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Ascension Day – Thursday, May 21, 2020

Hello Friends,

Find here a recording of our Ascension Day service with the Church of the Epiphany. Scroll down to read the text of my sermon. Thank you for watching, and thank you for being a part of this special service.

Taylor+

Luke 24:44-53

Jesus said to his disciples, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you– that everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled.” Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, and he said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. And see, I am sending upon you what my Father promised; so stay here in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.”

Then he led them out as far as Bethany, and, lifting up his hands, he blessed them. While he was blessing them, he withdrew from them and was carried up into heaven. And they worshiped him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy; and they were continually in the temple blessing God.

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable to you, O God, our strength and our redeemer. Amen. 

We’re gathered together on this Thursday of the Ascension to celebrate, well, Jesus’s ascension into heaven to sit “at the right and of the father.”

I want to offer just a very short reflection here about the meaning of this feast: why we celebrate it when we do and what celebrating it might mean for us – or at least help us to think about.

Though the Ascension is named and recognizes in both of our creeds, the Apostle’s Creed, which we’ve been saying throughout the time we’ve been observing Morning and Evening Prayer, and the Nicene Creed, which we typically say in our services of Holy Eucharist, its proximity to the fact that it falls on a Thursday, and its proximity to Pentecost means we don’t always pay a lot of attention to it, at least not on the “day of” – this Thursday, exactly forty days since Easter Sunday.

In chatting about the readings assigned for this day [Kathy] noted how often a period of 40 days (and 40 nights) comes up. And indeed, in the Hebrew scriptures 40 days or years is often the length of a time of probation, or in-between-ness, liminality. The Israelites wander the desert for 40 years. Noah and his family endure 40 days and 40 nights of rainfall. The prophet Ezekiel spends 40 days lying on his right side. Moses, Elijah, and later Jesus fast for 40 days – which also coincides with the 40 day season of Lent. And, as we know, today, according to Luke (who wrote Acts, as well as the Gospel of Luke), marks the end of the 40 days period Jesus remains with his disciples after his resurrection before ascending into heaven.

This consideration of the holy number 40, particularly with its relationship to times to liminality and transition, also brings up the very interesting question of how we, in our modern age, measure important spans of time. Specifically, how do we, in 2020, demarcate our own periods of transition or change?

We are living in a moment in history that has done strange things to our sense of the passage of time. Forty days ago, April 12, we were gathered for Easter. In some ways, it feels like decades have passed since then. But in other ways, Easter feels like just yesterday.

The sameness of our days–those of us lucky enough to be able to work from home–paired with the constant stream of distressing news taking place just outside our door, creates an odd disjunct: a new relationship to time that has a little bit in common with the way members of contemplative monastic communities live.

Members of the Carthusian order, for instance, commit themselves to a pattern of life that includes almost complete seclusion from the outside world. Time is marked through the Daily Office. They use their voices only in prayer and singing. Through this intense repetition, they, in a way, live outside of chronological time – they live in God’s time, a fully occupied present moment, with little regard for past or future.

Now, I don’t think that most of us are really able to live this kind of contemplative life. But I do think that our current circumstances have given us a greater appreciation of the way time slows and speeds up – does not work in a linear fashion.

And in a sense, this is what the holy number of 40 days, or forty years, is all about. We have no idea how long the Israelites actually wandered in the desert. Or if Jesus really fasted for 40 days. Or if the reigns of the Biblical kings Saul, David, and Solomon were really all about 40 years in length. But assigning the number “40” to these spans of time marks them out as holy. It’s not a chronological demarcation, but an indication of their holiness. The fact that these are times of transition. Times of change. Times in which something holy and sacred is underway. Perhaps no coincidence that 40 weeks is also the human gestation period.

So: Luke, in Acts, tells us that “After his suffering [Jesus] presented himself alive to them by many convincing proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God. While staying with them, he ordered them not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait there for the promise of the Father.”

Today marks the end of that forty days. But in the scope of this year, our forty days may be on-going. Our forty days is the period in which we discover how God through Christ is speaking to us, working in us, and guiding us in our actions – even if mathematicians would tell us that we are mis-counting: not 40, but seventy, not 40 but 90.

It’s not about the number, but about how we honor this gestational period in our lives, how we live into Christ’s call, how we learn from him, and how we prepare ourselves to face what’s next, serving our neighbor, loving one another, and seeking the path of justice.

Amen.

4th Sunday of Easter, Service & Sermon

Hello  friends,

Here is a recording of our service from the 4th Sunday of Easter. It starts about 12 minutes into the service.

 

John 10:1-10

Jesus said, “Very truly, I tell you, anyone who does not enter the sheepfold by the gate but climbs in by another way is a thief and a bandit. The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep hear his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice. They will not follow a stranger, but they will run from him because they do not know the voice of strangers.” Jesus used this figure of speech with them, but they did not understand what he was saying to them.

So again Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. All who came before me are thieves and bandits; but the sheep did not listen to them. I am the gate. Whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.”

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable to you, O God, our strength and our redeemer. 

