Sunday, April 29, 2012

Fourth Easter Sunday: Good Shepherd

Our Pastoral Associate, the Rev. Dean Byrom, has the sermon this morning at St. Andrew's.  But I thought I'd post again here the first few paragraphs of my sermon for "Good Shepherd Sunday" last year.  Just for fun.

Today, this fourth Sunday of Easter, and to reinforce the theme, as we hear as we pray the collect together and the psalm and lessons: Good Shepherd Sunday.

For the first four centuries or so in the Anglican Prayer Book tradition “Good Shepherd” Sunday came a week earlier, the Second Sunday after Easter, what we would now number as the Third of Easter, receiving that name because of the appointed gospel reading from the tenth chapter of St. John.

The older Prayer Book tradition had just a one-year lectionary cycle, and the Good Shepherd reading then was chapter 10, verses 11-16, which is essentially the reading we now have appointed for Fourth Easter in Year B of the three year lectionary—and chapter 10, verse 11 begins exactly with Jesus saying these words, “I am the Good Shepherd.” And then on in Year C we have the third extended passage from the last section of chapter 10, verses 22-30, in which Jesus says “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.”

Out in the narthex here at St. Andrew’s we have a lovely stained glass window of the Good Shepherd. A traditional image and a touching story really. Jesus with a lamb in his arms. The young rector of St. Andrew’s, Harry Briggs Heald, who died in 1924, suddenly and unexpectedly in his mid 40’s, in the third year of his service as rector, and this window in his memory given by the Children of the Church School, having raised the money themselves. The good, tender, loving pastor.

And as we may remember a few years ago in 2002 we undertook the repair and conservation of that window to honor the Rt. Rev. David Leighton, 13th Rector of St. Andrew’s Church and the only of our now 15 rectors ever to be elevated to the episcopacy, as the 11th Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Maryland.  One of the Chief Pastors of the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church, and of course always a great friend of this wonderful parish.

So here this morning as we are, again . . . .

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Third Sunday of Easter

Acts 3: 12-19, Luke 24: 36-48

 Grace and peace to you indeed on this morning of the Third Sunday of Easter.

 Although the trumpets and drum of our Easter morning celebration and the great horn ensemble from last Sunday’s Confirmation Sunday celebration with Bishop Price are perhaps beginning to fade, it is entirely wonderful to be continuing in this Third Sunday morning of Easter as we receive and welcome the gifts of our Singing Panthers of the Heinz Chapel Choir of the University of Pittsburgh. And with thanks to you John and all the “Singing Panthers.” It’s a pleasure to have you with us once again.

 Just one great Sunday after another through this season, as our minds and our hearts and our lives continue to be filled with the message as the disciples and friends of Jesus heard it from our Risen Lord himself on that first Easter Sunday evening, and as in the reading from scripture, Luke 24, this morning: “You are witnesses of these things.”

 By the gift of his presence in this miracle of Easter and in the very presence of Jesus their minds were opened to the true meaning of all the scriptures, the Law of Moses, the anticipation of the Prophets, the Hope of the Nations. The yearning of all our fallen world and all creation for the healing and peace and restoration and renewal and new creation, now beginning to take place right before their eyes.

 Witnesses to a victorious reality. The last enemy vanquished, the forces of evil and darkness and Satan himself put to flight, broken, defeated once and for all. Hard to take in, all at once, there in the Upper Room where just a few days before he had been with them to break the bread and share the cup. Shalom. Peace be with you. Be not afraid.  The words the Angel Gabriel said to Mary so long ago. Be not afraid. His name shall be Jesus, Yeshua, which means The Lord Saves, because he will save his people. As foretold by the prophet: Emmanuel. God with us. What the Angels sang out to the Shepherds on the hillside that winter night. “Good news of a great joy which shall be to all peoples, for you born today in the City of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.”

 And now in this Easter. That Savior revealed at last. Standing before them. Flesh and blood and real as he ever had been and yet also even more real, more alive. “O sons and daughters, let us sing! The King of heaven, the glorious King, o’er death and hell rose triumphing. Alleluia!” -- --“You are witnesses of these things.”  Easter in us, Easter for us, Easter all around us.

