Friday, April 19, 2019
for You alone my soul in silence waits.
Into your hands, O God, I place my spirit,
for I know indeed that You are my home and my shelter.
We turn to You, O Merciful One,
and remember the love you have embedded
in each breath we take.
Lord Christ, you took on the cross,
the point where darkness and light meet,
and opened your arms to embrace us eternally:
may we kneel at your feet and repent,
crucifying our fears, our divisions,
our callous indifference,
o live eternally in You.
Blessed Jesus, You are lifted up before us,
offering yourself in freedom to lay down your life
to overthrow the power of death:
may we take up our cross of love, and follow,
embracing the light of God.
Spirit of the Living God,
You sustain us in every moment:
abide within our hearts,
and grant your protection to those for whom we pray.
Thursday, April 18, 2019
“I give you a new commandment,
that you love one another.
Just as I have loved you,
you also should love one another.
By this everyone will know
that you are my disciples,
if you have love for one another.” (John 13: 34-35)
This is what brings us together—today and every day. Love. It’s there at the start of our gospel reading, too: “Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.” Jesus is getting ready to leave his disciples—but he wants to show them what true love is. And he gives them a concrete example that they will never forget.
What is the act Jesus chooses to demonstrate his love for his disciples? Something so humbling that no one would have expected it. Jesus kneels before each one of his disciples, and takes their feet into his hands to wash them. It absolutely surprised the disciples—having Jesus get up at the end of the meal, stripping off his outer garment, tying a towel about his waist, getting the water and the basin. After all, foot washing was usually done before the meal—sponging off the dust that clung to the feet from a day’s journey on the roads and streets. It was also usually done by a slave or by a woman. It was a humble act of servitude.
Yet Jesus reverses the order here—forever linking what we would later call the Eucharist with loving, solicitous service, as symbolized through the foot washing. It’s an important reminder to us, as well, that we must not come to this table “for solace only, and not for strength; for pardon only, and not for renewal,” as one of our own Eucharistic prayers states.
And yes, it makes us as uncomfortable as it did the disciples, this washing of feet. From the time we learn to walk, though, our feet bear the imprint of the habits and the accidents and events of our lives. They get callused where they rub against rough ground, they get misshapen if we wear shoes too small or if we study ballet, they spread wider and ache if we spend too much time on them. They are the very sign of our vulnerability.
Nonetheless, Jesus takes each one of those feet into his hands, lovingly washing them and drying them, taking his time. Those feet are going to take a variety of paths going out from that place: some are going to go with Jesus to pray. Some are going to go to betray Jesus for silver. Some are going to run away when accused of being a follower of Jesus. Tenderly, Jesus washes his apostles’ feet—even Judas’s, whose act of betrayal gets omitted in the middle of our gospel reading.
In the verses omitted here tonight, Jesus quotes Psalm 41:9- “Even my dear friend in whom I trusted, who ate of my bread, has lifted his heel against me.” I wish they had included the quote from Psalm 41, for, in our reading tonight, we see Jesus taking that same heel of his betrayer and washing it. In washing Judas’s feet alongside the others’, Jesus declares not just his love but his forgiveness for Judas’s betrayal. This is what Jesus means by love. He loved his own until the end—even Judas.
Throughout Jesus’s ministry, we are reminded over and over again that his kin-dom will challenge and upend all of our human notions of power and authority. And the means by which those notions are challenged is love. The Eucharist and the foot washing are both rooted in that love that is Jesus’s final, enduring commandment to us as his disciples then and now.
And if we look beyond tonight’s liturgy through the remainder of Holy Week, we can see a pattern emerge. The combined narrative of these three days is filled with movement. We begin with Maundy Thursday’s foot-washing, and the stripping of the altar as we remember Jesus’s last meal with his disciples and the setting in motion of his betrayal. Good Friday recalls Jesus’s arrest and crucifixion, and reminds us of the deep symbolism of the cross in our lives as Christians. The Easter Vigil then describes the arc of salvation throughout scripture, and then offers us the first opportunity to proclaim the resurrection. Running through this narrative, pun intended, is a journey through our own devotional growth as disciples.
