Tag Archives: easter

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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Holy Week at Incarnation 2019

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The Episcopal Church of the Incarnation welcomes all seekers wherever you are on your spiritual journey.

Episcopal Church of the Incarnation
1750 29th Avenue, San Francisco, CA 94122
www.incarnationsf.org | 415-564-2324

Palm Sunday
Sunday April 14, 10 a.m.
On Palm Sunday, we celebrate Jesus’ triumphant entrance into Jerusalem where he was welcomed by crowds worshiping him and laying down palm leaves before him. It also marks the beginning of Holy Week. We will commemorate Palm Sunday by processing into the church with palm fronds.

Maundy Thursday and Agape Supper
Thursday April 18, 6 p.m.
Maundy Thursday is the commemoration of the Last Supper of Jesus Christ, when he established the sacrament of Holy Communion prior to his arrest and crucifixion. Maundy Thursday is the start of the Triduum, a three-day period marking Jesus’ death and burial. The service is followed by an Agape supper.

Good Friday
Friday April 19, 3 p.m.
Good Friday commemorates the crucifixion and death of Jesus on the cross. The service will include reading’s from the Passion and veneration of the cross.

Easter Vigil
Saturday April 20, 8 p.m.
The Easter Vigil (also known as the Great Vigil) liturgy is intended as the first celebration of Easter. The service begins in darkness and consists of four parts: The Service of Light (kindling of new fire, lighting the Paschal candle, the Exsultet); The Service of Lessons (readings from the Hebrew Scriptures interspersed with psalms, canticles, and prayers); The Renewal of Baptismal Vows; and the Eucharist. The Easter Vigil is an ancient litury celebrated on the night before Easter Sunday commemorating Christ’s resurrection.

Easter Sunday
Sunday April 21, 10 a.m.
Easter celebrates the day that Jesus rose from the dead, and symbolizes forgiveness, rebirth, and God’s saving power. The service will start with the flowering of the cross. Please bring cut flowers to adorn the cross.

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You Are Witnesses of These Things

By the Rev. Darren Miner

Gospel Reading

Today is the third Sunday of Easter. And yes, even though you will no longer find chocolate bunnies for sale at Safeway, it’s still Easter! And it will continue to be Easter till we reach the feast of Pentecost on May 20. As you may have noticed, there are various ways that we mark this joyous season in our worship. We use vestments of white, which in Western culture are considered festive. We burn a very large white candle. We read the Acts of the Apostles in place of the Hebrew scriptures for the first reading. We include extra Alleluias at various places in the service. And finally, the Confession of Sin is optionally omitted. During this joyous season, we pause for 50 days to ponder a single day, the Day of Resurrection, and to consider its consequences for us as disciples of Jesus.

That explains why, for the third Sunday in a row, we hear a story from that first Easter Day. It’s kind of like the movie Groundhog Day, in which Bill Murray’s character experiences the same day over and over again till he learns his lesson. Likewise, we will move on from Easter Day only when we have learned all that we need to learn from that eventful day.

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An Empty Tomb and the Angel’s Easter Orders

By the Rev. Darren Miner

Gospel Reading (Mark 16:1-8)

You may have noticed that I did not read the last two sentences of the Gospel reading, as printed in the lectionary insert. It was not an accident due to Holy Week exhaustion; I omitted them because they are not, in fact, part of the canonical Bible. The original version of Mark’s Gospel ended with the words, “They said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.” The end! Now, the early Church didn’t like this abrupt cliffhanger of an ending, and two different appendices were proposed in order to give the Gospel a more satisfying ending: the so-called “shorter ending,” consisting of the two sentences in the insert that I didn’t read; and the “longer ending,” consisting of verses 9 through 20, as found in modern printed Bibles. Very early on, you see, the Church had decided to go with the longer ending, and those two sentences tacked on to the end of verse 8 were scrapped. Unfortunately, an editor at Church Publishing Incorporated seems not to have gotten the memo!

With that out of the way, let’s look a little closer at the eight verses that I did read. We are told that three women got up at the crack of dawn on a Sunday to ready Jesus’ body for burial. He had been so hastily entombed that his body had not been washed and anointed with perfume, as was the custom. According to Jewish belief, the soul of the departed lingered for three days after death. So, they would have believed that Jesus’ spirit would have been aware of the fact that they were lovingly fulfilling their duty as members of his unofficial extended family.

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The women clearly put some thought into what they would need. The story mentions how they went out and bought aromatic spices in order to perfume the body. But they forgot one rather important fact: the tomb was sealed with a very large and very heavy stone. It is only as they are walking to the tomb that they remember this little detail. They don’t have a team of strong men with them. They don’t even have a crow bar. And the chances of success are pretty minimal. Now, reasonable people would have turned back at this point and rounded up a work crew. But the three women do not, in fact, turn back. They just keep going. Were they being foolish? Or did they just have faith?

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The Lord Is My Shepherd

By the Rev. Darren Miner

Bible Readings

Today is unofficially known as Good Shepherd Sunday, because all but one of the readings make reference to shepherds. That one exception is the first reading from the Acts of the Apostles. So let’s look at that first before we move on to animal husbandry.

The first line in today’s reading from Acts provides the Church with a spiritual rule of life. The earliest Christians, we are told, “devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.” Like them, we too are to devote ourselves to the apostles’ teaching. We do this when we meditate on the New Testament. We do this when we listen to a sermon or attend a Bible study. We devote ourselves to the breaking of bread and the prayers when we attend the Eucharist and when we pray our daily devotions. But what about devoting ourselves to fellowship? Don’t we do that at every coffee hour? Yes and no. The Greek word translated here as “fellowship” is koinonia, and it has a wide range of meanings, such as sharing, participation, communion, and even communal ownership. The earliest Christians understood this kind of fellowship as requiring them to “sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need.” This is so much more than signing up to bring snacks to the Sunday coffee hour! Such fellowship as is commended to us in the Acts of the Apostles requires profound mutual commitment, up to and including financial support for the poor in our midst.

