Sunday, April 24, 2011

Easter Sermon

Sermon at the 9 a.m. Service of St. Andrew's Church, Highland Park, Pittsburgh, on Easter Sunday, April 24, 2011, by the Rev. Dr. Philip Wainwright, Priest Associate

A couple of years ago one of the big Bible publishing companies conducted a survey to find out people’s favorite Bible verses. Let me give you the top five:

5. Romans 8.38f: Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

4. Philippians 4.12f: In any and all circumstances… I can do all things through Christ, who strengthens me.

3. John 3.16: God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.

2. Jeremiah 29.11: I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord. Plans for good and not for evil, to give you a hope and a future.

1. Proverbs 3.5f: Trust in the Lord with all your heart; lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct your paths.

I saw the list before I thought about what my own favorite might be, but both No 1 and No 5 would certainly be in my own top five. Another favorite of mine, that I’m surprised not to find listed, is from the 23rd Psalm, Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me. But if I had to pick one I suppose I’d vote with the majority: Trust in the Lord with all your heart; lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct your paths. Those are words that have strengthened me many times over the years I’ve been a follower of Jesus, and I know I’ll turn to them for encouragement in the years to come, too.

The interesting thing about these verses is that they all address the power of God in our daily lives. None of them are about the things theologians argue about, none of them are about the nature of the Trinity or the divinity of Christ; they’re not about the issues of morality that are such a thorny issue in so many churches today; they’re not about the social issues that we all agree are very important, like ending poverty or caring for the environment or making peace. They’re about God’s power in the life of the individual: God showing us the way ahead when we’re not sure, God’s plan for each of us, God giving us hope, being content in difficult situations, knowing that Christ’s love for each one of us will never fade away.

What’s interesting about this today is that none of them could be called Easter verses. No one’s favorite is the Lord has risen indeed, and has appeared to Simon! Only one of the verses even hints at the resurrection. But it is Easter that gives all those verses their power. The great thing about the Easter event is that it assures us that those words of encouragement that have comforted or strengthened so many people so many times aren’t just comforting words. Sometimes, when we’re afraid, someone tells us that it will be all right, and we like to hear that even if we’re not sure they really know whether it will be all right or not. But because of Easter, these verses are not like that.

Easter is not someone whistling in the dark, it is an eye-witness account of infinite power at work in the world, power strong enough to overcome the worst that can face us, strong enough to overcome death itself. So Easter is not only about Jesus—it is about us, too. The New Testament calls Jesus the first to experience resurrection, but promises that He will not be the last. In fact, No 5 in the Bible hit parade, about nothing separating us from the love of Christ, is the conclusion to a passage that says exactly that: it says that God shows us how to become like Jesus, so that he might be the firstborn among many. The power at work in Jesus Christ is at work in all who trust in Him, and can give them, give us, new life, just as it gave Him new life.

And those verses are favorites for so many people because they remind us that this power is not only available at the end of our lives, but every day during it. God’s word achieves God’s purposes, and those verses, and others like them, bring the power of the resurrection into the events of our daily lives. Remember No 4, the Philippians verse, In any and all circumstances… I can do all things through Christ, who strengthens me. No matter what situation we face, God’s power is there for those who ask for it, whether it’s the power to change our situation or the power to change our ability to cope with it. The God who can raise the dead can, and does, stand by His people no matter what.

One of the reasons we don’t always feel this to be true is that we don’t always recognise God’s power at work. In the gospel account we just heard, Mary Magdalene was looking for Jesus, but almost missed Him because she thought He was the gardener! I knew someone once who met a bishop when he was not in uniform, not our bishop, I hasten to add, and thought he was a used car salesman! Fortunately, Mary spoke to the gardener anyway, and discovered Jesus, but too often we don’t do that, but turn away, sure that what we see in front of us can’t be God at work. It’s just not the way we expected God to answer our prayers, so we don’t recognise it as an answer to prayer.

Because of Easter, we can trust God a bit more than that, and if we’d be just a bit more willing for God to answer our prayers in unexpected ways, we’d find that God answers our prayers far more wonderfully than we hoped. That’s what happened to Mary Magdalene: she did not find the Jesus she was looking for, because she was looking for a dead Jesus, to Whom she wanted to pay her last respects. Instead she found a living Jesus Who called her by name, who told her to go and tell others that He was not dead, but living, that He had conquered death, that power over death was loose in the world. That’s the way it is with God’s power: with His power we always find more than we hope for, with our own power we always find less than we hoped for.

