Resolution

The Mayor and City Council of Euclid passed a resolution recognizing #WearOrange, gun violence awareness month, and the Guns to Gardens: National Buyback Day


Sometimes, it seems as though the bad news never ends; as though bad will has blotted out our ability to see humanity in one another, let alone the divine image.

As long as we have breath, there is something we can do about that.

The Church of the Epiphany is honoured to stand in partnership with this City Council, the Mayor, and with our friends at Our Lady of the Lake’s Nonviolence Ministry to declare and resolve that we are not helpless in the face of rising gun violence. If we have the good will, we can be good news for this City, this community, this country.

We are not trying to paper over the cracks. I hear the racism that drove a young man to Buffalo this weekend to kill people buying food. I hear the despair of the victims of crime, and those who feel imprisoned in their own lives. I am not suggesting, God forbid, that wearing orange, running a gun buyback, planting a seed makes everything ok. But as long as we have breath, we have to do something.

A gun buyback is one small thing, and from 11am – 1pm on Saturday, June 11th we will do it. Anyone can bring their guns, unloaded please and in the trunk of the car, and exchange them anonymously for a gift card. Perhaps that gun is not well secured at home, and you are just beginning to see its danger to your growing family. Perhaps the time has come to have the conversation with an older relative about the car keys, and the gun, and whether they are still safe things to have to hand. Perhaps someone left you a gun or gave you a gun that you didn’t want and don’t know what to do with. Perhaps the gun presents a danger to you. If we can help make one family, one person, one life easier, we will take that gun off your hands and hand you a gift card. As long as we have breath we have to do something.

What happens to the guns that we collect? They are done posing a threat to anyone. They will be destroyed, legally and safely, but that’s not the end of it, because in the Christian tradition we like to talk about being raised to a new life. The guns that come in on June 11th will be repurposed, as far as we can do it, into garden tools, using a simple blacksmithing forge. Think about that: the thing that was causing sleepless nights can now be used to plant lavender and chamomile to soothe the spirit. Instead of finding its way into a supermarket and wreaking havoc, it can be used to grow food for the community. At 2:30 on the same day, June 11th, we will begin that process of transformation.

So much more needs to be done. We look to our elected representatives to help us form a community that reflects good will and the values of a compassionate collection of individuals. We are in this together, and I thank the Mayor and the Council for your support of these initiatives and for this Resolution, and I look forward to continuing the work with you.

Because as long as we have breath, we are changing the world, one simple exchange at a time.


Resolution of Recognition (retyped: any errors are mine)

A resolution recognizing June 3rd, 2022 as National Gun Violence Awareness Day, recognizing June as National Gun Violence Awareness Month and encouraging individuals to wear orange the first weekend in June to help raise awareness about gun violence and to honor the lives of gun violence victims and survivors.

WHEREAS, in 2016, Congresspersons joined together to introduce a resolution establishing the first Friday in June as National Gun Violence Awareness Day and designating June as National Gun Violence Awareness Month thereby bringing attention to the issue of gun violence and honoring the thousands of Americans who are victims of gun violence every year, including Hadiya Pendleton who was shot and killed in Chicago, Illinois on January 29, 2013; and

WHEREAS, this year, people across the United States will recognize National Gun Violence Awareness Day on June 3,2022 and wear orange in tribute to Hadiya and other victims of gun violence. Wear Orange Weekend (June 3-5, 2022) was inspired by a group of Hadiya’s friends who asked their classmates to commemorate her life by wearing orange. They chose this color because hunters wear orange to be visible to other hunters when out in the woods and orange is a color that symbolizes the value of human life; and

WHEREAS, according to the Ohio Coalition Against Gun Violence, the CDC, Ohio Department of Health, in 2021 there were 853 homicides in Ohio and 1,798 injuries due to gun violence. Guns are used more often in suicide than in homicides and are the most common method of suicide in Ohio and U.S. In Ohio, five people die from suicide every day – and one youth dies from suicide every 33 hours; and

WHEREAS, the Mayor and Euclid City Council are grateful for community efforts such as The Nonviolence Ministry of Our Lady of the Lake and the Guns to Gardens: National Buyback Day at the Church of the Epiphany on June 11, 2022; and

WHEREAS, Euclid City Council, the Mayor and her Administration renew their commitment to reduce gun violence and pledge to do all they can to keep firearms out of the wrong hands, encourage responsible gun ownership to help keep our residents and children safe.

