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Easter Sunday 4-18-21: Disbelieving and Still Wondering

In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. As Luke explains the growth of Jesus’ followers in their faith in the resurrection: the risen Jesus asks them, “Why are you frightened, and why do doubts arise in your hearts?” In a striking phrase, Luke describes how “in their joy they were disbelieving and still wondering.” The gospels are full of stories of how Jesus’ earliest followers day-by-day worked their way towards an understanding of the resurrection, where death would never be the final word for them ever again.

It can seem, however, like common sense to believe in death’s victory over life rather than life’s victory over death. Continue reading

Easter Sunday 4-04-21: Jesus’ Resurrection and Ours

In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Last Easter Sunday, we could hardly believe that we couldn’t celebrate Easter together. I encouraged you to lean into the Easter experience, hard, to get through the unknown number of weeks that the pandemic would go on. I imagined with you that our first fully regathered service together might be as far off as fall of 2020, but that that would be an Easter service beginning with “Alleluia, Christ is Risen.” And you would respond, “The Lord is Risen indeed, Alleluia.” It was a good plan.

So it is with mixed feeling that a year later, on another Easter Sunday, we seemingly find ourselves here again. But it is not the same. We are not the same. I’m proud of us. Who knew as we leaned into the Easter message last year that it could carry us this far for so long? Continue reading

This Week’s Music

Prelude: Voluntary # 4 in G Minor – William Boyce (1711-1779)
Mr. Boyce was a Choirboy at St. Paul’s London, and eventually became Master of the King’s Music. He wrote lots of really fine choir music, and in his old age edited Cathedral Music, a collection of English church music that is still in wide use today. His success meant that he ate and drank a little too well, and he thus died of gout.
Offertory: Hymn 145 “Now quit your care” Quittez Pasteurs
If you attended the Ash Wednesday service, you heard this hymn once already. René, the music director at Trinity Lutheran in Chelmsford is the singer.  She and I collaborated on this and hope to work together again on a couple of Easter hymns. This tune is actually a French Noel, with Lenten text by the most excellent English Socialist priest Percy Dearmer (1867-1936), that exhorts us to focus on that which is truly important, rather than outward signs of repentance – a sort of “rend your hearts and not your garments” type message. Dearmer is perhaps best known for editing the English Hymnal with Ralph Vaughan Williams, but also for writing The Parson’s Handbook, a manual for clergy.
Variations on a Bass – Henry Coleman (1888-1965)
We had a technical glitch this past Sunday, so I’m repeating this piece as the postlude this week. It took 4 or 5 hours to get it polished and to achieve a good recording, and it’s worth hearing every note. It is a passacaglia (or one could call it a ground bass, or a chaconne, or a “canon” – as in the mislabeled “Pachelbel canon”) by English composer R. Henry Coleman. The ground bass, repeated over and over throughout the piece, is a descending G-Minor scale. The bass is stated all alone in the pedal at the outset, and each variation adds a little something more. At the halfway point the volume is throttled back and chromatic passing tones are added to the bass line for three variations. Another build-up then carries us to the end, with the bass line stated for the final time in the left hand on the “solo tuba”.  J. S. Bach’s Passacaglia in C Minor, with its 33 variations (signifying the life of Christ of course) is the supreme example of the form. I have a priest friend who listens to one of the many available YouTube recordings of the Bach Passacaglia every single night just before he goes to bed.
Musically yours,
Carl

The Third Sunday in Lent 3-07-21: Jesus Cleansing the Temple and the Dynamics of Guilt and Shame

In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Jesus made a whip out of cords, walked into the outer courts of the Jerusalem temple, and drove out the merchants and money changers yelling “Stop making my Father’s house a marketplace!” He also poured out the coins of the money changers, overturned their tables, chased away the sheep and the cattle. Our Jesus was pretty upset. It is hard to find any other story quite like this one about Jesus. What was it that would make this nonviolent man so desperate that he would shout and turn over tables in the national temple during the feast of the Passover? He may well have provided a clue in the well-known story of him welcoming the children as the adults were pushing them away. Immediately after saying, “Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me,” he sternly warns, “If any of you put a stumbling-block before one of these little ones…. it would be better for you if a great millstone were fastened around your neck and you were drowned in the depth of the sea” (Matt. 18:6).

