Thursday, April 30, 2009

Spring and the cycle of life

Spring is in full blush in Virginia. We took a trip up to Northern Virginia yesterday afternoon to pick up my cousin Cait, who is here for a few days from Ireland. The trees along the route are gushing with new green. The colors in Virginia change daily: red or pink on the redbud trees one day, then the dogwoods burst into white the next day. Meanwhile, the green canopy on the big trees is bursting forth.

Yet with all of this new life of Spring, there is a sharp contrast with the farewells we are enduring at St. Paul's in recent days. We've had three funerals in a week, and there are two more coming in the next week. These always seem to come in clusters. Seasons are predictable. But the cycle of death and new life has no rhythm, no predictability; death and life comes when it comes, often at the same time. 

Our friend, Karen, sent a Mary Oliver poem this morning that captures this well, I think. The photo goes with the poem, and is from the Shenandoah National Park from our hike a couple of weeks ago. Here you are:
In Blackwater Woods 
by Mary Oliver

Look, the trees
are turning
their own bodies
into pillars

of light,
are giving off the rich
fragrance of cinnamon
and fulfillment,

the long tapers
of cattails
are bursting and floating away over
the blue shoulders

of the ponds,
and every pond,
no matter what its
name is, is

nameless now.
Every year
I have ever learned

in my lifetime
leads back to this: the fires
and the black river of loss
whose other side

is salvation,
whose meaning
none of us will ever know.
To live in this world

you must be able
to do three things:
to love what is mortal;
to hold it

against your bones knowing
your own life depends on it;
and, when the time comes to let it go,
to let it go.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Celebrations, gardens, meetings, busy-ness

I am told that things will soon slow down at St. Paul's. But it doesn't seem that way yet. There has been no let up since Lent and Easter. We had the wonderful baptisms of two Sundays ago; this Sunday we celebrate our youth, and they will be taking over most everything in the 10 am worship. The column restoration project out front is in full swing. We've also had a series of memorials and funerals, with more to come in the next few days. 

Meanwhile, our Community Garden is about to be launched this Sunday (more on that in another post on another day). Later in May we will have our first annual "Choir Celebration Sunday" and the music being planned is awesome. Bishop Shannon will be in Charlottesville at noon today, and my calendar is jammed with meetings. It is much too easy to get caught up in all the business of busy-ness and forget that Church is more than about the tasks in front of us.

During Lent, the amazing Barbara Crafton sent this little missive along that helps keep things in perspective, I think, and I pass it along it here: 
The nice thing about church is that it's not all up to you. Not all the resources can come from within you. Maybe none of them can, not today. Church isn't just you at your very, very best. Sometimes it's you at your next-to-worst, and you must rely on others within it to carry you where you cannot go on your own. You may not have it all together, but at least you are not alone in this: they are there to lean on -- the composers and the organ builders, the painters and the sculptors. Many of them are dead, and hence have more time than you do. Things probably look a lot calmer from where they sit.

Ask them for help. Life swirled around them, too -- maybe not as fast as it swirls around you, but the past was no cakewalk. They survived it long enough, and with enough energy, to leave us beautiful things, things to hear and see, things that can take us to a better place at times when we really need to go to one.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Friends and fava beans, hope and forgiveness

Waking up this morning to a beautiful Spring day in Charlottesville, I am thankful we will soon settle into our own house. Another chapter begins in our life in the East, the page turns again. I am also mindful, very much so the last few days, that my friends, my family, my dear ones, live in many places, some close by, some not too far, and some very far away. Those pages of my life are still with me.

I am blessed to have so many people surrounding Lori and myself, staying in touch with us, sending love and prayers, and staying connected with us.

Yesterday afternoon, Lori and I had a wonderful conversation at the produce section of a local grocery store with a member of St. Paul's who was delighted to hear our news of getting a house. When we got back to our apartment, I had a quick phone conversation with a neighbor in Sacramento on how to cook the fava beans we had just purchased at the local grocery. Sometimes conversations in produce departments and on the phone about fava beans are more meaningful than any sermon I could devise for the pulpit.

Last week, I said farewell to my old newspaper friend, Jerry, last week in Sacramento. It was a good day for many reasons, it was especially wonderful to reconnect with so many friends from journalism and the state Capitol ("The Building"); we took up where we left off, sometimes years ago. 

Our friend, Karen in Tennessee, sent this lovely poem this morning, and I rather like it because hits the tone just right, so I share it with you. The photos I took awhile back; one is the sunrise looking east from the mountains above Denver, taken on our trip east last summer. The other is along the Deschutes River near Bend, Oregon. Blessings to all.
In Colorado , In Oregon , upon
by Joshua Beckman

In Colorado , In Oregon , upon
each beloved fork, a birthday is celebrated.
I miss each and every one of my friends.
I believe in getting something for nothing.
Push the chair, and what I can tell you
with almost complete certainty
is that the chair won't mind.
And beyond hope,
I expect it is like this everywhere.
Music soothing people.
Change rolling under tables.
The immaculate cutoff so that we may continue.
A particular pair of trees waking up against the window.
This partnership of mind, and always now
in want of forgiveness. That forgiveness be
the domain of the individual,
like music or personal investment.
Great forward-thinking people brought us
the newspaper, and look what we have done.
It is time for forgiveness. Dear ones,
unmistakable quality will soon be upon us.
Don't wait for anything else.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Late breaking news: We have house

At last, we have a nest of our own in Charlottesville. We signed the papers today to buy a house here!

The house is just south of Charlottesville in a wooded area on a mountainside. The house has a great living room/dining room and guest suite on the main floor perfect for entertaining, and bedrooms upstairs for us. Watch for hanging plants on the porch to the right. We also want to put native plants and wildflowers in front to replace the lawn.

Out in back is a terrific playground apparatus for all the parish kids. And the house is only a 10 minute drive from St. Paul's.

Our new next door neighbor, we discovered yesterday, is a retired Presbyterian minister and the founder of Virginia Interfaith Power and Light (St. Paul's is a member, and this blog promotes the green organization to the left on this page). We are therefore going to dub our mountain "Holy Hill" (with apologies to the GTU) and the house "Glebe Cottage." 

 We are delighted! Moving commences immediately. Now if someone can find us the keys.

Monday Funnies

It is time once again for The Monday Funnies. I thought we'd give Dave Walker the day off. He'll be back next week. For today, here is an oldie but goodie. I ran this video last summer. It is time for a reprise. Enjoy!

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Celebrating the University of Virginia

I arrived back in Charlottesville late Saturday evening. Today we mark the near-end of the academic year and the many contributions to our church, community and the world by our people connected to the University of Virginia. 

I am constantly amazed by the creativity, intellect, and self-less service of the people of St. Paul's, and that is in no small measure because so many of them are connected to this great university, either as faculty, staff, students or alums. Others are connected (like us) because we were drawn to Charlottesville on the strength of this "academic village." Come join us, and The Rev. David McIlhiney will be preaching.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Winging my way East

I am traveling today, flying out of San Francisco to Dulles. I should be back at St. Paul's in time for Sunday's worship services which will be focused especially on our special relationship with the University of Virginia and the end of the academic year. And I do hope everyone will take the time to show their appreciation for The Rev. David McIlhiney, who will be preaching at all our services and is retiring at the end of July. It is not too soon to contribute to a gift "purse" for David; you can make your check payable to St. Paul's, and mark the memo line "David McIlhiney gift."

