Easter Remembrance – Br. David Vryhof

Br. David Vryhof

Luke 24:13-35

 The gospel tells us that two followers of Jesus were walking and talking as they made their way to the village of Emmaus, a distance of about seven miles from Jerusalem.  Just a couple of days had passed since the tragic death of Jesus, and the confusion, fear, disappointment, and grief of that event weighed heavily upon them.  Some of those closest to Jesus had contributed to the tragedy: he had been betrayed by one of his own disciples, denied by another, and abandoned by his followers and friends, who had fled for their lives.  Furthermore, the body had apparently gone missing!  Some women who had visited the tomb earlier this same day had reported a strange encounter with“two men in dazzling clothes,” who had greeted them with the amazing news that Jesus was not there, but risen!  They had reported this curious and inexplicable experience to the disciples, but the disciples took it to be “an idle tale” and sent them away.[i] And now, as these two were walking along, they were trying to make sense of all of this, trying to comprehend the incomprehensible, trying to work through their grief and confusion, trying to find some point of light to illumine the darkness and despair that had overshadowed their hearts. Continue reading

Easter Doubt – Br. Jim Woodrum

Br. Jim Woodrum

John 20:19-31

This morning we hear one of the most quintessential stories in all of the gospels; so definitive in fact that it has given birth to a term that is used to label a person we deem as a skeptic.  When someone we know is unwilling to believe something without concrete evidence, we call them a ‘doubting Thomas.’  Beginning with Easter Day we hear an abundance of post-resurrection stories witnessing to the disciples and those close to Jesus seeing, speaking, and eating with Him, giving credence to the fantastic rumors that His body had not been stolen, but that He had in fact risen from the dead three days after his gruesome crucifixion, just as He had prophesied.  Our lection from John begins with one of these accounts:  it is the first day of the week following the crucifixion and Jesus’ disciples have hidden themselves behind locked doors out of fear for their lives.  Jesus appears among them bidding them peace, and then he immediately shows them his hands, feet, and side: the wounds that were inflicted on him to assure his torture and resulting death.  John says: ‘Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord.’

But the gospel writer says that one of them was missing:  Thomas, who was called ‘the twin.’  Where was Thomas?  Was he out surveying the scene, plotting a safe exit from Jerusalem for the others?  Was he discreetly purchasing food and other provisions that they needed?  We don’t know, all we can surmise is that Jesus’ disciples were hiding in fear and that Thomas was not with them.  Considering the little we know about Thomas, this is not altogether surprising.  There seems to be an implicit bravado associated with him.  Earlier in John’s gospel, it is Thomas who exclaims “let us also go [with Jesus}, that we may die with him,” demonstrating that Thomas was utterly devoted to Jesus at the most, and at a hothead at the very least.[i] Continue reading

Calling by Name – Br. Luke Ditewig

Br. Luke Ditewig

John 20:1-18

Jesus came standing next to Mary Magdalene, but she did not know it was him. When Jesus called Mary by name, she recognized him. A most brief and beautiful portrait, so intimate, so familiar. Mary felt she had lost everything: her Lord, her friend, her way. Called by her name, Mary was found; she regained sight, saw Jesus beside her.

Jesus calls us by name. Some people hear God speak literally, audibly, as Mary did. That is not my experience. If it is, I missed it. If you experience that, be grateful. I do hear God call me by name, and it is powerful, resurrection power, like what Mary experienced. I bet you have experienced it too. Continue reading

Ring Your Bells! – Br. James Koester

Br. James Koester

Romans 6: 3 – 11
Psalm 114
Matthew 28:1 – 10

There was a dreadful custom at one time practiced in some Anglo-Catholic circles, including in a certain monastery on the banks of the Charles River. For the last two weeks of Lent, beginning on the Fifth Sunday in Lent, (which used to be called Passion Sunday), and carrying on until Holy Saturday, after each of the Offices, Psalm 51: Have mercy on me, O God, according to your loving-kindness; in your great compassion blot out my offenses[1] would be mumbled in unison. Our brother, David Allen remembers this going on here when he made his first visit to the community in the late 1950’s. He thinks it came to an end sometime in the mid-1960’s.[2] You can just imagine the effect of a dozen or so men, sitting here in the Choir, mumbling the psalm in unison. Have mercy on me, O God, according to your loving-kindness; in your great compassion blot out my offenses. Continue reading

