Sunday, April 24, 2011

Easter Day

April 24, 2011




+ Last night a few of us from St. Stephen’s were up late. We were at the Cathedral last night for the long but very meaningful Easter Vigil service that began at 9:00 pm. It’s a beautiful service. It starts out in the dark, with us gathered around the courtyard. A bonfire is lit in that dark. From that bonfire, the Bishop lights the paschal candle which is processed, much the same way ours was processed in this morning, into the dark church. Then all the lights come up—or rather gradually came up—and then, finally there was loud and glorious and victorious noise and bells for the Gloria.

But… for all the Vigil’s beauty, there is nothing for me like this—Easter Sunday morning, here at St. Stephen’s. There is nothing like gathering together here on this glorious morning, in all of this Easter glory.

I also preached last night at the Easter Vigil service. And in my sermon, I shared how, during this past week of Holy Week I have been very diligent in my spiritual discipline of reading a spiritually productive book. I actually read two books. One was Nora Gallagher’s wonderful book on the Eucharist, The Sacred Meal.

The other book I read was Love Wins by Rob Bell. , Rob Bell is one of those so-called Emergent Church writers that I have been reading compulsively over the last couple of years. This book of his, which was just published, has already created a big controversy in the wider Christian community.

In fact, Pastor Chad Holz, a United Methodist Pastor, was fired last month from his church in Henderson, North Carolina simply because he posted a comment on Facebook supporting Bell’s somewhat amazingly effective views in which he questions popular Christian belief about eternal hell and damnation.

Of course, it’s not a surprise to any of you here that I’ve been preaching for years what Bell has written about. The book is not controversial to me at all, nor do I think it would be for most of us here. We Episcopalians just don’t have these kind of issues.

And I can tell you that for me, here at St. Stephen’s, this is definitely not an issue. The last thing in the world you would get rid of me for at St. Stephen’s is preaching that everyone’s invited to Jesus’ party. That’s about all I ever preach about, after all. Everyone—no matter who we are or what we are—is invited by Jesus, without judgment, without reproach. And I truly believe, with all my heart, that we will all be together in that one place.

In fact, as I shared last night at the Cathedral, I think I probably WOULD get ousted from here and petitions made to the Bishop if I preached about people not being allowed in. And if I do start doing that, please do form a committee to fire me. But only IF I start doing that!

One of the insights Bell makes in this latest book is one that I think really speaks to us this morning, celebrating this wonderful and incredible service in which we too are being reminded of how truly great and unlimited that love of God for us is. Bell shares this insight:

“Eternal life doesn’t start when we die,” Bell writes. “it starts now. It’s not about a life that begins at death; it’s about experiencing the kind of life now that can endure and survive even death.”

I love that.

Resurrection is a kind reality that we, as Christians, are called to live into. And it’s not just something we believe happens after we die. We are called to live into that Resurrection NOW. Jesus calls us to live into that joy and that beautiful life NOW. The alleluias we sing this morning are not for some beautiful moment after we have breathed our last. Those alleluias are for now, as well as for later. Those alleluias, those joyful sounds we make, this Light we celebrate, is a Light that shines now—in this moment.

We are alive in Christ now. We have already died with Christ when we were baptized. And in those waters, we were raised with him, just as he is raised today and always. Easter and our whole lives as Christians is all about this fact. Our lives should be joyful because of this fact—this reality—that Jesus died and is risen and by doing so has destroyed our deaths. This is what it means to be a Christian.

Easter is about this radical new life. It is about living in another dimension that, to our rational minds, makes no sense. Even, sometimes, with us, it doesn’t make sense. It almost seems too good to be true. And that’s all right to have that kind of doubt.

It doesn’t make sense that we celebrating an event that seems so wonderful that it couldn’t possibly be true. It doesn’t make sense that this event that seems so super-human can bring such joy in our lives.

Today we are commemorating the fact that Jesus, who was tortured, was murdered, was buried in a tomb and is now…alive. Fully and completely alive. Alive in a real body. Alive in a body that only a day before was lying, broken and dead, in a tomb.

And…as if that wasn’t enough, we are also celebrating the fact that we truly believe we too are experiencing this too. Experiencing this—in the present tense. Yes, we too will one day die. But, THAT doesn’t matter. What matters is that that death is already defeated. We are already living, by our very lives, by our baptisms and our faith in Jesus, into the eternal, unending, glorious life that Jesus lives in this moment. Our bodies MAY be broken. Our bodies WILL die. But we will live because Jesus lives.

What we are celebrating this morning is reality. What we are celebrating this morning is that this resurrected life which we are witnessing in Jesus is really the only reality. And death is really only an illusion. We aren’t deceiving ourselves. We’re not a naïve people who think everything is just peachy keen and wonderful.

We know what darkness is. We know what death is. We know what suffering and pain are. For those of us who have losses in our lives, we know the depths of pain and despair we can all go to in our lives.

There were moments in this last year when I though I would never be able to rise up out of the dark, sometimes seemingly overwhelming waters of my father’s sudden death in September. Despite the fact that I had full faith in his on-going life in the hope of the Resurrection we are celebrating this morning, there were moments when I felt as far away from this Easter joy as one can get. The joy and Light of this morning seemed, at times, vague and distant to me. And I was not certain at times if I would ever be able to experience the joy and Light as I had in the past.

I can say in all honesty that this Easter has taken on a deeper meaning than I could possibly ever hope for it take on this year. With the death of my father, I have never been more aware of how thin that veil is between the other world and this world is as I have this morning. I have never been more aware of how this glorious Light of Christ truly can cut through the darkness of despair and sadness and renew us and fill us once again with joy.

It is this Light of Christ, that has come to us, this glorious morning, much as the Sun breaks into the darkness. What Easter reminds us, again and again, is that darkness is not eternal. It will not ultimately win out. Light will always win. This Light will always succeed. This Light will be eternal.

I am honest when I say that part of me wishes I could always live in this Easter Light. I wish I could always feel this joy that I feel this morning. But the fact is, this Light will lose its luster faster than I even want to admit. This joy will fade too.

But I do believe that whatever heaven is—and none of us knows for certain what it will be like—I have no doubt that it is very similar this the joy we feel this morning. I believe with all that is in me that it is very much like the experience of this Light that we are celebrating this morning—an unending Easter. And if that is what Heaven is, then it is a joy that will not die, and it is a Light that will not fade and grow dim.

And if that’s all I know of heaven, then that is enough for me.

The fact is, Easter doesn’t end when the sun sets today Easter is what we carry within us as Christians ALL the time. Easter is living out the Resurrection by our very presence. We are, each of us, carrying within us the Light of Christ we celebrate this morning and always. All the time. It is here, in our very souls, in our very bodies, in our very selves.

With that Light burning within us, being reflected in what we do and say, in the love we show to God and to each other, what more can we say on this glorious, glorious morning? What more can we say when God’s glorious, all-loving, resurrected realty breaks through to us in glorious light and transforms us;

Alleluia! Christ is risen!
The Lord is risen indeed. Alleluia!

