St. Thomas Offers a Maundy Thursday Reflection on the Eucharist

The happy commemoration of today’s feast with its immense concourse of people invites us to prolong fervently our praises of the Most Holy Body of Christ. What could be sweeter, what more pleasing to the heart of the faithful than to exalt the abyss of his divine charity, and to glorify the overflowing torrent of his love! At the table of the new grace the hand of the priest distributes ceaselessly his Flesh as food and his precious Blood as drink, to those who are his children and heirs of the kingdom promised by God to those who love him.

O endless Emanation of the goodness of God and of his immense love for us, admirable and worthy of all praise! In this sacrament, where all former sacrifices are done away with, he remains with us to the end of the world; he feeds the children of adoption with the bread of angels and inebriates them with filial love.

This is the food and drink for the elect, living bread and spiritual nourishment, remedy for daily weaknesses! It is the table which Christ has prepared for his friends and guests, like the one the father prepared for his son on the day of his return, to replace the symbolic lamb. This is the Passover in which the victim immolated is Christ; 0 Christ our Passover, you want us too to pass over from vice to virtue; as once you delivered the Jews, so now you set us free in spirit. You are the food that satisfies all but the most hardened; food that is eaten by faith, tasted by fervor, assimilated by charity. 0 viaticum of our pilgrimage, you lead travelers to the height of virtue. Confirm my heart in good, assure it in the paths of life, give joy to my soul, purify my thoughts.

The Eucharist is bread, real bread; we eat it without consuming or dividing it; it converts but itself is not changed; it gives strength without ever losing it; it gives perfection and suffices for salvation; it gives life, it confers grace, it remits sins. It is the food of souls, a food which enlightens the intelligence of the faithful, inflames their hearts, purifies them from their shortcomings, elevates their desires.

O chalice that holy souls love to drink of, chalice of fervor, chalice changed into the Blood of Christ, to seal the new Alliance, withdraw us the old leaven, fill our souls with yourself, that we may become a new paste and that we may go to the feast with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth. For the Lamb without spot, who knows no touch or stain of any sin, ought to be eaten with unleavened bread. We should not approach without being cleansed by confession, without having a solid foundation of faith, without being in charity.

Come to the Lord’s supper, if you wish to come to the nuptials of the Lamb; there, we shall be inebriated with the riches of the house of God we shall see the King of glory and the God of hosts in all his beauty, shall eat this bread in the kingdom of the Father.

Thomas Aquinas, Lectionary and Martyrology, 288-289

Carlo Carretto Offers an Appropriate Reflection for Holy Week

As for me, I began to know Jesus as soon as I accepted Jesus as the truth; I found true peace when I actively sought his friendship; and above all I experienced joy, true joy, that stands above the vicissitudes of life, as soon as I tasted and experienced for myself the gift he came to bestow on us: eternal life.

But Jesus is not only the Image of the Father, the Revealer of the dark knowledge of God. That would be of little avail to me in my weakness and my sinfulness: he is also my Saviour.

On my journey towards him, I was completely worn out, unable to take another step forward. By my errors, my sinful rebellions, my desperate efforts to find joy far from his joy, I had reduced myself to a mass of virulent sores which repelled both heaven and earth.

What sin was there that I had not committed? Or what sin had I as yet not committed simply because the opportunity had not come my way?

Yet it was he, and he alone, who got down off his horse, the the good Samaritan on the way to Jericho; he alone had the courage to approach me in order to staunch with bandages the few drops of blood that still remained in my veins, blood that would certainly have flowed away, had he not intervened.

Jesus became a sacrament for me, the cause of my salvation, he brought my time in hell to an end, and put a stop to my inner disintegration. He washed me patiently in the waters of baptism, he filled me with the exhilarating joy of the Holy Spirit in confirmation, he nourished me with the bread of his word. Above all, he forgave me, he forgot everything, he did not even wish me to remember my past myself.

When, through my tears, I began to tell him something of the years during which I betrayed him, he lovingly placed his hand over my mouth in order to silence me. His one concern was that I should muster courage enough to pick myself up again, to try and carry on walking in spite of my weakness, and to believe in his love in spite of my fears. But there was one thing he did, the value of which cannot be measured, something truly unbelievable, something only God could do.

While I continued to have doubts about my own salvation, to tell him that my sins could not be forgiven, and that justice, too, had its rights, he appeared on the Cross before me one Friday towards midday.

I was at its foot, and found myself bathed with the blood which flowed from the gaping holes made in his flesh by the nails. He remained there for three hours until he expired.

I realized that he had died in order that I might stop turning to him with questions about justice, and believe instead, deep within myself, that the scales had come down overflowing on the side of love, and that even though all, through unbelief or madness, had offended him, he had conquered for ever, and drawn all things everlastingly to himself.

Then later, so that I should never forget that Friday and abandon the Cross, as one forgets a postcard on the table or a picture in the wornout book that had been feeding one’s devotion, he led me on to discover that in order to be with me continually, not simply as an affectionate remembrance but as a living presence, he had devised the Eucharist.

What a discovery that was!

Under the sacramental sign of bread, Jesus was there each morning to renew the sacrifice of the Cross and make of it the living sacrifice of his bride, the Church, a pure offering of the Divine Majesty.

And still that was not all.

