Locked Rooms and Open Wounds: A Sermon for the Second Saturday of Easter

Thomas

I spent Easter Monday in a small monuments showroom picking out a headstone for my father’s grave. That’s right, after all the Easter Day pomp and ceremony, all the acclamations of the risen Christ, all the joyous words of new life and resurrection, there I was face-to-face with death. I had quickly gone from the dizzying heights and palpable energy of Easter Day liturgy to the all too familiar, real world grind of pain, loss and grief. In that moment the previous day’s shouts of “Alleluia! Christ is risen!” rang as hollow as a politician’s campaign promise. My very own “Low Monday”.

Now I do not say this to get you to pity me. No…because you have all been in rooms like mine. Rooms and situations that make you question Easter and its talk of resurrection. Hospital waiting rooms and bedside vigils where you pray and wait for good news that you know just won’t come. Palliative care rooms where every breath could be your loved one’s last. It seems that every hope and dream you ever had dissipates with every exhalation. Medical rooms where the doctor or psychologist says we just can’t get the medication right, where it seems the darkness of anxiety and depression will snuff out your last remaining light. Rooms where the bankruptcy, the divorce, the unemployment become all too painfully clear. It’s in these rooms that Easter morning seems light years away.

But if the Easter message of resurrection cannot speak to us in these rooms, in the Mondays of our lives, what good is it? If the resurrected Christ cannot pass through the lead thick walls of these rooms, then we might as well leave him in our manufactured Sunday sanctuaries. We need Easter here and now, in the untidy, disordered mess of our lives.

It is here that the story of Thomas and Jesus, and the room where they meet, tells us something of the gap between our own lives and Easter. Now poor old Thomas has not been treated fairly by the church. His moniker ‘Doubting Thomas’ is undeserved. Thomas doesn’t so much doubt as ask for the same privilege as the other disciples. He only wants to experience the risen Jesus.

John tells the story that on the evening of the resurrection of Jesus, the first Easter Day, the disciples are locked away for fear of the opponents of Jesus. Presumably their fear is that they would do to them what they had done to Jesus. Suddenly Jesus appears in their midst. It’s a moment that would make Houdini himself envious. Jesus wishes them peace, bestowing on them an evangelistic mission and breathing on them a pre-Pentecost gift of the Holy Spirit.

Of course when Thomas hears about this from his fellow disciples he is understandably upset. Upset like any of us would be at being excluded from such a miraculous encounter. His friend with whom he had travelled the Galilean countryside for three years, his rabbi, the one he thought was the long hoped for messiah, arrested and executed, now reported raised from the dead. Who wouldn’t be a little put out by missing such an event? All this resurrection talk is one thing, but for Thomas, the thought that he had missed out on it is too much to bear. “Unless I see the nail holes in his hands, put my finger in the nail holes, and stick my hand in his side, I won’t believe it” (the Message). Thomas’ words could be my words in that showroom, could be your words. Any of us would utter these words, when the Easter message meets our real life situation.

And I have to ask, where was Thomas when Jesus came to visit that first Easter evening? Why is he not with the other disciples, locked away in fear? Perhaps he was out taking care of arrangements for his dear friend. Perhaps Thomas, more than any of the other disciples, knew that life must go on in the face of death. We just keep living. What else is there to do?

I am also struck by how Jesus approaches Thomas in this scene. There is no hint from Jesus of the accusation and finger pointing that the church has heaped on Thomas. Jesus does not upbraid Thomas on his lack of faith. He does not chide him for believing without evidence. He does not launch into a theological treatise on the metaphysics of resurrection. No, he only offers Thomas the one thing he asked for. He offers Thomas his wounds. And seeing his wounds, Thomas believes.

Another question haunts me: why does Jesus’ resurrected body bear the scars of the resurrection? Only John and Luke include this detail. One would think that a glorified, resurrected body would not bear the marks of suffering and pain. The skeptic would say that it is a literary device of the gospel writers to eliminate any confusion that this person might be anyone but Jesus. These resurrection accounts could not be a ruse because his body bore the marks of his execution. Perhaps that is all it is, clever storytelling. But perhaps not.

