Archive for March, 2007

Don’t Be In The Wrong Palm Sunday Procession!

March 31, 2007

“We begin with Palm Sunday. Two processions entered Jerusalem at the beginning of the week of Passover, a tinderbox time in the city, with the Jewish people celebrating divine deliverance from the past Egyptian Empire while under the present Roman Empire. Two very large and very lethal riots took place precisely at Passover in the generations before and after (the year) 30 CE.

And so, at each Passover, the Roman governor — Pilate in the time of Jesus — rode up to Jerusalem from the imperial capital Caesarea on the coast at the head of a cohort of imperial cavalry and troops to reinforce the Roman garrison in Jerusalem as a deterrent against and preparation for any possible trouble. Pilate’s procession, arriving from the west, symbolized and actualized Roman imperial power.

Jesus entered the city from the east in another procession, a counterprocession. Whereas Pilate rode into the city on a war horse, Jesus entered on a donkey. Mark makes it clear that Jesus planned it in advance: he tells his disciples to go into a village to get a donkey and says, ‘If anyone says to you, Why are you doing this? just say this, the Lord needs it and will send it back here immediately.’

Implicitly in Mark 11:1-11 and explicitely in Matthew 21:4-5, the symbolism makes use of Zechariah 9:9-10, which speaks of a king of peace on a donkey who will banish the war horse and the battle bow from the land.

The contrast is clear: Jesus versus Pilate, the non-violence of the kingdom of God versus the violence of empire. Two arrivals, two entrances, two processions — and our Christian Lent is about repentance for being in the wrong one and preparation to abandon it for its alternative.” (“Collision Course,” Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan, “The Christian Century,” March 20, 2007)

An Irrevocable Covenant?

March 29, 2007

Ever since St. Paul struggled with conflicted feelings about his own “kindred” (see Romans 9-11) Christians have wrestled with our relationship with the Jewish people. From the sad history of Christian anti-Semitism to improved relations after World War II and especially after Vatican II, right on down to present-day disagreements (or at least tensions) about the situation in Israel-Palestine, it has never been easy.

While Anglicans have never been quite as clear as our Roman Catholic colleagues (for example, in the Vatican II document “Nostra Aetate”) about God’s irrevocable covenant with the Jews, a recent joint declaration by the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Chief Rabbis of Israel comes close when it says, of the relationship between Jews and Christians:

“Our relationship is unique, not only historically and culturally but also scripturally, and for both religions, is rooted in the one overarching covenant of God with Abraham to which God remains faithful through all time.” As far as interfaith dialogue is concerned, “Neither evangelism nor conversion has a place amongst the purpose of the dialogue and we emphasize the importance of respect for each other’s faith and of rejecting actions intended to undermine the integrity of the other.”

For myself, I believe that God’s covenant with the Jewish people is irrevocable and that we Christians are best understood as “…a wild olive shoot grafted in their place to share the rich root of the olive tree.” (Romans 11:17). We are not to “boast over the branches” but to “remember that it is not you who support the root, but the root that supports you.” 


Much To Say; Much To Condemn

March 27, 2007

Today we remember Charles Henry Brent in our church calendar. He was our first missionary bishop in the Philippines and later Bishop of Western New York.

In an earlier post (“When truth stumbles in the public square”) I shared my concern about the “extra judicial” killings going on these days in the Philippines. The retired “Obispo Maximo” (presiding bishop) of our full communion partner, Iglesia Filipina Independiente (the Philippine Independent Church) — with whom I spent several days in Manila just over a year ago — was murdered in his convent retirement quarters not long ago.  

In today’s Gospel for Tuesday in the Fifth Week of Lent, Jesus says, “I have much to say about you and much to condemn; but the one who sent me is true, and I declare to the world what I have heard from him.” (John 8:26)

Surely, our sisters and brothers in the Philippines also have “much to say…and much to condemn.” The One who sent them to us “is true.” And they are “declaring to the world” what they heard and seen.