Everybody knows that the world we live in needs radical change if it’s to be the way we all know it could and should be, the way the Bible tells us it was intended to be. You only have to read the newspaper to know how desperately change is needed. And there are millions of opinions out there about how to bring that radical change about, but no power to change anything. Lots of talk, but the talk never changes the situation on the ground except when it makes it worse. Easter points to a real power, not just talk, but real power to bring about change that’s more radical than most of us would even dare to hope for.

Raising the dead is about as radical as it gets—for all the wonders that modern scientists have achieved, I’ve not heard any of them claim any success in that line. When we take Easter seriously, we are in touch with the power that has raised the dead, in front of eye-witnesses, and many of us can tell a story about how that power has changed our own life. If we can get the world to take Easter seriously, the world itself will be changed, will become again the world Isaiah described in our first reading: it’s still possible for it to be the world God gave us instead of the mess we’ve made of it.

But it can only happen if we follow God’s plan. All the promises that human beings make to us about making things better, all the isms that human beings have invented in order to get God’s world without God, are a waste of time. Until one of those human beings can raise the dead, there’s no point in even listening. But we don’t have to wait in hope that some human will pull that off, because God has already done it. He’s shown us that there’s nothing He can’t do. If God has a plan for us, it will be a plan that will work, as well as a plan for good and not for evil. That’s why these verses, which promise us God’s help with the things that matter to us, are such favorites. They are Easter in action in the lives of believers.

When people ask whether the Easter story is true, they mean the story about the empty tomb that John told. And we can tell them that it is true, because we can also tell them the story of Easter in our lives, that the God more powerful than death is involved in our own lives, and ready to be involved in the lives of those who have not yet put their faith in Him. Those interested in the truth of the Easter story not only have John’s witness, they have ours too. Of all the Lord’s doings, this is the most marvellous in my eyes.

God's Grandeur

God’s Grandeur
Gerard Manley Hopkins (1844-1889)

The world is charged with the grandeur of God.
It will flame out, like shining from shook foil;
It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil
Crushed. Why do men then now not reck his rod?
Generations have trod, have trod, have trod;
And all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil;
And wears man’s smudge and shares man’s smell: the soil
Is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod.

And for all this, nature is never spent;
There lives the dearest freshness deep down things;
And though the last lights off the black West went
Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs—
Because the Holy Ghost over the bent
World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.

Fr. March's Easter Meditation

“This is the feast of Victory for our God"

The women receive the miraculous news at the tomb. “He is not here!” This is the news of an event that has been proclaimed through 80 generations of Christians. “He is not here!” This is the first telling of the central truth of our lives: that Jesus was resurrected and that by his resurrection, we will be raised up at the last day.

We Christians are the people of the Resurrection, the people of Easter. Every Sunday we celebrate of the resurrection; each time one of us dies, for Christian burial, we take out the white linen to proclaim the resurrection. We Christians have good news and it is too good not to be told repeatedly and over again, each Sunday, each Easter. Each day of God’s week, I want us to be people of the resurrection to proclaim the resurrection and the truth in our own lives.

When I say we have good news, I mean those two thousand or so years ago, God sent his son, Jesus Christ to earth to redeem his creation. God had nurtured and chastened his chosen people, the Hebrews, since he first made a covenant with them. The Bible records this in Genesis. God’s saving acts with the Hebrews are seen across the span of over a couple thousand years, then, in what we call the Old Testament.

In order to fulfill his scripture, the true word of God in the Bible, God sent his only son to earth. This son, Jesus, took on our nature--he was both a human being and yet God’s son. He lived among us, yet did not sin. Truly, humiliatingly, shamefully having died as a man and Son of God that he was, Jesus was laid in a tomb. He was not whisked off the cross into heaven. His body was not stolen from the tomb. The Son of God died on a cross and was laid in a tomb. Saint Gregory wrote, “Christ went down into the deepest abysses...when he went into the lowest Hell to fetch forth the souls of his elect. Before this,” Gregory wrote, “this depth was a prison, not a way...But God made of this abyss a road.”

Our Good News is just that startling, even if we have known the happy ending since childhood. We call it Easter. This Happy Resurrection morning I have three prayerful exhortations for you as you come to the Blessed Sacrament: Believe in this Good News. Spread the glad tidings of the resurrection. Await Jesus’ coming in glory.

