Sunday, April 9, 2017

An Invitation to Holy Week Services

Holy Week and Easter Services,   Beginning April 10, 2017

Monday — Stations of the Cross at 7-7:30 p.m.
We walk the Stations of Christ's passion around the sanctuary with quiet prayers and antiphons.  We join Mary, Jesus' mother, the women and other disciples who followed Jesus on the last walk to the crucifixion. 
Wednesday — Tenebrae at 7-7:30 p.m.
The name Tenebrae (the Latin word for "darkness" or "shadows") has for centuries been applied to the ancient monastic night and early morning services (Matins and Lauds) of the last three days of Holy Week, which in medieval times came to be clebrated on the preceding evenings.  Apart from the chant of the Lamentations (in which each verse is introduced by a letter of the Hebrew alphabet), the ost conspicuous feature of the service is the gradual extinguishing of candles and other lights in the church until only a single cnadle, considered a symbol of our Lord, remains.  Toward the end of the service, this candle is hidden, typifying the apparent victory of the forces of evil.  At the very end, a loud noicse is made, symbolizing the earthquake at the time of the resurrection (Matthew 28:2), the hidden candle is restored to its place, and by its light all depart in silence.
Maundy Thursday — 7-8 p.m.
Our Maundy Thursday worship includes hymns, Eucharist and ritual foot washing, following the example Jesus set for his disciples by washing their feet, an act of humble service.  At the conclusion of the service will will participate in stripping of the altar, preparing for our Good Friday service.  We do not end our service with a dismissal, signaling that our worship continues from Thursday through Good Friday and Holy Saturday to the Great Vigil.
Good Friday — Noon
At this service we will process the cross and lay it at the foot of the altar so that we may venerate the cross, witnessing the suffering of Christ and of the world.  
Holy Saturday — 10-10:30 a.m. 
The Great Vigil of Easter at 7-8:30 p.m. (Saturday the 15th)
This four part service includes a Service of Light, with a procession of the Paschal Candle from the Holy fire into the Church by the Deacon during the singing of the Exultet.  The Service of Lessons recounts our salvation history.  The Renewal of Baptismal Vows at the font prepares us for the Holy Eucharist with the administration of Easter Communion.  This glorious service brings us from darkness into the light of Easter Alleluias.  Join us after the vigil for a celebratory cold supper in the kitchen.

Easter Sunday Holy Eucharist — 10 a.m. 
This family oriented service will feature Easter brass, Alleluia eggs and traditional Easter hymns.  Wear your Easter hats and celebrate the resurrection with us!  (Egg hunt following the service.) 

Palm Sunday Sermon

The Liturgy of the PalmsMatthew 21:1-11
Psalm 118:1-2, 19-29

The Liturgy of the Word
Isaiah 50:4-9a
Philippians 2:5-11
Matthew 26:14- 27:66
or Matthew 27:11-54
Psalm 31:9-16

Entering into Holy Week

We begin today the journey with Jesus to Jerusalem.  As I reflected on the Scripture for this week, I was struck by the complexity of this story.  We read a shorter portion of the passion today, but you have the longer version on the insert to your bulletin.  In the full pericope beginning in Chapter 26 of Matthew so many steps along the journey:
1)    the corruption of Judas Iscariot
2)    the Last Supper and the institution of the Eucharist
3)    the denial of Peter
4)    the betrayal of Judas
5)    the trial before Pilate
6)    the repentence and death of Judas and the planting of silver in the Field of Blood
7)    the release of Barrabas
8)    the stripping and mocking of Jesus “King of the Jews”
9)    Simon of Cyrene carries his cross
10)  “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
11) Death
12) The opening of the tombs (prefiguring the resurrection)
13) The recognition of the centurion: “Truly this man was God’s Son!”

