Sermon for Trinity Sunday "Liturgy of Freedom," 5-31-15


Audio recording of Sermon for Trinity Sunday


Trinity Sunday Year B 5-31-15

©Holly Lyman Antolini

Lections: A Liturgy of Freedom, including excerpts from William W. Brown’s “Slave Narrative” and from Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have A Dream” speech, as well as Isaiah 6:1-8 & John 3:1-17.


We, who are led by the Spirit of God are your children, O God. For we did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but we have received a spirit of adoption. When we cry, "Abba! Father!" it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ-- if, in fact, we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him. God, give us the power! AMEN.  [Paul’s Letter to the Romans, Chapter 8, verses 14-17, adapted]


It is a daunting thing to speak at all, just on the heels of this powerful testimony of our legacy of slavery and diminishment at the very taproot of this brave experiment in citizen-led democracy in the United States of America, and our equally fundamental drive for liberation from that very same inherent inequality, our drive to establish and protect equal opportunity and respect for all human beings. So let me use this time to speak about why we in the Anti-Oppression Team of St. James’s thought the Liturgy of Freedom was a good way to focus our worship in service to our participation in the Black Lives Matter movement, on the Feast of the God we name as Trinity: Three Persons in One Being, a Unity in Diversity bound together by love. Or as we often say, The Lover, the Beloved and the Love who binds all together in One. Why would we rehearse the excruciating history of slavery in America on a feast in which we not only name God as inherently a Community of Love with a Unity, but also affirm that we ourselves in Christ are “children of God” as Christ is “child of God,” made, every single one of us, in God’s image and inheriting the kingdom of God, the loving power of God, and the ministry of God, in our baptism into the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ?


I propose that this liturgy is particularly appropriate for this Feast precisely because the affirmation of God’s inherent Community of Love, in which we are called - baptized, to participate - is “a radical act of faith.  There is nothing that forces us to assume that our experience can ever emerge as a single, meaningful whole and much that discourages this hope.” Can I get an “Amen” to that??? How MUCH of our history as humans beings cuts against this hope, this faith: a history of division and competition, of unfairness and injustice, of destructively self-serving tribalism and prejudice! Yet on this, the Feast of the Holy Trinity One God, we affirm that faith and hope, nonetheless. “The ultimate name of this one God is love. God’s inner life is generated and formed by love, and God goes on to create the universe by love and to enter into, incarnate in Christ, by love and to stay with us and work in us by love in the Spirit.” [L. William Countryman, New Proclamation, Year B 2003]


And so in the name of the Creator, the Liberator, and the Inspirer, Three in One, all of which work mysteriously together at all times in all places, we affirm and reaffirm our faith that it is in the inherent nature of God, and God’s relationship to us, that we are invited into this braided circle of reinforcing love, into Unity in Diversity, utterly distinct and utterly belonging to each other in the power of the Holy Spirit vested in us in the Feast of Pentecost last Sunday.


And we affirm and reaffirm, all evidence to the contrary notwithstanding, that as children of this inherently communal and loving God, we are gifted in the power of the Spirit for three crucial things in the work of liberation. First, we are gifted by the Spirit with “understanding: people divided by language, [by race, by culture, by economic advantage or the lack thereof, by education and experience,] find one another newly intelligible. [Second, we are gifted by the Holy Spirit with] confidence: people who have been afraid for their lives are suddenly to be found speaking up in public and telling the truth about their experience. [The voiceless find their voices; the marginalized move to the center of power; tears become joy; separation becomes connection; suffering gives birth to deep compassion. And third, we are gifted by the Holy Spirit with] community: people give up the family identifications that had previously defined them and treat one another as genuine sisters and brothers.” [Ibid.] This Liturgy of Freedom is a call to further the work of liberation from disunity, disharmony, and persecution and entry into the understanding, confidence, and community that is inherent in the nature of God, as we claim our own status as God’s children.


And finally, there is something implicit in all we have already prayed and sung this morning, something inherent in the nature of the Triune God we worship.  Another gift of the Holy Spirit, fundamental to the work of loving liberation that we seek to further, in Jesus’ name. But it is something which remains implicit and unspoken in our readings and which I think needs to be spoken, named aloud, and claimed by us all if we are to move forward in the Black Lives Matter movement and forward toward a broader inclusion of all in the right to “life, liberty & the pursuit of happiness.” That something is forgiveness.


Given the depth of depravity to which William W. Brown’s testimony in his Slave Narrative points, and its ongoing legacy in the wildly tilted playing field of poverty and incarceration for people of color, the continuing mistreatment of people of color at almost any level you care to name, from car loans to police shootings to asset levels to employment opportunities, it is understandable that people become skeptical about the power of a good God to redeem us. And it is understandable that we default to a debilitating rage when we are confronted with the persistent truth of our society’s unfairness. Rage can be a gift of the Holy Spirit, an important fuel to action. It cannot simply be denied or parked as inconvenient, much as we can be tempted – and taught – to do so. Rage is a part of the Currency of Truth that is essential to the loving flow of all the currencies in the Holy Trinity, One God.


But rage cannot have the last word. We have seen the fruits of that. We are WATCHING the fruits of that in the terrible atrocities of ISIS in the Middle East. Martin Luther King Jr. knew this more acutely than most. It’s why he did rigorous training in non-violent response in preparation for the Civil Rights protests. He knew that rage had its place, but its place was in service to deliberate, strategic self-possession. And his model for that was Jesus Christ.

And with Jesus as his model, he knew that merely containing rage was not a recipe for liberation. Rage had to be baptized, transformed into forgiveness. There is no formula for forgiveness. Forgiveness is a gift of the Holy Spirit. We can – we must – pray for it, prepare for it, be open to it. But we cannot command it. It helps if we have experienced BEING forgiven, ourselves. Hence the extraordinary power of Sister Helen Prejean, who seems to have spent her life in monastic orders learning how to BE forgiven and therefore how to forgive people we routinely believe are unforgivable, without in any way ignoring or overlooking the heinous acts they have committed against each other.


Journalist Charles Blow’s story might be helpful in the pursuit of understanding about forgiveness, in the context of a Liturgy of Freedom in the Black Lives Matter movement. Columnist for the New York Times, Charles Blow is an African-American born into a family struggling with poverty in the rural South. He writes on the dynamics of racism and injustice in his columns with consistent insight and power. But he connected that testimony back to his own, highly personal experience in his autobiography, Fire Shut Up in My Bones, published in 2014. There he revealed not just a complex narrative about growing up black and smart in poverty and emerging by dint of education into opportunity, but also about childhood sexual molestation and its destructive challenge to the formation of one’s identity. I URGE you to read the whole highly readable book yourself and benefit from the whole narrative. But here I will share just his discovery when he managed to resist flying down the Interstate from his college to his hometown to shoot the man who had molested him as a child, his gun under his car seat. “I had to stop hating Chester to start loving myself, Blow writes. Forgiveness was freedom…I simply had to let go of my past so that I could step into my future… Daring to step into oneself is the bravest, strangest, most natural, most terrifying thing a person can do, because when you cease to wrap yourself in artifice you are naked, and when you are naked, you are vulnerable. But vulnerability is the leading edge of truth. Being willing to sacrifice a false life is the only way to live a true one. I had to stop romanticizing the man I might have been and be the man that I was, not by neatly fitting other people’s definitions of masculinity or constructs of sexuality, [or whatever definitions are pushing you outside your real self], but by being uniquely me – made in the image of God, nurtured by the bosom of nature, and forged in the fire of life… I had to summon the power… that was greater than all others. I had to stop running like the river, always wanting to be somewhere other than where I was, and just be the ocean – vast, deep, and exactly where it was always meant to be. I had to start trying to live by the Serenity Prayer:” [“God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”] [Reinhold Niebuhr, in a sermon in 1943]


This Trinity Sunday, in the context of this Liturgy of Freedom, I invite you to be vulnerable to yourself, forgive YOURSELF for being who you are, discover YOURSELF as a child of God, forgiven, loved and free. Inquire whom YOU might be called to forgive – whom you might PRAY to be GIFTED to forgive! - in order to live fully into that freedom. And see what work of courage and change YOU are called to, empowered by the Holy Spirit of God who is working within you and between us all, healing our wounds and knitting us back together in order to send us out to do the work of justice rooted in love, rooted in a God who is a community of love.  AMEN.


Sermon for the Day of Pentecost 5-24-15

A Sermon Preached at St. James’s Episcopal Church, Cambridge, MA

on the Day of Pentecost (Year B), May 24, 2015

Acts 2:1–21 | Psalm 104:25–35, 37 | Romans 8:22–27 | John 15:26–27; 16:4b–15

By Reed Carlson


At the end of my sophomore year of college, three friends and I decided to do something impulsive.

We had final exams on Tuesday morning.

We had final exams on Wednesday afternoon.

On Tuesday night there was a Jimmy Eat World concert in Urbana-Champaign Illinois—an eight-hour drive away.

Surprisingly little thought went into this decision.

After finishing our exams on Tuesday morning, we loaded up into my buddy’s Nissan Xterra and started driving.

Now, in order to get there in time, we knew that we had to hurry.

I’m not going to tell you how fast we drove,

but I will say that we got through Wisconsin in less than 4 hours and if you do the math, that is probably faster than we should have been driving.

We arrived at the venue about 15 minutes before the show started.

And it was a great show.

The bands sounded good.

We had decent seats.

They played our favorite songs—even deep tracks from the older albums.

It was awesome.

The concert finished a little after midnight.

We stopped to eat, goofed around a little in rural Illinois, napped, and made it back to Minneapolis just in time for our exams.

Now I remember the concert. It was a lot of fun.

But what sticks with me from this trip are those 16 some hours that we spent in the car.

Now I wont go into all the details, but you can imagine…

We were young, stupid, and bored—which is a terrible combination for a group of friends on the road.

We did listen to the entire discographies of all the bands we were going to see—even rough cuts and live albums.

We did buy cheap dart guns at a gas station, and have a war among ourselves and occasionally with other cars.

We did go through a number of tollbooths in our boxer shorts.

And we did get lost in someone’s cornfield at 4am when my friend wanted to take an off-road shortcut.

Now, after that trip, I moved abroad for a while.

