Archive for April, 2011

“For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. We know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be destroyed, and we might no longer be enslaved to sin.” -Romans 6:5-6

I didn’t exactly keep a very good Lent this year, so as I mentioned in a previous post I made it a point to commit to keeping a good Holy Week.  I always see Holy Week as an opportunity to get my journey back on track, and this year I felt like work had taken precedence over my journey so it was important for me to keep a good Holy Week.  It was also a critical juncture for me at my new parish, as I had promised to myself that I would commit after Holy Week if I found what I was looking for (and I sure did).

I certainly started Holy Week on a joyous note, I assisted at the early service and was blessed to read the lessons, which are by far my favorite readings of any given Sunday of the year.  I attended a most unique Holy Eucharist on Holy Monday (see my previous post, Holy Monday!).  I attend the annual Chrism Mass on Holy Tuesday, an amazing experience in the middle of a Tuesday work day.  On Holy Wednesday, I was joined at Trinity Boston by a colleague from work who had not been to a service in over 6 years, I would like to think my enthusiasm about attending this service had a bit to do with their decision.

And then the Holy Triduum started.  Maundy Thursday at my new parish was a beautiful, moving, and proper observance of the Liturgy appointed for the day.  And yes, everyone left the Church in silence as instructed in the service leaflet.

Good Friday was a wonderfully solemn and prayerful day.  I started the day reading and meditating on the scripture appointed for the day, which includes St John’s account of the Passion.  I listened to Palestrina’s Music for Good Friday and Bach’s St John Passion.  I attended a Stations of the Cross service at one of the local Roman churches at noon and was greatly moved by the meditative and penitential setting.  I took in some of the mediations on the Seven Last Words of Jesus at my former parish, and prayed in those familiar pews.  I spent the remainder of the afternoon with my wonderful wife, and left after dinner to attend the Proper Liturgy for Good Friday at my new parish.  I can only say that it was one of the most moving experiences I have ever had in Church.   After the service, I returned with a few people to take turns reading St Mark’s Gospel in the chancel, the perfect vigil to keep for this day.

The crowning Liturgy for Holy Week is that of the Great Vigil of Easter.  The amazing celebration of this Liturgy was transformational!  We started outside in the garden area, lighting the Paschal Candle from the Holy Flame, and then lighting our candles from the Paschal Candle.  We processed into the dimly lit Chapel, and heard the Service of Lessons, and I was blessed to read the final Lesson.  I had spend the day and the previous hour practicing, and I read that scripture exactly how I had hoped I would, with the Holy Spirit rushing into me and giving me the courage and focus to use my gift to its fullest extent.  Two baptisms followed and we all renewed our Baptismal vows.

And then the moment came and it was nothing short of awesome.  We processed into the Church proper, and the altar that had been stripped bare after the Maundy Thursday and that we had all witnessed bare on Good Friday was alive with Easter!!!!  It took my breath away and moved my soul to such awesome joy!  The first Mass of Easter continued with plenty of sung Alleluias and celebration.  I never really knew how much Easter filled my soul with joy until this blessed night.  I left the church with joyous, renewed spirit and the overwhelmingly comforting sense that I had truly found my new spiritual home.  I also left with a new sense of commitment to my journey, to God and to following Christ by reflecting Him in my words and actions.

May the peace of God, which passeth all understanding keep our hearts and minds in the knowledge and love of God, and of his Son Jesus Christ our Lord; and the blessing of God Almighty, the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost be amongst us, and remain with us always.  Amen.


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“Jesus answered, ‘It is the one to whom I give this piece of bread when I have dipped it in the dish.’ So when he had dipped the piece of bread, he gave it to Judas son of Simon Iscariot. After he received the piece of bread,Satan entered into him. Jesus said to him, ‘Do quickly what you are going to do.’” -John 13:26-27

At Mass today and later in a wonderful post from Fr James Martin, SJ, I was enlightened with a “new to me” theory on the betrayal of Jesus by Judas from the late William Barclay.  That Judas betrayed Jesus to force His hand in revealing Himself as the Messiah he believed Him to be, one that would overthrow the Romans and return Israel to its place.  Not a bad theory at all, in fact, quite a fascinating one given he was the descendant of David and this was a Messianic thread in scripture.  Raise your hand if at no point have you wished that Christ would just come back and make things “right”.

Ah, but that just wasn’t the plan, and for good reason.  We were given free will (see the metaphor of Adam and Eve) and the ability to be good.  And then we didn’t do very well at that at all, so God sent his only Son, begotten not made, to be completely human and completely divine, and to be completely obedient to the will of God.  Even to the point of death on a cross.  Yet leaving us with the promise of eternal life if we simply loved God and loved our neighbor in kind, regardless of who they were, just as he did.

Gospel accounts of Judas’s betrayal mention the fact that the devil/Satan entered into him prior to the actual event.  As I meditated on this topic, I wondered if perhaps this was Satan’s last temptation.  We see the temptations at the beginning of his ministry, perhaps this was the last one.  Satan, playing off of Judas’s earnest desire to see Jesus fulfill his concept of the Messiah, and Satan’s desire to see Christ disobey/challenge God, a perfect situation.  And the epic fail of that temptation in Christ’s acceptance of death and his resurrection.

Something tells me Judas wasn’t the villain many later writers made him out to be, he was just misguided and fell prey to the influence of the “flesh”, instant gratification.  He committed suicide after Christ was crucified.  There are theories on that event as well, but I will leave those alone.