A clue to the meaning of these wounds can be seen in the other John reading this week. In it, John (not the evangelist but another John), writes that Jesus, in his death, is an atoning sacrifice for the sins of the world. In Jesus, God enters into our human condition and takes on all of our humanness. He exposes himself to the worst that we have to offer. He endures our violence, our hate, our pride, our deep desire for retribution. He dies from it; dies for it. But he is raised to new life to show that God’s way, the way of love, peace and forgiveness, is the far better way than the ways of the world, of empire and crooked religion. His wounds are not just his own, they are ours too. An eternal symbol of God’s solidarity, God’s covenant love for all people. What were meant to be wounds of defeat and brute force, in the hands of God become wounds of love.

Jesus bears our wounds even now, so we do not bear them alone. Even as we sit in our isolated rooms, seemingly far from the joyous Easter celebrations, perhaps especially there, the Easter message of a wounded, resurrected Lord echo on and on. In Jesus we see a promise that our wounds, though they may define us now, will not always. As Jesus has been raised so shall we. As the great theologian Karl Rahner said, In the risen Jesus a piece of this earth, real to the core, is now forever with God in glory. The seed that was sowed in death has given rise to new life to all creation. The resurrection of Jesus is our destiny too. Behold God is making everything new! Beginning with Jesus, the first fruits, and spreading to us. We glimpse this eternal truth right here and now as we bear the wounds of the broken, the poor, the hurt, the suffering. We participate in the resurrection when we bear each other’s burdens, we who are wounded healers, followers of a wounded saviour.

So here, gathered in this room, around this table, we share this sacred meal of broken flesh and blood. And we push ourselves back from this table, full of God’s grace and love, and go and serve a broken, wounded world.

+ In the name of God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen

The Rev. Robert Cooke, Rector of St. Mark’s. A sermon preached at Saturday worship on Easter 2, April 7, 2018.

 

 

 

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What Is Confirmation Anyway?

confirmation

I was confirmed at 12. I then spent the better part of my teenage years totally disgusted with the Church and everything it stood for (sorry about that, by the way!). It wasn’t until my late teens I started to experience a change inside myself, when a real faith started to grow and I was on my way to becoming the “ordinary Christian” I am today.

I participated in my husband’s Confirmation, when he was 32. To me, 10 years past my own Confirmation, it seemed so much more meaningful, and to be frank, I was sorry that I hadn’t appreciated it when I did it 10 years earlier.

At St. Mark’s we are taking a year of discernment around Confirmation – to try to find a way forward that is true to the sacrament and to the members of the parish. I have noticed that many people agree that confirmation is about transition, accepting responsibility, commitment, and affirmation. There is less of a consensus around how we prepare for Confirmation and who is eligible. Honestly I believe the idea of “Confirmation Class” is outdated.

I taught several groups of confirmands, aged mostly 11 and 12, and tried to help prepare them for Confirmation. I do not feel that it was a successful venture, but try I certainly did. While I know there are kids out there who are absolutely ready to take on the vows made at Confirmation, I didn’t see many of them in my classes. Generally the kids were there because their parents told them they had to be. It was just time to get that done.

We are supposed to be taking on the vows made on our behalf at baptism. It is a “confirmation” of our faith. Confirmation has certainly evolved over time, just like many other things (including baptism!). As it is now, Confirmation is not really about Christian education, disciple making, conversion, graduation, or initiation. Those things are the work of the Church as a whole. Confirmation is a sacrament, an “outward physical expression of an inward spiritual grace.”

We have to have that inward spiritual grace, in order to make the outward physical expression. The only way, as far as I can tell, to experience that is to be actively involved in the work of the Church. What does that mean exactly? Well there is no one size fits all solution.

Active involvement is many things, often begun from a very early age. We have to live our faith, and do as Jesus instructed us: feed the hungry, clothe the naked, care for the sick. Only by witnessing God’s love in the world, and in God’s church, can we really be prepared to seek Confirmation. No curriculum, or gimmicks, or videos, or study can teach us that. We have to DO it. Afterall, how can we affirm a faith we haven’t experienced??

I would (and do!) argue that at 11 or 12, most (but certainly not all) kids have not experienced faith in that way, and to force them through confirmation defeats the purpose of the sacrament. We need to approach confirmation more intentionally and with support and encouragement of those who are interested in pursuing it, no matter their age. But that’s just my opinion, what’s yours?

