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Both sides now

In the aftermath of Charlottesville, I confess to you, my neglected blog that I have gotten into more internet fights than is usual for me.  

I don’t know that this is intentional; at least on my part, I find that I have markedly less tolerance for people continuing to excuse actions I find inexcusable.  These past few months have seemed to take a heavier toll than usual, and I daresay this is true for people on the other side of the spectrum as well–who knows?

But one refrain I have heard several times has stuck with me: “both sides.”  “We have to hear both sides.”  “There are two sides to this.”  “What about the other side?”  “Aren’t we called to love the other side?”

 

It has haunted me, this idea of “both sides”, and in the terms of the President on Saturday afternoon “many sides”.  Is that what we’re called to do as Christians?  

It is certainly a modern expectation of polite society.  The common understanding is that every situation is a Rashomon: a complicated situation that we may never fully understand, because everyone’s story is necessarily different.  So, in order to gain a more full picture, we have hear all sides.  We are blind people grappling with an elephant.  We are tiny insects on a beach ball.  And for most nuanced situations, these analogies work very well.  They encourage us to question our own assumptions, and stay humble in the moment.  They remind us that what we see is not all there is to see.  

Fine.

And yet, in situations like what happened in Charlottesville on Saturday, can we, as Christians, take the same feeling-out-the-elephant approach?  For the most part, that approach is predicated on the idea that truth, while it does exist, is ultimately unknowable.  It’s a mystery!  So that’s great for situations where the full truth is overly complex or impossible to fully grasp.  And there are many of those.  

 

But on Saturday?  Saturday, we had all the information.  There was a long-planned rally of several white supremacist groups organized by a far-right blogger.  They came to Charlottesville, ostensibly to protest the removal of a statue of Gen. Robert E. Lee.**  They came well-armed, and bearing tiki torches, chanting slurs and Nazi slogans.  They attacked counter-protesters with bottles, metal bars, and finally and most tragically, with a speeding car.  19 people were injured: 1 person died.  2 police also died when their helicopter crashed.  

 

The dogmas of white supremacy are familiar to us; they have been the virus embedded in the soil of this country since its founding. It snakes out in various forms at various times: chattel slavery, Jim Crow, redlining, the war on drugs, mass incarceration–and sometimes it recedes, but it’s always there.  Lurking.

 

This is not a mystery to us.  We know what fascism is.  We know what white supremacy is.  We have seen both before. And we have lost many human souls to both.

 

That, to me, is the crux of the issue, so I don’t think that “what about the other side?” is the right question to ask.  We aren’t missing any information.  I don’t think it’s the proper metric for this situation.  When I read the gospel, I do not find Jesus urging his followers to examine many sides of an issue.  Instead, he urges them to alleviate human suffering wherever they find it. Period.  Love God, and love your neighbor, he says: and from these two commandments come all the law and the prophets.  

 

Those commands don’t urge us to a concept of ‘fairness’.  Instead, they push us to focus on our fellow humans, and their needs.  Jesus tells us that the meek are blessed, the grieving will find cheer.  He tells us that he has been anointed to bring good news to the poor, and release to the captives.  He reminds us that he has come to seek and save the lost, as he eats with tax collectors, sex workers, and Samaritans.  In Christ’s world, it isn’t about ‘sides’, it’s about love.  What does love require?

 

In fact, Jesus is not fair at all.  As Fr. Jim Martin pointed out, the Beatitudes are one-sided:  the meek inherit the earth; those who aren’t?  They’re on their own.  The sorrowful will be comforted.  Those who are already happy?  Presumably they don’t need comforting.  

Consider also Mary’s Magnificat, where she describes how God acts in the world.  “He casts down the mighty from their seats, and has lifted up the humble and meek.  He has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent away empty.”  This is not fair!  God isn’t portioning out equally to both sides–but the inference is that God sets right that which human order has made unjust.  God is interested, not in standards of fairness, but in what makes for human flourishing.  God is interested in love.  And that’s it.

 

Which brings us back to Charlottesville.  As a Christian, my job is to love my neighbor, and love God.  My job is to incarnate God’s mercy and justice into the world.  So I cannot stand by in situations of human suffering and oppression and equivocate.   More important than all sides on a situation is the suffering inherent in a situation.  Did people suffer this weekend?  Yes. Because of the slogans, because of the doctrines espoused, because of the actions taken, children of God were hurt and killed, and made to feel like less than God made them to be.  That is evil, however you slice it.  

