Tuesday, April 26, 2011

What now?

Thank you to all who have been willing to support this experiment in exploring together our journey from Shrove Tuesday through Easter.  Your willingness to write materials from your heart and be open to others has been a gift.

One participant has asked if we are able and willing to keep this forum for sharing our journey together, telling stories to each other, and admitting those places where we have more questions than answers.  This is a question for the community that has been gathered, and for the official sponsor which is the Christian Formation Committee.   If you have found this a worthwhile place to spend your time, please contact Diane Davis with your thoughts and consider what you are willing to contribute in terms of your own writing and time.

From my perspective, I have enjoyed this opportunity to experiment as a moderator for this kind of community forum.  I have learned to trust that there would be enough material for something new every day, even if I didn't have something done in time.  Now that we are past the intensity of Lent, it would be appropriate to relax that expectation of a daily essay.  Yet it cannot become so relaxed that there is no reason for people to visit.

I have other blogs that I have been leaving fallow during this Lent, and look forward to continuing those. 

Your comments are requested, either in person, or using the "comments" link immediately below.

Bruce Calvin

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Times of Living In-between

On this Holy Saturday evening, when I know MSP blog-readers probably won’t see this until after Easter, if at all.  I am writing as a way to reflect on my thoughts of today. I have long experienced this day between the anguish of Good Friday and the joy of Easter Sunday as a kind of disturbing void. This morning I finally finished Philip Yancey’s The Jesus I Never Knew, and was struck by his closing comments about the meaning of this day:
…in a real sense we live on Saturday, the day with no name. What the disciples experienced in small scale—three days, in grief over one man who had died on a cross – we now live through on cosmic scale. Human history grinds on, between the time of promise and fulfillment. Can we trust that God can make something holy out of a world that includes (Yancey, who wrote in 1995, says Bosnia and Rwanda; I’d now substitute Afghanistan, Libya, Syria and Nigeria, among others) and inner-city ghettos and jammed prisons in the richest nation on earth? It’s Saturday on planet earth; will Sunday ever come? ...It is a good thing to remember that in the cosmic drama, we live out our days on Saturday, the in-between day with no name.
This afternoon I received an email from a former rector, retired bishop and beloved friend of almost 40 years, updating friends on the condition of his wife, Barbara, also a beloved friend, who experienced a brain aneurysm last Palm Sunday afternoon and has been hospitalized in intensive care since then. While Barbara’s doctors consider her to be in danger for several more days, her spirit is incredibly strong and she has made amazing progress. Her husband wrote today:
So for all your prayers and/or fervent hopes, we thank you from some place in our souls that has been bountifully fed. You are helping us walk the tightrope between anxiety and hope. It is a Holy Saturday kind of reality that we are in right now. Our Holy Saturday will be extended this year. We believe that we are past the worst of Good-Friday-like dread, but we are not yet ready to sing Alleluia. In our good time, we trust we will echo the Alleluias that many of you will be singing this Sunday.

And so today I have come at last to glimpse the meaning of Holy Saturday, at least for me. It is a metaphor for the in-between time, not only between Jesus’ death and resurrection or other specific events in our lives, but as the time in which we all live out our lives, in-between what happened, what is promised, and what we hope is to come.

Nancy Warren

It Will Be Alright

It is probably scandalous to admit, especially on Easter, that  I have always struggled with the likelihood of resurrection.  I have never been able to "just believe" it.  While I was in seminary, I had a professor who insisted that Jesus' resurrection was not a historic event.  Dr.Joseph Weber would point to the four Gospel accounts to back up his assertion that no one is reported seeing or in any way experiencing the actual resurrection.   If there are no personal accounts of what happened when the dead body of Jesus became alive, then it is not a part of recorded history.

As I continue in my Lent discipline of following Kathy Staudt's challenge What if it's All True, I again face my doubts.  I must insist that I see doubt as the refiners fire for faith, and I am in no way disparaging doubt.  But what if it is true, which is not about if the events are factual, but as Kathy notes, "(w)hat if the whole thing is a whole lot bigger than we thought?"

Mark Harris, an Episcopal priest in Lewes, Delaware and blogger at Preludium, describes a recent dream in his post: A dream: It will all be alright.  In his dream, he found himself in a room with anxious people, and realized he was in a gathering of people perplexed by the death of Jesus.
The feeling is that of a funeral parlor where a person had died unexpectedly or out of order. There is the anxious and questioning presence of a doubt – the doubt that there was meaning in this life and if in this life, in ours as well.  Very quickly, and without much contact with others in the room, I took on their anxious questioning.

