“Light Whose Brilliance is Eternal”
The Presentation of Our Lord
Childbirth is more admirable than conquest,more amazing than self-defense, and as courageous as either one.Gloria Steinem, early feminist leader, now 87 years old, who, actually, never experienced childbirth, yet knows this.
Mary gave admirable and amazing birth to Jesus.
And, 40 days later, she and her husband, Joseph, journey to Jerusalem,
to the Temple, as we read, “to present him to the Lord”
and “to do for him what was customary under the law.”
Well, what was customary under the law?
The law in question is found in the book of Leviticus, chapter 12.
The Book of Leviticus, third book of the Old Testament,
named such because it deals largely with concerns of Levite priests,
developed over a long period of time, until its present form, early 300s BC,
mainly treats of legal, moral and ritual practices—lots of them!
Regarding childbirth, we read (bear with me: complex!):
If a woman conceives and bears a male child,
she shall be ceremonially unclean for seven days.
On the eighth day, the flesh of his foreskin shall be circumcised.
Her time of blood purification shall be thirty-three days;
she shall not touch any holy thing, or come into the sanctuary…
When the days of her purification are completed…
she shall bring to the priest at the entrance of the tent of meeting a lamb.
If she cannot afford a lamb, she shall take two turtle-doves or two pigeons, one for a burnt-offering and the other for a sin-offering;
and the priest shall make atonement on her behalf, and she shall be clean.
8 + 33 days, i.e., 40 days, have passed:
circumcision, Mary’s purification,
the offering of the poor who cannot afford a lamb.
More deeply than mere observance of tradition, however,
Mary and Joseph are coming to the Temple
because their hearts are exploding with gratitude and joy
and they want to share the gift with their community.
Saint Bernard (not the breed of dog, but the 12th-century French mystic),
in a homily preached on this feast, speaking to Mary, says:
“Present to the Lord the blessed fruit of your womb.
Give for the reconciliation of us all
the holy Offering which is pleasing to God”.
And who is there, first in line, to receive the gift?
Two people, older adults:
Simeon, the “righteous and devout man”
and “a prophetess, Anna, the daughter of Phanuel,
of the tribe of Asher”, 84-years-old.
We know little about either of them (only mentioned in this Scripture).
Simeon “came into the temple”. Anna “never left the temple”.
Simeon was “looking forward to the consolation of Israel.”
Anna was “looking for the redemption of Jerusalem.”
They were watchers. They kept vigil. They had their eyes and hearts peeled.
We are like them regarding the Second Coming of Jesus.
As we proclaim in Eucharistic Prayer II, we are
“looking forward to His coming again with power and great glory”.
Saint Peter (2 Peter 3:13) says, “according to God’s promise,
we are looking for new heavens and a new earth.”
They watched, but it is unclear
how much they knew exactly for what they were watching.
“Consolation” and “Redemption” are big categories.
Whatever the case may be, the salvation history with which they were familiar culminates in a baby, a baby who melts hearts, and upends expectations,
Lutheran minister Nadia Bolz-Weber, whom I have previously quoted, says
Babies give us a blessing of innocence, of what is possible,
of a moment when we are blessedly free of cynicism.
Babies remind us that there is hope, babies minister to us
in a way that words and even actions never can, like pre-verbal love, like primordial priests wrapped in cotton blankets.
This epiphany is God declaring “this is how I want to be experienced,
that you not fear, vulnerable that you may finally be vulnerable with me”.
Which perhaps leads to the question, for us,
“Where do I look for redemption?”
With the psalmist (psalm 121:1), we ask “from where does my help come?”
Truth be told, Jesus can fade from my horizon
and I sometimes look in other places: my good deeds,
significant relationship(s), political activity, the approval of others,
healthy habits, good planning and tight processes, my self-awareness...
And yet I know that none of these are sources of redemption.
How small we sometimes think—even in the Church.
At one end of the spectrum,
redemption that is purely personal and somewhat detached from the world.
At the other end of the spectrum,
redemption that is synonymous with a political “justice” agenda,
societal and having little to do with conversion of the heart.
You will notice here, with Simeon and Anna,
that redemption, salvation is personal and communal.
This baby, ultimately as adult to give his life and rise from the dead,
saves me from my innermost darkness and,
through each of us and together, saves the community from its darkness.
Simeon and Anna break out in song
because God in Christ touches and renews everything.
Their praises echo in our midst.
Let us ask them to help us prepare ourselves to receive the gift of Jesus,
vulnerable like a child, in the Eucharist.
Let us, as Saint Sophronius, Patriarch of Jerusalem in the early 600s,
preached on this feast:
be shining ourselves as we go together to meet
and to receive, with the aged Simeon,
the light whose brilliance is eternal.
Sermon preached by the Rev. Dominique Peridans on the Feast of Saint Agnes
January 23, 2022
She was an incredibly beautiful girl, irresistibly beautiful to some. Her hand had several times been asked in marriage. Her faith was such, however, that she always declined, making it known that she already had a spouse by the name of Jesus.