 

To stay silent on that evil is unloving, both to the victims of this racist violence, and to the perpetrators.  We cannot love the victims if we allow them to suffer, and we cannot love the perpetrators if we allow them to do the hurting.  Inflicting violence, be it physical, emotional, or participating in systemic violence, deadens the soul of the violent person.  It does something to you.  To love someone and want their flourishing must mean not wanting them to suffer that loss of humanity.  So we have to confront and name their violent actions as wrong, rather than minimize them as just ‘another side’.  

 

The gospel doesn’t have sides–it has a position.  It doesn’t ask what the facts might be, or what can be proven–oddly enough, the gospel doesn’t seem to care as much about that.  The gospel only asks us where the suffering is, and how we have helped.  That is the call of the gospel: to heal the suffering: to love God and love others.  

 

There are no other sides.

 

**Which was erected in the 1960s–meaning my parents are both more historic than that statue.  But #history, #heritage, etc.  

When the wind kicks up

As one intrepid parishioner reminded me, I have been remiss in updating the blog this summer.

The summer has been busy, with camp, a pilgrimage to Israel/Palestine, and Missionpalooza, on top of the usual round of work things.

I will, at some point, go back and do a #sermondump and maybe even write something about the pilgrimage.

But never mind that– this is about Charlottesville.

Every sermon has a specific context, and this one was no different.  I spent the week assuming I would preach about Drumpf’s rhetoric about nuclear war, and the growing tension with North Korea.  The rector and I had a grim joke going about how we’d see each other tomorrow unless a nuclear holocaust intervened.  That sort of thing, I thought, needed addressing from the pulpit.

Then Friday and Saturday happened.

St. Paul’s had a long-standing plan to baptize on Sunday, and as the Spirit would have it, five South Sudanese children were ready.  So, in the weekend when Nazis marched on an American city, we welcomed them into the Body of Christ.

There isn’t much more to say.  Only that, as I looked at all the photos from Saturday, I noticed a picture of the priest–now retired bishop–who baptized me, standing with the counter-protesters, singing his heart out.  I thought about what I heard in church growing up, and what the kids in my parish will remember from me.

Here’s what I said:

Rev. Megan L. Castellan

August 13, 2017

Ordinary Time, Proper 14

Matthew 14:22-30

 

It was hot in Israel last month.

I realize that may go without saying, but Israel/Palestine is a geographically diverse place.  Jerusalem, for example, is about 2,500 feet above sea level, and more arid, on the edge of the desert, while Galilee is down closer to the sea, more humid, and greener.  

So when our small band of pilgrims went up to the Sea of Galilee, it was HOT.  We went out on a boat in the morning, with a few other tour groups–one from Italy, and one from South Africa, I think, and we all roasted atop the water.  Hardly any breeze, the sun beating down.  The Italians played a Messianic Jewish version of ‘Hava Nagila’, as one does, I guess. 

Ranya, our tour guide, commented that this was normal, that in the mornings on the Sea everything was calm, which was why fishermen always fished overnight and into the morning.  But sure enough, after lunch, a strong wind kicked up.  Suddenly the sea was full of white caps, and fairly significant waves hitting the shore near where we were.  It hardly seemed like the same calm sea.  The sun still shone, and it was still pretty hot, but I would not have wanted to be out in a boat.

“See?” Ranya said, gesturing to the waves crashing on the shore “This is not a good time to go out in a boat.  Except Jesus, that is what he did.”

Looking at the water, I understood why the disciples thought Jesus had lost his mind.  THIS WAS NOT A GOOD TIME TO GO BOATING.  And also, it did this every day.  One moment, it was sunny and calm–the next, well, you might drown. The placid lake you thought was so safe disappears in an instant.  It’s a recipe for panic.

Yet there they were, those disciples, out in a boat, getting tossed around on the waves, because Jesus had sent them across the water at the wrong time.  Instead of sending them across in the morning when they could have made it across calmly, safely; he sent them across in the afternoon, after the wind had kicked up.

Basically, Jesus had sent them into a storm, while he was nowhere to be found, praying by himself back on shore.  I imagine there must have been a fair amount of consternation from the disciples, about how you never let carpenters decide when to sail.