Faith in a Seed – Br. Nicholas Bartoli

Br. Nicholas Bartoli

John 18:1 – 19:42

Our efforts cultivating the fruit of the earth were modest at best, because growing up in Brooklyn meant not have having much gardening space. In our backyard, we had a few small rectangles of soil in which to plant our hopes for fresh vegetables and herbs. We experimented with everything from eggplants to pumpkins, but what I remember most is the tomato plants tended by my father and grandfather, taller than me at the time and filled with beautiful ripe tomatoes. That such a prodigious crop could come from so tiny a handful of seeds never ceased to amaze me. And after we had planted the seeds for next season, I waited with a mixture of hope and awe for what seemed like a miracle, new tomato plants rising from the ground in which the seeds were buried.

Nowadays, many of us who live in cities don’t consider anything about our food very miraculous, and we probably aren’t familiar with placing all our faith in a seed. But the lives of our ancestors, certainly in Jesus’ time, were intimately woven with nature’s cycles of death and new life. The fruit of each plant gives its life for the rich potential of its seeds, and each seed itself must die so to bring forth new growth. Continue reading

A Radical Act (Maundy Thursday sermon) – Br. David Vryhof

Br. David Vryhof

John 13:1-17, 31b-35

Some years ago I had the privilege of taking a course with Dr. Stanley Hauerwas, a theologian who was then on the faculty of the Divinity School at Duke University.  Dr. Hauerwas, the son of a bricklayer, was a straight-shooting, no-nonsense kind of guy who believed that living as true disciples of Jesus in the world would necessarily put us in conflict with the culture in which we live.  I remember being surprised to hear him say that participating in the Eucharist was one of the most radical actions any Christian could undertake.  Tonight we will understand why this is true.

Tonight we watch in wonder as the only-begotten Son of God, the Eternal Word who was “in the beginning with God” and through whom “all things came into being” (Jn 1:1-3), stoops to wash the dirty feet of his disciples.  Tonight we behold the Incarnate Son of God, the “King of kings” and the “Lord of lords,” tying a towel around himself, pouring water into a basin, and assuming the role of a servant.  The King kneels before his subjects; the Master washes the feet of his disciples. Continue reading

The Hour Has Come – Br. Keith Nelson

Br. Keith Nelson

John 12:20-36

“Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it yields a rich harvest.”[1]

This one phrase from John’s Gospel encapsulates the essential sprit of what we call the Paschal Mystery – Christ’s Passion, Death, and Resurrection to New Life. On this Tuesday evening in Holy Week, these words are also something like a “preview of coming attractions,” awakening our hopes and grounding our intentions as we prepare for the single, liturgical arc of Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Holy Saturday, and the Great Vigil of Easter.

We believe that our sincere and wholehearted participation in this liturgical drama is one of the central means by which we participate in the saving work of Christ. This is the unfolding drama of how, in his own particular life and flesh, Jesus underwent the human experiences of suffering and death and was, in defiance of all expectation, raised from death by the One he called Father. As a liturgical tradition, we do not simply re-enact or reminisce about very significant events that happened long ago in ancient Palestine. No. To see what we are doing as pious commemoration would be to keep the Crucified at a safe distance in the historical past, separate from ourselves. Rather, the unboundaried space opened to us as the assembled body of Christ invites us truly to enter the sacred, inner dynamic of the events by which we have been claimed and marked as His own forever. On a personal level, this week invites us into a more intimate, transformative encounter with the mystery of our own suffering, death, and resurrection. Each of us has undergone, and will yet undergo, countless passions, deaths, and resurrections – in churches, yes, but also in hospitals and office buildings, by bedsides and firesides, under the open sky and around kitchen tables. Though these experiences are potential fountainheads of meaning through our union with Christ, many of them go unnamed as such and so their graces remain unrealized. In the chapter from our own Rule entitled “Holy Death,” we receive this reminder: “Week by week, we are to accept every experience which requires us to let go as an opportunity for Christ to bring us through death into life.”[2] This is the paschal mystery writ small, in lowercase letters, across the individual history of every child of God. The small mystery enclosed within one’s own skin is grounded afresh in the Great Mystery of Christ’s Body by reading our small print alongside the bold, capital letters of this week’s unitive liturgical action. Continue reading

