Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Lent & Easter 2019: Reflections

If one were to ask me, "Deacon, what's the difference between reflection and dwelling?"  I might answer something like this. Dwelling is a continual rearward focus with a desire to return and remain in the past.  Reflection is, looking at what has passed, considering the lessons learned (both positive and negative), and integrating this into our forward focus.  Some examples might be a melancholy longing for the simplicity of childhood with an insatiable desire to return there, or the thoughts of "Dang, that stove was hot!"  While the former only begets more unsatisfying longing, the latter will cause you to think twice before grabbing another baking pan bare handed.  Keeping with these thoughts, this past Lenten Season, Holy Week, and Easter have given me much to consider, much to consider how those things have already begun to propel me forward into this new season.

On the evening of Ash Wednesday, Anglican Christians are given the following exhortation following the evening sermon:
Dear People of God: The first Christians observed with great devotion the days of our Lord's passion and resurrection, and it became the custom of the Church to prepare for them by a season of penitence and fasting. This season of Lent provided a time in which converts to the faith were prepared for Holy Baptism. It was also a time when those who, because of notorious sins, had been separated from the body of the faithful were reconciled by penitence and forgiveness, and restored to the fellowship of the Church. Thereby, the whole congregation was put in mind of the message of pardon and absolution set forth in the Gospel of our Savior, and of the need which all Christians continually have to renew their repentance and faith.
I invite you, therefore, in the name of the Church, to the observance of a holy Lent, by self-examination and repentance; by prayer, fasting, and self-denial; and by reading and meditating on God's holy Word. And, to make a right beginning of repentance, and as a mark of our mortal nature, let us now kneel before the Lord, our maker and redeemer.
This is the type of exhortation which sets many off with visions of what they're going to accomplish over the next forty days.  Then, dejectedly, they step towards the waning moments of the season realizing how little they were able to mortify their flesh in the season that was ending in growing twilight of Holy Saturday.  I make this observation, not looking down my nose, but gazing into mirror far too many times for my liking.

This year for  me, Lent was ushered in with some significant obstacles and challenges.  Family dynamics were significantly different than the year prior, which brought a slew things.  And while I was able to "modestly mortify" the flesh, I was able to experience a profound and seminal change with my personal prayer life.  While my public prayer life may have seemed deep and profound to those around me, my private prayer life was anything but.  I prayed silently daily, yet , my prayer stream seemed distracted and wandering, never making it past the turf of the infield. For as many times as I'd read that "The effectual, fervent prayers of a righteous man availeth much", according to Saint James.  Yet my prayers seemed impotent and tepid, hardly the incense described by Saint John in the Apocalypse. This Lent brought something different.

Where I would have saved my personal petitions for last, I began to lift them first.  Praying first for mercy for the rising day, I began to regularly pray for Wisdom, Focus, Stamina, and Perseverance.  Wisdom to perceive the inevitable rising challenge, focus to not loose sight of the challenge, stamina not to let that challenge get the best of me, and perseverance to see the challenge through to its end.  I also began to pray aloud.  This wasn't to make a public show of piety, I was still in my private prayer space where it was only me in the presence of the Almighty.  

As this progressed, I began to notice that prayer was becoming less of a wander through a garden, and more of an intentional march forward, keeping my heart on the object of those intercessions, and my heart on the target of those prayers, that being the throne room of God, and his mercy seat.

I won't presume for a moment to think that I've suddenly become a mighty prayer warrior.  I will happily say that I believe that I was shone a way towards praying prayers that are far more "fervent and effectual" than what once passed for personal prayer.

So in all of this, I can say that through the Almighty that, even if my flesh was only modestly mortified, my spirit was mightily fortified.


Friday, April 19, 2019

Good Friday -- Tetelestai!

From the Book of Common Prayer:
Almighty God, we pray you graciously to behold this your family, for whom our Lord Jesus Christ was willing to be betrayed, and given into the hands of sinners, and to suffer death upon the cross; who now lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
Today's Gospel passage is extremely long, recapturing the Passion narrative that was read from a great group of Lay Readers at All Saints' this past Sunday.  I'm sharing a portion of that large passage to accompany our thoughts in this moment.

While I'd seriously doubt that many reading this today have actually witnessed a Crucifixion, yet most have seen one or more theatrical or cinematic dramatization of the event. Many of these dramatic recreations are relatively sterilized while some are extremely graphic and visceral.  But the bloodiest depiction fails to capture the horrors of a roman crucifixion, an execution engineered to inflict one of the worst deaths a human may endure.  The Gospels capture a sense of this in their description of how the Roman execution detail broke the legs of two of the sufferer's in order to accelerate their end.

