Someone mentioned this quote in Meeting for Worship a week ago. I looked it up and it’s stayed with me ever since. I was supposed to be on pilgrimage in Assisi right after Easter, going on from there to travel in northern Italy. We would have flown home from Milan at the end of last week. Of course the pandemic destroyed all those carefully laid plans. I haven’t heard much about Assisi in the news but Bergamo and Milan, two places we were planning to visit, were shut down and have suffered terribly. My heart has been with the people of those places in a special way.
They say, though, that pilgrimage begins not with your first physical step but rather with the intention to go, and so indeed I am on pilgrimage now, if not the one I had in mind. It’s turning out to be an unexpected and rather unwelcome journey, and yet it has included some good moments. I hesitate to celebrate those moments, gifts of time with myself and my family, while others have lost and are losing so much. And yet I must, because this is the way my feet have walked, the path my footprints have made. Whether or not I chose it, this is my life. One lesson we’ve all been learning – again – is that we’re not in control even of our own lives.
The truth is, I have lost so much. I hesitate to mention that, too, when others have lost so much more. But I’ve lost the freedom to move freely in life. I’ve lost time in my life, months and perhaps years that won’t come again. I’ve lost the freedom to be and do what I want in that time. I may yet lose my health, my life. I don’t spend a lot of time thinking about that, but those other losses I do grieve. I know only that this pilgrimage is taking me where I didn’t want to go, and I don’t know where it will lead before it’s over. By walking the path is made.
What does Resurrection look like now? Join the Easter challenge of posting a picture that shows hope in action. The goal is to flood social media with these positive images.
The whole world needs to hear the Easter message of hope right now, our joyful proclamation of faith that in the end love will triumph and goodness will prevail. And all the little resurrections we witness in our own lives are a participation in that promise.
So what does resurrection look like for you now? A spring flower bursting into bloom? The face of a newborn? A mother’s embrace? Courageous healthcare workers and first responders doing their daily work? The hand of a caregiver reaching out to comfort someone who is ill?
Get creative – share an image of hope as you experience it in your own life. Take a photo with a camera or your cell phone, or a picture of a written message of hope. If you’re an artist working in another medium, take a picture of that. Copy and paste this explanation and add a sentence or two, if you like, explaining what it means to you.
** Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord.” (John 20-18)
So what are the things you’re most afraid of in life? And how do you find the strength to carry on despite those fears?
On one level, today’s Gospel about
Jesus on the mountaintop—glowing with light, his face shining like the sun, it
says—is a Gospel that’s densely packed with theological references. You could
write a seminary paper on this, you could write a seminary thesis on
just this passage. It’s about who Jesus is, his identity of the son of God. It
points to the past and it also points ahead to his future.
But on another level, it’s really a
very human story about fear and reassurance.
So at first, the three disciples up on
the mountain, they’re filled with an appropriate degree of awe and reverence.
Peter wants to memorialize the moment by building three tents. They seem to
accept Jesus shining with blinding light as if that were not so far out of the
ordinary. Talking with Moses and Elijah.
But then suddenly, they’re overshadowed
by this bright cloud and they hear the voice of God say, “This is my Son,
the Beloved; with him, I am well pleased; listen to him.” And at this
point they’re absolutely overwhelmed by fear. They’re so frightened they’re
probably beyond trembling. They fall to the ground and we see that faith doesn’t
automatically insulate us from fear. That’s why we hear that phrase, do not
be afraid, so often in the Gospels. But faith does give us the strength to
go on despite our fears.
name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
first started to think about being received into the Episcopal Church, I joined
an Inquirer’s class where we learned that the Episcopal Church was descended
from the Church of England. And our teacher asked us on the very first day what
turned out to be a trick question.
“Who founded the Church of England?” And I think we all said Henry
the VIII. And we were proud of ourselves. But that actually wasn’t the answer
she wanted. She wanted us to say that our founder was Jesus Christ. And of
course that is true, but I think it’s also misleading in a way, because Jesus
didn’t set out to found a new church. If anything, he was more of a church
reformer. He wanted to take people deeper in their relationship with God, so
that faith wouldn’t be a matter just of what they did, but what they held in
series of statements in today’s Gospel where he says, “You have heard it
said … But I tell you,” these aren’t meant to be a set of new
commandments replacing the old commandments. What he’s asking his followers is to
internalize the values that those commandments and those rules represent.
So what are you doing here today, anyway? What are you looking
for—as Jesus put it when he noticed two of John the Baptist’s people following
him as he walked near where John had been baptizing.
What are you looking for?
I imagine the answer might be a little different for
each one of us. Some of us made sure to be here because we have specific
responsibilities this morning. Some might say that they enjoy the fellowship, or
the singing. Deep down, we share a faith that’s best lived out in community,
and this is an expression of that faith.
