Monday, April 30, 2012

Monday

Up at the usual "workday" hour in order to get time on the weights and the treadmill. Took care of various bits of administrivia from my laptop while visiting with Brenda and our house guest. At 11 I hit the road for points east, ending up in Cincinnati in time for a 6:30pm (eastern time) dinner with other members of the Forward Movement board. Our regular spring meeting takes place all day tomorrow and on Wednesday morning.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Fourth Sunday of Easter

  • Having celebrated the Mass of Easter IV last night, we had a Sunday morning at home. It was ... bizarre. Fortunately, I do not often have to cope with such a difficulty.
  • Light workout on the treadmill while watching an episode of Mission:Impossible (vintage, from 1966) on my iPad via Netflix.
  • Wrote a couple of emails related to the mission strategy vision--now forming teams with specific tasks.
  • Surveyed the occasions for which I have prepare sermons for the first part of the Season after Pentecost (through mid-September). Scheduled appropriate tasks for appropriate dates.
  • Nice dinner in the evening with an old friend who is passing through town.

Sermon Notes for Easter IV

Preaching in a tiny congregation, so it's just notes, and by the time I give it, just my memory.


I John 3:16-24, John 10:11-18,
Acts 8:26-40



We are anxious people.

We wonder where peace can be found.

Jesus in his post-resurrection appearances: “Peace be with you.” We offer one another the “peace of the Lord” at every Eucharist.

The (usual) counter-intuitive answer: Peace comes through surrender and loss.

Jesus: “The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.”
John: “We know love by this, that he laid down his life for us--and we ought to lay down our lives for one another.”

The laying-down of life includes the ultimate sacrifice, and it meant that much for Jesus, but it is not limited to that, which gives us more opportunities to lay our lives for one another than we might have imagined.


  • We lay down our life when we forego our “right to be right.”
  • We lay down our life when we make the effort to actively listen to others, with both our heads and our hearts.
  • We lay down our life when we get far enough beyond ourselves to see the big picture (factoring in the interests of people we don’t even know and will not ever meet in this world).
  • We lay down our life when we accept disappointment with grace and humility.

The earliest Christians certainly learned very quickly to lay down their lives. Most of their leaders did make the “ultimate sacrifice.” In the meantime, they regularly risked ostracism, imprisonment, and death in other to demonstrate their faithfulness to proclaiming the good news of Jesus Christ.

Narrative background for Acts reading.

They were ordered to keep quiet about “all things Jesus,” but they could not/did not. They had seen the lame walk, the blind given sight, and the dead raised. How could they possibly obey a command to be quiet about that?

But … in witnessing that about which they could not keep quiet, even to the point of their own martyrdom, those disciples knew peace. Deep peace.

That peace is available to us as well. We need only cultivate the habit of laying down our lives.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Saturday

  • Usual Saturday "slow morning."
  • Weights and treadmill.
  • Refined my homily for Easter IV (tonight at St Peter's, Chesterfield).
  • Took care of some routine month-end personal organization chores.
  • Prepared two Bible studies I have been asked to lead at the upcoming meeting of the Forward Movement board.
  • Departed (with Brenda) at 4:30 for Chesterfield. While en route, had a substantive phone conversation in connection with my membership on the board of The Living Church. 
  • Presided and preached for a small assembly at St Peter's. Sadly, only one actual member of that Eucharistic Community was in attendance. The others consisted of the Vicar's family members, plus Brenda and me. Some hard decisions lie ahead. The church building has been there since the Civil War, and the congregation itself is even older.
  • Long and enjoyable dinner with Fr John and Sandy Henry at a fine eatery on the square in downtown Carlinville. Home around 10:30.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Friday

  • Out the door a little earlier than usual in order to keep an appointment I made for my car to have its 30,000 service.
  • Having inadvertently left my laptop computer in my daughter's Chicago apartment yesterday, I borrowed the one used by Treasurer Jim Donkin on the days he's in the office (happily for me today, not Friday). The fact that virtually all my work now is done "in the cloud" means that my carelessness resulted only in an inconvenience, not a disaster. My laptop will be arriving by FedEx tomorrow. I consider the steep price of that service an appropriate fine for not being more thorough when I loaded the car and headed out yesterday.
  • After securing my new temporary connection to the cloud, and debriefing with the Archdeacon on some administrivia, I prayed the morning office in the cathedral.
  • Made a pastoral phone call to a diocesan lay leader who is facing some serious health issues.
  • Wrote a (somewhat belated) note of condolence to a bishop colleague who recently lost a loved one.
  • Followed through with some "planning to plan" regarding the clergy/musicians conference I wrote about yesterday.
  • Processed a substantial batch of emails.
  • Brenda came and took me back to the Hynudai dealer to retrieve my vehicle. I picked up some fried catfish for lunch from a place called Da Catch. Ate it in the office.
  • Worked on the homily for Easter IV that I will deliver tomorrow evening at St Peter's, Chesterfield.
  • Wrote out seventeen cards to clergy and spouses with birthdays and anniversaries in May.
  • Spent an hour trying to learn more about the software the supports our still-in-beta new website. The breakthrough will come soon, I'm sure.
  • Evening Prayer in the cathedral.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Thursday

After a shopping run to Trader Joe's (always mandatory when in Chicago), I headed home, but with a significant detour via South Bend, Indiana. Fr Tony Clavier, who will shortly become vicar of St Thomas', Glen Carbon and St Bartholomew's, Granite City has served ably in the Diocese of Northern Indiana for the last few years, and several of his colleagues (who are, of course, friends and former colleagues of mine) gave him an elegant going-away luncheon at a lovely restaurant on the Notre Dame campus. I was glad I went. While en route back to Springfield, I did some business, engaging in a long phone conversation with a potential presenter for a still-in-the-planning stage conference for clergy and musicians. I am excited about the plans we began to lay.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

St Mark's Day

Took a personal "play day" in Chicago in the wake of the Province V Synod. Right after getting out of bed I found a ticket to the Cubs-Cardinals game online and snagged it. Had breakfast with Bishop Little again, then checked out of the Marriott and headed on an errant related to ecclesiastical haberdashery. Drove down to where my younger daughter and her family live, parked my car in front of their house and hoofed it to the Logan Square CTA station. A while later I found myself at Wrigley Field, aka the center of the universe. After walking around the neighborhood to kill time and accumulate steps on my pedometer, I consumed an Italian Beef sandwich, and then entered the stadium and found my seat (a very good one, I should say). It was raining off and on, and I wondered whether the game would even get played, but it did. Not happy with the result, but an afternoon at the ballpark can't be beat. Dinner at a nearby Mexican place with my Chicago offspring and their offspring, followed by drinks with my son, and conversation with everyone back at our daugher's place. A good day.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Tuesday

