One of the reporters at the Hutto prayer service asked me, as serious as could be, “So, these large outdoor prayer meetings–I assume this is a weekly tradition for Episcopals?”
Oh my sweet, summer child.
“No,” I replied, quite emphatically. “We are an indoor people. My people do not venture forth out of doors. Do you know the Royal Wedding? The queen, the hats, the tea? We are the people who brought you THAT. Today is VERY UNUSUAL. Please consider how bad things have to be in order to force Episcopalians to go OUTSIDE.
WHERE THE SUN IS.”
However, God is quite the joker, because no sooner did I arrive back in Ithaca, then Mass on the Grass rolled around. This is an annual tradition of St. John’s, which used to be termed “Rally Day” but because no one quite knew what a rally day was, we decided to change the name this year. We go out to a local park, rent a big pavilion, and have one big service and picnic to celebrate summer, and to have fun.
My response to that reporter was slightly tongue-in-cheek, but mostly honest. Because the heart of our tradition is liturgy, when we move where it happens, it feels radically destabilizing. Sometimes, that’s healthy, and sometimes, that’s just chaotic without purpose. But in all cases, it’s deeply felt. So we don’t tend to just “go outside.” Outside is chaotic. Outside there is wind and water, and whatnot. You can’t always control things outside.
However, more and more it would seem that outside is just where Christ is calling us. Regardless of the geese that honk while we pray, and the wind that threatens our nicely-lit candles–Christ seems to be calling us outside into this creation, so go there, we shall.
Here’s what I said. (It’s in bullet points because I was trying to be ‘looser’ and more ‘free.’ This sort of worked?
Bread vs bread
CAT FOOD EXPERIMENT in 4th grade
Moral: don’t be a cat. Hold out for the good stuff.
- Recall now that we’ve switched from Mark to John’s gospel
- Mark was “Just the facts”
- John wants to also tell you the Why. The theological background.
- John is Gospel 2.0
- Which is why he spends 3 chapters ranting about bread
- Bread here isn’t just bread.
- (as you might suspect from Jesus chiding them for wanting a snack.)
- As usual, John is operating on several levels
- For one thing, John would like us to notice that Jesus is being super-Moses like here. Which is why he has told us that it is Passover.
- Remember how Moses, among his many accomplishments, fed a huge crowd of people?
- He prayed, and God gave the Israelites manna in the wilderness.
- Here, Jesus prays, and God feeds a crowd again.
- But! Jesus’ bread is not like the manna, which turned bad after a day. Jesus’ bread is 1. for everyone and 2. everlasting.
- So Jesus is both in the footsteps of Moses, and building upon Moses.
- Don’t settle just for manna, John’s Jesus tells us. There’s more out there, and God wants to give it to you.
- Don’t just settle for surviving, Jesus tells us. Reach for an abundant life.
- The crowd seems to want the basics—bread! Magic! Miracles at their beck and call! And it makes sense—free bread sounds pretty great.
- But Jesus wants to give them something more complicated, more risky and more real.
- Following the way of Christ is not just survival.
- In fact, loving God and your neighbor as yourself does not necessarily make for survival.
- Following Christ opens us up to a life beyond surviving— it opens us up to a life of vulnerability, and richness, and joy, and sorrow, and hope.
- There are times, certainly, when it seems safer to settle for bread. We know bread! And we also don’t want to get our hearts broken.
- But the life that Christ offers us beckons with so much beyond our imagining—it makes the occasional heartbreak worth it.
- We’re here today in this park to celebrate. But not the survival of St. John’s. We are here to celebrate our thriving. Our abundant life we are finding together.
- Time and again, this parish has chosen to reach for an abundant life, rather than the safe one. We have chosen to follow Jesus when he led us onto the water rather than to stay on the shore. And recently, I followed Jesus and got to join you on this path.
- so here we are, rejoicing in the abundant life this parish has found together. And in the adventures that Christ has in store for us just over the horizon.