Friday, April 10, 2020

Maundy Thursday

April 17, 2013

 Exodus 12.1-14, 1 Corinthians 11.23-26; Psalm 22; John 13.1-17,31b-35

+ Normally, on Maundy Thursday I preach the Holy Eucharist.

Holy Communion.

That would be under normal circumstances.

We are obviously not under normal circumstances.

And to preach about Holy Communion when our congregation can’t gather together to actually eat and drink together at this altar, seems wrong. It doesn’t feel right to preach about that. Not now. Not in this time of pandemic and worldwide illness.

Next year, yes.

But now. No.

Instead, I am going to preach about something I should’ve preached about in the past but have not.  I realized recently that I have never fully addressed this issue, at least not from the pulpit.

But Covid-19 has brought some issues to surface that I realize I need to address. There are a lot of issues that Covid brings to the surface. But one in particular ties in to what we are doing during these three holy days leading to Easter Day.

That is the issue of anti-Semitism. Namely, the anti-Semitism that we may perceive from our readings during these three holy day before Easter. Anti-Semitism is something I hoped was in the past. Something we did not need to deal with anymore.

But Covid has brought it up again.

Yes, we hear the old accusations from some extremists who believe that this pandemic was caused by Jews.  It seems this happens, historically, every time there is a plaque of some sort. Somehow the Jews always get blamed for such things. And the root of that anti-Semitism is, I hate to say it, based in our Christian beliefs.

In our readings from the New Testament during Holy Week, the Jewish people in Jesus’ time do not come off looking very. There is an obvious bias by the authors of these Gospels toward them.  And that is disconcerting.

So, in response, if you are able to access our bulletin for tonight, you will see this statement.  It’s an important statement.  And if you haven’t read it, I’ll read it right now.  The Statement reads:

Jesus of Nazareth was a Jew. Christianity began as a movement within Judaism that took time to form and evolve into the institutional Church of today. There were areas of contention and disagreement among the Jews in Jesus’ time, and the leaders of the early Jesus movement did not shy away from hostile rhetoric against their detractors, as evidenced by a number of New Testament passages.
The Greek term usually translated here as “the Jews” varies in meaning and application, alternately referring to the most powerful Jewish religious leaders; Jews of the region of Judea specifically; or to those Jews who had reservations about Paul’s mission among Gentiles. In essence, “the Jews” functions in the New Testament as “the other” against which Christianity came to define itself.
When the Roman Empire adopted Christianity as its state religion, Christian rhetoric against Jews gained power, and Christian texts inspired anti-Semitism, most notably during the Crusades and the Holocaust. In our modern context, it is important for us to remember that while New Testament writers took issue with Jews who disbelieved in Jesus as the Messiah and Son of God, these texts do not take issue with anyone’s race or origin. Nor do they prescribe for us, in contradiction with Christ’s central purpose, mistrust or hatred of non-Christians.
(I, by the way, did not write that statement, but found it elsewhere and found it helpful for Holy Week)

This is important for us to hear. And it is important for us, on this night in which we observe and commemorate a very Jewish tradition in which a very Jewish Jesus and his very Jewish followers lived.

This Last Supper Jesus celebrates on the night before he died was a Passover meal.  He was observing of that very Jewish feast.
 And he,  an observant, Torah-keeping, kosher Jew, was doing what was right for he has an observant Jew.

How we tend to forget this as Christians, I do not know. I do not know how any follower of our very Jewish Jesus can still be an anti-Semite.

But I do know this.

We followers of our Jewish Jesus, need to make reparation for anti-Semitic statements made by Christians and even our Gospel writers.  We need to stand up and speak out when he hear them or see them. And it seems we are hearing them and seeing them now more than we have in the last five or ten years.

Our Jewish Savior expects nothing less from us than making it a very real mission in our lives to speak out and protest anti-Semitism in this world.

It is uncomfortable then, for those of us who have made this commitment, to read and hear these scriptures in which Jews are spoken of so adversely.

But we need to remember that it wasn’t the Jews who killed Jesus.