Allison, her husband Robert and two young sons attend our 10:30 am Sunday worship. Allison is a St. Mark’s vestry member, and our former Youth Minister. She writes regularly for Anglican Life where this column was first published in the April 2018 edition.

A Vigilant Vigil: An Easter Vigil Sermon

advent candle

Exodus 14:10–31; 15:20–21 / Romans 6:3–11 / Mark 16:1–8

Through the written word, and the spoken word, may we come to know your Living Word, O Lord. Amen.

I must admit, when Reverend Robert invited me, about a month ago, to give the homily for the Easter Vigil service this year, I was not only deeply honoured, but I was very excited. The Easter Vigil service has, for quite a while now, been my favourite church service of the calendar year. If you would permit me to share a personal anecdote with you, I will tell you how it came to be so.

About fifteen years ago, when I was living in Montreal, and trying very hard to improve my French (although without much success, alas!), I used to like to go to French mass at one of the Catholic churches downtown. I grew up Catholic, so I knew the liturgy and all the responses very well, and this helped me to absorb the French a bit more easily. The church I liked best to go to was the Cathedral of Mary, Queen of the World (Marie-Reine-du-Monde), a replica on two-thirds scale of St. Peter’s Basilica, complete with the great Bernini altar in the middle of its cross-shaped floorplan. To the side on the right of its long axis is a small baptismal chapel furnished with a slightly larger-than-life-sized stucco crucifix, well-meritedly considered to be one of the most impressive pieces of Québec religious sculpture, by the famed Québec sculptor of the late 19th / early 20th century, Louis-Philippe Hébert.

It is typical as a crucifix: Jesus hangs on the cross with his eyes towards heaven, his many wounds of flagellation visible, a crown of thorns on his head, nails prominently piercing his hands and feet. What is remarkable about it, however, is the depth given by the artist to the flagellation wounds. I mean literal depth: gouges measurable nearly in inches into the flesh, chunks of flesh torn off, or seemingly just hanging on by a membrane, littering the surface of the figure’s chest, abdomen, and legs to the knees. Of course, in some sense, this is standard (if medieval) Catholic fare for meditation on the crucifixion, for meditation on Christ’s suffering and death for the sins of humankind.

Yet it was not the crucifixion, neither suffering nor death, that I meditated upon one day after the mass, as I spent some extra time in the side chapel looking at this crucifix. Rather, it was the resurrection that I contemplated; or, to be more precise, it was the vigil of Holy Saturday. For it struck me then that, despite the brutal mutilation of the torso, the stucco skin was nevertheless particularly alive. It seemed as if Jesus’ body had become, precisely with the severe rupturing of the flesh, so porous that it had become in some sense susceptible to the resurrection⎯physically, materially, intimately open to the inflow of the transforming love of the divine into its very cells. If I may quote here the late, great Leonard Cohen: “There is a crack, a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.”

We are celebrating tonight the Easter Vigil which includes the Service of Light⎯the Light which is the Love of God, and which is also the Life everlasting. The Greek Orthodox tradition puts especial emphasis on this Light in its core teaching of theosis, or deification, of transfiguration into the resurrection state, a process that begins even in this very life. One of the 10th century Byzantine saints, a monk and poet named Symeon, was said to be so receptive to this Light that his body glowed; in one story told about him, some of his fellow monks wanted to kill him, but when they came at him with knives, the Light from his body shone so powerfully that it repelled them.

Ever since that day, fifteen years ago, before the crucifix in that cathedral in Montreal, the guiding question of my life has become how to open myself, body and soul, to that Light. The guiding task has become how to become porous, body and soul, to receive into me the life-giving love of God. Such openness, such porousness, requires a vigilance. We are not, naturally, significantly open to God. We like settled structures. We like the comfort of closed systems. The body loves to sleep. In our first reading today, we hear of how the Israelites, a generation of Israelites who knew only slavery, were afraid and spoke against Moses, saying that they preferred slavery in Egypt to dying in the wilderness. They did not know, they were not open to the wilderness as a place where God’s Spirit, as a pillar of fire, as Light, would lead them forth to freedom. The heart that has long dwelt in darkness, or even dimness, is afraid of that Light. The body that sleeps in the tomb, and even in the bed, is afraid of the Life that quickens unto everlasting glory. And the older we get, the more set in our ways we get too. Our lives unfold most of the time as in a series of self-protective grooves. Our institutions become stagnant. Even our muscles tighten and shrink and could really use a good stretching at least once a day. But this is to be expected. We after all carry within us, within our bodies and souls, the consequences of the fallenness of humanity; or, if you prefer, the evolutionary residue of about four billions years since the emergence of life on Earth. It takes a long time for settled structures to open to higher forms of life; and in the mean time, many die.