And then someone entered the room who seemed to absorb all that anxiety, and without addressing the group as a whole,  and without even being a person of note ( I don’t have any sense of what he or she looked like, although I knew the presence of the person, as did everyone else), the person spoke and said,

“It will all be alright. Just as I said. It will be alright and what I promised will be true.”

I was positive it was Jesus, and that I was one of his friends and a follower and that I was meant to be there.

(I recommend reading the whole article and look at the block print that he created after the dream.)

Rev. Harris' description of a presence, a person, who absorbed the anxiety, spoke of reassurance and pointed them to the future seems very right to me.  As he notes, "At the same time I didn't see Jesus, or at least not to recognize him. But I knew he was there." 

That kind of knowing something is true, that kind of shift in perspective to seeing something or someone not previously seen or understood makes more sense to me than magical appearances and disappearances.  I have experienced times when a Presence has calmed my fears and released me from doubt. But those kinds of experiences are also impossible to describe or explain to someone else. 

So maybe in telling that story of people's experience of the resurrected Christ, as we all do when telling a story, the actual facts were rearranged, some dropped and a few bits added to make it better?  So, the story we have may not describe exactly the events, but does carry the essential truth of the experience?  That sounds like truth to me. 

As we sing together "Christ the Lord is risen to today!" this Sunday morning, I will be able to accept my doubt while also knowing that it is true:
Christ the Lord is risen today, Alleluia!
Love's redeeming work is done, Alleluia!
 Bruce Calvin

Saturday, April 23, 2011

The Great Vigil of Easter

The Great Vigil of Easter was celebrated as early the 2nd century as recorded in the Apostolic Traditions of Hippolytus. Marion Hatchett writes in his commentary on the American Prayer Book,
In the Great Vigil of Easter we celebrate and make present the pivotal events of the Old and New Testament heritage, the Passover of the Hebrews from the bondage of slavery in Egypt to the freedom of the Promised Land, the Passover of our Lord Jesus Christ from death, and our own Passover from the bondage of sin and death to the glorious liberty of new life in Jesus Christ.
The vigil opens with the kindling of a new fire and the blessing of the fire. From the new fire the Paschal Candle is lit and taken into the church to the chant “The light of Christ, thanks be to God." From the light of the Paschal Candle other candles are lit, before it is placed by the reading stand. A deacon or member of the congregation then sings the Exsultet, a poetic prayer for light which celebrates the victory of our mighty King. Symbolically, this light of Christ is how the lessons are then read. This year, the traditional nine lessons will be read. Between each lesson, canticles, psalms, or anthems are interspersed, which amplify the meaning of the lesson.

For many centuries the Great Vigil was the one time each year when new members, known as Catechumens, were baptized and received into the complete fellowship of the church. Our vigil service this year will have a time for renewal of our Baptismal Vows, followed by the Eucharist.

The Eucharist at the vigil is considered the first Easter Day service of Holy Communion. Once again, the celebrant will proclaim Alleluia. Christ is risen!  This is the first time since the beginning of Lent that we have heard the word "Alleluia."  It is followed by the people's response, The Lord is risen indeed, Alleluia! Later in the Eucharistic prayer is the proclamation, Alleluia! Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us. The congregation responds, Therefore let us keep the feast, Alleluia! It is during the singing of the Gloria in Excelsis when the chapel is transformed from its Lenten bareness into full Easter glory as the lilies are brought in and candles on the altar are lit.

In some parishes, following the Easter Blessing and final dismissal, the congregation throws a party to celebrate the resurrection, complete with lots of food, libations, and dancing.

Fr. Showers

Sonnet for Holy Saturday

A spring-like day conceals a broken heart
but more than that an emptiness within;
a tear in time, a breech in heaven's art,
but more than that a sin to end all Sin.
Can this be all we have to say to Love;
does all creation count for nothing more;
could it be that which must be born above
does all but turn us not to heaven's door?
Each time around this awful truth we turn
forgets how soon forgetting never knows
each moment as a gift we cannot earn
forgets how Life Your grace alone bestows.

Goodness waits not for us our turn to take.
Goodness knows not that one She can forsake.

Friday, April 22, 2011

It is Finished

The Gospel of John’s account of the death of Jesus is read on Good Friday. In this account the author shows a Jesus in control right up to his last breath;
"It is finished." Then he bowed his head and gave up his spirit. John 19:30
In this final act of obedience to the Father he loved, the fabric of the universe was changed.

The author of John has Jesus the Son sent by the Father to save the whole world. Jesus, Son of Man, died on a cross, bleeding from his pierced side, trusting in the Father. Jesus, the Son of God, revealed God’s love in categories derived from human experience. Now manger and cross are forever linked. "It is finished" and now something new is possible.