At the triennial Synod of the Province of the Midwest, in Chicago. Breakfast with my friend, Bishop Ed Little of Northern Indiana. Met up with our Springfield delegation: Charles Palm (St Matthew's, Bloomington), Jan Goosens (St Thomas', Glen Carbon), and Father Kip Ashmore (Trinity, Jacksonville), but the "powers the be" had everyone scattered to assigned seats that didn't permit people from the same diocese to sit together. The day was spent with ministry "vignettes" (youth, campus, ECW, Church Periodical Club, and more), alternated with business (elections, budget) and table discussions on various topics. This allowed me to be an evangelist for our mission strategy vision, which piqued the interest of several at my table. Late in the afternoon, we heard from the Presiding Bishop. Despite my deep theological differences with her, I was encouraged by much of what she said regarding the need to let go of business-as-usual if the Episcopal Church is to again thrive and grow. After dinner, there were panel presentations and plenary discussion about proposal for restructuring the church, the Church Medical Trust (health insurance), and Title IV (clergy discipline). It was close to 9pm when we adjourned.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Monday (St George)

Treated myself to a "soft" morning, but otherwise got right down to answering and otherwise processing a big batch of emails. Took a phone call from Fr Bettman's daughter, during which we set the date and time for her father's Requiem here in the diocese. After a weight and treadmill workout, I showered, packed, ate a bowl of chili and hit the road for Chicago around 1:45. En route, I had a screening interview with yet another candidate for St John's Chapel in Champaign. Arrived at the O'Hare Marriott just before 5, checked in, cleaned up, and met my Province V bishop colleagues for drinks and dinner. Tomorrow is the triennial provincial synod.

Third Sunday of Easter

A very full day: Celebrated and preached the 8am Mass at St George's, spent about five minutes greeting the assembled Sunday School kids and teachers, addressed a lively and interactive adult forum on the emerging mission strategy of the diocese, confirmed or received several youth and adults (also presiding and preaching, of course), hung out at coffee hour, and went to lunch with the rector and his family. Arrived home around 4:30pm for some serious recliner time.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Homily for Easter III


Luke 24:36b-48
St George's, Belleville

My mother was born and raised in northeastern Arkansas, the second of nine children. As I was growing up, we visited the small county seat town of Newport several times, which enabled me to have a relationship with my grandparents and one great aunt who lived there. When I was in first grade, one of my mother’s sisters, along with her four children, my cousins, actually moved in with us for a bit, and then found a place nearby, so I had a close relationship with them. On other occasions, I got to know a handful of other cousins and aunts and uncles.

Then, after I went to college, I never really saw them again … until 1999, which was the year of my parents’ 50th wedding anniversary, and we had a big family reunion down in Arkansas. At its numerical peak, there were nearly sixty people in attendance.
So I got to see people I’d had no contact with in several decades (and, to be honest, still don’t; though, thanks to Facebook, I keep track of some of my cousins).

As you might imagine, there was lots of storytelling, lots of old memories rekindled,
lots of sentences that began with, “Do you remember the time when...”? Of course, this sort of activity becomes more important when the one being remembered is dead, and some of those hearing the story are part of a generation that never met them. My children never knew my grandparents, yet at the family reunion in Arkansas, they knew themselves to be part of that larger fabric of the Hayden clan, that organic whole which is greater than the sum of its parts.

Sharing stories, passing on the lore of a family from one generation to another—these are the activities that call to life a corporate memory. It isn’t just individual people that remember things about a family. In a very real sense, the family itself remembers. My great-great-grandfather—that is, my maternal grandfather’s maternal grandfather—was a fellow by the name of Abraham Byler. Abraham Byler had the misfortune of serving as the sheriff of Baxter County, Arkansas—in the Ozarks in the north central part of  the state—in 1892. One day, some outlaws rode into town, and Sheriff Byler did his best to foil their plans, but he failed, and they shot him dead in the process. I drove through Baxter County that summer of the reunion, and even though my great-great-grandfather died more than a half-century before I was born, I felt a sense of connection to him as I looked around those wooded hills and up and down the banks of the White River. After all, he and I are removed, as it were, by only one degree of separation. My grandfather died when I was in my late twenties, so I have clear memories of him. He was a two-year old when his grandfather Byler was killed in that shootout with outlaws,
but it’s plausible to speculate, at least, that sometime during those two years Sheriff Byler held his grandson in his arms. It is through these and other instances of touching and remembering that I and my children and my children’s children share in the organic corporate memory of the Martins branch of the Hayden branch of the Byler family. Together, we remember more than any of us can individually.

We hear and read a great deal these days about the church being a family, and the celebration of the Eucharist being a family reunion in which we, in a much more literal way than we usually realize, “remember” the risen Lord Jesus. Those are certainly wholesome biblical and theological images, and we do well to meditate on them. Yet, it’s difficult. It’s a challenge to absorb those concepts into the imagination of our hearts.   Instead, we tend to lump Jesus into the category of “history”— famous people who lived a long time ago, whom we have to learn about in order to get through school, whom we know about through what they wrote, or what others wrote about them, and who are known through facts and events that took place on particular dates which are recorded in contemporary sources and corroborated by archeology. We know about the ancient Egyptians through the pyramids they built and the hieroglyphics they left on the walls of those tombs. We know about the ancient Greeks through the writings of their philosophers and poets and historians. We know about  the ancient Romans through the rich artistic and architectural and literary and political legacy which they left behind. 

We can also know about Jesus in this way. In comparison with other figures in the ancient world, the historical information we have about him is immensely reliable.
Yet, the Jesus whom we can reconstruct through the records and artifacts of history is not, on that basis, a particularly compelling or engaging figure. There were countless other itinerant teachers who attracted bands of disciples. Many of them are said to have performed miracles. The ethical teachings of Jesus, while certainly noble and venerable,
were neither new nor unique. And many of those other ancient teachers also met with untimely deaths after running afoul of the political establishment. Indeed, the “Jesus of history,” so to speak, seems sterile and far-removed from us. We can only speculate
about the actual details of his life and teaching.

Tragically, this sort of historical separation has led many to doubt, skepticism, and spiritual despair. You may know about an informal consortium of intellectuals and biblical scholars known as the Jesus Seminar. Since 1985, they have met from time to time to exchange learned opinions about which of the words and deeds of Jesus attributed to him by the gospel evangelists were things he actually said and did, and which were invented by others who had particular axes to grind. As you might guess, the list of items which this group certifies as genuine is quite short. And from the standpoint of pure scientific historical methodology, they support their assertions with quite persuasive arguments.

You and I may not wish to follow the trail as rigorously as do the members of the Jesus Seminar, but as long as we conceptualize Jesus as an historical figure, like, say, George Washington or Julius Caesar or Cleopatra, we will eventually end up in the same bowl of soup. Now, Abraham Byler is, of course, an historical figure. He may never be on the required history curriculum in Illinois public schools, but if you go to the courthouse and the library in Mountain Home, Arkansas, you can find several documents which mention his name. For me, though, as a member of the Martins branch of the Hayden branch of the Byler family, Abraham Byler is not an historical figure; he’s my great-great grandfather. I knew somebody who knew him! We don’t need to read about him in history books; our family remembers him.