Our portion of Saint John 19 captures the Christ, in the moments leading to His death upon the cross:
"When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to his mother, "Woman, behold, your son!" Then he said to the disciple, "Behold, your mother!" And from that hour the disciple took her to his own home. After this, Jesus, knowing that all was now finished, said (to fulfill the Scripture), "I thirst." A jar full of sour wine stood there, so they put a sponge full of the sour wine on a hyssop branch and held it to his mouth. When Jesus had received the sour wine, he said, "It is finished," and he bowed his head and gave up his spirit." John 19:26-30 (ESV)
It was approaching 3:00 PM in Jerusalem.  It could easily have been 68 Degrees Fahrenheit or 20C and fair on any given day, but this was an afternoon like no other.  Three hours prior, an unnatural darkness enveloped Jerusalem that held the city in the grip of twilight.  in this gloom, each breath taken by the master took the full measure of his strength as he strained against the nails to fill his lungs.  No doubt, he was dehydrated and in shock from being beaten and awake for 33 hours.  For all of this, the Christ WOULD NOT die until his mission was complete.  

In these moments, Jesus scans the perimeter, and sees his Disciple John Bar Zebedee with Mary, his Mother.  He commends his mother into John's care while comforting his mother that John would care for her.  Now, his thirst slaked by the sour wine, Jesus was able to cry out in a loud voice that the redemption of the Creation was complete. His words captured the sense that our sin debt at that moment was now paid in full.




Thursday, April 18, 2019

Thursday in Holy Week -- A Mandate

From the Book of Common Prayer, the Collect for Maundy Thursday:
Almighty Father, whose dear Son, on the night before he suffered, instituted the Sacrament of his Body and Blood: Mercifully grant that we may receive it thankfully in remembrance of Jesus Christ our Lord, who in these holy mysteries gives us a pledge of eternal life; and who now lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
When I first became aware of the word "Collect", it had a strange ring to it.  But simply put, a "Collect" is simply a prayer meant to gather the intentions of of the people and the focus of the worship into a succinct prayer.  Anglican Collects seem to follow a certain meter and have been a part of historic Anglican since the time of Archbishop Cramner.  Today's apropos prayer calls to mind  the Sacrament that was first instituted over two milennia this evening.

*From the Gospel of Saint John:
"Now before the Feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart out of this world to the Father, having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. During supper, when the devil had already put it into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon's son, to betray him, Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going back to God, rose from supper. He laid aside his outer garments, and taking a towel, tied it around his waist. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples' feet and to wipe them with the towel that was wrapped around him. He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, "Lord, do you wash my feet?" Jesus answered him, "What I am doing you do not understand now, but afterward you will understand." Peter said to him, "You shall never wash my feet." Jesus answered him, "If I do not wash you, you have no share with me."  Simon Peter said to him, "Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!"  Jesus said to him, "The one who has bathed does not need to wash, except for his feet, but is completely clean. And you are clean, but not every one of you." For he knew who was to betray him; that was why he said, "Not all of you are clean."  When he had washed their feet and put on his outer garments and resumed his place, he said to them, "Do you understand what I have done to you?  You call me Teacher and Lord, and you are right, for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another's feet.  For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you.  Truly, truly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him.  If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them. ... When he had gone out, Jesus said, "Now is the Son of Man glorified, and God is glorified in him.  If God is glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself, and glorify him at once.  Little children, yet a little while I am with you. You will seek me, and just as I said to the Jews, so now I also say to you, 'Where I am going you cannot come.'  A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another." John 13:1-17, 31-35 (ESV)
(*NOTE: The ACNA Lectionary prescribed Matt 26:1-to 5, 14-25)

Perhaps its our aversion to the baring our feet in in church to be washed by a nodding acquaintance that drives many to place the focus of Maundy Thursday on the institution of the Eucharist rather than the call to the humility of washing a possible stranger's feet. I inwardly cringe at the thought of someone being confronted by my gnarly, middle-aged dogs.  But its at this moment that I'm reminded that it was the composer and conductor of the Aria of Creation who stripped down to his underwear to wash the dirty fallen feet of his Apostles, feet he conceived in Eternity past.

I continue to be arrested by this moment. The Christ is mere hours away from enduring the most hellish ordeal ever endured by one clothed in human flesh. The spotless Passover lamb would soon have the sins of the vilest offenders laid upon his shoulders.  It's weight may have felt like the shattering blow from a pile driver. It's at moments of reflection, such as now, my careless sins and betrayals become a foul, wretched stench in my own nostrils.