As I was thinking about this service tonight, I was reminded of the shock that many felt six years ago when Pope Francis washed the feet of twelve prisoners in Rome at a youth detention center. Not all of the young prisoners were Catholic, or even Christian; some were Muslim. But what most shocked some observers were that two of the prisoners were female, and the pope washed their feet ass well. Since the revival of the foot washing tradition in the Roman church in 1959, popes had usually washed only male feet, and usually Catholics—often other priests. However, St. John Paul II washed the feet of homeless boys, although he and his immediate successor later restricted the rite to priests.
Pope Francis, staying true to his customs from before his papacy, reversed that policy and washed the feet of prisoners—yet in 2013, the shocking part was not the fact that he washed the feet of prisoners, but that two females were among the twelve, and that they had included non-Christians. Yet in responding to criticism about the symbolism of such perceived boundary-violations, Francis’s spokesman was clear that the point of the foot-washing ceremony was as an act of love and service to all.
Jesus calls us to model his acts of humble service in the world. Jesus models his own washing of the disciples’ feet as one that they are called to emulate both individually and as a mark of their community.
How are each of us called to be a servant to others, and how is St. Martin’s called as a community of faithful people to serve those outside our boundaries? These are the questions we are called to continually ask ourselves, testing out our understanding as it evolves over time.
Now some might argue that you can’t command love for another. Some might argue against loving those who are too different from us, or doubt that such a thing could be done at all. But that is exactly what Christ is commanding us to do.
Once again this is where we might start to wish that English had more than just one word for “love.” Because the word Jesus uses to speak of love is not a romantic love, but a self-sacrificing, parental love. Love that pursues even in the face of obstacles. Love that is as real and tangible as the elements of the story we heard tonight—the bread and wine that were a part of the meal as was recounted in the other three gospels, and the water that is used to wash the disciples’ feet. All five senses are engaged: Sight, hearing, taste, smell, touch.
Anglican priest and poet Malcolm Guite appeals to that complete sense-experience of Maundy Thursday in this sonnet:
Here is the source of every sacrament,
The all-transforming presence of the Lord,
Replenishing our every element
Remaking us in his creative Word.
For here the earth herself gives bread and wine,
The air delights to bear his Spirit’s speech,
The fire dances where the candles shine,
The waters cleanse us with His gentle touch.
And here He shows the full extent of love
To us whose love is always incomplete,
In vain we search the heavens high above,
The God of love is kneeling at our feet.
Though we betray Him, though it is the night.
He meets us here and loves us into light.(1)
Jesus loves us into light—and centers his call to love as an appeal to the entire community to disregard barriers and notions of rank and privilege so that the outside world will know we are Christians not by the things we wear or our own claims—but by our love, especially for those outside the margins of our parish or communities. To love, and risk being vulnerable: those are the two components that enable our discipleship.
Jesus teaches us that to serve others is the greatest way to love and serve God. With God’s help, may we also accept the honor and blessing of being cared for with grace. May we not only seek to serve, but to love each other enough to allow them to serve us. May we always remember that we are cleansed not through our own effort but in community with each other, for the redemption of the world. Through the example of our Savior and out Teacher, Jesus, may we shed our fear of being vulnerable, that we may love God and each other fully, and be healed by love. May we join hands and feet and hearts in the sacrament of Holy Communion, to be strengthened and united, giving thanks to God, and interceding through our praise and thanksgiving, for the entire world and its cares.
Preached at the 7:00 pm Maundy Thursday service at St. Martin's Episcopal Church, Ellisville, MO on April 18, 2019.
John 13:1-17, 31b-35
1) The Rev. Dr. Malcolm Guite, "Sonnet for Maundy Thursday" from Sounding the Seasons (2012), also found at https://malcolmguite.wordpress.com/2019/04/18/
Almighty God, Ground of Our Being,
we turn to You in hope and gratitude,
centering ourselves in your grace and peace,
inviting your Spirit deeper into our hearts.
and care for each other as tenderly as you care for us,
strengthen us to be a community embodying your example,
where all are fed, cherished, and honored.
You showed us how to walk in love and faith, O Redeemer,
and You have made each of us precious in your sight:
may we therefore extend the bounds of our compassion
to love and protect each other in truth and in action.
