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Hospitality Has Its Rewards

Gospel Reading

By the Rev. Darren Miner

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

For the last few weeks, we have heard Jesus instruct the twelve Apostles before sending them out on a mission to proclaim the Good News of the Kingdom of Heaven. Today, we get the final bit of instruction. It deals with the rewards of hospitality.

Now, we are accustomed to admonitions for the church to be more welcoming to visitors. And that’s particularly hard to do these days. Recently, a new phenomenon called “Zoom-bombing” has raised its ugly head. People either join Zoom meetings uninvited and then yell obscenities. Or they politely ask to be invited, and then yell obscenities. This has happened to several churches in the Bay Area. One church that had videoconferencing enabled had to watch child pornography till the host finally found the button to halt the church service. The current thinking is that each person who asks to join our worship should be thoroughly vetted in advance. Not an easy thing to do!

But today’s Gospel reading isn’t about that, at least, not precisely. It is not about us welcoming other people; it is about other people welcoming us. Jesus begins by promising that anyone who welcomes one of the Apostles as they roam the countryside preaching the Gospel will be rewarded. For when they welcome an Apostle, they welcome Jesus. And when they welcome Jesus, they welcome God.

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All this would seem to be unrelated to our present circumstances. After all, the original twelve Apostles are long dead. But Jesus’ teaching didn’t stop there. He went on to say that anyone who welcomes a prophet will be rewarded. Again, there are a few prophets in the world today, I suppose, but surely none among us! Again, Jesus’ teaching didn’t stop there. He then claims that anyone who welcomes a righteous person will likewise be rewarded by the Almighty. Now, I think this might begin to strike home for us at Incarnation. I know for a fact that there are righteous people in our midst. But Jesus extends his teaching even further. He finishes by announcing that anyone who offers so much as a cup of water to the lowliest of Christians will be rewarded in Heaven. Well, folks, that final promise covers all of us here. Jesus promises that anyone who welcomes us as followers of Jesus will be rewarded.

But they won’t be rewarded unless they welcome us. And they can’t welcome us unless we reach out to them. Now, in this time of pandemic, you cannot literally go out and spread the Good News, at least not safely. But you can still use the telephone. You can still send an e-mail. Terri Taylor wrote to me recently. She had noticed that the parish’s website doesn’t invite strangers to join our worship. She was right. As I mentioned earlier, it is almost impossible to do the recommended vetting with a complete stranger.

Here is where you come in. You have friends and family and neighbors and acquaintances, people who require no further vetting. You have the ability to reach out to them and to invite them to our Sunday conference call. Maybe they will say, “No, thank you!” But just maybe, in this time of isolation, they will welcome your invitation to join us in worship. Just maybe, they will welcome the opportunity to be part of our little community of faith. If they do welcome you and the message you bring, Jesus has promised that they will be rewarded in Heaven. But none of this can happen, if you don’t reach out as a disciple of Jesus and invite someone!

© 2020 by Darren Miner. All rights reserved. Used by permission.

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It’s Time to Choose!

Gospel Reading

By the Rev. Darren Miner

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

In last week’s Gospel reading, Jesus summoned the Twelve Apostles and sent them out to proclaim the Good News to the lost sheep of Israel, to heal the sick, to cast out demons, to cleanse the lepers, and even to raise the dead. Before sending them on their way, he instructed them. Today’s Gospel reading is a continuation of that instruction.

Jesus begins by telling the Twelve to expect no better treatment than he has received. In other words, they should expect to be mistreated and threatened and maligned. Even so, he urges his disciples to have no fear, but to proceed with their mission at any cost. They are not to fear those who can destroy their physical bodies. They are to fear the One who can destroy both their bodies and their souls. And he doesn’t mean the Devil—he means God!

Jesus solemnly promises his disciples that if they are willing to accept the cost of discipleship and to publicly proclaim his teachings, even at the risk of their lives, they will be rewarded by God. Conversely, disciples who, for whatever reason, deny their faith in Jesus will be denied by God.

