Sunday, March 28, 2021

Palm Sunday

 


March 28, 2021

 

Mark 15.1-39

 

+  This coming week is, of course, Holy Week.

 

And as we begin it, I am doing so with a strange sense of hopefulness.

 

Last Holy Week was a surreal one.

 

I have said many times over this past year that last Easter was one of the most bizarre and bleak Easters I had ever experienced.

 

And we’d even had a baptism earlier that day.

 

This Holy Week, however, begins with a feeling of real hopefulness.

 

I think we may finally be heading out from under the dark cloud of Covid and looking to the future with a sense of tentative hope.

 

Thigns just feel a little better than they did.

 

Of course, we’re still being cautious.

 

Of course, we’re still being very careful.

 

But we are moving forward, and I am happy that we are doing so.

 

As this Holy Week begins, I also find myself a bit emotional, in addition to being hopeful.  

 

Yes, I know.

 

To have to emotionally face all that Holy Week commemorates is not something I can say I look 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.

 

 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 feathertip 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.

 

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.

 

Let us pray.

 

Holy and loving God, be with us as we follow Jesus along this dark and ugly path. Help us we deal with all he had to endure. But help us also to keep our vision on what awaits us on the other side of this week—your Light and a dawn that will never end. We ask this in Jesus’ name. Amen.

 

 

Saturday, March 27, 2021

From the Rector

 

REVISED COVID-19 PROTOCOLS FOR ST. STEPHEN’S.

 

March 28, 2021

Palm Sunday

Dear St. Stephen’s members and friends,

As we head into Holy Week, the Easter season and Spring, we are looking ahead hopefully as the numbers of new cases of Covid decrease and the numbers of people who have received the vaccine have increased.

Bishop Tom Ely and the Episcopal Diocese of North Dakota have just released their revised protocols for our Diocese. It is a relief, after all these many months, to be given a green light to cautiously and tentatively relax some of our protocols.

With that in mind, and in consultation with our Wardens John Baird and Jessica Anderson, I have also revisited our own protocols at St. Stephen’s and have point-by-point adapted the Diocesan protocols to our own particular needs.

Please be aware that these Protocols are subject to change. As we proceed, it my hope and prayer, that we will be able to relax more and more of them and that, sooner rather  than later, we will return to some sense of “normal” by Dedication Sunday on September 12. Again, that is my hope,  not a promise.

Above all, as we continue to gather for in-person worship, I cannot stress the fact that we must continue to be pro-active in how we gather. Under no circumstances will we relax our protocols regarding masks or  social distancing for the foreseeable future.  

 As I said in March of 2020, when we were just beginning the very long saga together,  my main commitment has been and continues to be the health and well-being of each of you. It has been my very real commitment that St. Stephen’s and anything we do here cannot under any circumstances be the reason one becomes ill. My main priority as your priest has always been your health and well-being, both spiritually and physically.

            With that in mind, please read the following protocols and keep them in mind as you consider coming to in-person worship at St. Stephen’s.

 

Gathering St. Stephen’s will continue prudent ways to decrease spread of disease. This includes the continued wearing of masks, distancing six feet, hand washing, avoiding others when sick, and ventilation such as open windows or meetings outside. We also have every other pew roped off. Please take full advantage of the hand sanitizer in the nave and elsewhere throughout the church. Also, please wash your hands thoroughly.

·         On-line worship – because of the great success of online worship at St. Stephen’s, all of our Masses and other liturgies will continue to be Livestreamed on Facebook, uploaded to our YouTube Page and included on our Webpage.

-Our Facebook Livestream:  https://facebook.com/groups/52039214842

-Our YouTube channel: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCcdWKCnCHmviajkFX5p-xGg

-Our webpage: https://ststephensfargo.org

·         In-person worship – Up to this point, we have not had any issues with too many people in attendance at our liturgies, though, over the last few weeks, as more and more parishioners have received the vaccine, our numbers have been steadily rising. We will continue to observe those numbers closely and act accordingly. All of our clergy, as well as our organist, have all been fully vaccinated.

·         Funerals and special gatheringsWe will continue to follow the same rules for these events as we do for in-person worship.

·         Children’s Chapel: Children’s Chapel will remain suspended until we feel safe enough to provide it again.

 

Singing: Congregational singing is now allowed. However, use of a mask, continued social distancing and proper ventilation remain in place.

 

Passing the PeaceTouch-free greetings with no hand shaking or hugs will continue.

 

Holy Communion We will continue our single station before the altar (no kneeling). We will continue to only provide the bread (no wine at this time). Masking and distance continue.

 

Surfaces and handouts: We will continue to use disposable booklets for all liturgies. The Prayer Books and Hymnals will not be used for the foreseeable future. The offering plates remain in a stationary position at the front of the nave. We will continue to ventilate the nave between liturgies.  

 

FoodCoffee Hour will remain suspended, though we are looking at ways to offer a few experimental coffee hours outdoors during the summer. It is our hope that, as the numbers decrease, we may tentatively begin Coffee Hour in some form beginning in September.

 

VaccinationsIf you have not been vaccinated, please make a plan to do so soon.

 

STAYING HOME: I will add one more item; if you are feeling sick, afraid of exposing family members and/or loved ones or are simply feeling uncomfortable attending church at this time, please feel free to stay home and join us through our online worship. If you would like to receive Holy Communion, please contact me, and either Deacon John or myself will come to your home and bring Holy Communion.

 

Revisit your plan frequently: We will revisit these protocols again in a few months and revise them appropriately.

 

Please know that my prayers are with all of you during this holiest of seasons, and that I look forward to that wonderful day when I can see all of you again in person. Please know I pray for each of you by name in the course of the week in my daily prayers. Please pray for me as well.

 

-peace,

Fr. Jamie Parsley+, Rector

 

 

Sunday, March 14, 2021

4 Lent

 


Lataere

March 14, 2021

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, such as “Refreshment Sunday.”

 

And it Britain it’s “Mothering Sunday.”  

 

It is, of course, traditional on this Sunday to wear the rose or pink vestments.

 

And, in normal years, to have Simnel cake at our coffee hour.

 

This is our second Laetare Sunday without Simnel cake.

 

Man, do I miss Simnel cake!  

 

Still, it’s a special Sunday.

 

It is sort of break in our Lenten purple, so to speak.


 

Today, we get to rejoice a bit.

 

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.

 

Also, our rejoicing is subdued due to the anniversary of dark events on this day.

 

It was one year ago that Covid was really raising it’s ugly head.

 

And if that wasn’t enough, what’s sadder for me is that tomorrow, March 15, it will be one year since we had our last “normal” Sunday.

 

We had our last coffee hour on March 15, 2020.

 

We had our last Children’s Chapel.

 

It was the last time we exchanged the Peace as we did.

 

It was the last time we shook hands.

 

It was the last time we saw so many of our friends and loved ones here, in this building, in these pews.

 

Last Laetare Sunday—March 22—was our first Sunday closed to public worship.

 

Let me tell you, there was not much rejoicing last Laetare Sunday, here or anywhere.

 

It has been a long, very hard year.

 

But this Rose Sunday feels a bit different.

 

Yes, of course, 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.

 

But more than that, it feels like we have definitely turned a corner.

 

So many of us have received our vaccines.

 

Many of us who have had our vaccines are feeling more comfortable coming together and being together.

 

We’re slowly seeing more people coming back to Mass again.

 

And we are looking ahead to trying to implement some of those things we lost last year.

 

We are looking ahead to planning some sort of coffee hour in the next few months, for lifting some of our restrictions, for moving cautiously forward and beyond this terrible, ugly pandemic.

 

We’re not there yet.

 

But, we’re getting closer.

 

The Easter light is within in sight, though it’s still feels 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 pandemics and crime and recession and division 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 looking forward to better times.

 

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 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 Deacon John 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.

 

Let us pray.

 

Loving God, we rejoice in you on this Rejoicing Sunday; we rejoice in the fact that you have sent your Son Jesus to lead on the right pathway, on the road that leads us, at times through dark and uncertain places, but leads us always to that place on the other side of the Cross—your Kingdom, that place of unending Light and life. In Jesus’ name, we pray. Amen.