One of my friends got married.

Another guy moved to LA.

And today none of us live in the same state.

We didn’t intend for it to be this but that road trip was basically the last thing we would do together as a group of friends.



And when I look back on that time in my life and on those relationships, I’m struck by the juxtaposition of memories.

On the one hand, I have these moments that I remember—like that spontaneous road trip.

And today they’ve come to mean and to symbolize so much.

On the other hand, I can also remember the processes I was going through—the insecurities, the uncertainties, the wondering about who I was and what my future would hold.

I think that for many of us, when we look back on our lives we have these moments that we remember, a concert, a roadtrip, a holiday, a wedding, a breakup, a funeral—

but we also remember these processes, the backstories, the journey that invest those moments with so much meaning.

The moments and the journeys they’re inseparable from one another—in our memories, and in history.

This morning is Pentecost Sunday in the calendar of the Church.

It’s a day when we celebrate a moment in our history.

This morning I want to talk a little bit about that moment and how it relates to the journey of the church and the journeys of our lives,

but first, I’d like to just explain a little bit about the story because we might not all be familiar with it.



It took place fifty days after Passover and after Easter.

That’s where the name Penta-cost comes from.

Pentecost was and is a Jewish holiday called Shavuot (or “Weeks”).

That’s why, in our story, Jerusalem was filled with Jews from all corners of the Roman Empire.

They were there to celebrate the festival.

On this Pentecost, the Holy Spirit came down on Jesus’ disciples while they were in Jerusalem.

This was an event that had been promised by Jesus before Easter—we heard about it this morning in the Gospel reading from John.

But no one knew exactly how or when the Holy Spirit would become manifest.

Probably the most memorable thing from this day was the spontaneous speaking in tongues that the disciples experienced.

What happens at Pentecost is what some scholars call xenolalia, that is, spontaneously speaking in a human language that you don’t know.

That’s why in this church and in many churches around the world, today we read this story from Acts in a variety of languages.

It’s a way of liturgically embodying our theological belief that the gospel of Jesus can be native in any language and in any culture—no one owns it by themselves.

Now there is another form of speaking of tongues that occurs in the Bible, one that you may have heard of.

It’s sometimes called glossolalia.

This is speaking in an unknown language.

In some texts it’s called the language of angels or the language of heaven.

Glossolalia occurs in Acts, in Paul’s letters, and it is meant to be incomprehensible.

This is the kind of speaking in tongues that is most often associated with Pentecostal and Charismatic Christians today.



Many of us here this morning have been in settings where this kind of charismatic activity was going on.

Some of us have spoken in tongues before. Some of us still do.

I do on occasion as part of my personal prayer life.

I first spoke in tongues—the glossolalia kind—when I was an adolescent.

For me and for millions of Christians around the world today. It’s not weird. It’s normal.

It’s just one more way to connect with God—like praying, like meditating, like singing.

Now all of this can seem kind of strange or foreign to some—even if you’ve grown up in the church—which is why I wanted to take some time to explain it.

The truth is, charismatic and mystical strains of Christianity have been part of the church for two thousand years.

If you’ve spent some time in that world like I and others here have, you know that there is always a risk for people to be manipulated and hurt in these kinds of settings.

But there is also opportunity for the gospel to break out in new times and in unexpected ways.

Today, 25% of the world’s Christians are charismatic.

And most of them live in the two-thirds world.

However, as important to understand as speaking in tongues is—it is not really the point of Pentecost.



You see, Pentecost was a moment in the church’s history.

It’s the sort of thing that gets remembered.

It’s like my roadtrip.

On the one hand it was impulsive and rash but on the other hand, it embodied so much of what I was feeling at that time

It propelled me into the next stage of my life.

That’s like Pentecost.

It was a manifestation of so many other things that God was doing, and would do, and is doing today.

The church was coming to realize that the good news of Jesus had implications not just for a small group of people in Palestine but for every human being on the planet.

Further, even though Jesus had ascended and promised to return, in the mean time, the Holy Spirit was coming to empower Christians to carry that message to all corners of the earth.



In our story this morning, the spiritual gift that highlights this moment in church history is speaking in tongues.

But you know what, the New Testament lists other ways that the Holy Spirit empowers us.

On those lists are things like speaking in tongues and healing and miracles—but you know what else is on there? Hospitality.


Speaking the truth when no one else will.

Teaching, Giving, Service, Praying for one another, Encouraging one another, the gift of Faith, the gift of Mercy and more and more and more.

These are also spiritual gifts.

Gifts that are ready to be unleashed in this community, right now, today.

We just need the Holy Spirit moment.



You know, St. James’s is a place, where when we’re willing, we can grab onto those Holy Spirit moments.

Many of you will remember the BlackLivesMatter movement that really took off in this country last summer and fall.

I believe that was and is a Holy Spirit moment.

And we didn’t miss it.

I believed then and I still believe that God is calling the church to unleash the spirit’s power on issues of race and poverty in this country and around the world in ways we have not done in a long time.

This community was ready for that Holy Spirit moment.

But there are others.



For some of us here, I think it’s easier to recognize a Holy Spirit moment when it’s public.

A social movement, a call for change—we often know what these look like.

But in our own lives, we don’t always realize that that same power is also available.

There can be Holy Spirit moments in your family, in your marriage, at your job, at your school.

As Peter says in our scripture reading, God said, “I will pour out my spirit on all flesh.”

All flesh.

All of us.

Not just the priests. Not just the “church people.”

You can be empowered by the Holy Spirit.

It could even be speaking in tongues, if you’re into that.

But if not, don’t worry about it.

It’s not the gift so much as our willingness to accept it that matters.



Pentecost is a reminder to us not to miss these Holy Spirit moments.

Sometimes they might feel impulsive or sudden or random, but if it’s from the Holy Spirit, I promise you, it’s something that’s been in the works for a long time.

Perhaps some of you here are on the cusp of a Holy Spirit moment this morning.

Maybe God’s been speaking to you, through conversations, through prayer, through the words of a mentor or a friend, maybe you’ve just sensed this:

that you know that there is a spiritual gift you need from God right now.

You need mercy so you can forgive someone and heal a relationship.

You need discernment because you’re facing a big decision.

You need leadership because you’re about to take a stand against something that is not right.

Whatever it is—this could be your Holy Spirit moment.

And it can start as a prayer—

simply talking to God.

If you don’t know what to say, don’t worry about it.

As Paul tells us in the section of the letter to the Romans that we read this morning:

“The Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words. And God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for us according to the will of God.”

So open your heart to the Spirit this morning, this day, this week.

And see what moments come about.



Vestry Minutes 4-21-15 

St. James’s Episcopal Church

April 21, 2015 Vestry Meeting Minutes

Approved May 19, 2015

Present: Sylvia Weston, Marian King, Matthew Abbate, Mary Beth Mills-Curran, Nancy McArdle, Rev. Holly Antolini, Lucas Sanders, Isaac Martinez, Jean Clark, Thomas Wohlers, Dana Evelyn, Nicholas Hayes

Absent:  JT Kittredge, Tom Beecher

Guests:  Jeff Zinsmeyer, John Hixson, the Rev. Karen Coleman, Ric Dumont


Regular Agenda:

Nicholas led us in Evening Prayer.


Redefining Vestry Goals and Action Plan 

Isaac reported on the work of the Vestry Shared Leadership Team (VLPRT) and their hopes to engage Natalie Finstad to meet with them to start developing materials and a communications plan for the trainings.  They hope to present materials to the Vestry on May 19th.  Tentatively the training meetings with parish leaders would be June 6 from 9am-1pm and June 28 from 11:30am to 3:30pm and possibly one more.  They are asking for Vestry members to attend at least one session.

Mary Beth moved that the Vestry approve up to $1500 for consulting by Natalie Finstad for the Vestry Liaison process, including coaching of the Vestry Liaison Team and the Rector, pending approval by the Finance Committee.  Thomas W. seconded. Approved unanimously.



Sylvia reported that work has begun on the Rose Window.  The cost of the ice dam work was negotiated to $11,000 which the Church Insurance will cover.  The cost of the damage to the roof because of the ice removal work is $3500.  Work will be done by Eddie Mahoney, who has worked on the roof before. 

On May 15th, boiler work will be done. 


Food Pantry

Karen Coleman gave a report on the Food pantry and particularly on the upcoming move to 364 Rindge Ave.  This will give the pantry access to cooking space, with the possibility of having cooking demos.



Jeff Zinsmeyer and Ric Dumont discussed the possibility of using our 150th Anniversary celebration as a way of increasing our visibility, reacquainting the Parish itself with the Redevelopment process, and building community.  Discussed possible Fair in the garden on Saturday July 25th (with Sunday service as closing celebration) that would include Porter Square history, food, fun, music, and community participants.  Jeff collected names of those interested in initial organizing group.



Mary Beth reported on her upcoming mission trip to Uganda (where she will visit the Bp. Masareka Center) and Kenya (TATUA), with the support of the parish Missions Special Fund.  She plans to focus on community organizing and possibly do some coaching.


Approval of Minutes

Jean moved that the March minutes be amended to state that the church has received donations from individuals using our parking lot.  Thomas W seconded.  Approved unanimously.

Isaac moved approval of the amended March minutes.  Thomas W seconded.  Approved unanimously.


Finance Report

Lucas moved that we approve the financial reports. Marian seconded.  Approved unanimously.


Rector’s Report

Holly moved that the Vestry nominate Derrick Jackson and Michelle Holmes for the Episcopal St. George Award. Thomas seconded.  Approved unanimously.

·         Assistant for Church School & Family search update: interviewing three strong candidates on May 9th, one will be ordained a transitional deacon in June; one plans to initiate process for ordination and is currently in seminary locally; the third is a professional educator and a committed layperson

·         Office Manager Kathryn continues to be terrific.

·         You’ve heard from the Redevelopment Committee on their 150th Anniversary proposal; group has energy to work on community relations while we wait for results of St. Patrick’s Day hearing. 

·         You’ve heard about the Food Pantry move preparations.

·         After harmonious consultation, Pine Village renewed our agreement without new conditions; Church School oversight continued with a constructive meeting of Young Church teachers at Liz McNerney’s last Sunday; Anne Read and I still working to get Safe Church materials up on website because we had to revise the brochure; Anne overseeing online Safe Church Training for several teachers still lacking that credential or whose credentials are out of date.

