From the Rev. Canon Mally Lloyd at the Diocese of Massachusetts.
When Bishop Tom appointed Sam Gould as the director of youth ministry in 2011, the end of his three-year commitment seemed a long way off. But here it is. After the Youth Leadership Academy’s trip to El Salvador, August 9-16, Sam will be leaving to pursue several different options open to him.
We are grateful to Sam for his strong leadership, for his building up not only of youth leaders but also of the capacity for congregations to provide youth programming. Sam has transformed the way youth experience mission trips to focus more on building relationships than completing projects. He helped the Camp transition between executive directors, even serving a stint as camp director himself. We will miss his energy and deep faith and his ability to invite youth to share their faith with each other. Thank you, Sam!
Bishop Tom has appointed the Rev. H. Mark Smith to serve as the new director of youth ministry. Mark is a deacon currently serving at the Church of the Holy Spirit in Mattapan and has worked both with Sam and with former youth ministry director, the Rev. Kit Lonergan, so he is well known to the youth and to the youth mentors and parishes. He also brings 18 years of experience working with community-based youth programs across the state through his work with the Massachusetts Cultural Council. He will begin June 16, so as to have overlap time with Sam and to get ready for fall programming.
I hope you will join me in thanking Sam and welcoming Mark over the next few months.
P.S. Don’t miss the five-session youth curriculum that Sam Gould developed using TED Talks combined with Scripture as the basis for theological reflection on current day issues such as doubt, bullying, and how we define ourselves. Bishop Tom writes of this curriculum, “ By bringing the church to where the world is, we can provoke meaningful conversations that challenge us to live out God’s call for us. Though this curriculum was created with teenagers in mind, what has evolved is a resource with possibilities for us all—young and old, TED fans and TED novices.” Find it at www.diomassyouth.org.
The Rev. Canon Mally Ewing Lloyd
Canon to the Ordinary
The Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts
138 Tremont Street
Boston, MA 02111
Seeing these 3 beautiful little girls- Aurora, Ava & Rebeka – coming to be baptized this morning takes me back 12 years to when our first child was born – our daughter, Marcella. I remember thinking to myself that becoming a parent gave me a whole new facet of understanding of baptism – having this little person in my care, with responsibility for providing for her needs and safety, made me feel on a gut level my need of God and of community. Suddenly I understood that as parents my own abilities, and those of my husband, hit their limits well short of what it would take to raise this precious little person to adulthood in the best way possible. So part of bringing Marcella for baptism – and then of course subsequently, or dear second born, Nicolas – was affirming that reality of our limitations, and so reaching for God, and God’s beloved community found in the church as indispensible partners in raising our children up to the full stature of Christ, as the prayer book puts it. And I hope that same experience for you bringing these beautiful little ones to us this morning, because as those of us who have walked the way before you can tell you, once we surrender trying to be all things to our children, we are free to offer them the best of who we are, and then to stand back and marvel at how God fills in the rest in wonderful and graceful ways, if we are humble enough to let that happen!
In a way, that is what was going on for Thomas in this morning’s passage from John also. These first disciples, moving through the transition of life with Jesus to life with the risen Christ were having their lives turned upside down by the newborn experience of resurrection. They were suddenly moved from being followers of a rabbi, to being leaders of newfound community. Did they have what it took? Could they handle this new responsibility? How the heck could they prove the resurrection to others, when it still seemed like a dream to them? Thomas was the honest one among them – “give me proof” he said. But it turned out that proof and well honed abilities were not what they needed the most. What they needed most was the ability to have ruthless trust in a power far greater than them to provide what they needed as they needed it. Thomas demanded proof in the form of being able to touch the wounds of crucifixion of the risen Christ’s body, but nowhere in this gospel passage does it say that he actually touched those wounds. We are told the risen Christ showed those wounds and invited Thomas to touch them, but next thing we are told is that Thomas was addressing Jesus as “My Lord and my God”. What he needed in that moment was not physical proof that he could refer to so he could testify to others. What he really needed was the experience of God’s presence in the risen Christ, and a ruthless trust that God’s presence would come to him whenever he needed it.
That is what we each need too and the affirmation of it is repeated over and over in our Baptismal Covenant. With each question we are about to answer with regard to living out the Christian faith and life our response is “I will with God’s help.” – not on my power alone, but with divine assistance! Just as with parenting, if we seek to live out our faith on our own power alone, we will reach our limits well short of the goal. But if we rely on God’s power working through us, amazing things will come to pass.
