Notes from our Pastor, April 2018

It is helpful if we see the whole process of Good Friday through Easter, usually referred to as the Triduum, as one integrated whole. The Church affirms that the death of Jesus is not separable from his Resurrection, nor is it possible to consider the Resurrection unless it’s in the context of his death by crucifixion. To appreciate this, we have to change our perspective away from the human perspective focused on the human drama of the human Christ. That drama is set against the competing political forces that serve as the backdrop of the narrative moving from Palm Sunday through his death and entombment, and then reversed on Easter morning with the empty tomb. The Church has always used this human perspective on events to flesh out the liturgies of Holy Week. We embrace this rich human perspective on these highly emotionally charged events for they put us in touch with the humanity of Jesus. His human nature is also carried over into his Resurrection, where it is not just a spirit that walks among his followers but the bodily presence of Christ as well.

As an alternative, however, I’m suggesting here is to take a “cosmic” perspective, such as that expressed by this New Testament author:

Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever. (Hebrews 13:8)

How can the historical person of Jesus of Nazareth possible fit the eternal nature the author of Hebrews presents?

First, we can try to understand afresh the mighty works of this Jesus–allowing himself to be betrayed and taken prisoner, accepting suffering at the hands of the Romans, and offering up his life willingly to the cruelest form of physical death on the Cross. These all constitute one movement, the final culmination of Jesus’ Incarnation. His willing acts of self-offering unite his conception, his birth, and his earthly life and ministry—all bearing fruit in his death. The same Jesus who died is then raised by the Father as a sign of triumph over death and the forces of destruction. In Jesus’ Resurrection, God manifests the essence of God is found in life and the promise of eternal life. Jesus is restored to life so that his disciples and followers may be witnesses of God’s work, and that ultimately Christ may return freely to that heavenly place whence he came as the final seal of his authority and eternal nature.

We need to understand the events of Holy Week in Jerusalem in 29 or 30 CE are not simply historical developments that came about by a series of human processes, but that they must have been part of a divine plan. Neither the opposition of the Pharisees, nor the plotting of the Temple hierarchy, nor even the Roman power of execution actually brought about Jesus’ death. The Gospels tell us of these movements, but they are only the immediate, “efficient” reasons for Christ’s death. Seen as the ultimate act of God’s plan of salvation for us, the road to the Cross has a much longer course. If not from the beginning of our human history, the impetus toward Christ’s death came at least from the time when the Godhead knew humanity had become estranged and sought to return it to wholeness and life. In a word, God’s plan of salvation for our species represents the ancient desire of God to reconcile us. That is why John’s Gospel begins,

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. (John 1:1-4)

Within that timeless, cosmic framework, the purpose of God takes a definite form, leading to the Incarnation:

And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth. (John 1:14)

The divine theological perspective declares the willingness of the Son to become human preceded the actual act of the Incarnation pronunciation to Mary. Before the Gospels were composed, Paul quoted what appears to be even to him an ancient hymn declaring how God was working through the “emptying” of the Son:

Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,

who, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God
as something to be exploited,
but emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form,
he humbled himself
and became obedient to the point of death—
even death on a Cross.
Therefore, God also highly exalted him
and gave him the name
that is above every name,
so that at the name of Jesus
every knee should bend,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue should confess
that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.
(Philippians 2:5-11)

From this perspective, all that Jesus does on the earth is working towards God’s agenda and his task of redemption. God’s love is the ultimate sign of union with human beings, and God is the ultimate mover behind the Passion and Crucifixion. Only through the ultimate resignation of all the glory of being God can Jesus become our Savior. The crowning glory of being God’s Anointed and King over us is found in the miserable Cross. But we know that is not the end of the story, for God raised Christ, and in the mystery of the Resurrection, concepts of human agency fail. Both in his humanity (such as showing the marks of the nails to Thomas) and in the spiritual nature of his Resurrection (entering through lock doors and appearing in various places in some supernatural way), Christ finally reveals to those who follow him who it is they have been following all along.