As I wing my way east today, I will read the usual assortment of newspapers and magazines. Here is a thought-provoking item from Jim Wallis at Sojourners:
The Religious Right was a Christian mistake. It was a movement that sought to implement a “Christian agenda” by tying the faithful to one political option -- the right wing of the Republican Party. The politicizing of faith in such a partisan way is always a theological mistake. But the rapid decline of the Religious Right now offers us a new opportunity to re-think the role of faith in American public life.
To read Wallis' full article, click HERE. Blessings to all.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Remembering my friend and colleague Jerry Gillam

SACRAMENTO -- Today is Jerry Gillam's day. Jerry is an old, dear friend who died on Holy Saturday. Today we remembered his life.

My day began at an early morning breakfast gathering of old reporters from the state Capitol, most of them now retired. Someone brought a newspaper clipping with a photo of Jerry interviewing Jess Unruh in 1962. I would have been nine-years old at the time.

At 11 am we celebrated Jerry's life at a memorial Eucharist at Trinity Cathedral. The church was packed with reporters, columnists, legislative staffers, and politicians: Willie Brown and Bill Campbell, Bill Baker and Bev Hansen. Veteran gubernatorial press secretaries were there: Larry Thomas, Donna Lucas, Kevin Brett, Sean Walsh. And Jerry's colleagues were there from the Los Angeles Times, San Francisco Chronicle, Sacramento Bee, San Diego Union-Tribune, Oakland Tribune, Riverside Press-Enterprise, USA Today and on and on. His family was there, and his buddies from his Alcoholics Anonymous group were there.

We remembered Jerry the way he wanted to be remembered. Here is what I preached today.
For most of my adult life, I was a newspaper reporter, and for most of that time I was a reporter in the Capitol – The Building – first with The Riverside Press-Enterprise and then with The Sacramento Bee.

Twenty-four years ago, I walked onto the floor of the state Assembly for the first time, and I was greeted by a very large man wearing a long black leather jacket, and his hair was slicked back. I figured he was probably not a security agent because he was carrying one of these, a big pencil, and besides, he was too nice of a guy.

He introduced himself as Jerry Gillam, and he showed me where I was supposed to sit, and he called me “Jimmy” right from the start. Now, mind you, only three people have ever gotten away with calling me “Jimmy”: my mother, Bill Endicott, and Jerry Gillam.

I knew of Jerry Gillam before I met him. In the early ’70s, as a UCLA student and a student of bylines, I was very aware of the Jerry Gillam, Los Angeles Times, byline long before I ever set foot in Sacramento.

So to be greeted on my first day in the Capitol by a legend was terrific. That he was a nice guy was even more amazing.

And he gave me good advice that first day, like telling me to take a wide-berth around Lou Papan, who was in one of his volcanic moods. Jerry was the Dean of the Press Corps, and he took care of us, all of us.

Jerry represented an era when journalists were dedicated to their craft, not merely a career, and were dedicated to each other, not out of collusion but out of a sense that the public would be best served if we could help each other get the story and get it right.

Jerry really was the Dean. He started in The Building when Pat Brown was governor and Jess Unruh was Speaker. To give you some perspective, Jerry arrived here before Willie Brown. Jerry was here for seven governors, nine Senate president pro tems, and 14 Assembly Speakers.

The politicians came and went but always there was Jerry Gillam.

Yet the Building never co-opted him. Jerry was a reporter’s reporter: he had a gravely voice, he asked pointed questions, usually with a smile. He’d start many questions with “Do you mean to tell me…”

Jerry took the time to learn the beat. He knew how the Building worked, who to talk to, who to avoid, who might be telling the truth, and who wouldn’t. Jerry believed in the public’s right to know, so he shared his knowledge of how things worked with the rest of us.

He had a great memory for details, but he checked the clips. The story is told by Bob Schmidt of the Long Beach Press-Telegram about how Willie Brown once flip-flopped on some issue-or-other, as politicians are wont to do. Jerry looked up the clip, and read back to Willie his earlier contradictory quote.

Willie replied: “It’s what I said last that counts.”

I hope you will share more of these stories a little later on in the hall across the way at the reception. [You can also share stories by clicking HERE.]

There is another side to the story, there always is. Great reporters are not always the easiest people to be around for those who love them because much of the time, they aren’t around. The greats are chasing the story, and there is always another story to chase. His family paid the price for that, and he’d be the first to tell you that.

Jerry was a man of large appetites: As you have heard from my friend, Rusty, he was a drinker, and he went through a time of great personal upheaval because of his drinking. He wanted you to know that fact, and he wanted you to know it because he got into AA and stayed with it. It is never too late to get your life together.

Jerry was deeply religious, and in the world of journalism, I can tell you that is not considered a virtue. He hid it well from most of you, but not from me. He had been a Roman Catholic most of his life –he was, after all, a major Notre Dame fan. But his Catholicism was more than about being Irish. He came to this Episcopal church about 7-8 years ago because his reporter’s indignation could no longer stomach the excuses for the pedophile scandal made by the Roman Catholic hierarchy. That really got him in the gut, right here.

He and I had many great conversations about God, about churches, about organized and disorganized religion, and about the mysteries of life and death.

Many of our conversations were at Zelda’s, over a pizza. The pizza was probably not a good thing but Jerry loved that, too.

Jerry suffered from diabetes, and he suffered a great deal. He had an operation to repair the circulation system in his right leg a few years ago, and the operation did not go well. He was in and out of the hospital for weeks, he lost the leg, and many of us thought we would lose him.

Jerry was not afraid of death, not at all. But he loved life, he loved June beyond imagining, and he loved all of you. He wanted every minute God would give to him. Jerry was a soldier in more ways than one, and he fought back against long odds. He left this earth a couple of weeks ago.

I have been around death many times, but I will never get used to it. Death remains a mystery to me, a mirror into which we “see dimly,” as the apostle Paul puts it. Yet I also know this to the depths of my soul: Death is not the end of the story. Death does not get the last word. Not today and not tomorrow.

Life and love gets the last word.

The biblical passages we hear today were chosen by Jerry’s family, and tell us a huge amount about Jerry’s faith in a God brimming with love and generosity. The reading from Paul’s letter to the Corinthians is about how love is greater than faith itself. What you believe, or don’t believe, does not amount to a hill of beans compared to how you live your life in love. Doctrines and beliefs are trivial compared to living a life based on love.

Paul describes love as “patient and kind” and how “love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.”

In the end, when our outter self finally fades away, what abides is faith, hope and love – and the greatest of these is love.

In the passage we hear from the Gospel of John we hear more about this: Jesus tells us about a God brimming with generosity who has many dwelling places – dwelling places for everyone – for Jerry, for me, for you – for all of us.

