It’s Holy Saturday and I’m supposed to be quietly waiting for Easter, focused specifically on the darkness of the tomb and the cost off the cross. Instead, I’m thinking about how grateful I am for the services yesterday, especially the long vigil we held from noon to 3pm.
The clergy and good folks at St James Episcopal Church in Potomac opened their hearts and minds to a new vigil exercise, different from previous years. Together as a community we followed the readings of the fourteen stations of the Biblical Way of the Cross as designed by the late Pope John Paul II. These fourteen stations are all built upon scripture instead of upon a mix of scripture and tradition. They are also accompanied by some amazing prayers!
As we read, prayed and sang through the stations many volunteers placed pieces of a tableau at the altar for each one. At the end we had an installation of greenery, signs and elements of the crucifixion, each related to the passages we read. In the final station we placed a corpus upon the altar, a representation of the wrapped and buried body of Christ.
Let me say honestly, a three hour vigil is a long time, wearying and taxing. I have such respect for my clergy colleagues (Meredith and Mary Margaret) who stood, vested and focused, for the lion’s share of three hours of liturgy and stations, just to uncomfortably kneel the rest of the time. I was on my feet as well, but I was at the back of the sanctuary directing the placement of the tableau pieces. I had a chair handy, but stood in solidarity with those on stage.
I have heard good things from some who haven’t worked together to make such a tableau before, and I’m so happy that the images and art spoke to them. I am most moved by what we did for the stations in which Peter betrays Jesus and then later when Jesus forgives the criminal on the cross… we had a familiar image, a Sacred Heart of Jesus, which was made to be broken in two at Peter’s denial and then put back together at the moment Jesus forgives the dying criminal: a broken heart, and a healthy active heart.
What a blessing. I am so grateful to have shared the time with the amazing souls at St James, grateful for the legacy of selfless love and devotion we find in Christ. I am so blessed by God’s church. Easter will be that much sweeter in joy and celebration after such a rich Good Friday.
Have a great Easter Sunday, beloved!
Sitting behind the altar yesterday, having received the ashes and having imposed the ashes for others, I found a quiet moment to flip over to a prayer in our Book of Common Prayer…
Prayers for the Church
7. For the Church
Gracious Father, we pray for thy holy Catholic Church. Fill it
with all truth, in all truth with all peace. Where it is corrupt,
purify it; where it is in error, direct it; where in any thing it is
amiss, reform it. Where it is right, strengthen it; where it is in
want, provide for it; where it is divided, reunite it; for the sake
of Jesus Christ thy Son our Savior. Amen.
Book of Common Prayer pg. 816
This prayer touched me, on the first day of Lent, in the wake of the recent divisive decisions and news from the United Methodist Church, in the context of the Church of Rome and many others finally facing up to sexual sins they have worked so hard to hide for so long… and I prayed it sincerely.
In case you don’t know, when Episcopalians pray or speak of the Catholic Church we mean the whole of the Church in all places and times, not just the Church of Rome. The word Catholic comes to us from the Greek katholikos which is a combination of kath and holo, throughout and whole.
The prayer resonated with me as a needed reminder that we must resist the mistake of equating the church with God, just as we must always remember that our beloved scriptures are not God. When the church fails, God has not. When scriptures fail, God has not. But it still hurts. In daily life it’s too easy to look to what can be seen or touched for our compass and foundation. And when those foundations shake, we fall apart. When our compass fails to point a way from pain to healing, we despair.
As I begin this year’s Lenten journey I’m feeling called to pray for more than my own transformation, but also for a transforming of the church, all of us, throughout the whole. We have fumbled with truths that should have been held tightly. We’ve too often exchanged peace for power. We’ve ignored our neighborly responsibility to this world and its people. Reform us, God! Please, heal the hurting!
This morning I pray that our Mothering God would teach us to have broken and pliable hearts. I pray that the Holy Spirit, the spiritual presence of God living within each of us, would give us her wisdom and a deeper joy. I pray that Christ would truly be our spiritual food and daily sustenance, the One who animates us as we speak and act. I pray that the whole church throughout all of humanity will be courageous in its love and humble its following of the God who breaks down the barriers between us and frees us to love and serve one another. This is my Lenten prayer.
A week ago I was blessed to preach again at St John’s Norwood Episcopal Church and I invited everyone to join me on an exercise, to begin each day with gratitude praying with the Book of Common Prayer on pg. 836… A General Thanksgiving. In case you don’t have a BCP, I’ll include the prayer here, and I invite you to read it aloud. It’s also available in the online version of the BCP…
Accept, O Lord, our thanks and praise for all that you have
done for us. We thank you for the splendor of the whole
creation, for the beauty of this world, for the wonder of life,
and for the mystery of love.
