Sunday, March 31, 2024

Why Are We Weeping? A Sermon for Easter Sunday

 Preached at All Saints, Collingwood, Anglican Diocese of Toronto, Easter Sunday, 31 March, 2024.  Isaiah 25:6-9; Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24; Acts 10:34-43; John 20:1-18


Jesus said to her, "Woman, why are you weeping? “ (Jn 20.13)

There are times in our lives, mercifully rare, we hope, when despair and grief are too much for us, and our only recourse is to weep, and by weep I mean something more than a sad sniffle.   Weeping is a word that we use to describe what we sometimes call, in today’s vernacular, “ugly crying”, when our faces crumple and distort and inarticulate sounds come from deep within us, hence the phrase “weeping and wailing”.   I’ve seen soldiers, strong men and women, weeping at the sight of a comrade’s flag-draped casket.   To truly weep is to find one’s self in a place of utmost despair.

It is in such a place that we find Mary Magdalene in our Easter gospel reading.     John doesn’t tell us why she has come to Jesus’ tomb in the predawn, though we can imagine what she saw and felt, standing near the cross as Jesus died along with her hopes.    Perhaps she had hoped that in visiting his tomb, she might find some comfort and companionship there, in the way that grief brings us to the gravesides of loved ones.

But Mary finds no comfort, only the confusion of an empty tomb and the indignity of a stolen body, which she reports to the disciples.   It’s only after they see for themselves and leave that Mary begins to weep.   John tells us that  “As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb” which may mean something more than “she was curious and had another look”;  rather it may imply that she in her sobbing she had doubled over or crumpled to the ground and only then did she see the angels.   Even then her grief persists, because Jesus (whom she does not recognize) asks her again, “why are you weeping” (Jn 20.13).

“Why are you weeping” is the question that undergirds the miracle of Easter.   It is the question that Jesus likewise asks as we stand, confused and uncertain, beside his empty tomb.  “Why are you weeping?”

Why are we weeping?   We are weeping because we, like Mary, have been weeping since we saw our Lord taken in the garden.  We have wept for his betrayal by his friend.  We have wept to see an innocent man cruelly killed.  We have wept for ourselves, because we cried out “Give us Barrabas” and “Crucify him”, because we promised to stick with him till the end, until we abandoned and denied him.   We have wept for our sins which Jesus took to the cross to be bought and paid for.   We have wept and we still weep for the world which God so loved, and which we have imperilled in so many ways.

Why are you weeping?   It seems to me that we as a society are either weeping, sad, or just laughing nervously because we find ourselves, like Mary Magdalene, in a place of grief, confusion, and hopelessness.    Last week in The Guardian, Dorian Lynskey wrote  a piece on our current dystopian mood called “End of the World Vibes”.  Lynskey he noted that “A peer-reviewed 2021 survey of people aged between 16 and 25 around the world found that 56% agreed with the statement “Humanity is doomedand that one in three Americans expect an apocalyptic, world-ending event in their lifetimes.    This mood is fuelled by books, streaming shows and films about zombies, pandemics, and environmental collapse.     While Lynskey notes that doomsayers have always been around, the current mood, and the fading of religion to the margins of our society, mean that we are living through a crisis of hope.  Many smart and caring people I know just avoid the news these days, and those who are addicted to social media use a word, “doomscrolling”, which means going from one moment of horror and outrage to another.

It is to us, and to those of us fearful or just numbed by this crisis of hope, that Jesus comes and asks, “Why are you weeping?”   It is a question put to us with the greatest sympathy and understanding, for Jesus asks this question with great sympathy, because he has never been afraid to weep.   John tells us that Jesus wept and was “greatly disturbed” at the grave of Lazarus, even though God would give him the power to raise his friend from the dead (Jn 11:35,38).      In Luke’s gospel, as Jesus sees Jerusalem for the last time, he weeps for the city, for its faithlessness and for its impending destruction (Lk 19.41-45).  In the Garden of Gethsemane, Luke doesn’t tell us that Jesus wept for himself, but his anguish and sweat “like great drops of blood” suggest something very close to weeping.  So of course Jesus asks Mary why she is weeping because he understands what it means to weep.  He understands the human condition because he shared it fully, all the way up to death.   Such sharing and solidarity was the same point of the incarnation.

Likewise, the point of the resurrection is that the raising of Jesus from the dead means the end of our weeping.  Nothing less than the resurrection can solve crisis of hope and end our tears.    As he does with Mary, Jesus calls us to rise from our crouching posture, to get up from our fear and despair and sadness, to look into his face and see again our Lord and friend.     Imagine Jesus gently brushing your face and wiping away your tears.  Notice the wounds in his hands as he does so.   Those wounds are there for us.  

As Isaiah said, “by his stripes are we healed”.  Today promises us that we are loved and forgiven.  Being loved and forgiven does solve wars or save the planet, though it is a start.  What it does mean is that we are not doomed.  It means that we as followers of Jesus can do our part for God's kingdom while facing whatever befalls us with peace, knowing that doom and death have no dominion.

The risen Jesus is the end of our weeping.   Indeed, the final story of the Bible, the climax of the Christian story, is the abolition of weeping.

‘See, the home of God is among mortals.
He will dwell with them;
they will be his peoples,
and God himself will be with them;
he will wipe every tear from their eyes.
Death will be no more;
mourning and crying and pain will be no more,
for the first things have passed away.’