The Rev. William H. Marchl, III, Priest Associate, St. Andrew's Church

Rector's Easter Sermon

Isaiah 65: 17-25; Acts 10: 34-43; John 20: 1-18

Good Friends: Grace and peace to you, blessings, joy, all the richness of God’s favor, on this first morning of the world.

What St. Peter proclaimed at Caesarea as he shared the Gospel with the household of the Gentile, the Roman Centurion Cornelius, in the reading from the Acts of the Apostles this morning—what now we proclaim.

Not a message for one people only, or for one time or one place, long ago and far away. A message for all everywhere, and in every generation: “We are witnesses to all that he did both in Judea and in Jerusalem. They put him to death by hanging him on a tree; but God raised him on the third day . . . .”

Easter blessings. And the ancient Greek Christian greeting on this day we make fresh and new and our own. “Christos anesti.” Christ is risen. And the reply, “Alithos anesti.” He is risen indeed. Let’s repeat that together . . . .

Christ is risen from the dead, and become the first fruits of them that slept. For since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so, in Christ, shall all be made alive. The Apostle Paul, First Corinthians 15.

And from Psalm 118, as our Choir has sung it: The Lord is my strength and my song, and is become my salvation.

There are two things to say this morning, with all around us this inspiring music and the beautiful flowers and the wonderful readings and prayers—and with new dresses and family gatherings and Easter eggs and candy. With all of this.

First, to say simply that the story we have heard is true. Whether we’re hearing the story for the first time this morning, or whether we’ve known it almost by heart all our life long. That’s the one key thing to know, the “take away,” the bottom line. Why we’re here today or ever. The story we have heard this morning is true. Not only true the way a poem or a powerful symbol can be true. Though like a poem, and like a powerful symbol, this story can and does reach down deep into our imagination, gives shape to our waking thoughts, fills our dreams. But true in the real, bright, historical light of that Sunday morning. Stunning. Unexpected. Disorienting. The way it was. The stone rolled away. The tomb empty. And Jesus with them. All true.

And to say, the second thing, simply, again, that we are not most importantly readers and hearers of this story. We are, even more importantly, we might say, characters in this story, of this story. It is a story of what really happened a long time ago and far, far away. But it continues, over continents and across the centuries, and it is our story here this morning. We are not simply observers. We are participants. A story about him, a story about them, but also, even more importantly, a story about us.

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

If the story is that Jesus alone died on the cross and that on the third day God raised him from death to live forever, then it might be that we would respond, “how lucky for Jesus.” But that isn’t how the story goes. Not really.

Because we know that nailed to that cross, in and with the broken body of Jesus, was every bit of who we are. That’s real, and that’s true. Every bit of who we are, really and truly. In our brokenness. Every flaw and failure. Every hurt. Every wrong desire. Every promise we have broken. Lying, cheating, stealing. All the darkness of our lives. And not of our lives only.

Every Sunday morning we gather here at St. Andrew’s under the great inscription from the 12th Chapter of St. John, inscribed on the high Rood Beam, and I know over so many years inscribed in our hearts. Jesus to his friends in the midst of that Holy Week: “And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me.”

This is the truth spoken to us in every baptism, and as our minds and hearts are opened to hear and receive his Word, and as we are incorporated into the mystery of the Holy Eucharist. This is serious medicine. Easter.

There’s a wideness in God’s mercy like the wideness of the sea; there’s a kindness in his justice, which is more than liberty. There is welcome for the sinner, and more graces for the good; there is mercy with the Savior; there is healing in his blood.

I believe and know that that moment for Mary in the Garden was all--healing. When her eyes were opened to his presence. When he looked into her eyes and into her heart and into her soul and spoke her name, “Mary.” As she was seen and known in that moment. All healing. Grace and peace. May it be so for you.

We remember the words from the first chapter of John as we heard them proclaimed right here in the still night of Christmas Eve. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God; all things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it . . . . 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 of the Father . . . . And from his fullness have we all received, grace upon grace.”

Grace upon grace. And if we might listen in the far distance, even now, there are the angels singing for the shepherds, in the hills behind Bethlehem. Christmas, Good Friday, Easter morning, this morning, all one—all one eternal moment of healing, grace, and peace. And love stirred up in our heart, and calling to him, as he calls to us. Lifting us up. As we meet him in the Garden, and as he speaks our name.

