Maundy Thursday and Holy Week

Maundy Thursday and Holy Week

Foot Washing:

Who would not wash the feet  of the other

If we knew.

If we had the chance to take holy water,

Pour it over worn soles

Rub them and Towel them dry.

If we had the chance to show our love

Kneeling at the foot of

Holiness in the Other.

Would we not rush to the

Water?

 

The Anointing: “Leave her alone! She bought it (the ointment)  for my burial.”

We learned somehow along the way that we are buried with Christ in his death and we rise with Him through the waters of His baptism.  The life of the parish priest is a constant peeling away at what it means to bring the oils of baptism, healing and unction into the hospital room and the sick bed. The anointing of Jesus feet before his crucifixion by his old friend Mary evokes these experiences from a long priesthood.

Rosemary and Her Baby

Rosemary and I would run up the stairs from Sunday school to the parish hall. We’d slow down enough to reverently (almost) enter the church for the end of the Service. The stained glass window of a black Madonna and another of the Ascension intrigued.

Twenty years passed and Rosemary and her husband had a baby boy and came to me to baptize him. The baptism was delayed due to minor surgery for Rosemary and a slight stroke for her mother. Rosemary left her son with her mother who, it seemed, had recovered enough to watch the child. The boy was using a walker now, one of those round trays on wheels that let the boy scurry around the kitchen like a “ball o’ fire”. That day the harness that held the boy slipped and his neck was caught on the tray and he suffocated.

Rosemary and her husband called me. The child was in the Emergency Room. Please come. They wanted me to baptize the baby. I grabbed oils and a prayer book and rushed to the hospital. The male nurse brought a wash basin with water. I blessed the water and immersed the child. “Robert I baptize you in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.” I took the body in my arms and poured the blessed oil on his forehead. I made the sign of the cross and said: “Robert, I anoint you with this holy oil.  You are marked as a child of God and Christ’s own forever.”   He was also anointed with our tears.

Richard and His Lover

The gay man said, “You don’t know me.,You’ve never asked anything about me.”  Surprised, I recognized the truth of what he was saying.  I said.” Well, let’s get together next week for lunch. I’ll come to where you work.”  He had been active in many activities around the cathedral. We spent hour’s together working in the garden. Except for a short greeting, we had not spoken. Not once. I was embarrassed.

At lunch he told me some of his story: “I was in a long relationship with my lover when he contracted full blown AIDS. We were very close. Our lives were as entwined and sacred as any other marriage. His health quickly deteriorated. I spent the hours I wasn’t at work caring for him.  His family abandoned him. I was the only one he had. I’d feed him, make sure he took his medication, cook the meals he could eat and keep down. I’d clean him up, like a baby; toward the end he was totally helpless. His sores I’d anoint with salves and oils.”

“She bought the ointment for my burial.” Such great loves break our hearts and crack us open.

Born on St. Patty’s Day:

My dear friend was dying. He’d been moved to the hospice floor of the hospital, hovered over by nursing and medical staff who loved him as much as we did. Gene Logan was one of the great-souled ones. a contemporary Mahatma. He loved life and the life was, now rapidly, draining away. Jean, my wife, and I had to go away for a day and we were afraid he might not make it before we returned. Early in the morning we went to see him. Jean lifted the covers off his feet and began the rub them. A smile spread across his groggy and drugged face. Awake now I continued to joke with him. I was not going to stop joshing back and forth just because he was dying. What better time for a chuckle. “Gene,” I contended, “You say you’re Irish, but your mother was German, How’s that?” ”Well”, he replied affecting an Irish brogue, “Me sainted mother said that because I was born on St. Patty’s Day, I was doubly Irish.” He was a great story teller, stories that came out the streets of Brooklyn in a family of eight, years in the Navy, and raising a family. Jean and I gathered at his side; we held his hand, gave him communion and anointed him. Before we left Jean opened a chocolate candy bar and gave him a piece. Another smile enveloped his face. It looked as if he was tasting chocolate for the first and last time.

Then we left, Jean making sure he had the rest of the bar to eat after our departure.

When Sally, Gene’s wife, arrived an hour later, Gene was now peacefully asleep. Tell tale brown covered his lips, hands and face. She was afraid something terrible had happened to him in the night.  She soon discovered that we were the culprits.

