You can watch our Palm Sunday 2020 Service on Youtube! Unfortunately, the recording begins a few minutes into the service, but you’ll get the idea.
You can watch our Palm Sunday 2020 Service on Youtube! Unfortunately, the recording begins a few minutes into the service, but you’ll get the idea.
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
Rev. Taylor’s sermon for the fifth Sunday in Lent.
We have today, one of the iconic stories of our faith. The raising of Lazarus from the dead inspires awe, and fear, and a sense of wonder. And Jesus’s emotions are here very much on display: he is deeply disturbed, and deeply moved. He weeps openly on the way to Lazarus’s tomb.
If I were to summarize this Gospel’s themes–as the Lenten Study group at Epiphany did earlier this week–I would first list words like resurrection, renewal, and return. Words that remind us that at the end of every long and gloomy tunnel is a glimmer of hope. A sulfur-yellow daffodil startling our winter-tired eyes with color.
But there are other themes here too. Patience, or lack of haste, is one that particularly stands out this week. Indeed, one of the perplexing elements of this story is Jesus’s lack of urgency in attending to his dear friend Lazarus. After receiving Mary and Martha’s foreboding message, “he whom you love is ill,” he waits two full days before beginning his journey to Bethany. When he arrives at last, Lazarus has been dead for four days.
Why does he not hurry? If he is truly God, couldn’t he have healed Lazarus from where he was, on the other side of the river Jordan? Couldn’t he have found a way of getting there faster? If I were Mary or Martha, I would have been down-right angry at Jesus for taking his time as he does.
And yet, I believe there is a lesson in Jesus’s seemingly lax attitude toward the gravity of Lazarus’s situation.
Though Jesus cares deeply for Lazarus and his sisters, he anticipates the outcome of his friend’s illness. He knows Lazarus is not going to survive, and that no amount of rushing on his part would change that.
Or, even if the outcome could have been altered then and there–if Jesus had exercised his power from a distance, or run with miraculous speed to his friend’s bedside… still, Jesus knows that the faith and knowledge of God that would emerge in the wake of utter hopelessness will glorify God with a force that simply altering the course inevitable could not. His aim is not to perform magic, but to glorify God.
His patience, then, is essential to the miraculous resurrection of Lazarus.
And in saying this, I don’t want to imply that Jesus is treating Lazarus’s death as a teaching tool. That he is willing to let his friend die when he could have been saved without having passed first into death.
Rather, I believe that Jesus is showing us what it means to live and work in God’s time.
Many of us, myself included, can fall easily into a state of panic when we sense that there is danger on the horizon. We saw this recently with all the panic buying at grocery stores. Such reactions were to no one’s benefit. Likewise, some of our nation’s leaders seem determined to ignore the wisdom of doctors and scientists, and hastily impose their own timelines on the course of the COVID pandemic.
In more mundane situations too, a too quick rush to act can be detrimental. When I feel a sense of pressure to speak or to act, I often do so blithely and without thinking. I say words I don’t actually mean. I parrot the wisdom of others without actually having processed it. And in doing so, I not only sell myself short, I cut God out of my action, out of my decision making. I act to protect myself, rather than love my neighbor.
With God, we are called into a new relationship with time, with one another, and with action. Sometimes, we do indeed need to act quickly. And God is with us when this is the case too. But at others, God is calling us to pause, to listen for God’s voice. How can I take action with God in my heart and my love of my neighbor in mind, rather than out of fear of what might happen? How can I seek not to alter the outcome for my own benefit only, to avoid pain or grief, but to build something hopeful and powerful that would have been impossible if I’d acted impulsively?
Though of course, the scope of Jesus’s miraculous resurrection of Lazarus is quite different from what most of us encounter in our daily lives, I still believe that there is a lesson here for all of us. Lazarus is given new life. And the patience Jesus exhibits adds force to his miraculous action.
