Archive for inconvenience

Celebrating Inconvenience

Posted in Doing Church, Rationale with tags , , , , , , , , on March 30, 2017 by timtrue

17th-century_unknown_painters_-_The_Resurrection_of_Christ_-_WGA23478[1]The following article, which appears in the April/May newsletter of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Yuma, Arizona, discusses the significance of the historic Easter Vigil worship service.

“The Great Vigil, when observed, is the first service of Easter Day. It is celebrated at a convenient time between sunset on Holy Saturday and sunrise on Easter Morning.”

So says the Book of Common Prayer on page 284.

To which I ask, “Is there such a thing as a convenient time between sunset on Holy Saturday and sunrise on Easter Morning?”

Easter is late this year. Sunset will occur after seven o’clock, with real darkness only truly descending after 7:30. The rubrics of the Prayer Book constrain us really, then, to a first “convenient” time of 8pm.

But how convenient is 8pm for folks who cannot easily drive in the dark?

We do have other options, I suppose. “Between sunset and sunrise” means a midnight service would be appropriate, and midnight’s always cool. Or, for those who have trouble seeing in the dark, we could begin the service at 4:30am, timing it so that it would end just before sunrise (which will occur at 6:07am). That way people would only have to drive one way in the dark, and at a time of the day when there is very little traffic.

Still, neither of these options strikes me as any more convenient than 8pm.

The Prayer Book continues:

“The service normally consists of four parts:

  1. The Service of Light.
  2. The Service of Lessons.
  3. Christian Initiation [i. e., baptism], or the Renewal of Baptismal Vows.
  4. The Holy Eucharist with the administration of Easter Communion.”

In other words, it’s like a normal Sunday service—which consists of two parts, the Service of Lessons and the Holy Eucharist—with a couple of additions: the Service of Light and baptism.

That “Service of Light” part really does constrain us to the dark—a time between sunset and sunrise—which, let’s face it, really does feel inconvenient, no matter how we look at it.

And it feels even more inconvenient when we think about that other part, that baptism part!

I mean, really? The Prayer Book would rather we baptize at the (dark) Great Vigil than wait for the next day, when the sun is up and the Easter Lilies are smiling along with everyone else who got a good night’s sleep? What if that baptism is of a young child, who’d probably be in much better spirits on a bright Sunday morning than a dark Saturday night—not to mention his parents? Or what if the hoped for godparents aren’t able to make it out at night for whatever reason? Or what if? . . .

Okay, okay, I hear your questions. Yes, they are reasonable. Yes, a nighttime, dark service does indeed feel inconvenient. And yes, we could just as well forget about the Vigil and revert to the way things used to be around here, when we simply waited for Easter Sunday to roll around, stress day.

But if there’s one thing about me you’ve gotten to know by now, it’s that I highly respect our Episcopal tradition. And by “Episcopal tradition” I don’t mean the way we did things last year, five years ago, fifty, or even a hundred; I mean the tradition that goes back before the Reformation, before the marriage of the Roman and English Churches in the seventh century, even before the Council of Nicaea in 325 CE. I want to go clear back as far as history will take us. How did the early church do it? That’s the tradition I’m talking about.

The reason I value this tradition so greatly is because many, many saints before us have thought long and hard—a lot longer and harder than any of us have—about how best to worship and glorify Christ. By the way, this is the rationale behind our Book of Common Prayer, leaving little room in our assemblies for novel, innovative liturgies.

And, even more importantly, there’s this: Jesus inconvenienced himself a great deal—when he emptied himself of the glories of heaven and became human; when he washed his disciples’ feet; when he stayed up all night praying fervently in the garden that his Father would take his cup from him; when he stood trial before Pilate; when he was stricken, smitten, afflicted, and nailed to the cross mercilessly; when he eked out his last breath—all for us! We break these dark inconveniences when we come to worship him at the Great Vigil, the fitting end to this drama known as the Passion, where we celebrate new light and life together—something the bright Sunday morning service just can’t replicate.

And thus, when it comes to worshiping Christ as God, the term inconvenience takes on new meaning.

Let’s celebrate this inconvenience—the Great Vigil, the tremendous conclusion to Christ’s Passion—together on Saturday, April 15, at 8pm. There will be a baptism this year; and, immediately following the service, a champagne-and-hot-cross-buns reception!

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From Nazareth to a Deserted Place

Posted in Homilies with tags , , , , on August 3, 2014 by timtrue

Matthew 14:13-21

Maybe it was the fact that John the Baptist had recently been beheaded.

John!  His own cousin!  The one who had gone before him preaching repentance and proclaiming the good news of the Kingdom.  The one whom Herod the Tetrarch had locked in prison on account of a personal vendetta.

Ha!  Herod the Tetrarch—that fox!  More like Herod the Puppet!  Caught between a rock and a couple hard places—between a strong desire to satisfy his personal agenda, the Roman political hierarchy, and the pressures of the masses!  Oh, how Herod feared the masses!

So maybe it was out of grief for his cousin.

Or maybe it was the fact the he had recently been rejected by his home town.

He had come to them, the people of his home town, as a prophet, full of wisdom and power.  But who was he to them?  Simply a carpenter’s son.  To them, he had overstepped his social boundaries.  To them, he was an upstart, a know-it-all, too big for his own britches.

Having come to them as a prophet, then, and having been rejected as many prophets before him had been, wasn’t it the prophet’s natural course to retreat, to withdraw to a deserted place for a time during which he would commune with God the Father?

Maybe so: maybe he was acting as a prophet.

Or maybe he was simply an introvert and needed some time to himself to recharge.

Or maybe it was a combination of all these things.

Whatever the case, we read that Jesus withdraws from Nazareth to a deserted place.