But then, suddenly, there he was.  Walking towards them on the water.  And suddenly, they weren’t alone after all.  Jesus had appeared in the middle of the storm.  In the middle of the wind and the waves, Jesus was right there with them.

Humans put a lot of stock in staying safe.  We spend most of our time trying to stay safe.  Fisherman know not to sail our boats when the wind is too high, when the waves might swamp us.  Carpenters know to keep their tools extra-sharp, so they won’t cut themselves–all because we want to stay safe.  I think as American Christians especially, safety, comfort have gotten to be luxuries that we prize pretty highly.  And rightly so–we’re so used to them living here, living as we do, we really don’t want to give them up!.  

There are times, though, when we don’t get to make that choice.  There are times when that placid lake disappears–when the world is a dangerous place, and there are times when our innate sense of safety, our sense of comfort disappears.  Suddenly, the news becomes more terrifying than it did before.  Suddenly, sleeping at night becomes an exercise in all the ways life could turn wrong.  Suddenly, that wind kicks up and the waves start sloshing over the side.

So then what do we do?  What happens when that safety and comfort we spent most of our life strenuously cultivating just blows away?

Well, you’ve got some options, I suppose.  Rigid panic is always up for grabs.  Anger is always another–lashing out at anyone or anything that could have caused this.  Pointless obsession is another–if you can just control EVERYTHING UNDER THE SUN, NO MATTER HOW MINUTE, then perhaps your sense of safety might return.

Or, or.  

You can ride through the waves and trust that Christ will meet us there because Christ called us there in the first place.   You can hold onto your boat without fear and search the horizon for Jesus walking towards you.

We know by now, that Christ doesn’t call us to calm seas and fair winds always.  That when we are baptized, we are baptized into Christ’s death, and resurrection.  And none of that is safe.  We stand up here and make enormous promises on behalf of tiny children, and we pray that we can live up to them over a lifetime.  More often than not, Christ beckons us into squalls, into stormy places…and then we learn to sail with him.

See, I thought I was writing this sermon about North Korea, all this week.  All this week I assumed that this story was about North Korea, and the ramp up in belligerent rhetoric and how we didn’t need to be afraid of a nuclear war because Christ was with us, come what may.  And all of that is true, by the way.  

Then, Friday night, I started to see worrying messages from friends in Virginia about what was happening in Charlottesville.  And from fellow clergy who had answered the call to go and counter protest the long-planned Unite the Right white nationalism gathering on Saturday.  Angry people carrying torches marching through the grounds where my parents were educated, chanting Nazi slogans and anti-semitic epithets filled the internet all weekend.  There were clashes between the protestors and the peaceful clergy.  There was a state of emergency. A white supremacist drove a car into a crowd of counter-protestors.  19 people were injured, one died.  

It’s not a safe world in which to follow Christ.  It never has been, but this weekend has proven that to many of us on an emotional level.  These are stormy seas we sail in.

And so, we are faced with the same choice as those disciples were–do we panic?  Do we give up, or rage about the stupid waves, or the stupid fool who made us come out here in the first place?  Do we try to control everyone and everything?  

Or will we quietly give over our fear, and let the God who called us out here walk across the water to meet us?  

 

Because, as chilling as those images were yesterday, they also told me this– this stormy world needs the love of Christ that we know.  Those images we have seen this weekend on the news–they cry out for the reconciling love of Jesus that we proclaim at baptism–the love that insists that all of us are made in the image and likeness of God.  That all humans–all of us– are beloved of God. and that hatred, violence, and white supremacy are evils that draw us away from that divine love, and God will not have the last word.    These are truths that we know, and this is the gospel that this world badly needs to hear.  That our fellow human beings badly need to hear.

 

And when we proclaim these truths, our eyes can’t be on our own safety.  Preoccupation with our own safety provokes us to fear, and blinds us to Christ’s presence.  It wasn’t until Peter started to panic that he started to sink–but when he focused on Jesus, he could walk.  Our eyes have to be on the Christ amid the waves.  On the Christ who calls us here, and gives us the courage for these stormy times.

We have the God-given chance, in a few minutes, to stand with the newest members of Christ’s body, and reclaim the promises we made at baptism.  We have the chance to promise again to God and to each other that we will follow Christ and the gospel where they lead, knowing for certain that  Christ is with us.  Christ does not abandon his people.  Christ does not fail his gospel.  And even now, Christ can calm this storm.  