He led me on to understand that the sign of bread testified to his hidden presence, not only during the Great Sacrifice, but at all times, since the Eucharist was not an isolated moment in my day, but a line which stretched over twenty-four hours: he is God-with-us, the realization of what had been foretold by the cloud that went before the people of God during their journey through the desert, and the darkness which filled the tabernacle in the temple at Jerusalem.

I must emphasize that this vital realization that the sign of bread concealed and pointed out for me the uninterrupted presence of Jesus beside me was a unique grace in my life. From that moment he led me along the path to intimacy, and friendship, with himself.

I understood that he longed to be present like this beside each one of us.

Jesus was not only bread, he was a friend.

A home without bread is not a home, but a home without friendship is nothing.

—Carlo Carretto, In Search of the Beyond

The Archbishop of Canterbury Responds to the Brussels’ Attacks

Responding to events in Brussels this morning, the Archbishop of Canterbury said: 

“In the great Holy Week of Christian prayer and mercy, the Brussels attacks shock all those who seek peace and justice through the terrible cruelty and utter separation from all that is of God. Once again we see the contrast between the vain efforts to terrify through indiscriminate murder, and the call of God to be those who show mercy, who seek peace and pursue it.

Read it all.

Costly Obedience: The Strange World of Shouting Rocks and Unexpected Kings

Sermon delivered on Palm (Passion) Sunday C, March 20, 2016, at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Westerville, OH.

If you prefer to listen to the audio podcast of today’s sermon, usually somewhat different from the text below, click here.

Lectionary texts: Isaiah 50.4-9a; Psalm 31.9-16; Philippians 2.5-11; Luke 19.28-40. Passion gospel: Luke 22.14-23.56.

In the name of God: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Today we celebrate the triumphal entry of our Lord into Jerusalem, even though Luke never explicitly describes Jesus’ entry into the holy city nor does he mention the crowd’s use of palms. What Luke does tell us is that the crowd proclaimed Jesus as king, a detail neither Matthew or Mark mentions. But as all our lessons remind us in one way or another, this is a king who is going to suffer great affliction. So what’s really going on here? After all, kings don’t usually suffer; if anything, they usually cause suffering! What we are looking at in the texts is the theme of obedience to God about which Paul speaks in our epistle lesson being played out dramatically and paradoxically in the last week of our Lord’s earthly life, and this is what I want us to look at this morning.

That Luke believes Jesus is Israel’s long-expected king returning to his people is evident in how he tells the story. In addition to reporting that the people proclaim him to be king (not that the kingdom of God has come with Jesus), he tells us that Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey that had never before been ridden, thus acting out the prophecy found in Zechariah 9.9:

Rejoice greatly, O daughter Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter Jerusalem! Lo, your king comes to you; triumphant and victorious is he, humble and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.

The fact that the donkey had never been ridden is significant because such animals were always reserved for someone who held a special place of honor, usually kings. Indeed, Solomon had ridden his father David’s mule into Jerusalem as he was proclaimed king (1 Kings 1.32-48). Moreover, in telling us that people spread their garments on the road for Jesus, Luke is probably alluding to 2 Kings 9.13 where the people spread their garments on the road when they acknowledged Jehu as king. Clearly Luke is giving us all kinds of hints that this is no ordinary event we are witnessing. We are seeing the return of God to his people as their king in the person of Jesus.

And of course, most folks in Jesus’ day believed that this king would also be God’s appointed Messiah or anointed one. But what kind of Messiah? Here things get tricky because what the crowds expected of God’s Messiah and how Jesus saw his role as Messiah, as made clear by his mode of entry, were not necessarily the same thing. While there was no uniform conception of what God’s Messiah (or Christ) would do and be when he came, most Jews of Jesus’ day believed that the Messiah would do at least two things. First, Messiah would come as a military hero to expel the hated Romans and reestablish their independence. This is what most Jews had in mind when they talked about God’s salvation. Second, most first-century Jews expected the Messiah to cleanse the Temple and reestablish right religious order in the land. And while Jesus would cleanse the Temple and pronounce judgment on it, Luke makes clear that he had come to repudiate popular notions of what God’s Messiah would look like and do. In choosing to enter Jerusalem on a donkey, Jesus was demonstrating that his notion of Messiah was more aligned with that of the Suffering Servant about which Isaiah speaks, a man who would speak God’s truth about God’s kingdom to God’s people and who would suffer because of it. As Luke has emphasized since late in chapter 9 of his gospel, Jesus was coming to Jerusalem at Passover to bring about a great exodus from humankind’s slavery to sin and death just as the Lord had brought about his people’s exodus from their slavery in Egypt at the first Passover. The crowd unwittingly acknowledged this when they proclaimed “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven, and glory in the highest heaven!” There would indeed be peace in heaven, peace between God and his sin-sick and rebellious human creatures, paralleling what the angels proclaimed in Luke’s Christmas narrative (Luke 2.14).

