Saturday, March 30, 2013

My Sleep Will Rouse You From Your Sleep

From an ancient homily on Holy Saturday

Something strange is happening--there is a great silence on earth today, a great silence and stillness. The whole earth keeps silence because the King is asleep. The earth trembled and is still because God has fallen asleep in the flesh and he has raised up all who have slept ever since the world began. God has died in the flesh and hell trembles with fear. 

He has gone to search for our first parent, as for a lost sheep. Greatly desiring to visit those who live in darkness and in the shadow of death, he has gone to free from sorrow the captives Adam and Eve, he who is both God and the son of Eve. The Lord approached them bearing the cross, the weapon that had won him the victory. At the sight of him Adam, the first man he had created, struck his breast in terror and cried out to everyone: "My Lord be with you all" Christ answered him: "And with your spirit." He took him by the hand and raised him up, saying: "Awake, sleeper, and rise from the dead, and Christ will give you light" 

I am your God, who for your sake have become your son. Out of love for you and for your descendants I now by my own authority command all who are held in bondage to come forth, all who are in darkness to be enlightened, all who are sleeping to arise. I order you, a sleeper, to awake. I did not create you to be held a prisoner in hell. Rise from the dead, for I am the life of the dead. Rise up, work of my hands, you who were created in my image. Rise, let us leave this place, for you are in me and I am in you; together we form only one person and we cannot be separated. 

For your sake I, your God, became your son; I, the Lord, took the form of a slave; I whose home is above the heavens, descended to earth and beneath the earth. For your sake, for the sake of the human race, I became like a man without help, free among the dead. For the sake of you, who left a garden,. I was betrayed to the Jews in a garden, and I was crucified in a garden. 

See on my face the spittle I received in order to restore to you the life I once breathed into you. See there the marks of the blows I received in order to refashion your warped nature in my image. On my back see the marks of the scourging I endured to remove the burden of sin that weighs upon your back See my hands, nailed firmly to a tree, for you who once wickedly stretched out your hand to a tree. 

I slept on the cross and a sword pierced my side for you who slept in paradise and brought forth Eve from your side. My side has healed the pain in yours. My sleep will rouse you from your sleep in hell The sword that pierced me has sheathed the sword that was turned against you. 

Rise, let us leave this place. The enemy led you out of the earthly paradise. I will not restore you to that paradise, but I will enthrone you in heaven. I forbade you the tree that was only a symbol of life, but see, I who am life itself am now one with you. I appointed cherubim to guard you as slaves are guarded, but now I make them worship you as God is worshiped. The throne formed by cherubim awaits you, its bearers swift and eager. The bridal chamber is adorned, the banquet is ready, the eternal dwelling places are prepared, the treasure houses of all good things lie open. The kingdom of heaven has been prepared for you from all eternity. 

Friday, March 29, 2013

Sung Mass for Easter Sunday

Sung Mass for Easter Sunday

The Oratory of St. Raphael - St. Rafe's

6:00 p.m., Sunday March 31
St. Martin's Chapel
Fayetteville, Akansas

Dinner to follow at John's
Directions and More Info

Support the Good Friday Collection for the Holy Land

Children in the Aida Refugee Camp, Bethlehem.

The photo above is from rough little flash movie I made six years ago asking friends to support the Good Friday collection for the Church in the Holy Land. It's about 2 minutes long and I hope you'll take the time to watch it.

Watch the movie. >>>

No matter what your politics, it's hard to disagree that our brothers and sisters in the Holy Land need our help now as much as ever or the Christian presence there may one day disappear entirely. Your gift to the Good Friday Collection will support schools and medical facilities and help keep roofs over families' heads. It will sustain communities whose existence have been a witness to hope for 100 generations.

The photos in the movie above are from my visit to Israel and Palestine 2006. They are certainly not the most sensational pictures I took. The images could all be of tanks, demolished houses, and young men with guns, but I think these catch not only the seriousness of the present situation, but also the dignity with which the these communities meet it.

