Thursday, April 17, 2014

Maundy Thursday

  • Usual Thursday morning exercise.
  • Morning Prayer in the cathedral.
  • Puttered around with the cathedral altar guild directress in preparation for tonight's liturgy.
  • Worked on tying up the loose ends of a clergy deployment issue.
  • Reported to the Central Illinois Blood Bank for my 11am appointment, only to be eventually turned away because of last November's visit to Tanzania. Donating blood is complicated when one has a well-stamped passport. 
  • Resumed working on, and completed for the time being, the aforementioned clergy deployment issue.
  • Lunch from La Bamba, eaten at home.
  • Put some substantial meat on the bones of a pretty spare outline for a homily on Easter III (May 4 at St Bartholomew's, Granite City).
  • Dealt sequentially with three different administrative issues that have been in the queue for quite some time. Glad to have them checked off
  • Evening Prayer in the cathedral.
  • Puttered around with more preparations, morphing eventually into the scheduled rehearsal with those serving.
  • Presided and preached at the proper liturgy of the day. Attendance was less than stellar (probably due to nobody in particular driving the boat at the cathedral presently), but the essential work got done. It's always been my custom to quietly say something kindly and pastoral to those whose feet I wash. Tonight it was easy. I didn't know in advance who it was going to be, but when I looked at each person who sat down in front of me, it seemed like they were the very ones whose service animates the ministry of the cathedral congregation. The Mass got celebrated and the altar got stripped, of course, but it was in those moments with a pitcher and towel in my hands that Maundy Thursday "happened" for me.

Maundy Thursday Homily

St Paul's Cathedral, Springfield

What is tonight about? What are we doing here, anyway?

We’re going to wash some feet. That, in itself, is pretty ordinary. Feet get washed all the time. I washed my own this morning. You probably washed yours too. But most of us don’t usually have somebody else wash our feet, and feet don’t ordinarily get washed even in public, let alone in church. In our culture, feet are not among those body parts that we consider most private and intimate. But neither are they the most presentable, like our faces. They’re somewhere in between. So we’re doing a very ordinary thing in a very extraordinary context.

Then, after we’ve washed feet, we’re going to take some rather tasteless wafers made from ultra-refined wheat, and some after-dinner wine, and say some prayers over them and then reverently consume them in token quantities per person, and just as reverently save the leftovers to be used in tomorrow night’s liturgy. Again, how utterly ordinary this is—eating bread and drinking wine. It’s been part of the everyday fabric of human life since there’s been human life. Yet, how completely odd it seems in this context. The bread is nearly devoid of taste, which is a good thing, because we’re not really eating enough of it to make what would be considered a decent meal.

Then, before we go home, while the choir sings a rather depressing 3000-year old poem set to a subdued minor key, and while the congregation just sits and watches, the clergy and the members of the Altar Guild will solemnly remove just about everything from the sanctuary that isn’t bolted down, or too heavy to move conveniently. How ordinary that is. We all do little bits of straightening and tidying up in our living environments nearly every day. And, from time to time, we redecorate those living spaces, and move furniture around. But how odd it will seem in this context, to just be moving things around for ritual purposes, without any practical end in mind.

What is tonight about? What are we doing here, anyway?

Many of you have no doubt seen the hugely popular film version of The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. If you haven’t seen the movie, maybe you’ve read the book.  The linchpin of the plot, of course, involves a musty old armoire, a free-standing closet, sitting in an unused room in an English country estate house. In that context, it’s a very ordinary thing. But four visiting children discover that, if they make their way past the fur coats that are hanging there, under the right circumstances, they never run into the back of the closet or the wall of the room. The wardrobe is in fact a portal into another world, a place that isn’t found on any earthly maps, a place where a great deal is the same as what they’re used to, but a great deal is also different, very different.