It was the Romans who whipped him.

It was the Romans who mocked him.

And It was the Romans who nailed him to the cross and pierced his side with a spear.

And yet, there is no anti-Roman discrimination.

In fact, Rome now is the very center of the Roman Catholic Church!

The fact is, on this Maundy Thursday, unless we are only observing what we hear and commemorate tonight and not acting on what we find wrong in these false understandings of our Jewish sisters and brothers, this is all just empty. And Jesus would rather have us not observe it.

But if we observe the events of tonight and the next several days through a Jewish lens, we find it takes on such significant meaning.

This Jewish Jesus will tomorrow be tortured and then will be nailed to the Cross.  He was nailed to that cross in fulfillment of Jewish scriptures and the Jewish expectation of the Messiah and the divine Son of God.

The holy concept of the slain Lamb of God is a reference to the lamb that was slaughtered in the temple in Jerusalem as a sin offering.

So, for Jewish followers of Jesus, his death took on deep, very Jewish meaning.

On that cross Jesus tomorrow will die and be laid in a dark tomb.

On Saturday, it will be there, laid out, broken and destroyed.

But on Sunday, that physical Body will be raised by God out of that darkness.  It will rise out of that destroyed state.  It will come forth from that broken disgrace and will be fully and completely alive and present.

Jesus himself, this victim of anti-Semitism, will rise above that brokenness and live.      To see all of that from a Jewish perspective not only helps us make sense of these incredible and amazing events.

It also helps us to understand that all of these things were planned by God for ages before.  And this is a truly holy way to celebrate this holy night.

Yes, we are not able to gather here together to share the Body and Blood of Jesus as we usually do. But we are still sharing in his Body and Blood spiritually. We are spiritually partaking of this Passover meal, this sacrifice of the Lamb of God, this service of Thanksgiving to God.  And because we are, we are being spiritually fed.  We do come away with a sense that Jesus is present and that he goes with us—each of us—all of us—from this altar and from this church building, into the world.

So, let us gather spiritually around this altar tonight.  Let us spiritually share in the Body and Blood of our very Jewish Messiah.  Let us humble ourselves in our hearts And in our hearts, let us be truly fed.  And let us go from here, humbled and fed, to speak out, the defend those who need defending, to stand up against those who oppress our Jewish sisters and brothers and anyone else who are feeling oppressed. And, in doing so, we too are sharing the holy Presence of Jesus with others.


Sunday, April 5, 2020

Palm Sunday

April 5, 2020

Matthew 26.14-27.66


+ Here we are this morning at the beginning of Holy Week. And let me tell you, this is the weirdest Holy Week I’ve ever experienced.

Usually, without fail, I begin this week with a big mix of emotions. But this year…I don’t even know what I’m feeling.

This strange year.

This bizarre and unprecedented Lent.

Certainly, this week is the apex of the entire Church Year. Everything seems to lead either to this week or away from it.

But, I don’t even know what to say about this Holy Week. The fact that we are not all gathered together here this morning and that we won’t be gathering this week, just makes it all so…different…so unreal.  

Of course, we will do the best we can this week.  We will celebrate our liturgies as we always do, though they will be pared down considerably. We will observe the last events of Jesus’ last earthly moments before his crucifixion, as we always do, though we will be doing through social media together.

That’s all the surface “things.”

This coming week will be a hard one because the virus will possibly intensify this week. This coming week will be hard because more people will get sick, and more people will die.  This coming week will be hard because the quarantine is taking a toll on all of us. We can only socially isolate ourselves for so long before we start feeling its deep effects.

And to top it all that off, for us who are Christians, we must also walk with Jesus on a journey none of really want to walk with him on, especially not now. Not right now.

We, as followers of Jesus, as people who love Jesus and balance our lives on his life and teachings and guidance, are emotionally tied to this man, after all.

This Jesus is not just some mythical character to us.  He is a friend, a mentor, a very vital and essential part—no, he the very center of our lives as Christians. He is our Savior. He is our tie to God, our connection with the God who loves us.   So, to have to go through the emotional rollercoaster of this coming week in which we have to see him betrayed and murdered is hard on us.  