 When we were originally working through the rough draft of the rotation of preachers for this season I had scheduled Dean Byrom to preach today, but Phil Wainwright tapped me on the shoulder and reminded me that on April 21 we would be gathering downtown to elect a bishop, and he suggested that it might be appropriate for the Rector to have a pastoral word in the sermon today in that context. I don’t know exactly what at the time he or I thought I would say, but here I am anyway, as we have completed yesterday’s work. And so we know now: in the middle of the afternoon yesterday, after a Friday evening time of very respectful and appreciative and affectionate conversation among the lay and clergy charged with this very high and serious responsibility and stewardship, and after a morning and an afternoon of prayer, conversation, and discernment through six ballots, we of our diocese elected the Rev. Dorsey W. M. McConnell, who is currently serving as rector of the Episcopal Church of the Redeemer in Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts, to be our next bishop, the “Eighth Bishop Diocesan” since the organization of the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh in 1867.

 It happens that Dorsey is someone I’ve known a little bit over the past several years, and he is someone I both like very much and have much respect for. A deeply spiritual person with a lively faith, a wonderful teacher with great pastoral gifts and someone who has done a great deal especially over the past decade or so to create structures for bringing together folks who have been divided by some of the controversial issues in the life of the church. I’ve called him a bridge-builder rather than a bridge burner, and certainly I think that will be an important background and experience as he comes to begin his ministry in Pittsburgh later this summer.

 No question then this morning, nearly four years since the division of the old Diocese of Pittsburgh, we are at one of those turning points. A new morning for the diocese. Perhaps for some a time of special celebration, as the nominee they had supported had been elected, and perhaps for others who had supported one of the other four nominees still a lingering sense of regret and disappointment. All that is natural. The way this process works. With a hierarchical polity and a political culture where these things take on a life of their own, a time of election like the season we have just come through will have a great deal of energy and focus. Excitement and anxiety. Highs and lows. And no question there are reasons for both excitement and anxiety, no matter who had been elected to be our bishop. Whichever of the five nominees may have been a favorite as the discernment and election season progressed.

 Our diocese is in a fragile state, and it is going to take a good long time of good leadership and healthy practice of ministry in many different ways for us to keep our head above water and move forward to do the work we are called to do, as we have inherited and shared in the experience of those who stood with Jesus there in that upper room. Knowing that the work, the ministry, the mission, we are called to do here in this parish and in our diocese is truly precious in his sight.

 In the first chapter of Acts, just a short while before the story of the healing at the Temple that we hear about this morning in Acts 3, but at the very beginning and in the bright morning of Pentecost, when the disciples are attempting to discern the one God had called and chosen to fill the apostolic seat left vacant by Judas Iscariot, they looked at the available candidates—the Nominees—and St. Peter said “one of the men who have accompanied us during all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, beginning from the baptism of John until the day when he was taken up from us—one of these men must become with us a witness to his resurrection.”

 You are witnesses of these things.

 This is what I think is important for us on this new morning of our diocese, in this Easter, and here in the 24th chapter of St. Luke. Here in our parish, here in our personal lives, each one of us. For Bishop-elect McConnell, for the clergy and laity of our diocese, for all of us. That this is not so much about what a new bishop can bring in terms of skill sets and energy and leadership and all the rest—though certainly we’ll benefit from that in many ways. But there’s always a lot of magical thinking at moments like this too. We forget for a moment about all the heavy lifting and rowing upstream that we still have in front of us. No matter which of the Nominees had been elected, we are still the same diocese, the same people, with our same challenges and strengths, our hopes and dreams and our worries. But most importantly in all the season ahead that we would in all of that together be together, first and most importantly, before all else, a community of Easter witnesses. 

