March 16, 2018

Friday after the Fourth Sunday in Lent

Then Pilate said unto them, Why, what evil hath he done? And they cried out the more exceedingly, Crucify him. And so Pilate, willing to content the people, released Barabbas unto them, and delivered Jesus, when he had scourged him, to be crucified. Mark 15:14-15


In a previous meditation on our Lord’s institution of the Sacrament of His Body and Blood, I recalled George Herbert’s poem “The Agony,” a mediation at once upon our Savior’s crucifixion and of the rite that recalls the same:

Philosophers have measured mountains,
Fathom’d the depths of seas, of states, and kings,
Walk’d with a staff to heaven, and traced fountains
But there are two vast, spacious things,
The which to measure it doth more behove:
Yet few there are that sound them; Sin and Love.

Who would know Sin, let him repair
Unto Mount Olivet; there shall he see
A man, so wrung with pains, that all his hair,
His skin, his garments, bloody be.
Sin is that Press and Vice, which forceth pain
To hunt his cruel food through every vein.
Who knows not Love, let him assay,
And taste that juice, which on the cross a pike
Did set again abroach; then let him say
If ever he did taste the like.
Love is that liquor sweet and most divine,
Which my God feels as blood; but I, as wine

Throughout these forty days, the Holy Spirit mends our confused minds in manifold means of grace: Meditation on Scripture, prayer, self-denial and deeds of mercy are chief among them. Through them we see afresh the truth of our own sinful predilections, the Father’s infinite mercy, and the Son’s perfect obedience. And we learn, as it were, ‘our place.’ We learn that we are creatures, the product of God’s love. And we learn anew that His commandments, like his creation are good, that they constitute our good and form the basis of the miraculous life in us, chiefly witnessed in our reception of Christ’s Body and Blood in the Sacrament of the New Covenant. It is a profound truth of Lent traditionally observed that the farther we travel its pilgrim way, the clearer the truth of our sin and God’s love become. The increasing intensity of Passiontide, Holy Week, the three days of the Triduum Sacrum, and finally Good Friday itself, are like curtains being drawn in a pageant of revelation, one discomfiting truth preparing us for the next. The institution of the Sacrament of Holy Communion on Maundy Thursday, the night of love’s betrayal, is the constant, sacred reminder that Christ, who is at once all God and all human, has made the instrument of shameful death to be the throne of His glory. On the Cross we see His blood shed and His Body broken, we see our sin in all its terrible consequence: We would not simply be as gods, we would kill the very God who made us. And yet, as the sacrament reminds us, what seems bread and wine to us is at once His Blood outpoured and His Body broken: it is His love for us accomplished not simply despite our sin, but through our sin. The distance between our sin and God’s love would seem infinite (‘spacious’ as Herbert would put it), and yet the two are one in a mystery at once beyond our telling and perfectly believable.
It is believable because it is God alone that make everything out of nothing, who gave us this something made out of nothing. And despite our vain attempts to bring the ‘less than something’ of sin and lies into God’s good order, He has taken that “less than something” on the Cross and given to us more than even we had at that beginning. For we have more than the goodness of Eden wherein we were first placed, we have the greater goodness, the “more than something” of an eternal relationship with God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit in eternity. That is the miracle we recall in these words of institution: That we sinners have been invited to drink this wine with our Savior in the Kingdom of God.


The Rev. Edward Rix
All Saints, Wynnewood


March 15, 2018

Thursday after the Fourth Sunday in Lent

Pilate spoke to them again, ‘Then what do you wish me to do with the man you call the King of the Jews?’ They shouted back, ‘Crucify him!’   Mark 15:12-13


Shouts of ‘Crucify him!’ coming from the crowd that was, only shortly before, hailing Jesus as a king, demonstrate how quickly we can be swayed. The values we hold as individuals can often be suppressed and supplanted by the loud cries of the crowd. We may fool ourselves into thinking we are above such peer pressure, but how often do we pause when writing a sermon because we start to think about who it might offend? How often have we heard or supplanted Jesus’ message of justice to one of mere charity because it fits more neatly and comfortably with our lifestyle? Lent allows us time to reflect on those “sins of omission” when we find ourselves looking more like the crowd than disciples of Jesus and we fail to act although we know better.


Most merciful God, we confess that we have sinned against you in thought, word, and deed, by what we have done, and by what we have left undone. We have not loved you with our whole heart; we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves. We are truly sorry and we humbly repent. For the sake of your Son Jesus Christ, have mercy on us and forgive us; that we may delight in your will, and walk in your ways, to the glory of your Name. Amen.