·         Nursery coordinator Monte has had some health issues. We have been patching together with volunteers, hopeful that he will recover soon.

·         Healing Liturgy planned for May 31st, but timing may require moving to May 24th.

·         Confirmation coming up on May 2nd; two 16-year-old confirmands have worked with Jules Bertaut and Lauren Zook; we have had three adults in adult class, but only one will reaffirm his baptismal vows; one of the others is a Chinese engineer not yet baptized and not yet ready; the other is a Roman Catholic who loves St. James’s but isn’t ready.

·         Holy Week was amazing as always, an all-hands-on-deck event with truly great preaching all ‘round. Good Friday’s 7 Last Words a highlight. Attendance perhaps a bit lower than the previous year but energy high.

·         Discovering God’s Economy class committed to continue discernment on the best model for microloan from St. James’s, forge team with St. Mary’s Dorchester and perhaps others around our Deanery to increase impact. Decided to focus on models that encourage real relationship between our St. James’s team and whomever we’re loaning to.

·         Seminarian intern preaching first and only major Sunday service this coming Sunday. Preached Good Friday noon with mixed results; preaching a real challenge for her.

·         Thinking about simplifying Worship Commission “shared leadership,” with one big event in the summer to plan the whole arc of the next year and then have leadership teams to help with the big feasts.

·         Kate Hornstein heading Welcomers but not Newcomer Dinners; organizing the Welcome Table and updated our Newcomer Brochure (attached). Kathryn and I will oversee schedule.

·         A-O Team continues monthly dinners, working with The Art of Hosting workshop materials from my continuing education. Spent a long and thoughtful time on the Principles that guide our work. (Document attached, along with the preceding Needs and Purpose documents.)

·         Sylvia stepping into Nicholas’ GBIO liaison role; Nicholas staying connected with us as he moves into more significant leadership with GBIO.

·         Scouts made another Eagle – Beau Rideout – on March 21st. Would like to nominate Derrick Jackson and Michelle Holmes for The St. George Award of the Episcopal Church, which is for faithful churchgoers who are active in the Boy Scouts or other scouting organizations. Need Vestry approval for this.

·         Diocesan activity: Mission Institute Advisory Committee ahead (quarterly); Annual Clergy Conference, Apr. 27/28/29.  Deans have extra commitment this month at a diocesan all-Deanery Executive Teams meeting tomorrow night (April 22). Also we have one congregation with significant building issues and questions about viability, so I’m consulting with them. Preparation for General Convention began w Provincial Synod last Friday/Saturday. General Convention two weeks in late June and early July.

·         Personal update: continuing drawing class and swimming. Working hard to claim Sabbath time each week. Still a struggle as sole hand on deck.

·         One week of vacation July 4-11 in California after General Convention. Remaining vacation will be Aug. 7 - 29 in Vermont & Maine with family stuff, still handling my parents’ estate. Reed Carlson – priested in June – will supply for those weeks.


Warden’s Report

Sylvia reported that she had been very busy with property issues, lining up music for the Food Pantry concert, and checking in with parishioners.  She is also the new GBIO liaison.


Respectfully submitted,

Nancy McArdle


Special Meeting Sunday April 26, 2015
Present: Sylvia Weston, Marian King, Matthew Abbate, Mary Beth Mills-Curran, Nancy McArdle, Rev. Holly Antolini, Lucas Sanders, Dana Evelyn, Nicholas Hayes
Absent:  JT Kittredge, Tom Beecher, Jean Clark, Thomas Wohlers, Isaac Martinez,

A special meeting was called to discuss and vote on additional costs that arose with the Rose Window restoration.

Previously, by email, Sylvia had resolved that the Vestry approves that we authorize Charlie Allen Restorations to repair/install  on the Rose Window, new Poly-carbonate at $5,100, remove paint from, and restore the several stained glass pieces that were "painted over" at $2,400, and repair the large section of masonry cracking around the brick and pudding stone at $2,400.  Additional total cost of repair to the Rose Window and cracking brick  to be approved is $9,900.00.  Nancy seconded.

At the meeting, Mary Beth moved to amend the resolution so that the $2,400 for paint removal would be contingent on a decision by Sylvia and Nancy after consultation with Julie of Charlie Allen Restorations.  Lucas seconded.

The amendment passed unanimously.  Then the original motion (as amended) passed unanimously.


Sermon for 7 Easter B 5-17-15


Audio recording of Sermon for 7 Easter


7 Easter Year B 5-17-15

©Holly Lyman Antolini

Lections: Acts 1:15-17, 21-26; Ps. 1; Living Epistle-Carol Hilliard; John 17:6-19


Root us, O God, like trees planted by streams of water, bearing fruit in due season, with leaves that do not wither; let prosper everything we do. Amen.


Have you felt, this week, as I have felt, an almost dizzying contrast between the flourishing of the natural world around us and the dire state of human affairs? Cool days of inspiring clarity; the brilliance of cardinals in the hedges and the first mockingbirds, singing in the middle of the night as if in praise of the bright evening star in the West? Peonies rocketing out of the ground and swelling with the promise of multi-petaled abundance? My cat, leaning elbows on the open kitchen windowsill by the hour, “reading” the cat news on the breeze? Things coming to fruition: undersea creatures captured and visible on camera off the coast of Puerto Rico, never before seen by human eyes in their radiant color and motion. Graduations approaching – Julie Campbell, Arthur Abbate, Anna Lee Hirschi, Marion Rofinot-Michaels, Georgia Pingue, Monte Tugwete, Olivia Hamilton, and our former Micah Fellow Reed Loy among them. The resounding success of our 1800-person-strong Greater Boston Interfaith Organization action inviting our Governor, Mayor, Attorney General, and Speaker of the House to address gun violence, prison reform, affordable housing and school renovation?


And then, as if to anchor us firmly to the harsh ground amid all this beauty and encouragement: more earthquake devastation in Nepal; a mind-numbingly horrific train crash in downtown Philadelphia; unrest in Burundi that threatens Congo & Rwanda as well; Rohingya Muslim “boat” people fleeing persecution at home in Myanmar and floating, abandoned by all, in the Andaman Sea; a violent end to violence in the death penalty for Dzokhar Tsarnaev in Boston, and the prospect of reliving his atrocities over and over as we contemplate his execution in court after court.


Such is the nature of our “being in the world,” isn’t it? To be a part of something at once so wondrous and so calamitous. To be at one moment filled with the creativity that gives voice to a B. B. King and his guitar Lucille, whose 89 years of musical life we celebrate this week, and yet at the next moment, to have to stand out against the self-centered destructiveness that fails to provide funds to keep our rail infrastructure safe and that fears “the other” enough to reject their very right to exist, not even NOTICING the ways in which we dismiss them out of mind and out of our “oeconomia,” our economy, our household. To have such agency over our lives and our choices, and at once to have so little, to feel so vulnerable to forces beyond our control, to be pushed and pulled in ways that threaten our principles, that leave our moral compasses swinging wildly this way and that.


Ever since the Feast of Christmas, the Feast of Jesus’ Birth as a human being, bringing divinity into our very human flesh, our human mortality itself, we have been exploring with Jesus what it means for God to have become human, for God to have stepped out of all God’s prerogatives and joined us in this peculiar predicament of ours, so full of creative promise and at the same time so buffeted by forces we cannot control, the greatest of which is death itself. We have walked with Jesus through his ministry of confrontation and healing and straight into the jaws of death, and we have been rejoicing in his victory over death the previous six weeks of Easter, the season of the Resurrection.


Now on this Seventh Sunday of Easter, Jesus has ascended into heaven, departing his Incarnation entirely, just on the cusp of the Feast of Pentecost, the Feast of the Gift of the Holy Spirit. Now we, too, are on the cusp of entering a new chapter of the church year: the chapter in which WE become the INHERITORS of Jesus’ ministry. Next Sunday, on the Feast of Pentecost itself, we will be reminded that we ourselves, beginning with those disciples, have been imbued by the Holy Spirit of the resurrected Jesus, the Third “Person” of the Trinity of God, the part of God that beats in our hearts and surges in our blood, that fires our synapses and breathes our breath, that looks through our eyes and hears through our ears, that opens our mouths to speak the Word of Truth, that energizes us to work for Truth, that inspires us to love, even in a world that invites falsehood and self-protection, deception and delusion, alienation and hatred.


Today, in between Jesus’ ascension and Pentecost, we listen in on Jesus’ “High Priestly Prayer” in the Gospel of John, his prayer at the end of the Last Supper before his Crucifixion, when he knows he’s headed for excruciating death. Then, as now after the Feast of the Ascension, Jesus is departing, leaving his disciples to cope on their own. And then, as now, he names for us the strangeness of “being in the world,” loving the world, being indelibly connected in the communion of all being, and yet notbelonging” to the world.

I have given them your word,” Jesus says in his prayer to God the Creator, “and the world has hated them because they do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world. I am not asking you to take them out of the world, but I ask you to protect them from the evil one. They do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world. Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. As you have sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. And for their sakes I sanctify myself, so that they also may be sanctified in truth."

So what does this demand of us, this being “sent into the world” but “not belonging to the world?” This being “sanctified in truth?” Consider the experience of Alfie Letson, the executive producer of my daughter Tina’s radio documentary program, State of the Re:Union []. State of the Re:Union is a series of hour-long radio programs that, as it says on its website, “tell the story of America, one community at a time.” It just won the Peabody Award for its documentaries on the families of transgender people, the legacy of sugar in Hawaii; an alliance of ranchers and ecologists in the water-starved Southwestern Range of New Mexico & Arizona; the tension of “goods” between an historically African-American community and bicycle aficionados in Portland Oregon, and many more such explorations of the challenge and initiative of building community all around the U.S.A. On the same day that it won the Peabody, State of the Re:Union lost its public radio funding, and the show’s fifth season is its last. This prompted Al to reflect on the show’s genesis. What he said seemed to me to speak eloquently of “being in the world but not belonging to world,” of being “sanctified in the truth.”

