Monday, March 24, 2008


A dear friend sent me this e-card three days ago. I find myself clicking on it again and again.

I identify pretty strongly with that little searching, bleating lamb.

I hope that link will work for a few days.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Happy Easter

I'll try to write later and more seriously about what this Easter day has meant for me. It was a good morning, as I was able to lay aside the lugubriousness of this week. And -- bonus! -- I got to serve as crucifer at the early (Rite I) service, then as Eucharistic Minister at the second (standing-room-only) service.

Meanwhile, here's a silly placeholder, thanks to one of my very favorite places on the Internet.

[The original is here.]

Hey! Don't accuse me of heresy or disrespect! Good Christians all over this country are having Easter egg hunts, echoing an ancient pagan ritual. So don't tell me I'm being irreverent!

Happy Easter to you all!

Saturday, March 22, 2008

A Willing Suspension of Belief

That's what I've been doing in this holy week: willingly suspending what I know the Bible tells us (and what even my heart tells me) of a Christ who rose on Sunday. I've just now been able to articulate that's what I've been trying to do: to walk through this holy week as if I did not know how it all turns out, as if I only knew what Jesus' friends and contemporaries knew.

Through this week, I've tried to worship and pray each day as if I were witnessing those long-ago events. Without using my knowledge of the resurrection to numb or deflect the pain of betrayal and suffering. Because that's how it was some two millennia ago for those who knew Jesus. Maybe that's even how it was for him. He suffered the betrayal and loneliness on Thursday night. He suffered the humiliation and physical torture on Friday. Apparently, he even suffered the spiritual torment of believing God had forsaken him. When his followers – even the previously "secretive" ones – took his broken, dead body and placed it in a tomb at dusk on Friday, that was it. The end, as far as they knew.

This Saturday that we now call "Holy Saturday" must have been the saddest, most despair-filled day to all those who had known Jesus. Recalling how he had loved them, how he had healed people, how he had been a true lover of their souls … it must have seemed to them on Saturday like a dream followed by a nightmare, from which they had to wake and face the sad reality of a life without Jesus. They must have questioned all their hopes, all their faith, everything.

So tonight, I am not trying to race into Easter. I'm imagining what it must have been for those people who surrounded Jesus. I imagine all these memories kept running through their minds and breaking their hearts. As one image in this video reminds us, surely even the angels must have wept at Jesus' death.

Video courtesy of the Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts

My "willing suspension of belief" allowed the Maundy Thursday service to tear my heart out. Celebrating a meal with my community of believers. Taking communion for the last time. Watching in my darkened church as the altar guild stripped the church of every sacred symbol that speaks to Christ's continuing life and presence. Gone are the candles, the cross, the reserved sacrament, the lovely paraments – all the things that remind us we are "Easter people." It forced me to confront what life would be like had Jesus died and that-was-that. It forced me to confront the "What-if?" It forced me to confront what a pitiful life I would have, what hopelessness we would have, if the crucifixion really had been the end of the story.

At noontime on Friday, I joined my parish in a simple liturgy of the Stations of the Cross. Then I returned to church last night for the Good Friday liturgy – a simple and stark service in a bare church, in which I had to bear the entire Passion story again. As much as I could, I allowed myself to step back in time and take in the events of that day, the humiliation Jesus must have felt, the heartbreaking grief he must have felt as the world he came to save rejected him, sentenced him to death. I was struck by the realization that he could have destroyed his tormentors with a word. He could have flown away from the cross. Some deep part of my heart kept begging for the events to stop. I wanted the crowd to choose Jesus, not Barabbas. I wanted Pilate to overrule the religious leaders. Throughout his life, Jesus did stunning, miraculous things. But he did not say a word nor lift a finger to save his own life. He went like a sheep to the slaughter. Why? This is the best answer I can offer tonight: I think he suffered all that to teach his followers and us one last lesson: "This is what love looks like."

On Thursday night and again on Friday, I remained kneeling in my pew for quite a while after the service ended, allowing myself to experience the grief and the sense of loss, trying to take in the enormity of what had happened. It's not unlike the way I continued to hold Shug in my arms last month, even after I knew she had passed from life to death. Nor unlike my staying at the cemetery back in October after my mother's funeral, waiting until the last soil had been placed over her grave. Yes, I recognize some will say there shouldn't be an equivalence between them. But I recognize a similarity for, in each case, it's about me not wanting to let go of the living creature, for I don't know what to do next. That's what I would have done, had I been standing at the foot of the cross when Jesus died. I would probably have remained there, trying to let it sink in, thinking, "Surely this cannot be happening!"

Today I found Mark Harris' Good Friday sermon, and it spoke more eloquently about what I was experiencing:

"That is why on Good Friday and every other Friday in people's lives as they come to death, one of the most powerful things we can do is be truly present with them and with one another.

