“Could you not wait with me one hour?” Keeping Watch with Christ on Maundy Thursday

Gethsemane

The three holy days of the paschal Triduum (Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and the Easter Vigil) are the center of the church’s worshiping life because they recall the center of Christian salvation: Christ’s death and resurrection for us. The liturgies of the Triduum together form a unity (a fact which is signalled by the absence of dismissals and opening salutations: each liturgy begins where the other left off). In order to most fully experience the glories of Easter, we must first contemplate the horrors of Good Friday and dwell in Holy Saturday’s silence. In order to understand Good Friday, though, we must learn from Christ how he interprets his approaching death on Maundy Thursday: by giving us his body and blood in the Eucharist, and by washing our feet.

By an ancient tradition, there is no celebration of the Eucharist on Good Friday. Instead, we make our communion from the elements consecrated at the Maundy Thursday Eucharist. And so, on Maundy Thursday, after our celebration of the Eucharist, we will reserve the blessed sacrament for our communion on Good Friday, and Christ’s body and blood will lie in repose on a side altar.

The altar of repose extends to us an invitation.

After the last supper, Jesus spent the night in Gethsemane, praying to his Father in agony (Matthew 26:36–46; Mark 14:32–42; Luke 22:40–46). As he prays, his disciples fall asleep, much to Jesus’s disappointment. He had hoped that they would stay awake and keep watch with him.

After the liturgy, the altar is stripped, all icons are covered or removed from the sanctuary, no decorations are left on display, and the cross is shrouded. Christ is laid bare and desolate, left alone as he goes on to the work of salvation.

But we have the opportunity to keep watch with him.

This year, we will have the opportunity to spend time in prayer before Christ in the blessed sacrament at the altar of repose. We believe that he is really present in the eucharistic elements, which makes it especially appropriate to spend time in prayer where the sacrament is in repose.

If prayer before the reserved sacrament is new to you, don’t worry. There’s not really a wrong way to do it, so long as you come with an open heart and a reverent spirit. You might recite some favorite prayers. Or you might pray your own prayers. Or you might just sit or kneel silently in the Lord’s presence. Or you might do all of these. For full effect, I’d recommend spending about an hour in prayer to and adoration of Jesus, but really whatever time you are able to set aside will benefit you.

From the end of our Maundy Thursday liturgy until 9:30pm, All People’s Church will remain open for those who wish to spend that time with Jesus. And beginning at 10:30 on Good Friday, the same opportunity will be made available.

More information about our Holy Week services can be found here.

For a primer on what we do (and why) during these liturgies, click here.

“Not Quite My Tempo” Or, How God Isn’t Like the Dude from Whiplash

By Gene Schlesinger.

This Sunday we began preaching through the New Testament letter of James, which begins with the instruction: “My brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials/temptations[1] of any kind, consider it nothing but joy, because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance; and let endurance have its full effect, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking in nothing” (James 1.2-4).

In my sermon I explained three wrong ways to approach trials/temptations in our lives (avoiding them, giving in to them, and being “right,” but with out love or compassion), and two ways to approach them rightly: considering it joy, because of our love for God and for people, and prayer because “If any of you is lacking in wisdom, ask God, who gives to all generously and ungrudgingly, and it will be given you” (James 1.5). I concluded with a challenge to prioritize the practice of prayer, particularly the Book of Common Prayer’s offices of Morning and Evening Prayer, and the Prayer of Examen.  (See our Daily Rhythms page to learn more)

But there’s one more thing I want us to see about our trials/temptations, and this is important. The opening of James tells us that our trials/temptations will produce endurance, and that endurance will mature us. This is a wonderful thing about trials/temptations. Unfortunately, this has also led us to have some pretty twisted understandings of what God is like.

Put most crudely, we view the trials/temptations and sufferings of our life as something that God sends our way in order to grow and mature us. There’s no growth without suffering, and though the process is painful you can’t argue with the results. The problem is that this makes God out to be morally reprehensible.