Each of these steps of the journey hold lessons for us.  Each story within the story presents an opportunity to reflect on what Jesus Christ’s last days mean about how God is working in our lives?  These steps raise theological questions:
·      How does God engage in the corruption of the world?
·      How does our Holy Communion offer God’s healing and renewal?
·      How does God respond when we falter in our faith?
·      How does God respond to injustice at the hands of authorities?
·      How does God respond to oppression and mistreatment by communities?
·      How does God encourage us to carry burdens for one another?
·      Where is God in death—especially violent or unjust killings?
·      How will we see the opening of the tombs, or the potential for new life?                                                                                                                                                                                                          It is too much to think about all at once.  But this week, we have a different way of encountering Scripture.  Instead of trying to do the analysis of the texts, studying the Bible with scholars or reflecting on text in relationship to our experiences, our Holy Week worship services invite us to know the answers to these questions through the experiences of corporate worship.  We are invited to live into these questions by praying together, singing together, being together this week. 
We began our liturgy this morning with a procession.  This is a symbolic walk—many of us will walk further today with our dogs, or around the supermarket, or in our yards.  So the procession is not about feeling the distance of Jesus’ walk, it is more symbolic.  In this short walk, holding our palms, singing All Glory Laud and Honor we have an experience of anamnesis—physical memory.  We come to know Jesus’ walk as we ritually engage in the entry into Jerusalem.  This knowing is somehow beyond our thinking, our intellectual work.  We come to know things through our senses—our experience of walking together, singing or chanting.  We imagine ourselves with the crowd that accompanied Jesus,  we feel the breezes.  Maybe we stumble as we try to sing, wave palms and walk all at once.  Maybe we aren’t sure when to stop, or what to look at.  Maybe we are distracted by others in the crowd.  Our knowing what this walk means isn’t a linear or carefully reasoned kind of knowing.  It is a pastiche—a patchwork kind of knowing that brings together our memories of other marches, our reflections on the words, the hymns, our sensory experience of this walk with the sensory experiences of other Palm Sunday processions.  It is potentially a powerful way of knowing God through shared worship.  But it can also be kind of confusing—it might seem like we haven’t quite grasped it, but over time, the liturgy works in us nonetheless.
And so I want to invite you to encounter God, to know in a new way through all of our liturgies this week.  Monday night (tomorrow) at 7 p.m. we will walk the stations of the cross one more time.  In this 30 minute liturgy, we will pray into Christ’s passion.  On Tuesday, at 12, Rev. Rebecca and I will go the Cathedral’s Chrism Mass.  This is the annual mass at which the Bishop will bless healing oil for anointing and blessing.   We will bring small vials of this oil back to Nativity for use at Baptisms and in healing. 
On Wednesday we will pray the monastic office of Tenebrae at 7 p.m. here.  Tenebrae is a monastic service done by candlelight.  We read psalms over the course of the service, we extinguish candles one by one until we are in near darkness.  As we enter into darkness and quiet and hear the words of the psalms, we have an opportunity to know God coming into our darkest, quietest places.  There is hope in our responses to the psalms, but there is also a core knowing that when the light is gone, God is present with us as we are present with one another.  This is another opportunity to engage the memory of those who have come before us.  We pray this ancient worship service with the monks and nuns who have prayed this way for generations.  Even if we have never prayed Tenebrae before, we have a memory that comes from our tradition.  We are not alone in these prayers as so many communities in the Anglican and Roman Catholic traditions will pray Tenebrae with us.
On Maundy Thursday we begin the Triduum.  We will pause before the Eucharist to wash one another’s feet.  You do not have to participate in the footwashing, but I think you will find that preparing yourself in this physical way to participate in the Holy Supper, the Eucharist which was instituted at Jesus’ Last Supper gives you a unique experience of the sacrament.  We will use Eucharistic Prayer D, the oldest of the Eucharistic prayers at this service.  Beside thinking of footwashing as a preparation for the holy meal, the footwashing is an experience of service.  As one who washes, we know what Jesus’ touch might have meant to the people he served.  As one who is washed, we know our own vulnerability, our needs that make us uncomfortable, maybe so uncomfortable that we are inclined to hide them from God.
