Baaaaaa!

A sermon preached on the Fourth Sunday of Easter atThe Anglican Church of St. Thomas the Apostle, Kefalas, Crete, May 12, 2019 11:00 am.
Readings may be found here – we read Acts, the Psalm, and the gospel, but not the Revelation passage.

7abb71cb01347a9699816721276a214aToday is Good Shepherd Sunday. In the Fourth Sunday of Easter the psalm is always the 23rd, and the gospel is a passage that refers to Jesus as s shepherd. This makes us the sheep in this scenario. Baaa!

So what does this say about us, and about Jesus?

The 23rd Psalm

In the 23rd Psalm we hear the line, “He revives my soul.” As those of us who were in the psalm study in Lent may recall, this is a very spiritualized translation of the Hebrew. If I were to translate this I would make it, “He saves my neck.” The word translated as soul is nefesh, which was usually translated into the Greek as psyche. But a nefesh is something that has a windpipe and is capable of breath, and the Hebrews usually thought in concrete terms. So I would make this verse, “He saves my neck”. The “still waters” are the waters necessary for life, and the shepherd protects me from that which threatens me.

Thus, Jesus as the shepherd is the one who leads us to what gives us life, and protects us from evil, and saves us.

Jesus the Shepherd

Jesus in the gospel, “My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one will snatch them out of my hand.”

We are in a relationship with Jesus.

  • We may have been brought up in that relationship since we were children, and have never known a time when we were not in that relationship.
  • We may have come into that relationship later, discovering that he has always been calling our name but we have only just heard it, and responded.
  • Perhaps the relationship isn’t what it might be. We’ve drifted away. But we will not be snatched out of his hand, and we reaches out again and again, and we respond in penitence and faith.
  • And it is not a relationship with some teacher from 2000 years ago. No, we believe that Jesus is risen from the dead and is present to us – in the face of friend and stranger, in the face of a believer, in the words of the scriptures made flesh and blood in the lives of the saints, in the miracles and gifts that flow from the Holy Spirit he sends upon us.

What is the power of this relationship? In Acts we hear of Tabitha, also known as Dorcas, who is raised from the dead by Peter. Presumably this is not the resurrection itself to life eternal, but something temporary, like Lazarus or the son of the widow of Nain. But, none the less, even as a sign, it speaks to the life giving power of Jesus at work in Tabitha through Peter and the faith of those who called him.

flockofsheep760

Of course, we are the sheep.

Sheep are gregarious and stick together, are easily herded. Contrary to what some think, they are not stupid. I remember back in Canada building a fence to keep them out of our yard. They really like the flowers and grass in our garden. Problem was, the fence was loose between the fence posts. The sheep just rolled under the wire of the fence, until we fixed the bottom of the fence with wood. Sheep are highly motivated by food, will follow a leader, and recognize the voices of each other and of shepherds.

Do we hear the voice of Jesus calling to us? Do we recognize that he is leading us to good food and refreshing water? Do we know of his protection and saving unto life? Baaa!

 

Posted in Easter, Sermons | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Joy and the Cost of Following Jesus

A sermon preached on the Third Sunday of Easter at The Anglican Church of St. Thomas the Apostle, Kefalas, Crete, May 5, 2019 11:00 am.

Readings for this Sunday: The Hebrew Bible Reading is Zephaniah 3.14-20. Psalm 30, Acts 9.1-20, and John 21:1-1 may be found here.

Alleluia! Christ is risen. The Lord is risen indeed. Alleluia!

Are we a people of joy? Are we a people of dancing? From what I saw at our Orthodox Sunday church dinner last week at Κρητική Γωνιά, the answer has to yes, right?

 

So with Zephaniah, we

Sing aloud; shout! Rejoice and exult with all your heart.

With the psalmist, we observe that

Weeping may linger for the night,
but joy comes with the morning.

and we say to God,

You have turned our mourning into dancing;
you have taken off our sackcloth
and clothed us with joy,
so that our throats may praise you and not be silent.
O Lord our God, we will give thanks to you for ever.

So, yes, we are a people of joy!

But then there are the two stories today about calls. The call to Paul to be an apostle, and the call to Peter (more of a re-call, actually). What was their response? We do not know, except that they did respond to the call. But where those calls led are ominous.