In this unfolding moment. Christ, in demonstrating this love that loves someone to the end, strips down to his inner garments and girds himself with a towel in preparation to wash the feet of his disciples. Try to imagine a dinner where the host suddenly strips down to his boxers and tee-shirt; it would be an awkward moment at the very least. The Christ of God is now seen as the servant of all; transformed from High King of Heaven to lowly house slave. All were shocked, but Peter seems to have been scandalized as seen in his reaction. Jesus doesn't mince words; without this "washing" St. Peter would have no share in the Kingdom. Peter suddenly gets it, and all but asks for a bath.

For a visual learner, this moment in the Gospel packs a powerful punch. It teaches volumes about the Kingdom and how it will unfold. It shows us that the Kingdom looks far more like a tiny sun-baked Albanian nun cradling the dying than a slick, polished preacher trying to sell you your best life now. Its self-emptying rather than self-aggrandizing. Our Lord has no need or use for strutting popinjays who seem to pervade the vast spiritual and cultural wasteland. The "No Fear" Crowd does little more than stir His holy wrath. He saw all of these traits in His onetime anointed cherub, and threw both him and his company of fallen angels down from Heaven. No, He seeks something quite to the contrary. 

Consider on this Maundy Thursday... Our Lord seeks those who've grasped the concept that in the greater scheme of things, they're truly of no account. They've got nothing to bring to the table. These are the ones whom the Master can fill with His power, and may well use them mightily in proclaiming the good news of the kingdom in both word and action.







Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Wednesday in Holy Week

This morning's Collect, from the Book of Common Prayer:
Lord God, whose blessed Son our Savior gave his body to be whipped and his face to be spit upon: Give us grace to accept joyfully the sufferings of the present time, confident of the glory that shall be revealed; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
This morning's Gospel takes us to a pivotal moment, an inexorable point events are locked in, and destinies become fixed:
After saying these things, Jesus was troubled in his spirit, and testified, "Truly, truly, I say to you, one of you will betray me." The disciples looked at one another, uncertain of whom he spoke. One of his disciples, whom Jesus loved, was reclining at table at Jesus' side, so Simon Peter motioned to him to ask Jesus of whom he was speaking. So that disciple, leaning back against Jesus, said to him, "Lord, who is it?"  Jesus answered, "It is he to whom I will give this morsel of bread when I have dipped it." So when he had dipped the morsel, he gave it to Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot. Then after he had taken the morsel, Satan entered into him. Jesus said to him, "What you are going to do, do quickly."  Now no one at the table knew why he said this to him.  Some thought that, because Judas had the moneybag, Jesus was telling him, "Buy what we need for the feast," or that he should give something to the poor.  So, after receiving the morsel of bread, he immediately went out. And it was night.  When he had gone out, Jesus said, "Now is the Son of Man glorified, and God is glorified in him.  If God is glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself, and glorify him at once. John 13:21-32 (ESV)
From the moment of the fall, when the works of the flesh supplanted the fruits of the Spirit, treachery became a stain on humanity. Treachery, in its most basic, is defined as a violation of allegiance, or of faith and confidence by Webster.  It is carried out in shadows. It occurs through the furtive actions of cowards unable to face the recipients of their actions.  In Dante's Inferno, the deepest depths of Hell were reserved for history's worst traitors.  But at this moment, this man remembered in infamy is seated at the same table with the Christ of God.

A deep scene is unfolding as Saint John, the beloved disciple of God, hears his Master uncover the conspiracy.  Ten of the Apostles are instantly thrown into a tangle of anxiety while the eleventh was now doubtlessly experiencing a surge of fear and adrenaline as his plan is unmasked and exposed to all.  Even the youngest of the band was now in a moment of self-examination.  Jesus would answer all of their questions in a moment.

The sop, a piece of the hard unleavened bread made soft by wine perhaps, was handed to the man from Kerioth.  In the unseen realm of this moment, the sop hit Judas' hand with all of the force of a firing pin striking a primer cap.  The Holy Spirit which had once rested upon this man was gone, and Lucifer himself entered him.  At once, any fellowship he may have enjoyed with The Christ was irrevocably severed.  He was now compelled by the command of God to depart and set his plan into motion.

Many have offered up theories as to why. Judas did as he did.  I've no intention of doing that in this space.Yet it is important to remember that there would be two betrayals over the next several hours.  Each would have completely different outcomes.

Lent, and Holy Week, compel us to look deep into the mirror.  It demands that we too ask, "Is it me Lord?"







Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Tuesday in Holy Week

From this morning's Gospel reading:
"Now among those who went up to worship at the feast were some Greeks.  So these came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and asked him, "Sir, we wish to see Jesus."  Philip went and told Andrew; Andrew and Philip went and told Jesus.  And Jesus answered them, "The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.  Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.  Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.  If anyone serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there will my servant be also. If anyone serves me, the Father will honor him.  "Now is my soul troubled. And what shall I say? 'Father, save me from this hour'? But for this purpose I have come to this hour.  Father, glorify your name." Then a voice came from heaven: "I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again."  The crowd that stood there and heard it said that it had thundered. Others said, "An angel has spoken to him."  Jesus answered, "This voice has come for your sake, not mine.  Now is the judgment of this world; now will the ruler of this world be cast out.  And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself."  He said this to show by what kind of death he was going to die.  So the crowd answered him, "We have heard from the Law that the Christ remains forever. How can you say that the Son of Man must be lifted up? Who is this Son of Man?"  So Jesus said to them, "The light is among you for a little while longer. Walk while you have the light, lest darkness overtake you. The one who walks in the darkness does not know where he is going.  While you have the light, believe in the light, that you may become sons of light." When Jesus had said these things, he departed and hid himself from them." John 12:20-36 (ESV)
So much had happened in a few dozen hours; a man dead four days was walking among the living, the words of Zechariah 9:9 had been fulfilled:
Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your king is coming to you; righteous and having salvation is he, humble and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.
 In my own story, I can recall days in what was then West Germany when the Sonic Booms of NATO warplanes would shake our home.   They were sudden, and impossible to ignore. Like those sonic booms, the voice of God the Father exploded in the atmosphere and rolled like thunder.  Doubtless, many of those gathered in Jerusalem for the passover may have sensed in their hearts that they were on the cusp of something epic, something that was paradigm-shifting. Yet for all of this, the Christ is standing center stage, with a heart growing heavier with each beat.

A heavy heart is not an enviable possession and I suspect that most reading this this morning have the sense of a heavy heart.  Even so,  our heaviest of hearts could never even approximate what Jesus was experiencing.

What weighed on Christ's heart? Was it the knowledge that in less than 72 hours, he would become the recipient of 15 hours of hell on earth? Was it knowing that the city where he stood would be leveled and her residents the recipients of imperial genocide? I suspect that what was occurring at present was certainly a cause for sorrow. At this point, the city was swelling and surging as pilgrims filled Jerusalem in preparation for the Passover. The lion's share of those coming for the Lamb of Passover would ultimately reject the Lamb of God.

Monday, April 15, 2019

Monday in Holy Week

From the Book of Common Prayer:
Almighty God, whose most dear Son went not up to joy but first he suffered pain, and entered not into glory before he was crucified: Mercifully grant that we, walking in the way of the cross, may find it none other than the way of life and peace; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
Omniscience is not one of our strong suits as people. Often times, we're far closer to being bricks than approaching anything close to omniscient, not being able to see the impending consequences of our own shortsightedness. This I suppose is a divine gift, given our fallen natures. Omniscience would probably drive us insane or make us suicidal. For instance, consider what it would be like after receiving a welcome fit for a king just yesterday, you knew that in four days you'd be betrayed, tortured to the point of death, and finally dying on a Roman cross in abject humiliation? 

 Consider further the omniscience of the Almighty in light of today's Gospel reading. In the passage we see Jesus at the home of Mary, Martha, and Lazarus along with the apostolic band. We could infer that this may have been a feast, celebrating the return of their brother to the living, or not. What is fact is the fact that there was a deep friendship between Jesus and the three siblings. It was here that Mary, in an act of devotion broke open an alabaster jar of the finest perfume and anointed the feet of the Master. I'm confident that many in the room were stunned by Mary's action, knowing that the perfume flowing out and filling the room was in fact her old age pension. Judas became indignant, wrapping himself in faux-righteous indignation, rebuked Mary for her supposed waste of such a precious commodity. 

 Had it been you or I there and possessing the gift of omniscience, we'd have torn into Judas like a hot knife through butter in our otherwise faulty human nature. We'd have called him out for his hypocrisy and the fact that he was an embezzler. Or worse, we may have confronted him over what he would do in the next few days. But not Jesus. In his love, he only gently rebuked Judas and turned the attention to Mary's act of worship.

 The Master loved the traitor as much as he loved the tender-hearted Mary. This is incredible and our frail human minds can't comprehend the heights and depths of the pure agape love of the savior. We must however, apprehend own this truth.