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Easter Vigil

April 23, 2011

Gethsemane Cathedral

+ This evening my best friend from high school, Greg, is in town. Greg is an avowed and militant atheist. He’s a wonderful person. He’s moral. He’s upright. He’s one of the most compassionate people I know. But he does have a little problem with this whole concept of God. And this whole, weird, strange world of the Church just baffles the poor man.

When I told him tonight at supper with his wife and daughters that I couldn’t spend time with him tonight by going to a movie because I was preaching at a 9:00 pm Easter Vigil service, he gave me a look like I was crazy. And I think even some Christians think it’s crazy that we’re gathered here together on this evening, walking about in the dark, starting bonfires, carrying around a big candle and lighting little candles.

But, for me, this is what it’s all about. Tonight—and tomorrow—is what being a Christian is all about. Easter—this glorious, victorious feast—is THE day for us. The highpoint of our lives as Christians is not, as some people think, Christmas.

Christmas is nice. Christmas can be a beautiful holiday. But Christmas can’t hold a candle to Easter—no pun intended.

Now, I’ll be honest, I’m not a big fan of Christmas. Some people think I am an absolute heathen when I say that I don’t particularly like Christmas. I don’t know. I never have. But I think many Christians seem to equate Christmas as being the high point of the Christian year. As holy of a season as Christmas may be, it is not the high-point of our lives as Christians.

This evening is. Easter is. This is the point from which everything happens. Everything revolves around this single event in the life of Jesus. His birth in Bethlehem only points to this moment.

This is THE moment.

Because this is the moment when everything changed. This is the moment when death was trampled upon and life—eternal, unending life—won out for good.

During this week of Holy Week I have been very diligent in my spiritual discipline of reading a spiritually productive book. The book I read was a wonderful book by Rob Bell, a very popular Christian writer. The book is Love Wins. Rob Bell, like most of the so-called Emergent writers that I have been reading compulsively over the last couple of years, is not your typical Christian writer. When he published this book just this past month, he actually created a big controversy in the wider Christian community.

In fact, Pastor Chad Holz, a United Methodist Pastor, was fired last month from his church in Henderson, North Carolina simply because he posted a comment on Facebook supporting Bell’s somewhat amazingly effective views in which he questions popular Christian belief about eternal hell and damnation.

Of course, I’ve been preaching what Bell has written about for years. The book not controversial to me at all, nor do I think it would be for most of us here. We Episcopalians just don’t have these kind of issues. And I can tell you that for me, at St. Stephen’s, this is not an issue. The last thing in the world they would fire me for at St. Stephen’s is preaching that everyone’s invited to Jesus’ party in heaven. In fact, I probably WOULD get fired if I preached about people not being allowed in to Jesus’ kingdom.

Now it’s easy for people who have never read the book to bash it and to put it down. Christians have a great reputation for condemning things they have never read or seen. Or experiencing personally, for that matter. The fact is, even if one doesn’t agree with Bell’s views of heaven and hell, he does have some really great insights into God’s amazing and all-accepting love for us.

One of the insights Bell makes in this latest book is one that I think really speaks to us tonight, celebrating this wonderful and incredible service in which e too are being reminded of how truly great and unlimited that love of God for us is. Bell shares this insight:

“Eternal life doesn’t start when we die,” Bell writes. “it starts now. It’s not about a life that begins at death; it’s about experiencing the kind of life now that can endure and survive even death.”

I love that.

Most of us, as Christians, think that life simply involves waiting around for this big moment to happen. Usually we think this big moment is going to happen after we die, when all of a sudden everything will be made right. This life—with all terrible failures and disappointments—will be done away with and we will be made into new creations. The fact is, what we are celebrating tonight is something that has already happened and continues to happen right now. Right here in our lives.

Resurrection is something we often really don’t think about as Christians. Oftentimes we have rationalized it away, or made it into some kind of symbol. But the fact is, as Christians, we truly DO believe that Jesus was resurrected. He was raised in his body. We profess that belief every time we say the Creed together. And in a few moments we will again profess that belief when we gather around the baptismal font and renew our baptismal vows.

This is not light, fairy tale thinking we are dealing with here. This is a kind reality that we, as Christians, are called to live into. And it’s not just something we believe happens after we die.

We are called to live into that Resurrection NOW. Jesus calls us to live into that joy and that beautiful life NOW. The alleluias we sing tonight are not for some beautiful moment after we have breathed our last. Those alleluias are for now, as well as for later. Those alleluias, those joyful sounds we make, this Light we celebrate, is a Light that shines now—in this moment.

We are alive in Christ now. We have already died with Christ when we were baptized. And in those waters, we were raised with him, just as he is raised today and always.

Easter and our whole lives as Christians is all about this fact. Our lives should be joyful because of this fact—this reality—that Jesus died and is risen and by doing so has destroyed our deaths. This is what it means to be a Christian. Easter is about this radical new life. It is about living in another dimension that, to our rational minds, makes no sense.

Outsiders, watching us this evening here in this light-filled cathedral, will no doubt think we are a bit crazy. If my friend Greg were here tonight we would think we are absolutely nuts. Here we are at 9:00 on a Saturday night, beginning a church service in the dark. We are lighting bonfires in a courtyard while dressed in funny white clothes. Here we are following around a big candle. Here we are celebrating light in the midst of darkness. Here we are being sprinkled with water. And when we start talking about what it is all these things symbolize, it doesn’t make our argument any more plausible.

What do these things symbolize? They symbolize the fact that a person who was both God and human, was betrayed, was tortured, was murdered, was buried in a tomb and is now…alive. Fully and completely alive. Alive in a real body. Alive in a body that only a day before was lying, broken and dead, in a tomb. And…as if that wasn’t enough, we are also celebrating the fact that we truly believe we too are experiencing this too.

Experiencing this. In the present tense.

Yes, we too will one day die. But, THAT doesn’t matter. What matters is that that death is already defeated. We are already living, by our very lives, by our baptisms and our faith in Jesus, into the eternal, unending, glorious life that Jesus lives in this moment. Our bodies MAY be broken. Our bodies WILL die. But we will live for eternity because Jesus already did.

Yes, people must think we are insane when we tell them these things. But, for us, this is not insane. This is not some strange, over-the-top mass religious hysteria we are deceiving ourselves with. What we are celebrating tonight is reality. What we are celebrating tonight is the fact that this resurrected life which we are witnessing in Jesus is the only reality. And that death is only an illusion.

We aren’t deceiving ourselves. We’re not a naïve people who think everything is just peachy keen and wonderful. We know what darkness is. We know what death is. We know what suffering and pain are. We just traveled through 40 days of self-denial. We have just emerged from a week of betrayal and torture and death. And darkness. Our journey with Jesus took us to that place. Jesus knew those things first-hand. And so do all us.

But what we do tonight and through all of our lives as followers of Jesus is live into the reality that that darkness is not the end of our story. Death is not the end. The Light of Christ is the ultimate end. And the Light of Christ is the new beginning.

