- Morning Prayer at home.
- Refined, edited, and printed a working script for my homily at this evening's ordination.
- Met with the Dean over a couple of important but non-urgent concerns.
- Began to work on refining my homily for this weekend (Saturday night in Robinson, Sunday morning in Albion and Mt Carmel).
- Out the door at 10:45 (the power in the office having just been knocked out by a thunderstorm, anyway) for an appointment with my primary care physician.
- Picked up some lunch at Long John Silver's (not on my usual beaten path, but convenient today) and brought it home to eat. The person at the drive-through window said of my attire, "I like the purple. Nice look."
- After lunch, remained home and complete the sermon work I had begun in the office.
- Processed a short stack of emails.
- Out the door again just past 2:30, this time headed for Danville, with a stop back at the office to pick up the book that ordinands need to sign after they promise conformity to "the doctrine, discipline, and worship of the Episcopal Church."
- Arrived at Holy Trinity, Danville around 4:40, ahead of a 5:00 liturgy rehearsal and 6:00pm ordination Mass.
- Ordained Richard Lewis to the transitional diaconate. We indulged in a surfeit of Marian piety, which plays well at Holy Trinity. Home just before 11pm.
Tuesday, May 31, 2016
Holy Trinity, Danville--Luke 1:39-57; Romans 12:9-16b
This is certainly a happy occasion. It’s one that Richard has looked forward to for a long wile now, and, just as intently, it has been looked forward to by the parish family of Holy Trinity. Richard has been part of the life of this community for many, many years. And so he comes to this transitional moment from among you, having been one of you. Tonight is one incremental step in altering the shape of that relationship. On a very technical level, Richard will no longer belong to Holy Trinity; he will no longer be a member of Holy Trinity the way he has up until this point. Rather, he will belong to the diocese and to the whole church. Having come from you, he will now be set apart by prayer and the laying-on of hands, and assigned to you. He’ll be the same person, but the dynamics of the relationship will be different.
Richard has served Holy Trinity for more than a year now as a licensed Lay Pastoral Leader. After tonight, we can’t call him that anymore because he will no longer be “lay.” But the canons prohibit a deacon from being put “in charge” of a Parish. So, Richard, I’m not precisely sure what your title will be for the next several months! What’s important is that you and the people who have been co-laborers with you as members of this parish community, but whose pastor, priest, and leader you will, in due course and God willing, become—you and folks at Holy Trinity can work that all out, I’m quite certain. (Truth to tell, you will not be alone in this canonical limbo; we will have two other transitional deacons functionally, while not canonically, “in charge” of congregations this summer and fall.)
So, we are entering a liminal moment, a season of ambiguity and flux. On such occasions, it’s helpful to be able to talk it through and talk it out with trusted friends, and I’m fairly certain that Richard has already had such conversations, perhaps with his colleagues in the Nashotah House distance program, perhaps with some of you. This is exactly what Our Lady, the Blessed Virgin Mary, did when she was entering her own liminal period, when the constellation of her relationships in the world was about to change drastically, in response to the message from the Angel Gabriel, shattering any semblance of stability that she may have known during her growing-up years in Nazareth. Mary went to visit Elizabeth, probably some level of cousin, with whom she was very close. This was Mary’s way of processing what had happened to her, her way of “pondering all these things in her heart.”
We chose this date for Richard’s ordination because because it was in the date range that we needed, and it was a major holy day, and a Marian feast to boot, which is right in the sweet spot of Holy Trinity’s piety, so … why not? That much was quite serendipitous. But as I pondered the readings for this feast day in preparation for giving this homily, I was struck that one could hardly choose biblical texts that are more appropriate for an ordination to the diaconate. While Our Lady was never a deacon in the strict sense, she is the pattern, the template—one could say that she broke the mold—for having the heart of a deacon, which is nothing other than the heart of a servant. Fiat mihi secundum verbum tuum—“Let it be unto me according to thy word.” Mary gave herself over completely to God and to the will of God. It would mean a great deal of suffering—as she would hear a few months later from the prophet Simeon, “A sword of grief will pierce your own soul also”—but even now, as Elizabeth greets her and she breaks out into song, Mary is able to say, “The Lord has done great things for me, and holy is his Name.” Mary has placed herself in the service of God’s project of upsetting the apple cart of human expectations—the lowly being raised up and the powerful being cast down, the hungry being filled with good things while the complacently wealthy are sent away, the great reversal of the power of sin and death, the restoration of righteousness and justice, of health and wholeness and the conditions under which human life can thrive.
This is an occasion when Richard’s invitation is to inhabit that same moment prepared for him so long ago by our Holy Queen, an occasion to say, “Be it unto me according to thy word,” and to place himself in service of the redemption and restoration that Jesus came to initiate. But this is not only Richard’s night. It’s Holy Trinity’s night, because you have walked with him along this path, and while Richard is the one being sacramentally ordained a deacon, it’s also an opportunity for Holy Trinity, as a Eucharistic Community, to assume a diaconal posture, to be conformed to a diaconal shape, to collectively adopt the heart of a servant toward Danville and Vermillion County. Actually, the significance of tonight may be more lasting for the parish than for Richard. A few months from now, early in 2017, most likely, we’ll come back here and make Richard a priest, and while he will still share the servant ministry of all the baptized, his primary focus will shift toward being a shepherd and a leader, to be the chief word-proclaimer and bread-breaker to this local community of Christians. At that point, he will be canonically “in charge.” But, meanwhile, “all the baptized” who hang their hats here at Holy Trinity will still be called to manifest the heart of the Servant Jesus, the one who washed the feet of his disciples, manifesting the heart of that servant Jesus toward one another and toward those around you who need their feet washed. And all of us together—Richard, the people of Holy Trinity, and those from around the diocese who have come to stand with you in this moment—all of us together can sing with Our Blessed Lady, Our Holy Queen, “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord, my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked with favor on his holy servant.”
Richard, my brother, please stand.
Tonight’s epistle reading is an ideal ordination charge for tonight’s occasion. I can’t improve on Holy Scripture, so I’m just going to give it to you as it is, but, even though I’m addressing you, I’m going to leave the plural pronouns plural, so that the Holy Trinity family can eavesdrop, and understand it as their “charge” as well.
Put on then, as God's chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.
Saturday, May 28, 2016
8am Morning Prayer & Mass in St Mary's Chapel (keeping the feast of Corpus Christi, transferred, since we always observe Jackson Kemper at Commencement), followed by a somewhat attenuated breakfast ahead of a firm 9:30 start time for the regular May meeting of the Board of Directors. We were joined by several Members of the corporation, who had seat but not voice, although on selected occasions we solicited their input. The bulk of the morning was devoted to figuring out how to deal prudently with the financial straits that the House finds itself in, although they are not as narrow as they were a year and two ago. After an expeditious 30 minute lunch, we dealt with more routine concerns--election of officers (I am once again the Chairman), cleaning up some language in our statutes and policies, adopting new Audit Committee protocols. We were finished at 2:50. Forty minutes later I was on the road toward the Twin Cities, where my daughter and her husband and their two children live. Brenda flew in; I picked her up at MSP in the late evening. We're looking forward to being grandparents for the weekend. I'll be back in this venue on Tuesday.
