Saturday, March 30, 2013

Holy Saturday

As I write these words, women, men, and children have gathered this morning at St. Mary's to prepare for our first Easter celebration tonight at sunset--as Lent will finally end, and in the dark, The Feast of the Resurrection will begin.

After the Maundy Thursday service, the clergy and altar guild consumed every last bit of consecrated bread and wine.  The tabernacle, the communion kits are empty.  The red sanctuary light (witness to the presence of consecrated bread and wine in the tabernacle) has been extinguished.

Today is the one day in the Church on which there is no Holy Communion.  Jesus is in the tomb.  How can his body and blood be with us?

Some churches will have early Easter services this afternoon, particularly baptizing younger folks into the faith.  Other churches will have joyous Easter egg hunts today, reaching out to the community in hospitality and love.

As a priest, I struggle between the theology of Holy Saturday and Jesus still in the tomb, and the opportunity to be hospitable today to a world looking eagerly towards Easter.  It is convenient to celebrate before Holy Week actually ends, and Easter begins.  I find no fault with churches and folk that celebrate today.  God's abundant blessings be upon them.

But for me, as chief pastor of the parish I've called home for fifteen years, I must lead as I understand. We are a culture that hates to wait; we are a people who want always to be filled.  This is the day of waiting.  This is the day of being empty.  Jesus is lying wrapped in burial clothes within the garden tomb.

In my daily devotion today from the monastery of the Society of St. John the Evangelist,  Brother Curtis had a very good word.  He wrote:

Love the emptiness. If you do not have space in your soul – if you keep yourself filled on food or constant activity or ever-new ideas– your desire will be blunted or even perverted. We have been created with the gift of desire, to long for, to anticipate.

The question was posed:

Where might life be waiting to erupt out of emptiness for you?

On this very final day of Lent, this final day of Holy Week,  I invite us all to find some place of emptiness in which to sit.  If you feel too busy, I promise, if you ask, God will help you find a place to stop, empty, and be.

There is no Easter without death.  There is no Easter without absence and longing first.

Friday, March 29, 2013

Holy Friday: Zizyphus Spina Christi

In my suitcase returning from my three weeks in the Holy Land is a branch from a tree growing in the ruins of the city of Chorizim.  Wrapped in toilet paper from the Convent of the Rosary Sisters in Nazareth to keep it safe during my travels, it is one of my prized souvenirs from that pilgrimage.

Chorizim was a city situated on the northern side of the Sea of Galilee. It is a city where Jesus performed miracles but he then cursed because those miracles did not change the hearts of the people (Luke 10. 12--14).

The city was stark that hot September day when my brother and I explored the ruins.  The rocks used to build the city were black basalt, and most of the plants had dried to the beige and brown of late summer.  Among the few green plants growing was a tree, zizyphus spina christi.  An evergreen, it has edible fruits which taste much like dates.  In fact, from other trees of the genus, the small red fruit is used to make the candy, jujubes.

This green tree in the midst of ruins had a not so good surprise.  Small thorns covered the branches which one did not see until touching a branch and being pricked.  In Chorizim, this genus of the buckthorn family is spina christi.  Many think that it was the branches from this tree that were used to make the crown of thorns that Jesus wore to his death.

On this Holy Friday at our noonday service we will read the passion narrative from the nineteenth chapter of the Gospel of John.

Then Pilate took Jesus and had him flogged. 2 The soldiers twisted together a crown of thorns and put it on his head. They clothed him in a purple robe 3 and went up to him again and again, saying, “Hail, king of the Jews!” And they slapped him in the face.4 Once more Pilate came out and said to the Jews gathered there, “Look, I am bringing him out to you to let you know that I find no basis for a charge against him.” 5 When Jesus came out wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe, Pilate said to them, “Here is the man!”6 As soon as the chief priests and their officials saw him, they shouted, “Crucify! Crucify!” 

I am thoughtful about this crown of thorns placed on Jesus' head.  It would have looked harmless as the soldiers brought it towards him and lifted it to his head.  It was only when the crown was placed that the pain from it began.

As people, we are often somewhat prepared for the pain and suffering we experience in life.  It is those unexpected hurts that blindsight us and that can cause ache to our very soul.  

On that Friday in Jerusalem that is now called Good, Jesus knew that he was going to be betrayed, denied, abandoned, ridiculed, and crucified.  For this pain he was as prepared as one could be, particularly by his vigil of prayer the night before in the Garden of Gethsamene.  

But the pain of these tiny, nearly invisible thorns was unexpected.  

On this Holy, this Good, Friday, may we be especially be aware of those small, often unplanned, hurts that we each cause.  May we remember that as Jesus dies on the cross, his hands are open wide to receive and give absolution for all of those things we do that cause others pain.  As we are forgiven, may we extend our hands only in love to all of those we meet.