Rob Bell writes: “When you’ve experience the resurrected Jesus…you can’t help but talk about him. You’ve tapped into the joy that fills the entire universe, and so naturally you want others to meet this God. This is a God worth telling people about.”

This is truly a God worth telling people about. This is an event truly worth telling people about—even if they think it is insane. This is a reality worth living out in our day-to-day lives. Easter doesn’t end when the sun rises tomorrow. Or when the sun goes down tomorrow night. Or when the Season of Easter ends in June.

Easter is what we carry within us as Christians ALL the time. Easter is living out the Resurrection by our very presence.

Nobody wants dour, sad, angry, bitter Christians. Trust me. There’s too many of them out there. Besides, there is no such thing as dour, sad, angry, bitter Christian. Not a true Christian anyway. A Christian is, as St. Augustine once said, an Alleluia from head to toe.

We are, each of us, carrying within us the Light of Christ we celebrate tonight. All the time. It is here, in our very souls, in our very bodies, in our very selves. With that Light burning within us, being reflected in what we do and say, in the love we show to God and to each other, what more can we say on this glorious night? What more can we say when God’s glorious, all-loving, resurrected realty breaks through to us in glorious light and transforms us;

Alleluia! is what we say. Alleluia Alleluia! Alleulia!

Holy Saturday

+ Over the years, you’ve heard me share my deep appreciation for the Eastern Orthodox Church. I will admit that I have learned a lot about being a Christian from the Orthodox Church. And, from my appreciation, I have been able to see things through a new lens on Christianity as a whole—and with it, a deeper understanding of some basic beliefs.


One of these, of course, is what I often talk about on Holy Saturday—the traditional belief of the Harrowing of Hell. In the Narthex, you will find the very traditional icon of the Harrowing of Hell. In it you will see Jesus rising from the tomb. He is pulling, with one hand, an old man, and with the other hand, an old woman, from their respective tombs. Beneath them, you see the dark abyss, filled with skulls and bones. Above them, you will see the glory of God in bright gold.

As you have heard me say before, the old man, of course, represents Adam, the old woman, Eve. But there is an even more interesting aspect to this. It seems that, in the Orthodox Church, they never really portray the empty tomb, like we find in our Western churches.

In our Western Churches, there is a lot of talk about the empty tomb. On this Holy Saturday, there is a lot of attention paid to the empty tomb. But in the Eastern Church, the perspective is a bit different. On this day, their perspective is with Jesus as he descends to hell.

The harrowing of hell refers to the events that happened between yesterday, on Good Friday, with his death, and tomorrow, with the Resurrection. The early Church believed that, on this day, Jesus descended into hell and, while, there, rescued all the souls of the people who died before then, starting, of course, with Adam and Eve. And it’s not enough that we simply encounter a sweet-faced Jesus descending into hell and pulling dead people from tombs. The belief, in the Orthodox Church, isn’t that he gently descend into hell and wandered about. Their belief is that he came storming into hell, and that he actually broke down the doors of hell and brought those souls to heaven.

Now, before we think this is all some quaint exotic Eastern tradition, there are some scriptural references that might help us. For example in 1 Peter 3.18-20a we find this:

For Christ also suffered for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, in order to bring you to God. He was put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit, in which also he went and made a proclamation to the spirits in prison, who in former times did not obey…

And in 1 Peter 4.6

For this is the reason the gospel was proclaimed even to the dead, so that, though they had been judged in the flesh as everyone is judged, they might live in the spirit as God does.

And in Ephesians 4.8-10

Therefore it is said,
'When he ascended on high he made captivity itself a captive;
he gave gifts to his people.’

(When it says, ‘He ascended’, what does it mean but that he had also descended into the lower parts of the earth? He who descended is the same one who ascended far above all the heavens, so that he might fill all things.)

Peter really seemed to believe in this descent into hell. In his sermons in Acts chapter 2.27, 31, we find him actually referencing it.

And certainly there’s no getting around the Apostle's Creed in which we specifically profess our belief that :

He descended into hell.

For the Orthodox, this belief in the harrowing of hell is actually the most prevalent part of the Easter celebration. While we may see the empty tomb as the ultimate victory of Christ over death, for the Orthodox, they see Jesus’ emptying of hell to be an even greater victory. For me, I like the fact that the harrowing hell really does help us fill in the blank of this day of Holy Saturday.

The empty tomb is a wonderful point of reference for us today, but, personally, I need more. I need this story of Jesus—a Jesus who will come to me even in the very depths of hell and will rescue me. And we’ve all been there. We’ve all been in our own hells.

It’s wonderful to know that no matter how far we might seem to have gone from Christ, Christ will come to us wherever we are and take us to himself.

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan William, in his book, The Indwelling of Light, makes some interesting comments about the icon of Jesus with Adam and Eve. He writes,

"As his hand grasps the hands of Adam and Eve, Jesus goes back to embrace the first imaginable moment of rebellion and false direction in human life...we are reminded that he goes fully into the depths of human agony. He reaches back to and beyond where human memory begins: 'Adam and Eve' stand for wherever it is in the human story that fear and refusal of God began--not a moment we can date in ordinary history, any more than we can date in the history of each one of us where we began to forget God. But we are always dealing with the after-effects of that moment, both as a human race and as particular persons. The icon declares that wherever that lost moment is or was, Christ has been there, to implant the possibility, never destroyed, of another turning, another future..."

I know some people might have an issue with such a belief, but I truly do believe, and I very unapologetically believe, that not even hell can separate us from Christ’s love.

As Nora Gallagher writes in her book, The Sacred Meal:

“Christ is everywhere….No Hell is powerful enough to keep out the resurrection life. Nothing can separate us from the love of God. Christ is everywhere, his life is not parceled out in scarcity, only there on a throne in heaven or only here among the good churchgoing people, but abundantly present everywhere, freely given, everywhere where things long to be whole and loving and struggle to be free.”

Even in hell, I believe, Christ is able to come to us and that his love for us can defeat whatever hold hell might have on any of us.

So, on this Holy Saturday in which we are experiencing this empty moment, this blank and heavy dark moment before the glorious Light of Easter, let us take consolation in the fact that no matter how dark it might be, no matter how bleak or empty it might feel, even here, Christ is present and he will grasp us by the hand and lift us up from this dark moment into the glorious Light of his love.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Good Friday

April 22, 2011

Isaiah 52.13-53.12; Psalm 22; Hebrews 4.14-16; 5;7-9; John 18.1-19.42

+ And now we are here. We have reached the lowest point in this long, dark week. Everything seems to have led to this moment. To this moment—this moment of the cross, the nails, the thorns. To this of blood and pain and death. To this moment of violence and utter destruction.

Throughout Lent I preached about we, the broken people finding our identity in the broken Body of Christ. Well, here it is. Here is the broken Body of Christ. Here it is, broken by the whips. Here it is, broken under the weight of the Cross. Here it is, broken by the thugs and the soldiers and those who turned away from him and betrayed him. Here it is, broken upon the cross on which it is nailed.

And here is our identity. We remember it every time we gather at the altar to celebrate the Eucharist. We remember it every time, in the Eucharist, the priest raised the broken Bread and shows it to us.