Thursday, May 26, 2016
- Morning Prayer was a 7:30, but most everybody, YFNB included, thought it was a 8:00, so ... on the breakfast.
- At 9:15 I headed over to the St John's-Northwestern Military Academy chapel to vest and get otherwise oriented and organized for commencement, which was at 10:00 (on this, everyone agreed).
- I know the chapel is not air-conditioned, so I expected to be uncomfortable, and I was, but it could certainly have been worse. After the Dean and Faculty award the earned degrees (of which there were 26, including two from the Diocese of Springfield), it's my turn to award the honorary degrees, of which there were two: Bishop Michael Marshall (who was one of my homiletical and catechetical heroes as long ago as the early 1980s ... so, very cool) and Bishop Harold Miller of Down & Dromore.
- I then presided at the Eucharist, which was a distinct privilege.
- Just enough time to pose for pictures, air out a bit, grab some lunch in the refectory, and head down to the room called the West Wing for the annual meeting of the Members of the Corporation of Nashotah House.While I chair the actual governing body, the Board of Directors, elected by the Members, I do not preside over the annual meeting. So I got to sit in the back row and ask questions and make observations. We elected several new members, and many of them asked insightful questions, so it was time well spent.
- We adjourned just in time to make it to the chapel for 4:30 Evensong, which was followed by dinner, on a somewhat less festive note, back in the refectory.
- During the evening, I actually got to spend some solo time in the library ... yes, processing email.
Wednesday, May 25, 2016
- 8am, Morning Prayer in St Mary's Chapel
- 8:45ish until 10:15ish--breakfast in the refectory. Sat a bit with Matthew Dallman to review the draft of the liturgy for his ordination to the diaconate on June 11. Processed some emails.
- 10:30-11:45ish: Attended the annual Alumni Day Mass, in the chapel. Brilliant homily from Fr Joel Prather of the Diocese of Milwaukee on the importance and relevance of St Bede.
- Noonish until 1:30ish: Lunch for alumni and tomorrow's graduates at the Olympia Resort in Oconomowoc.
- 2:00-3:30: Attended a presentation by Fr Jack Gabig (faculty) and Fr Lee Nelson (alumn) on some ideas about catechesis in a post-Christian culture. Relevant and timely.
- Sat in the refectory (where there's good wifi) and processed emails.
- 4:30-5:40ish: Solemn Evensong in the chapel, which included a "sermonic lecture" from the Bishop of Down & Dromore in the Church of Ireland, Harold Miller. It was superb.
- Gala banquet in Adams Hall, which included the presentation of several awards to distinguished alumni.
- And the highlight of the day: A late-night run to LeDuc's, the iconic (to Nashotah students) frozen custard joint in the nearby community of Wales, accompanied by my friend Fr Dow Sanderson, rector of Holy Communion, Charleston (SC).
Tuesday, May 24, 2016
Last night I had driven as far as Rockford, so this morning I got up and continued my journey to Nashotah House, where I arrived around 10. Spent the morning signing some certificates and catching up with the Dean and the Secretary of the Directors on a range of issues. Lunch in the refectory, then I got settled in to my quarters (just a few feet from where I lived as a student in the 80s). Then it was off to the nearby St John's-Northwestern Military Academy chapel, venue for commencement on Thursday, for a liturgy rehearsal. Back on campus, I processed several emails, and then attended semi-choral Evensong (the Psalm and Canticles were sung by the choir) in a packed chapel. This was followed by a reception in the refectory for Professor (of Church Music) Joseph Kucharski, who is retiring. The evening was capped off by a smallish gathering of some Corporation Members (formerly known as Trustees) and three of those who have been nominated for election as members.
Sunday, May 22, 2016
Met Mother Kathryn Jeffrey, rector of St Andrew's, Carbondale (with St James' Chapel, Marion) for breakfast at 8:30. We then headed to the church ahead of the regular 10am Sunday liturgy, at which we received one adult and confirmed her teenage daughter. The liturgy was enhanced by the presence of a harpist--not something I've experienced very many times--and she was joined by an accomplished flutist, in addition to the regular keyboard musician (piano today, as the organ is acting up). Toward the conclusion of the coffee hour I made about a 20 minutes presentation on the approaches to parish mission strategy. Pointed the YFNBmobile toward home around 12:30 and pulled into my driveway a little bit before 4:00. After a walk and a casual meal out with Brenda, I spent much of the evening responding to emails. This entire week will be devoted to travel, and some stuff just needed to get done sooner or later.
St Andrew's, Carbondale w/ St James', Marion--John 16:12-15, Romans 5:1-5, Proverbs 8:1-4, 22-31
You’ve probably noticed how difficult it is for human beings to get along sometimes, right? That’s why we have wars. That’s why we have lawyers. That’s why we have conciliators and facilitators and psychotherapists. Countries have conflicts with other countries; we see it on the news every day. Very serious cutthroat competition drives our marketplaces. Extended families are dysfunctional across multiple generations. Even those who claim to be followers of Jesus squabble amongst themselves over all kinds of things, both major and minor. And I’m sure that none of this comes as any news to you. It’s just the environment we live in.
But, as Christians, as followers of Jesus, we have a distinctive attitude toward all this ubiquitous conflict. We certainly live under its shadow—whether the conflict is global or local, whether it’s substantial and dangerous or just petty and annoying. But we are people who, simply by virtue of our identity in Christ, are committed to the imperative of reconciliation. Reconciliation is not just an aspect of the gospel; reconciliation is the gospel. The possibility and hope of reconciliation—reconciliation with God, reconciliation with other people, reconciliation with ourselves, reconciliation with creation, with the cosmos—this is precisely the good news that is our mission to propagate by deed and word. Indeed, the catechism in our Prayer Book articulates the mission of the church as restoring “all people to unity with God and one another in Christ.”
This is daunting, isn’t it? I, for one, find it extremely intimidating. But the good news is, we don’t have to make it up from scratch. We don’t have to accomplish it on our own power, as a result of our own resourcefulness and our own hard labor. It’s God project. And within the life of God itself, we find the resources we need.
Today is Trinity Sunday, which reminds us that when we as Christians say “God,” we mean something rather more complex and interesting than, say, Jews or Muslims or people who just use the word casually without giving it very much thought. The doctrine of the Trinity wasn’t fully fleshed out in the mind of the Church until around four centuries after Jesus was no longer present on this planet in his human body. It’s infamously hard to understand, and even harder to explain. There is no single adequate way of speaking about the Trinity—though lots of wrong ways!—just a few phrases, like “trinity of Persons in unity of Being”—that have distilled as less inadequate than all the others.