After the Maundy Thursday Eucharist, we will strip the altar—preparing the sanctuary for Good Friday.  In the cleaning, we engage in the work of the women who prepared the tomb for Jesus.  We know what it is to wait for someone who is close to death.  We know the sorrow of burying someone we love.  Together we mourn for the people we have lost and together we look forward to resurrection.  Our stripping of the altar is both the preparation for Good Friday, and also the preparation for Easter Vigil.  Both death and hope of resurrection held together in this ritual act.
We call the liturgy from Thursday night through Sunday night the Triduum—the three days.  We do not have a dismissal after the Thursday service, the Friday service, the Holy Saturday service or the Easter Vigil.  It is all one multi-day action that sweeps us along through the procession with the cross and veneration of it into the vigil.
Maybe someone would like to carry the cross this year at the Good Friday service.  It is a solemn and sacred walk.  The cross we use is over four feet high.  If more than one person would like to carry it, I will help include you in this action.  When the cross arrives at the altar, we have time to come before it and touch it, or kiss it and pray with it.  One powerful theologian, James Cone wrote a book,  The Cross and the Lynching Tree.   He brings together the image of the cross, the experience of the cross with the hangings of black men at the hands of the Ku Klux Klan.  But we all know the expression,  “the cross I bear”.  Carrying the cross, or touching the cross or kneeling before the cross on Good Friday is an opportunity to know the crosses we bear in new and different ways.  Like our procession this morning, the Good Friday liturgy is an opportunity to physically know God’s suffering with us.
And the release of the Good Friday is not immediate.  There is a period of waiting.  Some churches will observe the 3 hours—a time of waiting with Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemene.  But we will observe the waiting of Holy Saturday knowing that death and mourning, suffering and pain were part of Jesus’ experience just as they are part of our experience.  There is no quick fix—we can’t jump to resurrection.  We have to just endure the pain of death.  We know that new life is coming, but we have to hold onto that hope in the midst of mourning and pain.    This truth about God’s work in our lives is a hard truth to know intellectually, but in the Triduum, we have an opportunity to experience it.
Our Holy Saturday service prays us through this time.  Rebecca will lead a short prayer service with a time for reflection.  We are in liminal space on the morning of Holy Saturday.  We are waiting and preparing. 
And then on Saturday evening we will celebrate the Easter Vigil.  This is the most glorious service of our Church year.  We walk from the holy fire into the dim light of our evening church.  We tell the stories of Salvation history—from the Garden of Eden, to the Exodus from Egypt.  We tell about the flood and Noah’s ark,  we hear the raising of the dry bones and finally we come to the story of resurrection.  Over the course of the liturgy we emerge from our posture of knowing Jesus’ death of cross to knowing Jesus’ new life in resurrection.  Our hymns will add the alleluias.  The lights will come on and we will find new energy, new hope, new excitement.  In one hour, we will be transformed through our ritual.  When we share Communion, we are eating the heavenly banquet with Jesus—this is no longer the last supper, this is now the eternal feast.  And we’ll follow that service with a lovely cold supper in the kitchen with sparkling juice and champagne, cheeses and sweets, we’ll know ourselves to be the community of faithful people who live into the resurrection.
On Easter Sunday, we’ll celebrate the resurrection with our glorious Easter worship.  But I encourage you not to just wait until them to come to Church.  If you wait until Easter Sunday, you will have missed the opportunity to know God in the whole story of Holy Week.  It’s like reading the end of the mystery novel to find out who did it before you read the complexity of the crime. 
I encourage you to come to all of Holy Week, but maybe that’s just impossible given your schedule or maybe some of the services are unfamiliar.  I am going to hold office hours after the service today and I invite you to come talk with me individually.  I would like to help you make this Holy Week as meaningful as it can be.  Maybe if we talk a bit about your own spiritual journey, I can help you to engage in some aspect of our Holy Week that will really speak to your own knowing of God.  Everyone here can participate in these liturgies.  I am happy to help each person participate in the stories, the gestures, the music—whether you are Ian’s age or Alex’s, Marti’s or Ruth’s—these patterns of worship have different things to offer us and I would like to support you as we walk through this week together.
Today we begin the journey with the process of palms.  We have heard the story of the passion.  And now we participate in the holy meal, sharing with Jesus and his disciples, fortifying ourselves, nourishing one another with spiritual sustenance for the journey ahead. 