Elsewhere in the Gospels, Jesus speaks of the eternal peace of the Kingdom of God, and he bestows peace upon his disciples as his final blessing. But here, he tells his disciples not to expect peace, but the sword of discord and division, even within their own families. Here, Jesus requires his disciples to make a very difficult choice: to rank loyalty to God above every other loyalty, including loyalty to race, country, political party, and even family.

When I watch the news on TV and read the newspapers, I witness many people choosing their fundamental loyalties—some wisely, others not so much. This confusion is to be expected. For we live in difficult times, and difficult times make for difficult choices. Ordinary people are being asked to weigh in on complex matters, such as racism, policing methods, public health, civil rights, and immigration policy. And people’s very lives will be affected by our decisions, or by our refusing to make a decision.

I have heard it argued that the Church should mind its own business and stay out of politics. Tell that to Jesus! In point of fact, the well-being of the people is the Church’s business. And Jesus has something to say to us about all the pressing matters of the day. We just need to tease out the answers together. We can start by prayerfully reading the Bible, giving special attention to the Gospels. And as corny as it may sound, we need to start asking ourselves, “What would Jesus do?”

Of course, there very well may be a cost attached to our decisions. We may be asked to give up something we value for the sake of people we have never even met. But who ever said that discipleship comes without a cost? Certainly, not Jesus! He told his disciples to take up the cross and follow him. He intended that every Christian should be willing to forge ahead, proclaiming the Good News and helping those in need, no matter the cost to self. This is the Way of the Cross.

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Now, Jesus’ call to follow the Way of the Cross might be too much for us to bear, especially in these trying times, were it not for two promises: 1) Christ will be by our side every step of the journey; and 2) there is a great reward awaiting us at the journey’s end. For the final destination of the Way of the Cross is none other than the Kingdom of Heaven.

© 2020 by Darren Miner. All rights reserved. Used by permission.

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Let Us Boast in Our Sufferings

By the Rev. Darren Miner

Bible Reading

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Today, I am compelled to preach on Saint Paul’s Letter to the Romans, despite the tempting Gospel reading about being sent out like sheep into the midst of wolves; more specifically, I am compelled to preach on Paul’s provocative teachings on boasting and on suffering.

Elsewhere, Saint Paul soundly condemns people who boast about such things as their knowledge or their wealth or their power. But in today’s reading, he makes two exceptions to his rule against boasting. It is OK to boast “in our hope of sharing the glory of God.” (That makes perfect sense!) And evidently, it is also OK to boast in our sufferings. (This, on the other hand, does not make perfect sense and requires a bit of explanation.)

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It helps to know that Saint Paul is not speaking about just any kind of suffering here. He is not encouraging folks to brag about how bad their hip hurts or how painful their arthritis is. He is encouraging people to boast about their suffering for their faith. He is addressing Christians in Rome, and he anticipates quite rightly that at some point they will face persecution and the threat of death. And he is encouraging them to boast about their perseverance.

Even so, it seems an odd thing to encourage. Why is boasting about one’s faithful endurance acceptable? Because we are to boast in what God has done through us, despite our weakness, despite our sinfulness. You see, this boasting that Paul encourages is really boasting about the power of God.

Paul goes on to make another controversial claim: “suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us.” It sounds a lot like a saying of that infamous atheist Friedrich Nietzsche: “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” But it means something quite different. For while Nietzsche was speaking of the formation of a “superior” form of human being who glories in his power to rule over lesser human beings, Paul is speaking about the formation of Christians who do not seek to rule over anyone and who give glory only to God.

Of course, we all know that suffering can produce results other than endurance or strength; suffering can also produce bitterness, despair, anger, and rage. Watch the news on TV, if you don’t believe me! But that is not to say that Saint Paul has it wrong. Perhaps his teaching will make more sense if I paraphrase it: “With the help of the Holy Spirit and our willing participation, suffering can produce endurance, and endurance can produce good character, and good character can produce Christian hope, and that hope does not disappoint.”

First, note that Paul’s teaching only makes sense if we allow for God’s grace, for the gift of the Holy Spirit, in the midst of our suffering. And it only makes sense if we willing participate with the Holy Spirit. Unlike Nietzsche’s “superior” human being, we Christians need not, and should not, look only to ourselves in times of trouble, but to God. Paradoxically, our very weakness is our strength.

Paul’s point is that God can bring us from suffering to new hope in Christ, if we will only work with him. And such hope is not unfounded. For we know what God has already done for us out of sheer love; he created us in his own image and loved us as his own. We know what his Son endured for our sake, suffering death upon the cross that we might live. And we know what the Holy Spirit is doing for us even now in this time of social distancing, binding us together as a community of faith and reminding us through today’s Epistle that we don’t need to stand on our own, not now, not ever!

Glory to God whose power, working in us, can do infinitely more than we can ask or imagine: Glory to him from generation to generation in the Church, and in Christ Jesus for ever and ever. Amen.

© 2020 by Darren Miner. All rights reserved. Used by permission.

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The Lies of the Devil

Homily for the 7th Sunday of Easter

By the Rev. Darren Miner

Epistle Reading

Three days ago, we celebrated Ascension Day. For some reason, the editors of the lectionary have reprised the story again this Sunday. My guess is that they wanted to give those who didn’t attend on Thursday another chance to hear about the Ascension of Christ. Well, folks, if you snooze, you lose! I’m not going to preach on the Ascension again. Instead, I am going to say a few words about the Devil.

Now, the Devil is not a common topic of sermons in the Episcopal Church. I venture to say that quite a few Episcopalians don’t even believe in the Devil. But Jesus did, and so did Saint Peter!

Saint Peter’s warning to us is clear: “Like a roaring lion your adversary the devil prowls around, looking for someone to devour. Resist him, steadfast in your faith, for you know that your brothers and sisters in all the world are undergoing the same kinds of suffering.” The concern here is that we might get worn down by the troubles of this world and our faith might waiver and make us susceptible to the wiles of the Devil.

Now, it helps to know something about our adversary, if we are to be successful in resisting him. And a lot can be learned from his title—the Devil. The English word “devil” derives from a Greek word “diabolos.” It is often translated as “slanderer,” but its meaning is broader than that. It means “one who causes others to quarrel.” One aim of the Devil is to make us quarrel with God. And in a time of “fiery ordeal,” that job becomes all the easier, for we humans can get quite quarrelsome when God allows us to suffer. But it is also the Devil’s aim to bring dissension and disunity between and among ordinary people. And one of his favorite tools is the lie.

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Now, it has always been possible to tell lies about someone. It has always been possible to stir up trouble. But nowadays, it is so much easier, for we have the help of cable news and social media. The Russians used Facebook to interfere in elections in the United States and in Europe. It seems that their purpose was primarily to cause disunity. I’m sure the Devil was pleased. Just last week, the President of the United States got on Twitter and suggested that the presenter of a morning talk show was, in fact, a murderer. You can imagine the stir that that little slander caused for a day or two. Again, the Devil must have been pleased. In a recent interview on CNN, Nancy Pelosi feigned concern for the President’s health, slyly commenting on his “morbid obesity.” Yes, the President is obese, but he is not “morbidly obese.” That was a lie, and the Father of Lies was undoubtedly pleased.

If we are to resist the Devil, we must find a way to deal with the deluge of lies that accost us daily on TV and on the Internet. Saint Peter gives us some good advice: “Discipline yourselves. Keep alert. And resist!” I will add to that advice. Don’t make up lies, not even little ones. Don’t repeat lies, even if you find them amusing. Don’t believe lies, no matter how convenient they may be. Instead, take the time to do some fact-checking. And when you encounter a lie, counter it with the unvarnished truth, if you can.

Admittedly, resisting the lies of the Evil One can be exhausting. And in this time of deadly pandemic and political discord, this time of “fiery ordeal,” we are already feeling worn down. So it is not surprising that, from time to time, we may be tempted to give up the struggle. But we cannot! For to give in to evil is to be spiritually devoured. So, in those moments of weakness, those moments of temptation, follow the counsel of Saint Peter, and turn to God: “Cast all your anxiety on him, because he cares for you,” and trust that he “will himself restore, support, strengthen, and establish you.”

