Sunday, December 26, 2010

1 Christmas


December 26, 2010

John 1.1-18

+ I think it’s time for me to confess this. And I can do that today because this Sunday if kind of a “low Sunday.” We had a good full house on Christmas Eve—which is a very important day and I’m happy we had a full house that night—but as a result, this Sunday is not one of the big Sundays to expect people in church. It’s sort of an anticlimactic Sunday. It just can’t quite compare to the glory of Christmas Day. So, to you—loyal few—I can be a intimate about something.

I do not like Christmas.

Call me “Father Scrooge.” I am just not a big Christmas fan. Others seem to start getting excited when the Christmas trees go up in September. Or the Christmas music starts being piped through the stores in October. Or the commercials on TV begin the day after Halloween. Not me. Sparkling lights and songs about snowmen and all the rest do little for me. It’s not that I hate the season. I just feel a sort of robotic sense of nothingness about it all. I know. It’s terrible for a priest to confess such sacrilege.

But, to be fair, I LOVE what our Church season of Christmas is all about. I love the Nativity. I love preaching about the Incarnation, about God-made-flesh. So, I’m not quite the heretical priest you might think I am. And so, I find myself during this season clinging to little bits and pieces to keep myself afloat until Christmas passes and we are into January.

Today’s Gospel is one of those lifesavers for me. I love this Gospel reading because it is so different than many of the Gospel readings we get. Most of them are straight-forward narratives. We get the story of Jesus doing this or that, or preaching this or that kind of sermon. But today, in our Gospel reading, we get a hymn. Or at least, a portion of a hymn. It is a beautiful hymn explaining the Word and what the Word is and does.

Now, this hymn was, like the rest of the New Testament, of course originally written in Greek. As you know, I am not one of those preachers who liked to say things like, “Well now, in the original Greek, this is what is said…” I don’t like to hear that outside of a seminary classroom. And I don’t think that helps most of us. But today, Greek is actually going to help us. Now, again, you don’t hear that very often in your lives, do you? Greek is actually going to help us understand this hymn.

In Greek, the word for “Word” is “Logos.” That word—Logos—means more than just a sound that comes out of our mouths. In Greek, it actually means knowledge. We still use the word in this way. We find it such words at zoology—which means, roughly, “words concerning animals” or more correctly “knowledge concerning animals”
—psychology—words or knowledge concerning the mind
—biology—words and knowledge concerning life and so on.

So, what we’re encountering in this Hymn is more than just a word. It is knowledge. But even knowledge doesn’t quite convey what this hymn is trying to say. Another way to translate the word “logos” is to say “essence.” It is the very essence of what it conveys.

In that sense, the “Word” of God brings us the very essence of God. In the Logos of God, we find God. Wonderful. But…what is John trying to tell us in his hymn? John is talking about Jesus, of course. In this passage, he is making clear to us that Jesus is the Logos—the Word of God, the knowledge of God, the essence of God. When we hear his words, we are not just hearing the words of some brilliant prophet or some very wise sage. We are, in fact, hearing the words of God—words that contain the knowledge and essence of that God. Did you ever wonder why, in some copies of the King James version of the Bible, the words of Jesus were in red? This is why. They were in red so that we could pay special attention to what Jesus was saying. What came from his mouth, in a sense, came from the mouth of God on high. See how this is different than those other stories from scripture.

It’s kind of heady stuff we’re dealing with here. It’s not easy to grasp what’s being talked about and it’s not easy to explain to others. However, this concept of the Word—or Logos—of God is really the heart of all Christian theology. In a sense, it conveys perfectly what we are celebrating in this Christmas season. The God we experience at Christmas isn’t simply sitting on some throne in some far-off heavenly realm. God is not sitting back and letting creation work itself out. What this passage shows us, more than anything, is that God is busy. God is at work in our lives—in the world around us. God is moving. God is doing something. More than anything what this scripture is telling us is that God is reaching out to us. And not just one or two times in our history. God has always been reaching out to us. From the first day of humankind to this moment—from the beginning—God is reaching out to us. God is calling out to us. God is talking with us and communicating with us.

And we experience this most clearly in the person of Jesus, who has come to us as this simple baby. This baby, who will grow up to speak to us in human words, is the very Word of God. This baby is the Wisdom and Essence of God. This Word of God that we hear is Jesus and Jesus, as we learn in this passage, has always existed. Even before Jesus came to us as this baby, Jesus always was. And Jesus always will be. God, in Christ, is moving toward us, even in moments when it seems like God is distance and non-existent. Here, in this Christmas season, in this Child we celebrate and worship, God’s presence is renewed. God comes forward and becomes present among us in a way we could never possibly imagine.

There is wonderful antiphon that we can find in the Monastic Breviary used by the Order of the Holy Cross, an order of Episcopal monks. The antiphon used for the Benedictus at Matins or Morning Prayer on Christmas morning is this wonderful verse of poetry:

While all things were in quiet silence, and that night was in the midst of her swift course,
your almighty Word, O Lord, leaped down out of your royal throne.”

There is something so wonderfully powerful about imagine of the Word “leaping” out of heaven and descending among us. There is no apprehension in that act of leaping. There is no holding back. Rather there is almost an impatience on God’s part to be one with us. God comes to us in our Gospel reading today not cloaked behind pillars of fire or thunderstorms or wind, as we found God in the Hebrew Bible.

Instead, God appears before us, as one of us. God’s word, God’s wisdom, God’s Essence leaped down to us and became flesh just as we are flesh. God’s voice is no longer a booming voice from the sky, demanding sacrifices as find in the Old Testament. God instead speaks to us as one of us. And this voice that speaks this Word of God is a familiar one. We cannot only understand it, but we can embrace it and make it a part of our lives.

It continues on in what Jesus still says to us today. It continues on in the Spirit of Jesus that dwells within us and that speaks in us in our lives. The Word is among us. It has leaped down to us, here where we are, on this cold Sunday morning after Christmas. This Word is spoken every time we carry out what Jesus calls us to do. The Word leaps out of us when we reach out to those in need. Whenever we are motivated by the misery around us—when we pray for those who need our prayers, when we reach out to those who need us in any small way we can—that is the Word speaking and leaping forward. And more than that—that is the Word at work in the world.

So let the Word—that Knowledge and Essence of God—be in us and speak through us. Let us all be open to that wonderful reality in our lives. Let our voices be the voice of the Word and Wisdom of God. Let our lives be loud and proud proclamation of that Word in the world around us. God’s almighty Word has leaped down to us. On this First Sunday after Christmas, let us truly rejoice.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Christmas Eve


December 24, 2010

Luke 2.1-20



+ A story I LOVE to tell on Christmas Eve is not the typical Christmas Eve story. My poor mother has had to hear this story so many times, she just rolls her eyes at it. And some of you have no doubt heard me tell it as well. But…this Christmas Eve story does not involve your usual cast of characters. It involves rather a very famous Anglo-Catholic parish in New York City and a very famous actress from a by-gone era.

The story involves Tallulah Bankhead. Now some of you are thinking: I haven’t heard that name in years. Others are maybe saying: I have never heard that name before in my life. But Tallulah Bankhead, star of stage and screen, including, most famously, Alfred Hitchcock’s Lifeboat, was also an Episcopalian. And in fact quite the High Church Episcopalian.

When she was in New York, she attended the Church of St. Mary the Virgin just off Times Square. If you have never been there, it is truly the place to see—if you can see it. This church is so High and is notorious for using so much incense it is affection ally called “Smoky Mary’s” (and it is one of my favorite places to visit in Manhattan).

In the 1950s, the priest at smoky Mary’s, Fr. Grieg Taber Fr. Taber was one of the interesting and eccentric characters in the Episcopal church in the day. There have been many stories of Fr. Tabor. But this one is one of the best…

One Christmas Eve in the 1950s Fr. Taber—good and loyal priest that he was—was sequestered in his confessional. Back then, even some Episcopalians felt compelled to go to confession before receiving Holy Communion at the midnight Mass. Fr. Taber was there in his confessional, awaiting penitents, when he heard the oh-so-very-familiar, low, smoky voice of Miss Tallulah Bankhead. There was certainly no mistaking who it could be.

As he peeked out through his curtain, there he saw her making her way through the church. She paused and looked up at the giant crucifix on the rood screen in the transept of the church, with its almost life-sized figure of the crucified Jesus. Suddenly she exclaimed, in her wonderfully Tallulah Bankhead way,

“Smile, Dahling! It’s your birthday!”

It’s one of the great stories of High Church Episcopalians and one that, at first hearing, might sound irreverent or possibly even downright sacrilegious. Ah…but if you believe that, then you miss the whole point of that wonderful little anecdote.

Douglass Shand-Tucci, in his wonderful biography of the great Episcopal architect Ralph Adams Cram, writes of this incident at Smoky Mary’s:

“Greig Taber…found not irreverence but a useful truth in Bankhead’s salutation to Christ on his natal day. [He] knew it was one New Yorker’s way of joining in ‘Yea, Lord, we greet thee, born this happy morning!’”

In other words, what some people might perceive as sacrilegious and disrespectful I see as wonderfully intimate. And intimacy is what Christmas is about. An intimacy from God to us. An intimacy very unlike any other kind of intimacy.

When we think long and hard about this night, when we ponder it and let it take hold in our lives, what we realized happened on that night when Jesus was born was not just some mythical story. It was not just the birth of a child under dire circumstances, in some distant, exotic land. What happened on that night was a joining together—a joining of us and God. God met us half-way. God came to us in our darkness, in our blindness, in our fear—and cast a light that destroyed that darkness, that blindness, that fear.