NOW THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED:

Section 1: June 3rd, 2022 is recognized as National Gun Violence Awareness Day, we recognize June as National Gun Violence Awareness Month and encourage individuals to wear orange the first weekend in June to help raise awareness about gun violence and to honor the lives of gun violence and survivors.
Section 2: That this Resolution take immediate effect.

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Tabitha’s companions struggle “to assert her dignity and worth as a human being”

A sermon for the Fourth Sunday of Easter (Good Shepherd Sunday), 2022. The readings include the story of Tabitha/Dorcas and the comforting words from Revelation 7:17. In the news this week was the leak of a Supreme Court draft decision that would end the legal precedent of Roe vs Wade.


I hope that Peter saw more in Tabitha, also known as Dorcas, than what she had made. I know that the display that her companions made of her sewing and stuff was done out of deep love and admiration for their friend and all that she had been to them; but I also know that there is a tendency to judge a person by what they produce, and for all of her works of charity, the women knew that Peter would be impressed if they could show him Tabitha’s material value to the community.

And, I hope that Peter saw through it.

We hear the refrain time and again, appealing to the unique status, vulnerability, and gifts of women: she was somebody’s mother, sister, wife, daughter. But what if she were an only child, or an orphan, one way or another? What if she were widowed, or never chose to marry; what if she missed motherhood, and was grieved by it, or what if she never missed it at all? 

What if she had made different decisions, suffered different accidents, chosen different paths than we would have, given her body? Well, that we will never know, since we are not privy to the process which formed clay, dust, and ashes into human form and gave it life, the gift of our common Creator, whose imagination and compassion never run dry.

What if she had no one, or no one left, to grieve her, to display the items she didn’t produce: wouldn’t God still love her, she who was made in his image? Shouldn’t we?

The women, the widows interpreted Dorcas to Peter in the way that they thought he would best understand, but I hope that after all his time with Jesus, Peter knew better. I know that her companions knew her better than that.

The women had come together to wash her body and commiserate, because there are always those spaces in time and culture where those who bear the title or burdens of womanhood need to come together for mutual support, encouragement, commiseration, wisdom, laughter, and tears.

This may be one of those spaces in our time and culture, for those of us who bear the title or carry the (often blessed, sometimes heavy) burdens of womanhood.

You’ve all seen the news, you know where I am going with this. What you may or may not know is that the Episcopal Church, our Episcopal Church, has considered the ethics of abortion and the relationship especially of women to reproductive healthcare many times across the past fifty years and more, and rightly so. This is not a theoretical subject divorced from the lived reality of our pews. Nearly one in four women in America experiences abortion, one way or another, for one reason or another, by the time she is forty-five years old.

Now, to some of you, that is a shocking statistic. To at least one in four of us, it is not a surprise. I am one. The surgery that I underwent during the failure of my first pregnancy was no different just because I had deeply wanted and still grieve that foetus than the procedure undergone by the very, very young woman in the next bed, nor do I know what was in her heart at that moment. I know that we suffered and recovered side by side, and each went home alive and intact, grateful for that, if bereft. I know that God, by the way, who gives life and who welcomes us into eternal life, has charge of both of the beings lost that day, and cares for them.