But sometimes we meet people in church who would have a
hard time saying exactly why they came. They’re not sure exactly what they
believe. They just felt some unexpected pull on their heart, and they
And they’d be the ones who are most like the disciples
in today’s Gospel. When Jesus sees Andrew and his comrade walking behind him,
he turns and asks them what they’re looking for. We can imagine that ultimately
they’re after some of the same things we seek here for ourselves: a connection
with something bigger than themselves, something that will give their lives
Preached at St. James the Greater Church in Bristol and Grace Church in Hulmeville.
At Christmas time my dad used to decorate the house where I grew up very simply: wreath on the door, floodlight on the wreath, and a candle in every one of the five windows that faced the street. These were electric candles, of course, so in the beginning he had to go around and plug each one in individually when evening came. Later I gave him a set of Radio Shack remote plugs so he could make them all come on with the push of a single button, and that gave him more joy than you can possibly imagine. It was like being God: “Let there be light!” And at the push of a button, there was.
I loved those candles for their simple beauty. Loved
coming home to that house at Christmas and knowing I’d find their light shining
into the night.
I decorate my own house in New Hope pretty much the same way now, but the technology has advanced so all I have to do to turn my candles on is to plug them in once when I put them in the windows at the beginning of Advent. They’re light-sensitive, so they come on by themselves every evening at dusk. It’s convenient, but when I think about how happy it made my father to turn those lights on every night, I wonder if maybe I’ve lost something in letting go of the daily intention to make light shine out into the darkness of a December evening.
“The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.”
That’s the line that really stands out for me this
morning in today’s Gospel, which is taken from the first chapter of the book of
John. That’s the line I really need to hear today.
been more than 25 years now, since I saw the movie Schindler’s List, but there’s one scene in particular that still
is very vivid in my memory. It’s the scene where the Nazi soldiers are carrying
out the order to liquidate the Jewish ghetto in Krakow. It’s a chaotic scene.
People are running back and forth, desperate to escape as the soldiers are
rounding them up. You can hear the sound of sporadic gunfire.
industrialist Oskar Schindler is watching this scene from a safe distance, and
he’s horrified. As he watches, a little girl appears seemingly out of nowhere,
and she moves with slow determination through this chaos. Your eye is drawn to
her because although everything else in the movie was shot in black and white,
you can see that she’s wearing a red coat. So you can follow her as she moves
along. She slips unseen behind a group of people who are being herded into a
truck. She goes into a building and climbs the stairs. She crawls under the
furniture to hide.
It’s a dark scene of cruelty and fear and through the whole thing, that splash of color that is her red coat stands out as “the incarnation of hope.”
In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy
In honor of All Saints’ Day, which we celebrate in the church
this week, I thought I’d share with you a little story about what it means to
be a saint. It goes like this: A Sunday School teacher was talking with her class
about All Saints’ Day and she asked if anyone knew what a saint was. One little
boy raised his hand, and he said, “A saint is someone the light shines
through.” He was thinking, of course, of stained glass pictures of saints
like St. John over there, and St. Mark. He was thinking about the light and how
it comes through the colored glass in so many different colors, all of them
radiantly beautiful. It’s also true that the saints are those whom God’s light
shines through, and they show us something about what the love of God looks
It’s sort of a corny story. A preacher friend of mine
told me the story last week and I was sort of hesitating about whether to use
it, because it’s not the kind of sermon example that I usually grab right on to,
but then I saw that in his All Saints sermon on Friday the Pope had used a
slight variation on the same story. I figured if it was good enough for the
Pope, I’d go for it.
It’s kind of corny, right? But, it’s the kind of thing that the storyteller Megan McKenna, would say is true even if it never actually happened. McKenna is a perceptive interpreter of the New Testament, and she’s written some modern day parables like the portables Jesus used in his teaching to make the same kinds of points that he was making in thought-provoking ways.
In our opening prayer today, we have a rather poetically worded petition for an increase of grace in our lives. It says, “Lord, we pray that your grace may always precede and follow us, that we may continually be given to good works.”
Grace should go before us, and come after us—and honestly, I don’t know what that means, grace going before us and coming after us—because I think of grace as surrounding us all the time. Grace is one of those theological words that we talk about in church, and we very rarely talk about exactly what it is or why we would want more of it. We just sort of assume, I think, that everyone understands that grace is a good thing.
And partly, I think that lack of explanation comes about because it’s really hard to say exactly what it is. It’s one of those things that we experience but find difficult to explain. But that struggle to understand, to find words for it—which is, I guess, the work of the discipline of theology—it’s important because this struggle for understanding, for words, expresses our desire for God. It’s a reflection of our desire for God, and our desire for God is a reflection of God’s desire for us. It’s our response to that desire. You could say it’s the foundation of our faith. It’s the foundation of our experience of God. And so it matters to try to find ways to explain or talk about these concepts even if they are difficult.