Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Ash Wednesday, 2009

St. Benedict of Nursia (c. 480 - c. 547)

From The Rule of St. Benedict, Chapter 49:

The Observance of Lent

The life of a monk ought to be a continuous Lent.

Since few, however, have the strength for this, we urge the entire community during these days of Lent to keep its manner of life most pure and to wash away in this holy season the negligences of other times.

This we can do in a fitting manner by refusing to indulge evil habits and by devoting ourselves to prayer with tears, to reading, to compunction of heart and self-denial.

During these days, therefore, we will add to the usual measure of our service something by way of private prayer and abstinence from food or drink, so that each of us will have something above the assigned measure to offer God of his own will with the joy of the Holy Spirit (1 Thess. 1:6).

In other words, let each one deny himself some food, drink, sleep, needless talking and idle jesting, and look forward to holy Easter with joy and spiritual longing.

Everyone should, however, make known to the abbot what he intends to do, since it ought to be done with his prayer and approval.

Whatever is undertaken without the permission of the spiritual father will be reckoned as presumption and vainglory, not deserving a reward. Therefore, everything must be done with the abbot’s approval.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Shrove Tuesday, 2009

Pancake Dinner and Mardi Gras Party at St. Andrew's, Shrove Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Shrove Tuesday
is a term for the day preceding the first day of the Christian season of fasting and prayer called Lent.

The word shrove is the past tense of the English verb shrive, which means to obtain absolution by way of Confession and doing penance.

Thus Shrove Tuesday gets its name from the shriving that English Christians were expected to do prior to receiving absolution immediately before Lent begins.

Shrove Tuesday is the last day of "shrovetide", the English equivalent to the Carnival tradition that developed separately in countries of Latin Europe. The term "Shrove Tuesday" is no longer widely known in the United States outside of Liturgical Traditions, such as the Lutheran, Episcopal, and Roman Catholic Churches. Because of the increase in many immigrant populations and traditions since the 19th century "Mardi Gras" is much more widely-used.

The festival is widely associated with the eating of foods such as pancakes, and often known simply as Pancake Day, originally because these used up ingredients such as fat and eggs, the consumption of which was traditionally restricted during Lent.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Last after the Epiphany, Quinquagesima

February 22, 2009
Last Sunday after Epiphany (RCL B),
Quinquagesima, Mark 9: 2-10

In the old Prayer Book lectionary the gospel appointed for this “Sunday next before Lent,” Quinquagesima, is Luke 18: outside of Jericho, on the road to Jerusalem. The passage begins at the 31st verse, with Jesus musing in a dark and heavy way about his destiny, as it is tumbling down toward him: “all things that are written by the prophets concerning the Son of man shall be accomplished. For he shall be delivered unto the Gentiles, and shall be mocked, and spitefully entreated, and spitted on: and they shall scourge him, and put him to death: and the third day he shall rise again.” And we’re told then of the disciples, “they understood none of these things.”

Standing at the threshold, the door before us to Lent just beginning to open, and even before we step across we are brought right to the end, Holy Week and the Cross and the Empty Tomb. That we are not to forget even for a minute, not even for a minute, where we’re going. The disciples were clueless, but we don’t have their excuse. We’ve been down this road before.

The lectionaries of the 1979 BCP, though, and the Revised Common Lectionary, which we are using now, take us back a few steps and bring us with Peter and James and John to that transcendent moment at the top of the Mount of Transfiguration: Jesus suddenly wrapped in light, in the words of the old collect, “in raiment white and glistering” and with Moses and Elijah suddenly beside him, the towering figures of the Hebrew Scriptures, the Giver of the Torah, and the greatest of the Prophets. We’re meant to think, I believe, that these two are here to give Jesus a special gift of strength and comfort and blessing, for the coming struggle. For us it is a vision of what lies ahead—though not as direct. A mystic vision.

As then the testimony of St. Peter, who writes later, in the first chapter of Second Peter: “we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. For when he received honor and glory from God the Father and the voice was borne to him by the Majestic Glory, ‘This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased,’ we heard this voice borne from heaven, for we were with him on the holy mountain.”