When he finally arrives at Bethany, the work of power he performs there is not his alone. His prayer to God, his cry to Lazarus, “come out!” – are not only manifestations of his own grief or sense of loss. They are not merely demonstrations of his own power. They belong to all who love Lazarus. They belong to the holy core of Love he does not shy away from when he encounters the grieving family. They belong, truly, to God.
Jesus’s raising of Lazarus also prepares this faithful family and all the others who witness it for another death. His own.
Grief, love, and faith combine to raise a man from the dead. Such power cannot be rushed, just as grief cannot be rushed. Just as quarantine cannot be rushed. Just as Easter cannot be rushed.
May we all have such patience and such faith. With ourselves, with God, and with one another. Amen.
In light of social distancing and our shift to online worship, I’m going to be posting my sermons here for the time being (the good ones anyway!). Thanks to all who have asked to have them.
Our Gospel passage today is tricky. It relies heavily on the dichotomy of vision vs. blindness as a metaphor for righteousness vs. sin. Jesus “cures” a man who has been blind from birth. What ensues is a whole lot of confusion and people talking past one another in an attempt to understand what has taken place between this man and Jesus.
The metaphorical meaning of blindness vs. vision changes as the story progresses. Blindness is equated with a kind of holy state of humility–a blindness to sin, a willingness to believe in God–versus the hubris of those who claim to “see.”
Again, this is a tricky story.
And, as you know, I’m still a new priest. I take seriously my duty to preach the Gospel, the good news. I still haven’t preached a whole Gospel cycle. And I find it helpful both for you and for me to concentrate on the Gospel, because the Gospel is the core of our faith. It is the good news that we rely upon for moral and spiritual guidance.
And one can find that good news here. This passage shows us that through Jesus, we have the opportunity to know God, acknowledge our own sinfulness, and to choose a path of goodness through our belief in Christ.
But it gets to this good news through a complex metaphor: the metaphor of blindness and sight. The use of blindness as the vehicle by which to convey this message quickly gets messy. It definitely isn’t a vehicle my blind friends particularly cherish. No one likes to have their life experience treated like God’s teaching tool, a foil for the unbelievers–or, by implication to have their ability to recognize Christ seem contingent on the faculty of sight.
This week, then, I would like to try to illuminate this passage through a consideration of our Hebrew Bible message, this moment from the story of Saul and Samuel. This earlier passage is well chosen by the liturgists who put together the revised common lectionary. It has a similar theme to our Gospel passage: the idea that there is something different between the way we see or take in the world around us, and the way that God sees the world and takes it in.
The passage begins with a moment of poignancy. Samuel, God’s prophet, is grieving. The focus of his grief is Saul – the first king over all the tribes of Israel, but a king who disobeyed God, and whose kingship God has rejected.
Brave, handsome, and humble of spirit – when first anointed Saul very much looked the part of king. But power corrupts, and Saul soon began to lose touch with God. He grew in pride and arrogance, and eventually, beset by mental illness, succumbed to paranoia.
The replacement God chose, on the other hand, did not “look the part” of king. Even his father, Jesse, didn’t think to include him in the lineup of his sons when Samuel came calling. David, the youngest of eight brothers, was just a boy, off in the fields tending the flocks. But God recognized something in David–something not seen with outward eyes, but from within.
“The Lord does not see as mortals see;” God tells Samuel, “they look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart”
In times such as these, when the news is changing daily, seeming more and more dire, more and more frustrating – I find that this is a message I need to be reminded of. The outward situation we are all navigating right now looks different and feels different from anything any of us has experienced before.
But the stranger and more unexpected the outward situation, the more transformative is God’s potential in the heart of it. Just as David seemed to be a mere boy, but would become the archetypical king of Israel – perhaps in our core also dwells something strange, special, and beautiful, that can rise to meet the many Goliath-like challenges we will surely face in the weeks to come with faith and perseverance.
