Children of Light

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Watching for the Morning of March 26, 2017

The Fourth Sunday in Lent

We hear the story of Samuel journeying to Bethlehem to anoint one of the sons of Jesse in the first reading this Sunday. It is a narrative fraught with danger, since Israel already has a king, and Saul has shown himself more interested in preserving his rule and his house than attending to God’s commands. Saul was the tallest in Israel. Strong, able, he looked the part of a kingly warrior. And the eldest of Jesse’s sons also looked the part – as, presumably, did the second, third, fourth, fifth and sixth. But God sees the heart. And God saw fidelity in the heart of David – fidelity to God and to the people. (Yes, David sins when he murders Uriah to hide his infidelity with Uriah’s wife but, unlike nearly all later kings, he repents – he turns back to God and to the people.) This faithfulness of David is reflected in the familiar psalm for the day.

It’s not clear why this story of David is paired with the account of the man born blind in Sunday’s gospel except, perhaps, for the idea of seeing. The leaders of Israel are unable to see what is happening in Jesus, but the blind man comes to see.

Light and darkness are the theme of the reading from Ephesians. There we are exhorted to eschew the “unfruitful works of darkness” and “live as children of the light.”

For the ancients, darkness was not the absence of light; it was a substance. Light was something that was within and went out through the eyes to perceive the world. Those who are blind, therefore, had darkness within; what came out through their eyes was darkness. Jesus has filled the blind man with light. He has washed away the mud. And Jesus has not only filled him with a physical, material light, he has filled him with a spiritual light. So, if we are filled with this true light, this light of God, that light will go out not only to see clearly the gracious hand of God in the world around us, it will do the works of grace. On the other hand, if the ‘light’ within us is darkness, what will come forth from us are the works of darkness.

Why do we come to worship? Why do we set ourselves before the Word? Why do we take into our hands the bread of life? That we may be filled with light. Look around, the world sorely needs children of the light.

As We Forgive
Our focus on a portion of the catechism during Lent takes us into the Lord’s Prayer this year. Sunday we will consider the fifth petition: “forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.” We pray not only to be forgiven but, with that prayer, we choose to live the grace we desire.

Reflections on the themes of each week and brief daily devotions related to those themes can be found on the blog site for our Lenten devotions.

The Prayer for March 26, 2017

Almighty God, Holy and True,
who opened the eyes of the man born blind
that he might see and know you:
Remove from us all blindness of heart and spirit
that we might truly follow you in lives of faith, hope and love;
through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and forever.

The Texts for March 26, 2017

First Reading: 1 Samuel 16:1-13
“The Lord does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.” – Saul has proven himself unworthy of the monarchy and God commissions Samuel to go to Bethlehem to anoint one of the sons of Jesse as king. All Jesse’s sons look the part of a king, but God chooses the youngest, David, who is out guarding the sheep.

Psalmody: Psalm 23
The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.” – David’s famous psalm acknowledging God as his ruler and protector.

Second Reading: Ephesians 5:8-14
“Once you were darkness, but now in the Lord you are light. Live as children of light.”
–Writing to the believing community in Ephesus, Paul (or someone writing on Paul’s behalf or in his name) urges the community to live faithfully the life into which they have been called in Christ.

Gospel: John 9:1-41
“Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” – Jesus heals a man born blind who is subsequently investigated by the authorities and evicted from the synagogue for his affiliation with Jesus.

Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AWindow_Shadows_on_Ceiling_of_Sagrada_Fam%C3%ADlia_2010.JPG By Patrick Pelletier (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Words of power

Sunday Evening

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The congregation seemed to mutter the opening words of our liturgy this morning. During the Easter season we process with the paschal candle – the candle lit from the new fire at the Easter Vigil service, the candle we follow into the darkened church until the flame is shared with all, the candle that represents Christ the light of the world, risen from the dead. And with the candle burning, ready to walk forward into our midst, the opening words of the liturgy are the acclamation, “Jesus Christ is the Light of the World,” with the congregation responding: “The Light no darkness can overcome.”

