Monday, March 31, 2008

The Proper of the Day: St. Joseph

The Feast of St. Joseph, patron of the Universal Church, is scheduled for March 21 in the Episcopal Church's calendar, but this year that was Good Friday, so it was transferred to the first open date after the Second Sunday of Easter, or today. I like St. Joseph because of the poignancy in which Matthew and Luke recount what he did. In Matthew, he "did the right thing" by his fiancee Mary, and in Luke he's unnamed in today's Gospel but is concerned, along with Mary, when Jesus isn't in the traveling group coming back down from Jerusalem. And it's telling that Jesus "went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them." What a wonderful example of the young Jesus, who in Luke's Gospel has at least some inkling of his own identity, of a contribution to family life!

I'm reminded of the novel Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt, by Anne Rice. This is her fictional account of how Jesus and his family came back from Egypt after Joseph took them there to hide from King Herod. There are some wonderful family moments in the novel, highly imaginative, that I think captured a good spirit of how the family might have related. I just discovered that Christ the Lord: the Road to Cana has just been published in hardback. I might have to get it once it comes in paperback. I enjoyed Rice's first novel in this series, and especially how she came back to the Roman Catholic Church and was inspired to write this series through her faith. I will proably want to reread it before I get the next one.

Update after Evening Prayer: The Second Lesson for this Evening is Ephesians 3:14-21. My Harper-Collins Study Bible has an interesting footnote to the word "family" in verse 15. It notes that in the Greek the word is "fatherhood" or πατρια ("patria"). It's obviously a completely appropriate passage to use on the Feast of St. Joseph, in that the sense of the verse is "I bow my knees to the Father, from whom all fatherhood in heaven and earth is named." St. Joseph, after all, served as step-father to Jesus. And yet all the major English translations, going back to the King James Version, render the word "patria" in this verse as "family." So there's a long tradition of translating this verse, in English at least, quite differently, even in times when awareness of inclusivity was not common at all. There's obviously more to this than I am qualified to discern, otherwise I would assume even the KJV would have rendered the word as "fatherhood."

O God, who from the family of your servant David raised up Joseph to be the guardian of your incarnate Son and the spouse of his virgin mother: Give us grace to imitate his uprightness of life and his obedience to your commands; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.


Sunday, March 30, 2008

Play Ball!

Opening day is today, with Atlanta visiting Washington. My Fantasy Baseball draft was yesterday, and the 2008 edition of RFSJuniors is now playing, with a link in the sidebar. Once again I own Tim Hudson, who is opening pitcher this evening for Atlanta.

In honor of Opening Day, something from Peanuts (click to enlarge):


Sunday Funnies

Don't let my Executive Committee see this one....
(Click on any image to enlarge)

No one has come up to me yet while I'm wearing my collar....

It's always right under your nose....

So that's where they come from....

Well, take it from a (former) New Yorker who still misses the City - there really is something for everyone!


The Proper of the Day: The Second Sunday of Easter

This Sunday is always the conclusion of the Octave of Easter, the Day of Resurrection itself and the seven days following. The Gospel is always the encounter of Jesus and Thomas (our Patron!) in the locked room. It's a great story and always full of meaning. Here is my offering for this day:

St. Thomas’ Episcopal Church, Vernon
The Second Sunday of Easter 2008 (BCP)
Acts 2:14a, 22-32; Ps 118:19-24; 1 Peter 1:3-9; John 20-19-31
The Rev. R. F. Solon, Jr., Vicar

May the words of my mouth, and the meditations of our hearts, be always acceptable to you, O Lord our Strength and our Redeemer.

It’s rare that the passage of time in the Gospel matches the passage of time in real life. It happens in Holy Week, of course. We enter in to the Triduum, the Three Days beginning Thursday night through Sunday, in much the same time sequence as how the passion narratives relate them. Notably, all four Gospels observe in almost exactly the same language, that very early on the first day of the week, various individuals discovered that the tomb was opened and that Jesus was not there. There are a few other days this happens, including the Ascension, forty days after Easter, which is May 1 this year, and Pentecost, fifty days after Easter, May 11. And finally, today as well. John recounts that a week after Easter, or today, Jesus appeared a second time to the disciples behind closed doors. The first time, Thomas, our beloved patron, was not there, but he was the second time. And that, for better or for worse, is where poor Thomas gets the nickname “Doubting Thomas.”

I don’t know about you, but I guess I have a problem with that nickname. Thomas wasn’t there the first time that Jesus appeared to the disciples. So when they said to him, “yeah, we were all there behind locked doors so the authorities wouldn’t find us, and all of a sudden Jesus was there too!” I can see Thomas saying, “Uh, right. What spices did you use in that lamb you had that night? How much wine did you drink?” To be fair to Thomas, the disciples didn’t believe Mary Magdalene either when she told them that she had seen the Lord. And we don’t call them the Doubting Disciples. So I think Thomas got a bit of a bad rap.

And you know what? I think John may have thought so too. When Thomas is present a week later, same as today, Jesus appears again and immediately invites Thomas to do what he had said he needed to do. He showed Thomas his hands and his side, the wounds of the Crucifixion, and asked Thomas to inspect them. And then Thomas says, “My Lord and My God!”

That’s truly an amazing thing for John to have Thomas say. In one brief sentence Thomas, the so-called doubter, utters the climactic confession of who Jesus is, in the entire Fourth Gospel. He definitively proclaims Jesus as not only Lord but also as God himself. No other human being in this Gospel gets that singular honor in quite the same way. So it seems to me that Thomas should be called The Confessor rather than The Doubter.

But there’s more to this story, as if that weren’t enough. We hear this very passage every year on the Second Sunday of Easter. There’s a very good reason for that. We Christians make the shocking claim that the man Jesus is, as Thomas described him, both Lord and God. It was just as difficult to accept back then as perhaps it is now. Because we really do mean that. We really do confess that there was a human being who was both human and divine, that that no one else was ever like him, and that because of him, our separation from God who creates all things is ended. One of the reasons we have this story on this day every year is because it asks us to stop and think. Do we really believe what we’ve been saying? Is this really who we believe this Jesus to be? Are we sure?

