Stretch out your hands and live – Br. James Koester

Br. James KoesterActs 11: 19-26
Psalm 87
John 10: 22-30

I have found the news these last several month to be quite disturbing as we have witnessed the atrocities of war and persecution all over again. The tenuous grasp that Christian hold in places where we have lived and thrived for nearly 2000 years is further frayed as ancient churches and monasteries are destroyed and Christian communities expelled from their historic homes and lands. Whole Christian villages have been attacked and the inhabitants taken hostage, killed or driven into exile.

What is even more disturbing are the accounts of the deaths and martyrdoms of Christians. Christians have been thrown overboard from dinghies full of migrants crossing the Mediterranean, for the simple act of praying.(1) In Pakistan a young teenager died from burns to his body after having gasoline poured over him and being set on fire.(2) We know about the 148 Christians killed at the university campus in Kenya(3) or the 21 Copts(4) and 28 Ethiopian Christians(5) martyred in Libya. The list could and does go on, and it is incredibly disturbing. Continue reading

Good Shepherd; Clueless Sheep – Br. Curtis Almquist

Br. Curtis AlmquistJohn 10:11-18

Jesus said, I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep…”

Several years ago, Br. David Vryhof and I spent a week living with a shepherd in the Pacific northwest at this time of year, which is lambing season.  One night we watched a ewe give birth to a 13-pound lamb.  In a matter of minutes – we counted 8 minutes – the newborn lamb was standing up on all fours and had begun to nurse.  Absolutely miraculous, incredibly adorable.  But sheep are also a real mess.  The ewe which had just given birth to a lamb licked the little lamb from head-to-toe.  There’s some kind of innate bonding going on here between mother and lamb.  Very moving to see.  The lamb is also being cleansed from the birthing fluids that completely cover its fleece.  No sooner we had a clean lamb, than the little newborn rolled and rolled in the mud, “happy as a lamb,” as they say, and now completely filthy.  Our friend, the shepherd, chuckled and said, that’s just what they do.  He knows his sheep, and his sheep know him.  Quite. Continue reading

St. George’s Sword – Br. Mark Brown

Br. Mark BrownEphesians 6:10-20

Today we remember St. George, Soldier and Martyr, Patron of England and many, many other places, including the Holy Land.  He was from Lod, a town near the Tel Aviv airport, where there’s a Greek Orthodox church named for him. He is so familiar in popular Muslim piety that he has a nickname: Al Khader, which means the green one—no one seems to know why.  When some disaster happens, Muslims might say Ya hala’ Al Khader!  Help us now, St. George! And at Beit Jala, near Bethlehem, there’s a lively annual festival of St. George which involves visiting his shrine at Al Khader, a nearby village named for him. Well into the 20th century Christians, Muslims and even Jews visited this shrine.

There is something about St. George that strikes a universal chord.  We see him on horseback, in full armor, slaying a dragon with a sword, protecting a damsel; he is an archetype of the battle between good and evil, in which good ultimately triumphs. Continue reading

Hallelujah may just be enough – Br. Curtis Almquist

Br. Curtis AlmquistYou may know of the Academy Award-winning film, “Babette’s Feast,” which is set on the remote western coast of Denmark in the 19th century.  One of the characters in the film is an elderly man who has seemingly lost his ability to speak, except for one word: “Hallelujah.”  And he says “Hallelujah” all the time.  Whether the conversation is about food or the weather or a friendship, or a feast, his one-word response is always, “Hallelujah.”  It’s a very good word: “Hallelujah.”  If you have nothing else to say, or, especially, if you have nothing good to say, say “Hallelujah.”  During Eastertide, we say “Hallelujah” out loud, almost endlessly, when we gather to pray and worship.  Saying “Hallelujah” is also a very good word to say personally as you make your way through the day.

“Hallelujah” is a Hebrew word that means “praise the Lord.”  The word does not appear in the Gospel according to Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John.  The word “Hallelujah” does not appear anywhere in the New Testament except in the last book.  In one chapter of the Revelation to John it’s like the last word.  There we read about “Hallelujah” as the chant of the choirs of heaven singing praise, and glory, and gratitude to God who is the beginning, and the end, and the way of life. Continue reading

St. Anselm – Br. Geoffrey Tristram

Br. Geoffrey TristramMatthew 11:25-30

Nestling in a verdant Norman valley, surrounded by meadows and apple orchards, between Rouen and Lisieux, stands the famous Benedictine abbey of Le Bec Hellouin.  In my early twenties I would often go to Le Bec for my retreats.  I remember the first thing you would see in the distance – the tall, beautiful, creamy stone church tower of St. Nicholas, welcoming you into the valley.  I loved the singing of the monks, I loved my conversations with the abbot about monasticism, and about my vocation.