Paul gives up everything he has – his standing among the elite of the scribes and Pharisees in Jerusalem. Over the years of his evangelism he suffers much, and then goes to Rome to die.

peter-icon-fisherman-iconPeter seems exasperated when Jesus asks him repeatedly, “Do you love me?” But, of course, the three-fold affirmation of love is to undo the three-fold denial on Good Friday morning. Then these words:

Very truly, I tell you, when you were younger,
you used to fasten your own belt and to go wherever you wished.
But when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands,
and someone else will fasten a belt around you
and take you where you do not wish to go.’
(He said this to indicate the kind of death
by which he would glorify God.)
After this he said to him, ‘Follow me.’

There is a paradoxical tension. We are filled with joy and exaltation at what God has done in Christ our Lord. But at the same time, following Jesus has its costs. We become like him as we point to justice, we suffer as Jesus did when the powerful are called out, and we are attacked when we point to the power and glory of God in the one who died on the cross. We are taken to places we do not wish to go, we are blinded by the light, and weighed down by the responsibilities we carry.

And yet, we dance, and we sing praises, and we proclaim Christ as our Lord

Because, as Desmond Tutu said,

Good is stronger than evil;
love is stronger than hate;
light is stronger than darkness;
life is stronger than death.
Victory is ours, through him who loves us.

When I go around visiting people I notice that many of you watch television news. I do not watch the news much, but I do read the papers, online. And, of course, the media will print and broadcast things that catch our attention. “If it bleeds it leads,” is the supposed maxim of low quality journalism, and so we hear about the latest knifing, the big fire, yet another gun attack in the States, a flood here, a cyclone there. Many of us become cynical about the self-serving and childish qualities of our political leaders. We begin to doubt the way things are going in the world.

MLK-Blog-Pic-1And yet, we know that in Christ there is victory, and that in God all things work to God’s purposes. The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr, in a 1954 sermon – very early in his civil rights work – said,

All I’m trying to say is, our world hinges on moral foundations.
God has made it so!
God has made the universe to be based on a moral law.
So long as man disobeys it he is revolting against God.
That’s what we need in the world today
—people who will stand for right and goodness.
But we’ve got to know the simple disciplines,
of being honest and loving and just with all humanity.
If we don’t learn it,
we will destroy ourselves by the misuse of our own powers.

This universe hinges on moral foundations. There is something in this universe that justifies [Thomas] Carlyle in saying,

No lie can live forever.

There is something in this universe that justifies William Cullen Bryant in saying,

Truth, crushed to earth, will rise again.

There is something in this universe that justifies James Russell Lowell in saying,

Truth forever on the scaffold,
Wrong forever on the throne.
With that scaffold sways the future.
Behind the dim unknown stands God,
Within the shadow keeping watch above his own.

So let us dance! Let us rejoice in the resurrection. Let is sing God’s praises. And then, let us be prepared to be taken to where we might not want to go. Let us follow Jesus.

Posted in Easter, Sermons | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

30 Years Ago Today

Priesting

April 30, 1989, St. Jude’s, Oakville (a suburb of Toronto on Lake Ontario), just after I was ordained to the priesthood by the Most Reverend John Bothwell, Archbishop of Niagara & Metropolitan of Ontario.

Thirty years ago today I was ordained a priest at St. Jude’s Church, Oakville, Ontario, Canada. My brothers showed up, as did my parents and some of my aunts and uncles and other relatives. The time seems to have flied by. I’ve already said some things about the priesthood on this blog, and you can read them here and here and even here.

I give thanks to all who have supported me in the past thirty years with its ups and downs. May the next thirty years be even more devoted to the glory of God and the uplifting of God’s people.

Posted in Random Personal Notes | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Conditional Thomas, Unconditional Jesus

A Sermon Preached on The Second Sunday of Easter
The Anglican Church of St. Thomas the Apostle, Kefalas, Crete
April 28, 2019 11:00 am

Scripture readings may be found here.

the-old-pearly-gates-looked-nice-mike-twoh

Χριστός ἀνέστη! Ἀληθῶς ἀνέστη!
Alleluia! Christ is risen. The Lord is risen indeed. Alleluia!

Last week I preached a long sermon. Today’s will be short.

I’ll start with a joke. I cannot promise it is a good one.

A Baptist, a Catholic and an Anglican were standing before the pearly gates.

St. Peter himself met them: To the Catholic he said “I have one question that you must answer: who do you say that Jesus is?” The Catholic replied, “The church teaches . . .” Peter interrupted, “I didn’t ask about the church, I asked about you! You may not enter!”