He lasted another forty-eight hours. We were there with him and his family as the breath left him.

Happy St Patty’s Day, Gene. and Happy Birthday.

Foot Washing:

Who would not wash the foot of the other

If we knew.

If we had the chance to take holy water,

Pour it over worn soles

Rub them and Towel them dry.

If we had the chance to show our love

Kneeling at the foot of

Holiness in the Other.

Would we not rush to the

Water?

Palm Sunday Procession: 1981

On Palm Sunday the Combined Lutheran and Episcopal Congregations processed through the community. Led by the old and young who carried palms, the congregations stopped at various sites to offer prayers: The refurbished municipal building was the first site. The youth program, health center and Registry of Motor Vehicles had recently re-opened. The two congregations had pressured the city and the state to renovate and restore these vital services to the community.The new senior housing in the old high school was the second stop. At these sites we offered prayers of thanksgiving.

As we progressed we started to follow the way of sorrow: the drug house that destroyed the life of one of our children, was now boarded.The boy’s mother and sister processed with us.We stopped at the home of a single mother of twins whose husband recently died. The young mother walked with us as we pushed the red headed boys, Rory and Ryan, in the stroller.

Our last stop was the house of a young Black couple whose little girl died suddenly of what was later determined to be a hereditary illness passed down through the family for generations.The father was a student at the Boston University law school and the mother a nurse. The two were open wounds as we planned the girl’s memorial.  The service is a blur now. It was accompanied with news that the social worker at the hospital had begun to investigate the father for child abuse.

The procession was, in part, to remember the child. We carried her picture, like an icon.  After a brief and thorough investigation it was determined the family was not responsible for the child’s sudden death. Yet the scars on the spirit of the young couple were etched in their faces, the corners of eyes and mouth. We would not blind ourselves to the vulnerability of our brothers and sisters fierce and fragile souls.

We stopped at the little girl’s apartment on our way back to the church. Her parents walked with us.

It was a good place to stop and pray.

We returned to the church a little chilled and out of breath. The old timers had been driven, or pushed in wheecropped-img_0908.jpgl chairs, from site to site, and we all walked into the church singing hymns and waving branches of palm, having witnessed the victories and defeats of life in our little village in the city.

The way of sorrow, our Via Dolorosa, is not only some path where Jesus walked in Jerusalem. It is here and now, and so is the way to victory and resurrection. Two roads are traveled here and, it seems to me, they are the same road.

Easter: Three Women

Easter: Luke 24:1-10 Early, the three women arrived at the tomb where the body of Jesus had been lain. Two men dressed in white told them, “He is risen”… “Then they returned from the tomb and told all these things to the eleven and all the others. It was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James and the other women with them who told these things to the apostles.”

The three Women, Trinity

The three Women, Trinity

It was January and we were at the wedding of our daughter in India. The two children, Emily from Burlington, Vermont and Abhimanyu from New Delhi, India had, for the sake of love and insight, managed to transcend the bonds of clan and place and religion. They brought us to a land where we thought we never would go. 7500 miles, as the crow flies, on the other side of the globe, we were as far away from our New England roots as air travel and love would lead us.

New Delhi was warm with a slight chill in the night. The city was chaotic. The twenty million population survived, it seemed, without traffic rules.  Cows and dogs, sacred, as were all living and non-living things in India, roamed the streets and vacant lots as they scavenged for scraps of food among the weeds.

Into the scene arrived three women: My wife, Jean and two of Abhimanyu’s aunts, dressed beautifully in colorful saris. I watched as they laughed and celebrated this new couple in our lives.

They reminded me of the three women who arrived at that long ago tomb. Expecting to dress the tortured body of Jesus, they were confronted with another reality: you cannot bury love.  I imagine they would have sat together, weeks or months or lifetimes later, just as the three women in saris two thousand years in the future. As they remembered that day I can see them sharing a wonderful brew of tears and laughter.

We call it a new paradigm. It’s a resurrection of the life of the mind and heart.  A new community would move out from Jerusalem into the world. And so our children took us away from our comfort zone: from Burlington to Delhi.