The last word of the story is not the disappearance of Christ but seeing his ascension as the seal of the ever-presence of Christ. Hence our proclamation of faith:

Christ has died (past tense in the realm of history);
Christ is risen (continuing present tense having put off death forever);
Christ will come again (future tense)

We put our hope and trust in that last phrase and measure our own lives in the light of the risen Christ. From the “cosmic” perspective of understanding his Incarnation, Passion, Resurrection and Ascension, we can best understand who Jesus Christ is and his central role in all of human history. He represents the continual will of the Eternal One, ever seeking to reconcile us to God by his most precious acts of self-giving love.

Bill

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Notes from Our Pastor March 2018 – Approaching Holy Week

holyweek

At the end of this month, we observe Holy Week, with all the drama of Christ’s betrayal, trial, suffering, and death presented within the services. Not only is this the most moving time of the Church year, but it always reveals for me new possibilities of how I (and perhaps you as well) can see myself in the various personae who comprise this drama.  While we are aware that behind the scenes, God is directing all actions toward the ultimate act of love in Jesus’ Crucifixion, nevertheless, the action is also accomplished by each human player’s personal choices and actions, whether faithful or not.  The God of history works with and through human beings and we can never escape responsibility for our freedom to choose and to act.

To illustrate this, focus upon Pontius Pilate, who is neither Jew nor disciple of Jesus, and who, among all the characters, appears to have the most earthly power at his disposal and should therefore be able to act freely to his own ends.  There are many explication and comments that should be made when reading John’s Gospel as a whole, and particularly with reference to his treatments of “the Jews,” but right now let’s accept the drama as the gospel presents it to us as part of the Passion Gospel which we read every Good Friday during the service.1 Within this extended reading, we can focus on Pilate and learn from him.

The historical Pontius Pilate was anything but merciful or tenderhearted; in the end, the Emperor removed him from his position as prefect (or governor) in Judea because of notorious cruelty and constant uprisings by the people which resulted from his actions. But John depicts Pilate as a man intrigued with Jesus and his plight. Instead of condemning Jesus outright – which is all the priests and temple leadership want him to do – the Roman governor asked Jesus himself to explain what he is guilty of. The problem is that he cannot hear or understand the answers he is given.

As a representative of the power of Rome, Pilate asks the reasonable question, “Are you the King of the Jews?” (Jn 18:33) Jesus answered:

My kingdom is not from this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not from here. (Jn 18:36)

Unclear what of what to make of this answer, Pilate presses Jesus, but unfortunately, the answer he receives is not in the terms of the power/powerless distinction Pilate can understand. Jesus instead answers,

For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth.

Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice. (Jn 18:37)

Rather than trying to learn more and thereby understand who Jesus believed himself to be, Pilate takes the tone of a cocky sophomore and dismisses Jesus and his message by offering the rhetorical rejoinder, “What is truth?”

Not only does Pilate not understand Truth, he also does not understand authority. He publicly declares Jesus innocent of guilt, but sends him to be flogged in the hands of his sadistic soldiers. After his exhibiting of the prisoner before the crowd, their cries to crucify Jesus further confuse Pilate. Hearing them repeat the claim that Jesus claimed he was the Son of God (Jn 19:7), the fearful Pilate turns to Jesus again for answers—answers which the power-minded prefect cannot comprehend. Jesus remains silent in response to the Roman’s questions, having in his own mind moved beyond this moment with the prefect and on to his ultimate exultation on the Cross.

Pilate’s world is crumbling fast. Though armed with the authority of his office and the military power of Rome, he does not seem able to intimidate or win over the angry crowds outside his palace. Now even his prisoner, brought back within his chamber, refuses to speak to Pilate. Enraged and threatened because his power is not avail him, the prefect threatens as a bully would:

Pilate therefore said to him, “Do you refuse to speak to me? Do you not know that I have power to release you, and power to crucify you?” (Jn 19:10)

Jesus’ response to this threat of violence defeats his prosecutor:

Jesus answered him, “You would have no power over me unless it had been given you from above… (Jn 1911)

Ultimately, the deflated Pilate abdicates his opposition and allows the crowd to crucify his prisoner.