But Jesus would not accomplish this peace by conventional power wielded by earthly kings. He would accomplish it obediently through his suffering and death, by his blood shed for us, as prophesied in Isaiah 52.13-53.12. Here we see God himself returning to his wayward people to rescue us from evil, sin, and death. As Paul tells us in our epistle lesson, our Lord followed the path of obedience even to the point of suffering death on a cross. And as we heard in the Passion gospel, that obedience was terribly costly to our Lord. See him now in the garden, on the verge of having to bear the God-awful punishment for the sins of the entire world, for your sins and mine. Listen to him plead with the Father to spare him from the cup of God’s wrath against our sins that he must drink. Watch as our Lord literally sweats blood in agonized anticipation of facing God’s terrible but just judgment, a judgment that is rightly ours, to set things right again. Listen to his prayers as he faces the powers of evil that have assembled to do their worst to him. But he had to be obedient to his Father’s good will. Only he, the sinless one, could become sin for us so that we could live. Only God himself could break the power of evil that has held this world in its grips ever since our first ancestors’ sin unleashed its terrible presence in the world. As our own St. Augustine observed in his Confessions, “Proud man would have died had not a lowly God found him.” To be sure, there is much we do not understand about our Lord’s passion on the cross. But God help us if we ever stop believing in its power to heal and save us from the ravages of evil and our slavery to sin and death.

As we watch our Lord struggle with his mission, we are struck with the realization that here is a God who really cares about us. He is not solving the problem of evil and sin at arm’s length, passing it off for someone else to fix. No, here is God become man, Jesus the Messiah, entering the bloody pit to suffer and die for us so that we might live. It was only through the cross that the power of evil could be broken and we could be delivered from our slavery to freedom. This is the cost of obedience. This is the power of love made known to us in the shedding of Christ’s blood and the breaking of his body as he would tell his disciples at the Last Supper. If you want to know what the heart of God the Father looks like, look no further than Gethsemane and Calvary. See God the Son struggle with the horror of his mission for our sake. Can you love a God like this? Can you likewise obey him so that you too can follow his path to glory?

This is the challenge for each one of us today. We must either declare Jesus to be Lord and Messiah as Paul did or we will deny that he is and reject the costly path of obedience, of denying ourselves, taking up our cross each day, and following Jesus in his path of suffering for the sake of the world. But even if we deny our Lord, it will not change the fact that he is Lord and Messiah, whom every tongue will proclaim one day and to whom every knee will bend. As Jesus would tell his opponents that fateful day, creation itself will proclaim him Messiah and Lord, precisely because he is.

People today are just as divided over Jesus as they were in his day. Those who deny him today still try to silence those of us who proclaim him Messiah, just as Jesus’ opponents did in his day. But Luke tells us that if we listen to creation itself, the very handiwork of God, we will know who is on the side of right and truth. But we must do more than pay lip service to Jesus. We must proclaim Jesus is Lord by our obedience to him. We must continue to develop the mind of Christ by our love for him and each other. We must show his mercy, compassion, love, and selflessness. And yes, we must learn to suffer for his sake when he calls us to do so, confident that God will vindicate us just as he did Jesus. This is not for the faint of heart, my beloved, but it is the only path to real life and rediscovering our real humanity.

This is the king we are called to follow and this is what Holy Week and Easter call us to ponder. That is why it is so important for us to participate in this week’s events so that we can become part of that story and find fresh grace, strength, and hope as we continue to grow in our discipleship. So come and participate in the terrible yet wonderful events of this week. Resolve to have the mind of Christ and let Holy Week and Easter remind you of the great love of God and the hope he has in store for us as his people. Come to Maundy Thursday and see Jesus’ humility being symbolized and imitated in foot washing. Give thanks that in the sacraments Jesus is really and powerfully present to you, regardless of who you are or what you might have done, and feed on him in your heart by faith with thanksgiving. Keep watch with Peter as our Lord is arrested and darkness descends on God’s world. Come to the Stations of the Cross before the Good Friday liturgy and relive our Lord’s passion and suffering. Then afterwards, look with sorrow on the cross of Calvary, but also with hope. Hear the culminating story of God’s great redemption of the world and you. See the love and justice of God poured out for you that you might have life and have it abundantly, and then come and venerate the cross. On Holy Saturday as we await our Lord’s resurrection, pause and reflect on the costly love of God and be reminded that our present perspective on the grand scheme of God’s rescue plan for us is necessarily limited by our finiteness and mortality. Come to the Easter Vigil that evening and hear the entire story of God’s redemption for his hurting and sin-sick world and its people. Give thanks that we worship a God who loves us and wants us to live with him forever, even when we do not or cannot see that love playing out in every aspect of our life. Then come on Easter Sunday to celebrate our Lord’s mighty resurrection, the turning point of all history, and rejoice that God has counted you worthy to be part of his promised new world and called you to live and work to bring his healing love to those around you, terribly difficult and costly as that can be. Only when we learn how to be both cross-bearing and resurrection people will we learn that we have Good News, now and for all eternity. May you have a blessed and life-changing Holy Week and Easter this year. To him be honor, praise, and glory forever and ever.