And that is a perfect segue into a letter from our retiring Bishop, Tom Shaw that he has asked be read to each parish today as part of worship. Bishop Tom has written this:
April 27, 2014
Dear Sisters and Brothers,
Just a few weeks ago I went to one of the pre-Confirmation retreats at our Barbara C. Harris
Camp and Conference Center. There were over 190 people present for the retreat. During my
time with them they asked me questions, they told their stories of faith and they asked me
questions about my journey in our life with Christ. We prayed some, we laughed quite a bit
and it was an opportunity for me to hear what these young people were receiving from their
parishes and the Diocese of Massachusetts. As I was driving back home to Cambridge I was
And, of course, because I was in the car by myself and it was quiet, God used the joy of soaring
as an opportunity to draw me into my gratitude for the life of Christ given to us through our
community in congregations, in the diocese. Gratitude for how God has given us, through our
life together, the power to bring God’s power for transformation to all of eastern Massachusetts
and beyond. How for almost 20 years I have had the opportunity to watch our community in
congregations and in the diocese spread the reality of God’s love across the world.
For almost two hours during that drive, God brought to mind how pleased God was with all the
sacrifices, vision and dependence on God that I have experienced in the last 20 years through
all of you. I sat in my car at the end of the trip, in the parking lot of our monastery in
Cambridge, thanking God for all of you in our diocese and what you have done to bring the
reality of God into the world. Thank you for all the lives you have touched with God’s love.
This isn’t something that has happened just once. It’s happened many times over the years I
have been with you. You have shown me so much over the time we have had together of the
reality of God’s love and the creativity in each of you and your congregations. You have
expanded my knowledge and experience of God through your faithfulness. You have made
Scripture and creeds come alive. You have taken me to a deeper place in my life with God in
prayer. Thank you. And know of my prayers for you as I leave my responsibilities as your
M. Thomas Shaw, SSJE
Today we bring to Christ 3 little ones who will be part of the ongoing chain of faith that has been growing since the time of the first followers of the risen Christ. As we give thanks for Bishop Tom and his ministry, and the symbol that he is to us of the generation that is passing the torch of faith to this next one, we also give thanks for the many gifts for ministry that God will be nurturing in these youngest, newly minted saints, who will lead the church in their own day. With ruthless trust in the one who always provides for us – Christ our Lord- I offer these words, Amen+
Whenever I am far away on a trip, I notice that my mind plays a certain trick on me that seems meant to help me feel more at home wherever I am. The trick is that my mind makes me think I recognize people I know from home. It could be walking down the street, while on a mountain hike, or when pulling into a gas station to refuel. I see someone in front of me and my mind wants to recognize them as someone familiar.
And once in a great while it turns out to be true. One summer a good number of years ago now, when Marco was still working on his dissertation in French Studies as the State University in Albany, NY, we had the chance to visit Paris. One evening we were taking a stroll in the Luxemburg gardens, and Marco said to me, “I think one of my fellow Ph.D. candidates just jogged by.” I said “No, it can’t be” but Marco was insistent and so, we took a short cut across some lawn and got ahead of that runner on her running path – and when she came running toward us it became clear it was indeed her! What are the odds? OK both of them were Ph.D. candidates in French, so if they were going to cross paths overseas, perhaps Paris would be the obvious place… but just at that time, on that day, in that place… Maybe you had the same sort of thing happen.
Sometimes we see people who are not really there because part of us longs for the familiar, and sometimes we don’t fully see someone who is there because their presence defies our expectations. The post resurrection appearances of Jesus seem to fall into this second category. If we read on in the Gospels beyond Easter morning we find that those who knew and loved him best during his 33 years before crucifixion did not recognize him at first when they met him after his resurrection. Mary weeping in the garden thinks he is the gardener until he speaks her name; the two on the road to Emmaus have a full blown conversation and then only recognize him when he breaks bread with them; Peter and the others fishing a ways out from shore only recognize the figure on the beach to be Jesus after he calls them in to breakfast; the 12 hiding out in the locked upstairs room think he is a ghost until he speaks peace to them and breaths the Holy Spirit into their midst.
In each of these stories Jesus speaks to his followers and provides them with some sort of hopeful sustenance – the sound of his voice calling their name, bread broken as on that last night, broiled fish when their fishing has been a failure, peace breathed on them when they feared he might have reason to be angry with them – and it is through those things that they experience him as resurrected. If we read these passages closely, as we will be doing over the next several weeks, we find that none of these encounters last very long – it is not that Jesus is raised and drops back into life where he left off. Resurrection radically alters him and his relationships with those he had walked the way with. His resurrected presence breaks in upon them in unexpected ways and times and surprises them and then passing quickly away. And none of them expresses the need to hold onto tangible evidence that he is alive again, rather their faith springs not from indisputable evidence, but from those short lived experiences of his presence given to them in moments and ways they did not expect, and could not easily explain. And in many of the other New Testament scriptures we also hear this – we hear the writers stretching to find language that will adequately capture what they have heard, seen and felt in his altered presence.