I certainly pray that this may be so, for all our sakes. That God can see something here that we are still struggling to see ourselves. But this is not the only message that resounds with me in this passage from 1 Samuel.
What particularly gets me is the poignancy of the first line, God’s words to Samuel, “How long will you grieve over Saul?”
Though, as you may remember, Samuel opposed the very idea of kingship from the get-go, Saul’s failure still hurts him. But even in his grief, God is pushing him to move on. To go and anoint the new king who God has chosen. To move forward.
Likewise, as we all struggle to understand the brave new world we’re living in – as the failures of our system become ever more apparent, and as we all buckle down to do what we are told in distancing ourselves – it’s hard not to want to grieve just a little bit for what we’ve left behind. Just the nonchalant way in which we hugged a friend during the passing of the peace. The shared communion cup. In person meetings and the ability to go out for lunch or gather as a community for dinner.
These things will come back. We will pass the peace in person again. We will share dinner.
But some things will not. Whatever we believed about our nation’s preparedness for this kind of wide scale health emergency — it’s impossible to go back to naivete. We can’t return to ignorance now. There are millions of people living one paycheck away from homelessness. We see that now. There are powerful people willing to profit off of other people’s suffering. We see that now. Coronavirus has shown us this, and there is no unseeing it. I pray that there is no unseeing it because it is real, and it is jarring, and it needs to be seen as we make this world better, closer to the Kingdom of God.
When God tells Samuel to stop grieving for Saul: this is also what he is telling us. You might long for a familiar past. But there is no going back. We can grieve for a little while. But we also have to stop grieving at a certain point. If this crisis leaves us even relatively unscathed, if we are so lucky, like Samuel it is our duty to be prophets of God, bringing the message of love into our world. We have to use what we know about Saul, use what we’ve learned from this experience of isolation, of witnessing corruption, of witnessing how vulnerable so many are – as we move forward.
We have to try to look with the eyes of God as we envision what we hope for, and not only for ourselves, but for our country and our world. This also is the kind of new vision, the new perception, Jesus brings to the world. This is the good news he was trying to communicate to all the confused, arguing people in our Gospel passage today.
Meanwhile, we must remember, too, that it is spring, and that this season of strange disruption is also a season of hope.
To conclude, then, I would like to recite a poem by Louise Glück that I think expresses this idea of holding out hope – grieving, and then moving beautifully into something new. It’s called “Snowdrops,” after the little first flowers we see just as winter is ending.
Hello all! Because our service this week was reformatted to House Church, and because I didn’t deliver the sermon I wrote I wanted to share it here. For those who were at the House Church service this past Sunday: perhaps this will add some clarity to the meandering thoughts I shared then, too!
Sermon – ECC-Epiphany – 12.1.19
Advent 1 – Year A
Jesus said to the disciples, “But about that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. For as the days of Noah were, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day Noah entered the ark, and they knew nothing until the flood came and swept them all away, so too will be the coming of the Son of Man. Then two will be in the field; one will be taken and one will be left. Two women will be grinding meal together; one will be taken and one will be left. Keep awake therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming. But understand this: if the owner of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into. Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.”
Welcome to the season of Advent. Welcome, also, to a new Church year.
It’s interesting to me that this passage is the first Gospel we read in the new liturgical year. It’s one with deep roots in our region’s history, my own personal history, and also in my imagination. In particular, the verses that read, “then two will be in a field one will be taken and one will be left. Two women will be grinding meal together; one will be taken and one will be left.”
This bit of scripture has been used for purposes of terror. When preached and promulgated with enough conviction and energy, the idea that faithful and holy living are necessary not simply for the sake of a good life in the here and now – but because of impending rapture, because of impending apocalypse, and to ensure the fate of our eternal souls – has been enough to scare generations of people into conformity.