In the name of God: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

A 4th Century Account of How Palm Sunday was Celebrated

The following day, Sunday, marks the beginning of Holy Week, which they call here the Great Week. On this [Palm] Sunday morning, at the completion of those rites which are customarily celebrated at the Anastasis [the Lord’s tomb] or the Cross from the first cockcrow until dawn, everyone assembles for the liturgy according to custom in the major church, called the Martyrium. It is called the Martyrium because it is on Golgotha, behind the Cross, where the Lord suffered His Passion, and is therefore a shrine of martyrdom. As soon as everything has been celebrated in the major church as usual, but before the dismissal is given, the archdeacon raises his voice and first says: “Throughout this whole week, beginning tomorrow at the ninth hour [3pm], let us all gather in the Martyrium, in the major church.” Then he raises his voice a second time, saying: “Today let us all be ready to assemble at the seventh hour [1pm] at the Eleona.” When the dismissal has been given in the Martyrium or major church, the bishop is led to the accompaniment of hymns to the Anastasis, and there all ceremonies are accomplished which customarily take place every Sunday at the Anastasis [Church of the Holy Sepulcher] following the dismissal from the Martyrium. Then everyone retires home to eat hastily, so that at the beginning of the seventh hour everyone will be ready to assemble in the church on the Eleona, by which I mean the Mount of Olives, where the grotto in which the Lord taught is located.

At the seventh hour all the people go up to the church on the Mount of Olives, that is, to the Eleona. The bishop sits down, hymns and antiphons appropriate to the day and place are sung, and there are likewise readings from the Scriptures. As the ninth hour approaches, they move up, chanting hymns, to the Imbomon, that is, to the place from which the Lord ascended into heaven; and everyone sits down there. When the bishop is present, the people are always commanded to be seated, so that only the deacons remain standing. And there hymns and antiphons proper to the day and place are sung, interspersed with appropriate readings from the Scriptures and prayers.

As the eleventh hour [5pm] draws near, that particular passage from Scripture is read in which the children bearing palms and branches came forth to meet the Lord, saying: “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord.” The bishop and all the people rise immediately, and then everyone walks down from the top of the Mount of Olives, with the people preceding the bishop and responding continually with “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord” to the hymns and antiphons. All the children who are present here, including those who are not yet able to walk because they are too young and therefore are carried on their parents’ shoulders, all of them bear branches, some carrying palms, others olive branches. And the bishop is led in the same manner as the Lord once was led. From the top of the mountain as far as the city, and from there through the entire city as far as the Anastasis, everyone accompanies the bishop the whole way on foot, and this includes distinguished ladies and men of consequence, reciting the responses all the while; and they move very slowly so that the people will not tire. By the time they arrive at the Anastasis, it is already evening. Once they have arrived there, even though it is evening, vespers is celebrated; then a prayer is said at the Cross and the people are dismissed.

—Egeria, Abbess, Pilgrimage

N.T. Wright: What Palm Sunday Means

r1405901_20102708The extraordinary twist in this story is that, having announced judgment upon Jerusalem for refusing God’s way of peace, Jesus went ahead, embodying simultaneously the love and the judgment of God himself, to suffer the Roman horror he had predicted for his people.

That dark royal story lies at the heart of all subsequent Christian understanding of the cross, though it is a truth so strange that few hymns or liturgies plumb its depths. Theseus and Oberon are one and the same. Good Friday, itself a form of Roman street theatre, was taken up paradoxically within God’s street theatre, the play within the play within the play that explains everything else.

But, even without that sequel, the questions of Palm Sunday itself force themselves upon us.

First, the questions of which story we are living in, and which king we are following, remain urgent within our culture. As our public institutions are less trusted than ever, and our behaviour at home and abroad is more confused than ever, the stories which used to make sense of our lives have let us down.

We thought we knew how the play worked: get rid of tyrants, and people will embrace democracy, peace, love and flower-power. How quickly things have moved from Palm Sunday to Good Friday. The so-called Arab Spring has turned back to winter, as we have no idea what to do about Syria, about Israel/Palestine and, of course, about Ukraine. We have run out of stories, we have run out of kings of whatever kind; all we think we can do is trust the great god Mammon, as though our fragile economic half-recoveries would trickle out into the mountains of Syria or the deserts of South Sudan. Give me Psalm 72 any day.

But that’s where the second question comes in, a personal question. If the Palm Sunday street theatre means what Jesus meant, it challenges all his followers, then and now. The crowds may have been fickle, but they were not mistaken. The two on the road to Emmaus had hoped he would redeem Israel, and they were hoping for the right thing – God’s kingdom on earth as in heaven, a this-worldly reign of justice and peace – but they had not glimpsed the means by which Jesus would bring it about. Right story, wrong king.

Sooner or later, this happens to all of us. We start out following Jesus because we think we know the story, we know what sort of king we want him to be – and then things go badly wrong, he doesn’t give us what we wanted, and we are tempted to wonder if we’ve been standing on the wrong side of town, watching the wrong procession.

Jesus warned us this would happen: we all have to live through a Holy Week, a Gethsemane, a Good Friday of one sort or another. That happens in personal life, in vocational life, as well as in public life.

Read it all.

Jason Micheli (Jesus Creed): Squeamish About the Bible’s Blood Speak

This is part of an ongoing review of Fleming Rutledge’s new book, Crucifixion. This post is excellent.

Screen-Shot-2016-02-09-at-9.19.00-PM-198x300A year and a half ago Hannah Graham, a UVA student from my parish, went missing near her campus. Weeks later her body was found. She’d been assaulted and brutally murdered.

