A New Story

Easter Sunday

Acts 10:34-43

Matthew 28:1-10

It would be a vast understatement to say that the moment we’re currently living through has a certain strangeness to it. At least once a day, I am struck by the thought that I’ve never experienced anything quite like this, and I suspect I’m not alone. In a matter of weeks, we’ve been collectively immersed into a new vocabulary, a new set of practices, and maybe more than anything, a tsunami of information that threatens to overwhelm us. Individuals in power, journalists pursuing an angle, researchers armed with data, and conspiracy theorists with an agenda—everyone has a chart to display, a forecast to project, a meme to share, a cure to hawk, and an axe to grind.

Across a vast array of platforms, a dizzying collection of narrators are telling us their disparate versions of a common story, and it’s not an easy story to digest. When we cut through all the details and all the data and all the differences, it’s ultimately a story of sickness and grief and loss that spans from China to Italy to points closer to home. It’s a story about our limitations, a story about mortality, a story—as much as we hate to say it—about death. And in this respect at least, despite the profound strangeness of the moment, we can find some common cause with generations of people who have lived before us. Because from the beginning, in one form or another, we have been telling and living stories about death. Read more

A Holy Week Like No Other

Palm/Passion Sunday

Matthew 27:11-54

Palm Sunday breaks the monotony of the season of Lent. And what a Lenten season it has been. One for the books, with social distancing, enforced quarantine, empty churches, no, I mean EMPTY churches, toilet paper fasts, all underlaid with a gnawing sense of unease, and in many parts of our neighborhood and world, fear of disease and death. The title of a recent blog post echoed my sentiments exactly: “This is the Lentiest Lent I Ever Lented!”

 And now we prepare for Palm Sunday and Holy Week, knowing that this year there will be no gatherings at the church door, no procession of palm-wavers singing their way down the center aisle, no “Hosanna in the highest!” will be heard on the streets of Jerusalem or any other city street, no sudden hinge that leads the church into Holy Week.

The skeleton crew that gathered last Sunday in our church to livestream the service talked over plan for Palm Sunday. “Maybe four of us waving palm branches could circle the camera twelve times and no one would notice all the people were missing.” What will Palm Sunday be like without our annual dramatic reading of the Passion of Christ? What will Holy Week be like without our gatherings with other churches, without foot washing, bathrobe dramas, shadows and candles, stations of the cross, without real flesh and blood people? Sometimes it seems like we’re living in an Avengers movie and a quarter of the world’s population has just disappeared.

In another sense aren’t we living what we always wished for? We have definitely experienced a break from the busyness of life, from the diversions that pulled us in a hundred directions. Things have simplified; our needs have been clarified; even as our fears have been amplified. I don’t know what it’s like where you live, but this Palm Sunday doesn’t feel like any other. It feels like we’re perched on the edge of a precipice. It feels like those few seconds when the roller coaster comes to the highest point of its ride and stops, just before it plunges over the crest of the hill.

In a way, the strange silence on our streets today reminds me of the silence of Jesus on that last day of his life. Jesus had a lot to say in a three year ministry. We read his words and teachings each week. We have pieces of his sermons, transcripts of his public protests, remembrances of the fights in which he participated.  He spun stories for huge crowds; he whispered the secrets of the kingdom to his disciples.  He talked to people he wasn’t supposed to talk to—untouchables, women, foreigners, sick people, sinners. 

Jesus was still talking when he came to Jerusalem, even though his mouth had placed a target on his back.  He taught large crowds in the Temple by day, and spoke privately with his disciples at night.  Time was running out, and he wasn’t quite finished. “I have much to say to you, but you cannot bear it now,” Jesus told them.   He spoke with urgency through that last supper and we even have a record of the last prayer he prayed for the disciples and the private words of agony he poured out to God on his own behalf in the garden of Gethsemane.  But when the hour of darkness finally caught up with him… when he was handed over to those who sought his life, Jesus quit talking.  He went utterly silent, letting his actions speak rather than his words.

This Holy Week will be like no other. For one thing, it’s going to be a lot quieter. But the story is still there. Jesus’ actions still speak as loudly as they ever have. And, who knows, maybe with the enforced separation and the buzz dialed back…with the shadow of danger and even death lurking over the whole scene, maybe we are ready to hear the story of Jesus’ last days in a way that we haven’t heard it in a long time.  This year, as the days lengthen, as the drama heightens, as the crisis grows, as our anxiety squeezes us, the Son of God makes his way to the Mount of Olives, riding on the back of a donkey. The drama begins. With words. With silence. With heart-wrenching passion and action. With acts of betrayal and acts of mercy. This year, may Holy Week be a week like no other.

