2020 Gathering – an update

A Letter from the EP Board to the EP Community,

After considering the ongoing reality of the COVID-19 pandemic, we have decided to cancel this summer’s Gathering. The scheduled theme “Discipleship in a Technological Age” and its programming (including location, enlisted plenaries, preachers, worship services, forums, etc.) will be moved back one year to Summer 2021.

The COVID-19 pandemic has wrought havoc across the world, and certainly in the United States, where the death toll has reached well over 10,000, with estimates surpassing 80,000 by summer’s end. For the foreseeable future, most of the country will remain under shelter-in-place directives aimed at flattening the curve of the disease’s spread and buying time for overwhelmed medical services. Much of America’s infrastructure has shut down, with untold consequences for the global economy and the world’s most vulnerable. As you well know, churches can no longer meet in person, a devastating reality in any context, but especially so during the church’s highest holy season. Resurrection tells us that dividing walls have been brought down and the world now reconciled in Christ can come together. The church must now wrestle with what Resurrection means as we cannot physically be together.

In this context it simply did not make sense to continue with the Gathering as planned, much less begin the process of conference registration as we normally would at this time of year. Even if conditions were to dramatically improve by July, the sheer number of contingencies facing registrants makes it unwise to move ahead. We considered rearranging this summer’s Gathering to COVID-19 conditions (such as hosting a virtual meeting), but decided that the integrity of the planned program and the Gathering’s particular ways of being together were too important to seriously alter.

We do not make this decision lightly. For 20 consecutive years, the EP has gathered to be together, worship and learn together, be challenged and grow together, lament and celebrate together, where simply being together embodied for us the goodness of God’s deep love. COVID-19 has certainly revealed the fragility of the world’s many institutions and systems, including the great inequalities of the pandemic’s effects. But the plague has also illuminated the loveliness of God’s world, a loveliness that for us sinners often only becomes apparent when threatened. In those moments one is forced to decide what is important, and learn better how to hold it. Through this process, the Board has come to even greater appreciation for the Gathering, all that it means and does, and so deeply lament not being together this summer.

In the coming weeks, we will announce a number of EP-sponsored events for churches as they address the pandemic. While no substitute for the Gathering, these events, we hope, will foster some semblance of togetherness as churches wrestle with how to be church in this season. We believe EP’s storied church communities offer much needed resources that can inspire and equip churches during this time. You can expect a variety of on-line offerings, from the contemplative and worshipful to the practical and useful. We will soon be in touch about these offerings.

In all things, we find encouragement from you and all that we have heard and imagine your communities are doing to serve your neighbors. Holy Week tells us that God remains with us even in the deepest darkness, and that we can take heart knowing that Resurrection will in time lift the darkness, this current darkness and many others beside.

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

 

 

 

Watersheds and Salvation

Third Sunday in Advent

 

 

Exodus 17:1-7

Psalm 95

Romans 5:1-11

John 4:5-32

 

The river is as far as I can move

from the world of numbers…

            –Jim Harrison,“The Theory and Practice of Rivers”

 

In the introduction to Watershed Discipleship (Cascade, 2016), Ched Myers asserts that “Since the time of Constantine, a functional docetism has numbed Christians to the escalating horrors of both social and ecological violence, because spiritual or doctrinal matters always trump terrestrial or somatic ones. If it is assumed that salvation happens outside or beyond creation, it will be pillaged accordingly.” It’s abundantly clear that the pillaging Myers writes about has inflicted extensive, irreparable damage to the earth, and equally clear that we Christians have been as culpable as anyone in this inflicting, and not incidentally because of the pervasive bad theology to which Myers alludes. Read more

Imagining God’s Reign

Second Sunday of Lent

Genesis 12:1-4a
Psalm 121
Romans 4:1-5, 13-17
John 3:1-17 OR Matthew 17:1-9


“Our culture is competent to implement almost anything and imagine almost nothing” – Walter Brueggemann

More than forty years since its first publication, Walter Brueggemann’s The Prophetic Imagination has lost none of its urgency. In opposing the biblically-grounded imagination to what he calls “royal consciousness” – that system of individual affluence, concealed oppression, and spiritual smugness in service to the powers of the day – Brueggemann reminds us that before we can live into the reign of God, we must first imagine what that reign might look like. This presumes, however, that we can sufficiently free our imagination from the narcotizing grip of royal consciousness to recognize and lament our fears, shared suffering, and mortality. “It is the vocation of the prophet,” Brueggemann writes, “to keep alive the ministry of imagination, to keep on conjuring and proposing alternative futures to the single one the king wants to urge as the only thinkable one.”

Royal consciousness conspires to numb us everywhere and always, even in this season of Lent, a time of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving meant to prepare us for the celebration of Christ’s passion, death, and resurrection. I succumb to the power of that consciousness when I mistake Lent as boot camp for my weak and wayward will. Not that my will doesn’t need a major overhaul, something that – with God’s grace – would be a most welcome consequence of my Lenten practices. True metanoia, however, depends far more on imagination than on the will. In order to embody God’s word and live into God’s reign, I need the necessary grace to imagine other ways of living, of thinking, and of desiring than the stale and lifeless habits of the dominant culture. Read more

Confession, Resistance, and Restoration

First Sunday in Lent

Genesis 2:15-17; 3:1-7

Psalm 32

Romans 5:12-19

Matthew 4:1-11

 

“Going to confession is hard…. You do not want to make too much of your constant imperfections and venial sins, but you want to drag them out to the light of day as the first step of getting rid of them.”

~Dorothy Day, The Long Loneliness

 

This week’s Sunday cycle of texts brings with it a change in season, moving from the period of ordinary time after Epiphany to the journey of Lent. Having been reminded of our mortality on Ash Wednesday, we now walk with Jesus and the disciples toward Jerusalem and the cross that awaits him there. On that journey this week, we are confronted by the reality of sin and its remedy. Read more

Love for Lent

 

 

Our friends at Church of the Sojourners are sharing a devotional for Lent. 

“During Lent, when we remember Christ’s death, let’s not forget that the Roman Empire executed Jesus as a political threat. As we face into an election year in the U.S., we need to recall the political witness of Jesus, whose central teaching is, “Repent for the Kingdom of God is at hand.” 

Read more about this series here.