We thank you for the blessing of family and friends, and for
the loving care which surrounds us on every side.
We thank you for setting us at tasks which demand our best
efforts, and for leading us to accomplishments which satisfy
and delight us.
We thank you also for those disappointments and failures
that lead us to acknowledge our dependence on you alone.
Above all, we thank you for your Son Jesus Christ; for the
truth of his Word and the example of his life; for his steadfast
obedience, by which he overcame temptation; for his dying,
through which he overcame death; and for his rising to life
again, in which we are raised to the life of your kingdom.
Grant us the gift of your Spirit, that we may know him and
make him known; and through him, at all times and in all
places, may give thanks to you in all things. Amen.
My hope was that intentionally beginning each day with gratitude would help orient me toward seeing things each day in which I could give more thanks, and I would be better able to fend off the things which would move me toward ingratitude, spite or anger.
My reflections on the week include my joy and deep gratitude for my wife, with whom I often shared this prayer in the morning. I also reflected how she is in a season of accomplishment at her work, and we are constantly delighted by her reaching new goals and heights in her efforts at work and school. And I think I felt a deep connection to the community of Christ, not only in the Episcopal tradition, but in a broader sense, to the community of souls who see God’s love and touch in both the ups and downs of daily life.
I’ve decided to keep this up for another week. Want to go along? I lack the discipline to be doing this at the same time each morning, but at some point in each morning I make time to read and center myself in all of God’s goodness in my life. I’d love to hear of your practice and any reflections after the week!
You know, there’s not anything huge on my mind at the moment, but it feels like a good time to throw this out. StickerMule, my fav company that I use to make my custom pins and stickers sent me a deal this week to make 50 stickers for $19 and I thought, “Hmmmmm, what would I say on a sticker right now?”
This is what came bubbling up… “I support, love, need, appreciate, include, welcome, admire and will defend my LGBTQ friends, family and neighbors because I’m a Christian.” Not in spite of my faith, but fully from within it. We find ourselves in a time in our country when certain people within the Christian faith are taking the time and opportunity to speak out against these friends, family and neighbors, with renewed vigor and probably energized at least in part by our current Administration in the White House.
This trend really bums me out, but that’s almost all the power it has over me, to bum me out. The trend is far more detrimental to anyone who finds themselves on an LGBTQ journey in life. And if anyone finds themselves sidelined or excluded by those Christians, please know that they are not the sum total of our voice, faith or heart for you.
What trending am I talking about? Well there’s the Trump Administration’s targeting of Transgender military service members. And not because they have neglected their duty or underperformed in their service in any way… simply because they are Transgender. In my own church family a local Episcopal Bishop in his state has defied our decision as a national church to fully honor the dignity and right of all people to have access to full participation in the church and its rites. And there seems to be no end to spiteful signs waved in the name of Christ.
So yeah, I love you. I admire your courage to own the journey behind you and to face the journey ahead of you. You should be included because you are a valuable part of the human whole. And no, the Bible is not your enemy, and neither are Christians… at least, they shouldn’t be. So please know you’re welcome in my life, my faith and my journey, not because you necessary need me, but because I need you. Hang in there and we’ll work together to make the best of 2019 for all people.
To start off the new year of 2019, and in recognition that I need this so badly right now, I’ve worked on a simple novena with the Holy Spirit. I welcome anyone who would like to join me for the next nine days and I’d love to hear about your experience!
What is a Novena? The short answer is that a novena is a nine day stretch of special prayer emphasis. This is an ancient Christian practice which is connected to many things including a traditional count of nine days between Christ’s Ascension and the day of Pentecost in the lives of the Apostles, and even a pre-Christian period of mourning and prayer in Roman culture. There’s nothing magical about a novena, or the number nine, and it surely cannot put any obligation on God. It is prayer, and as such God hears us and loves us. Prayer changes us by helping us stay focused and in tune with God, and this novena practice is simply a method of prayer.
With this novena we’ll look into some scriptures, a new passage each day, but we aren’t doing scholarly theological work. We’ll look into these holy words for inspiration and encouragement. We’ll see how these scriptures illuminate the work of God’s Spirit to bind us together into a whole, with one another and with the Divine.
Here’s the plan, in two easy pieces, 1) Morning & 2) The Rest of the Day:
MORNING: (or morning’ish if you get busy) Begin each day by reading its passage and the very short reflection, and then use the following prayer, changing it to reflect your own faith and experiences if you’d like, to begin a time of prayer. The whole morning exercise might be ten minutes long.
“Holy Spirit, here I am. I would draw nearer to you,
nearer to my God and nearer to my Savior Christ.
I would be more fully present with my family, friends and neighbors.
Help me be the person you would make of me.