With them in mind, may we offer today a Lenten prayer written by Bishop Brent, one we pray every Friday in our Prayer Book: “Lord Jesus Christ, you stretched out your arms of love on the hard wood of the cross that everyone might come within the reach of your saving embrace: So clothe us in your Spirit that we, reaching forth our hands in love, may bring those who do not know you to the knowledge and love of you; for the honor of your Name.” Amen  

Where True Joys Are To Be Found

March 25, 2007

The Sunday “Collects” of the Book of Common Prayer (weekly prayers which “collect” the aspirations of the day) are often nearly as rich as the lessons from Scripture appointed for a given day. They are products of centuries of devotion and meditation. Today’s is Thomas Cranmer’s adaptation of an Easter prayer from the Gelasian sacramentary:

“Almighty God, you alone can bring into order the unruly wills and affections of sinners: Grant your people grace to love what you command and desire what you promise; that, among the swift and varied changes of the world, our hearts may surely there be fixed where true joys are to be found; through Jesus Christ our Lord…”

First, we acknowledge that it is only by the power of God that our sinful ways can be tamed. But how does God do that? By crushing our “unruly wills?” By condemning us for our sometimes sinful “affections?” No…by granting us “grace.”

By assuring us of his unmerited favor toward us — in all times and in all places — God gradually transfigures those “wills and affections” until we come actually to love what God commands and to desire what God has promised us! In other words, instead of seeing the commandments as impossible standards of behavior, an awareness of the love and mercy and the true nature of God finally makes it possible for us to love what God loves and to desire what he wants for us!

As that begins to happen, we find ourselves increasingly untroubled by the confusing and complex times in which we live, both in the world and in the church. In fact, our “hearts” (the center of our human personalities) more and more find their rest in God alone — that solid and unchangeable Source of all that is.

That Source is surely “where true joys are to be found!”           

He Comes As Yet Unknown

March 23, 2007

Friday in the Fourth Week of Lent  (Wisdom 2: 1a, 12-24; Psalm 34:15-22; John 7:1-2, 10, 25-30)

For millennia believers who share the faith of Abraham in the one God have tried to describe their ideal Prophet, the One they have hoped for and looked forward to, and looked up to as an exemplar.


The Psalmist describes him this way: “Many are the troubles of the righteous, but the Lord will deliver him out of them all.  He will keep safe all his bones; not one of them shall be broken…the Lord ransoms the life of his servants, and none will be punished who trust in him.”  

Decades before Jesus was born, the author of the Wisdom of Solomon describes how “the ungodly” might view such a person: “Let us lie in wait for the righteous man, because he is inconvenient to us and opposes our actions…He professes to have knowledge of God, and calls himself a child of the Lord…he calls the last end of the righteous happy, and boasts that God is his father. Let us see if his words are true, and let us test what will happen at the end of his life…”

And, during Jesus’ lifetime, some of the people of Jerusalem said about him, “Is not this the man whom they are trying to kill? And here he is, speaking openly, but they say nothing to him! Can it be that the authorities really know that this is the Messiah?”

Here is how a contemporary of ours tries to describe him: “He comes as yet unknown into a hamlet of Lower Galilee. He is watched by the cold, hard eyes of peasants living long enough at the subsistence level to know exactly where the line is drawn between poverty and destitution. He looks like a beggar yet his eyes lack the proper cringe, his voice the proper whine, his walk the proper shuffle.

He speaks about the rule of God and they listen as much from curiosity as anything else. They know all about rule and power, about kingdom and empire, but they know it in terms of tax and debt, malnutrition and sickness, agrarian oppression and demonic possession.

What, they really want to know, can this Kingdom of God do for a lame child, a blind parent, a demented soul screaming its tortured isolation among the graves that mark the village fringes? Jesus walks among the tombs and, in the silence after the exorcism, the villagers listen once more, but now with curiosity giving way to cupidity, fear, and embarrassment.