It’s easy to get swept up in the emotion and grandeur of first Holy Week and then the Great Vigil and Easter Sunday itself. Our liturgies are designed in part to do exactly that. But that was last week. We’ve had a week to calm down and think things through, to go back perhaps and examine those passages of scripture, those hymns. What do we mean but all of that? Do we believe? And in what?

In John’s gospel, “belief” is more like trust and not so much like intellectual assent. So for Jesus to say, “do not doubt, but believe” is more like saying, “It’s OK - trust in what you see.” Jesus was telling Thomas that no, his eyes were no deceiving him and that yes, it really was Jesus standing there. And Jesus says the same thing to us. “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” In other words, so what if you haven’t seen exactly what Thomas and the other Eleven saw in the locked room nearly two thousand years ago. That’s OK. What do you see and hear and taste and smell and feel, right now? Those sensations are real and you are blessed when you trust in them.

And what do you see and hear and taste and smell and feel? I’ll tell what I sense when I open my eyes and ears and heart. I see a community of Christians gathered in honor of this very apostle. I see a community that reaches out to those less fortunate, especially in the Interfaith Hospitality Network and the other feeding ministries we support. I hear a community when it says it’s important to not only worship, but to serve. The Hiker Hostel is a wonderful and unique ministry that we will want and need to continue and strengthen. Along with you, I hear the Word and taste and smell the Body and Blood of our Risen Lord every Sunday at this Altar around which we gather. And I feel my heart opening with the warmth and love that you have for each other. And because of all that, I trust in what I observe about this place and this community. I join with our blessed patron in saying “My Lord and My God” because I can see and hear and taste and touch the Lord all around me.

My friends, I think Jesus was very clear that it’s OK to doubt, to question, to not be exactly sure. Jesus doesn’t ask us to sign on a dotted line and affirm a long list of theological propositions about himself. And neither does the Epsicopal Church. When we, in just a few minutes, recite that ancient statement of faith, the Nice Creed, we start with the same words that Jesus uses: “We believe.” In other words, we trust. We trust in the reality of God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. And we trust in what we sense in this community when our hearts open to the reality of Jesus in and among us here at St. Thomas’s. The opposite of faith is not doubt. The opposite of faith is certainty. Certainty doesn’t need trust to get along. Faith does. When we become so certain in the ideas and statements we assent to, that we don’t actually need the reality of Jesus anymore, then we have actually ceased believing altogether.

So this week, I invite you to join with Thomas our patron and use all your senses to seek the Lord. Schedule a few minutes each day to spend some time with yourself. It could be, like Thomas, behind a literal closed door. Or it could just be a time for yourself when other distractions are lessened. It doesn’t have to be a long time. Maybe while you’re shaving or going to work or on the bus to school or doing chores. How do you see Christ now in your life? How do you hear him and feel him and touch him? Are there ways you seem you don’t sense Jesus that you find you need? Areas in other words, which you doubt, where you find it difficult to trust in what you are actually sensing? It’s perfectly fine if there are. Thomas, after all, needed to touch Jesus in order to come to faith. Jesus met Thomas right where Thomas was and gave him just what he needed. As you examine your own faith this week, ask Jesus to help you where you need help. Do you need to see Jesus? Touch him? Hear him? Feel him? If you find these – perhaps I should say, when you find them, because we all have a bit of Thomas in each of us – don’t feel ashamed or dismayed. Jesus didn’t shame Thomas, after all. Individual faith, and the faith of the community, cannot grow, cannot strengthen, without understanding what things to work on, to invite Jesus to enter more fully into.

My friends, that’s the real faith that is the opposite of doubt. Not certainty. That’s merely false faith. But the faith that grows from questioning and wonder is true faith. That’s the faith that will enable each of us to show forth in our lives what we profess by our faith. Then our proclamation, along with St. Thomas our Patron, of “My Lord and My God” will be not only words, but real, something that people can see and touch and taste and feel in the world around us and around them. That’s the Good News, not only said with our words but lived out in our lives. Amen.

And for a worthy conclusion to these most holy days in the Christian year:

Almighty and everlasting God, who in the Paschal mystery established the new covenant of reconciliation: Grant that all who have been reborn into the fellowship of Christ's Body may show forth in their lives what they profess by their faith; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Christ is Risen! Alleluia!

Saturday, March 29, 2008

The Proper of the Day: Saturday of Easter Week

The Seventh Day of the Octave of Easter brings us to almost the end of the story of Peter and James and also the so-called "Longer ending" of the Gospel of Mark. The authorities try to censor Peter and James, who promptly said, "Well, too bad, because we have to keep speaking about what we have seen and heard." And this coming from uneducated Peter, fisherman, who before meeting Jesus might have only met his own rabbi at his own local synagague. What transformations God can perform in people!

The Gospel of Mark definitively ends only at 16:8. There are still 12 verses listed in most Bibles, but the New Revised Standard Version lists all of them as doubtful, in that the earliest manuscripts of Mark did not have them. In a way, it shouldn't be too surprising that editors and scribes would be uncomfortable with leaving Mark at verse 8: "So they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid." No witnessing of anything by anyone; simply sheer terror.

Here's the footnote the NRSV includes at verse 8: "Some of the most ancient authorities bring the book to a close at the end of verse 8. One authority concludes the book with the shorter ending; others include the shorter ending and then continue with verses 9-20. In most authorities verses 9-20 follow immediately after verse 8, though in some of these authorities the passage is marked as being doubtful."

Mark is considered by most scholars to be the earliest-written of the Gospel accounts. It's interesting to read Mark and the other Resurrection accounts. They are very different in various ways. If Mark indeed is the earliest, perhaps he simply didn't have some of the other stories that Matthew, Luke, and John did. Perhaps an editor borrowed liberally from other sources to "flesh out" the Gospel, feeling that it couldn't possibly by complete otherwise. If that happened, I wish he hadn't; verse 16:18 has been a trouble spot for those who take the entire Scripture literally. Here's a nice overview of what has been discovered about the Shorter and the Longer Endings of Mark.

