Friday, April 29, 2011

The Royal Wedding: "Be who God meant you to be"

I must admit I was up early -- very early -- for the Royal Wedding. Lori and I joined some wonderful British ladies in front of the television at 4 am, ate breakfast and soaked in the pageantry. We giggled at some of the inane remarks from television commentators. We enjoyed ourselves thoroughly.

But what really grabbed me, and why I am posting on this, was the sermon by the Bishop London, Richard John Carew Chartres. Please read this sermon; it stands as a clear statement of the purpose of marriage and a declaration of hope that includes everyone. And I would ask, does the theology of this sermon exclude couples of the same sex? It seems to me that all marriage is declared royal by these generous words.

Sermon at the Royal Wedding
by the Rt. Rev. Bishop John Carew Chartes, Bishop of London
April 29, 2011

"Be who God meant you to be and you will set the world on fire." 
So said St Catherine of Siena whose festival day this is. Marriage is intended to be a way in which man and woman help each other to become what God meant each one to be, their deepest and truest selves.

Bishop Chartes  
Many people are fearful for the future of today’s world but the message of the celebrations in this country and far beyond its shores is the right one – this is a joyful day! It is good that people in every continent are able to share in these celebrations because this is, as every wedding day should be, a day of hope.

In a sense every wedding is a royal wedding with the bride and groom as king and queen of creation, making a new life together so that life can flow through them into the future.

William and Catherine, you have chosen to be married in the sight of a generous God who so loved the world that he gave himself to us in the person of Jesus Christ.

In the Spirit of this generous God, husband and wife are to give themselves to each other.

The spiritual life grows as love finds its centre beyond ourselves. Faithful and committed relationships offer a door into the mystery of spiritual life in which we discover this: the more we give of self, the richer we become in soul; the more we go beyond ourselves in love, the more we become our true selves and our spiritual beauty is more fully revealed. In marriage we are seeking to bring one another into fuller life.

It is of course very hard to wean ourselves away from self-centredness. People can dream of such a thing but that hope should not be fulfilled without a solemn decision that, whatever the difficulties, we are committed to the way of generous love.

You have both made your decision today – “I will” – and by making this new relationship, you have aligned yourselves with what we believe is the way in which life is spiritually evolving, and which will lead to a creative future for the human race.

We stand looking forward to a century which is full of promise and full of peril. Human beings are confronting the question of how to use wisely the power that has been given to us through the discoveries of the last century. We shall not be converted to the promise of the future by more knowledge, but rather by an increase of loving wisdom and reverence, for life, for the earth and for one another.

Marriage should transform, as husband and wife make one another their work of art. It is possible to transform so long as we do not harbour ambitions to reform our partner. There must be no coercion if the Spirit is to flow; each must give the other space and freedom. Chaucer, the London poet, sums it up in a pithy phrase:

"Whan maistrie [mastery] comth, the God of Love anon, Beteth his wynges, and farewell, he is gon."
As the reality of God has faded from so many lives in the West, there has been a corresponding inflation of expectations that personal relations alone will supply meaning and happiness in life. This is to load our partner with too great a burden. We are all incomplete: we all need the love which is secure, rather than oppressive. We need mutual forgiveness in order to thrive.

As we move towards our partner in love, following the example of Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit is quickened within us and can increasingly fill our lives with light. This leads on to a family life which offers the best conditions in which the next generation can receive and exchange those gifts which can overcome fear and division and incubate the coming world of the Spirit, whose fruits are love and joy and peace.

I pray that all of us present and the many millions watching this ceremony and sharing in your joy today will do everything in their power to support and uphold you in your new life. I pray that God will bless you in the way of life you have chosen. That way which is expressed in the prayer that you have composed together in preparation for this day:

God our Father, we thank you for our families; for the love that we share and for the joy of our marriage. In the busyness of each day keep our eyes fixed on what is real and important in life and help us to be generous with our time and love and energy. Strengthened by our union help us to serve and comfort those who suffer. We ask this in the Spirit of Jesus Christ. Amen.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

The new covenant of reconciliation

Now and then, the Collect of the Day strikes a chord with me at least as deeply as the biblical readings assigned in the Daily Office lectionary. Today is a double header.

From Ezekiel 37:1-14 comes this amazing declaration of new life emerging from death:
"Thus says the Lord God: I am going to open your graves, and bring you up from your graves, O my people; and I will bring you back to the land of Israel. And you shall know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves, and bring you up from your graves, O my people. I will put my spirit within you, and you shall live, and I will place you on your own soil; then you shall know that I, the Lord, have spoken and will act, says the Lord."
And the Collect for Thursday in Holy Week declared this,
"Almighty and everlasting God, who in the Paschal mystery established the new covenant of reconciliation..."
The new covenant of reconciliation... That is what this religion of ours is supposed to be about. Jesus has died and gone to Hell to open the graves and let everyone out. The gates of Hell are open and wounds are ultimately healed, and we are reconciled with all of humanity, all of creation. That is the meaning of Easter and Resurrection, the work of God through Christ.

Yet it is an outrageous declaration by our religion, given how much of Christian history is filled with crusades, schisms, doctrinal inquisitions, anti-Jewish pogroms, racial segregation, homophobia, and our current penchant for conflict in our own small corner of the Christian faith called the Episcopal Church.

And that's just the Church. What of the world we live in, with warfare, global warming, environmental degradation, famine and disease, and bitter partisan politics in our own country? What about our personal lives? Where is the reconciliation?

Maybe we should begin by asking: with whom do we need reconciliation for large or small conflicts, or just common misunderstandings? God knows how much I can be a bull in the China shop, crashing into people, standing in need of their forgiveness.

All of us, I believe, stand in need -- great need -- of living into this new covenant of reconciliation. There is a connection with Ezekiel. New life and healing does come from the grave of old malice, strife and bitterness. New life will be with each of us. The Spirit of the Lord does fill us. May this season of Easter bring each of us a time of gentleness, a time of growth, and may we live into the promise of the new covenant of reconciliation.

Flower photo above from today's Odyssey Networks daybook.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

A bouquet for your day

Forgive me, I am still in recovery mode from Holy Week and Easter, and I haven't posted anything new here since Monday. So I thought I would bring you a little morning inspiration from another source.

I receive an email each morning from Odyssey Networks that has photography, scripture and short interviews with spiritual leaders like Desmond Tutu. You can subscribe by clicking HERE. This week, Odyssey Networks is sending wonderful flower photos, so I give this bouquet to you . . .

Monday, April 25, 2011

Photos from our magnificent Easter services

Here are a few wonderful photos mostly taken by Bonny Bronson at our Easter services Sunday and the night before at the Great Vigil of Easter. The top one is from Palm Sunday, by Wayne Nolen. Many blessings this season to you and yours . . .

Palm Sunday, by Wayne Nolen

The Rev. Drs. Heather Warren, left, Ann Willms, right

Albrecht von Gaudecker, our organist and assistant music director

Daniel Hine, music director, conducts magnificently

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Mary Magdalene: The first to understand

This is my sermon from Easter Sunday, based on: John 20:1-18 .

Alleluia! Christ is Risen!

At first she thinks he is the gardener.

Mary – they sometimes call her “the Magdalene,” a name that simply means she was from the town of Magdala – is the first to see who he really was, the first to understand.

She had followed him all the way to end, she loved him, and she could not bear to leave him now.
Jesus had died a horrific death on the Cross, executed by the Romans as another trouble-making Jew, a threat to public order.

There was so much chaos and noise, anguish and violence on that day we now call Good Friday but which must have felt anything but good that day.
And then there was quiet.

Mary goes to his tomb early while it is still dark. No one else is there. She finds the tomb empty. Completely and astonishingly and utterly empty. The body of Jesus is gone, vanished into thin air, only a few rags left behind.