The sound track is the congregation at the Basilica of the Annunciation in Nazereth singing the Lord's Prayer in Arabic. When the congregation began to sing this, it came home to me that these are the descendants of those first Christians who have kept their faith and identity through 1400 years as an embattled minority.

On my way out of Mass, an old woman took both of my hands in hers and said, "Pray for us." At several other times, people I met asked me to go home and tell people what I had seen. Sharing this short clip with you is part of keeping that promise.

Please give generously today and ask your friends and loved ones to do the same.

Watch the movie. >>>

Learn more about the Christian Communities of the Holy Land. >>>

The Stations of the Cross with photos from the Via Dolorosa >>>

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Christ the Paschal Lamb

From a paschal homily by St. Melito of Sardis read at Tenebrae of Maundy Thursday:

There was much proclaimed by the prophets about the mystery of the Passover; that mystery is Christ. and to him be glory for ever and ever, amen.

For the sake of suffering humanity he came down from heaven to earth, clothed himself in that humanity in the Virgin's womb, and was born a man. Having then a body capable of suffering, he took the pain of those who suffered on himself. He overcame the sufferings of the flesh and by his Spirit, which was incapable of dying, he dealt murderous death a fatal blow.

He was led forth like a lamb; he was slaughtered like a sheep. He ransomed us from our servitude to the world as he had ransomed Israel from the land·of Egypt; he freed us from our slavery to the devil as he had freed Israel from the hand of Pharaoh. He sealed our souls with his own Spirit and the members of our body with his own blood.

He is the One who covered death with shame and cast the devil into mourning, as Moses cast Pharaoh into mourning. He is the One who smote sin and robbed iniquity of offspring, as Moses robbed the Egyptians of their offspring. He is the One who brought us out of slavery into freedom, out of darkness into light, out of death into life, out of tyranny into an eternal kingdom, who made us a new priesthood, a people chosen to be his own for ever. He is the Passover that is our salvation.

It is he who endured every kind of suffering in all those who foreshadowed him. In Abel he was slain, in Isaac bound, in Jacob exiled, in Joseph sold, in Moses exposed to die. He was sacrificedin the Passover lamb, persecuted in David, dishonored in the prophets.

It is he who was made man of the Virgin, he who was hung on the tree; it is he who was buried in the earth, raised from the dead. and taken up to the heights of heaven. He is the mute Lamb, the slain lamb, the lamb born of Mary, the fair ewe. He was seized from the flock. dragged off to be slaughtered, sacrificed in the evening, and buried at night. On the tree no bone of his was broken; in the earth his body knew no decay. He is the One who rose from the dead, and who raised us from the depths of the tomb.

R. IN THE BREAD see the Body which hung on the Cross: in the Chalice behold the Blood which streamed from His opened side: * And so, take and eat of the Body of Christ; take and drink of the Blood of Christ.

V. For as often as you do this, you proclaim the Lord's death, until He comes.

RAnd so, take and eat ofthe Body of Christ; take and drink of the Blood of Christ.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Leo the Great on the Man of Dust and the Man of Heaven

Tenth Station of the Cross, St. Mary's Church, Altus, Arkansas.

From a homily by Pope St. Leo the Great:

I think that the instructions I have given you about our share in Christ's cross have sufficiently shown how the paschal mystery should enter into the very life of the faithful and how our daily conduct should be a proclamation of what we honor at the Easter festival. You yourselves have experienced the value of this participation, and you have learned by your Lenten exercises how much both soul and body have to gain from extended fasting, prolonged prayers, and increased generosity in almsgiving. There is scarcely anyone who has not been enriched by these practices, and who has not preserved in the depths of his memory something in which he may justifiably rejoice.

Since, then, the aim of our forty days' observance has been to experience some share in the sufferings of the cross, we must also strive to share in Christ's resurrection, and to pass from death to life while we are yet in this mortal body.

The result of our undergoing a conversion from one state to another is that we cease to be what we were and begin to be something more. But the end of our dying or living is of the utmost importance, for there is a death that brings life, and a life that brings death. It is only in this fleeting world that both are sought together, so that the difference in our future rewards depends upon the quality of our present actions. We must therefore be dead to Satan and alive to God; we must abandon sin in order to rise to holiness. And since Truth himself says: No one can serve two masters, let our master be the Lord who has raised up the fallen to glory, not the one who has brought the upright to ruin.

The Apostle tells us: The first man came from the earth, a man of dust: the second man is from heaven. As the man of dust was, so are those who are of the dust; and as the man of heaven is, so are those who are of heaven. Just as we have been fashioned after the man of dust, so we shall also be fashioned after the man of heaven. There is therefore every reason for us to rejoice at this exchange, which translates us from earthly disrepute to heavenly honor through the untold mercy of him who descended to our level in order to lift us up to his, by assuming not only the reality of our human nature but also its sinful condition, and allowing his divine impassibility to be assailed by all the sufferings which are our mortal lot.
From the First Sermon on the Lord's Resurrection
Reading for the Second Lesson of Vigils for Monday in Holy Week

Monday, March 25, 2013

His Blood Be Upon Us: A Sermon for Palm Sunday

I preached this Palm Sunday sermon more than a decade ago, but reading back through it, I think it still may have something to say to someone about the various places we find ourselves taking in the crowds who formed the chorus of Holy Week.

* * *

When he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was in a turmoil asking, “Who is this?”

In the name of the FATHER and of the SON and of the HOLY SPIRIT. AMEN.

Today’s two gospels present a Sunday’s triumph and a Friday execution.

Some of those who on Sunday exclaimed “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord” were the same ones who stood in front of Pilate’s judgment seat on Friday shouting, “Let him be crucified.... His blood be on us and on our children.”

But Jesus knew this was the way that it would be. Before entering the city in triumph, he has three times predicted what will happen in Jerusalem. Even as he is teaching in the temple before his arrest, he pointedly rebukes the scribes and Pharisees to the crowd saying, “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! ... you will not see me again until you say, “Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.”

In some places it is customary to feast the night before a fast begins. This is done not to tide the person over, but so that the pangs of hunger will be more intense. Jesus’ triumphal entry is like this -— to be gorged with adulation, knowing at the time that he will soon die as a criminal, almost entirely deserted even by those closest to him. 

Think of the bittersweet undercurrent of that last meal with his disciples who still believe that all is well. Think of the anguish as he prayed alone in the garden, the sounds of hosanna still fresh in his ears but waiting for the guards to come find him there.

In the same way, Palm Sunday or the Sunday of the Passion is a feast to heighten our fast.

Today, we stand at the gate of Holy Week. We have almost passed through our season of preparation and stand ready to recall the events we believe led to the salvation of the world. The readings of the crucifixion and triumphal entry forewarn us of the pain of Good Friday and the joy of Easter. 

In the Middle Ages, this designation was clearer. Palm Sunday was in various places known as “The Mass of Shaved Heads” because those who were being prepared for baptism at Easter had their heads shaved bare on this day. In some places it was called “The Mass of Traditional Symbols” because it was on this day that the baptismal candidates were taught the creed and thus learned the traditional formulation of faith in the value of Christ’s death and resurrection. Today warns us of the seriousness of what is to come.

There is also a longer arc in which we must participate, one that stretches beyond Holy Week and into the age to come. We must listen to today’s proceedings as if we were members of that fickle crowd. Even as we believe that we will be citizens of a new Jerusalem, we must see that we too can wave a palm branch then shout murder. In that same passage where Jesus is teaching in the temple he says of the scribes and Pharisees:

Woe to you ... for you build the tombs of the prophets and decorate the graves of the righteous, and you say ‘If we had lived in the days of our ancestors, we would not have taken part with them in shedding the blood of the prophets.’ Thus you testify against yourselves that you are descendants of those who murdered the prophets.

I am sure that the disciples who were listening didn’t include themselves in that group in any way, even though they would soon desert Jesus and flee, even though Peter would deny him three times.

Today’s liturgy reminds us that we are the crowd in the story in need of salvation, that we are mercurial creatures who cannot save ourselves. In today’s readings, the crowd, at first, seems to have a bit part, but the whole drama is for them.

Today when we purify or bless something, we use incense or sprinkle holy water. In ancient times, the priest who wanted to expiate sin or impurity sprinkled the blood of a sacrifice. 

This is the drama of the crowd’s part in the trial of Jesus before Pilate. In calling for Jesus’ execution, they urge Pilate on saying “His blood be on us and on our children.” In later centuries, this verse was used to justify atrocities against Jews, but in this scene in Matthew, the crowd in front of Pilate stands in for all of humanity. Only the night before Jesus has said, “this is my blood of the covenant which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.” We are that crowd's metaphorical descendants who need the paschal lamb without blemish, and so in the liturgy we hear the words “Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us.”

As part of the celebration of Passover, the residents of Jerusalem had smeared their doorposts with lamb’s blood as a sign for death to pass by their houses. After the crowd’s exclamation, Jesus has to bear his cross past these same blood soaked doors as he went Golgotha to become the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.

The week to come is our Passover. We still refer to these days as the time of the paschal mystery and set the date of Easter by the first moon after the spring equinox. Many rites in ancient Judaism were reserved for the priests alone, but at the Passover, even the smallest child took part in the drama of salvation. 

Passover recalled deliverance from bondage and death in Egypt through the sacrifice of a perfect lamb, the retelling of the story of how the Jews had come to be delivered during a ritual meal where the lamb was eaten.

As then we recall a story, a meal, a sacrifice, and deliverance from death. As then, there is a place for all of us at the table. As then the story and the ritual recall both terror and triumph. On Thursday we enter the upper room and encounter that last meal that serves as the type for all that we do at the altar. On Friday we go with him to his sacrifice on Golgotha. On Sunday we celebrate his triumph over death and our deliverance.

The events of the week to come are not small things and through it all, we must remember our place in the story, the crowd that stood in for all generations to come and unknowingly called down salvation on the world. We must remember that these things were done not so much for the glory of God as they were so that we one day might be glorified. We remember that we are as in need of these events as we are hopeful that we will one day shout hosanna before the King who is to come.

His blood be upon us.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Love Surpassing the Power of Human Telling

Second Station of the Cross, Jerusalem.
          Bend thy boughs, O tree of glory!
          Thy too rigid sinews bend;
          For awhile the ancient rigor
          That thy birth bestowed, suspend;
          And the King of heavenly beauty
          On thy bosom gently tend!
-4th Verse of Lustris sex qui jam peractis,
Passiontide Hymn of Lauds

The Christian life is very much about bending our stiffened boughs and letting humility restore suppleness to the sinews of our inner being and opening us to Love.

As we go through Passiontide and into Holy Week, the antiphons, chapters, and versicles of the Divine Office continue to work away at our callousness. For Terce on Palm Sunday, we hear this little chapter, which stays with us in an abbreviated form through Wednesday of Holy Week:

My brothers, have among yourselves the same mind as Christ Jesus: though by nature He was God, He did not consider His equality with God a condition to be clung to, but emptied Himself by taking the nature of a slave, fashioned in the likeness of men, and recognized by outward appearance as man.

The little chapter for the second nocturn of Vigils for Monday through Wednesday will pick up the same theme:

    Christ humbled Himself and became obedient to death, even the death of the cross.

Hymns and chapters disappear for the office of the Triduum, but this piece stays with us, growing over each of the three days.

On Thursday at the end of Lauds we sing, “Christ, for our sake, became obedient unto death.” On Friday, we add, “Even the death of the cross.” Saturday concludes with, “Wherefore God also has highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name.”

