Such a lovely room

Such a lovely room

Sunday, April 23, 2023

YEAR A 2023 easter 3

Easter 3, 2023
Acts 2:14a,36-41
1 Peter 1:17-23
Luke 24:13-35
Psalm 116:1-3, 10-17

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

My favorite rubric says: A period of silence is kept.  More on that later.
In the Episcopal tradition, when a person is ordained a priest, they make a vow:  “I do solemnly engage to conform to the doctrine, discipline, and worship of The Episcopal Church.”  And you may ask yourself, what exactly are the doctrine, discipline, and worship of The Episcopal Church?  Well, not surprisingly, they are three books.  The Bible is the doctrine, the Canons are the discipline, and the Book of Common Prayer is the worship.  Bible, canons, and prayer book are the doctrine, discipline, and worship.

This is a promise every ordained person makes, whether bishop, priest, or deacon.  And you can see why it’s important.  You don’t want your clergy preaching things that are contrary to the Bible.  You don’t want them breaking the rules set forth in the canons (which are like the Ohio Revised Code of the Episcopal Church).  And you don’t want them just making up stuff at will on Sunday mornings when it comes to worship.  These are promises we make for the benefit of God’s people, and to preserve good order in the church.

So, why do I bring all that up on this Third Sunday of Easter?  Because I want to talk about one of my favorite topics in the whole world.  THE RUBRICS!  In the Book of Common Prayer, the rubrics are sort of the instructions that you see in italics throughout the service.  They’re called rubrics—from the Latin rubrica, for red chalk—because they used to be printed in red.  Those small italicized instructions tell the people and the priest what to do as we worship together.

As a layperson, you follow the rubrics because you are a member of this church, using this book that we’ve all agreed to follow.  But as a priest, I have made a promise before God, the bishop, and the people to conform to what this book says I should do.  Essentially, I’ve made a vow to do exactly what the rubrics say to do.  Twice in fact, since I made the same vow when I was ordained a deacon.  I do what the book says because I promised to do what the book says.  And I am telling you all of this because I want to focus on that one sentence I said at the beginning:  “A period of silence is kept.”

Throughout our Eucharistic service, there are subtle but important distinctions in what the rubrics say.  Right off the bat, a hymn may be sung.  The Celebrant may say.  When appointed, a song of praise may be sung.  Then the people sit for the readings, stand for the Gospel, sit for the sermon, and when we get to the Creed it says, On Sundays and other Major Feasts there follows, all standing.  Which is a tricky one, because it means we must say it on Sundays and major feasts, but we do not say it on Wednesdays that aren’t feast days.  All of which is not your concern, I know, but as I said, rubrics are one of my favorite topics.  Which is why I am such a hit at parties,

So as you go through the service, you have things that must be done, and things that may be done.  And here comes my actual point this morning:  If you look carefully at the rubrics in our Communion service, you will see that every period of silence is optional.  What we call a “may rubric.”  They all say, a period of silence may be kept, except for one. 

The only required silence comes on page 337 in Rite I, and on page 364 in Rite II where it says:
The Celebrant breaks the consecrated Bread.
A period of silence is kept.

That’s the only place where silence is required in the entire service.  Silence is not even required before the Confession of sins.  It’s only here.  So why is that?  Why is silence required in that one place, and only in that one place?  After the Celebrant breaks the consecrated bread, a period of silence IS kept.  Why?  Well, we can find the answer in today’s gospel reading from Luke:
When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him.

They recognized him; and then he vanished from their sight.  Isn’t that the strangest thing?  It’s like as long as they think Jesus is some stranger who hasn’t heard about what has happened, he is with them physically.  As soon as they recognize him, in the breaking of the bread, he disappears . . . .
Now granted, it sounds a little trippy and all, but it’s almost as if the bread becomes his body, isn’t it?  They can see Jesus in the breaking of the bread.  They recognize Jesus in the bread.

And when they get back to the other disciples, they tell what had happened on the road, and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread.  But there’s an interesting thing that is left unsaid in this whole story.

When Jesus meets the disciples on the road, they are heartbroken and confused.  At no point in the story does it say the disciples became happy and understood.  At no point does the text say that Jesus made everyone live happily ever after.  It’s not as if the presence of Jesus replaces or ignores our sadness and pain. 

Jesus comes to meet them on their walk, in the midst of their sorrow and pain.  And yet their hearts are burning within them as he opens the scriptures to them.  Meeting them where they are; not judging them in their blindness.  And in the breaking of the bread, they recognize the risen Lord who has been with them all along.