This evening we are also renewing our baptismal vows. Let us take a moment to appreciate the radical openness of a baby. Babies are like sponges for God’s Light. They barely have any structure at all. They are all growth, all burgeoning life, all openness to the unknown, because everything is unknown ⎯ drinking in love like water, because they know not yet the life in which a lack of love requires them to close themselves to survive. The word “radical”, of course, means, literally, “root”. It can traced back through both Latin and Greek to the Proto-Indo-European word wrad, meaning “root”. (A radish is, quite literally, a vegetable that is “root-ish”.) And, of course, Newfoundlanders know all about roots and love root vegetables. Therefore, we should be particularly good at being radical, of radically opening ourselves to God’s Love and Light and Life, even unto the very root of our being. That root is neither pure spirit nor pure physical matter, but somehow their communion. It is also the place where we are fully consciously in communion with God, and with others in God. Imagine the intimacy of that root then. Imagine the intimacy of the tomb in which a body and soul has become so open, so porous, that it is capable of receiving into itself the infinite. Imagine a heart, a mind, a soul, a body so open – imagine yourself so open, that you allow yourself to be gifted to yourself as your own immortal life. Imagine the intimacy of that moment of awakening, the very first breath, the first heartbeat, the first feeling in the transfigured limbs, the first awareness that someone has called your name⎯and you hear it as if you are hearing it for the first time, and yet, at the same time, as if you have always heard it, as if from eternity, yet you are only just now remembering. Imagine the dazzling intimacy of utter communion with the voice of that eternal call; and then allow yourself to be embraced into Him and glorified in every cell of your being, even in this lifetime.

Such imagination is the vigilance of the Easter Service of Light. It is the vigilance that welcomes the Light of the divine in the resurrection. It is a vigilance in which one feels oneself welcomed by the divine. A few years back I wrote a poem about this vigilance. I was meditating on how the human nature of Jesus received into itself to be transformed the Light and Love of the Father. I always enjoy when Reverend Mark, in his sermons, reads poetry. I ask you to indulge me then, and forgive me for reading my own poetry. But this is the poem that I wrote about the vigilance of Holy Saturday.

Holy Saturday

Yeshu’a, beloved of You, Father, was enfolded in shade,

sleeping in that tomb of death within which he was laid.

But something he commended to You, which was his gift

just before he died upon the cross, encountering that rift

between worlds, the rupture housing th’emptiness of being;

something he delivered up just as Nothingness, decreeing

its domain and rule and triumph, embraced him in night –

while that which he had offered up found You in Light,

and so was by You welcomed mightily as a King’s son,

victorious after battle, glorious in the splendour of deeds done.

What was that treasure bequeathed? Lo! He called it “spirit”;

and from the depths lifted he it that You might hear it! –

depths which anon slept cold without breath (so suffer the dead).

But beauty so immortal had in living hours knelt upon his head

that You would have it not be but a truth of one passing day.

That which he delivered, thus, You returned to that which lay

still in the shadow-tomb without You (so suffer those in hell).

But You⎯with that which he had gifted – woke him. O! Tell

all the world, tell my heart and soul what his first thought was,

his primal feeling, what his heartbeat sang then – tell what does

such a waking give to Man on the inside! Yea! infinite Love

is wholly what Your Person is if to depths You bent from above

so as to glorify not just the gift, but even the son who gave it,

to make to breathe eternally a singular earthly fact to save it

from the dust of its undoing in time, down history’s tall ways.

O! Let the earth rejoice! A child of her flesh now lives always!

May we receive into ourselves, body and soul, this evening,

the Light of God and the Love of God, which

is our everlasting Life. Amen.

Dr. Michelle Rebidoux is an Assistant Professor at the Department of Religious Studies at Memorial University and Adjunct Professor at Queen’s College Faculty of Theology. She attends the 10:30 am worship at St. Mark’s and is the artist behind our chancel mural project.