He is invited, as honor demands, to the home of the village leader. He goes, instead, to stay in the home of the dispossessed woman. Not quite proper, to be sure, but it would be unwise to censure an exorcist, to criticize a magician… But the next day he leaves them and now they wonder aloud about a divine Kingdom with no respect for proper protocols, a Kingdom, as he had said, not just for the poor like themselves, but for the destitute.

Others say that the worst and most powerful demons are not found in small villages but in certain cities. Maybe, they say, that was where the exorcised demon went, to Sepphoris or Tiberias, or even Jerusalem, or maybe to Rome itself where its arrival would hardly be noticed amidst so many others already in residence. But some say nothing at all and ponder the possibility of catching up with Jesus before he gets too far.” (The Essential Jesus by John Dominic Crossan, page11)

Well, we may never catch up with Jesus. He is always way ahead of us! We may, each of us, describe him in somewhat different ways. But, as we approach this Table, we will all receive him in his fullness, as he truly is. And we can all pray to him in this Lenten season in these words:

“Lord Jesus Christ, you stretched out your arms of love on the hard wood of the cross that everyone might come within the reach of your saving embrace: So clothe us in your Spirit that we, reaching forth our hands in love, may bring those who do not know you to the knowledge and love of you; for the honor of your Name.” Amen.  


What The Bishops Didn’t Do

March 22, 2007

There seems to be a good bit of reaction already to statements and decisions coming out of our recently completed House of Bishops meeting. A summary of those actions can be found in prior posts…and on through the releases over Episcopal News Service.

What we did NOT do was to foreclose discussion on the Episcopal Church’s response to the main requests of the Primates’ Communique. We have not “ruled” on whether or not to reassure the Primates that General Convention meant what it said when it asked us and our Standing Committees not to give consent to any bishop-elect whose manner of life might prove of concern to the wider Anglican Communion and to clarify for them the status of the blessing of same-sex relationships in this church.

That is not our decision alone,  and the Executive Council has already set into motion a study and consultation process which will continue through the summer. Similarly, the House of Bishops Theology Committee is at work on a study document to assist in this process.

As to the proposed “Pastoral Council” and its relationship to any “Primatial Vicar” the Presiding Bishop might appoint, we believe it is unconstitutional, uncanonical, and of potentially great threat to the Episcopal Church. We have said so and urged Executive Council (our highest legislative body between General Convention) to decline to participate in it.

We had to make our mind known on this because the appointment process to the proposed “Pastoral Council” is already underway and our Presiding Bishop needed some kind of guidance as to whether or not to appoint the minority of members the Episcopal Church is supposed to provide to this novel and quite unnecessary proposed body.

What the Episcopal Church’s bishops did not do is claim some kind of prelacy like the Primates have done, and to act in a high handed manner not permissable under the polity of either the Episcopal Church or the Anglican Communion.  

Self Differentiation and Communion

March 21, 2007

I have rarely been prouder to be a part of the Episcopal Church’s House of Bishops than I was today. With care and sensitivity to one another, we found a way to be clear and self-differentiated as a House, provide leadership and yet seek consultation with the wider Church — clergy and laity — and re-affirm our desire to remain part of the Anglican communion: as an autonomous, yet interdependent reality.

We passed three resolutions:

1. Resolving that we wish to remain part of the Anglican Communion, but expressing our opinion that the proposed “pastoral scheme” of the Dar es Salaam Communique would be injurious to the Episcopal Church and urging the Executive Council to decline to participate in it, while pledging to continue to work to find ways of meeting the pastoral concerns of the Primates that are compatible with our own polity and canons.

2. We invited the Archbishop of Canterbury and the members of the Primates’ Standing Committee to meet with us at our expense for three days of prayer and conversation regarding these important matters.

3. And we passed a three-page Communication to the Episcopal Church from the House of Bishops summarizing our hopes and aspirations about the Communion, recounting what we have already done as a Church to meet the concerns of the Communion and what we will not do, and pledging ourselves to certain actions in the future.

