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


February 23, 2018

Friday after the First Sunday in Lent

Peter said to him, “Even though all become deserters, I will not.” Jesus said to him, “Truly I tell you, this day, this very night, before the cock crows twice, you will deny me three times.” But he said vehemently, “Even though I must die with you, I will not deny you.” And all of them said the same. Mark 14:29-31


The disciples were with Jesus at the Last Supper when he startled them with these words: “…one of you will betray me – one who is eating with me”. We are told that “They were saddened, and one by one they said to him, Surely you don’t mean me?” Can you imagine being told that one of your intimates was about to betray the person around whom your life had centered for three years?

Yet there was a bit of the disingenuous about the disciples’ reaction. Their question was a denial; it wasn’t, “Well, it’s not me, Lord.” Rather it was, “You don’t mean me (do you)?” This subtle question reveals the reality that each of them understood that they were capable of the betrayal. While it was Judas who would betray Jesus to the authorities, the other disciples also betrayed him. Peter would betray him sitting around a blazing fire warming himself outside the High Priest’s house. His betrayal took the form of the threefold denial of knowing Jesus. All of the other disciples would flee from the authorities and leave Jesus abandoned to face his death alone.

In Lent we are asked to look at our lives and their estrangement from our Lord. It is a period of reflection and repentance. It is also a time of hope and mercy. Just as each of the disciples betrayed our Lord, so do we when we break the bond of love which belongs to God alone – “you shall love the Lord your God with your whole heart, mind, soul and strength.” Yet we also ask the question, “Is it I, Lord?” afraid to admit the answer, “Yes it is I.” When I was in elementary school, the Dominican nuns taught that it was our sins that crucified Jesus, and that God’s love was so great that even if there was no other sin than mine, Jesus would have gone through with the Passion. In the great Holy Week hymn, “Ah, holy Jesus” we sing the words, “Who was the guilty? Who brought this upon thee? Alas, my treason, Jesus, hath undone thee. ‘Twas I, Lord Jesus,” I it was denied thee; I crucified thee.”

Lent is another chance our Lord gives us to make those changes which allow us to be reconciled to himself, but to do that requires us to look into the depths of our souls, to look into the mirror of our souls, because that will give us the honesty to answer the question the disciples posed, “Surely you don’t mean me?” Reconciliation requires change and that is frightening; yet it the only way forward. During Lent the refrain from the song, “Man in the Mirror”, sums up this inward introspection beautifully, “I’m starting with the man in the mirror/I’m asking him to change his ways/And no message could have been any clearer/If you wanna make the world a better place/Take a look at yourself and then make a change.”

Let us join Jesus at the rock and pray for the courage to change by reconciling our lives with God. This God who brought Jesus from his great ordeal to the day of resurrection and will bring us from the death of sin to a new life of grace. As the psalmist writes in Psalm 103, “He has not dealt with us according to our sins/nor rewarded us according to our wickedness./For as the heavens are high above the earth/so is his mercy great upon those who fear him./As far as the east is from the west,/so far has he removed our sins from us./As a father cares for his children so does the LORD care for those who fear him.”


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

February 20, 2018

Tuesday after the First Sunday in Lent

When it was evening, he came with the twelve. And when they had taken their places and were eating, Jesus said, ‘Truly I tell you, one of you will betray me, one who is eating with me.’ They began to be distressed and to say to him one after another, ‘Surely, not I?’ He said to them, ‘It is one of the twelve, one who is dipping bread into the bowl with me. For the Son of Man goes as it is written of him, but woe to that one by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been better for that one not to have been born.’ Mark 14:17-21


One thought I have each Lent is how often the focus is on the “one” who betrayed Jesus. But reading between the lines, every one of the twelve were, in all likelihood, dipping their bread in the bowl as well as Judas, and all of them abandoned Jesus at the end of his earthly life. I find Lent puts the reader into the story, and forces us confront the realities that make us most uncomfortable. When did we see someone arrested unjustly? When did we see someone in trouble and run scared? When did we sell someone out for money? Our actions matter. The practice of being at the Eucharist each week takes on a new immediacy as we realize that we eat and drink with Jesus at least each Sunday, and then betray him throughout the week. This realization is not a guilt trip, but an opportunity to love and serve the Lord and recommit to the radical table fellowship we share, in worship, with one another.


Lord God of our Fathers: God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ: Open our eyes to see your hand at work in the world about us. Deliver us from the presumption of coming to this Table for solace only, and not for strength; for pardon only, and not for renewal. Let the grace of this Holy Communion make us one body, one spirit in Christ, that we may worthily serve the world in his name. Amen.


The Rev. Michael Giansiracusa
Saint Mary’s, Ardmore

February 18, 2018

The First Sunday in Lent

In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. He was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him.Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.” Mark 1:9-15


Lent is a season spent in the wilderness. In the Bible, “the wilderness” is thought to be a very remote and desolate place where people can get lost. It’s a place of danger. A place you shouldn’t travel alone. It’s a place where God’s people have always had to be lead OUT of, like the Israelites following the Exodus. And yet here we are—being lead INTO the wilderness of Lent just as Jesus was lead into the wilderness by the Holy Spirit after being baptized.

