Sunday, March 31, 2013

The "idle tale" that changed the world

My sermon for this Easter Sunday is based on Luke 24:1-12; You can hear the audio HERE (13 minutes).

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Alleluia! Christ is Risen!

At first no one believed them. No one.

After all, they were women, and this was a man’s world. The men dismissed the women as telling “an idle tale.”

So it was on this first Easter morning when, as Luke tells us, these women – Mary Magdalene, Joanna, and Mary the mother of James, came with spices to anoint the body of Jesus.

Before dawn, the women walked through the dark and dank streets of Jerusalem to the tombs a abandoned rock quarry outside the city gates. It was anything but a garden. Their walk must have been frightening.

What happened next changed them – and changed the world – forever.

These women encountered two men in dazzling white. The women were so astonished that they fell to the ground and buried their faces in the dirt.

The men – definitely not of this world – spoke to them: Jesus was gone. “He is risen, just as he had told you.”

The women ran back to tell the men, but the men did not believe them. Not at first. Peter ran to look for himself.

Then everything in his life began to make sense.

All of these women and men would soon encounter Jesus as alive again.

They would find him on a road to a town called Emmaus, and they would find him in a closed room, and they would find him in a thousand other places.

At first, few believed any of this.

Roman historian Josephus wrote at the time that these accounts should be disbelieved precisely because they came from women: “From women let not evidence be accepted because of the levity and temerity of their sex,” he wrote.

Are we so different?

These encounters may seem to our modern scientific ears as an idle tale.

But these experiences with the Risen Christ still happen, over and over, in ordinary places like our homes, and in workplaces, in classrooms, in the mountains and in the woods, and even in churches.

The Risen Christ especially comes to the hardest, most desolate, poorest places on earth – to hospital rooms and battlefields, to slums and hollers. The Risen Christ especially comes to the poor and the sick.

And these encounters bring courage and strength, and if we are open to it, will show us how God’s love is infinitely wider than we can possibly imagine.

When the women who came to the tomb saw the angels, they fell down and buried their faces in the ground.

But the angels told them to get up out of the dirt. Stop being so afraid.

That is the message of Easter for each and every one of us:

Don’t be so afraid of death that you forget to live. God’s infinite love is in front of you – and all around you, and in you.

Jesus is Risen, gone from the tomb, and will show us everything. You don’t have to wait for the next life. The door in this life is opened wide for us this Easter morning.

We know him as Jesus Christ, but that was not the name he was known by at first. Christ did not start out as his last name.

Christ began as a description of who he was and what he did.

It comes from the Greek word, Christos, which means “anointed,” and is the same word for healing oil. The word ointment comes from this.

Those who first used this word wanted us to know this crucial fact about their experience of him: they knew him as Jesus, the one who heals.

And on this first Easter, they began to understand this healing extends to the very core of our souls beyond the physical limits of our bodies.

How do I know this? I cannot offer you a scientific proof.

But what I can offer you is proof that the Risen Christ radically changed the lives of those who experienced him. They went from burying their faces in the dirt to courageously building God’s Beloved Community of love and healing, justice and peace here on earth – no matter the odds against them. They’ve done so in the past and are still doing so.

The women who first came to the empty tomb brought us this precious gift of Easter so that we may also be part of the Beloved Community.

But there is a challenge that comes with this gift.

We are challenged to push against the borders of our world that tells us, over and over, that there are limits on God’s love.

Don’t believe that for a second.

The world tells us to find our solace and security in the human instruments of death and greed: guns and money.

But don’t believe that for a second. There isn’t enough guns and money in this world to give us that kind of solace and security.

We are called to proclaim by word and example something radically different than the world believes; we are called to proclaim that the Christ who is Risen still shows us how to live with compassion and courage.

The Risen Christ speaks to us in a thousand ways, every day, in our work and play, in our dreams. And the Risen Christ speaks to us in our love and joy with each other.

The question, of course, is: How will we respond this Easter season, and for the rest of our life?

For those of you who may be new here at St. Paul’s, please know that this is an open, accepting and caring community. We do not pretend to have all the answers, but this is a good place to bring your questions. So please stay and walk with us.

And to those who have been here awhile, we have much to do. There are people to feed, children to rear, the sick and lonely to visit.

We have opportunities to bring justice and peace to our community, and God has given us everything – everything – we need.

My Easter prayer for each of us is that we will hear the sounds of Easter every single day, and that we will live with courage and compassion building the Beloved Community right here. And today, this Easter Sunday, is a good day to start.

“Death is conquered, we are free.”

Alleluia! Christ is Risen!

By James Richardson, Fiat Lux

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Easter message from Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori

Rejoice, rejoice and sing, rejoice and be glad… for earth and heaven are joined and humanity is reconciled to God!