May we remember that in all we do,
we are your representatives in the world:
your voice of forgiveness and reconciliation,
your healing hands among all in need,
your compassionate embrace of all who feel broken or lost.
Led by your example, Lord Christ,
and anointed by the Spirit,
may we take up our lives' true work:
to worship God in unswerving faithfulness,
standing in unity with all creation,
tearing down the edifices of injustice and oppression,
serving the weakest and most vulnerable among us
just as you laid down your life in ransom for all.
Fed and nourished at your abundant table, O Savior,
we ask your blessing and guidance as we walk in your Way,
and ask your protection upon those for whom we pray.
Wednesday, April 17, 2019
Blessed Redeemer, abounding in mercy,
lift me up by your love,
that I may sing your praises from the depths of my heart.
Draw me deeper into the mystery of your grace, O Holy One,
for my soul longs for You.
Search me out and rescue me when I have gone astray,
for You are my Hope and my Shield.
May your Word be a lamp unto my feet,
and your grace a guide to my heart.
Hear me when I call to You,
and pull me from the shifting sands,
for You are ever tender in your care.
Give me a zeal to serve You by serving your gospel,
and a heart to love others as I love myself.
Loving One, be our companion in the way today, and every day,
and broadcast your blessing and your peace to all who seek You.
Tuesday, April 16, 2019
Most Merciful God,
gather us within the bounds of your compassion,
that we may center our spirits within your peace,
giving thanks always for your steadfast lovingkindness.
Help us to let go of those things
which cause division and rancor to sprout within us.
Help us to walk in obedience and humility,
not lashing out, but embracing each other
as your Beloved Community.
Plant the seeds of faith within us,
that it may spring up and produce abundantly,
like grain nodding hosannas in the field.
Kindle the embers of our devotion, Lord Christ,
with the warmth of your love,
and place your hand of healing upon all for whom we pray.
Monday, April 15, 2019
Most Merciful God,
we lift our hearts to you,
and ask your forgiveness for all our sins,
our silences, our words,
and our claims of powerlessness
before evil that veil your goodness in the world.
Center us within your grace, Lord Jesus,
and strengthen us to walk in your Way--
the way of life, the way of justice,
the way of healing, the way of empathy and integrity.
Give us courage and wisdom
that we may proclaim your gospel of love
in all our journeys.
Take us by the hand and lead us, O Spirit of Truth,
setting our hearts ablaze with the light of Christ,
we humbly pray.
Pour out your benediction and peace
upon all whose prayers rise to You, O God,
especially those for whom we pray.
Sunday, April 14, 2019
It’s not often you get such a wide swing of emotion in one Sunday’s readings. I want you to think about it: at the start of this service, we were rejoicing and shouting Hosanna and hailing Jesus as our king. It was easy to imagine ourselves to be walking in the way of Jesus. Twenty minutes later, we are shouting, “Crucify him!”
That’s right—“We” are shouting those things.
The immediacy of scripture is that we imagine ourselves within the stories, as one does with all great literature, whether fictional or non-fictional.
But there’s a danger in that, too. If we forget the contexts in which our gospels were written, if we forget that each one of them was written for a specific audience that was very different from us, we run the risk of getting sideways in our understanding of what actually is going on. Worse, we commit the mistake of “anachronism,” in which we place our modern context as a bracket or even a straitjacket over scripture, and we end up once again trying to “tame” Jesus and “tame” the gospel to fit our own preferences and understandings.
As I wrote in my priest’s reflection in the Beacon this week, the liturgical decision to combine observation of the joyous Palm Sunday service with the pathos and despair of the Passion Narrative into one service stems partly from the suspicion that many worshipers might not hear the Passion narrative at all if it was not observed the week before Easter. There is an assumption that a sizeable proportion of Episcopalians do not attend Holy Week and in particular Good Friday services—and honestly, that might be true.
I am hoping, however, that all of you will decide to fully observe Holy Week as much as you can—beginning with Palm/Passion Sunday today—(see? You’re off to a great start!). Then we have a kind of pause at the beginning of the week, and I urge you to spend each day with a special devotion, to contemplate the enormity of Christ’s death for us on the cross. I will provide links for those devotions on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram during the week from the “Journey to the Cross” section of the website d365.org, a collaboration between the Episcopal, Presbyterian, and Cooperative Baptist Fellowship.