In this dark moment, our own brokenness seems more profound, more real. We can feel this brokenness now in a way we never have before. Our brokenness is shown back to us like the reflection in a dark mirror as we look upon that broken Body on the cross.

But, as horrendous as this moment is, as horrendous as this next 24 hours might seem, with that broken Body taken down from the cross and laid, broken, in the tomb, the next 24 hours after that will be as different from this moment as we can imagine. What seems like a bleak, black moment will be replaced by the blinding Light of the Resurrection. What seems like a moment of unrelenting despair will soon be replaced by an unleashing of unrestrained joy.

This present despair will be turned completely around. This present darkness will be vanquished. This present pain will be replaced with a comfort that brings about peace. This present brokenness will be healed fully and completely, leaving not even a scar.

This is what today is about. This is what our journey in following Jesus brings to us.

All we need to do is go where the journey leads us and trust in the One who leads.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Maundy Thursday

April 21, 2011


St. Mark’s Lutheran Church, Fargo

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

+ This Holy Week I have been surprisingly diligent in my spiritual practice. I have been very faithfully (and prayerfully) reading two books that have been especially meaningful and spiritually worthwhile. The first is Rob Bell’s very controversial book, Love Wins, a book that essentially shares some really wonderful and radical views of heaven and hell. In fact, a United Methodist pastor in Georgia was recently fired from his job for preaching about that book, though, to be honest, I didn’t find it very controversial at all.

The second book that I’ve been reading has been Nora Gallagher’s The Sacred Meal. This book is one of a series of books edited by Phyllis Tickle for the Thomas Nelson Publisher’s “Ancient Practices” series. This was the last book of the series that I had not read and I’m happy that I saved it for last. I actually am a big fan of Nora Gallagher, especially enjoying her book, Practicing Resurrection. Although I actually disagreed with her on some issues in The Sacred Meal, it’s a is a very wonderful and thought-provoking book.

In this book she deals quite honestly and, at times, quite beautifully, with the Holy Eucharist. For Gallagher, Holy Communion is THE radical and transformational event in our lives as Christians, right up there with Baptism. Gallagher, who is a Eucharistic Minister at Trinity Episcopal Church in Santa Barbara, sees the Holy Eucharist as a beautifully physical practice

“Communion,” she writes, “is all about the body. Every ancient practice is bodily, but this one is very, very much so. You have to move and open your mouth and hold out your hands. It is the one practice that is really about ingesting spirit, eating what call God but what may as well be called taking a bite out of infinity.”

This evening of Maundy Thursday, after all, is all about the physical. Tonight, we are experiencing physical signs of God’s presence. We are being anointed in absolution for our sins. We are coming forward to be fed with Body and Blood of Christ. In fact, these next few days are also about that merging between the physical and spiritual—about, truly, Incarnation.

This physical Body of Jesus will tomorrow be tortured and then will be nailed to the Cross. It will die and be laid in a dark tomb. On Saturday, it will be there, laid out, broken and destroyed. But on Sunday, that physical Body will rise out of that darkness. It will rise out of that destroyed state. It will come forth from that broken disgrace and will be fully and completely alive and present.

But, we’re getting ahead of ourselves. For now, we are here, in this moment. We are here on Maundy Thursday, experiencing the physical and spiritual life that we have been given. We are preparing ourselves to remember that Last Supper, as we do every Sunday. I think we often take for granted what we do at this altar each Sunday and every time we gather to celebrate the Eucharist. I know I do occasionally.

But what we celebrate together here is not something we should take for granted. What we celebrate here is truly an incredible and beautiful thing. It is more than just some memorial Jesus left us. It is more than just nice, quaint practice of the Church. It is an unveiling.

For a moment, the veil is lifted between this world and the next. For a moment, as we celebrate this very tangible gift of Jesus in our lives, we get to glimpse the other side of the veil. We get to see the larger worship that is going on throughout time and eternity. We gather here not only with each, but with all the Church—with those of us here, present in our bodies, and those who have gone before. In this one moment, as our liturgy reminds us, we are gathered with all the saints, and with all the angels and archangels, who now sing before God in this moment.

But it’s more than just a mystical experience as well. It also lifts the veil that exists right now, right here between each of us. And we do live in a veiled world. We live in a world in which we ignore each other, in which we really and truly don’t SEE each other. Here, at the Eucharist, that veil too is lifted.

As Gallagher writes:

“Communion is…a community activity. It’s unlike every other Christian practice in that sense. Communion is meant to be done together; it has to be done in community. You can pray alone and fast alone. You can even go on pilgrimage alone. But you can’t take Communion alone. More than any other practice, taking Communion forces us to be with others, to stand with them in a circle or kneel at the altar rail…We are forced to be with strangers and people we don’t like, persons of different colors and those with bad breath or breathing cheap alcohol…It forced ‘them’ to be with ‘us’ and us to be with them. Communion is, more than any other act, a humbling experience. We are struck with each other, at that altar, for at least a few moments.”

Tonight, we are all experiencing humbling experiences. Tonight, we, the followers of Jesus, are witnessing Jesus truly humble himself. He humbles himself in the washing of feet. And he humbles himself in his giving himself to us in the basic element of bread and wine. And he invites us, as well to enter into this humbling experience—this experience in which we need to encounter each other in this most basic of acts. He essentially invites us to enter into what Gallagher calls “the kingdom of the living bread.”

What we experience here with each other at this altar in Holy Communion is truly a bridge of sorts. We find that the divine is present to us in some thing we can touch and taste and in those gathered with us here. And more than just some spiritual practice we do, we do this not just with our spirits, but with our very bodies as well.

We do it with our very physical presence. And, in doing so, we realize that we are catching a glimpse of the resurrected state that we will so glorious celebrate in just a few days time on Sunday morning. What comes to us at this altar, is truly the manna come down from heaven. It is a reminder to us of the sacrifice of that Lamb of God, which we found prefigured in our reading from Exodus.

During this past season of Lent, on Wednesday nights at St. Stephen’s, either Pastor Mark or myself would raise the broken bread and say, “This is the Lamb of God. This is the one who takes away the sins of the world. Happy are we are invited to this supper.” This not just quaint language we use in the church. This not just poetic symbolism. This is the foundation of our belief.

What we celebrate at this altar is not just some archaic sacrament, left over from some forgotten chapter of history Maybe it is the outside world. If someone who has no idea what Communion was saw us tonight they would definitely be confused. Certainly the bit of bread we receive and the little taste of wine is not enough to sustain us. It is not going to quench our physical thirst or sure our growling stomachs. By outward standards what we do at this altar is frivolous.

As Gallagher writes: “Taking Communion…is a creative acts, and it makes no more ‘sense than writing a poem, or for that matter, reading one. It isn’t going to get you anywhere in the world; it’s not networking; it has no practical worth.”

And she is right. As Simone Weil once said, every creative act is a “folly of love.” Still, for us, who celebrate this mystery together, we do leave here filled. We do leave here spiritually fed. We do come away with a sense that Jesus is present and that he goes with us—each of us—all of us—from this altar and from this church, into the world.

