Sunday, March 31, 2013

Preacher's Study - 2 Easter

Monday morning in the Preacher's Study

First thoughts about next Sunday's sermon (2 Easter Year C)
Todd Townshend

What is the first thing on Jesus’ post-resurrection “to-do” list? In John’s gospel, on the evening of the day that Jesus was raised up from the dead, he enters a room filled with disciples who are trying to lock out all that threatened them. He appears twice amid their doubt and believing, brings them his peace, breathes the Holy Spirit on them, and sends them out again in his name. 

This encounter is necessary, continually, in the face of the Resurrection because the new Creation creates a kind of chaos in what remains of the old order. His followers have to get “in touch with” this new creation. It’s less about doubt than it is about the Word and Spirit moving the disciples past the perceived chaos, and their well-founded fear. 

So in contrast to the Easter gospel according to John (20:1-18), Jesus now allows his followers to touch and see him. The good news of Easter is still primarily heard, but the incarnate and risen One reaches out to them once more out of compassion and the desire to save. Jesus invites them to touch his wounds and to taste the goodness of his risen life. 

This appearance of Jesus is astonishing. The disciples are locked away in a room of fear. They’ve lost hope and are looking for a way out. Without Jesus, they are nobodies again. Threatened nobodies. They are confused and bewildered, not just by the appearance itself, but also by the fact that Jesus did not come through the door! Nothing is happening the way it’s supposed to happen. Nothing seems real. 

The physical evidence of his suffering helps to identify him, but it is his command “Shalom!” that reignites the whole biblical witness for them, especially the promise of life made in the face of death. The words “receive the Holy Spirit” (John 20:22), along with the breath of life upon them, bring them to a new Creation moment when the dust of the earth is formed into flesh, when dry bones are knitted together into life. Jesus establishes a new humanity from the people he loves, thereby giving all people a future in God. 

They have been re-membered. The future is God’s future, and God’s future involves God’s people in Shalom and in Spirit.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Preacher's Study - Passion C

Monday morning in the Preacher's Study

First thoughts about next Sunday's sermon (Passion Year C)
Todd Townshend

Do you know the Curtis Mayfield song, People Get Ready? It goes: People get ready there’s a train a comim', don’t need no baggage, you just get on board. All you need is faith to hear the diesels hummin’. Don’t need no ticket, you just thank the Lord.
         The Salvation train.
         In my mind there are many positive images of the train. Many of them from gospel music. In this week's playlist I have the song, “I Want to Ride that Glory Train.” The train rides rails to glory.
         But there is also one intensely negative image. It gathers up all the other negative images of derailed trains, exploded trains. It is the image of a train - jammed full of people - steaming its way through a gated opening in a high brick wall. The wall surrounds a very large area, big enough for the entire train to stop inside. The gate is closed and the doors to the boxcars open. Out pour bewildered men, women, and children. It is Auschwitz. The train rides rails to death.
         With these two different train images in mind, now picture Jesus. Entering the city of Jerusalem, through a gate in the wall. Palm branches being waved, hosannas being sung. Jesus riding on a colt. To what? What will become of this man, this life, this people? You know the answers, according to the story, but what if you didn’t? Where is this Jesus-train going? After gathering steam from three years of healing and teaching and miracle, with a crowd following him full of disciples and family, friends and enemies, they enter the city.
         Is this a train to glory, this parade into Jerusalem? Or is it simply a train to death? Or is it somehow .... both?
         If you decide to take the whole ride through Holy Week this year, there will be several stops along the way... places to slow down and look around. This is the week that we re-play the Passion story at its original speed. There will be the opportunity, especially over The Great Three Days, to hear the whole thing freshly - as if for the first time -  and to again make it your own. Through it, may Christ again offer us the key to learning how to live, and even how to die.