To the Baptist he said, “I have one question that you must answer: who do you say that Jesus is?” The Baptist replied, “The Bible says . . .” Peter interrupted, “I didn’t ask about the Bible, I asked you! You may not enter!”

Finally he said to the Anglican, “I have one question that you must answer: who do you say that Jesus is?” The Anglican then said, “He is the Christ, the Son of the Living God, the Word made flesh, the Alpha and the Omega!” Jesus said, “Yes, that is correct! You may enter!” The Anglican then continued, “Now, on the other hand . . .”

Thomas is the disciple who always seemed to be the skeptic, and who can always see the other side of any questions. We are very good at seeing multiple sides of everything. But in the end the issue is less the propositions we believe in that the relationship we have with God in Christ.

Thomas put obstacles in the way of that relationship, and that can be a problem. He put demands on it. “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.”

Well, the only absolute precondition to a relationship is showing up. So a week after, Jesus shows up, and submits to Thomas’s demands. “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.” Thomas believes, removes the obstacles to the relationship, and confesses him as “My Lord and my God!” And he says to the disciples, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” They receive the Holy Spirit, and are sent.

This is a world that is often hostile to God and God’s peoples. Over 250 Christians were murdered last Easter Sunday while they worshipped. This was supposedly in reaction to massacre of fifty Muslims in Christchurch NZ. This morning we heard of the hate crime and murder in a synagogue in San Diego, in imitation of the murder of eleven people attending worship at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh. These attacks are not acts of faith, but terrorism that is antithetical to the will of God. How do we respond to such hostility? Our model is Jesus Christ. The cycle of violence will continue until humans allow God to break through, and the obstacles to the power of the resurrection are taken away.

For us as Christians that means having a relationship with God in Christ, and in deepening that relationship.

  • It means knowing Jesus
    • as Leader and Saviour, as Peter says before the Sanhedrin
    • as the rejected stone that is now the chief cornerstone, as Psalm 118 puts it.
    • as the one who is and who was and who is to come, as Revelation states.
    • As the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth.
    • who loves us and frees us from our sins by his blood, and made us to be a kingdom of priests
    • the one who is the Alpha and the Omega,
    • with Thomas, as our Lord and our God,
    • as the Messiah, the Son of God,
  • It means breathing in that Holy Spirit that is breathed upon us.
  • It means that we are people of peace, as Jesus greets us with, Shalom.
  • It means that by eating the bread of life and drinking the cup of salvation we become in human form the body and blood of Christ.
  • It means by being in relationship with others we are the body of Christ.
  • It means that we are sent even as Jesus sent us.
  • It means breaking cycles of violence, just as Jesus did.

May the same power which raised Jesus Christ from the dead work in us, that we may show forth the glory of God’s power.

Alleluia! Christ is risen. The Lord is risen indeed. Alleluia!

Posted in Easter, Sermons | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Resurrection is What God’s Love Looks Like in Public

A Sermon preached on The Sunday of the Resurrection: Easter Sunday
at
The Anglican Church of St. Thomas the Apostle, Kefalas, Crete, Greece
The Diocese in Europe|The Church of England
April 21, 2019, 11:00 am.

Scriptural Readings: Isaiah 65.17-25, Psalm 118: 1-2, 14-24, Acts 10.34-43, & Luke 24.1-12 may be found here.

This is essentially the same sermon I preached last year at St. Dunstan’s, Gordon Head, in Victoria, British Columbia, Canada, with a few tweaks. Next year I promise to come up with a new sermon!

1032727_1_0321-Israel_Jesus_Tomb_Restoration_standard

The Edicule (shrine) over the stone over which the body of Christ was laid, and from which Christians believe he was raised. In the Church of the Resurrection/The Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem.

Alleluia! Christ is risen.  The Lord is risen indeed. Alleluia!

I believe in the resurrection.

The resurrection is the centre of the Christian faith. We affirm it in our baptismal vows, and in their renewal, in the creeds, and in our liturgies, and on this the most holy of days, the Sunday of the Resurrection, which in English we call Easter. We say that we believe that on the third day after his death (counting inclusively), God raised Jesus from the dead. We also say that we believe in the resurrection of the dead and the life everlasting – that all humanity will be raised from the dead. This is the general resurrection.

What does this mean? What difference does it make to my life?

Resurrection Is About Justice

The resurrection of Jesus is about justice – of God’s justice, and of justice in the world. This is probably not how you think of it. How is the resurrection about justice?

To understand why it is about justice one has to go into the history of Hebrew and Jewish thinking about the afterlife, and to recognize that there were a variety of views.

