March 30, 2018

Good Friday

When evening had come, and since it was the day of Preparation, that is, the day before the sabbath, Joseph of Arimathea, a respected member of the council, who was also himself waiting expectantly for the kingdom of God, went boldly to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. Then Pilate wondered if he were already dead; and summoning the centurion, he asked him whether he had been dead for some time. When he learned from the centurion that he was dead, he granted the body to Joseph.   Mark 15.42-45

 

Jesus is dead. “Are you sure?” Pilate wants to know. “Yes,” the centurion of the guard assures him. “Dead as a doornail,” or perhaps the nail used for the crucifixion. A dead nail is a nail that has been bent at its end to create additional securing – and as such, a nail that will no longer have any other use. Pilate wants to know that this Jesus of Nazareth will never again cross his path, let alone challenge his beliefs.

Pilate wants no other information. I am sure that the centurion only offers what he has been asked. He is a centurion after all, disciplined in his duty and well aware of the consequences he faces for disobedience. But the death is not what the centurion will remember at all – for “…Truly this man was God’s Son….”

 


Most loving God, hanging on a cross to die our death, give us the hope of resurrection at that darkest hour and bring us into life again. In Jesus’ most precious name. Amen.

 

The Rev. Barry J. Harte
the Church of Saint Asaph, Bala Cynwyd

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March 27, 2018

Tuesday in Holy Week

Then Jesus uttered a loud cry and breathed his last.   Mark 15:37

 

There is a particular power to the verb “to utter.” It conveys something more primal and raw than many of the other words we use to describe an act of speech. “To speak” already suggests the intervention of thought. When we speak what we say is considered. What we think is discerned. Our words fit within a certain grammar that is shared and understood. To talk, to discuss, to exclaim, or to declare all assume some degree of self-reflection. We choose to do these things and are aware of that choice even as we are doing them. But utterance is more immediate, as if it couldn’t be helped.

Mark doesn’t tell us simply that Jesus cried out; nor do we ever say that someone “uttered a shout.” By stating that Jesus “uttered a loud cry” Mark makes the instant of Jesus’ death the complete antithesis of the act of God’s creation, when, in Genesis, God spoke the world into being, bringing form out of chaos. God’s words in the beginning were more than statements or commands; they were primal utterances too, through which God gave his very life to the life of the world in all its beauty and variation. (Only after each utterance did God step back to declare an assessment.) And God’s culminating act was then breathing soul into the life of humankind.

In this one verse, Mark informs us that Jesus died on the cross. But he did so in such a way that we might realize what Jesus’ death signified. It was the undoing of everything, the triumph of chaos in the unravelling of all creation. And, as Jesus’ breath vanished, it was even the death of his soul.

One verb reveals the magnitude of this moment.

 

The Rev. Peter Vanderveen
Church of the Redeemer, Bryn Mawr

March 19, 2018

Saint Joseph

And they began saluting him, “Hail, King of the Jews!” They struck his head with a reed, spat upon him, and knelt down in homage to him. After mocking him, they stripped him of the purple cloak and put his own clothes on him. Then they led him out to crucify him.   Mark 15:18-20

 

This takes me back to Jesus’ teaching of the principle of non-retaliation to affronts against our own dignity. Jesus’ response to the hatred and brutality of the guards is not met so much with the love he espoused, but with a pure acceptance of God’s will and Jesus’ mission in this world. His seemingly passive non-response to them may feel unnatural to us, but it displays the incredible power of the Holy Spirit helping us to fulfill God’s call to us – even at the most excruciatingly testing times. Jesus is the perfect example of following God’s will AND not taking offense at those persecuting him. He was silent before them and neither in these verses or in later verses did he call for revenge from the Father on those who brutalized him. Some may look at this scene and see cowardice. Others, including me, see incredible strength and resolve – in doing something we’d almost give anything not to do. And this is only the beginning. The brutality, humiliation, inhuman treatment, disgrace and scorn will continue for hours to come. For what Christ endured for all that time, the “sacrifice(s)” we make during Lent can never measure up. But our Lenten practices can reflect our efforts/desires to understand and accept God’s will in our lives –without retaliation, second guessing, or placing our own personal desires above His. There couldn’t be a more humbling model and teacher than Jesus.

 

The Rev. Karen Kaminskas
Saint Mary’s, Ardmore

March 18, 2018

The Fifth Sunday in Lent

Now among those who went up to worship at the festival were some Greeks. They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and said to him, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” Philip went and told Andrew; then Andrew and Philip went and told Jesus. Jesus answered them, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also. Whoever serves me, the Father will honor.Now my soul is troubled. And what should I say—‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it is for this reason that I have come to this hour. Father, glorify your name.” Then a voice came from heaven, “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.” The crowd standing there heard it and said that it was thunder. Others said, “An angel has spoken to him.” Jesus answered, “This voice has come for your sake, not for mine. Now is the judgment of this world; now the ruler of this world will be driven out. And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” He said this to indicate the kind of death he was to die. John 12:20-33

 

In this Johannine passage we meet a Jesus who is seemingly full of bravado as he faces his Passion and death. “Now my soul is troubled, and what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it was for this very reason I came to this hour. Father, glorify your name!” It is interesting that it is only in John that we find this “troubled” but seemingly unfrightened Jesus moving steadfastly forward. It is also interesting that John gamely jumps from the Last Supper with only a mention of Gethsemane in the context of his arrest. “On the other side [of the Kidron Valley] there was a garden and he and his disciples went into it.”

In contrast, the Synoptic Gospels present a different picture. Jesus and the disciples go to the garden to pray, and it is a much more human, frightened Jesus that we meet. In Matthew 26:37-38, Jesus takes some of the disciples and “…he began to be sorrowful and troubled. Then he said to them, ‘My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death.” In Mark 14:33 we are told that Jesus is “deeply distressed and troubled,” and in Luke 22:42,44 Jesus knelt and prayed, “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will but yours be done…And being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground.”

It is this Jesus to whom I can truly relate, especially during the Lenten season. I have what most would call a “tacky” picture of Jesus in Gethsemane, one which most of you have probably seen. It shows Jesus kneeling at a rock in a flowing purple robe, his anguished face looking up, and a ray of golden light shining on him. This picture is my touchstone, the Jesus who understands my sin, my fear, my alienation as I too move inexorably to the grave.

On Ash Wednesday we read Psalm 51: “I know my transgressions,/and my sin is ever before me.” As this psalm washes over us, there is a duality of fear and comfort emanating from it: “Hide not your face from my sins” and “Cast me not away from your presence” contrasted with “Wash me through and through from my wickedness/and cleanse me from my sin” and “Create in me a clean heart, O God”.

This is Lent – a time of recognizing our estrangement from God mixed with our realization that God wants us to be reconciled to himself. Lent calls us to a self-examination which can be brutal, but with the knowledge that God will look on us with his “loving-kindness” and “in (his) great compassion (will) blot out my offenses.”

 

The Rev. Frank Wallner
Saint John’s, Lower Merion

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 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