More music from The Messiah for this day:

We thank you, heavenly Father, that you have delivered us from the dominion of sin and death and brought us into the kingdom of your Son; and we pray that, as by his death he has recalled us to life, so by his love he may raise us to eternal joys; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Christ is Risen! Alleluia!


Friday, March 28, 2008

Easter Funnies on Friday

What better day to publish some funnies than Friday of Easter Week?

Either someone is missing the point, or this is one of those "one-hand-clapping" questions that are the point....

Of course that's where they come from!

My choir is very good - I would never have to do this!

So typically NYC!

I just got a great chuckle out of this - I love primary colors, so this was great!


The Proper of the Day: Friday of Easter Week

Today, during our 8-day celebration of the Octave, we hear on this Friday of Easter Week more repercussions of the healing of the lame man by Peter and John - they are hauled before the Sanhedrin and called to account. And Peter did. "Filled with the Holy Spirit," Peter again testifies to Jesus' saving power. Now Acts is silent as to how long after Pentecost this took, but it can't have been more than weeks or months, it seems. So those chief priests, et. al., were pretty busy!

And then, after the Psalm, we hear my absolute favorite resurrection story: John's account of the Breakfast by the Sea. There are so many truly odd details it would be easy to get bogged down in them. 153 fish? Who counted and why? Why did Peter put clothes on to jump into the water? Why the right side of the net? Now John's Gospel is usually chock-full of allegory and other details, ausually the details of allegory are important to understanding the point of the story. In this case it seems that maybe the odd details, in their oddity, are meant to remind one of what's really important: Jesus himself prepared breakfast for his friends! To me, that is awe-inspiring and astonishing. The strange details here are perhaps like neon signs that suggest that something is worth sitting up for. A neon sign is cool in and of itself, but its true value is that it points to something else. "Come and have breakfast!" Of course, we get breakfast every Sunday when we come to the Table, but that one must have been sublime!

It's a bit harder to find appropriate music from The Messiah to match this Gospel, but here goes:

Almighty Father, who gave your only Son to die for our sins and to rise for our justification: Give us grace so to put away the leaven of malice and wickedness, that we may always serve you in pureness of living and truth; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Christ is Risen! Alleluia!

Thursday, March 27, 2008

The Proper of the Day: Thursday of Easter Week

On this Thursday of the Octave of Easter, we hear one of my favorite Resurrection stories, this time from Luke. the disciples are sitting around, and Jesus appears to them. some don't believe it's him - the text says they thought they were seeing a ghost. So he asks for some food, and it's a piece of fish, which he proceeds to eat. Broiled too. Interesting detail. I'm always fascinated by the seemingly random details that often pop up in the Gospels in particular. Are they significant? Some are, such as the names of the women specifically mentioned in the geneology of Jesus. Some might be, like the name of the slave whose ear Peter cut off in the Garden of Gethsemane. And other might not be, like this one. Perhaps it's whether we we can attach some theological significance to that detail at the moment or not. I confess that whether it's broiled or not does not seem to matter, although the Greek for the word is a hapax logomenon, a unique occurrence, in the entire Scriptural text. Often that does mean something, but sometimes it's just a word.

More Easter Music for today:

Almighty and everlasting God, who in the Paschal mystery established the new covenant of reconciliation: Grant that all who have been reborn into the fellowship of Christ's Body may show forth in their lives what they profess by their faith; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Christ is Risen! Alleluia!


Wednesday, March 26, 2008

More Easter Funnies

Ah, this explains many things (Click on any image to enlarge)!

I feel like lounging around myself this week - do you suppose there's a Manhattan nin that cup?

I'm impressed the cartoonist got both the reference to Lent and its length correct! And how many of us who fasted then binged when our Lenten fasts were over - I can totally relate:

Shades of the vicarage from a few weeks ago! Fortunately, there's been no water since and the guys have already come to clean it up. Thank you, Church Insurance!

I am soo not a morning person - there are days I totally feel like this:


The Proper of the Day: Wednesday of Easter Week

The Church continues to celebrate the Octave of Easter on this Wednesday of Easter Week. Today we hear the story of Peter and James and the lame man at the Beautiful Gate of the Temple, and then one of my most favorite passages, the appearance of Jesus on the road to Emmaus. The disciples asked themselves, "Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?" What a wonderful tribute to the power of Scritpure to point the way to the Word Incarnate! And then they the apostles back in Jerusalem told what had happened on the road, and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread.

For me, some of my most intimate encounters with other people have been with food, while breaking bread together. This most basic act of human fellowship becomes, for us, the means of not only encountering each other, but the means to encounter the Risen Lord as well. I have been strongly attracted to and interested in the Eucharist ever since I was rather young. I think that's one reason I discerned a call to ordained ministry. It is such a privilege to say the prayer over the gifts on behalf of the assembled congregation. I hope it never becomes rote for either me as presider or for those who assemble in Jesus' name.

My "home" parish, the parish that supported in my discernment toward ministry, is Christ Church Cathedral, Indianapolis. They have always used and still use real bread at all Sunday Eucharists, and it was there I think I finally made some of the connections between the bread we break and the Body of Christ. I guess I was and slow to pick up the symbolism, but I've always found it easier to understand the blessed bread as the Body of Christ than to be understand a small round tasteless host as being bread! So this Eastertide at St. Thomas's we're using real bread. We're working on various recipes because the crumbs can get to be a bit much. If anyone knows of any good recipes that aren't too crumbly, please let me know!

Here is a particularly apt movement from Part I of The Messiah for today:

O God, whose blessed Son made himself known to his disciples in the breaking of bread: Open the eyes of our faith, that we may behold him in all his redeeming work; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Christ is Risen!


Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Tuesday Evening Funnies

I've been accumulating several, so here we are, now that Holy Week is over:

Given the state of the economy recently, I thought this was apt:

Hmmmm. Spring training is in full, er, swing, and I really need to get my draft picks done:

I don't know why this appealed to me, but it did, enough so that I decided to show it. Anyone have any clue about it?

Christ is Risen!


The Proper of the Day: Tuesday of Easter Week

Today we continue the Octave of Easter with Tuesday of Easter Week. Today we hear the conclusion of Peter's sermon at Pentecost and hear (again) Mary's encounter with Jesus at the tomb from the Gospel of John.