The power in the powerlessness is this: Stay present, stay with it, stay with the grief, the awe in knowing the suffering, stay with Jesus never more human, never more God present with us. Stay with Jesus.
In baptism we die with Jesus and are raised with him into New Life. So today we die just a bit. After all the efforts to make a difference we are brought up short; there is nothing to be done. Time is up. He said it most simply, "It is finished."
Last year on Palm Sunday, I heard a sermon challenging me to walk with Jesus all the way through holy week. I tried last year – missing only a couple of services. And it was a deep experience for me, as I wrote, especially on Maundy Thursday and Good Friday.

As Caminante recently preached: ". . . [I]t is so hard sometimes to believe with our heart and soul (much more difficult than with our intellect) that God loves us. For so many of us, we are on a life-long journey to own that good news." Without a doubt, that is a struggle for me. And that's probably why I have tried to stay close to Jesus through this holy week. I want to get as close to the action as I can, in hopes that I may someday grasp he loves me as much as he loved all those around him during his too-short earthy life.

So this year I joined my parish each day, and I have discovered that the power of that "walk" is just immense. I don't think I can ever again jump from Palm Sunday to Easter Sunday. For me, the resurrection is just too cheap without this walk through the week of Jesus' final lessons, his celebration with his disciples, and his betrayal and crucifixion. I'm not a very disciplined person, and it took a lot of discipline for me to make all these services. But I am glad I did it. I understand a little more what my salvation cost.

I've kept a quiet day on this Saturday, trying to identify with the destitute and bereft feelings Jesus' friends and disciples must have experienced on that Saturday.

Thank God, I do have the knowledge that a marvelous gift will be revealed tomorrow morning when the women discover that empty tomb. But I'm trying not to rush it.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008


There comes a time to come down out of the attic and connect with the living ones again.

In her delightful and eccentric way, Barbara Crafton summed it up for me. Go read.

Holy Tuesday Redux

I wrote last night that I missed hearing a homily from someone who had prayed with the readings and could speak to them. The Gospel reading just didn't seem as significant as one I would wish in Holy Week.

Thanks to an occasional correspondent from the HoBD list, I got my homily this morning. He sent me what Lowell Grisham, a priest in Arkansas, wrote on his daily blog in a homily called "By What Authority?" You may recall Tuesday's reading (Mark 11:27-33):
27Again they came to Jerusalem. As he was walking in the temple, the chief priests, the scribes, and the elders came to him 28and said, “By what authority are you doing these things? Who gave you this authority to do them?” 29Jesus said to them, “I will ask you one question; answer me, and I will tell you by what authority I do these things. 30Did the baptism of John come from heaven, or was it of human origin? Answer me.” 31They argued with one another, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will say, ‘Why then did you not believe him?’ 32But shall we say, ‘Of human origin’?” —they were afraid of the crowd, for all regarded John as truly a prophet. 33So they answered Jesus, “We do not know.” And Jesus said to them, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things.”
In his reflection, Lowell begins by reminding us of Monday's reading (Jesus' "cleansing of the temple") which immediately precedes this one. And here's his take on it:

Jesus has attacked the Temple in the name of God. He has reasserted the ancient prophetic vision that the Temple be a house of prayer for all people. He has turned out the established system of sacrifices, with the profitable business of exchanging unclean for clean, claiming, again in God's name, that they had turned the Temple into a den of robbers. By what authority? That's the questions the authorities have.

From their perspective, they know where their authority comes.

First, they know that their authority comes from scripture, and from their traditional interpretation of the Bible. All of the business about unclean and clean animals comes from the scripture. The entire sacrificial system for righting wrong is spelled out in detail in the Bible. The prohibition against common Roman coinage is a defense of the first commandment against graven images. Caesar claims to be divine, the Son of God. It would be blasphemy to bring his image into the holy Temple. These religious authorities know their Bible. They quote it and enforce it with energetic intention, believing in their hearts that they are defending God.

Second, they know that they have the authority of recognition from the acknowledged establishments of religion and state. The Temple is given permission by the Roman governor to carry out its religious practice. The ordering of the Temple has oversight from the religious authorities. This is the traditional, structured way that this people has carried out its corporate religious practice for centuries. It is established tradition.

Scripture and established tradition -- that's where the authority comes from for the Temple magistrates.

But who is this Galilean rebel and where does he get the gumption to walk in here and nearly start a riot, attacking the established foundations of the Temple? They ask him to declare his grounds: "By what authority are you doing these things?"

Jesus could have answered them. He could have said, "By the authority of God." But they would have answered back, we have God's authority; who do you think you are? We are the recognized, established authorities of God.

