Tag Archives: resurrection

“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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Two Lenten Epiphanies

By the Rev. Darren Miner

Bible Readings

All three readings today deal in some way with the subject of life coming out of death.

Ezekiel tells us of a vision in which he looks over an ancient battlefield strewn with the desiccated bones of Israelite soldiers. He is told to prophesy to the bones and bring them back to life. And he does! Helpfully, Ezekiel also tells us the meaning of his vision: the dispirited and subjugated people of Israel, exiled in Babylon, will be given a new spirit of life and will be returned to their home. (I don’t know about you, but this prophecy makes me long for the day that we can return to our parish home!)

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St. Paul, in his letter to the Romans, contrasts life in the flesh with life in the Spirit. Life alienated from God and focused on self, we are told, is no life at all, but living death. Life in the Spirit, on the other hand, yields peace in the present and eternal life at the Resurrection.

Finally, we come to the story of the raising of Lazarus (whose name appropriately means “God helps”). Jesus is in the land across the Jordan, when a messenger arrives from Bethany with a message from his friends Mary and Martha begging him to come heal their brother Lazarus, who is seriously ill. By the time Jesus and his entourage arrive, Lazarus has been dead four days. This detail is significant, because according to popular Jewish belief, the soul stayed in the vicinity of the body for three days and then departed to its final destination. So, after four days, the expectation would be that the soul was irretrievable.

After speaking with the two sisters and seeing their grief, Jesus is moved to tears. This response seems like such a small thing. But it really isn’t. Ponder this for a moment. The Son of God, the Incarnate Word, the third person of the Holy Trinity, is moved to tears at the sight of human grief and suffering. In the words of Psalm 8, “What is man that you should be mindful of him?”

Jesus then proceeds to the tomb and orders that it be opened. He prays to his Father, and in a voice loud enough to be heard in Hades, yells out to Lazarus: “Lazarus, come out!” And the now-resurrected man comes out of the cave, free to resume his life.

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There is so much that we can learn about Jesus, and his Father, from this account. But right now, it is enough if we come away with two minor epiphanies: 1) Jesus cares about our suffering and 2) Jesus is more powerful than death. With the spread of COVID-19 and all the ensuing deaths, I have no doubt that Jesus is weeping for the world even now. For he knows our pain, our grief, our fear. Likewise, I have no doubt that, just at Jesus did with Lazarus, so he will raise up all the faithful who have died in him. For “I am Resurrection and I am Life, says the Lord. Whoever has faith in me shall have life, even though he die. And everyone who has life, and has committed himself to me in faith, shall not die for ever.” Believe this and live!

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

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The God of the Living

By the Rev. Darren Miner

Bible Readings

Today’s Gospel reading from Luke is the story of a convoluted religious debate between Jesus and some Sadducees. The topic seems to be marriage in the afterlife. But the real topic is the existence of the resurrection of the dead. You see, the Sadducees were a priestly sect who did not believe in the resurrection of the dead. Instead, they believed that, when a person died, his spirit sank into the ground and remained in a dark and joyless realm, known as “Sheol,” separated from God forever. The Sadducees even had a slogan about this dismal doctrine: “The Lord is God, not of the dead, but of the living.”

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Now, the Sadducees in today’s Gospel undoubtedly knew that Jesus taught the resurrection of the dead. And they wanted to publicly ridicule his teaching. So they posed a hypothetical question. What if seven brothers, one after the other, all married the same woman? When they had all died and then been resurrected, which man would own the woman as his wife? (Clearly, it would be an abomination for all seven to share ownership in the same wife!) Now, the Sadducees couldn’t care less about marriage after the resurrection. Their true aim is to discredit belief in a resurrection life!

But, as you know, Jesus is a rather clever fellow! He knows right away what these Sadducees are trying to do. He does address the question of marriage after the resurrection, if only obliquely, but then moves on to the real theological question: the resurrection of the dead. As is often the case, Jesus does not actually answer the question that his opponents have posed. He never says whose wife the woman would be after having married seven times. Instead, he states that the institution of marriage as it existed in his day (namely, a man taking a wife for the purpose of ensuring his posterity) will cease to exist in the World to Come. Now, for those of you who are widows or widowers, rest assured: Jesus does not say that the spiritual bonds of love are broken by death, only that the legal bonds of marriage no longer apply.