We have all sorts of symbolic abstractions that we use to navigate these perilous theological waters. You’ve probably seen that chart that has the word “God” in the middle of a triangle, and the words “Father,” “Son,” and “Holy Spirit” at each of the corners. Between each corner and the center is a line labeled “Is,” to indicate that each of the Persons of the Trinity is truly and completely God. The lines that actually make up the triangle are labeled “Is Not,” indicating that the Persons of the Trinity are not to be confused with one another. Really, it makes most anybody’s head swim, doesn’t it?
So it’s helpful to bear in mind that there’s a difference between the doctrine of the Trinity and the Trinity itself, as important as that doctrine is. God cannot be reduced to or contained by any doctrine, though the doctrines of the Church are true as far as they go, and we’re not at liberty to play with them; they’re the least bad descriptions of whatever it is they describe. Now, to end of making that distinction between the doctrine of God and God himself, let me call your attention to an icon that originates in Russia about 500 years ago, but has become quite well-known in both its native Eastern environment and in the Christian west as well. In the development of Christian devotion, this image has come to be understood as representing the unrepresentable Trinity in the “least inadequate” way.
It depicts three “angels” whom we read about in Genesis. They visit the patriarch Abraham and deliver the news that his aged wife Sarah will nevertheless bear a son within the next year. Abraham prepares a meal for them, and this icon shows them seated at his table for the meal. Because, according to the Law of Moses in the Old Testament, you can’t depict God artistically, this icon has entered the Christian spiritual tradition as a kind of surrogate image for the Holy Trinity. The “angels”—and an angel is always an ambiguous figure in the Old Testament—the angels whom we mystically see as representing the three Persons of the Holy Trinity, are gathered at a table for a meal. Now, think about it: a meal is an intrinsically social occasion. All of us have found ourselves in situations—at a dinner party, in the dining car of a train, perhaps on a cruise ship—when we’re sharing a meal with people we’ve never met before, and in those circumstances we feel an impulse—or an obligation, at any rate—to make conversation, to be sociable. So the fact that we see, by analogy, the Persons of the Trinity sharing a meal together demonstrates that they are in relationship with one another. They are not compartmentalized, not siloed, not abstracted, but engaged with one another, in relationship with one another.
Now, notice that each bears a symbol of royal—or, in this case, divine—authority, but each one’s head is inclined in deference to the others. They are absolutely co-equal, and at the same time mutually subordinate.
This “picture” says way more than “a thousand words.” It is a mystical image of the what our missionary goal—that is, reconciliation of all people with God and one another—an image of what our missionary goal looks like. The Holy Trinity shows us a God who goes out of Himself to be in relationship with humankind. This results not only in “peace with God” but sharing in God’s glory.
This “outgoingness” of God is intimated by the personification of Wisdom in this morning’s first reading from the Book of Proverbs. We read
Does not wisdom call, and does not understanding raise her voice? On the heights, beside the way, at the crossroads, she takes her stand. … “I was beside him, like a master worker; and I was daily his delight, rejoicing before him always.
Then, in St Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, God’s love is described as having been “poured into our hearts,” a robust image of God’s outgoingness, of God extending himself, of God’s “sociability,” of his desire to be in relationship with us, because God is, in his very nature, “communal”—a divine community of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Unity of Being, Trinity of Persons.
Jesus, in his farewell address to his closest disciples on the eve of his death, talks about the Holy Spirit who will be sent after his departure, and describes the Holy Spirit as the “Spirit of truth.” This reminds us that an authentic relationship is indeed an environment in which truth can be told. Think how rare that is in so many of our relationships, both individually and in community. We often don’t feel safe in speaking truth, for fear of what the response will be. We figure that a fragile and insecure and not entirely truthful relationship is better than a broken relationship, better than no relationship at all. But as we see the Holy Trinity, represented by angels, gathered around the table in this icon, it’s clear that they are not going anywhere without one another. Their commitment is solid. When we’re in a secure relationship, we can tell the truth, because we’re not afraid that those who hear the truth we speak are going to bolt, to break off the relationship. We are Trinitarian Christians because the relationship between the Persons of the Trinity provides the template, the model, by which we can safely speak truth to one another. The Trinity is the seedbed in which we can grow into the sort of reconciled mutual deference that mirrors the life of God.
So, you see, we have much more to celebrate on Trinity Sunday than a doctrine, as significant as the doctrine is. The Trinity itself, God himself, not the doctrine, is our very life and salvation. The Trinity is the roadmap and the resource for our missionary work of restoring all people to unity with God and one another in Christ. Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit: As it was in the beginning, is now, and will be forever. Amen.
Saturday, May 21, 2016
- Out the door at 8:30, headed south. Arrived at St Paul's, Alton at about 10:15.
- Presided over the installation of the Revd Cindy Sever as Rector of Alton Parish. It was an energetic and lovely ceremony.
- After the post-liturgical potluck I headed further south still, arriving at St James', Marion in time for their regular Lord's Day celebration, which occurs on the eve thereof. Presided, preached, and laid hands on one person renewing her baptismal vows.
- Dinner for vestry and spouses at the home of St Andrew's, Carbondale parishioner Trish Guyon, which is always an elegant affair. By now she knows what I like to drink and what I like to eat, so it's pretty special.
Friday, May 20, 2016
- Arrived at the cathedral/office complex and puttered around the cathedral nave and chancel *kind of* getting ready for the Diocesan Council Mass, but not fully because the painters, who had scaffolding erected all over the place just yesterday, were still working on clearing out of that end of the building and setting up in the other one. I was able to get a few things done, however.
- Short form of Morning Prayer in the office.
- Got my iPad and Bluetooth keyboard set up and worked on drafting my homily for Proper 6 (June 4-5 in Robinson, Albion, and Mt Carmel).
- Presided and preached at the Council Mass, keeping the lesser feast of St Alcuin of York.
- Presided over the regular quarterly meeting of the Diocesan Council. There was a positive spirit, and we got done what needed to be done (looking at YTD finances, approving outreach grants, to name a couple of the highlights) quite efficiently, and were finished right around noon.
- The usual handful of post-meeting sidebar conversations.
- Check my voicemail and heard the unexpected news that my computer was ready to be picked up, so I headed right there. It turned out the only problem was some missing screws on the bottom of the case. Once they were replaced, everything held together and talked to one another very nicely. I was a very happy camper.
- Lunch at home. Leftovers.
- Returned to drafting the sermon for Proper 6, and completed the task.
- Put some concentrated brainpower into roughing out the four 40-minute teaching sessions available to me at the St Michael's Youth Conference.
- Evening Prayer in the cathedral.
- In the evening at home: Drafted a somewhat lengthy Ad Clerum--letter to the clergy--that should get sent out electronically on Monday.
Thursday, May 19, 2016
- Morning Prayer in the office.
- Spent a substantial amount of time on two different phone conversations trying to straighten out a particularly vexatious pastoral-administrative matter. I broke every one of family systems theory's best practices, but, in the end, it seemed to get the job done.