If you’re familiar with the story, it will strike you as no great feat of literary analysis when I make four observations about the magic wardrobe that leads to the land of Narnia:
  1. Something unremarkably ordinary was the gateway to something absolutely extraordinary. In the early 1940s, there were free-standing closets in country estates all over England. There was nothing obviously unique about this wardrobe. But it was the gateway to an unmistakably extraordinary world, where animals and trees talk and witches cast spells.
  2. Those who went through that gateway from rural England into Narnia were transformed from being passive victims of world events to central actors in cosmic events. The reason the four children were at the country estate in the first place was to escape the blitz—the intensive bombing of London by the German air forces. Thousands of other children were doing the same thing, scattered in homes all over the English countryside. But when the kids got to Narnia, they were stars. They were key characters in an unfolding drama. Eventually, they were kings and queens.
  3. When anyone returned from Narnia, time in the “real world” resumed exactly at the instant they had left it; to the “real world,” it was as if they had never left. Lucy, the little girl who first discovered Narnia, wandered into the wardrobe during a game of Hide-and-Seek. When she tumbled out of it, after what seemed like hours to her, her first thought was to reassure her siblings that she was all right. But they weren’t concerned at all, because, to them, it was as if she’d never been gone.
  4. Those who returned from Narnia were forever changed by the experience. When Peter and Susan and Edmund and Lucy all came back to their “real” world together, after being in Narnia for years, and, in fact, growing into young adults there, they were English children once again. But they retained a memory of all that had transpired. They were, in fact, wiser for their experience.
What is tonight about? What are we doing here anyway?

We’re doing a series of odd things that all come under the category of “liturgical action”—washing feet, celebrating the Eucharist, and stripping the altar. My suggestion to you is that, as the magic wardrobe was for Peter and Susan and Edmund and Lucy, liturgical action is for us. The odd things we’re doing tonight serve as our “wardrobe”—our portal into not only another place, but another kind of place. Sacraments, like the Eucharist, and quasi-sacraments, like the washing of feet, and even mere symbolic actions, like the stripping of the altars, bear the same four characteristics, and lend themselves to the same four observations that we made about the magic wardrobe:
  1. Tonight, we are doing ordinary things that serve for us as the gateway to participation in something truly extraordinary—the Paschal Mystery. We are participating in God’s redemption of the cosmos, his re-weaving of the fabric of reality. The dying and rising of Christ is the hinge on which human history turns, and these sacramental and symbolic actions transport us to the place where it’s all happening.
  2. Instead of being passive victims of all that makes us anxious and fearful, what we do tonight enables us to become principal actors in the drama of redemption, God’s work of making all things new. The gifts that Aslan gives the four human visitors to Narnia—Peter’s sword, Susan’s bow and arrow, Lucy’s magic liquid—these gifts stand for the gifts of the Holy Spirit that we are given in baptism, gifts that enable us to fight a battle just as real and just as significant as that in the final scenes of the Narnia story.
  3. When we return, out the doors of the church, to the “real world,” the world will not believe where we’ve been! Those in the cars and trucks driving up and down Second Street during this service take little, if any, notice that there’s anything going on inside these venerable walls. When we join that traffic ourselves, it will be just as if we’d never left, and the world will try to seduce us into believing that it is the only reality there is.
  4. Those who have visited the Celestial Banquet through the sacraments, particularly the Eucharist, are never the same, but forever changed. Eventually Peter and Susan and Edmund and Lucy went to live in Narnia permanently, as it is our destiny to live permanently where we now only visit.
So…this is what tonight is about. This is what we are doing here. This is why we are doing these ordinary but odd things—because they are at the same time more extraordinary and more real than we can possibly imagine. Amen.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Wednesday in Holy Week

  • Morning Prayer in the cathedral.
  • Prepared for the 12:15 Mass.
  • Consulted with the Archdeacon on a couple of pastoral/administrative matters.
  • Took care of registering for the June Province V House of Bishops meeting.
  • Attended to an administrative/pastoral matter pertaining to one of our Eucharistic Communities that is both important and relatively urgent.
  • Ditto the above, only a different church.
  • Began the process of finishing and refining my Easter sermon.
  • Showed up to celebrate the midday Mass in the cathedral chapel, but ...  no congregation. Since it's a Prayer Book Holy Day, I felt obliged to say the Ante-Communion--the Eucharist up to the Offertory, where customary Anglican discipline dictates I could go no further.
  • Lunch from Hardee's (yes, a new place for me), eaten at home.
  • Completed the work on my Easter homily that I began before lunch.
  • Attended to yet another pastoral/administrative issue, this one involving an individual.
  • Wrote a substantive and belated reply to a letter concerning last month's dustup in the larger Nashotah House universe.
  • Evening Prayer in the office.
  • Drove home, grabbed Brenda, and headed to St John's, Decatur for the sixth consecutive Wednesday. Only, this time, it was just to sit in the congregation for a surpassingly lovely rendition of Office of Tenebrae, done in conjunction with an elite vocal ensemble from Millikin University. Tenebrae is a poetic gloss, a textual echo, of the essential Holy Week narrative. It never tells the story, so if you don't already known the story, it's a pastiche of incoherence. But for those whose story it is, Tenebrae creates a space to just *be* in it. What a blessing this was.
  • Started the day with 16 tasks. Accomplished 7 of them.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Tuesday in Holy Week