Theologically, I’ve always been committed to the sheer nothingness of evil. Rather than a thing with any substance or subsistence of its own, the tradition holds that evil is absence. Maybe evil is the privation of the good, as Augustine thought it, but during the prayer service I led in the days when Hannah was still missing, when everyone hoped for the best but suspected the worst, the presence of sin and evil was felt palpably throughout the sanctuary. In the months since then the devastation and trauma felt from her murder have grown and festered. I’ve watched with sadness and something like righteous anger as many of Hannah’s friends in my congregation continue to struggle with depression, despair, and a loss of faith. Two weeks ago, when it was reported that Jesse Matthew, her accused murderer, had decided to plead guilty, I rejoiced confident that God rejoiced too now that Hannah would receive at least this measure of justice.

My takeaway from this experience:

A vital refrain of scripture gets obscured when we individualize and moralize sin.

Sin costs something.

Sin must be atoned for.

Yes, Jesus enjoins us to forgive as much as 70 x 7 times, but sin, like the sin done to Hannah and the entire community who loved her, requires justice too. As my mother used to tell me, ‘Saying sorry doesn’t cut it. You’ve got to repair the damage you’ve done.’ Even for my mom, repair required sacrifice.

It’s right, even holy, to rejoice that Jesse Matthew will pay for the damage he’s done.

Sin costs something. This is the convicting acknowledgment running through the rituals of sacrifice in the Book of Leviticus. Counter to the popular complaint about traditional atonement theories which asks, flippantly, ‘Why can’t God just forgive?’ the fundamental presupposition of Leviticus is that there must be atonement for sin. Put aside distracting conceits like God’s offended honor and simply focus on the concrete, real-world devastation wrought by sin.

Read it all.

Deacon Terry Gatwood: The Kingdom of God is in this Room

Sermon delivered on Sunday, Lent 5C, March 13, 2016 at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Westerville, OH. Passiontide begins today.

If you prefer to listen to the audio podcast of today’s sermon, click here.

Lectionary texts: Isaiah 43.15-21; Psalm 126.1-7; Philippians 3.4b-14; John 12.1-8.

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

Lazarus had died, but Jesus restored him to life; this was not some sort of metaphorical death, but an actual lying in the tomb without breath or a future type of death. For in John 11:39 Martha helps us to understand how dead Lazarus really was: “Martha, the sister of him that was dead, said to him, Lord, by this time he stinks: for he has been dead four days.”

A man who has been brought back to life by Jesus now reclines at the table with Jesus and the others. No longer does the man smell horrid because of the natural stench of death, a smell that would turn even the most iron of stomachs, but rather in this very room that stench is replaced by another smell.

Mary begins to anoint the dirty feet of Jesus. These feet have tread a long distance, have likely stepped in some foul things along the way, and were well beyond the acceptance point for anyone in this culture to touch them. Mary doesn’t just touch them, she anoints them with pure nard, a very costly perfume that filled the room with its sweet aroma, like the taste of honey. And she does so in an intimate way, taking down her hair and wiping his feet with it. She displays closeness and a love for Jesus.

Watching on is Judas, the treasurer of the group of disciples who followed Jesus. Sitting in the room is red faced, almost fuming from the ears with anger at watching this woman touch his master’s feet. She was pouring onto him an expensive perfume!

Under the guise of doing the work of God, giving freely to the poor with a wide-open hand, Judas shouts out “this perfume should be sold and given to the treasury to be distributed to the poor!”

Judas has other motives here. Judas is a greedy man, a shortsighted man. Judas is a man who looks out for his own interests. He has been with Jesus a good amount of time now and has seen the miraculous signs and wonders, he has heard the teaching and seen lives being transformed from death to life, both figuratively and literally. Judas has been given a glimpse of the Kingdom of God that has broken into the human story. Yet, he has been skimming off the top of the money in the bags to keep for himself. And he is missing what Jesus is showing him in this moment. Mary is being a true disciple; Judas is being false.

Jesus responds to Judas, “Leave her alone, so that she may keep it for the day of my burial.” Mary continues with what she has been doing, filling the room with the beautiful aroma of her devotion to her Lord. She loves him so much that she sits at his feet, anointing them, and showing him honor in this moment with every fiber of her being, even down to the last strand of hair.

At this point Judas turns two more shades of red before Jesus finishes speaking. In short order Judas would be the one who betrayed Jesus into the hands of those who sought to kill him. The odor of Jesus’ impending death also hovers over the room.

Jesus continues speaking. It is said clearly in this room that all may hear. Attention turned towards the teacher, every eye looking at him and every ear bent in his direction, Jesus says to them, looking at Judas, “For the poor you always will have with you, but you do not always have me.

Right here Jesus is saying in this room of mingling scents that he will be gone from among them very soon. The most costly of things he can possibly give in this world is his life, and he is preparing to give it. He will open up to his brothers and the poor in the land his hand, offering them life-sustaining gifts through the generosity of his sacrifice.

Gathered around this table are average people, people who have not been exceptionally important in the course of history. There are no all stars or power elites recorded as being in this room. Just average people. They sit and dine with one another, and see and hear the Gospel of Jesus’ sacrifice, even if they don’t yet fully recognize what it means. They see true devotion, and not a legalistic piety. They smell the scent of a magnificent and expensive offering being offered to God from a life that has been captivated by Christ; there is no price too high to bless him.