This is Good Shepherd Sunday. Appropriate for the first Sunday in May, when spring seems finally to have settled even into Ithaca, NY, and even in our mostly indoor seclusion, it’s becoming easier to imagine green fields dotted with sheep and a good-natured shepherd gently guiding them into their enclosure.

We are used to thinking of Jesus as the Good Shepherd. It’s probably the most ubiquitous figure of all for his relationship to us, his flock. And yet, reading closely, you’ll notice that nowhere in this particular pericope does Jesus directly lay claim the role of shepherd. Rather, responding to the puzzled silence of the disciples to whom he has told this little parable, he says that he is the gate. The gate, or the door, to the pasture.

Now, the Good Shepherd discourse does not end here. If you were to read further in John chapter 10–even one verse further–you’d see that Jesus does eventually call himself the good shepherd as he continues riffing on this pastoral metaphor.

But I find the  first part of the Good Shepherd discourse, before the persuasive image of the shepherd gains prominence, especially rich in spiritual significance. It seems fitting  that Jesus’s metaphor  is a little bit difficult  here. That the metaphorical vehicle is less straightforward than a simple one to one, Jesus to shepherd, ratio. We’re left to puzzle through a more unusual figure – Jesus not merely as Shepherd, but also “gate,” and maybe more besides.

The most basic and familiar  reading of these verses would understand Jesus the Gate as about the exclusivity of the Kingdom of God. Jesus as the only path to salvation. Only good sheep who enter the sheepfold through the Jesus Gate are legitimate denizens of the great pasture in the sky. All others are thieves and bandits. It’s been interpreted this way many times over. Indeed, this is an important image for a book that many Christians — myself included — have found very compelling over the years: John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress.

But I don’t believe this reading. This is not a story about a fortunate few who are blessed with eternal life through the luck of having Jesus as their shepherd. Nor would the man who ministers to those who have been cast out of society tell his followers a parable that gives them permission to exclude or discriminate.

Rather, with this “figure of speech,” I believe Jesus is telling us a story about this world. About the protective pasture of care and mutuality that he makes possible for all of us, so that we have the freedom, when morning comes, to leave the sheepfold again and wander the pastures on our own. Until, once again, we hear our trusted shepherd calling us into the safety of the enclosure when night falls and we are vulnerable.

Jesus, who is both gate and shepherd, invites each of us into this body of love and genuine compassion by name. We trust the sound of his voice because we know he is trustworthy.

When I first wrote about this passage some three years ago–it’s one of the few I’m not encountering as a preacher for the very first time–I found a poem by Marie Howe (which you can find at the end of your bulletin) called “The Gate,” which does a remarkably good job tying together the threads of today’s Gospel. It still helps me feel how personal and powerful is Jesus’s call to us as a shepherd, and how precious the gate we pass through when we are called–so I want to share it again now:

“The Gate”

If the gate is the experience of love and compassion–which creates around us a kind of protective pasture we are able to leave and return to–for the poet, this gate has to do with the memory of her brother. His familiar voice calls to her with the piquancy of a remembered cheese and mustard sandwich, teaching her about love’s persistence beyond death, and inviting her into “This.”

Inviting her into this world–the world that, while full of uncertainty and danger, is yet watched over by someone who loves us.

By Jesus. By our families. By our friend. By our church. Or by whatever people or community we discover in our lives, whose love keeps us from spiritual desolation and calls us by name when we are suffering.

Jesus is the gate and the shepherd. But in the absence of his body, he calls us to be this for one another. Our world is sadly lacking in protections for the vulnerable. There is no guarantee that our societal structures will protect us from destitution. The sheepfold Christ invites us into is not one reserved for the well and the healthy. But one that makes room for those who have been cast out. It is one that offers love where other systems and institutions have offered nothing. To all this, Jesus says, “I am the gate.”

It’s worth noting that Marie Howe’s brother died of complications from AIDS in the 1980s. Then, as now, people were dying of a virus that was only barely understood, and that disproportionately infected groups of people many of us  had an easy time writing off.

Victims of AIDS were castigated, shamed, and called horrible names. They were blamed for their sickness and shunned. But where mainstream institutions cast them out, alternative systems of love and compassion often stepped in to provide for the dying, becoming the protective pasture Jesus speaks of in the Gospel.

It’s likely that Marie Howe’s experience of watching her brother die of a disease that revealed the cruel hypocrisies of much of mainstream culture at the time, is part of the reason “the space his body made” is the gate through which she enters “this world.”

This world can be brutal. And the suffering of vulnerable bodies, the suffering of God’s beloved children–shows us this brutality. Suffering is not a teaching tool. But Christ’s love, and compassion in any form, must be a gateway to relieving it.

Once again, we are living through a time of pandemic. Ideally, we would live in a society with a protective pasture into which the vulnerable could retreat at times like this. But we don’t live in that world. There are massive holes in the fence (or safety net) ostensibly meant to that protect the vulnerable from thieves and bandits–from sickness, destitution, hopelessness.