“To him be the power forever and ever. Amen.”

© 2020 by Darren Miner. All rights reserved. Used by permission.

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He Ascended into Heaven

Homily for Ascension Day Year A

By the Rev. Darren Miner

Readings

Today is Ascension Day, one of the great feasts of the Church. Saint Luke tells us that, for 40 days after the Resurrection, Jesus appeared to the apostles and spoke to them about the kingdom of God. On the 40th day, on the Mount of Olives, Jesus was taken up bodily into the heavens. Today we commemorate that event.

Now, this story has great visual appeal. One Renaissance artist showed people devoutly kneeling on a hill with their hands joined together in prayer looking up toward a cloud.

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And from out of the cloud all you see are two bare feet sticking out! In 1958, Salvador Dalí depicted the Ascension from a different perspective; in his painting, the viewer is looking up directly into the noonday sun and sees the soles of Jesus’ feet directly above, surrounded by the sun’s rays. 

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Despite the visual appeal of the story, modern-day Christians understandably have some difficulty with the idea of Jesus Christ flying up and disappearing into a cloud. Our problem with this story comes from ignoring the fact that we are dealing with a case of mystical experience. Just suppose that God wanted to show the apostles that Jesus was leaving this realm of existence to rejoin the Father in another mode of being. How might he go about it? In a pre-scientific age, where people commonly believed that God lived above the sky, might he not show the apostles exactly what Luke says they witnessed—Jesus flying up into the clouds? (Now, granted, if God were to offer us this mystical experience today, he might show us something completely different.) The point is that God reveals his truth in words and images that are appropriate to the recipients. So, we shouldn’t get so hung up on the imagery of the story that we miss its meaning.

And the meaning of the story is my next topic. First and foremost, the Ascension signifies the departure of Jesus from the realm of earthly existence and the passing of the baton, so to speak, to the apostles. Jesus commissions them to be his witnesses to the “ends of the earth.” Then he departs and leaves them standing there staring into the sky. Two men in white, probably angels, appear before them and mildly rebuke them. In effect, they tell the apostles, “Don’t just stand there gawking. Get to work!”

But what a daunting mission they have been given! How could the apostles be expected to succeed on their own? Well, they couldn’t. So Jesus promised that they would receive power from the Holy Spirit to strengthen them for their mission.

But more is going on with the Ascension than the passing of a baton. Jesus’ Ascension was necessary in order to complete what was begun at the Incarnation. With the Incarnation, the second person of the Holy Trinity emptied himself of his divine glory and sojourned among us as a fellow human being. He experienced all that it is to be human—with one exception—he knew no sin. But Jesus did know temptation, hunger, thirst, pain, loneliness, grief, but most of all he knew love. With the Ascension, the Incarnation comes full circle. All that Jesus experienced as a man—all that humankind has and ever will experience—was assumed into the very Godhead, so that we might be saved through that union of the human with the Divine

Yes, in one sense, Christ did leave us. But in another sense, he is still with us, for even now he is seated at the right hand of the Father, interceding on our behalf. Alleluia!

© 2020 by Darren Miner. All rights reserved. Used by permission.

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From Fear to Faith

By the Rev. Darren Miner

Gospel Reading

Today’s Gospel story begins on a Sunday evening, the evening of the Resurrection. Earlier that same day, you may recall, Mary Magdalene had encountered the resurrected Jesus and had reported what she had seen to the disciples.

Now, just a few hours later, we find the disheartened disciples in hiding, with the doors locked tight. The predominant emotion is not wonder and joy at their Lord’s Resurrection, but fear of the Judean authorities. And they are crippled by that fear.

(I must say that I have more sympathy for the disciples these days than I used to. In this time of pandemic, I have a better understanding of how hiding in fear can cripple a person, how it can drain away one’s energy and one’s joy.)

