Sunday, April 16, 2017

Taking Easter Home

“Behold, he goeth before you into Galilee; there shall ye see him.”  St. Matthew 28:7

One of the special things about settling in the DC area for Allison and me is spending time in the city where we fell in love.  Back in the summer of 2003, I had just finished my studies at seminary and was getting ready to begin as a teacher at a boarding school near Hagerstown.  Allison was a public policy student completing her mandatory student internship at a organization on Capitol Hill.  I’d meet her after work in the grand hall of Union Station and we’d head off to one of those free concerts at the Kennedy Center or we’d sit and talk in one of those pleasant little parks near the Capitol, or share a meal in that most exotic and romantic locale, the food court in the basement of the train station.

Sometimes, when we’ve got the kids in the backseat and we’re headed off to a museum on the Mall or to see a friend who lives across town, we’ll drive by one of these places and tell them a little about what it meant to us then.   So much that has happened since then that we never expected, but many of the good things we do enjoy now were planted there.  Going back to those places, we fall in love again, or at least we understand something valuable about the love we share now, something we can only discover there, where it all began.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

It Would Have Been Enough

“Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.”  St. John 13:1

Maybe you saw the article in the Washington Post last week about matzoh man’s visit to Farragut Park[1].  Maybe, at least, you remember the unforgettable picture.  Matzoh Man is a rabbi, Shmuel Herzfeld of Synagouge Ohev Sholom in Northwest.  About this time every year he dresses in his matzoh suit and kippah, which are white with brown spots.  He revs up the matzoh mobile, a Crown Vic wrapped in a vinyl coating that makes it look like the ubiquitous Jewish cracker. 

And he drives downtown to pass out boxes of the unleavened bread, all the while wishing people a happy Passover and reminding Jews to keep the Seder at home this year.  He’s ready to give you the matzoh you need, to invite you to the community seder at his synagogue, to do everything he can to awaken the consciousness of America’s increasingly secular Jews to remember their ancient traditions and to celebrate God’s faithfulness once more this year.

The Post reporter, who was obviously having a great time with the article, asked rabbi Herzfeld why he does it.  And as I was reading, I thought to myself: “this guy is going to say he was a performance artist in his former life, or that he finished last in the rabbinical council’s fantasy football pool.”  Why else would a well-educated, successful religious leader go downtown dressed like a Saltine to shame his fellow Jews into keeping the Seder. 

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Homage for Our True King

From the Sounds of St. Francis, 13 April 2017

I know that several of you, like me, enjoyed watching the recent Netflix miniseries, The Crown.  For me, one of the most moving scenes was Elizabeth’s coronation in Westminster Abbey at the close of the fifth episode, an event whose planning had consumed a good deal of the dramatic tension in the several episodes preceding it.  The Netflix series faithfully rendered the grand music, solemn ritual and stunning costumes of the ceremony. 

It also showed part of the homage, the ancient ceremony that follows the anointing and crowning of the monarch.  The senior nobles of the kingdom, the “lords of the realm,” (Prince Philip notably among them) knelt before the new queen to speak an oath and kiss her hand.  The words of the oath at the homage (not includes in the series script, if I remember correctly), are these: “I do become your liege man of life and limb, and of earthly worship; and faith and truth I will bear unto you, to live and die, against all manner of folks.  So help me God.”

The oath is a promise of deep loyalty.  The act of kneeling expresses respect, even a kind of reverence for the monarchy and its place in the life of the nation.  And the kiss is a token of affection, a sign that the promise is made freely, with the whole heart.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

A Text with Consequences

From The Sounds of St. Francis, 5 Apr. 2017

Lauren Winner, a professor at Duke Divinity School, grew up as an Orthodox Jew.  In college, she converted to Christianity and is now an Episcopal priest.  Much of Winner’s writing focuses on the way her practice of Judaism has helped her to appreciate aspects of the Christian faith many of us Gentiles take for granted. She also describes how tone-deaf the Church can sometimes be about the way Jews perceive basic elements of our faith, when our words are set in the context of centuries of Christian hostility to the Jews. 

In her memoir, Girl Meets God (2003), she describes one of her first experiences of the Palm Sunday liturgy in her Episcopal congregation in New York City.  Reflecting on hearing the reading of Saint Matthew’s Passion Gospel (the same text we will read next Sunday), she wrote
“Today I feel stunned.  I am stunned because of how the Jews look in this drama.  He whole thing reeks of charges of deicide. The Passion play makes sharper what John’s Gospel makes clear: Pilate is useless, the Jews are to blame, they turn into some bloodthirsty chanting mob and killed Jesus.  I look around me at the small children sitting in their pews and I think, When they leave, they will think the Jews are bad
I don’t know what to do with this text, but I figure this much should be obvious; it has been two thousand years, and we see that this story, the Jews-killed-Christ story, is a story with consequences.  After two thousand years, it seems to me the Church should take some responsibility for the way we tell this piece of salvation.  I don’t mean we should deny that this chapter is sacred writ, or stop reading it.  But we shouldn’t just act out charges of deicide, and then leave them sitting there (160-161).

Sunday, April 2, 2017

In the House of Affliction

In the liturgical calendar, today, the Fifth Sunday in Lent, marks the beginning of Passiontide, when we shift our attention to Christ’s suffering and death. In the congregations where I have served before, we would mark this day by covering all the crosses in the church with purple veils.  This isn’t your practice here, probably because of the number of yards of purple cloth it would take to cover that cross suspended from the ceiling over the Altar. 

But it remains fitting to grapple with this Gospel text, the story of the raising of Lazarus, on this day.  The Book of Isaiah describes death as “the covering that is cast over all peoples, the veil that is spread over all nations.[1]”  Even if there are no cloth veils in the sanctuary, the events of the story we have just heard are shrouded by death’s power. 

Lazarus, is of course, a man destined to die from the beginning of the story, and he will rest in the tomb for four days before Jesus arrives.  His sisters are shattered with grief, and they are surrounded by a crowd of mourning friends, who seem to be trying, without much success to offer comfort.  Even the name of their village, Bethany, gives the measure of things—it means “the house of affliction[2]