Resources

Monday
May152017

5-14-17 The Rev. Holly Lyman Antolini's sermon for 5 Easter

Sermon Audio

5 Easter Year A 5-14-17

©Holly Lyman Antolini

Lections: Acts 7:55-60; Ps. 31:1-5,15-16; 1 Peter 2:2-10; John 14:1-14

 

Be our strong rock, a castle to keep us safe, for you are our crag and our stronghold; for the sake of your Name, lead us and guide us. AMEN.

 

I’ve just returned from one of my little two-night sabbaths at my place in Maine. It’s definitely spring up there, as it is here: there are brand-new singers – the small, feathered kind – that I’ve never heard before, inhabiting the hawthorn-and-bittersweet hedges, the gift of global warming, pressing species northward. Spring in Maine even amid global warming, though, is an odd, prolonged business, much more equivocal in its claiming of new life than spring in Massachusetts. Here, we’re busting out blooming already. There, the grass has greened in and there is a fluff of pale yellow-green hazing the wooded understory, suggestive of leaves to come. But the branches of the oaks & maples remain bare and gray, as if the landscape had not yet completely made up its mind to lean towards resurrection.

 

Easter season is synonymous with spring for us in the Northern Hemisphere, unlike the Australians, whose seasonal iconography is upside-down, leaves falling from trees as the Feast of the Resurrection takes place. For us, Easter season is always wrestling with the juxtaposition of death and new life, as are we humans, I believe. We would like the “new life” thing to be nice and straightforwardly linear, firmly established. But death keeps intruding, reclaiming our attention, opening the wound of loss in our optimism. It’s fundamentally confusing to us that God DID in fact walk straight into death; we’d so much rather have a more muscular kind of divinity. We’d like God to just up and delete death completely. We’d like the season of resurrection – of spring – to be more like Memorial Day weekend in Maine, when spring finally and definitively arrives and the entire world suddenly swerves violently into bloom all at once, for three days of no death anywhere, just wall-to-wall blossoms and new green leaves unfurling from soil and branch, an explosion of new life, before Pentecost and summer sets in.

 

It was my observation, during the twelve years I served congregations in Maine, that I seemed to spend a lot of Easter season officiating burials in graveyards and not just because the ground had softened and people who had died in the winter could more easily be interred. Rather, it seemed that people often died on the edge of spring. Odd, isn’t it? As if the work of claiming another year of new life were just too much for them?

 

This ambiguity of resurrection is a mark of our readings from the Gospel of John in this Easter season as well. Take today’s passage, from John Chapter 14. If you’ve been hanging around the Episcopal Church for any length of time, you’ve most often heard this passage read at funerals, one of those most frequently chosen by families struggling with grief and loss. “In my father’s house, there are many dwelling places.” That sense of the one who has died not merely departing from us but also coming home is something people find consoling. “I go to prepare a place for you… and if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also,” Jesus says. In the teeth of loss, we long to know that those we have lost have a place, and that we too have a place in that same house with them, a place to be, a place to belong, a place to be together again.

 

For generations, Christians have deployed this passage at funerals in the hope that, in fact, it DOES offer a literal “map” to eternal life. Never mind that when we read on, we find that the disciples in the passage are more perplexed than consoled, bewildered by the nature of this “place,” and how to get there. They know the inadequacy of their spiritual “google maps app!” Still we cling to the hope that this passage – and Jesus – will sort out the straightforwardly linear path to heaven, to that place of eternal belonging that the human spirit longs for when confronted with the finality of death.

 

But – and I’m sorry to take away that simple optimism – this is really NOT what John is about, writing this beautiful Gospel passage. We must resist what New Testament theologian Barbara Rossing calls “a strictly heavenist interpretation” of Jesus’ words in this passage. The Greek word John uses for “dwelling place” is “mone,” resting place or way station, from the Greek “menein,” “to remain.” Only a few verses further on, in Chapter 14 verse 23, Jesus uses the word again, saying “Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them.” John’s Jesus is not talking about some distant geographical PLACE to which people will be brought in the by-and-by. John is – as he has been since Chapter One when he told us that The Word came to “dwell” with us, and as he will again and again, ever-more poignantly as Jesus nears his crucifixion in passages we will read next Sunday and the Sunday after, the last two Sundays of the Easter season, inviting us, as Jesus invited his disciples, to a mutual in-dwelling in God NOW, right here, in the middle of the world, global warming and constitutional crises and all. “Where I am, you will be also.” In fact, in a short three weeks, we’ll celebrate the Feast of Pentecost, in which we rejoice that, even as Jesus himself “departs” from bodily presence with us, the loving, guiding Spirit of Jesus continues to INDWELL IN US by the gift of God’s grace.

 

Remember as you listen to these familiarly funereal-sounding words, that Jesus is still at the Last Supper, and only verses before, was washing the dusty feet of the disciples and urging them to do likewise, capping off that lesson with the new commandment to love one another as he loved them. He’s struggling to imbue the disciples with the knowledge he has of God and God’s love before he gets nailed to the Cross, the shadow of which is deepening around him. As lovely as our eternal hope might be, burnished by this passage, in it, Jesus is actually commanding us to DO LOVE NOW, to BE LOVE NOW. “Far more important than going up to heaven is the in-ness and one-ness Jesus wants us to experience already with God – that same in-ness and one-ness that Jesus [himself] has with the Father. In the rich relationship of mutual in-dwelling, the eternal life is already ours. Never would John’s Gospel say that Jesus and God are now up in heaven, waiting until the end times to come back to earth and take us away to heaven…” in some Rapture or other. “God dwells with us now, on earth, in mystical communion through the Spirit…”  [Barbara Rossing, New Proclamation Year A 2005].

 

And what about that many-mansioned “house” of God? When John promised us in Chapter 1 verse 14 that “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, he also warned right there at the beginning that “he came to his own, and his own people did not accept him.” We dwell already in God’s house – God’s “oikos,” God’s “oikonomia,” God’s economy. But we are all-too inclined not to recognize it. And because we don’t recognize it, we don’t follow the new commandment, and we don’t exhibit the kind of all-embracing, all-inclusive love that Jesus shone with and bid us take into ourselves, becoming one with him – one with God – in the power of that love.

 

Nevertheless, despite our difficulty SEEING this divine “household,” this divine economy surrounding and holding us NOW and at all times, in all places, the passage we read from 1 Peter should give us confidence: we are BEING BUILT TOGETHER – LIVING STONES IN CHRIST THE CHIEF CORNERSTONE – into a spiritual house, a holy priesthood, God’s own people, “in order that we may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called us out of darkness into his marvelous light.” We are not awaiting some heavenly dwelling. We are EVEN NOW BEING BUILT INTO GOD’S oikos, God’s household. God in Christ DWELLS among us and WITHIN US, and WE ARE TO BE RESURRECTION, WE ARE TO BE GOD’S GLORY in a dark and dying world. Even if we have been “nobody,” God has made each and every one of us SOMEBODY in Christ, “hewing us, shaping us, building us together in a home into a community with others.” [ibid.]

 

In fact, I would submit to you that St. James’s itself has been having this experience of being built together into God’s dwelling place throughout the many years of waiting for construction to begin on our new parish house. Like the landscape in Maine, the trees have been barren a very long time, yet the experience of being spread over the landscape “in diaspora” for years together has been “hewing us, shaping us, building us together” in unexpected ways. Despite the endless frustration and yes, real grief and loss in not being able to provide collations for the funerals of our loved ones, not being able to cook meals for the hungry and the lonely in our neighborhood, not being able to house the growing-up and formation of our children in our own “house,” we have STILL been learning and learning ever more deeply, how God’s love can abide and thrive and expand in us even without that palpable “dwelling place” for our parish life. God knows I long for the resurrection of our life of formation and fellowship in that beautiful building-to-be. But I am not waiting for that to embrace God’s call to loving mission. And I know you also are not waiting passively.

 

Believe in me …but if you do not, then believe me because of the works themselves.” If you doubt me, just come to Sylvia, Lauren’s and Lucas’ introduction to the Communications Guidelines we’re using in the Anti-Oppression Team to combat our own racism, after this service today. Or just sign up to join your fellow congregation members in attending next Thursday’s Greater Boston Interfaith Organization action at Temple Israel on Longwood Ave. in Boston, an action dedicated to providing affordable housing – dwelling places – in the greater Boston metropolis and to combating the impact of mass incarceration in undermining the economic well-being of our neighbors and family members of color. GBIO is, beyond anything, an experience of being “living stones,” built together into God’s new economy of resurrection, God’s economy of love.

 

I don’t know about you, but at this moment, in this particular Easter season, this issue of loss and grief is not reserved for the experience of a friend or loved one’s dying. In this Easter season, I am experiencing a profound sense of loss and grief at the demise of a certain confidence I had in the rational, civic power of democracy. The oak branches of democracy, in these last few weeks and months, have seemed to me stripped bare, grimly and worryingly denuded. Birdsong and green grass aside, it has been hard to believe in resurrection. The wound of loss has been gaping in my soul, threatening my optimism.

 

But far from undermining my faith, this experience of loss, of wounded confidence, has rather driven my faith deeper into my spirit, rather as I imagine the impending threat of crucifixion did Jesus’ own faith. At least I fondly claim this Jesus of the Last Supper as my Way, my Truth & my Life for just such a time as this. So I was delighted to read that my New Testament professor Dr. L. William Countryman – one of my chief mentors in the dynamics of resurrection and tutors in the abiding love of God – was speaker at the Diocese of Los Angeles Clergy Conference recently. There he reminded everyone, “Hope carries on creatively when optimism has been forced to yield.” [the Rev. Susan Russell’s Facebook page, 5-10-17]

 

Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me,” says Jesus in John’s Gospel. “In my Father’s house there are many resting places.” Come, rest in God, the God in whom we live and move and have our being. And let that resting imbue you with hope, the hope carries on creatively, whatever the loss, however dire the conditions around you, trusting in the power of resurrection. In Jesus’ name. AMEN.

Tuesday
May092017

5-7-17 the Rt. Rev. Gayle Harris' Sermon - 4 Easter

Monday
May082017

5-7-17 The Rev. Holly Lyman Antolini's 8am Service - 4 Easter

4 Easter Year A 5-7-17

©Holly Lyman Antolini

Lections: Acts 2:42-47; Ps. 23; 1 Peter 2:19-25; John 10:1-10

You are our shepherd; we shall not be in want. You make us lie down in green pastures and lead us beside still waters. Revive our souls! Guide us along right pathways for your Name's sake!  AMEN.

This week, NPR’s Code Switch program highlighted an anniversary, the 135th anniversary of the “Chinese Exclusion Act.” On the Code Switch website, the article by Kat Chow opens with a truly unforgettable image:

A Chinese man stands on a pedestal surrounded by a harbor as a cartoon imitation of the Statue of Liberty. His clothes are tattered, his hair is in a long, thin tail, his eyes squint. The words "diseases," "filth," "immorality," and "ruin to white labor" float around his head. This man is the center of an iconic image from 1881 called "A Statue for Our Harbor," made by the cartoonist George Frederick Keller. The image reflects the widespread anti-Chinese and anti-immigrant sentiment of the time, and was used to drum up support for the passage of the Chinese Exclusion Act, which turns 135 on Saturday. The law limited Chinese immigration and barred them from becoming naturalized U.S. citizens.”

[http://www.npr.org/sections/codeswitch/2017/05/05/527091890/the-135-year-bridge-between-the-chinese-exclusion-act-and-a-proposed-travel-ban]

Why would Chinese people be the target of this novel effort to limit immigration, this “exclusion law,” as it was aptly named, “the very first time in American history that immigrants were barred because of their race and class [?] Some of it was about numbers: In 1882, when Congress passed the law, there were 39,600 men and women from China who arrived in the U.S. Just three years later, there were only 22, according to early records that [Erika Lee, a professor at the University of Minnesota,] came across in her research” for her book At America's Gates: Chinese Immigration During The Exclusion Era, 1882-1943. Chinese had been immigrating from extreme poverty in China as laborers on our railroads and in our timber and fishing industries on the West Coast.

But we were a big, brawling country with a wildly expanding industrial base. Why exclude any possible worker? Especially given that the owner class was developing a wealth unforeseen anywhere in the world, as the Gilded Age came to a glittering roar? The article’s author Chow points to “the parallels between the political climate of the exclusion era and today: a close and contentious presidential election that stirred anti-immigrant sentiment” and “the growing economic anxiety of white [especially working-class] Americans”which led to “policies that would drastically shape the country's immigration laws.”

Then she quotes scholar Erika Lee again, "Beginning in 1882, the United States stopped being a nation of immigrants that welcomed foreigners without restrictions, borders or gates. Instead, it became a ... gatekeeping nation… In the process, the very definition of what it meant to be an 'American' became even more exclusionary."

Chow goes on to write, “The 1876 presidential race between Rutherford Hayes and Samuel Tilden was a major turning point in the country's stance on immigration. Leading up to the election, the race was so close and electoral votes were so coveted, it brought California's ongoing fight to push out Chinese immigrants to the national stage, Lee said. Many Californians worried that Chinese laborers would take their jobs, and that they were sexually lecherous threats to society.

Lee said that anti-immigrant measures in the 1880s — and today — were driven by both working class people and elites, as well as those who had a "vested economic interest in border walls and detention centers." The Chinese Exclusion Act set the groundwork for immigrant detention centers and the country's first large-scale deportation of a single immigrant group. Specifically, the exclusion era brought an expansion of the federal government in terms of hiring more immigrant inspectors, whose responsibilities included working as interpreters and at the detention facilities.” [Ibid.]

In John’s Gospel today, Jesus is fresh from his encounter in Chapter 9 with “the man born blind.” Remember this from the Fourth Sunday in Lent? He’s the man who, convinced that Jesus had in fact performed the miracle of healing his eyes, stands up to the temple authorities in defense of his certainty. That earns him no credit. Instead, the authorities, feeling threatened by Jesus’ evident powers, have just ejected the man from the Temple for insolence, precisely as they had Jesus, shortly before him. John says, at the end of Chapter 9, “ Jesus heard that they had driven [the man] out, and when he found him, he said, ‘Do you believe in the Son of Man?’ He answered, ‘And who is he, sir? Tell me, so that I may believe in him.’ Jesus said to him, ‘You have seen him, and the one speaking with you is he.’ He said, ‘Lord, I believe.’ And he worshipped him. Jesus said, ‘I came into this world for judgment so that those who do not see may see, and those who do see may become blind.’ Some of the Pharisees near him heard this and said to him, ‘Surely we are not blind, are we?’ Jesus said to them, ‘If you were blind, you would not have sin. But now that you say, “We see,” your sin remains.

Can you feel how tense the atmosphere is at this point? This is very direct talk on Jesus’ part, even AFTER he has earned the ire of the authorities. And his status – as one ejected from the Temple – is very marginalized and very adversarial with respect to those authorities. It is at THIS point that our passage in Chapter 10 begins.

I tell you all this because it’s easy to let the language of Scripture lull us into thinking its primary goal is reassurance. Far from it. The goal of John’s Gospel is nothing less than to transform our souls to more nearly approximate – to literally become part of – the love of God, that love that moved Jesus to offer himself on the Cross – the instrument of his “glory” as John says, over and over. Transformation is hard work, and suffering and marginalization is threaded through the process, because we resist, we are frightened to love, we are frightened to let loose our grip on our separate identity. And the societal forces around us likewise find transformation immensely threatening to their identity.

When Jesus embarks on the language of shepherding in Chapter 10, he and the man born blind are outside the temple, knowing they cannot re-enter. When Jesus says of the “shepherd of the sheep,” “he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice,” “the verb for being thrown out of the synagogue in Chapter 9 is the same Greek verb translated in Chapter 10 verse 4 as ‘when he has brought out his own,’ and related to the verb in the phrase of 10:3, ‘and leads them out.’” [New Proclamation Year A 2011] You need to know what has just transpired in Chapter 9 to know from this verbal echo that Jesus is the good shepherd in this story, leading his sheep even out of the very Temple in Jerusalem, the den of those thieves and bandits that are sheep-stealing.

Next thing you know, in one of those dreamlike transitions so common in John, Jesus has gone from shepherd to gate. “Very truly, I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. All who came before me are thieves and bandits; but the sheep did not listen to them. I am the gate. Whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.”

John is writing at a very tense time in the evolution of both Judaism and Christianity. Like two siblings close in age, the two faiths are struggling for identity as the Romans persecute them both. Much of John’s Gospel seems forged in this struggle, as if to form Christian identity, the Jewish identity must be lessened, even belittled. When one reads these stories, one wonders, what was the threat that made the imagery of the gate so appealing to John’s hearers? What was going to intrude? What had to be “kept out?”

When our identity is threatened, we are always tempted to erect gates – and the walls that hold them. If only we could shelter behind those protections, we could hold our identity firm.

So it was when the American government erected the wall of the “Chinese Exclusion Act.” If we can just keep those strange people with their different language and their different appearance out, so the thinking went, all will be well with us. But the world was growing ever smaller then, steamships connecting continents and telegrams closing communications. And so it is today, with globalization drawing us closer and closer and closer together. There is no returning to the old days of “nationhood,” with identities kept separate by long histories of culture and experience. Our histories are being woven together. Our president Donald Trump himself is a billionaire precisely by using these global economic opportunities to their fullest. Yet we are surrounded by the language of “walls” to keep out “undesirables,” like those Chinese laborers of the late 19th century.

Today, we need no more “exclusion acts” of any kind. We need no more ejections from the temple. Instead, we need the shepherd Jesus, who leads us out from behind our self-protective walls. We need Jesus, the Gate of Love, whose protection is to CONNECT, not to separate and exclude. We need a shepherd whose loving nurture leads us right through the valley of death that is the most profound threat to our identity, so that we can be transformed from our old identities and find a NEW identity as loving “ministers of reconciliation,” open to all humankind, restoring the world to God and each other in the power of the resurrection. AMEN.

Wednesday
May032017

4/30/17 The Rev. Liz Steinhauser's sermon

Wednesday
Apr262017

4/23/17 MaeBright's Sermon 

Tuesday
Apr252017

March Vestry Minutes

Vestry Minutes:  March 21, 2017

Members Present: Sylvia Weston, Jules Bertaut, Lucas Sanders, Matthew Abbate, Andrew Rohm, Leah Giles, Marian King, Olivia Hamilton, Tom Tufts, Sarah Borgatti, Betsy Zeldin, Sarah Forrester, Sam Perlo-Freeman, Holly Antolini

Guest:   Jeff Zinsmeyer

Gathering

●     Following a check-in time, Sylvia led a reflection about how God speaks to us through scripture as our Spiritual Practice

Vestry Retreat Debrief

●     We summarized the retreat, to remind ourselves of what we did, and to loop in Sam, who’d been away on business and unable to attend the retreat.

●     Jules gave a summary of the shared leadership concept.

●     Lucas suggested we work in pairs to keep in touch with various ministry areas.

●     Holly suggested she and Karen could help with identifying ministry leaders.

●     Jules suggested we could survey the congregation about what sort of vestry support would be helpful.  Jules and Andrew intend to work on this survey for hopeful vestry feedback next month.

AED/Emergency Equipment

●     Holly reported on a conversation she had with Anne Dwyer Wilmer, regarding the possibility of having an AED at church.

●     AEDs are expensive, but if you need one, you need one right away.

●     Olivia mentioned she’d received information about discount AEDs for churches.

●     Holly reported that Anne had also purchased and donated narcan (a medication that reverses the effects of opiates; it helps prevent overdose deaths) to the church.  Anne will provide training to ushers and others interested in how to administer it.

●     Lucas moved that the vestry commit to the necessity of an AED in the church, and empower a committee of Olivia Hamilton, Anne Wilmer, and Holly Antolini to select one that is the most appropriate.  Sam seconded.  Approved unanimously.

Redevelopment

●        Marian moved that we enter executive session.  Sylvia seconded.  Approved unanimously.

●        Jeff Zinsmeyer presented a redevelopment update.

●        Olivia moved that we exit executive session.  Marian seconded.  Approved unanimously.

Furniture and Fitout Update

●     Sarah Forrester presented an update on how the furnishings and fitout committee is doing.

●     The “look” the committee is going for is a simple, durable, functional aesthetic.  They want something orderly and sturdy, but not “fancy,” i.e. something welcoming to all people.  They’re bringing in aspects of the sanctuary into the new space, like refinishing old pews to use as benches in the halls.

●     They have ideas for furnishings, but the building won’t be outfitted for another couple years, over which time lines may be discontinued, prices changed, etc., which makes it a bit hard to be exact about what they want.

●     We may need a small capital campaign in late 2018 to raise a few more tens of thousands of dollars to cover the cost of this furnishing.

●     The committee is also considering what sort of security system to have in the parish hall. 

Chart of Accounts

●     Lucas presented the new chart of accounts, for our new, more understandable budget.

●     The financials should be in this new structure for next year.

 

Reports

Minutes of February Meeting

●     Marian moved that we approve the regular and executive session January minutes, as amended.  Lucas seconded.  Approved unanimously.

Financial Report

●     Lucas presented the financial report.  Things are going well so far this year.

●     Pledge income is ahead of budget so far, probably due to people finishing paying off their 2016 pledges in January.

●     The finance committee is beginning to think about the revenue task force and other post-redevelopment things, but they don’t have any details yet.

●     The investment committee hopes to have a policy for our redevelopment funds and the endowments by next month.

●     Matthew moved that we accept the financial report.  Marian seconded.  Approved unanimously.

Warden’s Report

●     Sylvia reported that the boiler has been working all winter.

●     She has contacted the cleaners to do a cleaning for easter.

Rector’s Report

PARISH ACTIVITIES:

 

  • New Office Manager Karen Sargent finds our myriad details a challenge but continues with good will. Entering our operation in Lent is maxiumum stress for all concerned!
  • Vestry retreat lively and energizing. Our huge "map of ministry" inspiring and overwhelming. Now we see if we can make our "intentions" a reality.
  • Continuing to work with Eric on his plans to depart. "Succession meeting" and celebration of Eric's ministry with Church School Staff on the books for April 1st at Liz McNerney's. On Easter Sunday, the congregation will celebrate Eric's ministry and say "thanks" to Emily for her ministry and to Fiona and Myles. 
  • Life Together application well regarded, according to Kelsey Bodgan. Still awaiting firm acceptance of St. James as a site. 
  • The Food Pantry doubled its guests for Month Two of our parish-led experiment. Looking good!
  • The Anti-Oppression Team building coalitions and discerning co-chairs for St. James to join other congregations in providing "Level Two" support for "Level One" congregation. Still considering St. Mary's Dorchester, but closer to home, also United Lutheran in Harvard Square, who are available to house undocumented immigrants preparing a defense against deportation. The A-O Team meeting last Sunday included reps from Our Savior and St. John's Arlington, Christ Church Cambridge, and Good Shepherd Watertown. I made good connections with Reservoir Church on Rindge Ave as a possible collaborator and am resourcing the diocesan Immigrants 101 event the Bishops are holding at the Cathedral Sunday March 26th 4-8pm (though I cannot attend because of Practicing Episcopalians and the Stations of the Cross). 
  • VISIONS training-trainers planning to hold our first all-parish event introducing the Guidelines and "Cultural Sharing" on April 30th. 
  • Molly McHenry, Michelle Holmes, Yvette Verdieu, & Olivia Hamilton have a lively class addressing issues of race using Jesmyn Ward's "The Fire This Time."
  • My five-week Practicing the Episcopal Way class has six wonderful participants  - a rich sharing and theological exploration.
  • The weekly Sunday-evening meditation Daniel Berrigan's Stations of the Cross has been powerful. Small groups for Weeks One and Two, a huge group combined with Anti-Oppression Team for Week Three. 
  • Sarah Forrester is overseeing "Doller A Day for Lent to benefit her Missions Grants recipient group, Kenya Self-Help group. 
  • Worship planning team has put a terrific Holy Week together: Our usual Maundy Thursday Dinner, Footwashing, Eucharist and Altar-Stripping. We're designing our own "live" Stations for Good Friday evening and have half the Stations already claimed by different groups. We will have a big all-stations coordinating-and-planning event April 1st, 1-2:30pm, so that each team has practiced its Station in its space in the church. Then ALL will process through the Stations together on Good Friday Evening. Easter Vigil is once again blessed to have the Theodicy Jazz Collective on deck! And a possible adult baptism - we'll see!
  • Redevelopment,  and Furnishings-and-Fit-Out continues, of course!
  • No progress on the Organ Fund estimates, still awaiting Pat's work. 
  • Living Epistles ahead: Palm Sunday: Chaplain Lauren Rigsby, a Living Epistle on Trauma! May 21st, Anne Ipsen Goldman on spirituality and her call to environmental stewardship. 
  • Still awaiting the Finance Ministry's portion of the Parochial Report. Will request Karen S to enter the pastoral information after Easter; her hands are full with Holy Week bulletins. 
  • Parish retreat team is continuing its work. Roll-out date, Easter Sunday, April 16th! Teaming with St. Mary's Dorchester. Talking about doing and introduction to the VISIONS Communication Guidelines as one workshop on Retreat. 

DIOCESAN

 

  • Assisting Transitions Officer Jean Baptiste Ntagengwa is putting together the Bishops Gathering on Immigrant Rights for next Sunday, though I cannot attend. 
  • Participating as a panelist in EDS' gathering on April 5th on Congregation-based Anti-racism work. 
  • Serving one last year on the Clergy Conference Planning Committee (spring) and the Resolutions Committee (fall). Then I'll step down in favor of the opportunity for some younger clergy.
  • Continuing as a ROC (Recently Ordained Clergy) Mentor through Eric's last Sunday, April 16th, and the ROC Mentors' retreat in May. 

 

PERSONAL

 

  • Appreciate Vestry's support for my health. "Supply" calendar for June 25th, July 2nd, July 9th, July 16th, July 30th, August 6th, August 13th & August 20th nearly filled. Planning to preach and to preside for St. James' day. July 23rd. Am also receiving another cortisone shot to my lower spine for continuing disc and arthritis issues - ever a management challenge, hence all the PT and swimming!
  • I continue my practice of monthly meetings with my Women Clergy Colleague Group, monthly spiritual direction, and participating in the Recently Ordained Clergy Mentoring Group quarterly. Keeps me grounded!
  • Continuing to work on a plan for my three-month sabbatical in 2018 - my tenth year with St. James. The building will be nearing completion - God willing! - and the congregation will have plenty to manage, preparing to move into it with a business plan for rentals, the culmination of furnishings-and fit-out, completing a possible limited capital campaign to tap the enthusiasm about our new chapter to make up the last $50,000 to furnish the parish hall as we hope. It won't be "down time" for the congregation!

Assistant Rector’s Report

●        The Church school classes continue to run nicely and teachers continue to do a wonderful job.  We’ve added some new teachers to the Godly Play class from among the parents and also a new parishioner.  

●     We have a Church school teacher meeting on April 1st to do some planning for the period starting Low Sunday through the end of the Church school year on Pentecost (June 4th).  

●     The parish retreat team gathered for our first information/strategy meeting on March 12th.  The team is off to a great start with Liz M. Anne R., John and Janet, Emillee B., and others.  We will be joined by folks from St. Mary’s Dorchester who we will be joining us for the retreat.  We are planning kicking off retreat registration on Easter Sunday.  The retreat team thought it might be helpful to have a vestry liaison to keep the vestry plugged into the planning process.        

●     The International Sunday/Epiphany youth Liturgy was a lot of fun.  The St. James’s youth and children did a great job participating in the service.  It was also a special  opportunity to hear Nkem and Marga offer readings in Yaruba and Spanish.     

●     The Shrove Tuesday pancake dinner was a blast.  We had a nice turnout and lots of pancakes were eaten!  We even burned palms and imposed ashes…it was after Sundown on Ash Wednesday eve☺       

●     The Pine Village pre-school had to cancel their multi-cultural pot luck on March 15th due to weather.  This was second cancelation due to weather. They are looking at reschedule dates in May.   

●     I am looking for someone to pass off the Outdoor Church sandwich ministry too.   It is a very rewarding ministry to work with and the time commitment is very manageable.  The commitment is making a few announcements at Church requesting sandwich makers and then collecting them all on the 4th Sunday of the month and bringing them down to Harvard Epworth UMC before 2:00 pm.  I would appreciate any suggestions of potential volunteers!

●     The Scouts are doing well, they are lined up to bring 10 scouts to the retreat! 

●     The Kids 4 Peace event was held at St. James’s on the afternoon of March 12th.  We were visited by Orthodox Jewish and Muslim teenagers.  These high school students were very warm and knowledgeable, they got to know our St. James’s youth, shared with them about Judaism and Islam including; sacred objects, high holiday observances, and some of the similarities and differences between the Abrahamic religions.

●     Emilee Butler and Gweii Strong-Allen attended the High School retreat up at the BHC camp and reported that they had a nice time.  Very happy they were able to attend this.  

●     Kids-4-Peace convention on April 2nd.

●     We are trying to get our 8th graders and 9th graders interested in the pre-confirmation retreat up at the BHC put on the by the diocese youth leadership academy.

●     St. J families are helping an organize one of the stations of the cross for good Friday and are leading the Maundy Thursday pot-luck dinner effort.      

●     Jules and I are exploring  a partnership with Christ Church Harvard Square to offer a class based on the Our Whole Lives curriculum for youth. 

 

Submitted by Jules Bertaut

 

 

Thursday
Apr202017

The Rev. Eric Litman's Final Sermon - Easter Vigil, 4/15/17

Wednesday
Apr192017

The Rev. Holly Lyman Antolini's Sermon for 4/16/17 - Easter Sunday, year A

Sermon Audio

Easter Sunday Year A 4-16-17

©Holly Lyman Antolini

Lections: Jeremiah 31:1-6; Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24Colossians 3:1-4John 20:1-18

We who survive the sword find grace in the wilderness. You appear to us, O Lord, from far away, when we seek for rest. You told us, “I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore I have continued my faithfulness to you. Again I will build you, and you shall be built!” In this hope, O God, we will rejoice! AMEN!

Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth, for you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.” Isn’t it this an odd message of hope for an odd faith, this word from the writer of the Letter to the Colossians? Every Easter that we read this, struggling to make sense of the scandal of Christ’s resurrection from the dead, I’m puzzled again: “My life is HIDDEN with Christ in God.”

Hidden. Something present, but unseen, unacknowledged, unnoticed. For anyone who ever played “hide-and-go-seek,” “hidden” suggests, peeking out, heart pounding with excitement, hoping both TO be discovered and NOT to be discovered.

Why talk on Easter morning about “hiddenness???” We’re talking about RESURRECTION, people! Hard to hide big old stones rolled away and soldiers stunned like dead men! Hard to hide a dead body escaping its wrappings and rising to a new life! It’s preposterous enough to make it big on YouTube, to get tweeted by a president!  HIDDEN?!?

Of course, there’s also the story from John’s Gospel, the story of Mary, the “Apostle to the Apostles,” as she was called by the early Church, yet here, stumped by the relocated stone, the gaping tomb, the angels, the absent corpse of her beloved Jesus, whom she had been supporting ever since he came to Capernaum, the town next to Magdala, her own home town. Despite all those years of proximity to Jesus, his risen identity is hidden from her when he first appears to her, and she mistakes him for the gardener.

So I’ve been thinking about the hiddenness of resurrection. I’ve been thinking about how resurrection can be right here, in front of our eyes, and we can fail to perceive it.

Of course, we have a gift in our practice of the Way of Jesus in this complex old Episcopal Church: every year, we spend a LOT of time in the dark before we get to the light of Easter! It’s a darkness we cultivate starting in the last short days of winter when Lent begins, pursuing a whole season of 40 days, reflecting on the ways our ways have parted from the Way of Jesus over the previous year. Then we put the darkness front and center on Palm & Passion Sunday, rehearsing the whole drama of Jesus’ suffering, not sparing one perfidious detail. And if that weren’t enough, we then plunge into the Holy Triduum, three consecutive days of nighttime worship services that again and again return to Christ’s sacrifice for us, first in the meal and footwashing and “Last Supper” remembrance of Maundy Thursday, which ends in a barren sanctuary in the dark. Then, on Good Friday, it continues, this year with a congregationally-created and congregationally-led Stations of the Cross that fearlessly probed both our personal and our systemic separation from God's loving intention, freighted on chanted “Kyries,” “Lord have mercy!” And finally we found ourselves in the darkness of Holy Saturday, outside our great West Door, bearing kindling to represent all the loss of the last year, ready to toss them into a new fire and light from that fire the Paschal Candle, the great Christ Light, from which our own small candles would fan out across the church, a small hiddenness of light freighting promise into the great dark of our seemingly endless shame & fear & frustration & failure to realize God’s great dream of shalom, of wholeness and peace.

Because we don’t shy away from the darkness that is the crucible of resurrection – just as the empty tomb’s shadows are the crucible of Jesus’ risen life – we also can appreciate the sacramental nature of Christ’s presence with us, hidden, as our lives are “hidden” in Christ; hidden and present even when things seem utterly hopeless. A “sacrament,” says our Catechism in the back of the Book of Common Prayer, is “an outward and visible manifestation of an inward and spiritual grace,” and we Episcopalian followers of Jesus have a potent appreciation for the ways in which that inward grace can flare forth most unexpectedly in places where we haven’t just forgotten to look, but where we sometimes seem DETERMINED NOT TO SEE. For us, the entire Creation, made by God to be “good,” is a potential sacrament, and Christ can, “at all times and in all places,” be made manifest to us. So we live a life in which the hiddenness of God – the mystical, unseen presence of God – is a given, and our practice of faith means learning to keep our eyes peeled. We live a life in which we learn to expect the most unexpected in those we may have dismissed, whose lives, too, are “hidden with Christ in God.

Take 94-year-old inventor Mr. John Greenough.  In the energy crisis of the 1970’s, he became concerned about the need to condense power into tiny packages, and that led him, in 1980, at the age of 57, to imagine the lithium-ion battery that even now powers your laptop & your iPhone and even electric cars. His profiler Pagan Kennedy pointed out in the New York Times last week that we tend to think that technological creativity is the property of the young, whose resilient brain cells and open-minded naiveté combine to enable innovative thinking.

But when Kennedy asked Greenough “about his late-life success, he said: ‘Some of us are turtles; we crawl and struggle along, and we haven’t maybe figured it out by the time we’re 30. But the turtles have to keep on walking.’ This crawl through life can be advantageous, he pointed out, particularly if you meander around through different fields, picking up clues as you go along. Dr. Goodenough started in physics and hopped sideways into chemistry and materials science, while also keeping his eye on the social and political trends that could drive a green economy. “You have to draw on a fair amount of experience in order to be able to put ideas together,” he said.”

So NOW what has he “crawled up to,” in 2017? “He and his team at the University of Texas at Austin” which includes “Maria Helena Braga, a Portuguese physicist who, with the help of a colleague, had created a kind of glass that can replace liquid electrolytes inside batteries,” and whom Mr. Greenough recruited two years ago to work on his latest brainchild, have “filed a patent application on a new kind of battery that, if it works as promised, would be so cheap, lightweight and safe that it would revolutionize electric cars and kill off petroleum-fueled vehicles.”

No, you say. That’s stumped everyone for a generation. No can do. But then, Mr. Greenough has done the impossible once already. So why not again, at 94? “I’m old enough to know you can’t close your mind to new ideas,” he says, “You have to test out every possibility if you want something new.”

And besides, his life is “hidden with Christ in God.” So he attests himself: “He… credits his faith for keeping him focused on his mission to defeat pollution and ditch petroleum. On the wall of his lab, a tapestry of the Last Supper depicts the apostles in fervent conversation, like scientists at a conference arguing over a controversial theory. The tapestry reminds him of the divine power that fuels his mind. ‘I’m grateful for the doors that have been opened to me in different periods of my life,’ he said. He believes the glass battery was just another example of the happy accidents that have come his way: ‘At just the right moment, when I was looking for something, it walked in the door.’”

So much for missing what’s right in front of our eyes. Look around you: there are 80- and 90-somethings in THIS congregation whose lives are likewise hidden in God, and Christ is hidden in them. What might burst forth from you, our elders, if we had eyes to see? There are people of color, there are non-gender-conforming people in this congregation: you, too, have long grown painfully accustomed to having the Christ in you also hidden from people staring right at you, yet failing to notice him in his loving power, looking out from your eyes! And let’s face it: we miss even in OURSELVES our OWN sacramental potential – the risen life begging to burst forth from the tombs in which we have wrapped and stuffed it, out of fear and despair, and yes, prejudice. [https://www.nytimes.com/2017/04/07/opinion/sunday/to-be-a-genius-think-like-a-94-year-old.html?_r=0]

My colleague Regina Walton wrote a poem, “O Clavis David,” “O Key of David,” in her collection called The Yearning Life,” about the risen Christ’s “harrowing of hell.” The harrowing of hell is an image lively in our tradition from the first centuries of our faith, an image that comes from a line in our earliest creed, The Apostle’s Creed. Every time we baptize someone, as we did Xiaoying Zhou last night in the Easter Vigil, and every time we renew our own baptismal covenant, as we will in a moment, affirming in those ancient words, “I believe in Jesus Christ, God’s only Son, our Lord… He suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, & was buried. He descended to the dead. On the third day he rose again…”

 

He descended to the dead. So what is Christ doing, hidden away down there among the dead, his risenness still unfamiliar even to him, before the dawn comes and he appears to Mary like the gardener? Here’s how Regina imagines him, using the old Hebrew word for hell, “Sheol.

 

After the blade drained his side
And his body was unhooked from the Cross
And swaddled again and laid back in the cave,
Our Lord turned himself into a key.

Like a harrow broke up the earth,
And himself unlocked the door to Sheol.
He grabbed those ancient hands,
The first ever to clasp, to caress, to strike,
And by the wrists he pulled them out…

Then she closes,

Those who believe, believe God sees in the dark.
Come Key of David: come harrowing and unbinding—
Rout out from the hidden, traceless places
Every truth entombed
.”

[from “O Clavis David,” in This Yearning Life, by the Rev. Dr. Regina Walton]

So, if you long to participate in Christ’s risen life; if you long to rout out from the hidden places ALL the truth, including the truth of your own possibility, and OUR possibility as a church, a people, a world; if you long finally to step, blinking and confused, out of the darkness into the light of God’s eternal, unvarying and ever-proffered love, “Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth, for you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.” AMEN.

Wednesday
Apr192017

The Rev. Holly Lyman Antolini's Sermon - 4/14, Good Friday Solemn Collects

Sermon Audio

Good Friday Noon Service 4-14-17

©Holly Lyman Antolini

Lections: Isaiah 52:13 – 53:12, Ps. 22; Hebrews 10:16-25; John 18:1-19:42

He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth. By a perversion of justice he was taken away. Who could have imagined his future? …Yet out of his anguish he shall see light; he shall find satisfaction through his knowledge…for he poured out himself to death, and was numbered with the transgressors; yet he bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors.  AMEN. [Isaiah 53:7-8, 11a, 12b]

This Holy Week has been a week of many words, as our weeks have been teemingly many-worded for years now, tweets abounding and Facebook pouring forth – I among them! – and pundits propounding and politicians spinning and companies rebranding. Amid the torrent of words – spoken and misspoken – this week was a word from White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer, a word weirdly and disturbingly apt in a week in which the Jewish Passover and the Christian Holy Week overlap exactly, a week in which we read the Passion of Jesus Christ according to the Evangelist John, who was a writer of immense spiritual power who considered Christ himself a divine “Word,” but who was also a writer of stark anti-Semitism, hammering at “the Jews… the Jews… the Jews” as the “bad guys” in a damaging rhetoric that has had enduringly destructive power for millennia since, as Christians have over and over again persecuted Jews as “Christ killers,” in the very act of which such pogroms they have amply proven themselves wrong, since in killing their neighbor Jews, the Christians themselves were “killing Christ,” who is always present in every human being.

Mr. Spicer, attempting to defend “the use of an American missile strike on Syria by lending gravity to the actions of [Syrian president Bashar al-]Assad, accused by American officials of using sarin gas, a lethal chemical weapon, in an attack on a rebel-held area of Idlib Province last week that killed dozens [of his own innocent citizens], many of them children.” Spicer “suggested that President… Assad… was guilty of acts worse than Hitler and asserted that Hitler had not used chemical weapons, ignoring the use of gas chambers at [Nazi] concentration camps” to euthanize millions of Jewish men, women & children “during the Holocaust… ’We didn’t use chemical weapons in World War II,’ Mr. Spicer said. ‘You know, you had someone as despicable as Hitler who didn’t even sink to using chemical weapons’” Thus Spicer misconstrued “the facts of the Holocaust — Nazi Germany’s brutally efficient, carefully orchestrated extermination of six million Jews and others…” [https://www.nytimes.com/2017/04/11/us/politics/sean-spicer-hitler-gas-holocaust-center.html?_r=0]

The only benefit, if benefit it was, of Mr. Spicer’s appalling misrepresentation is that it brought to mind my visit, back in the 1980’s on a choir tour of Southern Germany and Austria, to the concentration camp of Mauthausen, in the outskirts of Vienna. In the basements under the block-like brick buildings of the camp were the gas chambers made to look like showers, into which Jewish people had been herded and then killed wholesale. All around Mauthausen, yet and still today, are the tidy brick suburbs of that cosmopolitan city, the upper floors of the surrounding houses peeking over the concentration-camp walls as if demurely supervising the goings-on in that nightmare place. I stood in the shadows of those echoing gas chambers-full of ghosts, thinking of the suburban families above, shepherding their children to school and Hitler Youth meetings, tending their gardens, washing dishes at their sinks and tucking their children into bed, gazing out upon the destruction – surely audible if not odoriferous – taking place next door. And I wept. Because I was terrified that I, like those neighbors, might too have been silent in the face of such atrocity so banally carried out.

And I wept because I know something of the silence – “like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent,” says the prophet Isaiah – of those being persecuted in that concentration camp, like so many then in the era of the Nazi domination and so many now, in places like northern Burma among the Rohingya, or northern Nigeria, under the reign of terror of Boko Haram, or North Korea under the regime of Kim Jong Un. And now, right here in these United States, in places where young African-American men are arrested and falsely accused and imprisoned and all too often even executed, as Bryan Stevenson documents in his book Just Mercy, which tells the stories that pile up at his non-profit law firm, the Equal Justice Initiative, stories of young people of color growing up in the affliction of poverty who then find themselves on the brunt end of “The Law,” a criminal justice system which, no matter how vaunted our ideals of justice may be, is rife with systemic racial injustice and staffed by human beings who exhibit racist and self-serving tendencies that effectively corrupt our justice just as justice was being corrupted in the courts of Caiaphas the High Priest and Pontius Pilate in the 1st century in Jerusalem. Now, as then, the powerless, even if they try to speak, go unheard.

And Jesus, before his accusers, is often himself silent. Because speech would avail him nothing.

This is the silence of oppression, the silence because no one cares, no one is listening. It is the silence in the documentary movie “I Am Not Your Negro,” the movie using writer James Baldwin’s words, together with images from the civil rights era in the 1950’s and ‘60’s, and from the “Black Lives Matter” era of today, the silence of the unresisting African-American demonstrator in the raincoat, being pushed & shoved by a shouting crowd of white people, their mouths gaping open in accusatory hatred like a Hieronymous Bosch painting of the damned.

We can experience this dread silence even if we are not under arrest or being pursued by a mob. We can experience it when we are surrounded by the self-serving dynamics of addiction, and speaking only garners attack, physical or verbal. We can experience it when we are abused, taken gross physical advantage of, and are powerless to resist. We can experience it because we have been deeply, perniciously neglected and overlooked, our dignity unacknowledged. We can experience this silence – and we DO experience it, over and over in a frighteningly, relentlessly formative dynamic – when we live as members of an oppressed group, targeted for misuse by our gender orientation or the hallmarks of our religion or the color of our skin.

This silence is like a precursor – indeed, a harbinger – of death.

Jesus knows what this dank and terrible silence is like. He knows what it is to be, literally or figuratively, “struck dumb.” This is the scandal of the Crucifixionand its consolation: THIS IS OUR GOD, joined to us when we are powerless, standing with us whenever we are forced into silence.

But there IS another silence, and this other silence is available to us even in amid the horror of that death-like silence of persecution. This other silence is the silence of lovethe silence that needs no words, that is indeed beyond words. This silence knows no bounds. This is the silence we find in complete shalom, complete peace, a mysterious – a mystical – silence in which all sin – all persecution, all separation – is done away. It is the silence of utter at-one-ment with God.

This other silence Jesus also knew. He surely knew it in the midst of his arrest, his trial, his torture, knew it even in the midst of the crucifixion itself. This is the deepest possible silence of the spheres, the silence of utter compassion, utter fellow-feeling, utter trust.

Poetry,” writes Fr. Martin Smith, “can lead us to the place of wonder, but it patrols the shoreline of what can be said, only making us more aware of the ocean of the unsayable. The poetry inspired by the passion [the suffering of Jesus Christ] always takes us to the edge of silence…” This is the silence of our souls in the face of Jesus’ death, his entombment, his own limitless compassion for and solidarity with us mirrored in the compassion of Joseph of Arimethea and Nicodemus, tenderly anointing his dead body and wrapping him and laying him in Joseph’s own tomb. Welsh mystic poet Ann Griffiths cries out on that poetic shoreline of silence, “O my soul, behold the place where lay the chief of kings, the author of peace, all creation moving in him, and he lying dead in the tomb; song and life of the lost…” [Love Set Free: Meditations on the Passion According to St. John, by Martin L. Smith, SSJE]

Martin Smith, who worked for the Holocaust Museum in Washington D.C. after leaving the monastery of the Society of St. John Evangelist here in Cambridge, spending two years surrounded by the mute photographs and artifacts of the Nazi genocide, also wrote in a meditation offered in the Diocese of Virginia some years ago, “My walk had brought me back past the Holocaust Museum, and I glanced up at my old office there, and thought about a letter Ignatius, bishop of Antioch [in the first century, only decades after Christ’s crucifixion], wrote to the church in Ephesus, en route under armed guard to his inevitable martyrdom in Rome. Advising the laity about their relationship to their …bishop, [Ignatius] wrote, ‘Pay special attention to the bishop when he is silent.’ Here,” wrote Smith, “was a leader who kept the mystical core of his faith intact, who continued to be in awe of the profound mystery of God, and the way the crucified Christ brings us through his vulnerability into personal intimacy with that mystery. There’s nothing sentimental about that intimacy, and holy silence is our protection against glib religiosity. A visit to the Holocaust Museum, [Smith reminds us], induces the kind of silence Ignatius wanted to see a bishop practice.

This is not just a word about bishops. It is a word for us this Good Friday as well. In the terrible face of Christ’s crucifixion, in the knowledge that we continue to persecute – or at least, like those suburban Austrians around Mauthausen, to TOLERATE the persecution – of vulnerable people, that we continue to participate in the dynamics of sin and separation, the dread spring from which welled the hatred that killed Christ, we ALL must “maintain in prayer [our] own intimate connection with the mystery of God. [We] who pray don’t pretend to have answers to everything, [but] foster our humility” for the “ hard times ahead.” [Martin Smith, an essay for the Bishop Suffragan search in the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia, September 2011, http://www.thediocese.net/Customer-Content/WWW/CMS/files/SeptVE11_web.pdf, page 5] 

We, who take the dread silence of the Crucifixion and the Death of God to heart, who know how inadequate our own words – not just those of Sean Spicer – can be, must seek and find the root of divine silence in the source of divine love, God’s own, sacrificial Self. AMEN.

Wednesday
Apr122017

4/2/17 The Rev. Reed Carlson's sermon for 5 Lent

THROUGH HIS SPIRIT THAT DWELLS IN YOU

A Sermon Preached at St. James’s Episcopal Church, Cambridge, MA on the Fifth Sunday in Lent (Year A), April 2, 2017

Ezekiel 37:1-14 | Psalm 130 | Romans 8:6-11 | John 11:1-45

By Reed Carlson

reed_carlson@mail.harvard.edu

Recently my wife and I returned from a ten day trip to Israel and Palestine. It’s a trip we have wanted to take together since we were married and we finally had the opportunity to go a few weeks ago. On one of our days in Jerusalem we decided to walk up the Mount of Olives. If you are unfamiliar with the geography, the Mount of Olives is a steep hill located to the east of the Old City of Jerusalem. At the top there is a beautiful view of the city, including the temple mount. The Mount of Olives is the site of a number of familiar episodes from the Bible and especially from the Gospels. For example, at the foot of the Mount of Olives is the garden of Gethsemane where Jesus was betrayed. And it was somewhere on or near the Mount of Olives where the ascension took place. The Mount of Olives is also the route that Jesus would have taken when he travelled between Jerusalem and Bethany where Mary, Martha, and Lazarus lived—the friends of Jesus who appear in the Gospel story today.

 

This part of Jerusalem, like many parts of the city, is inundated with Jewish, Christian, and Muslim holy sites. It’s full of tourists and pilgrims as well as a handful of people who—you know—actually live there. But the largest and most overwhelming feature is undoubtedly a massive Jewish cemetery containing tens of thousands of graves—all of them resting on a hill facing Jerusalem and the temple mount. A Jewish tradition based on an interpretation of Zechariah 14 holds that it is on this mount where the resurrection will take place first. So every time that I have visited there, I can’t help but visualize what it might be like looking out over that valley and suddenly seeing 70,000 of these white stone graves opening and people walking out of them. Certainly Ezekiel’s vision of the valley of dry bones comes to mind. Now in Jesus’ day, this slope of the Mount of Olives was not the Necropolis that it is today, but still there would have been many graves. In fact people have been buried on the Mount of Olives for thousands of years. We don’t know exactly how old that Jewish tradition is of this mountain being the beginning of the resurrection… but regardless, it is interesting for me to think about it, when I hear Martha in our gospel reading this morning talking about the day of resurrection, since she lives just over the hill from where it could all begin. 

 

You may have noticed that our readings this morning are all centered around the theme of resurrection—not Jesus’ resurrection which we celebrate in a few weeks, but our own. This is a very ancient conviction shared by Christians and Jews alike that some day the messiah will come (or for Christians, return) and God’s people who are dead will rise again in their bodies. Now two thousand years of tradition has complicated how this has been understood. Interaction with Greek and Roman philosophy, spirit and body dualism, and even non-Christian, European folklore has kind of shaped our imaginations about what resurrection means. But that basic idea, that God’s people die and rise again in their bodies has remained foundational in both Judaism and Christianity.

 

This morning I would like to share with you just two short observations on how the story from the Gospel of John that we just heard frames this idea of resurrection. My first observation is that in this story, as in life, loss is unavoidable. Some of Jesus’ closest friends and most loyal followers—Martha, Mary, and Lazarus—they don’t even get to escape it.  When Jesus does come to Bethany, Mary and Martha both remark, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” And we know from other Gospel stories that they are right. Jesus does indeed have the power to heal—even from the brink of death. And yet healing, even miraculous healing, cannot hold off death forever. Lazarus’ death, just like our own, comes eventually.

 

Now, the words of these sisters, they sound kind of accusatory. And depending on your sensibilities, you might think Mary and Martha are being kind of rude or sacrilegious or something. But when we go through scripture and we read the Psalms of lament, or Job’s  defense in his suffering, we see that reminding God of our pain...or angrily pointing out the injustice of loss and refusing an easy answer is just about the most biblical thing a person can do—particularly in grief. It’s for that reason, I think, that Jesus’ responds to these sisters with such love and compassion. First, Martha speaks about the future resurrection, that idea that I was just telling you about, so Jesus does too. He gives her comfort that the messiah, himself, has come and so she can have reassurance that her faith will give her strength. But Mary isn’t quite there. She can’t follow up her lament with a statement of faith (like Mary did),  instead she just weeps because her brother is dead,  and Jesus doesn’t try to justify it to her. Instead, scripture says, “he was greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved.”  He goes to the grave and he weeps with her.

 

This brings me to my second observation about this story: Even though loss is unavoidable, there is life on the other side of death. When Jesus tells Lazarus to come out of that tomb, he is coming out on the other side of death. The good news is not that we avoid death, but that death is not the end of our story. This is apparent even in the way that John frames our reading today. In the chapter before this one, Jesus is nearly stoned to death in Jerusalem, less than two miles from Bethany, forcing him and his disciples to retreat to the other side of the Jordan river. That’s why at the beginning of our Gospel today, there is this conversation between Jesus and his disciples about whether or not they should really go back, because it’s dangerous to be so close to Jerusalem. What Jesus knows and his disciples only suspect is that by returning to Bethany and raising Lazarus from the death, he is guaranteeing his own death. And sure enough, right where our reading ends this morning, Jesus’ enemies begin to plot his execution. What John wants us to understand is that Lazarus’ death and resurrection is accomplished through Jesus’ own sacrifice. It is a hint not only of Easter but of the future of anyone who trusts that Jesus is the resurrection and the life.

 

This hope that we have, that there is life on the other side of death, is not just a way of understanding our mortality, it is also a way of understanding Jesus’ call to discipleship. Following the way of Jesus is not a guarantee that when you do the right thing, you avoid loss and suffering in your life. Rather it is a promise that when we are living out what God has called us to, our pain and our sacrifices are not meaningless. That there is, in fact, life on the other side. This is a practice that many Christians embody as a ritual during Lent, as we deny something from ourselves and look forward to the new life that is Easter. It’s also a truth that many people in our community and around the world experience when they take a stand for what \ is right, even though they know it will cost them. In these last few minutes, I invite you to reflect on your own life and to ask yourself, in what ways have you experienced life on the other side of death? You might also consider having a quiet moment with the Holy Spirit right there in your seat and meditating on how God might be calling you to endure or perhaps take a step of faith, trusting in that power of resurrection. 

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