Fourth Sunday of Easter

April 25, 2021


Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we pray with Psalm 118.

 “This psalm is centered on God, in a movement that expresses gratitude, admiration, joy and praise. In the King James Version, the Lord is mentioned in almost every verse.” (Wikipedia)

Give thanks to the LORD who is good,
    whose mercy endures forever.
It is better to take refuge in the LORD
    than to trust in humans.
It is better to take refuge in the LORD
    than to trust in princes.

Psalm 118: 1, 8-9

Following our first reading today, the psalm focuses me on God’s Name – often “Lord”, as in the psalm – but also so many other Names of God from the riches of scripture and tradition.

… in the Name of Jesus, this man stands before you healed.
He is the stone rejected by you, the builders,
    which has become the cornerstone.
There is no salvation through anyone else,
nor is there any other name under heaven
given to the human race by which we are to be saved.

Acts 4: 10-12

The fact that we have so many names for God reminds me of how accommodating God is to my need as I pray. 

One day I need “My Rock”.

Another day I delight in “My Dayspring”.

As I wake up each morning and allow the day to embrace me, I often greet God with a special name, depending on the mood and circumstances of my heart:

  • Good morning, Beautiful Light. Take any darkness from our world this day.
  • I greet You, Sweet Lord. Thank you for the delicious gift of life.
  • Cloudy God, you have been hiding from me. Bring me into your Sunshine today.
  • God, my Strong Shoulder, stand by me today.
  • Chilly God, seeming to ignore my prayer, unfreeze my spirit to hear your answer.

Jesus invites us to pray with images that speak to our hearts. In our Gospel, He names himself a Shepherd, an image so accessible to his agrarian listeners, and which said it all without the need for theology!

Jesus said:
“I am the good shepherd.
A good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.”

John 10:11

As we pray today, within what image is God coming to us? May we let the Holy One speak a sanctifying and special Name over us in our prayer. May it free us just as it freed the man healed in today’s passage from Acts.


Poetry: Six Recognitions of the Lord – Mary Oliver

1.

I know a lot of fancy words.

I tear them from my heart and my tongue.

Then I pray…..

3
I lounge on the grass, that’s all. So
simple. Then I lie back until I am
inside the cloud that is just above me
but very high, and shaped like a fish.
Or, perhaps not. Then I enter the place
of not-thinking, not-remembering, not-
wanting. When the blue jay cries out his
riddle, in his carping voice, I return.
But I go back, the threshold is always
near. Over and back, over and back. Then
I rise. Maybe I rub my face as though I
have been asleep. But I have not been
asleep. I have been, as I say, inside
the cloud, or, perhaps, the lily floating
on the water. Then I go back to town
to my own house, my own life, which has
now become brighter and simpler, some-where I have never been before….

4.

Of course I have always known you

Are present in the clouds, and the

Black oak I especially adore, and the

Wings of birds. But you are present

Too in the body, listening to the body,

Teaching it to live, instead of all

That touching, with disembodied joy.

We do not do this easily….



6.

Every summer the lilies rise
and open their white hands until they almost
cover the black waters of the pond. And I give
thanks but it does not seem like adequate thanks,
it doesn’t seem
festive enough or constant enough, nor does the
name of the Lord or the words of thanksgiving come
into it often enough Everywhere I go I am
treated like royalty, which I am not. I thirst and
am given water. My eyes thirst and I am given
the white lilies on the black water. My heart
sings but the apparatus of singing doesn’t convey
half what it feels and means. In spring there’s hope,
in fall the exquisite, necessary diminishing, in
winter I am as sleepy as any beast in its
leafy cave, but in summer there is
everywhere the luminous sprawl of gifts,
the hospitality of the Lord and my
inadequate answers as I row my beautiful, temporary body
through this water-lily world.


Music: Two Songs for today

Kyrie – Michael Hoppé

Kyrie Eleison
Lord, have Mercy


For those who might want to take it up a notch:
Kyrie – Mr. Mister

Second Sunday of Easter

Sunday of Divine Mercy

April 11, 2021

Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we pray with Psalm 118 which ties together our other readings in a celebration of confirmed faith:

  • Christ IS risen
  • He has been SEEN even by one with severest doubts
  • the community IS RESPONDING wholeheartedly to the Easter mission

The stone which the builders rejected
    has become the cornerstone.
By the LORD has this been done;
    it is wonderful in our eyes.
This is the day the LORD has made;
    let us be glad and rejoice in it.