(Today is not the Feast of the Annunciation this year; all Major Feasts falling in Holy Week or Easter Week are transferred to the open days after the Second Sunday of Easter; so next Monday is the Major Feast of St. Joseph [normally March 21, which was Good Friday this year] , and then next Tuesday is the Annunciation. PotD will observe both feasts in their, um, proper order!)

I've thought for a while that the conflicting details of the resurrection accounts must show that Jesus was in some sense quite different after he rose than before. Mary didn't recognize him at first, and neither did the disciples on the road to Emmaus. Perhaps it's like describing an elephant if you've never seen one; Jesus was so different in his resurrected body, yet similar to the unresurrected body, that people just couldn't get a grasp on what was happening.

More music for the Easter Octave here:

O God, who by the glorious resurrection of your Son Jesus Christ destroyed death and brought life and immortality to light: Grant that we, who have been raised with him, may abide in his presence and rejoice in the hope of eternal glory; through Jesus Christ our Lord, to whom, with you and the Holy Spirit, be dominion and praise for ever and ever. Amen.

Christ is Risen!


Monday, March 24, 2008

The Proper of the Day: Monday of Easter Week

In the Episcopal church, the entire week after Easter is celebrated as a series of Major Feasts. Originally called an "octave," meaning "eight," there were a lot of octaves observed at various times in the life of the Church, including the Octave of Christmas (12 days, really!) the Octave of Pentecost, and sometimes various octaves for saints of local veneration. But this is the only one remaining, which seems appropriate to me. Thus, today is Monday of Easter Week.

The First Lesson this week comes from Acts - it's a tradition during the Easter Octave and the Sundays of Eastertide to recount the early days of the Church in place of a selection from the Hebrew Scriptures. Thus, today is St. Peter's first public sermon, at Pentecost. And today's gospel has certain affinities with John's version as well, especially the phrase, "and they came to him, took hold of his feet, and worshipped him." Apparently, though, no confusion about who Jesuswas, a la Mary and the gardener.

I wonder if the details about securing the tomb by the temple police are made up or true?

Here's some more music from Part III of The Messiah in honor of the Octave:

Almighty and everlasting God, who in the Paschal mystery established the new covenant of reconciliation: Grant that all who have been reborn into the fellowship of Christ's Body may show forth in their lives what they profess by their faith; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Christ is risen!


Sunday, March 23, 2008

The Proper of the Day: The Feast of the Resurrection

This day is the Sunday of Sundays, the first of the Great Fifty Days of Easter, ending at Pentecost, the Fiftieth Day. On this day Christians celebrate the basic truth of our faith: Christ is Risen! We make the audacious claim that the man named Jesus of Nazareth was executed as a common criminal and then rose again from being dead three days later. We say that, in the Resurrection, not even death could separate Jesus, and us, from the love of God. From this simple statement comes all of our faith and worship and practice. And so this is the most solemn day of the year for us. All other days, and all other Sundays, take their model from this day. And so we rejoice as much as we can. Our Lenten Fast is ended, and the Great Pashcal Feast begins!

In honor of our Risen Savior, here's what I offered today at my parish:

St. Thomas’ Episcopal Church, Vernon

The Day of Resurrection 2008 (BCP)

Acts 10:34-43; Ps 118: 14-17, 22-24; Col 3:1-4; John 20:1-18

The Rev. R. F. Solon, Jr., Vicar

May these words be in the Name of Him Who Overcame Death and the Grave, Amen!

As some of you know, I moved into the very nice home that is part of the St. Thomas’s complex a week ago yesterday. I’m very fortunate because my commute to work is pretty easy. I know many of you have very long drives to work and so, believe me, I’m very grateful to not have very far to go at all. For the most part, the move went very well and I’m grateful for all the help that members of the parish offered both in Bayonne New Jersey, where I moved from, and on this end here in Vernon. The unloading of the truck was much easier than the loading, I noticed, and that was actually a good thing, since we were all pretty tired.

One of the things that was wasn’t so nice was that it took more than a week to arrange for internet service. Now, many of you know that my first line or work before ordained ministry was in information technology. I worked for a leading-edge technology research firm, and so we had excellent email and phone and broadband internet service. And those of us of a certain age pretty much take for granted that we will have it when we want it or need it. Now, admittedly, there are those like my brother, who have basically never not had the internet in their lives. I can still remember quite clearly that I didn’t get my first email account until after college. Now kids are getting them in sixth grade or even earlier, not to mention getting cell phones and all the rest of what goes along with the Internet age.

In a way, not having internet access during Holy Week was a blessing. It was good not to be distracted, and to be able to keep my heart and soul on what was important this past week. At the same time, it’s amazing how much I missed it. I really wanted to be able to read the newspaper online, and to get my funnies via email like I usually do, and to be able to do all the other things I’m used to doing when I have a good internet connection. I missed all that! And I wanted it back. Just like any effective fast, where one gives something up to help one’s spiritual life, this particular one definitely helped open my eyes to what I think might be important in my life and what actually is important. And I didn’t even do it deliberately – it was all because Service Electric doesn’t operate as quickly as I thought they should have! And to think that all that stuff I wanted so, is all just bits and bytes – not even real, just little ones and zeros in a bunch of computers somewhere, who knows where. It’s all virtual. You can’t touch it or feel it. And yet it has taken such a place of importance in my life!

I’m struck by the difference in what we encounter as Christians, and what the Internet offers. We’ve just moved through Holy Week. During this time we experienced in real life much of what we commemorate. Last Sunday we took real palms and entered Jerusalem with Jesus. On Thursday we used real water and washed each others’ feet in the very act of love that Jesus specifically asked us to do. On Friday many of us revered the cross of nails and wood, physically standing in front of us. We knelt in front of it and touched it. It was real and we could feel it. We even honor the Gospel with a real book and we bring it right in to the middle of the people when we read it. And today we will eat real bread and drink real wine. We will eat the real meal that Jesus asked to eat in his memory, just as we do on every Sunday.

