Saturday, March 30, 2013

Morning and Evening Prayer for Easter

Dear Friends,

I have just completed draft orders of Morning Prayer and Evening Prayer for use from Easter to Ascension.  You may obtain the PDF by clicking on the links below:

Draft Morning Prayer for Easter

Draft Evening Prayer for Easter

May your prayers rise like incense to the Holy One who has given us new life through Christ.


Planting Seeds

31 March 2013

Saint Faith’s Anglican Church
Vancouver BC
            In November of 2007 the city authorities in Amsterdam ordered a horse-chestnut tree chopped down due to the risk that it would fall down and injure passers-by.  However, a group came together and sought an injunction to prevent the tree from being chopped down.  The injunction was granted and a small foundation was established to provide funding for the stabilization of the tree.

            In August of 2010 a wind storm struck the city of Amsterdam and the tree broke off about 1.5 metres from the ground.  Luckily the tree only damaged a nearby garden shed and no persons were injured.

            Vancouverites are accustomed to this sort of ‘tree-hugging madness’.  After all, how many cities have groups whose primary goal is the preservation of a giant hollow tree stump in Stanley Park?  I admit that I am not immune.  Shortly after moving into the Rectory, I discovered a ‘volunteer’ oak sapling growing too close to the house.  So I moved the sapling into a place recently vacated by a diseased and dying evergreen.  The sapling thrived and now stands at least seven or eight metres high.  But I know that when the Rectory comes down, so my little oak tree will come down after almost fifteen years of care.

            You might ask why this horse-chestnut tree in Amsterdam attracted so much attention.  In 1940 the Germans invaded Holland and occupied the country.  Dutch Jews were among the first non-German Jews to be sent to the concentration camps and eventually to the extermination camps.  Escape from Holland was almost impossible and some Jews found sanctuary in the homes of sympathetic non-Jews.

            Among the Jewish families who found sanctuary was the Frank family.  For almost four years they hid in an attic until they were betrayed and sent to the concentration camps.  Only the father, Otto Frank, survived, but his daughter, Anne, wrote a diary which is now on the compulsory reading lists of secondary schools throughout the world.

            Among her entries is this one, written on the 23rd of February 1944, shortly before the family was discovered.  She wrote, “Nearly every morning I go to the attic to blow the stuffy air out of my lungs.  From my favourite spot on the floor I look up at the blue sky and the bare chestnut tree, on whose branches little raindrops shine, appearing like silver, and at the seagulls and other birds as they glide on the wind.  As long as this exists, I thought, and I may live to see it, this sunshine, the cloudless skies, while this lasts, I cannot be unhappy.”

            For Anne the tree represented hope for a future beyond the terror of the occupation.  She did not live to see the end of the terror, but the tree remained as a symbol of her hope.  For this reason the tree became an important civic symbol to the citizens of Amsterdam.

            Despite the best efforts of arborists and the good will of the property owner, the tree could not be saved.  But the tree kept producing viable seeds and, in 2011, saplings sprouted from seeds gathered by the arborists and lovingly tended.  This year some of the saplings will be sent abroad.  Among the locations are eleven in the United States including the Indianapolis Children’s Museum which houses a permanent exhibition entitled, “The Power of Children”.  The exhibition includes among its honorees Anne Frank; Ruby Bridges, the first African-American child to attend a whites-only elementary school; and Ryan White, an Indiana teenager diagnosed with HIV after receiving a tainted blood infusion to treat his hemophilia.

            The tree that was the object of Anne Frank’s reflections has not died.  It lives in the seeds that will now go throughout the world.  And in the years to come, other eyes will gaze upon the tree and remember the hope in the midst of terror.  Perhaps that gaze will generate within the observer the determination that such terror will never happen again.

            But the life of the tree could only be maintained by the efforts of others.  What it represents could only be shared when others took up the challenge to spread its seeds beyond the boundaries of Amsterdam.  Just like Scarlett O’Hara, life always relies on the kindness of strangers and on the kindness of friends and companions.

            My children tell me that among their friends a new verb has emerged:  ‘to leggett’.  ‘To leggett’ means to demand care and precision in how we speak.  For example, my children cringe when they or one of their friends says, “Can I?” when what they really mean is “May I?”  “Oh no,” they’ll cry, “Dad’s going to leggett!”  I regularly correct split infinitives and endure the misuse of ‘me’ instead of ‘I’.  I like to think that a significant number of rugby players and other children transported in my car have become paragons of the English language.