It is a declaration that comes from the opening of John’s Gospel where the evangelist writes of the Word that became flesh: “In him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.”

There is darkness in our world. Something is deeply wrong in the human heart when murder is exalted as service of God, when lies are spoken as truth, when children are kidnapped and violated, when workers are abused, and tainted milk sold to the parents of newborns. There is darkness in our world, but light shines. Human kindness and compassion shine in the darkness. People struggle for justice. People risk speaking the truth. And the risen Christ is proclaimed, robbing death of its power. The light shines and the darkness is not able to extinguish it. No matter how deep the darkness, it cannot overcome the light.

This is the church’s exalted cry! The light has come and no darkness can put it out! It is a profound and courageous and exultant acclamation.

Or at least it should be. Today, as we began worship, no one seemed convinced that the light shines in our darkness – at least it was not evident in our voices. The congregation seemed flat and the words rote, repeated without any real conviction.

So I made them say it again. And then a third time. These are words of great meaning. They deserve to be spoken with all their inherent power.

All the words of the church’s liturgy are words of great meaning. These are not nonsense syllables like the magician’s ‘abracadabra’. These are words of power proclaiming deliverance, freedom and hope. They confess sins – they confess our share in the darkness – and announce forgiveness. They recite the great deeds of God: creation, exodus, and the giving of a law/teaching that creates justice. They tell of sacrifice and love. They remember the Christ in such a way that what was long ago becomes part of our living moment. These words lay before God our fears and worries, hopes and dreams. They promise peace. These are words of great power, power to change lives. They deserve to be spoken as words of power.

But sometimes we forget. Or we get distracted. We repeat words without hearing them. Like a distracted parent saying “yes dear” to a child while worrying about dinner and bills and where the heck is your youngest.

Still, “I love you” should never be treated as mere words. These are great words, worth hearing, worth speaking in the recognition of the great gift they are in a world with too little love.

And so are the words like “Jesus Christ is the light of the world.” / “The Light no darkness can overcome.”

 

Photo: Annunciation of the Virgin Mary Greek Orthodox Cathedral, Toronto.  Paschal Candles lit at the Resurrection Liturgy to welcome the risen Saviour and commemorating the annual Miracle of The Holy Fire (Greek Ἃγιον Φῶς, “Holy Light”) that occurs every year at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem on Great Saturday.  By ΙΣΧΣΝΙΚΑ-888 (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

From darkness into light

Watching for Easter

Year B

Maundy Thursday / Good Friday / The Vigil of Easter / Easter Sunday

HeQi_036-medium

He is Risen, He Qi

We gather to begin our observance of the three days on Thursday evening. There is a prelude that night and a confession and forgiveness – but the dismissal to “Go in peace,” and the postlude doesn’t happen until the end of the liturgy on Saturday evening. This is one great celebration in several acts over the three days.

Thursday we begin with a confession that connects to the ancient practice of the church when, on this night, those who had been under the public discipline of the church were reconciled. It is a good word with which to begin: we walk through these days as those who have been cleansed. “Though your sins are as scarlet, they shall be white as snow.” We are gathered as a forgiven and reconciled people – a forgiving and reconciling people.

And so in the Thursday liturgy the forgiven/reconciled, forgiving/reconciling people hear Jesus speak the new commandment to love one another. We hear the splashing water and wrestle with that image of the living Christ at our feet as the paradigm of our life with one another. We encounter the Christ whose body is broken like bread, whose blood is poured out like wine. And we see the altar stripped as Christ was stripped of all honor and led away in the night.

Friday in that last hour of Jesus’ life we hear the prophet Isaiah speak of the one who was wounded for our transgression and John describe the one who was lifted up in the hour the Passover lambs were slain.  We listen and we adore and we pray for a world in need of his voice.

Saturday evening we gather to follow the light of the world through the darkness, we hear the great stories of salvation – and water again, this time the washing of baptism with all its echoes of passing through the Red Sea out from slavery into freedom. And then the Cry goes out: “Christ is Risen!” and the table of Maundy Thursday becomes the banquet of heaven, the foretaste of the feast to come.