Sermon Lent 5

Ezekiel 37:1-14
Romans 8:6-11
John 11:1-45
Psalm 130

Our passage from Paul’s letter to the Romans begins:  “To set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace.” 

As I contemplated that line, what struck me is what an unruly mind I have.  How hard it is for me to set my mind on the Spirit.   As I go about my day, my conscious mind is working on plans.  I am thinking through the next three things I need to do,  I have lists and systems.  Here at Church, I can get wound up in the details of our next projects—the schedules, the bulletins, the building and grounds, the dinner plans, the communications.  I can get overwhelmed by all the things we need to do before Easter.  I can get worried about the details.  I can let my mind go to the things that I haven’t done well.  I can get into an internal dialogue with someone who said the wrong thing to me, or I can be worrying about someone who is not doing well because they are sick or having family troubles.  

My unruly mind takes me to dark places.  I lose hours to anxiety—worrying.  In that worrying, I lose sight of what is good and right about my life.  I can carry around anger and disappointment about how people have mistreated me, or disappointed me and I might miss the love that I know in the world. In complaining about the selfishness, or the meanness that I have witnessed in an individual or in society, I missed the Spirit is also there in that person. I miss an opportunity to see the Spirit working in the world.   When I am fixated on what is wrong with me, wrong with the people around me, wrong with society,  I am setting my mind on the flesh.  These worldly problems, or my efforts to fix them, leave little room for God to work to work in me. 

Sometimes I look at what is good in the world and I attribute it to human achievement.  We have wealth and beauty here in Marin.  We have good schools.  Some in our community can afford beautiful homes.  Together we have beautiful open spaces.  Some of us can eat well, we get health care.  Is this because we’ve done something right?  Is it our accomplishments?  Is this what we deserve?  When we get to thinking that things are great because of what we’ve done, we are fixated on the flesh.   Our unruly minds have forgotten that God loves the ones who don’t have these things every bit as much as God loves us.  Our accomplishments are nothing because not everyone has these things.  God’s way is to provide for every person, every animal, every aspect of Creation throughout the cosmos.  If we think it’s about our successes, then we’ve missed the possibility of seeing God’s work in every person, in every place and time.  Our unruly minds have missed the possibility of living fully in a pervasive peace and freedom that would include everyone. 

Setting the mind on the Spirit is somehow a difficult thing to do.  In our Bible Study, we have been reading the Gospel of Mary Magdala.  The author we are reading interprets the Gospel of Mary Magdalene as articulating a truth about discipleship and new life in Jesus.  She talks about the mind, the body and the soul.  Mary suggests that our work as disciples is to come to know the Truth by aligning our souls with the Holy Spirit.  Our minds tend to go towards the body (the flesh)—our physical passions and earthly needs, but we can, through Jesus Christ, know our true nature—our souls which are created by God and reflect the Holy Spirit working in the world.   

But with our unruly minds, how can we set them on the Spirit?  How can we know Jesus’ way when we are so distracted by the worries, the temptations, the real and pressing concerns of the flesh?   Today’s passages from the Hebrew Bible and the Gospel of John if read metaphorically, can give us some hints.

I have always loved this passage from the Prophet Ezekial: The Valley of Dry Bones.  God sets Ezekial down in the valley of dry bones.  Ezekial looks all around him and all he sees is the bones.  Ezekial’s mind is fixed on the flesh and he can’t see any possibility of life.  When God asks him how can these bones live, Ezekial responds:  Only you know, Lord.  But God shows Ezekial the way to turn his mind towards the Spirit.  God tells Ezekial to prophesy to the bones and tell them that the Spirit will bring them life.  And then as they begin to come together with sinews and flesh, God tells Ezekial to prophesy to the breath, the ruach, the Spirit.  When God tells Ezekial to prophesy, he is telling Ezekial to turn his prayers, his speech, his mind to what is possible in God.  I imagine Ezekial saying out loud,  what seems dead is not really dead—it is alive in God.  And when his vision changes and he begins to see a stirring of life, he speaks to the spirit and encourages this spirit calling on the breath of life, the Spirit of God to come more fully into being. 

Prophesy! is God’s command to Ezekial.  Name it! Preach it! Pray it! Call it out!  Speak to the flesh (the dry bones), call on the Spirit!  What does this mean for us?  When our unruly minds are like Ezekial and we say,  I don’t know how new life can possibly come in this valley of death,  we hear God’s promise and we prophesy into this situation.  In Paul’s terms, we live into righteousness, trusting in God’s promises.  Even though we don’t know how new life is going to come, we pray out loud trusting that God will bring something new.  And then we turn our attention to the breath.  As possibilities begin to emerge, as the dry bones begin to rattle and move a little, we pray to the Spirit that it may move and enliven the dry bones, the situation so that new life will be made real. 

When my unruly mind is running full speed ahead on my worries, my plans, or my accomplishments, my successes.  I am in the valley of dry bones.  I am all alone thinking that what I’ve done, or what I’m going to do is going to make everything right.   It’s at those moments that I need to hear God’s call to me.  I need to ask, what is God telling me to do?  What can God do that is so much bigger than my efforts.  I think about the complaints that I hear, the meanness that I witness.  I look at the poverty around me but instead of getting overwhelmed and anxious, what if I ask God the question,  “how can there be new life here?”    When it breaks into my consciousness that that the goodness that I know is not shared by everyone,  God wants me to prophesy to the breath—God, I know that you are working in me and in every aspect of creation throughout time.  How can I see and know your work more deeply.  What can I do to align my soul with your Spirit?  When I can no longer volunteer or run around doing things to bring new life, how can I pray to God so that God may act in these places of death?  Prophesy to the Breath,  I hear today as call on the Holy Spirit to move through me to bring new life into the world.

The raising of Lazarus can also give us suggestions about how to direct our unruly minds.  Let’s take the characters in this story.  We have Martha and Mary (let’s think of them the mind fixated on the flesh).  We have Jesus, the new life that has come into the world.  We have Lazarus the model human who knows new life in God.  At the end of the story, when Lazarus is raised from the dead, we see that Martha and Mary have turned their minds towards the Spirit. 

What happens in the interaction between Jesus and Martha?  The sisters send for Jesus when Lazarus is sick.  They want him to come.  I imagine that they are just beside themselves because their brother is dying.  Come, come they beg him.  Even though the sisters believe that Jesus is the Son God, their minds are fixed on the flesh.  Martha can’t really see how Jesus can bring new life unless it’s by coming and saving Lazarus.  Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that God will give you whatever you ask of him.”  And so Jesus comes to be with them and he weeps with them.  Because the life in the flesh is hard, he witnesses Lazarus’ death and is full of sorrow about this loss. 

And this is how it begins with us.  When we are full of anxiety, or sorrow.  When we are desparate because someone we love is suffering, or when we can’t think of what could possibly get better—Jesus weeps with us.  Our minds are fixed on the flesh, but Jesus Christ does come into our lives.  His purpose is not to fix the life of the flesh, but to bring new life, new hope into what might seem to be an impossible situation.  And when we know that Jesus is with us, that’s when the new life begins.  When we begin to hope with God, we start to turn our minds towards the Spirit, then Jesus goes to the tomb and with the help of Mary and Martha, he rolls the stone away and commands Lazarus to come out.  Jesus is encouraging the sisters to act—rolling away the stone, even though they don’t really believe that Lazarus will live again.  And then when Lazarus does come out,  Jesus commands the sisters,  “Unbind him”. 

In both of these stories—the Valley of the Dry Bones and the Raising of Lazarus, I hear what it means to set our minds on the Spirit and know new life.  It’s an incremental process.  We have to transition from the mindset of the flesh where we think that the world is too difficult or too sinful to get better.  We have to transition from the mindset of thinking about our goodness, our accomplishments our successes, without seeing the possibility for God’s work that is so much more profound than anything we can do. 

These stories show us that we have to take our mustard seed of faith and act on it.  We have to call out into the world the hope for new life.  We have to prophesy to the bones.  We have to know that God is with us weeping at the tomb, and we have to name our faith like Martha did,  “I know that God will give you whatever you ask.” 

And then as our minds begin to turn away from the flesh,  as we begin to see and feel some new possibility--we have to build up the spirit that lives within us.  We have to prophesy to the breath, naming the Spirit, praying for life and peace.  We have to begin to act on that hope of new life.  We have to roll away the stone, getting rid of the concerns of the flesh that block us from knowing new life.  What is that stone that needs to be rolled away so that we can have a full experience of new life.  What is the stone that blocks us, what is the stone that stands in the way of new life for our brothers and sisters and all of God’s creatures.  When we act on those things that perpetuate death in the flesh, then it’s possible to have a new life experience. 

As we work together to Prophesy to the Breath, and to roll away the stone and unbind Lazarus—then we have the potential to experience resurrection.

Over the course of this last week of Lent, we are invited by our Scriptural passages today to turn our minds from the flesh towards the Spirit.  We can begin to prophesy, we can begin to roll the stone away, we can begin to unbind the new life that is beginning in us. 

When our unruly minds tell us that there is no hope, we can speak and pray and act into spirit that is in us, the Spirit that moves throughout the world.  By living this way, we participate in  the resurrection of Jesus that is coming to us on Easter.