(Rev 21:3-4)

God does not promise us a life free from pain.  There will be times for tears, as there was in our Lord’s life.   But today is the assurance that hope and life have triumphed over despair and death.  Today is the beginning of the end of all our weeping.

Children's Talk: Jesse the Bible Bear and Fr. Michael on Easter Eggs

Friday, March 29, 2024

Our Representative: A Homily for Good Friday

 Preached at All Saints, Collingwood, Anglican Diocese of Toronto, on Good Friday, 29 March, 2024.  

Readings for this day:  Isaiah 52:13-53:12; Psalm 22; Hebrews 4:14-16, 5:7-9; John 18:1-19:42

What would our service and our church look like on this day to someone who were to experience Christian worship for the first time?  What conclusions would that person draw about our faith?

Recently in the Anglican Digest, an American bishop, the Rt. Rev. Brian Burgess, described an old childhood friend who had reached out to him and wanted to reunite on the weekend of Easter, the Triduum as we call it.   Since the Bishop could not take time off work, he invited his old friend to come and visit him at church, and so his friend, who was totally unfamiliar with Christianity, arrived at a Good Friday service to find the church “stripped, cold, and bare”.

Bishop Burgess wrote that he was grateful that his friend came on this particular day in the church year.

“Now if I had pick one service, one observance of our Calendar that speaks to those who are unchurched and who have quite difficult career paths to navigate, I would choose Good Friday.   I say that because we lose sight of the essence of Easter when we have no concept of what it is we are being saved from.   We can become distracted from the cross of Christ.  … The goal of our Christian lives is our death and resurrection in Jesus Christ.”

Notice that the Bishop did not write, “the death and resurrection in Jesus Christ”.    He is surely correct to say “our death and resurrection in Jesus Christ” because if today, Good Friday, is about what happens to Jesus on the cross, then it is also about us.   How exactly we are involved is a mystery to be sure.  Theologians speak of how the crucifixion is about Jesus atoning for our sins, but how this happens is a mystery which no one theology of atonement can satisfactorily explain.

The American priest and theologian Fleming Rutledge, whose writings I quoted frequently during Epiphany this year, has written a massive and learned book on The Crucifixion which is essential reading.   This year as I reread it, one passage stayed with me.  Rutledge mentions that the novelist Joseph Mitchell, who was himself a Christian, described a last conversation with her sister at her deathbed.   His sister asked him “what does Jesus’ death on the cross a long time ago have to do with my sins now?”   Mitchell recalled how he struggled to find words, and finally he said “Somehow, he was our representative” (Rutledge 6-7).

He was our representative.  Our second reading from Hebrews might lead us to doubt that, since it stresses Christ’s reverent obedience and submission to God’s will.    But the essential thing the author of Hebrews and Joseph Mitchell agree on is that Christ is our representative, in the same way that a priest represents his or her congregation.     And, on the cross, Jesus represents us and our sinfulness in a way that we cannot.

What can I say about sinfulness that the world does not already teach us?   Every day we learn that sinfulness is both enormous and seemingly intractable.    The UN tries to end the war in Gaza, and yet the various sides refuse a ceasefire for their own reasons, and millions slide into starvation.   Missiles crash into apartment blocks in Ukraine, and yet politicians talk about freezing the conflict rather than solving it.   Homelessness and gross disparities in wealth increase in our prosperous country, and yet no party seems to have any real answer.

The cross teaches us that these are our problems are sin, sin originating from within the human heat, for it was humans, seemingly righteous humans, political humans, that nailed Jesus to the cross.    The cross teaches us that without God, sin has no definitive answer.  

It is popular for many in our church today to see the cross as an instrument of political oppression, that Christ is the victim of this oppression, and that we are called to resist oppression and embrace a vision of social justice.   Indeed, God’s call is a call of social justice, for Jesus said at the start of his ministry that the kingdom of God has come near.    But, we can only enter the kingdom of God through the cross, for unless we healed of our sin, our attempts at justice will always just be social projects, subject to the whims and trends of the world.

Tomorrow night, at St Luke’s, we will witness a baptism, and be reminded that through baptism we share in Christ’s death as we die to our sins and rise with Christ, regaining what was always dreamed for us in the heart and mind of God.   Today, we can see that same salvation as we look to the cross, the place where we are healed and transformed.

I leave the last word to that great Anglican poetic and mystic, John Donne, who wrote:

“We think that Paradise and Calvarie,

Christ’s Crosse and Adam’s tree, stood in one place.

Look, Lord, and finde both Adams met in me;

As the first Adam’s sweat surrounds my face,

May the last Adam’s blood my soul embrace.”

Thursday, March 28, 2024

Welcome to the Father's House: A Homily for Maundy Thursday

  Preached at All Saints, Collingwood, Anglican Diocese of Toronto, on Maundy Thursday.   Readings for today:  Exodus 12:1-4 (5-10), 11-14; Psalm 116:1, 10-17; 1 Corinthians 11:23-26; John 13:1-17, 31B-35


Note:  I'm indebted to the most recent  podcast on Maundy Thursday from and to Johanine scholar Karoline Lewis for her preceptive comments on tonight's gospel.  MP+

Tonight as we begin the Triduum, the great three days of Easter, our liturgy takes a curious and dramatic turn.  Besides reenacting the last supper in the form of the Eucharist, as we do normally, we reenact the account in St. John’s gospel of what occurred on that last night that Jesus spent with his friends before his death, as he bent down and washed their feet.   I sometimes wonder what a visitor might think of tonight if this was their first experience of Christian worship!