 And today, we get the whole emotional rollercoaster in our liturgy and in our two Gospel readings.  Here we find a microcosm of the roller coaster ride of what is to come this week.

What begins this morning as joyful ends with jeers and bleakness.

The Jesus who enters Jerusalem is the Jesus who has done some incredible things in the past few weeks, at least in the very long Gospel readings we’ve been hearing over the last few weeks.

Three weeks ago, he turned the Samaritan woman’s life around.

Two weeks ago, he gave sight to a man born blind.

Last week, he raised his friend Lazarus from the dead.

This day even begins with us, his followers, singing our praises to Jesus, waving palm branches in victory.  He is, at the beginning of this week, popular and accepted.  For this moment, everyone seems to love him. But this procession of his is different than the normal procession of a monarch.

The great theologian Marcus Borg wrote this:

“[Pontius] Pilate’s procession embodied the powers, the glory, and violence of an empire that ruled the world. Jesus’ procession embodied an alternative version procession and alternative journey...an anti-imperial and non-violent procession.”

Such a procession, as wonderful as it seems, is, however, dangerous.  Such an anti-imperial, non-violent procession is a threat.

And as a result…within moments, a darkness falls.  It all turns and goes horribly wrong.   What begin with rays of sunshine, ends in gathering dark storm clouds.  Those joyful, exuberant shouts turn into cries of anger and accusation.  Those who welcomed Jesus into Jerusalem have fled.  They have simply disappeared from sight.  And in their place an angry crowd shouts and demands the death of Jesus.

Even his followers, those who almost arrogantly proclaimed themselves followers of Jesus, have disappeared.  Their arrogance has turned to embarrassment and shame.  Even the Samaritan woman, whose life he turned around, the man born blind, and his friend Lazarus have disappeared and are nowhere in sight.

Jesus, whom we encounter at the beginning of this liturgy this morning surrounded by crowds of cheering, joyful people, is by the end of it, alone, abandoned, deserted—shunned.  Everyone he considered a friend—everyone he would have trusted—has left him.  And in his aloneness, he knows how they feel about him. He knows that he is an embarrassment to them. He knows that, in their eyes, he is a failure.

Throughout this coming Holy Week, the emotional roller coaster ride will get more intense.

On Maundy Thursday the celebratory meal of Passover will turn into a dark and lonely night of betrayal.  Jesus will descend to his lowest emotional point after he washes the feet of his disciples and heads out into the garden of Gethsemane.

Friday will be a day of more betrayal, of torture and of an agonizing violent death in the burning hot sun.

Saturday morning, while his body lies in the tomb, he descends to the depths of hell and from there will be lead those who went before into the depths. Not even the depths of hell are more powerful than he.  Saturday will be a day of keeping watch at the grave that would, under normal circumstances, be quickly forgotten.

Through our online liturgies, we are able to walk with Jesus on this painful journey and to experience the emotional ups and downs of all that will happen.

And next Sunday morning , the roller coaster will again be at its most intense, its greatest moment.  Next Sunday at this time, we will be rejoicing, though, yes, that rejoicing too will be subdued. Next Sunday, we will be rejoicing with all the choirs of angels and archangels who sing their unending hymns of praise to him from our homes.   We will be rejoicing in the fact that all the humiliation experienced this week has turned to joy, all desertion has turned to rewarding and wonderful friendship, all sadness to gladness, and death—horrible, ugly death—will be turned to full, complete and unending joy.

And that is the message we take with us during this temporarily bizarre time.

All of this will be turned around.

And we will, sooner than later, rejoice together with real joy.

Marcus Borg finished that quote we heard earlier in this way:

“Which journey are we on? Which procession are we in?”

Are we in Pilate’s arrogant procession?

Are we the crowd, are we the religious leaders who call for Jesus’ death because he doesn’t meet our personal needs?

Or are we in Jesus’ procession?