Fortunately, there is Good News for the disciples, and for us: Christ is risen! In today’s account, Jesus appears in the midst of the disciples, unhindered by such physical barriers as locked doors. His appearance serves as a sign to the original disciples, and to us today, that death does not have the final say. For God’s love for us is more powerful than death. And if we hold on to that saving truth, then we can still experience joy, even as we wait in our homes for the end of the pandemic.

But Jesus comes to his disciples to do more than alleviate their fear. He comes to empower them with new hope, new life, and a new mission. Just as God breathed the breath of life into Adam’s nostrils in the story of Creation, so Jesus breathes new life into his fearful disciples, saying: “As the Father has sent me, so I send you. Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” This is John’s version of the miracle of Pentecost. The disciples, and the Church that follows in their footsteps, have been empowered for mission by the gift of the Holy Spirit, and that mission is the reconciliation of the world.

But not all of the disciples received this gift on that Easter evening. Saint Thomas, it seems, missed church that Sunday and so misses out on seeing the Risen Lord and receiving the Spirit. And when told about the event, he stubbornly refuses to believe.

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But true to form, Jesus gives this disciple a second chance. A week later, the disciples again are holed up in the house, with the doors locked. But this Sunday, Thomas manages to make it to church. Again, Jesus appears to the assembled disciples and greets them. He openly invites Thomas to follow through with his grotesque demand to probe Christ’s wounds. And then he urges Thomas to stop doubting.

Thomas responds by proclaiming Jesus as his Lord and his God. Thomas has what can only be called a conversion experience, and he enters into an even deeper level of faith.

John’s Gospel tells us about this incident, so that we too may have such faith. And the very core of our Easter faith is trust: trust that this world is basically good, trust that God loves us, and trust that God’s love is more powerful than death and disease. Brothers and sisters, hold tight to that faith, even in the midst of disease, even in the face of death. For Christ is risen! Alleluia!

© 2020 by Darren Miner. All rights reserved. Used by permission.

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Easter in Pandemic

By the Rev. Darren Miner

Gospel Reading

The account of the Resurrection found in John’s Gospel holds a certain distinction. It is by far the most vivid account of the events of that day, with details that distinguish it from the other three Gospels. This morning, I would like to focus on one such detail: the moment that Mary Magdalene realizes that the man she mistook to be the groundskeeper is, in fact, Jesus.

As we just heard, it is only when Jesus addresses her by name that she is able to recognize him. Her response to this epiphany is not a theological confession, as we will hear from the doubting Thomas later in John’s Gospel. No, her response is a more personal acknowledgement, “Rabbouni! My teacher!” In a single word, she attempts to recapture that familiar relationship of teacher and disciple.

Evidently, she then takes hold of Jesus. Matthew’s Gospel mentions that she fell to the ground and grasped his feet. Jesus’ reaction seems cold and distant. Depending upon the translation, he either says, “Don’t touch me” or “Stop clinging to me.” His only explanation for his aloofness is that he has not yet ascended to the Father.

In this day of “social distancing,” we might mistake his admonition to her as deriving from a fear of contagion, as if her touch might somehow contaminate him. I don’t believe this to be the case at all! My guess is that Jesus senses that Mary is trying to cling to the past. She is desperate to have him back with her as he used to be, as her daily companion and beloved teacher. But the days of Jesus’ sojourn on the earth as a man have come to an end. The only way that Jesus can now remain with Mary and the disciples is spiritually, through the mediation of the Holy Spirit. For such is the divine plan.

There is a lesson for us in this brief encounter between Jesus and Mary Magdalene. As we hunker down in our homes, unable to gather at the church, we too long for the past. We too are tempted to cling to the way things used to be. More than one parishioner has suggested that we ignore the law and gather together again at church. But we cannot, and we should not. For now, we must forgo the festal Eucharist, the communal singing of Easter hymns, the flowering of the cross. For now, we, like Mary Magdalene, need to let go of what was and to open ourselves to what might be.

Don’t get me wrong: this pandemic is evil. There is nothing good about it. Even so, God may very well bring something new and good out of it. There is ample precedent for such a thing. Jesus’ crucifixion was evil. Nothing was ever more evil! But out of that evil event came the Resurrection of our Lord. Out of that evil event came our hope for eternal life.

So, on this Easter morning, even as we shelter in place, let us give thanks to the Lord and rejoice. For, in the words of St. John Chrysostom, “Christ is risen, and Death is overthrown! Christ is risen, and the demons are fallen! Christ is risen, and the angels rejoice! Christ is risen, and Life reigns!”

© 2020 by Darren Miner. All rights reserved. Used by permission.

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What’s So Good about Good Friday?

By the Rev. Darren Miner

Passion Gospel

I’d like to know who decided to call this day “Good Friday,” for there is nothing good about it. It is a solemn day, a dreadful day, an awful day. It is a day of fasting and abstinence. It is a day to contemplate the torture and execution of Jesus on a Cross, a day to confront death itself. And this year, we have to do all this in isolation, trapped in our own homes. No, it is not a “good” day!

So, why on earth do we put ourselves through this torment? Why are we compelled to think about the Cross? It would be much more congenial to skip right over Good Friday and to go straight to Easter Day. Now that’s what I call a good day!

Well, folks, that just wouldn’t work. You see, the road to Easter, the road to Resurrection, goes straight through the valley of the shadow of death. There is no other route. Before we can experience the new life of Christ, we must surrender the old life of sin. We do this for the first time at our baptism (or our godparents do it for us). We do this again and again every time we confess our sins to God, whether at Holy Eucharist or at Morning Prayer. And we do it today in spades!

There are many lessons to be learned from the Cross. But the first and foremost is that Christ died for us. And I put especial emphasis on the “for us.” Put another way, Christ died because of us. Once upon a time, the Church was in the habit of blaming the Jews, all Jews, for the death of Jesus. That slander was false then, and it is false now. One of the hymns normally sung during Holy Week has this verse:

Who was the guilty? Who brought this upon thee?

Alas, my treason, Jesus, hath undone thee.

’Twas I, Lord Jesus, I it was denied thee:

I crucified thee.

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The fact is that we all share in the responsibility for Jesus’ agony on the Cross, for it was our sin that made this terrible sacrifice necessary. And it behooves us to remember that shameful fact on this most solemn day and to grieve.

On this day, for the sake of our souls, we are constrained to imagine the painful and humiliating death of Jesus of Nazareth. For our Lord did not die stoically, as John’s Gospel might lead us to believe. The other Gospels make it quite clear that Jesus suffered both physical and spiritual agony on that cross.

But, thanks be to God, agony and death were not the end of the story. And even on this day, which focuses on the death of our Lord, we need to keep in mind that the road goes on, out of the valley of the shadow of death, to a place of refreshment and eternal life. The Cross, as crucial as it is to our faith, is not the final destination. It is but the signpost to a place beyond death.

Later today, I would suggest that you take some time to look at a crucifix, a cross with Jesus’ body fixed to it. Maybe you have a crucifix on a wall somewhere in your home; maybe you have an icon of the Crucifixion. And even if you don’t, you can always Google the word “crucifixion” and bring up a medieval painting on your computer screen. Just take some time today to gaze upon the life-giving cross and upon the Son of God who was nailed to it. Look upon the one who suffered so that your sins might be forgiven you, and worship him!

© 2020 by Darren Miner. All rights reserved. Used by permission.

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“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

By the Rev. Darren Miner

Gospel Reading

In this time of pandemic, we begin Holy Week with Morning Prayer by conference call. I miss the traditional liturgy! But not all is lost; we still get to hear an excerpt from one of the Passion narratives, albeit not in the form of a dramatic reading.

Later in the week, on Good Friday, we will get the full story of Jesus’ arrest, torture, and execution from John’s Gospel. Now, there is an obvious redundancy to hearing two accounts each year of the Passion of the Christ. But this first reading serves a useful purpose: it sets the tone for Holy Week. It lets us know, in no uncertain terms, what we can expect in the days ahead—namely, a protracted recollection of Jesus’ last days on earth.