We only hear about Jesus washing his disciples’ feet in St. John’s gospel.  Had this act been mentioned in the other three gospels, it might be the thing we do when we gather every Sunday instead of the eucharist!

Most of us are probably grateful that foot washing did not become the primary sacrament of the Christian church, probably because many of us have boundaries around our persons

In my first parish, there was a free foot clinic for seniors offered monthly in the village, and one day an old gentleman pitched up at the church door.  “I’m here to get my feet fixed”, he said, looking at me expectantly, and it was with great relief that I directed him down the street to the clinic.

As we get older, we are more reluctant to let people see us or touch us in intimate ways, and exposing one’s feet with their dirt, callouses, and other blemishes can make us feel vulnerable (especially true of men whose wives sing the praises of the pedicure).    Speaking for myself, unless I’d been injured and was in the ER, I wouldn’t want someone else to handle my bare feet.   I’d be too self conscious.

Things were different in the ancient world, where foot washing was offered to a guest after a long or dusty journey.  For Jews, foot washing for guests was  a sign of hospitality and had no religious significance.   It was considered separate from ritual purification, which one would have done at home before visiting another house  (Jesus:  “One who has bathed does not need to wash, except for the feet” Jn 13.10).

When they arrived at someone’s house, it’s unlikely that a guest would have felt particularly self-conscious about letting someone wash their feet,  because that person would have been a servant or a slave.    “Who cares what a servant thinks of my ugly feet, they’re not really a person” would have been the attitude of many.   This attitude survives to this day in different forms,  for example in the way in the way that most hotel guests often treat the cleaning staff and maid service as if they’re invisible.

 Jesus’ decision to wash his disciples’ feet scandalizes them, particularly Peter, who seems to think it is inappropriate for Jesus “You will never wash my feet” (Jn 13.7).  However, Jesus insists that the disciples let their rabbi do this, because in blurring the distinction between servant and master, Jesus is setting an example for them:  “If I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet” (Jn 13.14)

Now at this point we might conclude that Jesus is simply making an ethical point, that we should be nice to one another and look after one another, regardless of social status.

But, let’s look more closely at what Jesus is doing.   In playing the role of the servant, who is making the guests welcome and ready to enter the master’s house, Jesus is welcoming the disciples into a deep relationship, an abiding, with himself and with his father.    As Jesus tells them later in the same evening, “In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places” (Jn 14.2).   This is not just a reference to a place to live.  Jesus is not talking about a condo where we can shut the door and have a space to ourselves.  Rather, Our Lord is, to use a word that Jesus likes to use in John’s gospel, is talking about “abiding” with God, a dwelling with God, to be literally at rest in the presence of God.

We see an image of what this abiding with Jesus looks like in the verses that are cut out of tonight’s gospel reading.  After the foot washing, the disciples recline on couches to eat, as was the custom, and while Jesus is predicting his betrayal “One of his disciples – the one whom Jesus loved – was reclining next to him” (Jn 13.23).  That posture, one of intimate presence and closeness to Jesus, even actually leaning or resting on Jesus, may explain why this particular disciple is often called “the Beloved Disciple”, which some people take to be reference to John himself.

Take a moment to imagine the scene, to be resting so close to Jesus, to even be leaning on him.   It’s an image that’s just as intimate, maybe even more so, than the footwashing.  Wouldn’t you want such an opportunity to be so close to Jesus, to be allowed into his presence so that you could rest your cares and burdens on him?      It’s also an image of deep relationship and closeness to God that echoes what we hear in the Prologue to John’s Gospel, that “It is God’s only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart” (Jn 1.18).

It may well be though that in John’s gospel the term beloved refers to the church in general, or to anyone who wished to be a follower of Jesus.    Contrast the posture of the beloved disciple, reclining in the presence of Jesus, with that of Judas, who will leave to betray Jesus (Jn 13.21-30).   Judas, like the other disciples, has experienced the love of Jesus by having his feet washed, but he chooses to reject this gift and leave.    

And yet, those who profess to stay with Jesus to the end, like Peter (Jn 13.36-38) will, as Jesus predicts, betray him, thus reminding us that we are frail, even sinful, and all in need of the love and forgiveness that Jesus offers and will offer on the cross, as we hear tomorrow on Good Friday.

“I give you a new commandment, that you love one another, just as I ave loved you, you also should love one another” (Jn 13.34).  If we just thought about these words in terms of the foot washing episode, we might just think that this commandment was just about doing stuff, about loving others even if they make us uncomfortable, which it is, in part, but it is also more than about ethics, about how we treat one another.    It’s also about how God treats us.

In washing his disciples’ feet, Jesus is putting them at the door of his Father’s house and inviting them in as guests.   He welcomes them, and us, to his Father’s mansion.  Once inside, Jesus invites us to recline with him, to rest ourselves in him, to abide with him, to experience the deep love that he shares with the father. 