Are we following Jesus even in these dark, strange times?

We know the answer to that question.

Let us join Jesus’ procession, as uncomfortable and frightening we might be right now.   As we trek alongside Jesus during this Holy Week of betrayal, torture and death, as we journey through another week of uncertainty and anxiety, let us keep our eyes focused on the Light that is about to dawn in the darkness of our lives.

Let us move forward toward that Light.

Even though there might be sadness on our faces now, let the joy in our hearts prompt us forward along the path we dread to take.  And, next week at this time, we will be basking in Christ’s incredible Light—a Light that triumphs over the darkness of not only his death, but our as well.

Sunday, March 29, 2020

5 Lent

March 29, 2020

Ezekiel 37.1-14; John 11.1-45

+ Sometimes the lectionary—those assigned Bible readings we have each Sunday—are weirdly prophetic. They sometimes speak exactly to the situation at hand. They sometimes perfectly mirror a situation in which we are all living.

Well, today is one of those days.

Today, our reading from Hebrew Scriptures and our Gospel reading reflect our own strange time perfectly.

The first reading, of course, is Ezekiel’s vision of the dry bones.  It’s a great story in and of itself.  Ezekiel is brought by God to a valley full of dry bones and told to prophesy to them. As he does, they take on flesh and come alive.

It’s a great story for any Lenten season. But man! Does it speak loudly to us in this Lenten season!

And our reading from the Gospel today is the raising of Lazarus.  This story of Lazarus takes on much deeper meaning when we examine it closely and place it within the context of its time. And it’s a story I LOVE to examine and wrestle with.

One of our first clues that the something is different in this story is that, when Jesus arrives at the tomb of his friend Lazarus, he is told that Lazarus has been dead four days. This clue of “four days” is important.

First of all, from simply a practical point, we can all imagine what condition Lazarus’s body would be in after four days.  This body would not have been embalmed like we understand embalming today in the United States.  There was no refrigeration, no sealed metal caskets, no reconstructive cosmetics for the body of Lazarus.  In the heat of that country, his body would, by the fourth day, be well into the beginning stages of decomposition.  There would be some major physical destruction occurring.

Second, according to Jewish understanding, when the spirit left the body, a connection would still be maintained with that body for a period of three days by a kind of thread.  According to Jewish thinking of this time, the belief was the spirit might be reunited with the body up to three days, but after that, because the body would not be recognizable to the departed spirit because of decomposition, any reuniting would be impossible.  After those three days, the final separation from the body by the spirit—a kind of breaking of the thread—would have been complete.  The spirit then would truly be gone.  The body would truly be dead.

So, when Jesus came upon the tomb of Lazarus and tells them to roll the stone away, Martha says to him that there will be stench.  That’s an important part of the story as well.  He was truly dead—dead physically and dead from the perspective of his soul being truly separated from his body.

So, when the tomb was opened for Jesus, he would be encountering what most of us would think was impossible.  Not only was Lazarus’ spirit reunited with his body, but he also healed the physical destruction done to his body by decomposition.  It would have been truly amazing.

 And Jesus would truly have been proven to be more than just some magician, playing tricks on the people.  He wasn’t simply awakening someone who appeared to be dead, someone who might have actually been in a deep coma.   There was no doubt that Lazarus was truly dead and now, he was, once again alive.

Now, at first glance, both our reading from the Hebrew scriptures and our Gospel readings seem a bit morbid.

These are things we don’t want to think about.  Certainly not right now. Not now when we are surrounded by a deadly pandemic. Not now when people are dying in droves of this terrible illness.

But, let’s face it. They do speak loudly to us. We are living in a valley dry bones right now. Or it does feel like it right now.

We are sequestered.

We are isolated physically from each other.

We are in quarantine.

And it feels as though there is nothing but bones and uncertainly around us.

It feels like a very desolate time.

And to top off that desolation, we are rapidly heading toward Holy Week.  Next week at this time, we will be celebrating the triumphant entry of Jesus into Jerusalem.  We will be hearing the joyful cries of the crowd as he rides forth.  Within 11 days from now, we will hear those cries of joy turn into cries of jeering and accusation.