For as in Adam all die, even so, in Christ, shall all be made alive

What a gift to be a part of this. We would celebrate that this morning. “Ye who do truly and earnestly repent you of your sins, and are in love and charity with your neighbors, and intend to lead a new life, following the commandments of God, and walking from henceforth in his holy ways; Draw near with faith . . . .”

Christ has died. Christ is risen, Christ will come again.

May it be all blessing for you. Healing. Renewal. This joyful Eastertide, away with sin and sorrow. Opening our eyes and our ears and our minds and our hearts. The first morning of the world. The first morning of our new life in him. Christ is risen. He is risen indeed. Alleluia.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Easter, 2011

Easter Communion
--Gerard Manly Hopkins, 1844-1889

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 2011

Easter Wings

~George Herbert 1593-1633

Lord, Who createdst man in wealth and store,
Though foolishly he lost the same,
Decaying more and more,
Till he became
Most poore:

With Thee
O let me rise,
As larks, harmoniously,
And sing this day Thy victories:
Then shall the fall further the flight in me.

My tender age in sorrow did beginne;
And still with sicknesses and shame
Thou didst so punish sinne,
That I became
Most thinne.

With Thee
Let me combine,
And feel this day Thy victorie;
For, if I imp my wing on Thine,
Affliction shall advance the flight in me.

Easter Sequence: Victimae Paschali Laudes

Holy Saturday, 2011

Descendit ad infernos.

Ikon: The Harrowing of Hell

--Denise Levertov (1923-1997)

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 22, 2011

Good Friday, First Meditation

The story unfolding before us—so familiar and deeply engrained that we can almost whisper along word by word 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 earthquakes in Haiti, New Zealand, Japan. And on and on. Cruelty and crime. Images so fresh in our mind. 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 says in the 14th chapter of St. John, 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. His one gift and offering, of himself. Perfect offering. Sufficient sacrifice. And with those words continuing in 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 on 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.

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 of their lives as they are trundled off to rehab and divorce court and jail. 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 broken, everyone carrying some heavy burden.

And so, here we are. All of us. However we may appear to others. However we may appear to ourselves. On our way to the Cross, 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, 2011

A Good Friday Meditation

“Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the living God, we pray you to set your passion, cross, and death between your judgment and our souls, now and in the hour of our death. Give mercy and grace to the living; pardon and rest to the dead; to your holy Church peace and concord; and to us sinners everlasting life and glory…”

When I was in Zimbabwe with Stop Hunger Now, I received a gift that has become for me an icon of Good Friday. It is a cross-made of three flat nails. There can be no mistaking its sharp message on this afternoon: Jesus’ death on the cross stands between our salvation and a necessary instrument. The keys to this instrument are the nails. The wooden cross cannot be deconstructed, its nails cannot be removed.

I must admit the cross of nails had an immediate, almost treasonous, quality to them there in the famine and AIDS ravaged Third World. It stood as an indictment of the pomp of this world, like the sign of the fish drawn and hurriedly erased in the baked African dust. Nevertheless, one need not leave home to find the sins against which Jesus stood on the cross.

The theologian Hans Urs von Balthasar writes: the Passion narratives are the first pieces of the Gospels that were composed as a unity. In his preaching at Corinth, Paul initially wants to know nothing but the Cross, which "destroys the wisdom of the wise and wrecks the understanding of those who understand,” which "is a scandal to the Jews and foolishness to the gentiles". But "the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men" (I Cor 1:19, 23, 25).

The cross stands against every evil that Christ endures, He who humiliated himself to take “mortal form for mortals’ sake.”

God became man, and having done so, handed himself over to die blameless for every human sin. We live within Jesus’ loving embrace saved from sin because of the nails and hard wood of the cross. The instrument of his death, thus, becomes the tool of his resurrection. Evil, injustice, and oppression are dispelled. Paradoxically, the cross of His death becomes the symbol of our victory. All this is bound up in the passion. In thirty-three tolls of the bell, we will the world.

Fr. William H. Marchl, III, Priest Associate
St. Andrew's Episcopal Church, Pittsburgh

Good Friday, 2011

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

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Maundy Thursday, 2011

Deck thyself, my soul, with gladness,
Leave the gloomy haunts of sadness;
Come into the daylight’s splendor,
There with joy thy praises render
Unto Christ Whose grace unbounded
Hath this wondrous banquet founded.
Higher o’er all the heav’ns He reigneth,
Yet to dwell with thee He deigneth.