And because our society is so full of disparities–just as Jesus’s was–we are called to be shepherds and gatekeepers for one another. Offering shelter, offering respite–in the knowledge that when we too need care, we belong to a community that will not cast us out.

We are called to make space for one another – to be the gate, the love, the acceptance, the patience, and the compassion, that makes room for our siblings, whoever they are, to enter this world, broken as it is, knowing that they are not alone.

Amen.

3rd Sunday of Easter, Service and Sermon

Luke 24:13-35

Now on that same day two of Jesus’ disciples were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, and talking with each other about all these things that had happened. While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and went with them, but their eyes were kept from recognizing him. And he said to them, “What are you discussing with each other while you walk along?” They stood still, looking sad. Then one of them, whose name was Cleopas, answered him, “Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place there in these days?” He asked them, “What things?” They replied, “The things about Jesus of Nazareth, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, and how our chief priests and leaders handed him over to be condemned to death and crucified him. But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things took place. Moreover, some women of our group astounded us. They were at the tomb early this morning, and when they did not find his body there, they came back and told us that they had indeed seen a vision of angels who said that he was alive. Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said; but they did not see him.” Then he said to them, “Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared! Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?” Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures.

As they came near the village to which they were going, he walked ahead as if he were going on. But they urged him strongly, saying, “Stay with us, because it is almost evening and the day is now nearly over.” So he went in to stay with them. When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight. They said to each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?” That same hour they got up and returned to Jerusalem; and they found the eleven and their companions gathered together. They were saying, “The Lord has risen indeed, and he has appeared to Simon!” Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread.

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable to you, O God, our strength and our redeemer. 

There’s a legend in my family about an episode at a long ago family wedding–embarassing or comical, depending on whose side you’re on. This wedding took place sometime around the turn of the 20th century-the early 1900s–so a lot of the details have gotten muddled over time. But here’s the jist:

The extended families of the bride and groom were meeting for the first time at the wedding reception. The groom–surely a nice guy himself–had some very snooty family members, who made no bones about talking amongst themselves about how déclassé they found their new in-laws, the celebration, the food, and everything else. What an ugly dress she wore! What an irritating laugh her mother has! What a boring sermon the priest gave!

But of course, they didn’t say all these things to the bride’s family, though they were seated at the same table. They insulated themselves to engage in this mean gossip by speaking all these insults in French–a language they assumed no one in the bride’s bumpkinish family could possibly speak.

The legend goes, however, that the bride’s father, a taciturn man who was well-traveled thanks to military service, was actually fluent in several languages. He exchanged polite words, in English, with his new in-laws throughout the wedding dinner, and they returned them with condescending agreements and smiles, and then went back to their cruel chattering in French.

All this continued until it was time for the toasts.

The bride’s father stood up and shared a short but sweet blessing with the newlyweds. May the road rise to meet you, may you live long and prosper, etc. Then, because it was fitting that he should also welcome the groom’s family into his own, he turned to his new in-laws, raised his glass, and offered a precise, heartfelt toast in perfect  French.

I always loved this story when I was a kid. There’s something incredibly appealing about being able to elegantly show someone who thinks they’re better than you, that you’re onto their game. And to harbor a kind of secret power that allows you to hear what people really think about you. Of course, such a secret power could quickly lead to paranoia. And under most circumstances, I’m very glad we get to keep our thoughts and judgements to ourselves. But nevertheless, I like the story.

And I share it today because I believe it creates an interesting contrast with the Gospel narrative we just read.

Today’s Gospel begins with a pair of disciples talking, on their way to the village of Emmaus, about the strange and disturbing events that have just taken place in Jerusalem.

In a cool moment of dramatic irony, they are joined somewhere along their seven mile walk, by a man they do not recognize, but who we know to be Jesus.  This stranger begins questioning them about their conversation–and so they tell him, with candor and sadness, about the life and death of Jesus of Nazareth. The hope they’d placed in him as redeemer of Israel, his arrest by the Sanhedrin, trial with Pilate, execution on the cross, and the women’s discovery of the empty tomb.

Jesus listens patiently and gradually begins sharing his wisdom, and his impressions of the events. Still a stranger to them, he calls the disciples fools for not seeing that the Messiah must suffer death before entering into glory–as he so often told them he would when he lived.

At the end of their walk, the travelers invite the stranger to dinner. And this, I believe, is a key moment in the story. In the sharing of hospitality, in the breaking of the bread, they finally recognize the truth: they are in the presence of the resurrected Lord.

What, then, does this story have in common with the family legend I shared earlier?

In each story, people are unsuspectingly overheard talking about someone else by the person they are talking about. In the family legend, the inlaws were caught talking trash about their new family. It’s an unpleasant “gotcha!” moment.

But in the story of the road to Emmaus, Cleopas and his companion are caught being genuine. They are caught by Jesus, their beloved teacher, in the midst of a heated conversation about their sadness over his death, and the meaning of the empty tomb. He catches them in a moment of honesty and awe–even if they still do not fully understand the implications of Jesus’s death.