What if we—you and I, as members of the family of the church—what if we were to think of Jesus in the same way? What if we were to recover a sense of the church as a family—the family of the descendants of those who saw and touched and talked with and ate with Jesus, risen from the dead? Would that not radically change our perception of Jesus? He would no longer be like Abraham Lincoln—a figure of history—but like Abraham Byler —somebody the family remembers.

In the twenty-fourth chapter of St Luke’s gospel, we read about the eleven disciples gathered in the same room on the evening of the day of the resurrection. They are talking amongst themselves when, all of a sudden, Jesus shows up. They were frightened. They weren’t used to seeing dead men walking. They supposed they might be looking at a ghost. So, in order to reassure them that he was quite present, and quite real, Jesus invited them to poke at him, to see that he was there bodily. And then he asked them for something to eat, and they gave him a piece of broiled fish, and he ate it.
That seems to have done the trick for them—ghosts don’t eat broiled fish!

Now, we can think about this in two ways. We can read it as a piece of ancient literature about an historical figure. Or we can hear it as a family reunion story: “Do you remember the time Jesus showed up and we weren’t sure whether he was a ghost or not
and he ate a piece of broiled fish?”  “Oh, yeah, I remember that! Thanks for reminding me. Oh, and he let us poke around on him, too, just to satisfy our curiosity.”  “Hey, that’s right! I remember that.”

Most of us know somebody, or at least know of somebody, who is a hundred years old or more. Well, it only takes twenty such life spans, overlapping just a little bit, like those of my grandfather Hayden and his grandfather Byler, and we’re there. We’re with Jesus. The “degrees of separation” removing us from that community of friends who ate broiled fish with the risen Christ are not all that many. That extraordinary event is still fresh in the corporate memory of our family, and we still talk about it when we get together for reunions. Do you remember?

“History” is distant and abstract. Family memory is intimate and concrete. We are gathered here today, on the Third Sunday of Easter, gathered at this family reunion banquet table, to celebrate once again what we, together, remember, what we, together, have never forgotten. Christ is risen from the dead. In the banquet of the Eucharist, we participate in that reality. And we know it’s real because he at broiled fish with our grandparents. We’ve always known that. We’ve always remembered it. Alleluia and Amen. 

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Saturday

  • Up and at 'em in time to drive into the diocesan office for a 10am meeting of the Youth Department. We hatched, I believe, a very exciting plan. Stay tuned!
  • Back home for some household chores, a weight & treadmill workout, lunch, and packing.
  • On the road at 2pm for Belleville, and a 4pm meeting with tomorrow's confirmands at St George's. En route, had another screening interview with yet another potential candidate for the St John's Chapel search process.
  • Had just enough time between my meeting with the confirmands to check into our hotel room before heading to the home of Frank and Betsy Rogers for dinner with the vestry and clergy of St George's.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Friday

  • Out the door by 7:15. Rendezvoused with Archdeacon Denney in Rochester and continued east and south for three hours, arriving in Olney just before 10:30.
  • While en route, had a scheduled phone conversation with another candidate for the search process in Champaign (St John's Chapel).
  • Met with the one former member of St Alban's, Olney who has helped us keep tabs on the building since the congregation disbanded. He turned over keys and some communion ware. It was sad to hear his narrative not only of how St Alban's declined and died, but how the town and the county are chronically depressed, both economically and, I would say, emotionally. 
  • Drove to St Alban's, where we met John-Paul Buzard, a member of St John's Chapel in Champaign and a renowned organ builder. I had recruited him to inspect the organ in St Alban's and give us an opinion as to its salvageability. We went inside, and after just looking around for a bit, we performed the short liturgy for the deconsecration of a church. It was a dark and solemn moment. 
  • While John poked around and took pictures, the Archdeacon and I loaded the Episcopal Church flag and several vestments into the back of my vehicle. The silver lining is that I think I can find a good home for the vestments, and the organ, in Mr Buzard's opinion, is worth saving. With some modest investment, it can light up the worship of a church community, hopefully one within our diocese.
  • The three of us had a tasty lunch at a Mexican restaurant called El Cactus, and then we headed to our respective homes. After dropping Shawn off in Rochester, I arrived at the diocesan office around 3:45 and unloaded my car. 
  • Having left my laptop computer at home this morning, there wasn't much I could do at the office, so I headed home and processed a ton of emails. The operational tempo of my email inbox has been rather accelerated of late.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Thursday

  • Morning Prayer in the cathedral.
  • Debriefed with the Archdeacon on sundry matters.
  • Met with Norm Taylor (St Paul's Cathedral) in his role as chair of World Mission, in connection with forming a team to assess our diocesan companion relationships.
  • Processed a batch of emails.
  • Met with the Department of General Mission Strategy (DGMS) at 11. This lasted until about 12:45.
  • Met with Fr Tucker regarding some Eastern Deanery matters.
  • Dashed down to TG to picked up some lunch. Back to the office in time to eat it in front of Kathy Moore, with whom I had a 1:30 appointment to discuss Youth Department concerns.
  • Took a phone call from a member of the DGMS wanting to debrief a bit on the meeting.
  • Took a long phone call from a priest outside the diocese on two unrelated but substantive concerns.
  • Placed a phone order with Wippel's for some new starched cotton collars.
  • Gave birth to a draft of my homily for Easter V (Emmanuel, Champaign).
  • Short form of Evening Prayer in the car, as it was already past six.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Wednesday

  • Task planning and a bunch of email processing at home.
  • Morning Prayer in the cathedral.
  • Just as I settled down to my prodigious to-do list, I was reminded in an email of a writing commitment I had made before Easter; it had somehow slipped through the cracks in my steel-trap task management system. So I got to work on that (an essay on offering Holy Communion to unbaptized persons, to be part of a collection on that subject published by Leadership Resources).
  • Early lunch with the Dean at nearby Dublin Pub. We were getting ducks in a row ahead of my attendance this evening at the regular April meeting of the cathedral Chapter.
  • Continued with my writing project until almost 4:00. Sent it off by email.
  • In the meantime, however, I received a phone call informing me of the sudden death sometime during the night of Fr John Bettman, a recently retired priest of the diocese with whom I had spent time just this past weekend at Cursillo. This was a complete shock, and horribly disturbing news. Arrangements are pending.
  • Spent an hour working with the still-in-beta diocesan website. I am so sorry this is taking so long. It will be wonderful when it's rolled out. Kinks keep appearing.
  • Evening Prayer in the cathedral.
  • Carry-out dinner from a Chinese place on South Grand, eaten in my office.
  • Attended the cathedral Chapter meeting at 7. They are facing some challenging financial issues. I believe we made some good progress in finding a way forward. 
  • Home around 9.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Tuesday

  • Task planning at home.
  • Caught up with the Archdeacon and Administrator on several pending issues.
  • Morning Prayer in the cathedral.
  • Met with the Diocesan Trustees--the group that oversees the diocesan investments--along with our investment managers from Bush O'Donnell.
  • Conferred with Fr Nichols concerning a situation at St John's Chapel in Champaign.
  • Lunch at home--leftovers.
  • Made some more progress on planning a workshop for clergy and musicians in the fall.
  • Made email contact with a batch of last-minute potential candidates for the vacancy at the Chapel in Champaign, trying to arrange the usual screening interview.
  • Administrivia and some technological "issues" (solved, happily).
  • Evening prayer in the cathedral.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Homily for Easter II


St John's, Centralia is one of those small preach-from-the-aisle congregations, so all I can give you here is my working outline. You can probably flesh it out mentally.