Todd Townshend is Canon Theologian for the Diocese of Huron, a member of the Faculty of Theology, Huron University College, London, ON., and editor of OPEN.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Merriman: Good Friday

Thinking about Good Friday

Reflections on the symbols and ceremonies of Holy Week by Michael Merriman

Back in 1979 when the American Book of Common Prayer was made official it seemed obvious that with a full rite for Good Friday for the first time, Episcopalians could stop putting together Good Friday services with little or no rationale such as a three hour "Preaching the Seven Last Words of Christ."  Or one congregation I knew that managed a three hour service composed of Morning Prayer at Noon with a sermon followed by the Great Litany with sermon, Liturgy of the Word with sermon, then Evening Prayer and sermon and finally compline.  Hymn being interspersed in these. 

What seems to have happened instead is a kind of attempt to preserve the idea of a three hour service and making the BCP's rite last that long.

Perhaps we can revisit that and accept the idea that the liturgy on Good Friday might be of ordinary length and the Good Friday rite in the Prayer Book be followed.  There is a logic in the rite that deserves to be respected as we move from Word to intercession to veneration of the cross and, if desired, Communion and then simply concluding without a dismissal.

There are some issues raised by elements in this rite.  I am particularly concerned to reflect on our reading of the Passion of John.  If it is read by a number of voices we may want to revisit the custom of giving the congregation the words of the crowd.  The people of God present are the Body of Christ.  Perhaps they might read the part of Jesus and have a small group read the parts of the crowd and the priests.

There is another issue in the Passion of John and that is the repeated use of the term "the Jews."  Many New Testament scholars tell us that in that context the writer was not speaking of the Jewish people but of the group of priests and other Jewish aristocrats who ruled Jerusalem under the watchful eye of Rome.  I wonder if we would be wrong to render "the Jews" as "the Jewish authorities" or even as "the authorities" or "the council."  When we do that the only time that the word "Jew" need be used is on the lips of Pilate, "Am I a Jew?" he asks.

Let us also remember that the Liturgy of Good Friday is not meant to be a funeral for Jesus.  We after all know the end of the story and to conduct this rite as if we don't isn't helpful.  While we don't wish to anticipate Easter, we might use hymns that glorify the Cross rather than penitential and sentimental hymns that stress individual piety rather than the praise of the community for God's great love inscribed (in words of one hymn) in shining letters God is love.

Michael Merriman is a member of APLM Council. He will be a featured presenter at Go, Make Disciples, a training institute offered by the North American Association for the Catechumenate, April 25-27, in Houston, Texas. For more info:


About the image: The artist is Theyre Lee-Elliott (1903-1988), a man who was the son of an Anglican priest. Apparently he fancied that trees were like human beings. After a period of serious illness, he created this piece in which Christ crucified, trees, the violence of world war and his own sufferings fuse into a single image, with the hint of hope and glory evident in the background colors.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Lent 5, Year C 2013

A Prayer for Lent 5, Year C
Jennifer Phillips

Living God, you break into our mortal loneliness
by your coming among us.
You clothe the dry bones of our lives
with the flesh of your new creation,
and from the fearful tombs
you call us to come out and live unbound,
through the power of Christ’s resurrection,
in whose strong name we give thanks.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Preacher's Study - Lent 5C

Monday morning in the Preacher's Study
First thoughts about next Sunday's sermon (Lent 5C)
Todd Townshend