Psalm 118

For the early Church, which comes alive in today’s readings, faith and experience have been “married”. These are early “honeymoon days” for a young faith community where Jesus might still pop up any minute by a charcoal fire or in a locked Upper Room.

These are days of heady enthusiasm where everything seems possible in the healing tenderness of five transfigured wounds.

The Incredulity of St. Thomas – Caravaggio

Last week, I offered a staff presentation during which we discussed the blocks to effective communication – poor planning, noise, cultural differences, assumptions, etc. But I think of one block in particular this morning.

Time and Distance

The farther we are from the original message the more likely we might lose its full power and truth.

Think of that childhood game, “Whisper Down the Lane”. As the original message traveled along the long line of squirming children, it repeatedly morphed into its multiple distortions.


Our readings today enjoin us to take care that such distortion never weakens our Easter Truth: Jesus Christ is risen and lives in us, the faith community.

… whoever is begotten by God conquers the world.
And the victory that conquers the world is our faith.
Who indeed is the victor over the world
but the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?

As Jesus describes us in today’s Gospel, we are the ones “who have not SEEN”. Still, we long for the blessing that comes from our unseeing fidelity:

You believe in me, Thomas, because you have seen me.
Blessed are those who have not seen me, but still believe!

Let us pray for one another, the whole faith community. As the Easter Word passes down through the ages and out over the earth, may it stay fully alive in our faithful love and active mercy:

The community of believers was of one heart and mind,
and no one claimed that any of his possessions was his own,
but they had everything in common.
With great power the apostles bore witness
to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus,
and great favor was accorded them all.


Poem:

St. Thomas Didymus by Denise Levertov

In the hot street at noon I saw him
a small man
gray but vivid, standing forth
beyond the crowd’s buzzing
holding in desperate grip his shaking
teethgnashing son,

and thought him my brother.

I heard him cry out, weeping and speak
those words,
Lord, I believe, help thou
mine unbelief,

and knew him
my twin:

a man whose entire being
had knotted itself
into the one tightdrawn question,
Why,
why has this child lost his childhood in suffering,
why is this child who will soon be a man
tormented, torn, twisted?
Why is he cruelly punished
who has done nothing except be born?

The twin of my birth
was not so close
as that man I heard
say what my heart
sighed with each beat, my breath silently
cried in and out,
in and out.

After the healing,
he, with his wondering
newly peaceful boy, receded;
no one
dwells on the gratitude, the astonished joy,
the swift
acceptance and forgetting.
I did not follow
to see their changed lives.
What I retained
was the flash of kinship.
Despite
all that I witnessed,
his question remained
my question, throbbed like a stealthy cancer,
known
only to doctor and patient. To others
I seemed well enough.

So it was
that after Golgotha
my spirit in secret
lurched in the same convulsed writhings
that tore that child
before he was healed.
And after the empty tomb
when they told me that He lived, had spoken to Magdalen,
told me
that though He had passed through the door like a ghost
He had breathed on them
the breath of a living man —
even then
when hope tried with a flutter of wings
to lift me —
still, alone with myself,
my heavy cry was the same: Lord
I believe,
help thou mine unbelief.

I needed
blood to tell me the truth,
the touch
of blood. Even
my sight of the dark crust of it
round the nailholes
didn’t thrust its meaning all the way through
to that manifold knot in me
that willed to possess all knowledge,
refusing to loosen
unless that insistence won
the battle I fought with life

But when my hand
led by His hand’s firm clasp
entered the unhealed wound,
my fingers encountering
rib-bone and pulsing heat,
what I felt was not
scalding pain, shame for my
obstinate need,
but light, light streaming
into me, over me, filling the room
as I had lived till then
in a cold cave, and now
coming forth for the first time,
the knot that bound me unravelling,
I witnessed
all things quicken to color, to form,
my question
not answered but given
its part
in a vast unfolding design lit
by a risen sun.