This love is offered to all of us, drawing us all into the love and peace and joy that Jesus shares with the Father.    It’s a deep invitation that erases the distinction between master and servant, where none are inferior or above others.  It’s the love that creates a new community, where we can all be forgiven and beloved disciples and thus become more like Jesus in how we live with one another.

This Easter, I encourage you not to hold back from this invitation to come home, to live with Jesus in the heart of the Trinity.    If you feel you aren’t worthy, remember that just as Jesus knew Judas would betray him and Peter would deny them, even so he loved them “to the end”, or “to the uttermost” as another translation puts it.    That same love is offered to you, to come into the Father’s house and rest there, knowing that we are loved and forgiven, and so finding ourselves able to love others as we are loved

Tuesday, March 26, 2024

Latest Gallup Poll Shows Regular Church Attendance Continues to Decline


The information in this latest Gallup poll on church attendance in the US does not really surprise me and I refuse to let it discourage me at the start of Holy Week.

Of 15,147 Protestants surveyed, 27% say they seldom attend and 16% say they never attend.  Those figures are within a few points of the 6,934 Catholics who answered seldom or never.

The poll also notes that the steady decline in attendance is driven by the increasing number of Americans who do identify as religious. and who are increasingly young adults.    I can only suspect that the percentages of people in these categories is higher in Canada.  

This date explains why the rate of church closings across North America will be in the tens of thousands through the next decade.   

Different denominations will react differently.  Some will harden their theology, appealing to a righteous remnant, and some will choose to die sacrificially, spending their last endowments on community projects and giving their buildings over to secular community purposes.   For the Anglican Church of Canada, it will be a steep decline, which we are already seeing in the diminishing numbers of active clergy and new vocations.     Hopefully we will see some ways to measure our church's places in the community other than in average Sunday attendance.

In the meantime, I'll keep my gaze fixed on the cross and on the hope of the resurrection.


Saturday, March 16, 2024

We Want To See Jesus: A Homily for the Fifth Sunday of Lent


Preached at All Saints, Collingwood, Anglican Diocese of Toronto, 17 March, 2024.

Texts for the Fifth Sunday of Lent (B): Jer 31:31-34; Ps 51:1-13 ; Heb 5:5-10; Jn 12:20-33

Now among those who went up to worship at the festival were some Greeks.   They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and said to him, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.”  (John 12:20)

We don’t know why these “Greeks” wanted to see Jesus.  Today’s story comes just after St. John describes the raising of Lazarus and the spreading fame of Jesus, so perhaps these Greeks had heard the news and were curious (Jn 11:45-48).   Maybe they had spiritual questions they wanted to ask.   John doesn’t tell us if they got an audience with Jesus, but their statement, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus” has a directness and an urgency that should get our attention.

Karoline Lewis, a John scholar, notes that this verse is often written or carved on pulpits because the preacher’s central task is to help God’s people to see Jesus.  

This sort of thing should be put in front of preachers.  I saw a photo of an English church where, carved on to the pulpit for all to see, were the words “Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel”.

Preachers and people alike should want to see Jesus, and yet, we might well envy the Greeks in today’s reading because they could hope for an introduction and to come face to face with him.   How can we see Jesus?   Where is he that we can look at him?

Fortunately for us, in the language of John’s gospel, seeing Jesus is equated with spiritual understanding.  Lots of people in John see Jesus but didn’t know who he was or who don’t believe him, like the Pharisees in John 9 who are contrasted with the man born blind who receives his sight and says “Lord, I believe” (Jn 9:35-41).

There’s a lovely hymn by Robert Cull called “OpenOur Eyes, Lord”.  It’s not in our hymnal, sadly, but it goes like this.

Open our eyes, Lord,
we want to see Jesus,
to reach out and touch him,
and say that we love him.
Open our ears, Lord,
and help us to listen.
Open our eyes, Lord,
we want to see Jesus.

In my Easter letter to the parish, which you may have received by now, I said that we as Christians are people who look to Christ and to Christ’s light.   Jesus says in today’s gospel that “Whoever serves me must follow me”, but if we don’t look to Jesus, if we don’t see him, then we can’t follow him.  It’s like before GPS, when you needed directions and someone else in another car said “just follow me”.   Do you remember how anxious it got at stop lights, when you were afraid you would lose the person in front of you?   We need to keep Jesus in sight if we are going to follow him.

Today I want to take three cues from today’s gospel reading to suggest ways that we might spiritually see Jesus.  Here’s the first.

“And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself”.  He said this to indicate the kind of death he was to die.”

As we move through Lent, we know that one of our final stops will be Good Friday and the cross.    All through this season we’ve heard the warnings and predictions, as we did back on the second Sunday of Lent, when Jesus told his friends “ that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering … and be killed” (Mk 8.31).   Peter didn’t want to hear that, and was sternly rebuked.   Some of us have been watching The Chosen, the dramatic series on Jesus, and we’ve talked about how the character of Jesus is so compelling and attractive that we can’t bear to think of him dying so cruelly.   Thus we come to better understand fierce, protective Peter.

Last Saturday was our final Après Ski service for this year, and our theme was the cross.   We spent some time standing or kneeling beside a large wooden cross laid on the floor, surrounded by candles.   It was a chance to approach the cross not with horror, but with love and adoration for the one that poured out his life and blood for us there.  Good Friday can be about love as well as sorrow, and the cross can be the sign of love that leads us closer to Jesus.

