Sunday, April 26, 2009

Third Easter, 2009

April 26, 2009 III Easter (RCL/B) Luke 24: 36-48

These first Sundays of Eastertide we keep returning to the events of that day.

On Easter morning this year of course we had St. Mark and his account of the shock and amazement that falls upon the women as they come to the tomb and find nothing as they expected, and the words exchanged with that Young Man in White, and all the emotions of joy and confusion, wonder and disbelief, excitement and terror. The world turned upside down.

Then on Second Easter the scene in St. John begins that evening, the disciples together back in the Upper Room where they had just a few days ago come with him for that Last Supper. Now hiding out, fearful that the police were after them too, afraid even to open a window to catch a bit of the cooling night air. And then Jesus is there, blessing them, sharing with his breath the promise of Holy Spirit and power.

Now here on Third Easter, and over to St. Luke, and it’s that same Easter evening again. Earlier in the afternoon Cleopas and his companion, probably his wife, returning home to Emmaus, which we know to have been a small working class village, a kind of suburb of Jerusalem, home to one of the regional prisons, which was probably its main economic feature. And again, Jesus. This time as a stranger along the road, and with their intriguing conversation, and with the moment of revelation at the table, in the Breaking of Bread, when they suddenly recognized him, and then finally as the two run at top speed back to the city and the Upper Room to tell what had happened.

Caravaggio, Supper at Emmaus, 1601

They can hardly get the story out when – there he is again! He seems to be everywhere all at once. Jesus.

The stone is blasted away—which is how I picture it. Not rolled back in some polite, understated gesture, but with the force of an explosion. Blasted away. And with this force and energy beyond any understanding he is here, there, and everywhere.

At once the same master, teacher, and friend, Mary’s son, eating a piece of fish with them at the dinner table, bearing on his body still the marks of his victory, sin and death defeated, the record of the nails, his side scarred by the tip of the soldier’s sword, his shoulders still bruised from the weight of the heavy beam--and yet more than that also, so much more: his body renewed, transformed, empowered. Transcendent. Almost electrifying in his presence. Heaven on earth!

I love what Cleopas and his companion said back in the 32nd verse of this 24th chapter of St. Luke, on their way to this Upper Room gathering: “Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road?” Jesus. Rising over us, entering into us. Opening the door for us. Giving us this glimpse into the presence of God himself. Drawing us into this new life, as it passes through him to us, changing us, lifting us up into him. “As in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive.” .

O Sons and Daughters, let us sing. The King of Heaven, the glorious King, o’er death and hell rose triumphing. Alleluia. The last wonderful echoing sound of the trumpet dies away, the lilies begin to fade, the brightly colored eggs and chocolate bunnies are but happy memories.

But this Easter refuses to come to an end. Again and again, drawing us into its mystery and power. Here he is again. The morning of the First Day of the Week, the First Day of our lives, the First Day and New Morning of the World and all creation. It is a song to sing.

It is an invitation, for us, to come and see, to open our eyes and our ears and our minds and our hearts. As we meet him in Word and Sacrament, and as the Holy Spirit shows him to us in one another. Friend, Teacher, Savior: Jesus, who is our new life. Our Easter. The King of Heaven, the glorious King, o’er death and hell rose triumphing. Alleluia.

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

Bruce Robison

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Second Easter, April 19, 2009

April 19, 2009 Second of Easter (RCL B) John 20: 19-31
The 172nd Annual Meeting of St. Andrew’s Church

Dear friends, as we certainly feel all around us still the wonderful spirit of last Sunday’s great Easter Morning celebration—echoes of brass and timpani, organ and choir, and of course the wonderful sights and sounds of our youngsters scrambling in the sunshine through the Churchyard in the festive annual egg hunt.

One of those days every year that takes so much preparation, Melanie in the office, our housekeeper Becky, our choir and all the musicians--altar guild and acolytes and layreaders and ushers and the great hospitality team, and so many more. Just such a fun and inspiring day. And lots of well-earned naps on Sunday afternoon!

So much challenging. This past year, and the painful disarray in our diocesan life and wider church, which is going to take a long time and a lot of work, to find the healing, the forgiveness, the grace in our lives to build foundations for the future. And of course the economic meltdown. Wars abroad, against a fierce and determined enemy. Moments of brokenness nearer, in our own city and neighborhood, as we experienced even in these past weeks with the shooting of our policemen just up the hill here in Stanton Heights. Lots of challenges.

Yet for me, in my mind and heart, as we moved on into the family activities of Easter Sunday—and it was so nice for us to have both Dan and Linnea home—for me, although I’m a realist, a pragmatist, I did just feel a great sense of optimism, hope, purpose, joy. I hope you shared something of that also. Not to deny any of the hard parts, any of the challenges. But to look around here, in the midst of this good old St. Andrew’s parish family, and to recognize in the midst of all those challenges, the presence of our risen Lord Jesus.

He is here: present, truly alive, with us, in word and sacrament, present in mission and stewardship and service, present in the songs we sing, in the abundant overflowing of friendship and kindness. O sons and daughters, let us sing! The King of heaven, the glorious King, o’er death andhell rose triumphing. Alleluia!

We come from so many places. As I have said so many times, when people ask me for driving directions to St. Andrew’s, I always tell them, “just follow the signs to the zoo.”

There are so many different stories that have brought us to this place. Every breed of cat! Some of us here going back years and decades and generations

--and some so recently arrived that the dust of transition hasn’t even quite settled yet.

Some have arrived in moments of excitement. Some in moments of searching and exploration in the deepest areas of faith. Some in times of joy. Some in times of brokenness. Trying to find our way, we have found our way here. And as we are here, in the midst of so many stories, the presence of our risen Lord Jesus. And that is always good news. Always good news. However we got here, certainly my prayer this day, that your life here may grow in love and peace, rich in God’s blessings.

And as a matter of fact, as we come to church this morning on the day of the Annual Meeting in the 172nd year of this parish, with all those generations behind us looking on, all the way back to 1837, and with the sense of generations yet to come, our children and our children’s children, I want to take as my text for this morning, to highlight, to lift up over us, this from John 20: 20, this moment on the evening of the first Easter, the disciples hiding out in fear in that Upper Room where only a few days before they had shared that Last Supper with him. Fear of arrest, confusion about what will happen next, the impossible stories of the women. And then, there he is, here he is, at that same table, with them now.

His greeting. Peace. Shalom. And when he had said this, he showed them his hand and his side. And this is my text: Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord. Just to hear that again: they were glad. Glad to see him. In his presence, their hearts were lifted up.

If in the midst of so much we are glad here this morning, if there is joy in our hearts, if there is a sense of health and forward movement in our congregational life, if we feel excited about the work we share, let it be, friends, because we see him here. Our Savior, the marks of the Cross testifying to his costly gift of a love so deep, so broad, so high, unexpected, unearned. Jesus himself, and no one else.

That we open our eyes to his presence, our ears to his word, our hands and our heart to be with him in his ministry and his compassion. 172 years of life, generations of men and women, boys and girls, baptisms and weddings and funerals, potluck suppers and festive receptions, tutoring and shelter meal preparation, wonderful singing, learning.

We’re going to get together in a few minutes to look back over the previous year, to talk about our congregational life, to celebrate all that it means for us to be a part of the family of St. Andrew’s. Let it be all for him, that we are glad in his presence. To know here his blessing, and to serve him every day.

Bruce Robison

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Easter, 2009

April 12, 2009 Easter Day (RCL B) Mark 16: 1-8

O sons and daughters, let us sing! The King of heaven, the glorious King, o’er death and hell rose triumphing. Alleluia!

Christ Risen from the Tomb,
Bergognone, c. 1493

Christ being raised from the dead dieth no more; death hath no more dominion over him. For in that he died, he died unto sin once; but in that he liveth, he liveth unto God. Likewise reckon ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord. Alleluia.

On this day, in the midst of abundant blessing and grace and love and new life, we would be gathered always one family, in the Name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

This morning, may I first simply say to you a word of deep and sincere friendship and appreciation, as we are gathered from far and near in this holy place. Grace and peace to you. And joy. May this Easter be for you and for all of us the first morning of our lives, and a new morning. Music and sunshine and all goodness.

May the tender compassion of our God rest around you, around us all. In this Church, in our families and among those we love, in our city and our world, torn apart as it is, in all its hurt. His death on the Cross completed his great work, and that Cross now is a radiant threshold, a flowering doorway through which we pass to life and resurrection.

I bind unto myself today: his death on Cross, for my salvation.

Here then for us is the healing of our brokenness, the forgiveness of our sins. The great dawn of the new creation of the world.

Through the tender mercy of our God, whereby the Dayspring from on high hath visited us, to bring light to them that sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, and to guide our feet into the way of peace.

There is so much mysterious about that early morning. We follow the three women as they make their way through the city and out to the place of his burial. We study the scene, listen carefully. Across all these centuries. No story has ever mattered more. Our lives depend on it. We feel with them the anxiety of the hour. What is going to happen? How is this going to work? Who—who is going to roll away the stone?

And we peer with them into the dark recesses of that holy Tomb, the earthy air filling our senses, so that we can almost taste it. And there is that young man, dressed in his white robe. His angelic presence catching us off-guard. No matter how many times we hear the story. And these words, “He has risen, he is not here.”

And we are turned inside-out, fear and amazement, disorientation, reorientation. The world turned upside down, shaken. But then, somehow, as we catch our breath, it is put right again. It is made perfect, as we have never known it to be before. “He has risen. He is not here.”

And there is more to the story, as we heard from St. Paul and as we read at greater length in the accounts of the other evangelists. Encounters in the Garden, in the Upper Room, along the road out of town, by the lake, at the mountaintop. More to the story, as this Easter recalibrates the universe, brings us to a new center. Until, as Paul says in First Corinthians, finally, finally, he appears to me. To us.

And so, as in the fifth chapter of Second Corinthians, Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new. It is the first morning of the world. Easter, Easter, Easter.

O sons and daughters, let us sing . . . let us sing . . . let us sing.

The world is a mess, the Church is a mess, God love us, and we are a mess, top to bottom and inside out, at least as we are brave enough to look into the mirror with honesty.

But here, Easter, we pass from death to life. Here, Easter, we come to take refreshment at heaven’s table. Dead unto sin, alive unto God.

May this morning be for us in the richness of blessing a morning of commitment and recommitment, a renewal of loyalty, that we would trust him and follow him. Jesus. The first, the last. He reaches out his hand for us to lift us up, and this is the day, Lord Jesus, when I will take your hand, open my heart to you, walk in your way.

Easter triumph, Easter joy. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive. Alleluia.

Bruce Robison

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Easter, 2009

From the Cathedral of Benevento, Italy

Pascha Nostrum

Easter, 2009

Easter Communion
--Gerard Manly Hopkins

Pure fasted faces draw unto this feast:
God comes all sweetness to your Lenten lips.
You striped in secret with breath-taking whips,
Those crooked rough-scored chequers may be pieced
To crosses meant for Jesu's; you whom the East
With draught of thin and pursuant cold so nips
Breathe Easter now; you serged fellowships,
You vigil-keepers with low flames decreased,

God shall o'er-brim the measures you have spent
With oil of gladness, for sackcloth and frieze
And the ever-fretting shirt of punishment
Give myrrhy-threaded golden folds of ease.
Your scarce-sheathed bones are weary of being bent:
Lo, God shall strengthen all the feeble knees.

Easter, from the Archbishop of Canterbury

Holy Saturday, 2009

Ikon: The Harrowing of Hell

--Denise Levertov

Down through the tomb's inward arch

He has shouldered out into Limbo

to gather them, dazed, from dreamless slumber:

the merciful dead, the prophets,

the innocents just His own age and those

unnumbered others waiting here

unaware, in an endless void He is ending

now, stooping to tug at their hands,

to pull them from their sarcophagi,

dazzled, almost unwilling. Didmas,

neighbor in death, Golgotha dust

still streaked on the dried sweat of his body

no one had washed and anointed, is here,

for sequence is not known in Limbo;

the promise, given from cross to cross

at noon, arches beyond sunset and dawn.

All these He will swiftly lead

to the Paradise road: they are safe.

That done, there must take place that struggle

no human presumes to picture:

living, dying, descending to rescue the just

from shadow, were lesser travails

than this: to break

through earth and stone of the faithless world

back to the cold sepulchre, tearstained

stifling shroud; to break from them

back into breath and heartbeat, and walk

the world again, closed into days and weeks again,

wounds of His anguish open, and Spirit

streaming through every cell of flesh

so that if mortal sight could bear

to perceive it, it would be seen

His mortal flesh was lit from within, now,

and aching for home. He must return,

first, in Divine patience, and know

hunger again, and give

to humble friends the joy

of giving Him food--fish and a honeycomb.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Good Friday, 2009

April 10, 2009 Good Friday
Passion Gospel of St. John

The story unfolding before us—so familiar and deeply engrained that we can almost whisper along word by word as our deacon reads it for us again this afternoon.

The pictures fill our minds, perhaps glimpses from works of great art down through the centuries, or from films, or from the meditation of our own imagination. The old hymn asks, “Were you there when they crucified my Lord?” And it is indeed as though we were there, as though our experience of this hour is memory, deeply felt, deeply experienced. The sights and sounds and smells of that corner of the city landfill outside the gates of Old Jerusalem so vivid. Echoes down through the ages. We close our eyes, and we are there, on that day. We remember.

And of course that memory surrounds and permeates, explores, illuminates, embraces, interprets so much of our lives. Day by day.

The horrors of this world. War and rumors of war. Natural disasters, as this earthquake in Italy. Cruelty and crime. Images so fresh in our mind of Binghamton and just right up the hill from us here in Stanton Heights last Saturday. We see him on that Cross and ask what it all means: how to make sense of what is beyond making-sense.

The fragility of our lives, our vulnerabilities. Our tenderness. We bend. We break.

If ever we think we have it all figured out, that we’re o.k. now, that we’re in control—amazing how it doesn’t take much, just a gust of wind, to show just how illusory all that is. How we live day to day in the Land of Denial.

It used to be the habit to say, “d.v.” when making an appointment for some future meeting. Deo Volente: God Willing. Because so much can happen. But we sail along. For a few minutes, anyway, until something unexpected rocks the boat. We slumber, until a shifting of some deep tectonic plate shakes us out of our sleep, walls around us collapsing, the floor under us giving way. The medical procedure isn’t covered by the health plan after all. The company is forced to downsize. The mortgage rate resets.

Just a lot of Good Friday, all around us, in our midst, in our own lives. And we close our eyes, and we are there, on that day. We remember. It is not far away at all, but all too real. All too nearby. And the Cross that is above us, overhead, not an ornament of architectural decoration, but the essential key to the interpretation of our lives. Without it, it is night, and we are alone in the forest, without a clue, without a map, without a trail to follow. It is all we have.

Jesus said, I go to prepare a place for you, and if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and bring you to myself, that where I am, there ye may be also. And Thomas said, Lord, we know not whither thou goest, and how can we know the way? How can we know the way?

And he gives us this sign. Himself. On the cross. And with those words from John 14: I am the way, the truth, and the life. No man cometh unto the Father, but by me. This the way, as the Cross beckons us, the light on the path, the gate, the door, the way forward. He prayed in the Garden that last night: Father, if there is some other way forward, show it to me now. But there was no other way. Not for him, and so also not for us. Before Sunday morning, always Friday.

We carry this hope, we live in it, and for it, the deep foundation under us. The King of Love my shepherd is, whose goodness faileth never. But it doesn’t make this part any easier. Oh. Sometimes it causes me to tremble. Tremble. Tremble.

A friend of ours out in California years ago had a little rubber stamp that she used on stationery, envelopes, and so on. “Remember,” it said: “Remember that everyone you meet is carrying some heavy burden.”

And that is true of course, whether we can see it or not. Which is why we’re so fascinated by the tabloids, as they reveal to us that even those who are the most beautiful, the strongest, wealthy, wealthy, the most successful in their careers, at the very top—as they reveal to us the hidden brokenness, the pains and sorrows. And of course you don’t need to be featured on Entertainment Tonight. Just walk down any street, look around in any coffee shop or coffee hour reception: and all those people who seem to have it so much more together than I do. It’s an illusion. Simply what we can’t see. Everyone, carrying some heavy burden.

And so, here we are. However we may appear to others. However we may appear to ourselves. On our way to the Cross ourselves, as he is before us on his. Listening for his last word for us: Come unto me, all ye that travail and are heavy laden, and I will refresh you.

Good Friday, and all of us together here with him. And even at the grave we make our song. It is the victorious Cross, trampling down death by death.

The Way, the Truth, the Life. The Cross and only the Cross, this day, this hour, light in the darkness, the power of God, giving life to those in the tomb.

May his Cross be for you this day the opening door to life and eternal life in him.

Bruce Robison

Good Friday, 2009

All majesty has vanished
from the daughter of Zion.

Her princes have become like deer
that can find no pasture
and run on, their strength all spent,
pursued by the hunter.

Jerusalem has remembered
her days of misery and wandering,
when her people fell into the power of the adversary
and there was no one to help her.

Lamentations of Jeremiah 1: 6-7

Monday, April 6, 2009

Opening Day, 2009

This afternoon in St. Louis our Pittsburgh Pirates open the 2009 Campaign. The summer spreads before us now, an open field of possibility.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Sunday of the Passion: Palm Sunday, 2009

April 5, 2009 Palm Sunday (RCL B) Mark 14: 1 – 15: 47

I’m sorry Jesus, but every year it’s the same. Darn it!

A good Lent. Not perfect, but good. Building up my spiritual muscles, you might say. And all the best intentions in the world. And we get right up to the edge. Every year it’s like this. Leaning forward, ready to go. But in the end, in the end, something in me fails. The Old Adam, I guess. I thought I had put it all behind me this time. Thought that the ties that had held me down and held me back were finally cut away. That I was free. But once again, right up to the edge, and I can’t. I just can’t.

I read about heroes of one sort or another all the time. Running up the stairways in burning buildings. Throwing their bodies over live grenades. And I wonder, how does that happen? What clicks inside? Is it all pure instinct? Is there any calculation, any preparation that gets you to that point?

And I watch you here, now, this morning. And I know that there is something for me here to do, something to say, some step, some leap into the unknown. Like we said: All for one, one for all. I’ll never deny you, never betray you. Never. With you all the way.

And then--there is a familiar tremor of the heart. Again. A short breath. And the moment passes. And I wonder: what have I missed? What have I missed?

Hanging in the corner of the High Priest’s Courtyard. All of us. Full of fear. Yet unable to run away.

Things aren’t that simple for us either, Jesus. You know that, I suppose. Just turn on the news. Recession and economic meltdown. Wars and rumors of war. Ancient tribal hatreds expressed in the new vocabulary of suicide vests and improvised explosive devices. Oakland or Binghamton or right up the street here in Stanton Heights.

The world goes haywire. Relationships stress and strain. The old storylines break up, fade away, and nothing seems to come forward to take their place. It’s just hard to know--where we’re headed, what the goal is. Climbing a pretty steep mountain, and half way up we seem to have forgotten where the top is, or why getting there, why getting there, was even all that important.

In any case, again: I had the best of intentions. I want you to know that, Jesus. We all did. And hope that counts for something. The story continues. Unflinching. Rolling on to its inevitable conclusion. And yes, I know, I know: I said I’d be there for you: come what may. Come what may. I know. But once again, old friend, it looks like I’m going to be on the sidelines for this. We are.

This last leg of the journey you’re going to have to manage on your own.

Bruce Robison