And then, please come for Maundy Thursday, with its commemoration of the birth of the Eucharist; Good Friday, recounting Jesus’s trial and execution and our meditations before our Stations of the Cross; and the Great Vigil of Easter, the holiest commemoration in our calendar (even more holy than Easter Sunday, in fact).
So you all are hopefully going to bust that myth wide open, and you’re going to experience the beauty of the Triduum—that fancy word that means “three days”—Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and then the silence of Saturday until the Great Vigil helps us proclaim resurrection and reconciliation for all creation.
I was oh, so tempted to let this Passion Narrative stand on its own—because really, what else but this story emphasizes exactly the cost of love that God is willing to bear for us? And then, this week, came the news from my home state of a woman who attempted to terrorize Jews and other targeted groups with vandalism, painting swastikas and slurs all over public spaces in central Oklahoma—including churches.
So there is one thing that has to be said. Although we didn't hear it in our dramatic version read together today, in the Bible, the Passion Narratives include language that blames “the Jews” for the death of Jesus-- over and over again. At the time of the gospels’ composition, those hearing this narrative were themselves likely Jews, and they understood this to be shorthand for “the authorities.” Those authorities at the time of Jesus’s execution were both Roman and Jewish. BOTH.
And yet the Romans do not get blamed. Against all other historical evidence we have—and there is evidence—Pilate was not some befuddled coward who was afraid of the crowd. He had absolutely no problem being ruthless in executing people without cause and did so plenty of times. The fact is that it was in the best interest of the early Jewish Christian communities to go easy on the Roman culpability in order to save their necks.
Because by the time the Gospels were written, the Romans had just gotten finished crushing a Jewish uprising in 70 AD. The cherry on top was their utter destruction of the Temple—after desecrating it first. And the gospel writers had some bitterness against the Jewish authorities in Jerusalem, who had urged against the uprising to begin with, not to mention their religious quarrel with followers of “The Way” over who Jesus was accepted to be.
That’s the context we have to remember: when the gospels say “the Jews,” what they mean is “the leaders.” But we don’t get that context. And so, over centuries, these gospels led to marginalization and prejudice against out Jewish brothers and sisters.
As Jewish New Testament scholar Amy-Jill Levine noted, it’s vital to point out how much passages like these have been used through history to demonize Jewish people, to call them “Christ-killers,” to justify pogroms and hatred and violence against our Jewish brethren time and time and time again—or even to claim that Christianity is “better” than Judaism.
So come for all the Holy Week services—especially the Easter Vigil, where we will the salvation story starting with the creation of the universe through the story of the Exodus, through the prophets to the amazing discovery by Mary Magdalene and the other women who never abandoned Jesus even at the tomb.
Hearing those readings help us remember that the salvation of humanity begins from the beginning of time. God is ever making the heavens and the earth, and calling us back from the foolishness of Adam in thinking he could decide things himself. Remember when THAT all went wrong, the first thing Adam and Eve did was to hide. To think they could hide from their disobedience and the consequences of it. Just like we all do.
Yet Jesus, who is a new Adam, is not hiding from anyone. Instead, he boldly walks out to those looking to seize him. Instead of rebellion, Jesus acts out of perfect obedience, love, and unity with God. Instead of Adam choosing sin in opposition to love, this new Adam, Jesus of Nazareth, chooses to act in love in opposition to sin.
Once again, God knows his love will be met with rejection. This Adam is truly God’s son. Once again, we find the one who wants to give us everything, and we react with doubt, rejection, and fear. Those who come to arrest Jesus are seeking a rebel; but instead they find God in the shape of Jesus.
Yet we still refuse to recognize God as God. Instead WE rebel. WE want to be in charge. Yet Jesus will go willingly into custody for a crime he has not committed, and place himself in the hands of evil, of fear and sin, so that he may show that the love of God always wins out over evil, over fear, and over sin. We need to remember to hear “the people” instead of "the Jews" in the reading of the gospel passage today, because this passage in particular has been used throughout the centuries to justify anti-Semitism, and that is completely wrong.