So, let us come forward to this altar tonight, with each other. Let us come forward to this kingdom of the living bread. Let us also come forward on this night in which Jesus instituted this incredible sacrament in which he remains with us, on this night in which he humbled himself and invites us, as well, to humble ourselves. Let us humble ourselves and be fed. And let us go from here, humbled and fed, to feed others and to be the Presence of Christ to others.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Orchid

by Jamie Parsley

(after the poem “The Rose” by Gabriela Mistral)

There is a treasure
deep within the bright pink heart of the orchid.
It is your heart
slowly unfolding
the way petals unfold.
What your heart gives out
lies scattered about.

It scatters,
the way songs scatter words
or as desire is scattered
when love like this happens.
And when we resist the orchid
and all it holds within it
that’s when we burn
in the fire that comes up
from deep within it.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Palm Sunday

Palm Sunday


April 17, 2011

+ I was talking this past week with a friend about how this Holy Week is truly an emotional roller coaster. And today, we get the whole rollercoaster in our liturgy and in our two Gospel readings. Here we find a microcosm of the roller coaster ride of what is to come this week. What begins this morning as joyful ends with jeers.

The Jesus who enters Jerusalem is the Jesus who has done some incredible things in the past few weeks, at least in the very long Gospel readings we’ve been hearing. Three weeks ago, he turned the Samaritan woman’s life around. Two weeks ago, he gave sight to a man born blind. Last week, he raised his friend Lazarus from the dead.

This day evens begin with us, his followers, singing our praises to Jesus, waving palm branches in victory. He is, at the beginning of this week, popular and accepted. For this moment, everyone seems to love him.

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

Even his followers, those who almost arrogantly proclaimed themselves followers of Jesus, have disappeared. Their arrogance has turned to embarrassment and shame. Even the Samaritan woman, whose life he turned around, the man born blind, and his friend Lazarus have disappeared and are nowhere in sight. Jesus, whom we encounter at the beginning of this liturgy this morning surrounded by crowds of cheering, joyful people, is by the end of it, alone, abandoned, deserted—shunned. Everyone he considered a friend—everyone he would have trusted—has left him. And in his aloneness, he knows how they feel about him. He knows that he is an embarrassment to them. He knows that, in their eyes, he is a failure.

Throughout this coming Holy Week, the emotional roller coaster ride will get more intense. On Maundy Thursday the celebratory meal of Passover will turn into a dark and lonely night of betrayal. Jesus will descend to his lowest point after he washes the feet of his disciples. Friday will be a day of more betrayal, of torture and of an agonizing violent death in the burning hot sun. Saturday will be a day of keeping watch at the grave that would, under normal circumstances, be quickly forgotten. Through our liturgies, we are able to walk with Jesus on this painful journey and to experience the emotional ups and downs of all that will happen.

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

So, as we journey through the dark half of our liturgy today, as we trek alongside Jesus during this Holy Week of betrayal, torture and death, let us keep our eyes focused on the Light that is about to dawn in the darkness of our lives. Let us move forward toward that Light. Even though there might be sadness on our faces now, let the joy in our hearts prompt us forward along the path we dread to take. And, next week at this time, when we gather here again, we will do basking in the Christ’s incredible Light—a Light that triumphs over the darkness of not only his death, but ours as well.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

A celebration of the life of Shirley A. Carbno

Shirley A. Carbno

(September 20, 1934- April 11, 2011)
Salvation Army Chapel
Fargo
Saturday, April 16, 2011

Jeremiah 29.11-14; Psalm 71:5-9, 14-24; Hebrews 6:9-12; Luke 12.4-7


+ On December 25, 1990, my aunt Shirley gave me a Bible. In it, she wrote,

“To my dear nephew Jamie

I pray that you have a happy and prosperous New Year!

Remember JESUS loves you and so do I

Aunt Shirley”

In so many ways, that captured who Shirley was in her faith and in her personality. She was a person who always put Jesus first. But it wasn’t enough that she put Jesus first. By putting Jesus first in her life, she also wanted Jesus to use her. She truly wanted and longed to be a vessel for God to use.

In a few moments, we will sing her favorite song—the song that summed up her life, “Lord, make me a vessel”. In that song, we will sing,

Use me, Lord, to do your will,
I want to be used in your perfect plan.
I want you to use my tounge
To spread your word to everyone I can.
Use my mind so I can think right,
Please use my heart so I can love everybody;
Lord, please make me a vessel,
I want to be a vessel for you.

Being a vessel, as she would quickly tell us, is not easy. It involves something this songs tells us that must have been very difficult for Shirley.

In the song we also hear

I surrender my life totally to thee,
So mold me and make me whatever you’d have me to be.

Being a vessel means surrendering. It involves absolute and completely surrender. And surrendering, sometimes, for Shirley was difficult. It’s difficult for any of us. But as she learned more, as she experienced God’s love and grace in her life, she realized something about being a vessel for the Lord: She realized that a vessel doesn’t have to be perfect. God no where expects us to be perfect vessels. Sometimes a vessel is cracked. Sometimes it is imperfect. Sometimes it is dirty and misshapened. But no matter how imperfect the vessel may be, God can still use it.

And I think, when Shirley fully realized that in her life, she was truly able to be the vessel God wanted her to be. She found a certain freedom in that. And that is a real message from her today. She is still teaching us. She is still with us showing us the way forward.

Her daughter-in-law Pam told me a great story the other day—one that perfectly sums up who Shirley was. Even as far advanced as her Alzheimer’s was in these last few years, there was a moment when Pam’s dog was there with Shirley. The dog, sensing that Shirley wasn’t well, snuggled up to her and looked at her closely and with very sad eyes.

At one point Shirley asked Pam,” Does that dog know that I’m not feeling well?”

“I think so,” said Pam.

Shirley, without a moment’s notice, even in that fog of Alzheimer’s, immediately laid hands on the dog and began praying for it. And in that prayer she prayed that God would use that dog as a vessel.

No matter how much that disease took away from Shirley, there were some things it could not take away. And one of those things that it did not take away was her strong spirit of prayer and her incredible faith.

In January, when we were not sure Shirley was going to be with us much longer, I went into the Emergency Room. I told Shirley that I was going to pray with her. Immediately she went into prayer mode. And, as I laid hands on her and anointed her and we prayed, I saw her lips moving and—I swear—she was speaking in tongues.

Even this past Sunday, when we all gathered together in her room in the nursing home in Enderlin to bless the marriage of 57 years she had with John, we prayed prayers at the time of death and, again, I anointed her. Even in her unconscious state, she seemed to physically reacted to the prayers that were being said for her and to the anointing.

This was truly the kind of person Shirley was. She was a Christian through and through. She was a true vessel of God’s love and light.