Scents are powerful reminders. They are clear signs of things that are happening: if there’s the smell of smoke somewhere there is also a fire. When one smells the rhododendrons in full bloom we know that springtime has come. And there are few regular scents we catch a whiff of that can beat the smell of a freshly brewed pot of coffee on a cold winter morning. Scents fire the imagination into high gear, and paint mental pictures of what has been, and what could be.

The smells that are in the air in this room where Jesus, Mary, Lazarus, Judas, and the others are sitting reminds us of the real sweetness of Jesus’ sacrifice for us. In Judas’ deceitful breath we recognize the way that leads to death. Through Mary’s devotion and the pouring onto the feet of Jesus the perfume we can smell the fragrant way of life. And in the midst of all of this we see Lazarus: he was dead, but has been raised again by the one who is soon to die and rise permanently. The Kingdom of God is in this room, filling it with the heavenly aroma of the hope of the resurrection, yet still mingled with earthly scents.

The Kingdom of God is present in this room. The poor, the hungry, shall be filled with good things. Christ fills us with himself, moving us from saying the right things but not doing them towards quietly stooping to clean filthy feet in humility, presenting to the Lord the best that we have to offer in response to his presence among us. Through his words he redirects us from false discipleship towards the authentic, and it’s made manifest in our lives through the Holy Spirit’s action through our own hands, by how we treat our neighbor, by how we serve Christ as we serve others. In Christ, the people of the Kingdom of God are fed, and through us, the people of God, called by Jesus Christ into an intimate relationship with the holy, sovereign, and merciful Lord, we feed the hungry and serve the poor. Our prayers rise up as the smoke of the incense before God in his holy temple, filling the nostrils of God with a sweet aroma, like that first intoxicating scent of an early morning springs dew as it hits our noses.

At this table, today, we come together to join in a feast, prepared and offered to us by the Lord himself for our benefit, and to cure us of our hunger. Jesus presents among us with the wealth of his love, lavishing on us the riches of his grace. This precious and expensive gift is given to us if we are true disciples, filled with the scent of his glorious passion, and uniting us with him in an intimate way. Taste. See. Hear. Feel. Smell that the Lord is good.

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

This Day in Maney Family History

John F. Maney under a tree at Ufculme, EnglandOn this day in 1943 my dad, John F. Maney, was inducted into the army at the age of 20 (the tree in this picture under which dad sat is outside a house in Uffculme England that was used as battalion HQ. I have a picture of that tree 40 years later when dad and I visited in June 1984). A week later he left on a train from Van Wert, OH for Camp Perry on Lake Erie. What a way to start the decade of your 20s.

George Martin RIP

A sad day for the music industry. The Beatles wouldn’t have been who they were without him.

Beatles Producer_Cham640360Martin had been dubbed “The Fifth Beatle” for his work with the legendary rock band. He signed the Beatles to EMI’s Parlophone record label in 1962 and went on to produce some of the most popular and influential albums of modern times — “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band,” “Revolver,” “Rubber Soul,” “Abbey Road”. Along the way, Martin and the Beatles elevated rock LPs from ways to cash in on hit singles to art forms, “concepts.”

Martin later recalled meeting the quartet for the first time and realizing their potential, saying “I liked them as people apart from anything else, and I was convinced that we had the makings of a hit group.”

However, he was not convinced they had songwriting ability.

“As composers, they didn’t rate. They hadn’t shown me that they could write anything at all,” he once told the magazine Melody Maker. “‘Love Me Do’ I thought was pretty poor, but it was the best we could do.”

Martin both witnessed and enabled the extraordinary changes of the Beatles and of the 1960s. From a raw first album that took just a day to make, to the months-long production of “Sgt. Pepper,” the Beatles advanced by quantum steps as songwriters and sonic explorers,  turning the studio into a wonderland of tape loops, multi-tracking, unpredictable tempos, unfathomable segues and kaleidoscopic montages.

“Once we got beyond the bubblegum stage, the early recordings, and they wanted to do something more adventurous, they were saying, `What can you give us?”‘ Martin told The Associated Press in 2002. “And I said, `I can give you anything you like.”‘

Martin was endlessly called on to perform the impossible, and often succeeded, splicing recordings at different speeds for “Strawberry Fields Forever” or, for “Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite,” simulating a calliope with keyboards, harmonica and a harmonium that the producer himself played with such intensity he passed out on the floor. Martin would have several good turns on the keyboards, performing a lively music hall solo on McCartney’s “Lovely Rita” and a speeded-up Baroque reverie on Lennon’s “In My Life.”

Read it all.

Before and After Portraits

Sermon delivered on Laetare Sunday, Lent 4C, March 6, 2016 at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Westerville, OH.

If you prefer to listen to the audio podcast of this sermon, usually somewhat different from the text below, click here.

Lectionary texts: Joshua 5.9-12; Psalm 32.1-12; 2 Corinthians 5.16-21; Luke 15.1-3, 11b-32.

In the name of God: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Today is Laetare Sunday, the fourth Sunday of Lent. Laetare comes from the Latin word meaning to rejoice. It marks roughly the midway point of Lent with its disciplines of self-examination, confession, repentance, and self-denial, and begins to point us to the joyous celebration of Easter. Hence the rose-colored chasuble I wear this morning. Appropriately, all our readings provide us with biblical portraits of before and after. In other words, what happens to us before God touches our lives and after he does. This is what I want us to look at this morning, focusing especially on Jesus’ wonderful parable in our gospel lesson. As we shall see, we as God’s people in Jesus have much to rejoice about.