Music: Thomas Song

Thomas’ Song – Hallal Music

Jesu you were all to me,
Why did you die on Calvary?
O Lamb of God, I fail to see
How this could be part of the plan.
They say that you’re alive again
But I saw death and every sin
Reach out to claim their darkest whim
How could this part if the plan?
If I could only
Hold your hand
And touch the scars
Where nail were driven,
I would need
To feel your side
Where holy flesh
A spear was riven,
Then I’d believe,
Only then I’d believe
Your cruel death
Was part of a heavenly plan.
Holy presence, holy face
A vision filling time and space
Your newness makes my spirit race
Could this be part of the plan?
I see the wounds that caused the cry
From heaven, ocean, earth, and sky
When people watched their savior die
Could this be part of the plan?
Reaching out
To hold your hand
And touch the scars
Where nails were driven
Coming near
I feel your side
Where holy flesh
A spear was riven
Now I believe
Jesus now I believe
Your cruel death
Was part of a heavenly plan
I proudly say
With blazen cry
You are my Lord and my God

Easter Saturday

April 10, 2021

Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we pray again with Psalm 118, today’s verses a song of utter confidence in, and thanks for, God’s faithfulness.

Give thanks to the LORD who is is good,
    whose mercy endures forever.
My strength and my courage is the LORD,
    who has been my savior.
The joyful shout of victory
    in the tents of the just.

Psalm 118: 1, 14-15

That profound trust and gratitude are captured in the enduring word:

“Forever” is a word we tend to toss about carelessly, as in:

It took my pizza forever to get here!

I promise I’ll love you forever.

Really? Could “forever” possibly apply in both these cases????


I think, in fact, we cannot begin to conceptualize “forever”, just as we cannot possibly conceptualize God.

What we can do is 

  • to pick up the fabric of our life as it flows through time, 
  • to place it with trust in God’s enduring love, 
  • to slowly, continually become knit into God’s faithfulness, 
  • to finally become still as, in each moment, that Love carries us to “forever”.

Poetry: two selections today

Forever – is composed of Nows by Emily Dickinson

Forever – is composed of Nows –
‘Tis not a different time –
Except for Infiniteness –
And Latitude of Home –
From this – experienced Here –
Remove the Dates – to These –
Let Months dissolve in further Months –
And Years – exhale in Years –
Without Debate – or Pause –
Or Celebrated Days –
No different Our Years would be
From Anno Dominies 

From Miracles by C.S. Lewis

It is probable that Nature is not really in Time 
and almost certain that God is not. 
Time is probably (like perspective) the mode of our perception. 
There is therefore in reality no question of God's 
at one point in time (the moment of creation) 
adapting the material history of this universe 
in advance to free acts 
which you or I are to perform 
at a later point in Time.

To God
all the physical events and all the human acts 
are present in an eternal Now. 
The liberation of finite wills 
and the creation of the whole material history of the universe 
(related to the acts of those wills in all the necessary complexity) 
is to God a single operation. 
In this sense God did not create the universe long ago 
but creates it at this minute—at every minute.

Music: Swept Across Forever – Tim Janis

Easter Friday: Cornerstone

April 9, 2021

Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we pray with Psalm 118:

The stone which the builders rejected
    has become the cornerstone.
By the LORD has this been done;
    it is wonderful in our eyes.

Psalm 118:22

That “Stone”, rejected by the builders, is the Crucified Christ, the sight of whom was an abomination to those who expected a battle-victorious messiah.

But Jesus is among us to stand in contradiction to everything that limits the power of God. In Jesus’s Name

  • the poor are rich
  • the lost are found
  • the foolish are wise
  • the persecuted are blessed
  • the dead are raised to life

As Peter says in Acts, worldly rejection holds no sway over the power of this Name:

There is no salvation through anyone else,
nor is there any other name under heaven
given to the human race by which we are to be saved

Acts 4:12
The Miraculous Catch – James Tissot

This is the mysterious lesson of the Cross, a lesson accessed only through faith, a faith the disciples exercise in today’s beautiful Gospel story.

This morning, we might wish to join Jesus for his “Breakfast on the Beach”, feeding our spirits in his resurrected Light. The truth he gives us goes beyond any purely human understanding. Let us listen with our deep hearts; see with grace-filled eyes.


Poetry: True Cornerstone by Robert Morris,  a prominent American poet of the mid-19th century

What is the Mason's cornerstone? 
Does the mysterious temple rest 
On earthly ground — from east to west — 
From north to south — and this alone? 

What is the Mason's cornerstone? 
Is it to toil for fame and pelf, 
To magnify our petty self, 
And love our friends — and this alone? 

No, no; the Mason's cornerstone — 
A deeper, stronger, nobler base, 
Which time and foe cannot displace — 
IS FAITH IN God — and this alone! 