And she led a truly scripture-saturated life. Her daughter Cathy was telling me that there were scriptures everywhere in her house. Cathy opened up a cupboard, there were scriptures. Even opening up the medicine cabinet, there were scriptures taped to the door. In her Bible, as I went through it this week, I found a small card. On one said, it “Prophecy for Shirley” by someone named Sharon. On the other said, under the date January 2, 2003, was the scripture we just heard from Hebrews chapter 6, verse 10. I’ll repeat it:

“God is not unjust; He will not forget your work and the love you have shown Him and you have helped His people and continue to help them.”

When I read it, I sort of gasped, because that prophecy for Shirley has truly come to pass. God has not forgotten the work Shirley did, nor has God forgotten the love Shirley showed to God and to others. Truly, in Shirley’s life, she helped people and continued to help them. And, I would say, she continues, even now, to help. Whether, the help was to her parents, to her siblings, to her husband, to her children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren, or her foster children, or to her nieces and nephews or to the many, many friends she had over the years, Shirley was a source of love and acceptance.

It really is incredible. Today, we are truly celebrating the life of this incredible, wonderful woman. We are celebrating the life she lived and the life is now living with her God. Now, I can just imagine if she were here with us this afternoon (and she IS with us today—I have no doubt) she would have a problem with me going on too much like this about her. She was not comfortable with praise. Shirley was one of the first to admit that her life was not perfect and that she herself was not perfect. She, like all of us, failed at times.

As I was going through her Bible the other day, picking out scriptures for this service, I found several notes she wrote in the margins. These notes were for scriptures that were essentially speaking to her as she sought to forgive herself for the failings she perceived in her life. She knew fully that she was a fractured and often broken vessel of God.

But what we can celebrate today is that she is now whole. She is now complete. She is in that place she longed for and hoped in all her life. She is in a place of unending light, where she tastes “the blessedness of perfect rest,” where angels now surround her. She is in that place where her heart and soul now ring out in joy to the Lord, the living God and the God of those who live. She is in that place in which she now gazes upon her Savior face to face. And, because she is there, we have much to celebrate today.

But…we can’t end our celebration of her life without a life lesson from Shirley. She wouldn’t want us to go away from here without taking something meaningful with us. And, if she were here with us today—and, as I said, she IS here with us today—she would want everyone here to remember this.

You too are vessels. You too are called to be vessels of God in your life. And, like her, you don’t have to be perfect to be a vessel. You don’t have to be pristine and without flaw. You don’t have to have perfect faith, without any doubts. Even with whatever brokenness you have within you, even with whatever flaws and shortcomings you might have, you can be a full and completely useful vessel of God in your life. Even broken, even incomplete, even misshapened, God loves us fully and completely.

And so did Shirley.

There is a line in that song that we will sing in a few moments that must’ve really spoken to Shirley, because she really did live it out fully and completely in her life. The line in the song is:

Please use my heart so I can love everybody;

God really did use Shirley’s heart. I don’t think there was a person that Shirley didn’t love in at least some way. Even when we were not good, even when we failed, even when we messed up, Shirley, we all knew, still loved us, still cared for us, still welcomed us with open arms and with all the love she could muster in herself. And, let me tell you, that was a LOT of love. That heart of hers was overflowing all the time. I sometimes was amazed at how big that heart of hers was. And I truly believe it was that overflowing heart and all that love that she had that kept her going these past few months. She was full of love, even at the end. Even in the midst of that awful illness, she was overflowing with love.

Last Sunday, when we all gathered in her room with her, the love was so strong, was so real, you could’ve cut it with a knife. And now, that love, fully freed , fully surrendered, is what sustains us today and in the days to come. Because now there is no hindrance in her love for us. Where she is now, is a place of unending, perfect love.

Be a vessel of God’s love, she is saying to each of us today. Love each other. Love God. Be a vessel of love.

And that, Shirley would say to us today, is what God wants of you. In being a vessel, we are closest to Shirley. In being a vessel for God, we will feel Shirley closer to us than we have ever felt her before. When we surrender ourselves and let ourselves be what God wants us to be, we will hear her voice in our ears, encouraging us. If we listen closely, we can almost hear her saying it to us:

“JESUS loves you,” she is saying to us today and from now on, “and so do I.”

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Shirley A. Carbno

Shirley A Carbno, 76, Fargo, passed away Monday, April 11, 2011 at Maryhill Manor, Enderlin, ND surrounded by her family.


Shirley Ann Olson was born September 20, 1934 in Fargo, ND to Theodore and Phoebe (Toftehagen) Olson. She graduated from Fargo Central High. She was united in marriage to John Carbno on April 10, 1954. They were lifelong residents of Fargo. Shirley worked various jobs through the years, her last job being a demo lady at Sam’s Club.

She attended worship at the Salvation Army. She was a member of the Red Hat Ladies. She was very involved with Aglow and Bible studies. Shirley and John were very special people, they opened their home and hearts to 57 foster children awaiting adoption.

She is survived by her husband, John H., Fargo; sons, Steven, Fargo, Michael (Pam), Enderlin; daughter, Cathy Jo (Kevin) Carbno, Fargo; sister, Joyce Parsley, West Fargo; 8 grandchildren; 9 great-grandchildren; several nieces and nephews.

She was preceded in death by her parents and brother, Marvin.

CELEBRATION OF LIFE: 1:00 Saturday, April 16, 2011 at the Salvation Army Chapel, 304 Roberts Street, Fargo

BURIAL OF ASHES: Sunset Memorial Gardens, Fargo at a later date

Arrangements entrusted to Boulger Funeral Home. Online guestbook at www.boulgerfuneralhome.com.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Prayers for the soul of my aunt, Shirley Carbno

Your prayers are requested for the soul of my aunt, Shirley Carbno, who died this afternoon (April 11, 2011) at the MaryHill Manor in Enderlin, ND.


She and my uncle, John, celebrated their 57th wedding anniversary yesterday in Enderlin. The whole family was there to celebrate and say goodbye. I had the special honor and priviledge of being able to pronounce a blessing on their marriage at that time and was also able to anoint her.

Your prayers are also requested for her husband John, their children, Steve, Cathy and Michael and their families; and her sister (my mother), Joyce.

The Burial Office will be later this week.

Rest eternal grant to her, O Lord;
and let light perpetual shine upon her.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

5 Lent

April 10, 2011


Ezekiel 37.1-14; John 11.1-45

+ This past week I went out to look at the flooding waters south of Fargo. I guess the flooding waters up here on the north side and out around my mother’s house weren’t enough for me. While doing so, I stopped at a beautiful church in a little town just south of Fargo called St. Benedict’s. St. Benedict’s is one of those beautiful, somewhat traditional, French churches. As I looked about the church, something off to the side caught my eye and I found myself doing a very dramatic double-take. There, on one wall, near a side altar, was a small glass-covered niche. Inside the niche was a human skull. A REAL human skull. It was the skull of one of the former priests of the parish, who died in December 1891. And there he is.

Now, I was inspired. I have revised my Will and I too would like my skull put in a glass niche right here in the wall at St. Stephen’s so you can always remember me and have me around.

Just kidding.

Still, it was a sobering experience, seeing that skull in that church. But that’s what we should have sometimes in church—sobering experiences. Experiences that make us stop and take notice. Certainly, our two readings today are sobering experiences that jar us and make us sit up and take notice.