In our lesson from the letter to the Colossians, written a number of decades after the resurrection, you can hear this reaching for words that will capture the essence of what resurrected life means for those early Christians. From that letter this morning we read, “You have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.” We can consult all kinds of translations, trace it back to the original Greek, and look in as many commentaries as we want, and still not be able to grasp just what this writer is getting at. But if we have tasted the presence of God alive in Christ, we do recognize that the words hold truth, and we may want to know more. The thing is, that the knowledge we can apprehend, is not the knowledge that will answer the “how” question which we are so used to addressing with our highly scientific approach to the world. And please do not hear this in any way as a slam of science – I am in awe of what science is revealing to us about the fabric of the universe. But scientific questions are not the ones I feel will be helpful with regard to resurrection. If we come to church today wanting evidence that is measurable and will tell us about how God managed the resurrection, we will be disappointed. The scriptures passed down to us do not answer those sorts of empirical questions. They begin with the premise that resurrection happened with Jesus and that through that phenomenon, transcendent, transformative and abundant new life has swept out over human beings in ways that surpass our explanations or ability to describe.
“You have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God!” As a Christian I cannot explain what this statement means the way a dictionary would define a word. But I can say I have felt the power of it. And I can tell you that the more I experience moving out beyond my small sense of self, and in Christ being connected to a power far higher than myself, I taste a new life beyond anything I could have imagined on my own. In fact I find that the more I experience Christ’s resurrected presence, the less I can describe it, but the more I find evidence of it in my life. As I practice inviting Christ into my being and my life, the more at peace and in harmony with the world I feel. It is not that the pain of living disappears, rather in the midst of all of life’s experiences I feel connected to the power from whence it all came, and that power I can most simply describe as pure love. And that power is healing me; and stretching me; and turning my shortcomings inside out to strengthen me for service to others.
I know there are those of you out there who feel this and know this even more so than I – I have heard your stories, and they are part of what feeds my faith. But there may well be those of you who don’t feel it, who never have felt this connection to the mystery of God’s passion for us that is made visible in Christ’s death and resurrection; or those of you who may once have felt it but have somehow lost it. No matter! The connection is ours for the taking. It is free gift – and not just for those of us who feel it already bur for all of us! We don’t have to understand it to receive it – in fact sometimes our trying to understand it keeps us from receiving it. It is here living among us. All you have to do is be willing to receive and it will be yours. And those of us who have done so, keep coming back here because we have discovered that here, together, we are better able to follow in this new and life giving way than we are when we try to go it alone.
Some may be skeptical and I can understand that. Some may be put off by the triumphalist claims that have been made for Christianity, over and against other religious and spiritual traditions. I for one am hopeful that we are moving through that phase of our history. I, experience Christ to be much, much larger than our human divisions, limitations and labels. I experience the risen Christ’s love not as exclusive, but all inclusive and working always for the transformation of all that is. I believe Christ will surprise us continually if we reach for him – meeting us in places and at times, and through people we might least expect in order to draw all things to God’s heart. In the end I can only say that what we celebrate here today, in this feast of resurrection, is the mystery of God’s continuous and abundant life – shown to us in Christ – on the loose now in the world, respecting the dignity of every human being, and inviting all of us in to that larger realm of eternal life. In the name of our risen Lord. Alleluia! Amen+
Grace to you, and peace, from God our creator and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
This is a strange conversation between Jesus and Peter. They don’t seem to be connecting with each other.
P Are you going to wash my feet?
J Yes. You don’t get it now but later you will.
P No way you’re washing my feet!
J Unless I wash you, you have no share with me.
P (Gulp.) OK, then. Wash my feet, hands and head!
J One who has bathed does not need to wash, except for the feet, but is entirely clean.
Peter misses the point, doesn’t he? As often happens, they don’t connect with each other.
Let’s wonder together over this business of washing feet. It’s helpful to think of washing feet as a gift from one person to another.
–Why would one person want to give another such a personal gift?
–Why would the recipient resist the way Peter does?
There are several possible answers to those questions – why insist on giving? Why resist receiving?