John 20:19-31
St John’s, Centralia


“Low” Sunday

Jesus’ disciples felt “low” too on the evening of the first Easter Day—then they saw the Lord (but not Thomas)

We’re tempted to be envious of them (lamenting our weak faith) … they have “eyes on”, we have doubts

Thomas had doubts too, and while, with 20/20 hindsight, it may be easy to judge him, if we’re honest, Thomas is the one we identify with

Thomas is also our hero … not because of any wisdom or great faith

Why? Because he showed up. (Quote Woody Allen) He had no motivation to keep hanging out with the other disciples, because, as far as he know, who were they disciples of?

But Thomas showed up anyway … and *that* was his act of faith, and that faith was rewarded by an encounter with the Risen Christ

We can’t be the 11, but we can be Thomas … we can show up … doing the same thing Sunday after Sunday … in the hope of being rewarded as Thomas was, sooner for some, later for others

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Easter Saturday

  • Up at an earlier-than-usual hour to arrive at Toddhall Retreat Center (in Columbia, southwest of Belleville, a two hour drive from Springfield) in order to arrive in time get ready for my 10:20am talk (rollo is the term of art used) at this year's diocesan Cursillo weekend. I then presided at the Eucharist for the candidates and staff members, had lunch with the group, and participated in a panel of clergy answering written questions that had been submitted by the candidates regarding the talks they had heard thus far. 
  • Got back home just before 4pm. Got about 20 minutes of nap time, then my (becoming) customary thirty minutes of weight training followed by thirty minutes on the treadmill at challenging pace (speed and incline). "High intensity interval training" is the general target I'm aiming at. I'm sure it needs to be refined.
  • Packed for an overnight and hit the road again, with Brenda in tow now, sometime past six. Had dinner at Ruby Tuesday in Litchfield (one of our regular haunts when the timing works out), then on to Mount Vernon, where we checked in around ten. Tomorrow: 8:30 Mass at St John's, Centralia.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Easter Friday

  • Usual AM routine; Morning Prayer in the cathedral.
  • Wrote a sensitive email in response to a letter on a sensitive subject.
  • Took the initial steps in preparing a homily for Easter VII (St Christopher's, Rantoul). It could be that I'll have to talk about Judas. He's mentioned in one of the readings and lurks around the margins of the others.
  • Did some mundane "scheduled maintenance" on one component of my personal organization system (Evernote).
  • Grabbed an Italian Beef sandwich from a place called Chi-Town on Jefferson, and consumed it at home.
  • Refined my homily for this Sunday (St John's, Centralia).
  • Prayed the Glorious Mysteries of the Rosary in the cathedral.
  • Reviewed my May visitations with an eye toward the conversations I need to have with their respective clergy leaders about the details of the visit.
  • Processed a batch of emails.
  • Evening Prayer in the cathedral.
  • Dinner with Brenda at the new Mexican place at Second and Jefferson (El Casino). Thumbs up from both of us.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Easter Thursday

  • Usual AM routine; Morning Prayer in the cathedral.
  • Began working on getting the new diocesan website ready for prime time. This is a cooperative task shared between about a half dozen people, with a steep learning curve. It can suck up time like a black hole. But it's fun!
  • Met for about two hours with the Archdeacon and Fr Ian Wetmore, who will become my Vicar at St Michael's, O'Fallon on July 1. We had some formalities to take care of associated with "importing" a Canadian, and other details to discuss.
  • Lunch from McD's, eaten in the office ... while I continued to work on the website for a good while longer.
  • Worked on my homily for Easter IV (St Peter's, Chesterfield).
  • Administrivia.
  • Did some personal strategizing and planning for the June 2 Clergy Day.
  • Responded to an inquiry from an "unattached" seminarian seeking a diocese to be adopted by.
  • Plotted the basic shape of a homily for Easter V (Emmanuel, Champaign).
  • Evening Prayer in the cathedral.
  • Went home, worked out on weights and treadmill before grilling burgers on the patio.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Easter Wednesday

  • Awoke to an email that there were problems with my e-filed federal tax return, so I have to take a few minutes of my newspaper-reading time at home in the morning to address that issue (successfully).
  • Morning Prayer in the cathedral.
  • Organized my tasks for the rest of the week.
  • Met in my office for 90 minutes with Mark Waight (St Michael's, O'Fallon), Deacon Bruce DeGooyer, and Archdeacon Denney. Together, they have formed a working group known provisionally as the Strategy Resource Team. Their job us to oversee the development of procedures for "resourcing" our parishes for the pursuit of mission at the local level. I'm very excited by this development.
  • Processed a batch of emails.
  • Lunch from TG, eaten at home.
  • Prepared the talk I am scheduled to give this Saturday at the Cursillo weekend.
  • Replied to an Ember Day letter from a postulant.
  • Took some planning steps in the direction of a conference/workshop for clergy and parish musicians, possibly this fall.
  • Processed the accumulated hard copy items on my desk. (Can I put in a plug for my Fujitsu Scan-Snap scanner the scans materials directly into Evernote?)
  • Put some meat on the bones of a homily for Easter III (St George's, Belleville).
  • Evening Prayer in the office.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Easter Homily


Easter, of course, is a time when even those who do not think of themselves as particularly religious feel an urge to connect with spiritual roots—if not their own spiritual roots, strictly speaking, then the spiritual roots of a spouse or a parent or grandparent, or the roots of the larger, still somewhat Christian, western culture. There are a variety of ways by which we acquire faith, by which we put down spiritual roots. Faith can be passed along through a family member, a friend, or even a chance encounter with a stranger.

And there are different levels of faith. There is the naive and trusting faith of a young child. There is the skeptical and questioning faith of a teenager or young adult. Some have a practical sort of faith, demonstrated by concrete and disciplined acts of devotion or service. Others have a more mystical kind of faith, with spiritual flights of fancy and ecstatic experiences.

Whatever our style of faith or stage of development, it is possible to persist for years, maybe even a lifetime, in a faith that is maturing and growing—that is, in a healthy way, changing— but very much untested. We can feel secure in such a faith, and even be in a position of spiritual and religious leadership. It feels authentic, because it’s connected with our experience. It gives us a sense that “God is in his heaven and all well.”

But often—dare I even say “usually” or “inevitably”?—such a faith is tested in a new and unanticipated way. Something happens—or, perhaps, fails to happen. Health fails, a loved one is lost, a romance goes sour, a marriage fades, a career crashes or never gets off the ground in the first place, a child disappoints and embarrasses, addiction and codependency dominate. Crisis and adversity can test faith, sometimes with devastating consequences.

