Mary Magdalene at first did not recognize Jesus as she met Him on Easter morning outside the empty tomb, nor did His two disciples who met Him later that day on the road to Emmaus, nor did his seven disciples even later at the sea of Galilee, as from their fishing boat they saw Him standing on the shore. It was only after he had spoken that any of them realized Who He was, and each revelation was a surprise.
As the Easter season continues we are invited to be on watch for sightings of our Risen Lord here and now. He may speak to us from something we are reading, or as we listen one more time to a favorite piece of music. But He may speak to us in much less expected places. I might meet Him in a bus driver who waits in the street with the door open for me, now that with my difficulty in walking I can no longer run for the bus as I used to do. I might meet Him in a grocery store checkout clerk, who by wearing a mask and gloves is taking care that Corona virus not be spread among those of us who need to buy food to survive and among those of us who need to sell food to keep the store open.
Where and when will we see Him now? Most likely it will be a surprise.
Who better than Saint Augustine to help us on this day, when we are invited to draw particularly close to our Lord? We ponder our Good God become flesh Who allowed Himself, in His flesh, to be nailed to a Cross, so to say “I love you”. We ponder in order to receive. And, we indeed receive the everlasting love poured forth. We are loved. May this love be comforting and reassuring, strengthening and enlightening, challenging and transformative. By it, may you abide in God.
As they were looking on, so we too gaze on his wounds as he hangs. We see his blood as he dies. We see the price offered by the Redeemer, touch the scars of his resurrection. He bows his head, as if to kiss you. His heart is made bare open, as it were, in love to you. His arms are extended that he may embrace you. His whole body is displayed for your redemption. Ponder how great these things are. Let all this be rightly weighed in your mind: as he was once fixed to the cross in every part of his body for you, so he may now be fixed in every part of your soul.
Saint Augustine, Bishop of Hippo—now Annaba, Algeria—from 396 to 430, when he died
A church bulletin board, quoted by Bishop Mariann, has a rueful message: “I didn’t plan on giving up this much for Lent.”
None of us did. This year, we won’t have the experience of being in church for the lows and highs of the most sacred time in our liturgy. We won’t have the experience of gathering together to sorrow, to reflect and to rejoice.
We will have at-home worship kits. We can send intentions for prayer to Father Dominique, to offer at Wednesday Mass. And many of us can take advantage of on-line services. It may not feel like church. But it is. The church is people – you and me and all of us.
The Greek word that church derives from is ecclesia. There are similar terms in Hebrew. Over the years, it’s been laden with all sorts of meanings. In its simplest form, though, it means gathering. In both the Old and New Testaments, it means gathering. For the Israelites, it signified covenant. In the New Testament, it came to mean gatherings of the people. (An interesting article on ecclesia can be found in Christian Classical Ethereal Library by J.A.H. Fenton, University of Cambridge, 1897. [www.ccel.org])
When we gather with at-home worship kits, when we listen to on-line services, we are gathering as a people. When we pray at home, we are praying along with many others who are doing the same thing during this Lenten season. When we care for each other, via mail, email and phone calls, we are church.
We can experience the lows and the highs of this most sacred time. And when, finally, we can congregate together in our worship space, we can say, “Alleluia!” And we will know that Jesus has risen.
Here is the Prayer Book collect for today, the Wednesday in Holy Week:
O Lord God, whose blessed Son our Saviour gave his back to the smiters and hid not his face from shame: Grant us grace to take joyfully the sufferings of the present time, in full assurance of the glory that shall be revealed; through the same thy Son Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
This collect has been prayed for several generations during which “the sufferings of the present time” have kept changing. Whatever they are, these sufferings are framed by two constants. One is that Christ’s earthly humiliations for our sake are over and done, complete. The other constant is “the glory that shall be revealed” to us in the end. Between these two appears the great miracle of grace that allows us not only to endure, but “to take joyfully” the sufferings of our day. That we can do so is not human achievement, but God’s work in us.
