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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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The Holy Spirit: Advocate and Guide

Homily for the Sixth Sunday of Easter Year A

By the Rev. Darren Miner

Gospel Reading

We are now in the sixth week of Easter, and the lectionary is preparing us for two upcoming feasts, Ascension Day and Pentecost. The readings begin to hint at Jesus’ departure from the earth and the gift of the Holy Spirit to the Church.

But today’s Gospel actually takes place weeks earlier, at the Last Supper. Jesus is preparing his disciples for life after his death. And he makes them a conditional promise: “If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever. This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive…”

I believe that this promise applies to us today as much as it ever did to the confused disciples gathered in that upper room at the Last Supper. We too are expected to keep the Lord’s commandments. Now, Orthodox Jews are supposed to keep track of 613 biblical commandments. But followers of Jesus have it easy. We are expected to remember only three: 1) You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind; 2) You shall love your neighbor as yourself; and 3) you shall love one another just as Christ loved us. Easy enough to remember, but not so easy to practice!

But the reward for our commitment to love is the gift of the Holy Spirit, whom Jesus refers to as “another Advocate.” The Greek word translated as “advocate” is “parakletos.” It’s basic meaning is someone called to stand by one’s side, and it can be translated in a variety of ways: advocate, mediator, intercessor, helper, comforter, adviser. And the Holy Spirit is meant to be all of these to us. One thing the “parakletos” is not is a “bystander.” Bystanders are people who are present, but do not take any action. That is not the Holy Spirit at all! The Spirit is all about action. And fortunately for us, the Spirit often comes to stand by our side even when we forget to call him there.

But not everyone, we are told, has access to the Spirit. Jesus warns that the world cannot receive him. Remember that in John’s Gospel the word “world” is a code word for those who actively oppose Jesus and his teaching. Those who reject the One who is Truth cannot receive the Holy Spirit, because the Holy Spirit is the Spirit of Truth. Here we are speaking of the consequences of rejecting Truth Incarnate. But something similar occurs, albeit to a lesser degree, when we reject more everyday kinds of truth, in other words, when we lie or when we knowingly choose to believe a lie. Unrepentant liars cut themselves off from the Spirit. With each additional lie, they make themselves less and less capable of receiving the Holy Spirit and his gifts. And when we choose to believe a lie, or to act as if we do, because we think it serves us better than the truth, then we distance ourselves from the Spirit of Truth.

But those who practice love and walk in the way of truth know the Spirit intimately, for the Spirit abides with them and within them. In this time of social isolation, it is helpful to be reminded of this fact, to be reminded that we are never alone—not so long as we practice love, not so long as we cleave to the truth, not so long as we remember to call the Holy Spirit to our side. So, the next time you are feeling lonely or bereft, call upon the Holy Spirit, our advocate and guide, and open your heart to his presence. Your prayer might be as simple as “Come, Holy Spirit, come!” Sit quietly for a time with God’s Spirit—or chat with him, if you prefer! Then, join your voice to that of the psalmist, who rejoices: “In truth God has heard me; he has attended to the voice of my prayer. Blessed be God, who has not rejected my prayer, nor withheld his love from me.” Alleluia!

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

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Following the Way of Jesus and Praying in His Name

By the Rev. Darren Miner

Gospel Reading

There are several standout sayings in today’s Gospel, any one of which could be the topic of a sermon. But today, I will focus my attention on two: “I am the way, and the truth, and the life” and “If in my name you ask me for anything, I will do it.” These stand out because they are difficult, and because they express deep spiritual truths.

In the first saying, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life,” the difficulty comes from the use of the definite article, the word “the.” This sentence makes the claim that Jesus is the unique revelation of the Father, that he is the one true way that leads to eternal life. For Christians, this is meant to be a word of encouragement and of hope: if you follow Jesus, you will find eternal life.

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But in this day and age, we don’t live in isolated communities composed only of believing Christians. Interfaith marriages are common. And many folks have family members who have abandoned the faith. What about them? Will they know eternal life?

Well, the answer is we don’t really know for sure. The letters of Paul presuppose that Jews will somehow be saved. But there is no developed theology of what happens to good people who do not acknowledge Jesus as their Lord.

So, I will give you my opinion. I firmly believe that Jesus Christ is the unique revelation of the Father. In other words, I believe in the doctrine that our parish is named after, the doctrine of the Incarnation. But I also believe that there are other ways of encountering Jesus Christ, in this life and possibly in the next, ways that are not mediated by the Church and yet are salvific.

My personal beliefs notwithstanding, the counsel of the entire New Testament is to follow the certain path to the one true God and to eternal life, namely, Jesus Christ. For he is “the Way and the Truth and the Life.”

Now, let’s jump to the very end of the Gospel reading and look at difficult teaching number 2: “If in my name you ask me for anything, I will do it.” The problem is that the promise seems contrary to our experience. We ask for many things in the Name of Jesus that we do not get. Was Jesus lying to us? No!

First, pay attention to the identity of Jesus’ audience. He is not speaking to us. He is addressing the disciples at the Last Supper. He is promising to continue supporting them in their ministry even after he has returned to his Father in heaven. There is no reason to assume that this promise extends to us. We can but hope!