In this dark, cold night, we celebrate Light. We celebrate the Light that has come to us in our collective and personal darknesses. We celebrate the Light that has come to us in our despair and our fear, in our sadness and in our frustration. And as it does, we realize---there is an intimacy to that action on God’s part. God didn’t have to do what God did. God didn’t have to descend among us and be one of us. But by doing so, God showed us a remarkable intimacy. Or, as the great Anglican poet Christina Rosetti put more eloquently:

Love came down at Christmas,
love, all lovely, love divine;
love was born at Christmas:
star and angels gave the sign.

We will never fully understand how or why Jesus—God made flesh—has come to us as this little child in a dark stable in the Middle East, but it has happened and, because it happened, we are a different people.

We realize that we are a people loved by our God. And that love is all powerful. It is all encompassing. It is all accepting. Our lives are different because of that love that descended into our lives.

This baby—this love personified—has taken away, by the love he encompasses, everything we feared and dreaded. When we look at it from that perspective, suddenly we find our emotions heightened. We find ourselves expressing our intimacy back to God. Each of expresses our love differently. People like Tallulah Bankhead cry out happy birthdays to crucifixes on Christmas Eve. The rest of probably aren’t quite that dramatic. Or maybe some of us actually are.

But the intimacy we feel between ourselves and God is a very real one tonight—in this very holy moment. We find that this love we feel—for God and for each other and for those we maybe don’t always love, or find difficult to love—that radical love is more tangible—more real—than anything we have ever thought possible. And that is what we are experiencing this evening.

Love came down. Love became flesh and blood. Love became human. And in the face of that realization, we are rejoicing tonight. We are rejoicing in that love personified. We are rejoicing in each other. We are rejoicing in the glorious beauty of this one holy moment in time. And we are rejoicing in that almighty and incredible God who would come to us, not on some celestial cloud with a sword in his hand and armies of angels flying about him. We are rejoicing in a God who comes to us in this innocent child, born to a humble teenager in a dusty third world land. We rejoice in a God who comes with a face like our face and flesh like our flesh—a God who is born, like we are born—of a human mother—and who dies like we all must die. We rejoice in a God who comes and accepts us and loves us for who we are and what we are—a God who understands what it means to live this sometimes frightening uncertain life we live. But who, by that very birth, makes all births unique and holy and who, by that death, takes away the fear of death for all of us.

If that isn’t intimacy, I don’t know what is.

This beautiful night, let us each cling to this love that we are experiencing tonight and let us hope that it will not fade from us when this night is over. Let us cling to this holy moment and make sure that it will continue to live on and be renewed again and again.

Love is here. Love is in our very midst tonight. Love is so near, we can feel its presence in our very bodies and souls. So, let us share this love in any way we can and let us especially welcome this love— love, all lovely, love divine—this love made human into the shelter of our hearts.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Christmas greetings from Jamie+

Christmas, 2010

Christmas greetings,

This season has gotten away from me and I am only this week rushing around buying presents for my mother and a few very close friends.

It truly is a strange Christmas without my father (who, as you know doubt know, died very suddenly on September 14th). His absence is deep and profound. In my parents' home, the Christmas tree is not up (the first time ever in my memory), there are no decorations and very few presents.

My mother is doing very well. Her natural Scandanavian stoicism has kicked in and, although she is in pain, she recognizes it, wipes away the tears, says things like, “I just need to get through this!” and then just chugs right on through.

For me, the initial shock and pain has given way now to a deep ache. The only way I can describe it is that I often feel as though there is a wire deep inside me that tightens and tightens until I finally break down, which happens often (though less often than it did) and when it does it is usually when I am alone or when I have slowed down (both of which I have been avoiding as much as possible).

It is in moments like this that I am thankful for my faith, and for my Priesthood especially. I sometimes am amazed how regular Eucharist and my daily round of Morning and Evening Prayer have grounded me and kept me centered. My pastoral duties have definitely given me something to get up for on some of the more difficult mornings.

As you may know, my father’s death came in the midst of a spat of funerals. In September (the month my father died) I ended up doing five funerals, one just two days after my father died. What I have discovered about myself through all of this is that I am stronger than I ever initially thought. No doubt I inherited much of this strength from my father (and mother too of course).

Mom will come to the rectory on Christmas Eve and stay with me through the Christmas weekend (though she has said she will not attend Christmas Eve Mass at St. Stephen’s—it is still too emotional for her). On Christmas Day, we will have Cornish game hens in orange sauce and then will possibly go to the movies later in the day (the new Cohen Brothers film will be out by then).

As you know, my book, Fargo, 1957, came out December 14. It’s a beautiful book (despite its subject matter). There was a wonderful reading and publication party at the Spirit Room on December 18, with some absolutely gorgeous music by oboist Justin Schwartz. The book itself has been selling briskly and there has been lots of buzz around it, which I have been loving. If you'd like to order a copy (hint hint), check out my website for ordering information: http://jamieparsley.com/Fargo57.html

My wonderful congregation of St. Stephen’s has been outstanding in their love and support of me and they have truly rallied around me and my mom during this difficult time. They have a great new website (which I helped out with): http://ststephensfargo.org/

And you, my friends, have been a very solid anchor in my lives. I am very thankful for all of you.

Please know I am grateful for having you in my life. I will remember you in my thoughts, my daily prayers, at the altar as I celebrate the Eucharist during this Christmas season and, as always, in my heart.

My special hope is that your Christmas season will be filled with joy and love and that your 2011 will be wonderful and filled with many blessings.

-peace always,
Jamie+


A sigh

by Jamie Parsley

A sigh—
a deep sigh.
A sigh

that hushes
a room.
I could live

within that
sigh—
that

almost agonized
action
that produces

song. Who
knew
sighs

sing? Who
guessed
an exhale

could
rejoice? I
rejoice

at your
sigh—
that deep

sigh. A sigh
that hushes
a room.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

4 Advent


December 19, 2010

Isaiah 7.10-16; Romans 1.1-7; Matthew 1.18-25

+ Did you hear? It’s great news! Jesus’ great-grandmother has been found!

If you haven’t read the story it’s been all over the news these past few weeks. If you haven’t heard it, the story reads like this:

A historian has identified the great-grandmother of Jesus.

According to Florentine medieval manuscripts analyzed by a historian, the great-grandmother of Jesus was a woman named St. Ismeria.

St. Ismeria likely served as a role model for older women during the 14th and 15th centuries.

The legend of St. Ismeria sheds light on both the Biblical Virgin Mary's family and also on religious and cultural values of 14th-century Florence….

"According to the legend, Ismeria is the daughter of Nabon of the people of Judea, and of the tribe of King David," wrote the historian who found the legend.

She married "Santo Liseo," who is described as "a patriarch of the people of God." The legend continues that the couple had a daughter named Anne who married Joachim. After 12 years, Liseo died. Relatives then left Ismeria penniless.

I enjoy stories like St. Ismeria, mother of St. Anne, mother of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Yes, I know it’s a fiction. Yes, I know there is no scriptural basis for any of it. But, I enjoy it nonetheless.

A few weeks ago, of course, on our Wednesday night Mass on December 8, we celebrated the feast of the Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary. I received a bit of criticism afterward, I have to say. Some people thought celebrating such an event as Our Lady’s Conception was frivolous and pointless.

I personally wish people could open their minds a bit. And if this is the worse thing we can criticize here at St. Stephen’s, we’re doing quite well, if you ask me. Still, I personally wish people could look at such events for what they are and not let themselves fall into the traps others have fallen into through the centuries of seeing these events as black and white, as pro or con, as fiction or fact, and rather would see that such an observation is instead a beautiful way in which we can celebrate the Incarnation.

I love the story of St. Ismeria and the story of Sts. Anne and Joachim (Joachim being a the traditional name given to Mary’s father) and, as I said on December 8, I love the feast of the Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary because it’s in our nature as questioning, creative human beings to try to fill in and make sense of this person Jesus and how he has come to us. It’s part of what it means to be human.

And being human is what the Incarnation is all about. This week, like almost no other time in the Church Year, we are forced to take a good, hard long look at what is it we believe regarding this vent of the Incarnation—this even in which God—GOD—stops becoming some distant, strange force in our lives, and becomes one of us.

God, coming among us in the form of Jesus, in the form of this child, born to the Virgin Mary, suddenly breaks every single barrier we ever thought we had to God. No longer are there barriers. No longer is there is a distance. No longer is there a veil separating us from God. In Jesus, we find that meeting place between us as humans and God. God has reached out to us and has touched not with a finger of fire, not with the divine hand of judgments, with tender, loving touch of a Child.

This is what incarnation is all about. And because it is, because this event changes everything, because we and our very humanity, our very physical bodies, are redeemed by this event, we want to glorify in it. We want to make sense of it. We want to tell stories—sometimes even fictional stories—about how long-ranging and lasting this event is.

Because Jesus is like us in his humanity, we want relate to him. We want to say, yes, he had a mother like ours. And naturally we expand from there. Yes, he had a grandmother (whether her name was Anne or not). Yes, he then had a great-grandmother. Of course, some of us might think of these things as frivolous. But, for those us who do find meaning in our own lives when we study things genealogy, we realize is not frivolous.

When we study things like genealogy, we doing more than just studying history and the differing, some times very complicated genealogical threads. When we study genealogy, what we are studying is ourselves. We are studying who are we and what we are and where we have been. The blood that flowed in the veins of great-grandparents and grandparents and parents, is the same blood that flows in our veins. There is a lineage there.

Our scripture this morning are filled with references to God working through the lineage of David. In our reading from Isaiah today, we find God speaking through the prophet announcing that, through the lineage of David, Immanuel will come.