At successive General Conventions, the Episcopal Church has affirmed that human life “is sacred from its inception until death. … Human life, therefore, should be initiated only advisedly and in full accord with this understanding of the power to conceive and give birth which is bestowed by God.” As such, the Church grieves with those who want but struggle to become pregnant or give birth and opposes what it calls “abortion for convenience.” But that is a phrase wide open to interpretation, and the Church recognizes that there are many issues that impinge upon a person’s ability or advisement to fulfil a pregnancy. Where there is doubt, the Church would like people to know that they can safely come here to pray. The Episcopal Church, since before I was born, and before Roe vs Wade became law, has maintained without wavering its “unequivocal opposition to any legislation … which would abridge or deny the right of individuals to reach informed decisions [about the termination of pregnancy] and to act upon them.” 

As I have described, my personal experience of abortion care, as painful as it was, was that of necessary, compassionate, and healing medicine. At our most recent General Convention, the Episcopal Church called for “women’s reproductive health and reproductive health procedures to be treated as all other medical procedures,” and declared “that equitable access to women’s health care, including women’s reproductive health care, is an integral part of a woman’s struggle to assert her dignity and worth as a human being,” all of which, I might add, we understand to apply equally to trans and nonbinary people who may become pregnant. 

Which brings me back to Tabitha. The woman’s struggle (the person’s struggle) to assert her dignity and worth as a human being should not be dependent upon anything other than the integral value that she has as a child of God herself, made in the image of her Creator. I hope that Peter understood that, when Tabitha’s friends were struggling to assert her worth and value to their community through what she had produced, what she had made. I hope that it was the pure and self-giving love of God that caused him to raise her up.

But most of all, in this week, and on this Good Shepherd Sunday, I want to remind each of us, and especially those of us who need to hear it most this day, that Jesus loves more than ninety-nine out of every hundred sheep; that God loves more than three out of every four women; that God loves you, without qualification or exception. That whenever we are in need, sorrow, or any other kind of adversity, there are those who will gather with us, to weep and to pray, to heal, and to bring resurrection to hand. That God will wipe away every tear from our eyes.

“Do you love me?” Jesus asked Peter in last week’s Gospel. “Then tend my sheep.” No exceptions.

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Recognition

Resurrection plus ten:
is the shock wearing off or setting in?
That time when the child was lost
three days,
three hours,
three minutes
that were once a lifetime
then found; the heart
does not readily recover;
it skips each time
the beloved is seen
or imagined from the corner
of a vision
or a prayer ascending
and descending like breath –
Jesus
is it you?


This poem first appeared at the Episcopal Cafe

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No exceptions

A sermon for the Second Sunday of Easter, 2022


Have you ever noticed how much fear there is in a book that says a prodigal number of times, “Do not be afraid”?

People – we might easily call them factions, for they are the same people, with the same language, religion, nation – are pitted against one another. From our vantage point in history, we see the tragedy about to unfold if fear is allowed to divide and conquer.

Yet all this is happening in the shadow of a greater victory: Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth … who loves us and freed us from our sins by his blood, and made us to be a kingdom, priests serving his God and Father, his is the glory and dominion forever and ever. (Revelation 1:5-6) For he has defeated death and the fear of death, and he has brought his people to new life.

Then why are we still afraid, and fractured and in factions? Where is our resurrection life?

When Jesus came to the disciples at the beginning of the week, at sunset on that first Easter day, and they were afraid, he offered them peace, and he offered them power, breathing on them the Holy Spirit that first animated the earthling at the beginning of Genesis.

It was that Holy Spirit, that giver of life, that enabled them to unlock their doors and their hearts and their tongues to rejoice in the risen life of the saviour, the new, expanded, unlimited life of Christ.

And Thomas was not with them. For a week, Jesus left him to his devices and doubts. Thomas was afraid to enter into joy, unwilling to let the risen Christ go unseen. Jesus gave him time to grieve, to be angry, to be human. Then Jesus came back to Thomas, and showed him his wounds, and invited him to touch them – “I know your pain,” Jesus was telling Thomas. “I do not diminish it. But I can bear it.”