Hasten as a bride to meet Him
And with loving reverence greet Him;
For with words of life immortal
Now He knocketh at thy portal.
Haste to ope the gates before Him,
Saying, while thou dost adore Him,
Suffer, Lord, that I receive Thee,
And I nevermore will leave Thee.

He who craves a precious treasure
Neither cost nor pain will measure;
But the priceless gifts of heaven
God to us hath freely given.
Though the wealth of earth were offered,
Naught would buy the gifts here offered:
Christ’s true body, for thee riven,
And His blood, for thee once given.

Ah, how hungers all my spirit
For the love I do not merit!
Oft have I, with sighs fast thronging,
Thought upon this food with longing,
In the battle well nigh worsted,
For this cup of life have thirsted,
For the Friend Who here invites us
And to God Himself unites us.

In my heart I find ascending
Holy awe, with rapture blending,
As this mystery I ponder,
Filling all my soul with wonder,
Bearing witness at this hour
Of the greatness of God’s power;
Far beyond all human telling
Is the power within Him dwelling.

Human reason, though it ponder,
Cannot fathom this great wonder
That Christ’s body e’er remaineth
Though it countless souls sustaineth
And that He His blood is giving
With the wine we are receiving.
These great mysteries unsounded
Are by God alone expounded.

Sun, who all my life dost brighten,
Light, who dost my soul enlighten;
Joy the best that any knoweth;
Fount, whence all my being floweth;
At Thy feet I cry, my Maker,
Let me be a fit partaker
Of this bless├Ęd food from heaven,
For our good, Thy glory, given.

Lord, by love and mercy driven
Thou hast left Thy throne in heaven
On the cross for me to languish
And to die in bitter anguish,
To forego all joy and gladness
And to shed Thy blood in sadness.
By this blood redeemed and living,
Lord, I praise Thee with thanksgiving.

Jesus, Bread of Life, I pray Thee,
Let me gladly here obey Thee.
By Thy love I am invited,
Be Thy love with love requited;
From this supper let me measure,
Lord, how vast and deep love’s treasure.
Through the gifts Thou here dost give me
As Thy guest in heaven receive me.

---Johann Franck, 1649

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Palm Sunday

A Palm Sunday Meditation
The Rev. William H. Marchl, III
Priest Associate, St. Andrew's Church

A 4th. century Spanish nun called Egeria gives us the first glimpse of Palm Sunday in Jerusalem. Writing a long letter while on pilgrimage, she describes the practice of carrying palm leaves while in procession to commemorate today’s gospel. Through the ages, then, we have a tradition of apostolic practice, one that remembers the past, marks today, and anticipates the future.

The story of liturgical reform has been one of yearning to worship the way the first Christians did. We have always used Christ’s own words at the Last Supper in our Eucharist, just as we have always carried palms to commemorate the Triumphal Entry in the manner of the early Jerusalemites.

When I was a pilgrim, we gathered in our numbers at the top of the Mount of Olives facing the Old City and held leaves from the very trees around us. We walked as a throng in the bright sunlight down the rocky road, past the Franciscan Chapel called The Lord Wept. This was Egeria’s, it is our road today. Each time we celebrate the Eucharist we say the sentence (“Holy, Holy, Holy”) with its quotation from the prophet “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord.”

This speaks to that Jewish messianic expectation that the Christ will enter Jerusalem on a colt. Here we have the ancient expectation blending with our Sabbath saying. At these words we make the sign of the cross as an outward gesture toward its once and future holiness.

Palm Sunday telescopes our vision of what the Messiah is. He comes to us in a triumphal entry just as to Egeria and the apostolic Jerusalemites. I remember that steep road down the Mount of Olives as I await Holy Week. Here two thousand years of footsteps pass The Lord Wept with its rooster and long bearded Monk in its stony yard, careful to step, but without trepidation, present in joy where Jesus wept for Jerusalem “The city that kills her prophets.” I walked boldly.

We carry palms as a verdant reminder and quotidian sign of things to come, knowing that the cross is before us.

Palm Sunday, 2011

Passion Gospel, St. Matthew 26:14 – 27:66

I wish I’d known him better. It seemed like there really was something there. More than most people thought, actually. And now, of course, it’s just a missed opportunity. Too bad the way that all worked out.

I mean, I guess it was inevitable. Big decisions way above our pay grade, anyway. But there was something. I’m pretty sure of that.

I remember hearing about the big stir he made over in those West Bank villages of the Galilee. At first I didn’t think too much about it. Out there in the countryside it seems like there’s a new snake-oil salesman every fifteen minutes. Folks aren’t very well educated out in the sticks, and there isn’t a very wide world-view. Maybe you’d say “backward.” But that just sets the stage for these kinds of situations. Prairie Populists and Tent Revival Evangelists. Snake handlers. All kinds of superstitions. Pull a rabbit out of a hat and they’ll follow you anywhere.

What I thought this was, anyway. So I didn’t think too much of it. Not at first. An article in the back page of the Saturday paper, in between the Police Blotter and the Home and Garden section. Human interest. How we city folk find it kind of amusing: what the country folk do.

But – I don’t know. At the same time, even from the first, he seemed a little different. Not quite the usual Elmer Gantry. At least he seemed different to me. And maybe that was it. People would tell stories about him, and you could hear something in their voices. You could see something in their faces.

Things are just so hard, in so many ways. Mountains in my life that when I was younger I was more optimistic about being to climb. And now I’m not so sure. And places where I thought: if I can get that far, then things will come together, make sense. I don’t know. Sometimes you get there—and, as Gertrude Stein said about her hometown of Oakland, California, “there is no there there.” Work and career, family, even all the comforting routines of faithful religious life.

And I can’t help but think back over some of the parts of the story I’m not too happy about. Things I’ve said, and done. Promises not kept. Responsibilities avoided. All too often lately I’m waking up in the middle of the night and wondering if it all isn’t like cotton candy: maybe sweet for a moment, but then it’s gone. I just don’t know. Maybe it’s just a midlife crisis thing. That’s what the wife says. Though I look at my friends, even strangers on the street sometimes, and I’m not sure I’m the only one feeling this way. Not by a long shot. Like we’re waiting for something we just don’t think is ever going to get here.

Anyway, I did see him. Just a glimpse, when he and his band of followers arrived in town for the holiday. You probably heard about it, what with all the fuss that happened over at the Temple. There were lots of people in the crowd, but I spotted him right away. Even at that distance. And I felt--well, I can’t really say what I felt. But when I saw him I thought again about the stories. Healings. The blind, the lame. Lepers. Crazy demon-possessed people that nobody else could even get close to. Wild stories about miraculous meals out in the fields. Stories about these tender moments. Women, children, foreigners. And about all these odd stories and sayings. How when you heard them, you’d start to think differently about things. Just this feeling that something unusual maybe was going on there, somehow. You hoped there was. At least, I did.

But—well, I guess that’s all water over the dam. No use crying over spilt milk. As my mother used to say, "it doesn't pay to get your hopes up."

Might have been interesting to know him better. Maybe there would have been something there. But I’m not crazy. The whole deal now is cops and soldiers and Temple authorities. Even the Romans. Really getting messy. Dangerous.

I thought across the crowds in that moment we almost made eye contact, if you know what I mean. Like he saw me looking at him. A moment of connection. And I was half thinking to make my way over there and join him. I really was.

But I suppose now it’s all for the best. If I had gone over there, along with him, who knows what might have happened. The way things turned out, it might have cost a lot. My job, my reputation. Who knows?

It could have been trouble. So I guess I dodged a bullet.

It’s all a sad story, no question about it. And, like I say, maybe a missed opportunity. But it would have been risky to get closer to him, no question about that. And, honestly, I’m not sure I’m really man enough to face it. So I guess it’s just better to leave well enough alone. I doubt I’d be able to do him any good anyway, at this point. It’s all just too far gone.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Fifth in Lent, 2011

John 11

Grace and peace to you again this morning, Fifth Sunday in Lent, and I hope this Lent continues to be a season of blessing and renewal for you.

In the older Prayer Book calendar of the Church Year this was called Passion Sunday-- to begin “Passiontide” and our more accelerated last leg of the journey toward the climax of our story and Holy Week and Good Friday. Leaning forward toward Jerusalem, clouds gathering overhead. In the 1979 Prayer Book calendar that title has moved on to next Sunday, which is now to be named “The Sunday of the Passion: Palm Sunday.” But in any event, whatever the title of the day and of these last weeks, a season of preparation, anticipation. We know the story, and so we know where we’re headed. Beginning to be time to get ourselves as ready for it as we can . . . .