The first, of course, is Ezekiel’s vision of the dry bones. The second is the raising of Lazarus. Both are filled with images of the dead being raised. The story that probably speaks most deeply to us is the story of Lazarus. And this story takes on much deeper meaning when we examine it closely and place it within the context of its time. One of our first clues that the something is different in this story is that, when Jesus arrives at the tomb of his friend Lazarus, he is told that Lazarus has been dead four days.

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

Second, according to Jewish understanding, when the soul left the body, a connection would still be maintained with that body for a period of three days.

Bar Kappara, a rabbi of the late second and early third century, wrote: "Until three days the soul keeps on returning to the grave, thinking that it will go back; but when it sees that the facial features have become disfigured [by decomposition], it departs and abandons it.”

In a Jewish document on mourning called the Semahot we find the following: “One may go out to the cemetery for three days to inspect the dead for a sign of life, without fear that this smacks of heathen practice. For it happened that a man was inspected after three days, and he went on to live twenty-five years; still another went on to have five children and died later.”

So, what we find here is that, according to Jewish thinking of this time, the belief was the soul might be reunited with the body up to three days, but after that, because the body would not be recognizable because of decomposition, any reuniting would be impossible. After those three days, the final separation from the body by the soul would have been complete. The soul would truly be gone. The body would truly be dead.

So, when Jesus came upon the tomb of Lazarus and tells them to roll the stone away, Martha says to him that there will be stench. He was truly dead—dead physically and dead from the perspective of his soul being truly separated from his body. So, when the tomb was opened for Jesus, he would be encountering what most of us would think was impossible. Jesus not only reunited Lazarus’ spirit with his body, he also healed the physical destruction done to Lazarus’s body by decomposition. It would have been truly amazing. And Jesus would truly have been proven to be more than just a magician, playing tricks on the people. He wasn’t simply awakening someone who appeared to be dead, someone who might have actually been in a deep coma. There was no doubt that Lazarus was truly dead and now, he was, once again alive.

Now, at first glance, both our Old Testament and Gospel readings seem, like that skull in St. Benedict’s Church, a bit morbid. These are things we don’t want to think about. But the fact is, we are rapidly heading toward Holy Week. Next week at this time, we will be celebrating the triumphant entry of Jesus into Jerusalem. We will be hearing the joyful cries of the crowd as he rides forth. Within 11 days from now, we will hear those cries of joy turn into cries of jeering and accusation. And, within no time, we will be hearing cries of despair and mourning. We, as Christians who follow Jesus, will be hearing about betrayal, torture, murder and death as Jesus journeys away from us into the cold dark shadow of death. These images of death we encounter in today’s reading simply help nudge us in the direction of the events toward that which we are racing.

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

And this brings us back to the story of Lazarus. We often make the mistake, when thinking about the story of Lazarus, to say that Lazarus was resurrected. The fact is, he was not resurrected.

In seminary, I had a professor who made very clear to us that Lazarus was not resurrected. The term he used to describe what happened to Lazarus was “resuscitation.” Lazarus was resuscitated. His soul was reunited with his healed body. But the fact was that Lazarus would eventually die again.

It is believed that, following the death of Jesus, Lazarus went to Cyprus, where he became a Bishop. In fact, one can visit two tombs of Lazarus. One can visit the empty tomb of Lazarus at Bethany, in modern Israel. And one can also visit his actual tomb in Cyprus in the Greek Orthodox Church of Agios Lazaros. There, under the altar, is the tomb which is inscribed, simply,

LAZARUS
FRIEND OF CHRIST

The tomb was actually opened in 1972 and human remains from the time of Christ were found buried there.

So, Lazarus truly did rise from the tomb in Bethany, but he was not resurrected there. He went on to live a life somewhat similar to the life he lived before. And eventually, he died again.

But Resurrection is, as we no doubt know, different. Resurrection is rising from death into a life that does not end. Resurrection is rising from all the things we encounter in our readings for today—dry bones, tombs, decomposition and death. Resurrection is rising from our own broken selves into a wholeness that will never be taken away from us. Resurrection is new bodies, a new understanding of everything, a new and unending life. Resurrection, when it happens, cannot be undone. It cannot be taken away. Resurrection destroys the hold of death.

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

Yes, we will die. Yes, we will go down into the grave, into that place of bones and ashes. But, the resurrection of Jesus casts new light on the deaths we must die. The resurrection of Jesus shows us that we will rise from the destruction of our bodies—and our lives—into a life like the life of the resurrected Jesus. We will be raised into a life that never ends, a life in which “sorrow and pain are no more, neither sighing, but life eternal,” as we celebrate in the Burial Office of the Book of Common Prayer.

Because Jesus died and then trampled death, he took away eternal death. Our bodies may die, but we will rise again with him into a new and awesome life.

So, as we move through these last days of Lent toward that long, painful week of Holy Week, we go forward knowing full well what await us on the other side of the Cross of Good Friday. We go forward knowing that the glorious dawn of Easter awaits us. And with it, the glory of resurrection and life everlasting awaits us as well.

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

Sunday, April 3, 2011

4 Lent

Lataere Sunday
April 3, 2011

Ephesians 5.8-14; John 9.1-14

+ I received my first pair of glasses when I was in the Third Grade. I hated them! I hated wearing glasses. They were awful! And during the 26 years I wore glasses, I became dependent upon each successive pair. In High School, I tried contacts and wore them, with much discomfort, for many years. Through it all, I learned to live with that sense of pseudo-blindness that existed always in my life as a nearsighted person. There was always the fear of what might happen on vacation if my glasses broke, or I lost a contact.


I’m not alone, of course. Many of us here wear glasses or contacts and we know what life would be like without them. We realized how dependent we are upon them.

I never fully appreciated it until I had LASIK surgery. It was amazing, as I was going through the surgery, when all of a sudden, sight—clear, crisp sight—came first to one eye and then the other. It was truly a miracle in my life. Before I heard of LASIK I never imagined there would be a time when I would be able to see without glasses or contacts. Although I was never completely blind, being nearsighted was difficult and life would have been impossible without my glasses or contacts.

I remember, in the days following surgery, when I could see—when I could actually go about without glasses and see—thinking to myself about our Gospel reading for this morning. It truly felt like a miracle.

In sense today—Lataere Sunday, which if the half-way mark of Lent—is a time for us to examine this whole sense of blindness. Not just physical blindness, but spiritual blindness, as well.

My theme for Lent this year, as you have all heard me say by now, has been brokenness, or more specifically, our brokenness in relation to the broken Body of Jesus in the Eucharist. In a sense, our brokenness and our blindness are similar. In our brokenness we become like blind people—or, at least, like nearsighted people. We grope about. We find ourselves dependent upon those things that we think give us come sense of clarity. But ultimately, nothing really seems to heal our nearsightedness. In fact our sight seems to get worse and worse as we age.