Jesus could have said, "Because of what is written in the Scriptures." He could have continued to quote the prophets and declare God's intention that the Temple be radically open and inclusive -- a house of prayer for all people. He could have quoted from all of the stories and psalms and prophets about God's preferential regard for the poor. But they would have answered back, shooting Bible bullets to reference and defend every practice that Jesus attacks.

There's no talking with them. It won't help. Some folks won't be budged. Not if they've got Bible and tradition behind them.

So Jesus asks them a trick question. What about John the Baptist? Of course, they didn't like him either. But the people did. The people loved him and thought he was a prophet. They were afraid. Either they were afraid to risk the scorn and unpopularity of the crowd. Or they were afraid to admit an uncomfortable truth that didn't fit with their comfortable traditions.

So they didn't answer Jesus. They quit talking. They quit listening. They weren't going to change. It was too costly. It would cost them the entire system they had been living for. It would cost them the comfort of knowing they were right, the comfort of a belief that had been, well, comfortable. It would cost them their security, because their money came from their system of belief. It was too far to go. So they abandoned the uncomfortable consideration of uncomfortable truths. They quit talking; they quit listening; they started plotting how they could undermine this troublemaker, if necessary, with violence.

Every social movement that has challenged the established privileges has met the same kind [of] resistance. Every economic reform that has challenged the established interests has met the same kind of resistance. Every new discovery that has broken with the conventional paradigm has met the same kind of resistance.

It's almost impossible to attack entrenched power straight-on. It must be undermined. Usually its destructive power has to be brought out into the open where everyone can see its brokenness. But that means victims. Dogs on the bridge at Selma. Witches drowned and gay people burned (fagged). Union organizers busted. Sick people without access to medicine letting their suffering be filmed on TV. Illegal pictures of body bags. Homeless people in your face. A gay bishop who isn't invited to Lambeth.

"By what authority?" the authorities demand, as they shut down and shut up the uncomfortable ones.

Most of the time now, the answer from the challengers is, "Jesus." By the authority of Jesus. By his example of compassion and healing and forgiveness and generosity and love. By the authority of Jesus the victims confront the abusive and violent. He's tipped the scales forever.
Amen and amen.

Back during GC06, I subscribed to Lowell's daily postings. Now, his Morning Reflections is a brief thought about the scripture readings from the Daily Office of Morning and Evening Prayer. I encourage you to check out his blog.

Now … I'm really trying not to get sucked back into Battlestar Anglicana. I'm still eschewing – at least through this Holy Week – those sites that focus on the sturm und drang of the Episcopal Church and Anglican Communion.

But when Lowell Grisham puts yesterday's "By what authority …?" gospel story this way, it is impossible for me not to see the parallel between what the religious leaders did to Jesus and what the self-righteous rejectionists today are doing to many of us in the Episcopal Church.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Holy Tuesday

Elizabeth Says it Best

I've given up blog-reading since early February. I spent a little time today catching up on a few of your blogs that I expected would nourish me. Elizabeth Kaeton's Telling Secrets is one of those. And she did not disappoint, as I knew she wouldn't. In an essay she posted Friday, I find she has articulated why I'm going to church each day (or evening) this week, and why it feels so very important to me to make this walk with Jesus during this particular week. Here's just a bit of her essay.

Innocence. Guilt. Accusations. Lies. Betrayal. Suffering. Death.

These are the major themes of the story of what Christians call Holy Week which begins this Sunday - The Sunday of The Passion, or Palm Sunday. These elements are what we must walk through in the final steps of our Journey through Lent.

It’s no wonder – no wonder at all – that many people want to avoid Holy Week like the proverbial plague.

In what theologian Paul Tillich named, “The Age of Anesthesia,” it comes as no surprise that many people avoid coming to church until Easter morning.

Who wants to hear of such things? Isn’t the ordinary stuff of our postmodern lives already too full of these things? Give us celebration! Give us joy! Give us something to feel good about!

Isn’t Christianity supposed to be about ‘good news’?

Why, yes. Yes it is.

The Good News for those who walk with Jesus during Holy Week is that in a culture that cherishes ‘rugged individualism’ we are not alone. We are assured that God knows the intimate details of our human predicament.

God suffered with us in that long ago time, in that ancient city, on that lonely hill. A part of God dies every time innocence is lost, guilt is unmerited, accusations are false, lies are told, betrayal is perpetrated, and humans suffer unjustly.

The fullness of the celebration of Easter cannot be known unless you . . . .

Well, go read it for yourself, if you haven't already.

And thank you, Elizabeth.

I led evening prayer tonight, as I did last night. I'll confess I find the office a little disappointing. I'm finding the readings – without any homily – a little disappointing. I do maintain a period of silence after the readings, and I spend some time in reflection on them. But I really miss the opportunity to have a preacher who has prayed with those readings share her reflections with us.

What I most enjoy about evening prayer is the long time spent in prayers and intercessions, and the opportunity to do that in my community. I'm adding in several of the prayers from "the back of the book" (BCP pp. 814 ff). So far, nobody's complaining about the time spent on our knees in prayer.

As I wrote last night, I find the "ordinariness" of these Gospel accounts rather jarring. We know what the disciples didn't: that they are moving inexorably toward a hideous climax. All that will start with Thursday. Right now, I'm just walking slowly and quietly along this Holy Week path.

No deep thoughts here. Just quiet ruminations as I move through this week.

An Ordinary Day

Holy Monday

Like many of you, we are having services each evening this week in my parish. We're having Evening Prayer today through Wednesday, then we will kick into high gear on Maundy Thursday through the Triduum.

I had the honor of leading Evening Prayer tonight, as I will again tomorrow. I'm putting a lot of time and prayer into the development of these services … as our parish is still not really practiced in the Daily Offices.

The Gospel for this evening (Mark 11: 12-25) struck me. It was just an ordinary day for Jesus and his disciples. They came up from Bethany on the way to Jerusalem.

Of course, we can't read "on the way to Jerusalem" in an ordinary way. We know what most of them didn't. When he gets to Jerusalem, all hell's going to break loose.

They're going along the road, like it's an ordinary day. Then they arrive in Jerusalem, and Jesus is livid when he sees what the religious leaders have done to the temple. He goes into a tirade, driving the merchants and money-changers out of the house of God.

We hear a worrisome echo in this Gospel: "And when the chief priests and the scribes heard it, they kept looking for a way to kill him; for they were afraid of him, because the whole crowd was spellbound by his teaching." You and I know what's coming. We know that the religious leaders of his day are going to get their panties in such a wad that they will eventually conspire to murder him.

But on this day, in this Gospel account, there's not that sense of foreboding. It seems – in Mark's telling – like just an average day in the life of Jesus and his motley crew of rather slow-to-catch-on disciples.

And, along the way, Jesus cursed a fig tree … which later they pass by and find it's shriveled. "Weird, huh?" the disciples must have mused among themselves.

But Jesus takes that moment to make a point to them. He says:

Have faith in God. Truly I tell you, if you say to this mountain, “Be taken up and thrown into the sea”, and if you do not doubt in your heart, but believe that what you say will come to pass, it will be done for you. So I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.
I'm doing my best to walk with Jesus this week. But this is a hard reading. He tells his disciples that they will have awesome power. By inference, I guess he's saying that to you and me, too. How often do we claim that power or use it? Not very often, in my case.

And then there's the lackadaisical tone of this reading. Like Jesus is clueless – or at least the evangelist is clueless – about the powerful events that are being set in motion in Jerusalem. Surely, Jesus' rant in the Temple has ticked off the religious leaders. In a few days, they're going to kill him.

On this Monday in Holy Week, the reading was confusing to me. Jesus going blithely about his business. While I know how this week is going to end.

Here's a funny thing: I find myself, as a reader of this story, wanting to say to him: "Have a care! Watch your back!" But he's not going to do that. He's going to go on his way, still trying to teach the disciples. Still telling them they have more power than they or we can even imagine.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

The Old, Old Story

Passion Sunday

I don't know why it hits me so powerfully sometimes and not at others. Today was one of those times. Like the rest of you who follow the RCL, today we read Matthew's account of the Passion story (Matthew 26:14–27:66). And it broke my heart.

Fully human, Jesus goes to Gethsemane, and he agonizes in prayer about what he (surely) knows is to come. And of his twelve dearest, closest friends, not one can even stay awake, much less join him in the most fervent prayers of his life.

Jesus – God incarnate – is betrayed, derided, and mocked by the people he loved so much that he came in human form to live among them and accomplish their salvation. Our salvation. And finally they murdered him. Killed the Son of God who loved them that much.

Sitting here in the 21st century, with the benefit of all the Scriptures, I like to believe I would have behaved differently than the disciples, differently than the religious folks and the rabble who colluded in his execution. But I wonder . . . .

As we sang today in the gradual hymn (#458 in The Hymnal, 1982):

O who am I
that for my sake
my Lord should take
frail flesh and die?


never was love, dear King,
never was grief like thine.

Never was love like his. Never did anyone bear such grief. It's a sobering and perspective-changing realization, isn't it?

A friend is wont often to tell me, "Remember that you are beloved by God beyond your wildest imagining." Intellectually, I know that's true. But it is hard for me to believe; I need a lot of reminding. This morning, I got a little taste of it. And I found myself remembering John's words: "Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end."

Through this Lent, I have had a hard time. Shug's death and some other personal issues have consumed my attention. I am grateful for those of you who have watched and wept with me. I must also confess I've been more absorbed in my own struggles than in the keeping of a holy Lent.

It's time to change my perspective. I'm going to try to walk with Jesus through this most holy week.