O Christ, who by the thorns pressed upon your head has drawn the thorns from the sorrows of the world, and has given us a crown of joy and peace:  Make us so bold to never fear suffering, nor to suffer without relying on your love and care, to the glory of your holy name.  AMEN

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Holy Thursday: The back story

It wasn't the first time that the disciples had seen feet washed that night of their last meal with Jesus.  Certainly, it was the custom for a servant to wash one's feet, made dirty through walking on dusty roads, before one ate a meal. Certainly, it was most unusual for feet to be washed during a meal, and to be washed by the host or leader.

I wonder if Jesus' actions during the last meal with his disciples, after which he would be betrayed and arrested, were inspired by an event that the gospel writer said took place a week or so before.

According to John's gospel, eight days before the Passover, Jesus was in Bethany eating with his disciples in the home of his dear friends Lazarus, Martha, and Mary.  It is during that meal that Mary takes costly perfume and anoints Jesus' feet, then dries his feet with her hair.  The perfume of the oil fills the room. I wonder if as Jesus pondered this humble action, this generous gift, that he was struck with the deep devotion and servanthood of Mary.

I wonder that at the meal a week or so later, that last meal with his disciples, that Jesus spied the basin and pitcher and towel set out in the corner of the room where they were eating, ready for foot washing, basic good manners in a Jewish home. Maybe their feet had already been washed by a servant.  Whatever the case, I wonder if Jesus, seeing the props for washing feet, remembered Mary washing his feet just days before.  I wonder if he remembered the devotion and love in that humble yet generous act.  I wonder if remembering the act of pure love and kindness Mary had bestowed on him that he was then moved to share that same kind of love and devotion with his own beloved disciples.

I wonder.

There is a church in North Carolina that has an extraordinary fresco behind the altar.  The fresco takes up the whole back wall, and the altar appears to be an extension of the fresco.  In it we see Jesus with the twelve.  We see a basin and bowl with a towel draped as if it had been used.  Eleven of the twelve are seated at the table with Jesus; we only see the back of another disciple as he goes out of the door (Judas?).  We also see a woman serving at the table, another woman to the side with two children, and one more man at the edge of the fresco who appears to be walking away.

Which made me wonder about another back story of that last meal.  Who set up for the meal?  Who baked the bread?  Who made the wine and who brought it?  Who cleaned up afterwards?  Would there have been a last meal without their service?

Wondering about Mary and all of the other nameless, faceless folks that made that last meal with Jesus possible, I wonder about all of the other backstories of the Gospel--all of those many actions in Jesus' life that we honor and celebrate that might not have happened without ordinary folk saying yes to serve, going all of the way back to the yeses of his mother and father.

It seems that on this Holy Thursday we have the opportunity to ponder the mostly anonymous back stories that made Jesus' birth, life, death, and resurrection possible.  We also have the opportunity to ponder who we are still in Jesus' back story today, in the way that we serve with love, particularly in response to the love and service we have received.

How are we Jesus' back story?  How are we to be Jesus' back story?

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Holy Wednesday: Ceasing to Work

One of things that was always getting Jesus into trouble was the way he kept--and didn't keep--the Sabbath. The Biblical literalists had so many applications for how they understood the Torah that God's original intent had been too often lost. When Jesus came to be one of us, time and again he lived to show us the Truth of God's love. He healed on the Sabbath and picked grain on the Sabbath and showed us what the law of Love was truly like.

Truth is, keeping Sabbath today gets us into trouble, too. We are respected for all that we do and accomplish, and we don't get promotions or awards this side of heaven for ceasing to work once a week.  But doing so is what God says is holy, and when we choose to give one day each week back to God's care and to cease to be in charge, we are actually being honoring God.

This is the eve of the Triduum--those three days of worship that are the grand conclusion of Lent and Holy Week, and I have chosen to keep a Sabbath.  For twenty four hours, I will intrust my work to God.  Granted, I worked at the church until nearly ten last night in order to be able to have a Sabbath today; there were things that were left undone, and I will take them back first thing tomorrow.

Today I slept late.  I read the paper.  I had some lovely prayer and reading time in my prayer chair.  I'll cook a good dinner.  I'll work in the yard.  I won't check my work email.

Tomorrow is Maundy Thursday and I'm back to work--hearing the Reconciliation of a Penitent, finishing the Maundy Thursday sermon, hiring a new staff person, tending to some pastoral needs, doing some final last minute Good Friday and Easter planning.

But not today.  It's my day to walk with God in the garden.