That we would know the risen Lord Jesus, whose victory has set us free. Who stands before us now, and renewed and revealed in Word and Sacrament. That we would experience his presence, his love, his forgiveness, in our hearts. To be in that Upper Room. That we would know and experience in our lives the hope that is incarnate in him. The good future that God has in mind for us. That we would have in our hearts a longing to be a part of that good future. Witnesses who have seen with our own eyes, known from our own experience, and who can communicate that good news in word and in the way we conduct our lives. 

It’s easy to get swept up in politics, relationships, programs, the projects of the day. In groups and out groups, all the rest. But the reality is that if we live in Christ, build our lives on him, open our eyes to see him and hear him as he is present in scripture and in the breaking of bread and in the prayers and in the witness of our lives, then there is good news ahead for the life of the Church, for St. Andrew’s and for the Diocese of Pittsburgh and all of the family of Christian people.

 And of course if he isn’t our foundation, if he isn’t the one we see and know as witnesses, then there’s no bishop or relationship or program or strategy that can help us on our way.

 Our Twelve Step Group friends have a saying, “the main thing is to make the main thing the main thing.” 

Third Easter. “And the government will be upon his shoulder, and his name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting father, Prince of Peace.” And we are witnesses.

 Easter blessings indeed. It will be an interesting season ahead, no question. High points, low points, all the rest. As we set out this morning to do the work he has given us to do. “Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses to these things.”

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

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Election Day!

The Rev. Dorsey W. M. McConnell, Rector of the Episcopal Church of the Redeemer in Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts, was elected this afternoon to serve as our next bishop, the Eighth Bishop Diocesan of the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh.
Bishop-elect McConnell is someone I have known personally as a person of deep spiritual maturity and faith, a brilliant thinker and exciting teacher, and a caring pastor. He has also given much of his attention to finding ways to construct healthy relationships and common life in the often divisive controversies that have shaken the Episcopal Church over the past decade and more. A bridge-builder. I know we will all look forward to welcoming Dorsey and his wife Betsy as they join us here in Pittsburgh later this summer. I'll do my best to get him into the pulpit at St. Andrew's at the first opportunity! For more information, Click Here!

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Second Sunday of Easter

On Sunday, April 15, we will welcome the Rt. Rev. Kenneth L. Price, Jr., Bishop of our Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh, as he comes to St. Andrew's for what is expected to be his last formal, Sunday morning visit before his retirement later this year. Bishop Price will preside and preach at the 9 a.m. and 11 a.m. services of the Holy Communion, and at the later service I will have the privilege of presenting to him eight young people and adults to be Confirmed or Received into the Communion of the Episcopal Church.

Festive Coffee Hour Receptions will follow both services to honor Bishop Price and Mariann and to celebrate with our confirmands. All are welcome!

~Bruce R.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Easter Sermon II

The 11 a.m. Service, St. Andrew's Church
Easter, 2012
The Rev. Dr. Bruce M. Robison, Rector

Easter Morning

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

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 so, Easter blessings, and in abundance. And the ancient Greek greeting of the first Christians 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. I always like for us to get into the mood with that. So let’s repeat it together . . . .

It is all celebration. Christ triumphant. Reigning. King of kings and Lord of lords. Those distant Christmas Eve angel choruses now ringing across the universe and all creation, alive with trumpet and song.

Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing. That’s from the vision and Revelation of St. John the Divine, in his fifth chapter.

And Isaiah saw it too, and gave the news, as we heard Heather read it this morning. Then the Lord God will wipe away the tears from all faces, and the disgrace of his people he will take away from all the earth, for the Lord has spoken.

As we read in the Epistle for Christmas Eve, from the first chapter of Hebrews: In these last days he has spoken to us by his Son. The Word of the Cross.

We see it every Sunday from the twelfth chapter of St. John inscribed on the great Rood Beam above us here. And I when I be lifted up from the earth will draw all men unto me. And so, the Lord has spoken. The Word of the Cross.

Again Isaiah: It will be said on that day, Lo, this is our God; we have waited for him, so that he might save us. This is the Lord for whom we have waited; let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation. All flowing together: ancient prophecy and eternal truth. Christ triumphant. King of kings, Lord of lords. Christos anesti. Alithos anesti.

