Ash Wednesday

Watching for Ash Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Tomorrow we begin our long journey to Jerusalem where Jesus will wash feet, break bread, pray in Gethsemane, get kissed by Judas and abandoned by his followers, be abused by the thugs who snatched him in the night and tortured by Roman Soldiers in the full light of day. And he will not fight back. He will raise no army. He will lift no sword. He will call for no chariots of fire. There will be no joining of earthly and heavenly armies to slay the imperial troops of Rome. There will be hammer and nails and a tomb with its entrance barred by a stone.

And in the darkness of that final night will shine the light of a divine mercy that envelops the whole world in grace. “The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.”

Tomorrow is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of the Christian observance of Lent, a forty day period of fasting, sharing and serving, a time of spiritual renewal that will bring us to that day when the women find the tomb empty and see a vision of angels declare that God has raised Jesus from the dead.

Tomorrow is Ash Wednesday. And our evening begins with the burning of the palm fronds from Palm Sunday last year and the ancient practice of anointing ourselves with ashes.

Ashes to ashes, dust to dust – it is partly about remembering our mortality. More profoundly it remembers that death came when humanity turned away from God. And so it is a day of repentance, of turning back to God. It begins a period of forty days of intentional turning towards God, an intentional deepening of our spiritual lives, an intentional deepening of compassion, faith, hope, and joy.

Our signs of repentance are not merely personal. We ask God’s forgiveness on behalf of the whole human race. And there is much to confess. The deceit and destruction loose in our world, the greed and over-consumption, the violence, the warring. There is much to confess. And we will stand with the victims of all our evil. With those ashes we stand with the abused and forgotten, the hungry and homeless, the refugees unwanted, the fearful and grieving. We stand with them all, daring to name our human brokenness, knowing that Jesus will share that brokenness and bear the scars in his hands and feet.

We dare to name it all, because God is mercy. Because God is redemption. Because God is new life. Because God is new creation. Because God is eager for us to turn away from our destructive paths into the path of life.

So with ashes on our foreheads we will renew the journey that leads to the empty tomb, the gathered table, and the feast to come.

The Prayer for Ash Wednesday

Almighty God, Holy and Immortal,
who knows the secrets of every heart
and brings all things to the light of your grace.
Root us ever in your promised mercy
that, freed from every sin and shame,
we may walk the paths of your truth and love.

The Texts for Ash Wednesday

First Reading: Isaiah 58:1-12 (appointed: Joel 2:1-2, 12-17)
“Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke?” –
After the return from exile in Babylon, life was hard and Jerusalem and its temple continued to lie in ruins. The people complained that God did not respond to their prayers. The prophet challenges the meaning of such prayers when the people fail to embody the life of justice and mercy to which God called them.

Psalmody: Psalm 103:8-14
“He has not dealt with us according to our sins, nor rewarded us according to our wickedness.” – In our parish, we use the appointed Psalm 51 (the famous cry of repentance by David after he has been confronted by the prophet Nathan over the murder of Uriah and the taking of Bathsheba ) in the confession at the beginning of our liturgy. When we come to the time for the psalm we hear the poet speak of the tender love and faithfulness of God who has “removed our sins from us” “as far as the east is from the west.”

Second Reading: 2 Corinthians 5:20b-6:1 (appointed: 5:20b-6:10)
“We entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.”
– Paul calls his troubled congregation to live within the reconciling work of God in Christ.

Gospel Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21
“Beware of practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them; for then you have no reward from your Father in heaven.” – Jesus declares at the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount that, in order to enter into God’s dawning reign, our righteousness must exceed that of the scribes and Pharisees. Now, having spoken about the meaning of the commandments (in contrast to the way they are taught by the scribes) Jesus turns to the acts of piety for which the Pharisees were known. Our prayer, fasting and charity must be done not for public acclaim but to please God.

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Even Gloria

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Looking back to last Sunday

Isaiah 42:1-9

9See, the former things have come to pass,
and new things I now declare;
before they spring forth,
I tell you of them.