As we are all called, invited today, this morning, as we come forward to the Holy Table, as we take our first steps this coming Ash Wednesday, in this Lent now before us: to become “eyewitnesses of his majesty.” That it would be immediate for us, real, substantial, present for us, and a part of our memory and our imagination, the one bright light for us in all the shadows of the world. To be able to say ourselves, “we were eyewitnesses, we heard this voice, for we were with him on the holy mountain.”

How we get there has nothing to do with making airline reservations, though I would love someday to visit Mt. Tabor and hike to the top and see the Church of the Transfiguration and the ancient monasteries there.

Mount Tabor
and the

But this journey is an inner journey for us now, one that we would enter into with seriousness and with openness. However we give ourselves to this Lent. Reading, prayer, fasting, special acts of charity and hospitality. Going out with intentionality to seek the forgiveness of those we have wronged. Gathering strength to break bad habits and live in a new way.

And that we would pray that we would at the altar this morning and in this inner journey of Lent be allowed the privilege to walk this way with Jesus and his friends. This year. This morning. To see him on the mountaintop, and along the road, and at the Cross, and at the Tomb. To be there, in the deepest reality of our lives. That he would open our eyes and our ears, our minds, our hearts, bring light to our world with his radiance, bless, heal, forgive, restore, and make us new, that where he is, there we may be also. We’ll see you this Ash Wednesday, as we begin again.

Walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God.

Bruce Robison

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Rector's Letter

I know that a few of the folks who check in with this site don't receive seasonal mailings of the St. Andrew's Anchor. (If you'd like to be on the mailing list, just drop us a note, of course.) Thus, here, my contribution in the issue arriving in parish mailboxes this week.

From the Rector's Desk

Fall and Winter have been challenging seasons in the life of our wider Church family here in Pittsburgh, no question about it. Challenging, and in so many ways heartbreaking.

After months and years of increasing tension, things finally blew apart in October. Our bishop and most of our diocesan leadership and 60% or so of us made the decision to try to continue in an Anglican identity outside the jurisdiction and fellowship of the Episcopal Church. About 40% of us--representing a pretty wide cross section, city mice and country mice, catholic, evangelical and broadchurch, progressives and traditionalists--made the decision to continue our lives and ministries within the Episcopal Church. Our St. Andrew's, of course, remains an active and committed member of the Episcopal Diocese of the Episcopal Church.

For both groups, these months have been a time of turbulance and experimental reorganization. Both groups include faithful Christian people trying their best, trying our best, to follow with integrity the way they and we believe our Lord is calling us to walk. What it all is going to look like down the road is anybody's guess. Both groups have inherited much from the past--our memories, of course, our habits, our enduring structures, and it will take us years to disentangle all the emotional and relational and institutional and legal consequences of what has happened. If ever we can.

Yet both groups as well come to the beginning of 2009 with a sense of a new beginning. And that may be, is, can be, a gift--a spiritual gift.

The heart of the seasons of Lent and Easter, just ahead of us now, is the invitation to a renewal of our lives--that we would become, as it were, new people, each of us, one by one, and all of us together, as we intensify our identification with Jesus in his life and in his death on the Cross, and as we embrace and are embraced by the astonishing and true promise of his resurrection.

It's probably not completely possible, for me or for any of us, but I do believe that we would all of us be a lot better off, that it would be healthier for us, if we could enter this holy season without carrying along with us the baggage of this past season. The spirit and excitement of the partisan contest. "Our side" and "their side." The jumbled confluence of righteous and self-righteous indignation, of ambition, of hostility and resentment, of hurt and grievance. The pain of our loss of so much. Better off, if we could ask in prayer that we would be freed from all that, cleansed, absolved, for a season or forever--that Christ would fill our hearts and our lives, and then that we would be made ready to receive what new he has in mind for us, today and tomorrow.

And so, in the words of the Ash Wednesday service, I invite you, therefore, in the name of the Church, to the observance of a holy Lent, by self-examination and repentance; by prayer, fasting, and self-denial; and by reading and meditating of God's holy Word (BCP 265).