We Christians are in to stuff – real stuff, that we can feel and touch and taste and see. . It’s not things that are out there or that only appear to be real – it’s right here among us. We’re into symbolism, sure. You can’t experience Holy Week without realizing that much of what we do is symbolic. But we use real stuff to do so. We don’t just talk about it or think about it. We do it. We use real things to announce the reality of what we know and trust. And the reason we are so into atoms and molecules and stuff, rather than merely bits and bytes and words, is that Jesus himself was real. He was real blood and bone and hair and teeth and all the rest. He really existed, with cells and DNA, and he took up space and experienced time. The fact that God himself became human had the effect of blessing, sanctifying, if you will, the entire created order. Because Jesus was human, we humans are holy too. But not only that. We glory in the fact that Jesus was really on earth, and that makes the entire earth and all of creation holy too. We Christians are so into matter, the stuff of creation, the real things that make up life, because Jesus was really present, was really human, really died and was really raised from the dead.

Just one example may help. Jesus tells Mary, “Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father.” It sounds like Mary may have perhaps grabbed hold of Jesus. She was physically touching him. It wasn’t some virtual thing. It was real. He was real, as real as she was. He talked to her. And apparently she had a good grip on him, too, enough that he had to tell her to let go. Our whole emphasis on reality stems from the truth that Jesus was a human being. Jesus, the Son of God in a way we can probably never completely understand, became human and suffered and died and was raised so that we might become divine and be with God.

All our focus on stuff, on the created order, is well and good. Jesus for a time occupied space and time right along with the rest of us. He wasn’t’ merely virtual. He didn’t just exist as some kind of avatar like in Facebook or Myspace. He really lived. And He really died too, because he was human. But he was not simply human, but more than human. When he died, death could not keep him. God raised him, to prove to Mary at the tomb and to us today, that Jesus, both human and divine, could not be bound by the laws of nature that bind us. And because death could not keep him from God, death cannot keep us from God either. There’s no reason to be ashamed of our humanness, because Jesus was human too. Not only that, we know, we trust, that just as Jesus was no longer separated from God, neither are we. The physicality of Jesus is our physicality too, and so we share in not only his death but also his rising again.

In the midst of all the problems that come from being real flesh and blood, of being atoms and molecules and all the stuff that makes us up, we can be certain that God loves us. God created us, after all, in God’s own image. Not only that, God sent Jesus to take on humanity as well. If God were ashamed of us or of our raw flesh-and-bone natures, do you think he would become one of us, right down to the DNA, in Jesus? But he did! And that’s the Good News of the Resurrection. In the Resurrection, God says, “Yes, Jesus is human and so he died. But Jesus is also my son and so he lives. And you are my children too and so you live as well!”

Our physical lives aren’t always easy. It’s hard being a human being, a creature of cells, organs, skin and flesh. And life for many of us hasn’t gotten much easier. Gas is really expensive. The economy is really weak. Jobs are difficult. We have problems with our loved ones. We get sick. We die. But we can be sure that in all our physicalness, Jesus is there too. God is right with us, in the good times and the bad. It may seem that God is not around, but never forget the that truth of the Resurrection is that Jesus was just like you and just like me – eyes and skin and hair and muscles and teeth and hands and feet and blood and everything. And Jesus is right here now, too. Not in a virtual way, like your friends who are only a click or a text message away over the Internet. Right here with us. Right now.

That’s why we gather in real time, not in the virtual world, but in reality. We come together because Christ came to us first. Our physical lives are made holy by his physical death and physical rising again. There’s nothing virtual about it. The internet is about virtual life – it doesn’t really exist. It’s hardly important. Jesus in the resurrection assures us that real life is really important – the good parts, as well as the not-so-good parts. It’s far more important than any virtual reality we may see on the internet. It’s not just our souls that God is interested in. It’s all of us. On this Day of Resurrection, remember that your real life is loved by God. Not as you could be. Not as you might be on the Internet. Not even as others see you. Those are all avatars, mere simulations. They’re all virtual. Reality is what counts. Reality is what Jesus came to redeem. Reality – you and me, with our ups and downs, with our joys and our sorrows , the messiness of life itself – that’s what Jesus redeems too. That’s you, and that’s me. As we get on with our real lives, we can know and trust that Jesus is right here with us, in our real lives. He is real, and his reality makes us real too. And that’s infinitely better than anything you can dream up on the Internet!


In honor of this day, a selection from the Messiah, one of my most favorite pieces of music:

Almighty God, who through your only-begotten Son Jesus Christ overcame death and opened to us the gate of everlasting life: Grant that we, who celebrate with joy the day of the Lord’s resurrection, may be raised from the death of sin by your life-giving Spirit; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.


Saturday, March 22, 2008

The Proper of the Day: The Great Vigil of Easter

Alleluia! Christ is Risen!
The Lord is risen indeed! Alleluia!

Our Lenten fast is over and we celebrate with the whole Church this night the Feast of the Resurrection of our Lord. I would quote from the Exultet, the ancient hymn of praise for the Paschal Candle and the New Light of Christ, but I do so below.....

St. Thomas’ Episcopal Church, Vernon

The Great Vigil of Easter 2008

The Rev. R. F. Solon, Jr., Vicar

In the Name of our Risen Lord. Alleluia!

I have a confession to make. I’m really shy, and I get anxious in new situations. I can clearly remember the first day of school after moving, and the first day of junior high, and especially high school. I was worried and nervous and unsure of myself of what was going to happen. I was really afraid of what people would think of me and what they might say. More than school, though, I can clearly recall the first day of work at each new job I’ve taken. There was so much to learn, so many forms to fill out. What if I did something wrong? What if they found out I really wasn’t as qualified as they thought? What if my boss or my co-workers hated me? All my anxieties piled up and I often had a headache by noon. Often, it wasn’t until weeks or months later that things started to make sense and started to come together in a coherent way.

I can distinctly remember one particular day, when I was driving in to work. I was a computer analyst working for the Department of Defense on a human resources computer system. Our software handled the payroll, personnel, and accounting for large parts of the Department. The business rules were very complicated, and I was unfamiliar with the technology. There was a great deal to come up to speed on, and even though there was a training program on the mainframe technology we used, my level of anxiety still was pretty high for what seemed like a long time. So one day I was driving into work and it suddenly clicked. I could suddenly see how the major pieces worked and how things fit together and what everything did. It was almost stunning how it happened so suddenly. One moment, I was in the dark, and in another moment, I was in the light. At least, that’s what it felt like. Maybe you’ve had moments like that in your work or in a group you belong to or in your education. It’s amazing how all of a sudden it all begins to make sense.