Shadowy-figure_288x288The earliest view is the concept of Sheol. Sheol is a shadowy existence after death, a place for all the dead, the good and the bad. What is left of the person is a bare remnant, without strength or power. The Torah (the continuous narrative of Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy) does not really talk about any other type of afterlife, and the Sadducees, the Zadokite priests who were powerful in the Temple in Jerusalem, denied the resurrection, as they only accepted the Torah as scripture, and not the Prophets and the Writings. This was a very simple theology, in which God acts in the lives of human beings, and does not wait for their death to offer rewards and punishments. Thus, God rewards the righteous in life and punishes the wicked in life as well. This approach to existence after death is well attested in the psalms, where the psalmist says, for example in Psalm 30.9,  “What profit is there in my death, if I go down to the Pit? Will the dust praise you? Will it tell of your faithfulness?” The dead cannot even praise God, and the psalmist asks that he stay alive so that he might do so.

8495105_f520Later on the idea of Heaven and Hell developed. The personality of the dead is less shadowy and more defined. God punishes and rewards the dead; God brings the good into the divine presence, and the wicked go to a place of punishment, of God’s wrath, often called Gehenna. In all probability the development of these alternate fates was influenced by the Persian state religion of Zoroastrianism.This paralleled the development of Satan as a fallen angel in rebellion to God, a source of evil which is an active principle in the world; before then God, as omnipotent, was held to be the creator of good and evil (see Isaiah 45.7: “I make peace, and create evil” AV/KJV).

Belief in resurrection emerged relatively late, only 150 to 200 years before the time of Jesus, and in the whole of the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament) was only explicit in the Book of Daniel, which was written at about that time. By Jesus’s time it was a common belief amongst many Jewish groups, and it is described as a belief of the Pharisees. Resurrection addressed the issue of God’s justice – when the righteous follow the ways of God but still suffer, where is the justice of God? The horrific story of the martyrdom of seven brothers and their mother (c. 168 BC) in 2 Maccabees 7 describes how one after one they are murdered by Antiochus Epiphanes because they refused to transgress the rules of their forebears. They state their hope in the resurrection, and taunt the king: “‘One cannot but choose to die at the hands of mortals and to cherish the hope God gives of being raised again by him. But for you there will be no resurrection to life!” (2 Maccabees 7.14).

In the Book of Daniel the Son of Man is described as a divine being who is sent by God to judge the world. By the time of Jesus this was combined with other eschatological and apocalyptic expectations for the Day of the Lord, which was the breaking in of God into worldly affairs to turn the world right-side up. The righteous will finally be rewarded and the wicked will finally be punished. John the Divine described this in great, if sometimes confusing detail, in the Book of Revelation. In chapter 18 Babylon, which stands for the city and empire of Rome, falls, and among those most distressed are the merchants and sailors who deal in luxuries, animals, and human slaves. God’s judgment is described in Matthew 25 like the separating of the sheep from the goats, and it is connected to how people dealt with the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the sick, the naked, and those in prison – the poor and oppressed people of society. The belief, then, was that resurrection was a matter of justice, of righting wrongs, of reward and punishment.

The Resurrection Of Jesus is About Justice

I believe in the resurrection.

The resurrection of Jesus Christ is part of that eschatological breaking in of God into the world. His birth, his teaching, his miracles, his healings, his exorcisms, his suffering, his death, are all part of God coming into the world, the Word becoming flesh and dwelling among us. The way in which the world reacts to this divine presence in human form brings about judgment, either being lifted up with Jesus into new life, or condemnation by joining with those who attacked him.

The resurrection of Jesus Christ is the beginning of God’s re-creation of the world, of transformation, of a new heaven, a new Earth, and a New Jerusalem, where all God’s sons and daughters rejoice in the light of the one who sits on the throne and declares, “Behold, I make all things new.” (Revelation 21).

jesus-resurrection-thomasThis is seen in his resurrected body. It is described as both physical, something you can touch, and yet spiritual, something which will not perish. It appears suddenly in one location and then disappears. It can eat, speak, and be heard. Sometimes people recognize it, sometimes they do not. When Jesus addresses people by name, they know him. In Emmaus he is known to the two disciples “in the breaking of bread.” This is not some kind of Zombie Jesus, as modern day detractors of Christianity sometimes suggest. This is not the reanimation of a dead body, mindless, rotting, and doomed to perish again.This is something different.

Original Testimony

I believe in the resurrection.

It is not easy to believe in the resurrection. After all, in ordinary experience, dead people do not rise from their graves in new and glorious bodies. The resurrection of Jesus is an event that is outside known physics, chemistry, and biology. The resurrection of Jesus is not an historically verifiable fact, because it is extra-ordinary and not part of the normal course of events. We can assert that it is an historical fact that the disciples believed that Jesus rose from the dead, but we cannot say that it is a historical event in the same way that we can say that Julius Caesar crossed the Rubicon, or that William Duke of Normandy conquered England in 1066. There is no archaeological evidence or secondary literature to confirm this miraculous happening.

And yet, today we heard the early witness of Paul, himself an eye-witness to the resurrection. In First Corinthians Fifteen he lists all the people who were also witnesses, and while some of them had died, all of the others were around to be questioned:

For I handed on to you as of first importance what I in turn had received:
that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures,
and that he was buried,
and that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures,
and that he appeared to Cephas (i.e. Peter)
then to the twelve.
Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers and sisters at one time,
most of whom are still alive, though some have died.
Then he appeared to James,
then to all the apostles.
Last of all, as to someone untimely born, he appeared also to me.

This ancient witness dates to perhaps 50 AD – about two decades after the event itself. Paul emphasises that he is telling them something he told them earlier, and that his knowledge of the witnesses is a tradition that was handed on to him. The gospels, written a couple of decades later, assert that Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of James were the first witnesses. There were skeptics even then, we are told, but there is still this testimony.

A couple of things happen to the witnesses. When they see Jesus they are immediately struck with their own unrighteousness; after all some of them had abandoned Jesus, one had denied knowing him, and one had betrayed him. Their sense of sin bubbled up in the presence of the glory of the resurrected Jesus. But, at the same time they also experienced forgiveness and empowerment. Thus, when Jesus appears in the upper room in John 20 he breathes on them, and just before says, ” Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” They become Christ in the world, proclaiming the kingdom of God, healing illness and driving out evil, and living as though they had already been resurrected, guided by the Spirit. The communal feast on Sunday became a time when Christ was made known in the breaking of bread, a foretaste of the heavenly banquet.

The Power of the Resurrection

I believe in the resurrection.

I have seen the power of the resurrection at work today. It is not something simply about some future, unbelievable event.

Fresco_showing_the_baker_Terentius_Neo_and_his_wife,_from_Pompeii,_House_of_Terentius,_Naples_National_Archaeological_Museum_(14655900927)

I have seen it in history, as the gospel spread rapidly from one anonymous Christian to another. It is infectious. Yes, we celebrate the apostles like Peter and Paul, but before either of them got to Rome other Christians had already arrived and started several small churches in that great city. When Paul came to Corinth around 50 AD a Jewish-Christian couple by the names of Prisca and Aquila were there, having been expelled from Rome by the Emperor Nero because of their Christianity.

That gospel spread rapidly through Gaul, across the channel into Britain, and then leapt across the Irish Sea to Ireland. In the fourth century Patrick, a Roman Briton captured as a slave, then escaped and made his way back home. After a few years of preparation Patrick was sent back to the land of his slavery as a missionary bishop. A few centuries later the gospel moved into Scotland and Northern England through the islands of Iona and Lindisfarne.

1200px-Canterbury_St_Martin_close

St. Martin’s Church, Canterbury. When St. Augustine came to Kent in 597, it was already there. Although much modified over 1400 years, the foundation dates back to Roman times.

At roughly the same time Augustine landed in Canterbury in south-east England in an effort to proclaim the gospel to the pagan Anglo-Saxons. In the opposite direction the gospel spread east through the Church of the East, through Persia and into India, and then through Afghanistan into the far East, reaching China by the 7th century. By the year 1000 new converts to Christianity from Greenland and Iceland arrived in what they called Vinland, what we now know is Newfoundland, and there are at least two baptisms recorded in the sagas.

norstead-viking-village

A reconstructed Viking church in Norstead Viking Village, adjacent to L’Anse aux Meadows, Newfoundland and Labrador.

As with anything involving peoples, institutions became complacent and corrupt. Already in the third century radical Christians in Egypt gave away their belongings and headed out into the desert to pray. They came together in communities, and thereby monasticism was begun. In the medieval era St. Francis of Assisi and St. Dominic began preaching orders that celebrated poverty and sought to preach the gospel to ordinary folk.