Other suitors persisted, ill-intentioned. Yet, awed by her strong presence, they left her untouched—save one suitor who attempted to violate her. In so doing, he was miraculously struck blind. Her faith was such that she prayed for his blindness, and he was healed.
One of her suitors was Procop, the Governor's son. He tried to win her with promises and rich gifts, but the beautiful girl kept saying, “I am already promised to the Lord of the Universe. He is more splendid than the sun and the stars, and has said that He will never leave me!”
In great anger, Procop denounced her as a Christian and brought her to his father, the Governor. The Governor too promised her rich gifts, if only she would deny Christ. She refused. He tried to change her mind, to no avail. He put her in chains. He sent her to a brothel. At the last, she was condemned to death. Yet, she was as happy as a bride on her wedding day. Of her Divine Spouse she said, “He who chose me first shall be the only one to have me!" She then prayed and bowed her head for the death-stroke of the sword.
The day: January 21. The year: 304.
Her name: Agnes, derived from a Greek adjective meaning “pure, sacred”. Her age: 13.
She is the patroness of our parish, our strong sister along the way. When we come to church, it probably does not really cross our mind that she awaits us. She does.
She journeys with us, per the movement of the Holy Spirit, intervening insofar as we let her. Let her.
This gospel reveals one of her traits, which the Lord would like to forge in us: child- like-ness. This is revelation about becoming like children.
What happens in this gospel?
There is an interesting progression. The disciples, entrusted with great responsibilities, approach Jesus about greatness. “Can we all be board members for life?!?” Worldly and limited, sadly, is their perspective. They do have a good instinct, however. As Church Father, Origen (d. 254), exhorts,
“We ought to be imitators of the disciples: when any question of doubt arises among us, and we find not how to settle it, we should, with one consent, go to Jesus.”
The disciples rightly go to Jesus. When any question of doubt arises for us, personally or as a parish, we ought to go to Jesus. The disciples are entangled in concerns about greatness. And, as St. Jerome (+420) remarks,
“Jesus heals their ambitious strivings, by arousing an emulation in lowliness. He calls a child, whom he puts among them.”
And, with a living metaphor before their very eyes, Jesus cuts to the chase: Whoever becomes humble like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.
Or, perhaps, case opened…
Child-like-ness. This is revelation about becoming like children. What is it about children that makes it possible to enter the kingdom of heaven, i.e. enter the life of the King? St. Hilary (+367) tells us
“Jesus calls infants all who believe through the hearing of faith; for infants follow and love their father and mother… do not bear hate, or speak lies…and believe what they hear to be true.”
Saint Jerome (+420) rephrases this:
“Unless you have innocence and purity of mind, you shall not to enter the kingdom of heaven.”
And so we must ask, for example, regarding the life that we are called to live together here, as sisters and brothers: do I believe and trust or do I somehow sow seeds of doubt and division?
The revelation continues: Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me. The Holy Spirit wishes to transform our hearts, making us child-like, thus making us welcoming of the most vulnerable among us, in whom Jesus awaits us. Mysterious, liberating business this is that goes deeper and deeper.
About such children the vulnerable in whom He awaits us, Jesus speaks very strongly. He always does so when he lays His heart on the line.
If any of you put a stumbling-block before one of these little ones who believe in me, it would be better for you if a great millstone were fastened around your neck and you were drowned in the depth of the sea.
This was common Jewish punishment of the greater criminals. But, why is fastening a millstone and drowning better than putting a stumbling block? Perhaps because putting a stumbling-block before one of the little ones leads to death of the heart?
The Holy Spirit wishes to transform our hearts, making us child-like, then to become welcoming like we have been welcomed. I am safe in God’s lap, including the childish parts of me, and, from there, am now able to welcome whomever He brings across my path, into my life. By this mysterious fire of love at work in us, to which we much choose to yield each day, we can welcome the least, the last, the lost, and the lonely.
Baptism: “Going Back Home”
Sermon prepared by the Rev. Dominique Peridans on the Baptism of Our Lord 2022
Four churches in a small Indiana town: Presbyterian, Methodist, Catholic and Episcopal. All four, oddly, are overrun with pesky squirrels.
The Presbyterians, after much prayer and consideration, determined that the squirrels were predestined to be there, and didn’t want to interfere with God's will.
The Methodists had to deal with the squirrels inhabiting the Baptismal font. Theirs was a very practical approach: cover the font. The squirrels, however, managed to move it and there were twice as many squirrels the next week.
The Catholics decided that they didn’t want to harm any of God's creation. So they trapped the squirrels and set them free outside of town. Three days later, the squirrels were back.
The Episcopalians had the most effective solution. They baptized the squirrels and registered them as parishioners. Now they only see them on Christmas and Easter.
Speaking of Baptism, today we celebrate that of our Lord. Two questions, however, immediately arise for me, both of which may have a same answer.