Last year in the movie, Whiplash,[2] J. K. Simmons earned every bit of his Oscar portraying a results-driven jazz conductor, who is willing to put his musicians through all manner of suffering [don’t watch the clip if you have a sensitivity to bad language] in order to bring out their potential for greatness. He gets results, but there’s something deeply wrong with someone who’s willing to torture people in order to get those results. You’re not supposed to sympathize with him.

Often times we think of God as a sympathetic version of the J. K. Simmons character from Whiplash. Thankfully, James tells us that God is not like that. “No one, when tempted/tried, should say, ‘I am being tempted/tried by God’; for God cannot be tempted/tried by evil and he himself tempts/tried no one. But one is tempted/tried by one’s own desire.”

In other words, though it’s true that we grow through our trials/temptations, and though it’s true that God uses them to make us more like his Son, our Savior, Jesus, it is not true that God sends trials and sufferings our way in order to grow us, because God is not the sort of monster that J. K. Simmons plays in the movie.

How this works is a mystery, and I don’t claim to be able to resolve it. But what I can say is this: God’s purpose for his children is to conform them to the image of his Son, and he would have done this even if sin had never entered the world. Because of sin, this process is sometimes painful, but no amount of sin or suffering or trial is able to change God’s purpose for us.

And so, even in the midst of our sinful world and our sinful selves, God continues his work of bringing us to himself through his Son. Sometimes it will hurt, but the suffering is not the point. The point is our being made like Jesus.

So as you pray for the wisdom needed to consider life’s inevitable trials/temptations as joy, give thanks that God will bring you through these to make you like Jesus, and give thanks that the trials are not his idea, but that he won’t let that stand in his way.

 

[1] In our English translations, the words “trials” and “temptations” translate the same Greek word. 

[2] Not to be confused with this other Whiplash

 

Listen to Gene’s sermon here.

The Examen: Stripped Bare

Just before his ascension, Jesus tells the apostles that they will be his witnesses in Jerusalem and all Judaea and Samaria and to the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8). The one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church’s reason for existence in the time between Jesus’s ascension and return is to be a community of witness. Which led me to pose the question on Sunday, to what is your life giving witness? If someone is observing your life—the way you drive, the way you interact with people in line at the grocery store or the DMV, or at work, or on social media, the way you treat your family, the way you spend your money, the way you spend your time—observing all of that, to what is that life giving witness?

And I suggested the practice of the Examen as a way of discerning the answer to that question and as a way of cultivating friendship with Jesus. The Examen is a hallmark of Ignatian Spirituality. By praying the Examen we seek to bring our experiences and desires from the day before the Lord, and just sort of sit with that, taking stock. This helps us to be full persons before God, and to be honest with ourselves about who we are, what we desire, and for what we’re living. My family has begun the practice of taking a few evenings a week to sit together and go through an Examen prayer. It only takes about ten minutes, and the payoff can be significant.

The format we use is organized around the Acronym “STRIP.”

· Settle into your time of prayer. Sit still, listening to the sounds around you, take slow, steady breaths, and seek to be fully present in this time and place. Recognize the patient, loving presence of God with you.

· Thank God for the blessings of the day. Call to mind all the opportunities and gifts you’ve received, and acknowledge their source in God.

· Recall the events of the day: what you’ve done, what’s happened to you, the way you’ve interacted with people. Just let these memories come and go, washing over you as you re-experience the day. Ask yourself: where was God in this? Where was I open to and responsive to the movement of God in and around me, and where was I closed off?

· Interact with God about your day, maybe focusing on a pattern or theme throughout the day, or perhaps just the event that most stood out to you. If necessary (and it usually is) ask for and receive God’s forgiveness for things you’ve done or left undone during the day.

· Plan ahead to the next day. What situations will you handle differently? How will you seek to be open to God’s agenda in your life?

The Examen can take some getting used to, but by making it a regular pattern of prayer, we can gain real insight into ourselves and our desires, and come to more fully integrate our friendship with Jesus into every aspect of our life.

Holy Week: A Primer

Holy Week is the highlight of the Christian year. It has the highest concentration of liturgical observances, and it commemorates the central events of the Christian faith. All the rest of the Christian year, from Christmas to Pentecost takes its basic meaning from what we celebrate during Holy Week.

During this week, we trace the last week of Jesus’s earthly life and celebrate his resurrection,[1] because it was in the drama that unfolds this week that our salvation was achieved. The best way to “understand” Holy Week is by experience, participating in its liturgies. So this primer is not going to be a play by play. Instead, it’s a basic orientation to help you know what to expect so you can engage as fruitfully as possible.

Palm/Passion Sunday

Sunday in Holy Week corresponds to Jesus’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem. We will begin our service with a procession with palm fronds,[2] recalling the way Jesus was greeted when he came to Jerusalem for the last time. The Eucharistic liturgy for the day looks ahead to how this week will end, though, with readings that focus on Christ’s passion. The movement from jubilance to solemnness should leave us with a sense of dissonance that characterizes the week as a whole.

The Triduum (Three Days)

The main action of Holy Week unfolds during the Triduum of Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and the Easter Vigil. These are one continuous action, broken up over three days,[3] and for the full effect you should come to all three.

Maundy Thursday [4]

On this day we commemorate the institution of the Eucharist, which Jesus established on the night before he suffered. On this night he also washed his disciples feet and commanded us to do the same for one another. And so we wash each other’s feet on Maundy Thursday. This is a humble and humbling act.[5]After the Eucharist, the altar is stripped and all the decorations of the church are removed or shrouded. This corresponds to Jesus’s gradual abandonment by even his close friends before his suffering. He goes alone to accomplish our salvation. We depart in silence.

Good Friday

On this day we recall especially Jesus’s death on the cross. There is a reading of the Passion from John’s Gospel, in which we all take part, which emphasizes the fact that we all have some responsibility for Christ’s death, and that he came to die for all of us. A cross is brought into the church for us to contemplate and to venerate.[6] According to ancient custom, the Eucharist is not celebrated on GoodFriday, so we have communion from the elements consecrated on Maundy Thursday.[7] We depart again in silence.

The Easter Vigil

The Easter Vigil is the most significant, most pregnant with meaning liturgy of the entire year. Nothing I write here could do it justice. Very briefly: we begin in the darkness with which Good Friday left us, and in which Jesus spent Holy Saturday. The lighting of the paschal candle brings us an anticipation of Jesus’s Easter triumph. We walk through the Old Testament to see the history of how God has saved his people. We initiate new Christians into the church by baptism, chrismation, and their first communion. We celebrate the triumph of Jesus’s resurrection![8] Lent is over, and the 50 Day party known as Easter begins tonight!

Easter Sunday

On Easter Sunday we’ll have a simple said Eucharist followed by a far less simple Easter brunch.

 

 

[1] However, to be precise, we must note that Holy Week is not a reenactment of this week. We enter anew into an already completed drama. Jesus has been raised, and so he doesn’t die again, for instance.

[2] Fun fact, the ashes from Ash Wednesday are from Palm Sunday’s palms.

[3] This is indicated, for instance, by the fact that there are no dismissals on Maundy Thursdayor Good Friday. Each service begins in the silence with which the last one left off.

[4] Maundy Thursday takes its name from the new commandment (mandatum) that Jesus gives his disciples: to love one another.

[5] Some people are weirded out by this idea. While you certainly don’t have to do it, we can speak from experience and say that it’s a very moving experience, and you probably won’t regret it.

[6] To venerate something is to show it respect and honor. This may include bowing or kissing. You may or may not feel comfortable with this, but please do take the time to meditate on the glories of the cross.

[7] This underscores the unity of the Triduum as well.

[8] With what’s called the “holy noise.” You’ll want to bring bells and other noise makers. The louder the better.

Unless a Grain of Wheat Falls to the Ground

This Sunday (1) I preached from John 12 and Jesus’s statement that “unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains a single grain. But if it dies, it bears much fruit.” And (2) we gathered with our friends Jared and Katelyn Plant to (a) beat the mess out of a Justin Bieber Piñata filled with booze and Harry Potter paraphernalia and (b) spend time and pray with them one last time before they move to Palestine for three months. These two are related.

What Jesus is getting at can be explained in two steps: first, the deepest secret of life is love. Intuitively we all know this. To truly live is to love, and the truly love is to live. As Ephraim Radner puts it in his poignant book, A Brutal Unity, “To live is to give up parts of ourselves, and to live fully is to give ourselves away fully.” To love is to give yourself to another person. To love fully is to give yourself without reserve.

But the second step is this: in a world marred by sin, as that great theologian, Sammy Hagar, said, “love hurts.” When you give yourself away fully, you open yourself up to pain. It hurts, it’s like Bob Marley said, “No woman no cry,” but we also know that, though “A rock feels no pain and an island never cries,” that the pain is worth it. I would rather have my heart break when my friends move away than have no one that I love enough for my heart to break.

Jared and Katelyn are moving. And because I love them it hurts me. If they stayed I wouldn’t feel sad today, but it would be like the grain of wheat that, rather than falling to the ground and dying, remains a single grain. Letting them go and entrusting them to God, painful as it is today, will lead to “much fruit.” God will do more through their going than if they stayed. Through these hurts God is beckoning us to a fuller life than we’d have otherwise.

Most of us won’t move to Palestine, but still, think of what would happen if we all took this to heart?

How would your life be different next year?

In five years?

In ten?

When you reach the end of your life?

How would the lives of the people you love be different?

How would the lives of people you’ve never even met be different?

In our moments of clarity we know that this is what we really want. To love like this, even when it hurts. But there are just so many other shiny things to distract us. Lent is an opportunity to renew our focus by removing some of those things that distract us, but we still forget so easily. Lord, have mercy.

Pray that God would solidify a desire to love like this in your heart.

Be sure to make the most of the time you have with the people you love.

And surround yourself with people who will remind you that this is what you really want.

To follow what God is doing with Jared and Katelyn (and pray for them), check out their blog.

 

 

1 Sic. In my homily I was conflating this song with the other. (#whenimwrongisayimwrong)

2 See how I brought it full circle there? #fullcircle

3 Every life you touch touches other lives, which touch other lives. The interaction you have with your barista (for instance) has an effect beyond that interaction, and the results cascade and compound.

4 And actually listen to them when they tell you things you don’t want to hear.

 

You’re Not a Good Person (And other Lenten Secrets)

Gene Schlesinger.

This past Sunday I preached about the strange juxtaposition between Jesus’s warning about gaining the world but losing your soul, on the one hand, and God making Abraham (né Abram) the heir of the world, on the other. There is a right way and a wrong way to gain the world, it would seem. The wrong way to gain the world, the soul stealing way to gain the world, is to make the mistake of thinking you deserve it. Paul makes this very clear in his letter to the Romans. The world was promised to Abraham and his descendants by faith, not by the law. We inherit the world, but we do not earn it.

When my grandmother died, and she left me a fair amount of money. That money has helped us considerably (kept us out of debt, helped pay for the adoption of our daughters, and so on). I did not earn that money, though. And only a truly conceited/delusional person would think he or she has earned his or her inheritance (I may be conceited, but I’m not delusional). My grandmother left it to me because she loved me, not because I am a wonderful person.

When it comes to our salvation, we are seriously misguided if we think that we are saved because of what we have done—whether that takes the form of praying a special prayer, having the right theology, being on the right side of particular social issues, having your good deeds outweigh your bad, and so on. Our baptismal liturgy puts it well: we put our whole trust in Jesus’s grace and love.

One thing that Lent is really good at is bringing us face to face with the fact that we’re not wonderful people. In fact, let me suggest to you: if you’ve made it this far into Lent and you’re feeling pretty good about yourself, you’re doing it wrong. My practice of Lent makes it really clear to me that if I’m going to be saved, it’s going to have to be by Jesus and his grace, and not because I’m a good person. I’m tired, and hungry, and irritable, and tempted to slacken in the disciplines I’ve chosen. And I think that’s part of the point: to make me say, earnestly, kyrie eleison: Lord have mercy.

And Lent also reminds us that the Lord does indeed have mercy. The opening acclamation of our liturgy reminds us that the Lord forgives all our sins and that his mercy endures forever. Every year I enter this season thinking of the ways I want God to change me, to make me holier, to make me a better person. And he probably does some of that. But what I experience is the reminder that I am a sinner, but that Jesus has come to save sinners. He “was handed over to death for our trespasses and was raised for our justification” (Romans 4.25).

This is the way to gain the world without losing your soul. To recognize that Jesus has gained it by his death and resurrection, and to come to him in humility, penitence, and faith. If God accomplishes nothing else in your life this Lent but does that, it will have been worthwhile. (But he’ll probably do some other stuff too).

The Transfiguration and the “Why” of Lent

Each year the last Sunday before Lent commemorates the strange episode in the synoptic Gospels where Jesus is transfigured before his disciples, and they get a glimpse of his glory. This Sunday I preached about the transfiguration and the logic of apostolicity: how the vision of God’s glory in the face of Jesus Christ drives us out on mission. After church someone mentioned that throughout his entire Christian upbringing he’d never heard a single sermon on the transfiguration. I don’t know whether this is a peculiarity of his upbringing, or if it’s indicative of a general trend within low church Protestant/Evangelical churches, but as I think about it, I think that the transfiguration also serves to explain another facet of the church’s life that may be foreign in low church/Evangelical environments: the season of Lent.

I remember, early in my pastoral ministry, trying to introduce my (ostensibly Baptist) congregation to the practices of Lent. I was excoriated for organizing an Ash Wednesday service, which was deemed “weird” and “catholic.” And I heard frequent comments about how silly it was to think that we could impress God by giving up chocolate and the like for forty days. At the time, this was frustrating and painful, though now I realize that it’s fair enough. Lent was foreign to that tradition, and so it didn’t make sense to people who’s theological imaginations had been differently formed. I bring it up because I think it shows a common enough response to the idea of Lent with its disciplines and fasting.

But the transfiguration gives us a window into the “why” of Lent. The transfiguration occurs just after Jesus first predicts his coming suffering and death. The road he is on, on which he is leading his disciples, leads to the cross. The transfiguration occurs at this crucial juncture, as a preview of Christ’s resurrected glory. It shows that though this road leads to the cross, at its end is a gloriously transformed existence. In the same way, our journey through the wilderness of Lent leads to the darkness of Good Friday and the silence of Holy Saturday, but its end is the glory of Easter.

The transfiguration is not just about something that happened to Jesus. It shows the destiny of the human nature: to be radiant with the glory of God. This is the existence to which we are called, which has been made our future by the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Our Lenten discipline is not to impress God (trust me, he’s not impressed). Instead, as we discipline ourselves—whether it’s by removing distractions or by engaging in positive practices of prayer and service—we are focusing ourselves upon Jesus (Hebrews 12:1-2), and training ourselves for the life to come,transformed from one degree of glory to another. Lent is not about what we’re going to do for God, but what we’re going to put ourselves in a position for God to do for us.

This Wednesday, we’ll gather, corporately repent of our sins, and be reminded of our own mortality. From the greatest to the least of us, we’ll have dirt smeared on our foreheads and be told that we are going to die. We are dust, and to dust we shall return.

But just as the transfiguration came before Jesus’s suffering and death, it also comes before our Lenten journey, reminding us that the outcome of our discipline is a weight of glory beyond all comparison; not because we’re somehow scoring points with God, but because we are journeying in fellowship with Jesus who suffered, died, and was raised for us and for our salvation.

Contemplation in Action

Reflection by Gene Schlesinger, based on of his sermon from Epiphany 3 (Jan 25, 2014)

This Sunday I preached about hearing Jesus’s call to discipleship and mission and responding to it. I played upon a contrast in the lectionary readings between Jonah’s response to God’s call and the first disciples’ response. Jonah was resistant, fleeing from his calling, and later only reluctantly joining in the mission of God. The disciples, however, left everything to immediately and without reserve follow Jesus. The Gospels record the disciples getting it wrong plenty of times, but in this case, they got it right.

    I then posed several questions for us. All of which deal with the larger question of whether or not we hear Christ’s voice:

  • Are we so busy, with such cluttered lives and so much background noise, that it gets drowned out?

  • Are we hearing it, but resistant, hoping that if we wait long enough he might leave us alone, but not realizing that him deciding to leave us alone should be the most terrifying of possibilities?

  • Do we fail to hear it because we won’t slow down and listen?

  • Do we fail to hear it because we’re so engrossed with contemplative navel gazing that we don’t think to join him where he’s at work in the world?

  • Do we not hear it because we don’t bother cracking open our Bibles?

  • Do we not hear it because we’re so busy studying the Bible that it never occurs to us to join Jesus in what he’s doing in the world he loves?

The Ignatian spiritual tradition has this notion of contemplation in action, where we are regularly engaged in activity, but also pause periodically to reflect, refocus, and regroup, so that when we return to our activity, we have gained the insights we need to be able to properly undertake our work, but then our work also drives our reflection, which in turn sends us back to action. I think that’s something of what we should be going for.

If we’re all contemplation and no action, we run the risk of the sort of dead, empty faith that James warns about, and a faith like that will do us no good. For as Jesus says, if we really love him, we will keep his commandments. We will follow where he leads.

If we’re all action and no contemplation, we run the risk of haphazard, scattershot approaches to activity. We may find that the activity in which we’re engaged isn’t what Jesus was up to after all. We need action to be the verification of our contemplation, and we need contemplation to keep our action consonant with what Jesus calls us to.

What rhythms of contemplation and action will you seek to cultivate so that you may more readily hear and respond to Jesus’s call? This would be worth discussing with your missional community this week.

Epiphany and Mission

Ethiopian-Magi-Patrick-Comerford

Reflection by Gene Schlesinger, based on of his sermon from Epiphany Sunday (Jan 4, 2014)

Epiphany: The Manifestation of God in the Face of Christ.

Mission: The Manifestation of Christ in the Face of the Neighbor

Epiphany, with the visit of the wise men, culminates the progression begun at Christmas. The magi, pagan/Gentile astronomers/fortune tellers come and worship the God of Israel present in the Christ child. At Christmas, Jesus is born into the world, one of us, God with us. And at Epiphany the purpose of his coming is made manifest. Epiphany is the time of mission. Christ hasn’t come just to be here, he has been sent, sent with a purpose, with a mission.

The original theological sense of mission didn’t refer to what human beings do, but to something God the Trinity does. The Son and the Holy Spirit are sent by the Father. These are the divine missions. Recovering this is important, because it helps us to see that the church’s mission (and the church is by its very nature, missionary [Ad Gentes, no. 2]) is not a human undertaking so much as it is a sharing in the divine missions.

In my homily this week, I noted that in the readings for Epiphany, we see mission motivated by a twofold love: love for God’s Son and love for God’s world. God loves the world, He loves the world, and so he gives them a light, so that they can see, and walk in that light, so that they can be restored to him. He gives them the cure for their darkness, for their despair, for the tragedy of the world. And he loves his Son, so he causes all of his glory and light to shine upon and in Christ.

And I think that it’s basically impossible to disentangle these loves. It’s all the more impossible, now that God’s Son has become a part of God’s world. The Word has been made flesh and dwelt among us. He has filled the human nature with his presence, Gaudium et spes from Vatican II puts it this way, “by his Incarnation the Son of God united himself in some sense with every human being. He laboured with human hands, thought with a human mind, acted with a human will, and loved with a human heart” (no. 22) In the mystery of Christmas, God has made his love for his Son and his love for the world one love, and this is what drives mission.

And our own participation in the mission of God must have this motivation too. A love for God’s Son and a love for God’s world. We love Jesus and so we want to make him known. We want the riches of the nations to come to him. And we love our friends and family and neighbors, so we want them to know Christ and rejoice with the same joy that overwhelmed the magi when they came to Christ.

As I said before, by the Incarnation, God has made these two loves one for himself. By the Incarnation they have been made one for us as well. In 2007, the Latin American Conference of Bishops, meeting in Aparecida, Mexico, spoke of the call for all Christians to be missionary-disciples. Missionary-discipleship is the life that results from the overflow of love that we receive in an encounter with the living Christ (nos. 1, 6, 11, 13).

Going further, though, the bishops remind us of Jesus’s statement in Matthew 25:31-46 that, in the poor, the oppressed, and the marginalized, we encounter him, and then write, “In the face of Jesus Christ, dead and risen, bruised for our sins and glorified by the Father, in this suffering and glorious face, we can see with the eyes of faith the humiliated face of so many men and women of our peoples, and at the same time, their calling to the freedom of the children of God, to the full realization of their personal dignity and to brotherhood among all.”

What this means then, is that our encounter with Christ drives us to go out beyond ourselves so that we can encounter Christ again in our neighbor, especially our poor neighbors. As our own baptismal covenant puts it, we are to “seek and serve Christ in all persons.”

We don’t engage in mission simply because we have something that the world needs (though that’s partially true). God is already at work in the world. We engage in mission because the world has something we need. We engage in mission because, by the Incarnation, we find in the face of our neighbor the face of Christ, and because we want the joy of knowing and loving him more deeply by knowing and loving all people.

The Lord Is With You

I went out on a limb for my homily this week by preaching about Mary, a lot. Now I’m going even further out on the limb and talking about the Rosary. If you’re from a Protestant background you might be uneasy about this method of prayer, but at its heart, it’s a way to meditate on the life of Christ through the eyes of his mother, Mary. Whether you want to pray the Rosary or not, this type of reflection can be quite fruitful. As I prepared my sermon for Sunday, I spent a lot of time reflecting on the joyful mysteries of the Rosary, tracing out two truths, which become true in different ways over the course of those events in Jesus’s life: Gabriel’s announcement to Mary: “The Lord is with you,” and the reality that she is the God-bearer (Theotokos).

The Annunciation:

Gabriel’s greeting comes to Mary: “The Lord is with you.” As she expresses her willingness to be the Mother of God, it becomes true in a new way: now the Lord is not only with her, but within her, in her uterus. She becomes the God-bearer, carrying him with her wherever she goes, hidden within her for nine months.

MaryThe Visitation:

As Mary continues bearing Christ hiddenly, the Lord is with her, taking flesh within her, bones and muscles being knit together. And yet, though he is hidden, she brings joy with her as she visits Elizabeth. At her voice, the baby John the Baptist leaps for joy in his mother’s womb, for he recognizes that within her she carries his Lord. We too should want to bring Christ’s presence with us wherever we go, so that joy is spread. Even if he is hidden within us, we want his effects to be felt!

 

The Nativity:

The Lord is with her, no longer hidden, but visible; held in her arms, nursing at her breasts. She carries him. She gave him life. Now she will teach him to have her own disposition towards God: fiat! Let it be done to me according to your word! He will learn this from his mother, so that, in time, he will merit for her this very disposition. She looks with joy at this stranger, this wonder, with whom she has a most intimate bond, though she meets him now for the first time. She has waited eagerly to see his face. We should learn to long for that too. Though we have not seen him, yet we love him and hope in him. It will be the consummation of our entire existence to look upon this face. Blessed is she who already has, and who knows all too well what it means to wait for him!

The Presentation:

Mary bears Christ back to God: of thine own we give to thee. And because she bears him, Simeon and Anna are able to as well. Our bearing Christ tends to spread. The Lord is with you even as you offer him back to God. This offering will cut deeper than she knows. The sword of sorrow will indeed pierce her own heart as she stands at the foot of the cross…

Finding Jesus in the Temple:

As Mary finds Jesus in the temple, the Lord is with her, but she begins to feel the sword of sorrow’s cut. At the presentation she gave him a way. She taught him to be at the Lord’s disposal. Perhaps now she thinks she has taught him a little too well. He is at his Father’s business: fiat!

What she has lost is restored. Her son is hers. But he is also his own. No longer is he under her control. No longer is he merged with her or dependent on her. Yet still she bears him. Still the Lord is with her.

And here the truth becomes clearer still: he has always been in control. She is Mary full of grace. All she has to offer is the blessed fruit of her womb, Jesus.

She is the moon to his Sun.

So may I be.

So may we all be.

So may the church be.

Fiat!

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Christ Redeemer Anglican Church (meeting at the Holton Youth & Family Center)

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Christ Redeemer Anglican Church (meeting at the Holton Youth & Family Center) 43.074865, -87.904867

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