Sunday, April 14, 2019

Palm Sunday, Redemption's Trigger

From the Gospel of Saint Luke, 19:29-40 (ESV):
"When he drew near to Bethphage and Bethany, at the mount that is called Olivet, he sent two of the disciples,saying, "Go into the village in front of you, where on entering you will find a colt tied, on which no one has ever yet sat. Untie it and bring it here. If anyone asks you, 'Why are you untying it?' you shall say this: 'The Lord has need of it.'"  So those who were sent went away and found it just as he had told them.  And as they were untying the colt, its owners said to them, "Why are you untying the colt?" And they said, "The Lord has need of it."  And they brought it to Jesus, and throwing their cloaks on the colt, they set Jesus on it.  And as he rode along, they spread their cloaks on the road. As he was drawing near--already on the way down the Mount of Olives--the whole multitude of his disciples began to rejoice and praise God with a loud voice for all the mighty works that they had seen, saying, "Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!" And some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him, "Teacher, rebuke your disciples."  He answered, "I tell you, if these were silent, the very stones would cry out."
It was a cool, damp Palm Sunday morning here in Suburbia Majora.  Where in year's past, the family at All Saint's (ASC) would begin Palm Sunday outside to process into the sanctuary, the celebration began in our Atrium.   Still, even with the mist outside, the ASC family was Able to apprehend the magnitude of what's been referred to as both the Triumphal Entry and Palm Sunday.  Father Scott Bailey's well-crafted homily worked to capture the moment.

Consider the Christ's entry into Jerusalem.  Jesus, the Son and very expression of the Father, was King of Kings and Lord of Lords.  He had every right to ride into Jerusalem on a fiery steed that was draped in battle array.  The sound of horseshoes grinding against stone and the snorts of a warhorse could have filled the streets.  It was his, and his prerogative to exercise.  But no, rather than entering Jerusalem as a conquer, he entered as a King on a mission of peace.  The Prophet Zechariah captures it well:
"Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your king is coming to you; righteous and having salvation is he, humble and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey."
History recalls how rulers would mount Donkeys or Mules when engaged in peaceful diplomatic missions. And if ever their was a peace mission, it was occurring here in the pages of the Gospels.  The Christ entered into the Eternal City, the site of God's Holy Temple.  A place where daily sacrifices had been offered for a millennia as an atonement for sin and transgressions.  A place where five more sin offerings would be made by the Aaronic order of Jewish Priests before the once and final offering would be made for all of mankind.  

We can pause, and ask how many of these who were crying out "Hosanna" would bitterly shout "Crucify him" in a few short days.


On a Saturday Sabbath in Bethany


From The Gospel of Saint John, Chapter Twelve:
Six days before the Passover, Jesus therefore came to Bethany, where Lazarus was, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. So they gave a dinner for him there. Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those reclining with him at table. Mary therefore took a pound of expensive ointment made from pure nard, and anointed the feet of Jesus and wiped his feet with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (he who was about to betray him), said, "Why was this ointment not sold for three hundred denarii and given to the poor?" He said this, not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief, and having charge of the moneybag he used to help himself to what was put into it. Jesus said, "Leave her alone, so that she may keep it for the day of my burial. 8 For the poor you always have with you, but you do not always have me."
Mary, the sister of Lazarus, was the one who for whatever reason, seemed to be far more spiritually attuned to the Christ as seen from the Gospel narratives.  While her sister Martha was seen as busy preparing for Jesus, Mary was commended for listening and sitting at the feet of the Master.  So, in this scene, we see a devoted, grateful Mary, in a moment of unbridled devotion to her Lord, in taking a very expensive perfume and anointing the feet of the master.  The very feet the next day, that would set off for Jerusalem.  I find a few moments in which to latch onto in these moments.

The Humanity of Jesus.  The "very God of very God" was also very human.  And like us, he enjoyed the company of friends.  I believe that we can reasonably conclude that this family group (Lazarus, Mary, and Martha) were personally known by the master.  He clearly loved them, as witnessed by his reaction to the death of Lazarus.  Now, before the consummation of his mission to Redeem fallen man, he comes to Bethany to rest an enjoy the fellowship of friends.

The Devotion of Mary. The discussions during that visit are known only to time and eternity.  Did the Master share with the siblings, what was to unfold in the coming hours?   We don't know. What we do know, is that Mary took the most treasured object in the home and anointed her friend and Savior.

Those who love, and know Jesus of Nazareth will someday share in that same closeness as did this family in Bethany.  As for me, I long for that moment.