Jesus pulls out the whip because the temple he saw was not what it was supposed to be for the people. They needed the temple to be the temple. Continue reading

The First Sunday in Lent 2-21-21

In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. This is our first Sunday of Lent, that season of the church year where we prepare for Easter through spiritual practices. The worship service is more austere and there is a great deal of language about sin, death, and repentance. You may have noticed this morning–practically just as we said “hello”–we confessed in words, stronger than usual, that we have “erred and strayed like lost sheep…. We have left undone those things which we out to have done, and we done those things which we ought not to have done…”

The word “sin” has disappeared from public life and popular culture. We don’t hear it much at all from our politicians any longer. It’s a word we hear less frequently in many churches these days maybe because the language of sin can sound old, outdated, or even medieval in our progressive age and out of step with our inherent goodness. Continue reading

The Third Sunday after Epiphany 1-24-21

In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. As Jesus walked by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers Peter and Andrew. They were fishermen throwing a net into the sea. Jesus said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.” Peter and Andrew dropped their net and followed him. Apparently there was no debate, no pondering of the decision. Their response was so immediate that one suspects that they had long wanted to be found. Have you ever played “Hide and Seek” with a kid? The kid runs away and hides. What is so fun about that? It’s all about being lost and then found. Kids get very upset if you play the game and then don’t go looking for them. They want to be found. Peter and Andrew wanted to be found. We want to be found. Continue reading

The Second Sunday after Epiphany: Learning to Listen with Samuel, 1-17-21

In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Eli the old priest of the Jerusalem temple said to the young Samuel, “Go, lie down; and if God calls you, you shall say, ‘Speak, LORD, for your servant is listening.’” According to the Bible, the word of God is something to learn how to hear. Eli the priest doesn’t tell Samuel what God is saying. He teaches Samuel how to hear that voice for himself. That is a priestly task. As much as people like me are often all too ready to tell others what God is saying, that ancient priest, coaches Samuel in how to hear the word of God for himself. It is a skill to be acquired.

In our day, there is a near constant call to become more assertive, more self-confident and, above all, to speak up and tell your story. Continue reading

The First Sunday after Epiphany: The Baptism of our Lord, 1-10-21

In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. In this really hard year of struggle, one of the things we have lost was baptisms. We have not done one since the onset of the pandemic. We did not know how we could do one safely. This has had the bad effect, though, of cutting us off from one of our primary sources of spiritual renewal. And after the week we have had with truly historic, anxiety provoking, political conflict in our national life and record number of infections and deaths from the pandemic, we so need to be renewed. Thank you baby Eleanor and her parents, Brittany and David, Godparents, David and Ashley, for making your Christian commitments this morning. We will make our own also to you. We will also at this time renew our own prior vows and commitments with you. In this week when so much is contested, when the truth is not always at hand, and when we can feel just so tired. I can’t think of a better thing we could be doing as a Christian community. Continue reading

Christmas Eve 12-24-20

In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. In a normal year, I find myself in late November and early December reminding people that it is Advent, the season of the heart’s preparation for the wonder of Christmas. It is not yet time for Christmas. This year, we all felt a special eagerness to fill the darkness with Christmas lights. People started as soon as possible. There was an early rush for Christmas trees. By the time many of us were looking for trees, most of them were already lit up in our neighbors homes. People, people everywhere, needed Christmas, as soon as possible this year. What the need is that Christmas touches is worth talking about. It’s something we may be able to see and understand that we haven’t been able to in better times.

To the best of our knowledge, Christians began formally celebrating Christmas in the early 300s. Continue reading