As the Lenten season ends in Easter rejoicing, note what has been wrought in you this year. A remarkable cross-section of America has been practicing Lenten disciplines, even some who are not active Christians. There is a deep hunger in our collective psyche to re-orient our lives toward life and light, healing and peace. We share a holy hunger for clarity about what is good and life-giving, and we yearn to re-focus on what is most central and important in life.

Easter celebrates the victory of light and life over darkness and death. God re-creates and redeems all life from dead, dry, and destroyed bones. We are released from the bonds of self-obsession, addiction, and whatever would steal away the radical freedom of God-with-us. Our lives re-center in what is most holy and creative, the new thing God is continually doing in our midst. Practicing vulnerability toward the need and hunger of others around us, we have cultivated compassionate hearts. We join in baptismal rebirth in the midst of Jesus’ own passing-over.

The wonder of the resurrection is upon us once more. May we embrace God’s ever-new life with every cell of our being, every yearning of our soul, and every muscle of our will. Christ is risen, death is vanquished, humanity is restored to holy and creative relationship with God’s ongoing and eternal liveliness. Praise God who brings light out of darkness, life out of death, and newness out of the stale and moribund. Alleluia! Christ is risen!

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

The Great Vigil of Easter: Alleluia! Christ is Risen!

Come join us this evening for the Great Vigil of Easter at 7:30 pm, the most wonderful amazing worship of the year. Bring bells! And we have two baptisms! Come if you can!

Alleluia! Christ is Risen! The Lord is Risen indeed! Alleluia!

Icon depicting Christ at Easter, rescuing Adam and Eve from Hell

Holy Saturday: Raising Hell

Today is the second day of the Easter Triduum, perhaps the most neglected and misunderstood day of the three. OurBook 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, and I will offer a brief homily marking Holy Saturday. Tonight at 7:30 pm is our first opportunity to proclaim the resurrection -- tonight is the first proclamation of Easter Sunday -- but we are not there yet. 

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, March 29, 2013

Good Friday: Remembering our walk through the streets of Jerusalem

In the summer of 2011, Lori and I went on pilgrimage with a group of friends to the Holy Land. On one of our last mornings, we awoke before dawn and walked the "Way of the Cross" through the streets of Jerusalem.

We retraced the steps Jesus might have taken to his death on that first Good Friday. Of course, the streets he walked are now under centuries of rubble. Nonetheless, it was not hard to imagine the loneliness of his walk.

Later that day, I wrote about our experience on this blog from Jerusalem. I am reposting what I wrote below for you on this Good Friday. 

Today at noon, we will gather once again at St. Paul's to stand vigil for three hours at the foot of the Cross. We will hear from seven people in our congregation who will offer reflections on what people might have seen and experienced on that first Good Friday. If you are in the vicinity, come for as much as you can.

May you have a blessed experience in this Great Three Days . . .

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Holy Land Journal: Walking the ancient Way of the Cross

Inside the dome of the
Church of the Holy Sepulchre
JERUSALEM – We awoke before dawn on Monday and assembled in the courtyard of St. George’s College.

In the early cool morning breeze, we began our Walk of the Way of the Cross, tracing the footsteps where countless pilgrims over countless centuries have trod to remember the agony and death of Jesus on the Cross.

We walked in silence to each stop on the way. We broke our silence at each stop with prayers, scripture readings and chanting of, “Holy God, Holy and Mighty, Holy Immortal One.”

We agree we would take no photographs until we were through.

For those uninitiated in the Way of the Cross, or “Stations of the Cross,” it is a traditional exercise of veneration at each of the 14 points where the tradition holds that Jesus stopped on his way to be crucified. Many churches worldwide offer this practice during Holy Week, using icons or artwork depicting each of the stops.

On Monday, we walked to the stations the Cross marked along the route on buildings were pilgrims, like ourselves, have paused for centuries of veneration.

Entering the Church of the Holy
Sepulchre after our
Walk on the Way of the Cross
To reach the Old City, we walked past the Israeli police station where we have spent so much of our time in the past week. A few police officers and heavily armed soldiers milled about in front next to their armored cars.

We walked through Herod’s Gate into the Muslim Quarter and found ourselves at the first station, the place where Pontius Pilate’s headquarters is said to have stood. We heard the story of Jesus being condemned to death by the Roman governor. We prayed, we chanted, we kept walking.

We were soon followed by another group of pilgrims, from Romania. Their chants, more melodic than ours, pleasantly filled our ears. As we would leave one station, the Romanians following at a respectful distance, would take our place.

The sun rose above the rooftops; we could soon feel the heat. As we walked through the narrow streets of Jerusalem, the Old City began to wake up. Tractors pulling carts of produce rumbled past, their noisy engines drowning our prayers and chants. We hugged the walls to avoid having our feet run over. People hustled past on their way to work, or to their own worship, and they kept on the opposite side of the street from us.

The ground was wet, hosed down in the early morning hours before our arrival. The smell of rotting garbage filled our nostrils. There were no sweet smells on the Way of the Cross.

