Today we celebrate the feast of Stephen, the day upon which “Good king Wenceslas went out… when the snow lay round about, deep and crisp and even”. St. Stephen’s Day is actually the day after Christmas, but we’ve transferred it to today. It’s a feast that sits awkwardly in a festive time of year that is otherwise so sugar plummed and Santa-fied, jingled and jangled, tinseled and tangled. The martyrdom of Stephen is our reality check–we go from glory to gory in this “snap out of it” shift. We are reminded that we live “in the meantime”—and the times can be mean.
Christmas is, of course, a celebration of the Incarnation, the birth of God’s own being into this world. It is a festival of life and light: “What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people.” [John 1:3-4] We are the continuing presence of this Incarnation in the world, we are the “Body of Christ”, as Paul puts it. We are in him, he is in us, as John puts it. We are the bearers of his light, we are the God bearers, the Christ bearers in this world. We are now his hands, his feet, his eyes in the world, as St. Teresa put it. “Christ has no hands now but yours…,” she reminds us. Continue reading →
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people… – John 1:1-18
My own cultural heritage is Swedish and German, and both sides of my family would want to lay claim on why we use greenery to decorate the monastery chapel in Christmastide, and why you probably have some Christmas greenery or a Christmas tree in your own home or apartment. The Christmas tree as we know it originated in the Middle Ages in what is now western Germany. The Christmas tree’s popularity grew out of a medieval play about Adam and Eve, the main prop being an evergreen tree called a “Paradise Tree,” decorated with apples. (Green and red. I’ll say more about that.) The notion of a “Paradise Tree” came from the Book of Revelation where we read of “the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, producing its fruit each month; and the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations.”[i] Paradise Trees symbolized hope for a restoration of the innocence of the garden of Eden. In time the Germanic people set up these “Paradise Trees” in their own homes on December 24th, the religious feast day of Adam and Eve. The Germans had borrowed this symbol for the Paradise Tree from the ancient Scandinavians who – many centuries before they had been introduced to Christianity – worshipped the gods of the trees. Continue reading →
Perhaps this has happened to you. As a child, or even as an adult, you read a book and it quickly became one of your favourites. Maybe you read it several times. With each reading you developed a mental picture of what the people looked like. Maybe this mental image of yours included details such as the look and feel of the surroundings, the house, the room, the landscape. Perhaps you could even see what the characters wore or ate. Maybe your mental picture of the book was pretty detailed. Perhaps it was quite simple. In either case you had an image, a feel that brought the book alive for you, and you could literally see and smell it all.
And then you saw the movie. And boy were you disappointed. The people looked all wrong. The house was not as you imagined it. Important details were left out. Or things were put in the wrong order. And where on earth did that character come from? They weren’t in the book. Continue reading →
Christmas is here. Glorious, wonderful, magical Christmas is here. The weather may not feel like Christmas, but spread out before us in this church is our beautiful crèche. I love to just stand and gaze at it…with wide eyed wonder, like a child. But then ever since I was a child I have loved Christmas. The magic in the air, the carols, Christmas tree lights and decorations. Opening presents with such excitement, and then turkey and minced pies and chocolates.
But for many people, that is all that Christmas is about. As a parish priest I would visit our local church junior school, and I remember one nine year old boy writing this in his Christmas essay: ‘I know Christmas should be a religious time, but for me, Christmas is a time for the necessities of life, like food, presents and booze.’ I felt sad that one so young should have already acquired such a cynical view. Continue reading →
This afternoon marks the conclusion of our four-part Advent preaching series, entitled “Salvation Revisited,” in which we have been exploring the meaning of “salvation,” a concept that is at the heart of the Good News that Christian faith offers and proclaims. If you’ve missed any of the three previous sermons in the series – by Brothers Curtis Almquist, Geoffrey Tristram, and Mark Brown – you can read or listen to those sermons on our community’s website, www.ssje.org. This afternoon, our focus is once again on the meaning of salvation, this time asking the question: “Salvation: From What? To What?”
The very notion of “salvation” rests on the assumption that there is something wrong that needs to be put right; if all is well, there is no need for a savior. What is it, then, in the view of Christianity, that is wrong and needs to be put right? Frederick Buechner summarizes it when he writes:
I think it is possible to say that in spite of all its extraordinary variety, the Bible is held together by having a single plot. It is one that can be simply stated: God creates the world; the world gets lost; God seeks to restore the world to the glory for which God created it.[i]Continue reading →
The darkness deepens, the daylight shortens. Dark and more dark. Violence strikes. Fear infects. Prejudice multiplies. Sadness swells. Dark and more dark.
In deepening darkness, we wait for consolation, for peace, for God. “Show the light of your countenance and we shall be saved.” (Psalm 80:3)
In those days, in those dark days, Mary set out and went quickly to visit Elizabeth. A normal visit turned extraordinary. By divine power and blessing,now both Mary, a young virgin, and Elizabeth, a barren elder, are pregnant.
Dark days since they also bear the burden of public shame.The scandal since Mary claims pregnancy through the dream of an angel. Who did she think she was?The long years of ridicule for Elizabeth who had never born a child. Rumors swirling about why she was now. Continue reading →
We frequently remember Mary for saying “yes” to God’s invitation.Joseph also said “yes”though none of his words are recorded in scripture. His life is his word. Joseph’s actions speak loudly.
Joseph was a righteous man. Quiet Joseph resolved to do the right thing, to dismiss Mary quietly, to save her from disgrace.Then God told Joseph to do something different, to take Mary as his wife and name their child Jesus.Joseph listened and followed. Continue reading →
Watch this video invitation from Lisa Kimball, Ph.D., Director, Center for the Ministry of Teaching, Virginia Theological Seminary to go deeper with this Lent by participating in “Growing A Rule of Life” an offering to help you develop your spiritual practices that keep you balanced and centered.