In the full light of Easter morning we sing the great hymns that belong to a people who have come through the waters from darkness into light, from the realm of death into the realm of life.

In Detroit, one year, when the girls were young, I stopped at a party store for milk on my way home after the evening service on Good Friday. The man in front of me bought a bottle of cognac, received his change, and started to walk away when turned back to ask for two glasses. He was given two small plastic disposable cups, presumably to sit in a car in the lot and drink with his girl.

I was struck by the contrast that night between the faith community gathered in prayer on this holiest of days, and the guys hanging and drinking outside the store knowing only this was a Friday night. One group praying for the life of the world and the other thinking it was found in a bottle.

Most of the world will not care what we do these three days. But the one they do not see is the world’s true light and life.

The prayers and texts for this week

Maundy Thursday:

In the night of his betrayal, O God,
Jesus bent to wash feet
revealing your will and your way.
Watch over us,
renewing our lives
that, in union with Christ,
we may prove faithful to you and to all.

First Reading: Exodus 12:1-14 (The Passover)
Psalmody: Psalm 116:12-19 (I will lift up the cup of salvation)
Second Reading: 1 Corinthians 11:23-26 (In the night in which he was betrayed…)
Gospel: John 13:1-17, 31b-35 (A give you a new commandment)

Good Friday

In the desolation of the Cross, O God,
you watched over Jesus,
and he kept faith with you.
Watch over us,
renewing our lives and our world
that, by the mercy of Christ,
we may prove faithful to you and to all.

First Reading: Isaiah 52:13-53:12 (He was bounded for our transgressions)
Passion Reading: John 18:1-19:42 (The passion according to John)

Good Friday Evening Prayer – Tenebrae

Eternal Father,
in the shadows of the night we hear the echo of your voice.
Beyond the hammer and the nails,
beyond the jeering and the cries,
beyond the anger and the hardness of heart,
we hear the voice “Father, forgive them.”
Help us hear the prayer, trust its promise, and know its healing.

First Reading: Isaiah 53:4-6 (He was wounded for our transgressions)
Second Reading: 1 Peter 2:21b-25 (He himself bore our sins in his body on the cross)
Seven Last Words:
Luke 23:33-34: (Father forgive them)
Luke 23:39-43: (Today you will be with me in paradise)
John 19:23-27: (Woman behold your son)
Matthew 27:45-46: (My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?)
John 19:28-29: (I Thirst)
John 19:30: (It is finished)
Luke 23:46: (Father, into you hands I commend my Spirit)

Holy Saturday / Easter Vigil

In the night of his Passover, O God, you watched over Jesus
and he kept faith with you.
Watch over us,
renewing our lives and our world
that, by your Spirit,
we may be born anew
in lives faithful to you and to all.

First Reading: Genesis 1.1-2.2 (The Story of Creation)
Second Reading: Selections from Genesis 6-9 (The Flood) [whole text, Genesis 6:5-9:15]
Third Reading: Genesis 22.1-14 (The Binding of Isaac)
Fourth Reading: Exodus 14.5-14:30 (The Exodus)
Fifth Reading: Ezekiel 37.1-14 (The Valley of Dry Bones)
Sixth Reading: Selections from Exodus 11 and 12 (The Passover)
Seventh Reading: Daniel 3.1-29 (The Fiery Furnace)
Epistle: Romans 6:3-5 (We have been buried with him in baptism)
Gospel: Mark 16:1-8 (The women run away from the empty tomb in fear and trembling)

Easter Sunday Morning

In the empty tomb, O God,
you bear witness to Jesus
that his word and his deeds are true,
and encounter all people with the promise of life.
Watch over us,
renewing our lives and our world
that, all heaven and earth
may be united in faithfulness and joy.