It’s several days, now, since we celebrated the Baptism of Our Lord, but it is the first opportunity for me to look back. I got the phone call on Saturday that my stepmother was in critical condition and the flight I found meant that I would have to duck out of worship early on Sunday. The plan was to slip out after the blessing of the bread and wine, but the service went long and I slipped out at the sharing of the peace.

It is strange not to be able to be present as the service reaches its fulfillment at the table. Something is unfinished. We have heard the word. We have sung some of the music. We have even prayed the prayers. But the big prayer, the Eucharistic Prayer that recites the great history of God’s saving work from creation to this moment that is embodied in bread and wine – that prayer has gone unspoken. At least by me. I have not seen the bread broken as Christ was broken. I have not tasted the bread or caught that brief whiff of the wine that tells me that I, even I, am part of the great communion of heaven and earth begun in this Jesus.

And so as I flew to Colorado, as I rode to the hospital, as I entered the room to my stepmother’s bright eyes and delighted smile – and my own tears – it is as though we are still in the middle of worship. The service is not reached its fulfillment. The bread we await is yet coming. The new creation is ahead of us.

And as I join in the family gathering, as we weep the tears and tell the stories and take turns sitting at her side to hold her left hand (Dad had a firm, sometimes too firm, grip on her right hand), the feast to come awaits. Somehow living and dying are part of worship, part of the offering of all life back to God, part of the living in the light of grace and being sustained by the promise that the coming feast is come and yet coming. We are God’s children now. What we shall be is not yet revealed, but we are God’s children now. And Sunday I will stand among the congregation at the church where I once stood with Gloria and my father. And Gloria will be among the communion of saints in a manner beyond my comprehension. But the bread will be there. And the wine. And the promise. And the hope. And the mystery that all things are God’s and will be God’s forever. Even Gloria. Even we who weep.

Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3ALoojangu_v%C3%A4rvid_2.jpg By Kristoffer Vaikla (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

Practice, practice, practice

Sunday Evening

Psalm 147

Lutheran Altar7 Sing to the Lord with thanksgiving;
make melody to our God on the lyre.

Today was Boy Scout Sunday. Our troop served coffee hour and joined us in worship.  I was reminded of the difference it makes when there is a larger number of people in worship. The energy of the service is different. The singing is stronger. The energy in the preaching is higher, because the feedback from the congregation is greater.

When I have been on vacation, I have tended to think I had an obligation to myself to find a worship service. I have thought “this is what Christians do” – they gather on the first day of the week to hear the word and share in the Lord’s Supper.

The time I had a sabbatical, the worship service was less of an obligation, but still something I did for what I received. It was a healthy pattern, a focal point of the week, an occasion for prayer and the sacrament. It was good for me. What I didn’t consider was that my presence – as one of many – made worship better for others.

I have told parents who bring infants for baptism that their children have a ministry in the church. One of the promises the parents make in the baptismal service is that they will bring their children “to the services of God’s house.” But we often don’t see them until the child is ready for Sunday School. It’s a shame. The ministry of babies in a congregation is to be babies. Babies attract a crowd. They make everyone smile. There is an “aaaw” effect that connects people to one another.

No one coos over me at this point in my life, but nevertheless each voice makes the worship of the church richer, fuller. I have not only an obligation to God to come thank and honor him with the first hour of my week; I have not only the privilege of hearing God’s Word and receiving God’s gifts; I have a ministry to the community to come and sing and pray and add myself to our shared experience.

There have been times I have been unable to sing, times when the prayers stick in my throat, times of grief and despair when I have needed the community to pray the prayers and sing the songs for me. Though I couldn’t get the words out, the community spoke them for me. I have understood this. And yet, I never thought about the importance of doing this for others when I was trying to decide on Saturday night whether to go someplace on Sunday morning.

We make worship about me. My convenience. My enrichment. My spirituality. (I had members of one church leave for another because the new church had a 45-minute 8:00 a.m. service and they could “get in and get out and still have [their] whole day.”) But worship is not just about me. It is about the community. I add something to their experience just by being there. So even if I got nothing else from the service, it would still be worthwhile, for I have been there for the sake of others. And this is the whole point of worship – to practice being people of God.