In the 19th century, this region of Central New York was known as the Burnt Over District, because of its peculiar susceptibility to new, often radical religious movements. It was said to be “burnt over” because the flames of holy furor, holy terror, afflicted communities like wildfire. By the time later proselytizers found their way to the region, they’d encounter towns that had already been swept up and spit out into multiple fiery new sects – and townspeople exhausted by failed predictions of the rapture, dubious for generations to come of anything smelling of religion, fire and brimstone.
The image of the two workers in the field; one taken, one left – was instrumental in these 19th century religious revivals. This is not to say that other pieces of scripture were not equally well-quoted when inspiring fear (and hope and fervor) into the hearts of converts, but I think it’s hard to overestimate the visceral power of this image.
Imagine going about your day – busy with whichever of the many mundane tasks that take up so much of our time – maybe reading in a group study area in the library or in line at the salad bar. In the blink of an eye – the person next to you is just gone. Or maybe you’re the one: vanished.
When I was in third grade, I had my own visceral encounter with this image. My brother and I had a baby-sitter from a nearby Baptist Seminary, called Gordon Conwell. Though Rich was a super-fun babysitter in many ways, taking us on lots of hikes and trips to the pool – he was also devoutly attached to the idea that only some people are welcomed into God’s eternal kingdom, while others are destined for… the bad place.
Even as a kid, this didn’t sit well with me. But even so, I’ll never forget the deep penetrating hold the image of the two workers in a field – holding their scythes in a field of yellow wheat – had on me when he told me. He was a good storyteller, and this was a frightening, vivid story. I started thinking about the rapture all the time. The idea that there was nothing I could do – that God simply saved some people and not others – was horrific.
But eventually, I also couldn’t help coming to the conclusion that under those circumstances – if God were so mean as to save me but not my brother, for instance, maybe it would be better to be the person left in the field. Would I want to be swept up into those everlasting arms? What would heaven be without my brother – the primary locus for my fiercest love throughout most of my life.
So, although I remain compelled by these images – they are literary in nature. And indeed, there’s a lot of good literature that plays with these ideas. [I for one, loved the HBO series that came out a few years ago, the Leftovers – not to be confused with the highly flawed Nicholas Cage 2014 vehicle, The Left Behind, based on a series of books of the same title.]
In any case, for our purposes as Christians living our lives here and now, I want to insist that the rapture should not be understood literally, but allegorically or figuratively. Don’t get me wrong – there is literal truth in them: the very real fear or awe the image of a neighbor in a library carrel disappearing from thin air inspires. This feeling, though, can help us feel the core of truth that this passage highlights: the allegorical truth – the parallel we can draw to our own world.
For instance, there’s no denying that some of us seem inexplicably lucky in our lives. Inexplicably healthy, well off, and loved. Inexplicably born into circumstances that provide us with an easier path through life than others have. Meanwhile, others of us seem inexplicably and unjustifiably far from this wellness and stability. Far from financially secure. Far from psychologically secure and stable. Far from safe. We might feel like we are destined to be “left behind” in the imaginary scenario set up in this Gospel. For all we do: God does not seem to summon us into the miraculous kingdom.
But I think this is a misreading. A misunderstanding of how God’s love works. A misinterpretation of what it means to watchfully await the Son of Man.
The good news in this gospel is not that we deserve our sense of security. That one farmer deserves rapture while the other must toil on. Or that others somehow have “earned” their sorrow or fear. That children born in some parts of the country or world are simply less “worthy” of God’s love than children born in other places because one group is almost certain to have more material resources than the other. That structural inequalities are just God’s will for some of us. That debt is God’s will for some of us. That mental or physical illness is simply God’s will for some of us.
No. The good news is that a loving savior (somewhat cryptically called the Son of Man) has not forgotten us. Has not forgotten those caught in a cycle of addition. Has not forgotten children exposed to lead in their water and in their homes. Has not forgotten those still grieving for loved ones who have died.