- Finished my prep for a coffee hour presentation I'm set to make at St Andrew's, Carbondale on Sunday.
- Reviewed the draft liturgy sheet for my visit to St John's, Albion on June 5.
- Reviewed, in my capacity as a board member, some draft materials pertaining to an imminent capital campaign by the Living Church Foundation.
- Took care of an administrative loose ends with respect to one of our postulants.
- Lunch at home. Leftovers.
- Planned the liturgy (readings, service music, hymns) for the Synod Mass in October and passed that info along to the organist.
- Took a brief walk on a beautiful afternoon.
- Began to work on drafting the text of my homily on the occasion of a diaconal ordination on the 31st. Suddenly, the screen on my laptop went black. Of course, when my computer is down, life may not be ended, but it is certainly changed. Getting it restored becomes Priority One. So I took it to the Mac specialist store a few blocks away, and there's a video issue with the display, and possibly the logic board (whatever that is). So my MacBook Pro is in the hospital over the weekend, looking forward to a Monday afternoon release. Meanwhile, I'm reduced to an iPad and a Bluetooth keyboard. It's annoying, but it's a reasonable temporary workaround.
- Spent the evening finishing that sermon draft.
Wednesday, May 18, 2016
- Morning Prayer in the office.
- Prepared to preside and preach at the midday Eucharist.
- Took care of some administrative details regarding a cleric who is leaving us for another diocese.
- Followed up on an administrative matter pertaining to one of our postulants.
- Reviewed the draft liturgy booklet for this Saturday's installation of the new rector of Alton Parish.
- Spoke by phone with Bishop Thomas Paprocki, my Roman Catholic counterpart.
- Another first get-to-know-you meeting with an individual considering discernment toward ordination.
- Celebrated the midday Mass, using the collect and readings for Proper 2.
- Lunch from HyVee, eaten at home.
- Worked for a good while on liturgy planning for the St Michael's Youth Conference next month.
- Worked on a smallish presentation I'm set to make this Sunday at St Andrew's, Carbondale.
- Made a hotel reservation for an upcoming out-of-town trip.
- Worked a bit more on preparing liturgical materials for an upcoming diaconal ordination.
- Evening Prayer in the office.
Tuesday, May 17, 2016
- Morning Prayer in the office (cathedral nave being worked on).
- Debriefed with the Archdeacon over some ongoing issues.
- Worked with Sue on some communication details about the November clergy conference.
- Worked on some Nashotah House business ahead of next week's meetings of the Corporation and the Board of Directors.
- Traded emails with the senior warden of a vacant cure, which resulted in a later-morning phone conversation with another bishop. But it all ended happily, as we finished the day with a signed Letter of Agreement, with the call to be announced in that parish this Sunday.
- Edited, refined, and printed a working text of my homily for Trinity Sunday, to be delivered at St James', Marion and St Andrew's, Carbondale.
- Met with the Dean of St Paul's over a short array of concerns.
- Lunch at home. Leftovers.
- Met with the Archdeacon and the Administrator for a ritual that usually takes place midsummer, but is moved up by my impending sabbatical--"elections and appointments." On the elections side, it's a pre-Synod move to make sure that we have a least one name on the ballot for every vacancy. In a diocese a small as Springfield, this is a necessity. The "appointments" are exactly that--looking at the whole list of offices that need to be filled, considering who's available, and making a decision. Some reading this very blog may receive a phone call from the Archdeacon because their name came up in this meeting.
- Worked on the liturgy program for an upcoming ordination to the diaconate.
- Hand-wrote a note to some former parishioners who are getting married.
- Worked on some Living Church Foundation business.
- Evening Prayer in the office.
Sunday, May 15, 2016
St George's, Belleville always seems to have a happy vibe, which makes me happy to visit there. Wonderful hospitality, dinner last night with vestry and spouses, after-dinner beer pub with four of them, opportunity for teaching on the spiritual life and appropriately "spirited" discussion sandwiched between two energetic liturgies, the second one including the confirmation of a Methodist pastor (currently on leave) who is enthusiastically discovering the Anglican roots of his own tradition. Then, Mexican lunch in downtown Belleville with Fr Dale and Deacon Jody Coleman. And the takeaway line from my homily: The linguistic unity of Pentecost is a sign of the reversal of the curse of Babel.
St George's, Belleville--Acts 2:1-11
If you’ve ever done any foreign travel, you’ve experienced in a firsthand and practical way the fact that human beings speak different languages. And sometimes it’s the same language: Brenda and I once rented a movie that was made in northern England and we had to turn on the closed caption feature because we couldn’t understand a word of what anybody was saying, and they were speaking English! And I can remember being in a truck stop restaurant in rural Tennessee, and needing my southern-educated daughter to interpret for the waitress. The language barrier has a deep impact on the way human beings relate to one another. Wars have been fought because of misunderstandings arising from differences in verbal communication.
In one of the briefer and more obscure parts of the Book of Genesis, we find an attempt to explain the origin of linguistic diversity. It’s the story of the Tower of Babel. This is the stuff of legend, of course, rather than historical fact, and we can find similar stories in other ancient literature, but as we have it, as human civilization reached the point where people grouped themselves into cities, in a place called Babel, they began construction on a tower that was intended to reach all the way into heaven, the very dwelling place of God. Well, God obviously couldn’t tolerate that, so he confused the speech of the workers so that they could no longer understand each other and couldn’t work together anymore and therefore could not finish their construction project. And that’s how we got all the different languages that people speak.
From this perspective, then, linguistic diversity is understood to be a curse—a curse from God. Now, I’m an amateur student of the evolutionary history of human language, so I know there are more natural explanations as to why we talk differently. But one need not take the story of the Tower of Babel literally in order see its huge symbolic significance. Babel is a sign that points clearly to our very concrete experience of alienation from our fellow human beings. At the most basic level: I am not you and you are not me. I’m not trying to be cute by stating the obvious; I’m talking about the root of most human misery here. As hard as I might try, I can never reveal myself in such a way that you can perfectly understand me, and you cannot possibly reveal yourself to me in such a way that I could perfectly understand you. And, of course, most of the time, we hardly even make an effort to understand and be understood. This is what leads to everything from war to crime to social injustice to political oppression to economic exploitation to domestic discord and violence to depression and suicide, and the list could go on—all of which indicates that we are fundamentally disconnected—disconnected from ourselves, disconnected from one another, disconnected from our environment, and disconnected from God. And Christian theology has a one-syllable word—one syllable in English, at any rate—a one-syllable word that lies at the heart of this disconnection: Sin. Not my particular sins or your particular sins, nasty as they may be! Rather, I’m talking about the power of Sin, and principle of Sin, the force of Sin, that which drives us to do things that we know are destructive to ourselves and to others, but we do them anyway, because every one of us is enslaved to the power of sin and death.