The garments of salvation

Thursday

Isaiah 61

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Traditional Wedding Dress of Bahrain

10 I will greatly rejoice in the Lord,
my whole being shall exult in my God.

Every now and then I have to stop the liturgy and remind the congregation what they are saying. To respond to the declaration that all sins are forgiven with a lackluster “thanks be to God,” is a travesty. No groom stands before his bride and mutters off the vows as if they were old and tired words. If such a groom exists, the bride should flee. Every now and then the guy is nervous – and, since he is repeating words I give him, he will start the vows looking at me. For that brief moment his concern is “getting it right.” He’s reciting a formula. But I always stop and remind him that he is not making the promise to me but to her and he should look at her. Then his whole demeanor changes. Then the words are channeled through his heart and will and emotions. Then they are spoken from the core of his being. “I take you…”

When we stand to speak in worship we stand before that power and presence in whom and from whom all things came into being. We are speaking to the one who is the source of all existence including our own. We are speaking to the heartbeat of the universe and the breath of all life. We are speaking with the power of creation and new creation, the power of truth and redemption, the power of grace and mercy, the power that unleashes every bondage yet binds itself to us.

We are not just looking into the loving eyes of a bride or groom; we are looking into the eyes of eternal love. If we mumble, then it ought only be because we are overwhelmed.

10 I will greatly rejoice in the Lord,
my whole being shall exult in my God.

My whole being shall exult. My whole being. Every heartbeat, every breath, every blink of the eye, every silently pulsating work of cells to grow and divide, to heal and renew, to stretch and grow, with every fiber of my being I praise this source of life. For the God who is at work in the world is loosing those who are bound, is building what has been torn down, is binding what is broken, healing what is wounded, forgiving what we imagine cannot be forgiven. The God who is at work in the world throws down every empire and raises up the ruined city. This God who is at work in the world, who speaks to us and to whom we speak, comes to wrap us and all creation in the garments of salvation.

10 I will greatly rejoice in the Lord,
my whole being shall exult in my God;
for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation,
he has covered me with the robe of righteousness,
as a bridegroom decks himself with a garland,
and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.

The song lingers

Sunday Evening

Isaiah 51 (as sung in the psalmody today)

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Western Meadowlark. Kevin Cole from Pacific Coast, USA

11 “The ransomed of the Lord will return,
They will enter Zion with singing;
everlasting joy will crown their heads;
sorrow and sighing will flee away.”

The hymns from this morning linger in my mind. I find myself humming or singing or just hearing in my mind the words “A-a-a-le-lu-u-jah, A-a-a-le-lu-u-jah, A-a-a-le-lu-u-jah, Christ the-e Lord [something] comes to reign.” (I had to go find my hymnal and look it up. That uncertain line is “Christ the Lord returns to reign.”)

At different times in the day different phrases from that hymn has rattled through my mind.

Lo! He comes with clouds descending,
Once for favored sinners slain

But, since I don’t know this hymn very well, after these few words I resort to the “dah, dah, dah”s. Still, the music of the hymn, the majesty and – not quite joy, but ‘uplift’? – of the hymn I remember. It is like an echo coming back across a broad valley, or the aroma from yesterday’s bread that reveals itself when I return to my apartment.

Worship is meant to do this, to linger. The words spoken, the readings, the songs, the prayers, the actions of standing and sitting, giving an offering, and coming to the table, the sharing of the peace – they are all meant to work not only on our conscious mind but our subconscious. The peace is meant to linger. The sense of our lives being connected to something greater than ourselves is meant to ripple through our day, our week. A warmth of human connection, a hug, a smile, a gesture as simple as sharing a bulletin, may waft through our day with positive emotions. Of course, a harsh word, a cold shoulder can also haunt the day. This is the risk we take in being with others.