We could at least have some chronology, even if Jesus’ childhood and adolescence are very largely hidden: the presentation of 40-day-year-old Jesus in the Temple, the finding of 12-year-old Jesus in the Temple... a soccer game or two…
The jump in time is actually not a problem because we are not recreating history, but, rather, celebrating the mystery of Jesus. This is another manifestation, a revelation.
Why is Jesus even being baptized?
He is the author of Baptism because the “author of our salvation”. He is “full of grace” (John 1:14), and grace is what we believe Baptism confers. This is another manifestation, a revelation. Notice “the heaven was opened”, the mystery of God revealed. The Holy Spirit, like a dove, that is to say, full of gentle love, descends, confirming the divine origin of Jesus. Then, “a voice came from heaven”, expressing divine delight: the Father. Son, Holy Spirit, Father. This epiphany is not only of Jesus but of the Trinity. It is the first explicit New Testament revelation of the Trinity.
There is another reason for Jesus’ Baptism. Jesus is to make use of John’s Baptism, the Baptism of repentance at the threshold of the New Covenant, to institute a Baptism that confers grace, the Baptism.
Saint Thomas Aquinas, 13th century, says
“Jesus wished to be baptized with a baptism which He clearly needed not, that those who needed it might approach unto it.”
Thus, in being baptized, Jesus makes a promise: to use the simple element of water to communicate divine life in a special way. A guaranteed encounter with the Triune God. (James Boylan soon will have this!) An encounter so guaranteed, that it led Saint Isidore, ancient Christian philosopher, Bishop of Seville, Spain, who died in 636—and who, by the way, invented the period, the comma and the colon—to say that “Baptism is not the work of man but of Christ, and this sacrament is so holy that it would not be defiled, even if the minister were a murderer.”
Those Baptismal waters led American singer-songwriter, Nina Simone, to sing
Take me to the water To be, to be baptized
I'm going back home, going back home Gonna stay here no longer
I'm going back home, going back home
Baptism confers grace to us, and grace grants us a share in God’s life, home. Indeed, the Baptism of Jesus reveals this. Jesus comes to be Baptized in the Jordan, through which the Israelites entered the Promised Land. By grace, and thus through Baptism, we enter the “Promised Land”, nothing less than God’s very own life, home.
Today, we celebrate
Jesus is the Beloved, in whom, we are the beloved. Each of us is a beloved child of God. God has given us everything, so that we be born again and share in His life
—which means a happiness deep in the heart that no one/nothing can take away. We must, of course, cooperate with grace. We do so by seeking God and letting ourselves be found by God and by stepping out in faith to love our neighbor. Loving neighbor is intrinsic to our relationship with Christ. Worry not, however. Christ makes this possible: “grace upon grace”… (John 1:16)
In his Catechism, published in 1538, John Calvin asks,
“How do you know yourself to be a child of God in fact as well as in name?” Answer:
“Because I am baptized in the name of God the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.”
The feast of the Epiphany, officialy celebrated starting in at least 361. “Epiphany”, Greek epi “upon” and phainein “bring to light, make appear”. We can say manifestation. We celebrate God incarnate, the Word made flesh, made manifest, here, to the world beyond Israel, in the persons of the wise men. The first to visit the Christ-child were the
shepherds, simple and lowly, who were Jews. The second to visit the Christ-child were the wise men, these other figures, wise and powerful, who represent the learned pagan
world. The first reading (Isaiah 60:3) speaks prophetically of them:
“Nations shall come to your light,
and kings to the brightness of your dawn.”
The two visits are a response to a mysterious, powerful attraction. The shepherds and the wise men are drawn. There is no commandment; only an attraction. The exact identity of the wise men, or Magi, is difficult to specify. From where did they come?
Who exactly are they? We can only guess... The term Magi comes from a Persian
term, “mag” for “priest”. Whatever the case may be—pagan priests, kings, astrologers, they are traditionally portrayed as coming in full regalia, with gifts. They come with all their learnedness, rather moved in their minds. Theirs is an attraction of which we may not often think. The simplicity of the shepherds, moved in their hearts, seems more accessible. The Magi are mysteriously moved in their minds. They come reading a star, which, for them, indicates the birth of a king. These mysterious figures come and they find God enfleshed (!?!?). How much did they grasp this? It’s difficult to say, but they do ask,
“Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising.”
It seems that they come because they have been given a gift, before even seeing Christ: faith. They are given faith, not because of privilege, but because they are seekers. God likes seekers. God extends Himself to those who seek. Faith is a gift, given freely, which entails a very subtle attraction to God, which enables us to “look” beyond appearances, to discern mystery from above. This discernment is beautifully described in a commentary attributed to Saint Augustine, (+430),
They had been taught that this Child was one, in worshipping whom they would certainly secure that salvation which is of God. Neither His age was such as attracts men’s flattery; His limbs not robed in purple, His brow not crowned with a diamond, no pompous train, no great army, no glorious fame of battles, attracted these men to Him from the remotest countries, with such earnestness of supplication. There lay in a manger a Boy, newly born, of infantine size, of pitiable poverty. But in that small Infant lay hid something great, which these men, the first-fruits of the Gentiles, had learned not of earth but of heaven.