This contrast—from Nazareth to a deserted place—is an important one to get into our minds; for it sets the stage for more contrasts that follow, significant contrasts, from which we can learn a great deal.

So what is so important about this contrast?  It’s just the same old story of town mouse and country mouse, right?  Jesus spends some time in the town, in Nazareth, and runs into some difficulty there; so he moves out to the country, where folks understand him better, where folks “get” him.

Well, yes and no.  Yes, he did run into some difficulty in Nazareth; and yes, the folks in the country did “get” him.  But no, it’s not so simple as that.

In Nazareth there was an established social order.  This is why Jesus’s home town rejected him in the first place: because he was bucking the established social order.  And if we were to trace this social order up, we would see that it doesn’t stop at the borders of Nazareth.  It continues beyond these borders, up through Galilee, up through Judea and all Samaria, up through Herod’s Tetrarchy, and so on up through the Roman Empire.

But when Jesus withdraws to a deserted place he is effectively withdrawing to an alternative social order.  He expects to be alone; but the fact that crowds follow him is the same thing as saying these crowds of people are seeking an alternative social order too, the social order of a new kingdom, the Kingdom of Heaven.

But this alternative social order—Jesus’s social order—is not based on status and imperial brutality.  Jesus’s social order is based on compassion.

Here’s a fun Bible fact—something to arm yourselves with the next time you play a game of Bible trivia: this story, the feeding of the 5,000, is the only miracle to show up in all four Gospels.

But, I ask, is this just trivia?  At the very least, this factoid suggests that this story was highly important to the early church.  Jesus has just left his home town and is grieving the death of his cousin John.  He’s looking for time alone.  But, instead, he finds a crowd waiting for him; and he puts the crowd ahead of himself.  He pours out love on them in a very tangible way.

Jesus loves the multitudes, the commoners, the crowd, the plebs, the socially disadvantaged, the less-than-desirables, the untouchables—whatever you want to call them—Jesus loves the people who are otherwise relatively insignificant on the world’s stage—the people who are at the bottom of the social pecking order.  Jesus loves and cares for them!  Jesus loves and cares for us!

This message of love was extremely important to the writers of the Gospels; this message of love is extremely important to our world today.

So I mentioned that this contrast is important because it sets the stage for other contrasts that follow.  I don’t just mean the other contrasts in the text either, though there are many.  I mean these and the many contrasts we face in our twenty-first-century lives from day to day.

Consider this contrast: Jesus goes out to a place to be alone; but finds a multitude.

You can imagine this scenario pretty easily, can’t you?  You’ve been working hard all day and things haven’t been going particularly well.  You’ve been criticized today by your boss, questioned, perhaps even insulted.  And if that weren’t already frustrating enough, you then get a phone call telling you some bad news, some news that in fact brings you grief.

In this state of mind and heart you end your day; you drive home looking forward to some peace and quiet, some time to be alone with your own thoughts and loved ones, some time to recharge.  But as you pull into your driveway you get another phone call: some old friends happen to be passing through town and are in fact just a few minutes away—imagine that!—and what are you doing for dinner?

What do you do?  I’ll tell you what Jesus did: Jesus, who was seeking a quiet place, where he could enjoy a time of inaction, a time of passivity.  Instead—despite the disciples’ suggestion to send the crowds away—we read all sorts of action words: Jesus saw, had compassion, cured, ordered, took, looked, blessed, broke, and gave.  Instead of recharging through a time of passive inactivity, Jesus acted.  Would you do the same?  Could you do the same?

Another contrast for us to consider: the disciples and the crowd looked around and saw scarcity.  Only five loaves and two fish?  What can anyone do with so little?  Yet after Jesus blessed, broke, and gave, the disciples and the crowd ate until they were filled, with a great abundance left over.

Now I’m not suggesting here that the disciples did anything wrong.  They looked around at their situation and saw what you and I would see and were perfectly reasonable about it: There are only five loaves and two fish; there’s no way in the world this small amount could feed more than a few people.  That’s a perfectly rational assessment.

But this passage begins with a sort of ho-hum feel, that this is just another day in the life of Jesus, just Jesus doing what he does, his routine; but it ends with a sense of wonder coming upon everyone.  Five loaves and two fish feed five thousand men—not to mention the women and children?  How can this be?

Here’s a lesson from this contrast: we need to live our routine lives—our lives that can tend to feel ho-hum—looking for wonder.  Where is God at work when you have those terrible days, when work or school is a bear, when you receive a grief-generating phone call, or when unexpected guests arrive at an inconvenient time?  God is there.  God is everywhere.  Look for him.  You just might find him—and be wonderstruck!

Well, there are several other contrasts worthy of consideration in this passage. But I will end my consideration here.  Yours doesn’t have to though.  Why not go home tonight and contemplate this story some more?  Or tomorrow?  Contemplating the scriptures doesn’t have to take place only during worship.

But now I want to bring it all together.  Tonight we’ve heard again this familiar story of Jesus feeding the five thousand.  And we’ve contemplated it through a frame of contrasts.  What take-home lesson is there for us?

Just this: Jesus’s Kingdom presents a dramatic contrast to the kingdom of our world.  His is a Kingdom of equality and peace.  In it there is no social pecking order; no compulsion by force or threat of violence.

You who call yourselves Christians, then, are in something of a difficult place; for you have dual citizenship: in Christ’s Kingdom and in the world.  It’s when the values of these two kingdoms clash that you must make difficult decisions: to follow the way of Christ or the way of the world.

Here it is then, our take-home lesson: when these clashes come, always, always, always, choose Christ.  Choose the way of the desert.  Go there expecting to meet with God, expecting to recharge spiritually.  But go there, too, expecting to be wonderstruck by what God will do.