Repetition and addition wear away at complacency. The texts of Passiontide do their work, recounting the Savior’s sufferings as he speaks to us in the versicles recounting his days as the Man of Sorrows. After his abandonment and suffering have sunk in, the office of the Triddum gives us this one thought for three days: Christ, who was God, humbled and emptied himself and accepted a common criminal’s death in agony and shame for our sake in perfect selflessness and love.

What more could soften our hearts and rebuke our pride? What have we accomplished or done that could ever match this? What hurt or slight is so severe that we can turn our eyes away from the Savior’s example of love perfected in humility and humility perfected by love?

For awhile the ancient rigor
That thy birth bestowed, suspend;
And the King of heavenly beauty
On thy bosom gently tend!

For these days, we tend that broken body and are filled again with love for Love incarnate. In the annual retelling of the Romance of the Passion, we relive the doubt, separation, horror, and loss and, when our hearts have been broken so that there is once again room for Him to enter, we receive our heart’s desire anew at the empty tomb.

Easter and Pentecost will call us beyond this intimacy to practice our new-found love with those less lovely, just as they must do with us. Next year we will need this week again and again the texts will do their work to remake our hearts if we let them. Frederick Littledale’s translation of Bianco da Siena’s hymn to the Holy Spirit captures both the ardor and the need, which we can almost lose in the beauty of the Vaughn Williams tune:

    Come down, O love divine,
    seek thou this soul of mine,
    and visit it with thine own ardor glowing;
    O Comforter, draw near,
    within my heart appear,
    and kindle it, thy holy flame bestowing.

    O let it freely burn,
    till earthly passions turn
    to dust and ashes in its heat consuming;
    and let thy glorious light
    shine ever on my sight,
    and clothe me round, the while my path illuming.

    Let holy charity
    mine outward vesture be,
    and lowliness become mine inner clothing;
    true lowliness of heart,
    which takes the humbler part,
    and o'er its own shortcomings weeps with loathing.

    And so the yearning strong,
    with which the soul will long,
    shall far outpass the power of human telling;
    for none can guess its grace,
    till Love create a place
    wherein the Holy Spirit makes a dwelling.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Veiling our Images: A Sermon for Passion Sunday

You may have noticed that tonight we omitted Psalm 42 in the prayers at the foot of the Altar, with its familiar “O send out thy light and thy truth that they may lead me and bring me unto thy holy hill and to thy dwelling,” only to hear this verse as the introit of the Mass.  As with most of these things, there is a message there.

Today we enter Passiontide and, in the breviary, the hymns of the first part of Lent give way to new pieces focused upon the mystery of the cross.  The hymn of the vespers, written 1400 years ago, proclaims, “The royal banners forward go.  The cross shines forth in mystic glow.”  In the epistle and in the preface, we hear of the battle of two trees:  The Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, which Satan used to trick Adam and Eve into mortality and the cross, by which Christ brings the hope of life back into the world.  

The cross of Christ takes center stage as we prepare to celebrate the redemption of the world.  And yet this is precisely the day when we veil the crosses and, paradoxically, when the familiar verse, “Send out thy light and thy truth,” takes a place of special prominence within the Mass.

St. Bernard of Clairvaux tells us that the final stage of learning to love God is to give up our images of God—that we must forego the God whom we have tamed in our imagination to be able to love the God who truly is, was and will be.  In this final portion of our journey through Lent, we too must veil our images if we are to be ready to meet the risen Lord at Easter.

The crucifix veiled on the altar is a central piece of my image of God.  I bought it in Bethlehem.  It hung in my house in Philadelphia.  As a monk, it hung in my cell.  Today, I say Mass in front of it.  In years of praying with this crucifix, it has become a source of solace and focus, but there is also a danger.  It is easy to look at its familiar face as I say my prayers and to let it become a symbol of the God whom I have created in my image, the one who loves me too much to challenge me, the one whom I conform to my image rather than conforming myself into his image.