I am personally so very thankful for the mature and generous and faithful spirit that has characterized our congregational life here at St. Andrew's through these difficult days. I know that God has great things ahead for us, and I pray that this Lent, this Easter, may be truly a spring season of renewal and blessing. For all of us.



Thursday, February 12, 2009

Sixth after the Epiphany, Sexagesima, 2009

Theological Education Sunday, February 15, 2009

We welcome as Guest Preacher the Very Rev. Dr. Justyn Terry, Dean and President of the Trinity School for Ministry, Ambridge, Pennsylvania--one of the eleven accredited seminaries of the Episcopal Church.

Dean Terry, Associate Professor of Systematic Theology at Trinity since 2005, was appointed Dean and President in 2008. A priest of the Church of England, he and his wife Cathy, with their two daughters, make their home in Sewickley.

Join us at St. Andrew's as Dean Terry preaches at our 9 a.m. and 11 a.m. services, and for "Coffee and Conversation" at 10 a.m.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Fifth after the Epiphany, Septuagesima, 2009

February 8, 2009 V Epiphany
(RCL B)Mark 1: 29-39

These scenes from the opening moments of the ministry of Jesus in the first chapter of Mark are alive and almost electric with the sense of this new power loose in the world. Last Sunday and just a few verses before this morning’s reading it was the dramatic exorcism in the synagogue at Capernaum. And now this morning in this passage Jesus begins by healing Peter’s mother, and then before you know it the whole village is at the door, and even more healings are happening in this outburst of miraculous experience.

And then there is along with the sudden expression of this power a sense also of urgency. Jesus up before dawn—and then, when his disciples find him, his statement that there would be no going back, no pause button, no reverse gear. He has places to go, things to do, the Kingdom to proclaim, demons to be confronted and defeated, encountering the evil one on his own turf--and there’s not much time. “Let’s get going,” he tells the disciples. There is so much to do, and so little time.

Urgency. The sudden, unexpected intervention of God’s power. Healing. Cleansing. The very beginning of the story, chapter one, and already we’re out of breath, wondering how long it can last, how long he can keep this up.

And this Sunday on the old Church calendars: Septuagesima. Just from the word in Greek, “70.” Ash Wednesday on the 25th of this month will be the first day of Lent and the Great 40 Days that carry us all the way to Good Friday and Easter, and here, “pre-Lent.” Seventy days away, the last three Sundays before Lent begins. As I said last Sunday, Christmas still in our rear-view mirror, the pine needles from our trees and wreaths still being swept up by the vacuum cleaner. But out in front, on the distant horizon, now just coming into view, the outline of the Cross. So much to do, and so little time.

It seems to me there is something in this interval of Pre-Lent that is challenging and exciting and right at the heart of who we are and who we are called to be as Christian people. Lifting up for us as a compelling reminder the images of the power he has left to us, the power of the Spirit. You will heal. You will forgive. You will cast out demons. This power to cleanse. To be a part of his life, his redeeming power. To repair the broken heart and broken life. To bless. To convey in the mystery of the water and the miracle of the altar the sacramental and living presence of Christ himself. The means of grace and the hope of glory.

And to lift up for us this reminder of his urgency. So much to do. Not as an invitation to unhealthy workaholic agitation and anxiety, but with a sense of purpose and direction. This is the day that the Lord has made. This is the day. Again, all about who we are and who we are called to be, as Christian people.

With the gifts we are given to share, it is such a loss, really a tragedy, when we lose our sense of focus, identity, forget who we are. As we settle into carelessness, or distraction. Which is so easy to do, in the worlds we live in.

We might say, if we knew that we had just one more three-minute conversation, forever, with the person whom we love, the dearest to our heart, just one more three-minute space, forever, what would we say? What would we tell them?

I don’t know if you’ve had the experience of having the phone ring and hearing the news, and suddenly having it crash down on you, the awareness that there was something that needed to be said, that truly needed to be said, for the first time, or for one more time, but that now would never be able to be said. A word of love. Of confession. Of forgiveness. And you think, oh, if I could just have a half an hour more, turn the clock back, have one three-minute call, to say what needs to be said. But that door is closed. The train has pulled out of the station. I know I’ve been there. One of the most painful places of all to be. Maybe you’ve had that experience. Regret so deep you can almost taste it.