If the Tower of Babel is the great sign of human alienation, then, on this Day of Pentecost, we see the great sign of God’s reversal of that alienation. We see an amazing outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the infant Church as it was gathered together in Jerusalem. There was a sound of rushing wind. Flames of fire appeared over the heads of the apostles. But the most startling of the signs that day was that people from all over the eastern half of the Roman Empire, people who spoke a diversity of languages—each of them heard the apostles speaking in their own native language. It was as if there were a meeting of the United Nations, and the French ambassador hears the Chinese ambassador speaking perfect French, and when he replies, the Chinese ambassador hears the French ambassador speaking perfect Mandarin, and, meanwhile the U.S. ambassador hears both of them speaking English as if they were from the Midwest, and the ambassador from Tanzania hears everyone speaking Swahili like they were born in east Africa. If the linguistic diversity of the Tower of Babel is a sign of alienation and division, the linguistic unity of the Day of Pentecost is a sign of reconciliation and unity in Christ. It is a sign of the very mission of the Church, which our Prayer Book catechism defines as “restoring all people to unity with God and one another in Christ.”
The linguistic unity of Pentecost is a sign that we are invited to live into the call of radical unity—unity with God, unity with one another, unity with ourselves, and unity with our environment. Through Christ—through his cross and resurrection —we have been redeemed from bondage to the power sin and death. When we come to the waters of baptism, this redemption is sealed by the Holy Spirit, and we are gifted and empowered to become agents of the Church’s mission of reconciliation and unity.
The implications of this are astonishing if we really think it all through. Now, I don’t want to create the impression that we, as the Church, bear the burden of making worldwide reconciliation and unity happen, more or less on our own initiative. It’s God’s project, and God makes it happen. But we get to participate, we get to watch it unfold. And what a wonderful vision it is—the veritable re-weaving of the social fabric. We’re talking about a society that is free from violence, free from crime. We’re talking about a society where lawyers are unemployed, and have to be re-trained to do something else, because people settle their differences in a non-adversarial manner. We’re talking about a world order that has discovered creative alternatives to armed conflict. We’re talking about a society that helps marriages not only survive but thrive, rather than disintegrate when placed under stress. We’re talking about a society with no gouging or exploitation—where gasoline in the poorer neighborhoods isn’t twenty cents higher than gasoline in affluent neighborhoods.
We’re talking about a society that is soaked in the justice and righteousness of God. The coming of the Holy Spirit is the sign of that righteousness and justice, the sign of that society, the sign that the curse of Babel—the estrangement and alienation that Babel symbolizes—the curse of Babel has been reversed. This is precisely the good news that it is our joyful privilege to share with those in the world around us, those who are divided and enslaved by sin even as they are divided by a multiplicity of languages. This is work of evangelization that we have spent the last ten days in this diocese earnestly imploring the Holy Spirit to equip us for. We’re not going to see it come to completion during our time in this world, but we do get to model it, and hope for it, and, in God’s good time, enjoy it. Come, Holy Spirit, come. Alleluia and Amen.
Saturday, May 14, 2016
- At the cathedral-office complex around 9:20, and right away began the run-up to the liturgy at which we ordained David Wells to the priesthood. There are so many details prior to an event like this, that it feels like I never stop walking (and, at the end of the day, my pedometer bears that out). The ordination went splendidly in every department; I couldn't have been more pleased. The post-liturgical reception was equally wonderful.
- I left the area around 2:00, and headed home, where I had less than an hour to rest a bit, process some email, and packs for an overnight.
- Hit the road with Brenda at 2:50 and landed at St George's, Belleville at just the right interval ahead of their 5:00pm observance of Evening Prayer, at which I was the officiant. Most of the congregation were vestry members and spouses, who subsequently joined us for dinner at Bella Milano in O'Fallon. After dinner we joined two other couples for a libation at a beer bar next door to the restaurant. Conveniently, this was all just across the street from our reserved lodging at the Hilton Garden Inn.
Friday, May 13, 2016
- Went to bed feeling like a pile of rags and woke up feeling like a healthy human being. Not sure what the direct cause was, but it was surely an answer to prayer.
- Morning Prayer in the office (they clean in the cathedral on Friday mornings).
- Took care of a small administrative matter pertaining to the ordination process.
- Attended to some details on my calendar for the next few weeks, recognized a conflict, and began to take steps toward resolving it.
- Spoke by phone with the Bishop of Massachusetts. One of his ordinands has been called to a parish in our diocese, and he was just doing some due diligence on that score, since the individual in question needs to be formally released by him in order to take the position here.
- Got to play with hot wax and seal several certificates: one for tomorrow's ordination to the priesthood, one for the institution of a rector later this month, one for an ordination to the diaconate at the end of the month, and one for the newly-elected Dean of St Paul's Cathedral--former Provost Andy Hook.
- Lunch from HyVee, eaten at home.
- Spent some time in the cathedral looking after bits and pieces of logistics for tomorrow's ordination of David Wells to the priesthood.
- Prayed over the situation, sat with the readings, then conceived and hatch a homily for an ordination to the transitional diaconate on May 31, the Feast of the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
- Expanded and refined some notes I had made earlier on some items in the Nashotah House Statutes and Policies that need to be cleaned up. Sent my observations to the other members of the Board of Directors.
- One of the spiritual practices that has been quite important to me over the years is to sit down at a keyboard (in this case, the cathedral organ) and play through hymns (in this case, from the Hymnal 1949), pausing from time to time to reflect on the texts. Once again, it was a rich experience.
- Evening Prayer in the cathedral.
Thursday, May 12, 2016
- Usual weekday AM routine. Devotions and Morning Prayer in the cathedral.
- Placed an online order for another batch of four starched cotton collars from Wippel. I like it that their online store is up and running--this used to require a phone call--but it was still more time-consuming than I would have liked.
- First get-to-know-you meeting with a potential diaconal ordinand and his priest. We've had a good batch of these lately. Good people who, if and when ordained, will serve with distinction.
- Decided to "call in sick" for the rest of the day. I started feeling progressively worse beginning yesterday morning--labored breathing, interior chest soreness upon inhalation. A trip to the urgent care clinic came up with the plausible theory that I'm having a reaction to a course of uber-strong antibiotics that I began taking on Wednesday and must continue for eleven more days. This is to destroy a bacterial infection in my stomach that was detected during an endoscopy a couple of weeks ago. About half the people in the world have it, but it's usually symptom-free. So now I get to feel lousy for a couple of weeks in order to get rid of an infection what wasn't bothering me! (Though, it can lead to ulcers and stomach cancer, so ...best to take care of it.)
- Brenda and I bought to ribeye sandwiches outside HyVee and took them home to eat.
- Processed a few emails and contemplated a nap. However, I them remembered a 2pm dental hygiene appointment, so I began to bang out a post for the diocesan website that will be harvested for the June issue of the Current.
- Got my teeth cleaned and got the usual polite lecture about flossing, etc.
- Finished the material for the website and the Current. You can see it here.
- Tried to take it somewhat easy, since I didn't really feel like moving a muscle.
