Sunday, March 27, 2016

Public Address System

“The men said to them, ‘Why do you look for the living among the dead?  He is not here, but has risen.’”  St. Luke 24:5

The Metro, as you know, is having trouble.  There are serious concerns about financial sustainability, loads of deferred maintenance, diminishing public trust.  They’ve recruited a no-nonsense administrator, Paul Wiedefeld, to put things in order.  Earlier this month, he shut the whole thing down for a day to repair the electric cables.  The grumbling was universal.  It also made for a very crowded Panera in Herndon and may well have proved that we can run the Federal government just fine out of Fairfax County so long as we have decent wi-fi. 

We’re told that the cables are now all ship-shape, and they will be on to additional projects.  And I, at least am hoping they will soon move on to the public address system.  Because if you have spent much time on Metro, you will know just how impossible it often is to understand what is being announced to you.  “Next station..mmmfmfm” or “The train will be delayed…ffhghf.”  I think the announcers were trained by the adults on those old Charlie Brown cartoons.  It’s really pretty bad.  If I’m travelling by Metro, I need to stand near the Metro map so I can tell what’s coming next.

Saturday, March 26, 2016

Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!

“So you also must consider yourself dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.” 
Romans 6:11

“Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia!”  We have been waiting six weeks to hear those words, and only just now we proclaimed them, and the lights went on, and we sang a hymn of praise, and read the Easter Gospel.  Alleluia, for Christ is risen!  “Praise to the Lord,” that’s what it means, “Praise to the Lord.”  It’s the same in both English and Spanish, because it comes from Hebrew, the language of God’s ancient people.  It’s the shout of victory, the joyful song of the redeemed.  “Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia!”

Adrienn, our new musician here, has so graciously stepped in to play for us tonight.  And besides her excellent work on the piano and with the choirs, she is an instrumentalist, a teacher of strings.  Because she’s a violinist, she knows a great deal about fugues.  Fugues are musical selections in which a given theme, stated at the beginning, is repeated in a seemingly endless series of variations.  Bach wrote some of the finest ones, and occasionally we hear one as a postlude on Sunday morning.   As we repeat the theme in a fugue, we gradually become aware of dimensions and possibilities within the original melody that we hadn’t noticed before.  The melody comes to take on a new kind of life, with increasing complexity and power.  And as the fugue unfolds, the pace speeds up and grows louder, until it settles on a great resounding chord, all the stops pulled, a sound as big as glory.  That’s what tonight is all about.  It’s all one grand fugue, this Easter Vigil, and here’s the melody: “Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia.” 

Job's answer

“If a man die, shall he live again?  All the days of my service I would wait, till my release should come.”  Job 14:14

“I would wait,” Job said.  The Book of Job is full of unanswered questions, of frustrating riddles, disappointing shortcuts.  Job is in misery, and he cannot understand why.  His friends offer advice that rings hollow.  They blame him for things he knows he never did.  They claim logic and justice in God that Job cannot see.  Job has lost everything, he is at the point of death, hopeless and desperate.  But he will not give up.  He wants an answer, a trial where he can present his case, and a fair judgment will follow.  He wants to face God and know, once and for all, why all of this has come upon him. 

And in his quest, he runs head on into the great cul-de-sac of life.  Man is mortal, we all must die.  “We are of few days, he says, and full of trouble.”  We fade like a flower, we are cut down like a tree, we dry up like a pond.  God has allotted us a few days, and after that there is no more.  We will never rise, even if the whole created order falls to pieces.  After death, there is nothing.  No man gets his answer.

Friday, March 25, 2016

Ave and Consummatum Est

“He said, ‘It is finished.’ Then he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.”  St. John 19:30

Today is the twenty-fifth of March.  That, in itself, may seem rather unremarkable to you.  The dates for the celebration of these great three days of Holy Week change from year to year, depending on the cycles of the moon.  We last kept Good Friday on March 25 eleven years ago, and it will next be on this date in 2157, when we will have all gone to our reward. 

But it may be that the first Good Friday was also on the 25th of March, and as they say, thereby hangs a tale.