St. Bernard, of course, was not speaking of literal images, but of this danger of loving a God we have made or that we believe we have the wisdom to fully comprehend and predict.  It was the beautiful Tree of Life, we are told, that led to the fall in the garden because it became a false image of redemption and life, while it was the repugnant instrument of crucifixion that actually bore the noblest fruit.  We must give up our own images to see things as they are, to find God where he is rather than where we have convinced ourselves he ought to be. 

And so today we cover our familiar images and open the Mass by praying, “O send out thy light and thy truth that they may lead me and bring me unto thy holy hill, and to thy dwelling.”  We pray for God’s light, not to walk by our own lights.  We pray for God’s truth, not our own subtlety.  We pray not to lead, but to become vulnerable and open ourselves that we may be led.  As we symbolically give up our images, we pray that we may give up our comforting distortions to seek the one who is always seeking us.

Two weeks remain until the feast of the resurrection.  Let us take the time to veil the images we have created that we may see God clearly.  Let us notice not only where the image of God is obscured in our lives, but also where we have created veils to mute the discomfort of his presence.  Let us work to free ourselves of the God whom we have created so that our hearts are prepared to receive one who is wonderful beyond all imagining.

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost.  Amen.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

The Great Saints of March 17

Blake's Joseph of Arimathea among the Rocks of Albion.
While today is Passion Sunday, which sweeps away the feast days of the saints of the day, it does not mean we have to forget them entirely.  A blessed day to those of you with a devotion to St. Gertrude, patroness of cats and therefore mistress of the internet. 

As for myself, I have a special devotion to St. Joseph of Arimathea, whom the legends tell us brought Christianity to the British Isles when he landed at Glastonbury and made it the “holiest erthe in Englande.”  The all-in versions of the story say that earlier he brought the boy Jesus with him on one of his trading journeys, inspiring William Blake to write:
And did those feet in ancient time.
Walk upon Englands mountains green:
And was the holy Lamb of God,
On Englands pleasant pastures seen!
Am I forgetting anyone?  It's such a busy time of year it's hard to keep up.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Mass for Passion Sunday

 Sung Mass for Passion Sunday
6:00 p.m., Sunday March 17
St. Martin's Chapel
814 W. Maple Street, Fayetteville, AR

Service Sheet


INTROIT  Ps. 42: 1-3.
GIVE sentence with me, O God, and defend my cause against the ungodly people: O deliver my soul from the deceitful and wicked man: for thou art the God of my strength. Ps. ibid. O sendout thy light and thy truth, that they may lead me : and bring me unto thy holy hill, and to thy dwelling. Give sentence with me.

WE beseech thee, Almighty God, mercifully to look upon thy people: that by thy great
goodness they may be governed and preserved evermore, both in body and soul. Through.

WE beseech thee, O Lord, mercifully to hear the prayers of thy people: that being delivered from all adversities and all false doctrines, thy Church may serve thee in freedom and quietness.

O GOD, the pastor and governour of them that put their trust in thee, look down in
mercy on thy servant, Francis, whom thou hast chosen to be pastor and ruler of thy Church: grant unto him, we beseech thee, to be in word and conversation a wholesome example to the people committed to his charge; that he with them may attain at last to the crown of everlasting life. Through.

EPISTLE Hebrews 9:11-15
But Christ being come an high priest of good things to come, by a greater and more perfect tabernacle, not made with hands, that is to say, not of this building;  Neither by the blood of goats and calves, but by his own blood he entered in once into the holy place, having obtained eternal redemption for us.  For if the blood of bulls and of goats, and the ashes of an heifer sprinkling the unclean, sanctifieth to the purifying of the flesh:  How much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without spot to God, purge your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?  And for this cause he is the mediator of the new testament, that by means of death, for the redemption of the transgressions that were under the first testament, they which are called might receive the promise of eternal inheritance.