From Ashes to Easter – Br. James Koester

Br. James Koester

The Seventh Sunday after the Epiphany

Leviticus 19: 1 – 2, 9 – 18
Psalm 119: 33 – 40
1 Corinthians 3: 10 – 11, 16 – 23
Matthew 5: 38 – 48

It is hard to believe that our journey from the ashes of Ash Wednesday to the baptismal waters of the Easter Vigil begins in only ten days. It seems that just a few days ago we were gathered here, around the Christmas crèche, singing carols and celebrating the Feast of the Nativity. Already, the season of Epiphany is almost over and we stand at the threshold of Lent. Our Lenten journey will begin, as it does every year, with the mark of our mortality, which we will wear on our foreheads, until newly washed and smelling of the oil of chrism, we emerge dripping wet from the baptismal font. This journey which we take each Lent is not simply a liturgical or sacramental journey, it is a journey through life, when we face again the paradox of our humanity, which is that we are both fallen and redeemed. We are both sinners and saints. We live both in the wasteland outside the gates of Eden and in the garden outside the Empty tomb. We have something about us both of our First Parents, Adam and Eve, and the Second Adam, our Lord and Saviour. Continue reading

The Politics of Prayer – Br. James Koester

Br. James Koester

Hebrews 12: 1 – 4
Psalm 22: 22 – 30
Mark 5: 21 – 43

It’s been quite a week. It’s been quite a week and, no doubt there is more to come. We have seen protests, demonstrations, and acts of witness, support and solidarity. We have seen millions in this country and around the world on the streets, in airports, in front of hotels all voicing their concern, their objections, and their resistance. It’s been quite a week, and there promises to be more to come. It seems that there is a new normal taking root, not just in this country, but around the world. My hunch, and it’s only a hunch, is that what we have seen in the past week, is what the next four years will be like, so we had all better get used to it.

For us a Christians as we watch the news, read the newspapers, talk with our friends and neighbours the questions at times like these is always: “should the Church be involved? Should the Church ever be involved?” There are those among us who would argue that the Church should stay out of politics; that the Church should never take a stand on this issue or that; that the Church must limit itself to the spiritual realm and leave the temporal realm alone. There are those who would argue that Jesus was not political; that he came to establish a heavenly kingdom and not an earthly one; that he opposed the mixing of the things of God with the things of Caesar, and so should we. Continue reading

The Mystery of Bethlehem – Br. James Koester

Br. James Koester

There is a reason why we celebrate Christmas at the end of December, when the weather has turned cold, the days are short and the nights are long and dark. There is a reason we celebrate Christmas at the darkest, coldest time of the year. There is a reason why we come out into the dark, cold night and make our way to churches and chapels, cathedrals and monasteries all over the world, on this night of all nights.

Our ancestors in the faith knew why, because they knew something about night and about darkness. They who lived in a world lit only by fire, knew that the world, at least at this time of the year, was indeed a dark, cold place. They knew something about the dark. They knew, as we probably don’t, how easy it is to get lost in the dark. They knew, as we probably don’t, that there are indeed things to be afraid of in the dark. They knew, as we probably don’t, that danger lurked in the darkness of the night. Continue reading

The Radical Practice of Enclosure – Br. James Koester

Br. James Koester

My parents would certainly never have used the word enclosure, nor thought that the practice they were inculcating in their children was a monastic practice, but growing up I lived in a house that lived, to a certain extent, by a limited rule of enclosure.

One of the ways we practiced this was that our bedrooms were off limit to our friends. Bedrooms were not regarded as play areas, and while we could play there quietly on our own, we could not invite our friends into them. We entertained our friends in the living room or the basement, but not in our bedrooms. I was always a little uncomfortable when visiting a friend’s house to be invited into their bedrooms. I had the feeling that I shouldn’t be there. Continue reading

I Dream the Dream of the Dream of God – Br. James Koester

Br. James Koester

Jeremiah 23: 1 – 6
Canticle 16 or Psalm 46
Colossians 1: 11 – 20
Luke 23: 33 – 43

Those of you who have been on retreat with me in the past, or heard me preach, especially at Emery House, will know that I frequently go back to the same starting point over and again. I often begin with what is my favourite collect, the collect for the Second Sunday after Christmas:

O God, who wonderfully created, and yet more wonderfully restored, the dignity of human nature: Grant that we may share the divine life of him who humbled himself to share our humanity, your Son Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.[1] Continue reading

Our Coming to Christ Changes Everything – Br. James Koester

Preached at Christ Church Cathedral, Vancouver

Habakkuk 1:1-4; 2:1-4
Psalm 119:137-144
2 Thess 1:1-4, 11-12
Luke 19:1-10

Several years ago, I found myself in Jericho. I was there with a group of pilgrims and we had stopped off to see the excavations. Jericho is thought to be the oldest city in the world and is of course the scene of that famous battle when the people of Israel marched around Jericho and the walls came tumbling down.[1] But we hear about Jericho in the gospels as well. It was to Jericho that the man who fell among thieves was going and about whom Jesus tells the parable of the Good Samaritan.[2] It was in Jericho that Jesus healed the blind man, whom Mark names at Bartimaeus.[3] And it is of course where our gospel story takes place today. Continue reading

Earth Shattering Decisions – Br. James Koester

Br. James Koester

Feast of Saint James of Jerusalem, Brother of Our Lord, and Martyr, c 62

Acts 15: 12 – 22a
Psalm 1
1 Corinthians 15: 1 – 11
Matthew 13: 54 – 58

If you have ever been to Jerusalem, you have perhaps found two of my favourite places. The first is quite easy to find, the Armenian Cathedral of St. James’, just near Jaffa Gate. The problem with the Cathedral is that it is only open when there are services on, and the best time to go is late afternoon for Vespers. It is sung by the cathedral clergy and students who attend the seminary across from the Cathedral. Once Vespers is over you have about 15 minutes to look around before being ushered out. I love the Cathedral, for obvious reasons. Who couldn’t love a cathedral dedicated not to one St. James but two!

The first St. James, the more familiar, is St. James the Apostle, brother of St. John and son of Zebedee. It is he, whose shrine at Compostela in Spain is at the end of the Camino, the pilgrim way that has become so popular in recent years. This St. James was beheaded by order of Herod Antipas and in a side chapel of the Cathedral, near the door, is his shrine. Spain has his body, but the Armenians in Jerusalem have his head. Continue reading

Telegrammes from God – Br. James Koester

Br. James Koester

Feast of Saint Edward the Confessor and Requiem for Brother John Goldring SSJE

Wisdom 3: 1-6
Psalm 23
1 John 3: 1-2
John 20: 1-9

I first met John in the fall of 1981. I was at the Mission House in Bracebridge with a group of my fellow divinity students from Trinity College, Toronto for our annual fall retreat. I remember a number of things about that weekend. I remember that it was a wonderful fall weekend, much like the last several days have been here. Father Dalby, whom some of our will remember, was our retreat leader. And John preached at the Sunday Eucharist.

Now I don’t remember what John said in his homily, but I do remember that I, like my other classmates, was stunned by its simplicity, its brevity and its depth.Little did I know at the time, that John’s sermons would become a regular and important part of my spiritual life.  Nor would I have ever guessed on that Sunday in the chapel at Brace bridge, that I would be standing here, 35 years later, presiding at his funeral as his brother and Superior. Continue reading

The Best Is Yet To Come – Br. James Koester

Br. James Koester

Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost
Profession of Life Vows by Brother Luke Ditewig, SSJE

Now I can’t claim to be the list king in this community. There is another brother, who will remain nameless, who is the king of lists, charts and calendars in this community. But what I can claim to be is the brother obituariest (the brother’s call me something else, but it’s a little rude so I won’t repeat it!). Anyway, I am the one responsible for writing the obituaries which we read at Compline, on the anniversary of a brother’s death. It’s a job that I take great delight in. One thing I have done is to make lists of all the brothers who have died in the community since our founding in 1866 beginning with Father Coggeshall, who was the first in our community to die in 1876, up to and including Brother Bernie whose death earlier this year was the most recent. By my count there have been 153 deaths in the community. But while I was making that list, I became curious about another list. I began to wonder how many men have made their life profession in our community, and when. So I began to dig, and it has taken quite a lot of digging, because our records are somewhat incomplete. But according to my count Luke, you are at least the 201st person since Father Benson to make his life profession in the Society of Saint John the Evangelist and the 47thto make his life profession here in this Chapel since Father Lockyer, who was the first to be professed here, on 21 July 1938. Continue reading

Sermons for the Beach: A Home in Your Heart


During the month of August, while the Chapel is closed, we are reposting sermons that we hope will inspire you to embrace play, rest, and recreation.

James Koester SSJEActs 16: 9-15Psalm 67Revelation 21: 10, 22 – 22: 5John 14: 23 – 29

Over the last several weeks I have been busy building raised garden beds. If you have been to Emery House, you may have seen them, or even inspected them. In one I have spinach and beets, in another lettuce, radishes and carrots. In a couple of smaller ones I have planted potato onions, shallots and Egyptian Walking Onions (now isn’t that a great name!). Last week I transplanted the creeping oregano into one and one of the guests carefully transplanted most of the perennial onions into another. Continue reading

Praying Well, Loving Much – Br. James Koester

Br. James Koester

The Tenth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 12, Year C)
Genesis 18: 20 – 32
Psalm 138
Colossians 2: 6 – 15
Luke 11: 1 – 13

One of the most amazing places in the world, at least as far as I am concerned, is the Church of the Resurrection in Jerusalem. I know that I have preached about it before, and I am sure that I will do so again, and again, and again.