If you know your liturgical calendar really well, you will remember that when Holy Week and Easter Week don’t interfere, we celebrate another festival on this date, March 25, the Feast of the Annunciation, when the Angel Gabriel appeared to the Virgin Mary, and God sent His Son into the world to save us.  Christmas is exactly nine months from today.  This is a day of the great end, but also of the great beginning.  He came on this day to save us, and this day He announced His work was done.   The life of Christ is a perfect circle.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

"The Accusing Bread"

 Jesus answered, "It is the one to whom I give this piece of bread when I have dipped it in the dish."  St. John 13:26

He was a friend, one whom Jesus had trusted.  He had been with all of them for a long time, now.  They had wandered together over so many dusty roads and talked of everything in the world. He had seen the miracles and heard those thrilling talks.  He had left everything else behind, devoted himself to this man Jesus, the promised Messiah.  They had all done that—it was what bound them together.  A ragtag bunch, drawn from all sorts of directions—but they had this in common.  They had all committed their futures to him

And this night, they kept the Passover together.  It was a family meal, a celebration that bound together people who depended on each other.  Still today, to be invited by a Jewish family to celebrate the Passover with them is a great honor, a sign of deep and respected friendship.  They would, of course, celebrate it together.  They had all left their own families behind, back in Galilee.  They only had each other

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Ponder: "worship is becoming lost"

"Worship, in a way, is becoming lost in the Spirit of God, but without fear. This lost-ness is rooted in utter trust that God is our God, our Creator and utter Knower of our being, the One who leads us through light and darkness, and encourages to pay attention to the glowing spider webs, the wild orchids, the moss, the dry stream beds, the lightning-blasted trees, in short, all aspects of God’s glory, along the way. God loves this world.”

Shirley O’Shea, “God at the Wood’s Edge, Beckoning.”  Episcopal CafĂ©, 6 Dec. 2015

Monday, March 21, 2016

Ponder: "a feel-good distraction"

"There is no end to Harvard's offenders--or Yale's or Princeton's or, for  that matter, most American institutions with a history.  Few entities can withstand the scrutiny of the modern conscience, and physically disassembling the artifacts of the past, attacking its symbols and its ghosts is a fool's errand--no matter how lofty the cause.  It illuminates little and is a feel-good distraction that comes at the expense of today's very real crises.  And picking and choosing which ancient offenses warrant purging creates the danger of prioritizing one historically disadvantaged group over another, inadvertently importing into our own age the very toxins of bigotry that activists now seek to condemn.

We can endlessly denounce the long-departed and disavow the already discredited, but to what end?  What we should do instead is devote ourselves to living our lives in a way that allows our descendants to take pride in the history we leave behind."

Ted Gup, “Waging War on the Dead at Harvard,” The Washington Post 20 Mar. 2016, A23

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Ponder: alive until the end.

Creation calls for self-surrender,
Not loud noise and cheap success.
Life must be lived without false face,
Lived so that in the final count
We draw unto ourselves love from space.
So plunge yourself into obscurity
And conceal there your tracks.
But be alive, alive your full share,
Alive until the end.
Boris Pasternak

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

For Meditation: "poisons the spiritual energy"

"The basic disease is sloth.  It is that strange laziness and passivity of our entire being which always pushes us 'down' rather than 'up'--which constantly convinces us that no change is possible, and therefore desirable.  It is in fact a deeply rooted cynicism which to every challenge responds 'what for?' and makes our life one tremendous spiritual waste.  It is the root of all sin because it poisons the spiritual energy at its vital source.

The result of sloth is faint-heartedness.  It is the state of despondency which all spiritual fathers considered the greatest danger for the soul.  Despondency is the impossibility for man to see anything good or positive; it is the reduction of everything to negativism and pessimism.  It is truly a demonic power in us because the Devil is fundamentally a liar.  He lies to man about God and about the world; he fills life with darkness and negation.  Despondency is the suicide of the soul because when man is possessed by it he is absolutely unable to see the light and to desire it."

Alexander Schmemann, Great Lent (2003), 34-35.

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Ponder: "inexorably to the cross"

From then on, the direction of Lenten energy leads compellingly and inexorably to the cross, and what God accomplished there for all humankind. It’s not that our own individual selves and our own individual sins no longer matter: they matter immensely. They merely pale in significance alongside that which is their antidote, their remedy. As we move through Lent, the theme becomes “less of me and more of Jesus, less of me and more of us.” “We adore you, O Christ, and we bless you, because by your holy cross you have redeemed the world.”  This is in itself a school of holiness, a preparation for our eschatological destiny.

 Dan Martins, "The Morphology of Lent.Covenant 4 Mar 2016

He came to himself

“He came to himself and said… ‘I will get up and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you.’” St. Luke 15:17-18

At first, of course, he blamed everyone else.  We would do the same, sitting there by the pigs, our bellies gnawing with hunger.  It had been quite a ride for a while: sharp clothes, fancy meals, all the wine he could drink, fast women.  He was on top of the world, a friend on every corner.  No rules, no boundaries, no regrets.  How in the world could it all have come to pieces so quickly? 

