Our Prayer becomes “We” – Br. Keith Nelson

Br. Keith Nelson

Luke 20:27-38

In that open field
If you do not come too close, if you do not come too close
On a summer midnight, you can hear the music
Of the weak pipe and the little drum
And see them dancing around the bonfire
The association of man and woman
In daunsinge, signifying matrimonie –
A dignified and commodious sacrament.
Two and two, necessarye coniunction,
Holding eche other by the hand or the arm
Which betokeneth concorde.[i]

The poet T. S. Eliot once paid a visit to the little English village of East Coker, the home of his distant ancestors. It was a kind of pilgrimage, and in an open field with the remains of an ancient stone circle, he imagined a simple, peasant wedding, and a bride and groom long since dead dancing around a fire,

Keeping time,
Keeping the rhythm in their dancing
As in their living in the living seasons
The time of the seasons and the constellations
The time of milking and the time of harvest
The time of the coupling of man and woman
And that of beasts. Feet rising and falling.
Eating and drinking. Dung and death.[ii] Continue reading

Walk With Me – Br. Luke Ditewig

Luke 24:13-35

Walk with me. I need to get away. Let’s go to Emmaus. Two friends go walking. Talking their grief, their expectations dashed, dreams shattered. Talking of Jesus, their friend and their hope for the future, now betrayed, executed and buried. They talk of deepening disorientation: the body missing, people supposedly seeing angels. Two friends go walking, raising questions, discussing distress, sharing sorrow and confusion.

Resurrection comes amid the deep loss that plunges us into darkness, when life hurts and makes no sense. When we are bent under the weight heavy hearts, when lips tremble and tears flow. When we call a friend and say: Let’s go to Emmaus. I need to get away. Walk with me. Continue reading

The Legacy of St. Thomas – Br. Curtis Almquist

curtis4John 20:19-31

The apostle Thomas has been branded “Doubting Thomas,” but that’s unfair, and it’s inaccurate.  The opposite is true.  There are two scenes in the Gospel prior to what we’ve just heard that shed light on the apostle Thomas.  One scene is when Jesus was trying to say “good-bye” to his disciples, just prior to his being seized in the garden at Gethsemane.  Jesus said, “Let not your hearts be troubled….  I go to prepare a place for you… and you know where I am going….”   No.  Not so.  Not at least for Thomas.  It seems only Thomas has the courage to admit that he is clueless.  “My Lord,” Thomas says, “We don’t have the slightest idea where you are going!  How can we know the way?” (1) (It’s a good question; an honest question for us, too.  How can we know the way, especially when the path is dark and the risks are many, and the fear is great, and the route is unsure?)  “How can we know the way?”  Quite. Continue reading

Be Strong in the Lord – Br. David Vryhof

David Vryhof SSJE  2010Today is the Feast of St George, the patron saint of England and an heroic figure in the Eastern Church.   As with many of the early saints, the life of St George is shrouded with legend.  Little is known of his life or of his martyrdom.  What we do know is that he was born of noble parents in the region of Cappadocia sometime in the latter half of the 3rd century.  After the death of his father, he and his mother relocated in Palestine, where the family held some land.  George was enlisted in the army of the Roman emperor Diocletian and became one of the emperor’s best soldiers. But his conversion to Christianity put George in direct conflict with Diocletian, who was a bitter enemy of Christians and persecuted them viciously.  George spoke personally to the emperor in defense of the Christians.  His opposition cost him his life; he was tortured and then beheaded at Lydda in Palestine in the early 4th century.

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Gift of Doubt – Br. Mark Brown

Acts 4:32-35; Psalm 133; 1 John 1:1—2:2; John 20: 19-31

I have a “Doubting Thomas” question this morning and an imaginary answer from God. But that comes later.

What comes through loud and clear in these almost 2000 year old texts is a tremendous energy, an irrepressible enthusiasm. And, especially, an urgency to tell others about this extraordinary event of the resurrection of Jesus.  (“These are written so that you may come to believe…” “We declare to you what was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands…so that you may have fellowship with us…so that our joy may be complete.”)  There is an irrepressible impulse in these writings, an urgency to share with others. Continue reading

With Thee O Let Me Rise: “Easter Wings” by George Herbert (1593 – 1633)

I have always loved the poetry of George Herbert. When I was eighteen I was given a copy of The Metaphysical Poets, a Penguin paperback, with its fine introduction by the eminent scholar Dame Helen Gardner. I still have the book, well thumbed and rather worse for wear, but a testimony to those faithful companions, Herbert, Donne, Marvell, and Vaughan, who have traveled with me over the years.

But it is to my fellow Welshman, George Herbert, that I return again and again. I well remember turning the pages of that book and there, on page 121, I saw “Easter Wings.” You can’t miss it because of its shape. It actually looks like what the poet is trying to describe. In the early editions, the lines were printed vertically, to represent the shape of wings on the page. To get this effect, try turning this page ninety degrees, half close your eyes, and there are two birds flying upward with outstretched wings!