I don’t take for granted that Judas was simply a bad seed, nor do I think that he was a metaphor, I think he was a devout follower who just wanted to make something big happen, it was just not the something that was meant to be, but it did indeed fulfill the prophecy.

That being said, it is a good time to meditate on the Judas (and the Peter after all) in all of us.

Peace in Christ.

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“Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life.” -John 12:25

Having decided that I would attend the Monday-Wednesday services at the Cathedral of St Paul this week for Holy Week (by far the closest Episcopal church to my office, 5 blocks), I attended the Monday service listed simply as Holy Eucharist at 1pm.  What I encountered was a wonderful, challenging, and spiritually moving experience.

The service was listed as taking place in Sprout Hall, which, while I found it a bit odd, I have been to a few Tuesday Holy Eucharist services at the Cathedral where I have been one of 2 or 3 attendees, so I figured this was a sort of chapel service.  I walked into the Cathedral and was immediately challenged by the lack of signage.  I saw folks who had been sitting on the steps wandering in and going down one of the stairwells, so I followed.

As I walked into what I hoped was Sprout Hall, I was met with a setting that was completely unexpected.  It appeared as if a lunch for homeless and other folks in need was wrapping up.  There was a simple table towards the back with a wooden cross fixed in the center, a quart of Welch’s grape juice off to the side, and a priest standing behind the table.  Not exactly what I had expected to find at all (apart from the presence of a priest)!  I will fully admit that part of me wanted to do a 180 and run to catch the 1:15 Mass at St Anthony’s.  But the better part of me knew that God had intended for me to be there and that I would leave the better for it.

The service was ecumenical in nature, beginning with prayers and Psalm 23.  The fellow next to me shared his service leaflet with me, as I had arrived just after they were handed out.  One of the lay folk read the Gospel (John 12:11-25 if I recall the verses correctly), and then another gave a short homily on what it meant to her.  What followed was an amazing outpouring of stories from several members of the congregation about how choosing to follow Christ had transformed their lives.  These were not stories of immediate conversion, these were stories from real people about their journeys and their struggles and the changes in their lives once they committed to “lose their lives”.  The kind of stories that really hit me at the core and inspire me to stay on my journey.

The service continued with Holy Communion, and I really appreciated the fact that after the service the priest asked anyone and everyone to help finish the consecrated grape juice (and did it in a very proper fashion).  In any of my readers wonder why the priest always finishes the consecrated wine (but not the bread), the wine cannot be reserved, the bread can.  Neither can be disposed of.

Later I would find out that this was a weekly post-meal service, that the young people in attendance had come to help serve from a UCC church, and all the folks who had spoken were volunteers and members at the Cathedral.  And I thanked God for bringing me to that place at that time on Holy Monday.

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“Seek the Lord while he wills to be found; call upon him when he draws near.” -Isaiah 55:6

Two years ago, give or take the variable nature of Easter, I experienced my first Palm Sunday and subsequent Holy Week in 17+ years give or take my memory of the last time I had been to Church on Easter let alone Palm Sunday.  No discredit to my parents, my decision as a teenager to leave the faith was my own for reasons that I don’t recall but were probably common with many teenagers.

On Ash Wednesday of that year I had started to find my voice as a lector (the lay person who reads the Jewish Scripture and Epistle on Sunday).  I had been asked to read Psalm 51 when I arrived in addition to the lessons while our music director played the piano, and I found myself filled with the Spirit.  Since my return to the faith I had also landed on the prophet Isaiah as my favorite Jewish Scripture to read in church.

And then I had the experience that has perhaps shaped my drive as a lector more than any other, I was asked (or maybe I asked, or begged) to read Isaiah 55:1-11, Salvation offered freely to all, at the Great Vigil of Easter.  And I recall it well, I put on my only sport coat (I have worked in a business casual environment for, well, my entire career), tie, dress shirt, and dress pants and shoes.  I left a little over an hour before the service despite the church being 5 minutes away, grabbed a rather bad chicken caesar wrap at an undisclosed take-out place, 2 bottles of water, and drove to the parking lot across the church.  I had my Oxford NRSV Bible in the passenger’s seat.  I ate the wrap, and then I read the Sacred Scripture, out loud, in my car, a light rain falling, over and over and over for 30-40 minutes.

Side note, I was an early service person, so I had not really experienced the crowd generated from baptisms, particularly not 3!

As I started walking towards the church, I noticed quite a few well-dressed folk.  I didn’t expect a big crowd for this service, but with the multitude of baptisms there was quite the crowd, and spread throughout the church.  Terror started to root its nasty self in me.  The service started (thankfully there is quite a bit of service and procession prior to the lay readings), and we were seated.  Mr Jim Sweet, a very skilled and faithful reader, read the story from Exodus (the one and only guaranteed reading that you will hear at the Great Vigil) and set an air of calm upon me that I can’t describe.  I went up to the lectern and read as though the Holy Spirit was fully present, and I know that this was the case.

From that day since, I have always strived to read as I did that night.  Sometimes that has been a curse, because of the pressure I put on myself and how I respond to my own mistakes, but I think it is largely a blessing.  Because no matter how far I have strayed from my journey, my gift as a lector has kept me coming back, and that lesson tells me that salvation is offered freely to all who seek it, no matter when or where.

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