And it was night! – Br. James Koester

Of all the days in Holy Week, this is the one which I find most poignant. On another significant occasion we have been told in John’s Gospel that Jesus’ “time has not yet come”.[1] He was not yet ready. We were not yet ready. The world was not yet ready. God was not yet ready. But today, today all this is changed. Gathered there in the Upper Room with his disciples, Jesus declares “now!” “Now the Son of man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him.”[2]

So what has changed? Why now? Why not before, or some other time, or even some other place? Why here? What now? This difference is that “it was night”[3]; three of the coldest, loneliest words in Scripture …“it was night.” It was into the darkness and under the cloak of darkness that Judas went to do his deed of betrayal.

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Catch the Wave – Br. Mark Brown

Is. 49-1-7/Ps. 71:1-14/1 Cor. 1:18-31/John 12:20-36

As Holy Week gets underway we have the sensation that something large, something very large, has been set in motion. And that there’s no stopping it. Even though we know how it all turns out—sort of—there’s a sense of both largeness and inevitability. So there’s nothing to do but to go with it. Nothing to do but to allow ourselves to be swept up in this enormous wave–again.

How large is the largeness of Holy Week? We just heard in this passage from John that when he is lifted up he will draw all people to himself. “All people” is pretty large. But a variation in some of the ancient texts suggests something even larger. When I am lifted up I will draw all things, everything, the whole shebang, to myself. An exponential leap from all people to all things, the whole creation, the whole cosmos. What happens in Holy Week and Easter gathers up the entire cosmos in its energies.

We may remember the end of the Gospel of Mark where after his resurrection Jesus tells the disciples to “proclaim the gospel to the whole creation”. Not just to every human being, but to the whole creation. We may recall Romans 8 where Paul says that “the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now”, and that creation itself will be “set free from the bondage of decay”. And that the creation itself will “obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.”

It’s hard to know exactly what Paul had in mind, but his understanding of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus is cosmic in scope. Something that pertains to the whole cosmos is happening in the death and resurrection of Christ: animal, vegetable and mineral; earth, air, fire and water. From the depths of inner worlds to the furthest reaches of outer space. “Behold, I am making all things new”—not just all people, but all things, he says. Whether we quite comprehend this or not, the scope is breathtaking.

Yet the high drama, the cosmic drama of this week is experienced in very intimate things. A son and a father share an agonized conversation in a garden. Friends share supper for the last time. A foot is washed, then another. Clothing is removed to shame a victim. Flesh is pierced—the piercing of flesh is a terribly intimate thing. A mother anguishes as she awaits the last breath of a first born son. All terribly intimate moments.

Yet, all the while as these very intimate things take place, the cosmos, the planets and solar systems and galaxies swirl on their way. Its always like this, of course. Galaxies swirl even as we have our own agonized conversations, even as we share suppers for the last time, even as our own flesh, our own souls are pierced. And its all of a piece.

When he was lifted up he drew all people, all things to himself. All things, from the most distant fires of the cosmos to the most intimate embers of the soul. A fundamental unity, the very ground of our being, has drawn it all to himself. Having accomplished that, now your agony in the garden is my agony in the garden; and our agony in the garden is his agony in the garden. Now that which pierces you pierces me; and that which pierces us pierces him. Now your resurrection is mine and mine is yours and his new life is ours.

But its best not to jump ahead. For the moment, better to be swept up in this great wave and let him take us where he will.

Praying Your Way Through Holy Week, a meditation by Br. Eldridge Pendleton

Br. Eldridge Pendleton

Now, during our Lenten observance we have come to the beginning of Holy Week, a time of remembrance dedicated to the final days of the life of Jesus, from the exhilaration of the cheering crowds who welcomed him into Jerusalem and then through his betrayal and arrest, his suffering at the hands of an angry mob, his awful crucifixion, death, burial and glorious resurrection from the dead on Easter morning. This is the last week of Lent and whether we have been able and diligent in maintaining our discipline or not, this week, like so much of our relationship with God, offers us another chance to return to it, and to immerse ourselves in the spiritual mystery of this holy season. For it is the supreme mystery of our Christian faith we are about to witness this week. Make no mistake about it. The events of Holy Week and Easter are not merely annual reenactments of the tragic events of the life of an important historical personage. This is spiritual mystery on its deepest and most cosmic scale. Its sacred drama encompasses the depths of sin, human degradation and death, and then carries us forward to Jesus’ triumph over death and resurrection to new life. These are mysteries we, too, struggle with daily all our lives and which remain beyond our comprehension.