The liturgy didn’t go smoothly this morning. It was storming outside. Between the storm and the holiday weekend, the gathered community was small. The Assisting Minister didn’t show up, nor the acolyte. I had forgotten I agreed to get someone to sing the verse of “Oh, Come, Oh, Come, Emmanuel” that transitioned us from announcements into the lighting of the Advent Wreath before the entrance hymn. And I didn’t know who, if anyone, was prepared to light the wreath – the person assigned to that task was late arriving. Then the printer wouldn’t work for my sermon. We weren’t quite prepared for the beginning of this Advent season that is about preparation. Ah, well.

We do enter God’s presence stumbling. We do not arrive with manicured nails and tailored suits; we arrive as we are: frail in our best times, capable of great ugliness in our worst. We come as representatives of a humanity that is rioting in Ferguson, shooting children with toy guns in the assumption they are criminals; bombing cities, kidnapping children, assaulting women for indecent clothing. We come disillusioned by fallen heroes – the world has lost some of its remaining innocence with the revelations about Bill Cosby. And the missing football player is added to a tragic list of suicides. We come as members of a human community that has profoundly betrayed our creator’s intention for us – and yet also as members of a human community capable of remarkable generosity. Who could imagine Bloods and Crips standing together to protect another’s property? For every one who throws a rock there are others helping to clean up. For every killing marred by racism there are acts that transcend the most fundamental human divides. For every act of violence, manifold kindness.

We come together to sing our frail song and, somehow, God in his infinite grace transforms our song into true praise – into a meadowlark’s evening call, into the sound of wind in the aspens, into the harmonies of the spheres.

Our small words become vessels of God’s words, our bit of bread a vehicle of Christ’s presence, our prayers draw eternity to us and us to the eternal.

It is truly wondrous. And, in spite of ourselves, the tune lingers.

Running to the table

Sunday Evening

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By Erik (HASH) Hersman (Flickr: Running Samburu Boy) [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

I apologize that there was no meditation for Saturday. Late Saturday evening, when I finally had my blog composed the way I wanted it, my hard drive crashed. I lost the blog entirely – and my sermon for this morning.

To be honest I didn’t regret the loss of the sermon as much as the loss of the blog. The sermon I wasn’t yet happy with – though I needed the hours I spent fixing my laptop. The blog, on the other hand, was finalized. I was just adding the text links and getting ready to post it.

So I had to “wing it” somewhat with Sunday’s sermon. I knew the texts. I knew what I wanted to say. I just had to do it without the reassurance of having composed the words ahead of time, so that I said what I wanted to say. I call it “working without a net” – nothing to catch me if I lose my train of thought or get off track and end up in a cul-de-sac. (You could also call it depending on the Spirit, though I know I am depending on the Spirit when I write my manuscript.)

A manuscript also helps me stay within a reasonable time frame. (Years ago, on my first try, when I felt the need to try preaching without a manuscript, I preached for 40 minutes – about twice what is customary in our churches.)

Some church services are a sermon with a little bit of music. Lutheran services are sometimes music with a little bit of preaching – though the tradition calls for equal attention between the liturgy of the Word (readings and preaching) and the liturgy of Holy Communion.

We are creatures who need liturgy. We need the power that comes with symbolic acts. An engagement ring is a symbolic act. Thanksgiving dinner is a symbolic act. A retirement dinner, a housewarming, graduation, bringing flowers to your daughter after her performance in the school play, these are all symbolic acts. They mark the moment. I could have given my daughter a picture of my high school play (though I was not on stage) but the tradition is to give flowers – so we give flowers. It has a culturally defined meaning – just like candy or roses on Valentines’ Day.

That small bit of bread and sip of wine are one such symbolic act with a culturally defined meaning. Only this meaning is defined by the promise of the prophets, the actions of Jesus, the last supper, and the whole history of the church. It means we are welcome at God’s banquet table – we are accepted, we are loved, we are forgiven, we are joined to of God’s people, we are joined with God in Christ, we have a share in the feast to come, and we bear Christ’s body into the world.

Ask a child and they may not be able to tell you all this. But this morning, as communion was being served, the children were late coming from Sunday School (they go to a lesson after the children’s message, during the time of the readings and sermon, and return to participate in the Lord’s Table). As I served the ushers and the organist – usually the last to be served before the assisting minister and me – I could see out the back door that the children were running to get to the table in time. I was more than happy to wait.

Running to the table. Eager to participate in this stylized action that symbolizes all God’s promise for the human community – that we will eat together at one table in that day of perfect peace, when every wound is healed and every debt forgiven. A promise that we are called to live now, knowing it is the destiny for which we were made.

These small children could not likely have explained any of this, but they were running to be there.  They know what it is to be included with everyone else in something that is very special.

As do we who imagine ourselves rational adults.

A trick of the eye

Sunday Evening

Acts 1

Glass altarpiece by René Lalique in St. Matthew’s Church (the Glass Church), Millbrook, Jersey

10While he was going and they were gazing up toward heaven, suddenly two men in white robes stood by them.

As is my custom, I had my eyes closed and my arms crossed across my chest, bowing slightly as we sang the words “Holy, Holy, Holy” that Isaiah, in his wondrous vision, heard the seraphim singing in the presence of God when the earth shook and smoke filled the temple. It is a simple gesture that connects with many things in Christian tradition, not least with the prophets falling on their faces in humility before the presence of the holy God. That small bow acknowledges – at least to myself – that we, too, are in the presence of the almighty, singing the song of heaven.

As I stood at the altar, bowing as we sang, a shadow passed across my closed eyes. I was a little startled, thinking someone had walked in front of the altar. Why they would do that in the middle of the prayers over the bread and wine confused me. Of course, when I looked up, no one was there.

It was a trick of the eye, I assume. I am, after all, a citizen of the scientific world, cautious about claims about the spiritual world. But that little flicker of shadow distracted me as I continued with the prayers. It made me mindful of exactly what we say about worship – that we are joining the song of the angels – and about the Holy Communion – that Christ is present in the breaking of the bread.

I pray over the pews on Saturday, at least most Saturdays. I ask God to gather his people for worship. I ask God to fill each pew and to touch those who come with his Spirit and grace. I ask God to send his holy angels to keep watch at the doors that no darkness enters. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised if I get a reminder now and then that God keeps his promise that, “where two or three are gathered together in my name, there I am in the midst of them.” (Matthew 18:20)

A holy work

Sunday Evening

1 Samuel 16

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Medieval Antiphon

5“Sanctify yourselves and come with me to the sacrifice.”

The Lutheran community avoids the language of sacrifice with respect to our worship, shaped as we are by the arguments of the 16th century about the sacrifice of the mass. But that language is deep in the tradition of the church. The problem for Luther was the suggestion that in the Holy Communion we are performing some work that merits God’s favor instead of God performing a work to convey to us his favor.

The ancients didn’t have an assembly line for the slaughter of animals. Meat didn’t come sanitized in Styrofoam packages; it was a much more intense affair. I received a tour of a hog slaughtering plant, once. Fortunately, it was off line at the time, but my imagination didn’t have any trouble filling in the details. There was no sense of the sacredness of life, no sense that we were trespassing on the realm of the holy, no sense that humans shouldn’t take life without asking God’s permission and favor. It was no different than the lawn mower factory to which I once upon a time delivered fresh coffee and sandwiches. Keep the line moving.

God gave Noah permission to eat meat, but he set rules – rules to insure that we don’t take life lightly. The slaughter of an animal required that we acknowledge the giver of life. Set within the context of Israel’s worship, the eating of meat becomes a fellowship meal with God. And since that meal was to be shared not only with your family and friends but also with the poor, it was a fellowship with God that anticipated that ultimate banquet where heaven and earth are reconciled and all people are gathered to share God’s table.

A life was sacrificed to create that fellowship meal. When we come to the Lord’s Table, we ought not forget that here, too, a life was sacrificed to create this fellowship between God and ourselves.