Jesus did not make Thomas choose between grief and belief, doubt and delight, joy and remembering. Jesus gave Thomas the love that he needed to bring them all to his knees, “My Lord and my God!”

There is a move afoot in Ohio to follow Florida and some other states down a fractured path of fear, pretending that if we do not talk about so-called “divisive concepts”, then we will somehow become more united, as though denying our differences, historical and ever-presenting, does not divide us as deeply as anything can; as though suppressing the spectrum of human experience does it justice.

From our vantage point of expansive life, we see the tragedy about to unfold if fear and factions are allowed to divide and conquer us.

Driving children, their families, their teachers, back into silence, cloaking them with closet doors does nothing but harm, nothing but harm. Insisting that the gay or bi or transgender child hears nothing in literature or in passing conversation that might affirm that they are not alone in their experience does nothing but harm. It does not avoid division, but it cuts that child away from the body of their peers. It tears at their soul.

Likewise, excising our divisive and difficult history does nothing to heal it.

Is that why Jesus would not rush Thomas to his reckoning, but allowed him his unique experience amongst the eleven of bewilderment, his doubts, his grief, so that he could bring them all to his knees as Jesus returned to him? Is that why Jesus came to Thomas holding open his wounds, saying, “I know your pain, and I can bear it”? Is that why Jesus did not make Thomas choose between grief and joy?

Well, I’ll admit it’s a stretch to say that Jesus had an obscure Ohio state bill on his mind several centuries before Ohio was invented, but that does not mean that his interaction with Thomas cannot be instructive to us. The only response available in the end was for Thomas to fall at his feet and worship, “My Lord and my God,” to adore Jesus because Jesus loved Thomas enough to come back for him, for him and his unique, undeniable experience.

What are we afraid of? Confronting our own sinful past? I know my own hypocrisy well enough. Yet we have a roadmap to repentance and reconciliation!

What are we afraid of? Expanding our understanding of what it is to be human? Jesus has already stretched it beyond our imagining, being both human and divine, mortal and resurrected, all at once.

The response of the apostles was, despite the factions and fractures among their own people, to tell what they knew, what they had seen, what they had experienced: the love of Christ who came back for Thomas. The life of Christ who had risen from the dead. The peace and power of the Holy Spirit that Jesus breathed upon them, for the forgiveness of the sins we will continue to commit out of fear, out of misguided, misleading divisions.

We do not need to be perfect in our faith. God knows, we do not need to be perfect in our understanding. We do not even need to be unafraid. We do not need to present ourselves unscarred by the world. We can stand with Thomas, and fall to our knees with Thomas, knowing that Jesus has it all covered, and can bear our doubt and confusion as well as our love.

He breathes peace and power over his disciples: his peace, which is life, and his power, which is love. He has harrowed hell, and brought those who languished there back to life. And now, as he says to his disciples, “As my Father sent me, so I send you.”

And here is our resurrection life: to do the will of him who sent us, and to love as he has loved us, without exception, without exclusion, as far as it depends upon us.

Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth … who loves us and freed us from our sins by his blood, and made us to be a kingdom, priests serving his God and Father [and our neighbours], his is the glory and dominion forever and ever.

Amen.

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An Easter message: we are changed

What joy it is to return to Easter services together, to be able to gather with loved ones and beloved strangers alike to rejoice that: Alleluia! Christ is Risen!

We have missed this, these past two years, huddled around our computer screens in our pyjamas. But on the third Easter Day, we are arisen, and we are here. Thanks be to God!

I do not want to take anything away from that joy: not the alleluias, nor the anthems, nor even the Easter egg hunt. The first Eucharist of Easter, rechristening the altar after its Good Friday burden as a tomb, is always a particularly poignant one for me.

And still, we know that when Jesus rose from the dead, all was not as it had been. There are strange stories of people who loved him closely yet did not recognize him. He had to eat fish in front of them to prove that he was not a ghost.