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Weight of the Cross – Br. Geoffrey Tristram

Every ten years in the Bavarian village of Oberammergau, they hold the world famous Passion Play. This year our brother John Goldring and his sister Jane will be there.

One of the most famous of the actors who portrayed Christ was Anton Lang. One day, following one of the performances, a tourist and his wife went back stage to meet the actors. After taking Lang’s picture, the man noticed the great cross that the actor had carried during the performance. He said to his wife, “Here, take the camera and I’ll lift the cross on my shoulder, and then snap my picture.” Before Lang could say anything the tourist had stooped down to lift the prop to his shoulder. He couldn’t budge it. The cross was made with solid oak beams. In amazement the man turned to Lang and said, “I thought it would be hollow and light. Why do you carry a cross which is so terribly heavy?” The actor replied, “Sir, if I did not feel the weight of his cross, I could not play his part.”

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PASSION – Br. James Koester

Jeremiah 31: 1-14; Psalm 63: 1-8; John 3: 1-17

We conclude tonight our preaching series Breaking the Word where we have been examining several theologically complex words popularly used by the Church, but not always fully understood, and we have tried to break them open in understandable ways so that they may be more helpful in our conversations, but also in our concept of God and the ways in which we pray.

My word for tonight is “Passion”; a concept that is no less difficult to grasp than the others such as ‘conversion’ ‘forgiveness’ ‘grace’ and ‘redemption’ and perhaps even more difficult because of the popular way in which it is used both in our culture, but also in Scripture.

For most of us, and interestingly enough for most of Scripture the word ‘passion’ is connected mostly to the emotions of anger and lust. If you do a word search of the Bible, that’s what comes up.

  • For the Lord’s anger and passion will smoke against them.[i]
  • Then Judith came in and lay down. Holofernes’ heart was ravished with her and his passion was aroused, for he had been waiting for an opportunity to seduce her from the day he first saw her.[ii]
  • Do not fall into the grip of passion,* or you may be torn apart as by a bull.[iii]
  • Evil passion destroys those who have it, and makes them the laughing-stock of their enemies.[iv]
  • But if they are not practising self-control, they should marry. For it is better to marry than to be aflame with passion.[v]

I’m sure by now you get my point that passion in Scripture is not always regarded as a good thing, and some uses of the word might even make us blush if we used it in certain company. I joked last week that this sermon might have to be posted with a triple X rating if I used a couple of the passages that use the word ‘passion’ in them.

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Intercessions: Passion – Br. Jonathan Maury

 

Jonathan Maury SSJEWe invite you to pray these intercessions, composed by Br. Jonathan Maury for this preaching series, which followed the sermon at the Tuesday Eucharist.

When his hour came, the eternal Son consummated his obedience to the Father and expressed his love for us to the uttermost, by offering himself on the cross. That all people may know that God loves them even as God loves Jesus, let us pray saying, Loving God, suffer your passion in us.

On our own we are powerless to act in self-less freedom in response to all that you desire. That we may spend our lives abiding in Christ, who came to do your will, and give ourselves up to the attraction of his glory, we pray, Loving God, suffer your passion in us.

The testimony of the disciple whom Jesus loved has a special power for those whom you call into his fellowship. That the one closest to Jesus’ heart at the supper may be an icon of the relationship we enjoy with your Son through prayer, we pray, Loving God, suffer your passion in us.

Christ’s gift of enduring love called the Church into being from the cross when he gave Mary and John to one another as mother and son. That we may have grace to risk all for Christ, who risked and gave all for us, we pray, Loving God, suffer your passion in us.

Through the mystery of self-giving love you open our hearts to the pain and weakness in the lives of our brothers and sisters. That we may know your presence in sharing one another’s experiences of suffering, grief, and loss, we pray, Loving God, suffer your passion in us.

Our sexuality, power to love, and creative energy for relationship are of your making and belong to the heart of our humanity. That by offering these gifts to Christ to bless, shape and use them, we may mirror your passionate love for all creation, we pray, Loving God, suffer your passion in us.

Following the example of Jesus, we learn to listen to you intently, and to support each other in the struggle against all that resists your gracious will. That we may burn with Christ’s desire for your justice and peace, we pray, Loving God, suffer your passion in us.