Or it may just slowly shrivel up due to malnutrition. Faith that is untried, untested, is susceptible to atrophy, to losing its tone, and eventually becoming a mere shell, a husk, an outward appearance with no substance.

Either way, faith that is compromised, whether by adversity or by complacency, is faith that is easily jettisoned. It is easily tossed aside because it seems to take up more space than it’s worth. Many sailing vessels perform quite well in a light breeze and calm seas, but when the wind picks up and the water gets rough, it’s easy for them to wander off and end up smashed on the rocks or at the bottom of the ocean. In a storm, a boat needs an anchor, a lifeline to something solid, something reliable. A human spirit, a human soul, when facing the storm of adversity, or malnourishment and atrophy, also needs an anchor.

My friends, the good news that I announce to you, the gospel that I proclaim to you, on this Easter feast in the Year of Our Lord, 2012, is that the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead is the anchor that secures our faith in the storm of doubt. The resurrection is a fact that is blessedly independent of how I feel or what I do at any given moment. When I am bouncy and joyful, Christ is risen from the dead. When I am forlorn and depressed, Christ is still risen from the dead. When I am laid low by illness, Christ is risen from the dead, and when I recover from the illness, Christ is risen from the dead. When I inflict harm on others, Christ is risen from the dead, and when I suffer the consequences of that behavior, or escape those consequences through the miracle of grace and forgiveness, Christ is risen from the dead. When I am betrayed or disappointed by someone I love, Christ is risen from the dead, and when that same person thrills and delights me, Christ is risen from the dead. The resurrection of Christ is simply a fact.

Of course, it is not a universally acknowledged fact, but, as history goes, it is at least as credible as any other event from which we are separated by 2000 years, and more credible than many occurrences that are simply taken for granted. When the women arrived at the tomb to anoint Jesus’ body at dawn on the first day of the week, the tomb was empty. Now, some have suggested that the body had been stolen. But that’s hardly plausible, given that it was guarded by soldiers who were subject to the death penalty should they fail in their duty. Others have conjectured that Jesus wasn’t really dead, but only in a deep coma, from which he was roused sometime before Easter morning. But the soldiers who took him down from the cross were apparently convinced he was dead, and even if the crucifixion didn’t actually kill him, it is hard to imagine surviving being stabbed in the side with a spear. And even if he did, he would hardly have been strong enough to move the stone that sealed the tomb.

Then there are the intangible factors, and these are actually the most compelling. The disciples were transformed from a broken and disillusioned band to a force that changed the world veritably within their lifetimes. They proclaimed the resurrection of Christ with unflagging zeal, even in the face of legal sanctions. They suffered imprisonment, torture, exile, and death for the sake of that proclamation. If they had not really seen and touched and spoken with the risen Jesus, what motivation would they have had to throw their lives away in such a spectacular fashion?

No, an honest and fair and thorough examination of the available data does not make it easy to dismiss the claim of the church that Jesus was raised from the dead. Quite the contrary, it makes a compelling case for affirming the core Christian belief that underlies our celebration of Easter. While it may not be possible to prove the resurrection according to the standards of science, virtually no fact of ancient history can meet those standards. But by the standards of modern legal practice—“preponderance of evidence” in a civil case, “beyond reasonable doubt” in a criminal case—those who profess belief in the Risen Christ need not hang their heads in any degree of shame. So, wherever we are on our walk of faith, Easter is a feast worth keeping.

But it is particularly so if we are finding ourselves tossed by the storm, by the raging seas of doubt. If we are feeling our faith susceptible to cynicism, anger, grief, fear, or just boredom, the fact of the resurrection is supremely good news. It is our anchor. It is our lifeline to the solid rock, the rock which is Christ, who will “be there” for us no matter what else happens, who is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death, and bestowing life to those who dwell in the tombs . . . whether we like it or not!

I’ll leave you with this: If Jesus is not risen from the dead, then Easter doesn’t matter. Not at all. If Jesus is risen from the dead, then Easter is the only thing that matters.

Alleluia and Amen.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Holy Saturday

  • Observed the Holy Saturday Liturgy of the Word with the cathedral Altar Guild, a brief but rather sweet moment in liturgical time ... "the king is asleep."
  • Came home and spent quality time with offspring and their offspring who are in town for the weekend. Very grateful for this.
  • Good hard workout on the Bowflex and the treadmill.
  • Sat to hear confessions at the cathedral between 4 and 6. It is not frequently that a bishop gets to exercise this ministry, so I was grateful.
  • Presided and preached at the cathedral Easter Vigil, with nine confirmations and two receptions. A beautiful service.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Good Friday

  • Usual morning routine, though running about fifteen minutes later that usual. Morning Prayer in the cathedral, with some extra time spend in prayer at the Altar of Repose.
  • Processed a batch of emails. This always takes longer than I think it should or will.
  • Worked on my sermon for the Second Sunday of Easter (St John's, Centralia).
  • Needed to do something with a low intellectual demand, so I straightened my credenza, which had many months worth of accumulated detritus on it. Not of major importance, but it's a good feeling.
  • Preached and assisted at the 12:15 Good Friday liturgy at the cathedral.
  • Ran a personal errand, then went home for about 90 minutes. Debated whether to give in to the urge to take a nap, and finally succumbed to a quick one in the recliner.
  • Went back to the office. Spent some time in Igantian-style meditation on the passion of our Lord.
  • Worked some more on my homily for Easter V (Emmanuel, Champaign).
  • Responded by email (and a good bit of considered thought) to a particular pastoral situation in one of our parishes.
  • Pondered and made some decisions regarding travel plans around the Province V Synod in Chicago later this month.
  • Evening Prayer in the cathedral.
  • Plotted specific tasks in connection with a conference for clergy and musicians that is in an embryonic stage.
  • Vested for the evening Good Friday liturgy and crossed the alley to preside and preach. This is the 33rd year (in a row) in which I have participated in the Triduum. What a privilege it is.

Good Friday Homily

Even if you haven’t read it, you’ve probably heard of it. The Italian Renaissance poet Dante Alighieri wrote a fanciful account of his own journey into Hell—that part, the Inferno, is perhaps the most famous of the three sections—as well as Purgatory, and Heaven, a trip, according to the story, which he made during Holy Week of the year 1300. Together, these three long poems have become known as the Divine Comedy.

I have to confess, I have not read the entirety of the Divine Comedy. I’ve only read bits and pieces of the bits and pieces that were assigned by a college English professor in a History of Western Civilization course. But of the parts that I’ve read, I would be hard pressed to describe the work as at all humorous. There is no satire, no parody, no slapstick, no verbally-depicted sight gags. There are no punch lines. Leno and Letterman have nothing to fear in competition from Dante Alighieri’s comedic material. Which leads one to wonder—why did he call it a comedy? Even in his own day, and before, literary comedy was supposed to be funny. 