            Why do I bring this up today?  Because today we celebrate our belief that God has raised Jesus from the dead.  Notice the verb.  Jesus is the object of God’s action.  On the cross Jesus will say with his dying breath, “It is accomplished.”  But God was not finished with Jesus.  The cross was only a way-station towards the great thing that God was about to do.  Jesus did not rise from the grave; Jesus was raised from the dead by the gracious act of God. 

            My friends, Jesus remains in the tomb until he is raised by the words and deeds of those who claim to his followers.  The power of God incarnate in Jesus lies dormant until it is raised by believers who by word and action release the power of God into the world around them.  The promise of Easter remains fallow until its seeds are lovingly tended and then, with equal love and care, are planted in the gardens of our lives, the streets of neighbourhoods, the back alleys of our cities.

            All Peter and the other disciple saw was an empty tomb and went away pondering what the mystery of Jesus’ absence might mean.  It was Mary Magdalene who received the seed of new life when she saw the risen Christ.  It was Mary Magdalene who carried that seed and planted it in the midst of the bewildered disciples.  From that seed, the first seed of the good news of God in Jesus, that we were sprung into the life of faith.

                      In every generation the good news of God’s promise, the gospel of God’s new life in the here and now as well as in the future, waits for someone to take its seed and plant in new ground.  Some people may see this building and others like it as conservatories or arboretums to visit to gaze upon strange and beautiful species that cannot survive outside the walls within which they grow.  But we know this place to be a nursery where plants that are meant to take root in the world outside are cultivated and tended until they ready to be carried forth to find a new home where their life will give life.

            You know, I am tempted to sneak into the backyard of the Rectory when the time comes to redevelop the property.  I am tempted to sneak in and find a few seeds from my oak so that I can plant them, tend them and, if they spring into life, plant them in new places.  Perhaps we might do the same with the seeds of the good news of God in Jesus.  Certainly there are still a few places that need its shade and its promise of life.  Amen.

Friday, March 29, 2013

Mortal, Can These Bones Live?

Easter Vigil
30 March 2013

Saint Faith’s Anglican Church
Vancouver BC

            “Mortal, can these bones live!”  With this question God summons the prophet Ezekiel to a task that he probably hoped someone else might be called upon to do.  After all, Ezekiel has not had an easy time of it.
            A priest of the Temple in Jerusalem, Ezekiel was among the Judeans taken into exile by the Babylonians after they had defeated the Judeans and destroyed the city in 597 bce.  A few years after his arrival in Babylon, Ezekiel found himself called by God from his priestly ministry to a prophetic one.  But what a prophetic ministry was his!
            It fell to Ezekiel to tell the Judeans that their cherished temple and their monarchy had been brought to an end.[1]  It fell to Ezekiel to tell his compatriots that the city of Jerusalem had been destroyed.[2]  It fell to poor old Ezekiel to tell the exiles that God had ended their relationship with the land promised to their ancestors.[3]  These are hardly messages that a prophet hopes God would ask her or him to share with people.
            Ezekiel’s people were filled with questions.  Why is Israel in exile?[4]  Is God unjust?[5]  Why didn’t God protect the land of promise from the Babylonian invaders?[6]  Is God able to do anything in this situation?[7]
            To these and other questions Ezekiel does have any answer.  The old structures and systems that have been destroyed will be renewed so that they may do what God intended them to do --- to glorify God so that all people might know who is sovereign over history.[8]  In the meantime God will work to change how the people think and feel, creating a new covenant written on their hearts not on stone.[9]  Even in the exile the weak will be cared for and the spirits of the desolate and despondent will be raised up.[10]  Finally, peace will reign in the land.[11]
            But in the meantime, the people will endure their exile.  They will be, in almost every meaningful way, dead.  Their dry bones litter the landscape of Judea and the dry bones of their hopes and aspirations now litter the town and cities where the Babylonians have settled their captives.
            “Mortal, can these bones live?”  “Yes!”, God says, speaking through the prophet.  God will breathe life into the bones, put flesh and sinews upon them and they will rise up, a new people, a living witness to the God of Israel who does wonderful things.  The memory of the exile will not be erased, the sorrows of the loss of land and kin will be remembered, but the people, the people will have a new role to play in God’s salvation.
            “Mortal, can these bones live?”  This is a question asked by many of our aboriginal sisters and brothers as they look around at the third-world conditions that still afflict many First Nations communities in this country.  There are some who believe that the situation is endemic and cannot be remedied unless First Nations people abandon their lands and join so-called ‘mainstream’ Canadian society.
            Then, in January of this year, six young men and a guide left Whapmagoostui, Qu├ębec, the northernmost Cree community on the east shore of Hudson’s Bay to walk to Ottawa.  These young men had been inspired by the ‘Idle No More’ movement and one of them, David Kawapit, came up with the idea for a symbolic walk along the ancient trade routes that linked the communities along the shore of the Bay.
            Along the way their numbers grew.  When they reached Ottawa on this past Monday, more than 400 aboriginal walkers had joined the seven.  What did they want to show?  They wanted to show that their culture is not dead, that the sorrows of the loss of land and kin will not be allowed to disempower the current generation, and the people, the people will have a new role to play in Canada, the land of their ancestors.
            “Mortal, can these bones live?”  “Yes,” said young David and his companions.  The Creator has a purpose for all creatures, including aboriginal and non-aboriginal Canadians.  Together we might craft the just society that we all desire.
            “Mortal, can these bones live?”  There are no doubt some who wondered whether Christian traditions such as ours that value open minds, open hearts and open hands have a future.  Perhaps we are living through an exile no less difficult than that of our sisters and brothers in Babylon.  We seem caught in the jaws of a religious culture where the middle way, a way that values both mind and heart, that honours both faith and questioning, is being chewed into pieces.  Our secular neighbours identify us with less respectful and more dogmatic forms of religious practice.  Many young people seek wisdom from wells other than the worshipping communities that tonight celebrate the resurrection of Jesus.
            But before we wonder whether God has forgotten us, let us not forget that the people of Israel, despite all the efforts of tyrants, still witness to the Holy One of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.  Before we ponder whether we have a future, let us not forget David Kawapit and his companions who witness to the vitality of peoples who have more reason than we to question the future.  Before we give in to any despondency, let us not forgot that two thousand years ago a small group of Jews thought that their beloved teacher was dead and their hopes buried with him.  Within fifty days they were preaching and teaching, healing and growing.  Even the mightiest empire of the day could not resist the message.
            “Mortal, can these bones live?”  Most certainly they can.  Most certainly they will.  And the rattling of the bones coming together will fill the earth with the sounds of God’s renewing and compassionate love.  Amen.