Someone in my wide Facebook world posted the other day, I think in the same frame of mind as those who sometimes say they are “spiritual, but not religious,” that he believed “in resurrection,” but not “in THE resurrection.” I didn’t follow up too far to find out what he meant exactly. Probably should have. But we would in any event recall with clarity this morning that to whatever extent there is something to believe in called “resurrection,” it is only to be found and to come to life and to have a reality because of “THE resurrection.” What the word is today. What we have heard and what we proclaim.

So Paul in Romans 8: If God be for us, who can be against us? He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things? Who is he that condemneth? It is Christ that died, year rather, that is risen again, who is even at the right hand of God, who also maketh intercession for us.

Not—I don’t know-- a symbol or metaphor: but first this. That in Christ Jesus God humbled himself. In Christ Jesus, dead on that Cross. On that particular day, that particular afternoon, in that one particular place. That as he suffered there and died there he took on himself all the pain and brokenness of the story of every one of our lives. In those three hours, he looked upon every face, every life. Yours and mine. And made us his own. Mercy. Grace. Healing. Forgiveness.

How could that be? And yet it was. A miracle and a gift beyond our comprehension. Sin and death. Every lie, every theft, every murder. Every betrayal. Every loss. Every sorrow. From the foundation of the world and from one end of time to the other. And ours too. Ours especially, yours and mine. That we would know that personally this morning. He knowing and taking upon himself the secrets of our own hearts. The weight of all of that. Every tear, every regret. Every unfaithful act. With him and in him on the Cross. And then dead and buried.

And then that on that Sunday morning he was alive again. And not just alive the way he was alive before, but even more alive. Not a shadow of his former self, but more real than ever. More real than any reality that had been known since the creation of the world itself. And they saw it with their own eyes. They touched him, spoke with him. And it was real, and true and full of power for them. Full of power. And it is real and true and full of power for us.

This is why he was and why he is Emmanuel. God with us. And the words of the Angel, so long ago to Mary. As in that lovely transept window here. “And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there will be no end.”

All Easter. By him, with him, in him. For us. All Easter. Christos anesti. Alithos anesti.

We have a long way to go, of course. Our own roads to travel. Even more mistakes to make, and some of them will be heartbreaking and horrible, no question. So the history of the world and the story of our lives. Weaving new thorns for his brow.

But even in this time it is Easter, and one who is not against us, but who is for us from before time and forever, he is on the throne now. A promise that is being made real right in our midst. Above us, behind us, before us. With us. His is the kingdom, the power, and the glory. All the Easter hymns ever written aren’t enough to say it all.

And even with such a long way to go, we know that as we come to him he lifts us up, and that the end of the story is all Easter: his life and his love and a new life and a new world of life that we can only see now in glimpses. The victory banquet that we share by his grace. The bread of heaven, the cup of salvation.

Blessings on this day, Christian people, friends. Easter morning. Christ is risen indeed. Christos anesti. Alithos anesti. Say it with me. Amen.

Easter Sermon I

The 9 a.m. Service, St. Andrew's Church
Easter, 2012
The Rev. Dr. Philip Wainwright, Priest Associate

The New Testament frequently describes the spiritual world and the Christian
life in terms of military affairs. One of Jesus’s parables is about a
general facing an army that outnumbers his own, and there are the passages
about spiritual warfare in Ephesians. When Paul is referring to others who
are doing the same Christian ministry as he is, he calls them his
fellow-soldiers. Paul urges Timothy, another fellow-worker, to think of
himself as a soldier, too. Share in suffering as a good soldier of Christ
Jesus, he tells him.

I mention this because this image of war and battle is used a lot in
relation to the Easter message. Paul talks about Easter in terms of death
being swallowed up in victory, and goes on in the famous words, 'O death,
where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?' Many Easter hymns use
the same image: ‘the strife is o’er, the battle done, the victory of life is
won, the song of triumph has begun—Alleluia!’ What I want to do this morning
is to apply this image to us.