I pray that all who read this will find a place of Sabbath this Holy Week.  It's good to be rested before we go on that difficult journey with Christ to the cross.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Tuesday: Full of Light

St. Patrick's Episcopal, North Carolina

Jesus said to them, "The light is with you for a little longer. Walk while you have the light, so that the darkness may not overtake you. If you walk in the darkness, you do not know where you are going. While you have the light, believe in the light, so that you may become children of light." 
 John 12. 35--36

This is the Gospel appointed for today, Holy Tuesday.  Someone asked me this morning how my Holy Week was going.  I told them that it felt like I was in the busy-ness of Jerusalem walking with Jesus as he carried his cross.  It feels like there is a whirlwind around me of voices, needs, distractions, and it's harder than easier to remember that today is not about the busy-ness but about the Jesus.

Granted, there are fires to put out (thankfully, not literally at this point).  There are worship leaflets to be proofed; there are words to be written; there are pastoral situations where I want to provide care.  There are phone calls to be made and returned; there are staff concerns to tend.  I am grateful that I have aplace to serve God where I am needed and valued, but it's a lot of noise all about me.

Church of the Incarnation, Bethlehem

Then I remember the light.  When I was on Sabbatical, into almost every church or holy place I went, I lit candles and prayed for one person or another, one group or another.  I lit candles in Israel, Jordan, England, and Scotland as well as several different states.  Each of those candles reminded me of the Light that is always with us.  

As I look out my window, the world is full of light.   It's one of those perfect spring days.  It's as if the Holy Spirit has lit one huge candle of love and joy.

In the midst of all that surrounds, I can hold that Light in my heart. Holding that Light, I can walk fully present with Christ.  Maybe by being more aware of that Light, I'll be able to share that Light with someone who is only seeing the darkness.  And Jesus has told us, that whenever we give to someone else, we give to him.  Seeing his light, I have something to share.  Sharing his light with someone else, I have in fact shared the light with him.   Not a bad way at all to walk with Jesus on the way to the cross this Holy Tuesday.

Church of the Sepulcher of St. Mary, Mount of Olives, Jerusalem

Monday, March 25, 2013

Monday, that is, Holy Monday

At St. Mary's, we don't do announcements during worship.  What we do instead is at the Offertory have some conversation about ways that we offer our lives to God.  We often feature a ministry that has immediate opportunities to serve.

This week's ministry of the week is Holy Week and Easter.  Yesterday as we began to talk about our immediate opportunity to serve by being part of daily worship this last week of Lent, I noticed a typo in the calendar.  As the week's events were listed, the weekly calendar said "Monday, March 25; Tuesday, March 26, Wednesday, March 27."  Certainly, as far as the world goes, this is indeed correct.  But for people of faith, this is not any Monday, but Holy Monday;  tomorrow isn't any Tuesday, but Holy Tuesday; and Wednesday won't be any Wednesday but Holy Wednesday.  Each of these days are particular days of devotion, and we that love Jesus are called to especially walk with him on these holy days of Holy Week.

The Gospel appointed for today is John 12. 1--11 ( if it seems familiar, we also heard this lesson a week ago on the Fifth Sunday of Lent).  This is St. John's version of the woman who anoints Jesus' feet with costly oil;  in his version, it is Jesus' dear friend, Mary, the sister of Lazarus and Martha.  This takes place in their home in Bethany a week or so before Jesus' arrest, crucifixion, and death.

When I was in Israel in September, one of the places that I went was Bethany Lazarus, remembered as the town these three friends of Jesus lived.  Only a couple of miles from Jerusalem, Jesus walked frequently between Mary, Martha, and Lazarus' home and Jerusalem.  We particularly hear of these frequent walks in St. Mark's version of Jesus' last week before his death.  Today, this is no easy walk, much less an easy drive, because it is on the Palestinian side of the walk that Israel built to protect itself from Palestinian terrorists.  This wall, as all walls do, not only makes entry difficult for potential terrorists, it also prevents tourists and ordinary citizens easy access.

 I wonder this Holy Monday.  What walls have we set up that keep God out?  What walls have we built to protect us, we think, from harm that instead prevents God's good gifts from coming into our lives as well?

This is Monday in Holy Week.  Will you walk with Jesus today?

Monday, March 18, 2013

A labyrinth!!!!!!!

The most amazing thing happened yesterday afternoon. My best friend is reading a book about labyrinths this Lent (and thus the labyrinth finding and walking), and in the book was a pattern to create your own labyrinth. Could we use these directions to write a labyrinth on the Tybee beach?

Prepared with a walking stick as our writing instrument and a photo of the instructions on a smart phone, we walked the half mile to the beach. Finding a spot with enough space for a labyrinth, as strollers walked by, as spring breakers played football, we began to write the labyrinth.

My friend drew, and I read the directions. Challenging at first to follow, once we began to get the rhythm of the pattern it became easier to connect lines and dots. When it appeared to be complete, I quickly tried it out to see if we had indeed written the labyrinth.

Before I could get to the center with exuberant joy, a beach stroller stopped to ask about what we were doing and began her own labyrinth walk.