It’s a very good question, and it actually has a very good answer. Dante’s poetic narrative is comedy, not because of what it is, but because of what it’s not. It is not a tragedy. The literary opposite of a comedy is a tragedy. A tragedy, as we remember from high school and college English classes, displays certain readily recognizable features which identify it as such.  A tragedy revolves around a main character who is extraordinarily gifted in ability and circumstance. He or she is of heroic stature, and shows great promise for accomplishment and leadership. But behind all that potential lies a particular character flaw—pride, perhaps, or sometimes greed, or maybe lust or envy. During the course of the story, adversity strikes, and unpredictable events occur. The potential hero’s character is put to the test, and despite all of his talents and advantages, the flaw in his character comes to the fore and proves fatal. The story has an invariably unhappy ending that is sad and senseless and, with the 20/20 hindsight of the reader, eminently avoidable. The tragic hero ends up dead, and all the hope and promise which he represented is vanished.

In Shakespeare alone, the names of these tragic heroes are familiar: Julius Caesar, Othello, Macbeth, Hamlet, Lear, and others. Closer to our own time and place, we can all probably think of sports figures who have given in to the allure of gambling, politicians who get caught with their hand in the public till, and media celebrities who dissipate their lives in alcohol or a series of unsuccessful marriages.

It is tempting, then, to describe the Passion narrative, such as we have read tonight from St John’s gospel, as a tragedy. It has a highly dramatic plot, a feature which is intensified by the way we read it during Holy Week. It is a story filled with injustice, misunderstanding, and human weakness. Political and spiritual forces combine with random circumstances to railroad an innocent man into a death which seemed to everyone—friends and enemies alike—to bring a brilliant career to an abrupt and premature conclusion.  What a waste! There was so much potential! And what a young man!  Others might have responded, “Young, yes, but dangerous, and it’s a good thing we’ve put an end to him now before things got completely out of hand. Maybe now we can finally get back to normal.” 

But the Passion of our Lord Jesus Christ according to John—especially according to John, but also according to Matthew, Mark, and Luke—the Passion of our Lord Jesus Christ is manifestly not a tragedy. Jesus may be an innocent victim, but he is not a victim of circumstances. Rather, he is systematically executing God’s fore-ordained plan for the redemption of the human race and the entire created order. He tells Pontius Pilate quite plainly: “You say that I am a king. For this I was born…and for this I have come into the world…” .  Moreover, Jesus is also a completely willing victim, a victim at a sacrifice at which he is also the high priest. Jesus is sovereign, in control. He is not handed over to death passively, but actively; he hands himself over to death. Jesus’ crucifixion is not the tragic result of a fatal character flaw, but, rather, the most purely virtuous act that can be imagined. “Greater love has no man, than that he should lay down his life for his friends.” 

Finally, even though Jesus has emptied himself and taken the form of a servant and become obedient unto death on the cross, he is not ultimately conformed to the shape and the demands of his suffering and death. He enters the jaws of death and it is death that is changed, not Jesus. In a few minutes, we will sing a hymn that contains two verses that are of such surpassing beauty that I fail to see how any conscious Christian soul can fail to be profoundly moved by them. They speak of the mystical reality that the cross did not transform Christ, but, rather, Christ transformed the cross. An instrument of shameful death is made to be the way of life and peace. 
We will sing:                                 
                                    Faithful cross, above all other,
                                    One and only noble tree,
                                    None in foliage, none in blossom,
                                    None in fruit thy peer may be.
                                    Sweetest wood and sweetest iron,
                                    Sweetest weight is hung on thee.

Because Jesus hangs on the cross, it is seen to have foliage and blossom and fruit that is unequaled by any other tree in creation. Then we will sing:
                                    Bend thy boughs, O tree of glory,
                                    Thy relaxing sinews bend;
                                    For a while the ancient rigor
                                    That thy birth bestowed, suspend,
                                    And the king of heavenly beauty,
                                    Gently on thine arms extend.
Because Jesus hangs on the cross, it becomes, in our mystical sight as we sing the hymn, not only a magnificent flowering tree, but an animate object with maternal instincts, capable of relaxing the rigor which it possesses by nature, and bending in tender care for the holy one who is nailed to her. Jesus voluntarily mounts the cross, and the cross is forever changed! 

Like Dante’s poem, jokes can and have been made about the Passion of our Lord Jesus Christ, but, also like Dante’s work, it is not a funny story. Like Dante’s poem, the story of the Passion is dramatically absorbing, but neither one is amusing or entertaining.
But also like Dante’s poem, our Lord’s Passion is so much the opposite of a tragedy, that it can only be known as a Divine Comedy. Dante’s comedy displays a universe that is ordered and benevolently ruled by a God who has the last word; and that word is life, that word is love, that word is hope. The cross is not tragedy. The cross is life, the cross is love, the cross is hope, our only hope.

Amen.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Maundy Thursday

  • Task planning at home.
  • Consulted with the Archdeacon on some administrivia, then with Lori Casson in the cathedral office over some details of the Easter Vigil program.
  • Devotions in the cathedral, actual MP in my own office.
  • More administrivia.
  • Phone interview with another potential candidate for St John's Chapel, Champaign.
  • Determined a date and venue for a June clergy day.
  • Lunch at home--leftovers.
  • Exercise: weights and treadmill.
  • Refined my Easter sermon.
  • Yet more administrivia.
  • Spent an hour working on the still-in-beta new diocesan website. Exchanged emails with the chair of our Department of Communication, who is running point on this.
  • Met with a potential aspirant to Holy Orders (first informal meeting).
  • Went home briefly to eat.
  • Presided at the Maundy Thursday liturgy at the cathedral. (The Dean preached a fine homily.) The washing of feet and the stripping of the altar are always profoundly moving.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Holy Wednesday

  • Usual morning routine.
  • Processed a fairly formidable pile of hard-copy items, some of it still left over from my period of heavy travel during the latter half of last month. 
  • Began consulting commentaries as part of the work of exegeting John 15:1-5 in preparation for a sermon on the Fifth Sunday of Easter.
  • Lunch from Hickory River (chopped brisket), eaten at home.
  • Quality time with the Bowflex and treadmill.
  • Back to my exegetical work.
  • Screening conversation by phone with a potential candidate for the position of Rector-Chaplain at St John the Divine, Champaign.
  • Officiated at Stations of the Cross and celebrated Mass at the cathedral.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Holy Tuesday

  • Task planning (always heavy on Tuesday) at home; Morning Prayer in the cathedral.
  • Checked in with the Archdeacon regarding a couple of minor (not unimportant, but in the larger scheme of things, minor) administrative matters regarding a couple of our parishes.
  • Conferred with the Dean and the Verger at the cathedral on some details regarding today's Mass of Chrism (blessing of oils and renewal of clergy vows), as well as the Great Vigil of Easter this Saturday night. Took care of some of my own personal preparation for that service. Spent a good bit of time in the parking lot greeting and chatting up clergy and spouses as they arrived. Got vested.
  • Preached and celebrated the liturgy, beginning at 11. Turnout was excellent, and it was a joy to see everyone together. I am so privileged to be a servant to these servants of God.
  • The event continued with a catered lunch in the Great Hall of the cathedral, during which I took the opportunity for a few brief but important exchanges I've been needing to have with various people, leveraging the fact of their presence in one place at one time.
  • Met, by appointment, with Deacon Bruce DeGooyer regarding some details of the mission strategy plan. (I realize details have been in short supply as far as public communication is concerned, but please stay tuned; stuff is happening.)
  • By this time it was 2pm, and my introverted self was pretty wrung out, so I took a therapeutic walk up to the Old State Capitol, over to Sixth Street, and back down.
  • Gave some concentrated thought to various questions of liturgical choreography for the Easter Vigil that I had discussed earlier with the Dean and Verger. Wrote a detailed memo distilling my thoughts for the benefit of those concerned. (Good liturgy looks effortless, but only because a great deal of careful planning has gone into it.)
  • Refined my homily for Good Friday.
  • Evening Prayer in the cathedral.