At the third station, marked on a wall with “Jesus falls for the first time,” two Israeli soldiers, with automatic weapons, stood talking. They quietly moved away so we could stand there. A car honked at us to get out of the way so it could pass, the driver barking at us as he drove by.

We moved onto the next stations, trying to imagine Jesus on this walk, carrying the crosstree of the executioner’s tool up these narrow streets. Yet, we were very aware that these were not the steps Jesus walked – the streets where he walked are deep beneath the ground, deep beneath our feet, buried under centuries of rubble left by the multiple destructions of this tragic city over 2,000 years.

At the sixth station, “Veronica wipes the face of Jesus,” an elderly nun paused to touch the stone marking the station, then crossed herself before continuing on her way.

We walked uphill, up slippery stone steps, up past shopkeepers beginning to open for the day.

Our ears filled with many sounds, not just our prayers or the wonderful chants of the Romanians behind us. Everywhere, it seemed, we could hear cats crying. The clanking metal of shop door opening echoed through the allies. More tractors lumbered past.

Finally we reached the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, built atop the stony hill where Jesus was crucified. This is one place where scholars generally agree we are in the right place: Golgotha, the “place of the Skull.”

The place of death.

In the time of Jesus, Golgotha was an abandoned rock quarry that stood just outside the city gates. It was a perfect location for the Romans to hang criminals for all to see – and be warned.

Looking down on the domes of the
Church of the Holy Sepulchre. We
took this photo a few days ago
from the tower at the Lutheran
Church of the Redeemer
Now a huge basilica, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, covers the spot. The quarry is buried beneath centuries of Christian tradition and conflict. The basilica has been built and rebuilt many times since the 4th century. The Place of the Skull has not seen sunlight in 1,600 years.

We would go in, but not yet.

We finished our Stations of the Cross in a sunny courtyard, trading stations with the Romanians. An African Coptic monk, clad entirely in a black robe from the top of his head to his toes, swept the courtyard as we prayed and chanted.

Finally we heard the biblical passages of how Jesus breathed his last, and was lowered into his mother’s arms from the Cross. Some in our group wept.

But I looked up at the sun glistening on the church domes, and all I could think of was this:

“He is not here! He is Risen! He is everywhere!”

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When we finished the Way of the Cross, we walked a short distance to the Lutheran Hospice for breakfast. Our group remained quiet, everyone lost in their thoughts. Some ate then went to sit quietly and write in their journals.

Soon we went back outside to enter the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, a place I have heard and read about but never seen until today. It is built upon Golgotha, the “Place of the Skull,” or “Cavalry” as some call it. Within its walls is also the place thought to be the tomb where he was laid, and where the women came on the third morning to find that his body had disappeared.

It is certainly the most holy place in all of Christianity.

The traditional spot where it is said
that Jesus' body was anointed with oil.
A marble slab covered in oil
marks the place.
The spot remained largely as it was for three centuries. In the 4th century, Emperor Constantine recognized Christianity as the official religion of the Roman Empire and commissioned a magnificent basilica on Golgotha. He commissioned his mother, Helena, to go find it. It was she who declared that this was the spot. Later evidence showed she likely got it right.

The Church of the Holy Sepulchre has been destroyed and rebuilt many times. The church now standing is magnificent, but it smaller and less spectacular than the original in it glory.

In later centuries, the church was chopped up into sections for warring Greeks, Coptics and Armenians.

Walls divide each sect’s section from the other, and cut off full views of the magnificent domes and nave inside. The division and territoriality in the basilica is a perfect metaphor for the divisiveness in Christianity, and in all of humanity itself.

Huge Paschal candles guard the tome
of Jesus. Lightbulbs are atop
each candle.
Yet I still found the church oddly moving.

As we entered the basilica, we were confronted by a slab of marble representing where Jesus might have been anointed with oil after his death. Lamps hang above, and the slab is covered with olive oil. We took turns blessing each other with the oil.

Up a steep staircase is an ornate altar the stands at the highest point on the hill that is encased inside this church. It is thought that this is the spot where Jesus hung on the Cross. It is hard to imagine except for a series of gray rock outcroppings nearby, underneath glass cases.

The rock is the color of a skull.

We went back down another stone staircase to where Jesus’ tomb is said to be. At the time of Jesus, the tomb would have been one of many small caves carved in the hillside. In the 4th century, Constantine’s laborers carved the entire rock assemblage away from the hillside and then enclosed it in a shrine.

The spot is now inside a large boxy edifice, covered in lamps, icons and all manner of bric-a-brac. Huge Paschal candles with guard the entrance to the tomb. The candles have light bulbs on top, and some of the bulbs are the new energy saving twirly type.

With all of that adornment, I found it very hard to imagine this place as a Jewish tomb in a hillside.

Entrance to ancient crypt
in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre
Our pilgrimage guide, Mark, wanted to show us something else. He led us through a small door, and down a passageway only a few feet away from the official tomb.