We might ask the question: why? Why spend a whole 40 days in a wilderness of fasting, in self denial, in prayer? Why follow the Spirit into a place of discomfort? Part of the answer comes from comparing the life of Jesus with the culture of today. We live in a time where the “wildernesses” are more dangerous than ever. Millions of advertising dollars are spent trying to get us to believe that we are not as happy, healthy, or whole as we could be if we but purchased whatever new product they are pushing. It is a wilderness of instant gratification that leads to debt and regret. Social media lets people portray a false front of perfectionism that has lead to a loneliness and depression. Every news cycle seems to bring a parade of racism, sexism, and injustice. A wilderness of human pain and despair. These wildernesses really are something to fear.

Yet, the wilderness we enter in Lent is a different kind of wilderness. It’s a time to simplify and be lead out of the wildernesses of society into a wilderness of self-discovery of our identity in God. It’s a time when we strip away all the excess stuff in our life that makes us nearly numb with comfort. It’s a time when we can admit that our lives are not perfect, but that we are not alone in Christ. It’s a time when we can look at the world in love so that we might be renewed in the hope that we can help God change it. These were the lessons Jesus learned, and it’s what we are invited to learn as well in Lent. We are lead by the Spirit into the wilderness. Let us journey with Jesus knowing that he will lead the way.


Almighty God, whose blessed Son was led by the Spirit to be tempted by Satan: Come quickly to help us who are assaulted by many temptations; and, as you know the weaknesses of each of us, let each one find you mighty to save; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.


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

February 15, 2018

Thursday after Ash Wednesday

Now while Jesus was in Bethany at the house of Simon the leper, reclining at the table, a woman came with an alabaster jar of costly aromatic oil from pure nard. After breaking open the jar, she poured it on his head. But some who were present indignantly said to one another, “Why this waste of expensive ointment? It could have been sold for more than three hundred silver coins and the money given to the poor!” So they spoke angrily to her.   Mark 14:3-5


William Law, in his book A Serious Call to a Devout and Holy Life, sums up the essence of the Christian life in the following words, “This, and this alone, is Christianity, a universal holiness in every part of life, a heavenly wisdom in all our actions, not conforming to the spirit and temper of the world but turning all worldly enjoyments into means of piety and devotion to God.” In following this universal holiness, Jesus dismisses the anger of his followers with the woman when he offers her the freedom to live out her piety extravagantly. Lent reminds us as Christians that we are to freely give our alabaster jar of costly oil to God and others. All we do can integrate “a heavenly wisdom” which detaches from “the spirit and temper of the world.” Our “worldly enjoyment” can become pious acts if we ask ourselves, “How does what I am about to do glorify God?” The woman who used her costly oil to glorify God knew the men might speak angrily to her. Nevertheless, her pious action was well placed simply because she glorified God. So how do we as Christians apply a “universal holiness in every part of life?” What a worthy reflection.


The Rev. Tim Gavin
The Episcopal Academy

Piety in an Impious Age

The Challenge and Opportunity of Lent

In the Ash Wednesday liturgy from the Book of Common Prayer, the priest invites the congregation “to the observance of a holy Lent, by self-examination and repentance; by prayer, fasting, and self-denial; and by reading and meditating on God’s holy Word.” There was a time when the Church took this invitation very seriously. We saw in Lent an opportunity to reclaim our faith in practical ways. This inclination has become less common. In 2014, the Barna group discovered that while 72 percent of U.S. adults were “aware” of Lent, only 17 percent planned to observe it in any meaningful way. There are probably many reasons for this loss of interest in Lent. For one, we are so obsessed with the idea of self-improvement that the central conceit of the season, that we are wholly dependent on God’s grace, seems irrelevant to us. Thus, for many of us, Lenten disciplines have become “New Year’s Resolutions 2.0,” a chance to recommit to whatever self-improvement scheme we abandoned during the doldrums of January instead of an opportunity to recommit to our faith. Perhaps more significantly, we live in a culture that regards any spiritual practice skeptically. By our society’s standards, the idea of devoting ourselves to prayer or the study of Scripture feels like a waste of time. All of this begs the question: why should we heed the invitation to a “holy Lent”? What does it mean to read and meditate on God’s holy word and engage in prayer, fasting, and self-denial in our increasingly secular society?

Il_Pordenone_-_San_Marco_-_BudapestThe answer to these questions can be found in the gospel according to Mark. Once considered the “black sheep” among the evangelists, Mark has undergone something of a renaissance over the past few decades. Historically, scholars dismissed the shortest gospel because it appears to be a mere summary of its counterparts. Recently, however, Christians have begun to rediscover the distinctive and eloquent witness of Mark’s gospel. No longer considered a “black sheep,” Mark has taken his rightful place as one of the true geniuses of the Christian canon. The gospel according to Mark provides a unique and riveting account of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. More importantly, it speaks powerfully to today’s Church. More than any other evangelist, Mark’s gospel is suffused with a profound awareness that the good news of Jesus Christ represents a significant disruption of the status quo. Moreover, the gospel according to Mark challenges us to live lives shaped by what God has accomplished through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Like Mark’s gospel, Lent disrupts and challenges us. It forces us out of our self-centered, impatient routines and invites us to look at the world in a new way. In this spirit, the Merion Deanery will be using the season of Lent to explore the ways the gospel according to Mark speaks to us today. Every day, one of the clergy of the Deanery will offer a reflection on an excerpt from the Passion Narrative in Mark’s gospel. These meditations on the events leading to Jesus’ crucifixion and death will help us appreciate the gospel’s true power. Indeed, these reflections will reveal that heeding the invitation to a “holy Lent” can transform our experience of the world. We hope you will make this journey through Mark’s Passion part of your Lenten discipline and consider how this holy season and Mark’s unique perspective can shape our lives of faith.