We thought we knew our little worlds. Now just about everything was changed. A new world opened to us: from Jerusalem Jesus would lead them into Galilee; from Burlington our children would bring us to India. You can’t bury love.  Love will out.  Now there’s new life, a new world, another possibility for the healing of the nations, and maybe,

even, grandchildren.

The three Women, Trinity

The three Women, Trinity

Anointing: Lent 5

“Leave her alone! She bought it (the ointment) for my burial.”

I’ve baptized hundreds of babies and adults. Almost all of them were celebrations at the beginning of life. The oil for anointing was chrism or anointing for baptism. We learned somehow along the way that we are buried with Christ in his death and we rise with Him through the waters of His baptism.  The life of the parish priest is a constant peeling away at what it means to bring the oils of baptism, healing and unction into the hospital room and the sick bed. The anointing of Jesus feet before his crucifixion by his old friend Mary evokes these experiences from a long priesthood.

Rosemary and Her Baby

Rosemary and I would run up the stairs from Sunday school to the parish hall. We’d slow down enough to reverently (almost) enter the church for the end of the Service. The stained glass window of a black Madonna and another of the Ascension intrigued.

Twenty years passed and Rosemary and her husband had a baby boy and came to me to baptize him. The baptism was delayed due to minor surgery for Rosemary and a slight stroke for her mother. Rosemary left her son with her mother who, it seemed, had recovered enough to watch the child. The boy was using a walker now, one of those round trays on wheels that let the boy scurry around the kitchen like a “ball o’ fire”. That day the harness that held the boy slipped and his neck was caught on the tray and he suffocated.

Rosemary and her husband called me. The child was in the Emergency Room. Please come.   They wanted me to baptize the baby. I grabbed oils and a prayer book and rushed to the hospital. The male nurse brought a wash basin with water. I blessed the water and immersed the child. “Robert I baptize you in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.” I took the body in my arms and poured the blessed oil on his forehead. I made the sign of the cross and said: “Robert, I anoint you with this holy oil.  You are marked as a child of God and Christ’s own forever.”   He was washed by the flood of our tears.

The Gay Man and His Lover

The gay man said, “You don’t know me, you’ve never asked anything about me.”  Surprised, I recognized the truth of what he was saying.  I said.” Well, let’s get together next week for lunch. I’ll come to where you work.”  He had been active in many activities around the cathedral. We spent days together working in the garden. Except for a short greeting, we had not spoken. Not once. I was embarrassed.

At lunch he told me some of his story: “I was in a long relationship with my lover when he contracted full blown AIDS. We were very close. Our lives were as entwined and sacred as any other marriage. His health quickly deteriorated. I spent the hours I wasn’t at work caring for him.  His family abandoned him. I was the only one he had. I’d feed him, make sure he took his medication, cook the meals he could eat and keep down. I’d clean him up, like a baby; toward the end he was totally helpless. His sores I’d anoint with salves and oils.”

I thought of Mary anointing Jesus feet on that night long ago. “She bought the ointment for my burial.” Such great loves break us and break us open.

On suffering: A Free Form Meditation on Luke 13:1-9

Lent III, On Suffering and Being Prepared: Luke 13:1-9

Old timer Don MacKinnon was straight from a quadripple heart bypass operation. He showed the young priest the staples that held the incision that covered most of his chest cavity. He was glad he could stand. That week an earthquake struck Naples in Italy. Nearly 3,000 perished and an elementary school had been leveled.  For days frantic rescue workers unsuccessfully tried to reach the children trapped below. “Where was God?” Don asked the priest.

The priest tended to avoid easy answers. The sense of abandonment, the absence, the dull –dead space when blood rushes from the head and all is cold isolation was familiar territory. It was too easy to fill the vacuum with specious answers. For now, the priest knew, there is only pain and questions.

Do you know the Twenty –third psalm?” The priest asked. “Of course,” Don said. Most all the old timers had that psalm memorized since childhood. “Say it with me”, asked the priest.

The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.

He maketh me to lie down in green pastures,

He leadeth me beside the still waters, He restoreth my soul.

He leadeth me in the paths of righteousness, for His name’s sake.

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,

I shall fear no evil. 

For thou art with me.

Thy rod and thy staff, they comfort me.

Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of my enemies.

My cup runneth over.