Paul today talks of how God worked through the lineage of David to bring about this revelation of God’s self in human form. Paul says he is “set apart for the gospel of God, which he promised beforehand through his prophets from David according to the flesh…”

And in our Gospel reading, the angel calls Joseph, “son of David” and that through this lineage, through this virgin, we have Emmanuel. We have “God with us.”

And so when we celebrate Mary, when we celebrate Mary’s mother (whoever that might be) and Mary’s mother’s mother, we are celebrating Jesus. We are attempting to say to ourselves, Yes, this makes Jesus even more like us. We celebrate Jesus relatives, the same way we celebrate those prophets throughout the centuries before Jesus came who foretold Jesus. All of them, point forward for to Jesus. All of them point to that point when God and humanity met.

And when we celebrate these forbearers of Jesus, we realize that this wasn’t some last-minute movement of God’s part. We realize that God was on the move, priming us and preparing us for this event. God was paving the way for Jesus to come to us as one of us.

That is what the story of Ismeria and Anne and Joachim and the Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary are all about. That is also what the Hebrew Bible is about for us Christians. And that, too is, what this season of Advent is about as well.

This week, we will celebrate an event that is unlike any other event. It is the even in which God finally break through the barriers and, in doing, destroys those very barriers. This week we celebrate that cataclysmic event in which heaven and earth are finally merged, in which the veil torn aside, in which all that we are and all that we long for finally come together. Nothing will ever be the same as it was before. And thank God! It is an event that transformed us and changed in ways we might not even fully realize or appreciate even at this point.

Christmas is almost here. I don’t think any of us would doubt that. We see the trees, the lights, the Santas and the reindeer. But the real Christmas—that life-altering event in which God took on flesh like our flesh, when God allowed blood like our blood to flow in veins, when a heart like our hearts beat with love and care, is here, about the dawn into our lives. Truly this is Emmanuel. This is “God with us.”

God is with us.

The star that was promised to us, that was prepared for us through generations and generations, through the countless lives of those who went before it, has appeared into the darkest night of our existence is now shining brightly, burning the clouds of doubt and despair away.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Advent-Christmas 2010 letter

December 13, 2010
St. Lucy

My Friends at St. Stephen’s,

As we near the birth of Jesus and as we look forward toward 2011, the future is looking bright for us at St. Stephen’s. Yesterday at church, we had the second week in a row of 50 people in church! Nothing gives me greater pleasure than to look out over the nave and see a church full of people worshipping and singing together, interspersed with the joyful sounds of children and young people.

To a large extent, this joy and excitement we feel is what Advent is all about. Those of us who waited in holy expectation and worked hard for the kind of growth we are now experiencing are truly rejoicing. The vision we saw for ourselves over the years is finally becoming a reality. And through it all, we see God’s life-giving Spirit at work among us and in us.

I can repeat what I wrote in my Advent-Christmas letter from last year: serving as St. Stephen’s continues to be one of the most fulfilling experiences of my priestly life. Our life together of worship, ministry, music and outreach has been a source of great personal joy for me and has helped me to see how gracious God is in showering blessings upon faithful, committed people who truly do seek after God.

As we move forward together into this future full of hope and potential growth, I ask for your continued prayers for St. Stephen’s and your continued presence on Sunday mornings, Wednesday nights and whenever else we gather together to worship and to do ministry.

Please know that I pray, as always, for each of you individually by name over the course of each week in my daily observance of the Daily Office (Morning and Evening Prayer) . Also know that I also remember all of you at the altar during celebration of the Mass. Above all, know that I give God thanks every day for the opportunity to serve such a wonderful, caring and loving congregation of people who are committed to growth and radical hospitality.

In return, I ask for your prayers for me in my ministry. I depend on your prayers and blessings in my life and certainly can feel the full effect of those good works in lifting me up and sustaining me during those inevitable low times.

My sincerest blessings to you and to all those you love during this season of joy, hope and love.

PEACE always,
Fr. Jamie Parsley+

Dec. 16th High Plains Reader story


Jamie Parsley’s “Fargo, 1957: An Elegy”

By Dan Nygard
Contributing Writer
High Plains Reader

“I’m trying to capture the voices of people who can’t speak for themselves anymore. Poetry can do that.”—Jamie Parsley

While discussing his tenth book, Fargo, 1957: An Elegy, Fargo poet Jamie Parsley gave a statement I keep finding myself returning to: “I don’t think it’s really been explored so much, how important obsessions are to writers. You can use them creatively and positively.” Though a small part of a much-larger conversation, which ran the gamut from East Coast poets to the poetry of the Far East, this statement gives tremendous insight into the creation of Mr. Parsley’s latest collection, and to the way poetry can create meaning out of mystery.

When the tornado hit Fargo in 1957, Mr. Parsley was not yet born; however, the event would reverberate throughout his life, as his mother’s cousin, Betty Lou Titgen, and her husband, Don, were caught directly in the storm. Don was killed almost immediately; Betty’s injuries put her into a coma, and she died in January of 1960. “And this was one of those obsessions I grew up with,” Parsley explained. “The real key was how secretive it was. It was an open secret—we know they died—but nobody ever wanted to talk about it. So the more of a secret it was, the more I wanted to open it up and see.”

In Parsley’s case, obsession revolved around finding answers to the questions behind what had happened that day, not only to his family members, but to the entire community of Fargo. “This was a defining moment in our history,” Parsley said. “Almost everybody was affected in some way.”

The few stories he heard stayed with him. “I tried writing about it over the years,” Parsley said. “I wrote a play at one point, I wrote some fiction. Nothing really came of it. So I decided I would fully research it, just get it out of my system if nothing else.”

This research, a two-year process, involved trips to NDSU’s Institute for Regional Studies, The Red River Valley Genealogical Society, The Fargo Forum, and local libraries. In addition, Parsley conducted interviews with anyone who could tell his or her story. “It was amazing,” Parsley recalled. “Here in Fargo, you try one thing, and it opens up a whole other area.” However, the process was not easy because for many people the topic can be difficult to talk about, and very little physical evidence remains, a fact which is highlighted in a line from “Relics,” the last poem in the book: “Whatever they had was blown away or destroyed.” But what Parsley found proved incredibly powerful.

For example, during a visit to Betty and Don’s daughter, Lynn Brown, who was two years old when the tornado took the lives of her parents, he was shown a shoebox containing a 50’s style wallet, which Don carried the day of the tornado, with his driver’s license, a signed work card with the date 6-19-57, and a fishing license. “And all of a sudden, it was real,” Parsley said. “This wallet was on him when it happened.”

In addition, Parsley learned that there were two different stories about where Betty and Don were when the storm began. “The story she had been told was that they were at the movies. Later I hear that there is a story that they were at the bar—the Brass Rail. She had heard ‘at the movies,’ someone else had heard ‘at the bar.’” In this situation, with two conflicting stories, what became important wasn’t whether either story is ‘true’. In a poetic sense, both stories create a picture of life as it happened on that day. In this opening section of “O Salutaris,” written in the voice of Don, Parsley uses both stories to create a sense of two people whose lives were lost that day:

What did we ask for in our lives?
After weeks of work and toil and loss
all we needed was a break.

So what if we were at the Brass Rail
on Front Street?
Does anyone care?
And does it matter?

Or what if we were
at the movies with another couple?
Gunfight at the O.K. Corral
had just opened that day
and promised us a glimpse of a glory
we rarely sawas it rose before us on the screen
in all its VistaVision splendor
at the Fargo Theatre.

Here, the details of a day spent downtown are all ‘true,’ as a young married couple emerges, weary from “work and toil and loss,” searching for something to do on a rare afternoon out, unaware as everyone else in Fargo that the storm is on its way. Living in Fargo, even fifty-some years after the fact, one knows these people. This sense of character exists throughout Parsley’s poems. “I try to do each person homage,” Parsley explained. “These people woke up that morning, and nobody would have guessed that something like this would happen. Who would?”
There is an emotional honesty apparent in each voice, a sense that the poet is letting these characters speak for themselves. “They came alive on their own,” Parsley said, “But I just had to give them enough room to do that.” And part of what makes Fargo, 1957: An Elegy so, well, elegiac, is Parsley’s willingness to present himself and his own obsession honestly—the process of discovering these people and what they have left behind is a story in itself. This appears most poignantly in “Ghostly,” which concludes with this acknowledgement of the beauty behind the questions that are still unanswered: “And, like ghosts, we grasp at each other/ across the abyss,/ our voices sounding to the other/ like the first rumble of approaching thunder.”

A Reading/Publication Party to celebrate Fargo, 1957: An Elegy will be held at 4:00 p.m. on December 18th at the Spirit Room, 111 Broadway.

In today's Fargo FORUM

Fargo priest, poet celebrates new book

A reading and publication party for the Rev. Jamie Parsley’s “Fargo, 1957: An Elegy” begins at 4 p.m. today in the Spirit Room, 111 Broadway, Fargo.

In this evocative and moving elegy of the devastating 1957 Fargo tornado and its victims, Parsley weaves a story of loss, poetry, pain, faith and ultimately renewal and gives voice to those victims who, before now, were unable to speak for themselves. “Fargo, 1957” is the story of the resilience and fortitude of the people who survived the storm and those who did not.

Parsley has been associate poet laureate of North Dakota since 2004. He serves as priest in charge of St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church in north Fargo and as executive assistant to the bishop for the Episcopal Diocese of North Dakota.

The publication party follows at 5 p.m. Call (701) 237-0230 for more information.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

3 Advent


Gaudete Sunday
December 12, 2010

Isaiah 35.1-10; Canticle 3;


+ I feel the need to make a retraction. I don’t think I’ve ever ever had to make a retraction in a sermon. And even if I had before, I think my pride prevented from actually doing it. But I, humble priest that I am, must do so this week.