The debates and decisions were carried out without rancor and by strong majorities. If anyone has any doubts about where the bishops of this Church stand, the communication you will see in the next several days should make that clear. In the words of the Communication’s concluding paragraph:

“With this affirmation both of our identity as a Church and our affection and commitment to the Anglican Communion, we find new hope that we can turn our attention to the essence of Christ’s own mission in the world, to bring good news to the poor, to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to liberate the oppressed, and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor (Lk. 4:18-19). It is to that mission that we now determinedly turn.” 


What I Told The Primates

March 20, 2007

Today, at our House of Bishops’ meeting, we had presentations from Dr. Ephraim Radner and Dr. Kathy Grieb — two members of the Covenant Drafting Committee — about the possibility of developing an Anglican Covenant which might serve to bind us together more fully as a global communion. The three bishops who accompanied our Presiding Bishop to the Primates’ meeting in Tanzania were asked to share our remarks with the House. I share them also with you. On Feb. 14th, I said:   


 My dear sister and brothers: First of all, it will not surprise you that I have a different view of the Episcopal Church than my brothers who have just spoken. As ecumenical officer, I travel all across the United States and I do not recognize the church they describe. I find Episcopalians generally more orthodox and less divided that what you have just heard.

However, I assume that the main reason I have been invited into this conversation is to share my perspective as Deputy for Ecumenical and Interfaith Relations for the Episcopal Church, given our current difficulties in the Anglican Communion. Obviously, the presenting issues of homosexuality and the ordination and blessing of homosexual persons and their relationships are of deep concern to our ecumenical and interfaith partners.

In the United States, and elsewhere in the Communion, these are vexing issues and our partners are in different places with respect to these issues. Most notably, some of the Old Catholic churches in Europe and some of the churches of the Reformed tradition, in the
US and elsewhere, permit such ordination and blessing. Obviously, the Roman Catholic and
Orthodox Churches, and others, do not. Two of the three branches of Judaism, the Reformed and Conservative traditions in America, similarly allow for such ordinations and blessings. The Orthodox Jews do not!

However, I must say, in all humility but with complete honesty, that – at least in the States – we have been treated with more charity by our ecumenical and interfaith partners than we have by some in our own Anglican Communion! No national dialogues have been terminated, or even missed a beat, because of our current difficulties. The only church which has officially broken off dialogue with the Episcopal Church is the Russian Orthodox Church and – if I may say – even the Vatican has difficulty sustaining that relationship!

Every bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in American – a church with which we are in full communion – will receive Communion from every bishop in the Episcopal Church – and the priests and deacons they have ordained!  The Anglican – Roman Catholic dialogue in the
US has never missed a meeting and reports of the Lambeth Commission and the Windsor Report have provided rich input for our discussions on “The Gift of Authority” and the balance between the local and universal exercise of authority in the Church.

I just returned last week from Washington and the National Workshop on Christian Unity. Nearly 400 participants engaged in common worship and seminars on a variety of topics. Fr. Paul McPartlan, an English Roman Catholic scholar, and I co-presented to a packed house on the new document, “Growing Together in Unity and Mission,” from the International Anglican Roman Catholic Commission on Unity and Mission. And the issues with which we are concerned here were not avoided! They were faced squarely, but put into the context of 40 years of advances and convergences between Anglicans and Roman Catholics. If that context is important, how much more must be our own history together as Anglicans – which is much longer!

I do not wish to minimize the difficulties we face in some of these conversations! But I believe I can honestly say that the greatest concern of our ecumenical partners is the potential “deconstruction” of the Anglican Communion! Many, though not all, of our partners deal with us, first and foremost, as a global Communion…and only derivatively as a “national church.”

Many of them are very interested in the development of an Anglican Covenant. I am often asked – by Episcopalians and others – whether we have learned anything in the ecumenical movement which can be helpful in our current difficulties as Anglicans. And I often point to ecumenical agreements as models of “covenantal relationships” that have served us well over time. Whether it is the Bonn Agreement with the Old Catholics, the Concordat with the Iglesia Filipina Independiente, or “Called to Common Mission” with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in
America – these are very fruitful for both unity and mission.