Second, what does it really mean to ask “in the name of Jesus”? Is it sufficient to add the words “through Jesus Christ our Lord” to the end of just any prayer and expect it to be fulfilled as if by magic? Again, the answer is No. If you search through the Gospels, you will find other versions of Jesus’ promise to his disciples concerning the efficacy of their prayer. There, he clarifies what he means by true prayer in his Name. In short, true prayer in Jesus’ Name requires four things: the discernment of God’s will, trust in God’s power, faithfulness to God’s commandments, and participation in God’s community. Now, that’s a lot to remember, so I am going to say it again: true prayer in Jesus’ Name requires the discernment of God’s will, trust in God’s power, faithfulness to God’s commandments, and participation in God’s community.

Keep this in mind as we pray this day, and every time you pray in the Name of him who is the Way and the Truth and the Life. Alleluia!

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

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The Journey to the Meal

Gospel Reading

By the Rev. Darren Miner

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

Two years ago, I had the privilege of celebrating Eucharist with a group of Episcopal pilgrims at Emmaus, and I was asked to give an impromptu sermon. The temptation was to focus solely on the obvious eucharistic symbolism of the Gospel story. But I warned the congregation that if I did that, they would miss out on so much that can be learned from what preceded that illuminating meal.

For before the breaking of the bread that brought about the disciples’ epiphany, there was a journey, a seven-mile walk, in which, unbeknownst to the disciples, Jesus accompanies them on the way and proceeds to break open the scriptures. And there was a test. When they arrive at the disciples’ final destination, Jesus pretends to continue on his way; he is testing their hospitality, it would seem. The disciples pass the test with flying colors. Not only do they invite Jesus to dinner, but they ask him to bless and break the bread, an honor customarily reserved for the host. Having passed this little test, their eyes are finally opened, and they recognize Jesus.

Like those two disciples, we too are on a journey with Jesus. But there are some differences. We are not journeying to our home. We are journeying through a pandemic to an Emmaus that is uncharted and unknown. Like those two disciples, we too are being tested. But again there are some differences. For it is not our hospitality that is being tested, but our endurance and our very faith.

In normal times, we would be gathered together in church right now, and soon we would draw close to Jesus in the sacrament of Holy Communion, in the sharing of bread and wine made holy by our common prayer. But for a time, we cannot sup with the Risen Lord, and we are forced to journey on.

Even so, we are not bereft of Jesus’ presence. For just as Jesus accompanied his despairing disciples on their journey, so he accompanies us, even though we may not recognize his presence. And just as those disciples encountered the Risen Lord in the proclamation of Holy Scripture, so too do we encounter Jesus whenever the Good News is proclaimed, whether at a festal Easter Eucharist or at Morning Prayer by conference call.

And when at last our journey is over and we have arrived at our Emmaus, when we have passed the test of faith that has been given us, then we will once again offer the sacrifice of thanksgiving; then we will once again share in the sacred meal of bread and wine; then we will once again know the Risen Lord in the breaking of the bread. Alleluia! Alleluia! 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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Remember the Acts of Sacrificial Service

By the Rev. Darren Miner

Bible Readings

With this service of Evening Prayer, we enter into the very heart of the Christian Mystery, as we begin what is called in Latin the Triduum Sacrum, which means, “the three holy days.” This evening, we commemorate the Last Supper; tomorrow afternoon, on Good Friday, we contemplate the Crucifixion of Our Lord; then on Sunday morning, we joyously celebrate his Resurrection.

As I just mentioned, this evening, our focus is the Last Supper, in which Jesus instituted the sacrament of the Eucharist. St. Paul’s account in 1 Corinthians should sound very familiar. There we hear a version of the Words of Institution that we also find in Matthew, Mark, and Luke—the words we hear at every celebration of the Eucharist: “This is my body which is given for you…. This is my blood of the new covenant.” These words remind us of the meaning of the bread and the wine that we share in Communion. For through that food and drink, made holy through our prayer and the action of the Holy Spirit, we are mystically united to Christ and to one another.

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But, unlike all these other accounts of the Last Supper, the account found in the Gospel of John contains a unique narrative element. It tells us of Jesus’ washing the feet of his disciples while they were at table. Now, washing feet was no token act in Jesus’ day; people’s sandaled feet got filthy. So, foot-washing was usually the work of the lowest slave in the house. But in a small household that had no slaves, it was the duty of a child toward a parent or of a wife toward a husband.

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Just imagine Jesus the Messiah, Son of God and Second Person of the Holy Trinity, crawling along the floor, half-naked, washing the filth off his followers’ feet. No wonder Peter resisted the idea! But Jesus insisted. He insisted because he had a lesson to impart—a lesson that he could only teach by example. That lesson is to love and serve others in the same way that Jesus loved and served all his disciples.

In this time of pandemic, when we are distracted and frustrated and afraid, it is easy to overlook those whose service makes our life possible. Brothers and sisters, remember, and give thanks for, the doctors and nurses who risk their lives to save others. Remember the mailman, the grocer, the bus driver, the soldier, the bank teller, the policewoman, the fireman, the farm worker. These people go to work and risk their lives, so that the rest of us can stay safe at home. What used to be mundane jobs have become acts of sacrificial service. And we should remember these acts of service long after the pandemic is past.

In more normal times, we would commemorate the institution of the Eucharist with a Eucharist. But this is not possible now. We would gather in the parish hall for a simple meal of lentil soup and pita bread. But this is not possible now. We would silently strip the altar and clear out the chancel in preparation for Good Friday. But this is not possible now.

What is possible is to gather together on a conference call and to pray Evening Prayer. What is possible is to gather at our dinner tables individually and to invite Jesus to sup with us, to be present to us, to abide in our hearts. What is possible is to be still before the Lord, as we sit in confinement, and to wait patiently for deliverance. Amen.

© 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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