Le Bec Hellouin also has very close historical ties with the Church of England, and in particular with Canterbury Cathedral.  The reason for this is primarily because not one, but two of its abbots went on to be Archbishop of Canterbury.  First, Lanfranc, and then in the year 1093, Anselm, whom we remember today. Continue reading

Resurrection Faith – Br. David Vryhof

Br. David VryhofActs 3:12-19  / I John 3:1-7  /  Luke 24:36b-48

There are many interesting variations in the gospel accounts of Jesus’ resurrection, but there is one theme that is absolutely consistent, and that is that no one believes in the good news of Jesus’ resurrection when they first hear it.  No one.  And that includes Jesus’ own disciples, those who were closest to him and spent the most time with him.  In fact, the disbelief begins with them.

Luke tells us that the disciples dismissed outright the testimony of the women who had been to the empty tomb.  “These words seemed to them an idle tale,” says Luke, “and they did not believe them” (24:11).  Actually, “idle tale” is a polite translation.  The Greek word that Luke uses – leros – is the root of our word delirious.  When the disciples heard the women’s report they considered it crazy; they thought these women were out of their minds! Continue reading

Into the Boat – Br. Luke Ditewig

Br. Luke DitewigJohn 6:16-21

In the dark while crossing the lake, a strong wind whips the waves wild. Tense, holding on tight, they row in the rough three or four miles, straining, anxious.

Yesterday evening we chanted Psalm 107, including:

“Some went to the sea in ships and plied their trade in the deep waters.

A stormy wind arose, which tossed high the waves of the sea.

They mounted up to the heavens and fell back to the depths;

their hearts melted because of their peril” (v23-26).

There in the middle, in the storm, on the sea, in the dark, a figure appears, walking on water. Jesus sparks further fright in the night.

Jesus says: “It is I. Do not be afraid.”

Continue reading

God’s Generous Gift – Br. David Allen

Here is my sermon from yesterday morning.  I was not able to send it out yesterday because I spent the middle part of the day going to and from Glastonbury Abbey, Hingham, MA, for spiritual direction, something I had been unable to do since December partly due to illness in January, and mostly due to the interruptions of public transportation due to New England winter weather February through early April.


Yesterday morning’s Eucharist was our monthly Requiem for departed members of the SSJE and various friends of the Society, so I added the final paragraph as a way of tying the theme of the sermon in with our liturgical observance, including reference to inclusion of the Communion of Saints.  I have already shared a copy of this sermon with my spiritual director, Fr. Nicholas, OSB.

I owe a spiritual debt of gratitude to Abp. William Temple’s Readings in St. John’s Gospel for insights gained from frequent meditation on the appropriate chapter of that book.


David Allen, SSJE


davidallen_1Jn 3:31-36

The Gospel for this morning carries forward essentially the same theme as yesterday’s Gospel, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.” (Jn 3:16)  In that verse (16) the focus is primarily on God’s love for the world, and his extremely generous gift of his only Son so that those who believe in him may not perish but may have eternal life.  (Ibid.) Continue reading

Living Large – Br. Mark Brown

Br. Mark BrownJohn 3:1-15

And, then the very next verse: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.” [John 3:16] Martin Luther called this verse the gospel in miniature. It’s all about eternal life.  The whole point of the birth, life, ministry, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ is eternal life: as Christ was raised from death in his resurrection, so shall we be resurrected to eternal life.

In the most literal sense, resurrection simply means standing up again. The word has a broad range of resonance: it’s the word we use referring to Jesus’s being raised from the dead and also God’s raising us to new life after our death.  We also use the word more broadly to refer to all the dyings and risings of this life, all the fallings down and standings up again. Continue reading

The faith of Thomas – Br. David Allen

Here is my sermon preached this morning at the Chapel of Bethany Convent, Order of St. Anne, Arlington, MA.  I got many comments in appreciation of sharing my thoughts, and subsequent use of Thomas’ reply to Jesus, “My  Lord and My God” as a prayer of affirming faith.

Br. David


Bethany Convent, OSA, Arlington, MA

[John 20:19-31]    The faith of Thomas

The Gospel Reading for this Sunday tells us about the first two appearances of Jesus to his Apostles after his Resurrection.  Thomas, who was not there the first time, was with them the second time.  We can learn something from this second time.