He blamed his parents, of course.[1]  Half the inheritance--they’d promised that’s what it amounted to, but it sure didn’t seem like very much.  And what about that responsible brother of his—if he’d have come to mind the books, well it wouldn’t have all slipped away so quickly.  He blamed all those who called themselves his friends, and sponged on his good nature, all those who’d tricked him into schemes and promised to pay him back in a month’s time.  Who wouldn’t blame a thief—the dealer with the weighted dice, the pickpocket who snatched the sack from his coat, the women who left his bed before dawn.  It was the fault of tailors who made shiny clothes that wore thin too quickly, tavern men who overcharged for cheap food.  And this wretched famine—who could have seen it coming.  This master he was serving—surely he could pay more.  Surely he could find some work with more dignity.  He cursed his lot.  He cursed his enemies.  He cursed life itself, and then stared back at the pigs, and he would have climbed down into the trough beside them if he could.

He was miserable, of course.  But there’s a kind of steadfastness that can come with misery, especially when we are so certain it’s all someone else’s fault. 

Monday, March 7, 2016

Ponder: "the chief obstacle and the only possible solution"

"In the early 1990s the cod fishery along Canada’s Atlantic coast disappeared almost overnight due to overfishing. The ecosystem was pushed beyond what it could bear, and the fishery simply and suddenly collapsed. There were no fish left. In 1992 the fishery was closed for good, and the cod population has never recovered. Neither the cod nor their prey nor the ocean itself cared a whit about the collapse. But tens of thousands of people in hundreds of coastal communities suddenly found themselves unemployed, and a way of life centuries in the making came to an end.

God said to Noah and his sons, “The fear of you and the dread of you shall be upon every beast of the earth, and upon every bird of the air, upon everything that creeps on the ground and all the fish of the sea; into your hand they are delivered. Every moving thing that lives shall be food for you; and as I gave you the green plants, I give you everything.” (Gen. 9:1-3)

With great power comes great responsibility. Our reason enables us to approach the boundaries of its own capacity and gesture beyond it, toward eternity. Here lies the mystery of our status as priests and kings of creation. Reason, the thing that separates us from brute beasts, does not liberate us from animality, but it liberates animality itself, for the actualization of a potential that cannot be actualized without reason. Cod do not fall into a depression when they run up against the limits of their codness; they accept it without wonder. And people who see our own species as the chief obstacle to conservation are only half right. Man is at once the chief obstacle and the only possible solution."

Will Brown, “A Catechismof Nature: Reason and the Destiny of Animal Life”  Covenant 3 Mar 2016

I believe in the Apostolic Church

“All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation.” 
II Corinthians 5:18-19

 Brazil has been in the news a great deal the last few weeks, as public health officials struggle to contain the Zika virus.  It is the latest in a series of challenges surrounding the country’s first opportunity to host the Olympic games, which will be held in Rio in July.  There’s still quite a bit of work to be done—mosquitoes to control, bays to clean up, stadiums to be completed.  And time is running short. 

 It was recently announced that the Olympic torch will be lit on the 21st of April at the ancient city in Greece where the games were first held millennia ago.  And though the games themselves are still very much a work in progress, the plan for moving the torch across the country, the Southern Hemisphere’s largest, are pretty astounding.  The torch will go on a 95 day tour around Brazil, visiting all 26 state capitals, as well as 500 other towns.  12,000 runners will carry it, passing the torch from hand to hand, covering a total distance of 20,000 km by road,[1] until it reaches its final destination and was used to light the great flame in the Olympic Stadium at the opening of the games.

What we call the apostolicity of the Church is that way in which the Church is so much like that torch that will be passed from hand to hand across Brazil. 

Sunday, March 6, 2016

Ponder: "the Sacrament, the Wilderness, Fasting"

"Ambrose of Milan noted that “there are three things which united together conduce to the salvation of man: the Sacrament, the Wilderness, Fasting” (Catena Aurea on Luke 4). The first and the last of these three conduits of salvation come naturally into sharper relief during Lent. But the middle term, the Wilderness, is seldom considered other than as an abstraction connoting the sort of quiet and solitude one may find in one’s own room with the door shut (Matt. 6:6).

But Jesus and his first disciples appear to have taken the wilderness more literally, spending time in wild places to cultivate communion with the Creator, not least, one may surmise, by beholding his works unmediated. One thinks of the 40 days in the wilderness at the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry, how the Gospels show him regularly seeking out lonely places (Luke 4:42), or how Paul withdrew for a time into the vastness of Arabia after his conversion (Gal.1:17). One thinks too of the withdrawal of Christians into the wildernesses of upper Egypt and Cappadocia and such places during the fourth century, at the foundation of Christian monasticism.