Most of us don’t really picture ourselves as soldiers of Christ. ‘Onward
Christian soldiers’ has gone out of fashion as a hymn. So let me suggest a
different rĂ´le, but still using the same image: let’s try thinking of
ourselves as members of a resistance movement. Because in the spiritual war
described in the New Testament, we are actually part of a people who have
suffered defeat, and are now subject to an occupying power. Remember who is
the Prince of this world according to the New Testament. That’s why, despite
the victory over death we celebrate today, people we know and love still
die. Death has been defeated, but it has not yet been put to death itself.
Death is on the run, retreating in disarray, but where we live, it still
rules. The Bible says that the last enemy to be destroyed is death, and that
comes after Christ’s second coming. Easter is a celebration that death has
been defeated, but it has not yet been destroyed. So we who celebrate its
defeat today are like members of the resistance in war-time Europe, hearing
and celebrating the news of great victories in North Africa and the Pacific,
knowing what that means for the future, but also knowing there is still much
to be done where we live. It’s a useful image, because it also reminds us
that there are things we can do to help bring the final destruction of the
enemy closer, acts of sabotage that undermine the authority of the occupying
power, until liberation comes.

One thing we can do as the resistance to remind our fellow-citizens that the
enemy is still the enemy. We have been under enemy rule so long that some
people have stopped regarding death as their enemy. ‘Death is part of life’,
they say, ‘we just have to accept it’. When we read God’s word, we recognise
that as misinformation, as enemy propaganda. Death is not part of life, it
is the opposite of life, and opposed to life. To believe that it must just
be accepted, even with good grace, is to be fooled by the enemy. Dylan
Thomas expresses biblical truth in his poem: ‘Do not go gentle into that
good night/ Old age should burn and rave at close of day;/ Rage, rage
against the dying of the light.’ Even if we don’t say it, inside when
reminded of death we should burn and rave and rage. We should know our
enemy, and make sure that others know the enemy too. That’s when the news of
the enemy’s defeat becomes good news.

Celebrating the fact that this enemy has suffered a catastrophic defeat is
an act of defiance. There on the cross Death thought it was about to win its
usual easy victory, just like Rommel in the desert, but in fact it was
totally defeated! Jesus, Who truly is an Army of One, and the only real Army
of One there ever can be, dealt that enemy a blow which is going to prove
mortal in the end, even though the war isn’t over yet. But telling others
about that defeat is more than defiance; it is sabotage, because it really
undermines the enemy, which is why there’s so much pressure on us by the
Prince of this world to keep quiet about it, to keep it just among us

When we remind people who aren’t Christians about Christ’s victory over
death, we won’t always get a positive reaction. It was the same way for the
resistance. For some people in occupied countries in Europe during the
second World War, news of victory elsewhere was first irrelevant, it didn’t
change anything in their lives that day, and second dangerous, things would
only get worse if they were caught celebrating it. But sometimes we will get
a positive reaction. Some in occupied Europe, when they heard others
whispered about the defeats the occupying power was suffering, began to feel
that something in the world was changing, and they found new heart, new
courage in themselves, and all of a sudden it became easier to recruit
people for the Resistance, easier to get people to hide those on the run,
easier to get money or supplies for the resistance cause. It didn’t seem
like such a lost cause after all. Spreading the news of victory, even in
whispers, was itself a blow against the enemy.

Now you’re all here to celebrate Christ’s victory over death, so there’s no
doubt you know the long-term implications of this news, but there are two
points I want to make as a resistance leader. First, remember that enemy
propaganda will still be coming at us every day, with its ‘death happens,
nothing can be done about it, Easter is just a nice story, a metaphor at
best.’ Because of what Christ did on the cross, death is no longer the end
for those who put their faith in Him, but Satan uses the fact that physical
death will continue for a while longer to confuse and discourage us. Know
that for what it is, defeatism, and don’t let it take you in. Second, share
the good news of this victory with your friends. We all have friends who are
not celebrating, who don’t really believe anything has changed, and who
sometimes get nervous when they see how excited we are. Our job is to get
them to see that something has changed, to get them to support the
resistance movement a little bit more than they have. As in all good
propaganda, there’s some truth in what they’re being told: it’s true that
nothing has changed yet, people go on dying after Christ’s resurrection as
they did before, but if He is raised from the dead, death is ultimately
doomed, and even now we can look forward to our own resurrection. As Paul
put it when writing to a resistance group in Rome, as Christ was raised from
the dead… we too may live a new life. If we have been united with him like
this in his death, we will certainly also be united with him in his
resurrection. ‘We too’, ‘certainly’ will share in His victory in the end!
Our lives will not end in death. The lives of our friends and neighbors do
not have to end in death. Resurrection, life after death, is possible, and
the more people know about it, the sooner death will be destroyed as well as