There is another way to see the cross which I also think leads us closer to Jesus, which is to see how the cross changes and transforms us.     Last Sunday we heard that difficult text from John’s Gospel, another passage where Jesus speaks about being “lifted up”:  And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up” (Jn 3.14).  We heard that gospel as well as the passage Jesus was thinking of, from the Hebrew Scriptures were God told Moses to make a bronze serpent on a staff, the sight of which could cure the Israelites bitten by the poisonous snakes sent by God.

It was a strange set of readings, and the story in Numbers is even a little horrific, but let’s think about the snakes for a moment.   In Genesis, it’s the serpent that tempts humanity out of relationship with God so that they can invent themselves as they see fit.   In the Moses story, the snakes embody the consequences of the Israelites’ frequent rebellions to God.  In comparing himself to the serpent on the pole, Jesus is predicting his becoming our sin, his taking the worst of humanity onto himself on the cross so that we might be healed from our sins.

I saw a wonderful expression of this idea recently.  St Mark’s, an Anglican church in Austin, Texas, had a processional cross designed for them by a skilled blacksmith.  The cross is a simple shape in silver, and coiled around it are the loops of a bronze serpent, a complex shape that suggests the knots of Celtic art.   The Rector of St. Mark’s, the Rev. ZacCoons, writes that he wanted this new cross to be a sign of our hope.  The snake cross, he writes, is a way not only of coming to terms with our sin in the Lenten spirit of penitence and self examination so that we can look “directly at the serpents in our lives, the snakes lurking in our hearts and imaginations”. 

At the same time, Rev Coons writes, the snake cross reminds us that in seeing our sins, we also see our healing:  “through Christ, God can take any sin, any mistake, and through the cross, work it into my salvation … [so that] God can mold our mistakes into something holy, even beautiful”.   

Could we dare see in the cross the love of God in Christ that heals us and makes us beautiful,  so that we might be the true people that God dreamed of when he created us?   Our processional cross has no snakes.  It is very traditional, very ornate, made of heavy engraved brass.    I wonder, though, the next time you watch it go by you in our worship, could you regard that cross and see in its beauty something of the beauty that happened on that cross in Golgotha, when Christ had the courage to become our sins for us so that we might be ransomed and renewed, restored to what God always wanted us to be?  That would be another way to see Jesus.


Here's the second cue from today’s gospel that might help us to spiritually see Jesus.

Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. (Jn 12.24)

At this time of year, some of you will notice me wandering around the grounds of the rectory, head bowed and staring intently at the ground.   Gardeners will know what I’m doing.   I’m looking for those green shoots that show the plants coming back to life – at least, the bulbs that the squirrels didn’t get.   Each day offers the chance of a new discover, the promise of spring and of the renewal of the earth.

If we look at nature in springtime, we can see something of the renewal of life that Jesus predicts and promises.   Jesus is not just talking about his own resurrection, but about the renewal of life in general – in the earth, in the church, in his followers, and in the world, which will see a new creation, a new heaven and a new earth.    So we can see something of Jesus and his promise of abundant life in all the signs of springtime, and we can see in those signs the hope and promise of our renewal and remaking as Christ’s followers.    After all, if a humble bulb can come back to life, what more glorious things can we hope for?


Here's the third cue from today’s gospel that might help us to spiritually see Jesus.

26Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also. Whoever serves me, the Father will honor. (Jn 21.6)

We know that the words “servant” and “service” in the gospels are key.    In John’s gospel, shortly after this episode, Jesus will set aside his titles as Teacher and Lord to become a servant and wash his friends’ feet “to set [them] an example, that you should do as I have done to you” (Jn 13.14).   Elesewhere Jesus says that he did not come “to be served but to serve” (Mk 10.45; Mt 20.28), and likewise he says that whoever serves and helps another has seen and served Jesus (Mt 25.31-46).

Service to others can also be a way in which we spiritually see Jesus.   We reenact this opportunity to serve others during the footwashing part of our Maundy Thursday liturgy, but our church offers many ways to serve friends, parishioners, and strangers.   I invite you to see your volunteer activities and your interactions with others, both within and outside All Saints, as opportunities to spiritually see Jesus in acts of service.

These are three ways that we might focus on seeing Jesus spiritually.   There are others.  As we get to Easter Sunday and onwards, you might spend time contemplating the magnificent windows about the altar depicting Jesus’ Ascension.  It’s a glorious image and it shows another side of Jesus, who trusted his Father and who shares his glory, and yet would love and serve us.   

There are many ways to see Jesus spiritually, and I think they all begin from cultivating a heart that is open to his love and friendship, which we all need.


Open our eyes, Lord,
we want to see Jesus,
to reach out and touch him,
and say that we love him.
Open our ears, Lord,
and help us to listen.
Open our eyes, Lord,
we want to see Jesus.


Friday, March 15, 2024

Classroom, Communion and Creed: A Homily on the Place of the Creeds in the Church Today


Classroom, Communion and Creed:   A Homily for the Signs of Our Common Faith Lenten series at Trinity Church, Barrie, Anglican Diocese of Toronto, March 15th, 2024.  There is a video recording of this service and homily here.