On one of my visits to Jerusalem, I was there with a small group of people who were participating in a course at St. George’s College. We got into a conversation with one of the Armenian seminarians who was staffing the Armenian gift shop. Our friend Charlene, who claims that she doesn’t speak Armenian very well, got into a conversation, in Armenian, with the young man. The next thing we knew we were taken down, down, down into the depths of the rock quarry that the Church of the Resurrection is built on. As we descended from street level, we passed any number of pilgrims and tourists. We passed two Armenian chapels in the lower level of the Church. At the side of one chapel, near the altar was an iron grille. Having been ushered through the altar rail, our host pulled out a large key and unlocked the grille. We went through the grille single file, and he pulled it shut, locking it behind him. We followed him along a long, narrow wooden walkway and down, down, down more stairs. We finally arrived at the bottom and saw what we were looking for: a bit of graffiti dating from sometime in the very early part of the fourth century, before the church above us had been built. Long before the Church of the Resurrection had been built in the years after AD 335, when it was still illegal to be Christian, pilgrims had been making their way to the place associated with the crucifixion and resurrection of the Lord. One of them had drawn on the rock face a small sailing boat and below it had written the words Lord, we have come. It was stunning to be in a place of prayer and pilgrimage that predated the building of the great church. But what took my breath away was what we were shown next. As we made our way out, we stopped at another flight of stairs and headed down, down, down. We were in a great crevice in the rock. When we reached the bottom our guide announced that this was the place where Jesus and his disciples had come and prayed after the Last Supper and before they went to the Garden of Gethsemane. I asked our guide if we too could pray and so the four of us said the Lord’s Prayer together. It was a spine tingling moment that I will never forget. Continue reading

All for All – Br. James Koester

Br. James Koester

The Eighth Sunday after Pentecost and the Profession in Initial Vows of Keith Nelson SSJE

Genesis 28: 10 – 22
Psalm 139
Romans 8: 28 – 39
John 1: 35 – 51

Well Keith, this day has been a long time in coming. We your brothers in the community have been waiting patiently, and maybe not so patiently, for this day to come, and not just since you came here nearly three years ago to test your vocation. We’ve been waiting even longer than that. We’ve been waiting ever since you came to try your vocation with us the first time, but left after a few months, believing your vocation lay elsewhere. We’ve been waiting even longer than that. We’ve been waiting ever since you first appeared in Cambridge as a student at HDS and started to come to worship here on occasion. We’ve been waiting a long time and are thrilled that this day is finally here at last. Continue reading

Friends, Food and Rest – Br. James Koester

Br. James Koester

2 Kings 19: 9-21, 31-36
Psalm 48
Matthew 7: 6, 12-24

A number of years ago I was in Jerusalem. A small group of us had made our way from St. George’s College into the Old City. We had ended up at the Church of the Resurrection and after spending some time there, were on our way back to the College. Now I had walked to and from the Church and College dozens of times before, and depending on the route I took, would often pass the Mission of the Russian Orthodox Church, which is literally just around the corner from the Church of the Resurrection. The grey steel doors of the Russian Mission were always closed and locked, in spite of a sign posted by the door telling you what hours it was open. It was never open. It was never open, at least until that day. Continue reading

The Song of the Sea – Br. James Koester

Br. James Koester

Feast of St Basil the Great

1 Corinthians 2: 6-13
Psalm 139: 1-9
Luke 10: 21-24

Those of you who have worshipped with us for any length of time will no doubt have spent some time gazing at our windows. Made by the Connick Studios here in Boston in the late 1940’s they are quite distinctive in their use of colours, especially reds, blues and greens. Having lived with these windows for nearly 30 years, I now notice Connick windows whenever I go into a church that has them.

The windows here in the chapel follow a number of themes. In the Lady Chapel the five lancet windows depict the rosary. Read horizontally each of the bottom, middle and upper sections show the Joyful, Sorrowful and Glorious Mysteries of the Rosary. The back Rose Window shows in the bottom section images of the Nativity and in the upper section the Twelve Ranks of Angels and in the centre medallion, the Coronation of the Virgin. Over by the door that leads out into the cloister is a window depicting St. Jean Vianney, Patron Saint of Parish Priests and Confessors. That window is located there, because in the days when confessions were heard here in a confessional, that was located near that door. The windows in the St. John’s Chapel show the vision of St. John from the book Revelation. The two windows by the High Altar are of the Virgin and the Beloved Disciple standing at the foot of the cross. The windows of St. Luke and St. Joseph here by the door to the Guest House were given by the workmen who built the chapel and are known as the Workmen’s Windows. If you haven’t looked at them before do so, as you’ll find the various tradesmen shown, including my favourite, a plumber trying to fix a leaky tap. Continue reading

Babel is Healed – Br. James Koester

Br. James Koester

Genesis 11: 1-9
Acts 2: 1-21
John 14: 8-18, 25-27

I must confess that I have always been more than a little envious of those who, at least to me appear to be able, to acquire another language with hardly any effort. I have always struggled to learn a second language.