Through Christ. Amen.”
DAY-NIGHT: Throughout the rest of the day, let the passage and your prayers go with you. Reflect on them when you can. If anything comes to your mind or heart, you can journal those notes to keep them. If you’d like, feel free to read the passage again and pray as often as you like. As you go to bed, give a few minutes of prayer to reconnect with God in gratitude for the day and hope for tomorrow.
Easy peazy, right? I’ll be doing this for the next nine days, January 1-9, and I invite you along for the ride. Again, I’d love to hear about your experience with this novena practice. Be well, beloved, and Happy New Year!
Spirit of Life – Galatians 5:22-26 “By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also be guided by the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, competing against one another, envying one another.”
We begin with this beautiful metaphor of the way that opening ourselves up to the Spirit of God can change us. The best things are grown from our hearts and minds when we allow the Spirit to change our hearts and minds. Can I imagine God transforming me to show and to share more love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control in an often hurting world?
Spirit of Community – Ephesians 2:13-22 “But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us. He has abolished the law with its commandments and ordinances, that he might create in himself one new humanity in place of the two, thus making peace, and might reconcile both groups to God in one body through the cross, thus putting to death that hostility through it. So he came and proclaimed peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near; for through him both of us have access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone. In him the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord; in whom you also are built together spiritually into a dwelling place for God.”
In Christ our racial and national divisions are made inconsequential. God’s Spirit would grow us together, removing barriers and binding us to one another. Am I open to less hostility in my life, open to more peace between myself and all my neighbors, and open to being together with people not like me?
Spirit of Service – Romans 12:1-8 “I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect. For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of yourself more highly than you ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. For as in one body we have many members, and not all the members have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members one of another. We have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us: prophecy, in proportion to faith; ministry, in ministering; the teacher, in teaching; the exhorter, in exhortation; the giver, in generosity; the leader, in diligence; the compassionate, in cheerfulness.”
Has the Spirit called me to ministry? To service? Have I felt at times that I have a gift? This is all for the building up of our community of faith. Have I worked to move my ego aside and desired to be put to service for others around me?
Spirit of Diversity & Unity – 1 Corinthians 12:4-12 “Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. To one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the discernment of spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. All these are activated by one and the same Spirit, who allots to each one individually just as the Spirit chooses. For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.”
The Spirit seems to be a powerful player among us, enabling us for ministry and communal service. We aren’t all made to be alike, but in diversity we are made to be one whole. Have I appreciated all the people around me who are not gifted as I am or talented in the things I enjoy and have pursued? Have I told them?
Spirit of Hope – John 14:25-27 “I have said these things to you while I am still with you. But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.”
Jesus spoke these words to the apostles about the coming of The Spirit. Have I sought The Spirit’s presence for wisdom, truth and peace? Am I more focused these days on things which blind my wisdom, hide the truth and steal my peace?
Spirit of Strength – Romans 8:24-27 “For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience. Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words. And God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.”
Does it help to know that The Spirit is praying with us, even when we can’t hear those prayers? Does it help to know that our weakness is not a sign of or cause of God’s absence, but our weakness is actually an open door for God’s Spirit and presence in our lives and struggles?
Spirit of Renewal – Titus 3:3-5 “For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, despicable, hating one another. But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of any works of righteousness that we had done, but according to his mercy, through the water of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit.”
I have to admit that I often feel like I am still quite stuck in life dominated by thoughts and habits very foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, despicable, hating… So, can I pray with an extra depth, “O Spirit of God, renew me!”
Spirit of Freedom – 2 Corinthians 3:17-18 “Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.And all of us, with unveiled faces, seeing the glory of the Lord as though reflected in a mirror, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord, the Spirit.”
In a time when organized religion is not always associated with freedom, but sometimes with oppression and captivity, can I revel in the freedom of the Spirit? Can I gift that freedom to others around me, loving them and serving them with a whole heart?
Spirit of Presence – Acts 2:1-4 & 14-18 “When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability… But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them, “Men of Judea and all who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and listen to what I say. Indeed, these are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only nine o’clock in the morning. No, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel: ‘In the last days it will be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams. Even upon my slaves, both men and women, in those days I will pour out my Spirit; and they shall prophesy.”
Have I had any dreams or visions in this novena time? Have I heard God? Have I felt the Spirit? Have I grown in my desire to know God’s Spirit? It’s not always like we think it should be, and the apostles were even considered drunk when the Spirit was poured out on the world and they spoke in all those languages. Maybe I’m expecting one thing and God is doing something else?
After the Novena:
Is there an insight you want to carry forward? Write it down, pray over it and share it with others in your faith community. And I’d love to hear about your experience! All to God’s glory and the benefit of the earth. Amen.