We entered a round room, carved into the hillside, lit with a single light bulb. On the ceiling we could see the dimmest outline of ancient Byzantine paintings, long faded. The walls were blackened with the soot of centuries of candles and oil lamps.

Off to one side was another small door, no more than four foot high. I climbed inside with a flash light, and I found two small crypts, carved into the hillside that is now under this massive church.

Two crypts deep inside the hillside
underneath the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.
Each crypt could have held a single body.

In ancient Jewish practice, bodies would be encased in these tombs until the flesh decayed, then families would return in about a year to retrieve the bones and then keep them in an ossuary.

It was here, in a place like this, that I could imagine that Jesus might have been laid after his death, and where the women came the next day to look for his body.

And then I all I could think of was this: “He is not here! He is Risen! He is everywhere!”

Good Friday: Crossing through the dark

The morning is cloudy on our hill. The signs of winter remain: trees damaged in the winter storms, dead leaves on the ground. Life struggles to be born anew. Death does want to let go.

Today is Good Friday, which might be better called Grim Friday. Soon we gather again in churches to stand vigil at the Cross, and tell the story once again of a murder long ago in Jerusalem. The goodness will be hard to see. If faith falters in the dark, that is part of the forsakenness of living.

My friend, Stephen Charleston, wrote this on his Facebook this morning, and I leave it with you:
“There are few people of faith who have not crossed through that dark day when they wondered if the God on whom they depended had gone away, deserted them, or even died. In the pain of our own mortality, when we face the loss of those for whom we care, when illness strikes us down or injustice overwhelms us, it is not hard to understand why we have felt this way. To receive the light, we must accept the darkness. We must go into the tomb of all that haunts us, even the loss of faith itself, to discover a truth older than death.”

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Maundy Thursday: Oil of Chrism, feet to wash, people to serve

The great story of the Easter Triduum – the Great Three Days – begins once again.

Tonight is Maundy Thursday, and we have feet to wash, the Holy Eucharist to celebrate, and people to serve.

For me, Maundy Thursday began with a one-hour car ride with Father Nik to to St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church in Culpeper, where Bishop Shannon Johnston led the assembled clergy in renewing our ordination vows.

I’ve spent much of the week with Fr. Nik, and we’ve shared a few laughs, a few stories, and a fair amount of coffee. We have celebrated together the Holy Eucharist each day since Palm Sunday. We didn’t plan it this way; it just happened to work out that way. But that is one of the graces of Holy Week – not everything is planned.

At the service in Culpeper, Bishop Shannon blessed a container of olive oil, as is the custom each year on Maundy Thursday. The Holy Oil, or “Oil of Chrism,” was then put into small bottles for us to take back to our churches (photo above).  Later, I will be scenting the oil with a few drops of nard oil – the type of oil used to anoint Jesus before he died on the Cross.

We will use the oil to bless people at their baptism, and to bless the sick and dying. And we will use the oil every Sunday in the chapel for healing prayers during the 10 am worship service. We use a lot of Holy Oil at St. Paul’s.

The oil is a reminder of the connection we share with each other through the blessing of our bishop, and a reminder that we share our ancient faith with millions of people who have come before us. The Holy Oil is especially a reminder of the real presence of the Risen Christ who is within us, holding us up, and walking with us in all of our joys and sorrows.

Bishop Shannon gave a short homily for the assembled clergy. He reminded us that  “something happened to you at your ordination.” We were changed, made into something new.  He reminded us that like Holy Oil, our ordination is a living remembrance of the Risen Christ within us, holding us up, and walking with us. “Your ordination is God’s accomplishment,” he said.

Tonight we have feet to wash, the Holy Eucharist to celebrate, and people to serve. Blessed be the One Holy and Living God.

By James Richardson, Fiat Lux

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

The banns of marriage and the law of the land

As the Supreme Court concluded hearing oral arguments about marriage equality today, I've been asked to offer comments by a number of people.

Allow me to step back a few paces and point out that marriage licenses began at the behest of the Church of England, which was having a whale of a time enforcing monogamy standards in a maritime nation (sailors seemed to have wives in every port).

The Church tried to enforce its moral standards through the “banns of marriage,” an announcement done three Sundays in a row that so-and-so intended to be married; the idea being it would surface a wife. The strategy didn't work, and so the Church asked Parliament to license marriages. The concept was transported to the colonies where it is now a part of our law in the United States. In other words, it is our church that got government into the marriage business in the first place. By the way, Pastor Heather Warren explored this history in great detail at a series of forums in 2011. You can read all of our material HERE.

As a priest in a church, when I preside at a wedding I am also acting as an agent of the state, which is a complete blur of the separation of church and state. It is also raises the question of why one of the sacraments of the Church – Holy Matrimony – is licensed by the state. Baptism and Eucharist are not, but marriage is. Were it up to me, marriage would be a private contract between consenting parties, and the church would be entirely out of the legalities.

