love and prayers,
Readings: Isaiah 6:1-4, 8-11, Psalm 12, 1 Thessalonians 5:16-24, John 1:6-8, 19-28
The Collect for the Third Sunday of Advent:
Stir up your power, O Lord, and with great might come among us; and, because we are sorely hindered by our sins, let your bountiful grace and mercy speedily help and deliver us; through Jesus Christ our Lord, to whom, with your and the Holy Spirit, be honor and glory, now and forever. Amen.
“I will greatly rejoice in the LORD,
my whole being shall exalt in my God;
for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation,
he has covered me with the robe of righteousness,
as a bridegroom decks himself with a garland,
and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.” — Isaiah 61
“There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light.” — John 1:6-8
“To Infinity and Beyond”
By Fr. Paul Wanter
During this past week while perusing news on the Web I heard someone using the word “infinity” in a sentence and a commentator picking up on that, and then humorously using the phrase “to infinity and beyond” from the old “Toy Story” movie. I don’t remember the context. It may have been about the coronavirus, or the vaccine’s pending release, or it may have been about political events. I do know that whatever the context, I felt increasingly disheartened until I heard that phrase. With its use I was transported back in memory some 17 years to another disheartening time in the world, and particularly for this nation, with the war with Iraq just having become a reality.
Then, too, I was perusing news, but reading it from a newspaper. I was immersed in a depressing reflection on how little we humans seemed to have changed over the course of our history on this planet. In my mind I was just starting off on a parallel trajectory on how little Christ’s coming, death, and resurrection seemed to have altered this world, myself included.
At my feet, a young boy playing with his Buzz Lightyear toy brought me back to the then present moment. Out of the blue, he asked me the rather startling question, “Is infinity the greatest number?” I replied that infinity was beyond all numbers, that it had no end. He seemed satisfied with this answer. I was just returning to my own thoughts, however, when he posited another question, “Then what does ‘to infinity and beyond’ mean?” I was getting into deep waters or deep space, and Buzz Lightyear was with me. I did my best to explain that there really wasn’t anything beyond infinity, that this was a way of speaking that was done to make a point about how great infinity was; with no ending. For good measure I threw in the similar example of the end of the Lord’s Prayer, “for ever and ever.” I did not use the words “for emphasis” or “poetic license” or “Episcopalian peculiarity” per the Lord’s Prayer!
Buzz Lightyear receding, I was then thrown into a more distant past, remembering myself at that age and asking my mother almost the same questions. I didn’t understand then what “forever” meant, despite my mother’s attempt to explain it. I doubt even to this day my own success in explaining “infinity” some 17 years ago, setting aside “and beyond.’”
And yet, since that long-ago conversation with my mother, I have continued to ponder what these words mean, their significance for my life only increasing with each passing year. I believe that ever, forever, for ever, for ever and ever, always, infinity, to infinity and beyond, are all words or concepts that can only be held by faith; not by understanding (pace to the scientific minded among us). In faith they hold a promise — they are a promise. It is this promise we are given at Christmas and the preceding weeks of Advent. It is the promise of the love that came among us; living, dying, and yet raised, and alive always. It is the promise of God’s love given to us, all of us, without end; always and for ever. Time itself in that love was vanquished by infinity, and the world was altered when that love, that Word made flesh, came into this world; altered also for ever. Whether we accept this love, reject it, or just don’t give a darn, it is what Christmas is, set in motion in this world, and its promise lives on always for all.
The love of God is as much a reality of the present time as it was a reality for the shepherds in the fields who came to the manger and beheld that small child. It holds us all and will hold us for all time, and without end. I am, we are, disheartened because, and when, we forget this. Let us remember. During this Advent and Christmastide may our eyes, minds, and hearts, our whole lives, be opened to and by this love. In Christ’s love may we be opened to receiving God’s forgiveness of our sins and to forgiving of others; to hold fast, and, to live in and by, the possibilities of transformation and new life, to the redemption of all facets of our own lives, and the world, now and for ever, and always, to infinity and beyond.
“Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” — 1 Thessalonians 5:16
In Christ’s love and with my prayers,
Readings: Isaiah 64:1-9, Psalm 80:1-7, 16-18, 1 Corinthians 1:3-9, Mark 13:24-37
The Collect for the Second Sunday of Advent:
Merciful God, who sent your messengers the prophets to preach repentance and prepare the way for our salvation: Give us grace to heed their warnings and to forsake our sins, that we may greet with joy the coming of Jesus Christ our Redeemer; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.
“Since all these things are to be dissolved in this way, what sort of person ought you to be in leading lives of holiness and goodness, waiting and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be set ablaze and dissolved, and the elements will melt with fire? But, in accordance with his promise, we wait for new heavens and a new earth, where righteousness is at home.” — 2 Peter 3:11-13
“The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” — Mark 1:1
“Longings and Expectations”
By Fr. Paul Wanter
I have often thought that because of the many expectations placed upon the seasons of Advent as a time of pre-Christmas preparation, and of Christmas itself, they all too often become freighted with more weight than they or we are able to bear. Frequently, at the end, this guarantees a degree of disappointment as an almost assured, if not inevitable, outcome.
The truth is that for many of us for most of the time or even always there is no Dickensian “A Christmas Carol” and its implied, if not explicit, scenario of redemption and good will to all. I fear this will be particularly true in this year of COVID-19. At the end of the day, that is the day after Christmas in any given year — most of us will not have experienced a radical conversion of life. Nor will most have achieved a perfection of worldly preparation beforehand; this preparation being summed up in present buying, decoration, and cooking which rivals those of magazine spreads and other media advertisements, and at least not without the cost of a continual anxiety, a little depression, and an associated diminishment of self worth. Despite acknowledging that such means of approach to these seasons are largely fictional (pace Hallmark), and more than a little economically driven, many of us desperately cling to them. Oh, let’s not forget their corollary of the loving ‘normal’ Norman Rockwell family gathered around the table!
Why is it that so many of us are willing to believe in spurious takes on the seasons of Advent and Christmas? Our failure to achieve their objectives provides more than ample material to make anyone jaundiced, cynical and disappointed; it is then that the Old Scrooge triumphs, not God in Christ made manifest. It is then that we become heartsick.
As Saint Paul wrote some 2,000 years ago: “And I will show you a more excellent way.” 1 Corinthians 12:31b. Advent is both a sequel and prelude to Christmas. Christmas itself is about God’s love come into this world in the fragility of an infant, in God’s good time, not ours; an infant, who, more than can ever be imagined, gathered all our hopes and transformed all our fears, even those to which we could give no voice. This is the beginning of the good news. Christmas was and is about meeting a love unmerited in which our longings and expectations are truly met, our emptiness filled, and our fears found to be ultimately without foundation. Whether we prepare for Christmas properly or not, whether sought or unsought, the gift is still given. Whether we celebrate rightly or not, Christ, God’s love made flesh, incarnate, has and continues to come to, for, and yes, through us — the ease for our dis-eased hearts and this earth on which we live and of which we are made: We wait for a new heaven and a new earth where righteousness is at home.
“Hints followed by guesses; and the rest
Is prayer, observance, discipline, thought and action,
The hint half guessed, the gift half understood, is Incarnation.
. . . And right action is freedom
From past and future also.
For most of us, this is the aim
Never here to be realized;
Who are undefeated
Because we have gone on trying;”
May we all have a meaningful Advent and a joyous Christmas.
In Christ’s love and with my prayers,
Readings: Isaiah 64:1-9, Psalm 80:1-7, 16-18, 1 Corinthians 1:3-9, Mark 13:24-37
Almighty God, give us grace to cast away the works of darkness, and put on the armor of light, now in the time of this mortal life in which your Son Jesus Christ came to visit us in great humility; that in the last day, when he shall come again in his glorious majesty to judge both the living and the dead, we may rise to the life immortal; through him who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
— Collect for The First Sunday of Advent
God is faithful; by him you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.
— 1 Corinthians 1:9
THE MUSIC OF ADVENT
“O come, O come, Emmanuel,
And ransom captive Israel,
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the Son of God appear. ”
— Hymn 56, stanza 1
“Happy New (Liturgical) Year!”
By Fr. Paul Wanter
The First Sunday of Advent is the beginning of the Church Year, a liturgical measurement of time which does not exactly correspond to the solar year and its calendar; starting a month earlier. That being said, whatever the measurement of time, whether that of the church or the world, I think most can all concur that 2020 has been individually, communally, nationally and worldwide, a particular Annus Horribilis, the likes of which, in this country at least, few now living have previously experienced; a year of pestilence, death, anxiety, division and separation, and yes, an accompanying chaos and shattering of norms. I suspect most of us are ready for a new year, whatever it brings forth. Always, as Christians, whatever the time or year, we are called to hold on to the central promise of faith that God in Christ has redeemed all time: The light shines in the darkness and the darkness did not overcome it (John 1:5). Advent, the beginning of the yearly telling of the old, old story, is about this truth.
Around this time every year, I wonder if it is possible for us to hear the music of the season of Advent? This year, with our Church of the Advent services at present once more suspended, and no singing of any Hymns since early March even when we were meeting, it seems a particularly valid question. By music, I certainly don’t mean the “muzak” that bombards us from loudspeakers in many stores and shops, nor the music heard on the radio, TV, computer, cell phone, etc. At its best this is likely to be the classic carols of Christmas, and no matter how lovely, it is more often than not, out of tune with Advent. Rather, I am thinking of the leitmotif and chords that Advent and the Scriptural readings of the season evoke; its major and minor keys, or all of the above, if we listen with our hearts.