The Rev. Michael Giansiracusa
Saint Mary’s, Ardmore

March 14, 2018

Wednesday after the Fourth Sunday in Lent

Now at the festival he used to release a prisoner for them, anyone for whom they asked. Now a man called Barabbas was in prison with the rebels who had committed murder during the insurrection. So the crowd came and began to ask Pilate to do for them according to his custom. Then he answered them, “Do you want me to release for you the King of the Jews?” For he realized that it was out of jealousy that the chief priests had handed him over. But the chief priests stirred up the crowd to have him release Barabbas for them instead.   Mark 15:6-11


Barabbas, probably a political dissident, apparently violent, and imprisoned by his political enemies, the Romans, suddenly finds himself a pawn in the political machinations of the chief priests and Pilate, the Roman governor. The name Barabbas means, “son of Abba” or “son of the father.” It is therefore a bitter irony that he is chosen for pardon, rather than Jesus, the true son of the Father. But, Barabbas is chosen for release by the crowds who are stirred up by the chief priests, who were themselves motivated by jealousy. Pilate’s simply wanted to defuse the situation, and appease the crowd. Where did all this leave Barabbas?

On his 2017 self-titled album, the country singer-songwriter, Jason Ealy, recorded a song written from Barabbas’ perspective. Ealy’s Barabbas is confused and disoriented by his sudden release. He had no sooner come to terms with “doing his time,” when he finds himself free at the expense of an enigmatic man he does not know. “On this side of forgiveness,” the cross that Barabbas must bear is to learn to live life well after getting a second chance; to learn to forgive himself; to learn to be free. This is our task, also. By virtue of his life, teachings, death, and resurrection Christ offers total forgiveness, infinite love, and limitless grace. As the Apostle Paul tells us, through the Spirit of Christ we are made children of the God—we are un-ironically made sons and daughters of the Father (Romans 8:12-17). Christ has set us free, not because of an insistent mob, nor because of the jealousies of religious leaders, but because of the unending mercy of the ever-living God. On this side of forgiveness, we must learn to bear the cross of accepting this grace, and this freedom.


Almighty God, whose most dear Son went not up to joy but first he suffered pain, and entered not into glory before he was crucified: Mercifully grant that we, walking in the way of the cross, may find it none other than the way of life and peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.


The Rev. James Stambaugh
Church of the Holy Apostles, Penn Wynne

March 13, 2018

Tuesday after the Fourth Sunday in Lent

Then the chief priests accused him of many things. Pilate asked him again, ‘Have you no answer? See how many charges they bring against you.’ But Jesus made no further reply, so that Pilate was amazed.   Mark 15:3-5


Lent is a time for silence, and not always in the quiet contemplative way we might be tempted to associate with it. In this short but mighty scene from Mark’s Gospel we witness Jesus refusing to respond to Pilate’s demand for answers following a false accusation. His silence is a far cry from any image of a hermit sitting on a distant hilltop. His silence is a powerful form of protest—a sign of his true power in the face of a lesser adversary.

Pilate believes himself to have the upper hand, and at first blush the world might tend to agree. He has the might of the Emperor behind him. He has the crowd turning to him to wield their brand of justice. He has money, prestige, and military might. Because of all of these trappings of power, he has come to believe that people will listen and respond to him when he speaks—even if he is demanding answers to lies. Pilate was so sure of his own power that there were really only two responses he expected from Jesus in this moment: fight or flight. Jesus could have openly fought back with yells or screams or been terrified and tried to plead for mercy.

But Jesus chose a third way. Jesus chose the dignity and defiance of silence. Jesus chose the way of nonviolent resistance. Instead of pretending that Pilate was all-powerful, Jesus acted on what he knew to be the bigger truth—that God was in charge. As such, he did not respond to Pilate as though he were an equal of God. Assured in his knowledge that he was acting on God’s will, Jesus had no need to defend himself from lies or defer to a lesser power. Imagine what a shock it must have been for Pilate to see someone as low on the proverbial power scale as Jesus having the audacity NOT to respond to him! Jesus’ silence amazes him and he must take notice of Jesus in that moment.

In an era when people literally shout at each other for entertainment (think ESPN) or for political discourse (think Fox or CNN), making a choice to not respond to lies or inflammatory noise is an act of rebellion. It is choosing a third way of peace in a time that desperately needs the strength of those who do not need to be the loudest person in the room to feel like the most powerful. Lent give us the chance to develop the strength to be silent so that the love of God might be the loudest sound of all and that people might be amazed at his power.


O God, with you is the well of life, and in your light we see light: Quench our thirst with living water, and flood our darkened minds with heavenly light; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.