Jesus does not take away pain and sadness.  Jesus introduces hope and comfort.  The promise of the resurrection brings hope.  The presence of Jesus, made known to us in the bread, brings comfort.  Can we have hope while still being sad?  Oh yes!  Can we experience comfort while still being in pain?  Most assuredly.  And in the bread and wine, the resurrected Christ is made known to us, no matter our present circumstances.

I would like you to hear today’s Collect again:
O God, whose blessed Son made himself known to his disciples in the breaking of bread: Open the eyes of our faith, that we may behold him in all his redeeming work.

That period of silence after the bread is broken is the absolute pinnacle of the Eucharistic service.  In that silence, we are bringing their experience into the present.  Jesus is made known to them—and to us—in the breaking of the bread.  All the other silences are optional; this one is required.  Because this is the moment when Jesus is made known to us in the breaking of the bread. 

 Let all mortal flesh keep silence, and with fear and trembling stand.
The Celebrant breaks the consecrated Bread.
A period of silence is kept.

Lord Jesus, be known to us in the breaking of the bread, as you made yourself known to the disciples.


Sunday, April 9, 2023

YEAR A 2023 festival of easter

Easter 2023
Jeremiah 31:1-6
Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24
Colossians 3:1-4
Matthew 28:1-10

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

Alleluia.  Christ is risen.  The Lord is risen indeed.  Alleluia.
Exactly.  But what if I said, Christ is risen, and you said, “So what?”  If we’re honest, we sometimes think that response, even though we don’t dare use our outside voice.  Christ is risen . . . And? . . .

We don’t respond like that because we’re not supposed to make the priest feel uncomfortable, or make our neighbors look at us kind of sideways, or even admit that we don’t know the answer.

I know, when I was a younger, that was my experience.  The Lutheran pastor would stand up there and yell “Christ is risen!”  And all the people in their new suits and pretty dresses would gamely do their best to act just as excited and yell back the proper response (while secretly wondering if they remembered to turn on the oven before they left for church).  I could see it in their faraway eyes as they mouthed the words.  And I knew the look, because I had the same look, as I was thinking about a basket of candy with my name on it.

Christ is risen . . . and this changes things how exactly?  How could that possibly matter after our six weeks of fish fries and no chocolate?  What difference does that make after we heard Friday’s detailed description of his gruesome and unfair execution?  Jesus died an awful death, and his rising again doesn’t change that, does it?  He still watched everyone desert—if not betray and deny—him; he still suffered a horrible and lonely death; he still died right when he was just getting started.  With such a tragic finish to his short life on earth, why is it important that he is risen?  So what?

I know some of you are now wondering if I’ve led one too many services this week.  And while that may be true, I’ll cut to the chase:

There’s a strong temptation during Lent and Holy Week to get obsessive about the death of Jesus.  To squeeze some meaning out of the tragic injustice of it.  And, we certainly can go that way.  Many people do, in fact.  We can follow the lead of prominent theologians over the centuries and talk about a debt that had to be paid, a debt that could only be satisfied by the perfect and only child of God.  And if the death of Jesus is the solution to the problem, well . . . then his death solved everything, right?  That makes Good Friday the pinnacle.  The transaction was accomplished.

And if that’s true, then we are right to focus on his death, in all its horrific agony.  To go over every gory awful detail, just like Mel Gibson wants us to do.  If the death is the important thing, then there’s really no point in our even being here in church this morning, is there?  And, if the death of Jesus is what really matters, then when I say, Christ is risen, you should say, So what? 

But somewhere here today, somehow, we know intuitively that the resurrection is what counts.  I mean, if we really believed it was all about the Crucifixion, then our churches would have been packed out on Friday, and vaguely empty today.  People seem to know the resurrection is what counts, even if they don’t know why it counts.

We get a hint in today’s reading from Colossians:   “For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life is revealed, then you also will be revealed with him in glory.”  We are attached to Jesus in baptism.  Where he goes, we go.  He goes into the tomb, and we also will go into the tomb.  It’s obvious that we cannot escape death.  It is a definite consequence of being born: each of us will die.  So, if the death of Jesus is what matters, when we die, that’s the end of the story, right?  What kind of lame ending is that?!?  God becomes incarnate, walks among us, and the story ends with, “And then God died, and so will you.”  Happy Easter!