Amen.

 

**If you care to see it, there’s video up on the St. Paul’s FB site.  Video also includes the baptisms, showcasing a full range of adorable children, and a Sudanese hymn that, I swear, is what happens when “Come Thou Fount” is left to its own devices for 200 years.

 

In which Megan indulges in some shameless self-promotion

So, I have written this here blog for a few years now.  (That’s really crazy when you consider that I started it so that I would no longer torture my college students by ranting to them about things in the church over which they had no control.)

I really love this blog!  And when I began it, I had the idea in my head that no one would actually WANT to read it, because what sort of odd human would want to read my scribblings–alternating as they did between dry wit and barely-contained fury?

It would appear that many of you are, in fact, that odd.  You adorable people, you.

And so, I would like to tell you, who might be interested, that I have helped write a book!   Yes, an actual book which is printed on paper, with ink and a cover, and whatnot.  Like we used in the Olden Days of the 1990s.

This book is available here, from Church Publishing.  (You can also get it in Kindle form from Amazon.  I won’t judge you.)

It’s by Bp. Michael Curry, and others.  I’m one of “the others”, a designation I am delighted with, especially since it includes Very Smart People like Bp. Rob Wright, Broderick Greer, Nora Gallagher, Anthony Guillen, and Kellan Day.

I encourage you to check it out.  And stay odd out there, y’all.  The world has need of us.

Revived

The Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, the Most Rev. Michael Curry, was in Kansas City over the past few days for a revival.

I realize this sounds highly un-Episcopalian.  As I commented to someone afterwards, I was not raised to worship outside, to sing Jesus songs while clapping, or to raise my hands unless at the altar.  These things were unseemly and altogether too Baptist to be borne.

However, yesterday afternoon found me outside, in a public city square, cheering on a sermon as the head bishop of my church urged us all to get out there and reclaim the word “Christian.”  Will wonders never cease.

I admit to being a cradle Episcopalian with some trepidation–like pandas raised in the wild, we’re increasingly rare, and that’s not a bad thing.  The more the church becomes a refugee camp for those seeking solace from the terrors of the world, then the more it’s doing its job, perhaps.  However, I am a convert to the idea that we actually need to speak openly about our faith in Jesus.  I am a convert to evangelism as being A Thing.

But I have come to realize that we need to attach words to this hope that is in us.  That we need to learn how to explain to others why we care so deeply about faith, because it is, in fact, something they need to hear.  Why is it that my little church devotes so much of its time and energy to an enormous food pantry?  Why did my youngest parishioners show up yesterday morning to eagerly hand silverware to our pantry guests so they could eat a hot meal?  Why do we pray daily for the famine in South Sudan, and write our representatives at the UN, urging them to seek an end to that situation?  Why do we care so much?

For most of my life, I thought it went without saying.  That I did just what anyone would do, if they had time, or thought about it, or slowed down, or something.  Lately, I have realized that this is not true.  I live my life this way–my church acts this way– because I believe this is what Jesus wants of me.  Jesus wants me to feed the hungry.  And to fight for the poor.  And to make sure the sick are cared for.  That’s what Jesus asked of me, and because I love Jesus, I must do that.  Because we follow Jesus, this is what we do.

This isn’t true of everyone.  And by that, I don’t mean that Muslims don’t fight for the poor.  (Boy howdy, do they ever.  I’d like to introduce you to the women who staff KC for Refugees sometime if you’d like to dispute this.) Or that Jewish people don’t worry about the hungry, or that atheists or agnostics don’t worry about the poor.  They all can and frequently do.

What I mean is that there are people who choose to live selfishly.  To live as if their personal lives and wellbeing is the most important thing in the universe, and seek to structure the world around THAT belief, rather than any other.  Let the poor starve; I have enough food.  Let the sick get sicker, my staff and I will have care. And even worse, there are times when these people cloak their selfishness in the name of the Jesus I follow, as if that makes their selfishness more palatable, instead of a grave slander.

What the presiding bishop reminded me (aside from the fact that I really should use this blog for stuff other than sermons) is that we have an important story to tell, we Jesus people.  The world needs to hear that Jesus isn’t a free pass for selfishness and hatred; Jesus wants us to live for others, and to love each other. And that’s just as easy and as hard as it’s always been.