I made that argument about a year ago at a panel discussion at the University of Virginia School of Law. One of the panelists pointed out that the difficulty with my argument is that marriage law has provided a common and predictable set of legal guidelines that ordinary people can follow. To make marriage entirely a private contractual arrangement might require people to hire lawyers to get married.

The solution, it seems to me, is to get religion out of the legal marriage business. Those who wish to form a legal union of their relationship, with all the rights and privileges thereto, could go to the courthouse to seal their contract as civil marriage. It wouldn’t matter whether they were same-sex couples or opposite-sex couples. Then if they wished to have their union blessed as marriage, churches and other religious institutions could decide whether they could bless such relationships. Church and state would remain separate, and blessings would remain entirely religious. Each religion could interpret religious law as it sees fit.

And I would not be acting on behalf of the state.

By James Richardson, Fiat Lux

Holy Week: The palms are drying out, the days are wearing on

The palms from last Sunday still adorn our worship space, but they are drying out and will soon disappear. The Cross will soon be veiled in black, but not yet.

St. Paul’s at mid-holy Week is a bustle of activity. Extra hands on Tuesday were cleaning floors. The office staff prepared newcomer packets for Sunday and attended to a thousand other details. I tried to stay out of the way by plugging away on a sermon in my office.

At noon, Father Nik led the Holy Eucharist in the Chapel. He read from a long gospel passage about Jesus teaching in the Temple, and then he bid us to sit in silence for a time to simply be in the presence of the Lord and relax for a few moments.

I welcomed the quiet respite for a time. My eyes focused on the palms behind the chapel altar (in the photograph at right). They look so dry now. The week is wearing on.

When we were through, I went back to my office to work on my sermon. But not getting much creative traction, I looked at my Facebook page. It was ablaze with red-and-pink equality icons.

Many of my friends and relatives had bannered their Facebook pages with the icon because The U.S. Supreme Court was hearing arguments Tuesday and Wednesday about whether gay people should have the same right to marry as straight people.

I’ve long supported marriage rights for all people – gay or straight. Marriage is for those who can make a serious commitment in love for life to their partner. Marriage, as the Book of Common Prayer states, is first and foremost for the “mutual joy” and support of those who make this commitment. Sexual orientation is beside the point, or ought to be.

There is nothing in the Bible that puts limits on God’s call to love-based marriage, but there is a great deal of bias in our culture that is against it. Our culture is shifting, and for the better. We’ll see if the Supreme Court agrees. I changed my profile picture to the red-and-pink equality icon; it seemed like the holy thing to do this Holy Week.

The week is wearing on. And all things will be made new (and sermons will be written).

By James Richardson, Fiat Lux

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Holy Week: Praying for peace, praying for those who died in our wars

The psalm assigned for last night’s Evening Prayer included this:
“O God, you know my foolishness, and my faults are not hidden from you. Let not those who hope in you be put to shame through me, Lord God of hosts…” (Psalm 69:6-7)
No truer words could we pray this Holy Week for ourselves or for the the leaders of our nation and the world.

Yesterday, I had planned to join a procession in Washington DC that marched from the White House to the Capitol Hill praying for the victims of gun violence. I didn’t get there because of the snow.

I stayed behind in Charlottesville. If Holy Week is about feeling low, it didn’t take long for me to get there.

Air Force Capt. Francis Imlay
As we have done every Monday of Holy Week the last five years I have been here, we assembled in the church nave at noon to pray for peace and an end to violence. That is usually my weekday Holy Eucharist in Holy Week, but Father Nik had volunteered to take the service so I could go to Washington. Instead we did it together.

Our custom at St. Paul’s on Monday in Holy Week is to read the names of the soldiers, sailors, Marines and airmen who died in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan since Holy Week of last year.

There were 15 of us at the noon Eucharist. The people came out from the pews to take a turn reading from the list.

Army Capt. Sara Knutson
There were 189 names on the list. Names like James and Roberto, Jessica and Camelia.

So many, so young.

We began with Francis Imlay, 31, an Air Force pilot from Vacaville, Calif., who crashed a year ago in Central Asia. He had a young son.

We ended with Sara Knutson, 27, an Army captain from Eldersburg, Maryland who died a week ago in a helicopter crash in Afghanistan. She was newly married.

So many, so young.
O Lord of Hosts, save us from our foolishness that peace may come at last to this troubled earth, our island home.