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The Handsome and Noble Shepherd

By the Rev. Darren Miner

Gospel Reading

Finally, on the Fourth Sunday of Easter, we move on from the Day of Resurrection—only to transition to the topic of shepherds and sheep! In fact, today is commonly referred to as “Good Shepherd Sunday.” For me, this day brings to mind the many paintings and stained-glass windows that we have all seen of Jesus’ cradling a snow-white lamb in his arms or of his carrying a poor little stray on his shoulders. When I was a child, this Gospel story reminded me of the nursery rhyme “Mary had a little lamb. It’s fleece was white as snow.” Not living in the country, these images were all I knew about sheep until I was well into my 20s. Imagine my shock when I first saw real sheep up close and in person. They weren’t as white as snow at all! In fact, they were filthy and smelly beasts. And I am told that they aren’t terribly bright! So, why on earth does Jesus compare his followers to sheep and himself to a shepherd?

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Well, Jesus doesn’t tell us in so many words, but I have some educated guesses. I suspect that Jesus compares his followers to sheep, not because of our stupidity or our lack of hygiene, but because, like sheep, we have a tendency to stray. Recall Isaiah 53, “All we like sheep have gone astray. We have turned every one to his own way.” Jesus, as our shepherd, is there to gather us back into the fold when we stray. And he will go before us to lead us to the green pastures and still waters mentioned in Psalm 23. Note that I said “he will go before us.” In the Middle East, the shepherd goes ahead of the flock, and the sheep are trained to recognize the shepherd’s voice and to follow his lead. Likewise, Jesus, as our shepherd, is one who has gone ahead of us, and we are expected to follow in his footsteps.

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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 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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Christ is Risen!

 

Gospel Reading

By the Rev. Darren Miner

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 lay buried in a borrowed tomb. And then on the third day after his death, the first Easter, he was raised from the dead, as a sign of God’s love for Jesus 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 but read the newspapers or watch the news coming out of Syria or Turkey or France or Belgium, it is easy to believe in Good Friday. It is easy to believe that the world would brutally 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 is dead and buried—The End! But to be honest, 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. Paul contended with his fellow Jews trying to convince them that the Resurrection of the Messiah was foretold in scripture if only they had the eyes to see and the ears to hear the truth. Later, St. John wrote the Gospel account of the Resurrection that we heard proclaimed today. He wrote his Gospel for one reason and one reason only: that all generations might know the truth about what God did in his day and, believing that truth, might have eternal life through Jesus Christ.

Of all the Gospel accounts of the Resurrection, John’s is the most vivid and detailed—and convincing! In the midst of the miraculous, we get real, honest portrayals of how various disciples of Jesus reacted to his death and later 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 tomb. One disciple is forever changed; the other is merely mystified. The Beloved Disciple believes, even though he doesn’t understand. Peter is just plain confused. The impatient boys head home. And because of their impatience, they miss out on a miracle (at least for now).

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

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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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For All the Saints

By the Rev. Darren Miner

Lectionary Reading

Click here for a printable pdf version.

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

Today is All Saints’ Day, a “principal feast day” in the liturgical calendar of the Episcopal Church. And so, here we are, gathered together to commemorate all the saints. But what exactly do we mean my the word “saints”? In the early church, all baptized Christians were called saints. All were considered holy. All were considered set apart for God’s use. Only later did the term become limited to those who had lived lives of heroic sanctity and, most especially, those who had crowned their lives as martyrs to the faith. As a result of this change in connotation, the remembrance of the “unheroic” faithful was put off to the following day, the feast of All Faithful Departed, more commonly known as All Souls’ Day. Frankly, I prefer the earlier usage. I like to think of this day as a day to remember all the faithful of ages past, whether or not they were particularly “heroic” in their faith.

But this feast day is not just about looking backward. This day is also a day of looking forward. The prayer book designates this feast as one of four baptismal feasts, at which we dedicate new saints to God through Holy Baptism and at which we may optionally renew our own status as saints by solemnly reaffirming our baptismal vows. Truly, this is a day to remember all the saints—past, present, and yet to come.

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