It’s easy to create a list of all the many unjust imbalances that make some seem “blessed” and others “cursed.” But through the interstices of all this lack, all this pain and suffering, and all the joy too, enters a God who understands us to our core, and who agrees with the voice within us who cries out: this is not fair. This is not right. And who promises us, even in ways that are currently beyond our grasp, a peace and love that cannot be contained by human-made injustice.
If only there were a simple way out of the cycle of cruelty and pain. The incarnation of Christ, which we anticipate in this season of Advent, and which this week’s passage foretells through the idea of the coming of the Son of Man, is one such way. It’s simple to say: God loves us so much that God became one of us.
But what this means, we can spend a lifetime deciphering. God suffered, so we are not alone in our suffering. God saw and loved and ate with and prayed with people cast off from the center of society. Poor people. Sick people.
And if there’s a denouement (a sequel) to this story of the farmers in the field, or the women at the mill in this Gospel passage: it’s that those who are “left behind” are the ones Christ is particularly concerned with. We who have not figured everything out. We who are sad. We who are in pain. We are waiting with hope, for the promise of love the Christ’s presence in our midst presents.
We wait for this. But we also have it already. We have it in community. We have it in breaking bread together. We have it in kindness toward one another. We have it in seeking help when we need it. We have it in the ear of a friend. We have it when we pray. We have it when we turn our attention to how we can be instruments of God’s peace: how we can, through our small but infinitely important lives, be part of the incarnation of Christ, making his dream of a world more just than the one he found, real. Little by little and person by person. One farmer in one field at a time.
This poem, by former poet laureate Natasha Trethewey, is about Hurricane Camille, which made landfall some fifty years ago. As we enter another hurricane season and track the terrifying path of Dorian, the sentiments Trethewey’s poem communicates feel present and prescient. The poem’s meandering line breaks seem equally to map the unpredictable path of the storm – Camille traveled from Cuba to the Gulf Coast, up through St. Louis, then east through the Appalachian Mountains – and the pell-mell devastation it left in its wake.
In particular, the poem’s final stanzas speak to the truth that loss of land signifies much more than a loss of material property. Disasters like Camille and Dorian uproot families and homes, literally and figuratively. Even when no lives are lost, the social and economic upheaval leave people adrift:
Like water trembling and disappearing, these catastrophes have the capacity to sweep away the “reflection” – the sense of self-determination, connection and identity – of the communities that called that place home. From Katrina to Harvey to Maria, this is a familiar story in the United States, as is the truth that vulnerable people are disproportionately harmed by these weather events.
As a community of faith, we are faced with the challenge of what to do, how to respond. Our prayer – our holy attention directed toward the people affected – is important. Arousing compassion through poetry is one means to engage this way. But also important is our commitment. Our commitment to educate ourselves on the structural factors such as racism and classism that make these events particularly catastrophic. And our commitment to provide material support such as we can.
Here are some organizations collecting funds for hurricane relief:
Though its exact date varies from year to year, the first day of school has become a kind of secular holiday–complete with rituals, special costumes, and lots of companies trying to sell you stuff. I still remember the clench of dread and disbelief that would grip my stomach when I was a kid as soon as the “back to school” ads started appearing on television. How could summer be nearly over already? These reminders of the coming transition always felt cruel and premature.
Like many of us, as I got older, especially once I made it to college, my feelings about the transition from summer vacation to the academic year became a little less full of foreboding. And yet, even during the few years of my adult life that I haven’t spent as part of a school or university–I still felt the special tinge of sadness and expectation that I associate with this time of year.
Now, in my role as Episcopal Chaplain I have cause to consider this first day of school feeling anew, using a different lens than that of an anxious student or teacher. Rather than seeing the transition from summer relaxation into scholarly busyness as a mere shift in activity and stress levels, I see it as a particularly lucid movement of the spirit–a call to notice changes and to trust in God.