One answer. It might be practical: for personal comfort and hygiene: Let’s get your sore stinky feet cleaned up so we don’t have to smell them during supper. That’s a fine reason. It makes life a little better but it’s self-centered. When Peter says, “are you going to wash my feet?” maybe he’s thinking “is he implying they stink? They don’t stink!”
Second, it might be out of altruistic care and compassion. Perhaps the person’s feet are sore and dirty, and washing them relieves pain. Most likely, if I were to wash your feet for this reason, I would be thinking “I hope you’ll do the same for me when my feet hurt.” That too is a fine reason. But it’s also a little self-centered. Maybe Peter’s resisting having Jesus wash his feet because he’s thinking, “they’re not sore, I don’t need them washed.” Maybe he’s resisting because he’s thinking, “I really wish you’d put some healing olive oil on my sore back instead, Lord.”
Third, it might be the gift of subservience. If I kneel and touch your dirty feet, I’m humbling myself before you. This is a very real possibility in the Judea of antiquity. To this day an effective way to offend middle easterners is to show them the soles of your feet. When I was a little kid in Syria, my dad was always reminding me to keep my feet flat on the ground in public, so I didn’t insult the people around me by mistake.
That’s why Peter said “YOU will never wash MY feet.” You’re the master, I’m the disciple. I don’t want to insult you by letting you see my feet.
Fourth, it might be a “holier – than – thou” motivation – to make the recipient feel indebted to the giver. Jesus told Peter, “unless I wash you, you have no share with me,” so Peter responded, OK OK, Master, I am indebted to you, to prove it, you can wash my hands and my head too.
So, we have four possible reasons why to wash feet.
When we do good things for one another don’t we also have these kinds of reasons? Don’t we make lots of our life decisions based on these reasons?
We have those reasons for doing the outreach work we do together here at St. Paul’s. Let’s take the example of our Among Friends program.
It’s selfishly practical to feed people here at our Among Friends meals and to give out food vouchers. Less hunger means a safer, more secure, city to live in.
It’s definitely altruistic. Most of us know how fragile our lives are. We know we could get into difficulties pretty easily. We help each other out in the hope that what goes around comes around.
It’s subservient. Our volunteers take care to treat people as honored guests. We wait on them, bringing them their food. This subservience is a fine spiritual discipline, and it rubs off. We sometimes see guests offering to help, and that’s wonderful.
Finally, there’s just a bit of holier-than-thou self-puffery going on once in a while, at least for me. I get a kick out of being the one who serves. I love being associated with a congregation with such a great mission program, and I love bragging about you.
Now these reasons all lead us to feed the hungry and bring the lonely together. That’s good.
But, you know what? These are all “do-the-right-thing” reasons. Each of them has some earn-brownie-points cause-and-effect in it, even though all of them make perfect sense.
Back to the conversation between Jesus and Peter: why is it so puzzling? It’s because none of this is why Jesus washed Peter’s feet. None of these is a realm-of-God reason. They’re not bad. They’re just worldly we / they reasons.
We, and Peter, are puzzled. Just what is Jesus getting at? Does he mean our reasons to do things for each other are evil? No, certainly not.
But he does mean they rely on our human strength, character, and will. When we get tired, angry, lazy, or resentful, it’s all over: our worldly reasons to behave ourselves and care for one another wither like grass in the summer heat. And we all get tired, angry, lazy, and resentful sometimes.
“Do you know what I have done to you?” Jesus’s words turn the whole idea of gift-giving upside down. “You call me Master.” He takes our worldly logic and stands it on its head. “Servants are not greater than their master.” He erases the distinction between we and they. The grace of God has no such distinction. He teaches us that it is just as great a gift to be served, to be loved, to be cared for, as it is to serve, love, and care for another.
When we, like our brother Peter, refuse to be loved, to be served, to be cared for, we dishonor our neighbors and God, and put ourselves above God.
When we accept service, love, care, we’re giving God the only real gift we have to give, which is acceptance of God’s freely given grace. Our acceptance is called “faith.” Once we can accept this gift, the rest of our lives are a joyful celebration.
Love one another as I have loved you, Jesus tells us. No more we and they, he insists. He calls for each of us to be the hands and heart of Jesus for the other, and live our whole lives in celebration.
When we wash each other we accept Jesus’s presence with us, and we accept the mysterious gift of his presence, and so give him the gift of our faith.
If you feel moved to do so, you will have the opportunity to both wash and be washed. To remove your socks and be touched is to give the gift of trust, the gift of faith, to another person. To wash another person’s feet is to offer healing love. Who is we and who is they? Who’s the giver, and who is the recipient? In God’s realm, it’s hard to tell and, it doesn’t matter.