Parkland, Palms and What Happens Next? A Palm Sunday Homily

palm sunday blog

This year, the season of Lent has been somewhat of a different journey for me. I’ve been distracted from the way in which I usually keep the season of Lent. That’s because, ever since Ash Wednesday, I’ve been experiencing an increasing sense of anticipation and of hope. And the further we’ve journeyed into Lent the stronger those feelings have become for me.

I know some might say, “Well, what’s wrong with that?” After all, isn’t Lent a time of anticipation for the hope that comes with Easter? This may be so but it isn’t why I’ve been feeling what I’ve been feeling. You see, this year, Ash Wednesday didn’t just mark the beginning of Lent. It also marked the ending of seventeen lives at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.

On Ash Wednesday, more than 3000 students and staff experienced horror beyond imagining as a gunman with a military assault weapon entered the school, pulled a fire alarm, and began shooting. Six minutes and twenty seconds later, fourteen students and three staff members were dead. Another fifteen were injured. While Christians around the world began our Lenten journey toward Easter, the people of Parkland, Florida began their journey through the dark valley of grief. For them, Ash Wednesday marked the end of 17 precious lives.

Now, at the time, I tried not to pay attention to the shooting. I know that sounds harsh but I didn’t want to invest any emotional energy in yet another mass shooting by someone with a weapon that no ordinary citizen should ever possess. After Columbine, Virginia Tech, Sandy Hook, Orlando, Las Vegas – and too many others to count – I promised myself I would not get drawn in emotionally over one of these mass shootings because they just keep on happening.

Only this time something was different.

This time the students who survived that horrific day stood up and shouted, “Enough!” “Never again!” And very quickly, in only a couple of days, those students became very organized and very vocal. They certainly caught my attention. Indeed, they caught the attention of millions of people across their nation and around the world.

Three days after the shooting there was a rally in which these youth demanded that politicians of all political stripes no longer accept money from the gun lobby. There was a nationally-televised town hall where these youth confronted politicians face-to-face. There was an epic social-media campaign by which they mobilized students in schools across their country. There was a nation-wide 17-minute school walkout on the one-month anniversary of the shooting. There were other rallies and public appearances. There were media interviews, including a feature on 60 Minutes and the cover story of Time magazine.

These youth were courageous. They were intelligent and articulate. They were confrontational and they were loud. People were really starting to pay attention and to hope. America was paying attention and so was I. Millions of people were beginning to hope that maybe, just maybe, something so many have yearned for so long could finally become a reality.

From the moment they stepped into the public eye, everything these youth did was to culminate on Saturday, March 24th, in the ‘March for our Lives’. They called upon the youth of their nation to join with them in a massive procession through the streets of Washington, D.C., the centre of political power in their nation. As 18-year-old Emma Gonzalez put it, the ‘March for our Lives’ was to be a mass act of “civil disobedience, marching in the streets with signs and chanting truth to power.” It was a confrontational act, calling out their political leaders and their gun-lobby puppet-masters.

And as I watched those crowds on television, I could see that there was an incredibly powerful sense of hope and anticipation that this is it. That these amazing young people – that this generation of youth – will be the ones to finally rid their nation of the scourge of military assault weapons and, by extension, the mass shootings that have afflicted them for far too long. Yes, the sense of anticipation and hope in those crowds was tangible.

And I think that tangible sense of hope and anticipation in the crowds processing through the streets of Washington is exactly what the crowds were experiencing on that very first Palm Sunday.

The crowds who cheered Jesus on and participated in the procession into Jerusalem that day shared something with the youth of America. They knew their world wasn’t as it should be. They were an oppressed people. Their nation was occupied by a foreign military power who acted only in the interests of Rome, not in the interests of the people of Israel. Yes, they had their own religious and political leaders, but they were nothing more than puppets of the Romans. They did whatever they needed to do to placate the Romans, in order to maintain their status, privilege and power. Some things never change I guess.

But then, along comes this Jesus of Nazareth.