With the eyes of the body, they see a fragile baby. With the eyes of faith, they see God. Only faith can bridge the apparent abyss between child and God. They indeed find what they were seeking in faith, and they are “overwhelmed with joy”. “Overwhelmed” suggests God’s very own joy. One of the Church Fathers tells us that
“a person rejoices truly when he/she rejoices on God’s account, who is the true joy.”
“On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage.”(v 11)
Adoration is always the first, fundamental act in the presence of God. They then offer gifts, gifts in keeping with the reality of this child, gifts that reveal Jesus to us. Saint Augustine, Saint Gregory the Great, 6th-century and others tell us:
This is very much like our situation regarding the Eucharist. Only faith can bridge the apparent abyss between bread and God. If we come seeking in faith, we will be “overwhelmed with joy”. Let us adore. Let us offer the gift of ourselves to Him who gives us His heart, with meekness and vulnerability, in this way.
Taking the Son
Sermon preached by the Rev. Dominique Peridans
on the Third Sunday of Advent, Year C
December 5, 2021
Years ago: a very wealthy man, a devoted son, and a shared passion for art. Father and
son traveled the world, adding only the finest to their collection. A piquant Picasso, a
turbulent Turner, a captivating Cassatt and others adorned the walls of the family estate.
The widowed father rejoiced in his only child become discerning art collector. The day
came, however, when war engulfed the nation. The young man left to serve his country.
Three months passed and the father received a telegram: his beloved son killed while
carrying a fellow soldier to the field hospital.
Christmas morning: a knock at the door. The man opened and was greeted by a soldier
with a large box in hand. “I was a friend of your son”, he said. “I was the one he was
rescuing when he died. I would like to give you something.” The old man opened the
box, to discover a portrait of his son painted by the soldier. Not an art critic
collectible, the painting did convey striking detail of the son’s face and captured his
The following spring, the old man passed away. And the art world was in anticipation!
According to his will, all the works of art would be auctioned. The day arrived. A room
full of expert collectors. The auction began, however, with a painting not on the list: the
portrait of his son painted by the soldier. The auctioneer asked, “Who will open the
bidding with $100?”. Silence. From the back of the room, someone sneered, “Who
cares about a quaint picture? Let’s move on to the important works.” Others nodded in
agreement. The auctioneer replied, “No, we have to sell this one first. Now, who will
take the son?” Silence. Finally, a friend of the old man spoke. “I knew the boy, so I’d like to have it.” “I have a bid for $100,” called the auctioneer. “Will anyone go higher?”
Silence. “Going once. Going twice. Gone.” And the gavel fell. Cheers filled the room and
someone said, “Now we can get on with it!” But the auctioneer announced that the
auction was over. Silence. Then, “What do you mean it’s over? What about all these
paintings? The auctioneer replied, “It’s very simple. According to the will of the father,
whoever takes the son...gets it all.”
John the Baptist understood that “whoever takes the son, gets it all”, and he would do
anything and give everything to take the son. Here we indeed see in him the inner
freedom to address forcefully whatever may diminish God, His Messiah or His Chosen
People and such instrumental attractiveness that “the people were filled with
expectation, and were questioning…whether he might be the Messiah.”
John is here, with us, to “prepare the way of the Lord and make straight his
paths” (Luke 3:4). John the Baptist was fashioned by God, prepared from the womb,
filled with the Holy Spirit, to become the last of the prophets, a calling to which he
responded without reservation. John the Baptist is deliberately, lovingly relative to
Christ, a relationship in which he finds his strength and his joy, and is both docile and
zealous. His zeal makes him unconcerned with peer pressure or review and
uncompromising. What makes for strong uncompromising character? Love.
When we really love, we do not tolerate anything that diminishes the one we love.
So, what exactly occurs here? Crowds are coming to this oddly compelling man, “to be
baptized by him”, as he had been preaching must occur. Being the refined socialite
that he is, he calls them a “brood of vipers”! Sure to win over the crowd! Imagine him in our day—with no trigger warnings!
St John Chrysostom, significant early theologian and Bishop, died 407) tells us that The holy Scripture often gives the names of wild beasts to persons, according to the passions which excite them, calling them vipers for their cunning. John will appeal to their cunning.
“Bear fruits worthy of repentance”, John then exhorts. What are these fruits?
St. Maximus the Confessor (theologian, born in Israel, died in Georgia 662) speaks of
the fruit that is equanimity, literally “evenness of soul”, a fruit “worthy of repentance”.
A difficult expression which, per Saint Gregory of Nazianzus (390), suggests fruitfulness that touches many people, that has a particularly powerful ripple effect. Is “evenness of soul” not the peace that surpasses understanding, fruit of divine love and divine light at work in us, the peace, which we often wish one another, that creates a safe space for many?
John then warns them not to presume religious inheritance and, by implication, not to
misuse authority as power instead of service. The connection with Abraham that
matters is a spiritual one and is a gift. Entitlement suffocates the spiritual life.
The verse that follows is difficult to hear and understand: Even now the ax is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is
cut down and thrown into the fire. You may be asking: what is this fire? I bet some of us think it is the fire of hell. Not too quick! What is “good news” here, as the last verse tells us. Jesus’ purpose is to introduce humanity, us, to and in-to God. For this, He prunes us, He purifies our hearts. We must be holy to enter the Holy. St. Gregory of Nazianzus (another great 4th -century theologian) tells us that “the ax is our redeemer.” Jesus Himself. Jesus comes close, like an ax at the root, touching the core of who we are, mercifully loving even what is barren in our hearts unto fruitfulness. Rather than the painful, damning fire of separation, is this perhaps not the merciful purifying, purgatorial fire of divine love?
Finally, how do we cooperate with this? “What should we do?” John advises the
crowds, the tax collectors, the soldier, us: hearts wide open. Willingness. Generous
hearts. We prepare the way of the Lord by willingness to love one another. The straight
path and the fruit that pleases the Lord is an open heart.
Advent is all about allowing the Holy Spirit to open our hearts sometimes closed by
sadness, confusion, bitterness, fatigue—even refusal, and moving us to love one another, even those whom our hearts deem enemies.
Come, Holy Spirit, enkindle in us the fire of your love.
Preached by MJ Layton, Seminarian Intern
on Luke 3:1-6
At first glance, I don’t like this Gospel passage very much. But, before Fr Dominique and my Lay Support Team get too nervous, let me explain!
When I hear the word, “wilderness,” I think of my many backpacking trips in the White Mountains. Carrying my supplies on my back, hiking with friends, camping out, winding up and down the slopes and ridges — it’s exhausting and exhilarating, and there’s nothing quite like reaching the summit and seeing where you have come from and where you are going.
Then I read in our gospel that we’re going to level all that out? Bring down the mountains? Raise up the valleys? Smooth out the rocks and tangles?
Why on earth?!! Joni Mitchell put it quite aptly, “Why would you pave paradise to put up a parking lot?!” But even more than that, for me, the wilderness is a chance to know God more in his creation. The journey and the struggle, the mountaintops and the valleys are all important pieces of that. Why get rid of them?
But, that’s me, a 21st century woman, responding to a text written almost 2000 years ago, which itself is quoting words from about 600 years before that. As the first few verses of our passage tell us, in that a long list of hard to pronounce names, the context for our reading is that John the Baptist is preaching to the Jewish people in the first century AD, in the wilderness around the Jordan river, which at that time was something of a boundary marker for the region of Judaea. And, to John’s audience, the word wilderness meant something much, much different.
Wilderness for them would have conjured up images of their ancestors wandering in the desert for 40 years, in the very desert which lay just beyond the horizon from where John was preaching. God had rescued the Israelites’ ancestors from slavery in Egypt, but then because of their lack of faith in God, they had to wander in the desert for 40 years before they could enter the promised land, Canaan. 40 years of going up and down ridges and slopes, searching for water, eating manna provided by God, watching an entire generation die out and another one grow up in its place, one which would be willing to trust in God’s provision for them as they entered the promised land. It’s quite the consequence for sin. The long journey of the Exodus was such an important part of Israelite history, that this would have come to mind for John’s audience as they heard and considered his words. In this context, the leveling of mountains and the raising up of valleys and the smoothing out of roads becomes not a moment of destruction, but a promise, a promise that despite sin, lack of faith and disobedience, all flesh will see the salvation of God.
Here back in the 21st century, we don’t end up wandering through a desert for 40 years when we disobey God. But, our tendency to sin, and the consequences of our sin, can create a sort of wilderness for us in the here and now.
Friends, this is when our Gospel passage becomes Good News. “Prepare the way for the Lord! Fill in the valleys! Tear down the mountains! Make the way to God smooth!” This is the message of Advent, the message that John the Baptist preached in the wilderness 2000 years ago: God is coming. God will forgive our sins and heal our world. Be ready for him.
And there is one step that we can take to prepare for God’s coming while we are still in the wilderness. This one thing is the overarching message of Advent: repent, so that your sins will be forgiven. Repent. That’s it. Repentance will make the mountains feel lower and the valleys seem higher and the road we walk not quite so fraught with pitfalls.
However, it’s important that we understand what repentance is, because a misunderstanding of it can just make a personal wilderness feel even deeper and more entangling. Repentance is a turning around, a changing of mind, or maybe better, a renewing of our minds. It’s naming our sins and coming to grips with the idea that our own actions are harmful to ourselves and to others. It’s admitting that we are utterly dependent on God for forgiveness and for the strength to obey him and trust him.