How shall I repay the Lord for all the good things done for me? I will lift up the cup of salvation and call on the name of the Lord, I will fulfill my vows to the Lord in the presence of all his people.
Let’s enter together into this mystery of receiving and giving. In + Jesus’s name. Amen.
Grace to you, and peace, from God our creator and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen
Our Gospel readings today …
The triumphant entry of Jesus and his inner circle into Jerusalem – the temple city – in the week of the big Passover festival.
Cluelessness and abandonment by his inner circle when he needed their company.
Plotting by powerful men to neutralize him, catch him and convict him of a capital offense, and corrupt collusion by member of his inner circle.
Ineffective outrage and resistance to the plot.
Cowardice, born of an urge to self-preservation, by another member of his inner circle.
A bogus trial full of fake charges and “gotcha” justice
Expediency, scheming, laziness, and spin-doctoring by the ruling authority.
Mob rule, mockery and humiliation.
A disgustingly brutal death.
Isn’t it worth asking “what’s the big deal about all this? Aren’t all these events in Jesus’s life just power politics as usual? Isn’t every bit of this the oldest story on earth? Isn’t it predictable human behavior, nothing more or less?” Why do these events matter? What exactly makes these horrendous but normal events so central to the life we share, the life of faith and hope?
What indeed? Let’s consider this together. Let’s run through the events again.
The triumphant entry of Jesus and his inner circle into Jerusalem – the temple city – in the week of the big Passover festival.
This is the procession where Jesus enters the city to great acclaim. The way he enters is a deliberate mockery of the way the Roman army swept into a city on their horses. In every way it turns the terrifying Roman Anschluss into a celebration.
Cluelessness and abandonment by his inner circle when he needed them.
After their Passover meal, Jesus waits and prays in the garden, but his friends fall asleep and leave him alone.
Plotting by powerful men to neutralize him, catch him and convict him of a capital offense, and corrupt collusion by member of his inner circle.
The chief priest believed it was worth a great deal to arrest Jesus at night. He bribed Judas to help him do that. Judas did what he was paid to do: delivered Jesus into their hands.
Ineffective violent outrage and resistance to the plot.
Here is where one of Jesus’s friends slashed out at and injured one of the chief priest’s slaves, like that might do any good.
Cowardice, born of an urge to self-preservation, by other members of his inner circle.
Here is where the disciples all ran off into the night. Here also is where Peter, identified as being part of the same ethnic group as Jesus, repeatedly denies that he knows Jesus.
A bogus trial full of fake charges and “gotcha” justice
We hear of the trial before the Sanhedrin, the trial that breaks the commandment against bringing false witness and twists the ancient Hebrew code of justice. The chief priest cranks up his false piety by tearing his robe as he declares Jesus guilty of blasphemy.
Expediency, scheming, laziness, and spin-doctoring by the ruling authority.
Here’s Pontius Pilate. Even though he commands the Roman legions, he’s afraid of a riot. Even his wife advises him to do the right thing, but he doesn’t want the trouble. So he pulls an outrageous public stunt by washing his hands so the people won’t blame him.
Mockery, humiliation, and mob rule.
The story is full of mob rule. Jesus gets spit at, beaten, paraded around in fake royal robes, jeered at, and condemned by the crowd. When it’s clear that this man Jesus is losing, ordinary people, people just like me, just like you don’t defend him, but instead chant “let him be crucified!” We don’t take any risk of standing out from the mob. Instead we pile on to condemn him.
I wonder if this is the most disturbingly normal part of this whole episode?
Finally, a brutal death.
The Roman execution squad – under orders from the same man who just washed his hands in public – nails Jesus to a scaffold with some other convicts. All kinds of people – rulers, soldiers, and ordinary people like me and you – show up to make fun of him and stand around waiting for him to die.
So, are all these events normal for humanity? Is this what humanity does to people who stand out? Is this what we do to prophets, to people who speak for God? Is this the fate of people who challenge our addictions to blaming each other? Is this what happens to people who challenge us for our rage and violence, like Jesus challenged his disciple for slashing the high priest’s slave?
Yes, sure it is. There’s no point in sugar-coating it. We know it’s true. These events tell us the story of ourselves, exaggerated but entirely true. If they had busses in the time of Jesus, they would have thrown him under one. That’s what people do.
These events are situation normal for humankind. Aren’t they, then, just another fascinating horror movie? Why are they so central to our life together in Jesus’s way of justice and lovingkindness?