State of the Re:Union,” Al writes, “seems like an unlikely idea coming from an unlikely source, namely me. Before I started working on this show, if you’d asked me if I was patriotic, I most likely would have rolled my eyes. I loved the place I lived, [Jacksonville, Florida; I loved] my friends and family, but extending [that love] to the country as a whole never really crossed my mind. This may seem strange … but I grew up as a young black kid in the south, and felt completely disconnected from the concept of America. As often as I saw the American flag, I also saw the Rebel flag: the juxtaposition of the two, the promise of freedom and the symbol of slavery, always made me uneasy with America and my place it in. The concept for the show came from my desire to know this country better. I’d been traveling a lot, expanding my horizons so to speak, and the more I traveled the more I began to question the narrative I was seeing and reading in the media. Like that uncomfortable limbo between the flags, I felt somewhat lost in the media landscape. That has been the quest of State of the Re:Union, the very public idea of chronicling America from the bottom up and the private journey to find my place. From the start, I wanted to focus on the America that was overlooked: a little town in Kansas struggling to make a comeback [from a tornadobut this time, as an all-“green” community], a gay black civil rights leader [the behind-the-scenes mastermind of the March on Washington, Bayard Rustin], the Hmong population in the Twin Cities, [the diversity of post-industrial Utica, New York; the struggle for fairness in post-BP-oil-spill Mississippi Gulf Coast,] because they are America, too. In traveling as I have with this show, the thing that stands out is how diverse we are as a country in both land and people. I’ve frozen in Alaska in February, eaten Haitian food with refugees in Miami, hung out with a trans woman in the boogie-down Bronx, and stayed in a hunting lodge with a real deal cowboy in Arizona. These experiences have redefined my idea of hero. Heroes are everyday people who wake up in the morning just wanting to make the place they live better, and so they [listen to each other across differences of point of view and] put in the work…” 

“Every episode taught me something about America…” Letson writes. “The truth is, I’m still searching for my place in America, still unsure where I stand. When I watch events play out across the country and think about issues of inequality, race, and the environment, frankly, I’m worried. But, if there is one thing State of the Re:Union has taught me, it is to take heart, to have hope. The politics of this country may fail us time and time again, but the everyday people do not. We, as a country, are so much better than we know. I don’t say that in a jingoistic Pollyanna-ish way. I say that after traveling the country and meeting the people. Every great change that has ever happened in this country has happened from the bottom up – from the people. The battle now, as I see it, is to bring ALL the people to the table. Regardless of race, gender, sexual orientation, religion, or any of the other things we use to separate us. If we can turn that corner, if we can all learn to be uncomfortable, so that we might grow, so that we might better understand our fellow man, then we can forge an America that lives up to the lofty dreams it was built upon. We are in a time of great challenges, and at times even I feel hopeless…it’s a natural law, things fall apart. But we the people can bring it back together.” [Alfie Letson, Facebook, May 14th 2015] 

I am not asking you to take them out of the world,” Jesus says, “On the contrary, ‘As you have sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world.’ ‘Sanctify them in the truth.’” Such is the strangeness of our calling as disciples of Jesus Christ. To be sent INTO the world. To be connected to the world. To LOVE the world. And yet always to be at an essential, if infinitesimal critical distance from the world, a tad uneasy, able to step back from the moment and ask, “What is happening here? Who is it impacting? Who is included, and benefiting? Who is being left out and why? Must I act in concert with the thrust of the moment? Or must I stand out against the impetus of what’s going on? Who do I still need to hear from? Who are my partners in this?” To care passionately about everyone and everything around us, and yet NOT QUITE TO BELONG. “In the uncomfortable limbo between flags…still searching for our place.” To remain free to make choices, free to confront, free to say the uncomfortable thing, free to disrupt and destabilize the powers that be. Al says it, “if we can all learn to be uncomfortable … we might grow… we might better understand our fellow [humans]” We might be sanctified in truth, and become God’s emissaries of truth IN, though not completely OF the world. AMEN. 


Living Epistle by Carol Hilliard 5-17-15


Audio recording of Carol Hilliard's Living Epistle


Good morning, saints! (with a shout-out to Rev. Edwin Johnson). Please be seated.

On April 15, 1981, my then husband and I went to  the adoption agency we had been working with for 18 months, and received the baby we named Paul. At six weeks old, he had beautiful black hair, cute little baby elbows and adorable little baby knees. And sometimes he wasn’t fussy.


By the time he was a year old, it was clear he was not meeting developmental milestones, and we entered an Early Intervention program. Over the next years, the scope of his disabilities unfolded. He has a diagnosis of global developmental disabilities, meaning all domains of development are severely delayed.


A vignette of a visit a week ago, Mother’s Day,  to the Boston Aquarium will give you an idea of life with Paul.  Paul, his Dad and I parked in a near-by parking garage, because taking the T would mean that we would have to get OFF the train, which Paul has never been able to do without great difficulty. We could rehearse the whole sequence with him, but the moment of leaving the train would involve persuasion, and what is sometimes called “escorting” (it’s  frog marching). Between the train platform and the aquarium, he would possibly thunk to the ground several times, yelling, and possibly throwing whatever he had in his hands. He might also charge ahead, and strike anyone in his path. Thus the garage costing just under 10 dollars a minute. We entered the aquarium peacefully but within a few minutes, Paul was wanting to leave. We ended up just outside the doors, Paul on the floor but not throwing or hitting. He was pointing to the picture of “pizza” in his communication book. We had had some pizza at the café, on a previous visit, so he was all set for pizza this time. So we went to the café, and took our time with the pizza – not wise to rush things. We used his communication book to “talk” about the fish, turtles and the shark we would see, with Paul participating in this conversation. After a while, we were able to re-enter the aquarium, and then Paul enjoyed the experience. His face softened,  and he looked in all the tanks. He would walk ahead, and then wait for us to catch up. This was a good day, and we all felt a sense of accomplishment.


I am aware that sitting on the floor, communicating with Paul as he makes loud, guttural noises, is by no means the most difficult or painful way one might experience Mother’s Day. My story is not about suffering, but about my inward spiritual perception of outward events and circumstances. In that regard, I began to realize when Paul was scarcely walking that I could not compare him to other children, myself to other mothers, or attach anything of my sense of my worthiness or Paul’s worthiness to the standards of the world around me. I saved myself grief and rage by perceiving a fork in the road, and taking the road leading away from comparisons and worldly measures of worth, so that when I read in St. Paul’s letter to the Romans, chapter 12, verse 2 which begins “Conform no longer to the pattern of the present world….” I thought “aha! Done and done! I had nonconformity handed to me in a baby blanket!”


At the same time, I am alive in this world. I like to have fun with friends, and even talk about inconsequential things like new earrings, or the wonders of a kitchen gadget. I don’t want to be apart from people, because I am afraid of the spiritual dangers of thinking myself to be much different from most people. I happen to have a son with severe disabilities, but I am not myself much better, or much worse than most people walking around. I need both an inner life and correspondence – feedback from others, in order to continue to grow. I feel a necessary tension between not conforming, but not wandering away from the flock, as it were.


St. Paul goes on to say in the same verse “be transformed by the renewal of your minds.” Trans, of course means across or through. I believe that not only will we change our spiritual shape by not con-forming to this world, but we will be taken through this reality to a different reality. This world is not all that there is, and this assurance keeps me going.  


Unfortunately for me, St. Paul isn’t done yet. “Then you will be able to discern the will of God and to know what is good and acceptable and perfect.” Try as I might, I can’t read that as saying “the will of Carol.” I said at a parent support group once: “I finally got it through my head. I am a very controlling person, I just don’t happen to be very good at it.” This idea of who is in control of whom is related to the work of understanding and doing God’s will. I used to think that the opposite of control was submission, a word I can hardly push past my lips, so the idea of doing even God’s will doesn’t come easily. But the opposite of control is recognition. Let me try to explain. Several years ago, Paul was going through one of his especially difficult periods, in which he would get anxious and angry, and would upend the table, throw objects and twice tossed a chair off my third floor back porch. I called a consultant for help. She and I brainstormed some ideas, including creating a sort of safe room, which would be pleasant, soft, free of hard objects. Then I thought I was going about this backwards. Paul might or might not respond well to this intervention, but the one thing I could do for sure was to control myself. So I made a commitment to monitor my own behavior during each episode. After Paul calmed down each time, I would reward and care for myself.  Paul’s anxiety subsided, and I continue to practice being honest with myself about my own feelings in the moment and to monitor my own actions. I have come to think that no strategy or intervention will have good results unless I take that inward-looking action first.

Recognition is the opposite of control. It begins with recognizing both myself and the person in front of me as individual people, and as lovable children of God.


I have a recurring reverie of Paul being in heaven, meeting Jesus. They will recognize each other. They are both not above pushing other people’s buttons and I think they will make each other laugh. Without being able to button his shirt, or to speak, Paul is – and we are when we abide in Christ – in St. Paul’s words Good, and Acceptable and Perfect.



Sermon for 6 Easter Year B 5-10-15


Audio recording of Sermon for 6 Easter


6 Easter Year B 5-10-15

©Holly Lyman Antolini

Lections: Acts 10:44-48; Ps. 98; 1 John 5:1-6; John 15: 9-17


Remember your mercy and faithfulness to the house of Israel, O God, so that all the ends of the earth will see your victory and sing with joy, lift up our voices, rejoice, and sing! AMEN.


First let me say that I am deeply aware that I am standing here in the pulpit in place of Ruth & Jim Padilla DeBorst, who were scheduled to preach jointly to us of their faith and life as missionaries and founders of an intentional Christian community at the University of San Jose, Costa Rica, and that ANY witness of mine to the love of Jesus Christ will be pale compared with the vivid rootedness, the profligate generosity of theirs. In fact they are not here because one of their six remarkable children, 18-year-old Maria Isabel, was hit by a car on her bike during a biking trip in France, and her vertebra was shattered. The good news is that Chabe, as Maria Isabel is called, has not lost any function of limb or brain that we can determine and CERTAINLY has not lost her verve, humor and determination, THANKS BE TO GOD. The bad news is that she must spend the summer recovering and that her accident means that we must make do with what I have to say in place of the gift Jim & Ruth would have made us.