The tricky part is, that sometimes we treat repentance like a chance to “pull ourselves up by our bootstraps and be better people.” And, yes, the hope is that with repentance, our lives will change and we will trust God better and treat those around us with more love, more patience, and more respect. But so often when we attempt to change ourselves, we just end up doing the same old thing over and over again. And the more we fall into old patterns and old ruts, the bigger our wildernesses feel, and the longer the paths to God seem.
That is why such an important part of repentance is not only naming our sin, but naming that we are powerless to help ourselves out of our wildernesses. We repent, and God smooths out our paths for us. We repent, and God gives us the grace to trust him more and to love those around us more. And, taking it one step further, our repentance itself is a response to God’s grace given to us. The only way repentance can be real is if it begins with God’s grace and ends with God’s grace. Any attempt to change ourselves in our own power is futile. But God longs to offer us that grace and forgiveness and the first step towards seeing that in our lives is repentance.
And this is what the season of Advent is for. It is a season where we look forward to Jesus Christ’s return and to the time when God will make all things new. It is a season where we repent of our sins and thank God for his grace and his forgiveness. It is a season where, in the midst of our personal wilderness, we long for his coming and for the healing he will bring.
Come, Lord Jesus, come. Amen.
(Fifth Sunday of Easter)
Rev. Dominique Peridans
Alice Neel, visual artist, expressionist painter, A
career-spanning retrospective of her work opened last month at the Metropolitan
died in 1984 at the age of 84.
Museum of Art in New York: "Alice Neel: People Come First". I had the good
fortune of seeing it. She describes her work as “pictures of people”, resisting the
classification of “portrait painter”, too staid a genre she thought. Neel had a
prodigiously creative life.
Neel also had a difficult life. She married upper-class Cuban painter, Carlos
Enriquez. Their daughter, Santillana, died ofdiphtheria just shy ofher first
birthday. November 1927. November 1928, Neel gave birth to another girl,
Isabella Lillian. New York City, her adopted home. In 1930, Carlos announced he
would travel to Paris, to find a place for the family to live. Instead, he returned to
Cuba, taking Isabella with him. Mourning the loss of her husband and daughter,
a nervous breakdown, hospitalization, attempted suicide, sanitorium. She
continued to paint. Release. Time with her parents. Welfare. Several lovers and
many friends. Two sons.
She continued to paint, to the end.
Her work is hard to describe: plainly serious? thoughtfully naked? irresistibly
direct? Her portrayal of pregnant women, for example, is jarring and compelling
Jesus’ portrayal (or better, revelation) of Himself as the True Vine
is (also, albeit differently)
To the degree I poetically hear this passage, I’m fine with it.
To the degree I real-ly hear this passage, I’m less fine with it.
Seemingly incomplete information, harsh consequences for non-compliance and disturbing demands for exclusive allegiance.
What exactly is the mysterious fruit?
Why no room for negotiation or compromise?
Why the declaration of our incompetence and inability?
Very offensive to my sense ofautonomous selffor which I have worked many years!
jarring and compelling and demanding.
It implies that my life is not my own,
that I am bound, by necessary extension, to Christ’s other branches
whether such boundedness suits my temperament or not,
that my choices, therefore, affect people I don’t even know.
Worse, that I hold two seemingly contradictory truths in perpetual tension. One: that the point of my Christian life isn’t me,
my growth, my catharsis, my contributions, my achievements.
that I am inextricably linked to Some-One else and to many others,
who have a hold on my heart.
Indeed, apart from the vine and the other branches, I am not only barren; I am dead.
And two: that I (and every branch) matter more than I can possibly imagine because the fruitfulness of the True Vine is no trivial thing.
Indeed, Jesus wants to make use of you and me to feed the world.
A key word and thus key revelation in this metaphor: “abide”.
(used eight times in this passage!)
If the Father is the vinegrower, Jesus is the vine, and we are the branches,
what are we to do?
One essential thing: abide.
Cling, depend, rely, acquiesce, commit, remain, continue, last,
make ourselves at home.
To abide is passive--to stay rooted in place and active--to grow, to change. To abide is humbling: we accept nourishment not of our own making.
To abide is vulnerable: we get pruned.
To abide is risky: we bear fruit that others will see and taste.
To abide is relentlessly communal: we live with fellow branches,
a life that can be crowded and tangled.
This invitation, this calling is challenging. We live in strange divided times
and understandably have trust issues, even in the Church.
[Anyone here afraid of being cancelled?]
And it’s very hard in our self-promoting culture to confess
that we are lost and lifeless and can do nothing that lasts forever on our own, that our happiness lies in surrender, not self-sufficiency,
that Jesus isn’t just a wise teacher or good role model or provocative historical figure,
but the very Source and Sustainer of my life.
Bear in mind, however, that this is all gift.
By grace, we have been grafted onto, incorporated into Christ. And, in intimate communion with Him, I can bear much fruit.