For us, Holy Week this year will feel doubly desolate. We will not being gathering here in this building to commemorate these events. There will be no washing of the feet on Maundy Thursday. We will be sharing the Eucharist spiritually, yes, but not physically.

To just add even more to it all, we will be hearing about betrayal, torture, murder and death as Jesus journeys away from us into the cold dark shadow of death.  These images of death we encounter in today’s readings—as unpleasant as they are—simply nudge us in the direction of the events toward which we are racing, liturgically.

During Holy Week, we too will be faced with images we might find disturbing.  Jesus will be betrayed and abandoned by his friends and loved ones.  He will be tortured, mocked and whipped.  He will be forced to carry the very instrument of his death to the place of his execution.  And there he will be murdered in a very gruesome way.  Following that death, he will be buried in a tomb, much the same way his friend Lazarus was.  But unlike Lazarus, what happens to Jesus will take place within the three days at that time required for a soul to make a final break from his body.

And this brings us back to the story of Lazarus.  We often make the mistake, when think about the story of Lazarus, that Lazarus was resurrected.

The fact is, he was not resurrected.

It was not resurrection because Lazarus would eventually die again. He was simply brought back to life. He was resuscitated, shall we say.

So, Lazarus truly did rise from the tomb in Bethany, but he was not resurrected
Lazarus' purported tomb on Cyprus
there.  He went on to live a life somewhat similar to the life he lived before.  And eventually, he died again. There’s actually a tomb purported to be Lazarus’ on Cyprus (though his actual bones, it is believed, have been lost).

But Resurrection is, as we no doubt know, different.  

Resurrection is rising from death into a life that does not end.  

Resurrection is rising from all the things we encountering right now in our lives—Covid, pandemics, sickness, death, anxiety and fear. 

Resurrection is rising from our own broken selves into a wholeness that will never be taken away from us.

Resurrection is new bodies, a new understanding of everything, a new and unending life.

Resurrection, when it happens, cannot be undone.

It cannot be taken away.

Resurrection destroys the hold of death.

Resurrection destroys death.

And the first person to be resurrected was not Lazarus.  The first person to be resurrected was, of course, Jesus. His resurrection is important not simply because he was the first.  His resurrection is important because it, in a real sense, destroys death once and for all.

The resurrection of Jesus casts new light not just on our deaths at the end of our lives.

The resurrection of Jesus casts light on where we are now.

God’s raising Jesus from the death shows us that we will rise from this dark time, this time of pandemic, this time of coronavirus, this valley of dry bones in which we now live.

All of this fear and uncertainty and sickness and foreboding is only temporary.  But the resurrection of Jesus and the life he promises-that unending life—is eternal.

The end is not a cross or a tomb.

The end is not a valley of dry bones.

The end is not pandemics or anxiety or fear.

The end is that Easter light.

The end is that life in which we will be raised like Jesus into a new and unending life.

We will be raised into a life that never ends, a life in which “sorrow and pain are no more, neither sighing, but life eternal,” as we celebrate in the Burial Office of the Book of Common Prayer. Because Jesus died and then trampled death, he took away eternal death.

So, as we continue our journey through this valley of dry bones, as we journey through this time of uncertainty and anxiety, as we move through these last days of Lent toward that long, painful week of Holy Week, we go forward knowing full well what await us on the other side of the Cross of Good Friday.  We go forward knowing that the glorious dawn of Easter awaits us.  And with it, the glory of resurrection and life everlasting awaits us as well. We go forward knowing all of this in only temporary. But what awaits is eternal.

So, let go forward.  Let us move toward Holy Week, rejoicing with the crowd.  And as the days may seem dark and we may feel weary, let us keep focused on the Easter light that is just about to dawn on all of us.




Monday, March 23, 2020

From the Rector, March 23, 2020



As we enter into another week of quarantine, worship from a distance, and an uncertain future, we do so as a community. We do so with the knowledge that God is with us, and that all will be well.