We are surrounded today by the symbols of Easter. Jerry left us on the Eve of Easter, Holy Saturday. The large candle in front of me is called the “Paschal Candle” and was lit for the first time on Easter Eve, the night Jerry died. We are wearing the white vestments of Easter, and we are saying Easter prayers. Jerry was baptized and confirmed into the faith of Easter.

The Risen Christ of Easter opens the door – and brings Jerry out of his pain, and binds his wounds and heals him and brings him to his dwelling place. Life and love get the last word.

Still, we don’t know – we cannot yet know – what this heavenly dwelling place is like. I imagine it to be like a big dinner party, served by the best chefs in the world, and Jerry is at the banquet joined by everyone he loves. The dinner is free, tips are not accepted.

Our God, the God Jerry knows, is a loving God who breathes into us new life even when our bodies finally fail. The worst thing in life really is not death. Yes, it is OK to cry today because Jerry is gone from us and because we are the ones left in pain. But it is also right to laugh because the hurts and wounds of Jerry’s life are no more, and Jerry is healed.

Our God, the God Jerry knows, is a Creator of unlimited love, a creator who has made many dwelling places for all manner of people, no matter who they are or what they may have done.

It doesn’t matter what mistakes you have made in your life, or what you believe or don’t believe. The awesome power of God’s grace and love knows no limits, no boundaries. Not even the grave can limit the power of God’s love for each of us.

That is the deepest meaning of the Easter faith Jerry knew in this world.
Death is only a horizon. We cannot quite see over the horizon now, but those we love are really very, very near to us.

In a few moments we will celebrate Holy Communion, our great Easter meal, and those we love who are gone from us will be surrounding this table with us and with their love.

We will remember again the Last Supper of Jesus on the night before he died. Even though Jesus faced certain death – as we all do – Jesus broke bread with his disciples and shared his cup, telling them – urging them – to be thankful for the blessing of the new life that is to come for each of us.

Jerry loved this church, and he loved to come to this table, where he shared in our Communion. Today, I am convinced, he is here with us sharing at this table, and he is healed, and whole, and everything that wounded him, or brought pain and hurt, is wiped away.

It is in this sharing of our Communion, that all of us, together, can show our thanksgiving for the blessings God has given us, the blessings of those who have touched us, the blessing of the life of Jerry Gillam.

So please, let me encourage you, no matter you background, to join in making this Communion into a Great Thanksgiving for the life of Jerry Gillam. Please join us at the Table.

And then when you leave here today, know this: Jerry’s gift of life is a reminder to all of us to be the best you can be, to live every day knowing life is an awesome gift. Love your friends and love your family, don’t let a single day go by without saying so – and show it. Be slow to anger and quick to forgive. Let the little stuff go.

Life can be a wonderful adventure, and life extends beyond the horizon where we cannot yet see.

There are many roads and infinite horizons ahead for all of us, more stories to tell and more stories to write, and all of us get to do both. So have strength and courage, patience and wisdom – and may the love of God be your ever-present guide.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Arrived safe in San Francisco

I am a bit late with the posting today. I arrived in one piece in San Francisco, after midnight eastern time, and spent the night in Berkeley with friends. Today I will visit my mother in the East Bay, and then head to Sacramento. The memorial service for Jerry Gillam is Friday at 11 am at Trinity Cathedral, 2620 Capitol Ave. To read memories of Jerry, click HERE.  Obituaries from the Los Angeles Times and Associate Press can be found there as well.

Lori told me the Earth Day dinner and youth group auction was wonderful. Thanks to all for your hard work and generosity!
Blessings to all,

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Happy Earth Day

Today is Earth Day, and I hope all of us will find new ways to heal this planet, "our island home."

Tonight, as mentioned here yesterday, St. Paul's is hosting an Earth Day dinner as a gift to the parish and community. Most of the food will be locally produced. I hope you can join us.

I will be winging my way to California to preach at the funeral of a very dear friend, Jerry Gillam of the Los Angeles Times. Jerry was the "dean" of the state Capitol press corps, he came to Sacramento when Pat Brown (father of Jerry) was governor. Jerry was a reporter's reporter and one of the friendliest, greatest guys you will ever meet. You can read memories of Jerry on a blog by clicking HERE. Friends of Jerry are invited to email me with memories and I will post them.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Earth Day is tomorrow: Come join us

I was in high school during the first Earth Day in 1970. Perry Tyson, our forward-thinking principal (he really was), made sure we knew about it. He held a school assembly with speeches about the stewardship of the earth and what we could do to stop pollution. I remember we went out and picked up litter and cans beside the road that weekend. It was a start.

Tomorrow we honor Earth Day again, living under the dire threat of climate change and economic upheaval. Tomorrow evening at 6 pm at St. Paul's we are sponsoring an Earth Day dinnner, featuring more than a dozen dishes prepared with local ingredients by local cooks.

Perhaps in that small way we can make a dent in a big problem, and highlight what we can do as individuals and families to lessen our impact on the Earth. Please come join us if you can; the dinner is free.

We hope we have a big turnout because our youth group will be auctioning off splendid items (including some vacation cabin stays) to help them on their way to help others this summer. Please come for this dinner, a gift for those who care and share. 

A big "Shout-out!" and Bono's tending to the soul

A few items to bring to your attention today. First, I want to give a big congratulations to my friend, The Rev. Michele Racusin, who was elected priest-in-charge at the Episcopal Church of the Holy Family in Fresno, Calif. Michele began her ordination process under Bishop John David Schofield who would not ordain women, and her path led down many roads far from her Central Valley home. 

Michele ended up serving at Grace Cathedral, far from her family, commuting to the San Francisco Bay Area (these conflicts in the church have real impacts on real people). With the newly organized Episcopal Diocese of San Joaquin, Michele was able to rejoin her family in Fresno. This week she becomes among the first women to lead a parish in San Joaquin. You can read about Michele and her journey by clicking HERE.  Michele was raised up in the Diocese of San Joaquin, the first woman to run the gauntlet successfully in that diocese. This is big milestone for Michele, Holy Family and San Joaquin.

Other women priests are serving in charge of parishes and missions in San Joaquin as well, thanks to the new lay leadership of the diocese and Bishop Jerry Lamb, who was elected to take over after the split with the Schofield faction. The other women serving are The Rev. Kathryn Galicia as priest-in-charge at St. Francis, Turlock; and The Rev. Linda Huggard as Vicar at St. Andrew's, Taft and as priest-in-charge at All Souls, Ridgecrest. Linda is also a good friend; Lori and I went on a trip to Belize with Linda and a small group through Episcopal Relief and Development to build houses for hurricane victims in 2002.

In the second item for you today, Simeon Fitch of St. Paul's brought this to my attention: A commentary in The New York Times by Bono (the rock star) on the topic of Easter and tending to the soul. Bono, known not just for his music but also for his advocacy and contributions to ending world poverty, writes there was still something missing: His inner life. Bono found himself back in the pews:

It’s Lent I’ve always had issues with. I gave it up ... self-denial is where I come a cropper. My idea of discipline is simple — hard work — but of course that’s another indulgence.