As Roman prefect over the whole province, Pontius Pilate should have been the most powerful figure in this drama. But Jesus’ fearless words shattered the illusion of his power as they affirmed the ultimate authority of God over all rulers and earthly systems. Equally true is the fact that Pilate failed to recognize the truth when it was presented to him. He allowed events happening around him and considerations of power – whether exercised, threatened, or dictated by others – to cloud his judgment and to lead to his damnable retreat from true authority.

Pilate said to the Jews, “Here is your King!”

They cried out, “Away with him! Away with him! Crucify him!”

Pilate asked them, “Shall I crucify your King?”

The chief priests answered, “We have no king but the emperor.”

Then he handed him over to them to be crucified. (Jn 14-16)

Pilate believed himself in the end to be overmatched in this conflict, but the deciding factor in his tragedy is that he did not exercise his own freedom and judgment. He had the power of life and death over Jesus, but by ignoring what his heart warned him about exercising that authority, he abdicated to the events and their inexorable power. He stepped back from decision-making when the moment called for a decision, and thereby allowed himself to become an accomplice to the wrong he halfheartedly wanted to avoid.

Accepting John’s account of this drama at face value, we can learn some valuable lessons. First, that the events of Good Friday were but the final act of the plan which God has set in motion from the time of Jesus his Incarnation. The will of God was done with a great deal of irony concerning all the players. Peter swears ultimate fidelity, but denies Jesus because of his weakness and fear. The chief priests of Israel do not recognize their king, and thereby give him his “exaltation” – on the Cross! Caiaphas plots Jesus death so that “one man should die for the people” to save the nation, unaware that after the Resurrection, Christians would affirm exactly that. The inscription over the Cross, intending to announce the reason for his execution, ironically proclaims him, “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews.”  And Pilate, who senses that an injustice is being done before him, cannot make effective use of the authority which he has been granted—and that failure of his use of power enables the reality of the Crucifixion to follow its divine trajectory to God’s appointed end.

See you at services between Palm Sunday and Easter!

Fr. Bill


1All references are to the Gospel John, using the New Revised Standard Version.

 

Notes from Our Pastor Feb. 2018 – The Journey Ahead

winterjourney

The month of February contains Ash Wednesday and the beginning of Lent. There are many ways we could characterize Lent in terms of repentance/penitence, spiritual discovery, or renewal, to name just a few. This Lent, you and I are about to embark on one of life’s journeys. It is anything but new, of course, to characterize the Christian life as a spiritual journey—Christian writers of all types, including Dante and John Bunyan, have used the journey as the means to describe the course of internal change as the soul seeks God in ever-new situations. This year, both our congregations and I myself will begin our journeys in search of how we can best serve God and live into our Christian calling as we deal with change.  My change will involve leaving my beloved Downriver churches to move to San Francisco and a new life with my daughter, son-in-law, and grandchild.  For you, the journey will be from the current pastoral situation to a new form of parish life under a new priest and with new or renewed vision of the parish’s mission.

In its wisdom, the Church has set aside the season leading up to Christ’s Passion as a time for reflection, prayer, and taking stock of our lives. The express purpose of our Lenten journey is to prepare to move forward spiritually, to seek to grow towards greater maturity in our life in Christ so that we may more fully understand and embrace the meaning of Christ’s death and resurrection. In order to grow, we also much accept change.  Jesus aptly likens it to a death experience:

Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” (John 12: 24)

Unless we are willing to let go of some things, we cannot move on.  Thus, one inevitable but crucial aspect of making any journey—including this Lenten spiritual journey—is taking leave of one place (parallel to the seed’s death) in order to move to another; leaving behind some parts of our self in order to allow other parts to grow and flourish.  As we reflect on Christ’s journey to Jerusalem and the Cross, we also consciously sacrifice our old lives in order to embrace the new one which shares in Christ’s resurrection.

Nothing ever remains the same throughout life. But while changes constantly occur, we can be unaware of it – as we do while we age from one stage of life to another.  As mature adults, we can recognize the dynamics of change, make deliberate choices when they arise, and (to the extent humanly possible) shape our own ends.  I seek this Lent to enlarge my spiritual journey to include many other aspects of self-awareness and identity which constitute both our daily life and our life of faith. Since I have always believed that the division of our life into spiritual vs. secular is arbitrary and artificial, I want to take this season of Lent and use it as a time to take stock of the whole of myself, so that the upcoming changes will become the means for me to set out on the next leg of the journey even more firmly rooted in the Lord.

All journeys involve change—external and inner change—and change is always difficult. I desire to embrace this conscious choice to journey and to seize the opportunity of change to evaluate my current life and to prepare for my new identity in the next phase of my life.  I will remain a husband, father, and priest; I will become a grandfather, possibly a retired person or someone who must adapt to another new context for ministry. In the process, I must leave behind nearly 30 years in Michigan, the friends I have made here, and the loving relationships which have characterized our life together in community.  Nevertheless, I want to use this Lent to focus not only on the separation and loss, but also on the blessings I have received with all of you.  My personal Lenten journey will also involve using my critical resources to assess and understand this move as its own sort of “call” or vocation.

The road lies ahead of us and the journey will begin.  The diocese is there to support you and offer guidance.  Jim Gettel, Canon for Congregational Life, will have the first meeting with those members of our congregations who wish to begin the transition on February 28th at 7:00 PM at St. Luke’s.  In addition to making my own spiritual journey as described above, I will continue to be there as your priest through Lent, Holy Week, Easter, and beyond.  Know that the spiritual gifts which have served our two churches so well over all these years are still there to serve you on the journey.  I have often bragged that what I found so remarkable about Christ the King and St. Luke’s is the way in which ministry has always been a shared venture, with me doing what a priest was called to do, but knowing that so many other parts of the total ministry and life of our parishes were taken care of by you and all your gifts.  I recognize your strengths and your faith, and with the continued presence of the Holy Spirit, I look for good things to come as our journey takes us to God’s appointed place.

 

Fr. Bill

Notes from Our Pastor Jan. 2018 – One Body, One Spirit

unity

There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all. But each of us was given grace according to the measure of Christ’s gift. (Ephesians 4: 4-7)

        As I read over the fourth chapter of Ephesians, the words there struck me as the best possible hope for the new year, which is why I’m using the text for this month’s newsletter. Paul envisions, not only the congregation at Ephesus, but all future bodies who assemble in the name of Christ, as having an essential unity.  “One body and one Spirit” are the hallmarks of the Christian faith, of our calling to join and belong to not only our church communities, but also across time to our sense of belonging to something that is bigger than any one time, place, or denominational identification. We are grounded ultimately in our relationship to the living Lord Jesus Christ. Because of that identity, we can look at our fellow Christians and see commonalities, rather than simply differences. More than that—we can use the strength of that unified vision to act creatively to transform the world.

Differences among us certainly abound! In fact, we read that Paul’s churches were mixed even within each particular congregation. If we were able to use some sort of time machine to go back to Ephesus, or any of the Pauline churches in his day, we would see people who look different than we look, whose language and customs would seem very far removed from our own, and whose manner of interacting would appear every bit as strange as if we were transplanted into a village in the depths of Africa or the top of the Himalayas. Nevertheless, through Paul’s eyes, we can see that all these differences pale when contrasted to the essential unity that we find in Christ. Though he says that among them they have various natures, Paul identifies these not as problematic, but rather as “gifts of the spirit,” making some of them prophets, or evangelists, or pastors—and the list goes on. Furthermore, all these gifts come from one Spirit.  Each person is valued because he or she brings those gifts into the community to be utilized, as he says, “to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ.” (Ephesians 4: 12) Paul’s response to such diversity is to embrace it as an abundance of riches, rather than categorizing it as a threat to the group. Such vision redeems, rather than disparages, differences among members of the Church.

As we enter 2018, what we see in our nation, let alone the world, is a confused mix of partisanship, of what one reporter called “tribalism.” We are very quick to identify ourselves ideologically as either for or against a whole laundry list of items.  We have become less a nation with a shared vision than a mass of factions each of which only listen to themselves and to those who speak the same language or who say the same things we say.  We seem to have lost our greater identification with one another, of sharing the recognition that we are all American citizens. I am disheartened by this continual factiousness.

But even if this is the case across our country, it cannot be allowed to characterize the Church. Call me a dreamer or a Pollyanna, but I do believe that the Church is still a sacred institution. I believe it is founded always on the presence of the Spirit of Christ, despite the way history has shaped and molded its particular contours. This is why I always return to our source texts in the Bible – the Gospels, the letters of Paul and the early apostles – as the foundational statements about Jesus Christ and about the Church as the witness to Christ both in that age and in our own. When we come upon a text such as Ephesians chapter 4, I believe we are given a kind of head slap to wake us up and remind us again of whom we are called to be.

Christians may vary in their understanding of how to deal with the problems of the world; Christians may approach political problems from a variety of perspectives; but ultimately, Christians need to test every other belief and application of our energies against the call of our Lord to be faithful to him and to the needs of this world. We will always remain different from one another – that is the nature of human identity and personality. And yet underlying our differences, there are basic human needs, such as the need to be loved, to be affirmed, to have purpose in life, to mourn our losses and to rejoice in our blessings:  all these should unite us as humans. In response to this basic humanity, God’s response was to send the Word to embrace the flesh of which we are made and to dwell among us (John 1:14). Being among us as one of us, Jesus knew the full nature of what humanity could encompass. Yet we affirm that he came not just to first-century Jews, or even to those Gentiles who later in the century would embrace the message, but ultimately for the salvation and transformation of all peoples.

Mindful of our basic relationship to Christ and his call to us in our current state—limited, petty, egotistical, yet endowed with “gifts” of the Spirit—we can embrace Paul’s vision in Ephesians 4. Let us resolve in this new year to commit ourselves to accepting one another, perhaps despite our differences, as equal recipients of God’s grace and God’s call.  Hearing Paul’s gospel, let us put aside our judgement of one another and replace it with the vision that makes us one Body called by one Spirit in Christ.

 

Fr. Bill

Notes from Our Pastor Dec. 2017 – Spirit of Christmas

ChristmasScene.jpg

If someone were to try to capture “the essence of Christmas,” one really could not improve on the message which Linus delivered to Charlie Brown over 50 years ago. When Charlie Brown is discouraged because everything in his Christmas season has become a train wreck, Linus responds by quoting from the Gospel of Luke:

Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified.  But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people:  to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. (Luke 2: 9-11, NRSV)

There is much in those few verses that still speaks to us today. We are a people who have an incredibly high standard of living compared to previous ages and to much of the rest of the world, yet we are very afraid of so many things – the prospect of war, the cost of healthcare and virtually everything else, the fear of those beyond our borders and many of those within our borders. How can we, in our fear-ridden age, hear the Good News which the angels proclaimed to those shepherds?

We must remember the context of the story. The time is two millennia ago, when darkness after the setting of the sun was total unless someone lit a fire. The scene is in a backwater province of the Roman Empire, where foreign troops are billeted everywhere and life in Judea is precarious and cheap. The audience is comprised of shepherds – persons without social standing, probably eking out a limited existence as they keep the night watch over their herds. It is into that darkness and brutal context that God chooses to announce to this unlikely band a message not only of hope, but of fulfillment.

For the Good News proclaimed to all people was the fulfillment of promises made generations before to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, and the whole of Israel in their times of oppression. And what was proclaimed in the birth of Jesus is nothing less than the inauguration of a new time when God comes fully into God’s reign characterized by the promise of peace and goodwill.

The problem we face every Christmas is that, when we look around at the darkness of our world, we find it hard to believe that God is truly in charge. Put another way, does it really seem like Jesus, his life, death, and even resurrection, have really made a difference? What the angels proclaimed so long ago was not a promise, but the fulfillment of a promise. And if that is true, then somehow we Christians have missed the boat.

For if we truly believe that Jesus is the long-expected deliverer who makes God personal and present, who has inaugurated by his redeeming presence a new age of the Kingdom of God, then we should be living a life which proclaims, by word and deed, our experience of God’s reign over and through us. In other words, Christians should take the message of the angels as genuine, and our lives should be a reflection of the presence of God as we know God through Jesus Christ. Nothing less will actually serve to celebrate Christmas as the gospel proclaims it.

Beyond all the lights and tinsel, beyond the music of exultation and joy, certainly beyond any gifts we might exchange in celebration, the giving of ourselves to the world as a people transformed by the knowledge of the living God and God’s presence in our hearts would be the most acceptable way to celebrate Christmas. Indeed, then Christmas itself would be only a yearly marking of our acceptance of the grace which God has bestowed upon the world, and the welcoming of the living Christ as the center of our being. We would then live as if we truly believed that we are in the new age of God’s reign – and we would do that to the glory of God’s Name. And in that spirit, we would make this our song:

Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and on earth peace among those whom he favors
!”  (Luke 2: 14, NRSV)

Have a blessed Christmas season, and made the spirit of the God-given Christ dwell within each of us every day of the year!

 

Father Bill

Notes from Our Pastor – Thanksgiving Day

GiveThanks

Thanksgiving Day is becoming a lost holiday; not only is it losing ground to the overwhelming pull of Christmas shopping, but I believe that the rationale for the holiday itself is fast disappearing as well. For this reflection, the history of the American holiday of Thanksgiving is not as important as the shift in attitude pervading our culture.  My father and his generation who grew up during the Depression wanted for many things in their lives. If the family could keep a roof over their heads and food on the table so that the children went to bed without hunger pains, they considered they were doing all right. Many people had no cars, even though they might work on the production line in the auto industry. When life was harder and existence threatened – first economically by the Depression then by the coming of the World War – people seem to learn how to value the basics and essentials of life. People could be thankful to have any job, not worrying about whether it offered them “fulfillment” or some other higher but more abstract value. The range of foods and beverages which compete for our palate were unknown except to the very wealthy. Bread, starches, soups, and perhaps a little meat from time to time were more appreciated than the luxuries we take for granted now. We might perhaps conclude from this that a thankful spirit is more likely to be found among those who have less than among those who are completely filled and satiated.

The perspective of earlier generations also seems to have found its center in love of family, in patriotism, and above all in religious faith. A belief in God was widespread and perhaps was held by the majority of people, regardless of which religious tradition they belong to. The understanding that God as our Creator and the provider of all good things (which is an apt description of the God found in the Bible) puts God at the center of everything. As our brilliant, radiant sun sits at the center of the solar system, radiating heat and light to the earth and making life possible from day to day, so our faith sees God as the source and sustainer of life. From that perspective, a spirit of thankfulness would be a natural response within us.  At this point in the year, when agricultural harvests have been gathered in, it would be natural to think God for the produce and rewards of our labor, lending itself to setting apart a special day for Thanksgiving.

Returning to the analogy of the solar system, however, our current cultural perspective is more like the ancient view that the earth is the center of all things, with the sun and other bodies just circling around it. A culture of plenty measured by the amount of goods and services produced and consumed does not consider our relationship to God  as the measure of our human worth; instead, all too often people are measured and valued (or devalued, degraded, and disregarded) based upon economic standards. Hand-in-hand with that is the belief that what I have results solely from what I have worked for and earned myself – it is mine and I claim both possession of it and the credit for obtaining it. Perhaps I was lucky in finding the right job, but otherwise all things derive from my own work and effort. Why therefore should we be thankful? You can see how this perspective based on an economic model of the person elevates the self to its own center, while at the same time creating within us a desire for more and more to consume or own.  It also engenders within our hearts a contempt for those who have not reached the same place we have. Ideas such as the intrinsic or God-given dignity of all people, a positive regard for (let alone love of) our neighbor, and showing gratitude for the blessings that we have all disappear.

Thankfulness actually requires a degree of humility, for if I am not self-sufficient and solely responsible for what I have based on my own achievements, then I must acknowledge that these are gifts or blessings from God. Unless I am willing to grant God His due place at the center and recognize that all that I am and all that I have come from God, I will never know what true thankfulness is.

