Saturday, March 31, 2018

Holy Saturday

March 31, 2018

Matthew 27.57-66


+ This morning of course is a liturgically bare and solemn morning. We gather today in a church stripped to its barest bones. The Presence of Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament is gone—the aumbry’s door lies open, the sanctuary light is extinguished and is gone.  The crosses are veiled in black shrouds of mourning. 

It is a bleak and colorless place.

It is a time of mourning.

It is a time of loss.

This liturgy purposely, intentionally, has the feel of a burial service.  And liturgically we ponder the fact that Jesus’ murdered and tortured body this morning lies in a tomb.

Despite all this, as I have said many time over the years, I truly do love to participate in the liturgy this morning.  I love to preach about Holy Saturday.  I love to talk about it.  I love to mediate on it throughout the year. And I guess I do because it’s kind of an ignored day.

For the most part, Holy Saturday is not given a lot of attention by a majority of churches, at least here in the U.S. In places like Mexico, it is a big day. Holy Saturday in Mexico is also called Judas Day and it is on this day they burn effigies of Judas Iscariot.  It is called Judas day because it is popularly believed that Judas committed suicide early on this day. 

Now, Judas has become one of the most maligned and hated figures in human history. His act of betrayal is seen as the ultimate form of treason and cowardice. And of course, the tradition has always been that Judas, after he went out and hung himself, went to hell.  The end of the story.

There have been a few traditions about what happened to his body.   One says that he was the first one buried in the Potter’s Field that was used by the money he returned to the Priests.  It is also said, to this day, that anybody buried in that Potter’s Field decomposes within twenty-four hours.

So, like that, Judas—the symbol of deceit—disappears completely, without a trace.  It’s a sad end to a sad man. But there is a little glimmer of hope in all of this. 

Today, on this Holy Saturday, we also think about a popular tradition in the Church that you know I really love.You know I love it, because I peach about it regularly.   

The Harrowing of Hell, of course, is the event in which we imagine Jesus, on this Holy Saturday, descending among the dead in hell and bringing them back.   Most years on Holy Saturday I preach about the Harrowing of Hell and reference the famous icon of Jesus standing over the broken-open tombs pulling out Adam from one tomb and Eve from the other.  I always place that icon on the votive candle stand in the Narthex.

But there is another image I would like to draw your attention to—a more interactive image.  That image is, of course, the image of the labyrinth. One of the many images used in walking the labyrinth is, of course, the Harrowing of Hell.  When you think of the labyrinth, you can almost imagine Jesus trekking his way down to the very bowels of hell. There, he takes those waiting for him and gently and lovingly leads them back through the winding path to heaven. 

On this Holy Saturday, I also like imagine that one person Jesus greets and leads back is, of course, the new-arrived Judas.   Judas was, after all, one of the closest of the apostles.  And Jesus knew from the beginning what Judas was going to do.

In a sense, Jesus needed Judas to fulfill his destiny on that cross. I can imagine, then, that Jesus, upon reaching the bowels of hell on this day, sought Judas out especially, embraced him and quietly led him out, along with the others. It’s lovely to imagine and, whether it’s true or not, I like to cling to that image.

I do, because, I will confess, of all the apostles, I sometimes identify with Judas. I think we all do at times. 

 The image of the Harrowing of Hell—the image of the labyrinth—never becomes
more real for me than when I imagine myself as Judas, at that very center—shivering there in the dark, bracing myself for an eternity of separation from others and from God. I imagine myself as the Judas who deserves to have his effigy burned, who deserves to be maligned and shown as the epitome of treason. And in that dark, cold, lonely place, I, like Judas, am amazed when I see that glimmer of light in the darkness.

I, like Judas, am filled with a steadily-growing joy as the light grows larger and bolder and I realize that within that light is Jesus.  I, like Judas, am overwhelmed in that moment when God in Jesus comes to me in my desolation and my isolation and reaches out to me to embrace me and lead me away from that prison that I have made for myself by my foolish actions and cold-hearted ways.  

See, God is so powerful that even the depths of Hell are not out of God’s reach. Even there, God can come. Even there, God’s Light can permeate. Even there, God can break open the walls of the prison of hell and can let that freeing Light shine. This is what Holy Saturday is all about.