It would have been about this time of year, 1700 years ago, in the later weeks of Lent, that those seeking to become Christians, called catechumens, would have been preparing for baptism.   As part of this preparation, they would have been expected to learn the statement of our faith that today call the Apostles’ Creed (the Nicene Creed was first written in 325 but did not come into wide use until a few centuries later).  Then, just before Holy Week, the catechumens would come before their bishop and, one by one, be expected to recite the Apostles’ Creed as well as the prayer we call the Our Father, and to answer questions put to them.

St Augustine, a learned and socially prominent figure, would have had to submit himself to this process of instruction and preparation before he was baptised by Bishop Ambrose of Milan in 387.   By that time, the persecutions had ended and Christianity was now the official religion of the Roman Empire, but the church still regarded the ability to say and understand the Creed as a necessary qualification for baptism, and only then could the new Christian participate in the Mass and receive the sacrament.

So the Creed functioned then as it does now, as a sign of Christian identity.  However, the place of the creeds in the life of the church has changed considerably.   For the early church, the Creed (specifically the Apostles’ Creed) was used as a core curriculum, so that the novice Christian could understand the identity and the saving actions of the three persons of the Trinity – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  The Creed in the early church was for the classroom, not for communion.   It did not have a place in the liturgy of the church.

Where the creeds came from is a long story that can only get a brief answer in a short homily. The Apostle’s Creed was not, as was charmingly claimed, written by the original apostles.   However,  we know from scripture that the earliest Jesus followers had statements of core belief that proclaimed Jesus as Lord (Christus kyrios) and which contain the building blocks of Christian belief.   

Remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead, of the seed of David, according to my gospel.  (2 Tim 2,8)

The Apostle’s Creed probably came together over time as a synthesis of these scriptures and teachings around them.   

By the fourth century the Apostles’ Creed had become a way to instruct new Christians and to distinguish them from pagans.    The Nicene Creed, as Gregory Dix noted, was written to answer theological debates among Christians – was Jesus human or divine (answer, both)?  Thus the Nicene Creed, with its more robust Christology, works well in the Eucharist, whereas the Apostle’s Creed is sufficient for services of the word and for the daily offices.  By the sixth century the Nicene Creed had found its place in the mass following the gospel, where it still lives today, though before the Reformation it seems that the people recited the Apostle’s Creed while the priests said the Nicene Creed.

Today, I think it’s fair to say that we know and say the Creeds (Apostles and Nicene) almost exclusively in liturgy.   They don’t really have a secure home elsewhere in the life of our church.  We have communion, but we don’t really have classroom.   Why did this happen?  The practice of infant baptism meant that instruction was shifted to the process of confirmation, which was once a precondition for first communion.  Confirmation in turn lost much of its importance as the Anglican church gradually adopted the practice of the open table, so that we do not ask people to believe before they receive.  One could argue that it’s more grace filled to invite seekers to first encounter Christ in bread and wine and then seek instruction in the faith, but this puts the onus on the church to explain our faith after the fact, rather like giving someone driving lessons after they’ve been on the road.  And, since we see fewer and fewer new believers these days, we have largely lost the skills of catechesis, the instruction of new Christians.

Even so, in liturgy the creeds still function as a sign of belief and of Christian identity.   We say them together, and while the rubrics don’t tell us to, we stand by custom, paying the creeds the same honour that we pay to the gospel and to the processional cross.   By tradition we turn and face the altar, eastward in most churches, east being the direction of sunrise and the direction from which Christ is expected to return.  Some of us make the sign of the cross as we confess our belief in the resurrection.    So the act of participating in, even performing, the creeds is collective, so still a sign of our identity, though perhaps not of unity.   Not all of us, myself included, could recite either creed perfectly, nor could many of us explain the articles of the creeds, even following the old catechism printed in the Book of Common Prayer.

Barbara Brown Taylor once said that we say the creeds together because there are days when we might not believe all we say, and so rely on others to believe for us, and vice versa.    While this statement would likely startle early Christians like Augustine and Ambrose, it does at least have the merit of being honest.   Western Anglicans are, after all, a 21st century church which sometimes seems more comfortable living the questions than it does having all the answers.   Believing and reciting ancient creeds can seem charmingly archaic in our postmodern age.  

However, our task is not to be relevant but to be faithful.   The creeds tell us that a good and gracious God created all things.   The creeds tell us that Jesus is Lord of heaven and earth, that he has conquered sin and death, and that he gives us the hope of the resurrection.  The creeds assure us that the Holy Spirit is amongst us.  The creeds unite us with those who have believed and proclaimed the gospel over the long centuries.   These are the beliefs that I would offer to someone seeking to learn our faith.  

Let me finish with a final thought as to what the creeds are not.   Some churches and Christians call themselves creedal in a way that suggests that others are not true, faithful Christians. I dislike this use of creedal.  And in that spirit, let’s notice some of the things that the creeds do not say.  The creeds say nothing about how to do liturgy, they are silent as to the number and nature of the sacraments, and the creeds do not tell us how to govern or structure our churches.  The creeds tell us that the world was created but not how or when;  they allow us to believe in dinosaurs.  The creeds say nothing about gender, about marriage, or about preference.  And the creeds do not tell us that Christians should rule society.   

So the creeds are not weapons to be used in church culture wars. The creeds simply tell us that Jesus Christ is Lord.   And for us, at this time, as it was for Augustine and Ambrose and all those before them, that is surely all we need,


Lent Madness: Julian of Norwich Takes On Zita (or is it Rita?)