As a child my parents enrolled all my siblings and me in private French lessons, but when French became available at school, it was like starting over again. Each year was the same, I would struggle all year to learn a few basics, scrap by with a pass at the end of the school year, and then forget everything in the summer and start from square one again on the Fall. I finally dropped out of Latin in high school. In the first year of seminary, I enrolled in Greek. Early in the term of first year the Greek professor arranged for us all to take a language aptitude test. My years of struggling to learn another language all came together with that test, and finally made sense. Continue reading

Radical Radishes – Br. James Koester

Br. James Koester

Marks of Mission IV

One of the most radical things I have done in the past few years was to grow radishes in the vegetable garden at Emery House. Now I know that doesn’t sound very radical. After all you can buy perfectly good radishes at the grocery store. Or can you?

I built a number of raised bed and in one of them I planted radishes. Radishes are fun to grow. First of all, I am quite fond of them. Secondly you can plant them quite early in the spring. And finally it’s only about 21 days between planting and eating. If you want to discover the joys of vegetable gardening, radishes are a great way to begin. They are one of the closest things to instant gratification in the vegetable world. Continue reading

Resurrection Words – Br. James Koester

Br. James Koester

Second Sunday of Easter

Acts 5: 27-32
Psalm 118
Revelation 1: 4-8
John 20: 19-31

Something strange is happening.

Something strange is happening. A band of terrified, grieving women and men who spend most of their time behind locked doors in fear, are changing. Their fear is changing into faith. Their terror is changing into courage. Their grief is changing into joy. And soon, no door could keep them in, and no door would be able to keep them,or their message out.

Something strange is happening, and it begins with the resurrection greeting: Peace be with you! Continue reading

Love Reborn – Br. James Koester

Br. James Koester

Luke 24: 1-12

There is a wonderful story told about Father Arthur Stanton[1], one of the great Anglo-Catholic slum priests of the nineteenth century. (Think here more Oliver Twist rather than Downton Abbey!) For over 50 years he was an assistant priest in the parish of St. Alban’s, Holborn in the Diocese of London, then an area of unspeakable poverty. Father Stanton was a tireless champion of the poor and an exuberant preacher. When he died in 1913 thousands of people lined the streets to pay their respects as the funeral procession made its way from the church to the cemetery. The story told of him is that he used to go to a street corner in his parish dressed in his black cassock, and stand there throwing his white surplice up into the air. He did this repeatedly until he had attracted a crowd of curious on lookers. Once the crowd around him was large enough, he would whip on the surplice, pull a stole out of his pocket, put it on, and begin to preach. Over time he became a well-known street preacher, both for the content of his preaching and for his attention grabbing theatrics! Continue reading

An Easter People in a Good Friday World – Br. James Koester

Br. James Koester

It doesn’t take much to imagine just how crazy people thought Jesus to be. Indeed if someone stood on a street corner today saying much the same thing, they would get a similar reaction. This is crazy talk! We’ve all seen death. We all know the reality of death. Death is real. We see it in the news, on TV and in our own lives. None of us have been untouched by death. Yet Jesus, like that crazy street corner preacher, boldly stands in the Temple and declares whoever keeps my word will never see death.[1] Is it any wonder those who heard him dismissed him as crazy? After all everyone they knew from Abraham, to the prophets, to their parents, to themselves and their children and grandchildren had either died or would die. This is the talk of a madman.

Yet while what Jesus said about death was dismissed as the talk of a madman, the response of the crowd, and perhaps us as well, is the response of a shortsighted people who have lost sight of a vision. Continue reading

Fragrance of Love – Br. James Koester

Br. James Koester

The Fifth Sunday in Lent: Year C

John 12: 1-8

I don’t know if you have noticed, but something has happened. In fact it happened last week. And it has nothing to do with Donald Trump, or even the State Dinner hosted by President and Mrs. Obama for Prime Minister and Mrs. Trudeau. It has nothing to do with our recent election for Superior or even the unseasonably warm weather we have been having. It has something to do with the lectionary, the liturgical cycle, and the Gospel texts we have been reading at the Eucharist.

Last Monday in fact, we switched from reading our way through Luke and the other synoptic gospels of Matthew and Mark and moved into the Gospel according to John. We’ll dip back into Luke on a couple of occasions, but until Easter Day we’ll be reading our way through portions of John. Continue reading