- In the evening, sitting out on the porch with my laptop, worked on my sermon for Proper 5 (the last visitations before my sabbatical--first weekend in June in Robinson, Albion, and Mt Carmel). Took my simple message statement to the stage of a developed outline.
Wednesday, May 11, 2016
- Morning Prayer in the office (cathedral interior still being painted).
- Began preparations to preside and preach at the midday Mass.
- Participated with the other usual denizens of the Diocesan Center in a tutorial session on the new network copier/printer/fax/scanner that we have obtained. My main interest was in figuring out how to print liturgy booklets on those relatively rare occasions that it falls to us to do so, and has been a significant source of frustration. We arrived at a workable way to do so, but it is not my ideal elegant solution.
- Completed preparations for Mass.
- Answered a couple of emails that have been hanging for a couple of days.
- Began to shape my details notes for a Trinity Sunday homily into a rough draft text.
- Presided and preached at the Mass, using the special liturgical resources for our in-progress novena for the disruptive outpouring of the Holy Spirit in the diocese.
- Lunch at home. Leftovers.
- Resumed work on the Trinity Sunday sermon, and completed the draft my mid-afternoon.
- Processed a stack of emails.
- Fought a terminal battle with iMovie in an attempt to edit raw video from previous Lenten teaching series presentations. I lost the battle. Regrouping and restrategizing.
- Evening Prayer in the office.
- In the evening, attended the regular cathedral Chapter meeting, during which I assumed the chair for a bit and presided over the election of Provost Fr Andy Hook to the position of Dean. This is a result of some excellent progress on the part of the cathedral parish's leadership over the last three years.
Tuesday, May 10, 2016
- Morning Prayer in the office (cathedral interior being painted).
- Met with the Provost over an emerging pastoral concern.
- Addressed a couple of more bits of pastoralia via email.
- Took care of a bit of administrivia.
- First get-to-know-you visit with an individual in the early stages of an ordination discernment process, along with his parish priest.
- Met with one of our priests over a couple of different pastoral and systemic issues emerging in the congregation.
- Lunch from La Bamba, eaten at home.
- Refined, edited, formatted and printed a working text for this Sunday's homily (St George's, Belleville).
- Spent the balance of the afternoon with my music publishing software, preparing an item for an upcoming ordination liturgy.
- Evening Prayer in the office.
Sunday, May 8, 2016
Up and out of my Marion hotel room in time to make the relatively short drive to St Mark's, West Frankfort ahead of their specially-scheduled Sunday Eucharist at 8:30 (usual time is 9:00). Preached and presided with a congregation of about 20 people before skipping coffee hour and heading straight to St Stephen's, Harrisburg to their specially-scheduled 10:30 liturgy (usually at 10:00), to which I was about five minutes late, but they waited for me. This time I didn't have to run off right away, so I got to enjoy always splendid gustatory hospitality of St Stephen's (two of whose members really know how to barbecue--there was both brisket and pulled pork). I had the pleasure of being diverted by a ball game on the radio the entire drive home (and for a while thereafter; it went 13 innings), so it didn't seem all that long.
St Mark's, West Frankfort & St Stephen's, Harrisburg--John 17:20-26
I trust it will come as no shock to you if I were to say that sometimes Christians don’t get along with one another, right? I know it’s hard to believe, but sometimes there is conflict among those who claim to be followers of Jesus. Before becoming a bishop and getting involved with 35 different parish communities, I was individually involved with eight others, over my entire adult life, either as a layperson or a priest. And so I know about conflict it churches. It happens within local congregations. It happens between congregations within a diocese—I could tell you some stories about such conflict and disunity right here in the Diocese of Springfield. It happens between congregations and the rest of the diocese, or the leaders of the diocese. It happens between dioceses and provinces, what we call “national churches,” In the last decade, we’ve seen five dioceses vote to leave the Episcopal Church, and then engage in years of litigation over real estate and bank accounts, and some of those cases are still unresolved. And, as we know, there is historic conflict between global fellowships and communions within Christianity, defining the thousands of different brand names under which Christians identify themselves. And the number of those different brand names, different labels, is not just in the thousands; it’s in the tens of thousands. And then, to cap it all off, these tens of thousands of Christian brand names exist in a social and cultural environment that is more challenging every day. In western society, we’re seeing rapidly-growing secularization, the rise of the “nones”—those who profess no religious connection of any sort; while, in many parts of the developing world, militant Islam is an ever-present threat.
So here we are, on the Seventh Sunday of Easter, that awkward moment between the Ascension of the risen Christ back to the “right hand of the Father” and the fullness of the Holy Spirit’s power being manifested on Pentecost—here we are, in a vulnerable moment, painfully aware of the conflict and division that infects the Church at every level, and we are gobsmacked by this from the seventeenth chapter of St John’s gospel, as Jesus prays for his disciples:
The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me.
It turns out that, right in the context of our unsavory divisions, Jesus thinks that a faithful Church is a united Church. “And they’ll know we are Christians by our love, by our love … we are one in the Spirit, we are one in the Lord”—you could probably sing most of the words to that song with just a little bit of prompting, right? Unity is the sign that we are faithful to the gospel, faithful to the Lord, and unity, in turn, is expressed in love. And love of the sort that is the sign and seal of unity is supposed to be exemplary; it’s supposed to define the landscape of our life together as Christians, as followers of Jesus.
In his extended prayer, which we find in John 17 and is known as our Lord’s “High Priestly” prayer, Jesus goes on to reveal the reason, the underlying purpose, behind his request that his followers remain unified. It’s not just for the sake of good feelings. There’s something much more serious at stake. Jesus prays
I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.
The whole purpose of the unity of the Body of Christ, then, is “so that the world may believe.” Unity is a matter of missionary strategy—“so that the world may believe.” This is so much the case that the Father and the Son are willing to share their very glory with those who believe. Schism sticks a knife in the heart of mission. Schism at any level, conflict or disunity at any level, whether it’s a local and temporary spat between the Altar Guild and the Choir in a parish, or at a worldwide and historic level between two or more of the “brand names”—schism bears false witness to the unity that exists between the Persons of the Trinity. You know, it’s not hard to find debates between Christians about whether schism should be tolerated for the sake of theological truth, or whether heresy should be tolerated for the sake of unity. What we learn fro our Lord’s High Priestly prayer, however, is that this is a false dilemma. Schism is heresy. Division among Christians is heretical because it communicates a falsehood about God, about the Trinity. It says that the communion that exists between the Persons of the Trinity can be broken. It says that the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit can be pulled apart from one another. They can’t of course, but our conflict and division makes it look like they can. That’s why schism is heresy.