We can see then why Thanksgiving seems to have lost its place in our national life. To be sure, it is still a day of feasting, celebration, and the ingathering of families, but the immediate associations are excessive eating, football games, and the kick off (nope unintended) of the season of buying and consuming. The picture of an extended family feasting together, enjoying one another’s company, and giving thanks for the good things they have received has sadly become a black and white snapshot stuck in an old photo album from years past. The night before Thanksgiving, for example, is well documented as the busiest time in bars and taverns across the country as returning college students and other young adults gather with their friends, rather than the previous expectation that they would visit with older relatives to begin the holiday. And the day after Thanksgiving is aptly referred to as “Black Friday,” because people cannot wait to leave their families and feasting to start buying and partake of sales as soon as possible.

Taking a page out of the Prayer Book, we remember that the word Eucharist is Greek for “Thanksgiving.” The service begins with the dialogue between the celebrant and the people:

Lord be with you!

And also with you

Lift up your hearts!

We lift them up to the Lord.

Let us give thanks to the Lord our God.

It is right to give God thanks and praise.

 

It is indeed good and right and proper to give thanks to God in all times and in all places for God’s goodness towards us, starting with the fact that we are alive and present, and that God has seen us through so many trials and heartbreaks, and has given us so many gifts and blessings. Our weekly Eucharistic service is one expression of this understanding of the relationship between ourselves and our God. The same impulse and humble response within our hearts can help us celebrate this Thanksgiving Day in a manner which sets it aside as holy and acceptable to the Lord. I can think of no more apt words to conclude this meditation than the collect for Thanksgiving Day:

Almighty and gracious father, we give you thanks for the fruits of the earth in their season and for the labors of those who harvest them. Make us, we pray, faithful stewards of your great bounty, for the provision of our necessities and the relief of all who are in need, to the glory of your name; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.  (BCP, 246)

-Fr. Bill

Notes from Our Pastor Nov. 2017 – Autumn Reflections

AutumnReflection

November may be the most introspective month of the year.  Not only has the weather turned colder, driving us more and more indoors, but the darkening days also tend to make us more reflective.  The calendar seems to support this, as the key days of this month bring to mind lost loved ones and the terrible cost of the last century’s wars.  Even Thanksgiving Day receives its power to move us from our recollection of blessings we have received.

Episcopalians begin the month of November with All Saints’ Day (November 1), also celebrated by other Christian churches.  This is not only a celebration of those whose exemplary faith has inspired us, but also the celebration of the many others who have lived their lives in faith and who now enjoy eternal life in the presence of God.  This feast day always contains a somber element as we remember those we still love, even as we mourn their loss. Each parish lovingly recalls its own saints (as Paul called them), their connection to us, and their contribution to our common life.  The celebration of All Saints’ Day reminds us that our own days on earth are finite.  The reflection upon our own passing lives gives us cause to assess our impact on the world around us, our relationship to God, and the purposes by which we live out our baptismal covenant.

Ninety-five years ago, the nations who put down their arms after the Great War solemnly declared that never again would the world have to suffer the cruelties of such a disastrous conflict.  While history has again and again mocked their expectations with greater and even more destructive wars, I believe their hope that someday we will learn to resolve our conflicts in more productive ways and value the gifts of peace will be realized.  I am certain that every veteran shares that dream as well.

November includes our celebration of Thanksgiving.  Despite the threats around the world and frustrations of trying to govern ourselves as a republic should, we Americans understand how God has not only blessed us in the past, but continues to bless in our day.  In reflection upon these our blessings, we take this day to acknowledge the good things we enjoy—the security of peace, our families who surround us, the comforts and richness of our lives—as gifts from the loving God whose steadfast love endures forever.

Finally, this year, the Church reaches the climax of its liturgical year in the celebration of Christ the King Sunday.  Completing the vision of that place where all the faithful are eternally gathered before God, this feast day acknowledges that Christ is our Lord and Sovereign over all.  Putting all our inward thoughts into this cosmic perspective, we can know that all things have having their meaning within the framework of Christ and His governance.  Thus, November can contain the worst of human fears found in war and death and move past that darkness into the vision of God’s realm and the thankful outpouring of our hearts for the gifts of this life and the greater gift of eternal life.

Fr. Bill