500 years ago through Luther and Calvin in the Reformation and people like Ignatius Loyola in the Counter-Reformation the Church pulled itself out of corruption and bad theology into a new respect for holy scripture and the role of the laity. In the past century the Christian faith has gone from being primarily a European religion, compromised by imperialism and colonialism, to one that is most vibrant in Africa and Asia. Africa went from nine million followers in 1900 to 380 million in 2000, most of them in indigenous denominations unknown in the West. Korea is on the verge of becoming a majority Christian nation, and there are more Presbyterians in South Korea than in Scotland. All of this flows from the same power which raised Jesus from the dead.

The Power of the Resurrection In Parishes

I believe in the resurrection.

I have seen the power of the resurrection give new life to old churches.

  • The parish where I was last a regular lay person is the Church of the Redeemer in Toronto. In 1980 it voted to disestablish itself as a self-governing parish and ask the Diocese of Toronto to step in. The vote passed by something like eleven votes to four! The diocese did not give up, but sold the land of the parish hall, sold some air rights, and jump-started the place. It is now one of the most active churches in Toronto, with four services a Sunday, a diverse music program, and a soup kitchen that serves 150 people five days a week.

    Redeemer

    Church of the Redeemer, Toronto, at an Easter Vigil

  • My daughter’s parish in New York City is St. Mark’s in the Bowery. The parish is ancient, dating back to a chapel erected by Petrus Stuyvesant on his farm in 1660. It is now in the centre of the East Side, entirely built up. For almost a century the Bowery was a district that was better known for tenements and punk rock. For fifty years the parish survived by renting out its spaces and selling off land. In 2009 it was down to about 20 people on a Sunday. The Diocese of New York put in a dynamic priest who was intent on growing the parish as a radical justice oriented place. Now it has an average Sunday attendance of over a hundred, and it is indeed renowned for their social justice ministries; on Palm Sunday they not only marched in commemoration of Jesus’s entry into Jerusalem, but to advocate for gun control and Black Lives Matter.

    Easter-2018-web-924x345

    Easter 2018 at St. Mark’s in the Bowery. My daughter is the one with flowers in her hair.

  • The parish where I was working immediately before coming here was St. Dunstan’s, in the neighbourhood of Gordon Head, in Victoria, British Columbia. It was down to some 20 people 23 years ago. The Bishop put the Reverend Canon Bill Morrison in the place, and it doubled in average Sunday attendance. When the Rev. John Alfred Steele came in 1995 it doubled in size again. Now it has a  new incumbent who has come, from of all places, England. Its future is promising!

All of this growth flows from the same power which raised Jesus from the dead.

The Power of the Resurrection in the World

I believe in the resurrection.

Christians have been in the forefront of social change, whether acknowledged by secular society or not. The African-American theologian and philosopher Cornel West says that love in public looks like justice. The power of the resurrection is what God’s love looks like in public.

  • The Sunday School movement, which started in the 18th century, was initially as much about teaching people to read as teaching them about scripture;.
  • William Wilberforce and the efforts to abolish, first, the slave trade, and then, by 1834, slavery itself.
  • Anglo-Catholics were not just about ecclesiology and nice liturgy, but went into slums, educating people, and religious orders worked to provide nursing and midwives, as the television show “Call the Midwife” describes.
  • Civil rights in the USA were advanced by groups largely led by Christian clergy, such as Martin Luther King, Jr., whose death is being commemorated this coming week.  Christians continue in leadership for human rights in America, and unique theologies of liberation have developed in reaction to the fact that there have been 400 years of systematic oppression against African-Americans. Look up the Black Theology of James Cone and Cornel West, or the Black Feminist approach advocated by Alice Walker and integrated into Christian thinking as Womanist theology, whose major theologians are  Jacquelyn Grant, and Delores Williams.
  • In Athens the Anglican Church of St. Paul’s has been a leader in working with refugees and migrants.

All of this flows from the same power which raised Jesus from the dead.

Invitation

I believe in the resurrection.

The resurrection is about God’s justice breaking into our world, and that in-breaking is a manifestation of God’s love for a world, created by the divine and now being recreated in love.

How is God’s love breaking into you? How is that same power which raised Jesus Christ at work in us here at St. Thomas’s, Kefalas? If you are visiting, how are you going to take that transformative love with you when you go home?

Alleluia! Christ is risen.  The Lord is risen indeed. Alleluia!