Sometimes when I mention the Easter victory to someone, they’re not
interested. They may be polite, but you can tell by the expression on their
faces what they’re thinking— ‘you’re nuts for believing that and you want me
to be as nutty as you. No thanks.’ When this happens as you spread the word
about this great victory, I have what is sometimes called a ‘talking point’
for you, something you can say to counteract the defeatism. There was a
Frenchman called Pascal who decided he was going to put his faith in Christ
and live for ever, and he explained it like this. I know it’s a gamble, he
said. I don’t have any irrefutable evidence that I can live for ever. I only
have Jesus’s word for it, and there’s no way I can prove that it’s true or
false. But if I look at it like a gamble, I’d be crazy not to make the bet.
It’s all a question of what I lose if I’m wrong, and what I gain if I’m
right. If Jesus is wrong, and I lose my bet, here’s what I’ve lost: a few
years trying to live by standards different from those around me, after
which I’ll be gone and it nothing will matter anyway. If Jesus is right, and
I win my bet, here’s what I win: I get to live for ever and ever in
Paradise, which means the happiest, most desirable life anyone could ever
have, and I’ll never have to leave it behind, ever. A choice like that is
what they call a no-brainer: to bet something not too bad but which you
cannot keep for long anyway against something absolutely spectacular that
you can keep for ever. I know there’s a lot of debate over the logic of this
argument, but for me it comes down to this: if someone gave you a cheque for
a million dollars, would you take it to the bank? I would; if it’s a dud, I
look stupid, but if it’s not… As a bet, it’s a no-brainer.

So don’t be afraid to look stupid. It’s worth the risk, because every person
that takes courage from the news of this defeat brings the ultimate
destruction of our enemy a little closer. During the war, even if good news
didn’t make someone join the resistance, it helped them decide against
informing on the next door neighbour who had. Even that advanced the cause a
little bit, especially when it was multiplied by the thousands of times it
happened. If all the Christians celebrating in church today say just one
thing about Christ’s victory to someone who isn’t celebrating, it would be
another victory.

The Bible tells us that death will be destroyed after Christ’s second
coming; Easter proves that it’s true. Even those not ready to join the
resistance can cheer a bit more for those who have, and can co-operate a
little bit less with the occupying power. So don’t be afraid. Say something.
Send someone an e-mail. Not just ‘happy Easter’, but ‘victory over death,
resurrection’. Make your belief in eternal life known to someone today.
There’s nothing to be shy about; we’re the winning side! The song of triumph
has begun—Alleluia!

O Sons and Daughters

Fr. Marchl's Easter Meditation, 2012

Sunday of the Resurrection

An Easter Message

That message spread throughout Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John announced: how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power; how he went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him. 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 and allowed him to appear … Acts 10

When Bishop Festo Kivengere of Uganda visited our parish in the 1970s, each Sunday school kid received a button that read, “I wish you Joy in the Lord.” These were the days of Idi Amin when one would have thought Joy in short supply.

I remembered this when I went through Zimbabwe to Zambia in 2004. Political oppression, famine, and AIDS were in abundance. Yet again in orphanages and elderly camps, I found JOY in abundance, too.

Joy does not exist in Africa or dire conditions, only. It began in an empty tomb or in the passage above, in which Peter preaches to Cornelius about the fulfillment of God’s prophetic word.