On Thursday, we will gather on a conference call for Evening Prayer to commemorate the Last Supper. Normally, we would observe this holy day by celebrating the Eucharist and sharing a simple meal together. This year, after Evening Prayer has concluded, I ask you to invite Jesus to join you at your dinner table and to invite him into your heart.

On Good Friday, we will gather at 3 p.m., at the very hour of Jesus’ death, to hear St. John’s account of the Passion of the Christ—again by conference call. We cannot come together to venerate the rugged cross, but we can still take time on that day to meditate on the crucifix hanging on the wall or to gaze at an icon of the crucifixion or to ponder a medieval painting of the Passion online.

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As for today’s Gospel reading, let me just say a word or two about Jesus’ cry of dereliction: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” The words are deeply disturbing, for they indicate that the Son of God experienced the abandonment of his heavenly Father. In that moment, the unimaginable took place: the Second Person of the Holy Trinity experienced a sense of disconnection from the First Person of the Holy Trinity. In other words, God experienced what it feels like to be abandoned by God!

At that moment, our crucified Lord experienced what many of us experience at some point in our lives, the feeling that God has ceased to care. I suspect that many people are feeling that sense of abandonment right now! That feeling can come when we’ve prayed and prayed and still our loved one continues to suffer. It can come when we ourselves are seriously ill and begging for a bit more time on this earth. It can come when we are feeling lonely and afraid because of a pandemic and prayer no longer brings us any comfort. Each of us, I think, will eventually experience this sense of God’s absence. Each of us, in our own way, will undergo our own little Passion.

In that moment, what are we supposed to do? To whom should we turn? Well, the answer is to do what Jesus did in his darkest hour. He turned to God, shared his anguish, and expressed his continuing faith. Yes, even in those words of seeming despair—“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”—we find an implicit declaration of faith. At that moment, when Jesus could have said anything at all to express his sense of abandonment, he quotes the start of Psalm 22, a psalm that begins in anguish and despair but ends in faith and hope.

The collect for today asks that we might walk in the way of Christ’s suffering. In this time of pandemic, we might have no choice in the matter! But the collect goes on to ask that we might also share in Christ’s Resurrection. Brothers and sisters, as you contemplate the mysteries of Holy Week—and as you endure the trials of the pandemic!—hold on tight to the hope of the Resurrection. And remember that after every Passion Sunday, after every Good Friday, there comes an Easter.

 © 2020 by Darren Miner. All rights reserved. Used by permission.

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Tell Them, “Come and See!”

By the Rev. Darren Miner

Gospel Reading

Last Sunday, as you may recall, was the feast of the Baptism of Our Lord, and we heard St. Matthew’s account of that event. Today we get a second version of that event, taken from the Gospel of St. John. Now, in Matthew’s account, Jesus sees the heavens open up and the Spirit descend like a dove. But it isn’t absolutely clear if anyone else sees what Jesus sees, or hears what he hears. Well, St. John’s Gospel clarifies the matter. John the Baptist also saw the descent of the Holy Spirit at Jesus’ baptism. And for him this was the sign he had been waiting for, that the “One who was coming into the world” had finally arrived.

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The Baptist announces to all within hearing distance that Jesus is “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” That’s a rather curious expression, and the meaning is not self-evident. The most common interpretation of this metaphor is that John is equating Jesus with the paschal lamb, the animal that was slaughtered, roasted, and eaten in a communal meal each year at the Passover in commemoration of the Exodus. Now, the sacrifice of the paschal lamb was a symbol of the redemption of Israel. But St. John the Baptist goes further when he states that this sacrificial lamb takes away the sin of the world. This is something completely new. In Judaism there was no sacrifice that took away the sin of the whole world.

As the Church Fathers noted long ago, there are also eucharistic overtones to the Baptist’s paschal metaphor, overtones that elucidate its meaning for us today. For just as a paschal lamb was sacrificed and then shared in a communal meal, so Jesus was sacrificed on the Cross, and the Sacrament of his Body and Blood is shared in a communal meal, namely, Holy Communion.

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If the Gospel reading for today had stopped halfway through, it would have been enough. For we would have gained a more profound understanding of the true identity of Jesus: he is both God’s Son and the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.

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