Even dead and lying in a tomb, Jesus still manages to make a difference—to do good. Even when it seems like the ultimate defeat has occurred, the ultimate victory is going on, right under the surface.

Holy Saturday is that glimmer of light in the darkest places of our souls. And that light that is about to dawn on us tomorrow morning—that light of ultimate and unending joy and gladness—is more glorious than anything we can even begin to fathom in this moment.

So let us this morning, strain into the dark.  Let us look with hope and joy toward that light that is approaching us.  And when we see him, there, in that light, coming toward us with his arms outstretched, let us run to him with that Easter joy.




Friday, March 30, 2018

Good Friday

March 30, 2018

+ I preached last Sunday about how I dreaded Holy Week this year. I dreaded it—I still dread it—because of today. This moment. This dark, silent moment.

What I have been keeping with me this week is that the story of Jesus, for us as followers of Jesus, is our story too. What we commemorate today isn’t just something that happened then, back then, in the distant past, to someone else—to Jesus.

It is where we are too. This is our story. And it is happening now, right now, for us.

This is our story.

This is our death. This is the death of those we love the most.

This is the part of the story we don’t want to be ours.

This bleakness.

This stripped away austerity.

This violence.

This…death.

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 moment of blood and pain and death.

To this moment of violence and utter destruction.

We are here, in this moment, not finding much comfort, not finding much consolation. We have, after all, known in our lives what this despair is.

The day after my mother died last January, as her body was being cremated, I
The Pietà at Sts Anne & Joachim Catholic Church, Fargo. January 29, 2018
went to what is called the Grief Shrine at Sts. Anne and Joachim Catholic Church here in Fargo. There, tucked away in a far corner of the church, is a shrine for those who mourn. In it is a representation of the 
Pietà—the famous statue of Mary holding the dead body of Jesus. In her arms, Jesus has been taken off the cross and lies on her lap, while she gazes upward toward God, grief written on her face.

That day after my mother died, that statue was very potent reflection of my own grief at that moment.  In that statue, I saw myself and my mother. Though, for me, our saw our roles were changed. For me, it was not the mother holding the son. It was rather the son holding the body of the mother.

I too held my mother’s body that Sunday afternoon I found her, very much as Mary holds her Son in that statue. And because I recognized out shared place, though switched a bit, I saw that, yes, it too was my story.

See, this is our story too. What Jesus shows us in his life—and death—is that we are not alone. We don’t go through all this alone. Jesus went there too. And because Jesus did, God knows what we are experiencing in this awful thing called death.

Today—in the death of Jesus—we see that this is also the death of our loved ones. And it is our death as well.  And nothing fills us with more fear than this.

This is why, in this awful moment, we know despair.  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, emaciated body on the cross, or held in the arms of his mother.

But…as broken as we are, as much of a reminder of our own death this day might be, as overwhelmed as we might be by the presence of death in our lives at times, so too is the next 48 hours or so.

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.

What seems like an eternal brokenness will replaced by complete wholeness.

Yes, we might die, but God is not dead. Yes, we might be broken, but God will restore all that is broken. Just as God restored the broken Body of Jesus, so God will restore us and our loved ones as well.

In short order, 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.

God will prevail even over even…this.  Even death has no power over the God of unending life!  This is what today is about too.  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.





Sunday, March 25, 2018

Palm Sunday

Photo of a palm I took in Miami Beach, FL, February 2017 
March 25, 2018

Mark 15.1-39

+  I have to admit—and I don’t like admitting this:This coming Holy Week is going to be a hard one for me. And I’m not talking about the work that’s involved in this week. I don’t dread that at all. I’m a church nerd, after all. I like doing church services and visitations and all the things involved with Holy Week.

I dread this coming week for one big reason: This coming week is going to be hard for me because of the emotional toll it will take.

As most of you know, I’ve been through a difficult Lent, to say the least, with my mother’s death in January. And now to have to emotionally face all that Holy Week commemorates is not something I can say I am looking forward to.