George Herbert-“Death”

With the dawn of a new church year, The Englewood Review of Books is curating a weekly series of classic and contemporary poems that resonate with the themes of the lectionary readings. Here is one of the poems for this coming Sunday (Lent Week 5 – More poems for this Sunday can be found here)

 

Death

George Herbert

to accompany the lectionary reading: Ezekiel 37: 1-14

 

Death, thou wast once an uncouth hideous thing,

                           Nothing but bones,

      The sad effect of sadder groans:

Thy mouth was open, but thou couldst not sing.

For we considered thee as at some six

                           Or ten years hence,

      After the loss of life and sense,

Flesh being turned to dust, and bones to sticks.

We looked on this side of thee, shooting short;

                            Where we did find

      The shells of fledge souls left behind,

Dry dust, which sheds no tears, but may extort.

But since our Savior’s death did put some blood

                           Into thy face,

      Thou art grown fair and full of grace,

Much in request, much sought for as a good.

For we do now behold thee gay and glad,

                           As at Doomsday;

      When souls shall wear their new array,

And all thy bones with beauty shall be clad.

Therefore we can go die as sleep, and trust

                           Half that we have

      Unto an honest faithful grave;

Making our pillows either down, or dust.

 

*** This poem is in the public domain,
and may be read in a live-streamed worship service.

 

 


George Herbert (1593 – 1633) was a Welsh-born poet, orator, and priest of the Church of England. His poetry is associated with the writings of the metaphysical poets, and he is recognised as “one of the foremost British devotional lyricists.”  (Wikipedia)

Second Innocence

5th Sunday in Lent

 

Ezekiel 37:1-14

Psalm 130

Romans 8:6-11

John 11:1-45

Sometimes things break and sometimes they shatter.  In a few short days, our life as we know it has ended. As the scope of a global pandemic dawns on us, we talk of little else, and everything we hear ourselves saying would have been ludicrous even a month ago. At this point two things seem clear: this Pandora’s box will not be closed, and we do not yet know what to hope for. 

A man becomes ill and dies. Bereft, his friends call out to the one who could have stopped death in its tracks (John 11:16, 21, 32). They denounce Jesus for not changing its course. He comes four days too late; the nail is already in the coffin, the infection curve plotted. But then, when the stench of death rises, Lazarus’ friends are inclined to hope they could perhaps get him back (John 11: 39, 22). When something is broken, we want it undone. Read more

Thoughts for this present age.

We’ve all been adjusting to the changes that have occurred recently as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic. Many friends and endorsers of EP have been writing about this experience and how we continue to live out our lives as followers of Christ. Some helpful information may not be explicitly Christian, but may help us navigate the challenges ahead. Links are below. Feel free to leave links to things that you’ve found helpful in the comments and we’ll add them to a resource list. The image is He Qi’s Peace Be Still. Here is a prayer from the Corrymella Community:

 

God of the good news that spreads faster than fear,
God of the courage that comes from the heart:
Be with us as anxieties rise and with us as uncertainty grows.
Be with us when children ask difficult questions,
and with us when parents seem farther away.
Remind us that to be a community does not always mean
to be physically present beside those we know well.
It also can mean being spiritually present
with those who feel very alone;
and that you as our God, the God made flesh,
are also the God who calls us from the tumult
and tells us to be still
and to know that you are God
with us.
Amen.

 

In no particular order: 

In the Days of the Coronavirus   The Very Reverend Barkley Thompson

In Everything (Including Coronavirus) Turn Towards Jesus  Dale Gish

Improvising in a Pandemic  MaryAnn McKibben Dana

The Shift Americans Must Make to Fight the Coronavirus  Meghan O’Rourke

Churches Should Think Twice Before Webcasting Their Worship Services  C. Christopher Smith

Homily for the Third Sunday of Lent: Home Edition (facebook video)  Fritz Bauerschmidt

CORONAVIRUS: God’s Ways Are Not Our Ways (facebook video)  Fr. Richard J. Bozzelli