And though in their telling, they still do not do justice to the story of their friend’s death and apparent resurrection–they are caught in a way that does them justice. Overheard in a way that I, at least, would hope to be overheard if a person I was talking about was somehow listening in on me.

And more importantly, for us, even though what they tell about Jesus is not perfect, Jesus is still glad to be with them. Still happy to share a meal with them–break bread, and in so doing, reveal his true identity.

I think it’s a funny coincidence that the revelation in both of these stories–the family legend and the encounter with Jesus on the road to Emmaus–takes place over a meal. A toast and the breaking of the bread.

And in each instance–the story of this unexpected revelation–the gotcha! moment has become the stuff of legend. One, obviously on a much bigger scale than the other.

And I suppose that’s what I’d like us to walk away with ourselves, today. Thinking about how we talk about Jesus. Not how we conduct ourselves simply so we don’t get caught saying or thinking wrong things. But how we accept his hospitality, and invite him into our lives, even though we do not yet know that it’s him. How do we live as if he might be the next person we meet – our neighbor, the grocery store clerk.

It reminds me of that old song lyric, “what if God was one of us, just a stranger on a bus…”

Because God is one of us. A fellow traveler, walking the long road between Jerusalem and Emmaus. God is one of us, excited to participate in our conversations and accept our hospitality. God is one of us, eager to see how we are living out the call to be Christ’s body in the world, as we break bread together, with friends and with strangers.

Even in this time of quarantine, this is our call. To boldly share our wonder and awe at the story of Jesus’s life, death, and resurrection. To share it in our words and our actions. To share it in our kindness to those we love, and those we have not yet met. To share it in our appreciation of those who are doing hard and dangerous work on our behalf. And in this sharing, Christ is revealed. Christ is made known to us in the breaking of the bread, and our hearts burn with the wonder of all he has shared with us.

Amen.

2nd Sunday of Easter Service & Sermon

Dear Friends,

Here is the recording of Sunday’s service, and below it, well the text of the sermon I delivered. May you find them enjoyable & edifying.

In faith,

Taylor +

John 20:19-31

When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”

But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.”

A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.” Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”

Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable to you, O God, our strength and our redeemer. 

We gather on this second Sunday of Easter to continue our celebration of the resurrection of Christ. And, as has been the case for the past several Sundays, our gathering is taking place under strange circumstances. Our physical disconnection, somehow oddly mirrored by Thomas’s insistent need, in our Gospel text today, for the satisfaction of flesh and blood.

I’ve long looked on Thomas’s insistence on visceral reassurance regarding his Lord and God’s return from the grave, to be one of the most powerful moments in the history of the resurrection. It has always been one of my favorite moments in the Gospel. It speaks deeply and clearly to my faith. This might seem paradoxical, as we are used to seeing Thomas as a figure of doubt, not faith. But his doubt–better, his need–clarifies his faith, and my faith, and perhaps faith in general.

Though his audacity might startle us at first, Thomas’s need to reach out and touch Jesus isn’t simply grounded in some kind of metaphysical skepticism. It isn’t just that he doubts the testimony of his eyes. Rather, his desire to touch mirrors his deep, embodied desire for a God who understands the messiness, the pain, of living. A desire for a God of the living. A desire to connect this resurrected God with the man Christ was in life.

It is this basic urge to reassure himself of Christ’s self-consistency–literally and figuratively–as a man of the body, who understands humans and their bodies, humans and their sufferings, humans and all the range of their human experiences–that prompts him to ask for proof. That prompts him to refuse to believe until he can touch.

And though the spring of 2020, Easter of 2020, will always be characterized by the physical separation COVID19 has brought to our lives and our communities, Thomas’s desire for a Christ who knows of these struggles and empathizes with them on a visceral level, is more real now than it ever has been.

From conversations I’ve had with friends, parishioners, and colleagues, I know that many of us, myself included, are feeling a deep desire for such visceral empathy as well. Though we are all still processing (and will have to keep on processing, likely for years to come) what this long period of being away from one another will mean for us–for our individual and collective psychologies, for our relationship to God and prayer, for our understanding of our world and our institutions, for our economy–I do know that it is triggering feelings that we did not have before, at least not to the same degree.

Many are feeling depressed and anxious. Disappointment and grief over lost opportunities and thwarted experiences is another common experience. Others are feeling a sense of numbness. I’ve also heard from people so concerned about their lack of feeling in the midst of this crisis, that they are castigating themselves. With what limited wisdom I have, I can only say that none of these reactions are abnormal. They’re human.

And in that human-normalness, no matter what it is we’re feeling – what mixture of numbness, confusion, depression, boredom, or even if we’re doing just fine, thank you very much – Thomas’s gesture of need could equally be our own. We need a Christ who can even understand this very 21st century kind of loneliness. A savior who is unafraid of any human complaint.

And we have one. When Thomas makes his brazen statement, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe,” Jesus does not turn away, affronted by his doubt. Rather, with gentleness, he takes Thomas’s hands in his own. He reaches out to him, guiding his hands in to his own most vulnerable place: the wounds that signify his ultimate humanity. His capacity to die. And also signify his divinity, his triumph over death.