Posted in Easter, Sermons | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Love Bade Me Welcome

Through Lent With George Herbert
Holy Saturday – Easter Eve

This is the last poem for this series of posts. This day, Holy Saturday, is the last day of Lent, the fortieth day from Ash Wednesday. Yesterday was Good Friday, when Jesus was crucified. Tomorrow is Easter, and Lent will be over. Today is an in-between time, when Christ is in the tomb.

This is also the last poem in The Church, the long middle section of the The Temple, which is the proper name for the whole book, being book-ended by The Dedication and The Church Porch at the beginning (and arguably, Superliminare) and concluded outside The Church by The Church Militant and L’Envoy.

 

Love (3)
Love bade me welcome. Yet my soul drew back
                              Guilty of dust and sin.
But quick-eyed Love, observing me grow slack
                             From my first entrance in,
Drew nearer to me, sweetly questioning,
                             If I lacked any thing.
A guest, I answered, worthy to be here:
                             Love said, You shall be he.
I the unkind, ungrateful? Ah my dear,
                             I cannot look on thee.
Love took my hand, and smiling did reply,
                             Who made the eyes but I?
Truth Lord, but I have marred them: let my shame
                             Go where it doth deserve.
And know you not, says Love, who bore the blame?
                             My dear, then I will serve.
You must sit down, says Love, and taste my meat:
                             So I did sit and eat.

 

Ralph Vaughn Williams set this piece to music as one of the Five Mystical Songs. A decent performance of it can be found above. The first four pieces are meditative, and include The Call, and it concludes with the exultant Let All The Earth In Every Corner Sing. While that piece and The Call can be sung as hymns, this piece is more like a lieder, and so is not so well known outside of being an anthem or a concert piece. When I was part of the Niagara Chamber Choir in the early ‘nineties we sang all five pieces in a concert.

The poem is a dialogue, like yesterday’s poem, only told in the first person. Here the dialogue partner is not Death, but Love. Given that God is Love, this is a way for Herbert to personify God without falling into the language of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, or naming God as God, or Jesus. It allows for him to approach God in a different kind of way.

 

static1.squarespace.com

Henry Singleton, “The Ale-House Door”, c. 1790.

Indeed, Love here, while never exactly given a gender, may well be feminine in Herbert’s mind; while amor is mascuine in Latin, αγάπη in Greek is feminine. Love questions “sweetly”, and the guest addresses the host(ess) as “dear”. It is not explicit, but the impression is given of a woman who runs an inn, who welcomes the guest, and pays close attention to his needs. Her invitation to eat and be her guest is very ordinary – but also extraordinary, given that she is Love.

The guest in the poem feels unworthy. He is “guilty of dust and sin”, “unkind, ungrateful”, who has marred creation (his eyes), full of shame, and he cannot bear to look upon Love. Love counters by welcoming him, observing him, drawing closer, sweetly questioning about what he needs, takes him by the hand, smiles at him, and reminds him of truths that he already knows: that she created his eyes, as Creator, and bore the blame of his sins, as Christ. The guest says, “My dear, then I will serve” but it is Love who is the servant here, and bids the guest sit down and eat, and he does just that.

C.A. Patrides (quoted in Ann Pasternak Slater’s notes to The Complete English Works) thinks that
The poem celebrates not the sacrament in the visible Church but the final communion in heaven when God “shall gird himself and make them sit down to meat, and will come forth and serve them.” (Luke 12:37)
This is surely not correct, and John Drury agrees with me:
the Church’s great sacrament of eating and drinking, the Holy Communion, is powerfully present.  (Music at Midnight, p. 3)
As Drury notes, all time seems to be summed up in this short poem. In the second line the guest is like Adam, who was made from dust and was guilty of sin. Yes, the sitting down of the guest and eating is the banquet at the end of time referred to in Luke 12.37, but it is also the making present of Jesus in the memorial of the Lord’s Supper; they are effectively the same.
Floris_van_Dyck_-_Still-Life

Floris van Dyck (1575-1651)

The feast of God is not just the eschatological banquet or the Lord’s Supper. It is also the rich fare shown forth in the lives of God’s holy people. George Herbert’s poetry is one of the dishes at the table of the Lord, seemingly too rich and yet quite wonderful once one sits down to partake. For those who have been dipping in to my Lenten devotions based on Herbert’s poetry, I hope and pray that you have caught a glimpse of the divine.
Posted in Lent, Poetry and Novels | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Poor Death: George Herbert’s “Dialogue-Anthem” with Death

Through Lent With George Herbert
Good Friday

24056371.6fbbb49b.640

Christ on the Cross, made in Tirol or Salzburg (Austria), ca. 1125-1150, now in the the Fuentiduena Chapel in the Cloisters, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York NY

Herbert wrote a poem with the title Good Friday, as well as one on The Cross, but the short poem I have chosen for today, although rarely commented on by scholars, will do just as well. Herbert imagines a faithful Christian in a dialogue with a personified Death.