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life

And I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

After a lengthy silence the priest asked, “What strikes you Don?” “…Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I shall fear no evil, for thou art with me.” Don replied.

“Has there ever been a time like that for you?” the priest asked.

“During the surgery,” Don replied.

“So you already know the answer,” the priest chuckled, “Why are you asking me?”

The young priest might have said to Don: “Where is god? God is in the rubble. God cradles the little ones in arms of love. She takes them in her loving embrace and weeps with ones who are left behind. God in God’s vulnerability takes on the whole world of suffering, and refuses to turn away from its numbing pain and stay with us through the “valley of the shadow of death”. Why would God take away our suffering any more than God would take away her own? God’s presence with those who suffer, while not always felt, is an article of faith to me.”  But that was long ago. He doesn’t remember everything he said to Don that day.

(That whole generation of the Jews since Job had refused to “blame the victim” for tragedies that were caused by nature, poor construction and the cruelty of tyrants. Suffering is not because you did something wrong, Jesus is saying. And yet here is the opportunity to reflect and “turn around”. That whole sense that time is running out which it was and always is… we don’t have that much more time to fool around with our lives. It’s time to take stock, rather than mark time, to use the life we have left to bless the creation.)

Now that March is here in the North Country, I’m going to spread lots of manure around the roots of my fruit trees. Figs don’t grow outside here. I‘ll have to wait for Florida or Jerusalem.

Prodigality: Lent 4.

Prodigality:  A Take on the Prodigal Son

Henri Nouwen,(1932-1996) in his book on The Return of Prodigal Son, writes about the week he spent in meditation of Rembrandt’s painting of the same name that hangs in The State Hermitage Museum in St Petersburg. For hours he sat alone in silence, using the image as an icon. (Look up: The Return of the Prodigal Son (Rembrandt) Wikipedia)

I imagine we all have stories of our own prodigality, the waste of our resources, energy, thought, over giving, Let us count the ways. It may not be a good Idea for the parish to hear of all your prodigal days.

Even so, my years in college and in Seminary were the result of my fathers VA benefit after WWII. He had been killed in action and so the benefit for education that would have gone to his going to Middlebury College, came to me.  I spent those college days in less study and more prodigality. Certainly I had to work two or three jobs to supplement college and seminary tuition and fees and I was often too bushed to study. But I “could” have been a lot more disciplined.  I probably owed that to my father.

And yet, I wonder if there is a part of us that needs to break away from the assigned roles of family, culture, and nation. Isn’t there a part that needs to get away from the farm, suburb or the neighborhood to see the world?

Maybe that is why the father is so prodigal with his generosity. The son who is lost and is found has learned a hard lesson about life. He has also learned humility and gratitude. Not that the father in his prodigal generosity needs a reason, he may see the necessity of getting out from under the heavy burden of duty and hyper-critical responsibility.

The elder son may never get it. Hide and duty bound, he is like that part of us that has always shown up. He’s always been on the job, never took a break. Often there is no greater resentment than that of those who have given much.  Loyal and stuck, the father reminds him so painfully and elegantly,” My boy, you have been with me all these years, there is nothing I have that is not also yours” The father presents an opportunity for the elder son to turn and receive his brother, to turn toward the light and the gaiety and the dance—or to turn away from his brother and the love of his father and walk into the darkness.

Some would probably say the father is over generous. And isn’t that just like God. Always ready to give away the shirt off her back: such prodigality.  What will we ever do with her?

The prodigal and the elder son, certainly, live within. We may even have seen flashes of the merciful father once in a while.  For as the poet Jane Kenyon wrote shortly before she died;

“And God, as promised, proves to be mercy clothed in light.”

 

Mercy Clothed in Light, Transfiguration and India

The Transfiguration, Year C. Last Sunday of the Epiphany:

The poet, Jane Kenyon, died after the onset of cancer at age fifty. She chronicled the experience of he loss of her physical abilities as the cancer progressed over 15 months. One of her poems written during this time in her life is so central to my thought this day when we talk about the brilliant light that runs through the readings this morning.  This is her poem entitled: “Notes from the Other Side.”

“I divested myself of despair    and fear when I came here.