Poet and essayist Christian Wiman, former editor of “Poetry” Magazine and lecturer in Religion and Literature at Yale Divinity School, grew up in rural Texas surrounded by “a history of violence and in a charismatic Christian household.” He broke family tradition by going to college, and there lost his faith and became an avowed atheist. Then, already established in Chicago as a poet and editor, in his late 30’s he met and “married the love of his life, found God again [most unexpectedly, by discovering prayer together with his wife and going looking for a philosophical explanation, started attending a Congregational church in his neighborhood & fell into a long theological conversation and soon, bible study with the minister. Then, barely embarked on that journey, Wiman was] diagnosed with an incurable and unpredictable, rare and mysterious form of blood cancer.” Krista Tippett, who interviewed him in 2012 for her radio program “On Being,” says he is a person of unsparing honesty “who has come to “give voice to his own surprise, to the hunger for faith and the challenge of faith for people now.” Of that hunger & challenge, Wiman himself says, “The same God that’s calling me to sing of God at one time, at another time might call me to sing of godlessness.” [Krista Tippett, “On Being,” NPR] “Sometimes,” he says, “when I think of all this energy that’s going on, all of these people trying to find some way of naming and sharing their belief, I think it may be the case that God calls some people to unbelief in order that faith can take new forms.” Certainly for Wiman, “Doubt is so woven in with what I think of as faith that we can’t separate it…”


Shortly after his diagnosis with the devastating cancer, his faith barely wobbling on its new infant legs, Wiman describes “receiving” a poem, whole and entire, out of the blue, in a complex form entirely its own, the first poem he had written in over three years. As is typical of Wiman, he doesn’t describe this as if somehow he were God’s autodidact and transcriber, but rather simply as if it were the most astonishingly joyful gift & surprise. Here is the poem, and I have put copies with the bulletins, so hopefully you can read as you listen, which is helpful because the poem repeats one line over and over, yet critically shifts the emphasis so that each repetition signifies something entirely different.


Every Riven Thing

            [Christian Wiman, in every riven thing, Farrar Straus & Giroux, 2010]


God goes, belonging to every riven thing he’s made

sing his being simply by being

the thing it is.

stone and tree and sky,

man who sees and sings and wonders why


God goes. Belonging, to every riven thing he’s made,

means a storm of peace.

Think of the atoms inside the stone.

Think of the man who sits alone

Trying to will himself into a stillness where


God goes belonging. To every riven thing he’s made

there is given one shade

shaped exactly to the thing itself:

under the tree a darker tree;

under the man the only man to see


God goes belonging to every riven thing. He’s made

the things that bring him near,

made the mind that makes him go.

A part of what man knows,

Apart from what man knows,


God goes belonging to every riven thing he’s made. 

Belonging. Belonging to God. If I had a nickel for every parishioner and fellow pilgrim on this path of faith who asks, at some point or at many point, “Why can’t I FEEL as if I belong to God?!?” “I try to will myself into a stillness where God goes belonging,” we cry to one another. And still, “God goes.” God vanishes. Never mind that we “sing his being simply by being the thing” we are. God goes, and we are left wondering & bereft, amid the buffets and whirlwinds of a storm of peace that “is no peace, but strife closed in the sod,” as William Alexander Percy’s hymn says. How can we whose being sings God’s being be so horrifically cruel to each other? Drop barrel bombs on one another and chlorine gas one another and leave our brothers and sisters to languish in grinding systems of poverty in our cities and rural communities, persecuted by police and neglected by legislators and educators so that hope dies, drowned in drugs and despair? Riven things that we are – split, rent, severed, sundered. Not belonging, but deeply alienated and torn apart.


John the Evangelist so often couches faith in terms of “belief,” as if to accept a set of propositions is to belong to God. “Believe in God; believe also in me!” “These are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.” But here in our Gospel passage for today, in the heart of John’s Gospel, as Jesus is wending his way deeper into conflict with the self-securing powers of the status quo and further towards his crucifixion and still trying to come up with the language and the symbols that will seize and root the hearts of his disciples firmly enough in God to hold them in the face of his death, Jesus chooses the language not of BELIEF but of LOVE. “Jesus said to his disciples, "As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father's commandments and abide in his love…And this is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you… You did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you to bear fruit, fruit that will last.


“I have made you, I have chosen you, for love!” cries Jesus. “Abide in that! As I abide in the love of God who made me, so you abide in me!” You can DO this, even as you feel, attached to you, the unique shadow of yourself, the darkness that is inherent in your riven self, that shadow of unknowing, unbelonging, unloving, which pursues you everywhere, which adheres to you and appalls you, and yet which, paradoxically, is the mystical place of vision to see God goes belonging to every riven thing, because without our shadow we would be dazzled into believing in our own little light and only that, and we would be solipsistically SEALED into our own little greed and power and alienation, lost to God and to each other. Our darkness IS our light; our loneliness DRIVES our belonging, DRIVES US toward each other, DRIVES US toward God. DRIVES US TO LOVE, to seek a community of love.


John’s Jesus tells us, over and over in this passage, that this is a matter of “keeping God’s commandments.” Belonging is a matter of obedience. This is truly a non-starter for us 21st century individualists! Commandments? UH-UH! Not for me! I’m not OBEYING my spouse and I’m not OBEYING the “authorities” just because they’re “authorities,” and I’m not OBEYING GOD EITHER! Give me liberty or give me death! Or at LEAST give me VOICE.


Yet we are wandering through our days obeying our Fit-bits! We are disciplining ourselves for the Ironman (and even the IronKIDS’) Triathlon! We are obeying Google Chrome and the latest Facebook software update! We are refusing carbs and choking down extra protein!


Christian Wiman says, “Faith is not a state of mind but an action in the world, a movement towards the worldFaith is an orientation of your life.” And more: he says he MUST have religious structure; he NEEDS to go to church; he MUST have community and an ever-renewing (though not necessarily ever-agreeing) conversation with others seeking God with earnest dedication. This, for Wiman, is the Fit-Bit of the spiritual life. This is his school of love.


Jesus says, “This is my commandment, that you love one another, as I have loved you…” laying down my life for you. As we practice walking up the stairs in place of the elevator, so Jesus invites us to practice loving one another. One person at a time. As best you can. Take a pause to breathe and let your heart rate catch up! Do it in community with a community of others seeking the same practice. If we practice loving one another, one person at a time, one day at a time, not saying the needling word, not needing always to be right, not giving up on people because they’re old and not really making sense, not letting someone do themselves a harm without speaking up honestly about what we see, not letting our police get away with arresting people and even killing people because they are black, if we just PRACTICE this, WE WILL FIND OURSELVES ABIDING IN LOVE, riven things among other riven things, confronting, forgiving, giving, caring, noticing, seeking each other. BELONGING TO EACH OTHER, through thick and thin, in happy times and sad, when it’s easy and when it’s incalculably discouraging and HARD. There’s no shortcut. It involves dying to ourselves in tiny ways and huge, encompassing, life-threatening ways. It has as much doubt mixed in as faith, as much dark as light. Ruth & Jim Padilla DeBorst, I know well, if they were here, would say this, and would model this practice to you. I do my best. We can only do our best. And our best is enough, because the grace of the Holy Spirit is with us, in surprising, even astonishing ways. And the fruit of this practice is joy, as Jesus says: I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.”


Because “God goes belonging to every riven thing he’s made.” AMEN.


Sermon for 5 Easter Year B 5-3-15


Audio recording of Sermon for 5 Easter


5 Easter Year B 5-3-15

© Holly Lyman Antolini

Lections: Acts 8: 26-40; Ps. 22: 24-30; 1 John 4: 7-21; John 15: 1-8


"May the poor AT LAST eat and be satisfied, O God, and we who seek you, praise you: May your heart live for ever!" AMEN.


In a week when the earth has been torn and shaken by the devastating earthquake in Nepal and our hearts have been torn and shaken into protest and even violence by the severing of the spinal cord of young Freddie Gray in police custody in Baltimore, we might hear these words of John’s First Letter almost as a faint, pleading echo:

Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God... No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God lives in us, and his love is perfected in us… God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them…”

I remember learning Greek in seminary by translating this exact passage from the First Letter of John and I remember how my heart sang EVEN in GREEK CLASS at these words. If we love one another we will literally SEE GOD. We will HAVE GOD IN OURSELVES. But as we watch the frustration and outrage ferment and boil over in Baltimore, our spirits cry out in anguish, saying, “It just isn’t possible! We just can’t seem to DO IT!”


Given the challenges we feel so acutely to the prospect of “loving one another” across the chasms of systemic racial, economic and social discrimination that fragment and polarize us in the United States, this seems like the week to learn about the work and life of Maggy Barankitse.  Maggy Barankitse is a resident of the rural town of Ruyigi in south east Burundi, the small country neighboring Rwanda.  Tragically, Burundi – where our Missions-grant-funded congregation member Jodi Mikalachki served first with the Mennonites and then in her education mission “On the Ground in Burundi” from 2008 until she moved to Kenya last year – shares with the better-known Rwanda the bloody history of genocide and civil war between Hutus & Tutsis, peoples whose ethnic distinction is uncertain but who culturally have been lethally set off against each other. In 1972, anywhere from 80,000 to 200,000 Hutus were slaughtered by the Tutsi-dominated Burundian Army, and in 1993, the unrest swelled again alongside the Rwandan genocide, bursting into a civil war that ground on until a peace was negotiated in 2005, and a democratically elected President put in place for two terms only. Just this week, that President, Pierre Nkurunziza has declared his intention to seek a third term in violation of the peace agreement, and unrest again is visibly rising in Burundi. It is as if this corner of the world, far from “abiding in love,” is “abiding in hate” between Hutu & Tutsi. And the dread fruits of that encompassing hatred swell again and again like some awful harvest of violence.


In the midst of all this tension, hostility, violence & despair lives Maggy Barankitse, pursuing her remarkable enterprise, the Maison Shalom, the House of Christ’s Resurrection Peace. Maggy is no stranger to this ethnic enmity. A Roman Catholic Tutsi herself, she was working at the Roman Catholic Bishop’s Residence in Ruyigi, on a staff that included both Hutu & Tutsi working peacefully together. In 1993, when genocidal violence erupted again, Tutsis – some Maggy’s own cousins and relatives – burst into the compound, stripping Maggy naked and tying her to a stake as punishment for what they viewed as her “collaboration” with Hutus. They proceeded to murder 72 of her colleagues – priests & nuns and lay staff – in front of her eyes, including her best friend, the Hutu Juliette, who was beheaded deliberately in front of her. Juliette’s last plea was that Maggy would raise her two children.