There are times when you need someone to preach to you, so that you remember the truth, and this was one of those times.  So thanks, Bishop Curry.  Let’s go tell our story.

 

On the Road Again

I think Jesus must have been in a super-good mood, after the Resurrection.  He seems to have spent most of his time playing the same joke on his disciples:  sneaking up on them, acting all nonchalant, then BAM.  They’d recognize him, and either have a teary reunion (a la Mary Magdalene) or he’d disappear (Road to Emmaus).  I don’t know exactly what got into him during his Time in the Tomb, but his newfound love of pranks cracks me up every Easter season.

I humbly suggest that, instead of Christmas pageants, or even Passion Week cantatas, we should dedicate a day of the liturigical year to sneaking around in disguise, and trying to suprise other church members with our kind deeds.

(Then leaping out from behind furniture, and yelling, “SURPRISE!” because why should Jesus have all the fun?)

Rev. Megan L. Castellan

April 30, 2017

Easter 3

Luke

You may have noticed that in these post-Resurrection stories we’ve been reading since Easter, Jesus has been a bit different.  He’s not doing his usual, Jesus-y things.  There’s less preaching, healing, and teaching, and more…..apparating?  More disappearing and reappearing?  More walking through walls, cooking fish, and showing off flesh wounds.  

 

This is not your imagination; the Resurrected Christ is, in fact, noticeably different from the pre-resurrection Christ.  And scholars talk about this at length, only they call it “Points of significant discontinuity as well as areas of continuity.”  They do not address whether JK Rowling derived any inspiration for Harry Potter from Jesus’ exploits, however.

 

These changes also seem to befuddle the disciples a bit.  Over and over, they seem to have trouble figuring out what to do.  They don’t know what they’re supposed to do in the aftermath of Christ’s death and resurrection, even when Mary Magdalene and the other Mary(s) give them fairly specific instructions, and when Jesus does show up, they are still confused, and often have trouble recognizing him.  

 

This is mostly not their fault–they’d been through a lot, and times were uncertain, and really, who does expect someone to rise from the dead and appear within a locked room?  After the trauma they’d collectively suffered, I think the disciples can, for once, be given a bit of slack for their general confusion–because the world was just confusing right then.

 

And so, on this particular day, we meet another pair of disciples, trying to make the best of things, and sort of making a hash of it.  

Now, things get weird in this story right away, but you don’t notice it unless you’re looking for it.  The text tells us that the two disciples are Cleopas and….we don’t know.  The other one never gets a name, nor a specified gender.  Western art usually depicts Other Disciple as a male, (assuming that all disciples were male), while Middle Eastern Christians have held that the Other Disciple is Cleopas’ wife, Mary–who has already made an appearance when she tagged along with Mary Magdalene to the cross, then to the empty tomb, so she does seem to be pretty involved.  For ease of preaching, I’m going to go with Middle Eastern Christians on this one.

 

So Mary and Cleopas are out on the road to Emmaus, and they are arguing back and forth about what’s happened in the past week.  While the rest of the disciples are back in Jerusalem, locked in an upper room somewhere, afraid and in hiding, it seems this pair has decided to flee town in the wake of Jesus’ death.  They are arguing about this, apparently, so much that they do not really notice when Jesus appears beside them and asks them what they are arguing about.

They explain the situation to him–there had been this wonderful friend and teacher, Jesus, who did miracles no one had seen before.  They had hoped and believed in him like no one else, but then he had been crucified by Rome.  Now they didn’t know what to do.  So, they were leaving.

 

Jesus, it would seem, absorbs all this, and starts walking with them, as they continue to discuss.  When it grows dark, they invite him to have supper with them–it’s the nice and hospitable thing to do— and when he shares the bread with them, something triggers in their memory, and suddenly they realize who he is.

 

In a flash, Jesus disappears again.  

 

But the disciples race back to Jerusalem, and tell the others what they experienced.  

 

That’s the curious part of this story.  Two people–lost, confused, hopeless, and irritable–encounter Jesus, and now they’re rejuvenated, and empowered.  These are the folks who were literally fleeing from the scene as fast as they could, and once they recognized Jesus, they turned right around and headed back.