  • 57 potential items for the to-do list for today. 17 made the cut.
  • Morning Prayer in the cathedral.
  • Addressed a small but not insignificant administrative chore.
  • Placed a more or less annual phone order for four starched cotton clergy collars from J. Wippell's U.S. office in Branchville, NJ.
  • Worked on refining and printing my homily for Maundy Thursday (at the cathedral). 
  • Welcomed one our priests and his wife into my office for an hour-long discussion of an imminent deployment issue.
  • Attended the 12:15 Mass in the cathedral chapel.
  • Lunch from KFC, eaten at home.
  • Spent a larger portion of my afternoon than I would have liked wrestling with the technicalities of enabling two churches that missed the memo when official portraits of YFNB were easily available to obtain one. Mission accomplished. More or less.
  • Followed up on something I had promised one of the members of the cathedral chapter at the last meeting.
  • Took care of some pending emails and administrivia, following up with a rather more weighty email.
  • Evening Prayer in the office.
  • Productivity report: Accomplished 11 of those 17 tasks.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

The Sunday of the Passion: Palm Sunday

Today reminded me that I indeed do work for a living, though that's always a good thing. Presided and preached at the 8am cathedral liturgy--"solo" on the sense that they don't have an in-charge priest at the moment, so when it came time to do things like make the announcements, I was momentarily flummoxed. Between services, I led--"listened to" might be more appropriate--a forum at which parishioners could express their views on the qualities they would like to see in their next priest (who will be, as was the late Fr Roderick, a priest-in-charge styled Provost). I'm doing this in close consultation with the wardens and chapter, but it will be a streamlined process. The 10:30 Liturgy of the Palms had to be held in the atrium because it  started to rain right then. But we still had a proper parade, and the power of Palm Sunday still worked its magic. Looking forward to walking the path of Holy Week with the people of the cathedral.

Yard work in the afternoon ... before the rains came. 

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Saturday

Arrived at the cathedral-office complex around 9am to begin to get ready for the 11am Chrism Mass. Read Morning Prayer in the cathedral. Got straight in my mind some choreography details for the liturgy. Took care of some last minute physical preparations. Conferred with Barber Potts, the Head Verger of the cathedral on some pertinent details. Greeted clergy and spouses as they began to arrive. Presided and preached at what turned out to be a quite lively service. I find it very moving to be together with the clergy. I see each of them individually and serially, but it's a different experience to be simultaneous and plenary. After Mass we enjoyed our customary repast, this time in the Round House. Then I met privately with one of our clerics for an extended discussion of the congregation he serves. When that meeting concluded, I turned my attention to tomorrow's homily, which still needed to be refined and printed. After stopping for gas, it was nearly 4pm before I got home. When I'd had a chance to rest some, I took a long walk--though not a hard one, as I never did achieve my usual cruising speed today. It was more like a four mile stroll. 

Homily from the Mass of Chrism

St Paul's Cathedral, April 12

“We receive you into the household of God…”.  

Three years into episcopal ministry now, I am aware that one of the aspects of parish ministry that I miss is administering the sacrament of Holy Baptism, and the process leading up to it. So I get almost giddy with excitement when a priest tells me there are baptisms waiting for me at my next visit. I’m thrilled to preside at a baptism, and one of my favorite parts of the experience is when we’re all finished and the whole congregation says together, “We receive you into the household of God. Confess with us the faith of Christ crucified, proclaim his resurrection, and share with us in his eternal priesthood.” I was at a parish recently where the choir sang a choral setting of that text, and I nearly broke down into tears as I heard it while trying to deliver the body of Christ to people kneeling at the communion rail in front of me.

We are on the brink now, in the various Eucharistic Communities of the diocese, of plunging once again into the heart of the Paschal Mystery, as we sacramentally and liturgically transcend time and space and place ourselves among those who welcome Jesus into Jerusalem singing “Hosanna to the Son of David,” with those who gather with him in the Upper Room as he repurposes the bread and wine of a Jewish ritual meal to be his own body and blood given for the life of the world, with those who gather outside the Praetorium and shout “Crucify him!” and “Give us Barabbas!”, among those who keep vigil at the cross as he commends his spirit into the hands of his Father, among those who make their way to the tomb in the early light of the first day of the week and are told to look for him elsewhere because he is risen from the dead. The identity of the People of God is formed by these events, and it is into that identity, and not something else, that we are conformed when we come to the waters of the baptismal font. This, and not something else, is what we are welcoming people into when we receive them into the household of God.