Maggy did so and then some. Now, more than 20 years later, through 12 years of war and 10 of peace, Maggy Barankitse has raised not only her own 7 adopted children and Juliette’s two, but has touched the lives of some 30,000 Burundian orphans, survivors of war and genocide, Hutu and Tutsi together, in the growing settlement she calls “Maison Shalom.” Beginning by burying all 72 of her fallen colleagues, she has raised houses in which orphans form their own family groupings for loving solidarity and inter-ethnic cooperation, has created schools to educate them, and as they have grown to adulthood, has encouraged and led them to form a whole host of cooperative enterprises on the site, including agricultural cooperatives, a hair salon, a mechanics’ garage, a tailoring and seamstering enterprise, a hospital and nurses’ training school, even a micro-financing system. “She works to break the cycle of violence. Throughout the war, [Maison Shalom] lived as a testament to peace.” [“Faith & Leadership,” Leadership Education, Duke Divinity]


On the killing field of the original 72 themselves, in the center of the Maison Shalom compound, Maggy has built a swimming pool, a place for fun and relaxation for the children of Maison Shalom, but also a place to remember baptism, a baptismal memorial to Maggy’s deep faith that in Christ, death – even such devastating death – teaches us how to forgive, and how to live in love. “’Shalom’ was born to say ‘no’ to the war, to say ‘yes’ to love, ‘yes’ to life,” says Maggy. “I am Christian and I know that it is our human vocation to love.” “I believe in this dignity that God gave us. We want peace. We want love. We believe in that.” “God created us, gave us, with our baptism, with our communion, strength with that.” "Love has made me an inventor,” says Maggy Barankitse, and "Every day I improvise new life."


Has Maggy ever doubted her vision? Has she struggled with God following the tragedies that repeat and repeat themselves around her? “Of course,” she says. “The first day, after seeing my friend die, and all those killers that I know -- because among those killers were also my family [members], some of my cousins -- I went in the chapel and I said, ‘Oh God, my mom lied to me, because she taught me that you are love. How can you create -- how can I belong to those killers? I don’t believe that you are love.’ And when I was crying, I heard the voice of my first adoptive child, Chloe, who said, ‘No, she didn’t lie to you. We’re still in life; we are there.’ This was the first miracle, and then I saw that God was love. But in 1996 I crashed, because, again, they killed so many people. And I went to see them. So many mothers -- I found those bodies. I took many children, mutilated children, and one without a mouth. And I wanted, with my own forces, to do something. And I lost my voice. Then I decided to break this [despair], and I went to pray for one month. After that I decided to be humble, and to say, ‘It’s not me; it’s the hand of God.’ And I prayed, ‘Oh God, you are God and I am a little instrument. Give me enough strength to go and to [shine] your glory. Not me but you.’” Out of that prayer came a cinema for the children – “because everyone needs to dream” – and the hospital, and all these proliferating cooperatives, and the unimaginable, unconquerable joy that bubbles from the laughter of Maggy’s thousands of children in the videos of Maison Shalom. Every morning, says Maggy, her first thought upon waking is a prayer, always the same prayer: “"Let your miracles break forth every day and let me not be an obstacle in any way."


The children of Maison Shalom “rebuilt my heart,” testifies Maggy. “They give me hope. I know that evil will never take the last word.” And she repeats it emphatically, “Never. Never.”

[M. Barankitse quotes:]


“There is no fear in love,” says John in his First Letter, “but perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love. We love because he first loved us.” This morning, as struggle to comprehend the damage and loss of life on the scale of Nepal, as we absorb the brutal reality that six officers in Baltimore have been charged with homicide, manslaughter, and misconduct in the unwarranted arrest of Freddie Gray, an innocent man possessed only of a small legal knife, and the subsequent lethal mistreatment of him in custody, we NEED to remember how loved Freddie Gray is, how loved WE are, how loved even those police officers are, how loved and mourned and cherished the people of Nepal are by a God who longs for reconciliation, a God who gave up God’s omnipotence, God’s immunity to mortality, and came among us in love, lived in love, and even died in love to invite US to find in ourselves a love for each other – ALL OTHERS – a love that extends beyond death, a love that, like Maggy Barankitse’s, CAN bring about RECONCILIATION, can bring about RESURRECTION, because in that love, GOD ABIDES AMONG US, WITHIN US. AMEN.


Sermon for 4 Easter B 4-26-15


Audio recording of Sermon for Easter 4


4 Easter Year B 4-26-15

©Holly Lyman Antolini

Lections: Acts  Ps. 23; 1 John 3:16-24; John 10: 11-18


Yea, though we walk through the valley of the shadow of death, we will fear no evil, for you, O God, are with us.  AMEN.


Jesus said, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.”

Or as the First Letter of John says, “We know love by this, that he laid down his life for us-- and we ought to lay down our lives for one another. How does God's love abide in anyone who has the world's goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses help? Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action.”


You might say these passages have a certain piquancy for me this morning in my role as shepherd of our seminarian intern Didi, as she has been preparing to preach today, but at 7 PM last night, called to say she’d be unable to do so due to a medical treatment. So I’ve been laying down my life – or my sleep, anyway! – for the sheep since then, preparing to preach!


We ought to lay down our lives for one another.  We know how Jesus did this, literally accepting his public humiliation and death on our behalf, showing us the way most graphically. Of course, when he offers the Good Shepherd image to his disciples in Chapter 10 of the Gospel, his followers don’t know that’s what lies ahead. But we know it, coming fresh from Holy Week and Easter. We’ve washed each other’s feet on Maundy Thursday and received afresh the “new commandment” to love one another as Jesus loved us. We’ve venerated the Cross on Good Friday. We can’t pretend to be naïve about the extremity of what Jesus intends when he says “lay down your life.”


Aid workers American Warren Weinstein and Italian Giovanni Lo Porto knew what it meant to “lay down one’s life,” though neither of them went to Pakistan intending to die. Each went there intending to improve the lives of Pakistanis. Weinstein, an economic advisor, had been in Pakistan for years, wearing the traditional shalwar kameez clothing and speaking Urdu fluently, when he was kidnapped by Al Qaeda in 2011. Lo Porto, experienced from having worked in many other difficult situations around the world, was hired by the German non-profit Welthungerhilfe in October 2011 to manage a sanitation and clean drinking water project after the heavy floods in Pakistan that began in 2010. He had only been in the country a week in 2012 when he was kidnapped by Al Qaeda. Years into their captivity, the two men were killed this January in a drone strike on their captors launched without intelligence revealing their presence and vulnerability. Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action.” Surely, Lo Porto and Weinstein loved just so, far beyond “word or speech,” their bodies deployed “in truth & action” to help others, whatever the risk.


But Lo Porto and Weinstein’s example doesn’t mean that to follow Jesus, we must put ourselves in harm’s way if we are truly to demonstrate love. There are many ways – and many layers – to “laying down our lives for one another.” The


First Letter of John offers one right off the bat: “How does God's love abide in anyone who has the world's goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses help?” We’ve spent a lot of time talking about just what that means in our Lenten “Discovering God’s Economy” bible study class. The class has been a fascinating exploration of our economic life as individuals, in light of the biblical witness about the fundamental importance of our economic relationships with one another. Because we tend to avoid talking about money in our society, it’s rare to sit with a group of people and explore the ways in which our money does or doesn’t work for the general welfare as well as our own. In fact, money too often prevents relationship instead of facilitating it, since we tend to hide our portion of “the world’s goods” in embarrassment, either because we don’t want people to know how MUCH we have, or because we don’t want them to know how LITTLE. In the “Discovering God’s Economy” class, we’re committed not just to becoming sophisticated about how our personal money is or isn’t facilitating the well-being of others, but further, to INVESTING TOGETHER in a small business locally with a micro-loan that could be transformative for that business, pooling our resources to make that happen, and looking for a small business which will facilitate greater growth in our local economy. We’re planning to pool resources not just at St. James’s but potentially also with our former assistant, the Rev. Edwin Johnson now priest-in-charge at  St. Mary’s Dorchester and the St. Mary’s group that is undertaking the same bible study.


Is this literally “laying down our lives?” Probably not. But is it making a sacrifice first of openness and honesty with each other about our financial lives, something we are not encouraged culturally to do? And then a sacrifice literally of our resources to make a new future possible for our fellow citizen, and any that citizen is then able to hire?


Then take the massive earthquake – 7.8 on the Richter scale, and I can tell you, having been in a 7.1 earthquake in California in 1989 and having watched brick-and-concrete walls undulate with the intensity, 7.8 is huge, an unimaginable force released in the earth – that just occurred in Nepal early yesterday morning, precipitating avalanches & pulverizing hundreds-of-years-old temples and buildings and killing thousands. How does that affect us at St. James’s? It turns out the Nepali Community Church is our literal neighbor! They remembered the victims at their weekly 5 p.m. service yesterday, held in Hope Fellowship Church, right across from us on Beech St. The congregation of just 35 members plans to publish information on how people can donate money to help victims on its website, Global Mission Nepal. “How does God's love abide in anyone who has the world's goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses help?


But is “laying down our life” always economic? Ask any parent. Do we not lay down our lives in a million different ways, from listening carefully to a child when we thought we were too tired to pay attention to anything, to keeping quiet when we know a child needs to experiment and makes her own choices even if we suspect their choices may lead to struggle or pain? And on from there: the sacrifice of time to attend the games and rehearsals and drive to lessons and pay for the lessons? The patience with noise and ruckus? The willingness to suspend our own desires and let our children become what THEY discern is best for them? Or the even-more fraught matter of laying down our lives by being firm when a child really needs correction and needs to feel the consequences of bad choices?


I’ve just spent the weekend inventorying my parents’ books as part of our estate work. It has been quite a journey, because it turns out it isn’t just my parents’ wildly eclectic collection of books, but those of generations before them. I found a family bible from my mother’s side of the family with a family tree folded into it, listing a dozen children born between 1739 and 1765. (Talk about laying down your life: think of their MOTHER!)


