Archive for April, 2011

A Freedom Meal for Servants

April 22, 2011

Maundy Thursday. If we had to come up with a caption, or a summary, for the events we are commemorating here tonight, it might be “a freedom meal for servants.” That may sound like an oxymoron so let me unpack what I mean.

Most scholars believe that the Last Supper Jesus ate with his disciples was a Passover Seder. They were observant Jews and would have taken special care to celebrate the Passover together every year. Tonight’s reading from Exodus tells us of the origins of that sacred meal: Moses and his people are preparing to pack up and escape the bonds of their slavery in Egypt after a long struggle with Pharaoh and the ruling authorities there.

Just before they go, Moses experiences God telling him to transform an ancient sheep-herder’s spring festival into a new “freedom meal.” The meal was called “pesah” which we usually translate “Passover” because of the story of the angel of death “passing over” the homes of the Jewish people that night. But it more likely means “have compassion on” or “protect.”

Just as God had “compassion on” and “protected” the early, nomadic Hebrew shepherds, now he was to have compassion on and protect the whole people of Israel from the Egyptians’ fury. So, just as in those earlier meals, they slaughter the spring lambs and share the meal among families. But this time, there are some changes to “the liturgy.” They spread the lambs’ blood over their doors to identify the children of Israel, and they eat the meal in haste – with their “loins girded, sandals on their feet, and staffs in their hands” – because their mad dash to freedom was about to begin!

The Jewish people have celebrated that Meal annually from that day until this in accordance with the Lord’s commandment: “This day shall be a day of remembrance for you. You shall celebrate it as a festival to the Lord; throughout your generations you shall observe it as a perpetual ordinance.” (Exodus 12:14)

And it was this that the Psalmist was singing about in tonight’s Psalm: “How shall I repay the Lord for all the good things he has done for me? I will lift up the cup of salvation and call upon the Name of the Lord. I will fulfill my vows to the Lord in the presence of all his people…O Lord, I am your servant and the child of your handmaid; you have freed me from my bonds. I will offer you the sacrifice of thanksgiving…” (Psalm 116 passim)

It was that meal too that Jesus was presiding over when he “changed the liturgy” once again! When he “lifted up the cup of salvation” he said, “This cup is the NEW covenant in MY blood. Do this as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” When he lifted up the unleavened bread and broke it in order to share it with his friends, he said, “This is MY body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” (I Corinthians 11:23-26 passim)

No longer was it the lamb’s blood spread over the doors that spoke of God’s “compassion.” Now, it was Jesus’ blood – the sacrifice of his life – that showed how much he loved them. No longer was it the unblemished lamb that provided spiritual food. Now, it was Jesus’ own Body, which he was prepared to offer for their protection…and for their liberation.

So, the Passover Seder is the freedom meal for the Jews. The Holy Eucharist is the freedom meal for Christians.

But just what kind of Christians are we called to be – we who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb?  Well, “during supper Jesus knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God, got up from the table, took off his outer robe and tied a towel around himself. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet…” (John 13:3-4)

I’ve always thought it so interesting that Christians follow Jesus’ command to “Do this in remembrance of me” every Sunday in countless churches around the world. We follow his example to wash one another’s feet only once a year – if that – on Maundy Thursday. I’m proud of Trinity Cathedral for being willing to share also in this ritual – a tradition of the Church for 2,000 years!

A freedom meal for servants!

St. Paul once wrote, “For freedom Christ has set us free.” (Galatians 5:1). God created us to be free, but we abused that freedom. God led the children of Israel out of slavery into freedom time and time again, but they often abused that freedom as well.

Jesus Christ came with a message of freedom and was prepared to lay down his life rather than compromise that message. But we have often compromised it. What we never seem to “get” is this: Freedom is not doing anything we want to do. That’s “license” not freedom. Real freedom is about “service” – serving God and serving one another.

There is a prayer which I say almost every day in the service of Morning Prayer, and it begins like this; “O God, the author of peace and lover of concord, to know you is eternal life and to serve you is perfect freedom…” If you really want to be free…start serving God.

This is the message of Maundy Thursday. The message Jesus was preparing himself to die for when he broke the Bread, shared the Cup, and washed his disciples’ feet. He knew that knowing God IS eternal life and that serving God is perfect freedom.

For freedom Christ has set us free, dear friends!

Welcome to this “freedom meal…for servants.”

Shine, Jesus, shine!

April 5, 2011

Lent 4A Trinity Cathedral.

Before I begin my remarks this morning, let me say that I was able to spend some time this last week with Bishop Zache Duracin of the Diocese of Haiti while I was at the House of Bishops’ meeting in N.C. I told him of our efforts here, and across this Diocese, to assist in “Rebuilding our Church in Haiti” and he asked me specifically to thank you and to let you know that you are in his prayers…as he remains in ours. So, thank you and if you have not made a contribution in one of our pew envelopes or the glass jar in the Great Hall, I invite you to do so today.