And it’s “Pre-Lent.” And something in this as we would look into the mirror, as we would think about our lives, about the ministry that we have here n this parish, in the neighborhood and world around us. All together for us: power, blessing, healing. Think what we can do! And this urgency. Because we don’t have all day.

Walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God.

Bruce Robison

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Just for Fun, Friday

Marc Johnson, bass in the Eliane Elias Trio (and husband of famous and lovely jazz pianist Eliane Elias!), is the son of Susy Robison's cousin Howard. A very musical family indeed, and we had some lovely Christmas gatherings with them when we lived in California. Marc played for many years with the late, great Bill Evans.



Monday, February 2, 2009

February 2, 2009


Prayer for the Blessing of Candles

God our Father,
Source of all light,
today you revealed to Simeon
Your light of revelation to the nations.
Bless + these candles and make them holy.
May we who carry them to praise your glory
walk in the path of goodness
and come to the light that shines forever
Grant this through Christ our Lord.

Feast of the Presentation of Our Lord in the Temple

Almighty and everliving God, we humbly beseech thee that, as thy only-begotten Son was this day presented in the temple, so we may be presented unto thee with pure and clean hearts by the same thy Son Jesus Christ our Lord; who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Feast of the Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary

Mary of the Grapes, Pierre Mignard, 1640

Thanksgiving and Prayer to Mary
by St. Augustine of Hippo

O Blessed Virgin Mary, who can worthily give you the just dues of praise and thanksgiving, you who by the wondrous assent of your will rescued a fallen world? What songs of praise can our weak human nature recite in your honor, since it is by your intervention alone that it has found the way to restoration?

Accept, then, such poor thanks as we have to offer here, though they be unequal to your merit; and, receiving our vows, obtain by your prayers the remission of our offenses. Carry our prayers within the sanctuary of the heavenly audience and bring forth the gift of our reconciliation.

Take our offering, grant us our requests, obtain pardon for what we fear, for you are the sole hope of sinners. Holy Mary, help the miserable, strengthen the fainthearted, comfort the sorrowful, pray for your people, plead for the clergy, intercede for all women consecrated to God.

Be ever ready to assist us when we pray and bring back to us the answers to our prayers. Make it your continual care to pray for the people of God, you who, blessed by God, merited to bear the Redeemer of the world who lives and reigns, world without end. Amen.

Groundhog Day

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany, 2009

February 1, 2009
IV Epiphany (RCL Year B)
Deuteronomy 18: 15-20; I Corinthians 8: 1-13; Mark 1: 21-28

Good morning! On the 39th Day of Christmas my True Love gave to me--a broom and a dustpan and a request to sweep out the service porch, which was covered with needles and branches as we dragged the trees outside earlier this week. We’re not quite finished with the Christmas clean up, though it’s moving along. A few pictures to hang back in their usual places, and boxes of ornaments and other decorations to be carried down to the basement. And I’m sure we’ll be sweeping up pine needles on the Fourth of July.

But tomorrow is Candlemas, Feast of the Presentation, Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and the traditional end to the Great 40 Days of Christmas.

We’ll celebrate that feast day by transferring it to a Feast of the Presentation service of Choral Evensong on Thursday, and then for the next three Sundays the traditional calendar of Pre-Lent: Septuagesima, Sexagesima, Quinquagesima. Next Sunday we’ll hear a big shift in theme in our propers, the Collect and the Readings, as on the far, far distant horizon ahead of us, with Christmas still just barely visible in the rear view mirror, the central and life-changing themes of Ash Wednesday and Lent and Holy Week and Good Friday and then Easter morning all begin show themselves. The spotlight shifts. Themes of reflection, repentance, amendment of life, the invitation to a spirit of renewal. It will all unfold at its own pace, and one day at a time, but just to notice on this Sunday that we are coming to a hinge point, an important and meaningful transition.