For instance, at the start of a new school year we are uniquely able to look out on a span of time–the two semesters ahead of us–not just as minutes, hours, days, weeks, and months, but as a period of possibility. An envelope of time that we’ll always file in the same folder–2019/20–with its own cohort of as-yet-unknown people who will become important to us, decisions to be made, personal and global events that will be tragic or hopeful or groundbreaking, new foods to try and new memes to be forgotten, another Christmas, a new shirt we’ll keep until it disintegrates in twenty years, a new apartment or dormitory, a Lenten promise, a different and deepened relationship to God and our neighbor. In May, we’ll look back on this school year and say: I can’t believe all that happened. And now, here we are, poised on the edge of it. And with God’s help, we’ll make choices that reflect our love of him.
On the brink of all the possibilities of the new school year, I am particularly looking forward to worshiping with the Episcopal community once again, starting this Sunday at 5PM. The Eucharist is an event that changes very little and very radically, not just from year to year, but every time we gather to celebrate it. Christ’s gift of transformed life will always be available to all who seek it. And yet, as with all the other changes of the new school year, we will find that we have a particular relationship to holy communion as individuals and as the Episcopal Community at Cornell in 2019/20. I invite you to join me to begin to discover what God has in store for us on September 1 at 5PM in Anabel Taylor Chapel.
Like most American religious denominations descended from European peoples, the Episcopal Church has a deeply troubled history of racism in its DNA. We acknowledge this at ECC and do not shrink back from naming the sins and repenting of them. .
At the same time, part of the racism endemic in our story is the failure to lift up or even know about the rich history of African-Americans and other people of color in the Episcopal Church’s past. Here at ECC, we strive to learn this history and to celebrate the rich and diverse history from which we all benefit. The towering black intellectual, W.E.B. DuBois, for example, was a member of the Episcopal Church and one of the most moving chapters of his magesterial treatment of race in America, The Souls of Black Folk, has a chapter devoted to one of his friends and mentors, the Episcopal priest and black nationalist, Alexander Crummell. Crummell founded one of the most historic black Episcopal churches in the country, Washington D.C.’s St. Luke’s Episcopal Church. St. Luke’s, along with many other historically African-American Episcopal parishes, continue to send out servants to serve the wider world having been steeped in the rich traditions of African-American spirituality and historically Anglican liturgy. We have been blessed to have had many members of ECC over the years who have attended a number of historic black Episcopal parishes. Recently this included a student who attends Epiphany and Christ Church in Orange NY. whose rector, The Rev. Joseph A. Harmon, is a Cornell alum.
One of our historic black parishes is St. Phillips in Buffalo, New York. St. Phillips was a home to The Rt. Rev. Michael Curry whose father was once the priest there. Bishop Curry who now serves as the Presiding Bishop of the entire Episcopal Church in the U.S. Closer to home, one of ECC alumna, The Rt. Rev. Jennifer Baskerville-Burrows, was recently consecrated the first African-American female Diocesan Bishop in the Episcopal Church.
African-American history is not the only tradition represented among non-European heritages at ECC. It does hold a special place in our history since the time our longest-tenured chaplain, Gurdon Brewster, came to Cornell in 1965 after two summers spent serving with the King family at Ebenezer Baptist Church. We also have had numerous students of color come to ECC from outside the American context. Trinidad, West Africa, Guyana, Puerto Rico, Japan, China, and Korea– All of these countries have been represented at ECC in recent years. We are proud of our diversity and we expect to continue to be an international, ,multi-racial and multi-ethnic community for years to come.
We are clear-eyed, however, and know that having people of color in our community and even in leadership positions does not mean that racism does not exist here. Tokenism is a scourge in all too many places in our society, and the church is no different. We believe that having honest discussions about racist incidents on our campus is crucial to holding our institutions, including the church, accountable for the ways in which white privilege continues to bedevil Cornell and its affiliate organizations. In recent years our chaplain has preached a number of sermons on the topic and challenged us to be bold in speaking out in the spheres in which we have influence. Much work remains to be done!