Other people stopped to look at what had been done, and a handful took the first steps to begin the labyrinth walk.

I walked the labyrinth again and again, each time still amazed that we had written this labyrinth in beach sand. After adding some words to the perimeter (FEED; PEACE; GRATITUDE; LABYRINTH OFFERED TO THE GLORY OF GOD + 5TH SUNDAY OF LENT 2013) it was time to leave this prayer path to footprints and wind and ocean waves, and hopefully a few more walkers.

I was thoughtful about prayer and reminded of words from the Psalms:

Let my prayer be set before you like incense; The lifting up of my hands like the evening sacrifice. Psalm 141. 2

PS Read my friend's take on our labyrinth

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Fifth Sunday in Lent, Tybee time

Walked to church this morning. How I love being able to walk to church!

All Saints Episcopal is another Tybee find where I've worshipped often enough that I'm starting to be recognized. Helen+, their rector, was there with her lovely worship presence, and Bishop Shipps, retired Bishop of Georgia, preached a sweet sermon on gratitude and remembering the least among us.

Seated in the row in front of me was a young man who didn't go up for communion. He told the woman at the end of his row that he wasn't baptized. Clearly in the worship booklet it invited the non-baptized to come forward with arms crossed for a blessing. We do have an especially open table in the Episcopal church.

I wondered about the presumption of whispering to the young man the words of invitation before I went up to receive communion. But I didn't.

Deciding to presume, after worship I spoke to him.

Andrew is going to be baptized "some time in Easter", and no, he didn't know he could go up for a blessing when all the rest of us went to the communion table. How cool!

I told him that I'd pray for him as he prepared for baptism, especially when we do our Easter baptisms at St Mary's.

Then I had a lovely, tree-lined, gentle breezed, walk back to my home on Tybee.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Maundy Thursday on a Saturday in a Lent

Several years ago I got a pedicure on Maundy Thursday. As I recall, a parishioner had given me a gift certificate for a local spa. I had been pondering the Scripture from John that I would be preaching that evening, John's version of Jesus' last meal with his disciples before his crucifixion. John has his emphasis on foot washing instead of bread and wine.

"Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God, got up from the table,* took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was tied around him." (John 13. 3--5)

As Vivienne cared for my feet that Holy Thursday, I thought about what a loving act it is to care for another's feet. Feet are lowly in more ways than one, and it takes humility to get eye to toe. The humility goes both ways--giving and receiving.

Jesus continues in St. John's Gospel;

"So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you." (14, 15)

Today I'm at the Manicured Mermaid on Tybee Island, and Sarah is caring for my feet. I'm thinking again about Jesus and how he cared for his disciples' feet; how he said we are to do the same for others.

This Lenten Saturday I'm having Maundy Thursday thoughts. How can I serve in such a loving, humble way as Christ did so easily and freely with those he loved?

Tomorrow we'll hear a Gospel about how lovingly and humbly Jesus received the care of a woman who extravagantly anointed his feet with costly perfumed oil.

Was Jesus' servant care with his disciples inspired by this woman? Is this why he said, "Wherever the gospel Is preached it will be in remembrance of her?"

Friday, March 15, 2013

Another Tybee Day

Today was a lolling kind of day.

Coffee, prayers, and reading for starters.

Discovery of a real coffee house here on Tybee after all these years--cappuccinos and knitting for a midday coffee break.

Another Tybee first: a wonderful labyrinth created from old sea rope and shells, with a thick pad of pine needles to cushion each prayerful step.

Walk to the beach for more walking and water coloring.

Vacation dinner of burger and fries sitting outside.

Vesper light of yet another wonderful sunset over the marsh.

Guide us waking, O Lord, and guard us sleeping, that awake we may watch with Christ, and asleep we may rest in peace.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Tybee Time

A friend noted that I hadn't blogged since Valentine's Day--which was also the second day in Lent. That's pretty much a comment on my Lenten disciplines.

I grew up in the Southern Baptist tradition, and while, as a result, tithing comes like breathing to me, Lenten practices are always a stretch.

I've decided that my wilderness this Lent is cherishing the moments of quiet in the midst of the busiest Lent I've ever had. For most, giving up the busyness is part of their Lenten practice; I know most years it had been that way for me. But a Lenten aha for me this year is that the busyness is my Lenten wilderness. How do I keep God at my center while the world whirls and whirls?

For ten years, I've traveled in Lent to Tybee Island, Georgia, a few miles outside of Savannah. This is a largely residential beach community; there's little here to attract youth on Spring Break, which makes it perfect for me. Over halfway through Lent, I'm stopping to catch my breath, which may mean, actually, the Breath of God.

The locals call the slower pace of this island community, Tybee Time. For me, this year, Tybee Time may be another name for remembering to stop long enough to behold our God who is already waiting with arms open wide.

Tybee Time.