Last week I mentioned our own dear Joanne Droppers in my sermon. And I used a word in describing a comment she made to me the previous week that I used a bit too nonchalantly. That word was “curmudgeonly.” I believe I said that she made a “curmudgeonly comment” to me. I realize now—and I realized as I said it last Sunday—that it was the wrong word to use. Curmudgeon is really a kind of ugly word. It means “ill-tempered” or, worse yet, “joyless.”

Now, that definition “ill-tempered” doesn’t bother so much. I make ill-tempered comments all the time, as everywhere here no doubt knows. But joyless—that, for some reason, bothers me. Such a word doesn’t describe someone like Joanne. And it shouldn’t describe any of us who call ourselves “Christian.” And the whole concept of joylessness just runs counterculture to everything we are partaking in, especially today.

This Third Sunday of Advent is also known as Gaudete Sunday. Gaudete Sunday is the Sunday in Advent when we light the pink or rose candle on the Advent wreath. This pink candle is a sign to us that the shift has happened. Now there are more candles lit than are unlit. We are moving closer and closer to that dawn of Christ’s appearance among us. The feast of the Incarnation is upon us—that time in which we realize God and humanity meet. The light has won out and the darkness, we now realize, is not an eternal darkness.

Gaudete means “rejoice” and that is exactly what we should do on this Sunday. We should rejoice in the light that is winning out. We should rejoice in the fact that darkness has no lasting power over us. As the darkness fails, as the light brightens and shines upon us, we find an emotion coming up within us. It’s bubbling up within us. It’s building. And that emotion is…joy. And it is a glorious joy.

This Sunday sets a tone different than the one we’ve had so-far in Advent. We find that word—rejoice—is the “theme” of the day. Last Sunday I talked about hope—about the fact we don’t think about hope very often. We all hope, but we don’t necessarily articulate our hoping as hope per se. This week, it’s joy we are considering.

Unlike hope, which we have to stop and consider whether we are actually feeling it or not, joy is not an emotion we have to consider. Joy is something we either know we are feeling or not. It’s a lot like love. You know when you are in love. There’s no getting around love. It comes into your love, unasked for often, and disrupts everything. (or maybe that’s just me). Joy is a lot like love. It comes upon us, often unasked for, and drives all darkness away. And, in doing so, it sometimes disrupts everything. We don’t see things the way we did before. It is the emotion that permeates everything we hear in our scriptures this Sunday.

In our reading from the Hebrew Bible, in Isaiah, we hear Isaiah say to us that even the wilderness, “will rejoice with joy and sing.” And in our canticle, we find that beautiful song of joy, the Magnificat—the Blessed Virgin Mary’s rapturous song of rejoicing.

My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord,
my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.

This emotion of joy is something we oftentimes take for granted. Let’s face it, joy doesn’t happen often enough in our lives. It is a rare occurrence for the most part. And maybe it should be. It is certainly not something we want to take for granted. When joy comes to us, we want to let it flow through us. We want it to let it guide us and overwhelm us. But we often don’t think about how essential joy is to us.

Joy is essential to all of us as Christians. It is one of those marks that make us who we are as Christians. If we look closely at the lives of the saints, they are the ones who show us the way forward. And they are the ones who are marked—through and through—with joy. They are the ones who have let joy come upon them and transform them. They are the ones who, even in sometimes overwhelming and frightening times, when overcome by darkness and despair, have still let joy come to them and be present in them.

Gaudete Sunday always reminds me of Father Alfred Delp. Delp, as you’ve heard me talk about before, was a German Roman Catholic Jesuit priest. In 1944, he was arrested as a conspirator in the plot to kill Adolf Hitler. That Advent of 1944, was the last Advent he would observe. On February 2, 1945, within weeks, essentially, of the liberation, Alfred Delp was hanged by the Nazis.

Still, that final Advent of his life, as he sat in prison, was one that obviously was like none other in his life. Even in that prison, even knowing he would soon be facing a mock trial a kangaroo court that would almost surely find him guilty and would condemn him to death, Delp was able to find a glimmer of joy in that Advent season.

Delp wrote, “May the time never come when men forget about the good tidings and promises, when so immured within the four walls of their prison, they see nothing but gray days through barred windows placed too high to see out of.”
And later, he wrote, “There is so much despair that cries out for comfort; faint courage that needs to be reinforced; perplexity that yearns for meaning…. God’s messengers who have themselves reaped the fruits of Divine seeds, even in the darkest hours, know how to wait for the fullness of the harvest.”
This time of Advent is a time of waiting for us. We are waiting for the light. We are waiting for the fullness of the harvest that will come with that light.

I love that definition of joy. Sometimes, cultivating joy in the midst of overwhelming sorrow or pain or loneliness or depression can seem overwhelming and impossible. That’s why it is a discipline. When things like sorrow or pain or loneliness or depression descend upon—and they descend upon us all—we need to cling to joy. We need to search deep within us for that joy that we have as Christians. That joy comes when we put our pains into perspective. That joy comes when we recognize that these dark moments that happen in our lives are not eternal. They will not last forever. That, I think, is where we sometimes fail. When we are in the midst of those negative emotions in our lives, we often feel as though they will never end. We often feel as though we will always be lonely, we always be sad, we will always mourn. But as Christians, we can’t allow ourselves to be boxed in in such a way. As Christians, we are forced, again and again, to look at the larger picture. We are forced to see that joy is always there, just beyond our grasp, awaiting us. Joy is there when we realize that in the midst of our darkness, there is always light just beyond our reach.

Joy doesn’t mean walking around smiling all the time. It doesn’t mean that we have to force ourselves to be happy at all times in the face of every bad thing. If we do that, we become nothing more than a programmed robot or a trained puppy. True joy comes bubbling up from within us. It comes from a deep place and it permeates our whole being, no matter what else is going on in our lives or in the world around us.

As we know, the overriding “theme” for Advent—if there is such a thing as a “theme” for the season—is that cry, “Come, Lord Jesus.” That cry is a cry of truly holy impatience. Impatience is one of those things frowned upon by most people. But in this sense, impatience is not necessarily a bad thing. Impatience can drive us and motivate us. And the impatience that causes us to cry out, “Come quickly, Lord Jesus” is fueled by a deep and abiding joy. It is a joy that comes from deep within our very essence—from that place of our true selves. And it is a joy that allows us to say with humble confidence (and not with arrogance): let life throw at us what it will. Even in the face of everything terrible or sad, I will rejoice.

So, as we gather together this morning, to share in the Eucharist—that ultimate celebration of joy—let us not forget the joy we feel at seeing this pink candle lit. We have made it this far. The tide has shifted. The light is winning out. The dawn is about to break upon our long dark night.

As we ponder this, as we meditate on this, as we take this with us in our hearts, let us pay special attention to the emotion this causes within us. Embrace that welling up of joy from deep within. And as it wells up, as it bubbles forth, let us exclaim what is bursting like a fire in our hearts to say,

“Come, Lord Jesus! Come quickly!”

Friday, December 10, 2010

Fargo, 1957 reading Dec. 18th


I will be reading from my newly published book, Fargo, 1957: An Elegy at The Spirit Room, 111 Broadway, Fargo, on Sat. Dec, 18 at 4:00 pm. A publication party will follow at 5:00 pm.

Special music will be provided by oboist Justin Schwartz.

The book, which chronicles the June 20, 1957 tornado that struck Fargo, will be published Dec. 14 by The Institute for Regional Studies at NDSU.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Desembermånen 1969

by Jamie Parsley

On the night I was born
Olav Hauge,
there, in that distant land
of ancestors with faces like mine
and their snowy graves,
in that mythic far-off place
in which blood
like my blood flowed
through earth and granite
and run-off ice,
wrote,

Han løyner stålet
i ei slire av sylv.
Det er blod på eggi.

Is it steel it hides in—
that moon?
Does it come forth
from its silver sheath?
I did, it seems.
And always, on my edges,
there is blood.

Olav H. Hauge (1908-1994) Norwegian poet

Sunday, December 5, 2010

2 Advent

December 5, 2010

Romans 15.4-13; Matthew 3:1-12

+ This past Wednesday—December 1—was World AIDS Day. At our 6:00 Mass that evening, I preached a short homily about how AIDS has affected the Episcopal Church. I shared stories from what I described as three of my “favorite” Episcopal Churches in the US—Advent of Christ the King in San Francisco, St. Thomas the Apostle in Hollywood and St. Luke’s-in-the-Field in Greenwich Village—were changed by the crisis and how they each responded. Now, of my “favorite” Episcopal Churches in the US, I didn’t even mention the others—such as St. Paul’s K Street in Washington DC, St. Clements in Philadelphia, Grace Church in Newark, New Jersey, to name just a few more.

Afterward, at supper, at my “favorite” restaurant—Wasabi—our own, dear Joanne Droppers said to me, “I don’t believe you anymore when you talk about things being your ‘favorite’ anything.”

“Excuse me,” I said to Joanne’s somewhat curmudgeonly exegesis of my homily.

“Well,” Joanne responded. “Everything’s your favorite!”

Fair enough. But, today, Joanne, you will hear me talk about a saint who I will be honest is not one of my favorites. And that is St. John the Baptist. For some reason, I just don’t like him. I don’t think I would’ve liked him if I was alive at that time. And I can definitely tell you I probably wouldn’t like him if he was alive right now.

In this morning’s Gospel, we are faced with this formidable figure of John the Baptist. There is no getting around him. There he is—loud and, excuse me for saying, but he sounds a bit crazy to me and I’m sure to a few of the people who heard him. The impression we get from Matthew is of someone we probably wouldn’t want to meet in a dark alley. He comes across to us through the ages as a kind of gnarled mountain man. He is dirty. He is not very well mannered. He is shouting strange words and prophecies. He is frightening. I would probably guess his hygiene wasn’t that great. And, no doubt, he may have smelled.