 

And let’s be clear–it’s not like Jesus pulled a magic trick (beyond the weird undercover Messiah trick of sneaking up on them then disappearing.)  He didn’t overthrow Rome.  He didn’t dethrone Pilate.  He didn’t make Palestine safe for Christianity, and he didn’t erase the memory of that horrible last week.  All the things that Mary and Cleopas were afraid of are still back in Jerusalem.

 

What Jesus did was change them.  Just by his presence, just by his listening, just by being with them for a while, somehow, he gave them the strength and courage to go back to face what they were most afraid of facing.  

 

Jesus didn’t change the world; he helped Mary and Cleopas change the world.  

 

Perhaps part of why Jesus acts so oddly post-resurrection is that a shift is under way.  Before his death, he was living out the Gospel.  After his resurrection–we are the ones who need to live it out.  Us.  You, me, Mary, Cleopas.  

 

We are the ones who are sent back to Jerusalem, to heal, to teach, to comfort the lonely, to lift up the oppressed, and feed the hungry.  We are the ones sent back to preach good news to the sorrowful and let the captives go free.  We now step into the path Jesus paved for us.

 

And like the disciples on the road discovered, we don’t do this alone.  We have the resurrected Christ walking alongside us, to accompany us, and guide us.  Christ sneaks up during our moments of doubt and confusion, to show us where to go, and remind us of all we have learned and all we have to give.  Christ is with us when we least expect it: in moments of pain and in triumph, so that we are never alone on this journey.

 

The journey we have been taking with Jesus doesn’t stop at the Cross, and doesn’t stop with the empty tomb–it leads on into a wider world, where we are called on to each tiny village that needs our help.  So onwards we go.

 

Amen

Church Super Bowl

I got to preach on Easter this year.

Easter sermons are somewhat treacherous, as like Christmas sermons, they can become a Greatest Hits of everything the preacher would like you to remember, on the chance they won’t see you again until the next big holiday.  Or, you can go to the other extreme: to make the sermon dull and predictable so as not to offend the people who have stumbled, blinking, into your church, in hopes that they will stick around.  (Nothing is so attractive to newcomers after all as bumper sticker theology, amirite?)

So while Easter may seem like an easy gig, it’s really not.  Everyone pretty much knows the story, the expectations are high, the theological landmines abound.  Do you argue for the physical resurrection?  Do you skip over that bit?  Do you go full NT Wright, and talk about the coming fulfillment of all things in the eschaton?  SO MANY OPTIONS.

My job was made much easier this year by the fact that I have a parish who allows the liturgy and music to preach as thoroughly as the sermon.  Even when that liturgy occasionally involves an exploding thurible during the late service.  (Shoutout to the choir, who stomped out the flaming charcoal by rerouting their procession without missing a beat.  That’s professionalism right there.)

Here’s what I ended up saying:

Rev. Megan L. Castellan

April 16, 2017

Easter Sunday

Matthew

 

This story begins in darkness.  A whole bunch of darkness.  The preceding days have been dark and traumatic–Jesus has been put to death, the death of a convicted political criminal.  He has been shamed, made to suffer, humiliated.  His family and friends have been terrified and threatened.  All their hopes for the future, their dreams of where Jesus would lead them, dashed.

 

And on this morning, in darkness, the women head to the tomb.  It’s their job–in that time, it was an important sign of respect to anoint the body of a loved one.  It showed how much they were cared for–also in the days before chemical embalming, it was a sort of hygiene thing.

 

So off they went, in the dark, before the sun came up, to avoid drawing the authorities’ attention, to do one more service for their friend.  

 

And suddenly the darkness breaks, and instead of the gloom of a burial cave, they are met with a shining angel all in white, who tells the women that Jesus is risen, and they are to go and tell the disciples the good news.

 

I imagine this freaked them out pretty good–what with the earthquake and the angel in white.  I imagine they fled back to the disciples and told them what happened, and didn’t have much idea of what to make of it.  I imagine they were scared out of their minds.

 

Coming on the heels of Judas’ betrayal, the trial before Pilate, the crucifixion–suddenly being told that Jesus was alive would have probably seemed altogether too good to understand.  It’s like that feeling after a sudden traumatic event, when you feel like everything is a bad dream you just need to wake up from….only they did.  The world had been one way, and now….it wasn’t anymore.  The world turned upside down.