With hearts set aflame by your passionate love, O God, we now name before you the persons and concerns that you have placed in them:         (Silence)

 

O passionate God, you so loved the world that you gave your only-begotten Son to reconcile earth with heaven: Grant that we, loving you above all things, may love our friends in you, and our enemies for your sake; through Jesus Christ our Savior. Amen.

 

Judgement of God – Br. Curtis Almquist

Psalm 7:6-11

There is a curious request in Psalm 7, which we’ve just prayed together.  The psalmist asks for God’s judgment.  “Judge me, O Lord.”  And this request, this desire for God’s judgment, doesn’t just appear in Psalm 7.  It’s repeated a number of times in the scriptures, particularly in the psalms.[i]

Being judged is a sore subject for many people, maybe for you personally.  You might have faced a kind of corrosive judgment in growing up; you may live with it now.  The worst kind of judgment, demeaning judgment, is not what we hear from other people, which may be terrible.  The worst kind of judgment is what we hold in our own hearts against ourselves.  Demeaning self judgment often takes on an internal shouting match: silently yelling at ourselves how we should be better or different or changed in some way.  A proclivity to be self-judging, in a way where we always lose, not only zaps the life out of us, but also compromises our hope for the future.  It’s a minefield from which there may seem little prospect of escape.  And so, to hear the psalmist ask to be judged, to seek it out and solicit God’s judgment, may seem incredulous.  What are we missing here?

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REDEMPTION – Br. Geoffrey Tristram

Tonight I want to talk about redemption.  It’s also the eve of St. Patrick’s Day, so as I begin my reflection on this theme my mind turns to Ireland, with thanksgiving to God for the work of redemption which has happened over these past years among the people of Northern Ireland.

I spent three summers working in Belfast at the height of the troubles.  I saw the ravages of broken relationships, divided communities, fear, suspicion and despair.  But I also met extraordinary people who gave of themselves sacrificially to offer reconciliation, hope and redemption to a people in great pain.  There have always been such people in Ireland who have given of themselves in order to mend what is broken, to redeem what is lost.  In those months when I lived in Ireland I heard time and time again a story which is very dear to me, and speaks to me very profoundly about the deep mystery of our subject this evening.  It’s a story which took place in the 15th century in Dublin.  Two clans were locked in bitter conflict: the Ormonds and the Kildares.  There was a lot of violent killing, and there came a point where the leaders of the Ormond clan locked themselves inside the chapter house of St. Patrick’s Cathedral to escape death.  For many weeks the Kildare clan waited outside, swords drawn, besieging them.  But one day something amazing happened.  The Earl of Kildare “came to himself,” and said to himself, “This is foolish.  We are two families: we believe in the same God, and here we are acting foolishly.”  So he walked to the cathedral, approached the great door of the chapter house, and shouted.  “Let’s call this off.  Let us shake hands.”  But there was no answer.

What he did next has gone down in Irish history.  With his sword, he began to gouge a hole through the wood of the door.  When the hole was big enough, he thrust his hand and his arm through it.  (On the other side there were desperate men with swords.)  And his hand was grasped by the hand of the Earl of Ormond.  They shook.  The door was flung open, and the feud was over.

This was an extraordinary act of courage, risk and sacrifice; a great act of redemption;   an image of the redemption wrought by God.  For in Jesus Christ, God thrust the divine hand of friendship, forgiveness, reconciliation, and redemption, through the great door separating us from God.  And we grasped the hands of Jesus, those hands of love, and hammered nails through them, and hung him on a cross to die.  To those looking on it seemed that this man’s life and mission were a miserable failure.  Yet, and this is the heart of it, a deeper mystery was silently at work.  Through the death of Jesus Christ a far deeper and cosmic act of redemption was actually taking place – the redemption of humanity from sin and death.  As the Letter to the Ephesians puts it, “In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace that he lavished on us.” Eph. 1:7

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Intercessions: Redemption – Br. Jonathan Maury

 

Jonathan Maury SSJEGod sent the Son into the world to heal and raise us up so that, empowered by the Spirit, we could surrender our whole selves and be reunited in the love of God. Looking forward to that day when God will gather all for the eternal banquet, let us pray saying, Jesus, Redeemer, fulfill your salvation in us.

You draw each disciple into that particular expression of community needed for the working out of their salvation. That together we may change and mature, in response to the Spirit who makes all things new, we pray, Jesus, Redeemer, fulfill your salvation in us.