We begin with our OT lesson. God’s people Israel have just crossed the Jordan River and are about to enter the promised land. Their forty years of wandering in the wilderness, punishment for their rebellion against God, are about to come to an end. But before they began their conquest of the promised land, God has Joshua, the successor to Moses, order the mass circumcision of every male in camp. Ouch. Given that the Israelites are about to enter battle against formidable opponents, this is a rather curious command God gives his people. Not only is circumcision painful and debilitating (cf. Genesis 34.1-26), it also takes a good while to heal. And after Joshua orders the mass circumcisions, the Lord tells him that, “today I have rolled away from you the disgrace of Egypt.” What’s going on here?

Well, we are getting our first look at God’s before and after portraits. It means we are seeing God renewing his covenant with his people, despite their sin and rebellion against him. God in effect is giving his people a second (and third and fourth) chance to be included as his people and enjoy his promises that God made to them through Abraham (Genesis 17.1-14). There seems to be no consensus among commentators about what God meant when he told Joshua that in their circumcision God had rolled away from them the disgrace of Egypt. But it is a safe and reasonable reading of the text to believe that in saying this to Joshua, God essentially meant that no longer could Israel’s enemies see them as a people despised and rejected by God as they did when they saw God’s people wandering in the wilderness all those years. Israel wasn’t a despised people. They were a covenant people whom God loved and cherished and was about to restore, despite their sinful rebellion. Not only was there circumcision, the sign of entry into God’s people Israel, there was also the renewal of the Passover celebration that commemorated God’s rescue of his people from their slavery in Egypt.

And because we are new covenant people in Jesus, we have analogous rituals as Christians: baptism and the eucharist. Just as circumcision was the sign of being initiated into the Abrahamic covenant and the Passover celebration was the sign of the continuous renewal of that covenant, so are baptism and communion signs of our initiation and place in God’s reconstituted family around our Lord Jesus. As Paul reminds us in Romans, those of us who are baptized into Jesus share in his death so that we can also share in his resurrection (Romans 6.3-5). And we celebrate our place at God’s table of the redeemed each week when we partake in the eucharist, the continual sign of God’s faithful love and promises to us. Despite our hostility toward God, despite our flaws and fears and failures, both big and small, God remains faithful and we are transformed from the walking dead who wander aimlessly in our own respective wildernesses to those who are alive in Christ and who will share in his risen life for all eternity.

To be sure, God’s gracious love demands a response of obedience from us. Since God’s justice will restore all creation to its original goodness, us included, we cannot continue to act in ways that cause evil or abet it. We are called to live like real human beings, not the counterfeits we are so often satisfied with. And of course none of us is able to obey God’s laws perfectly so that we all must die in our sin. But we are resurrection people who are given countless new chances when we act like our old selves before we encountered the love of God, and we have the blood of Christ shed for us as living proof of God’s love, mercy, and forgiveness of our sins. What a stark contrast to our before portrait! No more manna. No more uncircumcision, no more wilderness. The old has passed away and all has become new, thanks be to God!

This is exactly what Paul is talking about in our epistle lesson. Paul is standing on the promised land side of the Jordan, basking in his new life in Jesus. It changes us, he says. We are new creations in Jesus, bought with the price of our dear Savior’s blood, so that we no longer see things as the world does, but rather as God does. Look at me. I used to consider Jesus a fraud and imposter, and persecuted his people, but no more. I now see we have been reconciled to God though Jesus. In Jesus’ death and resurrection, history has been changed forever. No longer must we wander in the wilderness of our sins, bereft and separated from the love of God. No! We are called to help implement the new creation that God brought about when he raised Jesus from the dead. God’s love for us changes us and helps us to put to death all that is within us that keeps us angry and hostile and rebellious toward God. This process of killing off our wilderness wanderings is a messy and frustrating thing. But take heart. God remains faithful to us even when we do not remain faithful to him (cf. 2 Timothy 2.13). Don’t give up. Persevere. Follow my example as an apostle. Live like you already are living in God’s new world that is free from all evil. Forgive. Love. Be agents of God’s reconciliation won for you in Christ. Share it with others. This constitutes the after portrait of what happens when God’s love touches you. You are a new creation! Not a perfect one, to be sure, but you are a new creation nevertheless. Act the part, therefore. Get ready for the prize that is yours. Here we see the greater context for our Lenten disciplines. We are new creations in Jesus and are called to act the part!

And now we turn to the final before and after portrait in our gospel lesson. Jesus is partying with the lowlifes of his day, tax collectors and other notorious sinners. Substitute your own lowlifes here. They could be terrorists, drug dealers, gang-bangers, your priest. Get somebody in mind as we proceed. Why are you hanging out with these people, Jesus? Why are you partying so much? Respectable people don’t hang around with such scumbags, dude. You must be just like them. This was the hard-hearted attitude that provoked Jesus’ response and here we see the before portrait the Pharisees paint. There are bad people in this world who are outside of God’s love and undeserving of it. They are to be shunned and are worthy of our hostility because they are odious to God. Do you have someone in mind? Yourself perhaps?