Certainly it would be difficult for any of us to take the words of a man like this seriously. Especially when he’s saying things like, “prepare, for the Kingdom of heaven draws near” “the axe is being laid to the root of the trees” and “the chaff will be burned in an unquenchable fire. “

Somehow, in the way John the Baptist proclaims it, this is not so much hopeful as frightening. It is a message that startles us and jolts us at our very core. But this is the true message of Advent.

Like John the Baptist and those who eagerly awaited the Messiah, this time of waiting—this time of hope—can be almost painful. When we look at it from that perspective, we see that maybe John isn’t being quite as difficult and windy as we initially thought. Rather his message is one of almost excruciating expectation and hope.

Hope.

It’s something we all feel occasionally, but it’s something we very rarely ever discuss or personally examine. Hope. What is hope in our lives? What do we honestly hope for? Or do we? Do we hope anymore? I think we do. I don’t know if we necessarily name it as hope. I don’t know if we articulate it as such. But I think we all live with a certain hope. Because when we think for one moment about having no hope, everything suddenly seems bleak and horrendous.

Now to put it in its proper context, maybe the only thing we hope in anymore is God. Of course, if that’s all we hope in, I think we’re doing pretty well. But even then, I don’t think we ever really think about the hope we might feel.

Our Prayer Book, appropriately enough, does deal with hope. Let’s take out our Prayer Books and I want you this morning to walk with me, yet again, to the back of the Book. Please turn to page 861. There, in our trusty Catechism we find the question, “What is the Christian hope?”

The answer, “The Christian hope is to live with confidence in newness and fullness of life, and to await the coming Christ in glory, and the completion of God’s purpose for the world.”

Now, that is a good answer. Hope for us then, as Christians, is a matter of confidence. It is a matter of believing that no matter how fractured and crazy this life gets, there is the promise of newness and fullness to this life. And, as this season of Advent promises us, it is also a matter of waiting for Christ to come in glory.

Like John, we are waiting in joyful hope for our God to come to us, to appear to us as one of us in Jesus. As we know, waiting, in hope, can be excruciating. It can be more difficult than anything we can possibly imagine.

So, what do we, as Christians, do with this hopeful waiting? This season of Advent offers us a time to slow down a bit spiritually and too look long and hard at our lives as hopeful Christians. It is a time for us to prepare for the Incarnate God’s coming to us. It is a time for us to shed some of those things that separate us from God. It is a time for us to find a place in ourselves, if no where else, in which we can go off and be alone with God. A place in which we can wait for God longingly.

In Advent we can fully express our hope. Because, we are hoping. We are looking longingly for God to come to us. Those of us who dwell here in the darkness—in this life of uncertainly, of hectic day to day activity, of the struggles and problems of our own lives—find ourselves clinging to that blessed hope, looking longingly for the light to burn away that darkness.

That Light is, of course, Christ. That Light comes into our darkness in the form of a Child. And that Light can be frightening, because it reveals things to us we might not want revealed. It reveals to us aspects of ourselves we might not want revealed and it reveals things about our world that we don’t want to see. But by enlightening us and making us see fully and completely, we know that we are freed. We are freed from those things that keep us in the dark and we are freed to go forward into the Light and dwell there.

So, yes, John’s message in the wilderness is a frightening one at times. It is frightening because the Light he is telling us is coming to us can be frightening, especially when we’re used to the darkness. But it is also a message of hope and longing. It is a message meant to wake us from our slumbering complacency. His is a voice calling us to sit up and take notice.

The kingdom of heaven is near. In fact it’s nearer than we can probably ever hope or imagine. So, be prepared. Watch. Wait. Hope. For this anticipation—this wonderful and beautiful hope—is merely a pathway on which the Christ Child can come to us here in our darkness and appear before us as one of us.




Wednesday, December 1, 2010

World AIDS Day

December 1, 2010






Today is, of course, World AIDS Day. We tend to forget in the some ways how AIDS has affected us here in the US and how it is continuing to be a true plague in the rest of the world.

For us in the Episcopal Church, it has been particularly difficult. Three Episcopal congregations that I particularly love (and all are, by the way, progressive Anglo-Catholic congregations), have been affected by AIDS.

At the Church of Advent of Christ the King in San Francisco the AIDS crisis was particularly bad. This is from Advent’s parish profile:

“When the Rev'd William Rhodes came to Advent as its 27th rector in 1984, the illness that came to be known as AIDS was beginning to affect a number of parishioners. Over 100 members of the congregation died of AIDS-related illnesses over a ten-year period. The church was the site of 2-3 Requiem Masses per week, and many members had become too ill to carry on the running of parish affairs. It was during this dark period when the grace of the Holy Spirit sent women to join Advent in increasing numbers and take over responsibilities traditionally carried out only by men. Women served as senior and junior wardens and began to appear at the altar as acolytes. In addition, these women undertook the care and support of men who were ill and exhausted by grief.”

I never fully realized how bad it was at a place like St. Luke’s-in-the Fields in Greenwich Village in New York until I visited there a few years ago and, after Mass, took a look at their columbarium. There the ashes of young men who died in 1980s and 1990s was sobering. Nothing quite hit home for me like that columbarium.

St. Damien of Molokai, who we now commemorate in Holy Women, Holy Men, is the patron saint of those suffering from HIV/AIDS. For this very reason, St. Damien is commemorated at another one of my favorite congregations, St. Thomas the Apostle Church in Hollywood. This from an online source about St. Thomas:

“A gift from a parishioner provided a carved-in-Italy colossal figure of the Ascending Christ, around which the distinguished liturgical artist Rhett Judice designed and executed a new reredos over the main altar. This was in the midst of the AIDS epidemic and it was felt a symbol of hope and resurrection was needed. Later Rhett Judice built a new reredos for the Lady Chapel, also of his own design, and, an altar and reredos for the Damien Chapel in the east porch of the church, centring on the figure of Christ the King, flanked by Saint Thomas the Apostle and Blessed Father Damien, the leper priest of Molokai. In 1998 Rhett completed the ‘East Wall’ (liturgical east) and created the Stations of the Cross currently in use.
“After the death from AIDS of assistant priest Robert Kettelhack in 1989, the chapel in the east porch was designated the Diocesan AIDS Memorial Chapel, with a painting by Ian Faulkner of Father Damien over the altar, and a specially-designed AIDS Memorial Book listing persons who have succumbed to the disease. When it was decided to build an AIDS Chapel in the new Cathedral Center, Saint Thomas relinquished the furnishings. The altar is still used for the interment of remains. The chapel is now dedicated to Fr. Damien of Molokai. Fr. Damien is the 19th century priest who worked among the lepers of Molokai and has been adopted as the patron of people with AIDS. Rhett Judice designed the triptych replacing the Falkner painting. A copy of the Memorial Book remains. This chapel also serves as the parish shrine for Our Lady of Walsingham. The Holy Rosary is recited there every Sunday morning.”

Even though we are not commemorating him today, St. Damien is the saint we really find ourselves relating to on this World AIDS day. He’s truly a symbol for us of the care and the love we need to show for all people stricken with illnesses like AIDS.

In the collect we use for Damien (and his companion Marianne), we essentially ask God for the chance to challenge ourselves. We pray that we may be “bold and loving in confronting the incurable plagues of our time…”

That is the challenge for all of us on this World AIDS Day, that we may, like Damien and all those who have fought and helped and who suffered from the incruable plagues of this world, may truly be “bold and loving in confronting” this incurable plague that’s still wages.

And so, using the collect for St. Damien from Holy Women, Holy Men, let us pray:

God of compassion, we bless your Name for the ministries of Damien and Marianne, who ministered to the lepers abandoned on Molokai in the Hawaiian Islands. Help us, following their examples, to be bold and loving in confronting the incurable plagues of our time, that your people may live in health and hope; through Jesus Christ, who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

I Advent

November 28, 2010

Romans13.11-14


+ One of my all-time favorite movies is a movie called Punch-Drunk Love. For anyone who knows me, you have heard me talk about this film many, many times. I love it! If you have not seen it, I highly recommend it. In fact, I would say that it is probably my favorite film ever. And as you know, that’s saying a quite a lot coming from me, considering how many movies I actually love. I’m also not usually big into romantic films. But this film isn’t your typical romantic film. And I will admit this: the first time I saw it, although I loved it from the very beginning, I didn’t quite “get it.”

The story revolves around several days in the life of a lonely man named Barry Egan, played by Adam Sandler (don’t let the fact that Adam Sandler is in this film distract you—he’s actually really good in it). The film is sort of a poem in and of itself. It is full of symbolism.

One of the first symbols in this movie—and probably the most important—is that of a harmonium that is dropped off at the beginning of the film on the street in front of the place where Barry works. The harmonium becomes a symbol of the love Barry Egan develops for Lena Leonard who is played by Emily Watson.

But the real symbolism for me is the fact that Barry lives in a very sterile, colorless world, and he, in this world, wears the same dull blue suit from the beginning to the end of the film. Barry’s world is an enclosed world. And it’s encased in a kind of glass-like transparency. In fact, throughout the film, we find Barry accidentally walking into glass doors, and at one point, when he is pressured to the breaking point by his seven, overbearing, nagging sisters at a birthday party, he, in pent-up anger, breaks the glass patio doors of his sister’s home.

So, into this sterile, colorless, glass-encased life comes the harmonium (with its potential for soothing music) and. more importantly, Lena Leonard. Throughout the film, Lena is seen always wearing vibrant red. As he is drawn more and more to her, this color red keeps coming into his life. At one point, as Barry chases Lena to Hawai’i (where she is on a business trip), there’s a scene in which Barry is walking down a corridor at the airport toward two flight attendants, dressed in red.

But one of the best scenes for symbolism in the film is a scene early on, when Barry, shortly after meeting Lena, is in the supermarket. As he goes from aisle to aisle, trying to find Healthy Choice products that he realizes he could buy up and redeem for Frequent Flier Miles, he is seen walking through the store, searching. At one point, he asks himself, “What am I looking for?”

At the moment, on the far side of the aisles, on the other side of the store, just out of focus we (not he) can make out a blurry figure of a woman in red following him. If you’re not looking for her, you’ll miss her. But there she is, just as he asks himself that question, “What am I looking for?”

Of course, he’s not at that point in his life in which he can recognize the answer is right there, just out of focus, just on the other end of the aisle. But it is an incredible scene when we start realizing how the symbolism works to bring out the layers of this wonderful story. And I’ll also admit, it took me a while to figure what some of the symbolism in this film meant (and there are a few other symbols in this film that I still haven’t got).

For some reason, our scripture reading from Paul’s letter to the Romans this morning reminds me so much of that scene from Punch-Drunk Love. We find Paul saying to us: “You know what time it is, how it is now the moment for you to wake from sleep.” And just a bit later he gives us that wonderful image, “”…the night is far gone, the day is near. Let us lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armor of light…” There is no better image for us that this on this First Sunday of Advent.

This season of Advent is all about realizing that we, for the most part, are living in that hazy world. Advent is all realizing that we are living in that sleepy, fuzzy, half-world. Advent is all about recognizing that we must put aside darkness—spiritual darkness, intellectual darkness, personal darkness—and put on light. We realize that our world is often very much like Barry Egen’s world—a dry, colorless, lonely, sterile place in which we just can’t quite seem to focus. And Advent is that time when we find ourselves frantically looking for something, and asking ourselves, “What am I looking for?” And there, just out of focus, just out on the other side, is what we are looking for.

For us, this Advent season is a time for us to look into that place that’s kind of out of focus, and to focus ourselves again I love the image that Paul puts forth this morning of “putting on the Lord Jesus Christ.” That is perfect and precisely to the point of what this Advent season is all about. The “theme” of every Advent season is “Come quickly, Lord Jesus.” And, in a sense, we make that prayer a reality when we “put on” Jesus. But how do we do this? How do we put on Jesus, as though he were some sweatshirt or fancy vestment?

The fact is, we have already put him on. We put him on that wonderful day we were baptized. We were clothed in Jesus on that day and we remained clothed in him to this day.

Still, even clothed in Jesus as we may be, we still occasionally fail to recognize this reality in our lives. This moment of spiritual agitation and seeking after something more has been called the “Advent situation” by the great Anglican theologian Reginald Fuller.
The “Advent situation” is recognizing the reality of our present situation. We are living now—in this present moment. At moments this present moment does seem almost surreal. This moment is defined by the trials and frustration and tedium as well as the joys and all the other range of emotions and feelings that living entails.

But, for the most part, we don’t feel like it “fits” for some reason. It seems like there must be more than just this. Instinctively, spiritually, we yearn for something more, though we aren’t certain exactly what that might be. And that might possibly be the worst part of this situation. We don’t know what it is we want. Or in the words of Barry Egan, “What am I looking for?”

The Advent situation of Reginald Fuller reminds us that yes, this is the reality. Yes, we are here. But we are conditioned by (and for) what comes after this—the age to come. Or as the great Jesuit priest and paleontologist Pierre Teilhard de Chardin once said, “We are not physical beings having spiritual experiences; we are spirits having a physical experience.”

Baptism—that event in which we were clothed with Christ—essentially translated us into this Advent situation. And the Baptismal life—a life in which we are constantly reminded that we are clothed with Jesus—is one in which we realize that are constantly striving through this physical experience toward our ultimate fulfillment.

We are spirits having a physical experience. It is a wonderful experience, despite all the heartache, despite all the pains, despite all the set-backs and frustrations. And this physical experience is making our spirits stronger. It is sharpening our vision as we proceed so that we can see clearly what was once out of focus.

In this Advent season, in which we are in that transparent, glass-like world, trying to break out, let us turn and look and see who it is who is following us. Let us look and see that that person who is standing there, dressed in a vibrant color, just out focus, is the one we have been looking for all along. That person is the person we have been searching for. That person is, in fact, the very person we have clothed ourselves with, but have been unable to recognize.

Advent is here. Night is nearly over. Day is about dawn. He whom we are longing for and searching for is just within reach. Our response to this Advent situation is simply a furtive cry in this blue season.

Come quickly.

Come quickly, Lord Jesus.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Christ the King/Reign of Christ

November 21, 2010

Colossians 1.11-20; Luke 23.33-43

+ Now you all know that I am very open-minded. I am progressive and fully inclusive.I love inclusive language. Every Wednesday night, we celebrate Mass at 6:30 according the liturgy of Enriching Our Worship, in which there is purposely no gender-specific language regarding God used. And I use inclusive language personally and professionally with regard to God—even in my personal prayers to God. I embrace all of those things.

But, I have to confess something: I just can’t do it today. This Sunday—this last Sunday of the very long Pentecost season in the Church—has been given a fairly new, more inclusive name.

Some people have felt that “Christ the King” is just too masculine, too gender-specific, too “monarch-like.” And so, this Sunday has been popularly and, in some circles, also given the alternate name of “Reign of Christ Sunday”.

Now, to be clear, it is not the official title for this Sunday. Officially, it is still Christ the King Sunday. And, in and of its self, that’s very…nice. The Reign of Christ. OK. I get it. But, I’m sorry, “Reign of Christ Sunday” just does not click with me the same way as “Christ the King Sunday” does. I just can’t imagine George Herbert writing, instead of “King of glory, King of peace,”

“Reign of glory, Reign of peace,
I will love thee;
And that my love may never cease,
I will move thee.”

It is funny though that this past week I was discussing this very issue with Sandy Holbrook. Sandy said to me, “Well, I for one don’t care talk of monarchs. This whole ‘King’ talk just rubs me wrong.”

There is certainly validity to that. I think that, as good Americans, monarchy-talk should rub us wrong. We fought hard for our independence from monarchs. But talk of a “Reign” doesn’t necessarily cut it either for me personally. We are just as uncomfortable with thinking of anyone reigning over us. And maybe it’s just me—good Royalist that I am in my heart of hearts—but talk of kings is not such a horrible thing to me.

Certainly, in these next several months, there will be much talk of kings and queens and monarchs in a much more positive light now that the future King and Queen of England, William and Kate, have announced their engagement this past week. (I, for one, am very, very excited about this).

For us, even here in America, we like our royalty—which in our case are our celebrities, our sports stars, out politicians and, in the case of some of us here (including me), it can be even our religious celebrities. We need our royalty. There is something in even us Americans, who claim to hate such things, that we find ourselves pining after these royal celebrities.

What I like about actual royalty is that there’s such flair to their rule. They have the costumes. They have the pomp and vibrancy that we want from our rulers. And, with their lineage and their rights to the throne, there’s a legitimacy to the royalty that even our democratic elections don’t quite have. Royalty demand, by their very presence, by their very demeanor, by their very selves, a loyalty from their subjects. And when royalty are fair and good and lead with sincerity and care, it is not hard for people to support them and serve them and center their collectives around them.

And that’s the point here. Whether we’re talking about Christ as King, or whether we are talking about the Reign of Christ, the important thing is that are talking about Christ as first and foremost in our lives. He is not just some despotic ruler who tells us what to do and we do it blindly. Christ the King is the humble and loving King, who is also the Shepherd—the ultimate servant leader, shall we say?—who rules not above us or over us, but beside us. Christ the King is the King and Shepherd who has come to us wherever we may be and is with us. And that is the real point of this Christ the King/Reign of Christ Sunday. The King we celebrate today is truly, as the great theologian Reginald Fuller called him, the “cosmocrator”—the ruler of the universe. And because he comes to us as one of us, because he is the true servant leader, it is easy for those who do not recognize that royalty personified to degrade that role.

In our Gospel reading for this morning, we find that title of King being used in a derogatory way. The King of the Jews, as Jesus is called today in our Gospel reading, is mean to be a demeaning title. It is a way to mock him. They did not recognize the royalty present within Jesus. Rather they saw him as a little man with thoughts of grandeur.

But what we know and celebrate on this Christ the King Sunday is that, yes, he is the King of the Jews, but he is also the Christians and the king of the outcasts and the king of the marginalized and the king of the very cosmos. As Reginald Fullers also says, in expanding on his views of Jesus as King,

“It is not just an abstract idea; it involves the doctrines of creation, redemption and reconciliation of the universe, and of the Church as the sphere in which his reign is already acknowledged and proclaimed.”

It is a celebration of not only who Jesus was, but who Jesus is and will be. It is a celebration of the fact that, although it seems, at times, as though this reign of Christ is not triumphant, at times it seems, in fact, to have failed miserably, we know that ultimately it will break through into our midst and will triumph universally and completely.

That’s why we celebrate this incredible day on this last Sunday before Advent begins. Advent, after all, is that time for us to look toward the future, to gaze into the dark and the haze and all that lies before us and to see that it is not all bleak, it is not all frightening and scary, but that, in the midst of that darkness, there is a glimmer of light. This Sunday and the season we are about to enter, is all about the future and eternity.

That’s why Johann Sebastian Bach wrote a setting for Wachet auf (or “Sleepers, Awake”) for this Sunday, which in German Lutheranism is known as Ewigkeitssontag (e-wig-keits-son-tag) or “Eternity Sunday,” which I think it an even better name than Reign of Christ Sunday…(but that’s just me).