First things first, though, and a last word of Christmas this morning, and to set the stage for the three readings appointed today I’d just like to read again and to hang as a kind of banner or as a thematic framework for us a verses from the First Chapter of St. John’s Gospel that we read at the Midnight Mass of Christmas Eve and then repeated several times in the appointed readings for the weekdays and Sundays of the First Week of Christmas: John 1, verses 14-17:

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth; we have beheld his glory, glory as of the only Son from the father. (John bore witness to him and cried, ‘This was he of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me ranks before me, for he was before me.’”) And from his fullness have all received, grace upon grace. For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God; the only Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, he has made him known.

So now: the escaping Hebrews have seen for themselves the awesome, powerful works of God. Right in front of their eyes. Not in a storybook. The devastating plagues, death and destruction through the whole nation all around them. The parting of the sea, and then, again, the crashing of the waves as they came together over the advancing Egyptian army. The cries of anger and terror of the Egyptian soldiers as they were swept away still ringing in their ears. And now these days at the great and holy Mountain of God, flames shooting out into the night sky, smoke, earthquakes. Only Moses brave enough to set foot onto the trail to the mountaintop. Of all of them, only that one man.

But the word of the LORD comes to them, in all that. In the midst of their breathless fear. This God of power and might. Without him, they are nothing. Yet who will dare to come into his presence? If you see my face, you will die, he says. And in that moment of anxiety, hope and fear all mixed together, he speaks a word of promise. I will never abandon or forsake you. Even when there is no more Moses, I will be with you, to support and sustain and protect you. And when the time is right, I will send another, and my Word will once again be with you.

The Law was given through Moses: grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. The Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us.

And Paul’s letter to Corinth. The reading is in this sequence the last few Sundays, as Paul is pastor to this community that is experiencing the sadness of division, factions arising, all kinds of odd behaviors and misbehaviors, huge errors and tiny slights and cuts, a spirit of spiritual pride, a sense of superiority. Things we now about when we look in the mirror.

And in all this Paul says that the Body is one, that to preserve unity it may even be necessary for the strong to give pride of place to the weak, even for those who have the right answer, to give way to those who have the wrong answer.

Even if you know in your heart that the Gospel of Christ has freed you from the Old Law, from rule-based puritanical moralities, even if you know in your heart that you are saved and freed by grace along, in the love of Christ in the sacrifice of the Cross--if acting out your freedom threatens the unity of the Body and the faith and confidence of those who perhaps aren’t quite as spiritually advanced as you: then you must step back. You must slow down. You must wait for one another.

Because it’s not simply a matter of letting bygones be bygones and living with the differences. It is a matter that has to do with recognizing and honoring the real presence of Christ in this Body the Church. When you sin against your brothers in this way and wound their weak conscience, you sin against Christ.

And through all this then to Capernaum and this Sabbath Day, as Jesus is invited to read and teach in the local synagogue, and then his teaching gives way to this miraculous and amazing exorcism and healing, with that dramatic debate with the Evil Spirit: “What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth. I know who you are—the Holy One of God.” And there is this stunned silence. Awe and wonder. “What is this? A new teaching—and with authority.”

That’s the key word here: authority. Power. Recognizing that this isn’t just another lecturer reading from his research in the library. The presence of God in their midst, right there in front of them. His glory. As of the only Son, from the Father. Grace and Truth. No one has ever seen God. But now this. Here, before our very eyes. The Evil Spirits not debated but cast out. Defeated. And there is: healing, forgiveness, new life. Lifting us up into God’s very presence. The only Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, he has made him known.

The thirty-ninth day of Christmas. In our midst. And here he is. That’s the message for today. That’s the Christmas message. Here he is. Knocking at the door. As we hear the Word. As we come forward to the Holy Table. As we open our eyes and our ears and our minds and our hearts to him. And his manger-bed in that Bethlehem stable is everywhere, all around us, and in us.

The mystery and miracle of Incarnation: not just a chapter in a book of theology, but the reality of our lives, as we are here together this morning. So again—the last time to say this for a while, but with a reality at all times and in all places: Merry Christmas to you, as we share this Holy Communion this morning, and blessings, and peace, and good will. The Word became flesh, and dwelt among us. And he is still here.

Bruce Robison