Homily for Mass of Chrism


 Luke 4:16-21
Isaiah 61:1-8
Revelation 1:4-8

                                                                         
As I look around at you, I am acutely aware that everyone here made some sort of sacrifice—in some case, a substantial sacrifice in order to be here. I have not forgotten how demanding and consuming the life of parish clergy can be. There is not a soul in this church who would not have had several worthwhile things to do with the time that is now being devoted to the Mass of Chrism.
We lead such busy lives. I won’t even argue with you about whether they’re over-busy; it doesn’t matter—we’re busy. We’re busy doing good and worthwhile things. We’re busy in our secular lives –those of us who have a secular life, at any rate—and we’re busy in our ecclesial lives. We’re busy in the Church and, together, we’re busy as the Church. As the Church, we do a great deal, and, for the most part, it is good—very good. We engage in corporate worship—on Sundays and holy days, and, many of us, on ordinary weekdays. We say our private prayers—sometimes fervently, sometimes perfunctorily, but we say them. We engage in evangelism—sometimes intelligently and enthusiastically, sometimes stupidly and timidly, but we do it. We participate in service to society—feeding the hungry, housing the homeless, comforting those who mourn. We study—we teach and we learn: We study the Bible, we study theology, we study the history and tradition of the Church. We come together and form Christian community: We share coffee and cookies in the parish hall after Mass on Sunday, we lead small group Bible study and sharing opportunities, and through it all, we hope that we are learning to model a viable alternative society, an alternative to the broken world in which we live. And we intercede for that world; we lift up before God the woundedness and fear, the jealousy and envy, the suspicion and hatred that corrupt and destroy the creatures of God and draw us from the love of God. And in our prayers, we often ask for healing. In the confidence that we serve the God of life and health, and in the conviction that there are those among us whom the Spirit has specially gifted with the ministry of healing, and in faith that when God says he acts through the sacraments, he indeed acts through the sacraments, we offer our prayers for healing, and we watch it happen, and it changes our lives.
These are all things we do as the Church. Sometimes we do them well and sometimes we do them poorly, but we do them. And much of what we do, when we indulge ourselves a moment or two to reflect—much of what we do in fact seems to echo the ministry of the One in whose name we are gathered today, and by whose title—that is, Christ—we dare to call ourselves as we claim to be “Christians.” But it very often seems to us as if we are an aggregation of hamsters, each spinning his or her own little wheel, and from that perspective, it can be discouraging, because it always seems like we should be spinning the wheel faster because not enough is getting done. We lack the long view, we don’t see how the pieces all fit together, and we are easily discouraged as we busily—more and more busily all the time—as we busily spin our hamster wheels.

So my first bit of good news for you this morning is to tell you that today’s scripture readings have the potential—the potential, at least—to make us feel a whole lot better about the individual jobs we’re doing spinning our wheels, because they filter everything through one very helpful lens. From the Revelation to St John the Divine:  “To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood and made us a kingdom, priests to his God and Father…”. A kingdom of priests. A priestly people. It is our identity as a priestly people—a “kingdom of priests”—that makes everything we do as the Church coherent. The psychologists use the German expression gestalt to talk about a single unifying insight that, without necessarily even using very many words, helps simplify a very complicated situation and make it more accessible to our minds and imaginations. As we continue to spin our individual hamster wheels, not able to see how all the wheels relate to one another, the knowledge that we are a kingdom of priests, a priestly people, gives us hope that we are not “spinning” in vain.

Let’s unpack this, shall we?

The priestly character of the Church takes its shape—we might say that it’s “under the cover” of—the one High Priest, the one who is a “priest forever after the order of Melchizedek”—that is, Jesus. Jesus is the archetype—the model, the template, the pattern—for all priesthood. Indeed, strictly speaking, Jesus is the only real priest; any exercise of Christian priesthood “borrows” from Jesus, who is its rightful “owner”
In Jesus’ ministry in the Nazareth synagogue as recorded for us in St Luke’s gospel, we see Jesus’ priestly ministry expressed, as it were, in a capsulated form. Think of it like a “zipped” computer file—you know, after you download some software from the internet, you have to “unzip” the file before you can actually install it on your hard drive. The incident in the Nazareth synagogue tells us what we need to know about the priesthood of the Christ, and, in turn, about the priesthood of the Church, the collective priesthood of the people of God.

In the passage from Isaiah that Jesus read in the synagogue, and which we also read in this liturgy, the prophet—and, we are to understand, Jesus as well—Jesus is anointed by the Holy Spirit, anointed for the specific task of preaching good news: Preaching the good news that poverty does not have the last word; God has the last word, and that word is abundance. Jesus preaches the good news that captivity does not have the last word; God has the last word, and that word is liberty. Jesus preaches the good news that darkness does not have the last word; God has the last word, and that word is light. Jesus preaches the good news that oppression does not have the last word; God has the last word, and that word is joy.

As a priestly people, we stand in the gap between poverty and abundance, between captivity and freedom, between darkness and light, between oppression and joy. A priest is a mediator, a go-between. A priest mediates between those conflicting forces. And just as there is only one priest, so there is only one mediator—Christ Jesus. But Jesus has shared his ministry with us, and we stand in the world as his representatives. We stand in the world bringing Christ to the world and bringing the world to Christ. “Christ for the world we sing; Christ to the world we bring.” And as the priestly people of God, bringing Christ to the world and the world to Christ, we derive our vocation, our calling, from the Lord’s charge to Isaiah. The Lord told the prophet, “You shall be called the priests of the LORD, men shall speak of you as the ministers of our God.” Isaiah, and Israel through him, was given a priestly vocation by the Lord.  And as heirs of the promise, we as the Church have inherited that same vocation, that same calling.
But even though, together, we form a priestly people, we don’t just all exercise all elements of that ministry at the same time and in the same way. We work in a manifold variety of specific ways. So, in a way, I’m sending us back to our personal hamster wheels, but now with a much clearer vision, I hope!
Some among us just pray—and, I don’t need to tell you, these are probably the most important ministers we have! Some of us mix it up with the world, “speaking truth to power” about things that concern the heart of God. Some learn voraciously and teach relentlessly, forming our minds with the mind of Christ, and helping others form their minds the same way. Some give encouragement, or tangible help, in all sorts of ways.  Some “perfect the praises of God’s people” through art and music. Some model the servant leadership of Jesus in an iconic way—these we call deacons. Some model the pastoral ministry—the shepherding ministry—of Jesus in an iconic way—we call some of them bishops, and the ones who cannot reproduce themselves (!), we call presbyters, or priests. Some have the gift and calling to pray specifically for healing.
As the clergy renew their vows, and as we bless the oils used in the manufacture of new Christians and the manifestation of God’s desire for healing in all circumstances, we bear witness to one another of our collective priestly character—we are the “anointed ones.” We are privileged to share the ministry of the Anointed One—the Messiah, the Christ, the Son of the Living God. May his name be praised now and through ages of ages. Amen.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Palm Sunday Homily