When I was a child, we always had to have a bath on Saturday night. It wouldn’t do to go to church with dirty feet even if they were hidden in dress shoes (I grew up in California and it seemed like we went barefoot all summer). My mother certainly would have been ashamed to have the people at church think we were unwashed, but it was more than that. We were coming into God’s presence. We should at least be clean in body even as we began the service with a confession to be clean in spirit.

5“Sanctify yourselves and come with me to the sacrifice.”

I don’t think about this now – I don’t go barefoot anymore, and I don’t like to start any day unwashed. But I should think about this. I should prepare myself to come into God’s house, to hear his word, to eat at his table. I should be mindful that I am coming together with others to participate in the songs and prayers that proclaim God’s grace and life. I don’t need to wear dress shoes. This is not about old cultural values. It is about recognizing that the work we come to do on Sunday is a holy work. This is not an entertaining diversion, a concert to enjoy, a visit with friends or an interesting lecture. We come together to honor God and to bear witness to his grace and life. We come because we are invited to the master’s table, a holy table, a table paid for at great price.

5“Sanctify yourselves and come with me to the sacrifice.”

Purple

Sunday Evening

John 3

File:Mexican oil paint on copper retablo, 17th century, El Paso Museum of Art.JPG

Anonymous, Mexican oil paint on copper retablo, 17th century, El Paso Museum of Art.

14Just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up.

I’m glad I am accustomed to leading the service without robes from our worship in the summer or I would have felt very strange today.

I was stunned into wakefulness at 5:00 this morning with the realization that my nose was bleeding again.  I tried desperately to keep the blood from flowing onto the sheets, but as I came back from the bathroom holding a wad of toilet paper up against my left nostril I saw that I had not been at all successful.  With one hand I pulled off the pillowcases, the fitted sheet, and fumbled with the buttons on the duvet cover trying to get all this, plus my shirt and a towel into cold water in the bathtub before the blood set.  It’s hard to do with one hand.  I’m at the Laundromat now, waiting to see if I was successful in rescuing my sheets.

I eventually got the bleeding to stop, but I didn’t want to risk bleeding onto my vestments this morning.  I suppose I could use a new white alb, but the purple chasuble was a gift from a friend who died of AIDs and it is not replaceable to me.  (And just so you know, I also did the prayers over the bread and wine standing well back from the altar linens; I wasn’t thinking only about me.)

Still, it is odd for me to stand unvested in Lent.  This rich, wonderful, season deserves the vivid image the chasuble provides.  The purple robe evokes the robe thrown around Jesus as the soldiers beat, tortured and humiliated this helpless “king” with a crown of thorns, a mock scepter, and this ‘royal’ robe.  I know that there are other historical associations with this ancient form of dress.  I know it once represented street clothes.  But it does so no longer.  Now it is a visible reminder that the taunted one is the host of the meal, a proclamation that the crucified is risen and even now stands in our midst as earth’s true king.  Though I say the prayers – it is Christ who serves us.

But I didn’t want to bleed on that purple robe – even though that would have been even more poetic, for surely the robe Jesus wore was stained with blood.  But it was not my blood.  It was not my suffering.  It was not my sorrow.  It was not my faithfulness and mercy in the face of hatred and violence.  I only stand in his place, speaking his words, acknowledging his mercy, his sacrifice, his incomprehensible love – and declaring it to you.  “This is the body of Christ, broken for you.”  “This is the blood of Christ, shed for you.”

For you.  And for me.  And for those who are jogging past the church on Sunday morning oblivious to the sacrifice.  And for those dying in Syria who know it first hand.  And for those perishing from hunger in the Sudan, caught in violence in Venezuela, victimized by trafficking, and seduced by holy war.  For all those unseen by us, unseen by the media, unseen by all but God.  For all the world that God loved in this way in order that they may not perish but see and trust and enter into that eternal life of the world to come when swords are finally beaten into plowshares and every tear is swiped away.

PS  It looks like the stains have been lifted – but that’s a message for another day.