But.  BUT . . . if we are hidden with Christ in God, if we really go where Jesus goes, then that changes everything!  Because that means, if Jesus is risen, then we also will rise.  Because he lives, we shall live.  Because he lives, those who have gone before will live.  Because he lives, everything changes!  Since Christ is risen, we will rise as well.

This makes the resurrection of Jesus the most important thing in all creation.  Because he lives, we shall live.  And sometimes, hearing that in community is the most important part.  Because, for those who have lost friends and partners and loved ones, we need more than just personally believing that Jesus is risen. 

Clinging to that promise on our own isn’t enough at crucial times in our lives.  Sometimes what we really need is to hear the assurance that others believe it too.  For all of us there have been—or will be—Easter mornings when we can’t cheerfully yell back the expected “The Lord is risen indeed!” as loudly as the priest demands, because the grief is too much.  In those times we need to hear the confidence in the voices of those around us.  In those times we need to hear that word “indeed” louder than anything else.  A testimony that it’s not just some person in a robe up front saying what he or she is supposed to say.

When I say, “Christ is risen,” your response of “The Lord is risen indeed” affirms my whacky claim.  It tells those next to you that you believe it too.  It tells the downtrodden that everything is different.  And it bears witness to the community outside those doors that we believe in hope, where others would see only darkness.  And that we’re willing to proclaim it, with God’s help, as we live out our lives.

“The Lord is risen indeed” is the sound of you all preaching . . . to me, to the person next to you, to a world that needs to hear this good news.  In that response, with the word “indeed,” you are proclaiming the most important message the world has ever heard.  You are saying that you not only believe it, but are willing to tell those around you.  In your proclamation, the world hears something new: Jesus has overcome death and the grave, and This.  Changes.  Everything.

Because now there are people who live with confidence that death is not the end of the story.  Now there are people who carry this good news out into the streets, into the workplaces, into the homes of our friends and family.

We gather together to share in this Easter Eucharist, and we go out into the world to proclaim together: Christ is risen!  The Lord is risen indeed!


Friday, April 7, 2023

YEAR A 2023 good friday

Good Friday, 2023
Isaiah 52:13-53:12
Hebrews 10:16-25
John 18:1-19:42
Psalm 22

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

As I said on Sunday, the gospel writers spend a lot of time blaming “The Jews” for the death of Jesus.  And we heard it again tonight.  John goes to great lengths to let Pilate off the hook for killing Jesus, leaving The Jews holding the bag.  I just don’t want that to go unmentioned.

What we heard tonight is a story of The Law v. Love.  What is legal v. what is moral.  What is allowed v. doing the right thing.  Selfish v. selfless. 

Everyone in the story is looking for justifications for their actions.  Here is why this man must die, and here is why it is not my fault.  You must be the one to kill this man, because I am not allowed to, or I am not qualified to, or—inexplicably—because I am not a Jew.  Everyone is looking to be exonerated, and everyone is looking to justify their own participation in this violence.

Except for Jesus.

Throughout this reading, Jesus keeps asking the obvious questions, the truthful questions.  An innocent lamb, headed for the slaughter.  Everyone else is trying to justify their own part in the slaying.  But there is no justification; there is no excuse; there is no exoneration.  For any of them, or for any of us.  

The temptation for you and me is to think we would have done things differently.  That we’re on Jesus’ side, unlike the chief priests, and the police, and the governor, and the disciples.  If we had been there, this all would have turned out differently.

Don’t fall into that trap.  Putting ourselves into this story is a fool’s errand.  Because if this is a story about the people around Jesus, and what they did or didn’t do . . . well, you see how that ends.

Look to Jesus.  This is a story about Jesus, not the people looking to be justified.  You and I will play all these other parts at different times in our lives.  Sometimes we accuse, sometimes we deny, sometimes we call out for violence and death.  At one time or another, you and I end up standing in for each and every person in this story, except for one.  There is only one truly righteous person in this story.  Only one whose actions are justified.  Only one who is exonerated.  And by his wounds we are healed.

Jesus, Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, have mercy on us, and grant us your peace.


Thursday, April 6, 2023

YEAR A 2023 maundy thursday

Maundy Thursday, 2023
Exodus 12:1-4, 11-14
1 Corinthians 11:23-26
John 13:1-17, 31b-35
Psalm 116:1, 10-17

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

Do you know what I have done to you?  That’s what Jesus asks the disciples after washing their feet.  Do you know what I have done to you?  And I think it’s safe to say the answer is no.  No they don’t.