Then comes the dying and the living that is Easter.

It’s a transcendent moment for me — a rebirth I always seem to need. Never more so than a few years ago, when my father died. I recall the embarrassment and relief of hot tears as I knelt in a chapel in a village in France and repented my prodigal nature — repented for fighting my father for so many years and wasting so many opportunities to know him better. I remember the feeling of “a peace that passes understanding” as a load lifted. Of all the Christian festivals, it is the Easter parade that demands the most faith — pushing you past reverence for creation, through bewilderment at the idea of a virgin birth, and into the far-fetched and far-reaching idea that death is not the end. The cross as crossroads. Whatever your religious or nonreligious views, the chance to begin again is a compelling idea.
To read all of Bono's commentary, click HERE. May you have a great day ahead filled with many blessings.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Monday Funnies

As you know if you have been by St. Paul's in the last week, or if you have read this blog, we have a big repair job underway with the columns out front. That is no laughing matter, of course. And there are more repairs to come elsewhere in our building and around our grounds. 

But as you can see from Dave Walker's cartoon, church buildings always have a few little problems. If you think we have parking issues, it is all systems normal.

And here are a few lame jokes, at the expense of the clergy, to brighten your Monday. It is time for the Monday Funnies...

* * *

Easter was finally over and the pastor’s wife dropped into an easy chair saying, “Hoo boy, am I ever tried.”

The minister looked over at her and said, “I had to conduct two special services last night, three today, and write then give a total of five sermons. Why are you so tired?”

“Dear,” she replied, “I had to listen to all of them.”

* * *

A boy was watching his father, a pastor, write a sermon.

“How do you know what to say?” he asked.

“Why, God tells me.”

“Oh, then why do you keep crossing things out?”

* * *

A little girl became restless as the preacher's sermon dragged on and on. Finally, she leaned over to her mother and whispered, “Mommy, if we give him the money now, will he let us go?”

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Baptisms and kids: A great Sunday at St. Paul's

We had an incredible morning at St. Paul's -- 11 baptisms! Last night, Lori and I went to the young-family picnic on the grounds of the church. It was definitely kids' weekend at St. Paul's.

This morning, Pastor Janet Legro preached a moving sermon, phrased as a letter to the children being baptized. She asked them as they grow up to look for the "Wow" moments in their lives and notice God with them. All of the children being baptized will be given a copy of her letter and we hope their families will read it to them as they grow older.

After the sermon, the church school children, about 50 strong, marched up the center aisle (see photo); the adults stood and sang to the kids: "We are Marching in the Light of God." 

Then all of the kids sat around the baptismal font as we baptized 11 babies and children. The kids had the best seat in the house. We had quite the celebration!

When our worship was over, the children and families headed outside for an Easter egg hunt on our grounds (see photo). What a Sunday! 

If you or a loved one is interested in being baptized, the next opportunity will be on Pentecost Sunday May 31 at 10 am. Please contact the church office or a member of the St. Paul's clergy for more information.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

The Spring and the Farmers Market is here

One of the delights of Charlottesville is the Farmers Market, just a block off the downtown mall. 

This morning Lori and I got up early with our shopping bags and cruised our way through the market. 

In my case, more like grazed. I especially enjoy the Salteñas de Mamá, a terrific Bolivian chicken pie wrapped in a napkin. The fresh bagels a few booths away were great too!

The market is not just about the arugula and tomato plants, of which there are many. It is also a social gathering.

We bumped into several members of St. Paul's. Lori Brannock has a jewelry booth (see photo) and Cyanne Williams was nearby selling all sorts of fun artistic notecards and other treasures. And see the photo of our friend Max. He found dandelions growing by the sidewalk.

It is a little early for most of the food to come in. But the boothes are full of daffodils, apples, lettuce, scallions, cheeses and various other local delicacies.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Springtime mysteries and astonishment

Who hasn't seen this yet? Well, maybe some of you. Britain's Susan Boyle who, against all conventional ideas of glitz, has brought the world to their feet cheering with astonishment and delight. This is so worth watching, so please do. Easter is definitely here. The clip has had more than 18 million hits on YouTube, and YouTube has disabled the coding so I can't put the video directly on this blog. Click HERE to see this. 

And when when you return, here is a lovely Mary Oliver poem, sent by our friend Karen in Tennessee, for a gorgeous spring day. The photo is of a Redbud tree at an undisclosed location (the house we are trying to buy) in Charlottesville, taken by me a couple of days ago. Enjoy the day.
Mysteries, Yes
By Mary Oliver

Truly, we live with mysteries too marvelous
to be understood.

How grass can be nourishing in the
mouths of the lambs.
How rivers and stones are forever
in allegiance with gravity
while we ourselves dream of rising.
How two hands touch and the bonds
will never be broken.
How people come, from delight or the
scars of damage,
to the comfort of a poem.

Let me keep my distance, always, from those
who think they have the answers.

Let me keep company always with those who say
"Look!" and laugh in astonishment,
and bow their heads.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

David McIlhiney to retire

By now, those of you on the St. Paul's mailing list should have received The Rev. David McIlhiney's letter announcing his retirement after more than 40 years of ordained ministry. His last Sunday will be July 26, and he plans to stay in Charlottesville. I will reprint his letter below. 

There is much to be said, and I hope each of you will take the time to talk with David and share your gratitude for his tremendous service to St. Paul's. When I came to this wonderful parish, he had been ably steering the ship for many months. 

He graciously stayed on as associate rector helping us in this latest phase of St. Paul's transition. I am especially grateful for his wise counsel to me, his pastoral care to our members, and his passionate concern for the university community. His liturgical and preaching skills are tremendous, and especially appreciated by me.

In the next few weeks, we need to find ways to thank and honor David, though he has asked that we not make too much fuss. We will have a big coffee hour in his honor in July. And I hope you will make some fuss, and let me suggest that individuals and small groups might take him to lunch or invite him to dinner.

Here is David's grace-filled letter:

Easter Monday 2009

My dear friends,

Five years ago you invited me to join the St. Paul's ministry. I have loved being part of this parish, sharing in the lives of so many of you, watching our student ministry regain some of its earlier vitality. I could not imagine a more satisfying way of rounding out my forty years in the ordained ministry.

It is now time for me to retire from that ministry. I have been with you during a period of transition from one rector to another, a transition that is now complete. Under new leadership, the parish has the exciting opportunity of reaching out to the Charlottesville and University communities with renewed energy and vision.

Jim and I have determined that July 26th will be the end of my service at St. Paul's. Because I plan to remain in Charlottesville, I shall look forward to seeing all of you frequently. I have been greatly blessed by having been part of St. Paul's, and I pray that God will continue to bless the parish in the months and years to come.