I ask your prayers for our St. Stephen’s community. The effects of this crisis are already hitting very close to home. Although, thankfully, none of our community had been diagnosed with the virus, we are starting to see members affected by reduced work hours, financial shortfall due to the looming recession and, of course, our regular day-to-day pastoral issues.

As you know, one of our own continues to near the end of his earthly journey. I ask that you continue to keep Larry Kindseth in your prayers, as well as his wife, Anna and his daughters, including our own Janie Breth, and her family.

Another parishioner is with her ailing father in California and is thus further separated from our community. Please pray for Amy Phillips, her  father, Sam, as well as Dan and their family during this time.  

          We still gather to worship. Our live streaming Mass is a huge success, with almost 200 people viewing each liturgy and participating from home. We also have people  joining us from around the country and the world. The feedback to our live streaming has been phenomenal! Please keep posting those comments! (I will publish a few of them in our newsletter next week)

I am also aware that some of us are not members of Facebook for various reasons. With that in mind, and with the goal of widest outreach to our members, as well as non-members, we have now formed our very St. Stephen’s Channel on YouTube and have been uploading the videos of our Sunday and Wednesday masses there. Our St. Stephen’s YouTube channel can be found at: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCcdWKCnCHmviajkFX5p-xGg

The link can also be found on our website and blog. Or simply go to YouTube.com and search for “St. Stephen’s Fargo.” Please be sure to subscribe to our YouTube Channel.  

We are all brand new to this unique way of communicating and new ways of worship. There are, of course, going to mistakes as we proceed. Please be patient with us as navigate this strange new world together.

Both John Anderson and I have been slowly but surely making phone calls, emailing and texting parishioners to check on their well-being. Communication though is a two-way street of course, so please do check in on a regular basis with me so that we can be in regular communication during this time.

The work of the Church continues. We celebrated Laetare Sunday this past Sunday, though our rejoicing on this Rose Sunday was a bit subdued. We also blessed John Anderson’s new Deacon’s stole (made by Jean Sando) and his brand-new Dalmatic.

In addition to our weekly Masses, our Vestry also met on Sunday by Zoom. It was a productive meeting but one in which we all realized how difficult it is to meet everyone’s needs at this time.

Our wardens, Jean and Jessica, communicate on a daily basis (oftentimes many times a day). Please keep your wardens and Vestry in your prayers as well.

The big questions for the near future, of course, concern John Anderson’s ordination and Holy Week.

John Anderson’s ordination: I have been in contact with Bishop Keith Whitmore about whether the April 4th date for ordination is still feasible. As we all know, this situation changes day by day.  Earlier last week, we were weighing the option of a small ordination service on April 4th, which could then be live streamed. Since then, the situation has become more dire and it has become abundantly clear that the quarantine will continue into at least the first week of April. The concern on our part and for Bishop Keith is the matter of travel. Bishop Keith is 74 and squarely within the range of vulnerability for this virus. With that in mind, we must simply prepare ourselves for a postponement the ordination. John is fully aware of this and is willing to do what needs to be done. Please do keep John, Jessica and their family in your prayers at this time. This is just one more unavoidable disappointment for him in an already frustrating process.

Holy Week: it is becoming more obvious that the quarantine will remain in effect past the originally planned deadline of April 1. That means that it is becoming starkly clear that our Holy Week liturgies will be closed to public worship. However, we will continue to do those liturgies, though we will reduce them greatly, and will pare down the liturgies themselves.

The revised schedule for Holy Week is as follows:

Maundy Thursday Mass will be on April 9 at 7:00 p.m. as planned. There will be no foot washing.

There will only be one Good Friday liturgy on April 10 (no Stations of the Cross). The liturgy will be at 12:00 p.m.

I debated about whether we will do the Holy Saturday liturgy, but it is one of the most meaningful liturgies of Holy Week, and one that speaks loudly to us at this time. The Holy Saturday liturgy will be at 10:00 a.m. on April 11.