By James Richardson, Fiat Lux

Monday, March 25, 2013

Washington DC: Report on "Stations of the Cross" praying for victims of gun violence

Episcopalians go to Washington for prayerful march against violence

Way of the Cross takes ancient ritual from White House to US Capitol

By Mary Frances Schjonberg | March 25, 2013 Episcopal Diocese of Washington Bishop Mariann Edgar Budde recites prayers at the first Way of the Cross station March 21 in Lafayette Square in Washington, D.C. Diocese of Connecticut Bishop Suffragan James Curry, left, and Connecticut Bishop Ian Douglas listen. ENS photo/Mary Frances Schjonberg
Episcopal Diocese of Washington Bishop Mariann Edgar Budde recites prayers at the
first Way of the Cross station March 25 in Lafayette Square in Washington, D.C. Diocese of Connecticut Bishop Suffragan James Curry, left, and Connecticut Bishop Ian Douglas
listen. ENS photo/Mary Frances Schjonberg
[Episcopal News Service – Washington, D.C.] Rain, snow, and temperatures that were barely above freezing did not deter a group of about 400 Episcopalians from taking to the streets of the nation’s capital March 25 to transform the traditional re-enactment of Jesus’ journey to Calvary and the tomb into a prayer procession meant to challenge what they called a culture of violence.
The modern-day version of the ancient Holy Week ritual of the Stations of the Cross began outside St. John’s Episcopal Church, Lafayette Square, at the corner of 16th and H streets northwest, across from the White House. The moving liturgy went past the White House and concluded on the west steps of the U.S. Capitol some two and a half hours later. Bishops, priests and deacons in the procession wore cassocks or other clerical attire, and the worshippers were led by a wooden cross as they made their way past the White House and down a lane of Pennsylvania Avenue that had been blocked off from traffic.
“You walked for Christ at a time when most people would have just gone inside and found something else to do,” Connecticut Bishop Suffragan James Curry told the worshippers after they finished the Way of the Cross.
At a “media availability” event before the Way of the Cross began, Curry had said that “the place of the church in our society is the place of Jesus Christ who faced down violence itself and died because of it.”
“We know that this is a struggle that will take years and years, and our pledge is continue to carry that cross for our children and for our society,” he said.
While there was mention in the liturgy of the ready availability of guns and the grief caused by gunplay, the worshippers during their stops near memorials, government buildings and works of art primarily offered prayers for an end to a culture of violence and the social and economic conditions that spawn violence.
The Stations of the Cross is an ancient ritual that commemorates the ordeal of Jesus from his condemnation by Pontius Pilate to his crucifixion and burial. Worshippers metaphorically walk with Jesus, stopping to offer prayers inspired by events, some legendary, that occurred as Jesus carried his cross.
Diocese of Connecticut Bishop Suffragan Laura Ahrens leads the Way of the Cross station outside the White House while Connecticut Bishop Suffragan James Curry assists her with the sound system. ENS photo/Mary Frances Schjonberg
Diocese of Connecticut Bishop Suffragan Laura Ahrens leads the Way of the Cross station outside the
White House while Connecticut Bishop Suffragan James Curry assists her with the sound
system. ENS photo/Mary Frances Schjonberg
The specially written Stations of the Cross liturgy is here.
Curry, Connecticut Bishop Ian T. Douglas and Bishop Suffragan Laura J. Ahrens organized the service days after the killing of 28 students, teachers and others at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown on Dec. 14, 2012. Among those who died was Benjamin Andrew Wheeler, 6, who was a member of Trinity Episcopal Church in Newtown. The bishops worked in cooperation with Diocese of Washington Bishop Mariann Edgar Budde, and a team from her diocese.
Other Episcopal bishops who participated in some or all of the event were Wayne Wright of Delaware, Nedi Rivera of Eastern Oregon, Mary Glasspool of Los Angeles, Larry Provenzano of Long Island, Gayle Harris of Massachusetts, Steven Miller of Milwaukee, Mark Beckwith of Newark, David Bailey of Navajoland, Rob Hirschfeld of New Hampshire, Gene Robinson (retired) of New Hampshire, W. Nicholas Knisely of Rhode Island, Dorsey Henderson of Upper South Carolina, Shannon Johnston of Virginia, Douglas Fisher of Western Massachusetts and Porter Taylor of Western North Carolina participated. The Rt. Rev. Dinis S. Sengulane, bishop of Lebombo, Mozambique, in the Anglican Church of Southern Africa, who helped to end the civil war in his country and inspired the collection and conversion of weapons from that war for peaceful purposes, was also a participant.
Before the Stations of the Cross began, the bishops met at St. John’s to discuss pending legislation to reduce gun violence with Stephanie Valencia, principal deputy director of the Office of Public Engagement and Paul Monteiro, an associated director in that office.
Many of the bishops are part of Episcopalians Against Gun Violence, an ad hoc group of bishops, clergy and lay Episcopalians who are working, collectively and individually, to curb gun violence. The group has a Facebook presence and is on Twitter. The hashtag for the Stations of the Cross march was #DCWitness.
Lay people and clergy of all ages came from all over the Northeast to attend the Way of the Cross: Challenging a Culture of Violence march in Washington, D.C. March 21. ENS photo/Mary Frances Schjonberg
Lay people and clergy of all ages came from all over the northeast to attend the Way of
the Cross: Challenging a Culture of Violence march in Washington, D.C. March 25. ENS
photo/Mary Frances Schjonberg