This is what he does for all of us. No matter our circumstances. No matter the specificity of our need. No matter how well or how poorly we’re faring. No matter how angry we are at God. No matter how frustrated we are at ourselves for not being better, doing more. No matter how sad we are circumstances and conditions that predate this time of quarantine. No matter how bored we are. Jesus reaches out with his hands, and guides ours into his life. Guides us into a resurrection that connects us intimately, so intimately to his love of us. His love of us no matter who we are or what we’re feeling. All we need to do is tell him we want his guidance. And he will usher us into his resurrection. This doesn’t mean our problems will be solved. Or that we will suddenly feel renewed. But it is a kind of sacrament that requires no bread and no cup. It’s the sacrament of friendship. Of a companion who will not abandon us. And who knows we are enough.

To conclude, I want to reflect on one other piece of this story.

Thomas is called “the twin.” And I often find myself wondering,  whose twin? Perhaps he did have a twin brother or sister. Perhaps he is our twin – all of our twin – his need for reassurance in Christ’s resurrection a double of our own.

Or, perhaps he, in his deep, bodily conviction that Christ’s primary ministry is to those who are living, suffering, and coping with having a flesh and bones body – he is also Jesus’s twin. A twin, simply by dint of recognizing, in Christ, a human who loves humans in all their frailty.

Probably all three. May we, too, go forward seeking in Christ, a holy Trinity.

Amen.

Easter Sunday Service and Sermon

Dear Friends,

Here is a video of ECC’s Easter Sunday service. It was an honor to be able to preside and this unconventional, but nevertheless uplifting service of resurrection.

The video begins about 5 minutes into the service.

Peace and good wishes to all.

Taylor +

Sermon – Easter Sunday. Find readings here.

Matthew 28:1-10

After the sabbath, as the first day of the week was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb. And suddenly there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord, descending from heaven, came and rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow. For fear of him the guards shook and became like dead men. But the angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid; I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. He is not here; for he has been raised, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples, ‘He has been raised from the dead, and indeed he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him.’ This is my message for you.” So they left the tomb quickly with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples. Suddenly Jesus met them and said, “Greetings!” And they came to him, took hold of his feet, and worshiped him. Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.”

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable to you, O God, our strength and our redeemer

It practically goes without saying that this Easter is different from other Easters we have known, at least collectively. The feelings of dread and claustrophobia, grief and doubt; the fact that our gathering is taking place on screen rather than in person; the absence of the sacrament of Christ’s Body and Blood–these are not typical Easter experiences.

And yet, of course, it is Easter. We are gathered. We are still celebrating Christ’s triumph over death. Celebrating the good news that there is no place in this life or the next, that is beyond the reach of the salvific love of Christ.

I’ve thought for a long time about what I would say to you on this Easter Sunday. It’s always a hefty day for preachers – and this year, with all the changes our world has undergone, there is added pressure to be wise. In many ways, it was easier to find a resonant message for Holy Week–for Good Friday and Maundy Thursday–whose solemn liturgies more naturally lend themselves to considerations of the struggle and strife of our current moment in history.

But Easter is the day of the resurrection. The catharsis after a long fast. A day of awe and excitement. A day of hope. And no matter what might be happening outside our doors, I believe that this Easter is still all of those things.

In the long lead-up to this day, the resurrection message I’ve found most compelling and that I’ve attempted to share with you throughout Lent and Holy Week this year, has had to do with the idea that, in this strange and unsettling time of death and fear, a new clarity about what is broken in our society is taking root in our hearts. Armed with our faith in Christ, our responsibility is to look our broken world square in the face, and believe, as Jesus’s devoted disciples did, that Love is come again like wheat that springeth green.

And I believe that our world is crying out for this kind of resurrection. That we need Christ’s ethical leadership more than ever. But this is also the resurrection journey that we walk every day of our lives, every day of the year, as Christians. It is our calling – to follow Christ’s example in our treatment of our neighbors, to follow Christ’s example in our reconstructive criticism of our institutions and leaders. To believe that we participate in the mystery of Christ’s risen life whenever we eat and drink the sacrament of his body and blood.

But–the resurrection we are here to honor and remember today stands apart from this ongoing, active, everyday faith in the risen life of Christ.

Easter Day is an event. A day–the day–that commemorates a singular awe-inspiring moment in the history of our faith. Easter is the day we have been waiting for. The day we hoped would bring an end to our suffering and our isolation.

And yet – here we are still. Uncertain. Waiting. There has been no earthquake. I don’t see an angel. If something was supposed to have changed in the world around us, something massive, I regret to report that it hasn’t happened yet.

It’s not hard to imagine the loneliness of the two Marys as they walk, at daybreak, to the tomb. They have been separated from the person they loved most in the world. The anchor of their community. And though he taught them well – taught them that they must be prepared to carry on his work in his absence, still, they are distraught and anxiety-ridden. Up so early, perhaps, because they could not sleep and were drawn to their friend’s resting place in order to feel closer to him.