I think it is emotionally difficult for all of us who call ourselves followers of Jesus. How can it not, after all? We, as followers of Jesus, as people who balance our lives on his life and teachings and guidance, are emotionally tied to this man. This Jesus is not just mythical character to us.  He is a friend, a mentor, a very vital and essential part of our lives as Christians. He is truly “the Messiah, the son of the Blessed One,” that we heard in our Gospel reading for today.

So, to have to go through the emotional rollercoaster of this coming week in which he goes through his own death throes is hard on us, especially those of us walking through our own grief.   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. This day begins with us, his followers, singing our praises to Jesus, waving palm branches in victory.  He is, at the beginning of this week, popular and accepted.  For this moment, everyone seems to love him.

But 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.

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. See, now, why I am not looking forward to this week?

But, we have to remind ourselves that what we encounter in the life of Jesus is not just about Jesus. It is about us too. We, in our own lives, have been to these dark places—these places wherein we have felt betrayed and abandoned and deserted, where we too have reached out and touched the feather-tip of the angel of death, so to speak.  

It is a hard place to be. And it is one that, if we had a choice, we would not willingly journey toward.

But this week is more than dealing with darkness and despair. It is a clear reminder to us that, yes, we like Jesus must journey roads we might not want to journey, but the darkness, the despair, death itself is not the end of the story.

Palm Sunday is not the end of the story.

Maundy Thursday and Good Friday are not the end of the story.

What this week shows us is that God prevails over all the dark and terrible things of this life.  And that God turns those things around again and again.  That is what we see in Jesus’ betrayal and death. What seems like failure, is the actually victory.

What seems like loss, is actually gain.

What seems like death, is actually life unending.

Now, in this moment, we might be downcast. Now, in this moment, we might be mourning and sad.

But, 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 and life.  That is how God works.  And that is what we will be rejoicing in next week.

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, we will be basking in that  incredible Easter Light—a Light that triumphs over the darkness of not only Jesus’ death, but ours as well.




Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Sunday, March 18, 2018

5 Lent

March 18, 2018

Jeremiah 31.31-34; John 12.20-33

+ For any of you who became a member of St. Stephen’s during my time  here, you probably took my “Episcopal 101” class. I love teaching that class. And, I think, it’s been a fun class.

One of the aspects of that class that people always love—and this is something I used to do when I taught at the University of Mary—was offer a  “Stump Fr. Jamie” time.   To “Stump Fr. Jamie” the students can ask any question they would like regarding theology or spirituality or the Church.

Let me tell you, occasionally I had people who did a very good job of trying to actually stump me.  And once or twice, maybe—just maybe—they came close to actually stumping me.

Now, that’s not really fair. Because any time I might not be able to answer their questions, I just concede to that wonderful thing in the church we have called “mystery.”  Some things are just mysteries and we should accept the mysteries of our faith.

I know. I know. What a rotten thing for a priest to say. What a cop-out, right?   But what I have discovered every time a student asks questions is that, in actuality, they really are seeking.  And they are sometimes surprised to find their priest himself is a seeker as well.

The fact is, I have never made a secret of the fact that I am also a seeker, just like all of us this morning.  We’re all seekers.  We’re here this morning seeking something. People who aren’t seekers don’t need to come to church.

They don’t need to listen and ponder the Word.  They don’t need to feed on and ponder the mysteries of the Eucharist that we celebrate at this altar. People who don’t seek, don’t come following the mysteries of their faith.

I have discovered in my own life as a seeker, that my seeking, my asking questions and my pondering of the mysteries of this life and my relationship to God, are what make my faith what it is.  It makes it…faith.  My seeking allows me to step into the unknown and be sometimes amazed or surprised or disappointed by what I may—or may not—find there.

In our Gospel reading for today, we also find seekers.  In our story, we find these Greeks seeking for Jesus.

“Sir, we wish to see Jesus,” they say.

This one line

“we wish to see Jesus”

is so beautifully simple.  There’s so much meaning and potential and…yes, mystery, to it that I don’t think we fully realize what it’s conveying. And what I doubly love about it is that as beautiful and as simple as the petition is

“we wish to see Jesus”

—we never, if you notice, find out if they actually get to see him.  The author doesn’t tell us. We find no resolve to this story of the Greeks seeking Jesus.

However, despite it being a loose end of sorts, it does pack some real meaning.  What’s great about scripture is that even a loose end can have purpose. 

One interpretation of this story is that that the Greeks—as Gentiles—were not allowed to “see” Jesus until he was lifted up on the Cross. Only when he has been  “lifted up from the earth,”  as he tells us this morning will he “draw all people to [himself].”

Jesus’ message at the time of their approaching the apostles is still only to the Jews.

But when Jesus is lifted up on the Cross on Good Friday, at that moment, he is essentially revealed to all.  At that moment, the veil is lifted.  The old Law has in essence been fulfilled—the curtain in the Temple has been torn in half—and now Jesus is given for all. It’s certainly an interesting and provocative take on this story. 

And it’s especially interesting for us, as well, who are seeking to “find Jesus” in our own lives. Like those Greeks, we are not always certain if we will find him—at least at this moment.

But, I am going to switch things up a bit (as I sometimes do).  Yes, we might be seekers here this morning.  But as Christians, our job is not only to be seekers.  Our job, as followers of Jesus, as seekers after God, is to be on the receiving end of that petition of those Greeks.  Our job, as Christians, is to hear that petition—“show us Jesus”—and to respond to it.  This is what true evangelism is.

Some might say evangelism is telling others about Jesus. Possibly. But true evangelism is showing people Jesus. And, let’s face, that’s much harder than telling people about Jesus.

So, how do we show Jesus to those who seeking him?  Or, maybe, even to those who might not be seeking Jesus?

We show people Jesus by doing what we do as followers of and seekers after Jesus.  We show people Jesus by being Jesus to those around us.  Now, that sounds impossible for most of us.  The fact is, it isn’t.  

This is exactly what Jesus wants us to be. Jesus wants us to be him in this world.  We, after all, are the Body of Christ in this world.  He wants to be our hands, helping others.  He wants to speak through our voices in consoling others, in speaking out against the tyrants and despots and unfairness of this world.  He wants to be our feet in walking after those who have been turned away and are isolating themselves.

When we seek to bring the Kingdom into our midst, we are being Jesus in this world. We might not always succeed in doing this.  We might fail miserably in what we do. In fact, people might not find Jesus in us, at all.  Sometimes, whether we intend it to or not, we in fact become the “Anti-Jesus” to others. But that’s just the way it is sometimes.  In seeking Jesus and in responding to others who are also seeking him, we realize the control is not in our hands.

It doesn’t depend on any of us.  Which, trust me, is comforting.  I personally don’t want all that responsibility.  Nor, I’m sure, do any of you.  Who would?

In today’s Gospel, we find Jesus saying:

Very truly I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls on the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.”

In those moments in which we seem to have failed to be Jesus to those around us, when those who come to us seeking Jesus find, rather, nothing, or, worse, the “Anti-Jesus,” we find that even then, fruit can still come forth.  

God still works even through the negative things life throws at us.  God still works event through our failures and our shortcomings. Jesus can still be found, even despite us.   Jesus can still be found, even when we might not even be seeking him. Jesus can be found, oftentimes, when we are least expecting to find him.

Certainly, Jesus is here this morning in our midst.  He is here in us.  He is here when we do what he tells us to do in this world He is here when we open ourselves to God’s Spirit and allow that Spirit to speak to us in our hearing of the Word.

Jesus is here in the Bread and Wine of our Eucharist.

Jesus is here in us, gathered together in Name of Jesus.

And let me tell you, Jesus is definitely out there, beyond the walls of this church, waiting for us to embody him and bring him to them.

He is never far away.

So, let us, together, be Jesus to those who need Jesus, who are seeking Jesus.  Let us show them Jesus.  Let us together search for and find God, here, in the Word where we hear God speaking to us. Let us search for and find Jesus in this Holy Eucharist, in which we feed on his Body and Blood.

As we near the end of this Lenten season and head into Holy Week, let us to heart those words we heard God speaking to the prophet Jeremiah:

“I will forgive their iniquity and remember their sin no more.”

Let us, a people whose iniquity has been forgiven and whose sin is remembered no more,  search for God. In going out from here, let us encounter those people who truly need God.  And, in encountering them, let us also help those who are seeking.

“We wish to see Jesus,” the Greeks say to the disciples.

And people still are saying that to us as well.

“We wish to see Jesus.”

Let us—fellow seekers of Jesus—help them to find him in us.




Thursday, March 15, 2018

Sunday, March 11, 2018

4 Lent


Lataere

March 11, 2018

Numbers 21.4-9; John 3.14-21

+ Today is Laetare Sunday, also known as “Rose Sunday.” Laetare, as I remind everyone every year on this Sunday, is Latin for “joyful” and it is called this because on this Sunday, the traditional introit (or the psalm that was said by the priest in the old days when he approached the altar in the old Latin Mass) was “Laetare Jerusalem”—“rejoice Jerusalem.” It’s also known by other names. “Mothering Sunday” or “Refreshment Sunday.”  It is, of course, traditional on this Sunday to wear the rose or pink vestments.  And to have simnel cake, which we will  have at coffee hour, thanks to Sandy Holbrook.

It’s a special Sunday.  It is sort of break in our Lenten purple, so to speak.  We don’t normally do things during Lent like bless new stained glass windows. But we can on this Sunday. We can, because we are rejoicing a bit today. Notice how I said, rejoicing “a bit.” It’s a subdued rejoicing. We’re still in Lent after all. We might get a break from the Lenten purple. But we don’t get a break from Lent.  After all, the purple returns tomorrow.

But this Rose Sunday is a reminder to us.  We are now passing into the latter days of Lent.  Palm Sunday and Holy Week are only two weeks away and Easter is three weeks away.  And with Easter in sight, we can, on this Sunday, lift up a slightly subdued prayer of rejoicing.

No, we’re not saying the A-word yet. We’re not allowed to be quite that joyful today. But, we’re close.  The Easter light is within in sight, though it’s still pretty far off.

Now, I know Lent can be a bummer for us.  I know we don’t want to hear about things like sin.  I don’t want to hear about sin.  I don’t want to preach about sin.  Most of us have had to sit through countless hours listening to preachers go on and on about sin in our lives.  Many of us have had it driven into us and pounded into us and we just don’t want to hear it anymore. Yes, we know we’re sinners sometimes.  

But the fact is, we can’t get through this season of Lent without at least acknowledging sin.  Certainly, I as a priest, would be neglecting my duty if I didn’t at least mention it once during this season. As much as we try to avoid sin and speak around it or ignore it, for those of us who are Christians, we just can’t.  We live in a world in which there is war and crime and recession and sexism and homophobia and horrible racism and blatant lying and morally bankrupt people and, in looking at all of those things, we must face the fact that sin—people falling short of their ideal—is all around us.

And during this season of Lent, we find ourselves facing sin all the time.  It’s there in our scripture readings. It’s  right here in our liturgy.  It’s just…there. Everywhere.

I certainly have struggled with this issue in my life.  As I said, I don’t like preaching about sin.  I would rather not do it.  I’d rather be preaching about peace and all that our new window represents.  But…I have to.  We all have to occasionally face the music, so to speak.

The fact is, people tend to define us by the sins we commit—they define us by illness—the spiritual leprosy within us—rather than by the people we really are underneath the sin.  And that person we are underneath is truly a person created in the holy image of God.  

Sin, if we look it as a kind of illness, like leprosy or any other kind of sickness, truly does do these things to us.  It desensitizes us, it distorts us, it makes us less than who were are.  It blots out the holy image of God in which we were created.  And like a sickness, we need to understand the source of the illness to truly get to heart of the matter.

Alexander Schmemann, the great Eastern Orthodox theologian, (and I believe he’s echoing the Protestant theologian Karl Barth here) wrote,

“Essentially all sins come from two sources: flesh and pride.”

And if we are honest with ourselves, if we are blunt with ourselves, if we look hard at ourselves, we realize that, in those moments in which we have failed ourselves, when we have failed others, when we have failed God, the underlying issues can be found in either our pride or in our flesh.

This season of Lent is a time when we take into account where we have failed in ourselves, in our relationship with God and in our relationship with each other.

But—and I stress this—Lent is never a time for us to despair.  It is never a time to beat ourselves up over the sins we have committed.  It is rather a time for us to buck up. It is a time in which we seek to improve ourselves.  It is a time in which, acknowledging those negative aspects of ourselves, we strive to rise above our failings.  It is a time for us to seek healing for the “leprosy” of our souls.  The church is, after all, according to the early Christians, a Hospital.  And, in seeking, we do find that healing.

In our reading from Numbers today, we find a strange story, that also is about healing.  The Israelites are complaining about having the wander about in the desert. I guess sometimes it’s not a good thing to complain to God, especially when God, in reality, provided everything you need. So, according to the story, God sent poisonous serpents on the poor, ungrateful people.  The people acknowledge their sin—the fact that they     maybe shouldn’t complain when things weren’t really so bad. So, God tells Moses to “make” a snake, put it on a pole, and raise it up so all the Israelites can see it. And in in seeing it, they will live.

Now, in case you missed it, for us Christians, this pole is important. For us, this is a foreshadow of the cross.  If you don’t believe me, then you weren’t playing attention when I read our Gospel reading for today, which directly references our reading from Numbers.   Jesus then, in that way, turns it all around and makes something very meaningful to his followers—and to us—from this “raising up.” Just as the poisonous snake was raised up on a pole, and the people were healed, so must Jesus be raised up on the cross, and the people also would be healed.

As you have heard me preach many times, the Cross is essential to us. And not just as some quaint symbol of our faith. Not as some gold-covered, sweet little thing we wear around our necks.

The Cross is a very potent symbol for us in our healing.  Gazing upon the cross, as those Israelites gazed upon the bronze serpent that Moses held up to them, we find ourselves healed. And as we are healed, as we find our sins dissolved by the God Christ knew as he hung the cross, we come to an amazing realization.

We realize that we are not our sins.  And our sins are not us.  Our sins are no more us, than our illnesses are.  Our sins are no more us than our depressions are us, or our disappointments in life are us.

For those of us who have had serious illnesses—and as many of you know, I had cancer once—when we are living with our illness, we can easily start believing that our sickness and our very selves are one and the same.  But that is not, in reality, the case.

In this season of Lent, it is important for us to ponder the sickness of our sins, to examine what we have done and what we have failed to do and to consider how we can prevent it from happening again.  But, like our illnesses, once we have been healed, once our sins have been forgiven and they no longer have a hold over us, we do realize that, as scarred as we have been, as deeply destroyed as we thought we were by what we have done and not done, we have found that, in our renewal, we have been restored.

In the shadow of the cross, we are able to see ourselves as people freed and liberated.  We are able to rejoice in the fact that we are not our failures. We are not what we have failed to do.  But in the shadow of the cross we see that we are loved and we are healed and we are cherished by our loving God. And once we recognize that, then we too can turn our selves toward each other, glowing with that image of God imprinted upon us, and we too can love and heal and cherish.

See, sin does not have to make us despair. When we despair over sin, sin wins out. Rather, we can work on ourselves, we can improve ourselves, we can rise above our failings and we can then reflect God to others and even to ourselves.

So, on this Laetare Sunday—this Sunday in which we rejoice that we are now within the sight of that glorious Easter light—let us gaze at the cross, held up to us as a sign of our healing God. And there, in the shadow of that Cross, let us be truly healed. And, in doing so, let us reflect that healing to others so they too can be healed.

See, it is truly a time for us to rejoice.




Saturday, March 10, 2018

The 40th Day

Today is the 40th day since my mother died. In the Eastern Orthodox Church, the 40th day is the official end of the mourning period, referencing the Ascension occurring 40 days after Easter. For the 40 days following death, it is believed the person has not officially left this world completely, and may still visit their homes, their graves and their loved ones. After this day, the deceased has now officially moved on. Clothes can be given away to the poor and the house cleaned out.

  
The 40th Day

No more visits
to the urn,
to the frozen grave, still undug,

to the closet
where the clothes still hang,
to the shoes and belt

still laid out
for the next day
that never came,

to the bed on which
she laid down
that morning

and from which
she never rose again.
Now is the time

to rise up,
to go onward
deeper into

the mysterious color
that deepens and shimmers
and goes on and on.

It is time to shut the door,
to turn out the light,
to turn away

and move on
from what was once
familiar

and is now awkward
and strange.
It is time

 to go
and leave behind
the urn

the closet
the bed
the shoes and belt

the one who
stands there
empty-handed

and bewildered
and staring
blankly

into the gathering dusk
and all
it holds.

—Jamie Parsley





Thursday, March 8, 2018

A very nice write-up in today's Fargo Forum about tonight's reading. I'm especially happy my mother and St. Stephen's were mentioned.

Monday, March 5, 2018

It's great to see the publication reading of my new book in the latest issue of The High Plains Reader. And it's nice to to be known as one of the "best known regional poets."

Sunday, March 4, 2018

3 Lent

3 Lent

March 4, 2018

John 2.13-22

+ It took me five weeks, but I’ve been going through my mother’s things this last week. I finally worked up the courage to do so. It’s been slow going, though. But I need to do it.

One of the things I found in going through her things was something I was looking for the night she died. Before she was cremated the day after she died, I planned on making sure she was cremated with my maniturgium.

What is that, you’re probably asking? Well, it comes from the Latin words Mani or hand and turgium, which means towel. So, it’s a hand towel. But in this case it’s more than that.

In the Roman Catholic and in the Anglo-Catholic tradition of Anglicanism, when a priest is ordained, their hands are anointed with chrism by the Bishop. Chrism is that special oil consecrated by a Bishop, smelling of nard.

As they are anointed, the Bishop prays this prayer:

Grant, O Lord, to consecrate and sanctify these hands by this unction, and by our blessing; that whatsoever they may bless may be blessed, and whatsoever they consecrate shall be consecrated and sanctified in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

The maniturgium is them wrapped around the chrism-covered hands to wipe them.

Well, my maniturgium is nothing fancy. It’s simply an old corporal—a white altar cloth—that was about to burned. And my hands actually weren’t anointed at my priestly ordination fourteen years ago. They were anointed a few years later.

The reason they weren’t anointed at the ordination is more complex than I want ot get in here.
But a few years later, let’s just say, they were in fact anointed and the old corporal that was being discarded and burned was rescued to wrap my hands after the anointing.

Later, I presented this cloth to my mother, which is the tradition. That tradition
states that the priest is to present the maniturgium to their mother.  The maniturgium is then usually buried in the hands of the mother of a priest when she dies.

Why? You may ask. Well, the tradition states that when the mother of a priest comes before Jesus, he will as her, “I have given you life. What have you given me?”

And the mother is to reply, “I have given you my child as a priest” and then hands him the maniturgium.

At this, the story goes, Jesus grants her entrance into heaven. (Let’s not even begin to unpack some of the really bad theology behind all of that!)

But it’s a great story.  And it is one my mother really loved!  (I think she liked the guarantee to get into heaven)

Let me tell you: there was no one prouder to have a child for a priest than my mother. So, you can imagine why I was a bit upset not having that maniturgium there for her when she was cremated. I searched through her dresser and her closet looking for it.  I then concluded that at some point, maybe she had just accidentally thrown it out.  Which would have been fine.  So, I shrugged it off and just let it go (though I do admit I really had hoped it would’ve been in her hands when she was cremated)

Well, on Friday night, I happened to open her cedar chest, and guess what? There it was, right on the top, neatly folded, still stained with chrism, still smelling of nard (and cedar). So, I will place it in her urn before I seal it and its buried.

I also have to believe that that poor corporal really did not want to get burned!

So, cleaning out the clutter is a good thing. A really good thing. Because in doing so, we might find important things. Because if I held off, I might not have found it until after we buried her ashes.

I think this story is good for us during Lent.  Lent, as you have heard me say over and over again, is a time for us to sort of quiet ourselves of course. But it is also a time to get rid of whatever clutter we might have knocking around inside us or in our lives.

Clutter is that stuff in our lives—and “stuff” is the prefect word for it—that just piles up.  If you’re anything like me, we sometimes start ignoring our clutter. We sort of do that too with our own spiritual clutter.  We don’t give it a second thought, even when we’re tripping over it and stumbling on it.

In fact, often we don’t fully realize how much clutter we have until after we’ve disposed of it.  When we see that clean, orderly room, we realize only then how clutter sort of made us lose our appreciation for the beauty of the room itself.

In Lent, what we dispose of is the clutter of our spiritual lives. And we all have spiritual clutter. We have those things that “get in the way.” We have our bad habits. We have those things that we do without even thinking we’re doing them. And oftentimes, they’re not good for us—or at least they don’t enhance our spiritual lives.

Often the clutter in our spiritual lives gets in the way of our prayer life, our spiritual discipline, our all-important relationship with God.  The clutter in our spiritual life truly becomes something we find ourselves “tripping” over. The clutter in our spiritual life causes us to stumble occasionally. And when it does, we find our spiritual life less than what it should be. Sometimes it’s just “off.”

During Lent, it is an important time to take a look around us.  It is important to actually see the spiritual clutter in our lives and to clear it away in whatever ways we can.

In our Gospel reading for today, we find Jesus going into the temple and clearing out the clutter there. He sweeps the Temple clean, because he knows that the clutter of the merchants who have settled there are not enhancing the beauty of the Temple.

 “Stop making my Father’s house a marketplace!”

They are not helping people in their relationship with God. Rather, these merchants are there for no spiritual reasons at all, ultimately. They are there for their own gain and for nothing else.

In a sense, we need to, like Jesus, clean out the “merchants” in our lives as well.  We need to have the Temple of our bodies cleaned occasionally.  We need to sweep it clean and, in doing so, we will find our spirituality a little more finely tuned.  We will find our prayer life a more fulfilling. We will find our time at Eucharist more meaningful. We will find our engaging of Scripture to be more edifying. We will find our service to others to be a bit more selfless and purposeful than it was before. We will see things with a clearer spiritual eye—which we need.

It is a matter of simplifying our spiritual lives. It is matter of recognizing that in our relationship with God and one another, we don’t need the clutter—we don’t need those things that get in the way.

We don’t need anything to complicate our spiritual lives. There are enough obstacles out there. There will always be enough “stuff” falling into our pathways, enough ”things” for us to stumble over. Without the clutter in our lives, it IS easier to keep our spiritual lives clean. Without the clutter in our life, we find things are just…simpler.

In our Gospel reading, we also find that the Temple Jesus is cleaning out and cleansing serves its purpose for now, but even it will be replaced with something more perfect and something, ultimately, more simple.  In a sense, our own bodies become temples of this living God because of what Jesus did. Our bodies become the house of God, of Abba.  Our bodies also become the dwelling places of that one, living God. We will become the Temples of the living God.

Which brings us back to Lent.  In this season of Lent, we become mindful of this simple fact.  Our bodies are the temples of that One, living God.  God dwells within us much as God dwelt in the Temple.  Because God dwells in us, we have this holiness inherent within us.

We are holy. Each of us.  Because of this Presence within us, we find ourselves wanting to cleanse the temple.  We find ourselves examining ourselves, looking closely at the things over which we trip and stumble.  We find ourselves realizing that the clutter of our lives really does distract us from remembering that God dwells with us and within us.  And when we realize that, we really do want to work on ourselves a bit.

We work at trying to simplify our lives—our actual, day-to-day lives, as well as our spiritual lives.  We want to actually spend time in prayer, in allowing that living God to dwell fully within us and to enlighten us.  We fast—emptying our bodies and purifying ourselves.  We recognize the wrongs we have done to ourselves and to others.  We realize that we have allowed this clutter to build up. We realize we have not loved God or our neighbors. Or even ourselves. Or we have loved ourselves too much, and not God and our neighbors enough.

Once we have eliminated the spiritual clutter of our lives, we do truly find our God dwelling with us. We find ourselves worshipping in that Body that cannot be cluttered. We find a certain simplicity and beauty in our lives that comes only through spiritual discipline.

So, as we continue our journey through Lent, let us, like Jesus, take up the cords and go through the temple of our own selves. Let us, like him, clear away the clutter of our lives. Let us cleanse the temple of our own self and make it like the Temple worthy of God.  And when that happens, we will find ourselves proclaiming, with Psalm 69,

“Zeal for your house will consume me.”

For it will.