The poem is a good example of a “shape” or “pattern”

poem, adopted from the ancient Greeks, in which the shape mirrors the theme: and what more glorious theme than Easter! Each of the two stanzas represents first a dying or a falling, and then a rising pattern, which is the theme of the Easter story. The top half of each stanza focuses on the problem caused by human sin, and the bottom half reflects the hope made possible by the resurrection of Jesus from the dead.

Lord, Who createdst man in wealth and store,
Though foolishly he lost the same,
Decaying more and more,
Till he became
Most poore:
With Thee  O let me rise,
As larks, harmoniously,
And sing this day Thy victories:
Then shall the fall further the flight in me.

My tender age in sorrow did beginne;
And still with sicknesses and shame
Thou didst so punish sinne,
That I became
Most thinne.
With Thee
Let me combine,
And feel this day Thy victorie;
For, if I imp my wing on Thine,
Affliction shall advance the flight in me.

Helen Gardner wrote that “the quintessence or soul of a metaphysical poem is the vivid imagining of a moment of experience.” I wonder what “moment of experience” caused Herbert to write this personal and moving prayer to God. Herbert lived for three years as rector of the tiny village of Bemerton, just across the water meadows from Salisbury cathedral, the cathedral where I was ordained. I like to imagine him walking out one crisp Easter morning, summoned by the bells of the cathedral, raising his eyes to that great spire reaching into the heavens, and seeing countless birds swooping and gliding and soaring in delight. With his heart filled with joy, it seems that in this poem he too longs to rise up like those birds, and take flight with the risen Christ.

 

Herbert’s hand-corrected manuscript of the poem, owned by the Dr. Williams Trust and Library in London.

The first stanza speaks of how we were created by God and given every good thing: “Lord, Who createdst man in wealth and store.” But through the fall of man all these good things were lost and decayed, “‘Till he became Most poore.” The lines of the stanza mirror this loss by “decaying” in length.

But there is hope, and in the rising part of the stanza, Herbert writes lyrically of his desire to rise with Christ: “With Thee O let me rise, As larks, harmoniously, and sing this day Thy victories.” In the last line, the alliteration of “Then shall the fall further the flight in me” expresses the paradox that if humankind had not fallen, then we would never have had the wonderful gift of the coming of Christ to redeem us. This paradox is often called the felix culpa or the “happy fault,” words which are traditionally sung at the Exsultet on Easter morning, printed on page 13 of this Cowley.

The second stanza is even more personal and autobiographical. He remembers with sorrow and shame some of his earlier life, perhaps something of what he describes so painfully in his poem “Affliction.” It was an experience which meant, “That I became Most thinne.”

But all is redeemed in the glorious rising part of this second stanza. He prays that his earlier suffering may help him fly even higher, because of the “victorie” of Christ over sin and death at Easter. “For if I imp my wing on Thine, Affliction shall advance the flight in me.” To “imp” is a technical term taken from falconry, meaning to graft feathers onto a damaged wing to restore a bird’s power of flight. Herbert is asking that his damaged wing be repaired by grafting it onto Christ’s, and that together they may rise and soar up to eternal life. There is such a sense of soaring joy here, and perhaps Herbert had in mind the passage from Isaiah 40: “Those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.”

This is a poem which has delighted me for many years, with its joyful and exuberant celebration of Easter, and I shall always be grateful for the companionship of George Herbert, parish priest, poet, and in the words of his fellow writer Henry Vaughan, “a most glorious saint and seer.

“OH WOW” – Br. Mark Brown

Rev. 7:9-17; Ps. 34:1-10, 22; 1 John 3:1-3; Mat. 5:1-12

There are two things a little out of the ordinary this evening. On this “First Tuesday”, which happens to be All Saints Day, we invite you to come downstairs after the service for a soup supper.  And this feast of All Saints is one of the occasions when we renew our Baptismal vows. Following these reflections, we’ll stand together, renew our promises and be sprinkled with water as a reminder of our baptism into Christ, into his death and resurrection, baptized into his likeness.

We stand together in this life on a kind of threshold, a threshold between two rooms.  The room before us and the room behind us are both infinities, infinities that we only vaguely comprehend. The room behind us is an infinity of nothingness, of un-being, of non-existence.  We have come out of that “un-beingness” and now actually do exist. The other room, the room before us, is an infinity of being, of what we call “eternal life”. The threshold upon which we stand partakes of both rooms. Like in the narthex of this chapel, we can hear the sound of traffic from one direction and we can smell the incense from the other, and yet not be in one place or the other. Continue reading

Believe In It? I’ve Seen It! – Br. James Koester

Acts 2: 14a, 36-41; Psalm 116: 1-3, 10-17; 1 Peter 1: 17-23; Luke 24: 13-35

We continue today, our Easter preaching series “Toward Larger Life: Sermons on Resurrection” where the preacher of the day will take the Sunday texts and look at them through the prism of resurrection and see how they are inviting us into the larger life promised to us by Jesus in his resurrection. Last week Kevin looked at resurrection itself to discover the invitation to larger life. Next week Mark will hold before us Jesus the Good Shepherd and lead us into the larger life promised to us by the Shepherd of our souls. Today I want to ask you to come for a walk with me and see how the journey to Emmaus brings us to that larger life.

Not far from Jerusalem, just off the highway that leads to Ben Gurion Airport, Tel Aviv and the Mediterranean, on the edge of a small village there is an overgrown right of way used by an Israeli utility company to service the power lines that run above it. It’s a curious spot to take a group of pilgrims but I have been there two of three times in the last number of years, because buried in the brush, and under the tangled and matted grass, lies the scattered remains of an old Roman road running from Jerusalem to Joppa on the Mediterranean coast. When I was first there over ten years ago the curbs and paving stones were quite easy to find. Ten years later, after a decade of rain, the road continues to be washed away, but if you look hard enough (and know what you are looking for) you can find bits and pieces of stone that has obviously been dressed and used for some sort of building project. Continue reading

Breaking the Death Barrier – Br. Geoffrey Tristram

“You’ve been living in Boston for nearly ten years, and you’ve not been to Fenway Park?” That’s what a friend of mine said to me some months ago, and he promptly went out to buy a couple of tickets. And so it was one late afternoon we were lining up outside the stadium among the crowds, waiting for the Red Sox to meet the LA Angels. Well, all I can say is that I was well and truly smitten. It was one of the most exciting evenings I’ve ever had. It was an incredible game. But what I most remember is the time just before the game began. The crowds were alive with excited expectancy and anticipation. Kids were jumping up and down in excitement. They knew this was going to be a special game and the atmosphere of expectancy was electric.

That experience of my first Red Sox game came back to me as I was reflecting on today’s Gospel. Those disciples must have been absolutely filled with a sense of expectancy and anticipation. Something amazing was about to happen. Jesus has just ascended into heaven, and we read “the disciples returned to Jerusalem with great joy, and they were continually in the Temple blessing God.” (Lk 24:52-53) They were probably singing, praying, even dancing in their joy. I wonder what the others in the Temple thought? What’s up with them? What are they so excited about? Continue reading

Mediums – Br. Mark Brown

Br. Mark BrownHabakkuk 2:1-4; Psalm 126; Hebrews 10:35—11:1; John 20:24-29

The days are getting longer. At 11:47 AM yesterday the earth’s axial tilt reached its furthest extremity from the sun: the annual winter solstice. In this brief moment something big happens.  The days stop getting shorter and start getting longer—light begins to return to the northern hemisphere after months of increasing darkness.

Christmas is placed just a few days after the astronomical event—long enough that we can say for sure that light has returned!  We can see with our own eyes that the days are beginning to get longer; there is light in the world. The day of the solstice, the moment of doubt we give to St. Thomas.  Light should be returning now, but we’re not absolutely sure. Calculations show that the solstice should have happened yesterday (Thomas’s actual feast day), but we need concrete evidence. By Christmas Day keen observation will confirm that, yes, beyond a doubt, light has returned.  There is light in the world, darkness has not overwhelmed it. Continue reading

Tea, Cookies and Resurrection – Br. Mark Brown

Eastertide Preaching Series: A World Turned Upside Down

We continue this evening with our series “A World Turned Upside Down”—a series inspired by an uproar in the city of Thessalonica nearly 2000 years ago. The Book of Acts tells how Christians were accused of turning the world upside down with their witness to the resurrection.

The resurrection of Jesus was indeed the galvanizing experience of the first Christians. And it has been at the core of the Church’s proclamation down through the ages.  But, as Br. Geoffrey so eloquently pointed out last week, resurrection is not only for that great day when we awaken to life in heaven; resurrection life is here and now.

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Life Here and Now – Kevin Hackett

As we brothers have occasion to walk along Memorial Drive, we have often witnessed people, passers by unknown to us as well as our friends, standing on the top steps of the Monastery Church, craning their necks to peer over the fence to see our cloister garden.  Some of that is fueled by curiosity about the Brothers, but most of it, I think, is simply a desire to look at something which is quite beautiful. Continue reading

Hope of the Resurrection – Br. Curtis Almquist

We here have something in common with Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome who come to the tomb: we believe in the resurrection!  Jesus’ prediction that he would die and rise is true, amazingly.  And on this day of resurrection, we share something else with these three faithful women, and with the disciples, and with Jesus: and that is woundedness.  Jesus is wounded by the scourgings that preceded his crucifixion, and the horrific piercing wounds from hanging on the cross.  None of these wounds is yet healed.  Continue reading

Emmaus – Br. Geoffrey Tristram

Easter 3

Every year, for eight years, on Easter Monday, I used to go on a 20 mile hike. It was from Welwyn, Hertfordshire, where I was a parish priest, to our cathedral in St. Albans. I was joined by about 100 young people and helpers from our Sunday School and Youth Group. When we got to St Albans, we would join 10 thousand others, arriving from every corner of the diocese for the Annual Diocesan Youth Pilgrimage. Continue reading

Jesus’ tears; our tears – Br. Curtis Almquist

Lent V

John 11:1-44

There is a curious phenomenon that has filled much of our media in the last weeks, in the last year.  It is not a new thing.  It has an intensity, very powerful and yet often silent, uncontrollable, sometimes endless, mysterious, revealing, deeply moving.  It is universal.  And that is the presence of tears. Continue reading