 

Darkness, see, is not hard to get used to.  Our eyes become accustomed to it fairly quickly.  We learn how to live and move with less light.  It’s not hard, and our expectations adjust accordingly.  

So then, when light comes, it becomes blinding.  Our eyes, so long accustomed to the dim light, burn and tear up.  We shy away from the brightness because it’s not what we’re used to.  Think Plato’s cave allegory.

 

So, too, it’s possible to get used to the dimness of the world.  While we may not like the things around us, while we may complain bitterly about injustice, or sinfulness, or the cruelty we see on display– it becomes very easy after a while to just throw up your hands and say, “well, that’s the way it’s always been.”  And mean, “that’s the way it always will be.” The world will always be broken.  The mighty will always crush the weak, the truth will always go unheeded, the vulnerable will always be expendable– Humans will always hurt each other.  World without end, amen.  

 

It is easy, sometimes, to become used to the gloom.  To become accustomed to functioning without the light we instinctively long for.

 

When we become used to the gloom, we look at the crucifixion and say “Well, what did you expect?  Going around, threatening Caesar.  It was just too good to last, now wasn’t it?”

 

And then Easter surprises us with all its shining glory, and upends what we know of the world.  On Easter, Christ is risen from the dead.  And the darkness and brokenness we had become so accustomed to in the world is swept away.  For once, hate doesn’t win.  For once, the weak is made strong.  For once, death doesn’t have the last word–because God’s love proves stronger than anything else this world can dream up.  

 

Christ’s resurrection is God’s answer to the darkness of the world.  Easter is God’s firm response to the problems that plague us, God’s insistent reminder that no matter how desperate or dire things might seem, darkness does not win in the end.  Hatred does not win in the end.  Evil does not win in God’s creation.  Not in the end.

 

In the end, peace wins.  In the end, life wins.  In the end, truth and justice win.  In the end, Christ rises from the dead, and God promises us that the darkness that seems immovable will break, and light will have the final word.  So we can’t be content with things as they are.  Because they aren’t going to stay this way forever.

 

Easter is when we are invited, blinking, back into the light of this hope.  The hope that no matter what is occurring in our world at the moment, it isn’t final, because we know the cross isn’t final. Pilate’s reign of terror isn’t final.  The tomb isn’t final.  The dark isn’t final.  The blazing light of the Easter sunrise is what greets us at last, in the light of God’s love.  

 

Love is what is final.  And God’s love will ultimately win.  

 

Amen.

 

Everything on One Day

Last year, the parish administrator and I coined a new term: Holy Week-ing.  This describes, as little else does, the phenomenon well known to church staff and clergy–that during times of high liturgical stress, everything and everyone chooses this particular moment to have a crisis.  People get ill, people die, copiers break, organs implode, weird occurances become commonplace, and everything basically goes bananas for a period of a few weeks.

For people new to church work, this is often upsetting, and they wonder if they have done something to provoke this, or if they could have prevented it.  Would better planning have prevented the $250 copier malfunction?  Would more meetings ahead of time?  Would more pastoral attention have averted the 3 parishioners who chose this week to enter hospice?

The answer, dear ones, is no.  No, not a single thing you do (in most cases) can prevent the holy week-ing of those around you.  There are just certain times when the world goes nuts and it is no one’s fault.  Best to see it coming and roll with it.

To that point: this week has been another case of epic holy week-ing.  A sudden, tragic death in the school community, and the (somewhat expected) death of a parish patriarch hit on Monday.  Then came the news that the new “rushing wind” sound of the organ was not a fun new effect, but a symptom of a cracked windbox.  Then, yesterday, the lovely lady cleaning up after the midday Eucharist dashed into my office to inform me that smoke was rapidly filling up the sacristy, and would I like to evacuate?!  I went to check; apparently plumbers were running a smoke test, in which they pump smoke into the pipes to see where it comes out, to diagnose leaks.  They just forgot to warn us.

And then there’s whatever is currently happening in our whirlwind news cycle.

The good news, is that whether or not we actually get our act together, Christ still rises from the dead on Sunday.  Regardless of whether I get the smoke cleared, or whether we can duct tape the organ back together, Christ still defeats death, and all we have to do is show up.   And there’s nothing like holy week-ing to reinforce that lesson.

Anyway, here’s what I said Thursday night.