With my love,

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Progress on the columns

I promise to not post too many photos of the column project, but I do want to show you the progress after only a couple of days. Our column masters have been chipping peeled paint all week and it shows. Also, I did not mention on the previous post, they will also be restoring the two squarish columns on the front wall, so that is six columns being restored. Here are a few photos from yesterday and today:

Thanks to all for a spectacular Easter! Here are a few photos of the Flower Guild getting ready

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Scaffolding going up

The columns on the portico  of St. Paul's echo the columns of the University of Virginia across the street. And, as anyone knows who is been there recently, the paint is badly peeling from water damage and the columns have become an eyesore. 

The scaffolding is going up this week. Thanks to the research of Louise Gallagher, our former junior warden, and Pat Punch, our current chair of the Building & Grounds Ministry Team, hopefully the chipping paint in the photos at right will be a thing of the past. 

Painting the columns turns to be trickier than simply scrapping and slapping paint. The columns have surface damage from water. We have a vendor who will be sealing and resurfacing the columns before painting them white. The vendor has repaired other columns in Charlottesville, and Pat has inspected the work.

Our columns will be done two at a time, and the entrance will not be blocked. As an added benefit, the ceiling above the portico will also be painted. The total cost of the column repair and painting project is about $6,000.

The column project is the most visible of several projects that will be underway this Spring. We are also removing asbestos from a floor in the education wing, repairing leaking roofs and fixing the faulty air conditioning in the choir room, upgrading doors and upgrading sections of the electrical system. The Vestry budgeted $75,000 for repairs and maintenance this year.

All of this work is about being faithful stewards of our tools of ministry, given to us by previous generations. Thanks to one and all for your generosity: your contributions of treasure, time and talent, and your dedication to St. Paul's.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Monday Funnies: The Bishop's Choir

Here's a dividend for the Monday Funnies I just came across on Bishop Rickle's blog: our very own House of Bishop's Choir, on, singing at their meeting in March. For the Northern Californians, you will see Barry Beisner in the back row on the right. Can anyone find any Virginia bishops? No comment on their harmony...

Monday Funnies

Thanks to one and all for making Holy Week so moving, and for our spectacular Easter Vigil and Easter Day services. The flowers were amazing, the music glorious, the attendance over-the-top.

So many people worked so hard, I know I will miss someone who should be thanked: the ushers and altar guild, the choir and musicians, the flower guild, chalice bearers, coffee makers, the clergy, and the office and program staff tending to thousands of details. Thanks. Thanks. Thanks.

As you can see by the Dave Walker cartoon, the church office is in need of a break, so we are talking the day off. But religious observances continue. My friend Patrick Hill in Sacramento sent me this -- a two-minute version of a seder Passover dinner. Dayenu.
The Two-Minute Haggadah
A Passover service for the impatient.
By Michael Rubiner 

Opening prayers:
Thank God for creating wine. (Drink wine.)
Thanks for creating produce. (Eat parsley.)

Once we were slaves in Egypt. Now we're free. That's why we're
doing this.

Four questions:
1. What's up with the matzah?
2. What's the deal with horseradish?
3. What's with the dipping of the herbs?
4. What's this whole slouching at the table business?

1. When we left Egypt, we were in a hurry. There was no time for
making decent bread.
2. Life was bitter, like horseradish.
3. It's called symbolism.
4. Free people get to slouch.

A funny story:
Once, these five rabbis talked all night, then it was morning.

(Heat soup now.)

The four kinds of children and how to deal with them:
Wise child - explain Passover.
Simple child - explain Passover slowly.
Silent child - explain Passover loudly.
Wicked child - explain in front of the relatives.

Speaking of children:
We hid some matzah. Whoever finds it gets five bucks.

The story of Passover:
It's a long time ago. We're slaves in Egypt. Pharaoh is a
nightmare. We cry out for help. God brings plagues upon the Egyptians.
We escape, bake some matzah. God parts the Red Sea. We make it through;
the Egyptians aren't so lucky. We wander 40 years in the desert, eat
manna, get the Torah, wind up in Israel, get a new temple, enjoy several
years without being persecuted again.

(Let brisket cool now.)

The 10 Plagues:
Blood, Frogs, Lice - you name it.

The singing of "Dayenu":
If God had gotten us out of Egypt and not punished our enemies, it
would've been enough. If he'd punished our enemies and not parted the Red
Sea, it would've been enough, oh, Dayenu! Dayenu, Dayenu...

If he'd parted the Red Sea -

(Remove gefilte fish from refrigerator now.)

Eat matzah. Take a few more sips of way too sweet red wine. Slouch.

Again thank God for everything.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

May you all have a happy Easter!

From Jim and Lori -- blessings this Easter!

Easter fire

Here is a video of the lighting of the new paschal fire outside St. Paul's last night, at the start of our Great Vigil of Easter. Many blessings to all...

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Alleluia! Christ is Risen!

The Lord is Risen indeed!

We had a glorious Vigil of Easter tonight. We began outside with the lighting of the fire, and the procession of the Paschal Candle. By candlelight we heard the stories of our Hebrew ancestors, and then with lights blazing and bells ringing, we proclaimed the Easter faith: Christ is Risen!

And Christ is with us now, and always, bringing us healing, wholeness and hope.

May you have a blessed Easter!

Holy Saturday: The Harrowing of Hell

Today is the second day of the Easter Triduum, perhaps the most neglected and misunderstood day of the three. Our Book of Common Prayer puts an emphasis on rest in the Collect for the Day, as if Jesus is taking a breather off stage before the big production tonight at the Easter Vigil.

But our forbearers experienced and understood Holy Saturday much differently. Today is when Jesus descends into Hell to break the gates open wide and free everyone. The old English called it the "Harrowing of Hell" -- the robbery of Hell. 

If you look closely at icons and paintings from centuries ago, that is what you will see. The artwork posted here today is from a remarkable panel of paintings at the National Gallery of Art, by Benvento di Giovanni (Sienese) painted in 1491 depicting Jesus standing on the gate of Hell and pulling people out. Note the devil crushed under the gate.

This morning I will lead a few simple prayers at 9 am in the Chapel, marking Holy Saturday. Tonight at 7:30 pm is our first opportunity to proclaim the resurrection -- but we are not there yet. And if you have not seen my posting from last night, please scroll down.

I leave you, for now, with a simple poem by my friend, Franz Wright, and an item from theologian James Alison:

But if they were condemned to suffer
this unending torment, sooner or later
wouldn’t they become the holy?

Franz Wright, God’s Silence, 2006

“With this we can say… that Hell exists, as the Church has always maintained; nevertheless it is perfectly possible that there is nobody at all there.”

James Alison, Raising Abel, 1996

Friday, April 10, 2009

Good Friday: Life and death are with us

Good Friday is now complete, at least for me. The day has been long, and full. We held three services today at St. Paul’s, each with its own character. 

Life – and death – were ever present with us.

We have a homeless man who frequents St. Paul’s (those of you who are regulars know him). He spent Thursday night in jail, and I found him in a pew this morning. He asked me to put him on train to New York so he could go stay with his daughters. So after our noon service, I got him on the train. Please keep him in your prayers.

We also found out at noon about the death of Hugh Davidson earlier in the day after a very short illness. Mr. Davidson was a retired French professor, and a kindly, dapper gentleman with a wonderful smile. He will be much missed by his friends, and we will keep you posted about the date and time of his memorial service.

Our Good Friday services each had their own character, and each was so very moving. The Rev. Margaret Via preached at noon and again at 5pm, giving us a tapestry of ideas to make sense of the death of Jesus, and how God can emerge from the morass of evil to bring us good.

We held a Tenebrae service at 8 pm, reading from Lamentations and putting out candles.

And then there was cellist Marvin Brown, gracing us at noon and 5pm. He played the Kol Nidre, by Max Bruch, a piece of music taken from Jewish chants for the evening of Yom Kippur, the day of atonement. His music got me thinking that on Good Friday, not only is Jesus killed, but we take away his Jewishness. Perhaps Marvin gave a little of that back. You can hear his performance today by clicking HERE

Good Friday: Guilty as charged

Each day this week I have awakened not knowing what I would put on this blog, and today I am at more of a loss to know. I have had no plan this week, other than to experience Holy Week as much as I can and share with you what that has been like for me. I found last night's Maundy Thursday service at St. Paul's deeply moving; Pastor Janet gave us a homily about how the church must proclaim a God who is present with us no matter what mess or stress we may find ourselves in.

Good Friday, as you know, is the day we remember the execution of Jesus on the Cross. We will gather again at St. Paul's at noon, 5 pm, and 8 pm to remember the events of that Good Friday long ago, and wonder why it is "good," and to pray. People will gather in churches and meeting places all over the globe to do the same thing, and the passion story will be told thousands of different ways and in millions of hearts. 

The readings assigned this morning in our lectionary are heavy with the language of blood atonement and sacrifice. We hear the story of Abraham nearly killing his son, Isaac. We hear from Peter telling us we are saved by the "precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without defect."

It is as if the Church is searching for words and images to make sense of this event, and by so doing, make sense of all the Good Fridays we inflict around the globe on each other: wars in Iraq, genocide in Darfur, drug wars and beheadings along the Mexican border. How can God tolerate all this blood? Does God really require this "sacrifice"? So, this morning, I give you a small item from Elie Wiesel, a survivor of the Nazi death camps. The photograph on this post is from Dachau.
On the Trial of God 
By Elie Wiesel (Romanian) b. 1928

During the war, in one of the camps one evening, three Jews, who before the war were heads of academies, sages, learned men, and who all knew the Talmud by heart, decided that the time had come to do something about it, to indict God. And they conducted a trial. I was very young then. But I remember I was there. They sat on the bed one evening and they began the trial, the trial of God, with all the arguments for and against. And it lasted a couple of days. It was very serious, very dramatic. There was a certain gravity, a certain solemnity in every word they uttered because they knew that whatever they say has an impact, whatever they say is being heard. And I remember that after many days the verdict came. And the verdict was: “Guilty.” But, then, the head of the tribunal simply said: “Now let’s go and pray.”

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Maundy Thursday: Will you be a faithful servant of all those committed to your care?

This morning I drove to St. Stephen's Episcopal Church in Culpeper, Va., about an hour north of Charlottesville. There I joined other priests and one deacon in the annual Holy Week rite of reaffirming our ordination vows.

Bishop Shannon Johnston, who will take over as diocesan bishop this fall, presided. He preached a moving homily about how we are to "do as we are." That is, we are ordained because that is who God made us to be, and we are to live and act as we are made to be.

Yet Bishop Johnston also noted that he is still in the act of becoming a bishop, as the rest of us are in the act of becoming who we are made to be. "Sometimes we lose sight of the fact that we are still at it," he said, and he implored us to be aware of how we are always in the process of being made by our Creator. 

And as we are made, we are called to be servants, to live as Jesus, serving each other. That is, after all, the point Jesus makes at the Last Supper by washing the feet of his followers, which we remember on Maundy Thursday.

When Bishop Johnston was through speaking, he washed the feet a few priests who represented the rest of us (and that is the bishop's back in the photo, as he is washing feet). Then we stood and joined in reaffirming our ordination vows. We were asked this question:  

"Do you reaffirm your promise to be a faithful servant of all those committed to your care, patterning your life in accordance with the teachings of Christ, so that you may be a wholesome example to your people?"

"I do," we replied. And I added, "With God's help."

Last year at this time, I participated in a similar Holy Week rite of reaffirmation of ordination vows, at Grace Cathedral, in San Francisco. When we reached that sentence above, that is when I knew I had been called to St. Paul's Memorial Church in Charlottesville, and when I knew what my answer would be. I will go, "With God's help."

Then, as last year, when we had finished our vows, we celebrated once again our Holy Eucharist, our Holy Thanksgiving.

Tonight at 7:30 pm we will wash feet at St. Paul's observing our Maundy Thursday. Please join us.

Maundy Thursday: Remembering One bread, One Body

There is still much to be done at St. Paul's: programs to be printed, bread to be baked, flowers to be arranged, sermons to be written. St. Paul's is already bustling to the brim with activity. Andre our sexton was busy all yesterday buffing floors. Tony rigged up a new light for me in the pulpit.

Janet gave a wonderful homily last night for children; later in the evening I led an instructed Eucharist (you can read my notes by clicking HERE). Every room yesterday seemed to contain a meeting or a group of some sort. 

Ready or not, here we go.

Today is "mandate" Thursday, the day we remember Jesus "mandated" us to remember him whenever we come together to share the bread and wine of our Holy Eucharist. The word "mandate" comes from "maundy" and so today is Maundy Thursday. Later this morning I will join clergy colleagues in Culpeper to renew my ordination vows with Bishop Shannon Johnston. The Great Three Days, the Easter Triduum, begins tonight. 

Traditionally the emphasis of Maundy Thursday is on Jesus washing the feet of his disciples. He serves his servants at their feet. And so tonight at 7:30 pm we will wash feet; it is especially right that the clergy wash the feet of our people. I would invite you to join us, and to not be shy. Please come forward to have your feet washed.

But before we get there, let's not lose sight of the Last Supper, and the remembering of Jesus in this meal we share together when we gather as faithful people. It is a profoundly Jewish way of remembering whenever we share in this Communion meal. We begin with "The Lord be with you" and "And also with you." That is an ancient Jewish table blessing.

Then we remember the Creation by God of  all that exists, and how we have turned away from God. And then we remember how God came to be with us in the person of Jesus, and this Last Supper on the night before he died. Our remembering brings us to the same table with Jesus and his disciples. We remember, and so we are there also, we are participants in these events, in these Great Three days.

Our meal, this Holy Eucharist, is shared by all faithful people everywhere, and that knits us together in spite of ourselves. I am especially struck by Paul's description in this morning's Daily Office reading (1 Corinthians 10:14-17, 11:27-32): 

"The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a sharing in the blood of Christ? The bread we break, is it not a sharing in the body of Christ? Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread."

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Wednesday in Holy Week: Strengthen me

Last night I was called to visit two members of our parish who were in the emergency room at a local hospital. Neither was in a life-threatening situation, though both certainly wished they were somewhere else. 