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Be Known to Us, Lord Jesus, in the Breaking of the Bread

By the Rev. Darren Miner

Gospel Reading

How many here remember the film Groundhog Day, starring Bill Murray? It was about a man who was cursed to relive the same day over and over again until he learned to love others more than himself. I feel like we are in that movie, reliving the same day. For it is now two weeks since Easter Day, and we are still hearing a Gospel reading that takes place on the evening of the Day of Resurrection. Maybe the editors of the lectionary think we still have a lesson to learn from that great day. And maybe they’re right!

Today’s Gospel reading is the familiar story of the meeting on the road to Emmaus. It’s so familiar that we are tempted not to pay close attention. But we should!

It is early evening on the day of Jesus’ Resurrection, when two dispirited disciples decide to give up and head home. One disciple is a man named Cleopas. The other disciple is not named and could possibly be a woman. The two are discussing Jesus’ death when they are joined by a stranger. The Gospel says that their eyes were forcibly restrained, so that they might not recognize the stranger as Jesus. And unlike Mary Magdalene, neither do they recognize Jesus’ voice. We can only assume that Jesus was the source of this restraint. No reason for it is given. But I suspect Jesus’ plan was to open their minds and their hearts before opening their eyes.

Jesus inserts himself in their conversation, asking them what they are discussing. They go on to tell him, speaking of Jesus as a prophet who had been handed over by the Judean authorities and crucified. It is telling that they do not profess Jesus as the Son of God, but only as a prophet. They had hoped that Jesus was the Messiah, sent from God to free Israel from Roman rule. They had hoped that he would be a great warrior-king. But now all their hopes are dashed. They go on to relate the story of how some women in their group claimed to have had a vision of angels, but it is clear that they think this but an idle tale.

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The Lord Is Risen Indeed. Alleluia!

By the Rev. Darren Miner

Gospel Reading

Some 2000 years ago, in a backwater of the Roman Empire, something happened that changed the world. On the first Good Friday, Jesus of Nazareth was executed on a cross. On the first Holy Saturday, he was buried in a borrowed tomb. And then on the first Easter Day, he was raised from the dead, as a sign of God’s love for his Son—and for us. For we are told that if we have faith in God’s saving love, we too will be raised from the dead. That in a nutshell is the Easter message.

But faith is such a tricky matter! If we watch the news coming out of Syria or Egypt or Russia or Sweden, it is ever so easy to believe in Good Friday. It is easy to believe that the world would torture and kill a gentle man whose only wrong was to teach God’s love. It is easy to believe the Holy Saturday message that this man of peace lay dead and buried. But it is harder to believe in the Easter message, that sin and death did not—and do not—get the last word.

We may imagine that ours is the first generation of doubters, but that just isn’t the case. St. John wrote the Gospel account of the Resurrection that we heard proclaimed today for one reason and one reason only: that doubters of every generation might know the truth about what God did on that first Easter Day and, believing that truth, might have eternal life. Of all the Gospel accounts of the Resurrection, John’s is the most vivid and detailed—and the most convincing! In the midst of the miraculous, we get real, believable portrayals of how various disciples of Jesus reacted both to his death and to the mystery of the empty tomb.

The two boys, Peter and the Beloved Disciple, upon hearing that Jesus’ body has gone missing from the tomb, compete in a footrace to see who will get there first. The Beloved Disciple wins, but then chickens out, letting Peter be the first to enter the empty tomb. The Beloved Disciple believes, even though he doesn’t understand, while Peter is just plain confused. The impatient boys head home. And because of their impatience, they miss out on a miracle.

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Conversion, Commission, Communion

By the Rev. Darren Miner

Lectionary Readings

In the early church, sermons given during Eastertide were mystagogical. That is to say, they were designed to lead the newly baptized deeper into the mystery of our faith. Typically, they dealt with the two great sacraments of Baptism and Eucharist. Well, this sermon won’t be a lesson primarily about the sacraments, but I hope that it does lead you further into the mystery of our faith.

In todays’ readings, we hear about two spiritual giants: St. Paul and St. Peter. First, we hear the story of the conversion of St. Paul, when he encounters the Risen Lord on the road to Damascus. It is one of three accounts of Paul’s conversion found in the Acts of the Apostles, an indication of the story’s importance to the early church. In the Gospel reading from John, we get a strange story about Peter and his companions breakfasting with the Risen Christ on a beach, followed by an equally strange conversation between Jesus and Peter.

St. Paul, formerly known as Saul of Tarsus, started out his career as a righteous (one might even say self-righteous) Pharisee and a self-appointed vigilante. He took it upon himself to go from town to town and root out Christians from the local synagogues. And to his great shame later in life, Paul participated, albeit peripherally, in the lynching of St. Stephen the Protomartyr.

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Easter Service, Sun. March 27 at 10 a.m.

EasterService2016

Easter Service: Sun. March 27, 10 a.m.
Incarnation Episcopal Church, 1750 29th Avenue, San Francisco

Easter Day is the greatest feast of the Christian Year. This is a time of great celebration as we rejoice in our redemption. Join us in the joyous celebration. The service includes special music followed by a festive reception.

For more information visit www.incarnationsf.org or call (415) 564-2324

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