From your fullness we all receive grace upon grace. That we may be brought into harmony with the very being and Triune life of God which is boundless sharing, we pray, Jesus, Redeemer,fulfill your salvation in us.

You call us to be of one heart and soul through our baptism into your death and rising and so give us a foretaste of the communion of saints. That we may be set us free from self-centeredness as members of one Body, we pray, Jesus, Redeemer, fulfill your salvation in us.

We were created to bless and adore God and to experience in worship our highest joy and deepest communion with one another. That the power of your word and the grace of feeding on you in the Eucharist may bind us together in love, we pray, Jesus, Redeemer, fulfill your salvation in us.

Our hope lies not in what we have done for God, but in what God has done for us. That we may offer our whole life to the glory of God, thankful for the mercy that has drawn us into the divine life, we pray, Jesus, Redeemer, fulfill your salvation in us.

All praise and thanks to the Father for the gift of the hope of glory. That the Spirit may open all that we are to the promise of eternal fulfillment beyond death, we pray, Jesus, Redeemer, fulfill your salvation in us.

With hearts enkindled by your redeeming love, O God, we now name before you the persons and concerns which you have placed in them:         (Silence)

O God, you relieve our necessity out of the abundance of your great riches: Grant that we may accept with joy the salvation you bestow and manifest it to all the world by the quality of our lives; through Jesus Christ our Redeemer. Amen.

 

Choices – Br. David Vryhof

Luke 15:11-32

There was once a man whose younger son wanted to make his own choices in life.  Now it pained the father to let him make these choices because he suspected that his son was not really mature enough to make wise choices – but still he gave him the freedom he wanted.  (There are times when this is a good thing for love to do.)

At any rate, his son was pleased, and he began to make his choices.  He chose, first of all, to have his share of his father’s inheritance turned into spending money.  Then he chose to leave his father’s home, taking all his money with him.  Next, he began to choose some new friends, and together with them he chose some ways to spend his money.  And with each choice that he made, that deep inner part of him, the part of him that made choices, was becoming something a little different than it was before. Until at last he found that his choices had ruined him.

That was the turning point. Continue reading

GRACE: the Verb – Br. Mark Brown

Rev. 22:16-17, 20-21; Psalm 45; John 1:1-18

This evening we continue our series, “Breaking the Word”.  We’re taking some of the great big words in church-talk and giving them a closer look.  We’ve had now “conversion” and “forgiveness”.  Next week we’ll have “redemption”; the following week, “passion”.  This evening’s big word: “grace”.

The English word grace belongs to a large cluster: Grace, graceful,gracious, gratis, grateful, gratify, gratuitous, congratulate, ingratiate. All grounded in Latin gratus: pleasing, beloved, agreeable, favorable, thankful.

And in the hinterland of the Latin-derived words are a cluster of Greek words: chara, joy; chairo, to rejoice; charizomai, to give freely; charisma, gift; eucharistia, gratitude, thanksgiving; charis, grace. The core word in the Greek cluster is chara, joy.  There’s something of joy in grace.

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Intercessions: Grace – Br. Jonathan Maury

We invite you to pray these intercessions, composed by Br. Jonathan Maury for this preaching series, which followed the sermon at the Tuesday Eucharist.

God loved the world and gave the only Son, the eternal Word by whom all things were created, to become flesh and live among us. Thankful that Christ has made known to us the grace and truth of the Eternal Father, let us pray saying, Gracious God, we thank you.

You strengthened the Beloved Disciple and Mary to stand at Golgotha, beholding the suffering of Christ. For that perfect love shown on the cross, by which we receive grace to face together all that we are tempted to run from in fear, Gracious God, we thank you.

You broke all the limits of generosity in the incarnation of your Son, who emptied himself for our sake. For the graces and gifts by which you bring us to share in that same simplicity, obedience and self-offering love, Gracious God, we thank you.

Through the mystery of prayer you draw us to participate in your divine life, that ceaseless interchange of mutual love which unites your Three-Personed Being. For the graces of worship, meditation and your Spirit praying within us, Gracious God, we thank you.

You teach us to revere ourselves as those in whom Christ dwells, and you create us in your image as mysteries that cannot be fathomed. For the gift of the silence of adoring love for you which our words cannot express, Gracious God, we thank you.

You grant us grace in Baptism to surrender our lives to you through the vows which bind us to Christ. For the voice of the Spirit which never ceases to call us into deeper union with you and one another, Gracious God, we thank you.