We’ve paused along the way this year with St. John’s gospel on these Sunday mornings of Lent. Jesus and Nicodemus, and the conversation about being born, and being born again, born from above, born in the Spirit. Jesus and the Woman at the Well. “Everyone who drinks of this water will thirst again, but whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst; the water that I shall give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” Jesus and the Man Born Blind. “I once was blind, but now I see.” And now Jesus and Lazarus. And this morning, this familiar prefiguring and anticipation of Easter. Where the rubber meets the road. Real death. Several days in the tomb. The women of faith, Martha and Mary. The stone is rolled away. The one who was dead is alive again. We’ve heard this story before, and we will again, and very soon.

There are other miracles of what I suppose we might call “resuscitation” in the scriptures. Elijah and the Widow’s son in First Kings 17. Jesus and the daughter of Jairus in Mark 5. Peter and Tabitha in Acts 9. Although they involve revival from the sleep of death, they have the feel and pattern more of miracles of healing. Almost like the stories we hear of folks whose hearts have stopped on the operating table, but who are brought back by the sudden medical intervention of those electrical paddles.

None of those stories so dramatic as this one, in any event, which seems of a different category altogether. None so dramatically announce the defeat of death and the grave. St. John indicates his belief that it is this miracle—not, as in the other gospels, the cleansing of the Temple—that is the last straw for Jesus’s opponents. “From that day on," as John tells us in verse 53, just past the end of our reading this morning--“from that day on they took counsel how to put him to death.”

And this is the great turning point in John, from what is called the Gospel of Signs, to what is called the Gospel of Glory. The grand solemn procession to the exaltation of Jesus and his glorification at the Cross. The next story to be told is of the dinner at Bethany, at the home of Lazarus and Martha and Mary, where Mary will take that costly aromatic anointment and wipe his feet with her hair. When the family objects to the expense of this extravagant gesture, Jesus says, “Let her alone, let her keep it for the day of my burial.”

A few weeks ago Dr. Bonnie Thurston, who retired a few years ago from the faculty of the Pittsburgh Theological Seminary down the street, came up to Pittsburgh from her home in West Virginia to lead a diocesan clergy Lenten Quiet Day, with a series of very rich meditations on the Raising of Lazarus in this eleventh chapter of St. John. As with all the stories we’ve been reading this Lent, a story where we could pause for extended reflection at each line, almost each phrase. Not enough time to do that this morning, of course. But once again I’d suggest that this would be a good lesson to take home and to return to for reading and reflection and prayer over the coming week. I know I find something more here every time I read it.

So, a lot to look at. But what I would like to highlight for us out of it all this morning is the section that is the turning point, the pivot, of the story, which I think we might call the Confession of Martha. The culmination of a series here too. The Woman at the Well said, “He told me everything I ever did. Can this be the Christ?” And the Samaritans of the village say, “It is no longer because of your words that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is indeed the Savior of the world.” So interesting that in John it is from the Samaritans actually that we hear this first direct confession of faith.

Soon after, Jesus asks the Man Born Blind, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” The man replies, “Who is he?” Jesus says, "you have seen him, and it is he who speaks to you.” And the man says, “Lord, I believe.” Which is what these Signs in the Gospel of Signs are all about. Pointing to Jesus, revealing, interpreting his identity.

And now Martha and Jesus. Jesus says to her, “I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and whoever lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?” And Martha: “Yes Lord; I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, he who is coming into the world.” And with that, the door swings open. Anything is possible.

There is to be of course an application here for us. John holding up a mirror for us, or opening a window, that we might see ourselves and our own journey of faith. And most appropriately in this Lent, as we have spent these weeks since Ash Wednesday in prayer, reflection, personal discipline, “reading and meditating on God’s holy Word.”

Martha opens her heart and turns to Jesus, and what happens next is something so astonishing we still hardly can picture it. I find myself thinking in a meditative way about what Jesus says as Lazarus stumbles out of the tomb, wrapped in the shroud of his burial. “Unbind him, let him go.” To ask in this Lent, what that burial shroud is in my life even right now. What forgiveness I need, what healing? I guess we all can go there, in our thoughts and memories—regret, remorse, sadness, loss. Things done and left undone. To know that what he desires for us and offers us is that we would be set free, healed, restored, forgiven. Unbound. That we would join him in his death on the Cross, that we might know a resurrection like his. Begin even now in this world and in this life to live in the fullness of eternal life.