And maybe that’s also why it is a good time for us to be having Pledge Sunday on this “Eternity Sunday.” Pledge Sunday is one of those times when we need to look long and hard at how we have being putting Christ first in our lives, in our ministries and in this congregation, and it is a time for us to look forward, into that murky future, into the eternity that awaits. It is a time for us to look forward and to say, as we do, awake! It is time to do ministry. It is time to serve. It is to give. It is time to pitch in and do what we can for each other, for this congregation, for the Church and for God.

Most of you have received my Pledge letter. In it I explained how this congregation is in a incredible amazing moment in its history right now. Things are truly “popping” here. And by popping I mean popping in a very good way. Things are being done. Ministry is being done. All of you are stepping up, doing ministry in whatever ways you can or are feeling called to do, you are giving from what you have been given and by doing all those things, you are making a huge difference.

People are noticing this church of St. Stephen’s I hear it, out there in the Diocese. And we see it here.

As you know, we have a new website. One of things I have been adamant about since I’ve been here is that we needed a pro-active, regularly updated website because, more often than not, that is what people see of us first and foremost. They see us and who are we are there, on our website, long before they ever step even foot inside this building.

On Wednesday night, at supper at Thai Orchid after our Mass, I was talking to Chris, one of our regular Wednesday night Mass attendees. He said that when he and his partner Erik moved to Fargo, they looked at church websites in our community to see which churches would be most welcoming to them. And it was through our website and the information we had online, that they came to St. Stephen’s.

Others too are noticing our new website. John Baird shared these statistics with me on Friday: In the last 2 weeks we have averaged 5-6 hits on our website per day. On Monday, November 15 we had 0 hits. But, it increased from there – Tuesday, November 16 we had 4 hits, on Wednesday, we had 16 hits, and on Thursday, we had 24 hits. 7 visitors came to the web page from our Facebook page (Yes, we have a Facebook page).

What people are seeing when they see our website and this faith community is that St. Stephen’s is a group of people who are working together, who are serving, who are building up, who are bringing about the Reign of Christ into this world. This is what we are celebrating on this Pledge Sunday. We are looking forward into the church and asking ourselves: what should we do? What needs to be done? What kind of ministry can I be doing and how can I be helping?

We, on this Christ the King/Reign of Christ/Eternity/Pledge Sunday, are looking forward into the darkness of the future and eternity and we are seeing the rays of light shining through to us. It is a great time for us here at St. Stephen’s. It is a great time to be involved in ministry and in bringing about that Reign of Christ in this world.

So, let us rejoice on this last Sunday of Pentecost. Let us move forward into our future together. Let go together into that future with confidence and joy and gladness at all the blessings we have been given and that we are able to give to others. And let us to do all that we do, as Paul tells us today in his letter to the Colossians, “made strong with all the strength that comes from [God’s] glorious power…”

Sunday, November 14, 2010

25 Pentecost

November 14, 2010

Isaiah 65.17-25


+ Today is the two month anniversary of my father’s death. In that time, I have been trying, as we all do when we are dealing with pain and hurt, to find some source of consolation. And I have actually found one. No, it’s NOT cocktails. Trust me. Rather, it is the poems of an Israeli poet by the name of Yahuda Amichai.

I have been reading Amichai’s poetry almost obsessively in these last few weeks and have truly been consoled in them.

What I have found particularly true in Amichai’s poetry is that he truly is a poet of the Resurrection. Now, by that I don’t necessarily mean “Resurrection” in the same way we might understand that term. Amichai was Jewish and had a very Jewish understanding of the Resurrection in his poems.

But again and again in poems, I have read a very subtle sense of hope in the Resurrection. His poems are filled with images of cemeteries and scriptural references and a few point-blank references to the Resurrection. One of the most powerful images he used was in a poem he wrote titled “A Letter of Recommendation.” The poem ends this way:
I remember my father waking me upfor early prayers. He did it caressingmy forehead, not tearing the blanket away.
Since then I love him even more.And because of thislet him be woken up gently and with loveon the Day of Resurrection.
I love that poem and have been reading and it re-reading again these past several weeks.

It seems somewhat strange to be talking about the resurrection now on this second to the last Sunday before Advent begins. Or is it? We can say that is perfectly appropriate to be talking of the resurrection so soon after All Saints Sunday. And, as Christians, it’s always good to be talking of the Resurrection.

And no doubt poor Yahuda Amichai would find it strange that, ten years after his death, a Christian priest (and poet) would be holding him up as one of the best poets of the Resurrection.

But, to some extent, all these paradoxical things only show us, even more acutely, what the resurrection may be like.

In our reading from the Hebrew Scriptures this morning, we find a glimpse of what that paradoxical resurrected life must be like. God, peaking to the Prophet Isaiah, shows us a beautiful glimpse of what awaits us. God says,

“The wolf and the lamb shall feed together, the lion shall eat straw like the ox…”

What we see as enmity and separation here will be destroyed in our resurrected lives. There will be no divisions, no war, no natural enemies. Rather we will be reborn in a new and wonderful life. Or, as God speaks earlier in the reading from Isaiah,

“For I am about to create new heavens and a new earth;
the former things shall not be remembered or come to mind.
But be glad and rejoice forever in what I am creating…”

To some extent, this is what is being promised to us in the resurrected life. This is our glimpse of what we will awaken into when we rise from out deaths. Our whole Christian life is filled with glimpses of this perfected Resurrection life. We see it, first, in Baptism. Baptism is really our first glimpse of what awaits us. It is, in its purest sense, the great equalizer. All of us, no matter who we are or what we do in our lives, are all washed in the same waters at baptism. We are washed in the same way. No one, in the baptismal life, is greater than anyone else. Issues of marriage and parenthood, simply don’t exist in those waters. All that does is our common life with one another and with God in Jesus.

The other glimpse we get is, of course, in the Eucharist. Here we see the Resurrection in the flesh, so to speak. Here we experience an incredibly spiritual event but with very physical elements. We eat the bread. We drink from the cup. We experience the Body and Blood of Jesus and by doing so, we experience each other as well. Again, are equal at the Eucharist. No one is greater than anyone else at this altar. We all eat—because we need to eat to live—and we all drink because we need to drink to live. And this very basic action binds us together. But, what eat and what we drink is the physical Body and Blood of our Resurrected Lord. And by eating and drinking, we also participate in his resurrection. We actually get to get a glimpse of what glorified bodies are.

The Resurrection, for us, is not some apocalyptic, futuristic event. It is something we celebrate now, again and again. We celebrate it every time we renew our baptismal vows and rejoice in thanksgiving at our baptisms. And we live into the Resurrection every time we come to this altar and share the Body and Blood of the Resurrected Jesus together.

As I said last week in my All Saints Sunday homily, I truly believe that what separates us who are alive from those who are gone is a very thin veil. I believe that so intensely. And I also believe that what does bind us to those who have gone is this hope in that glorious Resurrected life that has been presented to us.

There are new heavens and a new earth waiting us. We don’t know what it will be like. We only know they are there, because God has promised them to us.

As we near to Advent—that time of hope and expectation—we find our own hope and expectation arising with us. We are drawing near to a wonderful mystery in our lives. Let us live fully into that mystery and let us be renewed in that hope.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Stewardship letter for St. Stephen's

November 8, 2010

Dear St. Stephen’s friends,

One of my favorite stories from Scripture is the story of Abraham and Sarah and the birth of Isaac. In the story (Genesis chapter 18), we find Sarah, the long-suffering wife of Abraham, long since resigned to the fact that she was barren and would never have children. Then one day, three visitors appear at the tent door while Abraham is resting from the heat of the sun. Despite the heat (and his age) he gets up and makes sure they are treated well. When the strangers announce to Sarah that she will bear a son, she is, to say the least, incredulous. In fact, she laughs at them and says, “After I become worn out with use and my husband is old, shall I have pleasure?” Lutheran writer, Heidi B. Neumark, translates Sarah rhetorical question as “Shall my barren life be changed to Paradise?”

In many ways the story of St. Stephen’s is reminiscent of the story of Abraham and Sarah. It is no secret to anyone who has been involved in the life of St. Stephen’s over the years that just a few years ago, many people had given up on St. Stephen’s. Years of steady decline had definitely taken its toll on our congregation. In fact, two years ago, in October of 2008, on my first Sunday at St. Stephen’s, I counted twenty people in church and no children that Sunday. The Average Sunday Attendance in 2008 was 21.

Like the story of Abraham and Sarah, the question was asked in the face of what seemed at times like overwhelming odds against us, “Is anything too wonderful for the LORD?” The answer to that question, obviously, has been, again and again, No.

But even in spite of the odds, St. Stephen’s did what it always did. Like Abraham, who was roasting in the heat of the day in his old age, radical hospitality was offered to anyone who entered the doors of St. Stephen’s and outreach was offered to those who were down-trodden and marginalized. I can say that I was one of those strangers who appeared in the St. Stephen’s doorway many years ago and was welcomed with open arms and hearts. Just as Sarah, in her barrenness and old age, gave birth to Isaac, so St. Stephen’s, in the face of the nay sayers and the doubters, has begun to flourish with new life.

Yesterday—All Saints Sunday—we had 41 people in church and five children as we celebrated 3 baptisms. The previous Wednesday night, at the All Saints/All Souls Mass, we had 20 people in attendance. We have young families and singles, as well as seekers from various walks of life, attending and being fulfilled. The sound of children fills the nave most Sundays. We have people “stepping up to the plate” and continuing the Kingdom of God to those in need of God’s love.

Our church is a busy, lively, loving, vibrant congregation, alive with fellowship. In the last two years, we have gained twenty new members, with at least another eight who are planning to join in the near future. Our Average Sunday Attendance has doubled and we are celebrating Baptisms and new members on a regular basis, as well as continuing our ministry of radical hospitality to visitors and those in need.