His body had changed, too. It bore the scars – not even the scars, but the wounds of crucifixion.

We come together as the body of Christ, restored and regathered on the third Easter Day, and we have not escaped the changes of time or the passage of life in between. We come together as the body of Christ, restored and regathered on the third Easter Day since we were scattered by a serious pandemic that has claimed the lives of more than 6 million people since it began. And there are ways in which we are not the same.

“No more,” says the prophet, “shall there be … an infant that lives but a few days, … for one who dies at a hundred years will be considered a youth.” Yet our common life expectancy in this country dropped two full years during the first year of the pandemic. We have seen and wept over the infants and children and their mothers and their grandfathers killed in Ukraine. We have buried our own loved ones, quietly or aloud.

“They shall not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain, says the Lord,” says the prophet. Yet our world has seen, continues to see catastrophe, war, and chaos. Our nation continues to reckon with deadly racism, a crisis of democracy and freedom. In the years since we last met on Easter Sunday, gun violence has become the leading cause of death for children and teenagers in this nation. Just last week, an attack on a subway system shocked a city into remembrance of how dangerous the world still can be. Even though nobody died in that incident, lives were altered in those moments, for the wounded and for those who will continue to care for them.

Few of us look the same as we did before we entered the tomb. Yet here, here on the third Easter Day, we are back because we trust that there is resurrection.

Relighting the Paschal candle, fire newly kindled, reminds us that even in life, we know death, but that even in death, there is new life. Jesus, too, was changed by his experience of humanity, of mortality. His descent to the dead means that we, too, have the hope of eternal life.

The prophet promises a way of life that is abundant, peaceful, safe from harm. Paul, writing his epistle centuries later recognizes that we still struggle in an imperfect world, in a world that too often prefers the way of the crucifier to the way of the cross, and Paul reaches instead for hope of the life to come, the promises of heaven.

But Jesus returned to his friends, to his loved ones, to those in need of hope on this earth, in this life, in that place still so badly in need of peace, before he ascended into heaven.

When the angels asked the women, “Why do you look for the living among the dead,” they did not mean that he had left them alone among the tombstones of the world, but that he was even now living and breathing among them, ready to renew their spirits and refresh their joy. He had not, despite everything, given up hope for us.

Yesterday, I took to my flower beds to examine the damage wrought by winter and my own inexpert gardening. I was all ready to pull out the hydrangeas I planted last year, convinced that I had killed them, like so many plants before them. But beneath their Elizabethan ruff of last year’s leaves, I discovered new eruptions of green. They had, it seems, forgiven me, and although they are not in the same shape as when I planted them last spring, they are ready for a new lease on life.

They have forgiven me. They are not in the same shape as before. They are ready to burst out in new life. It was a fine lesson for Holy Saturday.

The new life of Easter, eternal and irrepressible, always unexpected, even though we were told that it was coming, reeking of mercy and forgiveness, not unscarred by experience, but bearing the promise of glory: that is what Jesus brought back with him from the grave, from the tomb, from three days’ separation from our sight.

Except that we never did lose sight of him, did we? Because he had promised us long ago that he will be with us to the end of the age, and we know that nothing as feeble as death nor as evil as sin can keep him from keeping his promises. He is risen!

And so here we are, the body of Christ gathered with our scars and our new wrinkles and our old foibles, ready to roll away some stones and let in new light, wondering what shape this new life that God has ready for us will take; arisen, alive, awake, and ready anyway to greet the Risen One with alleluias.

Alleluia! Christ is risen.

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Good Friday

He was wounded for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities;
Yet through him, the will of the Lord shall prosper,
because he poured out himself to death,
and was numbered with the transgressors;
yet he bore the sin of many,
and makes intercession for us all
(based on Isaiah 52-53)

In our Book of Common Prayer, the liturgy for Good Friday centres around the Passion Gospel that we have just recited and the Solemn Collects. Everything else we do this evening – the veneration of the Cross, the reception of Communion from last evening’s commemoration of the Last Supper – these are options that we embrace because they feed us, because we feel that they draw us closer to Jesus in his hour of self-giving love. But telling the story of Jesus’ death, for us and for the whole world, and the succession of bidding prayers and collects which we are about to pray, are mandatory to our Good Friday observance.

Because of that, they have rightly come under scrutiny and are under review right now from those who have noticed that the recitation of John’s description of the Passion, and the prayers for those who, as the BCP puts it, “have not received the Gospel of Christ” have led some – too many – into the sin of antisemitism, of a cruel kind of Christianity that seeks to elevate its own judgement above the mercy and justice of God, which is all-embracing.

When I was about thirteen, I went to a friend’s house where her parents were just wrapping up a prayer meeting for spiritual and financial support to send missionaries across the world to preach the gospel to those who had never heard it. My friend’s mother had genuine grief and loving tears in her eyes as she asked me, “What about those poor people who have never heard of Jesus?”

It is a good thing, a right and joyful thing, to share the faith that we have found in Jesus, to share the love of God that we see revealed in his journey through the womb, to the cross and the tomb, and the hope that we uncover in his resurrection, and especially to deliver hope to where it is most needed. The problem with my friend’s mother’s home church’s approach was that she honestly believed that if “these poor people” did not hear about Jesus (preferably from their approved missionaries), those poor people would end up in hell.

This kind of fearful dogma has historically created hell on earth for those whose lives have been invaded and colonized, or destroyed, by missionaries across centuries of the church, old and new. There is a cruelty that masquerades under the costume of the gospel; as when proselytizing missionaries “conquer cultures for Christ.” We see its unkind underbelly uncovered as graves are unearthed in residential schools for indigenous children, for example.

And we see it acutely in the horrors of antisemitism, which persist and are even regrouping today.

But the love of God, which created the world and has sustained it since its inception, has been mediated to us by the prophets, promised to God’s people through Moses, through Abraham. Jesus was born into those covenants, celebrated as a son of David, and he did not break them, but he broke into the hearts and minds and imaginations of the Gentiles so that we might know God’s love, too. There is plenty to be heartbroken over in our prayers and in our lives, but God’s redeeming love should never be the source of sorrow.

Jesus died, was born, lived, and died, and rose again so that we might know the height and length and breadth and depth and endurance of God’s love for God’s own people, made in God’s image, all whom God has made.

The cross does not narrow down God’s love for the world. It raises up God’s love so that all might see the compassion, the deep and abiding compassion, of God for God’s people, that God would even suffer with us in order to redeem us from our suffering and sin.

The cross is not a dividing line, although the Romans intended for it to divide a person from his personhood, the living from the dead, the human from humanity, and they succeeded for too long in pitting us against one another, we who should be cousins. If there is judgement here (and there is), it is the condemnation of the kind of unimaginative, power-hungry, violent, and narrow-minded pride that still hails Caesar and fails to honour the subversive, universal, enduring, and all-encompassing salvation that is God’s love, that is God’s mercy.

The cross, precisely because Jesus died upon it, is no longer a dividing line, but a beacon of God’s mercy, like the pillars of cloud and fire. There is enough strife and persecution in the world of all kinds to flood rivers with God’s tears. But if the cross is still frightening people anywhere, then we are still wielding it as Romans, rather than as Christians. If we sorrow at the foot of the cross, let our sorrow be for ourselves, for our continuing sinfulness, our persistent selfishness, our failure to commend the generosity of God’s love that has embraced us.

If we pray, as we will in a moment, for those who have yet to hear the words of salvation, or to embrace the gospel of Christ, let it be only because we yearn to share the joy – the complicated, painful, penitent joy – that we have found; but let us be terribly, awfully careful not to steal or stifle the joy that God has already planted in the hearts of others.

There are many things to be heartbroken over in our prayers and in our lives, and at the foot of the cross. But God’s redeeming love – that should break our hearts wide open, with hope and love enough for the whole of God’s beloved world.

Amen

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Peter said no

A Maundy Thursday reflection


Peter said no. At least at first.

Peter – oh, poor Simon Peter – was always trying to work it out, get it straight in his head. No, you cannot go to Jerusalem to die, what are you thinking? No, I cannot walk on water, now that I come to think of it several paces from the boat. No, you cannot wash my feet. No, I did not know him.

Poor Simon Peter. He was among the first to follow, and he resisted all the way, but his resistance was futile. 

It was Simon Peter who drew his sword in the Garden and severed the ear of Malchus, a slave, so that even in his lowest hour, stretched to breaking, Jesus had still to reach forth his hand once more in healing.

How hard it is to let Jesus serve us, save us, and know that there is no repayment necessary nor sufficient, that Jesus does not need us to defend him or protect him.

How often have I heard you or myself say something like, “I don’t like to owe anyone anything. I prefer to be independent”? Yet even Jesus allowed Mary to anoint his feet, and to wipe them with her hair. How will we ever learn truly to seek and serve Christ in all persons, unless we allow that he has shown us the way, unless we embrace his humility?

Peter tried to stop Jesus from washing his feet. Peter, who was always saying no, except when he said yes.

Once, Jesus tried to give him an out, when many others were leaving. “Jesus asked the twelve, ‘Do you also wish to go away?’ Simon Peter answered him, ‘Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life.’” (John 6:67-68)

Jesus offers us the words of eternal life. We live in a time of reawakened war and continuing chaos. We gather gladly, but we grieve the millions of lives lost while we were sheltering in place these past two years. We struggle with the spring: even our environment is askew. 

In the midst of it all, in a world of “no”, even though he was facing his own human limits, Jesus reaches for us and offers us the word of eternal life, God’s “yes” to our confusion. “You do not know now what it means,” Jesus says to poor, faithfully bewildered Simon Peter, “but later you will understand.” 

We do not summon him with our prayers; he is here before us, where he has been from the beginning. He washes us with his love, feeds us with his body. His life and death betray God’s mercy. All we can do is follow.

Amen

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Peter denies the Christ

Image: L'oreille de Malchus (The ear of Malchus), by James Tissot, James Tissot, Public domain, via Wikimedia Common

Peter denies the Christ
(John 18:1-27)

Malchus

It was dark. Smoke
from torches refused to rise,
hung about the olives and our eyes,
flames close to dying as though light
itself were loath to bear witness

Servant girl

It was cold;
the kind of spring
morning that reminds
aching fingers of the underworld
from which new, green shoots
are trying to break ground

Malchus

Clang of metal against mail
out of rhythm as we stumbled
through the Garden,
an assault to the ears

Servant girl

His accent was a crime – 
the rooster crowed with laughter – 
I did not expect his tears
hissing as they hit the fire

Malchus

I did not see the blade
nor hear the pain,
felt only warmth flood
and throb, blood
to feed the olive trees,
to feed the olive trees

Servant girl

He left his sword
uncleaned, found
uncovered by dawn

Image: L’oreille de Malchus (The ear of Malchus), by James Tissot, James Tissot, Public domain, via Wikimedia Common

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Sleep, prayer, grief, and Jesus

A sermon for Palm Sunday: the Sunday of the Passion, 2022


While his disciples slept, worn out by grief, Jesus took their anguish upon himself, and prayed.

Cyril of Alexandria asks the question why, when Jesus knew what his death would accomplish, when he knew that resurrection would follow, when he knew the depth and height and breadth of God’s love that he embodied, would he be in anguish over what was to come. Ambrose of Milan answers that it is because his humanity demanded it: demanded that he take on not only mortality in the form of death but in the form of grief, and the fear of death, in order to redeem those also.

But there is more than that. 