We cannot do this in and of ourselves, we cannot maintain our own unity. It does not lie within us; that much should be plainly evident. Such unity we have is not directly ours, but reflected, derived from the essential unity that exists between the Father and the Son and the Spirit. We are “one” only insofar as we demonstrate that unity. You may be familiar with a very important icon that many western Christian communities have borrowed and imported from its Eastern Orthodox native territory. It depicts the three “angels” whom we read about in Genesis, who visit Abraham and deliver the news that his aged wife will nevertheless bear a son within the next year. Abraham prepares a meal for them, and this icon shows them seated at his table for the meal. All three of them hold a sort of scepter, indicating equal royal authority. And all three incline their heads toward one another, a sign of mutual deference. Because, according to the Law of Moses in the Old Testament, you can’t depict God artistically, this icon has entered the Christian spiritual tradition as a kind of surrogate image for the Holy Trinity. It reflects the mutual deference in love that we see within the Trinity.
Mutual deference. Apparently, that’s what unity looks like. Jesus’ acknowledgment of his unity with the Father in his prayer—“Just as we are one”—points to such mutuality, such intimacy, such reciprocity as the defining characteristics of oneness within the Church—locally, regionally, and globally.
And the outward and visible demonstration of this sort of unity is in what we’re doing right now, what we come together for every Lord’s Day, to share in the reading and hearing and proclaiming of God’s holy word, and to celebrate the mystery of our redemption in the sacrament of the Eucharist. So, unity is not somehow the end product of our trying really hard and working really hard—which is not to say that we shouldn’t work for it, just that, in the end, it has to be a God thing. What we can do effectively is to celebrate the Eucharist, because Jesus promises to show up and reveal our unity whenever we do so.
Of course, the Eucharist is also the most evident sign of our disunity, which is more than a little bit ironic. That which is supposed to unite us is where we feel our divisions most painfully, when believing disciples who bear nothing but goodwill toward one another are prevented by accidents of history from coming to the same table to be fed the Body and Blood of Christ. Yet, it as appropriate that we feel such pain at exactly that point. It should motivate us to double down on working through what divides us, of finding ways to be mutually deferential to one another, and leave behind the heresy of schism.
What we can do at a practical level is focus on the grassroots: We can allow ourselves right here and right now to be shaped, formed, chiseled, molded in the Eucharist and by the Eucharist. We can come together time after time after time after time to hear God’s word read and broken open, to offer ourselves at the altar and to receive ourselves back transformed. We can practice mutual deference in love within this community, right where we are.
If every local Eucharistic Community does that—assuring that, right here, at least, “they’ll know we are Christians by our love” is an undeniably true statement—then that creates a toehold for the Holy Spirit to take it viral. Alleluia and Amen.
Saturday, May 7, 2016
Home alone--Brenda is in Chicago, having attended our daughter-in-law's baby shower (grandchild #3 for us due later this month). I took a long walk (one of my usual routes of about four miles), paid some bills, processed a bunch of emails, make travel arrangements for a couple of upcoming trips, watched the Cubs-Nationals game, and hit the road south around 6pm. Talked en route with one of our clergy over some pastoral concerns. Arrived in Marion at 9:00, grabbed dinner at the 17th Street BBQ, and checked in at the Hampton Inn. Looking forward to visiting St Mark's, West Frankford at 8:30 and St Stephen's, Harrisburg at 10:30 tomorrow morning.
Friday, May 6, 2016
- Morning Prayer in the cathedral (including the special Novena collect).
- Addressed some business related to our companion relationship with Peru.
- Refined the text of my homily for this Sunday (West Frankfort and Harrisburg), then condensed, formatted, and printed it such that it fits on a single folded sheet of paper. Different congregational and physical dynamics dictate different delivery styles.
- While all this was happening, I devoted various chunks of time to working with an IT guy who was in refining the installation of our technology upgrade. In my case, it means configuring my diocesan email account (now hosted by Microsoft 365) to play nicely with the client app (IQTell) in which I read, write, and process emails.
- Lunch from Taco Gringo, eaten at home.
- Dealt at some length with a pastoral issue pertaining to the ordination process.
- Plotted sermon prep actions for the Sundays between the time I return from my sabbatical in mid-October and the beginning of Advent. This is a time-consuming task because it involves looking at material from prior iterations of Year C in the lectionary cycle and determining which has the potential to be repurposed and which occasions demand a from-scratch effort.
- Prayed the Glorious Mysteries of the Rosary in the cathedral (four which there are five corresponding windows above the chancel and sanctuary), followed by Evening Prayer.
- In the evening, at home, developed an outline for my Trinity Sunday homily, which will get developed into a rough draft next week. Also did some routine organizational maintenance, clearing off my computer desktop.
Thursday, May 5, 2016
- Morning Prayer in the cathedral.
- Sent a gift from my Discretionary Fund via Western Union to help with a mini-sabbatical for the Bishop of Tabora.
- Devoted another chunk of planning time to a clergy conference in November.
- Arranged a date and time for a first meeting with a potential ordinand.
- Wrote an email to the Treasurer regarding a financial issue in one of our parishes.
- Extended and substantive phone conversation over some issues related to the ordination process.
- Lunch from McD's, eaten at home.
- (while working from home for the afternoon) Gave birth to a message statement for the sermon I will deliver one the last visitation before my sabbatical, the first weekend in June (a trifecta: Robinson, Albion, Mt Carmel).
- Performed some fairly minor surgery on a Pentecost sermon from a prior year, rehabilitated for this year at St George's, Belleville.
- Worked on some musical issues pertaining to a scheduled ordination later this month.
- Left with Brenda at 2:45 for points south.
- Arrived at 5pm at the Salem home of Fr David and Elizabeth Baumann. Enjoyed a lovely dinner with them and their baby daughter before heading over to St Thomas' for the Eastern Deanery celebration of Ascension. I presided and preached, using some the liturgical materials designed for our Novena for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit between Ascension and Pentecost. Home just past 10.
Wednesday, May 4, 2016
- A reasonably routine weekday morning ... except I forgot my office key at home and had to go back an get it because nobody else was there yet. Of course, by the time I got back, people were there.
- Morning Prayer in the cathedral.
- Consulted with the Archdeacon on a couple of ongoing issues.
- Consulted with the Administrator on some of the details of some significant technology upgrades we're in the midst of (new network copier/printer, more robust wifi, two new computers).
- Prepared to preside and preach at the noon Mass.
- Attended to some of the planning details of two upcoming ordinations.
- Took a phone call from a prospective candidate for one of our vacant cures.
- Spoke by phone with the Dean of Nashotah House on a couple of matters.
- Began drafting my homily for this Sunday (West Frankfort and Harrisburg).
- Celebrated the midday Mass, keeping the feast of St Monnica.
- Lunch from La Bamba, eaten at home.
- With various interruptions, continued working on this Sunday's sermon.
- Spent the last hour of my time in the office wrestling with software issues. Apparently, my music publishing software, which I rarely use, doesn't play well with the latest version of MacOS. After discovering that the hard way, I purchased and began downloading the updated version of the software (what a racket), but didn't quite finish a successful installation. This project was resumed in the evening.
- Evening Prayer in the cathedral.