What some once predicted was fallow is now flourishing and alive. What some once declared hopeless is full of hope. What some once foresaw as a bleak and wasted future is now full of unlimited potential. These are reasons to rejoice. We are able to say, with Sarah to those nay sayers, “God has brought laughter for me; everyone who hears will laugh with me.”

On Sunday, November 21, we will all have an opportunity to celebrate and continue on in these blessings God has granted to us. Pledge Sunday is the time in which we take a good, long look at ourselves as a congregation and as individual members of this congregation, we look at what we are doing in our own lives to help St. Stephen’s grow even further into this abundance and life we are celebrating.

On Pledge Sunday November 21, please plan on attending the 11:00 celebration of Holy Eucharist, and please plan to stay for the lunch following the Eucharist, which will be hosted once again by the Vestry.

As we near Pledge Sunday, please do consider, as always, tithing from your monetary income. But just as seriously consider the ways in which you serve God and the People of God through the ministry you have been called to do in many and various ways that have helped to make St. Stephen’s the flourishing and life-affirming congregation it is. As we continue our amazing journey together, let rejoice in the Paradise that has risen in our midst, and let us look forward in hope and joy to all that God continues to send to us at St. Stephen’s.

-peace,
Fr. Jamie+

Sunday, November 7, 2010

All Saints Sunday



November 7, 2010

Ephesians 1.11-23

+ Last Sunday we had a visitor in church. Actually, over these last few Sundays, we’ve had quite a few visitors in church. But last Sunday, one of our visitors, from out of town, was talking with me in the Narthex after Mass. I was mentioning that, since it was Reformation Sunday—a Sunday we don’t officially commemorate here—because many of us here (including yours truly) are former Lutherans, James very appropriately sent us out to the beautiful strains of that Lutehran standard Ein Feste Berg ist Unser Gott—A Mighty Fortress is Our God.

The visitor jokingly told me: “I came here to escape the Lutherans who surround me.”

I, also joking, but not really, drew her attention to our All Saints altar in the Narthex and said, “Yes, but we do pray for our dead, unlike the Lutherans.”

Her face brightened up and she smiled and she said, “Oh, I know! And that’s what I love about you Episcopalians!”

Yes, we do pray for our dead as Episcopalians. You will hear me make a petition when someone dies that you won’t hear in the Lutheran Church, or the Methodist Church or the Presbyterian Church (or even the Unitarian Church). When someone dies, you will hear me say, “I ask your prayers for the repose of the soul of…”

I like that idea of praying for those who have died. Because we are uncertain of exactly what happens to us when we die, there is nothing wrong with praying for those who have crossed into that mystery we call “the nearer Presence of God.” And I would even go so far as to say I also don’t believe there is anything wrong with asking those same people to pray for us.

After all, they are still our family and friends. They are still part of who we are. And just as we would ask one another here on earth to pray for us, I don’t think there is anything wrong in asking those who are in a better place than us—who are certainly in closer proximity to God than us—to pray for us as well. And I know that makes some of us very uncomfortable. And I understand why.

I understand that it flies in the face of our more Protestant upbringings. This is exactly what the other Reformers rebelled against and freed us from. But, even they never did away with this wonderful All Saints Feast we are celebrating this morning.

This morning we are commemorating and remembering those people in our lives who have helped us, in various way, to know God. As you probably have guessed from the week-long commemoration we have made here at St. Stephen’s regarding the Feast of All Saints, I really do love this feast.

With the death of my father this past year, or with the deaths of several friends and parishioners from St. Stephen’s, this Feast has taken on particular significance for me this year. What this feast shows me is what you have heard me preach in many funeral sermons again and again. I truly, without a doubt, believe that what separates those of us who are alive here on earth, from those who are now in the “nearer presence of God” is truly a very thin one. And to commemorate them and to remember them is a good thing for all us.

Now, I do understand, as I said before, that all this talk of saints makes some of us more “Protestant minded” a bit uncomfortable. We don’t need intercessors, I have heard people say. And I agree completely. We don’t need anyone to pray for us. And, I guess, we don’t need to pray for them. God takes care of them, with or without our prayers.

But what I like about this whole commemoration is not the “praying for” so much, as the remembering in prayer. Now, even that makes some of us uncomfortable. It just all smacks of too much “praying to the saints” mumbo jumbo that my good Lutheran grandmother would frown at.

Even the early Anglicans and Episcopalians had issues with this saint business. Now, as I like to do occasionally, I would like us to take a nice leisurely walk to the back of the Prayer Book once again. But we’re going to go to a place we’ve never gone together to. It is the so-called Articles of Religion, which, as they say in the Prayer Book, were “established by the Bishops, Clergy, and the laity of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America, in Convention, on the twelfth day of September, in the Year of our Lord, 1801.” We’re going to go to page 872. And we’re going to go to Article XXII (22) which is labeled “Of Purgatory.” There, you will find this:

“The Romish Doctrine concerning Purgatory, Pardons, Worshipping and Adoration, as well as of Images, and also Invocation of Saints, is a fine thing, vainly invented, and grounded upon no warranty of Scripture, but rather repugnant to the Word of God.”

Those early Protestant Episcopalians did not mix words. They were quite clear about this matter of the saints.

My dear friend, Fr. John-Julian, an Episcopal priest and a member of the religious Order of Julian Norwich, whom we hear from on a regular basis since I often share his thoughts and reflections on saints during the homily at our Wednesday night Mass here at St. Stephen’s, says this about Article 22 of The Articles of Faith:

“Since the 19th Century…Anglican theologians have understood this to condemn the ‘Romish’ exaggerations and superstitions, rather than proscribing the actual practice of invocation itself, and under the influence of the Oxford Movement [that movement that ushered in the Anglo-Catholic movement beginning in 1833] from the mid-19th Century onward a broad revival of the orthodox and ancient practice spread, until it is now a completely acceptable and ordinary custom throughout the entire Anglican Communion.”

Now, I’m not commending any of us to start invoking saints. And I won’t start doing it here. But…I do want us to think long and hard about the saints we have known in our lives. And I want us to at least realize that ministry doesn’t stop when we die. Hopefully, ministry continues, even following our deaths. Hopefully, we can still, even after our deaths, do good and work toward furthering the Kingdom of God.

For me, the saints—those people who have gone before us—aren’t gone. They haven’t just disappeared. They haven’t just floated away and dissipated like clouds out of our midst. No, rather they are here with us, still. They join with us, just as the angels do, when we celebrate the Eucharist. For, especially in the Eucharist, we find that “veil” lifted for a moment. The Anglican Service Book puts it this way:

“In the communion of saints we, the Church on earth, are joined with the Church Triumphant and Expectant in worshipping before the same Throne of Grace. In the Holy Eucharist, which transcends all time and space, we are closest to our faithful departed loved ones, joining our prayers and praises to theirs. We pray for them, as we believe they pray for us, so that all may strengthened in their lives of service.”

“We pray for them, as we believe they pray for us, so that all may be strengthened in their lives of service.”

I love that! In this Eucharist that we celebrate together at this altar, we find the divisions that separate us are gone. We see how thin that veil is. We see that death truly does not have ultimate power over us.

I can’t tell you how many times over the years I have heard stories from one priest or layperson or the other who have said they have experienced, especially during the Eucharist, the presence, in a sometimes nearly empty church, of the multitude of saints, gathered together to worship.

You have heard me reference this image before, but one of the most powerful scenes I have ever witnessed in a film was at the end of the film Places in the Heart. The film is about a housewife in 1930s Texas, played by Sally Field. At the beginning of the film her sheriff husband is accidentally killed by a young drunk black man, who is then lynched by a group of vigilantes. At the end of the film, we find Sally Field’s character, gathered with her children and hired hands in a Baptist church, sharing Communion as the choir sings “In the Garden.” As the plates of bread and juice are passed from person to person in the pews, we find the camera panning to each person. Finally, we see the camera stop at that last two people who are sharing Communion with each other. Those last two people who share in the communion are Field’s dead husband and the young man who shot him. As the scene fades, they are sitting side-by side, sharing Communion. That scene gets me every time, because that is the way it is.

That is the way Holy Communion should be. It’s not just us, gathered here at the altar. It’s the Communion of all the saints. In fact, before we sing that glorious hymn, “Holy, Holy Holy” during the Eucharistic rite, you hear me say, “with angels and saints and all the company of heaven we sing this hymn of praise.” That isn’t just sweet, poetic language. It’s what we believe and hope in.

In these last few months since my father died, I think I have felt his presence most keenly, at times, here at this altar when we are gathered together for the Eucharist then at any other time. I have felt him here with us. And in those moments when I have, I know in ways I never have before, how thin that veil is between us and “them.”

You can see why I love this feast. It not only gives us consolation in this moment, separated as we are from our loved ones, but it also gives us hope. We know, in moments like this, where we are headed. We know what awaits us. No, we don’t know it in detail. We’re not saying there are streets paved in gold or puffy white clouds with chubby little baby angels floating around. We don’t have a clear vision of that place. But we do sense it. We do feel it. We know it’s there, just beyond our vision, just out of reach and out of focus. And “they” are all there, waiting for us.

So, this morning—and always—we should rejoice in this fellowship we have with them.. We should rejoice as the saints we are and we should rejoice with the saints that have gone before us. In our collect this morning, we prayed that “we may come to those ineffably joys that you have prepared for those who truly love you.” Those ineffably joys await us. They are there, just on the other side of that thin veil. And if we are only patient, we too, as Paul tells us in his letter to the Ephesians this morning, will obtain that inheritance that they have gained and we will live with them in that place of unimaginable joy and light.