Then, all of a sudden, the earth begins to shake. An angel–not unlike the angel who greeted another Mary some thirty three years ago, asking her consent to become the mother of God–an angel has lighted upon the overturned stone sealing the tomb. And like that earlier angel, this one is bringing some very unexpected news: Jesus has been raised from the dead.

So ready are these women to leave aside their grief, that they believe these words with little hesitation and run off in search of their friend. When he finds them, they immediately fall to his feet and worship, until he sends them on to his brothers in Galilee.

At this point in our collective history, many of us may find it easier to relate to the state of listlessness and grief that brought Mary and Mary to Jesus’s tomb in the wee hours of the morning – than their joy upon meeting him again.

And yet – one thing we cannot ignore, in this Easter story or in our Easter story, is that Mary and Mary’s first impulse upon recognizing the risen God is to worship.

And in this way, we are very like them in their most joyful Easter moment. Because, here we all are. Worshiping together on this Sunday of the Resurrection.

These strange circumstances have even allowed us to worship together with people who, because of geographical distance, are not normally able to be with us. Our physical isolation may be just the same as it was two days ago, on Good Friday. But gathered together on Easter, we are living proof that Christ is indeed alive. That we are united by our love of him. United by our desire to gather around our commitment to his message, to fall down at his feet and pray. To accept his commission to go forward – to spread the good news of his return to life.

Jesus has brought us together. We are worshiping him together, even if we may still feel a little like Mary and Mary on their way to the tomb. It may be some time before that feeling fully lifts. But

studies show that one of the most powerful ways to combat the scourge of depression and anxiety is through a sense of community and shared meaning. This is not to suggest that faith or church membership is a panacea – or the only thing necessary to overcome mental illness. Rather, that much of the despair that afflicts us and our world, especially now, is a result of loneliness and isolation. The loneliness and isolation of lack of economic mobility. The powerlessness of seeing no pathway out of a current state of stasis. A lack of hope for the future.

Jesus cannot cure all these things single-handedly. But as a people audacious enough to gather on Easter on a program called Zoom–stripped of all the usual accoutrements of our worship, because we believe that some 2000 years ago, a man who died rose again–we can at least find solace in shared meaning and shared purpose. And this sharing is fellowship. This sharing is community. This sharing is what being Church is. This Easter we know that better than ever.

And – on the blessed day when we are able to worship together in person again, able to partake of the sacrament of his body and blood – we will know, all the more, why these rituals are so important to us. We will love Jesus with every ounce of our being. We will feel ourselves, also, returned to life.

So, to conclude these  reflections, I want to share a poem by the great Christian poet, Denise Levertov. It’s about the end of winter – and I think it speaks very clearly about the strangeness and the specialness of this Easter, as well as what we can anticipate in the Easter after this one – whenever it comes – the Easter when we are once again able to meet face to face. It’s called “February Evening in New York,” but I think it could just as well be called April Evening.

Read the poem here.

How clearly this poem, without even meaning to, speaks of our disembodied way of gathering, and its strange beauty. Shows the grace in the disordered tones of unsilenced mics and fragments of conversation. We are like a small city.

And there, in the midst of this strange city, are two women who might as well be Mary and Mary, joyfully walking on toward Galilee, gossiping about their love of the most beautiful gift of all: I love life!

I love life – the new life I have met in Christ. I love life – the new way we have found to gather and praise his name. I love life – the promise of truly new life, a new way of following him in the world, with clarity and purpose, when we celebrate our next Easter – face to face. Like Apostles, we will go on until then, discovering new ways of upholding our love of the life he brings us still.

Amen.

Good Friday Video & Sermon

Dear friends,

Blessings to you on this solemn day in our Church year.  Not everyone was able to be with us this afternoon due to class schedules and all the many time zones represented in our community. I’m sharing the video of the service here, along with my sermon from today.

Thank you to all who were part of the service.

In faith,

Taylor +

This is the day of universal mourning in the Church. The day in which we remember Jesus’s shameful death on the cross. It’s a day in which many of us feel called to contemplate the banality of evil – Hanna Arendt’s term to describe the small ways in which human beings can, little by little, tacitly give our assent to what is morally wrong. These moral wrongs, accumulated, lead to death and destruction. Lead to God being nailed to a cross and executed.

Today, however, I want to think about prophecy and the role it plays in John’s telling of Jesus’s trial and death. In six separate instances in this scripture, the Gospel cites the precedence of scripture or prophecy: “These things occurred so that the scripture might be fulfilled…”

Indeed, our Old Testament reading from Isaiah includes some of these prophecies: “They stare and gloat over me; they divide my garments among them; they cast lots for my clothing.”

Now, many of these references are included to emphasize what we know to be true: that Jesus was a holy man, the child of God. Explicitly linking his suffering and death to prophecy and ancient tradition added weight to the account John shared with his followers, and all the millions of people who have read this account in the subsequent centuries.

The death of Jesus was a crime of biblical proportions. A crime against God. Tying it to these passages from the prophet Isaiah – whose prophecies seem to foretell so much of Jesus’s life, from the holy birth; to his mission of bringing good news to the poor, release to captives, sight to the blind, and freedom to the oppressed; to the humiliating death of the suffering servant – solidifies this. Makes it seem somehow part of God’s plan.

As I read these passages over and over in preparation for this day, however, I could not help but think about our present moment–the world we are living in now–as I have been trying to do throughout Lent and Holy Week.

Surely we could find portents in the Bible, or in other works of literature that we consider canonical, that prophesy of what we are currently experiencing. The plagues, the death of the vulnerable, the slaughter of the holy innocents, the corruption of the kings or judges.

But in reading backward like this, we also risk once more of giving our assent to what is morally wrong – risk participating in the banal but real advancement of evil over good. If we look only at what is horrifying or hurtful, trace its inevitability, and stop there – we let the evil win. We lay Jesus say in the tomb, mourn him, and then go on. We allow Good Friday to be the triumphant holy day of our faith, rather than Easter.

The truth is that though Good Friday is a day of great sadness, our liturgy–even on this most mournful of days–is also already a liturgy of resurrection, as all liturgies in the Christian tradition are. Even in the darkest hours of our Church and our personal and communal lives, we live our lives as Christians in the knowledge of Easter. This is central to our faith. Not merely looking backward at all that led to this moment – but living in the Resurrection. Accepting Easter and resurrection as our present and our future.

This is true this year, as it was last year – and every year, no matter how normal or abnormal the circumstances in our world.

Like so, there are millions of factors that lead to this moment of pandemic, this moment of health care crisis, and blatant economic stratification.

Millions of small assents to what does not accord with our ethics, the ethics of good news to the poor and freedom to the oppressed, the ethics of the living Christ, that we make or that are made on our behalf – that lead to this.

But we do not let such stagnation be the end of the story. If we did, we would be saying, in a way, that we no longer need Christ. And we do.

Good Friday this year feels more “Good Friday-like” than most.  But it’s not where the story ends. Not ever, and especially not this year.  We know more than ever that we are in need of Christ. That our world is in need of resurrection. We know that we cannot simply return to normal, whatever that means.

Because resurrection is not normal. Normalcy is not what our lives as Christians is all about, nor has it ever been. The triumphant Holy Day, the Easter, that will emerge from this Good Friday must not be something we think of as “normal.”

In the short term, Easter may feel very much like today feels. It may feel less full of pomp and circumstance than it did last year. There will be less brass and organ and song. But none of this negates the triumph of love over death.

But as we continue to move forward day by day in our lives as Christians – in our lives that truly are always underwritten and laced through with the beautiful truth of Resurrection day in and day out – we also get to imagine a resurrection for the world.

We get to call upon what we know of Jesus – his Isaiah-inflected life of good news to the poor and freedom to the oppressed – to create a better, more Christ-like world informed by this long experience of Good Friday.

Just as the Christian year never skips Good Friday, but always proceeds to Easter, neither can we forget our time of quarantine and pandemic, before we move forward toward new hope and good news.

This moment in history feels unprecedented. People say this over and over. The unprecedented COVID 19 lockdown. But if want something truly unprecedented to follow on its heels, we have to believe that more is possible for us and for our country. For our world – than simply the injustice of have and have not. We have to believe that we can bring about the world Jesus showed us was possible. A world of truly, radically loving our neighbor. Loving our neighbor in body, mind and spirit. And believing with every ounce of ourselves that we all deserve the love Jesus shares. That this love, this power, this hope is not only for some.

This is the transformation, this is the Easter, of our current Good Friday. It will take time and work. But we cannot let this Good Friday be for nothing. We can’t let this death be for nothing, not lead to the resurrection. We must have courage and faith to make it so.

Sermon – Palm Sunday

Hello all,

Here’s my sermon from Palm Sunday. It’s a little late, but this is a busy week. I hope it provides some wisdom and solace.

In faith,

Taylor +

Palm Sunday Readings

Palm Sunday, Passion Sunday. This is a day noted for the extremes of emotions its readings inspire.

With his entry into Jerusalem, seated on the back of an unbroken beast of burden, his pathway paved with cut greens and cloaks–Jesus is triumphant. The people cry out, “Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!”–greeting him as a king and savior.

But soon, very soon, the story progresses. When we meet Jesus again he is being interrogated by Pilate. And very soon after, he is being led to Golgotha and breathing his last on the cross.

The seeming incongruity of the emotions associated with these events – the excitement of processing into the city, the bitterness of arrest and crucifixion – has flummoxed countless faithful people over the generations. I preached about this strangeness myself last year.

And yet, in 2020 we are a people harder to flummox than we were a year ago. As a society, we have experienced a rapid shift from one way of being in the world in which, even if we were not happy, at least seemed somewhat predictable.

Seemed somewhat predictable until, well… it didn’t. Until everything was canceled. Until we had to travel to get home before borders closed. Until we started learning of friends and family members who were ill but who we would not be allowed to visit in the hospital. Until Zoom became our second nature. Until we started fearing for our livelihoods or the livelihoods of our neighbors.