WE are the ones-- all of us-- who put Jesus on the cross. We are there as Jesus is being questioned and condemned, and we are there as Jesus is executed although not guilty of any crime.
We are Adam and Eve, and we are also the disciples, we are the chief priests and the crowd, and we are Pilate and the soldiers. Each one of those groups represents something about us.
WE are Adam and Eve: We are the ones who run away and hide from the ones we love, and then wonder why we are alone. We are the ones who want God to be powerful enough to grant our wishes, yet weak enough to do our bidding.
WE are the disciples: We are the ones who ask to sit at the place of honor and but shun the shame of Calvary.
WE are Judas: We reject those we’ve pledged to love, betraying them when they won’t do what WE want.
WE are the chief priests and Pharisees: We are the ones for whom a thousand signs are never enough proof.
WE are Pilate: We are the ones who choose inaction in the face of wrong.
WE are the crowd: We are the ones who blindly follow our leaders, even to cheering the slaughter of innocents.
WE are the soldiers: We are the ones who take part in a thousand cruelties, both small and enormous, in the names of doing our jobs.
And all these sins add up. These sins are what put Jesus on the cross.
We want to believe that terrible events like crucifixion and injustice are the work of people who are evil. Yet the line between good and evil doesn’t run between us, it runs within us. It starts with how we respond to fear. So many of the people involved in the Passion narrative are filled with fear born out of mistrust. And this applies to us as well. We have created a society where we have elevated distrust, doubt, and betrayal to art forms, after all. When we lash out at those we love, when we destroy relationships out of dread that we could get hurt, we choose the way of anxiety rather than the way of trust—not to mention we ironically get the very thing we feared. Jesus calls us to a different way.
The Way of Jesus is the Way of trust, the Way of wonder, the Way of kinship with all people and all creation, the Way of the strong standing up for the weak, the Way of forgiveness, the Way of healing. That’s why these stories mean something to us—and this one today is the greatest story ever told.
But these stories also contain a challenge-- to be like Jesus. The challenge is to give up the way of fear. Jesus’s passion narrative as we hear it in today and always shows us not the way to die, but the way to live. Walking the Way of Jesus, in the name of love.
Preached at the 505, 8:00 and 10:15 services at St. Martin's Episcopal Church for Palm/Passion Sunday, April 14, 2019.
we raise our shouts of praise to you,
and bless your holy name.
May we never forget to sing out your wondrous love and mercy,
but lift our hearts to you always.
May we always proclaim that you, Lord, are Messiah,
and seek to be your disciples in word and deed.
May we always follow you in times of joy and in times of testing,
as you lead us and uphold us in times of blessing as well as struggle.
Lord, we make our humble supplications before you:
bless and heal us, and those we now name.
Saturday, April 13, 2019
we thank You for this day,
and ask for your guidance as we use it to your service.
Uphold us in your wisdom and witness, Lord Jesus,
and strengthen us to run with joy
the race that lies before us.
Help us gather at the foot of your cross
in wonder for your love and salvation,
your grace which knows no limits.
Spirit of the Living God,
pour out your comfort
upon all who wait, or watch, or weep,
especially those whose needs we lift before You.
Friday, April 12, 2019
who puts a song in the throat of the sparrow and wren,
whose praise is found in the voices of children,
receive our hearts as we offer them to you today.
Zeal for your law of love inspired Jesus to cleanse the Temple:
may we, too, cleanse our hearts of all impurities,
all that draws us from dwelling within your love,
that we may be a fit habitation for your Spirit.
All that we are belongs to You, O God,
Fountain of All our Blessings,
Our Hope in Time of Trouble:
hold us and shield us in the hollow of your hand.
Pour out your blessing on all in sorrow or distress,
we humbly pray, O Lord of Life,
and grant your peace which surpasses understanding
to those for whom we pray.
Picture: A Navajo (Dine) Tree of Life rug.
Wednesday, April 10, 2019
Most Merciful God,
our awakening spirits give you thanks and praise,
and we rise from your rest secure in your embrace.
