Category Archives: Holdiays

Letter 62: Poems for the Triduum: III. Easter Morning

It rained last night,
Soaking the flowery banners,
Moistening the bunny
Decorations and the eggs.

The wreckage of the trees are still about
Testimony to last week’s snowstorm.
Dead lights are still up on some houses
As are stray desiccated bits of evergreen boughs,
Relics of Christmas that we can’t be bothered
To put away.

It should come as a cannon shot,
A startling reveille announcing
Night is over.

Instead, we get hide and seek
Wonder, terror, questions
Misplaced gardeners, and sleeping soldiers.
We had hoped he would be the one
To redeem Israel.

We are left with a tomb without a body
A world that lopes along,
More or less as before,
Tired, weary. Groaning with expectation.

You do not do things as we would do them.
Where we would shout,
You whisper and giggle like a child
Hiding to be found.

All that energy relentlessly running,
Seeking the cracks where it may burst forth
Past fractured trees, dead lights, and sodden, wilted decorations,
Exploding at once in the sound of our name.



Leave a comment

Filed under Easter, holidays, Resurrection

Letter 57: O Come O Come Emmanuel

Today is the first Sunday in Advent, which marks the beginning of the Church’s celebration of Christmas. Of course, outside of church, the Christmas season started over a month ago, before Halloween. So this seems to me to be a good time to ponder how one might celebrate the coming of the Christ Child.
If you feel a certain disconnect between the usual festivities and a sense of religious observance or devotion, you’re not alone. This is a very old problem. Every year since 1965, Charlie Brown has bemoaned the empty feeling the flurry of festivities brings on. In 1953, singer Red Foley was urging listeners to “Keep Christ in Christmas.” My Puritan ancestors believed that the Christmas festivities were nothing more than popish superstitions, and dispensed with the holiday completely.
The problem stems, I think from Christmas’s origins. I do not mean the actual Incarnation and Jesus’s birth in Bethlehem. Today, it’s not very clear what the earliest Christians thought about commemorating this event. Christmas as we know it today starts with the Emperor Constantine. Attributing his successful pretensions to the throne of Rome to God’s favor, Constantine became a Christian, and decided that everyone else should to, by naming Christianity as the official religion of the Roman Empire.
This obviously caused some significant dislocation for many people, who may not have given much thought to paganism, but dutifully went through with the established patterns of religious observance. If nothing else some of the old celebrations were fun, often involving feasting and drink and sex.
One of the largest celebrations was the Saturnalia, six days of eating, drinking and partying, in celebration of freedom. It was timed around the winter solstice, which would be the darkest time of the year in the Northern Hemisphere, and thanks to the comparatively colder temperatures, a time when fresh food too longer to spoil. Since there was little agricultural work to be done this time of year, it was a good time for a real celebration. By government order all schools and businesses were shut during the six days of the festival.
This was heady stuff, much loved by people of all stations. And now they would be asked to give this up.
It was thought best to “Christianize” Saturnalia, by drawing out some of its more universal aspects, and now tying them to Christ. Nearly all peoples had a celebration at the winter’s solstice, celebrating the return of light to the world. Jesus declared Himself “The Light of the World,” and so it became a straightforward matter to name this time the celebration of His coming to earth. The gift-giving now echoed the Magi, and the sense of equality and fun was now grounded in our identity and freedom in Christ.
And so the party continued, but now with a tension.
We like giving gifts, mostly because we like getting gifts. As a child, I timed my desires around the twin poles of Christmas and my birthday. Thankfully, they were sufficiently spaced out to make this possible. I loved the food of Christmas, too, the candy and cookies, the departure from the usual fare.
But when I think about what it is we are supposed to be celebrating, I find a disconnect, particularly when I read many of the familiar Bible passages. Indeed, if I were to summarize what the Bible has to say about Advent and Christmas, it would be this: “The King is coming, Get ready!”
“For just as the days of Noah were, so the coming of the Son of Man will be. For as in the days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day Noah entered into the ark. And they did not know anything until the deluge came and swept them all away. So also the coming of the Son of Man will be. Then there will be two men in the field; one will be taken and one left. Two women will be grinding at the mill; one will be taken and one left. Therefore be on the alert, because you do not know what day your Lord is coming!” Matthew 24:37-42 (LEB)
So I think it is helpful to separate what we might term “secular” Christmas celebrations from “religious” or devotional observances. Gift-giving, decorations, cookies, and parties are all fine, but they do nothing to prepare us for the coming of the King. It is also helpful to realize that not everyone is going to agree with that secular-religious distinction. We have gotten far too bothered about how other people celebrate, or do not celebrate, Christmas. If we are serious about following Jesus, we would do better, by far, to ask how he wants us to prepare for His coming.
So, over the next few weeks, I want to spend some time thinking about this. How do we get ready?