Tuesday, May 3, 2016
Today the Bishop decided he just needed to be a Dad. Offspring #1 needed companionship and help as she piloted the rented truck holding all her worldly goods from Springfield to Chicago, the last leg of her move from New York City. It all went well, and it was the right thing to do. I caught the 5:15 departure on Amtrak, which pulled into Springfield fashionably late, around 9:00. En route, I availed myself of Amtrak Connect wif-fi and got a respectable amount of work done.
Sunday, May 1, 2016
These are the ones we could round up after Mass this morning at Redeemer, Cairo. There were actually 40 in all, but some of them ducked out to the potluck and missed the group shot. Eight confirmations, one reception, and two reaffirmations. The challenges in Cairo are daunting, which makes what's going on at Redeemer a "thousand points of light" just in itself. We sang "There's a sweet, sweet Spirit in this place" as the liturgy began. Indeed, there was.
Redeemer, Cairo--John 14:23-29
When you stop and think about it, it’s a little strange that we’re here this morning doing what we’re doing. I mean, it’s seems pretty normal and routine to us, because we do it all the time, we do it routinely. But for someone who doesn’t know us, who isn’t familiar with who we are—who we are as Christians who worship in the Anglican tradition in connection to the Episcopal Church—what we’re doing, and the place we’re doing it in, are more than a little bit strange—maybe even weird. We are gathered here to read and think about some documents that are around 2,000 years old. And in just a few minutes, we’re going to take some bread and some wine and set them apart on a special table. Then we’re going to bless them through our prayers, break the bread, and give it to those who approach this table in faith. We are doing nothing less than obeying a command of Jesus, whom we acknowledge as our Lord—a command that we find in one of those 2,000 year-old documents. Jesus said, “Do this in remembrance of me.” And, indeed, Christians have been “doing this”—doing exactly this—for 2000 years.
There was a rather important church historian of the last century—a fellow named Gregory Dix—who wrote quite powerfully about this thing that we’re doing. “Was ever another command so obeyed?” Dix asks. And then he answers his own question, at great length: “For century after century, spreading slowly to every continent and country and among every race on earth, this action has been done, in every conceivable human circumstance, for every conceivable human need from infancy and before to extreme old age and after it, from the pinnacle of human greatness to the refuge of fugitives in the caves and dens of the earth. Men have found no better thing than this to do for kings at their crowning and for criminals going to the scaffold; for armies in triumph or for a bride and bridegroom in a little country church; for the proclamation of a dogma or for a good crop of wheat; for the wisdom of the Parliament of a mighty nation or for an old woman afraid to die; for a schoolboy sitting an examination or for Columbus setting out to discover America; for the famine of whole provinces or for the soul of a dead lover; in thankfulness because my father did not die of pneumonia; for a village [witch doctor] much tempted to return to [idolatry] because the yams had failed; because the Turk[s were] at the gate of Vienna; for the repentance of Margaret; for the settlement of a strike; for the son of a barren woman; for Captain so-and-so, wounded and a prisoner of war; while the lions roared in the nearby amphitheater; on the beach at Dunkirk; while the hiss of [blades] in the thick June grass came faintly through the windows of the church; tremulously, by an old monk on the fiftieth anniversary of his vows; furtively, by an old bishop who had hewn timber all day in a prison camp [in Siberia]; gorgeously, for the canonization of [a saint]—one could fill many pages with the reasons why men have done this, and not tell a hundredth part of them. And the best of all, week by week and month by month, on a hundred thousand successive Sundays, faithfully, unfailingly, across all the parishes of Christendom, the [people of God] have done this.” And now, here we are, once again, in this venerable place, to continue the tradition, to take, bless, break, and give; to “do this” in remembrance of Christ.
But we can easily get in trouble with that word “remembrance.” Most of the time, when we use some form of the word “remember,” what we mean is the act of calling something or someone to mind, of conjuring up a mental image a place or a person or an event. But when we hear Jesus say, “Do this in remembrance of me,” we are led astray by our own language; we are led astray because the New Testament Greek word that comes out in this case as “remember” in English means something much stronger than what we usually think of in connection with “remember.”
Let me illustrate. When my daughters were children, they played with Barbie dolls. Barbie dolls, you may know, can be easily taken apart, disassembled. So, sometimes I would walk into their room and it looked like a horrific crime scene! Barbie’s head would be one place, her torso in another, and each of her arms and legs in still other places. A police report would say that Barbie had been dismembered. Dismembered—her members taken apart and strewn about. And so, under such circumstances, how was Barbie to be remembered? Well, it certainly would have been possible to call up a nice mental image of Barbie all in one piece and properly dressed. But a much more satisfying way of “remembering” Barbie would be to go and find her members—her head and torso and limbs—and snap them back together, to undo the work of dismembering by putting Barbie’s members back together. And that’s what Jesus means when he says “Do this in remembrance of me.” He doesn’t just mean that we should think nice thoughts about him. He means that we should reassemble him, we should gather the members of his Body, scattered around as they are, and put them back together, to recreate a recognizable whole.
But how, we might plausibly ask, how do we go about doing this? How do we find the “members” of the “dismembered” Body of Christ? Jesus answers this question for us as he speaks with his disciples as they are gathered in the Upper Room on the night before his death:
“If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. … And the word that you hear is not mine but the Father's who sent me.”
So Jesus is saying, in effect, “I’ve got your back,” or, more specifically, “My Father and I, we’ve got your back.” That’s reassuring. We’re not in this alone. Whatever God calls us to, he always provides the resources to accomplish.
But it gets better. Jesus continues:
“These things I have spoken to you while I am still with you. But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.”
So, the Holy Spirit will “bring to [our] remembrance” all that Jesus has taught us. And the root word behind “bring to your remembrance” is that same one that’s behind “Do this in remembrance.” We have Jesus’ promise of the Holy Spirit, who will connect the dots for us, who will re-member the scattered limbs and cells of the Body of Christ, so that, precisely in the Eucharist, precisely at the Lord’s Table, we are brought together and made whole. The mess that the Holy Spirit finds is rather more daunting than the mess that I found in my daughters’ bedroom, but the Spirit is up to the task, and as we celebrate this Eucharist in this place at this time, we are creating yet another opportunity for the Spirit to exercise that ministry of re-membering us, of bringing to our remembrance all that Jesus has taught us.
The ministry of the Holy Spirit is what enables us in our liturgical work of remembrance. Our job is to be faithful in doing what Jesus commanded—indeed, as the Church has been faithful in doing for the last twenty centuries—faithful in coming together every Lord’s Day to read and hear God’s holy word, and then to take bread and wine, to bless them, break the bread, and give them to the members of the Body whom the Holy Spirit calls together in this place, and others like it, to be re-membered.
It is our work here in Cairo and the surrounding areas to re-member the Body of Christ. We do that when we come together at this altar for the Eucharist and we do that out in the world between Sundays as we listen to the Holy Spirit as he teaches us all things and brings to our remembrance all that Jesus has said to us.
Alleluia and Amen.