[1] The New Interpreter’s Study Bible, 1153.

[2] The New Interpreter’s Study Bible, 1153.

[3] The New Interpreter’s Study Bible, 1153.

[4] The New Interpreter’s Study Bible, 1153.

[5] The New Interpreter’s Study Bible, 1153.

[6] The New Interpreter’s Study Bible, 1153.

[7] The New Interpreter’s Study Bible, 1153.

[8] The New Interpreter’s Study Bible, 1153.

[9] The New Interpreter’s Study Bible, 1154.

[10] The New Interpreter’s Study Bible, 1154.

[11] The New Interpreter’s Study Bible, 1154.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Missing the Point --- Again!

Missing the Point --- Again!

RCL Maundy Thursday
28 March 2013

Saint Augustine’s Anglican Church
Vancouver BC

Exodus 12.1-14; Psalm 116.1, 10-17; 1 Corinthians 11.23-26; John 13.1-17, 31b-35
            Missing the point seems to be a frequent occurrence for people of religious faith.  Let’s take Judas, for example.  Now Judas is one of the more mysterious figures in the New Testament.  He is vilified as a thief.  He stands condemned as a traitor.  Biblical scholars still debate why Judas did what he did.  In today’s gospel Jesus’ words to him only add to the mystery:  ‘Do quickly what you are going to do.’ (John 13.27)

            I have often pondered who Judas was.  On this final night before the crucifixion Matthew, Mark and Luke tell us Judas shared in the bread and the wine that symbolize the new covenant that Jesus makes between his disciples and the living God.  On this final night before the crucifixion Jesus washes Judas’ feet and, before he departs, Judas hears Jesus say, ‘For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you.’ (John 13.15)

            But poor, old Judas, fed with the bread of new life, quenched with the wine of forgiveness, washed with the water of servanthood, misses the point.  Whether he acts out of jealousy or political opportunism or pure evil or whatever motive we may name, he misses the point that God is making in the ministry of Jesus of Nazareth.

            A little over a year ago I had the privilege of being part of a tour of Israel and the West Bank sponsored by the Central Conference of American Rabbis, the primary association of Reform rabbis in North America.  Our tour was the first-ever inter-faith tour sponsored by the Conference with eight Jewish rabbis from all over North America bringing one or more of their Christian colleagues along. 