Joy is Easter resurrection wherever it is realized. It is rooted in the Scripture and is ineffably present in the Sacraments. In fact, the reaction to Peter’s words is baptism.

I wish you Joy in the Lord. Recognize that where the Word is, joy resides therein.

Alleluia! The Lord is risen. The Lord is risen indeed. Alleluia!

Fr. William H. Marchl

Priest Associate, St. Andrew's Church

For Easter Morning: 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.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Friday, April 6, 2012

Interval, and Holy Saturday

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.

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.

The images 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. Cruelty and crime. Violence. Images so fresh in our mind of Oakland California and Sanford Florida-- Syria. Afghanistan. On and on.

We see Jesus 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.

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. He takes all our sin, all our brokenness, our sickness, into himself. And by his wounds we are healed. 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, for all of us, this day, the opening door to life and eternal life in him.

Good Friday

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 5, 2012

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Wednesday in Holy Week

The elders of the daughter of Zion sit on the ground and sigh; they have cast dust on their heads and clothed themselves in sackcloth; the virgins of Jerusalem bow their heads to the ground.
Lamentations 2

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Tuesday in Holy Week

The Son of God, Christ Jesus, proclaimed among you by us . . . was never a blend of Yes and No. With him it was, and is, Yes.

He is the Yes pronounced upon God's promises, every one of them.

That is why, when we give glory to God, it is through Christ Jesus that we say "Amen." And if you and we belong to Christ, guaranteed as his and anointed, it is all God's doing; it is God also who has set his seal upon us, and as a pledge of what is to come has given the Spirit to dwell in our hearts.

Second Corinthians 1

Monday, April 2, 2012

Monday in Holy Week

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

~Lamentations 1

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Palm Sunday, 2012

So there you go, Jesus. Some April Fool’s Day, don’t you think? The old switcheroo. You open your arms for a tender embrace and then all of a sudden it’s a big cream pie, right between the eyes. Something like that.

I suppose we all feel that way. Seems like just a few minutes ago and we were on top of the world. Sun shining. Crowds cheering. People taking notice. Catching the wave just right. All those months and years out in the boondocks, and now we were going to be making it big time in the big city. All glory, laud, and honor. Right down Broadway.

Our hearts were full of excitement. Adrenaline coursing through every cell of our bodies. That sense of hope, purpose, destiny, that we felt somehow, just by intuition, when we first met you by our fishing boats. Here and now that all seemed to be coming to life. The enthusiasm of the crowds, the energy so real you could almost taste it. Things were really happening.

But now. Well, I guess the joke’s on you, Jesus. April Fools!

I mean, I know we said it. All for one, one for all. And we meant it, too. Really. And you know that. You know us better than anybody. We said we’d follow you anywhere, and we meant it. You’ve seen us when we were at our best, and when we weren’t at our best. You’ve heard our hopes and dreams. Our secret thoughts. Our confessions. Our regrets. You loved us anyway. And we knew that. Really we did. And we know it now. In fact we love you too, even now. Which is what makes this all so hard.

It could have been different. Even at this last minute we all probably could have scooted out over the garden wall and into the night. Out of town and halfway home again before the authorities even knew we were gone. Or we could have locked the doors and hunkered down in that Upper Room. But you’ve just had this other thing going on lately. This look in your eyes. Like you were seeing something farther out. Something we couldn’t see. Like there was something out there. Like this all was meaning something that you got, but that just left us shaking our heads.

I mean, I wonder. I wonder if we’ll ever know what was going on with you. What you could possibly have been thinking. What you were trying to accomplish.

April Fool’s Day, Jesus, but this is no joke. These guys – they mean business. We haven’t gone up against anybody like them before.

April Fool’s Day, Jesus. And yes, I know we said we’d be there with you, for you. But you knew all along, didn’t you? Story of our lives. Good intentions.

We’d hoped I think that we would be better than this. But that’s not what’s happening. Turns out this is a bridge too far. We wish you the best, and we hope you’ll understand. That you won’t hold it against us or anything. But if this is really the way you need to go, then Jesus, I’m sorry. But you’re on your own.