Leave a comment

Filed under Advent, christmas, Holdiays, prayer, Prophecy, treatment of others, Worship

Easter Wings

Lord, who createdst man in wealth and store,
      Though foolishly he lost the same,
            Decaying more and more,
                  Till he became
                        Most poore:
                        With thee
                  O let me rise
            As larks, harmoniously,
      And sing this day thy victories:
Then shall the fall further the flight in me.


My tender age in sorrow did beginne
      And still with sicknesses and shame.
            Thou didst so punish sinne,
                  That I became
                        Most thinne.
                        With thee
                  Let me combine,
            And feel thy victorie:
         For, if I imp my wing on thine,
Affliction shall advance the flight in me.
-George Herbert (1593-1633)

Leave a comment

March 26, 2016 · 7:28 pm

Letter 33: Watching and Waiting, an Easter Mediation

Easter is Sunday. In thinking about the Easter story, I was struck by two things. First how unnoticed the first Easter was, and second, how much waiting surrounds Easter. I suppose I should elaborate.

Easter is central to the Christian faith. Without Easter, there is no Christian faith. Given how much notice the seminal events in Jesus life received, Easter is surprisingly low key. Indeed, if one accepts the earliest copies of Mark’s gospel, we have only some frightened women and an empty tomb. Angels will appear, but again, only to some women. The guards are struck as dead men when Jesus rises from the tomb, so they see nothing, and can only report that the tomb is empty.

John reports that the first disciples to inquire again find only an empty tomb. John believes, but Peter has only questions. The risen Christ is finally spotted by the same group of women who have attended Him throughout His ministry, and they at first think He’s the gardener.

At Jewish law, women cannot give testimony, and so God deliberately chooses to reveal himself to people whose testimony cannot count and cannot be trusted. It seems a strange thing to do, as if He is making deliberately difficult to get to the bottom of what He is up to. He confounds the wisdom of the wise, and turns this world upside-down, but we have to work to find it. Why?

Thus the waiting. There is a lot of waiting in the Easter story. Jesus gets shuttled back and forth between the various authorities in Jerusalem waiting for the resolution He knows will come. He is several hours dying on the Cross. Nothing happens quickly. And then comes Holy Saturday, where Christ lies buried deep in the bowels of the earth, unseen. Holy Saturday is the day nothing happens, the day we wait.

There is much to ponder here. Which is why we wait. In the hidden places, God is at work.


Leave a comment

Filed under Christianity, Easter, God's Silence, Worship

Letter 16 Epiphany

This past Tuesday was the Feast of the Epiphany, Three Kings’ Day, or as Shakespeare termed it, “Twelfth Night.” This marks the end of the Church’s celebration of Christmas, and plunges us into a murky time in between as we await Ash Wednesday.