Each spring when I was a young child the glass-paned storm windows on our house were taken off and replaced by screens. Then as I woke up with my bedroom window open a few inches I could hear the calls of doves. According to Wikipedia the American dove’s sound is “CooOOO-woo-woo-wooow.” I don’t remember it that way, exactly, but its downward slope didn’t sound sad to me. I called it a “morning dove” because that’s what my parents said it was.
Later I realized that the word that sounded just like “morning” was spelled “mourning.” After that I heard the bird call as sad. But I think that in my earlier understanding I was onto something fundamental. The bird call announced morning—a new day beginning.
As followers of Jesus we understand that mourning and morning are connected, especially in Holy Week. Just as for His first disciples the tragedy and mourning of Good Friday were followed by the joy of Resurrection on the morning of Easter, so we are assured that our own current mourning, fear, and perplexity are not a final thing. In that hope the deacon’s “Exsultet” song in the Easter Vigil calls Jesus our “Morning Star”—the star that appears and shines above the horizon while we remain just before dawn still in the dark of night.
Mourning and morning—they go together for us. Mourning is real, especially now. So is the morning dove. So too the Morning Star.
Fr. Neil Xavier O'Donoghue, a priest of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Newark, New Jersey, wrote in a recent blog (Pray Tell: Worship, Wit & Wisdom, March 22, 2020) about Fr. Simon Beach, a Church of England priest of St. Budeaux Parish Church in Plymouth, England, who was recording his first “virtual” service. Watch his video below.
What else are we to do in these unusual circumstances?
“The 61 year old has not had a lot of experience with recording himself while preaching and was preaching with a backdrop of a cross and candles. But he had to end his sermon early with the comment, ‘Oh dear; I’ve just caught fire.’ Indeed, his sweater had caught fire from the candles in the backdrop. Fortunately no harm was done and his fellow vicars have been teasing him with jokes about “being on fire for Jesus” and telling him that he “should have waited for Pentecost.”
My prayer is that, as we navigate the current situation in which we live, we be on fire for Jesus—and that we always have a sense of humor in the midst of it all!
Well, I’ll miss singing “All Glory, Laud and Honor” this Palm Sunday. This rarely sung hymn, triumphant and joyful, heralds the joyous time of Easter (preceded by the Triduum’s solemnity).
Maybe this year, though, God has a special message for us. Matthew’s Gospel (Matthew 21: 1-11) quotes the Old Testament, “Rejoice greatly, Oh daughter Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter Jerusalem! Lo, your king comes to you, triumphant and victorious is he, humble and riding on a colt, the foal of a donkey.” (Zechariah 9:9).
Maybe this year, we’re being given an opportunity to, in the words of the prophet Micah, walk humbly with our God (Micah 6: 8). We don’t have to worry about setting up for the Triduum in church. We don’t have to worry about refreshments. We don’t have to worry about flowers for the altar (though our stalwart Flower Guild plans an “explosion” of flowers when we’re back in our sacred space). We can ponder the story of Palm Sunday (one of only 15 mentioned in all four Gospels). We can read, or listen to, the liturgies of the Triduum. And we can grow closer to Jesus.
It may feel like a grim time. And it is. But we know how the story will end. It will end with Jesus triumphant. It may not be in church. It may not be at Easter meals with friends. But it will end with Jesus triumphant for this age and for all time.
All glory, laud and honor to our Redeemer King!
What do all of us do all the time? We breathe. Along with other religious traditions, Christianity links prayer with breathing. Ways of breathing prayerfully can be intense or intermittent. One intermittent way is to say a form of words silently or aloud, linking it with your breath as you move from place to place performing simple tasks. Even if you repeat the words only a few times, you have engaged in prayer and welcomed the Spirit as your companion.
In response to the extraordinary circumstances in which we now live, a suitable form of words can be: Let your way be known upon earth; your saving health among all nations. These intercessions from Morning Prayer and Evening Prayer have their ultimate origin in the Book of Psalms. Say them from time to time, let them ride gently on the tide of your breath. Thus you will help everyone here on our troubled planet.
The Rev. Charles Hoffacker is a retired priest of the Diocese of Washington