            Two weeks before Rabbi Philip Bregman of Temple Sholom and I left Vancouver for Tel Aviv, along with my Lutheran colleague, Paul Schmidt, and my United Church colleague, Gary Gaudin, a brawl broke out in the Church of the Holy Nativity in Bethlehem.  The church is maintained by three Christian communities:  the Armenian Orthodox, the Greek Orthodox and the Roman Catholics.  They have very precise rules about who does what in the church and those rules include who cleans what portion of the church and when.

            It seems that two of the communities, the Armenians and the Greeks, were cleaning the church in preparation for the celebration of Orthodox Christmas on the 6th of January.  Some monk, whether Armenian or Greek, we don’t know, started cleaning the wrong section of the floor.  Brooms and mops began to fly until the Palestinian police were called in to keep the peace and to keep the two communities apart.  If you check the internet, you can see a picture of a cordon of police separating two groups of monks as they clean the floors.

            Once again Christians seemed to miss the point of the Gospel --- and the world had a field day.

            While we were in Israel, we spend a day and a half in Jerusalem, barely time to scratch the surface of the surface of this place sacred to Jews, Christians and Muslims.  Early on a Saturday we began a walking tour on the Mount of Olives, following a steep road that was likely built on top of the ancient highway from the Mount and into the City itself.  After winding our way by the Pool of Bethsaida and other sites, we found ourselves on the roof of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.

            On the roof Ethiopian monks live in ramshackle shacks that are frequent targets of objects thrown by Syrian monks who live higher up in an adjoining building.  From the roof we made our way through tiny passageways and down narrow stairways until we came to the courtyard of the Church itself.  I can tell you that I was overwhelmed by all the sights and all the emotions of being in this place.

            We were given some time to visit the church.  I paused by a stone slab thought by some to be the stone upon which the body of Jesus was anointed and wrapped before his hasty burial in the tomb.  I knelt and I wept.

            As I joined the queue to enter into the tomb itself, the sounds of the Franciscan friars singing vespers filled the church.  I found myself being carried forward by the crowd and caressed by the music.

            Suddenly the sound of new voices, strong voices, assertive voices, began to drown out the sounds of the Franciscans.  A choir of Armenian monks led a priest to the tomb.  Those waiting to enter the tomb were firmly pushed aside by Russian monks whose job seemed primarily to be one of crowd control.  The Western chants of the Franciscans competed with the Eastern chants of the Armenians in a cacophony of sacred song that shattered any peace I had been experiencing.

            Finally the Armenians and the Franciscans were finished.  The queue moved forward and I entered the tomb.  Russian pilgrims, forbidden for so many years from visiting Jerusalem, bring hundreds of long, slender candles which they lay on the tomb and take home to friends and relatives.  I waited in the tiny chamber before the tomb itself, a spiritual challenge for a claustrophobe like me, while two Russian women laid their candles on the slab where Jesus is supposed to have lain.  They prayed and I quietly waited my turn.  ‘Bistro!  Bistro!  Bistro!’ shouted an Orthodox monk behind me, ‘Hurry up!  Hurry up!  Hurry up!’

            I knelt at the slab.  I calmed my thoughts and said, ‘Well, we’ve missed the point again, haven’t we, Lord!?’

            Tonight we gather for rituals that the church has celebrated for more than a thousand years.  Feet will be washed; bread and wine will be shared ‘remembering the Lord’s death until he comes’.  The church will darken and our vigil until the resurrection will begin.  And the question will hang over us and over all the churches that celebrate this festival:  Will we miss the point?

            The bad news is that we will miss the point.  We all have our better days and our worse days, days when the fire of the Gospel is warm within us and days when not even a hurricane will cause the embers of the Gospel within us to blaze into a fire that beckons others to its warmth.

            But the good news is this:  God never abandons us.  God never gives up hoping in us and through us.  Jesus knew that Judas was about to betray him, but that did not prevent Jesus from offering Judas his body and blood, did not prevent Jesus from washing Judas’ feet as a sign of God’s self-giving love.  Despite the clashes between Christians of different traditions in Israel and the West Bank, they continue to be a witness to the love of Christ in a troubled part of our world.  Our failures, our tepidness in commending the faith that is within us, cannot dampen God’s passion for this world and for all its creatures, human and non-human alike.

            So, as we wash the feet of sisters and brothers tonight, let us remember the point:  that our Lord washed the feet of those who were courageous and those who were cowardly, those who were faithful and those who were unfaithful, and loved them all with unfailing love and compassion.  As we eat the bread and drink the cup, let us remember the point:  that as our Lord gives himself to us in the bread and the wine, so we, who are his body and blood in the world, are called to give ourselves to each other and to all who are seeking what we have found in this family of Christ.

            For tonight at least, let us not miss the point.  Amen.