In this program, we are trying to offer people an opportunity to draft a Rule of Life for themselves. So first of all we should ask the question, “What is a Rule of Life?” At first hearing the word rule may sound inappropriate or difficult to some. We have a negative reaction often times to rules and we don’t want to live by rules. But when monastics talk about a Rule of Life they’re not talking about a list of rules that we follow. The word “rule” comes from the Latin word regulari, which has the word that gives us words like regularize or regulations. And a rule is a way of regularizing our life, of bringing order and an intentional approach to the way that we are living. So rather than living randomly and just allowing ourselves to respond to the things that happen to us in life, a Rule of Life gives us a chance to step back and to think about what it is that we value and how we intend to live. What are the values we want to express in our daily living?
This evening we continue our series Salvation Revisited. Two weeks ago Br. Curtis spoke of salvation in terms of healing, salving, salvaging, particularly of memories. Last week Br. Geoffrey spoke in terms of coming home to the merciful Father, who runs out to embrace us, as in the parable of the prodigal son. The emphasis has been on the experiences we have of salvation in this life, this earthly life.
Salvation is a very big idea with many layers of meaning. One of those layers has to do with salvation to eternal life, that is, to life after death. That is this evening’s focus. The title for these reflections: “The Sacred and Imperishable Proclamation”, words from the gospel we’ve just heard, the so-called shorter ending of Mark. Continue reading →
If you have been worshipping with us with any regularity this Advent you will notice a slight variation this morning in our liturgical colors. The traditional Sarum blue is normally flanked by earthy green and highlights of crimson, all colors that represent the mystery of the Incarnation; that is, God becoming flesh and putting on our human vesture in the womb of Mary, the Mother of Jesus. Just as future parents prepare themselves for the birth of a child, so this season of Advent is a time for prayer, recollection, and getting our lives in order in preparation for the birth of Jesus at Christmas.But today, the Sarum blue is complimented by swatches of velvety rose to signify the 3rd Sunday of Advent which is known as ‘Gaudete’ Sunday. Gaudete, is a Latin word that means “Rejoice,” which is the first word we hear in both the Introit to today’s Mass as well as the reading from St. Paul’s letter to the Philippians: Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice.Continue reading →
The Gospel Reading for today’s Eucharist is very brief. It seems to have little connection with that which precedes or follows it. But let’s see what it can tell us.
Today’s Gospel begins with the wistful remark, “To what will I compare this generation?” Then it is followed by an enigmatic reference to children playing the game in the marketplace, “weddings and funerals”. “We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we wailed, and you did not mourn.” (v. 17) In this we can see the ambiguous nature of the crowd Jesus had been speaking with. Continue reading →
I wonder how many billions of people have been comforted by these “Comfortable Words”, as they have sometimes been called. And I wonder if it’s this very passage that St. Augustine had in mind when he said that our hearts are restless until they rest in God.
There is a sense in which Christ not only offers us rest, but is himself that rest, that resting place. We rest in him as the Beloved Disciple reclined in his bosom at the Last Supper. The Beloved Disciple reclines in Christ’s bosom as Christ in turn John is“in (or into) the bosom of the Father”, as it says near the beginning of John [1:18]. Days of retreat are a great time to be that Beloved Disciple at rest. Continue reading →
This evening is the second in our series of sermons on the theme of ‘Salvation Revisited.’ We are exploring the theme of salvation, which is central to the faith of the Church, and to the season of Advent, when we are promised a ‘Savior.’
Next week the theme will be ‘The sacred and Imperishable Proclamation’ and the final week’s theme will be ‘Salvation – from What, to What?’
My theme today is ‘Coming Home.’
When I was a teenager I rarely went to church. I was confirmed at 12, at school. Almost everyone in my class was confirmed – mainly so as not to let the house down! But for me, it was a kind of ‘passing out parade.’ No more church. I was interested in religious ideas, but thought Christianity rather facile. I preferred the more exotic Eastern forms of religious expression – far more interesting ways of trying to make contact with the divine. But one day, in my late teens, on one of my rare visits to church, I heard a Gospel which kind of stopped me in my tracks. It was the Gospel we heard read today: the parable of the Prodigal Son. What really moved me, was this image of the Father. Day after day, his father had been longing for his son – missing him, longing for him to come home. Scanning the horizon. Please, my son, come home. And then, one day, he sees him, way in the distance. He is so overjoyed that he runs – runs out to meet him, and welcome him home. Continue reading →
I don’t know if you have ever been to Compline here at the Monastery. If you have, you will know that it is our custom to read the obituary of a brother on the anniversary of his death. Now not to boast, but I will take the credit, or perhaps the blame for not only reviving this custom, but also writing from scratch some of the obituaries and editing others. This was a project I did when I was a novice. Now after listening to them for nearly 30 years, I am aware that some of them were badly written and others seemed to be just a list of dates. A few of them were eye rollingly embarrassing and have caused more than a few sniggers over the years. This fall, after I moved back to the monastery I decided it was time to fill in the gaps (we were completely missing some obituaries) and to rewrite the really deadful ones.
I have been working on this project for a couple of months, and I think I can now say with Father Gross, whom some of you will remember, that I now know more of the real history of the Society, that I could write a scandalous best seller. But don’t get your hopes up. I am not going to do that. Continue reading →
…I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “See, the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them as their God; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them; he will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away.” And the one who was seated on the throne said, “See, I am making all things new…”
Luke 4 :14 – 21
[Jesus] stood up to read… “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. Then he began to say to them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing…”Continue reading →