What is your consuming desire?
On the fifth Sunday of Lent this year we see/hear both Paul (in Philippians) and Mary (in John) make extraordinary testimony to Christ and their desire to know and love him. Jesus surpasses everything of worth to them. There is no way to put a value on what Christ it worth to them.
Paul sketches his own impressive CV in order to contrast himself with the Judaizing preachers, but more, to indicate the high value he places on Judaism. Paul’s list of credentials: circumcised the eighth day (not as an adult), of the people of Israel (not just a Jew religiously), of the tribe of Benjamin (a family genealogy), a Hebrew born of Hebrews (probably refers to his family preserving the native tongue in the home), as to the law a Pharisee (full obedience to the whole law), as to zeal a persecutor of the church (the commitment is deep!), as to righteousness under the law blameless. But all of this gain (these thing are of tremendous value to him) he counts as loss only because of the staggering gift he found in Christ. He has now happily given up all other claims, advantages, and status. Paul’s desire to know Christ in full leads to his desire to live in Christ and to find union with him in suffering, death, and resurrection. Finally, for Paul, it is all about resurrection. It is the final hope.
So too is Mary’s testimony, although she expresses it without words.  With costly perfume and her hair she participates in Christ’s life, death and resurrection, perhaps in ways even beyond her knowing. She does seem to know who she has before her . . . something, someOne, beyond value.  Measuring the value or the “cost” is not possible for those who attach themselves to Christ, mainly because the gift they recognize as theirs, in Him, is grace. Once you get a good taste of this grace, it becomes your consuming desire.
Nearing the end of Lent the preacher is moved to anticipate the celebration of the Resurrection, but also to proclaim it with joy. Even in Lent, go ahead. (Hold the Alleluias if you wish, but your listeners “want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection!” Testify away!)

Friday, March 8, 2013

Merriman: Maundy Thursday

Reaffirming our Identity as a Eucharistic, Serving People: The Paschal Triduum Begins

Reflections on the symbols and ceremonies of Holy Week by Michael Merriman

The Paschal Triduum begins with sunset on Thursday, concluding with sunset on Sunday (pre-Vatican II the Triduum ran from Wednesday night and ended on Saturday night, producing confusion for Anglicans occasionally).  The evening Maundy Thursday Eucharist, then, marks the beginning of our anamnesis of the events of our redemption. 

This Eucharist was once celebrated with vestments, flowers, bells, etc. that gave the liturgy a festal character.  To many of us now, however, the emphasis is shifted to viewing this liturgy as the rite for the Eve of Good Friday.

It is suggested that the older practice of using the Gloria in Excelsis as the Song of Praise be replaced with another Song of Praise: “Holy God” or “Lord, have mercy” can be used. Another choice might be “O Gracious Light.”  This liturgy is our preparation for Good Friday, in most places, the final opportunity for celebrating Eucharist until the Great Vigil.

The washing of feet is a feature of Maundy Thursday that deserves some thought.  The older practice was to have the priest wash the feet of twelve people while the congregation looked on.  In the 1970’s it became common to offer the entire congregation the option of having their feet washed, and then at little later to invite them to share in washing, perhaps each person after having her or his feet washed then washing those of the next person.  When done for all, the arrangements of space and of vessels and towels should be such as to expedite the rite that it not take up an inordinate amount of time.

Other practices have included using the foot-washing in an Agape meal either before or after the Eucharist itself.  Even more intriguing is the practice of making the meal part of the Eucharist itself in which a form of Eucharist based on the prayers of the Didache is used with a thanksgiving and sharing of the bread being followed by the full meal and then the thanksgiving and sharing of the cup after the meal.  In that setting it would make sense to have the foot-washing in conjunction with the meal.  In that model the shared cup is the action that seals the sign of servant ministry.

The meaning of the Maundy Thursday Eucharist, then, is a reaffirmation of who we are as a eucharistic and servant people.  It then leads us into Friday’s commemoration of the passion when Jesus’ own eucharistic self-offering and his ultimate act of servanthood is celebrated.  Maundy Thursday is not then a separate rite apart from the other events of the Three Days but our entrance into that extended liturgy in which the whole of God’s redemptive act in Jesus is brought into our present time and we are led through the waters of baptism into the promised land of the Reign of God, here in our midst.

Michael Merriman, a member of APLM Council. He will be a featured presenter at Go, Make Disciples, a training institute offered by the North American Association for the Catechumenate, April 25-27, in Houston, Texas. For more info: