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The Fourth Sunday of Easter C: April 29, 2007

Acts 13:14, 43-52
Revelation 7:9, 14b-17
John 10:27-30

Dear Jesus,

I see them clad in white like those standing near the throne of the Lamb. Revelation’s throng armed with palm branches are those who have fought the good fight and persevered faithful to the end and now share in your glory. The ones I see are those who emerged from the waters where they had died to all that was. On one side were they had entered were piled the vestiges of the past. On the other, they stood in their white garments, the sign of their having been clothed in you, and started on the way to the Table. They were welcomed to the Table and invited for the first time to share the One Bread and the One Cup. The oil gleamed on their foreheads as they experienced the unity that is theirs with those who gather for the meal.

Revelation’s white-robed throng looked on these neophytes and rejoiced in the hope for the next generation embodied in them. I’d bet those in heaven became a cheering section in the midst of the Easter event and urged the newly baptized on to victory, to share in their victory in you. And so did the Assembly, applauding their entry, pray for their strength to witness you and the power of your dying and rising as they for the first time would be sent to be bread broken and cup poured out for those starving to know you and the love that comes from God through you. Radiant smiles wreathed the faces of the newly baptized and they exuded confidence as the Easter sun rose and they exited to imitate you in their pouring out of self in service of your little ones.

We have been in Easter now to this Fourth Sunday. The flowers that adorned the worship space being to look a little tired. The fresh candles are shorter than they were that night, their wax being consumed in the sacrifice of self necessary to give light. And the white robes show smudges picked up along the way. The faces still give of the joyous glow seen Holy Saturday Night but already I think I see signs of the realization that it is easy to begin this journey but the successful completion of it cannot be done alone. They know they need the strength and support of the body that is the Church. They know they need the strength and support that is your life within them.

By now they know Easter is bittersweet. There wasn’t a way for you to warn them that some who were their friends would choose not to talk with them any more because of the change perceived in them. You couldn’t have prepared them for the experience of discomfort in once familiar places that now seem inimical because of the stark contrast caused by your presence in their lives. The glitter and glitz, the glamour and gold all scream of a materialism and egocentricity that they rejected in the Bath. Like toddlers taking first steps there is a fear of slippery slopes and steep inclines unless they have a hand to hold for security’s sake. They strain to hear your voice and remember.

It is about familiarity with you and your ways. The implications can be shocking. It is about love. By now, four weeks into the journey, they are experiencing the demands of the love you expect to be lived by those who follow you, the weight of the cross you say should be taken up every day as they walk in your footsteps. Are they beginning to understand that the Cross is loving in spite of the betrayal? The Cross is the vulnerability that comes with the unconditional love that is the pouring our of self in service. I wonder if you should tell them that you experienced this in your ministry and if they minister in imitation of you they will experience the emptiness too. The ultimate Cross is the kiss of the friend who betrays.

But I wonder if one has to experience emptiness, to taste the bitter wine of betrayal, to enter into desolation and even face persecution in order to know the all consuming love of God that comes to those who walk with you and persevere in and with you. My sheep hear my voice; I know them, and they follow me. Help them, help me to experience silence and not be afraid, to experience rejection and not be afraid, to listen in the emptiness and recognize your voice reminding all of us caught up in the unity that is yours with your Father: No one can take them out of my hand. My Father has given them to me.

If we listen, if we trust, then one day these neophytes and we who have been on the way years longer will stand in the company of those around your heavenly throne and with them sing Alleluia. Amen. Amen.

Sincerely,

Didymus

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The Third Sunday of Easter C: April 22, 2007

Acts of the Apostles 5:27b-32, 40b-41
Revelation 5:11-14
John 21:1-19

Dear Jesus,

It is already the Third Sunday of Easter. I keep reminding myself that I am not looking back with longing to a distancing celebration struggling to keep images and elements alive in my memory the way one does of a person while standing before a gravestone. It isn’t that two weeks have gone by since we celebrated your rising from the dead. Rather, the feast continues. Every Sunday’s Eucharist renews and continues your dying and rising.

I luxuriate in the images and cling to the sensual experiences garnered from the three-day liturgical renewal of the Pascal event. The smell of the smoke and the crackle of the fire, sparks exploding into the night as all that was is consumed — not Gotterdammerung, the twilight of the gods — but the old order passing away as a new Creation begins. The people who stood and watched that fire had begun the journey now two days ago with the challenge from you to aspire to being feet-washers. They had gathered with you in that Upper Room and been embarrassed as you knelt before them, the enfleshment of the God who seeks to serve those created in God’s image, the God in threefold relationship whose creatures can never be complete unless they imitate the Creator by living in the intimacy of relationship, too. They must love as you in that eternal relationship of love by pouring out self in loving service. They must aspire to being feet washers. They must be bread broken and cup poured out. That people gathered around the fire remember the meal, savoring the bread, relishing the wine, remembering….

After a night of fasting and watching, they experienced the vulnerability that comes from being servants, and took up the Cross, entering into your timeless passion and making the Cross and your dying their own. Some wept that night as they thought of all the ways your passion continues. They touched the wood and remembered the abandoned little ones, the enfeebled, the disabled, those crying out in the night of terror that is war, the millions bearing the curse of AIDS and malaria and sleeping sickness and tuberculosis and ALS and on and on — to say nothing of the poor. If they got the point of that night, the Assembled had to see in the pleading eyes of the suffering masses your own and they had to hear your challenge to suffer with, to be a compassionate people individually and as Church. Only when this people’s reputation is one of unconditional love continually poured out in generous service and continually proffered forgiveness and longing for reconciliation, could they say they had internalized the meaning of the Friday called Good.

And so they stood at the fire and watched as from that fire came the spark that lit the Candle that defied the Night and scattered the darkness. The people rejoiced as that Candle was carried into the dark worship space. And the Assembly rejoiced that you are alive! The forces of darkness, of hatred, of fear of envy and of all the other negative influences human kind are tempted to see as invincible, Death does not triumph because your heel came down and crushed evil’s head. You are alive. We will not die forever. Yes, I mean we. I stood and sat and walked and listened and renewed faith among that Assembly. The Word washed over me from the beginning to the proclamation of the empty tomb. The scent of incense wafted through the space as a group began to emerge for the assembled and walk behind the Candle while the litany of those who are our ancestors in the faith are invoked to pray with and for us, especially those journeying to the Waters. That was the Night of new birth. I heard the water rushing and saw the Candle three times be plunged into the waters impregnating the water with the Spirit’s power, giving the water the power to be both tomb and mother. I wept as each one stepped into the font to be immersed in a threefold flood and in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. I wept as each one emerged from the other side a new creation and identified with you to live your life and be your continuing presence.

It would take too long to mention all the other ecstatic assaults of the sense that night—the fragrant clouds of incense ascending, the scent of balsam wafting from the oil poured out on the neophytes, the new bread and rich wine, the smell of candle wax and the joy of darkness banished. We experienced renewed hope that night. A new generation of believers entered into your passion, to join those already on the Way, and they were transformed by your rising into Children of the Light.

I wept in the remembering because each Easter reminds me of what is mine as well, reminds me of when I was plunged into the waters, when I was anointed with the oil, when I first ate the Bread and Drank the Cup and was sent. I wept because I remembered the forgiveness and the call to service. I wept because I remembered that because of you every Sunday and now the third of this Easter will always be cause for rejoicing. I wipe my tears and remember that through your rising all the powers of darkness have been defeated.

And I know that nothing will separate this people of which I am a part from the love of God we have through you.

Sincerely,

Didymus

The Second Sunday of Easter C: April 15, 2007

Acts 5:12-16
Revelation 1:9-11A. 12-13, 17-19
John 20:19-31

I woke with a start and his name flashed through my mind, a name I hadn’t thought of for over thirty–five years. I remember the shock that trembled through me when I first heard the news that he had been murdered by a shotgun blast as he peered from his front door on a snowy January night in 1969. He was a black who had lived in a mostly white neighborhood and an activist for racial equality. The killers had thrown a snowball against a window. The sound had alarmed his wife. She peered through the bedroom window and saw the intruders hiding behind her husband’s car in the carport. He had gone to the front door to investigate. She had cried out too late to alert him to the danger and heard the blast that killed him almost instantly.