First Reading: Isaiah 25:6-9 (Isaiah’s vision of all people gathered at one table)
Psalmody: Psalm 118:1-2, 14-16, 22-24 (The stone that the builders rejected)
Second Reading: 1 Corinthians 15:1-8 (Paul’s list of the witnesses to the resurrection)
Gospel: John 20:1-18 (The race to the tomb, and the risen Jesus meets Mary )

 

 

Image: He, Qi. He is Risen, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN. http://diglib.library.vanderbilt.edu/act-imagelink.pl?RC=46117 [retrieved April 1, 2015]. Original source: heqigallery.com.

“It was a sabbath day”

Saturday

John 9

stained glass14Now it was a sabbath day when Jesus made the mud and opened his eyes.

It’s not that the Sabbath day doesn’t matter. It’s not that this is an old archaic practice that is no longer binding. It’s not even that Jesus was challenging a too literal observance of the Sabbath command. Jesus was fulfilling it.

The Sabbath is the day of rest when all creation has been brought to perfection. God separates the light from the darkness. God separates the waters above from the waters beneath. God separates the waters to allow dry land to appear. Then God populates the sky with heavenly bodies, the land and sky with earthly bodies, and in his consummate creative act creates humans, male and female, in God’s own image. Over all this God seven times declares it is good – the seventh and consummate declaration spoken over the whole thing was that “it was very good.” The creation is brought into perfect life. And God rests. All things are good and perfect and whole.

And then the perfection is lost. The first humans trust themselves more than God. They hide from each other behind fig leaves – and from God in the bushes. The joy of childbirth becomes joined with pain. The joy of tending the land becomes the sweat of work in a world with weeds. Cain rises up against Abel. Blood is shed. God tries to stay the bloodletting by protecting Cain, promising to avenge any harm to him – and Lamech trumps God by promising seventy-sevenfold revenge to anyone who harms him.  Weapons are made.  The line between heaven and earth is broken by angels consorting with humans. Were it not for Noah, the world would be lost.

But God ponders Noah and grace triumphs. God sets about restoring his creation. Redeeming it. Setting it free from its bondage. Restoring his garden. He calls Abraham. He gathers a people out of bondage in Egypt and teaches them to live God’s justice and mercy. He gives them a land where all can be fed.

And then it goes astray. But Moses and the prophets and the psalms lay the foundation for God’s restoration of his world. They bear witness to the day when sins and forgiven and the Spirit of God poured out on all. They promise a day when swords are beaten into plowshares and the lion lies down with the lamb. Through the law and prophets and writings God promises to bring his creation to its ultimate Sabbath rest, to bring us into the perfect peace of God.

This is what Jesus is doing on the Sabbath. He is fulfilling the rules not breaking them. He is bringing light into the world. He is healing every wound. He is releasing us from our debt of shame. He is restoring our sight. He is bringing God’s perfect peace.

The tragedy is that these very religious people could not see. The sorrow is that “the world loved darkness.” We harp on the rules and miss all that they promise: A world where God is God. A world where God’s name is not used for falsehood. A world where all enjoy God’s Sabbath rest. A world where the elderly are protected and provided. A world where no harm is done to another’s life or family or reputation. A world where truth reigns and there is no evil eye. A world gathered at one table. A world of light and life.

It was a sabbath day when Jesus made the mud and opened his eyes. 

Exactly.

 

 

The light for all people

Wednesday

John 9

1File:Duccio di Buoninsegna 037.jpgAs Jesus walked along, he saw a man blind from birth. 2His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”

The world in which Jesus lived was far different than our own, and it is hard for us to see the world in the way they saw it. We know the eye is an organ that is sensitive to certain wavelengths we call visible light. We know  photons travel at the speed of light into the complex structure of the eye, stimulating receptor cells on the retina sending signals through the optic nerve to the visual cortex where they are converted into meaningful patterns.

We know that the stuff of the world is composed of atoms that are in turn composed of protons, neutrons and electrons, that are themselves composed of things like quarks and muons. Blindness is simply a disruption in that complex system where, for a variety of reasons, the signals no longer reach the brain in a clear or meaningful pattern.

My friend Charlie in college had only one working eye and had to read through thick glasses to pages that were inches from his face. But no one considered him accursed. Unfortunate, maybe, but not evil. No one thought him a sinner because his eyes were bad.  Technology eventually afforded him a surgery and a huge “contact lens” that gave sight to the sightless eye.