 Catching up with Lent Madness at the end of the week, we find that Cornelius the Centurion tamed one of our Shamrock Saints, Andoman, who goes back to the Emerald Isle.   Likewise, the last of the Grappling Gerties, Gertrude the Great, was pulled off stage by the ecclesial crozier of Ambrose of Milan.

Today it's one of the girls from that wacky sitcom, "Rita and Zita", vs that wise and sensible English mystic, Julian of Norwich, and I feel confident in calling this one for Julian.

Vote here.

Wednesday, March 13, 2024

Lent Madness: Cornelius the Centurion vs Andoman the Monk

 Greetings saint supporters.

Yesterday saw a victory for the Emerald Isle contingent in this year's Lent Madness contest, as Canaire skipped over the waves and left Cyprian of Carthage floundering.    Canaire earns her spot in The Elate Eight and will go on to face either Henry Whipple the Battling Bishop, or Clare (Not a Material Girl) of Assisi.

In today's matchup, the pious Roman soldier Cornelius of Acts 10 fame goes up against another of our Celtic Tigers, Andoman of Ireland.  I'm an old and pious soldier so I'm partial to Cornie, but I've been wrong before, and Andoman's voice of peace in the Dark Ages carries over to our time.

Who will win?   Vote here.

Tuesday, March 12, 2024

Lent Madness: Irish Water-walker vs Actual African Martyr

 Welcome back to Lent Madness 2024.  If you look at the two leaderboards, one in the parish hall, the other just outside the church on the bulletin board by the sacristy, you'll see that the numbers of winners are starting to thin out and the numbers of losers are growing.  That's the way Lent Madness works.  Fortunately, we're all winners in heaven!

Yesterday I was busy with grandchildren so no time for a post here, but Joseph of Arimathea defeated Kassia of Byzantium.   This was a surprising win, as I thought Kassia would be a favourite around International Women's Day, but Joseph shows the drawing power of the biblical saints in this year's contest.  Joseph will go on to face either Zita (or is it Rita?) or Julian of Norwich, depending on who wins that contest.

Today's matchup features Canaire of Ireland vs Cyprian of Carthage.  Canaire offers a charming story with a feisty feminist retort to a stodgy old abbot (who may have been her sibling), and a win for Canaire would avenge the defeat of her fellow Irish contender, Brigid.   It being so close to St Patrick's Day, does Canaire have a shot at the next round?

In the other corner, we have Cyprian of Carthage, whose life, faith, writings, and ultimate faithfulness to our Lord are all documented.

It must have seemed strange to the Roman authorities to have been confronted with such early Christians.  Official Roman religion was seen as the glue that held Roman society together, but not something that really mattered spiritually or was ultimately true.   The early Christians, however, actually believed that their God was true, real, and lord of the universe, and were willing to die for that faith.  Blessed Cyprian was one of that number.

Vote here.

Friday, March 8, 2024

Lent Madness: Two Who Spread the Word, and One Who Spread Himself

 As we saw with Thomas the Apostle's defeat by Albert Schweitzer yesterday, the Dangerous Disciples are no longer a Duo.   Today sees the other of Jesus' chosen friends, Andrew the Fisherman, going up against the medieval preacher, Polish saint, and water walker, Hyacinth.

Reading today's post at the Lent Madness website,  I noted that water walking is a theme in this year's LM:  Piran of Cornwall surfed on a millstone, Canaire walked on the ocean to go browbeat a stodgy abbot, and Hyacinth used his cloak as a ferry service.  Me, I fall out of my kayak.   Go figure.   

As a preacher, there's something humbling that while Hyacinth was famous for his sermons, not a word of them survives, and yet he is remembered for spreading the faith all through the Baltic region and parts of eastern Europe.

Like St Hyacinth, St Andrew also spread the faith across the known world, and likewise spread his bones.  The image above purports to show those of his bones currently resident in Scotland - about 7% of the bones of his body.  The rest are spread far and wide.  Talk about feeling scattered!

I'm going to call St Andrew as today's winner, because Scotland.    Vote here.

Thursday, March 7, 2024

Lent Madness: The Polymath vs The Apostle

 Greetings Hagiophiles!

Today we see the Saintly Sixteen completed, as Clare of Assisi had a tidy victory of Rafqa of Lebanon.   Nobody's going to call her Poor Clare now, unless it's her accountant doing her taxes.  The thirty two holy hopefuls have been cut in half (well, not literally, though that was one method of martyrdom - see Hebrews 11.37), and now things get really serious.

Today it's our friends Albert Schweitzer (big moustache, did everything, certified polymath) versus  Thomas the Apostle (hand picked disciple, doubter but then believer, reluctant apostle).

Biblical characters so far in Lent Madness 2024 have done well in getting into the next round, but here Thomas runs into a bona fide historical figure whose deeds are documented, whereas Thomas' story, if you read today's post.  The third century text The Acts of Thomas, for example, has many charming stories (legends, really) including how, while he was in India, Thomas found and baptized the Magi who had gone to Bethlehem to honour the infant Jesus.