Now there is no more catching one’s own eye in the mirror,

There are no bad books, no plastic, no insurance premiums, and of course

No illness.   Contrition does not exist, nor gnashing

of teeth.       No one howls as the first clod of earth hits the casket.

The poor we have no longer with us. Our calm hearts strike only the hour.

And God, as promised, proves to be mercy clothed in light.

And God, as promised, proves to be mercy clothed in light.

I returned Monday from our daughter’s wedding in India. The couple met and fell in love in Boston and The VT woman has just expanded the reach of our clan to the one place that seemed farthest away from our experience of the world. For one thing the Indians say they have either 3.9 or 32 million gods. I reply jokingly, ”is that all?” My head is spinning after hearing about the top twenty gods in the Indian pantheon and my eyes glaze over after 21. In a conversation with Jean, my wife, I said,” If there is one God in all creation that I could worship it would be a god of compassion”, or like Jane Kenyon wrote:  “And God as promised, proves to be mercy clothed in light.

In their defense the Indians say these God’s are aspects or attributes of the divine. We do somewhat the same thing with our thousand Saints or so. St Francis being one of our favorites. Maybe we all need some being some physical material incarnation of the Divine light to shine through the eye of the horse or the cow, a tiger or a Mother Teresa. In fact here in the readings this morning that is what happens. The light is so enveloping and so brilliant that when Moses comes out from the presence with the Holy he covers his face so that he will not blind the children of Israel.  Similarly with Jesus when he is enveloped in the cloud with Moses and Elijah, the three apostles are stunned and awed by the brilliance of the light.

So aren’t we using Jesus, Moses and Elijah to open a door to us into the heart of God? Of course we say Jesus is God with us and so it is that God takes the form of a human being so that we can see what it means for us to be truly human; to get a glimpse into the humane and human heart of the Divine.

The ultimate goal of the life of prayer and Christian practice is to become compassion clothed in light. Or to become like Jesus, not to become Jesus, but being ourselves, become like him.

Paul in his letter to the disparate church in Corinth writes his letter on love. Paul is not talking about romantic love; he uses the Agape in the Greek. Agape means something like unconditional love.

To love means to care about another‘s well being as much as you care about your own. As one of the saints said, “Practice love by putting love where there is no love and you will find love.”

Part of what I experienced in India was an awakening to what I really hold onto about Christianity, that it is so incarnational, so material, it is flesh and bone and sinew and brain and heart. It is a living breathing vibrating community of people who are trying to be compassion clothed in light. We stumble and fall along the way, but as we follow the enfleshed Son of God we find ways that we can live into the life of the holy.

In India Mother Teresa, a young Albanian Nun when confronted (as we were) with the suffering on the streets of Calcutta, the dying left to succumb in the gutters, she took them in. She couldn’t stop them from dying, from lives of deprivation–rather she gave them during the last months of their lives a place where they could be kept clean and warm and safe and a bed to sleep in/ she gave them back their dignity.  The sisters of Charity continue that ministry in New Delhi and Calcutta and Haiti and many other parts of the world to this day.

If you have been to India, it is a nation of 1.3 billion people. The challenges are daunting, and yet this young nun knew somehow she had to start somewhere. She is a window into the divine mercy of God in Light.

As I grow older I think that the task has been to grow into compassion, to grow into the God who is mercy clothed in light. When I was young it was a God of justice that I sought. As I grow older it is to live with compassion for all people and creatures. There is such a world of hurt that it seems by putting love and compassion where there is no love that justice will come. Love will challenge greed and all other self seeking that draws us from the love of god our neighbor and our self respect.

I think we all probably know this one truth about God that our God is a god of compassion who demonstrates to us over and over again the power of unconditional love to turn hearts and to transform the energy in a room or the world. Our task now it to become like Him

I look forward to being with you during the next ten weeks as you await your new priest. I see you living out this Gospel in this community. You are working to become children of the light, people of compassion. In my time with you two years ago, I watched as you brought a woman in who had been disfigured by her husband, I watched as you dealt with the devastation of Hurricane Irene and how you reached out to parishioners and neighbors. I look forward over the next weeks to listen to you tell some of your own moments and times of transfiguration. As we enter Lent it will be a good time to reflect and pray and divest ourselves of those things that keep us from being fully alive and human and humane. Amen