It’s easy to miss how radical this whole foot washing scene really is.  But that’s because we don’t really connect with it, since we’re not in the habit of washing people’s feet, or having our own feet washed.  We are miles away from our personal experience here.  

But Jesus is going way beyond merely subverting the system.  He’s actually overthrowing the whole thing.  Normally, a servant would wash the disciples’ feet when they entered someone’s home for dinner.  It would be a crazy idea for the disciples to wash each other’s feet.  But Jesus is taking this way beyond that.  The master, the teacher, the Lord is doing what a servant normally does.

And you can see how radical this is because of Peter’s reaction, when he says, “You will never wash my feet.”  For Peter, and for the others, Jesus has lost his mind here.  This is crazy talk, and I imagine Peter feels like he’s trying to bring Jesus back to reality.  You will never wash my feet.  Not tonight, not tomorrow, not ever!

Do you know what I have done to you?  That question really sticks with me again this year.  Not done for you.  Not done so that you might understand.  Done to you.  Do you know what I have done to you?  It suggests that the disciples have been changed somehow.  Jesus has done something to them.  And there’s no going back.

And what he has done to them is connected to this:  I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.  He says it’s a new commandment.  But is it?  We hear it on this day every year.  It isn’t new to us.  But we need to hear it every year, because it is a chance for us to start anew.  To recognize what Jesus has done to us.

It’s one commandment.  Not a whole list of rules and regulations.  Just one thing:  Love one another as I have loved you.  As I have loved you.  And how is that?  In that act of washing his disciples’ feet.  Humbling ourselves for one another.  Which is not a thing we normally do!  We are trained from birth to raise ourselves up, put ourselves first, get what we can get.  To have the servants wash our feet, rather than us washing theirs.

Do you know what Jesus has done to you?  He’s turned all that on its head, that’s what!  He subverts the whole system we’ve been raised up in.  Saying leaders should follow.  The strong should become weak.  The rich, poor.  Do you know what Jesus has done to you?  He’s ruined everything!

I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.  That is a new commandment.  And it is a radical way of being in the world.  So radical, in fact, that we cannot possibly do it on our own.  And that’s why we need Jesus.  You and I need to have Jesus do to our hearts what he did to the disciples’ hearts that night.  We need for God to break into our lives and turn us around.  To overthrow our sense of what is up and what is down.  Because in our me-first self-preservation above-all-else way of living, we’ve got it all wrong.  Jesus is saying we’ve got it all backwards.

Jesus asks us tonight, “Do you know what I have done to you?”  Yes, Jesus, we do.  You have shown us a better way.  And we ask you to continue to show us your better way, every day.  Make us into people capable of living into your commandment, that we might love one another, as you have loved us.


Sunday, April 2, 2023

YEAR A 2023 palm sunday

Palm/Passion Sunday, 2023
Isaiah 50:4-9a
Philippians 2:5-11
Matthew 27:11-54
Psalm 31:9-16

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

We must be careful who we blame for the death of Jesus.  Over the course of the next few weeks, we will hear over and over about this monolithic group called “The Jews.”  And we will hear lots of narratives that set them up as the fall guys, while inexplicably letting the actual Roman executioners off the hook.  And given that the early Christians and Jews were sort of “fighting over the same turf,” the depiction of the Jews in the gospels is a little suspect, to say the least.  As Fr. Tom Ferguson notes, “Understanding the Pharisees, solely through New Testament sources would be like trying to understand the British, solely through pamphlets issued by the Sons of Liberty.”  Consider the source, as they say.

We must be careful who we blame for the death of Jesus.  Some things to consider as we ponder this question.  Crucifixion was a Roman punishment, not a Jewish one.  And, why does Pontius Pilate come off as looking so innocent in Matthew’s gospel?  He has absolute life-and-death power over everyone in his region, and he just backs down, washes his hands, and shrugs like, “Yeah, you guys do whatever.”  And notice how Matthew says, “All of them said, ‘Let him be crucified’!”  All of them?  Really?  And he writes, “Then the people as a whole answered, ‘His blood be on us and on our children’!”  So, the guilt passes from Rome, to Pilate, to all the Jews, and to their children?!?

You see how that goes?  It’s no longer the brutal Roman Empire that kills Jesus.  No, it’s the children of the Jews.  That’s whose fault this is.  As I said before, consider the source.  Notice how Matthew adds that Pilate “realized that it was out of jealousy that they had handed him over.”  Really?  Where’d that come from?  If we don’t take a step back from Matthew and his motives, we can end up in very dangerous territory.  And.  We.  Have!