What do we make of these charming stories?  The councils of the church excluded certain books, like The Acts of Thomas, from the canon of scripture, doubting their orthodoxy in some cases, or their accuracy in others.    The Reformation was notoriously hard on the saints' lives and stories, like the ones about Jesus as a child, that had grown up during the Middle Ages.  The Reformers disapproved of legends that they felt distracted the faithful from the saving truth of scripture, which alone could save us (sola scriptura).

However, today as our bible study noted when we met yesteday, millions of people follow the show The Chosen, a multi-season life of Christ that makes liberal use of invented events and characters to flesh out the story and the world of Jesus and his followers.     Perhaps it is because we are a story telling people that we need stories and legends to make biblical characters real.   The same is true of history, as the Ridley Scott movie Napoleon shows.

Anyway, I digress.  Vote here.

Wednesday, March 6, 2024

Lent Madness: Sisters Are Doing It By Themselves

 Greetings saint supporters!

Catching up after a very rejuvenating retreat this weekend, and discovered that Julian of Norwich easily put out the fiery Brigid of Kildare.   While I'm always sorry to see an Irish saint go down to defeat, I must admit that Julian of Norwich's resume is much more substantial than that of someone who probably began her career as a Celtic fire goddess.   Julian is a hero of the Christian mystical devotional tradition and she will go on to face (and, I predict, defeat) Zita.  Or is it Rita?  Who can tell them apart, really?

Apologies to Annie Lennox for the title of today's post.  One of the things I'm grateful to Lent Madness for is it's introductions to so many women who have embodied and passed on our faith through study, charity, and devotion to our Lord.  Today's matchup features two such saintly sisters, and they were sisters, in the religious and vocational sense.

Rafqa Pietra Choboq Ar-Rayès, to give her full name, saw her share of the religious violence that still afflicts her part of the world, and yet lived a life of quiet and calm devotion, making her own clear choices as to in which convents she would live out her vocation.  Her Wikipedia entry contains a particular graphic account of the loss of her eye, which did noting to relieve a suffering which she gladly embraced.  Today, when medicine keeps our suffering at bay as much as possible, and where MAID is an option, the desire of many saints to draw closer to the passion of Christ in their suffering is remarkable, and maybe even admirable.  Would we choose such a route, I wonder?

Clare of Assisi also reminds us that the religious vocation could be a liberating path in a man's world (and in a man's church).  Her decision to follow the way of St. Francis also reminds us of how Francis' call to embrace a Christ-like poverty and service must have captivated the imaginations of many.     Her example still inspires today, for her Order, the Poor Clares, maintain convents in BC and in Quebec.

Hard to call this one.   Vote here.

Monday, March 4, 2024

Lent Madness: Two Gertrudes Intrude

In last Friday's Matchup, Cornelius the Centurion gained another victory for the biblical saints by narrowly defeating Piran of Cornwall, thus showing that pious centurions can beat out hard-drinking Cornishmen.

In todays matchup, two Saint Gertrudes compete for the last spot in the Saintly Sixteen.   I confess that I'm a fan of the name Gretrude, which, sadly, is one of those arcane names like Beulah and Iris that don't seem to be popular for girl's names these days.  Also, I have fond memories of Gertie Hamelin, a friend of my mom's, who used to tell wonderful stories of life in wartime Scotland.  But I digress.

Saint Gertrude the Great has a decent resume, as a scholar, theologian, and mystic.  She is often depicted holding the Sacred Heart of Jesus, and she is credited with beginning the Catholic devotional tradition of meditating on the heart of Christ.

Gretrude of Nivelles, on the other hand, does not appear to have a resume to impress, but she had great regard for the souls in Purgatory (a belief of medieval Christianity in the west) and, since those souls were often depicted as mice, she became the patron saint of cats, which I think pretty much guarantees that she'll win.

I'm voting for Gertie the Great, but you cat fans vote as you please.  Vote here.

Friday, March 1, 2024

Lent Madness: Surfer versus Soldier

Good day saint supporters.

In yesterday's match of the battling bishops, Bishop Henry (the Whip) Whipple, like Jesus in the temple, cracked the whip and drove poor Bishop Jackson out of the ring.   Personally I'm not sure what the difference was between these two guys, but our American Anglican friends, the majority of Lent Madness players, have strong opinions and most threw their votes to Whipple.

In today's matchup, the corn jokes have already been done on the Lent Madness website, so I'll spare you, my puns would just be empty husks of humour.  Today we get to choose between Dark Ages Celtic fancy and a brief but important biblical appearance.

Piran of Cornwall is Irish by birth, so he's in good company in these year's competitors which include Canaire, Brigid, and Andoman.   Besides being the patron saint of tinsmiths and hard drinkers, Piran could be the patron of surfers.

Cornelius the Centurion gets my vote because he's a pious soldier, though the soldiers I knew would have probably wanted Piran as their Padre (see hard drinking).    Cornelius makes a crucial appearance in Acts 10 where he and his household are baptized by Peter at the Spirit's urging, thus convincing the church in Jerusalem to open membership to gentiles.  As a gentile myself, I say, thank you, Cornelius

I'm voting for Cornelius myself, but I suspect Piran will win the day because of his various antics.

Vote here.

Mad Padre

Mad Padre
Opinions expressed within are in no way the responsibility of anyone's employers or facilitating agencies and should by rights be taken as nothing more than one person's notional musings, attempted witticisms, and prayerful posturings.


Blog Archive