Sic Transit Gloria Mundi

Twenty-second Sunday after Pentecost

Haggai 1:15b-2:9 OR Job 19:23-27a
2 Thessalonians 2:1-5, 13-17
Luke 20:27-38

Mrs. Obrien: I just want to die, to be with him.
Preacher: He’s in God’s hands now.
Mrs. Obrien: He was in God’s hands the whole time. Wasn’t he?

From Tree of Life by Terrence Malick

As the liturgical year draws to its close, the lectionary readings make an eschatological turn, looking ahead to our own end and of things as we know them. It’s a shift in tone that flows seamlessly into Advent, where the church learns once again how to live as Jews, suspended between a ruin and a hope. Signs of ruin are everywhere: a planet we’re quickly making uninhabitable, collapsing world order, a country too divided by corrosive political rhetoric to reckon with pressing fundamentals, churches reeling from self-inflicted humiliations. Amid the rubble of a world plundered and a church betrayed from within, hope can grow hollow and brittle, like dry stems in autumn. What’s to become of our planet, our country, our church, ourselves?

In the fall, the season sharing its name with humanity’s turning away from God, such thoughts may arise simply from observing the natural world’s dying back in anticipation of winter. Sometimes we require some rather more direct reminder. During the now abandoned coronation ceremony for newly elected popes, the master of ceremonies would stop the procession three times to set alight a strip of flax. As the fabric burned into smoke and nothingness, he would address the new pope in a loud voice, saying, “Sic transit Gloria mundi,” (“Thus passes the glory of the world”), reminding him of his mortality and the evanescence of earthly power. Read more

Bodily Presence

Second Sunday of Easter

Acts 2:14a,22-32
1 Peter 1:3-9
John 20:19-31

The collect (opening prayer) in the Episcopal Book of Common Prayer for the Second Sunday of Easter declares:

Almighty and everlasting God, who in the Paschal mystery established the new covenant of reconciliation: Grant that all who have been reborn into the fellowship of Christ’s Body may show forth in their lives what they profess by their faith; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

The collect’s focus on the believer’s (those who have been reborn) participation in Christ’s body through their own lived experience and action is readily apparent in all three readings for this week in the Revised Common Lectionary (RCL). Read more

Becoming Home

Fourth Sunday in Lent

Joshua 5:9-12
2 Corinthians 5:16-21
Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32

what is the word beyond. home.
after home.
where is it. this word.
why can i not remember how to say this
thing. this feeling that is my whole body.”

–Nayyirah Waheed

“I think that love comes so seldom, so brittle, that I’m always knocked over by the offer of a little. But asking for a lot would take a lot of bravery.”

A friend and I had spent the afternoon in the sun and the breeze talking about relationships, and after, I’d had this dawning vision that perhaps she was worthy of more love than she was allowing herself to hope for. So hours later, through a bit of trembling, I told her so. And her response was one so resonant with my own experience, so human, so all of us.

Sometimes to hope to be lavishly, abundantly loved is almost too much – to hope for the much over the little, the embrace over mere proximity, belonging over mere fitting, forever over merely tomorrow. Faced with anxieties about ourselves, history that leaves shame or deep wounds in its wake, or supposed proofs of our inferior humanity and supposed reasons our imaginations have run too wild in wanting, we settle – because scarcity is more than nothing, proximity more than distance, fitting more than alienation, tomorrow more than merely today. Read more

To ponder in our hearts

Numbers 6: 22-27
Galatians 4:4-7 or Philippians 2:5-11
Luke 2:15-21

Caro cardo salutis
(The body is the hinge of salvation)
– Tertullian

The tragically divided trinitarian churches find it difficult to definitively name this Sunday. The Orthodox, as well as some Anglican and Lutheran churches, celebrate the Feast of the Circumcision. So did Catholics until the 1960s, when the day transformed into the Octave of the Nativity and the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God. Those using the Revised Common Lectionary celebrate the Holy Name of Jesus or the First Sunday after Christmas Day.

Perhaps the kindest way to understand this confusion is that the mystery of the Incarnation is far too vast for human comprehension. After celebrating, as best we can, its totality on Christmas Day, we who stand on this side of the grave enter the abyssal mystery further only through glimpses and reflections, hoping not to absolutize any partial vision, lest we fall into heresy, from the Greek, hairesis, “a choice.”

All these glimpses lead into a paradox that borders on the monstrous: that the Creator of the Universe enters into Creation as a one of us, decisively bridging the gap between spirit and matter we so desperately struggle to maintain. The fulcrum upon which this mystery pivots is the body, and the visions celebrated on this day all emphasize that saving carnality. Read more