Saturday, September 6, 2008

Eastertide @ St. Andrew's

Monday, April 16, 2007

This past Saturday, the Saturday of Easter Week, and then the Sunday morning of Second Easter were the occasions of something like a “baptismal festival” at our St. Andrew’s.

On Saturday morning young Miles Stewart Snodgrass—son of Maddie Tieman and Stew Snodgrass, grandson of Lonnie Tieman, and of course most importantly baby brother to Big Sister Lila (who would take primary responsibility for the pouring of water into the basin)—was presented for baptism in a warm gathering of family and friends. A few hours later, Adia Amata Boccella, daughter of J.G. and Demeatria, was brought to the font, in a service enriched by many family presentations, a reading from Holy Scripture by Adia’s Grandma Gibson, and begun and concluded in a breathtaking way with a contribution by family friend, well-known jazz trumpeter Sean Jones.

At the moment of chrismation in the baptismal service I always like to recall and paraphrase the words of the Prophet Samuel when he anointed young David and revealed his destiny as the one chosen by God to lead Israel: “God has great things in mind for you.” So, for Miles and Adia—and what a great pleasure and what an adventure it is and will be for all of us in the St. Andrew’s family to see these stories unfold in the years to come!

At both services on Saturday we paused to read the passage from the Tenth Chapter of St. Mark, and then to study with appreciation as a “visual aid” the magnificent expression of that gospel moment in the stunning Louis Comfort Tiffany window over our High Altar.

They brought children for him to touch. The disciples rebuked them, but when Jesus saw this he was indignant, and said to them, ‘Let the children come to me; do not try to stop them; for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. I tell you, whoever does not accept the kingdom of God like a child will never enter it.’ And he put his arms round them, laid his hands upon them, and blessed them.

And it just keeps on happening, again and again and again: a shower of grace and blessings, and his tender love.

The forecast had been ice, sleet, and snow, but the wintry weather remained to the north and east of Pittsburgh, and the Second Sunday of Easter, our “Not So Low Sunday” this year, dawned with a cool but mostly spring-like attitude—and even with an occasional glimpse of sun between the raindrops . . . .

For four or five years now “Low Sunday” has been the regular date for our Annual Visitation, and this year we welcomed our bishop and enjoyed some affectionate “family time” with him. At the 9 a.m. service Bishop Duncan and I shared in a very nice ceremony to acknowledge and celebrate with Alexandria Marie Kleinschnitz, as she and her mom and dad had completed our family-based Sacraments Preparation program, and as she would for the first time receive Holy Communion. Alex’s dad Scott had been in Iraq last year, when the other young people in her age group had been prepared for their First Communion, and it was especially meaningful to all of us, I know, to have the whole Kleinschnitz family—mom, dad, sister Anna, Grandma Mary Joy Collins, aunts, uncles, and cousins—there to celebrate this day, and to receive the bishop’s special blessing at the altar rail.

Baptismal celebration continued at the 11 o’clock, as Valerie Sweeney—wife of Dan, mom of Simon, Jude, and James--was presented by her friend (and St. Andrew’s Church School Director) Liz Buchanan, and then, it seemed to me, about 20 of our St. Andrew’s youngsters gathered at the font to assist with the ceremony: to pour the water into the basin and to stand near for the prayers and blessing and for the simple splash of water that makes such a difference in all our lives. Bishop Duncan anointed Valerie with the chrism, the oil for baptism blessed this past Holy Week at the cathedral, and he reminded her, and all of us, that this symbol includes within it both a memory of the way kings and queens were anointed in ancient days and the invitation to a life of “royal priesthood” that we know in Christ.

A few moments later Valerie’s baptism was completed with the Sacrament of Confirmation, and then our own Jill West--wife of former Senior Warden Jim and mother of Anne, James, Kimberly, and Matt—was Received by Bishop Duncan into the Communion of the Episcopal Church. This, after many years of course of full participation and leadership and ministry, a wonderful sign as well of Jill’s deep affection for and commitment to our life here at St. Andrew’s and a meaningful and deep reaffirmation of her Christian faith. Many friends and family joined Val and Jill then in the concluding moments of the ceremony, as they received a blessing from the bishop and then exchanged the Peace with one another and in the congregation.

So: wow! What a weekend! Trumpets and singing, many hugs and tears, much joy—here in our little corner of the Highland Park neighborhood, and I know up in heaven as well, where there must have been great waves of angel choruses . . . .

I didn’t preach on Sunday (though of course all the baptismal services were, um, ornamented with my rambling pastoral commentary), leaving that to Bishop Duncan, who certainly gifted us with a very thoughtful and moving reflection on the character of costly discipleship in our Christian life. But if I had preached, I think I would have let the whole weekend flow together into the word from the reading appointed in the Sunday propers from The Revelation to St. John, in the first chapter, as the great Seer opens his telling of the vision with a greeting to the family in Christ around the world:

Grace be to you and peace, from him who is and who was and who is to come, from the seven spirits before his throne, and from Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the first-born from the dead and ruler of the kings of the earth. To him to loves us and freed us from our sins with his life’s blood, who made of us a royal house, to serve as the priest of his God and Father—to him be glory and dominion for ever and ever! Amen.

Simply with such abundant thanks on this Monday, for the privilege that we have had this weekend. For these wonderful babies—Miles and Adia—and their loving and faithful families, for such a remarkable and delightful girl, Alex, and her life with us, and for the care and support and strength of her family, and for these exceptional young women, Valerie and Jill, for their rich ministry, good humor, compassion, friendship. What a gift, for all of us.

Bruce Robison

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