Mary has no idea to make of this, so she goes back to tell the others.

Peter and the others run to the tomb to see for themselves. They are dumbfounded, so they go home.

But not Mary. She stays.

And then some very strange things begin to happen.

Mary goes inside the tomb, and sees two angels dressed in white. She turned around and sees a man standing there.

At first she thinks he is the gardener.

Then she understands. Jesus is standing there, and he looks the same only different.

He brings life and wholeness and healing to Mary. The line between life and death is erased in that moment. He is the gardener, the bringer of life.

Life for Mary will never ever be the same again – or the same for us.

So it was on that first Easter morning: The ugliness of death was swept away, and Mary Magdalene was the first to see the Risen Christ, the first to really understand what Jesus was getting at in all that he lived and taught.

Blessed are the peacemakers, Jesus proclaimed; blessed are the meek, blessed are those who mourn, blessed are the kind and the merciful. Blessed are the many, blessed are you.

Those are not ideals to aspire to, but established facts.

Mary Magdalene is the first to understand these blessings.

Sometimes preachers say, “Jesus died for your sins” as if the meaning of that shop-worn phrase is self-evident.

But this is not about paying off God.

As theologian Hans Urs von Balthasar points out, “the suffering Christ is not…a magical event through which an angry, justice-demanding God would be changed into a gracious one…”
Rather, we are the ones changed.

Jesus went to the Cross to take upon himself the blows of hatred and death precisely because that is where much of the world dwells.

He went there as a human being to be with us in the worst moments of our life, to take our pain upon himself as a human being.

He took his divinity to break the bonds of hatred and death, to show us a different place, to bring us to healing, hope and wholeness.

He died and lived again to show us how to live again.

This ancient story of Easter is our story. We continue to write the story of the Risen Christ by how we live our lives.

By standing at the empty tomb with Mary Magdalene, we are blessed by caring for the poor, and caring for each other.
We are blessed when we turn the other cheek and pray for our enemies. We are blessed when we forgive.

And we are especially blessed when we pray from the deepest longings of our hearts and to listen for the Holiness whispering within us.

What would the world be like if we really lived and prayed that way? What would be different? What would be blessed by us?

That is the challenge to us as Easter people, as it has always been since the morning Mary stood at the empty tomb.

This is our hope as Easter people: Every time we share in the bread and wine of our Holy Communion, Jesus is with us, lighting our path, giving us strength, feeding us with new life, renewing us with the promise of Easter.
We aren’t just remembering a meal long ago; we are bringing forth the future promise of Resurrection now.

The question is not how is the bread and wine changed at our communion table; but how are we changed by the bread and wine?

How are we changed?

And there is related question for each of us: If you are changed, how will the world change because of you?

Today is a good day to ask these questions, and personally take stock.

For some, you have been coming to this church your entire life. Or, perhaps you come here occasionally, once or twice a year. Maybe you are visiting from somewhere else.

Or, this is the first time you’ve been here, and maybe you’ve taken a long time to decide whether to come to church, or come back to church, and this is a big step for you today.

I am delighted all of you are here. Please let me invite you back.

This is a good place to ask the hardest questions of life, a good place to look for the answers with other people also seeking answers.

And this is a good place to work with others to change our community, to bring blessings to those the most in need. Why do this alone?

Please, don’t just sample the appetizer table. Come back for the feast every Sunday.
This Easter feast is not just about an afterlife that we cannot yet see.

This is also about how we live right now, here, today. The promise of salvation does not wait until the next life; salvation is meant to be lived right now.

Yet, make no mistake, this promise comes with challenges that are not always easy. Who needs your kindness and patience? Who needs your prayers? Who needs your forgiveness?

In a few moments we will renew our baptismal covenant, pledging once again how we will live out our faith.

We will pledge to gather regularly for prayer and the breaking of the bread, to respect the dignity of every human being and to work for justice and peace.

We get the gift of living these pledges together. We get the gift of standing with Mary Magdalene, perhaps like her a little astonished, yet discovering with her the promise of new life that is ours forever.

May this Easter bring you many blessings; may you be filled with the power of the Risen Christ, and may you live into the hope of the salvation that is yours forever. 
Alleluia! Christ is Risen!

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Telling the old story, making it our own: Alleluia! Christ is Risen!

My sermon from tonight:

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Alleluia! Christ is Risen!

We stand in the dark. We light a fire and follow a candle inside. We sing, we chant, we light our own candles. We ring bells, and we tell the story of creation and the story of prophets and the story of God come among us.

What we are doing is being done all over the world tonight as it has been done for two millennia. What we are doing is very ancient, very human, indeed, even very primordial.

Consider this: Long ago, before the time of mass media, before the time of Jesus and Moses and the Bible, before the time of the written word – long, long, long ago – people did what we do tonight.

They sat at the campfire and they shared a meal, and they told the story of how their ancestors were saved from certain calamity by a greater power than themselves.

In the telling and the re-telling, meal after meal, the story became their own story.

The telling was not just about reciting and analyzing dry facts, but making the story come alive to them no matter how dark it was at that moment beyond the campfire.

We, too, do this tonight. We gather around the fire, surrounded by the darkness of the world, and we tell the ancient story and make the story our own.

We affirm our deepest bonds with each other, our deepest hopes for each other, and we share again in the meal of our ancestors, our Holy Eucharist, and the darkness will not enter.

Yet if we are not careful, we can get lost amidst of candles and music, lost in the poetry and the rituals; lost in the analyzing and theologizing; and we might lose sight of the reality of the story and how it is anchored in historical fact.

If we are not careful, the story might become only a soft metaphor, or a theological allegory, and then we run the danger of missing the ultimate challenge that the story puts squarely at our feet.

So, if you will, enter into this story as fact. Step back into a time long ago, to the early dawn in the hours after Jesus was executed by the Romans on a cross.
Stand for a few moments at the empty tomb.

Yet we have an immediate difficulty: The story of the empty tomb comes to us in four versions, each a little different.

In the oldest of the gospels, Mark, we hear of a group of women who go to Jesus’ tomb to anoint his body and find it empty. They meet a “young man dressed in a white robe” who pleads with them to be not alarmed. But they are terrified, and flee, “and they said nothing to anyone.”

The oldest versions of Mark end right there.

The Gospel of Luke adds two men in dazzling clothes at the empty tomb instead of one. The women go back to tell the disciples – they certainly do talk about it – and Peter returns to the tomb and is “amazed.”

In the Gospel of John, the last of the gospels to be written, it is Mary Magdalene who comes alone to the tomb to find it empty. Mary Magdalene weeps, and there is a deafening quiet, and she sees two angels, and then she sees a man, and thinks he is the gardener. Mary recognizes the gardener as Jesus and she tries to embrace him. Tears of grief become tears of joy.

In the Gospel of Matthew that we hear tonight, the story of the empty tomb is at its most dramatic – earthquakes and lightening, guards petrified “like dead men,” and an angel telling the women at the tomb: “Do not be afraid” – the same words the angel said at his birth.

The women flee “with fear and great joy” but before they run far, they meet Jesus who tells them “Greetings!” and he gives them a message for the other disciples that he will meet them in Galilee.

Roughly the same story, but the details differ.

We have the right to ask: Did this really happen? Or is this a fairy tale or the figment of hopeful imaginations?

And if did happen, what does it have to with us? So what? Maybe this one man did rise from the dead, but only one? What’s that to do with me?

Let me suggest there are good reasons to believe this story, that the creator who created all things created this amazing event.

And let me also suggest that it makes a great deal of difference to us not just in the next world, but in how we live in this world – maybe most especially in this world.
Let me explain this as best I can.