All this has taken place within a very short time frame. Given what we’ve experienced–what we know of how quickly one way of life and one set of expectations, can give way to another–the pairing of the first Gospel reading from Matthew and the second don’t feel quite so incongruous this year.

And indeed, perhaps this rapid transformation is actually helping us understand Jesus’s story a little better than we did before.

He enters Jesursalem, all potential energy, vim and vigor. Full or force. His first stop once inside the city gates is the temple, where he overturns the money changers’ tables, calling out their hypocrisy and greed.

And yet, planted within him already is the seed of who he is and what he will face before long. It’s a seed that has been in him since birth–throughout his ministry he has been predicting what he will become. But here in Jerusalem, it is finally beginning to sprout and take shape. All that had been possible for detractors and skeptics to ignore before now–rumors about a great healer and teacher in Galilee, a son of David, a Messiah–like green shoots rising in the spring, are suddenly visible to one and all in the great city of Jerusalem.

There is no denying anymore that alive in this holy man is a truth that is poison to hypocrisy, poison to greed, poison to exploitation. A truth about loving our neighbor. A truth about protecting the vulnerable and taking on their suffering as our own. A truth about God’s welcome that does not exclude anyone who seeks it.

And as his seed begins to proliferate, one of its fruits is to reveal the hypocrisy of the world it is growing into. Just as it is the seed of our hope and our resurrection, it is also the seed of Jesus’s death on the cross.

I believe that on Palm Sunday of 2020, we are also witnessing a small, innocent seeming seed shoot up and spread. A lot of what coronavirus has revealed to us we already knew. We were aware of the voice crying out in the wilderness: all is not well in the world! Our neighbors are suffering and dying simply because they are poor!

But now, this truth is here. It is at our doorstep. It is growing and spreading in our Jerusalem. We are feeling its consequences deep in our bones. In our loneliness and our anxiety.

But what it brings is not just the risk of death by disease. It is also bringing the possibility of our salvation.

We do not have Jesus here with us in body to die for us on the cross in 2020. Not literally. That has already happened.

Today, today on this Sunday that is half triumph, half devastation, we have the chance to be Christ’s body. To foster and love the little seed in him that also in us, and that says: this is not right!

It is not right that protections for the poor should be cut in a time when millions have lost their jobs and their health insurance. It is not right that large corporations and their beneficiaries should prosper while others die. It is not right.

This is what Jesus says when he marches, triumphant into Jerusalem. This truth–the truth that is good news to the poor and fearful to the rich–is what he stands for to the end of his life, and what he does not stop standing for in the resurrection. It is the truth that unites Palm Sunday and Passion Sunday. It is why we tell both these stories on the same day.

Just as we give him glory, laud and honor in his triumph at the gates of the city, we must also lament his death on the cross. And like so, in his glory, laud and honor, we cannot let our march into the city end in death. We cannot. We must believe in the resurrection. We must work for it. In faith. And by exercising our voices.

This is my prayer for us on this Palm Sunday. That we may truly believe that these strange times we are living in are not just a trial to be gotten through. But a chance at resurrection. Our chance to envision a world in which the forces that have left so many miserable and vulnerable are not our death sentence. That our world’s resurrection can be a hopeful one.

It will not come easily. I know that much. But as Jesus loves us, and as we love Jesus, we must cultivate the audacity to believe that out of devastation can arise something truly wonderful. The seed that seemed dormant can be the first fruit of the new world.

 

Amen.

Resources – Music, Prayers – 5th Week of Lent

Prayers of the People
With all our need for prayer and our concern for one another, I wanted to provide an opportunity for you to write your own petitionsintercessions, and thanksgivings to include in our weekly online worship. Complete this Google form, or simply email me with your prayer and I will add it to our liturgy. You can find some great examples of Prayers in the Book of Common Prayer.
Music
Many of us have been deeply missing the organ music that so wonderfully magnifies our worship. Here are a few resources:
From Anna Steppler: An organ concert streamed live from the Zurich Grossmunster on Sunday March 22, played by Andreas Jost: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WK_FbnAPoN8 Of the concert, our music director, Anna writes,
It’s part of a project to play the entire organ works of Bach in a series of concerts over the church’s year– all divided up to fit the liturgical season, hence this is a concert of music for Lent/Passiontide, played to an empty cathedral, as per Switzerland’s own lockdown measures. I found this a particularly moving concert, and especially the encore– Jost plays Bach’s small setting of ‘wenn wir in hochsten Noten sein’ (at c. 56minutes) which is the most perfect chorale for this moment, I think: You can find the text of the chorale (in German and English translation) here http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Texts/Chorale431-Eng3.htm
A short iPhone recording of Professor David Yearsley of the music department made this past Sunday:
J. S. Bach’s Fantasy and Fugue in C minor, BWV 564 played on the Anabel Taylor Organ, made by made by Chris Hoff and Sam Harnett of The World According to Sound, edited for headphones: http://www.theworldaccordingtosound.org/2020/03/20/98.Pipe-Organ.html