Why? They do teach us our own story through this great storm of human evil. AND these events show us the perfect calm at the center of that storm. Jesus is that perfect calm that offers us life even in the midst of sin, evil and death, even his own death.
As we read these events and experience them from our human places in the great storm, let’s witness Jesus’s life-giving mercy to all creation from the center of the storm. He yearns for human company – our company – as he waits to be arrested. He doesn’t give in to violence, not even verbal violence, against his betrayer. He holds up to public gaze the cowardice of the soldiers. He doesn’t have to condemn them: they condemn themselves. He doesn’t have to condemn us. We are the ones who say “let his blood be upon us.” But his compassion even encompasses our self-accusation.
He even lets the donkey who carries him into town in glory keep her baby with her. As he draws closer and closer to his death, his life-giving presence shines brighter and brighter in the hearts of all who witness it, so even the officer of the execution squad says, “surely this man was God’s son.”
That’s why these events are central to our life of faith together. We all live in the great storm that rages around Jesus. And by his example he shows us that he is the way through and beyond that storm.
It’s my prayer, as we experience these events today and in our lives, that we may keep our eyes, ears, and hearts’ gaze on the One at the center of the storm and his promise of peace and justice in the midst of that storm. Amen.
Narrator: The Holy Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ according to John.
Congregation:Glory to you Lord Christ.
Narrator: Now a certain man was ill, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. Mary was the one who anointed the Lord with perfume and wiped his feet with her hair; her brother Lazarus was ill. So the sisters sent a message to Jesus,
Mary & Martha: “Lord, he whom you love is ill.”
Narrator: But when Jesus heard it, he said,
Jesus:“This illness does not lead to death; rather it is for God’s glory, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.”
Narrator: Accordingly, though Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus, after having heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was. Then after this he said to the disciples,
Jesus:“Let us go to Judea again.”
Narrator: The disciples said to him,
Congregation:“Rabbi, the Jews were just now trying to stone you, and are you going there again?”
Jesus: “Are there not twelve hours of daylight? Those who walk during the day do not stumble, because they see the light of this world. But those who walk at night stumble, because the light is not in them.”
Narrator: After saying this, he told them,
Jesus:“Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I am going there to awaken him.”
Congregation:“Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will be all right.”
Narrator: Jesus, however, had been speaking about his death, but they thought that he was referring merely to sleep. Then Jesus told them plainly,
Jesus:“Lazarus is dead. For your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.”
Narrator: Thomas, who was called the Twin, said to his fellow disciples,
Thomas: “Let us also go, that we may die with him.”
Narrator: When Jesus arrived, he found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb four days. Now Bethany was near Jerusalem, some two miles away, and many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary to console them about their brother. When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went and met him, while Mary stayed at home. Martha said to Jesus,
Martha:“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.”
Jesus:“Your brother will rise again.”
Martha: “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.””
Jesus: “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?”
Martha: “Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world.”
Narrator: When she had said this, she went back and called her sister Mary, and told her privately,
Martha:“The Teacher is here and is calling for you.”
Narrator: And when she heard it, she got up quickly and went to him. Now Jesus had not yet come to the village, but was still at the place where Martha had met him. The Jews who were with her in the house, consoling her, saw Mary get up quickly and go out. They followed her because they thought that she was going to the tomb to weep there. When Mary came where Jesus was and saw him, she knelt at his feet and said to him,
Mary: “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”
Narrator: When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, he was greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved. He said,
Jesus: “Where have you laid him?”
Congregation:“Lord, come and see.”
Narrator: Jesus began to weep. So the Jews said,
Lectern side of the Congregation:“See how he loved him!”
Narrator: But some of them said,
Pulpit side of the Congregation:“Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?”
Narrator: Then Jesus, again greatly disturbed, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone was lying against it.
Jesus: “Take away the stone.””
Narrator: Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him,
Martha:“Lord, already there is a stench because he has been dead four days.””
Jesus: “Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?”
Narrator: So they took away the stone. And Jesus looked upward and said,
Jesus:“Father, I thank you for having heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I have said this for the sake of the crowd standing here, so that they may believe that you sent me.”
Narrator:When he had said this, he cried with a loud voice,
Jesus:“Lazarus, come out!”
Narrator: The dead man came out, his hands and feet bound with strips of cloth, and his face wrapped in a cloth. Jesus said to them,
Jesus:“Unbind him, and let him go.”
Narrator: Many of the Jews therefore, who had come with Mary and had seen what Jesus did, believed in him.
Holy Week is the week before Easter. It’s the most solemn time in the Christian calendar. With the whole Church around the world and through the ages we remember the days leading up to the death by crucifixion of our Lord Jesus Christ, and his glorious resurrection in which he overcame death once for all. Please join us for any or all the services of this week.
Sunday, April 13 – Palm Sunday
On Palm Sunday at 8:00 and 10:15 we remember Jesus’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem, when the people shouted out “Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord. Hosanna in the highest!” We begin worship in the great hall with the liturgy of the palms.
8:00 am & 10:15 am – Holy Eucharist
9:45 am – Blessing of the Palms for Children
Thursday, April 17 – Maundy Thursday
On Maundy Thursday we gather, just like Jesus and his friends gathered in the upper room, to celebrate the supper they shared, where Jesus said, “this is the cup of the new covenant in my blood, shed for you and for many for the forgiveness of sins.” You’re invited to join us at 6:30pm for a meal, and at 7:30pm for worship.
The Night Watch follows the 7:30 service and goes through the night. You are invited to “watch and pray” in the Chancel Chapel, with the reserved sacrament, for a portion of the night as Jesus’s disciples tried to do in Gethsemane on the night of his betrayal.
6:30 pm – Simple Soup and Bread Supper (Parish Hall)
7:30 pm – Holy Eucharist with Foot Washing followed by Night Watch
Friday, April 18 – Good Friday
On Good Friday we remember the trial, suffering and death of Jesus. We gather at 9am and again at 7:30pm to worship the One who laid down his life to conquer death, and was buried.
9:00 am – Holy Eucharist
7:30 pm – Good Friday Service
Saturday, April 19 – Easter Eve at Trinity Church in Haverhill
On Saturday, the eve of Easter we celebrate starting at 7:00pm the ancient festival of the Great Vigil of Easter. The Great vigil celebrates most fully God’s saving acts on our behalf as the people of God. We begin the vigil in the back yard where a new fire will be kindled and the Pascal candle lit. The service moves through the church ending in the sanctuary. Our service culminates with the discovery that Jesus has risen up and and left the tomb behind him. The lights come up and we will celebrate the first Eucharist of Easter.
6:00 pm – Easter Egg Hunt followed by refreshments
7:00 pm – Easter Vigil, celebrated by the LMV Collaborative
Seven Episcopal churches from will come together to celebrate Easter Vigil, including St. Andrew’s Methuen, St. Paul’s North Andover, St. James Groveland, Trinity Haverhill, St. James Amesbury, All Saints West Newbury and St. Paul’sNewburyport.
Together, we will share a dramatic presentation of the story of God’s people in relationship with God and one another followed by the first Eucharist of Easter.
Highlights include: fire pit, musicians from several parishes, many voices from each parish telling the stories. Prior to the worship, there will be an egg hunt and light refreshments for children starting at 6 p.m.
On Easter Sunday (March 31) we gather to rejoice in the presence of the risen Christ at 8:00 and 10:15. Be sure to come ten minutes before the service and enjoy some festive Easter music. In the words of the old song, “We love to tell the story!” Whether you’ve heard it told a thousand times, or not so many times, we hope you will join us.
Grace to you, and peace, from God our creator and the Lord Jesus Christ.
As our church year moves into this season of Jesus’s trial and crucifixion, let us remember something important. The Gospel of John tells of conflicts between Jesus and his friends on the one hand, and the people of the Jerusalem temple on the other. John calls those people οι Ιυδαιοι , which our translation renders as “the Jews.” Let’s not confuse those Judeans of John’s age with our 21st century neighbors who love God, study the Talmud, and strive to follow God’s Torah. They’re not the same people. For many centuries the Church was in darkness about this point, confusing the Jews of the European diaspora with John’s Judean’s. Let us have no part in those unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them.
Our whole Gospel reading is about exposing works of darkness, and so is the activity of God in the world we live in. Last Monday the church remembered St. Oscar Romero. As the Catholic bishop of El Salvador, he became known as the “voice of the voiceless” for speaking up against violence and for the poor of that country. He was murdered in public 24 years ago as he took the offering in a Eucharistic celebration in San Salvador. A man with a rifle appeared at the door of the chapel, took aim, and shot him down.
A couple of summers ago I had the privilege of standing in the place San Romero stood when he was murdered. The altar was made of heavy stone. The doorway where the man raised his rifle was plain to see. San Romero could have ducked down. He could have saved himself, but he didn’t. Before that day he famously said “As a Christian I do not believe in death without resurrection. If they kill me, I shall rise again in the Salvadoran people.” He used his own blood to expose the works of darkness that man represented. The light of San Romero’s truth shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it. (John 1:5)
In today’s Gospel chapter so it was that the light of Jesus’s truth shone into the works of darkness. That man born blind knows it! Hard-pressed by those Judean temple rascals he spells it out for them saying “Never since the world began has it been heard that anyone opened the eyes of one born blind.”