First, did Jesus really die on the Cross? Maybe his followers rescued him in the nick of time – and these stories of the Risen Christ are really about the next chapter in his earthly career.
But I don’t find that plausible. He was a trouble-making Jew, he threatened the established order of the Romans, there is no way they would have let him get away with it. He was doomed by them from the start.

The Romans would have tortured and executed him with no mercy. The Romans were very good at one thing: killing people. People did not survive crucifixion. Anyone attempting a rescue would have found himself up on the next cross.

As Andrew Guffey, in his homily on Friday pointed out, Golgatha – the Place of the Skull – was perfectly named. It was an advertisement for death. The Romans took people there to die, to destroy not just their bodies, but their hope. There was absolutely no escape.

Could his reappearance have been collective psychosis, or a product of dreams and ghost stories by people in deep grief? Maybe those dreams gradually morphed into the story of a new spiritual awakening.


But people of the time were accustomed to ghost stories, and as New Testament scholar N.T. Wright points out, they were also accustomed to dreaming of the dead. They knew about ghosts. 
They were also accustomed to gradual spiritual awakenings and they knew about collective psychosis from grief.

And they were accustomed to venerating the tombs of prophets and holy people.

But they were not accustomed to this.

These stories of the empty tomb and the Risen Christ describe something very different than anything they had every experienced.

Not ghosts, not dreams, and not a gradual spiritual awakening.

They describe a sudden, unexpected, startling – frightening – reappearance of a human being they saw tortured and executed. And he comes back to them not as a ghost, but whole and healed.

The details of the story changed with the telling, the details morphed by word of mouth. But one basic fact did not change in the telling: that these fearful followers encountered the Risen Jesus with them again, and it changed them.

If you read the descriptions closely – he looked the same but was strangely different. They could touch him physically, but he would pop into a closed room, or walk beside them on a road to a town called Emmaus, or would cook them breakfast on a beach.

Sometimes they recognized him instantly, other times it took awhile to recognize him.
The greatest evidence that this happened is in the change to the people themselves. These encounters utterly transformed them. They became new people right then and there.

The key are these words – “Do not be afraid.”

Their encounter with the Risen Christ stripped them of all fear. They had scattered to the wind soon after the arrest of Jesus; now they didn’t care what the Romans threw at them.

They might be arrested and tortured themselves – as, indeed, many were. But nothing would turn them around. Nothing. No power on earth would turn them around, and they were willing to die rather than change back into the fearful people they had once been.

I believe the only way they went willingly to their own death is that these encounters with the Risen Christ were rooted in fact.

What does this have to do with us?

Everything. This same Risen Christ comes to us, and is present with us here, now, and every single day.

Yes, we may get sick, and our bodies will surely give out one day. We may stand against injustice and get beaten back.

But we have nothing to be afraid of – nothing at all.

+ + +

I want tell you a story – a very old story; the story our ancestors told around the campfire.
The story begins in darkness, where there is only nothing.

Then God created the universe from nothing. There was a spark, and there was light, and there were stars and planets, and this fragile earth, our island home.
And God saw that it was good.

God created every living being on this earth, and God created human beings, and God saw that life was very good.

God sent angels and prophets and sages to tell the human beings:
“Do not be afraid, God is with you, God made you good, so take care of all that I have given you, and love each other and love all that I have created that is good.”

But human beings were full of fear, and they began to believe that death had more power than life, so they made a pact with death.

People became filled with hatred and greed, they exploited one another, they brought forth wars and dictators, genocides and Holocausts.

So God sent them laws, Torah, and God commanded them to love God and to love each other as God loves them.

But then human beings began to worship the letter of the law and forget its purpose, and they became rigid and tribal, and still all they could see was their own fear.

So God came to them, as one of them, the Word made flesh, a man, to show them how to love each other, how to heal each other, and how to live without fear and without hatred.

God walked with them for a time in the only way God knew how – as a poor, lowly servant, a peasant carpenter, a healer and a teacher.

He taught them to do as he did, to love each other as he loved them, and to not be afraid, and a few began to understand that these blessings, especially in the moments when they were hurting or grieving or in danger.

But human beings still lived in fear and hatred.

So the Word made flesh went to the Cross, and surrendered to the powers of fear and death to show them that those powers ultimately have no hold on them.

He died as we died, and then came back to his first followers, and he touched them.
He showed them that the line between life and death is only a horizon.

And he kept coming. He came to many, whether they believed in him or not.
He came to them in closed rooms and in closed hearts.

He came to them where they lived and worked; in classrooms and hospital rooms; in churches and in homeless shelters; on the battlefields and the killing fields; on the streets and in the cotton fields; at the lunch counter and in the jail; in farm labor camps and in concentration camps.

The Risen Jesus came wherever God’s people are hurting.
He came everywhere.

He told them – and us – that we have nothing to be afraid of, nothing at all.
Love each other as I have loved you; do not be afraid.

Life and love, healing and wholeness get the last word always, and I will be with you always – always.

Have strength, have courage, and do as I do: feed the hungry, heal the sick, be with the lonely and the prisoners. Love each other, and show your love every single day. You have nothing to be afraid of. Nothing.

And they were not afraid. Not ever again.

Alleluia! Christ is Risen!

To find the biblical readings for the Great Vigil of Easter (and they are many), click HERE.  May you have many blessings this Easter and always . . .

Photos by Bonny Bronson of our Great Vigil of Easter at St. Paul's Memorial Church, April 23, 2011.

The world feels especially quiet this morning: Homily by Ann Willms for Holy Saturday

The Church has nearly lost sight of Holy Saturday -- the second day of the Great Three Days of Easter. It is the day after the crucifixion, but the Resurrection has not yet happened. It is a fulcrum between the two and it is crucial to the understanding of the meaning of Easter.

There is a liturgy for Holy Saturday in our prayer book, though it has fallen into disuse in the Church. We've resurrected it, so to speak, at St. Paul's. This morning, our associate rector, Ann Willms, led us in this simple service of meditation and psalms.

The lessons we used today are 1 Peter 3:17-22 and John 19:38-42.   Ann gave this touching and very personal homily, and it brought home to me again why Holy Saturday matters, really matters. I commend it to you, and I hope you will join us tonight at 7:30 pm for the Great Vigil of Easter:

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Holy Saturday homily
By The Rev. Dr. Ann Willms

The world feels especially quiet this morning. After the unraveling and chaos of Jesus’ final hours yesterday, there is only silence. After the shouting of guards, the jostling of crowds, the wailing of women, the pounding of nails, and the exhausted groans of those who hurriedly carried the body to the tomb, all is silent now. Jesus is dead and buried. The Word-made-flesh has been silenced.

I was not prepared for the silence in the wake of my mother’s death. Her death was accompanied by the chaos of its suddenness. The shouting was my own, desperately trying to will her to stay with us. The jostling was of the paramedics hauling in their equipment. The wailing was from one of my daughters, the pounding of a fist in anger from the other. And the exhausted groans were of the funeral directors who came to take the body away just before midnight– to take my mother away.

When a death occurs, what happens next is often a blur, and yet also very methodical, as in John’s gospel. They procured and removed Jesus’ body. They wrapped it with spices in linen cloths. They carried it to the tomb in the garden and laid it there. Then they evidently went home, because the Sabbath was the next day and further work would be prohibited.

I wonder what that silence was like that night for Jesus’ mother Mary.
I wonder what the silence was like for Peter and Mary Magdalene. So much unspoken, and now, only silence. For me, the silence of my mother’s death was almost unbearable. I looked out that night and saw my mother’s car in my driveway and asked the sky, “Where are you?” Nothing came back.