Those two ideas, remembering and light, are what we’re doing this evening. We started out Vigil in darkness, and we lit the New Fire of Easter. Now for most of human history, it was dangerous to let a fire or flame totally die out. Sometimes you couldn’t get it lit again. Flint and steel aren’t the easiest way to make a spark, and you have to have very flammable items around to catch that spark. So when our forebears in faith put out their lights – all of them – on Good Friday, they weren’t just making a symbolic gesture. There were really participating in the darkness that came over the land at the Crucifixion. So the lighting of the New Fire was truly a joyous occasion. That’s why we solemnly escorted our own new Easter light to the honored place it has now. We, too, are participating in the fact that Jesus, who rose from the dead, conquered not only death but darkness. That’s why we sing, with countless Christians of ages past, the festive, “The Light of Christ! Thanks be to God,” for the new light we have. Even though our own lights are available to use at the touch of a button, in our hearts we can remember how terrible and scary darkness really is.

We then took time to listen to our own sacred history, while we waited for the Easter proclamation. In ages past, the Church did a lot of vigils. The purpose of a vigil is to keep watch and to wait for something else that is about to happen. It’s a moment of transition from one state to honor. Squires who were about to become knights kept vigil with their swords all night in the church. Christians kept vigils on the eves of the major festivals of the year, like Pentecost, Christmas, and of course Easter. They could last all night. There would be long cycles of readings, Psalms, and prayers. No one was in a rush, because they couldn’t get there any more quickly. People would come and go as they needed to, but most settled in for the duration. People would get a little sleepy, they might doze off, but for the most part, they stayed all night, keeping watch and waiting. They wanted to make sure they were there for the beginning of the Easter celebration. It’s kind of like camping out to get tickets for a concert you really really want to see.

But not only that. The point of the vigil was to not only gather in anticipation, to look forward, but also to look back, to remember. We did that tonight. We recalled the poetic account of the creation of the whole universe by God’s hands. With Noah and his family, we watched the destructive power of water to ravage the earth. We were then witnesses to the Covenant of the Rainbow that God made, the covenant that would be extended into today with the action of our risen Lord. We, with the Israelites, escaped from the bondage of slavery into freedom, again at God’s mighty hand. We followed the Pillar of Fire through the waters of the Red Sea. Isaiah invited his hearers and us to the unending banquet of the Lord, the very same banquet of which we will partake in just a few minutes. And we exulted with Zephaniah at the glorious promises of restoration and wholeness that God made. We remembered where we have come from while waiting for the fullness of the New Light of Christ to come.

After that we took time to remember, still by the light of the Paschal Candle, the Pillar of Fire and Cloud, that we are children of God, adopted sons and daughters. As St. Paul reminded us, we are dead to sin and alive to God in the Resurrection of Jesus. We recalled in words our own personal covenants with God in Jesus, and then recalled in action our baptisms, as we were sprinkled with the water that can both ravage a world and can also cleanse us from sin.

And finally, it was time! The fortieth day of Lent was over! Sunset was upon us, which in both ancient Jewish and Christian tradition meant it was already the Third Day. And so, there was nothing left to do but proclaim the Easter Acclamation – Christ is Risen! Alleluia! And we continued our festive alleluia right through the Gospel, the Good News that announced that not even death could keep Jesus from God’s love. That means, too, that not even death can separate you and me from God’s love in Christ either.

This is the night, when God brought out our forebears in faith, the children of Israel, out of bondage in Egypt, and led them through the Red Sea on dry land!

This is the night when all who believe in Christ are delivered from the gloom of sin, and are restored to grace and holiness of life!

This is the night when Christ broke the bonds of death and hell, and rose victorious from the grave!

This is the night, my sisters and brothers, when it all comes together. This is the night which is the source of everything we do as Christians. All other Sundays, all of our feasts, all of our fasts, are merely stripped down versions of this night. And so, echoing with the triumphant voices of Christians for ages and ages, we proclaim again the ancient cry:

Christ is Risen! Alleluia!


The Proper of the Day: Holy Saturday

On this day the Church waits. I've always thought that Holy Saturday is under-appreciated. There is a Proper Liturgy for this day, but I don't think very many churches observe it, including my own. (Maybe next year). The tone of the Scriptures seems funereal to some degree, and at the Prayers of the People we recite "In the Midst of Life" instead. For myself, I find that verse five of Psalm 130, appointed for today, is most apt:

My soul waits for the Lord, more than watchmen for the morning *
more than watchmen for the morning.

As we wait for the third day, it's good to be reminded that Saturday has traditionally been a day for rest and relaxation, at least here in the US. Somehow, as all Sundays take their sense from the Great Sunday, the Day of Resurrection and its Vigil, I can see there's a way that all Saturdays can take their sense from Holy Saturday. Not as a day of mourning, because that really isn't the feel. Rather, it's a day of rest - a rest for the body of Jesus, and perhaps a rest for our own bodies as well.

O God, Creator of heaven and earth: Grant that, as the crucified body of your dear Son was laid in the tomb and rested on this holy Sabbath, so we may await with him the coming of the third day, and rise with him to newness of life; who now lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.


Friday, March 21, 2008

The Proper of Today: Good Friday

We continue the Paschal Triduum today with the Proper Liturgy of Good Friday. This liturgy is actually a continuation of last evening's worship. There was no dismissal last evening, and there will be none tonight. The Paschal Mystery doesn't end (ever, really) in our liturgies during these days until the triumphal sung Dismissal at the conclusion of the First Eucharist of Easter at the Vigil. Until then, the Church remains in contemplation and prayer over what has been done for us.

This is a bit of a risk because it could be a total bomb, but here's what I intend to preach this evening at St. Thomas's:

St. Thomas’ Episcopal Church, Vernon

Good Friday 2008 (RCL)

Isaiah 52:13-53:12; Ps 22; Hebrews 10:16-25; John 18:1 – 19:42

The Rev. R. F. Solon, Jr., Vicar

May these words be in the Name of the Crucified One, Jesus Christ our Savior.