This matches the chronology of Jesus’ life, as we know it in the Gospels. We see him at eight days having his bris at the Temple, where the family meets Anna and Simeon. He reappears two years later, still living in Bethlehem when the magi arrive. The family then departs for Egypt to escape King Herod’s clutches where they stay for six years. From Egypt they move to Nazareth, in case Herod’s son decides to finish his father’s work. Six years later, we meet Jesus again, now recently bar mitzvah’ed, as He celebrates Passover at the Temple for the first time as an “adult.” He remains behind when his parents depart for home, astonishing the priests and the teachers of the Law with his knowledge and questions. “ Then he went down to Nazareth with them and was obedient to them. But his mother treasured all these things in her heart. 52 And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man.” (Luke 2:51-52). And there Jesus once again disappears, not be heard from again for eighteen years.

All too often, we forget these strange silences. God has dramatically inserted Himself into the human story in a new way, and this after four hundred years of comparative silence. Angels sing, shepherds marvel, wise men come, and then God goes quiet. Why? He pops again, briefly, twelve years later, clearly attracting some attention, and then disappears again. Does anyone follow up on Him? With so many people looking for a Messiah, I would have thought someone would locate him. I sometimes wonder whether God intentionally does this, both to throw us off, but also to test our intentions.

We love to speak about God in terms of relationship, that He is a friend who is always there, who loves to communicate with us, and if some people in my church are to be believed, God has an awful lot to say to us. These silences do not fit this image. We don’t want to admit that at times, God chooses to say nothing to us. In our chatter filled world, I’m not sure we know how to handle the silence. How dare God not Instagram us throughout the day?

We have tried to fill the silence with all sorts of speculations. Some believe that during this time, he travelled around the Roman world with Joseph or Arimathea, his uncle, journeying so far as to set foot in Britain. The notion that God was content to live a quiet and thoroughly unremarkable life in Galilee seems so unlike the dynamic person we wish to present. A God who goes silent is hard to follow.

So I am left to wonder, as I seem prone to do. God delights in confounding us, reminding us time and again of His divinity; that He stands outside of nature while we remain very much within it.

Aquinas, of all people, seized on this mystery at the heart of God. The apostle of reason and faith took up this theme for a communion hymn which seems a good way to close this letter.

Godhead here in hiding, whom I adore,

masked by these bare shadows, shape and nothing more,

see, Lord, at thy service low lies here a heart

lost, all lost in wonder at the God thou art.

Seeing, touching, tasting are in thee deceived;

how says trusty hearing? That shall be believed;

what God’s Son hath told me, take for truth I do;

truth himself speaks truly, or there’s nothing true.

On the cross thy Godhead made no sign to men;

here thy very manhood steals from human ken;

both are my confession, both are my belief;

and I pray the prayer of the dying thief.

I am not like Thomas, wounds I cannot see,

but can plainly call thee Lord and God as he;

this faith each day deeper be my holding of,

daily make me harder hope and dearer love.

O thou our reminder of Christ crucified,

living Bread, the life of us for whom he died,

lend this life to me then; feed and feast my mind,

there be thou the sweetness man was meant to find.

Jesu, whom I look at shrouded here below,

I beseech thee send me what I long for so,

some day to gaze on thee face to face in light

and be blest for ever with thy glory’s sight.

Leave a comment

Filed under Christianity, Epiphany, God's Silence, Holdiays

Letter 9: A Call to Worship for Easter Morning

Call to worship:
“It is finished!” The words fall down with the peal of thunder, echoing across the hills and valleys. Then darkness. Silence.
God is dead. We have killed Him, you and I.
Our prayers ascend to a silent heaven, where there is no one to answer. Our faith is in vain. From whence cometh our help?
Then come the women, looking to do properly what the men have rushed. To give final homage to the Teacher, and patch the hole in their own hearts.
All is amiss. The soldiers are missing, and the stone moved.
He is gone! Panic. Fear. Despair.
They spy the gardener. Perhaps he will know.
They ask, and he answers with a name.
And sears them with the bursting light of a thousand suns,
Obliterating the darkness,
Making bold the truth, which now we proclaim, joining with the faithful in every time and from every land:
Glory. Hallelujah. Amen.plate9-the-resurrection

Leave a comment

Filed under Christianity, Easter