And what is this mysterious fruit?
Look to our second reading, which also speaks of abiding:
God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them.
The fruit that we bear along the pilgrim way, which allows God to radiate
in and through us, is love for one another.
The fruit is divine love exercised between us.
And the more we allow the love of God in our hearts to flow,
and to be victorious over jealousy, anger, bitterness, fatigue,
the more rooted we are in Christ’s heart, Source of this love.
It is an ever-deepening cycle.
Jesus makes it possible for us to love in this way,
and the more we say “yes”, the closer we are to the Source.
It’s a win-win.
We need only surrender...
And who, really doesn’t want to surrender to love?
(Fourth Sunday of Easter)
Rev. Mary McCue
In the Name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.
When I told a friend, I was preaching on the text of the Good Shepherd, her reaction was, “Don’t we all need one these days?” I think my friend was right. We all need a good shepherd these days. Someone to help us find the right way – to guide us, with his voice, to safe places. Someone we know, who knows us. Someone who is with us in all weathers, in tough places and always brings us home.
The image also evokes the Old Testament. Moses was a shepherd. So was King David.
It’s a, timeless beautiful image – a good shepherd that cares for his sheep, even to the point of laying down his life for them. And it’s inclusive; he has other sheep that do not belong to this fold that he must bring in also. There will be one flock, one shepherd.
And the flock, and we, have a good shepherd these days – Jesus Christ.
In this section of John’s Gospel, we learn much more about Jesus Christ and his mission on earth, because he tells us much more directly. We all remember earlier Gospels. Jesus asked his followers and his beneficiaries to keep his deeds and words secret. He performs his work indirectly, through healing, through teaching, through preaching, through traveling through the countryside to meet them. By this point in John’s Gospel, he has already been transformed water into wine, been a good shepherd to the Samaritan woman, cured the royal official’s son, and healed the paralytic by the Bethzatha pool. Plenty of signs!
Now, Jesus begins to be more direct. He begins using the phrase, “I am.” He is telling the disciples – and us – what he is and what his mission is about. “I am the good shepherd.” “I am the bread of life.” “I am the light of the World.” “I am the gate for the sheep.” “I am the good shepherd.” “I am the resurrection and the light.” “I am the way and the truth.” “I am the true vine.” Consider those beautiful images: bread of life – the way of the truth – light of the world.
Those seven references in John’s Gospel are simple, direct, in language everyone can understand. Jesus is not only showing his disciples and the people who he is through his works. He is telling them directly. His, “I am” also echoes the Old Testament of Yahweh, who says, “I am that I am.” And his allusion to the vine is one found in the Old Testament as well. Jesus is bridging the teachings of the law into the teachings of the spirit.
This section of the Gospel, called the Book of Signs by scholars, is about Jesus giving us more direct insight into his mission on earth. Scholars say that John’s Gospel is focused on the individual’s relationship to God, rather than on Jesus’ works. His “I ams” certainly focus on the individual’s relationship to God, by describing who he is to them – and to us. As the words oftoday’s Collect say, Grant that when we hear his voice, we may know him who calleth each by name and follow where he doth lead.
(Third Sunday of Sunday of Easter)
Rev. Dominique Peridans
Easter week, I spent three days in Washington,
the other, the original Washington, founded in 1776,
the first city in America named after General George Washington.
North Carolina, along the Pamlico River.
While there: a stroll through the large cemetery of Saint Peter’s parish.
Azaleas abloom abounding.
Lime green lawn.
Towering oak trees planted in 1877.
Outstanding old graves.
Indeed, not a grave after 1890, following the town ordinance
forbidding further burials for fear of water contamination.
Film director Cecil DeMille is buried in the church crypt.
One particular grave caught my eye:
Hattie Frizzle, died October 16, 1881, at age 4.
The inscription is most unusual, perhaps perplexing to some:
Pa, don’t hold me back.
It is all tangled up and I can’t undo it.
For me, it speaks to being caught up in the mystery of the Resurrection.
Pa, don’t hold me back.
It is all tangled up and I can’t undo it.
We continue to celebrate the Risen Lord.
It’s still Easter!
We celebrate the Risen Lord every day, of course, but ‘tis the special season.
We continue to let ourselves be caught up in the mystery of the Resurrection.
God become human is victorious over death,
which means that nothing can hinder God
from communicating His love to me (us): not my exhaustion or exclusion,
my loneliness or locality, my depression or depletion.
I know that I sound like a broken record, but what more is there?
Divine love has the last word
and we are invited to experience it and to be transformed by it.
Jesus reigns and is, therefore, present in all that may feel like death,
in all that feels like it is dying in us.
The mystery of the Resurrection
is our mystery, our reality—if we so desire.
It is, of course, mysterious, mystery-ous.
It was for these disciples. Hence, startled and terrified,
they thought that they were seeing a ghost. (v. 37)
This incident follows Jesus’ appearance to the two disciples
on the road to Emmaus, downcast and disbelieving.