In response, Jesus tells them three parables, all about being lost and found. In this third parable, we have the original poster child of the before portrait: the youngest son. He essentially tells his father to drop dead. Give me my inheritance, he demands. Now in Jesus’ day, this just wasn’t done while the parent was still alive, especially when the son was so indifferent or even hostile toward his father. I hate you, dad. You mean nothing to me. Give me my share of your life, of your livelihood, so that I can satisfy my own selfish desires. I could care less about you or your well-being. Those of us who are parents know exactly how deeply this cuts and how great is its power to wound. We must understand this for the story to have its desired effect.

But the father did not get angry with his son. He didn’t disown him. He gave him his share of the family inheritance as requested, and the kid left to squander it away in wasteful and degrading living. The son eventually was reduced to working for gentiles and feeding pigs, the ultimate disgrace for any self-respecting Jew of Jesus’ day. It would be tantamount to getting addicted to drugs and resorting to prostitution or theft or other unsavory activities to support the habit. We look at folks like this with disgust and disdain, especially when we do not know them.

The boy eventually comes to his senses. He realizes he has made a series of catastrophic decisions that have resulted in him living in destitution, and decides to go back to his father and ask for forgiveness. He would be satisfied to work as a hired hand. He realizes that he’s burnt his bridges. Elsewhere, the Bible calls this coming to our right mind “repentance.”

And his father’s response? The boy couldn’t even finish his well-rehearsed speech before the father cut him off and restored him as his son! That’s the meaning of the ring, the sandals, the fatted calf, and the robe. Not only that, but apparently the father had been looking for his son pretty regularly because he spotted him returning home and ran out to meet him, a violation of every social custom of his day. No self-respecting father would do this. But the boy’s father did. His son was dead, but now he was alive. There just had to be a celebration. Here we see the NT’s classic before and after portraits. This son of mine was dead but now he is alive. He’s come to his senses and this deserves a huge party. How can we not celebrate new life??

Of course, the older brother, when he caught wind of what was going on, was enraged. How can you treat a lowlife like that so well? He told you to go drop dead. He told you in effect he hated you or at least didn’t give two cents about you. And what do you do? You throw the kid a party! Me? I’ve always been an obedient son. I’ve kept my nose to the grindstone and what do I get in return? Notta. Zilch. Squat. Zip. If you love self-righteous whiners, you gotta love this kid!

But son—the dad replies with the same patient kindness he showed his younger son—all my possessions have always been yours. Don’t be angry. Come and celebrate.

Jesus didn’t tell us if the older son ever did come to the party and celebrate or what happened the next day. Did the younger son keep on the straight and narrow? We don’t know. But this misses the point Jesus was making: that he was reaching the least, the lost, the marginalized, the people nobody cares about and that good and decent people like ourselves refuse to associate with. And in doing so, death was being changed into life. Did the younger son deserve the father’s mercy and love? No, but he got them anyhow, and so do we. The father and his love for his wayward sons in the parable (and let’s be clear, both were wayward, but in different ways) was obviously God the Father and his love for us, his wayward children. Here Jesus points us to the coming feast of Easter and this is what I want to leave you with this morning.

There are many lessons we can draw from this parable, but I bring three to your attention. First, if you still labor under the delusion that God is a terrible God who is out to get you, especially because you know your own heart and your many sins, this parable directly confronts your delusional thinking in the most poignant of ways. Things weren’t neat and tidy in the parable; there are a lot of unanswered questions. But what is not unanswered is God’s love for us, his image-bearing creatures. Please do not throw that love to the pigs by rejecting it. Please.

Second, this parable challenges us, especially those of us who are “good and proper churchgoers” to take a hard look at ourselves in the proverbial mirror. Are we like the older brother in the parable who look down our nose at those we consider not to be part of us or our church family? Do we get all self-righteous and hard-hearted toward inveterate sinners? Are we willing to forgive as readily as the father forgave his wayward son or do we stand in judgment over those who don’t measure up to our standards and expectations (you know, We’ve upped our standards. Up yours)? Would we rejoice over their salvation if it occurred? I am not talking about being indifferent to sin or speaking out against it. We must always resist sin and speak out against it. I am talking here about being proud, arrogant, and hard-hearted people who are convinced we are saved and are therefore somehow more worthy than those who are not, and who treat them accordingly. Jesus would not be pleased if we can trust the truth behind this parable.

Last, our Lord reminds us that we are no longer dead but alive. We are this way because of his own death and resurrection, and because of our own baptism into both. This calls for a party and outrageous ways of behaving that will offend the hard-hearted. So what are we going to do as resurrection people during the upcoming seven weeks of Easter when we focus on the resurrection and the fact that once we were dead but now are alive in Christ? Easter should be our greatest celebration of the year, not Christmas. We have every reason to party because we’ve passed from death to life! I therefore challenge us as Easter people to witness our joy and faith to the world this Easter season. What will that look like in our life together and in our own private lives? And since it’s still Lent, we should also ask what we need to repent of before we can begin to celebrate. Don’t blow this challenge off, my beloved. It is critical to our witness and mission as Jesus’ people, precisely because we know we have Good News, the best news of all, that we are resurrection people, now and for all eternity. Let us be bold in proclaiming this to the world by how we party so that folks will have to stop and ask us, “What is the meaning of all this celebrating?” To him be honor, praise, and glory forever and ever.

In the name of God: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.