We are here at the liminal place, the threshold of death, where it is only silence. In some ways it is a relief after witnessing the pain and torment Jesus suffered. We can catch our breath. But it also evokes a profound loneliness and sadness.

There is a tradition that has grown in the church from the 4th century that says that despite the silence the survivors experienced, Jesus was actually “at work” breaking down the gates of hell, preaching to all those who in life did not hear or accept the good news, until every resident soul was saved. This is the so-called “harrowing of hell.” This is what is alluded to in the First Letter of Peter reading we heard, about the gospel being proclaimed even to the dead. I have found this image comforting in years past, but this year I have wondered if it is simply another way for me to avoid the stark reality of Jesus’ being really dead. It is so much better to think of him in action somehow.

But to say that his body lay in the tomb while his soul wandered the underworld presumes a Greek dichotomy of body and soul that was incomprehensible to the Jewish understanding of human be-ing. We are one – body and life-breath and soul – one entity. So when we die, we die as a whole, yet are held in the memory of God. Jesus too died wholly, simply being with the dead as the dead.

And yet this, and only this, is how death was put to death. As Hans Urs von Balthasar has pointed out in his book Mysterium Paschale, Jesus’ solidarity with the powerless in death was his proclamation, silent though it was, that his work was completed. This truly being with the dead was his proclamation that nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ, not even death.

In a few moments we will depart, many of us to make preparations for tonight’s Easter Vigil. The busyness and movement and work with our hands will comfort us as these things often do after a death. They remind us that we are alive, and that life is precious. Let us allow our preparations to be held with the silent tomb in view, even as we look toward the certain joy of Easter.

Holy Saturday: Hell defeated; Tonight: The Great Vigil of Easter

Icon depicting Jesus descending to Hell
to open the gates and get
everyone out.
Holy Saturday is remembered with a series of simple prayers and psalms on Saturday morning. If you have a chance, join me in the chapel at 9 am this morning -- the service is quite brief.

Tonight at 7:30 pm we celebrate the Great Vigil of Easter. This is by far my favorite service of the year, and it is the most important on the Church calendar. We begin by lighting a fire, and then processing into the darkness of the church. The Great Vigil of Easter, also called the “Paschal Vigil” or the “Divine Liturgy” is the first official celebration of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ in the Easter season.

Historically, the earliest known accounts of The Great Vigil of Easter date to the early 3rd century of the Common Era. In the ancient church, it was at this service that people, especially children, were baptized and adults received as catechumens into full communion with the Church. The Vigil is held in the hours of darkness between sunset on Holy Saturday and sunrise on Easter Day. The Great Vigil of Easter is considered to be the first celebration of Easter because Hebrew and early Christian tradition consider feasts and other great days to begin at sunset.

In the Roman Catholic, Orthodox and Anglican Communion (of which the Episcopal Church is fully a part), the Easter Vigil is the most important Mass of the liturgical year, and is the first celebration of the Eucharist during the fifty-day long celebration of Eastertide. The service begins outside with the lighting of the Easter fire, and then the congregation proceeds inside following the Paschal Candle and led by the cantor chanting the Exsultet. In darkness, we hear the story of how God’s people are delivered from darkness.

Finally, we proclaim Easter and the Resurrection of Jesus Christ and we celebrate our Eucharist. For the first time since the beginning of Lent, we proclaim “Alleluia!”

Easter message from Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori

Presiding Bishop Katharine at
St. Paul's Memorial Church, card
given to her by Sunday School children,
January 30, 2010
Easter 2011

The Resurrection must be understood in significantly different images and metaphors in the southern hemisphere, when Easter always arrives in the transition from summer to winter. Even as a hard, hard winter lingers on in northern climes, with unaccustomed April snow in many places, we yearn for the new life we know is waiting around the corner. As Christians, we’re meant to have the same hunger for the new creation emerging all around us.

We can see the broken places of our world either as complete and utter disaster, or as seedbeds – graves, even – in which God is doing a new thing. The situation in Haiti is dire, yet day by day and person by person hope lightens and leavens. Plans are emerging for civic reconstruction in Port-au-Prince that would bless the nation with pride in its heritage and more effective government. The Episcopal Church is a partner in those possibilities, as the vision for a rebuilt cathedral takes form. The graves are becoming gardens, at Cathédrale Sainte-Trinité and Collège St. Pierre. New and more life-giving relationships are emerging between development ministries and the lives of the people. Resurrection is happening in many places, even if one must search for it, like looking for the first buds on the trees as ice and snow give way to the warmth of spring.

The aftermath of earthquake and tsunami in Japan continues to look a great deal like winter, and the trials and failures at Daiichi Fukushima currently resonate more with apocalypse than Easter. Yet across northeastern Japan the work of the faithful is feeding senior citizens, ministering to displaced persons in shelters, and prompting challenging questions about social priorities, energy use, and consumerist lifestyles.

The gift of Easter insists that human beings are capable of divine relationship, for as Athanasius put it, “God became human that human beings might become divine.” The life, death, passion, and resurrection of Jesus are the cosmic insistence that nothing can separate us from the divine passion for humanity. Easter people are imprinted with the assurance that God is always working some new grace of creation out of death and destruction.

For most of us the dying is not cosmic. It may start with a small willingness to set aside self, or a new opportunity for grafting onto a greater whole. Or it may involve lowering the barriers between self and other to become more readily aware of our fundamental oneness, our common heritage as offspring of the Holy One. If we are to be followers of Jesus, we share the work he did on our behalf. We give thanks for the Resurrection, and we become part of Jesus’ ongoing work, as we become aware of its power in our own lives.

May your Eastertide be filled with the grace of new life. Go, discover, and BE resurrection for the world around you.

The Most Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori
Presiding Bishop and Primate
The Episcopal Church

Friday, April 22, 2011

Good Friday: Day of despair, day when it is hard to see the "good"

The words of Jesus on Good Friday are haunting and inescapably imbedded onto our collective memory of two-thousand years:
"My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?"
(Matthew 27:46)
Why, we ask, is this day called good?

Those are the words of despair, desolation, agony, isolation and death. Yet there are more words beyond those.

The words are intended by the gospel writer to point us to Psalm 22. Those familiar words about being forsaken come the start of the psalm, but that is only the starting point. The psalm represents a journey, an agonizing journey to be sure, and at the end there are words of hope.

Psalm 22 is assigned for today in our lectionary, but maybe it is too familiar. Instead, I turn today to Robert Alter's masterful translation that begins this way:
My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
Far from my rescue are the words that I roar.
My God, I call out by day and You do not answer.
by night--not stillness for me.
Those are the words of the condemned, the lonely, the dying. The psalm continues with cries about being betrayed, using "curs" (dogs) as a metaphor for evil circling the condemned. But then the psalm emerges from the darkness, declaring how the LORD finds even those who are dead in the depths of the earth. Listen to how Alter translates these final verses, for they speak of salvation across time and space:

For the LORD's is the kingship--
and He rules over the nations.
Yes to Him will bow down
all the netherworld's sleepers.
Before Him will kneel
all who go down to the dust
whose life is undone.
My seed will serve Him.
It will be told to generations to come.
They will proclaim His bounty to a people aborning,
for He has done.
Please join us today at St. Paul's. Beginning at noon, we will read the passion of St. John, and then we will hear the story from seven scenes on the path of the passion, with reflections from seven people from our congregation.

Then at 7 pm, we will pray the solemn collects for Good Friday and distribute the reserved sacrament from the night before. At 8 pm, we will have the haunting medieval service of Tenebrae, with chants, psalms and readings from Lamentations.

Book notes: The Book of Psalms: A Translation with Commentary, by Robert Alter, 2007, W.W. Norton & Co.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

The Great Three Days begins tonight

Today is "Maundy" Thursday, from the root word "mandate." Today we remember how Jesus "mandated" us to be servants and to remember him whenever we come together to share the bread and wine of our Holy Eucharist.

Today is especially about servanthood.

Last night, our former associate rector, Janet Legro, returned to St. Paul's to give a wonderful homily on that theme for children at our Evening Prayer service.

She gathered the children in front of her, and pulled from a bag a green apron she had worn as a waitress years ago. She told the children -- and us -- that Jesus was a waiter, a servant, who listened to people and brought them food.

Traditionally, the emphasis of Maundy Thursday is on Jesus washing the feet of his disciples, an act of servanthood to his followers. 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.

We will also remember that this act of servanthood was during a meal: the Last Supper. We will remember again how Jesus shared in this meal with his disciples and asked us -- mandated us -- to 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; 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. This becomes not just about a meal long ago, but about our meal together and how that brings us to the future promise of Resurrection. Easter will come to us.

We will take a portion of the consecrated bread from tonight's Communion and bring it into our chapel where it will be kept on an "Altar of Watch" under a veil. You are invited to remain in the chapel in silent vigil with the reserved sacrament until midnight tonight. We will then distribute the reserved sacrament at our 7 pm Good Friday service. Please come if you can.

Our meal, this Holy Eucharist, is shared tonight, and always, 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."
Later this morning I will join clergy colleagues in Richmond to renew my ordination vows with Bishop Shannon Johnston. The Great Three Days, the Easter Triduum, begins tonight.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Holy Week: To sit at a table, eat a piece of fish

I kept reminding myself all day: It's only Tuesday. . . It's only Tuesday. . .

We had a productive staff meeting, plotting our way through the rest of Holy Week and Easter. The clergy, music leaders and acolyte leaders then held a walk-through in the church, going through all of the details from Maundy Thursday to Easter Sunday. Do we have enough candles for the congregation at the Great Vigil? Check.

Does anyone know where the candelabra for Tenebrae is stashed? How about towels for Maundy Thursday? Let's go look.

Meanwhile, John in the office slogged his way through detail after detail in the programs, rubric upon rubric. He had a few questions. We needed all of our collective brains to come up with answers. On went the day.

At noon we paused for our Tuesday Holy Eucharist. All of the St. Paul's clergy attended. We are the church, right? And we are supposed to be praying, that is what all these details are supposed to be about, right? The Rev. Dr. Heather Warren was celebrant and preacher, and she gave us a few needed moments of laughs and prayer. Then it was back to writing sermons, proofing programs, looking at covers. I began to feel like a movie director looking for "high production value."

So I went to the hospital to visit a very sick parishioner. I stayed about an hour. We visited, and I was reminded again that Holy Week for some is more than about production value; it is about living on the precipice between life and death. And it comes to all of us, sooner or later.

Then it was back to the office and a few more details. My printer broke down. Time to go home.

It was Tuesday in Holy Week, a day that seems like the fulcrum for all that comes next in Holy Week. The Great Three Days will soon be here but not yet. Today, it's only Wednesday.

+ + +

Among the most fascinating poets I have ever met is Franz Wright, who won a Pulitzer in 2004.   He is the son of another Pulitzer prize recipient, James Wright, and Franz's mother is a very close friend of mine. A few years ago, we got him to read a few of his poems at our parish in Sacramento from his book, God's Silence. This poem says more about Holy Week than most sermons I've ever heard (or preached) and with many fewer words:

By Franz Wright

To sit at a table with Jesus
and eat a piece of fish
after his death, I don't think I could
bear it. But today I am following
in the blue stained-glass footsteps of a doctor who works with doomed children,
of the old poet, the rays in my eyes
walking to Heaven
which is not far--
a little face turns to the window
and it is there.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Holy Week: Prayers for peace, remembering our soldiers sailors and Marines who died in the last year

A few of us gathered at noon on Monday in the worship nave of St. Paul's to say a few prayers for peace from the prayer book, and to read the names of all of the soldiers, sailors and Marines who have died in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan since last Easter. All of them.

At first there was only Paula Kettlewell and myself, and we agreed we would say them all if only we were the ones to hear them.

And then another member of our parish came, and another. And then a few students. By 12:30 pm there were 10 of us in the church. It took us a half-hour, taking turns, to read all of the names.

When we finished, we prayed our Confession, and then we shared the Holy Eucharist together gathered around the Holy Table.

I must confess that as we started reading the names, I looked down at the first page and thought for a moment that it is just too many names, and maybe I should just shuffle the pages and read the last page and call it done. I read the first two names: "Robert Collins, Anthony Blount. . ." Then I kept going. Paula took the next page. And then another took another page. On we read.

All of these name have been read aloud in our church during the week they had died (or the week their death was publicly reported). Every week we add their names to the prayers of the people. Some weeks the list is short, other weeks there is a major engagement, and the list is long. It is always painful to hear, and our intercessors who read the names sometimes choke with emotion or tear up. We read the names every week at St. Paul's Memorial Church no matter what.

There was something about hearing all of the names read all at once on Monday that was different. There were Anglo Saxon names, Hispanic names, Asian names, and many names that were a mix of many nationalities, like Diego Solorzanovaldovinos. There were Muslim names like Jamal and Vietnamese names like Tevan Nguyen.

Most of the dead were men, but there were women on the list: Faith Hinkley, from the week of August 14, and Barbara Vieyra from the week of Sept. 18. That same September week, we also read the name of Brendan Looney, a member of the University of Virginia graduating class of 2004.

So many names, most of them young, many only teenagers. Most of them were the age of the kids in my youth group in my congregation in Sacramento.

Later, I looked up the first two names that we read. Robert Collins was 24 when he was killed in Iraq. He was a 1st Lieutenant in the Army. The second name on our list: Anthony Blount, 21, was a Private 1st class from the same unit. They died together on April 7, 2010 -- Easter Week last year -- when a roadside bomb demolished their vehicle. They never saw who killed them.

Lt. Robert W. Collins
Here is the announcement from the Department of Defense about their deaths:
The Department of Defense announced today the death of Lt. Robert W. Collins, 24, of Tyrone, Ga., who was supporting Operation Iraqi Freedom. He died April 7 in Mosul, Iraq, when enemy forces attacked his vehicle with an improvised explosive device. He was assigned to the 1st Battalion, 64th Armor Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, Fort Stewart, Ga. Killed with him was Pfc. William A. Blount, 21, of Petal, Miss. They had only been in Iraq since the fall of 2009.

He is survived by his parents Deacon and Sharon Collins and Nicolle, his childhood sweetheart and girlfriend of eight years.

An obituary for Pfc. William A. Blount noted that he was a devout Mormon, and then said this:
His wife, Amanda, is eight months pregnant with their daughter Avery, and he was scheduled to be home for her birth.
Pfc. William A. Blount
I cannot imagine the pain of the families and loved ones both of these men left behind. I cannot imagine what this last year has been like for William Blount's wife and his parents, or Robert Collin's "sweetheart." I wonder how baby Avery is doing; her first birthday is right about now.

The Department of Defense announced today. . .

We ask a great deal of our young, a great deal of those who volunteer to wear a uniform and serve our country. They go where we send them, and they die on battlefields and roadsides far away. We read their names in church on Sundays, and we read their names once again on Monday in Holy Week. We remembered again their supreme sacrifice, and reminded ourselves of the terrible human cost of war. Monday was not about politics, or foreign policy, or elections, or Republicans or Democrats or Tea Parties or

It was about soldiers dying in wars far from home because we send them there and they go.

We read their names because they deserve to be remembered, to have their names spoken out loud again. They deserve to have their names fill the air and ring in our ears one more time. Maybe by hearing their names we remind ourselves that our leaders bear a tremendous responsibility when they send our soldiers to war, and we bear a tremendous responsibility by electing them. May God have mercy on our souls.

Here are the names of the soldiers, sailors and Marines who died in these wars since last Easter. The least we can do is hear their names again. The list is long.

The Department of Defense announced today . . . 


Robert Collins
Anthony Blount
Kurt Kruize
Roberto Diaz Borio
James Lackey
Randall Voas
Curtis Swenson
Michael Sweeney

Joseph Caron
Sean Durkin
Michael Jankiewicz
Jonathan Hall


Charlie Antonio
James Patton
John LaBorde
Robert Barrett
Randolph Sigley
Michael Ingram


Keith Coe
Christopher Worrell
Thomas Rivers
Nathan Kennedy
Grant Wichmann
Ronald Kubik
Jason Santora


Ralph Mena
Anthony Magee
Wade Slack
Richard Penny
Brandon Barrett
Austin Benson
Harvey Holmes
Mark Coleman
Eric Finniginam
Salvatore Corma


Essau Gonzales
Dennis Kisseloff
Joshua Desforges
Donald Lamar II
Jeffrey Johnson
Kenneth May Jr.
Kurt Shea
Jeremy Brown
Kyle Comfort
Joshua Davis


Shane Barnard
Patrick Xavier Jr.
Joshua Tomlinson
Richard Tieman
Thomas Belkofer
Paul Bartz
John McHugh
Nicholas Paradarodriguez
Billy Anderson
Adam Perkins
Zarian Wood


Roger Culver
Amilcar Gonzales
Stanley Sokolowski
Edwin Rivera
Christopher Barton
Jason Fingar


Francisco Guardado-Ramirez
Alvaro Sessarego
Jonathan Peney
Anthony Diliso
Jake Suter
Jacob Leicht


Christopher Opat
Michael Bailey
Jeffrey Sandfest
Benjamin Osborn
Brian Anderson


Jacob Dohrenwend
Michael Cassidy
Israel Obryan
William Yauch
Steve Theobald
Russell Madden
Anthony Justesen
Joshua Dumaw
Eddie Turner
Claudio Patino IV
Kevin Cueto
Andrew Looney
David Miller
Scott Andrews
Timothy Serwinowski
Brandon Silk
James Hunter
Benjamin Park
William Ortega
Nathan Cox


Johnny Lumpkin
Morganne McBeth
Bryant Haynes
Ryan Grady
Larry Harris Jr.
Matthew Hennigan
John Rogers
Khristopher Chapleau
Eric Shaw
David Thomas
William Richards
Joseph Caskey
David Holmes
Jared Punk
Blair Thompson
Daane DeBoer
Robert Repkie
Edwardo Loredo
Joshua Dumaw
Andrew Looney


Jordan Tuttle
Louis Fastuca
Christopher Cabacoy
Edwin Wood
Jerod Osborne
Keenan Cooper
Andrew Creighton
Jacob Dennis
Clayton McGarrah
David Wisniewski
David Jefferson


Chase Stanley
Jesse Reed
Matthew Johnson
Zachary Fisher
Brandon King
Christopher Stout
Sheldon Tate
Christopher Moon
Nathaniel Garvin
Christopher Antonik
Shaun Mittler
Carlos Negron
Jesse Ainsworth
Robert Crow
Donald Edgerton
Tyler Roads
Joseph Dimock
Daniel Raney
Anthony Simmons
Marc Arizmendez
Michael Pridham
Roger Lee


Michael Runyan
Julio Vargas
Brian Piercy
Paul Miller
Joe Wrightsman
Christopher Eastman
Robert Bennedsen
Anibal Santiago
Justin Allen
Matthew Weikert
Jesse Tilton
Justus Bartelt
Dave Santos
Leston Winters
John Jarrell


Jason Holbrook
Kyle Warren
Shane Martin
Abram Howard
Frederik Vazquez
Conrad Mora
Daniel Lim
Joseph Bauer
Andrew Hand
Jerod Newlove
Justin McNeley
James Oquin
James Weis
Mario Carazo
Julio Vargas


Jared Van Aalst
Kyle Stout
Michael Stansbery
Jason Holbrook
Kyle Warren


Faith Hinkley
Christopher Karch
Jose Saenz III
Kristopher Greer
Rob Burnham
Paul Cuzzupe
Bradley Rappuhn
Andrew Nicol
John Andrade
Vincent Gammone III
Kevin Cornelius
Max Donahue


Christopher Wright
Jamal Rhett
Cody Childers
Martin Lugo
Collin Thomas
Christopher Boyd
Kevin Oratowski
Edgar Roberts
Derek Farley
Benjamen Chisholm
Charles High IV
Michael Bock


Brandon Maggart
Justin Shoecraft
Robert Newton
Ronald Rodriguez
Steven Deluzio
Tristan Southworth
Pedro Meletiche
Jason Calo
Jordan Bancroft
Alexi Maldonado
Nathaniel Schultz
Cody Childers


Joshua Twigg
Christopher Rodgers
Cody Roberts
Joseph Bovia
Vincent Adkinson III
Raymond Alcaraz
George Matthew
James Page
Dale Goetz
Jesse Infante
Kevin Kessler
Matthew West
Chad Clements
Mark Noziska
Casey Grochowiak
Floyd Holley
Ellery Wallace
Bryn Raver
James Ide
Andrew Castro
Patrick Durham
James Robinson
Daniel Fedder
Chad Coleman
Adam Novak
James Swink


Philip Jenkins
James McClamrock
Todd Weaver
John Bishop
Philip Charte
Jason McMahon
Andrew Griffiths
Joseph McFarlane Pool
Jesse Balthaser
Ross Carver
Diego Montoya


John Burner III
James Hansen
Deangelo Snow
Aaron Kramer
Daniel Sanchez


Anthony Rosa
Michael Buras
Jonah McClellan
Robert Baldwin
Marvin Calhoun
Joshua Powell
Matthew Wagstaff
Dennis Miranda
Adam Smith
David McLendon
Joshua Ose
Andrew Jones
Andrew Howarth
Barbara Vieyra
Eric Yates
Joshua Harton
Paul Carron
Ronald Frider
Jaime Newman
Timothy Johnson
Brendan Looney, University of Virginia class of 2004


Marc Whisenant
John Carillo Jr.
Gebrah Noonan
Timothy Jackson
Justin Officer
Calvin Harrison
Mark Forester
Ralph Fabbri
Donald Morrison
Mark Simpson
Clinton Springer II
William Dawson
Jaysine Petree


Stephen Sockalosky
Scott Lynch
Daniel Johnson
Ryane Clark
Joseph Prentler
Karl Campbell
Cody Board
Lance Vogeler
Anthony Matteoni
Willie Harley Jr.
Luther Rabon Jr.


Alec Catherwood
Carlos Benitez
Rafael Martinez
Tramaine Billingsley
Joseph Lopez
Irvin Ceniceros
Eric Newman
Justin Cain
Phillip Vinnedge
Joseph Rodewald
Victor Dew
Jordan Byrd
Raymon Hohnson
Matthew Powell
Frank Zaehringer III
Dave Weigle
David Hess
John Sparks
Edwin Gonzalez


Dylan Reid
Kenneth McAninich
Gerald Jenkins
Francisco Jackson
Joshua Cullins
Jorge Villarreal Jr.
Ian Tawney
James Boelk


David Jones
Terry Honeycutt Jr.
Michael Krispel Jr.
Phillip Tanner
Charles Sadell
Steven Dupont
Thomas Moffett
Ronnie Pallares
Arcely Gonzales O'Malley


James Young
Todd Harris
James Zimmerman
Andrew Meari
Jonathan Curtis
William Blanchard
Brett Land
Diego Solorzanovaldovinos
Pedro Maldonado
Adam Dickmyer


James Stack
Dakota Huse
Robert Kelly
Anthony Vargas
Andrew Hutchins
Scott Hughes
Aaron Cruttenden
Dale Kridlo
Randy Braggs
Shane Reifert
Michael Paranzino
Blake Whipple
Jordan Emrick
Jason McCluskey
Brandon Pearson
Matthew Broehm


Kyle Holder
Justin Culbreth
Javier Ortiz Rivera
Kevin Pape
David Senft
Shane Ahmed
Nathan Lillard
Scott Nagorski
Christian Warriner
Jesse Snow
Jacob Carroll
Jacob Carver
Juan Rivadeneira
Shannon Chihuahua
Shawn Fannin
Andrew Bubacz
David Lutes
Edward Bolen


Matthew Abbate
Chad Wade
Scotty Milley
Barry Jarvis
Curtis Oakes
Matthew Ramsey
Jacob Gassen
Austin Staggs
Buddy McLain
Devon Harris


David Finch
David Luff Jr.
Kelly Mixon
James Ayube II
Michael Geary
Jason Peto
Colton Rusk
Derek Wyatt
Nicholas Aleman
Jason Reeves
Vincent Ashlock
Lucas Scott
James Thode


Sean Cutsforth
Justin Schmalstieg
Jose Hernandez
Sean Collins
Willie McLawhorn Jr.
Patrick Deans
Kenneth Necochoa Jr.
Derek Simonetta
Jorge Villacis
Ethan Goncalo
Stacy Green


William Crouse IV
Conrado Javier Jr
Eric Torbert Jr.
Jose Maldonado
Sean Osterman



Tevan Nguyen
Kenneth Corzine


Jose Cintron Rosado
Jose Delgado Arroyo
Eric Nettleton
Jacob Tate
Maung Htaik
Michael Beckerman


Zachary Salmon
Zainah Creamer
Jarrid King
Benjamin Moore
Robert Near
Ira Laningham
Ethan Hardin
Joseph Giese
Christian Romig
Robert Pharris


Michael Evarts
Jose Torre Jr.
Michael Bartley
Martin Lamar
Jason Amores
Amy Sinkler
Dominique Cruz
Joshua Lancaster
Joseph Whitehead
Zachary Salmon
Evan Mooldyk


Leslie Williams
Jason Amores
Marcin Pastusiak
Marcin Knap


Nathan Carse
Aaron Swanson
Patrick Carroll
Lucas Pyeatt


Corey Owens
Lashwan Evans
Dea Hutchinson
Robert Wood


Christoffer Johnson
Johnathan Taylor
Robert Sisson Jr.
Darren Hidalgo
Andrew Carpenter
Matthew Deyoung
Jonathan Pilgeram
Bradley Hart


Jason Weaver
Nicholas Alden
David Fahey Jr.
Chauncy Mays
Rudolph Hizon
Christopher Stark
Kristopher Gould
Andrew Wilfhart
Jerome Firtamag


Loren Buffalo
Andrew Wade
Kalin Johnson
Mark Wells
Jordan Stanton


Michael Hinkle II
Christopher Meis
Travis Tompkins
Arturo Rodriguez
Daehan Park
Ian Mukker
Andrew Harper
Eric Trueblood
Stephen McKee


Brandon Hocking
Vincent Filpi III
Michael Mahr
Joshua Gire
James Malachowski
Mecolus McDaniel
Donald Mickler Jr.
Rudy Acosta
Jamal Bowers


Dennis Poulin
Ofren Arrechaga
Frank Adamski III
Jameson Lindskog
Jeremy Faulkner
Dustin Feldhaus
Bryan Burgess
Yannick Scherrer
Justin Ross
Mark Burgan
Matthew Collins


Gary Nelson III
Wesley Hinkley
Jorge Scatliffe
Quadi Hudgins
Christian Garcia
Jason Rogers
Benjamin Rast
Jeremy Smoth
Scott Burgess
Michael Lammerts
Bartosz Spychala
Harry Lew
Robert Welch III
Siki Skare
Alan Cameron


Vorasack Xaysana
Donald Nichols
Brent Maher
Brandon Pickering
Jose Caraballo
Keith Buzinski

Monday, April 18, 2011

Carrying our palms into Holy Week

Photo by Bonny Bronson
Each of our Palm Sunday worship services yesterday had its own character and tone, and I was privileged to be at all three.

At 8 am, the chapel was full, and our liturgy was on the contemplative side. There is much to contemplate in this Holiest of weeks.

Our children in their procession
Photo by Bonny Bronson
At 10 am, we began on the steps outside. The choir sang its introit, we blessed the palms and then followed the choir inside singing "Glory, laud and honor."

We waived our palms, and heard again the story of Jesus entering the city on a donkey and the Last Supper. Our children marched with us, and then came back in after the sermon in their own procession with palms.

Our 5:30 pm service was different still. We started across the street at the Rotunda of the University of Virginia. We stood by the statue of Thomas Jefferson and heard the story of the Exodus, and then we marched to our meditation garden at St. Paul's where our palms were blessed.

Rod Sinclair
Photo by Bonny Bronson
Inside the church, we laid our palms on the floor. Then the Rev. Nicholas Forti reminded us in his homily that our procession of palms marked the beginning of the Jewish Passover and our own exodus from the bondage of sin.

Photo by Wayne Nolen
The day was marked by many colors: the green of the palms, the red and white of the clergy vestments, and the blue of the gorgeous sky on a beautiful spring day.

The day contained much symbolism about a swirl of events and a death long ago. But it was also about the here and now. In mid-afternoon, I drove out to a cemetery near Monticello to preside at a graveside service for a 90-year-old woman who had died a few days ago. She had lived in Atlanta for many years, but her family brought her back to Charlottesville for burial where she had gone to the University. It was day of celebrating a good life, but also a day of good-byes and letting go for this one family.

Charlie Gleason, left, Bruce Carveth, right
Photo by Bonny Bronson

We enter Holy Week with so many layers of emotion and meaning: hope and despair, faith and doubt, courage and tragedy -- and ultimately we come again the meaning of the Empty Tomb.

Today at noon we will have prayers of peace, and we will read the names of all the soldiers, sailors and Marines who have died in the last year in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, followed by a Holy Eucharist. Please join us in body or prayer as you can.

We are on the path of the Cross but not there yet. May you have many blessings in this holiest of weeks.
Our wonderful choir,
Photo by Wayne Nolan
Standing on the steps, blessing the palms
Photo by Bonny Bronson

Sunday, April 17, 2011

So it begins: the descent into Holy Week, marching with palms

Painting by Marilyn Barton
This year we are trying something different this year at St. Paul's for Palm Sunday and Holy Week. Instead of hearing the entire Passion in one sitting, we are pausing in the Upper Room with Jesus and Peter and our palms. The gospel lesson we are hearing will be the first part of the Passion according to Saint Matthew. I am hoping we let each day of Holy Week unfold for us, one scene at a time.

On Maundy Thursday, we will hear John's gospel and the washing of feet. On Good Friday, we will take this theme a step further. Beginning at noon, seven people from our congregation will describe seven scenes of the Passion. Then, on Saturday morning, we will mark the descent of Jesus into Hell. On  Saturday night, the darkness will be pierced with the first proclamation of Easter.

I hope you will join us for all of it. To set our first scene, here is the description from Matthew of the procession of palms into Jerusalem, followed by my sermon, and then the gospel lesson for today. May you have a blessed Holy Week.

+ + +

Matthew 21:1-11

When Jesus and his disciples had come near Jerusalem and had reached Bethphage, at the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two disciples, saying to them, "Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied, and a colt with her; untie them and bring them to me. If anyone says anything to you, just say this, `The Lord needs them.' And he will send them immediately." This took place to fulfill what had been spoken through the prophet, saying,
"Tell the daughter of Zion,
Look, your king is coming to you,
humble, and mounted on a donkey,
and on a colt, the foal of a donkey."
The disciples went and did as Jesus had directed them; they brought the donkey and the colt, and put their cloaks on them, and he sat on them. A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. The crowds that went ahead of him and that followed were shouting,
"Hosanna to the Son of David!
Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!
Hosanna in the highest heaven!"
When he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was in turmoil, asking, "Who is this?" The crowds were saying, "This is the prophet Jesus from Nazareth in Galilee." 
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Sermon for Palm Sunday, April 17, 2011

And so it begins: 

Palms, a Passover dinner, and words that Peter will live to regret: I will never deny you. Never. Not me. 
Today we enter the swirl of Holy Week, entering again into an ancient story of hope and betrayal, courage and cowardice, fear and tragedy. We descend again into the valley of the shadow of death. 

We will hear again Peter’s boast, and we will hear again how he collapsed and denied the One he followed. 
Because we know how the story comes out, we might be tempted to skip past each of these scenes, and get straight to the lilies of Easter. 
This year, rather than reading the entire Passion narrative from start to finish – jamming all of Holy Week into a single reading – today we are doing something different. 

Today we stop here in the Upper Room and hold onto our palms. We stay with the people who are with Jesus. At that moment, they don’t know the end of the story, and they are yearning to know what comes next. They come with the deepest hardest questions of life and death, and so do we.
This Holy Week, I would like us to let their story unfold a little more slowly, one day at a time, and enter into each scene one frame at a time. Maybe by doing this we might notice something we’ve never noticed before. 
Today, we hold onto our palms. 

Imagine, if you will, that there were two processions into Jerusalem that day. The idea is plausible; New Testament scholars Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan propose this idea of two processions as an exercise of historical imagining to bring into sharp focus the importance of these palms. 
So imagine this scene: At one end of Jerusalem, the Roman governor, Pontius Pilate, rides into the city on a big white stallion, surrounded by marching foot soldiers clad in armor, carrying shields, swords and lances. 

They push people out of the way, and anyone who is slow is trampled under foot.
The historical record tells us that Pilate was known as a particularly vicious governor, even by Roman standards, and given to shows of raw power. 

He regularly executed anyone whom he perceived as a threat, or anyone in the wrong place at the wrong time. He ruled for 10 years, from 26 to 36 C.E. until he was recalled by Rome for his misrule. 
Palm Sunday, India 2006, BBC News
At the other end of the Jerusalem, picture another procession: A Jewish holy man, Jesus, rides into Jerusalem on a donkey, surrounded people wearing not much more than a tunics and sandals. 

By some estimates there are as many as 200,000 pilgrims – mostly poor peasants – who flood into the city following this holy man. 
The best description of this contrast I’ve read comes from our own Beth Molmen, who sings in our choir, and wrote the reflection for today in our Lenten meditation booklet: 

The procession of brute power, Beth writes, shows how: “Anger begets anger, hatred begets hatred, and violence merely continues the endless cycle of violence, the passing of earthly power from one ruler to another.” 

The procession of palms is sharply counter to that. As Beth writes: “The non-violent response described in today’s readings undermines that cycle, rejecting human structures of power and conflict.” 

In this tale of two processions, the Roman authorities most certainly would have seen the peasants and their palms as a direct threat. The Jewish holy man would have been arrested ASAP, as indeed, he was. 
The Romans would have seen this march of palms the way the British saw Gandhi’s salt march to the sea; or the way segregationists saw the march of black Americans across the Selma bridge; or the way the Soviets saw the Solidarity marchers in Polish shipyards, or the way Hosni Mubarak recently saw hundreds of thousands of Egyptians in Tahrir Square in Cairo. 
Every one of those marches changed the world. 
As we enter Holy Week, we do well to remember how courageous were these peasants who carried palms on that day long ago. We call them “holy” now, but they were not unlike you and I. They didn’t have all the answers, they certainly had doubts, but they kept marching anyway. 
There are many ways to march. 
We, too, are called to take up our palms, literally and figuratively, and take them beyond these walls to do work we’ve been given to do. There are times when it is necessary to oppose power structures that exploit and harm people. 

And there are times when we are called to quietly care for people in their pain and need, in our homes or the workplace, and in our community and in our world. 
Marching with palms will not always be easy, and there will be missteps and setbacks. 

Perhaps that is the point of Holy Week, to sharpen our awareness of a loving God who marches beside us, who goes with us into the deepest darkest holes of life and death and gives us strength – especially in the setbacks. That is why it we call this a holy week. 
The rest of the story will unfold in this Holiest of weeks, and it is my fervent wish that each of you will come experience this week in a way you’ve never experienced it before.

I hope you will return for the story of Maundy Thursday and how Jesus washed the feet of his disciples, becoming their servant – and come get your own feet wet. 
Then, be with us for Good Friday and hear about the scenes at the foot of the Cross. Seven people from our congregation will tell us the story from seven perspectives, beginning at noon on Good Friday. 

That evening we will hold the haunting medieval service of Tenebrae, with its chants and readings as the lights dim.

On, Saturday morning at 9am we will mark the moment when Christ descends to the depths of hell itself to free everyone from the bondage of death. 

Then, on Saturday evening, the Great Vigil of Easter begins by lighting a fire outside, and following the Paschal candle into the darkness here inside as we wait for the first proclamation of Easter. Remember to bring bells. 

And our celebration will continue the next morning on Easter Sunday. 
Today, though, there are palms, and the remembering of the Last Supper, and the words of Peter: “I will never deny you.” 
We remember again moments of great courage, and moments of great frailty when even, like Peter, in our best of intentions, we falter. Soon enough, we descend to the valley of the shadow of death; and we will come face-to-face once again with the hard questions of life and death. 
Easter will come, but not yet. AMEN.

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The Beginning of the Passion According to Saint Matthew
(Matthew 26:14-35)

One of the twelve, who was called Judas Iscariot, went to the chief priests and said, "What will you give me if I betray Jesus to you?" They paid him thirty pieces of silver. And from that moment he began to look for an opportunity to betray him.

On the first day of Unleavened Bread the disciples came to Jesus, saying, "Where do you want us to make the preparations for you to eat the Passover?" He said, "Go into the city to a certain man, and say to him, `The Teacher says, My time is near; I will keep the Passover at your house with my disciples.'" So the disciples did as Jesus had directed them, and they prepared the Passover meal.

When it was evening, he took his place with the twelve; and while they were eating, he said, "Truly I tell you, one of you will betray me." And they became greatly distressed and began to say to him one after another, "Surely not I, Lord?" He answered, "The one who has dipped his hand into the bowl with me will betray me. The Son of Man goes as it is written of him, but woe to that one by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been better for that one not to have been born." Judas, who betrayed him, said, "Surely not I, Rabbi?" He replied, "You have said so."

While they were eating, Jesus took a loaf of bread, and after blessing it he broke it, gave it to the disciples, and said, "Take, eat; this is my body." Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he gave it to them, saying, "Drink from it, all of you; for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. I tell you, I will never again drink of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father's kingdom."

When they had sung the hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives. Then Jesus said to them, "You will all become deserters because of me this night; for it is written,
`I will strike the shepherd,
and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.'
But after I am raised up, I will go ahead of you to Galilee." Peter said to him, "Though all become deserters because of you, I will never desert you." Jesus said to him, "Truly I tell you, this very night, before the cock crows, you will deny me three times." Peter said to him, "Even though I must die with you, I will not deny you." And so said all the disciples.