In those years, assassinations were frequent. Violence ran rampant in the country. Riots and demonstrations on college campuses and in city streets demanded that race relations and war be reconsidered. John Kennedy’s slaying in Dallas in 1963 ushered in an era of change the way in the same year that Vatican Council II opened windows and let the wind of renewal and change rush through the Church. Then, Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy were gunned down. Watts, Detroit, Selma, and other city’s found new fame as places where citizens banded together and stood in the face of police batons, snarling dogs and the rush of water from fire hoses. Kent State and other campuses experienced sit-ins and student demonstrations led to violence and bloodshed. Pictures of anguished students crying out in the camera’s eye haunted all who saw them. So did the picture of the naked and napalm-seared young girl running down a Vietnamese street shriek of the horrors of war.

Those years are distant now. They were the years of my formation and the beginning of my priestly ministry. It seemed that the church for which I was prepared in the seminary years ceased to be with the Council’s closing and the issuing of new foundational documents called Constitutions that called the Church as the people of God to a new springtime, a new Pentecost. From this vantage point, Pentecost seems the most apt analogy. We’re used to sanitizing and tranquilizing Scriptural scenes – Pentecost among them. There was the sound of a violent wind blowing in the place where they were and over their heads appeared tongues as of fire. Yet when you see stained glass or holy card representations of the scene, everything looks tranquil and serene without a hint of violence. Looking back on those years and remembering the violence in the streets and the upheaval in the Church, I believe the world experienced the rush of the Spirit in those winds of change. Nothing would ever be the same again no matter how nostalgically some would come to look at pre-conciliar days. Those times may have seemed safer with people kept in their proper places in an established hierarchy and with roles carefully defined according to sex and race. The evils of sexism and racism wore sanitized masks. But the violence and the wind tore away those masks and Justice and Equality became the new catchwords that came to define the new era. Pentecost is dangerous as are hurricanes and forest fires. We have to remember that the ones who emerged from the first Pentecost could never go back to what they were before. They were transformed forever. And so were we who matured in the 1960’s and experienced the new Pentecost.

Which brings me back to the man whose name came to me in the night nearly 40 years after his murder. We appeared on a panel together addressing the question of racial equality. The Church in the Modern World called for us to be involved in societal change and to be engaged in the cry for justice. Speaking on that panel before an all-white audience seemed like the right thing to do. It was a packed house. My co-panelist was the only black in the room. Several of us spoke in turn of our desire to see this new era of justice emerge and to see the crime of racism cease. I can no longer remember what I said. But I’m sure it was safe and sanitized. I was new to speaking out, new to the Church’s role as an implement of change in society and I did not want to rankle the assembly. Polite applause followed my remarks. Then, he spoke last. I remember sitting in stunned attention as he lashed out at the establishment and at the Church for tolerating the abuses against which he now spoke. It seemed like a call to anarchy for which I had not been warned.

He finished his speech and called for an intermission. To this day I do not know what possessed me. Without forethought, I reached over and pulled the microphone back to myself and asked everyone to wait a moment. Then I turned to the speaker and acknowledge his pain, admitting that I could not understand it because I had not experienced it. But I also said that anarchy was not the answer. We, he, those like him, and the Church, all of us ought to work together. Together we could be a leaven for the change he longed for. Apart and at odds hostility and chaos would be the only results. And I pledged to work with him and never be complacent with the status quo.

I remember our conversation during the break. He apologized for what I took to be a broadsiding. I pledged my support of his cause. We promised each other that we would remain in contact and parted that night as friends.

Three weeks later, Edwin Pratt was shot to death in a snowy night in the neighborhood we shared. It’s been years since I’ve thought about him. His name came to me in the night.

I remember and wonder how far have we come?