In our Gospel reading for today, we find a man blind from birth. The miracle Jesus performs for him is truly a BIG miracle. Can you imagine what it must’ve been like for this man? Here he is, born without sight, suddenly seeing. It must have been quite a shock. It would, no doubt, involve a complete reeducation of one’s whole self. By the time he reached the age he was—he was maybe in his twenties or thirties—he no doubt had an idea in his mind of what things may have looked like. And, with the return of his vision, he was, I’m certain, amazed at what things actually looked like. Even things we might take for granted, such as the faces of our mother and father or spouse, would have been new for this man.

So, the miracle Jesus performs is truly a far-ranging miracle. There’s also an interesting analytical post-script to our Gospel reading. The people we have encountered in our Gospel readings these past two weeks are nameless people. Last week, Jesus spoke to the nameless Samaritan woman at the well. The Eastern Orthodox Church has actually given her a name. In the Eastern Church, she commemorated as St. Photini (and no, I am not talking about a drink Episcopalians order at the country club).

This week, the blind man is also never mentioned by name. Just like St. Photini, he is never mentioned again in the Gospels and we have no idea what happened to him after his encounter with Jesus. But it is interesting to ask: What did happen to him after all these events? Obviously he went away a believer. But what then?

Well, the Orthodox Church yet again came up with an answer to that question. In the Eastern Church the Blind Man has a name and I commemorated as St. Celidonius the Blind Man. St. Celidonius, it is believed, did in fact go on to become a loyal disciple of Jesus. In fact, following Jesus’ death, it is believed he went away from Palestine with St. Lazarus—the same one whom Jesus raised from the dead—and another disciple, Maximin. The tradition states that they went first to the island of Cyprus and, later, without Lazarus, off to Gaul, which is now modern France, and there was possibly martyred for the faith.

Another interesting spin on this story also comes from the Eastern Church. St Basil the Great and other early Church Fathers believe that St. Celidonius was not only born blind, he was actually born without eyes. This, they say, is why Jesus takes clay and places them upon the empty sockets, essentially forming eyes for Celidonius. When Celidonius washes them in the waters of Siloam, the eyes of clay became real eyes with perfect sight. They also believe that, with these eyes, also came great spiritual sight, which helped him to be courageous in the face of persecution and hostile questioning both followign the miracvle and later before his martyrdom for Christ. The Eastern Church has a wonderful hymn, in which St. Celidonius sings to Jesus:

I come to You, O Christ,
Blind from birth in my spiritual eyes
And I call to You in repentance:
You are the most radiant light of those in darkness!

This hymn really, in a sense, is our hymn as well as we hear this Gospel reading this morning We all, in our brokenness, suffer from spiritual blindness at times. We suffer from a blindness that allows us to ignore God, to ignore each other and sometimes even to ignore ourselves.

Our spiritual blindness often causes us to ignore those in need around us and this blindness causes distance and isolation in our lives, making our brokenness even deeper and more pronounced. For some of us, our spiritual blindness is merely a spiritual near- or far-sightedness.

But today, on Lataere Sunday, as we head into the latter part of Lent, we find ourselves being relieved for a bit of the heavy sense of brokenness we have been dealing with throughout Lent so far. We see a bit of clarity in our vision.

Lataere Sunday, also know as Rose Sunday or Mothering Sunday or Refreshment Sunday—is a break in our Lenten grayness. Lataere means to be joyful. Today, even in Lent, we can be joyful. It is a time for us to realize that our brokenness is not an eternal brokenness. We realize today that no matter how broken or fractured we might seem, we can be made whole once again. No matter how blind or nearsighted we might be spiritually, our spiritual sight can be returned to us once again. And in doing so, we find ourselves almost chuckling over our brokenness, over our blindness. We, in a sense, find ourselves on this Lataere Sunday—this joyful Sunday in Lent—laughing at our brokenness.

There is a wonderful tradition for this Lataere Sunday. On this Sunday in Lent, there are wonderful cakes that are traditionally made and served. These are Simnel Cakes. I actually MADE a simnel cake for us this morning. It is downstairs, waiting for us at coffee hour. And I even followed the wonderful traditions that go along with making a simnel cakes for Lataere Sunday.

One tradition is for eleven marzipan balls to be placed on the top of the cake, representing the eleven true disciples. I didn’t use marzipan balls this morning. I used robin eggs. But you get the idea.

Also, there’s a wonderful Portuguese tradition regarding simnel cakes on Lataere Sunday. The Rev'd Dr. Elizabeth Kaeton shared this tradition on a listerv this past week and it really captured my imagination. In this particular tradition, simnel cakes are called "Bolos do riso" or "Laughter Cakes". I actually used this tradition this year in making simnel cakes including the secret ingredient to bolos do riso.

Dr. Kaeton writes: “…here's the special ingredient - the secret of ‘Laughter Cakes’. After every ingredient had been added and stirred, and before [my grandmother] poured the batter into the muffin tins or cake pans, she would gather us round the Very Large Mixing Bowl. And then, she would tell us not to worry. That Lent was a very sad time, but that soon, it would be Easter. Jesus would play a wonderful trick on Satan, and death would not kill him. And, because death could no longer kill Jesus, death could no longer kill us. Because of Jesus, we would know eternal life in heaven where we would all someday be, once again. She would tell us this and then say, ‘So, laugh, children. Laugh into the bowl. Laugh into the cake. Laugh at the Devil. He can't win. He can't ever win! Only Jesus can win. Only Jesus! Laugh! Laugh! Laugh!’ And, we would. Laugh. Loud. Right into the bowl. I swear people ten blocks away could hear us laugh. It was the best part of making - and eating - that cake.”


Yes, I did use the secret ingredient this morning in making simnel cakes for us. I, like Dr. Kaeton’s grandmother, laughed as I mixed the cake. But what I love best about the story she shares is that Lent is a time for us to sit up, shrug off the seriousness of the season, and laugh. And not just laugh for the sake for laughing. But actually laugh at the devil. Laugh at all that has caused us to be the broken people we are. Laugh at the ridiculousness of our own selfish, self-centered, egotistical lives. Laugh at what has separated us from us each other, from God and from ourselves. Laugh at our nearsightedness, and laugh at our broken, fractured selves.

I really don’t thinks there’s anything during Lent than to laugh. It really does have a special sound to it—this Lenten laughter. It echoes just a bit more profoundly. And with it this Lenten laughter, we find ourselves experiencing a bit of the joy that we will all be experiencing in a few weeks at Easter arts.

Lataere Sunday is a great to remind ourselves that, even in our brokenness, we will not be broken forever. We will be made whole. ike St. Celidonius, we too will be made whole. We too will see with clarity and vision. And like him, we too will see the darkness lifted from our lives and the dazzling light of Christ breaking through.

So, today, on this Lataere Sunday—on this joyful Sunday in Lent—let’s laugh at the devil. Let’s laugh at everything that chips away at us and break us down and cases us to be spiritually blind. And let us, today, do as Dr. Kaeton’s grandmother told those grandchildren.

“Laugh at the Devil,” she is telling us. “ He can't win. He can't ever win! Only Jesus can win. Only Jesus!”