The Rev. Dr. Hillary D. Raining
St. Christopher’s, Gladwyne

March 12, 2018

Monday after the Fourth Sunday in Lent

As soon as it was morning, the chief priests held a consultation with the elders and scribes and the whole council. They bound Jesus, led him away, and handed him over to Pilate. Pilate asked him, ‘Are you the King of the Jews?’ He answered him, ‘You say so.”   Mark 15:1-2


There was a pious and faithful Rabbi who lived on the edge of a town. He spent his days in prayer and communion with God. One day a harsh knock on the door jolted him and he greeted several angry men, one of whom said: “Rabbi you will pay for impregnating my daughter!” To which the Rabbi calmly replied: “Is that so?”. They left still angry and bewildered. Many months later after the birth of the daughter’s child, the Rabbi was awakened by another loud knock and greeted the same gang of men who seemed somehow less agitated. “Rabbi I apologize you are not the father of my grandchild” And the reply was stunningly the same: “Is that so?” We humans ask so many questions, especially before we commit to an action. And we often ask those questions hoping for an answer which will clarify or get us off the hook or prove our own misguided point. And so it is with Pilate. Whatever construction Pilate, and the chief priests and elders, has determined is the truth is simply not the Truth. Jesus is! Say what you will; the answer is Always the Same. May we be a people who ask questions which point us to the Truth, which point us to God.


The Rev. Dr. Martha Tucker
Saint David’s (Radnor) Church

March 11, 2018

The Fourth Sunday in Lent

Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Those who believe in him are not condemned; but those who do not believe are condemned already, because they have not believed in the name of the only Son of God. And this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil.   John 3:17-19


God became a human being, the man Jesus, so that the world might be saved—through him. Those who do not believe, those who cling to the ways of this world, have chosen; they have chosen to condemn themselves. But that’s not the end of the story. The Good News is that God continues to reconcile the world to God’s self. God is not finished. Yes, at the resurrection and ascension God broke the power of death once and for all, and yet we humans still cling to the darkness. For whatever reason, our sins too often get the best of us. The story would end here were it not for Jesus’ work on the cross. But as God crushed the power of death represented in the cross, the light broke out into the world and all of humanity was given the opportunity to bask in the Glory of God’s light.

Sure, it’s a struggle. But is there a more appropriate time than Lent to trudge through our own desert searching for freedom from the darkness to which we so tightly cling? Is there a better time than Lent to take inventory of the things that pull us away from the light; the way of Christ? Is there a more fitting time than right now to make a decision to repent, change the direction of our lives while groping, the best we can, for the light so freely offered? Even if we do nothing else this Lent, why not begin on this day, two weeks before Holy Week, the work of repentance and amendment of life? Why not let go of the darkness that this world offers and grab ahold of Christ’s light? Why not?


Almighty and everlasting God, you hate nothing you have made and forgive the sins of all who are penitent: create and make in us new and contrite hearts, that we , worthily lamenting our sins and acknowledging our wretchedness, may obtain of you, the God of all mercy, perfect remission and forgiveness; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever. Amen.


The Rev. Joseph K. Smith
Saint Mary’s, Wayne

March 10, 2018

Saturday after the Third Sunday in Lent

And the servant-girl, on seeing him, began again to say to the bystanders, “This man is one of them.” But again he denied it. Then after a little while the bystanders again said to Peter, “Certainly you are one of them; for you are a Galilean.” But he began to curse, and he swore an oath, “I do not know this man you are talking about.” At that moment the cock crowed for the second time. Then Peter remembered that Jesus had said to him, “Before the cock crows twice, you will deny me three times.” And he broke down and wept. Mark 14: 69-72


I have grown to admire and love Peter more and more. As a child, Peter was presented to me as the most Holy and Perfect of the Saints, holding the keys to the Kingdom of Heaven and head of the Church on Earth. He was so perfect and saintly that he seemed aloof and out of reach. However, when I read the Gospels and Acts on my own, I came to see Peter as a person full of flaws. He was impulsive, rough, outspoken, crass and surly. He failed Jesus many times. Even in Jesus’ darkest hour, Peter denied knowing Jesus. I came to see Peter through a looking glass that reflected the person I was – flawed, insensitive, impulsive, and sinful. As a result, I found hope in Peter. If Jesus was willing to empower Peter and give Peter authority, then perhaps, Jesus would empower me to live out my vocation in order to build the kingdom of God here on earth in spite of my flaws, sins, and shortcomings. I grew to love Peter not because he was superhuman but because he was truly human, saying the wrong thing at the wrong time, often putting his foot in his mouth, and even prone to violence as when he cut off Malchus’ ear. Peter did protest that he didn’t know Jesus and through his remorse and tears came to face the reality of his own ugliness. As a result, he realized that Jesus loved him for who he was. By coming to know his true and authentic self, Peter realizes that he was finally seeing what Jesus Christ saw and the reality that Christ loved him anyway. In the end, Peter came to love himself and love God and was willing to sacrifice everything for Christ, even his own life. May we have such hope.


The Rev. Tim Gavin
The Episcopal Academy