The recurring theme of Advent, of God’s coming, is that of nostalgia and promise. The nostalgia is not that of sentiment, but a proper nostalgia; a bitter-sweet longing for home and a world set aright, a cry of the heart that enables us to act as God’s agents. That home is not a past home peculiar to any given individual, but rather the world itself as home; restored and established as the place of God’s presence and peace. This is the promise of Christmas; of God in Christ Jesus entering into human life. This promise found its fulfillment in Christ’s redemptive death and resurrection. We believe we will see this promise in fullness at the Second Coming; as a future event.
Around this leitmotif of nostalgia and promise there are some distinctive notes or chords evoked by the season. There is a plaintive note, which is a sorrowful note, that acknowledges our involvement in such actions, sins if you will, that separate us from God, our fellow human beings, and God’s creation. The minor key of Advent, the plaintive key, is a call to repentance, to turn yet again towards God. Yet another note of Advent is that of poignancy. The poignant note, the major key of Advent, is that of the piercing incarnational love of God and the restoration it has promised. In a birth some 2,000 years ago, that love-made-flesh touched, and continues to embrace a world so desperately needing it. God’s love can touch even us, and does so. It certainly embraces us. In Christ all things are made new, even us!
Longing, promise, sorrow, and above all the steadfast love of God, these compose the music of Advent.
Can we listen to our hearts? Can we sing the response?
“Comfort, comfort ye my people, speak ye peace, thus saith our God;
comfort those who sit in darkness mourning ’neat their sorrows’
load. Speak ye to Jerusalem of the peace that waits for them;
tell her that her sins I cover, and her warfare now is over.”
— Hymn 67 stanza 1 (paraphrase of Isaiah 40:1-2a)
In Christ’s love and with my prayers,
IMAGE: Courtesy of Aid to the Church in Need.
Readings: Genesis 21:8-21; Psalm 86:1-10, 16-17; Romans 6:1b-11; Matthew 10:24-39
And God heard the voice of the boy , and the angel of God called to Hagar from heaven, and said to her “What troubles you, Hagar? Do not be afraid: for God has heard the voice of the boy where he is. Come lift up the boy
and hold him fast with your hand, for I will make a great nation of him.” Then God opened her eyes and she saw a well of water. She went, and filled the skin with water and gave the boy a drink. — Genesis 21:17-18
The death he (Christ) died, he died to sin, once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus. — Romans 6:10-11
Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. And even the hairs of your head are all counted. So do not be afraid, you are of more value than many sparrows.
— Matthew 10:29-30
“The Warnings and Rewards of Being in God’s ‘Family’”
By Fr. Paul Wanter
Once again, the individuals, whoever they were, who compiled the Common Lectionary were exhibiting a wry or wicked sense of humor in the lessons we have for this Third Sunday after Pentecost. This Sunday, nationally, and also internationally, is also known as Father’s Day. Maybe those individuals had difficult relationships with their own fathers. Whatever the case, both the Genesis and Matthew readings are minefields when it comes to understanding relationships between fathers and their children. That is, not to say that other relationships aren’t also called into question in Matthew’s account, or even in Genesis, but then Genesis is all about familial relationships — a genealogy of relationships, some good and a lot bad, or at least dysfunctional. In Matthew, the passage is compounded by being spoken by Jesus, though in part he is quoting the Prophet Micah. For those who have “Red letter edition Bibles,” I suspect it would show as a mass of red. Heck, even without Father’s Day being thrown in, Matthew’s passage is hellish to present as good news; but perhaps that’s the salient point, as applicable today as 2,000 years ago. The good news is always perspective, and not always self evident.
The Genesis story for today is one account of the departure of Abraham’s son Ishmael and his mother Hagar. At Sarah’s insistence Abraham casts out the boy and his mother, the slave woman Hagar. He gives them bread and water for the journey. They wander in the wilderness and the water runs out. Hagar casts the child under a bush and its shade. She then sits down a good way off, not wanting to see the child die. There she prays to God and weeps. God hears the voice of the boy (this is a patriarchal account), and an angel of God tells Hagar, “What troubles you Hagar? Do not be afraid; for God has heard the voice of the boy where he is....” A well of water is provided and they are saved. Of course the name Ishmael means “God listens,” “God will hear.” The good news of this harrowing story is that God was with the boy, and he grew up. Genesis later narrates that he had 12 sons. The particularly uncomfortable facet of the account is Abraham’s treatment of Hagar and their son. This was even viewed with discomfort by some of the rabbinical commentators, who in the Midrash saw Hagar as being the same individual as Keturah, Abraham’s second (third?) wife. According to Rashi, one of the greatest commentators, Abraham, still loving her, sought Hagar out following the death of Sarah; the difference in names being that Hagar was generic ("one pressed into service") and Keturah her actual name. God knows! As to Ishmael, he prospered, but was not the child of God’s promise. He is viewed as the ancestor of the Arab tribes. In the Muslim faith and the Qur’an he is the child of the promise, relationships, and family squabbles ever currently being played out, in some ways, even now. But it is about relationships.
Today’s passage in Matthew is all about the cost of discipleship. It is the fine print of a covenantal relationship with God in Christ; not unlike the warning and instructional sheet(s) that comes with a prescription medicine listing proper dosage and possible side effects. The proper dosage is always for health’s sake for most who take it, but for that healing and/or for life’s sake requires an habitual commitment as priority to ensure that these occur. This not unlike life given in Christ, life in discipleship, a medicine for healing and life, as a preventive to impaired health and as cure in an always sick world. It finds its summation in the concluding part of today’s Gospel: “Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever does not take up the cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.” Matthew 10:37-39. This finds an echo in that Hymn all too often blithely sung, “I have decided to follow Jesus, ...No turning back, no turning back.” This was enunciated by Dietrich Bonhoeffer in The Cost of Discipleship, and in the title of a classical evangelical devotional work, My Utmost for His Highest. This understanding of discipleship; its demands and its warnings (consequences) seems far away from the world many of us inhabit, from a Christianity that seems too at ease in Zion. Maybe, just maybe, it isn’t as far away as many not long ago imagined. Perhaps one of the beneficial consequences of the several severe crises now being experienced is that this call to discipleship and an attendant change in habitual norms don’t seem far away at all. During Jesus’ earthly ministry many turned back. During the long history of Christianity many have turned back, Now is the present, and the same choice, now as always, is here.
Scripture is always about relationships, relationships with God, and with each other; both good and bad. It is always about gift — God’s gift of life in its fullness. It is never an entitlement, it is at God’s cost, pure gift, undeserving as all may be. Christians proclaim themselves as forgiven people, but this always requires a turning back, no, rather, turning around once again, to the God in Christ, the God who is with us always, all of us. To live out this discipleship is to play a role in the world which God made, and is always remaking anew, even in us, to live as Christ, becoming ambassadors of reconciliation (II Cor. 5:16-20), to be a part of the healing, to be the life to which God calls us. As God and God in Christ tell us, once more, today, both in Genesis and Matthew, being that life means to live without fear, to be not afraid. So be it.
Thanks be to God!
HAPPY FATHER’S DAY TO ALL FATHERS !
In Christ’s love, in my love, and in my prayers,
Almighty God, you have poured upon us the new light of your incarnate Word: Grant that this light, enkindled in our hearts, may shine forth in our lives; through Jesus Christ ourLord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen. — Collect for First Sunday after Christmas.
Readings: Genesis 18:1-5, 21:1-7; Psalm 116:1, 10-17; Romans 5:1-8; Matthew 9:35-10:23
The Lord appeared to Abraham by the oaks of Mamre, as he sat at the entrance of his tent in the heat of the day. He looked up and saw three men standing near him. When he saw them, he ran from the tent entrance to meet them, and bowed down to the ground. He said, “My lord, if I find favor with you, do not pass by your servant. . .” — Genesis 18:1-3
...but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been give to us. — Romans 5:3-5
When Jesus saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. — Matthew 9:36
“Photographic memories of kneelings past”
By Fr. Paul Wanter
The period after Pentecost in the Church Year finds its emphasis in Christian discipleship — what it means to be a faithful and energetic follower of God in Christ. This does not preclude the ongoing story of redemption history, but it does focus on our part, the people of God, in our response to that story. Just what does it mean for us, all of us impossible people, to follow a God of possibilities?
When I was younger, friends used to constantly joke with me that I had a photographic memory. I do not know to what degree that was ever true, but what I do know is that as I grow older the more faded, or at least selective, the memory photographs become; some appearing when unsought, and seemingly unconnected to any given moment. Be that as it may, upon further reflection there is usually some connection. God knows, in light of the present crises of the world in which we live, most of us have been given the gift of time for further reflection. So it is in reading this Sunday’s lessons I tried to sort out the photographs that kept intruding upon them and to make some sense of both the lessons and their connection to the photographs memory has brought forth. Because of this, and for several other reasons, this homily/meditation/sermon will be sent much later in the day than is usual. My apologies.
Today’s account of Abraham and Sarah is an account of divine comedy. It is somewhat attuned to the Church camp song “Well, surprise, surprise, God is a surprise! Right before your eyes, it’s baffling to the wise.” These two old people being migrants, nomads, are worn out after many trials, tribulations and various journeys. In the twilight of their lives they have a visitation by three strangers. They extend hospitality to them. It is no coincidence that this account follows immediately upon the account of the inhospitality found in Sodom and Gomorrah; the same being echoed in today’s Gospel. From them Abraham and Sarah receive the promise of a son. It is downright laughable; Sarah on hearing it does laugh. The son is named Isaac, which is a transliteration, and a pun at the very least, of the Hebrew word that translates as “one who laughs” or “one who rejoices.” In this case both are applicable. The joke is not on them but with them or as Sarah says “God has brought laughter for me; everyone who hears will laugh with me.” God’s levity is always for us; with us; to raise us up. The whole account is about faith, hope, and a deliverance even beyond our possibilities.
Three other significant features in this account center on when Abraham, upon looking up, sees three individuals standing near him. From earliest times Christians recognized in these three a manifestation, or a type, of the Holy Trinity; this is especially observable at a later date in Russian icons where it is known as the Old Testament Trinity. A second feature at this connection, sometimes overlooked, is surely the simple prayer that Abraham utters: “My lord, if I find favor with you, do not pass me by.” Or to put it another way, it is that universal prayer of faith, “God be with me.” Stretching a bit, a third point derived from Abraham’s words connects us to the parable of the Good Samaritan found in Luke’s Gospel which answers the question: And who is my neighbor?” In that account two unlikely individuals pass by and turn away, from one beaten and robbed, while the least likely turns aside and does not pass by. Of course the point of Genesis is that God does not pass by whereas in Luke the point is neither should we if we love our neighbor as ourselves.
This brings us to both the Epistle to the Roman where Paul, among a plethora of significant aspects of Christian faith upon which discipleship is grounded and raised up, talks about suffering and hope. This delineation of suffering brings us to Matthew’s account of the sending out of the disciples; the primary reason being because Jesus had compassion (Latin root: to suffer with) for the crowds because they were harassed and helpless and his telling of the disciples that any who claim discipleship can expect suffering also for God’s sake.
Here again a memory photograph interjects, one that has frequently occurred for 40-plus years, neither faded nor selected, but because I know it to be true; knowing it so, it convicts me, holding a mirror to my actions. It is a sermon by Rowan Williams titled To Give and Not to Count the Cost. It begins “Christ is killed every day by the injuries that we cannot bear. He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows and our first emotion. Our first reaction is relief. Christ who lifts responsibility from us, Christ who suffers for us, Christ who takes away our burden and our misery, who stands between us and the world’s dreadfulness, between us and the squalor of our lives, as he was once thought to stand between us and the wrath of his Father. Christ the substitute, Christ the surrogate, Christ who saves us the trouble of being crucified. God will forgive: that is his job; Christ will suffer: that is his.”
Both today’s Gospel and Archbishop Williams in his sermon tell us this is not the true course of Christian discipleship. Later he goes on to say, “We do not know what we can or cannot bear until we have risked the impossible and intolerable in our own lives. Christ bears what is unbearable, but we must first find it and know it to be unbearable. And it does not stop being ours when it becomes his. Only thus can we translate our complicity in the death of Christ into a communion in the death of Christ, a baptism into the death of Christ: by not refusing, by not escaping, by forgetting our realism and our reasonableness, by letting the heart speak freely, by exposing ourselves, by making ourselves vulnerable.” This seems to me a fairly clear exposition of the Gospel and New Testament understanding of what discipleship means. Or as St. Paul has it: “Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus.” Phil. 2:5.
Yesterday a group of us from Advent attended a protest, rally, demonstration, whatever you want to call it, in Cynthiana. We gathered with a large number of others, of all faiths, and no faiths, and, significantly, yet reflecting the population of Cynthiana, more whites than blacks. It wasn’t my first protest gathering, but it was the first in many years, and the first where whites weren’t a small minority. Never mind that I hate the use of this distinction. ever mind that the average age was considerably younger than mine; there’s hope there. The world is changing, and pray God, for the better. For too long racism has been viewed as the problem of those who experience it. For too many Christians of the majority culture (now shrinking) it was an issue from which they turned away or passed by. This cannot, and should not be. Racism with its dehumanizing and inhospitable hallmarks is not of Christ nor can it be of those who call themselves disciples of Christ. Repentance is needed.
There were numerous speakers at the rally. All of them powerful and all speaking truths we needed to hear. But significant as this was, the most powerful minutes of the protest were when all took the knee (what I call a genuflection) for 8+ minutes kneeling in silence. Even for one used to this action in shorter lengths, it seemed an interminably long time; it was the length of an extremely painful time in which one man took the knee to another, taking the life of George Floyd. Besides holding this painful memory, as I remained in genuflection, two connected memory photographs popped up, one of them leading to the other. I was back at my home parish, an Anglo Catholic Episcopal Church. The Nicene Creed was being sung, and still singing, at the words “…and was made (hu)man,” the whole congregation, as if scythed down, genuflected simultaneously. Why? Because in Christ, God in humility became human so that all might become truly human once again. This in turn led to recalling something Archbishop Tutu once said speaking of the Anglo Catholic practice of genuflecting. It was to the effect that “if you genuflect because you believe in the real presence of Christ in the Holy Sacrament, then you should also genuflect to each other for the real presence of Christ is in them as well” (something to remember whether we genuflect or not). That pop up memory photograph led to another connection, and to Zanzibar, but I’ll save you from that. On the other hand, thinking as I write this, maybe, for those able, a genuflection wouldn’t be a bad idea for exchanging the Peace in a COVID-19 world.
In my first congregation there was real character named Dorothy, actually there several real characters named Dorothy, but this particular Dorothy every so often on leaving at the end of Service would dip her hand in the water of the baptismal font by the back door, and splash it about, before making the sign of the cross. She’d then look impishly at me and say, “Father, I’m troubling the water.” She and I being in Saint Raphael’s Church knew the inference. You may find it in John 5:4 KJV. In later translations it’s relegated to a foot note with John 5:3 being followed by John 5:5. In the midst of the tragedies, griefs, and sufferings of the present pandemic and our latest manifestations of racism I have to believe and pray that God is troubling the waters as once was done at the pool of Bethesda in Jerusalem. Then it was done for healing. God grant that this time it may be one of healing in so many ways. God knows we all need it, all of us.
“Only connect! That was the whole of her sermon. Only connect the prose and the passion, and both will be exalted, and human love will be seen at its height. Live in fragments no longer.” — E. M. Foster, “Howards End.”
IMAGE: Advent members attend the Cynthiana/Harrison County race-relations rally in downtown Cynthiana on June 13, 2020.
“God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, a sixth day.”
— Genesis 1:31
“And Jesus came and said to them, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.’”
— Matthew 28:18-20
“Those who say, ‘I love God,’ and hate their brothers or sisters are liars.”
— 1 John 4:20
“Loving Your Neighbor and the Arc of the Moral Universe: How long? Too long?”
By Fr. Paul Wanter
To begin, I acknowledge I am having a difficult time writing this. My heart feels more broken than usual. On the one hand this is not an ordinary time, as our nation continues to be afflicted by COVID-19, experiencing a thousand deaths a day. On the other hand, and most unfortunately, this is an all too ordinary time: The systemic racist sin of our nation’s DNA is once more made blatantly evident with the horrific ongoing dehumanizing of “the other,” the failure to discern brothers and sisters, the blasphemy of a “Christianity” devoid of Christ in whom there was and is no “the other.” We, all of us, suffer from this sin, this dis-ease.
I am heartbroken, but not hopeless. Maybe this time, truly, “the chickens have come home to roost.” The diversity of individuals protesting, all sorts and conditions, lends to the hope that the ordinary may become extraordinary. To facilely dismiss these protests as primarily rooted in riots and looting is to surrender to fear, to surrender to that which is not Christ. To stay silent continues that cycle of dehumanizing that places one outside of Christ.
More than a half century ago, in Washington, DC, I heard an individual preach. That individual, the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. was preaching his last sermon. Within that sermon he said “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” It was a frequently used quote of his, used previously in Selma Ala., on March 25, 1965. There he said, “How long? Not long. Because no lie can live forever. How long? Not long. Because you shall reap what you sow. How long? Not long. Because the arc of the moral universe is long but it bends towards justice.” More than a half-century later of cyclical progress and regress, it seems too long. Maybe, just maybe, this is now God’s good time. How long? Not long?
Today is Trinity Sunday. Yearly in the Church Calendar this Sunday acts as the codicil to the Scriptural journey we undertake from Lent and Holy Week through Easter Season, concluding with Pentecost. I say codicil because Trinity Sunday acts as an explanatory supplement, a summation, of the redeeming events of the previous seasons’ Sundays (the Easter cycle). In the telling of those events the earliest Christians came to understand God being revealed in the redeeming relationship with us as three persons in one God. On Trinity Sunday we affirm this Triune God as the one who is, the God who has saved and loved us, and continues to do so.
Trinity Sunday’s Readings for Year A, this year in the Lectionary (readings) cycle, begins with the very beginning of the Bible, Genesis Chapter 1, in which God having created everything then pronounces them as very good; very good, before humankind went awry, skewing it by choices made, becoming dehumanized and dehumanizing others. The world itself was sacrament in that beginning. The Gospel for today is the end or conclusion to Matthew’s Gospel; the last sentence beginning “I am with you always....” The “I am” here, perhaps intentionally, is the English translation of the Greek which itself is the translation of the Hebrew name for God (usually spelled Yhwh, and pronounced Yahweh or Jehovah), which echoes the birth narrations use of Immanuel (God with us) in the beginning of Matthew (1:38), which quotes Isaiah 7:14. This last sentence in Matthew in one sense becomes a reiteration following immediately upon Jesus telling his disciples to make disciples of all nations baptizing them in the name of the Trinity. In another sense it is a promise and gift. The promise is God in Christ being with them always in the Spirit. This is the unwarranted gift of the one who enabled and enables us to again be human, and to see all others as human, to see the world once more as sacrament.
To again be human is our redemption. This is our choice. That grace to do was once given. It still is. Thanks be to God! Pray that we may be open doors to this grace. Pray that this nation be healed of its “dis-eases.”
In Christ’s love, in my love, and in my prayers,
“Jesus said, ‘The first commandment is this; Hear O Israel: the Lord our God is the only Lord. Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength. The second is this: Love your neighbor as yourself. There is no other commandment greater than these.” — Mark 12:29-31
IMAGE: Portland, OR, USA - June 12, 2020: Passers-by stop and take a look at the boarded-up Apple Store in downtown Portland’s Pioneer Place, which has become unofficial canvases for peaceful protest. Artists have also joined to promote peace over violence. CREDIT: hapabapa via iStock.
Readings for this Sunday: Acts 1:6-14, Psalm 68:1-10, 33-36, 1 Peter 4:12-14, 5:6-11, John 17:1-11
“When the day of Pentecost had come, the disciples were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.”
— Acts 2:1-4
“Jesus said to them again, ‘Peace be with you. As theFather has sent me, so I send you.’ When he had said this, he breathed on them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.’”
— John 20:21-23
“A New Reality”
By Fr. Paul Wanter
I am sure the title of this piece will lead many to expect a reflection on our current world in the midst of this pandemic. While to a slight degree this may be true, for we are facing a new reality, the present pandemic is not the inspiration for this writing. Rather, the new reality which suggested both the title and this refection it is the radical worldview/theology of the earliest Christians. This worldview/theology was an understanding of life as fully lived in Christ, and as empowered by God's Spirit. It is a worldview which even unto now believers, at their best, give varying degrees of assent, as well as to the actions flowing from it. Even at their worst, they pay it some lip service.
Reading or hearing once more the early chapters of the Acts of the Apostles, as we do on a yearly basis during the Easter season through Pentecost, always causes me to marvel at how the power of God’s Spirit and Resurrection faith effected a dramatic change in the lives of Christ’s earliest disciples. Following Jesus’ death, Resurrection and the Pentecostal event, the men and women who had been disciples during his earthly ministry then found themselves faced with a new and awesome truth which they had neither anticipated nor expected — Christ raised from the dead.
Encountering Christ raised from the dead dramatically changed the disciples’ lives in directions that were completely surprising, not least to themselves. In their encounters with Jesus raised, and following the giving of the Spirit, these women and men were stretched to find a new reality for their individual lives, and as the formative community of faith called the church. Reading Acts, it is almost possible to imagine these individuals stepping out of their fears, hesitations and former mind sets much as one steps out of one’s garments at the end of the day. Perhaps this was the significance of the folded cloths in John’s accounting of the Resurrection (John 20:6-7); certainly it lies behind the tradition of christening/baptismal gowns — a new day, a new reality, called for being clothed anew in ways never before considered or envisioned.
As sacred history the account of these earliest disciples, and of the Church engendered into being, is dramatic and stirring. At times I am concerned that the life-giving and empowering faith of that community of disciples formed by the Holy Spirit has been traduced over the centuries, becoming a mere comfort station on the various highways of our lives, or a vehicle for meals on wheels (or web?). Both things are absolutely necessary and highly commendable. They do, none the less, fall short of the imperative of the Gospel. If the Gospel of Resurrection faith is to remain truly a new reality, it is meant to stretch us as well as to comfort us, and to challenge us as well as to affirm us; in the very way we live, and the communities we form.
Surely the power of God to present new realities and new possibilities is not something that only happened once upon a time, but is effectually here for us now. All of us encounter changed realities in our lives every day: some joyful, some sad and some mundane in both senses of that word. Our present situation is mundane, worldwide in scope. I suppose the question for Pentecost, and always, is do we also find the risen Christ’s and the Holy Spirit’s new reality and possibilities in such encounters, even in all the events of our lives? If so, do we step out of our old garments, and into the life God gives us? As Christians we profess a faith and are bound to a God who, and a love which, seeks to renew the face of the earth, even our own faces. It has already been accomplished, and is still being done. Can we not see this ever-ancient and ever-new reality, and claim it? My suspicion is that this is what is meant by living by the power of the Resurrection and in the Spirit — by participating in its vision of life and community.
There is an old maxim based on the common breakfast of bacon and eggs. It asks what is the difference between the bacon and the eggs. It has nothing to do with nutrition, calories, or cholesterol. Please remember this is an old saying: the difference is that the pig is committed, while the hen is just involved. No matter what the new realities we face here and now, life, our lives, and every life lived in Christ, has always required commitment. Better to go whole hog than to chicken out. May we all pray for the discernment and the will to live such lives. Thanks be to God who gives us grace to do so.
In Christ’s love, my love, and my prayers,
“O Holy Spirit, by whose breath, life rises vibrant out of death;
come to create, renew, inspire, come kindle in our hearts your fire.
You are the seeker’s sure resource, of burning love the living source,
protector in the midst of strife, the giver and the source of life.”
— Hymn 502, 1-2 (Veni Creator Spiritus), Rabanus Maurus (c.780-856)
IMAGE: Rabanus Maurus (c. 780 – 856), also known as Hrabanus or Rhabanus, was a Frankish Benedictine monk, theologian, poet, encyclopedist and military writer who became archbishop of Mainz in East Francia. He was the author of the encyclopaedia De rerum naturis (On the Natures of Things). He also wrote treatises on education and grammar, and commentaries on the Bible. In the image, Rabanus Maurus (left) with Alcuin presents his work to Otgar of Mainz (right). The illustration is from a Fulda manuscript, c. 830–840.
Readings for this Sunday: Acts 1:6-14, Psalm 68:1-10, 33-36, 1 Peter 4:12-14, 5:6-11, John 17:1-11
“When they had entered the city, they went to the room upstairs where they were staying,… All these were constantly devoting themselves to prayer,…”
— Acts 1:13-14
“And now I am no longer in the world, but you are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one.”
— John 17:11
“An In-Between Time; In The Meantime: Handling Snakes”
By Fr. Paul Wanter
Today in the church’s calendar, for yet another year, we have reached the conclusion of our annual celebration of the Sundays of Easter; however greatly subdued they have been. In accordance with the Book of Acts narration of events, Ascension Day, which is Christ’s ascending to heaven, was remembered this past Thursday; the actual event, as Acts records it, having occurred 40 days after the Resurrection. Forty days being just being another way of saying time enough for God’s purpose to be accomplished; and in this case a more than sufficient number of witnesses of the risen Christ. This is followed next Sunday by the Feast of Pentecost, the giving of the Holy Spirit.
The period between Ascension and Pentecost is an “in between time” in a particular and noticeable sense of its meaning. This is not to deny that all life as lived every moment is for many individuals an ‘in between time’ — lived between a remembered past and an unknown but hoped for or feared future — with the present, the now, being lost. Rare, and even blessed if Scripture is to be believed, is the individual who lives for the now. However, that particular given period between Ascension and Pentecost was certainly a transitional “in between time.” For the remaining followers of Christ it was understandably a time of waiting, a time of intense prayer.
Those first disciples had undergone the turmoil and crisis of Jesus’ passion, the impossibility of resurrection becoming God’s possibility, and then the ascension of Christ, meaning an absence yet again. Surely they must have felt themselves caught up in something that was out of their control. Given the general human disposition to do otherwise, sin, they remarkably acknowledged it. Despite the continual unfolding of crisis events that were beyond their imaginings they made a decision in faith to wait on God; turning to God as the one who is actually in control, and undertaking a period of fervent prayer for nine days. As an aside, this is where the conception of novena prayer finds its source. The Feast of Pentecost, a new beginning, followed; an event which transformed their understanding of God, of themselves, and of the world in which they lived.
Reflecting on this Sunday’s lessons, our current situation as individuals, as a church, and as a nation within a COVID-19 world pandemic, a number of thoughts and images have arisen, most from outside and some from my own thoughts; hoping the latter are neither febrile nor fear-impelled imaginings.
The major thoughts are those derived from “A Way Forward” Finalized Guidelines - a response to Covid-19 in our Diocese of Lexington which was sent to clergy this past Monday. (Click HERE for Diocesan COVID-19 resources, including “A Way Forward.”). This is a succinct but extensively detailed 16 page document outlining our course as a community of faith, and contains a phased re-introduction of gathering for in-person worship and social outreach; recognizing that as one Bishop has said “normal is our history, not our future.” I find the document extremely heartening. At present, during Phase Two, we, with every other parish are prayerfully and with consideration seeking to take former inchoate thoughts and create formalized guidelines regarding the in-person worship and social outreach permitted in Phase Three. These, in the near future, then will be submitted to the Diocese for approval. Then and only then, when all churches have complied, and given the right medical conditions, will in-person worship resume.
The Diocesan guidelines have provided ample minutiae which makes compiling ours relatively less onerous. That said, even our small community will have to make major changes; old “rituals and customs” (singing, social interaction, communion…) of worship will have to be replaced by new “rituals and customs” for the near and foreseeable future. None of us is happy with change, and some become downright unhappy, but at present, for the sake of the well-being of all, in love, and for love, these are required.
It is on reflecting upon changes required by the present crisis, by our resistance to change, whether to a lesser or greater degree, and by national events, that the image of that minority-supported Christian ritual, of the handling of poisonous serpents, arose in my thoughts; the handling in both a literal and metaphorical sense. In my imagining it is metaphorical with regard to any change, and I don’t need to go there. It is literal to the degree that some denominations and non-denominational Christian groups are now pushing for the resumption of normal church services and functions in the midst of this pandemic. It seems to me, given the present crisis, this is a transformed version of the widely discredited (despite its Scriptural warranty) custom of snake handling; or to express it another way: Jesus said to him, “Again it is written, ‘You shall not tempt the Lord your God.’” — Matthew 4:7.
To be in the world we Christians are called to live by faith, keep hope, and practice love, all these in large doses. At the very least we are called to have a modicum or tincture of reason and common sense, especially when our actions might infringe upon our love of God and of others. As to my thoughts on churches opening right now, a return to “normal,” I may be wrong. I don’t think that is the case. In any event I belong to a group of Christians that forgoes the handling of snakes, whatever the present form that serpent takes. We have sins a-plenty, but not the one. For that I am thankful.
Stay safe.Be vigilant in Prayer. Wait upon God.
In Christ’s love, my love, and my prayers,
IMAGE: A Marian novena wall painting in France, with tagline: "What do you want me to ask to My divine Son?"
Readings for this Sunday: Acts 17:22-31, Psalm 66:7-18, 1 Peter 3:13-22, John 14:15-21
“Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”
— Matthew 18:3
“Jesus said, ‘If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever.’”
— John 14:15-16
“A Childlike Faith”
By Fr. Paul Wanter
Recently I was driving down a frequented road on a hot and hazy day; a rarity at present when everything including the weather seems to be allied in a gloomy and stressful conspiracy. Out of the corner of my eye I spotted a shallow muddy pond filled with pond weeds and cattails. For a brief moment I vividly saw myself as a young boy wading through just such a pond. The mud was oozing between my toes, and I was catching tadpoles, having the time of my young life. I wanted to turn around, stop the car, and get out — but I didn’t.
Have you ever noticed the affinity young children have for mud? They are drawn to it as iron is to a magnet. Perhaps this is only natural.
When all is said and done we are composed of earth and water. It is largely learned behavior with its accompanying fastidiousness, fear, or maybe a certain constructed sophistication that separates us older individuals from the child’s love of actual mud. Or, does it?
Just as I found myself in that memory of childhood joy, another memory of mud interjected itself into my reverie; not a joyful memory but one that still fills me with horror. It occurred when I was several years older, just past what is commonly called the “age of reason” in a child’s development, around 8 years old. A group of us from the neighborhood were having a mud fight and soon were covered with mud from head to toe. I picked up one last ball of mud and heaved it at a close friend. Unknown to me, that ball concealed a small stone. The mud ball and stone hit my friend on the temple with such force that he started to bleed. He ran home. I ran home. I can still see myself sitting on the kitchen floor in a shocked state, afraid, and contrite for what I had done, wondering if I had badly injured him. My mother found me there muddy and in a real state of apprehension over what I had done. I explained, and urged her to call my friend’s mother to see if he was alright. He was, but I never had another mud fight — at least not those with actual dirt, water and unintentional stones. Thankfully I was then still childlike enough to know that what I had done was wrong, that I had injured another.
I wish I could relate that this memory has saved me from those other mud fights we adults engage in; those of a verbal nature, or even worse. On the whole, this memory and/or God’s Spirit has but when under stress, angered, or perceiving that I have been the recipient of a particularly vicious mud ball with an unintentional or intentional stone concealed, it does take all of God’s strength to resist throwing my own mud. On numbered occasions I have failed. Numbered because their stain remains as vivid in my memory as that first horror I once experienced, hands stained with mud; once more I drew blood, not from a physical wound, but of another’s being and not as readily healed or forgiven by them. I am reminded of what Archbishop Rowan Williams once wrote: “There is a ‘horror of great darkness’ in our dealings with each other. Nor do we have to go to the (concentration) camps to learn this... the record in our own lives is likely to be bleak enough. And when we see how swiftly and easily the edge of gratuitous cruelty slips into our well-intentioned, even our loving, transactions, we may echo William Golding: ‘People don’t seem to be able to move without killing each other.’”
If most little children have a natural affinity with mud, they have an equally natural affinity toward God. Although we are earth and water, mud, we are also spirit. Children are drawn to the holy and wondrous; the numinous. For them all things are wondrous. They are comfortable with the numinous, and with God. God’s love does not seem foreign to them. They readily and trustingly accept it.
Again it is largely learned behavior (was it first from our parents?) with its certain fears, questioning fastidiousnss, and a refined squeamishness that divorces us from this love. It is not the mud per se of our lives, it is the dry dirt in our lives — sin and pride, or the mud balls we form from that sin and pride, with bile and its stones, which risks separating us from God.
Perhaps on seeing that pond I should have turned the car around and at least stopped. To become childlike in faith once more is to turn around (to be born again) and to recapture what a child doesn’t have to learn, but knows. It is to be open to the wonder and glory of God here and now, even in the mud. It is to recognize unashamedly and joyously the possibilities even of the mud. As people of faith there is great precedence. God in Christ did and does just this with us who are, after all, but dust and water made gloriously alive through Christ by God’s indwelling Spirit.
No, I did not turn around and stop but I did follow the advice found in a letter of Voltaire: “Life is bristling with thorns, and I know of no other remedy than to cultivate one’s garden.”
Going home I thrust my hands in the soil, now largely mud given the rain, amended it, and with muddy hands threw any unintegrated mud balls over the fence into the adjoining field. I still have an affinity with mud, am still drawn to it. But please, please, dear God; in your Spirit, constrain me from throwing it at others.
In Christ’s love, my love, and my prayers,
by George Herbert (1593-1633)
Love bade me welcome, Yet my soul drew back
Guilty of dust and sin.
But quick-eyed Love, observing me grow slack
From my first entrance in,
Drew nearer to me, sweetly questioning,
If I lacked anything.
A guest, I answered, worthy to be here:
Love said, You shall be he.
I the unkind, ungrateful? Ah my dear,
I cannot look on thee.
Love took my hand, and smiling did reply,
Who made the eyes but I?
Truth Lord, but I have marred them, let my shame
Go where it doth deserve.
And know you not, says Love, who bore the blame?
My dear, then I will serve.
You must sit down, says Love, and taste my meat:
So I did sit and eat.
IMAGE: George Herbert, owlcation.com
Readings for this Sunday: Acts 7:55-60, Psalm 31:1-5, 15-16, 1 Peter 2:2-10 and John 14:1-14
“Come My Way, My Truth, My Life”
By Fr. Paul Wanter
Almighty God, whom truly to know is everlasting life: Grant us so perfectly to know your Son Jesus Christ to be the way, the truth, and the life, that we may steadfastly follow his steps in the way that leads to eternal life; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen. (Collect for Easter V)
In the current situation in which we now find ourselves, that of an imposed solitude, I have observed within myself recurring reflections on past events and individuals in my life. I don’t believe it is done as a judgmental examination of past mistakes or of sins committed. I learned from them, and for them forgiveness was sought, and I trust, received, in that past.
Regrets only harm.
Neither is it a reveling in past real or perceived successes, past glories of that journey called my life. Rather it is discerning the threads of past and present events in my life that have formed it and yes, sometimes deformed it, as it relates to God and others. It may be an amateur psychological rumination to a degree, but it is directed toward myself and not, as is most often the case for all of us, upon another. In actuality such thoughts tend to be far more spiritual in scope; the gathering of memories recent and past that tether me to God, a centering as it were in graces not always perceived at the time.
So it is that in today’s Collect, Gospel, and if we were singing the Sequence Hymn as in past years, now also a memory, I am transported back to any number of places and years. It is the phrase Jesus utters to Thomas: “I am the way, the truth, and the life.” This passage not only takes me back to Jesus’ discourse with Thomas and the other disciples but it also transports me back to every Sunday when this was read in churches I served, and the people who were with me. It also takes me back to a more particular personal journey 30 years ago: Unlike my journey to Emmaus as recounted two weeks ago, this was an intentional pilgrimage to a church and a grave.
The Church was St. Andrew’s, Bemerton, England. The journey was from Salisbury Cathedral, one of the most outstanding medieval-built cathedrals in England. By road it is a distance of 1.3 miles. Through meadows and fields it is 2.25 miles. I took the latter as it approximates the journey often made by another almost 400 years ago in the early 17th Century. That individual was George Herbert, Anglican priest and poet. Scion of one of the most politically and socially influential families of the time, and an Oxford scholar as well, he chose to forgo both the English royal court and the University. He served as priest at the rural parish of St. Andrew’s; living, serving, writing poetry, and dying there at age 39. He is buried near the altar at St. Andrew’s; a church even smaller in size than Advent. Although married, there were no children from the marriage, and his poems, titled The Temple, and his prose work, A Priest to the Temple, were only published posthumously, the manuscript of the poems having been sent shortly before his death to his friend Nicholas Ferrar with instructions that if thought beneficial, to publish them, or if not, burn them. These poems, all being discourses with, or prayers to, God, and permeated with Scriptural references, have influenced countless individuals since, and still do.
From adolescence George Herbert has been one of my holy heroes, saints. This first occurred when I read an account of him and then several of his poems in a book titled A Treasury of Great Poems English and American by Louis Untermeyer. This had been my mother’s book from her college years which she then gave to me at that time because of my interest in poetry; the capturing of thoughts and feelings one had but couldn’t really encapsulate in precise and brief lyrical wording. I still have this book, tattered and torn from being much read. I still refer to it on a number of occasions to refresh my memory. George Herbert and the many other poets within this book once engendered multiple literary and spiritual loves, but above all now it continues to remind me of my mother and the many gifts she imparted to me; the least being a book.
George Herbert, the Collect and the Gospel seemingly present a broad spectrum. But not as broad as one might imagine. Drawing these reflective strands together are the words found in the Gospel, the Collect and the usual Sequence Hymn, which is Herbert’s poem Come My Way, My Truth, My Life (The Hymnal 1982 #487) set to music in the early 20th Century. Today’s Gospel is a distillation of the major themes of John’s Gospel. Indeed, perhaps the first title given to those who followed after Jesus’ resurrection was “Followers of the Way.” As to Truth, the truth in Christ, it is not something we possess and must obsessively defend. It is something, or rather, someone, who possesses us in love and can sustain us to love, alike in life and death; to live the Life fully shown and given to us in Christ Jesus. In George Herbert’s poem these become a prayer for Christ’s transforming power to enable us always — and even now — into that life; Christ’s life showing in us.
To all Mothers: May you have happy Mother’s Day.
To all of us: May we be transformed continually by and in the Way, the Truth, and the Life.
In Christ’s love, my love, and my prayers,
Come my Way, my Truth, my Life: such a way as gives us breath; such a truth as ends all strife; such a life as killeth death.
Come my Light, my Feast, my Strength: such a light as shows a feast; such a feast as mends in length; such a strength as makes his guest.
Come my Joy, my Love, my Heart: such a joy as none can move; such a love as none can part; such a heart as joys in love.
— George Herbert (1593-1633)
IMAGE: George Herbert, owlcation.com
Readings for this Sunday: Acts 2:42-47, Psalm 23, 1 Peter 2:19-25 and John 1:1-10
“Good Shepherd Sunday; Hearing the Voice of Jesus”
“The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep... When he has brought out all his own, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice… Very truly, I tell you, I am the gate. All who came before me are thieves and bandits; but the sheep did not listen to them. I am the gate… I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” — John 10:2,4,10
By Fr. Paul Wanter
By long-standing tradition, either the 3rd Sunday of Easter in earlier times, or the 4th Sunday of Easter during the last 40 years or so, was and is known as Good Shepherd Sunday. The Psalm is always the 23rd — The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want..., and the Gospel is always a passage from John in which Jesus tells his disciples he is either the good shepherd (in another year’s passage) or in this year’s narrative, with a mixing of metaphors, where Jesus tells disciples that he is both the gate to the sheepfold, and the shepherd whose sheep follow out when called because they recognize his voice. Aptly, in the Church of England this 4th Sunday is also known as Vocation Sunday with prayers for hearing our callings, each of us, as disciples of the living God.
The Sunday Gospel this year is asking us to hear God’s, Jesus’, voice with regard to our daily lives. It is a commonplace theme of Scripture always, whenever in time and in whatever place we find ourselves. The question is what Jesus, the Good Shepherd, is calling us out of and into. The brief answer in the reading itself is out of the sheepfold, or pen; that is, whatever imprisons us, and into pasture, referencing Psalm 23: “He makes me lie down in green pasture; he leads me beside still waters.” This is found expressed with more clarity, if slightly more nuanced, in the concluding verse of today’s reading in John: “That they may have life and have it abundantly.” (John 10:10).
With most life as it was known suspended by the coronavirus, I’m not entirely sure that most of us understand just what Jesus meant or especially means for us at present. At the very least, we have that in common with those who first heard it said (John 10:6). For those first disciples the resurrection changed that and, as converted, transformed individuals and community they moved forward in faith to an abundance of life not previously known.
In all probability, during the current pandemic crisis, the most frequently heard phrase uttered and certainly thought at one time or another by all of us is: “I just want things and my life to go back to normal.” Whatever normal means for me or for anyone else is something of which I’m not entirely sure. Of what I am sure is that for many, if not all, it is not life had in abundance; especially not at all that which was offered for all and intended by Christ’s incarnational intervention into human affairs. If anything, the coronavirus has lifted the veil on the fragility of the previous normal — how in that normal, so-called, human life was viewed by many as only a commodity, and at that, the cheapest one by far. Do note that those workers whom the world’s societies usually value least are now seen in the unveiling of the present crisis to be those upon whom we are almost wholly dependent. Echoes of this are found of Paul’s exhortation to the church in Corinth (1 Corinthians 12:14-26).
No, there will be no going back to that former normal. There will be no turning back. The world only goes forward. Ever resistant to change, undoubtedly we will devise a new normal to replace it. But I’m not at all sure we will be hearing the voice of Jesus in that, and like the first disciples we will not be converted, metaphysically changed in being, or hear the call to having lives abundantly lived.
For some idea how that conversion, change, manifested itself in the earliest church, read today’s lesson from Acts 2:42-47: (“They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.”). This is a literally radical manifestation of how the Church understood itself based on Christ’s love and in God’s Spirit as composed of a co-dependent entity; not as that word is presently understood and negatively defined, nor as the Church itself has spent 1900-some years either in denying, or in redefining, these particular verses of Acts. On the contrary however, it is one of those passages of Scripture that is undoubtedly true in that it has been always contra mundi in its prevalent societal understandings.
Reflecting on our present crisis, please allow me to paraphrase Charles Dickens in A Tale of Two Cities: “It was the worst of times, it was the best of times, it was the age of foolishness, it was the age of wisdom, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the epoch of belief, it was the season of darkness, it was the season of light, it was the winter of despair, it was the spring of hope.” As Christians such a time is now and always. We hear about, see, and, yes, experience to varying heart-wrenching degrees the problems of this grievous and earth-shaking event; an event which is beyond our control, and beyond any that most of us have ever experienced previously, or even imagined. That being the case, God in Christ calls us to see this crisis not only as an almost unbearable problem, but paradoxically, calls each of us to see opportunity for godlike change, holding to that hope which rests in God’s love. As the summary of our Diocesan Mission Statement has it: “Be the Church, Be the Change.” This is my prayer for myself; I have a lot to be done. It is my prayer for all others. May it become an active prayer in all our lives.
God is faithful.
In Christ’s love, my love, and my prayers,
I heard the voice of Jesus say, “I am this dark world’s light;
look unto me, your morn shall rise, and all your days be bright.”
I looked to Jesus, and I found in him my Star, my Sun;
and in that light of life I’ll walk till pilgrim days are done.
— The Hymnal 1982, #692 stanza 3, by Horatius Bonar
“Now on that same day two of Jesus’ disciples were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, and talking with each other about all these things that had happened. While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and went with them, but their eyes were kept from recognizing him.”
— Luke 24:13-16
A Walk to Emmaus, or, Losing Sight of What Matters
By Fr. Paul Wanter
One day a half century ago, less three months, I took a walk to Emmaus with a companion following lunch. It was not the walk to Emmaus in Luke’s Gospel nor The Walk to Emmaus of the Methodist Church, which is a version of Cursillo found in the Roman Catholic, Anglican and Lutheran Churches — a movement meant to foster an experience of spiritual renewal and formation.
No, it was just a walk to Emmaus, or rather one of the supposed locations of the Biblical Emmaus, and to the Latrun Trappist Monastery located there. It wasn’t even a pilgrimage, being largely derived from curiosity, and a youthful desire for adventure. We tried to find others willing to go, but I suspect most were of the conviction that only mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the midday sun, or perhaps, that the period allotted on the Tel Gezer dig sight schedule with a period allotted for afternoon rest was really best used for just that on days which began at 4:30 in the morning, with excavations concluding at noon, by which time the temperature registered 120°F, then late afternoon site chores and a lecture following dinner.
Amply supplied with water, the two of us set out. I was then a junior in college and he, slightly older, was a senior at The Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. Of our journey there I recall nothing of our conversation. We met no one as we wandered through a countryside which three years previously had been a no man’s land between two warring countries. Neither do I recall much about the Monastery and the elderly monk who showed us about. I do remember purchasing a fairly large jar of honey from the monastery shop as an act of kindness and shortly regretting it as an impediment while carrying it on our return walk to the dig site camp.
It is that return journey that I remember most clearly. Neither of us could recall any particular features, signposts as it were, for the way we had come. We got lost. On our journey to Emmaus we were so taken with the whole of that pockmarked and rusty barbed wire-strewn terrain, with its desolate beauty, that we didn’t mark particularly significant features to guide us back. Wandering, we ended up at a small newly established settlement of Israelis recently arrived from France who spoke only French and basic Modern Hebrew. Through my little spoken, never before actually used, conversational French, and my companion’s Biblical Hebrew of even less use, we did manage to obtain directions finally. We did make it back in time, just, to begin our assigned late afternoon tasks.
Today’s Gospel is the account of the journey to Emmaus by two of Jesus disciples on the day of the Resurrection. It is probably one of the best known narratives in the New Testament. One of the disciples was named Cleopas and the other was unnamed. In Biblical circles there is some discussion as who this might be. It could very well have been that Mary, his wife, one of the women who in Luke’s account had gone to the tomb early that morning but did not see Jesus, nor following them, told other disciples when going to the tomb after the their recounting of events.
On the way to Emmaus Jesus joined the two while they were walking and talking. They did not recognize him. Even when he asked what they were discussing, and then proceeding to give them an insightful exegesis of Scriptures (the Hebrew Bible), they still failed to recognize him. When they arrived at the place where they were going, and he appeared to be going further, they strongly urged him to stay with them as evening was fast approaching. It was only in his simple act of blessing and breaking the bread that their eyes were opened and they recognized who was with them; then he vanished from their sight.
The story is laced together with the theme of seeing and sight. It begins with two individuals whose witness of the passion and death of Jesus had seared their hearts and minds, blinding them to any hope or future. Call it grief, shock, stress, trauma, post trauma, desolation, fear, or what have you, but they were no longer seeing anything clearly. For them the world had been turned upside down and they felt alone. Nothing mattered. They were very lost. They could have been going anywhere, or nowhere, which may very well be why Emmaus as a particular site is still so hard to locate. They felt victimized by events and those who perpetrated those events. It took in the end one small feature of their encounter with Jesus, one signpost, one that mattered, to be turned around. This found their way home, to Jerusalem if you want, as witnesses to the one who refused to play the part in the play of victim and victimized; the one who uniquely rose above the deadly longest-running play of the world’s theater. In actuality their encounter with the risen Christ turned their world right-side up. They could see clearly — perhaps for the first time.
In this time of world crisis, this time of pandemic and all its attendant angst, I am sure there are some morals to be drawn from this Gospel account. I leave that to all to construct for themselves. As Christians, as disciples in actuality, or with most of us, disciples in the making, the signposts are always here: In the Emmaus account, in the world, in each other. Seek them, see them, and choose those which really matter to turn the world right side up, to take one home, wherever that truly may be found both here and forever. Do this with an open and prayerful heart.
No, I did not encounter Jesus on that road to Emmaus. I did encounter God in Christ, several days later, while recovering from shishul, which is the Hebrew word for Montezuma’s Revenge. I chose to forego dinner and instead went to the High Place at Gezer, seizing the first and probably only opportunity I was ever to have of watching the sun set over the distant Mediterranean Sea. As I sat there I was surrounded by myriad ruins of human history, endeavor, and destruction — some thousands of years old, some very recent. If allowed, this sight could lead to serious depression. It did make one ponder the futility of it all. Please remember I wasn’t feeling my best. With these thoughts in mind I watched the setting sun and the darkening sky. Most importantly, I also observed lights coming on wherever I looked along the coast and inland. As I looked over that vast area everywhere there were displayed signs of life and the living. Almost spontaneously an ancient quote arose: “The glory of God is to be fully alive.” No, this is not Scripture, but the 2nd Century Christian apologist, and probable martyr, Irenaeus of Lyon. This is what Jesus showed and continues to show — life as gift. My heart was strangely warmed.
That brief moment of time I count as one of my conversion experiences, signposts. I knew beyond my knowing that despite the world’s, pains, diseases, willful blindness, and almost endless acts of inhumanity to each other (and or, even more so because of these things) our actions or inactions, and more often, reactions, God in Christ always weighs on the side of life and love. This is God’s world and nothing in God’s world is ever lost. That experience has remained a signpost for 50 years among others of varying times found along the journey‘s road, all too often ignored and sinned against, frequently returned to, and never forgotten.
“Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?” — Luke 24:32
In Christ’s love, my love, and my prayers,
“For God himself enter’s Death’s Door always with those that enter
And lies down in the Grave with them, in Visions of Eternity
Till they awake and see Jesus and the Linen Clothes lying
That the Females had woven for them and the Gates of their Father's
— Czelaw Milosz, Bells in Winter
“Memory and Communion”
By Fr. Paul Wanter
“This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” — Luke 22:19
“Absence makes the heart grow fonder” is an often-repeated quote that dates back to at least 1602. The Peanuts cartoonist Charles M. Schulz added the 20th Century codicil: “but it sure makes the rest of you lonely.” At the present time surely all of us can concur with both expressions. This is certainly true with regard to us physically missing each other. It is also true, despite the wonder of virtual reality in our present age and the long-standing Christian belief in the efficacy of spiritual communion in extremis in such a time as ours, that many, probably all of us, are missing the actual gathering together at God’s table in our own church. It is with the reality of this time of crisis in mind that I offer a reflection on the Eucharist/Communion. We will once more gather together. God only knows when.
For nigh unto 2,000 years the heart of Christianity and Christian worship has been found in the Eucharist/ Holy Communion. This has been so, whether it was done simply or with greater elaboration; whether frequently, at least weekly, or at longer intervals. This has been so whether done in open air, in an hovel, a catacomb, a church or a massive cathedral; whether with many gathered or with a few.
Eucharistic worship has been a constant alongside baptism for Christians at all times in the long and often tortuous history of the church. It has always sustained the saints of God. Theologians have devised all sorts of explanations for what occurs, for what happens at this gathering together by Christians for the breaking of the bread. Equally these explanations have been fought over; both figuratively, and regrettably, all too often in actuality.
At its core, and most simply put, the Eucharist is a unique encounter with Jesus Christ; not the Jesus of history only, nor the Jesus solely of 2,000 years ago. It is always a communion with the risen and living Jesus, even now; whenever now is. It does not preclude encountering Jesus Christ along the road or in daily life, in whatever situation or locale we find ourselves. It does help to ensure that we recognize this Jesus in all places and events of life; to live out this Eucharistic encounter, this Communion, in all encounters, that they too become communions with Christ Jesus.
In a dismembered and dismembering world, Christians have always been called to remember. In the Eucharistic remembering the past becomes present, the present the past, and all things are moving into the future of God. In this Christian remembering, in the Eucharist, all things and all persons, including us, are found together in the transforming forgiveness and love of Christ Jesus: The living and the dead, the wronged and those who have done wrong, and all other categories of human divisions that exist in this world. These divisions are transcended and eventually resolved in a unity beyond our making.
Thanks be to God — lest we forget!
I will remember the works of the Lord,
and call to mind your wonders of old time.
I will meditate on all your acts
and ponder your mighty deeds.
Your way, O God, is holy;
who is so great a god as our God?
— Psalm 77:11-13
In Christ’s love, my love and my prayers,
“Easter 2020, in a Time of Plague”
By Fr. Paul Wanter
“The angel rolled the stone away.
The angel rolled the stone away.
It was early Easter Sunday morning,
The angel rolled the stone away.”
One of my favorite Easter Hymns (not found in our hymnals) has the above refrain based upon Matthew 28: “And suddenly there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord descending from heaven, came and rolled back the stone and sat upon it.” It is a powerful reminder that Easter is always about the possibilities of God in the seemingly impossible world and dire situations in which we humans so often find ourselves; whether the present pandemic, or even those situations often of our own making.
When the stone was rolled away from the tomb what was found was the real absence — Jesus was not there, but raised from the dead. Yet what was also shown was the real presence and power of that God, and that love, seeking to give us life into eternity.
God knows our limitations and our losses, but refuses to allow them the last word. The resurrection of Jesus tells us that no diseases, no stresses, no fractured relationships, no grieving, no wars, no graves, not even our unutterable shames or fears can, or need to, imprison us. God will roll the stone away from the tombs of our lives as surely as was done that Easter morning, which unleashed forever the power of new life.
Can we muster just enough faith to let go and let God, let God roll away the stone? This is no less valid a question for being a cliché. Do we find our “tombs” comforting at least in being what we know, even if the atmosphere is suffocating? At least one of the messages of Easter is to surrender to the possibilities of God; to trust that love, to allow ourselves to be open to and opened by that love. In the rolling away of the stone everything is gain, and all we have to lose is fear. Hear the further message of the angel who rolled away the stone: “Do not be afraid; I know you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. He is not here; for he has been raised, as he said.” — Matthew 28:5-6.
In God it is always Easter, always the time for the rolling away of the stone and the resurrection from fear and death, always the time of freedom and new life; even, if not more so, in this time of plague. Amen, may it be so for all of us, now and for the rest of our lives.
Though we cannot gather together this Easter, let us keep Jesus’ resurrection in our hearts and our lives. Where the risen Christ is found, there is the Church, for we are the Church. Whenever we reach out in love and service to others in Christ’s name, we testify to Christ’s resurrection, power and love. The angel rolled the stone away, and it still goes on.
With all my love, prayers and thoughts this Easter,
Alleluia, Christ is risen! The Lord is risen indeed!
By Fr. Paul Wanter
“Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him... But those who do what is true come to the light, so that it may clearly be seen that their deeds have been done in God.”
— John 3:17-21.
Today is Good Friday. Some consider it the holiest day of the Christian year. As an Episcopalian/Anglican I tend to adhere to the Pascal Triduum, that three-day wonder of Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and the Easter Vigil as a continuum of the holiness and love of God manifested. Whatever the case may be, Good Friday is a day that at all times and in all places demands some personal reflection and meditation for those who claim discipleship within Christ Jesus. Perhaps it is even more so during this particular year when gathered church services have been suspended, and we find ourselves with recourse to online worship and to ourselves alone.
With this thought in mind, I find myself mentally and spiritually with a barrage of memories, past and present as to what the day of Good Friday signifies, and not at all certain that I can, or am willing, to make a coherent or even orthodox whole. In any event, I trust that only God makes whole and holy.
When I was growing up in Niagara Falls there was an annual late summer parade, pageant and festival titled The Maid of the Mist Festival. It was supposedly based on an Iroquois/Native American legend that a beautiful young maiden was sacrificed to the falls to appease or placate a serpent god to save their village from drought and death. To the small child that I was, it was great fun, seeing Native Americans from the local Tuscarora Reservation in traditional dress as part of the parade, the annually selected maid (basically a beauty contest, and always N/A, to anyone else, except those of European extract) and finally an enactment of the story (minus the plunge over the falls) with the newly selected Maid of the Mist. Of course there were all sorts of foods and drinks (soft drinks, not alcoholic!) that were not normally permitted children in our household. Great fun, but even then, I simplistically questioned my mother as to why God was like that. Her reply was that it was not our God, who was a God of love, but rather a serpent god in a legend.
I was not sure she fully answered my concern, but by that time I knew already there were some questions theological (certainly not then knowing the Word) best pursued no further. As I grew older I found myself being taught ideas about God and the scriptures that made me yet wonder if there were not some similarities between that god-of-the-falls-legend, and our God, the Christian God, as one who needed to be placated.
Which brings us to Good Friday in the many interpretations of the day, and even to the present time.
There is a contemporary Christian song, or hymn if you will, “In Christ Alone,” with words that I on the whole like, and mostly find theologically up-lifting. It has a catchy tune which I find myself humming, or even singing, unawares, to myself, and with some comfort. Unfortunately, in the second stanza there are lines that go: “till on that cross as Jesus died, God’s wrath was satisfied,” and I’m back to the Maid of the Mist, and the small child who every time something went wrong truly believed in a wrathful god who was punishing me, rather than a mature individual who knows that my sins, and those of others, have consequences for ourselves and others, and yet still knows that all of us are loved by God.
Semantics perhaps, but what I have come to believe is that on that cross our God, God in Christ, God’s most beautiful child, took up and bore our ugliness, the ugliness of our sins as an act of divine love that personified who and what God is. Christ bore the ugliness of fallen humankind to restore us to the very loveliness of life lived in God. On that cross the love of God was magnified, written large and indelibly, to become the redeeming blessing and grace in which we can truly and fully live.
As with the magnification of the sun, may the magnification of God’s love, the Son’s love, magnified upon that cross, once more set our hearts on fire both now and always. It has burned away the dross of our sins and weaknesses even to the degree of giving us new hearts.
It continues to do so even in this moment of time.
My song is love unknown, my savior’s love to me,
love to the loveless shown, that they might lovely be.
O who am I that for my sake my Lord should take frail flesh and die?
Holding each you in my thoughts, prayers, and love always,
P.S: It didn’t surprise me to learn very recently that the Maid of the Mist legend was a Europeanized Version of a very different Native American legend. Following protests, the festival itself ceased to exist in 1971 to re-emerge in the 21st Century with a different format and the actual Native American story.
IMAGE: The Judas Kiss by Gustave Doré, 1866
O God of unchangeable power and eternal light: Look favorably on your whole Church, that wonderful and sacred mystery; by the effectual working of your providence, carry out in tranquility the plan of salvation; 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, your Son Jesus Christ our Lord; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. AMEN. (Concluding collect of the Solemn Collects from the Liturgy for Good Friday, BCP p. 280).
There is an expression: “If you live long enough you see or experience everything.” I first heard it uttered by elderly family members (grandparents, great-aunts, great-uncles, etc.) when I was young. It made little or no sense to me at the time, other than seeming to have a less than positive meaning, or more positively, something totally unexpected. I’ve always assumed it was a commonplace saying alongside many others such as, “There’s nothing new under the sun,” which, being found in Ecclesiastes 1:9, is at least Biblical, or even the currently popular saying, “It is what it is,” which I suspect is a temporal variant of the preceding sentences in Ecclesiastes. Myself now elderly, and whether or not commonplace, I find that initial saying intruding on my thoughts during this present world pandemic.
Less than two months ago it would have been thought inconceivable that most people would be in self-isolation, and that the majority of church buildings would be closed, and both for who-knows-how long. These are unprecedented events on such an universal scale. Holy Week and Easter, the central story of the Gospel, will be kept in ways and celebrated in a manner almost entirely new and different from the norm.
Of course, the key words here are kept and celebrated; or rather in the present tense, keep and celebrate. The account of the last week of Jesus’ earthly life and Easter is a story of great reversals: tragedy, the unexpected, and culminating in an event entirely new and absolutely different from the norm — “norm” being a mythic word from a mythic world. As to our collect, and our supplication for tranquility, the events of that last week were far from tranquil. All becomes interiorly tranquil only to the degree we see God in all things and events, or as certain Greeks said during that last week, “Sir, we would see Jesus.” — John 12:21 KJV.
My prayer for you and for myself during the coming eight days is that we do keep and celebrate this Holy Week and Easter both on-line and at home. The National Cathedral is my choice for services on-line (click HERE). But I hope you can join me on April 5 at 11:15 a.m. spiritually and know we are worshipping together. The National Cathedral will be having all the services of the coming eight days with music and preaching (for times see their site, HERE). Resources for home worship can be found on diolex.org.
Above all else, keep praying. Please remember yet other words of Christ from that last week: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.” —John 14:27.
Holding each you in my thoughts, prayers, and love always,
“Let us learn like a bird for a moment to take
Sweet rest on a branch that is ready to break;
She feels the branch tremble, yet gaily she sings.
What is it to her? She has wing, she has wings.”
— Victor Hugo (trans. Richard Meux Benson)
“To have faith is to have ” — J.M. Barrie
IMAGE: Victor Hugo by Étienne Carjat, 1876. Hugo was a French poet, novelist, and dramatist of the Romantic movement. Hugo is considered to be one of the greatest and best-known French writers. Outside France, his most famous works are the novels Les Misérables, 1862, and The Hunchback of Notre-Dame (French: Notre-Dame de Paris), 1831.
I’m asking that you join me spiritually for Morning Prayer on March 29 at our regular Sunday Service time of 11 a.m. The bulletin can be found copied below. If you don’t have a Book of Common Prayer it can be found at www.bcponline.org, and the Holy Scripture’s at www.lectionarypage.net. — Fr. Paul.
Collect for today, the 5th Sunday in Lent:
“Almighty God, you alone can bring into order the unruly wills and affections of sinners: Grant your people grace to love what you command and desire what you promise; that, among the swift and varied changes of the world, our hearts may surely there be fixed where true joys are to be found; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit , one God, for ever and ever. AMEN.
“Short and Wandering”
By Fr. Paul Wanter
As we (i.e. the world) continue on our lengthy pandemic journey I am finding that the collects for our (i.e. the Church’s) Lenten journey more often than not seem to capture at this moment the human predicament.
This Sunday’s unruly wills and affections, swift and varied changes of the world surely ring a bell with each of us. The “unruly wills” capture the basic human sin that we are in total control of our own lives. The “swift and varied changes” now, as always, prove the lie of that notion, as does the CV of the coronavirus itself (pun intended). Although in this instance, is perhaps CM (curriculum mortis) more appropriate?
St. Augustine of Hippo long ago wrote: “Love and do what you will.” Unfortunately this is commonly reversed in so far as we as humans usually do what we will, and only then attempt to love. At present love requires us to keep a social distance, to wash hands, etc. This is an act of love not for our own sakes alone but for the sake of all others, especially the most vulnerable among us; an instance of self control we can permissibly own.
As to being in sole control of own lives, there is only one thing I do know, knowing very little, and even less as time passes. What I do know is that when crises have occurred in my life it is only when I have reached the point of acknowledging no control over those events, and an empty self of self to God, does resolution occur with some immediacy. To my sorrow, these are far less in number than they should be, but even the memory of those times sustains me to hold on to the possibility — that in God all things reach resolution, or, using a more theological term, redemption and renewal — to live not in fear but hope. As a favorite hymn has it: “All our hope on God is founded; he does still our trust renew, us through change and chance he guides, only good and only true, God unknown, he alone, calls our hearts to be his own.” The hymn is #665 in our 1982 Hymnal. Find it HERE.
Some four months ago I texted a letter of condolences to a wife whose husband had just died, both being former Tennessee parishioners. The wife thanked me for what I had said, and ended by saying she could use a hug. I texted back a spiritual hug, and she texted “love” and thanked me. At present we live in a world where hugs among other things have to be spiritual.
With that thought in mind, I’m asking if at all possible that you join me spiritually for Morning Prayer on March 29 at our regular Sunday Service time of 11 a.m. If you don’t have a Book of Common Prayer it can be found at www.bcponline.org, and the Holy Scripture and readings are at www.lectionarypage.net.
With Spiritual hugs, in Christ’s love, and my prayers,
IMAGE: Saint Augustine, detail from Saint Augustine and Saint Lawrence by Tomás Giner, 1458, tempera on panel, Diocesan Museum of Zaragoza, Aragon, Spain.
Collect for the 3rd Sunday in Lent:
Almighty God, you know that we have no power in ourselves to help ourselves: Keep us both outwardly in our bodies and inwardly in our souls, that we may be defended from all adversities which may happen to the body, and from all evil thoughts, which may assault and hurt the soul; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. AMEN.
Read more about Laetare Sunday HERE.
On my desk has always rested a small blue card, somewhat stained both from age and having been handled with some frequency over the 25 years I’ve had it. On this card is a quote from Julian of Norwich, an English anchorite and mystic who lived in the second half of the 14th Century and the early 15th Century. The quote reads:
“JESUS SAID NOT: Thou shalt not be tempested, thou shalt not be travailed, thou shalt not be afflicted; but
HE SAID: Thou shalt not be overcome.”
Julian lived at the time of the plague known as the Black Death where an estimated one-third of the population of Norwich died and where in many places in Europe and elsewhere whole communities ceased to exist. She lived in a time of political divisions, and revolts. That is to say, she lived in a time not unlike many other eras of our often wearying human history — indeed, not unlike our own time at the present.
As I sat at my computer this past week catching up on the ongoing events regarding our present pandemic crisis and the world we now live in, I kept seeing and rereading, yet again, this card. In doing so, I found myself reflecting upon the fact of how an ordinary woman, made extraordinary by faith and the Spirit, a woman who wrote some 600 years ago, could still speak to me, and many others, on the human condition, yet exhibit a joyful faith in God in Christ as the ultimate source of hope and steadfast love.
Julian’s quote is not a talisman. For that matter, neither is Holy Scripture itself, with a promise to magically remove any stress, crisis, loss, grief or anxiety. What they do is allow is for all these pains to be placed in an entirely different perspective — that of faith, hope and trust in God. They ask that all events of life be seen from a very different viewpoint than our default normal, one which allows for a renewal of sight, spiritual and otherwise, and even life itself. As a verse in the penultimate chapter of Scripture has it: “See I am making all things new.” Rev. 21:5a.
At present all of us find ourselves in the somewhat improbable position of anchorites or hermits. Use this time as an opportunity to pray spiritually and actively (which covers everything). Use it as a gift to deepen relationships with God and all others, especially the most vulnerable. Find grace and blessings even where, and even in whom, you least expect them to be found. Above all, be renewed. This Lent may be long, but paradoxically, as always, Easter has already come: God’s gift of love and life. Hold to it in heart and mind. “Rejoice, in the Lord always, again I will say Rejoice.” Phil.4:4.
In Christ’s love and my prayers,
Julian (or Juliana) of Norwich, also known as Dame Julian or Mother Julian (c. 1342 – c. 1416) was an English anchorite of the Middle Ages. She wrote the earliest surviving book in the English language to be written by a woman, Revelations of Divine Love. Read more about her by clicking HERE.
IMAGE: Statue of Julian of Norwich, Norwich Cathedral. CREDIT: David Holgate FSDC.