Thomas is often referred to as “Doubting Thomas”.  I don’t think that is an appropriate way of referring to him. Doubt implies a negative way of looking at life.  Thomas was not really negative.  He had a literal way of thinking about things. Continue reading

Love Alive – Br. Luke Ditewig

Br. Luke DitewigJohn 20:19-31

We have heard and will soon sing: “The strife is o’er, the battle done, the victory of life is won; the song of triumph has begun. Alleluia!”

Perhaps you can sing this with confidence; you know it to be true. If so, give thanks! Perhaps you find this hard or impossible to sing. It may sound good, but life still feels full of strife. Triumph isn’t how you describe reality. Death and cruelty, sickness and sadness remain in the world and weigh on your heart.

Remember the Jesus’ friends. They didn’t wake up singing alleluias.  They were confused not confident, shattered not excited, looking straight at death, not imagining something better. They often didn’t recognize Jesus when he appeared. Mary thought Jesus was a gardener. On the road to Emmaus, he seemed a clueless stranger. While fishing, the disciples didn’t realize that it was Jesus beckoning to them on the beach. Continue reading

Show Me Your Resurrection – Br. Nicholas Bartoli

Br. Nicholas BartoliLuke 24:36b–48

There’s a story about a Zen Buddhist monk who visited St. Joseph’s Abbey in Spencer, Massachusetts. This monk so appreciated the prayer and quiet that he offered to lead a retreat for the monks at Spencer incorporating some aspects of his Zen practice. The retreat included features such as short interviews during which the instructor would offer the student a “koan”. A koan is a statement or question not so much meant to be answered rationally, but rather meant to provoke some lived response or certain kind of awareness. One day, one of the Spencer monks entered the interview room, sat down, and noticed a copy of the New Testament sitting open before the Zen monk, who smiled, and said “I like Christianity. But… I would not like it without resurrection.” Then he leaned forward very close to the Spencer monk and said “Show me your resurrection… That is your koan. Show me your resurrection.” Continue reading

New Fire – Br. Keith Nelson

Br. Keith NelsonLuke 24: 13-35

The resurrection of Jesus Christ is so mysterious, so baffling, and so awesome that we cannot hope to claim it as a personal reality on our own. We need the assistance, the encouragement, and the challenge that only other followers of the Risen Christ can provide. Individual salvation is a myth.

There are two disciples on the road to Emmaus, a pair, in the way that the Mother of Jesus and the Beloved Disciple formed a pair at the foot of the cross, and in the way that Peter and the Beloved Disciple formed a pair at the tomb. The experience of the Risen Christ is made vividly personal and real to these two on the Emmaus road in the context of a shared journey, shared sorrow, and a moment of recognition and transfigured perception shared. A loaf of bread is broken in two, and the eyes of two disciples are opened in one flash of pure, unmediated knowledge. This is the Lord. Continue reading

Buried and Raised – Br. John Braught

Br. John BraughtActs 2:36-41
John 20:11-18

Before we can be raised to newness of life; first of all, we have to die. That’s the part we don’t like; but there is no other path to resurrection. Before we can be raised to newness of life, first of all, we have to die; and we know that. Many of us have been there. Many of us can say that we have died; some of us more than once; and all of us are dying. That’s the part we don’t like. But it’s an indispensable part of our Christian identity: We are buried with Christ by Baptism into his death, and raised with him to newness of life. (1) That is our identity. We are buried with Christ by Baptism into his death, and raised with him to newness of life.

This is not a once and done thing, and we know that, too. Recognizing our identity in Christ Jesus is a lifelong process: we die and we rise, we fall down and get up, we are buried and raised over and over again. Before we can be raised to newness of life we have to die, and we know that. Continue reading

Those Five Words – Br. James Koester

Br. James KoesterActs 10: 34-43
Psalm 118: 1-2, 14-24
1 Corinthians 15: 1-11
John 20: 1-18

Something happened. Something happened and something is happening.

Something happened on a hill, in a garden and in an upper room long ago in Jerusalem. Something is happening on beaches, in churches, shopping malls, hotels and university campuses today; in villages we have never heard of and cities and towns where many of us have never been and where most of us will probably never go.

Something happened and something is happening.

What happened, on first glance, was not all that unusual. It was a brief encounter between a grief stricken woman and a caring gardener. But what actually happened changed lives and set in motion a tidal wave that continues to toss and turn people nearly 2000 years later. A question asked. A name spoken. A pair of eyes opened. A command given. A breathless run taken. Continue reading

From Still Days to Dawn – Br. Geoffrey Tristram

Br. Geoffrey TristramMark 16:1-8

These last three days – Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday, are what the Anglo-Saxon church called the “Still Days.”  The Still Days – days of silent mourning, in which all church bells were silent.