There will be NO Easter Vigil Mass on April 11.

We will celebrate Easter on April 12 at our regular time of 11:00 a.m. The baptism planned for Easter Day is rescheduled for another time.

All the Masses will be live streamed, as well posted to the YouTube Channel.

This is where are as we enter another week of this strange, new reality. I reiterate the message that I have continued to preach throughout this time: do not fear. Do not let anxiety and despair win out in this situation. Our God of love is close to us through all of this.

In my sermon last Sunday, I shared this:

We will get through this.

We will gather again in our church building.

We will again shake hands and hug at the Peace.

We will again share the Body and the Blood of Jesus at Holy Communion at the altar again.

We will all sit down at our post-Mass luncheon and eat our fill again.

We will all go out and do the ministries we have all been called to do again.

And this time we are going through right now will seem like a strange and truly bizarre dream.

Please hold this truth close to you as we make our way through this desert-time.

Continue to stay put, wash your hands, be safe, and pray. Pray for St. Stephen’s, for the Church, for our Nation and for the world. Please pray for me too. Know that all you continue to be included in my daily prayers. I miss those of you whom I cannot see in person. But we will see each other soon.

-peace,
Fr. Jamie+ 









Sunday, March 22, 2020

4 Lent


Lataere Sunday
March 22, 2020

1 Samuel 16.1-13; Ephesians 5.8-14; John 9.1-14

+ Well, today is Laetare Sunday. This is usually a joyful Sunday in the midst of Lent.  After all “Laetare” means “rejoice” in Latin.  And normally that is what we do on this Sunday.

In normal times, we find ourselves rejoicing because we are now at the midpoint of Lent.  We usually, at this point,  get a little break from Lent on this Sunday.  It’s not all purple and switches and ashes around us.

But today, our rejoicing on this Laetare Sunday is muted.

Usually, this Sunday is a Sunday in which our church building is usually full.

We also usually have our traditional simnel cake at coffee hour after Mass.

But not today.

Most of our Church is dispersed today.

They are quarantined in their homes. They are safe. They are sound. And we are thankful for that.

And around us, there is a sense of unease. We are uncertain of what is about to happen.

We are living in a time of anxiety and uncertainty as most of us have never known before. We’ve never done this before. Few of us have ever lived through anything like this.

It’s hard this morning to rejoice with any real feeling.  But it is good for us just to pause for a moment.  It’s good to take this time and just…breathe. It’s good to reorient ourselves.

When we look back at where we’ve been, it seems like a long journey so far this season of Lent.  Way back on Ash Wednesday, on February 26 (doesn’t that feel like a long time ago), we began this season. And Easter on April 12th seems to be a very distant future.

There is talk now of limited liturgies during Holy Week. The journey so-far seems so long and so exhausting. And the journey ahead seems, at moments, daunting.

This is where we are—right smack dab in the middle of this Lenten season.

But, on this dark and gloomy Laetare Sunday, we get this Gospel reading.  I’m happy we have the Gospel reading we have for today. We definitely need it! It’s a long one. But it’s a good one.  

This story of Jesus healing the blind man speaks very loud and very clear to us at this time in our collective history.  In a sense today—Lataere Sunday, the half-way mark of Lent—is a time for us to examine this whole sense of blindness.  Not just physical blindness, but spiritual blindness, as well. The blindness we are all experiencing not being able to “see” each other right now.

Right now, we feel like blind people—or, at least, like nearsighted people.  We grope about. We find ourselves dependent upon those things that we think give us some comfort, some sense of clarity.

The internet helps. Social media helps. We are able to keep tabs on each other. We are able to worship together—kind of—through livestreamed liturgies. We are able to keep in touch through phone calls and regular emails and texts.

But ultimately, nothing really seems to heal this particular nearsightedness.  In fact our sight seems to get worse and worse as we go on through this crisis.

In our Gospel reading for today, we find a man blind from birth.  The miracle Jesus performs for him is truly a BIG miracle.

Can you imagine what it must’ve been like for this man?  Here he is, born without sight, suddenly seeing.  It must have been quite a shock.  It would, no doubt, involve a complete reeducation of one’s whole self.

By the time he reached the age he was—he was maybe in his twenties or thirties—he no doubt had an idea in his mind of what things may have looked like.  And, with the return of his vision, he was, I’m certain, amazed at what things actually looked like.  Even things we might take for granted, such as the faces of our mother and father or spouse, would have been new for this man. So, the miracle Jesus performs is truly a far-ranging miracle.  

There’s also an interesting analytical post-script to our Gospel reading.  (And I’ve shared this story with you, but I always found it interesting)

St Basil the Great and other early Church Fathers believe that this blind man was not only born blind, he was actually born without eyes due to some kind of birth defect This, they say, is why Jesus takes clay and places them upon the empty eye sockets, essentially forming eyes for this man.  When he washes them in the waters of Siloam, the eyes of clay became real eyes with perfect sight.

It’s a great story, but the real gist of this story is about us. Yes, this crisis, this quarantine we’re under may feel like a kind of blindness. Yes, we are not really able to “see” each other as we once did. We took for granted that we could see each other before this event.

I know that many of us are feeling despair and fear. But as I have preached again and again, as I will continue to preach again and again:

We, as Christians, cannot despair. And we, as beloved children of a loving God, cannot fear.

We cannot fear.

We cannot live in the darkness of despair and fear.

This is not the place for the loved children of God.

Our reading from Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians shows us that we are not children of darkness.  We are not meant to walk around, groping about in our lives. We are meant to walk in light. We are meant to embody light in our lives. And, by that, we are not just meant to hold the light close to us, as though it’s some special gift we are given.

We are not meant to hoard the light.  As children of light, we are meant to share it. We are meant to be conduits of that light. To everyone. Even when we might not feel like it.

Even now, when are so separated from others. And yet, with social media, we really aren’t. Kind of.  

We are anointed in much the same way David was anointed by the prophet Samuel in our reading from the Hebrew Scriptures today. We, who were anointed at our baptism, are now called to be what David was—a person on whom the Spirit of God comes in great power.

That Spirit brings light.

That Spirit brings spiritual clarity.

That Spirit brings vision.

That Spirit brings us hope and healing and health.

That Spirit sustains us, even in this strange and bizarre time.

You know what the Spirit doesn’t do? That Spirit does not allow us to fear or despair.

That is what we are doing on this day.  Lataere Sunday is a time to refocus, to readjust ourselves again, to remind ourselves of our anointing, of the light that dwells within each of us, of the Spirit who lives inside each of us.

Today, even in Lent, even in this midst of this pandemic, you know what? we can be joyful.  It is a time for us to realize that this dark time in not eternal.  

Darkness is never eternal. But light—light, is eternal.

We will get through this.

We will gather again, here in this building.

We will shake hands and hug at the Peace.

We will share the Body and the Blood of Jesus at Holy Communion at this altar again.

We will all sit down at our post-Mass luncheon and eat our fill again.

We will all go out and do the ministries we have all been called to do again.

And this time we are going through right now will seem like a strange and truly bizarre dream.

No matter how blind or nearsighted it might seem right now, our sight will be returned to us once again.

We, in a sense, find ourselves on this Lataere Sunday—this joyful Sunday in Lent—looking forward.

Lataere Sunday is a great time to remind ourselves that, even in our darkness, it will not be dark forever.  All will be made right again.   And we will see each other again with clarity and vision—with new eyes.   And we will see the darkness lifted from our lives and the dazzling light of Christ breaking through.

So, today, on this Lataere Sunday—on this joyful Sunday in Lent—let us be joyful,  even if we don’t really feel like it.

Let’s be joyful, even in this strange exile in which we find ourselves.

Let us be joyful even as we grope about, spiritually half-blind as we may seem right now.  

Let us be joyful, because darkness and pandemics are only temporary.

Let us be joyful, and let us not fear.

God loves us.

God loves you.

And all will be well.

Knowing that, how can we not rejoice?