Now to the sermon: Even though we are in the “year of Matthew” in our Sunday lectionary this year, during Lent we have had selections from the Gospel of St. John and we have today the story of the healing of the man born blind – the sixth of Jesus’ seven “signs” or miracles as recorded in this 4th Gospel. There is not time in one sermon (or even one seminary-level class!) to explore all the symbolism in this account of Jesus’ healing of the man born blind.

There is almost nothing in St. John’s Gospel that does not have at least two or three levels of meaning! All the Gospel writers use symbolism, of course, but John was the most intentional about that and you are nearly always reading on a couple of levels at one time. This story is a perfect example. Before the symbolism starts in earnest, however, Jesus once again comes out against a common “theology of the times” which taught that illness and suffering are punishments from God. You still hear that taught sometimes even today. And sometimes, in our weaker moments, when we are suffering we may even think that: “what did I do to deserve this?”

But, as they come across this blind man, Jesus’ disciples ask, “Who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind? Jesus answered, Neither this man nor his parents sinned…” but his blindness can be an occasion for God’s works to be revealed! (John 9:1-3)  In this answer, Jesus doesn’t attempt to address all the issues involved in human suffering. We don’t know why “bad things happen to good people” but we know that it is not punishment for their sins or the sins of the parents!

Bad things happen to good people because the world we live in is not a perfect world. There is a fundamental brokenness or incompleteness in Creation, which is where accidents and disease and seemingly unjust suffering come from. We often say of such things, “It’s not fair.” But unfortunately “fairness” is not a feature of this fallen and broken world – some people are born in poverty, some of us are born in affluence; some people live in the path of tsunamis, others don’t; some people contract vicious and death-dealing illnesses, and some of us don’t. Life is not fair!

We don’t have the answers as to “why.” But we DO know that God’s grace can be powerfully at work in those situations – leading the rich to share with the poor; providing relief efforts after natural disasters; ministering to the sick and suffering and to their families and bringing such as healing into those situations as we can! And that is precisely what Jesus moved to do as he spat on the ground and made mud, spread the mud on the man’s eyes, and ordered him to go and wash in the pool of Siloam. “Then he went and washed,” the text tells us, “and came back able to see.”

Now, to the various levels in this story: The most obvious level is that Jesus was a healer and that, on more than one occasion, he restored sight to the blind. That gave the Apostles, and gives us in today’s Church, our mandate to pray for healing and to exercise a healing ministry such as we are engaged in in this parish.

The second level of symbolism, which could not possibly have been missed by the first readers of John’s Gospel, is that this is a story about Baptism! The Greek word for “spread” as when Jesus “spread” mud on the man’s eyes is the same as the word for “anoint.” In the early Church the baptismal candidates were anointed several times with oil, both before and after they were baptized. Just as King David was anointed with oil by Samuel in today’s Old Testament Lesson and Jesus is called the “anointed one” or “the Christ.” In this story, the man is “anointed,” then “washed” with water, and his eyes were opened!

Right after that, he and his whole family were pursued and harassed by the Pharisees and finally “driven out” of the synagogue. And that was precisely the experience of those early Christians who were reading John’s Gospel for the first time! They had been anointed, baptized, given “new sight” as they were born again in Holy Baptism, and then they – and often their whole families – suffered persecution both at the hands of the Jewish establishment and the Roman government, until finally the separation between synagogue and church became complete sometime early in the second century. They were “driven out.”

And there is yet a third kind of symbolism, which has to do with Jesus bringing light into darkness on every possible level. That is best described by the Epistle to the Ephesians this morning: The author writes, “Once you were darkness, but now in the Lord you are light. Live as children of light – for the fruit of the light is found in all that is good and right and true. Try to find out what is pleasing to the Lord. Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them. For it is shameful even to mention what such people do secretly; but everything exposed by the light becomes visible, for everything that becomes visible is light. Therefore it says, “Sleeper, wake! Rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.” (Ephesians 5:8-14)

It is that profound sense of Jesus bringing light into our dark and fallen world that led Kathleen Thomerson to write the words to one of our most moving contemporary hymns, “I want to walk as a child of the light.” The refrain goes like this, “in him there is no darkness at all; the night and the day are both alike; the Lamb is the light of the city of God; Shine in my heart, Lord Jesus.”

Shine in our hearts indeed, Lord. Shine in our hearts throughout this Lenten season. Shine in our hearts as we walk the Way of the Cross on Good Friday (and in our individual lives). Shine in our hearts as we celebrate the Resurrection on Easter Day. And shine in our hearts on that last Great Day when we shall finally see that “the Lamb is the light of the city of God.”

Shine in our hearts…Lord Jesus!