Indeed, in the development of such covenants each partner learns more about the other, time is taken to get it right, and then solemn agreements are reached. Of course, there is a variety of opinions across the Communion about the contents, or even viability, of such an Anglican Covenant, but I think I can say without exception that our ecumenical partners want us to give it a try!    

Of course, I have to point out that – at least in ecumenical and interfaith dialogue – both partners want to be at the table! In ecumenical conversations, we are not willing to place the best of our tradition against the worst of another – because we have learned how destructive that can be for dialogue and eventual communion! In ecumenical dialogue, we have learned to honor difference and to look for common ground where it can be found. In the ecumenical movement, we have learned to respect one another and to assume that – even in disagreement – both partners are seeking to be faithful to God in their own context. Never in ecumenical conversations do we describe ourselves (as we have heard here) as being of “two faiths.” We share one Christian faith!

That does not mean “papering over” genuine disagreement! But it does mean staying together while we each learn from the other. I hope that a similar commitment can emerge among us. I know that is what the Episcopal Church wants.

(This statement also appears in the March 25, 2007 edition of The Living Church magazine)

Sunday Eucharist at “the House”

March 18, 2007

At our weeklong meetings of the House of Bishops we normally try to honor the Lord’s Day, the Christian “sabbath” by a day of rest. We celebrated the Eucharist together at 10 a.m., had brunch, and have the afternoon off before gathering this evening for an informal “fireside chat” with our Presiding Bishop, Katharine Jefferts Schori.

Katharine presided at the Eucharist and we heard a fine sermon on the Parable of the Prodigal Son by one of our chaplains, the Canon Precentor of Washington’s National Cathedral. I was most moved, however, by the words of the Offertory hymn, sung responsorially with the volunteer “bishops’ choir” made up of bishops who enjoy singing together at these meetings.

The refrain is based on the words of Archbishop Helder Camara, retired as the Roman Catholic prelate of Olinda and Recife, which was a favorite of our former Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold, “My door, my heart, must be open to everyone, absolutely everyone.” And from a line of an ancient Celtic Rune of Hospitality, “Often goes Love in the stranger’s guise.” So we sang:

“Open, open, open my heart.  I must be open to everyone. Often goes Love in the stanger’s guise. Open, open my heart.”

And the verses were no less powerful:

“You are the peace of all things calm; You are the place to hide from harm; You are the light that shines in dark; You are the heart’s eternal spark.

You are the caller, You are the poor; You are the stanger at my door; You are the wanderer, The unfed; You are the homeless with no bed.

You are the one driven insane; You are the child crying in pain; You are the other who comes to me; If I open to another you’re born in me.

You are the door that’s open wide; You are the guest who waits inside; You are the light, the truth, the way; You are my Savior this very day.”  

Open, open, open our hearts; we must be open to everyone. Often goes Love in the stranger’s guise; open, open our hearts!


2007 House of Bishops Spring Meeting

March 15, 2007

The prayer which “collects” our thoughts on this Thursday in the 3rd Week of Lent reads: “Keep watch over your Church, O Lord, with your unfailing love; and, since it is grounded in human weakness and cannot maintain itself without your aid, protect it from all danger, and keep it in the way of salvation; through Jesus Christ our Lord…”

A most appropriate prayer for members of the Episcopal Church’s House of Bishops to pray as we prepare for our March 16-21 meeting at Camp Allen near Houston, Texas. This will be our first time to consider together the results of the recent Primates’ meeting in Dar Es Salaam among other matters.

The agenda includes reflections on the Communique from the Primates, on a method for developing a paper to be used by bishops and deputies for diocesan conversations by August 2007, on the theological reasons for our interest in the Millenium Development Goals, observations on a draft “Covenant” for the Anglican Communion, and various other topics from Iraq to the Gulf Coast.

Don’t expect any dramatic announcments after this meeting. Expect a process which will involve the whole church between now and September 30.  

Our days will be framed by Daily Morning Prayer and Bible study, a noon Eucharist, and Evening Prayer. We covet your prayers,  joined with ours for our time together!