'Tis this which makes the mystic tie 
Loving and true, divinely good, 
A grand, united brotherhood, 
Cemented 'neath the All-seeing Eye. 

'Tis this which gives the sweetest tone 
To Mason's melodies; the gleam 
To loving eyes; the brightest gem 
That sparkles in the Mason's crown. 

'Tis this which makes the Mason's grip 
A chain indissolubly strong; 
It banishes all fraud, and wrong, 
And coldness from our fellowship. 

Oh, cornerstone, divine, divine! 
Oh, FAITH IN God ! it buoys us up, 
And gives to darkest hours a hope, 

And makes the heart a holy shrine. 
Brothers, be this your cornerstone; 
Build every wish and hope on this; 
Of present joy, of future bliss, 
On earth, in Heaven — and this alone!

Music: Loed, When You Came – Kitty Cleveland

Lord, when you came to the seashore 
you weren’t seeking the wise or the wealthy, 
but only asking that I might follow.

O Lord, in my eyes you were gazing, 
Kindly smiling,My name you were saying; 
All I treasured,I have left on the sand there; 
Close to you, I will find other seas.

Señor me has mirado a los ojos,
Sonriendo has dicho mi nombre,
En la rena he dejado mi barca, 
junto a ti buscaré otro mar.

Lord, you knew what my boat carried:
Neither money nor weapons for fighting, 
but nets for fishing my daily labor. 

Lord, have you need of my labor, hands for service,
A heart made for loving, my arms for lifting the poor and broken? 

Lord, send me where you would have me, to a village,
Or heart of the city; I will remember that you are with me.

Psalm 118: Inside the Gate

Memorial of Saint Francis Xavier, Priest

December 3, 2020


Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy,
we pray with Psalm 118
which describes the Lord’s strong city
and the gate which protects it.

Our opening passage from Isaiah exults in this Divine Strength, asking to be embraced  within its sacred space:

A strong city have we;
the Lord sets up walls and ramparts to protect us.
Open up the gates
to let in a nation that is just,
one that keeps faith.

Isaiah 26: 1-2

Jesus, in our Gospel, tells us that inclusion in the sanctuary must be merited by those who understand that God’s Will is for justice over all Creation:

Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’
will enter the Kingdom of heaven,
but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven.

Matthew 7: 21

Thus we, longing to be among the included, we pray this Advent psalm:

Open to me the gates of justice;
I will enter them and give thanks to the LORD.
This gate is the LORD’s;
the just shall enter it.
I will give thanks to you, for you have answered me
and have been my savior.

Psalm 118: 19-21

As I meditate on these thoughts, our Motherhouse property offers many “icons” to reflect upon the concept of the “gate”. The entire campus is enclosed by various types of fencing or walls. There are four gates through which one may pass into the complex.

early photo of Motherhouse main gate , Montgomery County Historical Society. The open gate is barely visible against the small pine tree on the left of the opening.

I imagine that, when first installed, these great gates offered a more formidable enclosure than they do today. Only the wrought iron hinges remain of the main gate’s  double swing panels. Yet these, driven into imposing stone pillars, still suggest the firm purpose to create a sacred space.

You will notice the open gate just under the right side of the big tree

Inside the property, another wrought iron enclosure surrounds the community cemetery. This fence’s two gates are usually open, demonstrating that their purpose too is not security but rather sacred designation.

These venerable gates, rather than castle-like ramparts, are more like torii, those traditional Japanese gates found at the entrance or within a Shinto shrine where they symbolically mark the transition from the mundane to the sacred.

The famous torii at Itsukushima Shrine, Hiroshima, Japan

During Advent, we slowly pass through such a sacred symbolic gate, once again entering the holy mystery who is Jesus Christ. We pray to be transformed, not simply by the retelling of his story, but by the Living Grace he is for us in our own lives.

With today’s powerful readings, we pray to enter more deeply into that Mystery.


Poetry: Endless Time – Tagore

Time is endless in thy hands, my lord.
There is none to count thy minutes.
Days and nights pass and ages bloom and fade like flowers.

Thou knowest how to wait.
Thy centuries follow each other perfecting a small wild flower.

We have no time to lose,
and having no time we must scramble for a chance.
We are too poor to be late.

And thus it is that time goes by
while I give it to every querulous person who claims it,
and thine altar is empty of all offerings to the last.

At the end of the day I hasten in fear lest thy gate be shut;
but I find that yet there is time.

Music: Huanqiutan Garden – Oliver Shanti