“We pray, therefore, for people everywhere according to their needs.”

That’s the conclusion of the bidding that we will hear in just a few minutes to invite us to pray together the Solemn Collects, the prayers appointed specifically for Good Friday. A “collect” is a prayer that collects the thoughts of those praying it. In a few minutes we will offer a series of these collects, that, together with the Passion Gospel, make up the heart of our worship for this day. Notice what the entire introduction, called the bidding, of this series of prayers suggests to us:

“Dear People of God, Our heavenly Father sent his Son into the world, not to condemn the world, but that the world through him might be saved; that all who believe in him might be delivered from the power of sin and death, and become heirs with him of everlasting life.

“We pray, therefore, for people everywhere according to their needs.”

The key word is “therefore.” We are about to pray on behalf of, as you will see, a long list of people, because first of all, God sent Jesus to us and to the whole world. God in Jesus made it possible for us poor human beings to become heirs with Christ of everlasting life. As a result, we therefore pray for others, that they too might receive this same salvation.

Notice what we’re doing in response to hearing again the Passion, the narrative of the suffering and death of Jesus the Christ. We pray. We pray for the church, for the world and those in authority, those who are suffering in any way, those who do not know Jesus as Lord, and finally only at the end for our own selves, last and definitely least in the order of things. There’s a definite focus to our worship today. It isn’t primarily sadness or grief. Certainly there is a great deal of emotion on this day. And grief or regret may be part of what you are feeling. The Passion Gospel is nothing if not dramatic, and it can evoke all kinds of reactions. But what our liturgy asks us to do in direct response to that Gospel is not to look inward, but to look outward. How do we do that in the midst of our worship? We can’t just leave and come back, although that is certainly the right attitude. And so we pray. We pray specifically for others. If you look carefully, you will notice we pray for the same groups and people as we do every Sunday when we gather.

This evening, though, we pray for a very special reason. We pray because Jesus on the Cross prayed first. He prayed for us, and his prayer was the prayer of his own entire self, his body and soul and spirit. He prayed himself for us, that we might see once and for all the salvation of God. He didn’t have to go through any of it. He was innocent. But he did so, not because he had to, but because he wanted to. It was his will and the will of his Father. He wanted to make sure that we too could feel and know the love that he felt and knew from the Father. The awesomeness of Calvary is that Jesus went up that hill of his own free will, because he loved, and loves, us so much we was willing to die for us.

And so we respond, perhaps in contemplation, awe, sadness, and even adoration. Holy Week, if you haven’t noticed, is full of actions, both symbolic and real. On Palm Sunday we symbolically re-enacted the Triumphal entry of our Lord into the Holy City. Last night we washed each others’ feet. That action, although ceremonial, was not symbolic of anything. We did what we did to show love for one another. Just now we symbolically entered in again to Our Lord’s Passion. Reading the Passion Gospel in parts is a deep tradition in the Church. And you’ll also notice there are no decorations, no anything on the Altar or around it. We stripped it last evening, and then all left silently. That was symbolic. We did that to symbolically enter in to the abandonment of Jesus by his disciples at the Garden of Gethsemane. It’s a tradition in much of Western Christianity to bring in a Cross on this day so that people may honor it in whatever way seems fit. We will enter into that tradition in a few moments as well. It’s altogether fitting that we take time on this day to revere the very symbol of our faith, the Cross itself. I invite you into that reverence, in whatever way you feel comfortable.

But before you do, I would ask you to listen closely to the Solemn Collects we will shortly pray together. Respond firmly with your Amen, because that is what gives your assent to what we just prayed on your behalf. As you do so, think about who specifically comes to mind as you pray. And reflect on why we are praying. This evening we pray in response to what Jesus accomplished on that hill. We pray as a result of what he did. But the deeper invitation we have is not merely to pray within the context of our worship this night. The deeper invitation is to pray our own entire selves, our bodies and souls and spirits, as a result of what happened on that Friday. When we pray our entire selves, we find ourselves moving, acting, speaking. Our prayer of ourselves begins to take on real flesh and bone and blood. We begin to act our prayer when we pray our entire selves. Our faith becomes embodied in our prayer and our prayer becomes embodied in our lives. We pray, therefore, for all people according to their needs. Therefore why? Because of the whips and the beating and the taunts and the Cross itself we pray. The Crucifixion of Jesus invites us to turn Jesus’ own prayer on Calvary around and to pray for the world with our entire selves, too. He prayed for the world with his entire self. As you pray the Solemn Collects, as you contemplate the Cross this evening, how can your prayer for the entire world be with your entire self as well?

In the Name of the Holy and Undivided Trinity, Amen.


The Proper of Yesterday: Maundy Thursday

My technology fast is over! After too many days, Service Electric finally got their act together and got my internet turned on. I considered not blogging or anything until after Easter begins tomorrow evening, but decided that keeping to the title of the blog was more important. I will not be going back as I thought I would for the first three weekdays of Holy Week, but I do intend to keep up everything from here out.

The Paschal Triduum started last evening with the proper Maundy Thursday service. We observed it at St. Thomas' and included footwashing as well as stripping of the altar, and reservation of the Sacrament. Here's what I offerred at the Ambo:

St. Thomas’ Episcopal Church, Vernon

Maundy Thursday 2008 (RCL)

Exodus 12:1-14; Ps 116:1,10-17; 1 Cor 11:23-26; John 13:1-17,31b-35

The Rev. R. F. Solon, Jr., Vicar

May these words be in the Name of the One who came to serve, Amen.

Well, we’re right in the midst of the 2008 NCAA Basketball tournaments. I don’t know what your favorite teams are. I usually follow Ohio State – football mostly, but also basketball a little bit. Maybe your favorite this year is whoever you drew in your office pool! I’ve always thought its kind of fun to root for the little guys – the wild card entries, the little programs that all of a sudden are doing very well and are now in the tournament, working as hard as they can to see how far they can get. March Madness is a good time, even if your team doesn’t do so well. Getting there has meant a ton of practice for years and years, both as players and s a team. I greatly admire those with athletic ability who have honed their skills, practicing their shooting and defense over years and years. Everyone who gets to the Tournament deserves it, it seems to me. Practice makes perfect, goes the old saying.