Rev. Megan L. Castellan

April 13, 2017

Maundy Thursday

 

Every year, at the Jr High Retreat, we have a workshop where youth can ask anonymous questions of a clergy panel—any question they’ve pondered, or long been troubled by.  Usually, we get the same sorts of things:  do all religions go to heaven, is it acceptable to disagree with my priest, who created God, etc.  Some easy to respond to, some requiring lots of hand gestures and diagrams.  

The one question we almost always get is something about the Eucharist:  what happens to the bread and wine?  

I always get a kick out of this one, and not just because I get to read the part in the 39 Articles that says that “transubstantiation (or the change of the substance of Bread and Wine) in the Supper of the Lord, cannot be proved by Holy Writ; but is repugnant to the plain words of Scripture, overthroweth the nature of the Sacrament, and hath given occasion to many superstitions.”

Now, clearly, that’s a thought from centuries ago, and not necessarily something we actually hold to.  (The same article also says we aren’t supposed to reserve the sacrament either….which we do.  Whoops.)

But clearly, this idea has always inspired some passion, shall we say.  What is the Eucharist, this thing we do each week?  This ritual that was established on this night, so long ago?

It’s the organizing ritual of who we are as Episcopalians, this thing we do, and yet, we don’t talk about it all that much.  We just do it, over and over.  We take bread which tastes like nothing, and some really strong wine, and bless them and give them out, week after week.  To the point where it becomes both routine and absolutely necessary.  What even is church, we start to wonder, without this organizing principle, of bread and wine, blessed and shared?

This meal is the foundation of who we are.  

And it is on this night, that we remember how we got here.  That on the night before he died, Jesus did an ordinary thing–ate an ordinary meal with his friends.  Surely, they had done this countless times before, over the years they had been together, shared meals before.  And surely they had even eaten Passover seders together.  Over the three years they had travelled around, preaching and teaching, they had shared a lot together and become a community.

But on this particular night, Jesus did something different.  He took this ordinary meal, and changed it.  He took the ordinary bread, and blessed and broke it, and proclaimed it to be his Body.  He took the ordinary wine–more common then than even water, blessed and shared it, and announced that it was his blood.  “Do this,” he told them, “each time you gather, to remember me.”  

Suddenly, the ordinary was no longer ordinary.  Common bread became, not just food, but a reminder of Jesus–normal wine became not just a way to quench thirst but a memory as well.  Ordinary things made extraordinary.

Perhaps that’s the power of the Eucharist–Christ takes the most common elements of our lives, and makes them into the holiest things imaginable, so that everywhere we looked, we would find God, even in the most mundane and common things.  In the Eucharist, Jesus shows us what his life had been about the whole time–God made tangible for us to hold.  God was no longer far off and inscrutable, up a mountain or behind a flashing cloud–God was here, in this piece of bread.  God was in this sip of wine.  God was in this ordinary guy from your hometown.  

God is right here.  God is real, and accessible, and present, in ordinary, common things.  

So the glory of the Eucharist is both how holy it is, because it is that–it is how common it is.  Because each time we say these prayers and take this bread, it changes us.  Not in a flashy, immediate sort of way, but it does transform us.  Each time we take this bread and drink this cup, we embrace the God who wants so badly to be with us, and allowed himself to be broken and given away.  Each time we share this bread and wine, we grab hold of the God who shared himself with us.  

Now, I don’t know if the bread and wine magically change into literal Jesus particles.  Honestly, I don’t know if that even matters.  The miracle of the Eucharist is less about what happens to the bread and wine, and more what happens to us.  Because as we participate in this sacrament over and over, as we remember how God came among us in ordinary things, as we remember how Christ was willing to be broken for his loved ones…..slowly, we become those holy ordinary things too.  Gradually, we too become the vessels of the divine in the world–what carries God out into all the broken places into the world around us.  We become the consecrated Bread and Wine–common things transformed into the presence of God, so that it may be broken and given out for the life of others.  The more we partake in the Eucharist, the more we become it.  The more we become the Body of Christ.  

In the midst of some of the darkest times in our history, Christ gave us a way to cling to the presence of God in the world.  And more than that, to become, ourselves, that material of God in the world.  So on this night, when we remember this immense gift, we remember also the betrayal, violence, and darkness.  Because these are why it was given.  So that no matter what comes, no matter what we face, God would never be farther away from us than the commonest of things.