This love of the Father, who Jesus loved, was not a soft affective love; it was and still is the very essence of our character and identity as post-Easter Christians. Jesus told his disciples to “Love one another as I have loved you.” Jesus loved all the world without restraint and not counting the cost.

Three women and one disciple were standing at the foot of the cross and heard the final words from the Son of Man; "It is finished." Only in the days and weeks ahead would they realize it was only beginning.

Good Friday is good because not only because we already know the rest of the story, but because, fundamentally, the relationship between God and the world was altered in Jesus’ final act of obedience.

“It is finished." Then he bowed his head and up his spirit.

Fr. Showers

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Good Friday

It’s been a long haul through Lent to get to Good Friday. Arriving at Good Friday is bittersweet. We know this commemorates the crucifixion of Jesus Christ and his death, but we also know the end of the story and it’s a good one.

When Jesus was betrayed in the Garden of Gethsemane, he was taken by Temple guards to the Sanhedrin, a Jewish court where the priests and elders sat in judgment of whether or not Jewish law had been violated. They found Jesus guilty of blasphemy but their death verdict had to be carried out by the Romans. Jesus was taken to the Roman courts, first before Pontius Pilate and then before Herod Antipas. Neither was willing to make a decision regarding Jesus. Ultimately Pilate, who knew Jesus was innocent of the charges against Him, but was afraid of the religious schemers of the Sanhedrin and the political implications of not following Roman Empire laws, gave in to the crowd’s riotous calls to crucify Jesus.

All four gospel accounts mention the same location for the crucifixion:

Mark : 15:22 “And they brought him to the place called Gol’gotha (which means the place of a skull)”

Matthew: 27: 33 “And when they came to a place called Gol’gotha (which means the place of a skull)”

Luke: 23:33 “And when they came to the place which is called The Skull, there they crucified him, and the criminals, one on the right and one on the left.”

John: 19:17 “So they took Jesus, and he went out, bearing his own cross, to the place called the place of a skull, which is called in Hebrew Gol’gotha.”

What follows is the agonizing path Jesus took from the court to the Calvary. He was beaten and whipped, mocked and spit at. A thorny crown was placed on His head and He had to carry His own cross. On the way He was too weak to carry His cross and Simon helped Him. He met His mother and other women of Jerusalem. Where are most of His disciples? Why are they not there with Jesus? The women are the believers and stand by Him throughout this final days. When He is nailed to the cross He was offered a mixture of vinegar, gall and myrrh to alleviate suffering, but He refused to drink it. He was placed between two criminals. There was an inscription above His head which read “The King of the Jews.” For six hours Jesus endured His fate and cried out “My God, my God, why have You forsaken Me?” Didn’t Jesus know He would die for us? Why would He say this? During His last three hours darkness fell over the land and when Jesus finally gave up His spirit, an earthquake occurred. Then Jesus was removed from the cross, wrapped in a shroud, placed in a tomb, and the entrance was sealed with a large rock.

Stations of the Cross
The process of Jesus’ being sentenced to death until the resurrection is known as the Stations of the Cross.

Station 1: Jesus is condemned to die
Station 2: Jesus takes up his cross
Station 3: Jesus falls the first time
Station 4: Jesus meets his mother
Station 5: Simon of Cyrene helps Jesus carry the Cross
Station 6: Veronica wipes the face of Jesus
Station 7: Jesus falls the second time
Station 8: Jesus meets the women of Jerusalem
Station 9: Jesus falls the third time
Station 10: Jesus is stripped of His garments before the crowd
Station 11: Jesus is nailed to the Cross
Station 12: Jesus dies on the Cross
Station 13: Jesus is taken down from the Cross
Station 14: Jesus is laid in the tomb
Station 15: Jesus is raised from the dead
Stations of the Cross - by St. Francis of Assisi

Most merciful Lord, with a contrite heart and penitent spirit
I bow down before Thy divine Majesty.
I adore Thee as my supreme Lord and Master.
I believe in Thee.
I hope in Thee.
I love Thee above all things.
I am heartily sorry for having offended Thee,
my only and supreme God.
I firmly resolve to amend my life;
and although I am unworthy to obtain mercy,
yet looking upon Thy holy Cross
I am filled with peace and consolation.
I will, therefore, meditate on Thy sufferings,
and visit the Stations
in company with Thy sorrowful Mother
and my holy Guardian Angel,
to promote Thy honor and save my soul.
I desire to gain all indulgences granted to this holy exercise
for myself and for the soul in Purgatory.
O Loving Jesus,
inflame my cold heart with Thy love,
that I may perform this devotion as perfectly as possible,
and that I may live and die in union with Thee. Amen
Joan Shisler