As we live in our families, in our work, in the inner landscape of our mind and heart. This Lent, today, right now. He has better things in mind for us than we could ask for or imagine.

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

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Fourth in Lent, Laetare, 2011

I Samuel 16: 1-13; Ephesians 5: 8-14; John 9: 1-41

Grace and peace on this Midlent Sunday, half-way through the season, traditionally named “Laetare,” from what was the traditional choral introit for this Sunday, “Laetare Ierusalem,” the text from Isaiah 66: Rejoice O Jerusalem, and come together all you that love her: rejoice with joy you that have been in sorrow: that you may exult, and be filled . . . .

Traditionally a day where some of the austerities of our Lenten disciplines would be relaxed. Not anything like the full-blown celebration of Easter, of course, but a pause for refreshment, as we gather ourselves for the final distance in the weeks ahead. “Refreshment Sunday” another name for the day, with the theme picked up in the Collect that reflects the wonderful saying in John 6, I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. A day we might say to enjoy that cookie at coffee hour with a smile!

The lessons appointed for this day in our lectionary are so rich, and it is just very exciting and I guess I could say “refreshing” to hear them all.

Beginning with this story from First Samuel that tells of old Samuel’s trip to Jesse’s ranch outside Bethlehem, and the anointing of young David. I love that moment, so dramatic, when after that procession of the older sons of Jesse Samuel first sees David and then hears the voice of the Lord: “Rise, anoint him, for this is the one.”

As many of you know, I tell this story often in the baptismal office, at the time of the anointing. Recalling this watershed moment in scripture, in the great narrative of salvation history, when the Prophet could say to the country boy, “God has great things in mind for you.” The anointing of David as God’s chosen one is of course a prefiguring of Jesus, whose title “the Christ” means “the anointed.”

We would see ourselves in the picture as well--how as we are made one in Christ Jesus we receive that holy gift and blessing ourselves. Baptized into his death, we are raised up as priests and kings—and queens!—in the resurrection life of Christ and to the life eternal of God’s kingdom. Anointed in our baptism, made one with Christ, each one of us like David: Chosen; set-apart; consecrated; God has great things in mind for you. Just a great story, the heart of the gospel here, the Good News, the New Testament breaking forth in the midst of the Old.

And then this brief reading, just a few sentences, from Ephesians. “Once you were darkness, but now in the Lord you are light . . . . Sleeper awake! Rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.” Hints of Advent.

In this season again as we were in the gospel readings over the past couple of weeks, and as we are today, in St. John’s gospel, to think back to those opening verses of the first chapter. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. The true light that enlightens every man was coming into the world. 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 of the Father.” Sleeper awake, indeed. This phrase from an ancient Christian hymn. Perhaps to be sung at baptism, or at any great eucharistic celebration. Christian friends. Laetare Sunday, and Easter bursting in to the middle of our Lent. “Sleeper awake! Rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.”

And then of course finally this wonderful long reading from John 9. One of the great signs of the Gospel of Signs, as we sometimes name the first half of St. John. Like the stories of Nicodemus and of the Woman at the Well, this one is so rich with imagery. The imagery of healing, of the one who was blind given the gift of sight, and once again, as we had at the Well last week as well, a dramatic moment when Jesus shares the intimate knowledge of himself with the man who now for the first time can see: “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” -- “And who is he, sir? Tell me, so that I may believe in him.” Jesus said to him, “You have seen him, and the one speaking with you is he.” And the man, then, his confession of faith. “Lord I believe.” And he worshipped him.

We live in this story ourselves, of course. Another “prefiguring.” His story is our story. Individuals, each of us, and the life of the Church. As the great hymn inspired by the man’s confession echoes in our voices and through all our lives. “Amazing grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me. I once was lost, but now am found. Was blind, but now I see.”

Anointed, blessed, gifted, redeemed, healed, restored, renewed, lifted up. The journey from Bethlehem and the manger to Jerusalem and the Cross, where there is payment for our sin and healing of our blindness and the fresh spring of the living water welling up to life eternal. And we pause this day in the weeks of Lent to rest in him, to be refreshed in him, who is our companion and our goal, our starting place and our destination. All about Laetare Sunday, every Sunday, and all our lives in Christ. Rejoice O Jerusalem, and come together all you that love her: rejoice with joy you that have been in sorrow: that you may exult, and be filled . . . .