The Earth is illumined with the glory of God:
You adorn the dogwoods with a lacy veil,
and the forsythia glow with golden joy at your coaxing;
the canopy of pine and oak enclose a cathedral choir
as all the Earth sings out your praise, O Creator.
Your eye is upon the sparrow and hummingbird, O God,
you brood over the Earth like a hen over her nest,
and gather all safely within your care:
we are secure and comforted upon your breast,
and soothed by your steadfast love.
You spread your mighty wings, O Holy One
to shield and shade us in our need,
and nourish us in wisdom that we may grow in your ways,
upheld by your unending love and compassion.
Spirit of the Living God,
pour out your comfort over all who turn to You in need:
relieve the suffering, and dry the tear of those who mourn.
Lord Jesus, lead us in paths of healing and mercy,
and grant your blessing over those we remember before You.
Tuesday, April 9, 2019
Most Merciful God,
strengthen and preserve us throughout this day, we pray,
and place your right hand of blessing over us.
Grant us the courage to speak for right
in the face of evil,
and to act for good
in the face of oppression.
Help us proclaim the gospel of the homeless Christ,
who has no place to lay his head
that is his own.
Help us treat the vulnerable among us as the most precious,
and treasure creation as your handiwork.
Give us the grace to amend our lives
that we may sing forth your glory forever, we pray.
Lord God, send forth your Spirit
upon those who are in any need or sorrow,
especially for those we now name.
Photo: from the 20th century martyrs wall at Westminster Abbey
Monday, April 8, 2019
With a song of praise on our lips,
we join with creation in declaring
the wonders of your hand, O God,
who is making all things new.
Awaken us to our kinship
with each blade of grass,
each budding tree,
each gust of wind carrying the song of birds.
We behold your love in the world, O Holy One,
and rest secure under your watchful gaze.
Direct our steps into paths of peace and justice,
we humbly pray,
and give us the wisdom and will
o work for the common good in your Name,
as You have commanded.
May we embody the reconciling love of Jesus
in all that we say or do this day, Lord.
For we do not exist for ourselves,
but as your disciples we are called to service,
upheld by your abundant grace and compassion.
Blessed Savior, press the kiss of your blessing upon us,
that we may rise to your call,
and give your angels charge over those for whom we pray.
Photo: The Heavens Are Telling the Glory of God, taken as a storm approached while on retreat at Windridge Solitude, Lonedell, MO.
Sunday, April 7, 2019
who is ever doing a new thing among us,
we bow before your altars today:
purify us, and break open our hearts
that we may ever sing your praise.
May we respond to your extravagant, saving love, Lord Christ,
with an outpouring of love and service,
anointing you as the Savior of Our Hearts,
serving the world in your name without care for the cost.
May a spirit of generosity seize us,
and make us witnesses to your truth,
reconciling the world in a spirit of compassion and grace.
Holy One, accept our prayers as we kneel at your feet,
and bless and comfort those for whom we pray.
Saturday, April 6, 2019
we lift up our hearts to the glory of your radiant love,
and give praise that we dwell in your presence forever.
in your ministry among us you were a healer:
may we reach out to you now to heal us.
Heal us of our anger and thirst for vengeance,
remembering all the times we ourselves have received mercy.
Heal our wounded spirits,
that the pain of the past does not cripple us today.
Heal our mourning hearts,
as we remember those who have died and what they meant for us.
Heal us of our distracted ways,
that we may remember your mercy
and dwell in your presence in each moment.
O Guardian of Our Souls,
seal us as your own forever,
and renew and revive our strength
through your compassion,
especially for those for whom we now pray.
Friday, April 5, 2019
Spirit of the Living God,
you have carried us through the night
as a mother rocks her child:
your mercy is everlasting.
Shine the light of your countenance upon us,
and hear our whispered praises and thanksgivings.
Abide within our hearts and minds, O Holy One;
lead us to holiness and compassion.
Through the power of love
let us work to build up your kingdom
and repair the torn places
within ourselves and each other.
Gentle us and make us peace-makers,
as we seek to witness to your wisdom
to the honor of your Name.
Extend the comfort of your embrace
to all who suffer in body, mind, or spirit,
to all whose seek the way of hope.
Send forth your angels, we pray,
to guide and guard those whose needs we lay before You.