Confess the faith of Christ crucified …

“Christ crucified” is a reality that is also a symbol. It means more than it says. It contains within itself the entire “Christ event”—prophecy, incarnation, birth, life, baptism, ministry, passion, death by crucifixion, resurrection, ascension, ongoing intercession. It is the baton that has been passed along to us by those who received it from others, who received it from the hand of Jesus himself when he breathed the Holy Spirit onto his disciples and commissioned them to be his witnesses to the ends of the earth.

Proclaim his resurrection …

Christ risen from the dead is the beginning, middle, and end of the story it is ours to tell to the world around us. Everything else is an amplification and elaboration of this central data point. I was awestruck some years ago when I first encountered these words from the renowned Lutheran theologian Robert Jenson: “God is whoever raised Jesus from the dead, having first raised Israel from Egypt.” Let me repeat that, because it really is quite breathtaking in how it says so much so concisely: “God is whoever raised Jesus from the dead, having first raised Israel from Egypt.” You and I hear lots of chatter on the internet and on the media about waxing atheism and debates about whether God “exists,” as it that’s the definitive question. But what this quote from Jenson reminds us of is that the definitive question is not “Does God exist?” but “Did Jesus rise from the dead?” Once we answer that question—and a careful examination of the available evidence, the same way we examine evidence for any other purported historical event that far back in time, will demand only an affirmative conclusion—once we answer the question “Did Jesus rise from the dead?”, then most everything else falls into place without any extraordinary effort. The “existence of God” question become more or less a footnote.

Today we’re going to bless oil to be used in the sacrament of unction and the ministry of healing. There are many ways of proclaiming the resurrection of Jesus, but the ministry of healing is surely one of the most compelling. Through the sacramental use of oil, along with prayer and the laying-on of hands, we consecrate our illnesses and injuries, placing them at God’s disposal for the revelation and outworking of his redemptive purposes in the world and in human experience, redemptive purposes that are galvanized by and precisely the fruit of Christ’s resurrection from the dead. Some among us are gifted with a special charism—the gift of healing—through which God manifests the truth that he is a God of health, not sickness; a God of life, not death. Healing ministry is part of the proclamation of the resurrection, and even as we share in the blessing of this oil, we proclaim the resurrection of Jesus and our faith in the God who raised him from the dead.

Share with us in his eternal priesthood …

Christ is the one true and only priest. He is the one who stands before God the Father, bearing the human nature that he shares with us, and entreats the Father to look on us not as we are, but as we will someday be in him.  The whole company of the baptized, precisely as the Body of Christ, bears the mark of priesthood. We are, all together, a priestly people—indeed, as St Peter tells us in the bit of post-baptismal catechesis known as his first epistle, a royal priesthood. Then, from among the whole number of the baptized, some are called to an intensification of that baptismal mark. Any priest, generically, stands in the gap between human sinfulness and divine holiness, between human contingency and divine completion. Abraham acted as  a priest when he begged the Lord to spare Sodom and Gomorrah. Moses acted as a priest when he begged the Lord to spare Israel after their apostasy in the wilderness, at the foot of Mt Sinai. Jesus acted as a priest as he hung on the cross, and he continues that high priestly ministry as he continually make intercession for us as our advocate before the Father. Those of us who are called into the particular and peculiar ministry of the presbyterate, the ordained priesthood, exercise that ministry on behalf of, for the sake of, and in the name of the whole priestly community of the baptized.

Of course, those who are called to iconic servanthood, whom we name as deacons, and those who are called to iconic shepherd-hood, whom we name as bishops, also proclaim Christ’s resurrection in their ministries by manifesting in their being and in their doing the Risen One himself.

My beloved, as we enter once again into the solemn remembrance of our Lord’s passion, death, and resurrection, as we prepare in many of our communities to add to the number of the offspring of Abraham through the paschal sacrament, it is my hope and prayer that we will take heart, that we will be encouraged, by the precious gifts that are ours as members of the household of God, that we will confess together the faith of Christ crucified, proclaim his resurrection, and share in his eternal priesthood. Amen.