For your Wisdom communicated to us in prayer and life, and absorbed into our hearts for ever; for your voice coming to us ever new, and bringing gifts beyond what we know now, Gracious God, we thank you.

With hearts emboldened by your gracious favor and love toward us, we now name before you, O God, the persons and concerns for which you would have us pray:

O God, you have given us the Good News of your abounding love in your Son Jesus Christ: So fill our hearts with thankfulness that we may rejoice to proclaim the good tidings we have received; through Jesus Christ our Savior. Amen.

Presumptuous Sins – Br. Curtis Almquist

Psalm 19:7-14

If I were to stand in Harvard Square and conduct a survey on the subject of “sin” – asking people, “What comes to mind when you hear the word ‘sin’”? – I would hear quite a variety of answers, from apathy and indifference to strong-held convictions. To hear the word, “sin,” a good many people would probably roll their eyes and talk about the things that you’re not supposed to do or say (things which one is perhaps prone to do or say). Some people would immediately talk about guilt, real or imagined. Some might say that the concept of sin is too over laden with psychological baggage, or with radio preachers’ histrionic rhetoric, or with naïve or impossible standards. Even among Christians there is quite a diversity of opinion on the notion of “sin”: sins of commission and omission, what they are, why they matter, how they get done and how they get undone, that is, forgiven. For a Christian, one’s convictions about “sin” is informed by their interpretation of the Scriptures. (Virtually every page of the Bible has some reference to sin, in one form or another.) In the early 1970s, the great psychologist and clinician Karl Menninger wrote a book entitled, “Whatever Became of Sin,” acknowledging that this notion of sin is as old-fashioned sounding as it is pervasive.

There is a qualifying adjective for sin in the psalm appointed for today, Psalm 19. The psalmist prays, “Keep your servant from presumptuous sins” , also translated, “keep your servant from being insolent.” The word insolent comes from the Latin, īnsolentem, meaning “arrogant,” which is an unwarranted pride or self-importance; a haughtiness. This “presumptuous” qualifier brings some clarity to this subject of sin: arrogance, unwarranted pride or self-importance, haughtiness, a “presumptuous sin.” Now I’ll mention here, as an aside, that the great Boston preacher, Phillips Brooks, said that “all sermons are autobiographical.” For the sake of full disclosure, I want you to know that I can speak with some expertise about “presumptuous sins.” Continue reading

Intercessions: Forgiveness – Br. Jonathan Maury

Jonathan Maury SSJEThese intercessions, written by Br. Jonathan Maury for this series, followed the sermon at the Tuesday 5:15 Eucharist.  We invite you to join with us in these prayers of forgiveness.

Lifted up from the earth in his crucifixion and resurrection from the dead Christ draws all people to himself. That we may be servants and ministers of the reconciliation which the Lamb of God has accomplished, let us pray saying, O God of forgiveness, grant mercy.

The Beloved Disciple understood that the pouring out of water and blood from Jesus’ side signified the giving of the Spirit. That by that same Spirit we may be forgiven and forgive others, we pray, O God of forgiveness, grant mercy.

Sinfulness originates in a deep wound to our humanity which hinders us from accepting love. That Christ’s healing touch in prayer may disable our self-reliant pride and make us depend on grace alone, we pray, O God of forgiveness, grant mercy.

In our fallenness we continually turn in upon ourselves to seek fulfillment without self-offering. That the Eternally-Begotten One may heal us and raise us up to worship you in spirit and truth, we pray, O God of forgiveness, grant mercy.

Through our biases and shortcomings, the life of your Church has been marred by many sinful failures. That in humility we may willingly learn all that you seek to teach us through them, we pray, O God of forgiveness, grant mercy.

We cannot keep pace with the risen Christ who goes before us if we are encumbered by guilt. That by regular confession we may shed the burdens of remembered sin and move forward encouraged by the Spirit, we pray, O God of forgiveness, grant mercy.

You teach us to confess our sins to one another, and call us to further the Church’s ministry of reconciliation. That we may reach out to the sick, the alienated and perplexed, those in prison, and the marginalized with your gracious healing and forgiveness, we pray, O God of forgiveness, grant mercy.

With hearts humbled by your gracious forgiveness, O God, we now name before you the persons and concerns which you have placed in them:   

Grant, O Lord, that as your Son Jesus Christ prayed for his enemies on the cross, so we may have grace to forgive those who wrongfully or scornfully use us, that we ourselves may be able to receive your forgiveness; through Jesus Christ our Savior. Amen.