But in the world of Jesus light was a substance. And darkness was a substance. So in the beginning God creates light and separates it from the darkness, and the creation of light has nothing to do with the sun, moon and stars that come three days later.

Light was a substance. Angels were made of light. The stars were beings of light, inhabitants of the realm of the air. For humans, light originated in the heart (the place of emotion infused thought, where choices are made) and emanated from the eyes. But there could also be darkness in the heart, and then darkness comes from your eyes. (And so Jesus says in Matthew, “If the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!”)

To be blind was to have darkness within. They may be objects of pity. They may be recipients of charity. But they were accursed. And, worse, their darkness could be the evil eye – itself a power that could work evil.

Spit is unclean. But according to the principle that like attracts like, the evil eye would be attracted to spit. That is why people spit in the presence of something bad or evil: the evil eye cannot help but look at the spit and so is diverted from entering the spitter. It is why people wear amulets of genitals or the color blue. Like attracts like.

So Jesus spits into the ground and makes a paste, and the spit paste attracts the evil eye and is washed away. And where darkness had filled the blind man’s heart, Jesus, the light of the world, now fills it with light.

This is not a miracle where the biomechanics of the body are repaired. This is a healing sign where a human being is reclaimed for God. The source of his blindness is of no consequence; his blindness will allow God’s true work to be seen.

This is why this event is such challenge to the Pharisees, for Jesus suggests that the ‘light’ in them is actually darkness, because it gives birth to evil deeds. They refuse to recognize God at work in Jesus, and their refusal will eventually show itself in murder. They become agents of death instead of life. Like the false prophets who call darkness light and light darkness, they see God and the world wrongly.

But the blind man sees. He sees God’s imperishable life manifest in Jesus, who comes to replace our darkness with light. “In him was life, and the life was the light of all people.”

Light and darkness

Watching for the morning of March 30

Year A

The Fourth Sunday in Lent

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The dark and the light of Rosh Hanikra, By Sayhey1111

Light and darkness, seeing and unseeing eyes, form the center of Sunday’s readings. Samuel is sent to Bethlehem to anoint a king in place of Saul. He is impressed by the physique and appearance of Jesse’s first born, but he is not the one – nor any of David’s older brothers. God reminds Samuel that he does not look on outward appearance but sees the heart.

Though David becomes the shepherd of Israel, the nation’s leader and protector, David sees that God is his – and our – true protector, sustaining him even in the face of death and amidst the intrigues of the royal court.

Paul – or, perhaps, a student of Paul – writes to the Christian community in Ephesus, exhorting them to walk as children of the light.

And Jesus heals a man born blind, an act that reveals Jesus as the light of the world – but also that the leadership of Judah as unseeing.

All of which invites us to examine whether we see truly, whether we live in and from the light, or whether we are walking in the murkiness of death’s dark vale.

The Prayer for March 30, 2014

Almighty God, Holy and True,
who opened the eyes of the man born blind
that he might see and know you:
Remove from us all blindness of heart and spirit
that we might truly follow you in lives of faith, hope and love.

The Texts for March 30, 2014

First Reading: 1 Samuel 16:1-13
“The Lord does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.” – Saul has proven himself unworthy of the monarchy and God commissions Samuel to go to Bethlehem to anoint one of the sons of Jesse as king. All Jesse’s sons look the part of a king, but God chooses the youngest, David, who is out guarding the sheep.

Psalmody: Psalm 23
The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.” – David’s famous psalm acknowledging God as his ruler and protector.

Second Reading: Ephesians 5:8-14
“Once you were darkness, but now in the Lord you are light. Live as children of light.”
–Writing to the believing community in Ephesus, Paul (or someone writing on Paul’s behalf or in his name) urges the community to live faithfully the life into which they have been called in Christ.

Gospel: John 9:1-41
“Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” – Jesus heals a man born blind who is subsequently investigated by the authorities and evicted from the synagogue for his affiliation with Jesus.