Along comes Jesus with a message that filled them with hope and anticipation. He caught their attention with his proclamation that “the kingdom of God was at hand.” He caught their attention by what he had to say about this kingdom. It was to be a kingdom of justice. A kingdom of peace. A kingdom that belonged to the poor in spirit and the persecuted. A kingdom where the mournful would be comforted, the meek would be powerful, and the hungry would be filled. A kingdom where peacemakers would be called children of God and the pure in heart would actually see God.

They had heard how he called out the hypocrisy of their religious leaders. They had heard of his miracles. They had heard of his teaching. They had heard of his radical inclusivity. And, they had heard he was making his way toward Jerusalem. Now, lo and behold, here he was processing into the city of Jerusalem in the manner of a king!

No doubt, in the crowds who shouted hosannas and laid palm branches on the road before Jesus that day, there was an almost unbearable sense of anticipation and hope. Could this Jesus be the one? Could he be the Messiah the prophets spoke of? Could he be the one who would finally overthrow their Roman oppressors and return them to the glory days of King David?

No wonder so many joined that procession into Jerusalem – the centre of military, religious and political power – shouting: “Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the coming kingdom of our ancestor David! Hosanna in the highest heaven!” Talk about an act of civil disobedience. Talk about chanting truth to power. The anticipation and hope in those crowds and those words is tangible.

So, what happens next?

Whether we’re talking about the crowds processing through the streets of Washington on March 24th or the crowds processing through the streets of Jerusalem 2,000 years ago, that question presents itself.

What happens next?

As much as the ‘March for our Lives’ was a victory for those amazing young people, as important as it was, what really matters is what happens next. And that story is still being written in the youth of America.

What happens next?

It’s a question that should have been on the minds of those who processed through the streets of Jerusalem on that first Palm Sunday. It’s certainly a question that should on our minds today – on the minds of all those who celebrate that first Palm Sunday year after year after year. As important as it is to hail Jesus as our king, as joyous it may be to shout hosannas to our king, what really matters is what happens next. And that story is still being written as well. It’s being written in each and every one of us.

So, as we celebrate Palm Sunday, as we join our voices with the people of Jerusalem and chant truth to power, as we process with them through the streets of Jerusalem and the events of Holy Week, let us keep that question before us.

What happens next?

Father Mark Nichols is our Associate Priest at St. Mark’s.

Say “Yes” to Lent

slow-advent

Once again, the season of Lent is upon us. It is a time for reflection on our place in God’s world, and in our own world. There are many ways to embark upon a fast, and many things we can give up. But instead of saying “no” to temptations around us, this year I encourage you to say “yes” to something else. I ask you to say yes to making our world a better place. I have jotted down a few ideas about some things each of us can say “yes” to. The list is by no means exhaustive, but I do hope it provides you with some food for thought.

Say “Yes” to Community: It seems that the modern world is isolating us from each other, to focus only on ourselves. And the steps are so small. So insidious. Moving away from family for a job; not meeting friends because of other commitments; sitting alone at our desks at lunch; staying late at work; skipping church to catch up on sleep. These actions are not bad in and of themselves, but each one strips love and companionship from our lives. For me, living only for ourselves is not what being a Christian is about. To me, Christian life is about community, both locally and internationally. That’s why our family attends St. Mark’s – the sense of helping those around us, both seen and unseen. A community living to the glory of God.

Say “Yes” to Global Justice: I read recently that environmental problems are hard for people to psychologically and emotionally to get behind and try to help. We are much more likely to offer help to another human being, such as a miner trapped in a cave-in, or an orphan looking for a home. We can put a face to these needs, and this suffering. We can offer assistance and immediately feel better about ourselves. But taking care of the planet has no human face. Driving a little less, or bringing our own re-usable bags to the store brings no immediate gratification. But each small step does make a difference. Those who are least able to afford to move, or change livelihoods, will be most affected by climate change. So doing our part here is also doing our part for global justice.

Say “Yes” to a Cleaner World: One of the ways we can embrace our call to be stewards of the earth is to look for opportunities to be environmentally friendly, and encourage sustainability. Local news noted that there were 92 million pieces of litter in Newfoundland, or 170 pieces per person. So there’s no shortage of opportunity to help clean up. We can pick up garbage on hikes. We can drive as little as possible, combining errands whenever we can. We can choose organic or local foods when we can, and packaging that is biodegradable or re-usable. For your next vehicle, consider getting a hybrid or electric model.