Very early in the morning, on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome came, carrying spices, to anoint the body of Jesus.  For these women, another Still Day.  Like the day when they witnessed their beloved Jesus arrested and tried.  The day when they saw his bruised and bloodied body carrying the cross through the taunting crowds along the streets of Jerusalem, and through tearful eyes they saw him die upon the cross.  The day when they watched his broken body taken down from the cross and wrapped in a linen cloth and taken to that garden and laid in the rock hewn tomb, and a great stone rolled against the door.

And then the day of Sabbath, when they rested, according to the commandment.  Still Days, for prayer and silent mourning. Continue reading

Jesus Descends Into Hell

from an ancient homily for Holy Saturday – 2nd century

Something strange is happening—there is a great silence on earth today, a great silence and stillness.  The whole earth keeps silence because the King is asleep.  The earth trembled and is still because God has fallen asleep in the flesh and he has raised up all who have slept ever since the world began.  God has died in the flesh and hell trembles with fear.

He has gone to search for our first parent, as for a lost sheep. Greatly desiring to visit those who live in darkness and in the shadow of death, he has gone to free from sorrow the captives Adam and Eve, he who is both God and the son of Eve.  The Lord approached them bearing the cross, the weapon that had won him the victory.  At the sight of him, Adam, the first man he had created, struck his breast in terror and cried out to everyone: “My Lord be with you all.”  Christ answered him: “And with your spirit.”  He took him by the hand and raised him up, saying:  “Awake, O sleeper, and rise from the dead, and Christ will give you light.” Continue reading

Life out of Death – Br. Curtis Almquist

Br. Curtis AlmquistIsaiah 52:13-53:12  ⬧  Hebrews 4:14-16; 5:7-9  ⬧  John 18:1-19:42

The suffering of Jesus, which we remember on this holy night, would be appalling enough if this put an end to something so terrible: if Jesus’ death on the cross forever ended the tyrannical power of unjust rulers; or forever ended conspiracy and betrayal and discrimination; or forever ended martyrs’ giving up their lives; or forever ended suffering from disease and diminishment, or even death itself.   None of this has ended.  If anything, Jesus’ death on the cross was the start of something.  We are not spared the experience of the cross, we are shared the experience.  Jesus said, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” (1) Down through the centuries, many people in many places have understood Jesus’ words about “taking up your cross” quite literally. Even today Christians are being killed in Iran, Iraq, Syria, Egypt, Nigeria, Kenya, and countless other places around our world.  Tyrannical power, injustice, discrimination, disease, and death continue without end. Continue reading

Baptism of Feet – Br. Mark Brown

Br. Mark BrownExodus 12:1-14/Psalm 116:1, 10-17/1 Corinthians 11:23-26/John 13:1-17, 31b-35

This evening we enter the highly charged atmosphere of the great three days, the culmination of our year: the Triduum. We celebrate events that have changed the history of the world and now change us.  Today is “Maundy Thursday”: “Maundy”, from Latin “mandatum”, mandate or commandment.  We hear the new commandment from the lips of Jesus, the “mandatum novum”: “love one another”.

His words come in the midst of a tense and complicated drama: a final meal together, conspiracy and betrayal, some unsettling words about body broken and blood poured out, a disciple reclining in the bosom of Jesus*, a puzzling ritual of a kind of baptism of feet, agony in a garden, an arrest, a trial… Continue reading

In the Shadows – Br. Luke Ditewig

Br. Luke DitewigJohn 13:21-32

“Jesus was troubled in spirit.” He doesn’t say it, but they could see it on his face. The disciples were again confused and clueless, but they could tell. Jesus was troubled. He was sad and afraid, knowing he would be betrayed. Grieving the great loss and suffering to come, let alone at the hands of his friend, Jesus was troubled in spirit.

Remember Jesus on the storm-swept sea fast asleep in the bottom of the boat, exhausted from ministry. Remember Jesus greeting Mary and going to Lazarus’ tomb: “He was greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved.” Onlookers said, “See how Jesus loved him!” (1) Overcome with grief, Jesus wept for and with his closest friends. Troubled and grieving, Jesus was human. Jesus’ humanity—shown in sleep, in tears, and a troubled face—is hopeful and instructive for us in Holy Week as we reflect on his suffering and death. Continue reading