Shortly after the conclusion of the stations, most of the participants gathered in the Montpelier Room of the James Madison Memorial Building that is part of the Library of Congress for brief remarks from church and government leaders to support President Barack Obama’s call for gun reform and the legislative actions pending in Congress.
Bishops Curry and Douglas, and Sengulane of Mozambique, were among the speakers. Others included Connecticut Rep. John Larson, D.C. Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton and the Rev. Brenda Griton-Mitchell, director of the Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships of the U.S. Department of Education.
Holmes Norton, who was baptized in the Episcopal Church, said, “We in the District of Columbia know the gun lobby more than most,” noting ongoing efforts to prevent the District from enacting tough gun measures.
However, she said, people all over the country are stepping forward to call for laws meant to reduce gun violence “and this time we will not step back.”
Close of 400 people prayerfully walked down Pennsylvania Avenue in a cold and rainy Washington, D.C. March 21 from the White House to the U.S. Capitol to call for an end to violence. ENS photo/Mary Frances Schjonberg
Close to 400 people prayerfully walked down Pennsylvania Avenue in a cold and rainy
Washington, D.C. March 25 from the White House to the U.S. Capitol to call for an end
to violence. ENS photo/Mary Frances Schjonberg
Griton-Mitchell, a lawyer and an ordained Baptist minister, said, “I would rather see a sermon than hear one any day.” She insisted that in the Way of the Cross she had indeed seen a sermon.
Sengulane, who celebrated the 38th anniversary of his ordination and consecration as a bishop March 25, said having a gun in the house for protection is like having a poisonous snake for the same reason. There’s no guarantee whom it will bite. A gun is also a “very bad adviser” on how to handle conflict, he said.
The March 25 Stations of the Cross was the latest is a series of actions by Episcopalians across the church who are attempting to eliminate gun violence. Leaders at the denominational level have spoken out as well.
Bishop Suffragan Mary Glasspool of Los Angeles captures video of Diocese of Massachusetts Bishop Suffragan Gayle Harris leading prayers at one of the Way of the Cross stations. ENS photo/Mary Frances Schjonberg
Bishop Suffragan Mary Glasspool of Los Angeles captures video of Diocese of
Massachusetts Bishop Suffragan Gayle Harris leading prayers at one of the Way of the
Cross stations. ENS photo/Mary Frances Schjonberg
In mid-February, Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori, in written testimony to the United States Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Human Rights, urged lawmakers to “press for comprehensive and universal background checks for firearm ownership, regardless of where and how a gun is purchased; for bans on the availability to civilians of assault rifles and high-capacity magazines; and for policies designed to better regulate the manufacture of guns.”
Jefferts Schori noted that the Episcopal Church has said continually over more than 40 years “that the role of guns in our society’s culture of violence cannot be ignored.” And, while the church “supports the constitutional right of law-abiding citizens to keep and bear arms,” the presiding bishop said, the church “is clear that federal, state, and local gun laws and enforcement activities should focus their efforts on keeping guns out of the hands of children and those who would use them to commit violent crimes.”
The presiding bishop could not participate in the Stations of the Cross in Washington, D.C. because she was in England for a meeting of the Anglican Communion Standing Committee, which followed the inauguration of Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby. Douglas, who is also a member of the Standing Committee and attended the inauguration, attended the first two days of the meeting before returning to help lead the event.
The 13th and 14th stations on the Way of the Cross were on the wet, muddy lawn of the U.S. Capitol. ENS photo/Mary Frances Schjonberg
The 13th and 14th stations on the Way of the Cross were on the wet, muddy lawn of the
U.S. Capitol. ENS photo/Mary Frances Schjonberg
In late February, the church’s Executive Council called on Episcopalians to “repent of our own roles in the glorification and trivialization of violence.” The resolution urges Episcopalians to work toward “comprehensive social responses that seek to stem the cycles of violence that fuel gun crime.”
It also called for making mental-health services available and accessible “without stigma in a variety of settings,” and available to “those who have suffered trauma from exposure to violence or violent environments.”
Resolution A&N004 urged elected officials to make gun trafficking a federal crime and empower law enforcement officials to investigate and prosecute straw purchasers, gun traffickers and their entire criminal networks.”
And it urged Episcopalians to “examine our own cultural attitudes toward violence through efforts in congregations and communities [and] to repent of our own roles in the glorification and trivialization of violence, and to commit ourselves to another way.”
Just after the council meeting, House of Deputies President the Rev. Gay Clark Jennings and Vice President the Hon. Byron Rushing issued a letter to General Convention deputies outlining council’s resolution and saying they hoped the deputies would “help lead the church to fulfill this resolution.”
On March 22, the Episcopal Public Policy Network, based in Washington, D.C., issued a policy alert here suggesting three steps Episcopalians could take to respond to the calls from the church’s leadership to advocate for an end to gun violence.
– The Rev. Mary Frances Schjonberg is an editor/reporter for the Episcopal News Service.