Never since the world began.
Just in case we should miss the point, we hear in this chapter an echo of the creation account (Genesis 2) “The LORD God formed man from the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and the man became a living being.” So too Jesus uses his hands, his mouth, and the dust of the earth to anoint the man’s eyes so they might be opened. Here Jesus continues the work of creation. Here is something new.
Never since the world began. What happens this day in the Gospel changes everything.
This episode begins as Jesus walks along with his disciples. As usual they’re minding everybody’s business and pestering their lord with questions. They’re good Hebrews. They know levitical law excludes people from the temple of the Lord unless they’re physically whole. They know the commandment: “You shall not bow down to [graven images] or worship them; for I the LORD your God am a jealous God, punishing children for the iniquity of parents, to the third and the fourth generation of those who reject me, but showing steadfast love to the thousandth generation of those who love me and keep my commandments.”
Knowing these things, and seeing the suffering of the blind beggar sitting by the way, they wonder: how can this be? Whose fault is this suffering? His own? Can he have been born a sinner? Or did he inherit his parent’s sins? Is he suffering punishment for their iniquity?
We’re all like those disciples: we mind everybody’s business. We look at people who seem to be different from us and wonder who’s to blame for the trouble we see in their lives. We limber up our index fingers and get ready to point them at somebody. And we know we, like the man in the chapel door, sometimes point rifles – not just fingers – at people when we fear them.
That guy’s blind: it must be his fault, or maybe it’s his parent’s fault. At any rate, he’s broken, different, and dirty. Just do whatever we have to do to keep him from stinking up our holy temple.
We point fingers for our own problems too. We say, “my children are struggling, so I have to point my finger—it’s because my spouse is too easy on them, or too hard on them, or whatever.”
We say, “our company lost money on that contract. That’s obviously because our customer cheated us, and by the way Joey over there didn’t do the estimate right. Maybe we should fire Joey.”
The more trouble we have and the more trouble we see, the straighter our fingers get – the more they point at somebody else, and at some other group.
Look, we know our fingers are straight. From birth they’ve pointed away from is: “I’m hungry! Mommy!” This is a reality of our lives, and a reality we struggle against. How did our fingers get so straight? A doctrine of the historic church – the doctrine of original sin – offers us an answer. We know it’s based on the account in Genesis Chapter 3.
God said, “Have you eaten from the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?”
The man said, “She gave me fruit from the tree, and I ate.”
… The woman said, “The serpent tricked me, and I ate.”
Very straight fingers indeed, that man and woman had. We know the historic church teaches us that we’ve had these straight fingers from birth. We learn that we’re born with them and we inherit them from our spiritual ancestors all the way back. “Our fault or our parents’ fault?” the disciples asked. According to this doctrine of original sin, the answer is “yes”. We are all the one blind from birth.
But God in Christ is doing an entirely new thing, shining a new light into that age old blindness. When has it been heard that anyone opened the eyes of one born blind? Never since the world began. Jesus takes this whole idea of inherited brokenness and dirtiness, shines the light of truth into it, and turns it inside out. “He was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him.”
The rest of the Gospel account tells about the man who gained his sight growing into his new gift, and learning to let the light of his truth shine. “I told you before! You didn’t listen! Do you want to hear it again so you too can become his disciples?” It also tells of the grumbling and denial of the denizens of darkness as their meager light fades and they fall into blindness.
Of course, most of us don’t have such obvious chances to shine our light into the Pharisees’ darkness like that man born blind. We won’t be called on, as San Romero was, to use our lives to expose the evil of a government that fears their own people.
But we can invite Jesus to break our own too-straight-pointing fingers so as to reveal God’s works.
Were we born with Eve’s, and Adam’s need to blame somebody else? Yes. It may even (as original sin teaches) be our fault, and our parents’ fault. But Christ doesn’t care about that. We can allow the light of Christ – that light that hasn’t been seen since the world began – to shine into our own struggles – fear, addiction, anger, loss, sorrow, you name it – and use each of our lives to reveal God’s justice and kindness to the world. Theologian James Allison called this The Joy of Being Wrong: that God can use our bodies and souls, in our full beauty and full brokenness, to show forth God’s glory.
I pray we each may have the courage to give ourselves to that holy joy of being wrong. I say these things to you in memory of San Oscar Romero and the man born blind, and in + Jesus’s name.