And of course spring training for baseball is in full swing. Wouldn’t it be nice to be in Florida or Arizona right now? I truly love the seasons, all four of them, but there are times like this week when a little more spring and a little less winter would be really nice. Again, I don’t know who you follow, if anyone. I’ve been a casual Mets fan for a while now. I also play in an online baseball fantasy league. I haven’t submitted my draft picks yet – I have until March 30 to do it, and I admit I haven’t done my homework on who to rank higher this year or not. It’s always a gamble to see if you can pick the rookie who is going to have a huge season, rather than the one who is just going to fizzle. Those players work and work just to get into the minor leagues. Even then, there’s no guarantee they’ll ever make it to the majors. It takes incredible talent and skill to hit a 90-mile-an-hour fastball or to turn a double–play with hardly a split second to think. Anyone who makes in any level of professional baseball deserves it. Practice makes perfect.

We admire athletes, especially professional athletes, for all sorts of reasons. I myself particularly do so because of all the work they do. It’s both a truism but also true that you need ability - talent – to be able to compete on the national level in any sport. But very few athletes can get by on talent alone without an incredible amount of work besides. Athletes practice constantly to keep their skills up and if possible actually improve them. The amount of time they spend is amazing. We’ll see stories on the sports channels from now until the Olympics at how hard each of those competitors has worked to get where they are today. Six, eight, ten hours a day on their sport is not uncommon. They all have some degree of talent, yes, but then they practice, practice, practice. Practice makes perfect.

And we Christians, like athletes, have talents too. Each of us if given gifts for ministry by God. Each of us in our own way is invited by God to use the talents and abilities we have, to make known the love we feel from God in Christ to those around us. People have different gifts. Some have gifts for hospitality. Some for service. Some for prayer. Some for teaching or scholarship. There are all kinds of gifts that God gives, each as the Holy Spirit allots individually just as the Spirit chooses. Since God created each of of us, it’s up to us to discover, to discern, what it is God has gifted us with and then start doing it. Honing those talents into abilities takes time, and of course practice. Very few of us can simply discover what God has in store for us and then be immediately perfect at it. It’s practice that makes perfect.

There is one talent that I believe is present in each and every person from birth. It’s the talent to love and be loved. We yearn for, we desire, we need to be loved by our parents as we are growing up. That love of a parent, when expressed joyously and unselfishly, is the absolute desire to want the best for the other. Often it takes incredible sacrifice and patience. Often it isn’t returned. And we usually find that our own lives are incomplete, unsatisfied in some way, unless and until we are able to love others as well.That’s the kind of love that Jesus is talking about here. On this day, at the Last supper, Jesus gave us the Mandatum, from where we get the word Maundy. The commandament that Jesus gave is very simple: to love one another. As Jesus loves us, we’re to love one another. We’re to get to the point where we want the absolute best for those around us, even if, and this is the really hard part, sometimes it means sacrifice or pain or worse for us.

And the reason it’s hard is because we aren’t used to putting others first. We have a natural tendency to put our own self first. That’s part of human nature. It’s part of what continually separates us from each other and from God and from ourselves. And what Jesus asks us to do is to accept the love he gave and is giving to us, the love that wants the absolute best for each of us, and to love each other with that same love. Jesus loved us to the end. Not all of us are called to do that, to sacrifice even our own lives for the other. Some are, and we call them martyrs. And I am not suggesting that any of us should aspire to that title. But this business of putting other first is really really difficult.

Fortunately, Jesus understood that. And he gave us a way to rehearse loving one another in a simple, yet very physical way. It’s a practice regimen, if you will. And like a good coach, he showed his disciples, then and us now, how to do it. He took off his outer clothes, tied a towel around himself, and began to literally wash the feet of the disciple who were with him at the meal.

You have to understand the complete scandal this action actually was. Remember in Jesus’ time most people wore sandals or nothing. Consequently, their feet were always very dirty – no nice hardwood floors or carpeting in those days. They were dirty and dusty and scarred and calloused. Not the most attractive part of the body. People sort of felt about feet back then like we do to day. We embarrassed and we don’t want to take our shoes off.

Now, the other part of the shock that the disciples must have been going through was that only slaves washed the feet of other people. Slaves. People who were owned by other people. Usually the lowest in society. So for Jesus the Rabbi, their Teacher, to put on the garment of a common slave and wash the feet of his own students was a mind-boggling experience to them. The first Christians would have been equally as astounded when they heard this story. Their Lord, acting as an ordinary houseld slave? Unbelievable!

But Jesus did this. He acted out in a physical way the kind of love he was showing them. He would show it again to the whole world, less than twenty-four hours later in the supreme act of self-giving love on the Cross at Calvary. But this time was for the disciples. He didn’t even explain what he was doing until he had started. He just started doing it.

My friends, the love that Jesus gives to us and that He invites us to give to each other and to the world isn’t really about feet. It could be, of course, but it’s about so much more. It’s about wanting – and acting to make happen – the absolute best for those around us. It’s hard work, it’s not part of our fallen nature as human beings. But it’s what God calls each of us to do. And Jesus showed us a way to get started, a practical way to get our hearts and minds and souls used to loving, but loving each other in a physical way by honoring a part of our body that over two thousand years later, we still don’t think very much of.

In a moment, I will invite you to enter once more into the Last Supper with Our Lord. I will wash the feet of anyone who comes forward, and I would invite those of you who wish, to wash the feet of the next person in line. You can use the front pew to prepare if you’d like.

So come on, let’s go practice.


Monday, March 17, 2008

My Technology Fast

It turns out I am observing a (partial) technology fast (see last week) during this Holy Week. I do not yet have internet access in the vicarage, and so I am limited to a very slow dial-up connection in the parish office. Thus, most of the time I will have no Web access and only limited and slow email. However, it's my intention to post the Holy Week entries to PotD, in order, as I can once access is fully turned on.

Holy Week Blessings,