Exceeding Expectations – Br. Jim Woodrum

Br. Jim Woodrum

Matthew 21:1-11

It is hard to believe that a week from tomorrow marks one year since my brothers Curtis, John, Luke, and I embarked on a journey to the Holy Land to lead a pilgrimage.  Each of us brothers prepared two reflections to give at designated sites during our two week journey.  I was assigned to give my first meditation at ‘The Shepherd’s Field,’ in the countryside just outside of Bethlehem where tradition says the shepherds would have encountered the great angelic hosts proclaiming the good news of Jesus’ birth.  My second meditation I gave at the teardrop-shaped church on the Mount of Olives called ‘Dominus Flevit,’ which is Latin for “The Lord wept.”  It was here that I could begin to piece together in my mind the scene we celebrated at the beginning of this morning’s liturgy. Continue reading

Radical Practices: Witness – Br. James Koester

Br. James Koester

1 John 1: 1 – 4
Psalm 96
Luke 24: 36 – 53

There are a few of us in the community who will remember, and there may be others of you who will have heard the story, probably countless times, of how our brother Tom, when he was the Superior, used to pray at the Mid-Day Office for the gift of martyrdom to be given to our community. Some of us were quite ready to grant him his prayer, and make him the first official martyr of the Society. (As an aside, I say official martyr, because while the African martyr Bernard Mizeki was not a member of our community, he was certainly a product of our Society, as he was: introduced to the Christian faith; prepared for baptism; trained as a catechist and sent out on mission where he was later martyred, by members of our community in South Africa. Because of that, I like to think of him as our martyr.)

We say in our Rule of Life in the chapter on Life Profession that the grace to surrender our lives to God through our vows has been given to us in Baptism whereby we die with Christ and are raised with him. It is the same grace that gives strength to martyrs to submit gladly to death as witnesses of the resurrection. From the beginning monks and nuns have been encouraged to understand their own commitment in the light of the freedom and trust that enables martyrs to give up their lives to the glory of God. The witness of the martyrs should never be far from our minds as we go forward in the vowed life day by day.[1] Continue reading

Jesus Wept – Br. James Koester

Br. James Koester

Fifth Sunday in Lent

Ezekiel 37: 1 – 14
Psalm 130
Romans 8: 6 – 11
John 11: 1 – 45

I’m not sure how old I was. I might have been around 13 or so. One Sunday, our Rector, Mr. Pasterfield, challenged us in his sermon to find the shortest verse in the Bible. The one clue he gave us, was that this verse could be found in the Gospels. The rest was up to us. As the Brothers here in the community will tell you, I am often up for a challenge, and this one tweaked my budding inner theologian, so home I went, to see what I could find.

If I remember correctly, it took most of Sunday afternoon for me to find it, and I didn’t have any help from my parents. (In fact, I am not convinced that they knew either what the shortest verse was, or where to find it.) I started by skimming the chapters, and if I thought I had found it, I would count words, and then letters. Slowly I narrowed down the possibilities. At some point in the afternoon, much to my delight, I found it, right there on the thin onion skin pages of the King James Version of the Bible that sat on our bookshelves. It was just two words and only nine letters long: Jesus wept.[1] Continue reading