Say “Yes” to a New Habit: If you are unsure where to begin, there are a ton of websites that can give you ideas. Just search under “how to live greener.” Perhaps start with something that might be a little awkward at first, but easily can grow into a habit. For example, bringing your own bags to the grocery store. I must admit it was decidedly annoying the first few times I forgot to bring my own bags and I didn’t allow myself to use grocery store bags (more motivation to remember next time). So it did require occasional juggling, but once bringing your own bags is a habit, it is one that requires no thought or effort.

Say “Yes” to Being Better Informed: As a church community we will be showing “An Inconvenient Sequel,” a movie on the urgency for environmental action. The movie will be played on Earth Day, April 22, at 7:30PM. Please come out and find out a little more about the science behind climate change, and the importance of taking action sooner, not later.

No single action will change the world, but each journey is made up of series of small steps. I wrote down a few ideas to get you started, and would be grateful for any suggestions you might like to make, or things that you are doing to make a difference. Thank you.

Richard is a member of vestry at St. Mark’s with a special focus on creation care. He and his wife Hanna attend our 10:30 am worship on Sunday with their three young children.

 

 

The Return of the Light: A Reflection on Light, Love and Ashes

return of the light

I can totally understand our ancestors’ worship of the sun. Honestly, I can! I mean just put yourself in the place of your pre-scientific great, great, great, great, great, great ……. grandparents and the way they viewed the sun. It illuminated their days, and when it disappeared at night they were filled with a sense of dread from hidden predators of both the animal and spiritual kind. The sun gave life and sustained life. It made their crops grow as well as every other living creature. The sun could also take life. Too much of the sun brought drought, starvation and death. They tracked the sun and stars (other suns) and fashioned their calendars and the keeping of time around the movement of these heavenly bodies. There was a constancy in the sun. Every day the sun rose and set. Every year the sun faded and returned. There was rhythm. The sun faithfully moved across the sky, a type of cosmic covenant.

We’re not so different from our distant relatives. Sure, we don’t worship the sun with sacrifices. You don’t see the masses bowing down to Sun Gods like Ra or Apollo. Yet we still show a tremendous amount of devotion to the sun. Look at our obsession with the weather. Its prognosticators are local and national celebrities, whipping us into near religious fervour over the upcoming weather. There are TV channels devoted exclusively to the weather and apps that give us 24/7 access to predictions on the weather – all so we can plan our lives around how much sun there will be. Look at what happens on a sunny day, especially after a few days of bad weather. Everyone comes out to bask in the sun. We now know that our moods are tied to the sun or lack thereof. Yes, we have evolved beyond the superstitions of our ancestors but we still, like them, hold the sun, the light, with much devotion. Like them we still depend on the light of the sun for our very existence.

Even our Lenten season is rooted in the sun. The slight tilt of the earth back on its axis as it rotates around the sun leads to longer days and more light. New life is just around the corner. Lent is the marking of the lengthening of days, the return of the light. The light that will fully return at the end of our Lenten journey.

Lent reminds us of our place in this cosmic covenant of light. Lent reminds us that we are not the light; we are but dust. We are the dust of stars, billions of years old, brought to life on this tiny planet by the light of our sun.

Scripture, too, reminds us of our part in the story of creation. God creates us out of dust, blessing us with divine breath. We are awakened for just a flickering moment in the grand scheme of things, created to take part in the work of creating and re-creating, of love and life. God enters into covenant with humanity, promising to be faithful always. The Hebrew word for this is hesed, the most common word and description of God in the Hebrew Scriptures. God shines the light of hesed, covenant love and faithfulness, on us. In return God asks us to do the same in the world, reflecting God’s love back out into the world.

The prophet Joel is reminding the Hebrew people of this covenant relationship. He calls them to covenant renewal via fasting and prayer. It’s a type of sacred reboot back into right covenant relationship with God and each other. “Change your heart and not your clothes” he calls. Do not think that your religious observances absolve you from your responsibility to God and to your sisters and brothers, to the alien, the widow and the orphan.

The gospel from Matthew also warns about the hypocrisy of the Pharisees. The hypocrisy that pays fine detail to the rituals and the law, but ignores what is important to God, which is a broken and contrite heart. Even the public display of the imposition of ashes must be tempered by Matthew’s warnings about making a performance out of our piety. The power of our religious symbols lies not in the symbols themselves, but in the grace, mercy and love to which they point. The ashes we use today point to a deeper truth.

For us Christians this grace, mercy and love is made flesh in Jesus. In his life lived, and in his broken body and spilled blood, we see the God who dwells in light inaccessible. In him the light becomes human, hesed becomes flesh and bone and dies a human death. But not even death can fully hinder the light. There is no ending to love. The light always returns. The ashes remind us of our frailty and brokenness. A frailty that God himself assumes in the incarnation. A brokenness that God seeks to heal and redeem. Far from being a symbol of death, the ashes become a symbol of redemption. From the light comes dust and from dust comes the light of salvation.

Lent then is a call for us to turn back to the light, what in religious language we call repentance. It’s 40 days of preparation and self-reflection as we wait for the light. This light is now only a faint glimmer, but soon its full glory will be revealed. Even now its warmth draws us toward it, melting away the frozen bleakness of our hearts. Remember you are dust, star dust, and to that same dust we will all surely return. But in the light of God’s love, the risen son, humans (literally from the dirt) truly live. So as the light returns to us, let us turn toward the light and let us keep a holy Lent.

In the name of the Father, the son and the Holy Spirit. As it was in the beginning, is now, and will be forevermore. Amen.

This song from Alana Levandowski beautifully compliments what I’ve written here. The song is called When Love Meets Dust and was recorded specifically for the rare occasion of Ash Wednesday falling on Valentine’s Day this year

 

People of Promise: Lent 2018

covenant

“… after those days, says the Lord: I will put my law within them and write it in their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.” The Prophet Jeremiah

Recently in a sermon I confessed my love for the Old Testament, better known as the Hebrew Scriptures. Needless to say it got me some raised eyebrows and funny looks. Really?? Isn’t that the part of the Bible with the violent, bloodthirsty God? No doubt this part of the bible can be hard to understand and parts of it seem far removed from the 21st century digital world that we inhabit. But what I love about the Hebrew Scriptures are the stories that try to make sense of how we relate to God and to each other. These stories weave together to create the grand mosaic story of covenant or, better yet, the story of the covenant God.

In our present age covenant is a word that doesn’t resonate much anymore. Outside of particular religious traditions it’s not a word that is used often, but not so in the ancient world. For the Hebrew people, in particular, covenant was central to their self-understanding. After all it was God who had called their ancestor Abraham into covenant, promising that through Abraham all the world would be blessed. After liberating the Hebrew people from slavery in Egypt to freedom in the Promised Land, God enters into a covenant with them making them a chosen people. They are called to be a people of holiness and righteousness, justice and love. In fact, the most repeated word in the Hebrew Scriptures is covenant in the form of hesed, which is pictured in tattoo form above. Hesed is translated many ways including covenant love, faithfulness and steadfastness. Covenant is about promise and relationship. As the prophet Jeremiah says in pointing to a new covenant that will go beyond the old: “I will be their God, and they will be my people.” As the story unfolds we see that God, and not the people, is the one who is truly faithful to the covenant relationship.

For Christians too, covenant is central to who we are. Without an understanding of the covenant-keeping God of the Hebrew Scriptures, the story of Jesus and the church make no sense. As contemporary Christian writer Rachel Held Evans says, “When the people of God abandoned the covenant of love and fidelity, drawn as we are by the appeal of shallow, empty pleasures, God removed every possible obstruction to the covenant by being faithful for us, by becoming like us and subjecting himself to the very worst within us, loving us all the way to the cross and all the way out of the grave.”

It is not by mistake, then, that the notion of covenant gets associated with baptism by the earliest Christians. Nor was it by chance that the Lenten season of baptismal preparation used the covenant stories of the Hebrew Scriptures to tell new Christians of their place in the story of the covenant people of God. This Lent we return once again to these stories…the stories of Noah, Abraham and Sarah, Moses and the Hebrew people, Jeremiah and promised covenant renewal. What will they tell us about God and ourselves?

Our Lenten journey this year, then, is one of promise – the promise of the never-failing, steadfast love of God. The promise of our place in the great story of God and God’s covenant people. Also it is a reminder that this covenant love cannot be kept to ourselves but must be shared – shared with each other, but also shared with all whom we meet.

Rev. Robert