Stations of the Cross in Washington DC

It snowed steadily all night and is still snowing, and the weather report has it snowing all day in Northern and Central Virginia. After checking weather reports at 5am, I chose not to make the three-hour-plus slog up to Washington DC and back. That was not an easy decision and I am feeling some big pangs of guilt about taking the safer course. I do ask that we keep the victims of gun violence in our prayers, and those are walking the Stations of the Cross in their memory today from the White House to to Capitol Hill. I wish the weather had permitted my joining them.

Monday in Holy Week: Pray for those who have died in wars, and victims of gun violence

Today on Monday of Holy Week, as we have done for more years than anyone should have to remember, we will pray for those who have died in our wars at noon today. By name.

We will read the list of those soldiers, sailors, Marines and airmen who were killed in Iraq and Afghanistan since Holy Week of last year.

It is a very long list.

The list is a compilation of the names we have read each Sunday in our worship services. Each week when I compile the list, I feel a major streak of guilt that we limit the list to Americans. So many thousands, from so many nations, have died in these wars. So many thousands have died in our own country from violence.

We have many people to pray for, and much to be contrite about.

The violence that encircles Holy Week, culminating in the death of Jesus at the hand of the Roman Empire, is not so very far from us. I was much taken with the photograph above that appeared in The New York Times on Sunday. It shows a family in Syria that uses an ancient Roman cave as a bomb shelter to hide from the bombs dropped by aircraft from their own government.

As I write this, it is snowing in Virginia and the roads are clogging up. I am planning to get up before dawn Monday to drive to Washington DC to participate in a "Stations of the Cross" from the White House to Capitol Hill, led by our Episcopal bishops to remember the victims of gun violence in our country.

If the snow plows clear our road, and I can get out, I will be there. Pray for those who are in danger, those in grief, and those who care for them. May you have a blessed and Holy Week.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Experiencing Holy Week: A thumbnail guide

We begin again the descent into the desolation of Holy Week, and beyond to the new life beyond that is Easter. Today is Palm Sunday, and I hope you will join us if you can at St. Paul's Memorial Church.

This is the most spiritually moving and intense week of the Christian calendar.

As I have done in years past, I will post here about my experience of Holy Week as it unfolds for me. I pray you will be open to the presence of God, and to the surprises as they unfold for you.

Here is a thumbnail guide to the events of Holy Week at St. Paul’s Memorial Church:

+ + + 

Palm Sunday begins outside with the waving of palms and the great triumphant entry by Jesus into Jerusalem. We will be hearing the story of the arrest of Jesus through the eyes of Gospel of Luke, and the story will end in the courtyard when Peter denies knowing Jesus.

Monday of Holy Week, we will hold noon Prayers for Peace and a reading of the names of all the soldiers, sailors and Marines who died in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan in the last year, and conclude with a Holy Eucharist at 12:30 pm.

Stations of the Cross – Each weekday in Holy Week we will have meditations led by Joe Lenow at the “Stations of the Cross” at 6:30 pm in the nave (the main church).

Tuesday of Holy Week, we will hold our 12:15 pm Holy Eucharist.

Wednesday of Holy Week is marked by a 12:15 pm Eucharist and Evening Prayer at 5:30 pm, and our community night supper.

Maundy Thursday begins the Great Three Days, or Easter Triduum. We will have a simple Eucharist at 12:15 pm. Then in the evening, we will have the traditional foot washing when we remember how Jesus became a servant of his followers, and all are invited to come forward to have their feet washed by the clergy. Our own Emily Williams Guffey, who is a first-year seminarian, will be our guest preacher.

The first day continues at noon on Good Friday. From noon to 3pm, we will hear short homilies offered by members of the congregation, including some of our University students, who will reflect on the scenes and people who experienced the death of Christ. Their reflections will be interspersed with prayers and music.

Private confessions – The clergy will be available from 3pm to 6pm to hear private confessions in the Chapel.

At 7 pm, we will say the prayers for Good Friday and distribute Communion bread that we have reserved from Maundy Thursday and kept in the Chapel. At 8 p.m., we sit in the darkness, with candles dimmed, one at a time, and hear readings from the Book of Lamentations, in the solemn observance of Tenebrae, a Latin word meaning “shadows.” It is among the most moving services of the year.

On Holy Saturday morning, at 9 a.m., we assemble in the chapel for a brief time for the prayers marking the second day, when Christ descends into Hell itself to open the gates wide and let everyone out.

The Great Vigil of Easter – On Saturday evening at 7:30 pm, after sundown comes our first opportunity to celebrate the third day of Easter: The Resurrection – and the most 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.

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 a bell and come join us.

On Easter Sunday morning we gather in the sunlight, our Lent completed and our new life in Christ begun once again. Our services Easter Sunday are at 8 am, 9:15 am and 11:15 am and 5:30 pm.