A priest friend of mine who has specialized in hospital visitation for years told me once that every time she goes into a hospital room she says to herself "Lord, I am in over my head. Give me strength." And so I do that each time I visit someone in the hospital. 

Wednesday in Holy Week is about having strength. Tomorrow night the Great Three Days of the Easter Triduum begin, and we remember the events of the Last Supper and betrayal. Today, Wednesday in Holy Week, we remember that Jesus prayed for strength.

This morning's Daily Office readings go to that theme. The epistle for the day is the wonderful love letter of Paul to the persecuted Christians in Philippi (Philippians 4:1-13). Somehow they survived for they were able to preserve Paul's letter. In the letter, Paul tells them "the peace of God which passes all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus." And epistle ends with Paul saying "I can do all things through him who strengthens me." It is another way of saying, "Lord, I am in over my head. Give me strength."

Today at St. Paul's will be busy. At noon I will be offering an instructed Eucharist (meet me in the Library). At 5:30 pm is Evening Prayer, and Pastor Janet Legro will be offering a message for children. Our community night dinner is at 6 pm, and I will offer another instructed Eucharist at 7 pm in the chapel. Join us for as much as you can. And may the Lord give you strength!

The artwork today shows the East Transept window at Trinity Cathedral, Sacramento, where I was ordained and served as associate dean for six years, and where Lori and I worshipped for 18 years. The window depicts Paul. In his right hand is a scroll, signifying his letters. In his left hand is a sword, signifying the "sword of the Spirit" and the sword that legend has it was used to behead him. To read more about the windows of Trinity Cathedral, read the highly informative narrative by my friend The Rev. Canon Dr. Grant Carey by clicking HERE.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Does Jesus mean everyone? Tuesday in Holy Week

It is the holiest of all weeks, but the less-than-holy routine of the church still plods along as it always does. This morning, shortly before our noon Eucharist, I got a call from a sales representative  from a well-known religious supply company (yes, for those unfamiliar with the hum-drum of church business, there are companies that specialize in selling everything from candles to wafers, vestments to Sunday school booklets, and they have sales people who make blind calls). 

I have talked with many such religious supply sales people over the years, and usually I can get
by with asking them to send me a catalog or a website link.

But this salesman pressed a little harder than most, and he had a hint of despair in his voice. The church supply business is hurting like all businesses these days, and our conversation ended with his plea that I support "Christian business" because "that will make our economy recover."

I have to say the end of our conversation left me with a bad taste in my mouth. The company he represents is a fine company, their items are of high quality, so I am not naming the company. But it seems to me that the point Jesus tries to make over and over is that he comes for everyone, and salvation (recovery?) belongs to all, not just those carrying the label "Christian." If I understand anything at all about being a follower of Jesus, it has something to do with breaking out of tribal loyalties. 

And so off I went to our noon Eucharist pondering again the meaning of being a Christian, mixed with my thoughts about last night's wonderful conversation with the Shalom Group on the topic of Holy Saturday and Jesus's going into Hell. We had 18 people at the noon Eucharist in the chapel (see photo above), and I sat in silence still thinking about all of this. 

The gospel lesson for today (John 12: 20-36) is one of the long discourses where Jesus tries to explain the meaning of his impending death. It struck me as I heard it that today's lesson has to directly to do with who is included (everyone), and how they are included (by the Cross of Good Friday and Holy Saturday): Jesus descends to the dead to free everyone from death. And by everyone, he means everyone. Hear again his words...
"And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself."
All people are included, all. There are no boundaries to the events of Holy Week, as there are no boundaries to the power of God's grace and mercy. 

Tonight at 7:30 pm we will return to this sacred space for the mystical haunting chants of Taize, led by University of Virginia students in our Canterbury Fellowship. I hope you will join us.

Tuesday in Holy Week: The Cross in sight

Last night Lori and I shared mac-and-cheese with the members of our young adult Shalom Group, and they were most intrigued by the swirl of events that is compressed into Holy Week. We talked especially about Holy Saturday, and how Jesus goes into the depths of Hell to defeat death. We are not yet there in our walk through this week, but the Cross is definitely in sight.

Tuesday in Holy Week has a tone of foreshadowing Good Friday. Today we hear the same gospel lesson (John 12: 20-36) that we heard on the Fifth Sunday of Lent about how following Jesus to the Cross means following Jesus into serving others. Look for the Cross of servicehood today, and if you can, join us for our noon Eucharist. 

The mosaic cross in the photo is near the High Altar at St. Paul's. Look for it the next time you are there. It is easy to miss, just as our opportunities for simple service are easy to miss. 

Here is the Collect for Tuesday in Holy Week. It is about the Cross:
O God, by the passion of your blessed Son you made an instrument of shameful death to be for us the means of life: Grant us so to glory in the cross of Christ, that we may gladly suffer shame and loss for the sake of your Son our Savior Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Monday, April 6, 2009

My experience of Monday in Holy Week: Prayers for Peace

Today began dark, dreary, drizzly, in such sharp contrast to yesterday's gorgeous blue skies, waving palms and the colors of daffodils blooming everywhere in Charlottesville. We descend into Monday of Holy Week in the grayness of the morning showers.

At noon, eleven of us assembled in the St. Paul's nave for our Prayers for Peace. The sun worked its way inside to find us, a sunbeam here and there bursting over our heads through the clear glass of the large windows. The palms from yesterday look a little drier, but the sunlight danced across the fronds in front of the altar.

We sat in silence, though silence not exactly. A bell rang, a wooden kneeler creaked to the floor, someone cleared his throat. The building resonates with voices from many corners. I could hear conversations downstairs in the office, and someone laughing in a hallway. A few moments later,  someone sitting a few rows in front of me began to chant, his voice vibrating from the walls around us. A few more souls arrive, their feet slowly sliding across the wooden floor. We pray for peace, and there is life in these walls, and life beyond these walls. Even whispers carry across and through this sacred space.

A twelfth pilgrim arrives, then a thirteenth and a fourteenth. We were now fourteen strong, praying for the peace that so eludes the world. A few offer spoken prayers, and the words are interspersions in the silence that is not exactly silence. Then I hear geese outside. A bell rings twice. It is time for our Eucharist, and we stand together again, around the table, and remember the events of Holy Week and the Cross.

And so we will gather again, tomorrow, in the Chapel, at noon. Join us if you can.

Monday in Holy Week: Pray for Peace

The most viewed item on this blog is a Jewish prayer for peace that I posted last December during our Day of Prayers for Peace. Please join us today at noon at St. Paul's for our Prayers for Peace and then a simple Eucharist. And pray for peace wherever you are. Here again is the prayer:
Jewish Prayer for Peace

Grant us peace, Your most precious gift, O Eternal Source of peace, and give us the will to proclaim its message to all the peoples of the earth. Bless our country, that it may always be a stronghold of peace, and its advocate among the nations. May contentment reign within its borders, health and happiness within its homes. Strengthen the bonds of friendship among the inhabitants of all lands, and may the love of Your name hallow every home and every heart. Blessed is the Eternal God, the Source of peace. AMEN

Gates of Prayer (Jewish), p. 695

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Palms to Passion

The earliest known account of Palm Sunday comes from a Spanish (or perhaps she was Gallic) pilgrim, Egeria, who described the elaborate ritual she saw in Jerusalem in 381 or so. Palm Sunday took all day, with time out for a mid-day meal before the faithful joined the bishop on the Mount of Olives for a procession with palms into the Holy City. Egeria wrote about her experience, and by the fifth century Palm Sunday had caught on in Spain and soon spread through the Christian world.