We see it in Ukraine, in Bucha. We have seen it before. We have seen it across cultures and countries and conflicts. We are not innocent of it. We have seen it in the gospels, when the soldiers torment him, treat him with contempt, spit on him, blindfold him, beat him, terrorize him. The capacity for humanity to brutality, to inhumanity, to desecrate the image of God among us: was not this the cause of Jesus’ anguish?

He told his disciples, “Pray that you may be spared temptation,” because he knew the capacity even among his closest friends for self-deception, the corruption of the devil, the temptation to retribution, violence instead of protection, vengeance instead of reparation. When they drew the sword against his captors, he was ready still with healing. His anguish was the absorption of so much sin, such evil, such un-love as the world is capable of.

And while his disciples slept, worn out by it all, he prayed for us all.

He prayed because he saw how ingrained it is, how deep the roots of evil delve within us. He saw the antisemitism that would follow his death; he grieved for his people, and for their persecutors. He saw the racism, the parsing out of the image of God amongst peoples, and the blasphemy against the spirit of God, the giver of life, that would seek to split and scale the image of God as though some of us had created God in our own image, instead of the other way around. He saw the gender discrimination, the lack of imagination to reflect the expansiveness of God’s creativity among us. He saw the despair that it would engender, and he was deeply grieved by it, for those who suffer from the closed minds of others, and for those whose minds are blindfolded against the love of God.

He saw our pettiness, the self-doubt which we project onto others in order to punish them for our grief. And he prayed that it might be taken away. He saw the abuse that some of us have suffered, and he prayed that our wounds might be healed.

He saw our humanity, and the depths to which it had fallen, and in solidarity with us and our sinfulness, he prayed.

Jesus knew that he would conquer death and sin – he had told them over and again that he would rise – but he was grieved and frightened and anguished at the capacity of his human captors for violence. There is no contradiction here: it was from ourselves that he came to save us. That is why he advises his disciples, “Pray that you may not be tested.” 

I think that the question for us, rather than why Jesus would be anguished, is why, when he has done all of this for us, and with us, the harrowing of hell and the embodiment of suffering, why we are still like this, why this desecration of humanity is still happening.

Jesus came to save us from ourselves, and from sin and evil, and while that work was completed once upon the cross, it is still working, and working itself out, through us and among us. Every day we have a new chance to pray, “Lead us not into temptation. Deliver us from evil.” Because Jesus emptied himself, and took on the form of a slave, and dwelt among us and died among us; because he took our humanity upon himself, with all of its sin and suffering, grief and glimpses of glory; because of that we can live in solidarity with him, confident in the love of God even when we have little confidence in ourselves to live into the humanity that Jesus embodied, the love that he embodied. Because he became human, we can become and remain human, in the midst of the world’s inhumanity.

There is so much grief in this gospel. There is so much grief in our world. His disciples were worn out under it, and do we not feel for them. And Jesus prayed for them as they slept. He took their burdens upon himself, he took them to the cross, and he buried them there.

He freed us from death and sin and evil and violence to live instead a new life, if we will trust him, if we will follow him,  if we make his prayer our own, if we will let him pray for us, and say only, “Amen.”

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The Friday Fast: Do not rush to Easter

Do not rush to Easter

You may stumble over someone slowly
carrying their cross, might miss the quiet words
of sacrifice: my body for you, my blood.
Do not sleepwalk past the garden, where olive groves
groan and dream of peace. Do not rush, for you
may miss Pilate’s grand oration, “Ode to Truth,” or
hasten by the soldiers playing dice for spoils;
pray for their souls and the bodies left
bereft by their attentions. Take pause:
the tears of women carrying spices
have turned the ground to fragrant mud.
Do not hurry to the tomb. There is no need
for haste, when time itself will stutter
soon, and the world begin to turn anew.


This poem first appeared in the newsletter for the Church of the Epiphany, and at the Episcopal Cafe.

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