(St Paul's Cathedral, Springfield)
They’re still around in some places, but not like they used to be. I’m talking about those neon signs that proclaim in brightly glowing letters, “Jesus Saves.” Usually they decorated the roofline of an urban church building, and were often in the shape of a cross. Invariably, they signified a particular style of theology, and a particular genre of Christian piety.

Jesus saves. I don’t see the Chapter putting a neon sign on the roof of the Cathedral to that effect. But, nonetheless, I hope we believe it. It’s a pretty clear inference in the words of the Nicene Creed. And the expression raises a good question, one that needs to be asked: What, precisely, are we saying about Jesus, and about ourselves, when we affirm that “Jesus saves”?  How does Jesus save those whom he saves? These questions consumed the church during the third and fourth and fifth centuries, when the language of the Nicene Creed and other doctrinal statements was being hammered out. And again in the sixteenth century, the nature of salvation and what it means to say that Jesus saves us lay at the heart of the controversy among western Christians now known as the Protestant Reformation. And at any other time in the history of Christianity, the question has never been far from the front burner.

Jesus saves. One theological approach to what this means focuses on Jesus as an innocent victim, one who suffers in dignified silence at the hands of evil men. We’ve just read St Mark’s version of those events. The late Reginald Fuller, who was a very heavy hitter among Anglican New Testament scholars, suggested that the material we read came originally from two different literary sources that were combined by the St Mark into the form that we now have. One of these literary sources may have read something like this:
They led him away to crucify him. They brought him to a place called Golgotha. They crucified him, and divided his garments among them, casting lots for them, to decide what each should take. With him they crucified two robbers, one on his right and one on his left.
These phrases, taken by themselves, emphasize the “lamb led to the slaughter” aspect of the Passion, and, in fact, may actually be calculated to echo passages like Psalm 22 and Isaiah 53. In the late Middle Ages, this angle of interpretation reached a sort of high point, with ultra-realistic crucifixes that looked like they were dripping real blood, and with the cultivation of intentional devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Mel Gibson’s controversial film from 2004 certainly tapped into this tradition. And you may recall those T-shirts that depicted Jesus as a weight lifter, with the caption, “Bench press this: The Sin of the World.” Apart from the style in which it’s expressed, however, there is a theological nugget to be mined here: Anything that the powers of sin and death can throw, they threw at Jesus. He bore it all; he bore it willingly and quietly as an innocent victim, and his self-offering is sufficient in the eyes of God the Father. Jesus is indeed the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world, and brings us God’s peace.
But this is not the only way of saying what needs to be said. Another approach, rather than emphasizing the innocent suffering of Jesus, the victimhood of Jesus, interprets the cross as the venue of a cosmic, universe-shattering battle between God and forces of Evil.  If we look at the other literary strand that Dr Fuller suggests was woven into St Mark’s gospel, we get a narrative that would go something like this:
It was the third hour when they crucified him. The inscription of the charge against him read, ‘The King of the Jews.’ Those who passed by derided him. Those who were crucified with him also reviled him. When the sixth hour had come, there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour. At the ninth hour, Jesus cried with a loud voice and breathed his last. The curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom.
There’s nothing here about the suffering and innocent victimhood of Christ. This is consistent with earlier medieval views of the significance of the cross, when artistic representations of the crucifixion had an other-worldly, almost abstract, quality to them, rather than focusing on blood and pain. Jesus is in control, even as he is nailed to the cross. Indeed, he is often depicted in a fashion such as we have in the reredos over the altar right here—as a victorious king and priest, reigning from the tree. It’s all working out according to plan. He is in the very act of ransoming the human race from captivity by his death, Jesus satisfying the just demands of a holy God on our behalf, Christ triumphant and victorious and crucified all at the same time.  

Jesus saves, and we have two views of how he does it, one seeing Christ as a victim, and one seeing Christ in control. And they’re both true! The second view, “Christ in control,” if considered alone, can certainly become overly abstract. It can turn the whole event into something resembling an epic movie plot, maybe something like Star Wars, with a cast of thousands, intricate and subtle symbolism, and a fully-orchestrated musical score. It gets our adrenalin going, but, unfortunately, it can be difficult to see ourselves in stories like that. It can be difficult for us to connect the story to our real day to day lives and our real day to day needs.  So we need to see the real suffering of the real human Jesus, the innocent victim who feels the bite of the whip and the pounding of the nails and the agony of abandonment by his followers and even, in the moment of his death, by God. It is this real suffering that authenticates the cosmic triumph of the cross.

But the first view, “Christ as victim,” if considered alone, turns Jesus’ suffering into a mere feeling-fest, dripping with emotion and little else. This leads to an overly-sentimentalized and introspective spirituality. When I was a child, before I understood anything about sacraments and how they enable us to participate in the mystery of our redemption, I used to approach Holy Communion with a sincere effort to stir up some very deep feelings, imagining giving up even one piece of my own flesh the size of a piece of communion bread for somebody else’s sake, and then comparing that to Jesus being nailed to a cross and bleeding to death for my sake.  Without the corrective balance of the cosmically triumphant cross, “Christ as innocent victim” eventually becomes merely an ineffective moral example, one that does not particularly inspire us to imitate it.

These two understandings of the meaning of cross, the meaning of “Jesus saves,” need one another. Yes Jesus saves me from the eternal consequences of my sin, expressing God’s great love for me in the magnitude of his suffering on the cross. But this salvation is made possible because Jesus was doing cosmic battle on the cross, defeating the forces of sin and death by absorbing their full horror.

One of my favorite Latin poets is a fifth century fellow named Venatius Honorius Fortunatus. He puts it, of course, better than I ever could:

The royal banners forward go,
The cross shines forth in mystic glow,
Where he who through our flesh was made,
In that same flesh our ransom paid.
O tree of beauty, tree most fair,
Ordained those holy limbs to bear,
Gone is thy shame, each crimsoned bough
Proclaims the king of glory now.
O cross, our one reliance, hail!
Still may thy power with us avail
To save us sinners from our sin,
God’s righteousness for all to win.

In other words, Jesus saves. Amen.