It all brought to mind an indelible memory I have of my own dad, “laying down his life for us” as President of Stanford in the years of serious contention and controversy in the era of the Vietnam War (which he personally opposed) and Civil Rights (which he deeply believed in and supported). The Students for Democratic Society (the SDS) threatened violent protest of the university’s cooperation with the “military industrial complex,” and the Black Panthers demonstrated against the dearth of black faculty and black students, and the Native Americans, newly discovering their own political clout, protested the “Indian” mascot for the Stanford sports teams, and wherever my dad went, even to a dinner in a student dormitory, fierce controversy would break out. The Board of Trustees – a notably conservative body then – disliked my dad’s willingness to boot the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps – the ROTC – off campus and his reservations about fraternity organizations and his decision to nix the “Indian” mascot. (It has always been my sadness that Stanford went instead with “the Cardinals” instead of the obvious choice, “The Robber Barons,” given Leland Stanford’s own economic well-spring!) There was literally nowhere my dad could turn where he would be gratefully received. Yet he kept making decisions that expanded the diversity of the student body and protected his most deeply held value of “academic freedom,” even when his decisions made him popular with no one. I was a teenager at the time, living at home and watching the tensions mount. We even had rocks and bottles of red paint thrown through our windows one night, including the window next to my bedroom, and for weeks afterward, had to thread our way through the Rube Goldberg alarm mechanisms jerry-rigged around our house by enterprising engineering students to keep us safe, setting off alarms at every turn! And I rode my bike six miles to high school every day – good Earth Day supporter that I was – worrying the whole way that the Symbionese Liberation Army, who had just recently kidnapped wealthy heiress Patty Hearst, might try to nab me in front of the VA Hospital on my way to school. I learned much from my front-row seat on the handling of intense conflict in those years. They made me a fervent moderate! But they also taught me that there are times of intense polarization when, as a leader, you must make decisions no one really likes, and live with the consequences. Such is “laying down one’s life.”


What have YOU had to do, laying down your life for others? Who has laid down their life for YOU? How does Jesus’ sacrifice bring love alive in YOUR life?



Sermon for 3 Easter Year B 4-19-15


Audio recording of Sermon for 3 Easter


3 Easter Year B 4-19-15

©Holly Lyman Antolini

Lections: Acts 3:12-19; Ps. 4; 1 John 3:1-7; Luke 24:36b-48


Many are saying, "Oh that we might see better times!" Lift up the light of your countenance upon us, O Lord. You have put gladness in our hearts, more than when grain & wine & oil increase… for only you, Lord, make us dwell in safety." Amen.


"Open the eyes of our faith, that we may behold the Risen Christ in all his redeeming work!" So cries our Collect to open our worship today, the Third Sunday of Easter, the third Sunday of the season of the resurrection.


"Open the eyes of our faith!" Those words, based in our Luke’s Gospel passage for today, were first drafted in the early part of the 20th century for the 1928 Book of Common Prayer. But are they not still our "cri de coeur," our 21st century "cry of the heart" to God? As in a nightmare which we dimly perceive to be a dream and not reality, we struggle to open our eyes from everything that seems wrong in the world to see God, touch God, taste God, know God, TRUST God in God's redeeming work amid such conditions that make us long to "see better times," as Psalm 4 says. Even as wonders surround us - wonders unimaginable to that early-20th century crafter of the Collect, let alone to those 1st-century citizens who rushed to see the miracle of the lame man walking and leaping in the Beautiful Gate, in the healing story that precedes Peter’s sermon in the Acts 3 passage we read today – even as such wonders continue to erupt all around us - Apple watches and genetically targeted cancer meds and drone-freighted same-day deliveries and arm prostheses whose mechanical fingertips can feel - we struggle more and more, it seems, to see the hand of God in all God's works, considering these wonders instead to be simply our own agency at work.


So, in case I should find myself unable to open my eyes from the nightmare of our local and global challenges in this season of resurrection in order to behold the wonders of my life as the works of God's grace that they are, it's helpful to me to step outside at evening, as we did on Easter Eve before the lighting of the new fire at the beginning of the Great Vigil, and look up into the unfathomable dome of the sky and see the bright eye of Venus in the West, outshining all else like a benediction upon the unfolding of spring around us. Behind her planetary beam, as the night deepens, Aldébaran appears above her, a “first-magnitude star, in the brightness system begun by the ancient Greeks and still used by astronomers today… the brightest, ‘first’ class of stars.” And deeper into darkness come the Pleiades, a “little star cluster… the size of your fingertip at arm’s length.” To our wondering eye, the stars seem so close to Venus, yet we know that while she is 10 “light-minutes” away – 110 million miles – Aldebaran is 65 light-YEARS or 390 million miles in the background, while the Pleiades are seven times farther still, a nearly inconceivable 440 light-years. “Even in our own solar system, the size of space daunts the mind. A bedazzled Johannes Kepler, who worked out the solar system’s detailed architecture in the early 17th century, is said to have declared, ‘Oh what matter the cares of mankind! How much emptiness there is among things!” [He, in turn, undertook his] great measuring project from the approximations of [the formidable 16th century astronomer] Copernicus, who had correctly figured out that the solid Earth is itself a planet moving through space like the rest, and that all circle the sun,” a notion that constituted heresy in his day – akin to translation of the Bible into English for blasphemy – against the deeply-held conviction that the Earth – God’s green Earth – was at the center of all things universal. Copernicus was upending the order of all things. But his theories were born out by the Dane Tycho Brahe, later in the 16th century, as he began “making the most precise measures of heavenly bodies’ positions that the human eye could make, using the best sighting instruments that his wealth could engineer (the telescope not yet having been invented).” Thus with Brahe’s measurements was Kepler able to flesh out Copernicus’ theories, and in confirming them, destabilize and revolutionize our sense of our place in God’s plan. [Alan MacRobert, “The brightness of Venus rules the sky in the spring,” Boston Globe, 4-4-15]


The sheer scope of the night sky’s luminous beauty in spring, and the monumental arc of human knowledge of that sky’s contents, and the human courage in pursuing that knowledge from Copernicus to Brahe to Kepler and now to vehicles flying to unimaginable distances amongst the comets and planets and stars and sending back photographs of what they see with their camera eyes, and then too, the ferocious impetus driving that ever-extending arc, that propels our scientific effort to define the empirical truth with ever-greater accuracy: all of these highly concrete, touchable, visible, audible, mathematically verifiable things are, to the eyes of my faith, windows into the majesty and might of God and the power of God for LIFE that overcomes death: the redemptive, liberating power of resurrection.


And that’s not even TOUCHING Carl Sagan’s reminders that our eyes, our ears, our nerve-endings, our sheer human existence itself is “’star-stuff,’ as he called it in his book ‘The Cosmic Connection…’ the iron in our blood, the calcium in our bones and the oxygen we breathe [being] the physical remains – ashes, if you will – of stars that lived and died long ago.” “Science continues to show just how intimately connected life on Earth is to extraterrestrial processes…illuminat[ing] the cosmic origins of life’s key ingredients. Take element phosphorus, for example. It is a critical constituent of DNA, as well as of our cells, teeth and bones. Astronomers have long struggled to trace its buildup through cosmic history, because the imprint of phosphorus is difficult to discern in old, cool stars in the outskirts of our galaxy. (Some of these stellar ‘time capsules’ contain the ashes of their forebears, the very first generation of stars that formed near the dawn of time.)” But in a paper published [just last December] in The Astrophysical Journal Letters, a research team reported that it had measured the abundance of phosphorus in 13 such stars, using data taken from the Hubble Space Telescope. Their findings highlight the dominant role of so-called hypernovae – explosions even more energetic than supernovae that spell the demise of massive stars – in making the elements essential for life. [And] more than just atoms were produced in the celestial realm. Growing evidence suggests that interstellar space was also where atoms united to make some molecules pertinent for life. A study published last fall in [the journal] Science, for example, used computer simulations to establish the provenance of Earth’s water. Its surprising verdict: Up to half the water on our planet is older than the solar system itself. Ancient water molecules assembled in the chilly confines of a gigantic gas cloud. That cloud spawned our sun and the planets that orbit it – and somehow those ancient water molecules survived the perils of the planetary birth process to end up in our oceans and, presumably, our bodies.” [Ray Jayawardhana, “Our cosmic selves,” Boston Globe, 4-5-15]


I could go on about the unveiling of the mystery of the building blocks of our being and our ancestral relationship to planets and far-distant stars, amino acids found in meteorites and the “stellar nursery of a carbon-bearing molecule with a ‘branched’ structure…’boding well’ for the presence of amino acids [akin to that in our own amino acids, in] …the coldest bits of galaxy, where the alchemy of life is presumed to have begun.” The redemptive work of the Risen Christ: life being born and born again out of death. [Ibid.]


None of this suggests that the eyes of our faith cannot cope with the meticulous measurements and observations, the self-critique and self-correction of modern science. This careful empiricism is, in fact, the source of yet more wonder and amazement, if we can open the eyes of our faith to behold it. In fact, it invites the “eyes of our faith” to give us much-needed spiritual ballast in the dizzying and disorienting unfolding of so much knowledge, and the uncertainty it lends to the whole enterprise of human life, since what we believe now may be utterly belied by what we learn next, and what we are able to do now can be rendered so quickly obsolete by the enterprising engine of human creativity and human imagination and human curiosity that the Holy Spirit – in concert with those primordial amino acids, undoubtedly! – fuels in our ever-fertile, ever-restless brains.


Muslim poet Allama Iqbal, crafter of beauty and insight in the languages of Persian and Urdu, grasps this gyrating unfolding of life out of death when he writes,

The illusion is comfort, stability

In truth every grain of Creation pulsates

The caravan of form never rests

Every instance a fresh manifestation of its glory

You think Life is the mystery; Life is

     but the rapture of flight.

[Aatish Taseer, “How English Ruined Indian Literature,” New York Times Sunday Review, 3-22-15]


When the pulsating grains of Creation are visible in the swelling of tulips and the vibrating throats of returning cardinals, we have no trouble joining in their dance with gladness.  But when they are revealing our terrible assumptions in the bullet holes in the back of a black man shot by a white cop when fleeing a traffic stop or in the decimated body of small Martin Richard, tragically close to a terrorist’s pressure cooker bomb in the joyous crowd of spectators at the Boston Marathon, or in the devastatingly increasing freight of carbon in our atmosphere, its own gigantic pressure cooker threatening to explode the mystery of life as we know it on earth, we have a far more difficult time appreciating their redemptive power.


So that's when it's helpful to hear the testimony of one who survived the very worst of the worst of human atrocity, incarceration at Auschwitz concentration camp under the Nazis for the simple fact of being Jewish. Dr. Edith Eger, a young Hungarian woman then, made to dance on command at age 16 for the evil Dr. Mengele, whose idea of "science" masked what was actually torture on a massive scale, speaks of her survival and resilience many decades later in the program “Seeds of Resilience," shown this week on PBS television to honor the memory of the Holocaust. She relates, "I shook my fist @ God [in the camp]. 'Where are you?' And then somehow slowly I began to hand things over [to God], all that I thought was humanly not possible… ‘I'm here and I'm going to do everything that is humanly possible… I'm not gonna give in… I'm not gonna give up:’ [I would think.] That, slowly, somehow, gave me some assurance that God is love. That the love will be the answer…[When I danced for him,] Dr. Mengele gave me a piece of bread and I shared it w the girls. And when I was in the Death March [in January of '45 when Auschwitz was being evacuated because the Russians were coming], I began to slow down and I didn't think I could make it and you couldn't stop because they would shoot you right away. So the girls I had given the bread to made a chair w their arms and they carried me so I wouldn't die. Isn't that amazing? That the worst can bring out the best in us? [Remember,] …I was talking to God, and I think it made a difference that somehow I'm going to be FOR something. I'm going to choose life. [After the war, in America] I became a clinical psychologist [working with many recovering from depression and trauma,] and I learned to help others… I pick up people's broken pieces… I hope I was able to contribute something so [my] children and the grandchildren [and the great-grand-children] can be the survivors and never the victims. And I'd like to be remembered as someone who did everything in their power to see to it that we can enhance each other about differences. So we can hold hand in hand and form a human family so we can survive on this planet.” And then she says, perhaps most astoundingly of all, “Auschwitz is my cherished wound.”


So let us pray:

Open the eyes of our faith, O Risen Christ, that amid the swift and varied changes inherent in our amazing unfolding unpredictable and often harrowing world, pulsating with the rapture of flight, we will not cling to old assumptions, old prejudices and old histories and the death-dealing strictures of outworn moralities but will, instead, claim the liberation of your love, and truly trust that we are all of us children of God, only waiting for our divinity to be revealed in us as we know God more and more, so we can hold hand in hand and form a human family, so indeed we can survive on this planet.” AMEN.


Sermon for Easter Sunday, 4-5-15


Audio recording of Sermon for Easter Sunday


Easter Sunday

©Holly Lyman Antolini

Lections: Isaiah 25:6-9; Ps. 118: 1,2; 14-24;  Acts 10:34-43; Mark 16:1-8


On this day the LORD has acted; we will rejoice and be glad in it! AMEN! 


On this mountain the LORD of hosts will make for all peoples, a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wines, of rich food filled with marrow, of well-aged wines strained clear. And he will destroy on this mountain the shroud that is cast over all peoples, the sheet that is spread over all nations; he will swallow up death forever.


Holy Monday, I got a call from a nurse friend, out of the blue, asking whether I might come bring communion to someone in the hematology/oncology unit at Boston Medical Center, out at the other end of Massachusetts Ave. The patient was awaiting a test that would determine if, as all the staff attending him thought, he was nearing the end of his life. He was Roman Catholic and had had last rites from a priest, but he was asking for communion and no one was available from the Roman Catholic Church to bring it.


My nurse friend knew I was Episcopalian but he had an instinct that I might be acceptable to this very faithful lifelong Roman Catholic, so he offered my services, diffidently, checking to make sure that a woman Episcopal priest might be an acceptable substitute for a Roman Catholic. The patient was happy to have communion from anyone who would bring it.


So I arrived, communion kit in hand, to meet this complete stranger, thin to the point of translucency, and translucent too to the light of grace, shining in his kindly face, nearing – if not AT the end of his life – awaiting me in an examination room with his partner of 30 years, both of them so eager to be held in the bonds of the Eucharist. Hospital staff, who had been attending this man for more than fifteen years as he combated the blood cancer that was finally getting the upper hand, clustered into the tiny room to share in the communion.


What we did together in that sunlit room was very simple indeed. We prayed the Collect for Holy Monday, reminding ourselves that God’s dear Child went not up to joy but first he suffered pain, and entered not into glory before he was crucified, and asking God mercifully to grant that we, too, walking in the way
of the cross, may find it none other than the way of life and peace.  Though I had not yet focused on the fact that it is our Easter Sunday First Lesson, we read this very Isaiah passage we read today – the story of God’s ultimate Feast, the Feast to End All Feasts, full of rich food and fine wine – chocolate & strawberries for all – all gathered, not ONE left out of Eternal Life. We reminded ourselves that if eternity really is eternity, it is NOW & ALWAYS, not some time in the future. We reminded ourselves that even as life is slipping away, we held in that eternity if we act toward each other in love. That even though the patient and his partner – faithful Catholics that they are – had chosen, as people of the same gender, NOT to marry each other, they were held together in the bonds of love and would ever be so. Then, seeking a palpable way to remember that Jesus’ kingdom of the resurrection does not exist in some abstracted, purified realm but is OUR LIFE HERE & NOW, IN OUR MIDST, imperfect and broken and painful and wounded and left out and overlooked as we often are, and that we are ALL included in that kingdom, that commonwealth of love, that we don’t have to “qualify” into it but are invited in AS WE ARE, forgiven, loved & free, we broke the bread and shared it and the wine, partaking of – PARTICIPATING IN – Christ’s resurrection together.


It was as simple as is our little tribe of seven parishioners who are bringing eye drops to our frail elderly congregation member this week following her cataract surgery, because she cannot be trusted to remember that she needs them. For decades here at St. James’s, she devoted every Wednesday night to rehearsal and every Sunday morning to choir, never missing a one, until she stopped remembered what day it was, or even that it was day and not night. So every evening for a week, a different congregation member is traveling to her house in the dark of night to put the drops she needs in her eyes. A little testimony of its own to the power of love, to the power of resurrection.


Let’s reflect for a moment on Mark’s own strange little resurrection story, which ends with the women at the tomb amazed, stunned, afraid. “Gob-stoppered,” as my mother used to say, referring in a terrible image to the huge balls of sugar candy sold to children in the England of my childhood, so-called “gob-stoppers” because if you inhaled at the wrong moment, they could “stop your gob!” In our lectio divina prayer group last Tuesday morning, one of us pointed out that the women, who had been on their way simply to tend the body of their beloved Jesus, had absolutely no idea whatsoever that he would be alive again. It was as radically far outside the realm of possibility for them as it is for us now! They wended their way to the stone-blocked tomb with no hope whatsoever that they would find anything but a corpse there, if they could even get in past the huge blockage across the tomb’s mouth at all, which they doubted.


But here’s what moved me this time that I read this story. Before they had any idea of finding anything but obstacles and death, the women went to the tomb anyway. Even without hope. They packed up their ointments and headed for the tomb purely out of love. Hopeless love, perhaps. Jesus, after all, was dead, and with him all their hopes for the Messiah to save them or their benighted, oppressed country. It would be hard to express how deeply hopeless they would have felt, they, whose hope had risen so fiercely in support of Jesus’ campaign through the Galilean and then the Judean countryside, all the way to the Temple seeking triumphal victory in Jerusalem, the seat of power. Instead, Jesus had been deeply dishonored and humiliated, and then killed. A crushing outcome to all they had expected. But still they came to the tomb. They ACTED HOPE even if they didn’t FEEL HOPE. They ACTED IN LOVE. And they LOVED Jesus despite his dishonor and his disastrous death. And lo: when they arrived, the stone was rolled away, and the tomb empty. Jesus had gone before them. Jesus – the resurrected Jesus – is going before us, inviting us to follow.


I don’t always turn to the Boston Globe for my theology. But this week, thanks to a tip from our usher and Vestry member Nancy McArdle, I read the opinion piece Brandon Ambrosino wrote on “Jesus’ Radical Politics.” Ambrosino had much of value to say, but his final words are these:


Open your eyes. This kingdom you’re talking about — where the last are first, where the outsiders are preferred — is not here. There is war. There is evil. There is death and rape and racism and unemployment and sex trafficking. There is a brutally agonizing world here and now, and to pretend otherwise is either naive or morally bankrupt.


But Easter doesn’t deny these things. After all, even the resurrected body of Jesus contains crucifixion scars, which are Jesus’ eternal reminder that he was murdered by the very people he came to save. What Easter teaches is this: Even in the midst of the kingdom you’re living in, it’s possible to actually pledge loyalty to a different one. By feeding the hungry, forgiving your enemies, and providing shelter for the homeless, [by bringing eye drops to our frail elders and communion to those left out of the circle of communion and to those who are dying, by companioning those who have no companions at all], you can actually choose to live in the kingdom Jesus established.


Hope, then, is not a spiritual thing, or a reflective exercise; it’s decidedly physical. If you believe Jesus was raised from the dead, the obligation that Jesus puts upon you is to meet people’s physical needs. ‘Do not abandon yourselves to despair,’ said Pope John Paul II. ‘We are the Easter people, and alleluia is our song.’”



Pack up your ointments, dear Easter people, even when your anointing seems utterly useless and pointless. Assemble your communion kit. Jesus is risen and you are inhabiting his kingdom of love. ACT LIKE IT, EVEN IF YOU DON’T FEEL LIKE IT! You have NO IDEA HOW THE STONE WILL BE ROLLED AWAY, let alone how NEW LIFE CAN POSSIBLY COME. How healing can come. How meaning and joy can come. It’s in God’s hands. And those hands – Jesus’ hands – are full of love and promise for you and for us all. AMEN. ALLELUIA!!!