The much-beloved Ambrose, Bishop of Milan argued in 388 that a synagogue burned by anti-Jewish rioters should not be rebuilt, and was thankful that “there might not be a place where Christ was denied.”

In the early days of the Reformation, Martin Luther was quite friendly to the Jews, since he assumed the gospel would be irresistible to them.  Before long, when he realized they weren’t converting en masse, he started writing the most horrible, vile, anti-semitic things.  Just terrible.  And I’m sure I don’t have to tell you which German leader was a big fan of Martin Luther’s writings against the Jews.

We must be careful who we blame for the death of Jesus.  Blaming the Jews for the death of Jesus gets us discrimination, “othering,” antisemitism, Charlottesville, and the holocaust.  Just last month, here in Ohio, there was an actual Nazi rally in Wadsworth.  Not to mention the pro-Nazi homeschool curriculum being run out of Upper Sandusky, with over 2,500 subscribers.  It’s not getting better.  It’s getting worse.

So who is to blame for the death of Jesus?  With an injustice this blatant, we want someone to blame.  We need someone to blame.  Someone to scapegoat.  To distance ourselves from the horror that was done on our behalf.    And based on what the gospels tell us, if Pilate is innocent, well, who’s left?  Bad things have to be somebody’s fault.  And speaking of bad things . . .

By now we’re all aware of last week’s school shooting in Nashville.  On the 86th day of this year, we had our 130th mass shooting.  That’s one and a half mass shootings every day . . . so far this year.  After the unspeakable tragedy in Uvalde last year, I confessed to you that I was on the verge of losing my faith.   Because of the heart-breaking despair, and knowing that nobody is going to do a damn thing to change any of this.  We’re all just trapped in a blood-soaked version of the movie “Groundhog Day.”  And every day’s the same.

After every horrible mass shooting, we hear the same things from the same people.  In one ear, we hear “thoughts and prayers,” and in the other ear, we hear “ban assault weapons now.”  And nothing changes, no matter who gets killed.  No one talks about the dead kids or the grieving parents.  It’s all just talking points to win elections and raise more money.

Except sometimes there’s an extra talking point.  A new angle to exploit.  And in Nashville it was a trans person who pulled the trigger.  And right on cue, some people are taking this as an opportunity to further malign trans people, who are already in real danger and under real assault.  Last week’s firebombing of a church in Chesterland, Ohio for hosting a drag brunch shows just how much danger.

And you can see how blaming Nashville on the trans community is similar to what happens to the Jews in our gospel reading.  The problem isn’t Roman oppression and brutality; it’s the Jews. The problem isn’t the absurd amount of guns; it’s the trans people.  The problem is the other.  This GROUP of people is the problem.  If they didn’t exist, none of this would have happened.

The death of Jesus isn’t political; but it is.  The death of school kids in Nashville isn’t political; but it is.  Because once again, we’re not talking about the dead.  We’re busy blaming someone else for the death.  If it’s someone else’s fault, then maybe it’s not my fault.  If this group did it, then maybe I’m off the hook, personally.  How much am I passing that on to others to absolve myself?  How much am I saying nothing can be done because it’s not my immediate problem?  Who killed Jesus?  Who killed those kids?  Who killed anyone since the beginning of time?  If every person is made in the image of God, who is killing God?  On some very important level, it was I, Lord.  I crucified thee.

We must be careful who we blame for the death of Jesus. 

Who was the guilty?  Who brought this upon thee?
Alas, my treason, Jesus, hath undone thee.
’Twas I, Lord Jesus, I it was denied thee: I crucified thee.

Until we can own up to our part in the death of Jesus, and the ongoing deaths of children gunned down in their classrooms, until we can see that blaming some group of already-oppressed people is not the answer, then nothing is going to change.  Every person is made in the image of God; we promise to seek and serve Christ in all persons, because Christ is in all persons.  We are still killing Jesus and we are still blaming it on the outcasts.  We are killing and ostracizing beloved children of God.  Same as it ever was.

And what is God’s response?  God sees the worst in us.  And God has experienced—firsthand—the worst in us.  No group, no person, no imagined “whatever” is worse than us.  And despite all that . . . maybe because of all that . . . God does not give up on us.  As we journey through Holy Week together, we will hear again the story of how we—all of us—put Jesus in the grave.  Lifeless and dead.  End of story.

But it is not the end of the story.  Not for Jesus, and not for us.  Things can get better.  Thing must get better.  And, with God’s help, things will get better.