A Dialogue-Anthem
Christian Death.

Chr.

Alas, poor Death !  where is thy glory? Where is thy famous force, thy ancient sting?

Dea.

Alas, poor mortal, void of story!
Go spell and read how I have killed thy King.

Chr.

Poor Death! and who was hurt thereby? Thy curse being laid on him makes thee accurst.

Dea.

Let losers talk, yet thou shalt die ;
These arms shall crush thee.

Chr.

                                              Spare not, do thy worst. I shall be one day better than before; Thou so much worse, that thou shalt be no more.

The scripture standing behind this is 1 Corinthians 15, that great passage by Paul in which he asserts the centrality of the Resurrection of Jesus and of all humanity to those in Corinth who think they get by without it:

51Listen, I will tell you a mystery! We will not all die, but we will all be changed, 52in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. 53For this perishable body must put on imperishability, and this mortal body must put on immortality. 54When this perishable body puts on imperishability, and this mortal body puts on immortality, then the saying that is written will be fulfilled:
‘Death has been swallowed up in victory.’
55 ‘Where, O death, is your victory?
Where, O death, is your sting?’
56The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. 57But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

The Christian begins with a pun; according to Inge Leimberg, in 1630 the word “poor” would have been pronounced very similarly to “power”. Thus, Christian calls into question the power of Death by calling it poor, and questioning its glory, force, and sting. Death is none too bright in this poem. It accuses the mortal of having no story, and tells it to go read that very story in which Jesus is killed. Herbert has Death offer a pun in return, although unwittingly: “Go spell” is pronounced “Gospel”, or good news. Death is reduced to calling the Christian names and making threats, which create no fear on the part of the faithful. This rather pathetic personification of death is very much in line with the mocking of death that comes with the Day of the Dead in Latin America, where Death is seen less as a threat than something with which to have some fun. Until Hollywood got hold of All Hallow’s Eve and turned it into a horror show, Halloween was something like that, too.

ingmar_bergman_death_acourseindying

Bengt Ekerot as Death in Ingmar Bergman’s “The Seventh Seal” (1957).

On a day when we contemplate the death of Jesus, we are reminded that despite much suffering it is not the end. Although Jesus cries out, “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?” the Father is not done with him, nor is the Holy Spirit. Following scripture and the Apostles’ Creed, we assert that he has descended to the dead, and that this was truly death, that the one person who is both fully divine and fully human has experienced that very human death and all that it means. But this person, this Word made flesh, is also the utterly transcendent and infinite, and when it encounters the very mundane and finite death, it overwhelms it. Death is undone, it is accursed, it loses its power, and while it still affects us, we look past it to the resurrection.

This is why this day is “Good Friday”. Sin is borne by the scapegoat of God, Jesus of Nazareth, a pure, unblemished sacrifice for all humanity. Sin and death no longer have the power to separate us from God. The Holy Spirit is unleashed in the resurrection of Jesus, and the same power which raises Jesus from the dead is at work in us.

There is another poem in which a believer speaks to death. There is a good chance that George Herbert may have known it, as it is by his mother’s friend John Donne (1572-1631), Dean of St. Paul’s, London. That said, although it was written in 1609, it was not published until 1633, when both Donne and Herbert were dead. It is still well known. It is one of Donne’s Holy Sonnet’s and expresses similar thoughts, and I leave you with it on this Good Friday 2019.

Death, be not proud, though some have called thee
Mighty and dreadful, for thou art not so;
For those whom thou think’st thou dost overthrow
Die not, poor Death, nor yet canst thou kill me.
From rest and sleep, which but thy pictures be,
Much pleasure; then from thee much more must flow,
And soonest our best men with thee do go,
Rest of their bones, and soul’s delivery.
Thou art slave to fate, chance, kings, and desperate men,
And dost with poison, war, and sickness dwell,
And poppy or charms can make us sleep as well
And better than thy stroke; why swell’st thou then?
One short sleep past, we wake eternally
And death shall be no more; Death, thou shalt die.
Posted in Lent, Poetry and Novels | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment