March 6, 2014 § 1 Comment
Yesterday, I went to church in the afternoon. I usually love Ash
Wednesday–thinking about life and death and preparing for this holy
season–I like the order and ritual of it all. I like nodding to people on the street who are also wearing ashes. But this year, I found myself lost in the privilege of Ash Wednesday. How many are
unable to take the time to go to church in the middle of the week? How many are ill? For whom is the reminder of death all too present, too imminent? Last week, my grandmother died. Yesterday, I held the prayer book she gave me for my 11th birthday in my hands and read psalm 51. The priest had just looked into my eyes and firmly, sternly reminded me, “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” It made me sadder than I had expected–it ushered me into a mourning I had not anticipated.
Today, we begin our journey through the stations of the cross.
Throughout the season of Lent, this blog will offer meditations on
this series of moments at the very end of Jesus’ life as depicted in
parishioner James Middleton’s paintings. So today, I face the outset
of this journey with ashes on my forehead, with mortality at the front
of my mind, with loss present and visceral. The stations of the cross
begin with, “Jesus is condemned to death by Pilate.”
It’s a plot point with which we churchgoers are familiar; we recite it
in the Nicene Creed each week. Still, I couldn’t figure out what I was
looking at in the image–faceless bodies holding spears and a seated
body washing his hands in a stream of water–until I turned to
scripture: “when Pilate saw that he could do nothing, but rather that
a riot was beginning, he took some water and washed his hands before
the crowd.” (Matthew 27:24) The deaths we begin with are complicated;
the mortality we remember at the beginning of this season of Lent is
not simple. Even a ritual as small and seemingly innocuous as washing
hands–what our priests do before every Eucharist–is called into
question as we start Lent.
It is a reminder that we are all called to death, and we are all
called to life. The two go hand in hand, just as the water that washes
us pours through our fingers. And in this liturgical season, the
miracle is that life comes after death. This is why we celebrate Holy
Communion after our imposition of ashes; this is why we can forge
through these 40 days with the promise of Easter on the horizon. As we
begin our journey through Jesus’ stations, may we marvel at the
incomprehensible promise of life which will come out of death.
– Julia Stroud
December 17, 2012 Comments Off on From the Altar Guild: The Symbolism of the Cope in the Advent Blue Set Week III
So now it’s the third Sunday of Advent the Sunday called Gaudete (Rejoice), as the Lord’s arrival is near. The Church wears rose-colored vestments as a sign of the joy we feel anticipating the birth of the Savior which is to come very soon. At St Luke’s, we wear what we have of a rose set (a chasuble, pulpit fall, burse, veil and our priests wear rose stoles). We also have rose-colored flowers today in the sanctuary.
In our exploration of the symbols on our Advent cope, we are up to the T for St Thomas whose feast day is December 21st and the sun for the remembrance of the Dayspring on December 22nd. .
December 21 – St. Thomas the Apostle – O THOMAS DIDIME
O Thomas Didymus, through Christ who suffered you to touch him, we entreat, you by your prayers for us on high, to aid us in our miseries, lest we be doomed with the lost when the judge appears.
December 21st is the traditional day of the martyrdom of the apostle. Sacred tradition says that Thomas was martyred in Mylapore, India having a spear thrust through him. The Mar Thoma Church of India is the legacy of the ministry of St Thomas. There is a Mar Thoma congregation in New York who used to meet on Sundays afternoon in the undercroft of Church of the Intercession uptown. I was there once as part of a Churches of New York Architecture Tour just after the Mar Toma congregation finished worship and, boy, could they could teach St Luke’s something about the use of incense. It was so smoky and they had finished the service almost 30 minutes before I was there and the undercroft certainly had an aura of sanctity.
I always find it a bit jarring to be thinking of Thomas, who has such a large a role in the Easter narratives, so close to Christmas. I don’t ever remember anyone named Thomas in any of the Christmas stories I have ever read. You know that the doubting Thomas story is the Gospel for the Sunday after Easter every year. Then again, the Thomas story is focused so much on the physicality of the Risen Jesus, when Jesus invites Thomas to reach in and feel his wounds, that it makes such perfect sense, as we get ready to celebrate the mystery of the Word-made-flesh remembering Thomas’ shining hour. Thomas is our reminder that the babe in Bethlehem grows up to be the Risen Jesus in the upper room who is my Lord and my God for us all.
December 22 – O ORIENS
O Dayspring, brightness of light everlasting and sun of righteousness: come and enlighten him who sits in darkness, and the shadow of death.
Dayspring is not a word that we use in everyday speech. I had to look up exactly what dayspring means. It is the time before the dawn when the horizon can be seen and perhaps the outline of some objects. In the liturgical life of the Church, it is the hour of Prime, the first prayers of the day. It is very early in the day and it can be a magical time when the light overtakes the darkness, the rising sun is anticipated well before it is actually seen or the heat of its rays are felt. It is a time of great possibilities, the day has just begun and anything is possible. This brings to my mind the passages from the Gospels that tell of the first Easter Day “after the Sabbath, as the first day of the week was dawning” when the women went to the tomb of Jesus. So, once again, so close to Christmas I have Easter on my mind. I always think of Christmas as the miracle in the middle of the night while Easter is the miracle of the dawn.
Last week I told you one of the secrets of the sacristy that we have a purple low mass set for Advent. I remember many years ago the designer and creator of the set, Graham French, telling me that the set was meant for both Advent and Lent since it was purple with silver trim and so was a penitential set since it had no gold.
Next week we will hear about the last two symbols of the Advent cope.
December 15, 2012 Comments Off on Advent Quote: Dietrich Bonhoeffer
December 14, 2012 Comments Off on Scripture Reflection — Luke 3:7-18: If Today You Hear God’s Voice, Harden Not Your Heart
Our Gospel Lesson for Sunday Advent 3 is Luke 3:7-18, the old chestnut of John the Baptist addressing the “crowds that came out to be Baptized”.
I have a confession: people specifically, the unwashed public up close in crowds, repel me. In March I began a job working in what I refer to as Tourist Zone 2, in the shadow of the Tiffany star at 57th and 5th, just south of Central Park South and The Plahza. Having to maneouver my way through “children laughing and people passing meeting smile after smile” while I’m trying to get from my crowded train, around two construction sites, the Apple Store and lines of rickshaws on the way to my office every morning is an object lesson in prayerful meditation during my Advent practice. I do love people in general, however, and what fascinates me most about them in the abstract is what they pray about and what they pray for, and what they think about and what they say out loud.
An hilarious thing to me in this vein is when I used to watch one of my girlfriends at my old job go COMPLETELY berserk because she would ritually give work to one particular department at the firm and they would ritually COMPLETELY mess the project up requiring her to do the whole project all over again herself. You would think after a couple of times, let alone every time for my eleven years with her, it would cease to be a surprise and become an expected behavior, yet each and every time she would become exasperated all over again in new and exciting ways, together with tried and true rants, about that department’s incompetence.
I do it myself, especially with my weight gain over the last 11 years. I keep saying, I’m so fat, I’m so out of shape, I need to lose this weight, one of these days … Backstory: I was in a miserable job, I ate and drank my feelings and now, 60 pounds overweight, I keep saying, UCH ! I’ve GOT to get this weight off … then I think, but it’s Easter, just these few chocolates; oh, it’s Halloween, my yearly Snickers bar (and not many kids came by this year so what am I supposed to do with these leftover Hershey miniatures); dear, here we are at Advent again, I have to make my sister-in-law her favourite holiday cookies. I balance my exercise routine with the substantiation that we live in New York and I walk miles every day, so I must be healthy, plus we don’t have enough money to join a gym; the Ashram is so inconvenient to practice daily … like I can’t practice yoga on my own floor at home, as if I don’t have free On Demand exercise channels, can you imagine MAKING the cookies but not waking up in the middle of the night and have SEVERal, rationalizing it by pretending I have a sleep-eating disorder. Oh, and then there is the daily free leftover catering at work, like I seriously need a brownie and an extra sandwich just because they’re free and have no calories (but I don’t eat the bread, so that’s healthy). As Ethel Roberta Louise Mae Potter Mertz used to say in an exasperated tone, “Honestly, Lucy”.
I’m (obviously) no scholar, but I was learned [sic] that between the writing of 4th Maccabees (≈19 B.C.E.) and when we presume John began his ministry of baptism (≈26 Anno Domini), the countryside was bursting at the seams with Messiahs. Everyone was looking for Him and it seemed there was one on every corner, so John by the Jordan River was not as much an oddity as we might think. What gave him distinction, however, was a new message: repentance. Metavnoia, μετάνοια, a change of mind, the act of heartily amending with abhorrence one’s past . The system of Jewish ritual since it was handed down from God by Moses afforded propitiation of one’s wrong-doings through ritual sacrifice and the assurance of no guilt from wrong-doings by adherence to these rituals. No concept of remorse, no practice of inner reflection, no sense of personal responsibility for the wrong-doing, just the clearance of the balance sheet through performance of a ritual. John came to announce a new path.
We pronounce the Confiteor during Eucharist and at least twice each day, at morning and at evening prayer, and the words flow so easily from our lips, just like the Lord’s Prayer, but do we mean them? Do we realize what we are saying? Do we examine our hearts and make amends and attempt repentance, a turning away? I’ll tell ya, it would be easier for me to give up one of my two cloaks to a stranger in need sometimes than it is for me to let go of the resentment I feel from an offense I perceive from someone, or to abandon some judgment which brings my heart to hatred for someone, seldom realizing that I must be guilty of the same thing I despise in them or else I wouldn’t know how to recognize it. We are guided by John in our Gospel Lesson to make straight our paths, to prepare the way for the Lord and to lay the foundation of reasonable and just behavior, guiding us to await in joyful anticipation the cleansing fire with which Jesus will baptize us.
“As the people were filled with expectation…” In my very humble opinion, I find The Revised Common Lectionary a bit clumsy this time of year, as it requires us to be very nimble bobbing from nativity narratives to Jesus’ early ministry, a visit with Doubting Thomas and our risen Lord with a side trip to the fiery fields of Armageddon before we dock with shepherds watching their flocks by night. I buoy myself during the season of anticipation by remembering that we’re not just waiting for this grown-up Messiah, or for the return of the Christós; we’re also waiting for the birth of a little baby.
Know what happens when a little baby comes in to your life? I’ve heard stories! Time evaporates. You need to be prepared well beforehand with a cozy sleeping space, food and clothes, toiletries and toys … there’s no time to collect them after baby’s arrival and there certainly is no time for selfish and petty little problems like lack of sleep or the inconvenience of a diaper change or food preparation… the baby needs to be attended to constantly and you need to be in top mental and physical condition or you’ll collapse. (Actually, I’ve also heard stories that no matter how tip top shape you’re in you’re NEVER ready for the first few months of a newborn’s needs.)
It’s all well and good to be bored and wander out to the shores of the Jordan to have an afternoon’s entertainment observing the funny-looking John shouting about the coming of the Lord, but what happens if you listen but you don’t hear. Are they accountable for the content of the sermon? It’s all very lovely to tell people I go to church all the time, but that doesn’t mean I’m paying attention to anything that’s being said and it certainly doesn’tmean I process or practice the words I proclaim during the service. Am I required to act accordingly throughout the week? As Joyce Meyer says, “I can sit in a garage all I want, but that doesn’t make me a car.”
Advent calls us to a season of clarity, expectation, renewal and new birth … not just a season to sing pretty songs and hear pretty stories but a season of preparation, readiness. A chance to cast off our own chaff and blossom as mature grains of wheat to be gathered in to God’s granary lest we be consumed by unquenchable fire, ingesting this call to excellence and heeding the exhortation that we should not rely on the devotions and practices of our past, but be revitalized by a renewed and passionate present so that we are worthy to greet the coming of our Savior, whether his first arrival or his second. Not just to hear John proclaiming the Gospel that whatever I have is so bountiful and sufficient that, if I give some away, grace and bounty will be mine. As he tells the soldiers, I should be satisfied with exactly the blessings I have. And as I tell myself, concentrating on being overweight is not going to lose me weight and “one day I’ll get to that” doesn’t get me fit. Watching my intake, planning and attending to my practice, and steadfast diligence is the key to my success. Isn’t that true for almost everything in life at which we wish to excel?
December 13, 2012 § 1 Comment
We have tested and tasted too much, lover-
Through a chink too wide there comes in no wonder.
But here in the Advent-darkened room
Where the dry black bread and the sugarless tea
Of penance will charm back the luxury
Of a child’s soul, we’ll return to Doom
The knowledge we stole but could not use.
And the newness that was in every stale thing
When we looked at it as children: the spirit-shocking
Wonder in a black slanting Ulster hill
Or the prophetic astonishment in the tedious talking
Of an old fool will awake for us and bring
You and me to the yard gate to watch the whins
And the bog-holes, cart-tracks, old stables where Time begins.
O after Christmas we’ll have no need to go searching
For the difference that sets an old phrase burning-
We’ll hear it in the whispered argument of a churning
Or in the streets where the village boys are lurching.
And we’ll hear it among decent men too
Who barrow dung in gardens under trees,
Wherever life pours ordinary plenty.
Won’t we be rich, my love and I, and
God we shall not ask for reason’s payment,
The why of heart-breaking strangeness in dreeping hedges
Nor analyse God’s breath in common statement.
We have thrown into the dust-bin the clay-minted wages
Of pleasure, knowledge and the conscious hour-
And Christ comes with a January flower.
A friend once told me that it’s the waiting while you wait that gets you. And with the waiting, in between the impatience and the silent peace in the pause of slow-paced truth, is the longing. The longing for things hoped for, for hope to pierce through the doubt, for a cup of kindness yet.
In Patrick Kavanagh’s poem, he longs for “the luxury of a child’s soul” in the midst of Advent, hoping that the penitential rites, formerly associated with Advent in Roman Catholic Ireland, can cleanse out that which has been “tested and tasted too much”. Kavanagh draws us into the disconnect between new wonder and experienced apathy, apathy won through the “knowledge we stole but could not use. While he waits, he longs for the “spirit-shocking wonder” found in the “ordinary plenty”, and he vows not to “analyse God’s breath in common statement.” He desires to put aside knowledge and the material pleasures for the fulfillment of his Advent longing, which is in the coming of Christ.
December can be jingle-bell trite with slick Christmas pop songs about love, if only we can approach the critical purchasing mass. Kavanagh reminds us, however, that in the bleary-eyed midst of emptiness comes grace, grace which did not enter with blaring trumpets or loud cheers or probably even angels singing on high. God became human, like us, not in the midst of the sentiment of that there is “no place like home for the holidays”, but precisely in realities of rootlessness, poverty, social stigma, and of shame. Curious choice for an all-powerful, all-knowing God – and yet therein lies the strength, the grace in the broken cry of an infant. We begin to realize why “God we shall not ask for reason’s payment”, because this God who lowers himself in poverty and shame does so that we may be raised to newness, to “prophetic astonishment”, and to the love which is as simple yet powerful as the assent of that January flower.
December 12, 2012 Comments Off on Advent Hymns
The tune Merton, “Hark a Thrilling Voice is Sounding” (#59) is my very favorite tune in our current hymnal, with Bach’s harmonization of Wachet auf ! “Sleepers Wake!” (#61) a close second. What is it exactly about the Advent hymns that many of us regular church goers find so uplifting? Is it simply the music? Or is it the texts that inspire us so? Charles Wesley’s “Lo he comes with clouds descending” is especially pithy, theologically. Or it is a particularly felicitous match of text and music? Each of these aspects adds to the uniqueness of Advent hymnody. And since we only sing most of these hymns during the four weeks of Advent there are all of the seasonal associations that heighten the emotional impact of these hymns.
But when we strip away these sentiments, what we actually have in early Advent are some uneasy texts about universal change. The Second Coming of Christ is good news but also devastating because it heralds the destruction and reformation of all earthly things. I try to remind myself, as I sing along to these early Advent tunes, that Christ in glory and triumph is not manageable or comfortable but the opposite. More like Hurricane Sandy than Anglican worship. More like global warming than Advent Lessons and Carols. So my resolution this Advent is to pay closer attention to the texts while I am singing them, and not to be so absorbed by the soaring melodies and descants of the hymnody that I lose the plot.
– The Rev. Caroline M. Stacey, Rector