Our Palm Sunday did not take all day, nor did we have to walk so far. We began with a procession of palms that wound down the aisles and around, led by our acolytes and wonderful choir. We sang and prayed, and we walked and we waved our palms.

For me, it was a new experience though I have lived in many Palm Sundays. This was my first Palm Sunday at St. Paul's, and is was new and wonderful. We heard the ancient story of the triumphant procession of palms as Jesus entered Jerusalem. Then members of our congregation read the Passion story from the Gospel of Mark, reading aloud while standing in different places in our nave. David McIlhiney preached a homily about how we must travel with Christ to the Cross to unlock the Kingdom of God. 

And so our walk into Holy Week, and to the Cross, begins on a beautiful, sunny spring day (and that is Lori with her palm after our 10 am service). There is something fitting about the contrast of such a gorgeous day with the Passion story that comes next. I believe it is the contrast that gives Palm Sunday so much power.

Tomorrow, Monday in Holy Week, includes our regular noon Prayers for Peace, with prayers from many traditions. At about 12:30 pm we will celebrate a simple Eucharist. Please join me if you can, and wherever you are at noon, please pray for peace and especially for the peace of Jerusalem . 

May your week be blessed.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

So it begins: What happens in Holy Week

We enter into Holy Week tomorrow: We remember the events of betrayal, crucifixion, and entering into Hell itself. At the end of Holy Week comes the joyous declaration of Resurrection, new life. The fruits of Easter – and Spring - will soon be with us.

Before we go there, I’d like to sketch for you what transpires at St. Paul's in Holy Week (you will find this similar to the sermon I preached last Sunday). It is my hope and prayer that you will not rush through this the holiest of weeks of our year. I’d like you not to skip from Palm Sunday to Easter without experiencing the richness of what comes in between and the depth of its meaning for us in our walk of faith.

Please accept my personal invitation to participate in as much of Holy Week as you can, wherever you are, and to be especially attentive to the Holy Spirit working within you. Listen for the Holy Spirit, allow yourself to be made new, just as Easter makes each of us new.

I will post on this site each day of Holy Week to explain a bit of what we are doing and why, and to share what I am experiencing. I will also give you a heads up on what comes the next day. And, sorry, no Monday Funnies this week, but it will return the day after Easter Day.

Holy Week is first and last about servanthood, ours to each other, and Christ as servant to all of us. The events of Holy Week represent Jesus lowering himself, step by step, into the fullness of servanthood: Jesus declares, “Where I am, there will my servant be also.”

The first day of Holy Week is tomorrow, the day called, The Sunday of the Passion: Palm Sunday. It begins with the waving of palms and the great triumphant entry by Jesus into Jerusalem, and then Palm Sunday quickly slides into remembering the tragedy and torture of the crucifixion soon to come.

On Monday of Holy Week, we will end our regular noon Prayers for Peace with a Holy Eucharist at 12:30 pm.

On Tuesday of Holy Week, we will hold our noon Holy Eucharist, and at 7:30 pm, our university students will lead their very moving – haunting – chants of Taize.

Wednesday of Holy Week is marked by our Evening Prayer at 5:30 pm and our community night supper. Then I will lead an instructed Eucharist at 7 pm, pausing along the way to explain a bit about how and why we do what we do in the Eucharist.

The three days of Easter begin on Thursday evening at 7:30 pm – Maundy Thursday. We begin the great three days on Thursday, in keeping with the Hebrew calendar in which the new day begins at sundown. The third day begins at sundown on Saturday.

During the Great three days, classically called the Easter Triduum, there are no blessings or dismissals. The reason is the Church understands the services of Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Holy Saturday and the Great Vigil of Easter to be one great continuous liturgy.

The word “maundy” derives from Middle English, and it means “mandate.” Maundy Thursday commemorates the Last Supper when Jesus “mandates” that we remember him each time we experience the bread and wine of our Holy Eucharist.

On Maundy Thursday, we recall that Jesus ate with his disciples, then washed their feet. The focus, though, is not on the meal, but on his act of lowering himself to the feet of his followers.

At St. Paul’s on Maundy Thursday, we will wash the feet of all who wish to have their feet washed, and we will celebrate our last Eucharist before the day of Resurrection. Truly, our mandate is to serve each other and the world.
We will strip the Altar to its bare wood, and we will take consecrated unleavened bread and keep it in a place of reverence in the chapel. We do so to signify that Jesus is still with us even as he hangs on the Cross.

At noon on Good Friday, Jesus lowers himself still further. He goes to the Cross, crucified between two criminals, giving to us his supreme act of love to suffer with us in our pain, and show us that there is more to life than death.

On Good Friday we will offer solemn prayers at noon, and again offer those prayers at 5 p.m. After the five-o’clock prayers, we will, in silence, distribute the bread we have reserved in the chapel, a mark of Jesus being with us especially in times of pain.

Once more on Good Friday, at 8 p.m., we will assemble for prayers, and we will dim the candles, one at a time, in the solemn observance of Tenebrae, a Latin word meaning “shadows.”

On Holy Saturday morning, at 9 a.m., we will assemble here for a brief time for the prayers of Holy Saturday, the day that marks when Christ descends into Hell itself to open the gates wide and let everyone out. The prayers of the morning are brief, and I am especially inviting those of you who are preparing our sanctuary for the evening Vigil to participate in this short service.

Holy Saturday is the anvil upon which Easter rests. Without Jesus going to the dead to break the chains of Hell, the resurrection has little to do with us.

With Holy Saturday, Jesus takes us with him at the Resurrection. I hope you will join me for a few minutes Saturday morning in the chapel.

On Saturday evening, after sundown comes our first opportunity to celebrate the third day of Easter: The Resurrection. We assemble for the Great Vigil of Easter – the biggest, most splendid and opulent worship of the entire year.

We light a fire outside, and bring the light of the Paschal candle into the church. The Paschal Candle leads our procession, and there are no crucifixes carried on this night. We are done with the Cross. Inside the church, sitting in the dim light, we hear again the story of creation. And then with lights on, and bells ringing, we declare the Resurrection – we loudly declare Christ has Risen – and we experience again the joy of Easter and our first Eucharist of the Easter season.

Bring your bells and come join us.

On Easter Day morning we come here in the sunlight, our Lent completed and our new life in Christ begun once again.

And with grateful hearts we join in our prayer for The Great Vigil of Easter: “Stir up in your Church that Spirit … which is given to us in Baptism, that we, being renewed both in body and mind, may worship you in sincerity and truth.”

May each of you, wherever you are, have blessed and Holy Week, and a season of hope and renewal in the Easter that is to come.

-- James+