That encounter reveals that
Jesus comes to us when everything seems to be unraveling and isolating.
Those two disciples then rush to the others (our passage today)
and, as they are sharing, voila, Jesus.
St. John Chrysostom (+407), Bishop of Antioch (now in southern Turkey),
Doctor of the Church, says, “He that was so much desired comes,
and is revealed to them that were seeking and expecting Him”.
Jesus responds to the deep desires of our heart.
“Peace be with you”, Jesus says, and the
He invites them “touch me” (v. 39)
A powerful invitation,
which should speak to us deprived of so much touch in the age of COVID.
Jesus is always inviting us to real intimacy in love.
Their believing is gradual.
They do not initially recognize Jesus.
Why? Perhaps because, with Jesus, there is more than meets the eye.
Just like us, the Apostles need faith truly to recognize Jesus.
Perhaps, they’re not making good use of the gift of faith.
Consequently, the newness of Jesus’ body post-Resurrection
to their eyes strangely veils who He is.
Jesus goes further in the reality of real encounter.
He had no need to eat—as says Saint Bede, the 8th century English monk
(after whom, BTW, a metro station is named in Jarrow, England!)
Yet, Jesus asks, Have you anything here to eat?
St. Cyril (+444), contemporary of St. John Chrysostom,
Bishop of Alexandria (Egypt, not Virginia), also Doctor of the Church, says
The Lord had shown His disciples His hands and His feet, that He might certify to them that the same body which had suffered rose again.
But to confirm them still more, He asked for something to eat.
Jesus is merciful with us in our difficulties in believing.
So merciful is He, that He makes us, like He did these disciples,
witnesses of His resurrection, instruments of the victory of divine love.
For this truly to be possible, however, He sends upon us,
as we read in the verse just after this passage,
the promise of the Father, i.e., the gift of the Holy Spirit.
Our inner journey is scarcely different than that of these disciples.
There is more than meets the eye,
and sometimes we do not make good use of the gift of faith.
We sometimes conclude that, because we do not see the Risen Lord and
because some things do feel like they are dying in us, Jesus is far.
Jesus is closer to us than we are to ourselves.
He comes to us, downcast or disbelieving, unraveling or isolated.
And He sends upon us the Holy Spirit.
Touch the Risen Lord now, in faith and in hope, and receive afresh.
All we must do is want it. It is that simple.
(Fifth Sunday of Lent)
Rev. Dominique Peridans
Home is where the heart is—they say.
Perhaps, ‘tis the place to which the heart,
shattered, scattered abroad, returns.
(from Gloria Squires, with whom I am unfamiliar)
I will draw all people to myself.
Jesus, on the Cross, “lifted up from the earth”, arms wide open,
the place to which our hearts,
shattered, scattered abroad, return.
He is our home.
And, all people are drawn, welcome, no heart left out.
That is inclusiveness.
The powerful embrace that transcends every imaginable tired political
Let’s take a quick look at this interaction,
A group of Gentiles come to Jerusalem during Passover
(when the Jews celebrate delivery from slavery) hoping to see Jesus.
Why the Temple?
As non-Jews, it’s not their Temple!
as early Church Father St. John Chrysostom (+407) suggests,
it was such a splendor, that even non-Jews honored the Temple with
Why do they want to see Jesus?
Well, as Jesus reveals, desire for God results from God attracting us.
Jesus is somehow attractive to them.
Why do they approach Phillip instead of Jesus?
The apostles were preaching to non-Jews.
Phillip, which means “mouth of the lantern”,
as mentioned in Acts, chapter 8, was the first apostle to preach to
Why does Phillip go to Andrew?
Perhaps out of respect for Andrew who became an apostle before
Then, as mediators, together Andrew and Phillip go to Jesus.
What is Jesus’ response?
If I were Jesus, I probably would have said,
“Awesome! Bring them in! Celebration! Mission being accomplished.”
Instead, initially odd, Jesus reveals his Passion and Death.
Jesus reveals that soon they—and all—will truly see.
Indeed, Jesus will say to the same Phillip, during the Last Supper
“Whoever sees me sees the Father.”
But his Passion and Death are to be understood
in the light of something seemingly unrelated: much mentioned glory.
“The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.”
His Passion and Death, in which, somehow,
his followers mysteriously participate, is ultimately about glory.
Jesus then says, “Father, glorify your name.”
And the Father, the voice come from heaven
—as at Jesus’ Baptism and Transfiguration,
responds, “I have glorified it and I will glorify it again.”
What is glory?
Some of you may recall the working definition I often propose (!):
glory is the radiance of God,
divine light and love, which, in God, are one, as they overflow.
Jesus’ mission: to communicate the glory of God.
In seeing these Gentiles coming, apparently ready,
Jesus says that the “hour” of His Passion and Death has come,
the time for the grain of wheat to fall into the earth and die,
and in so doing, to bear much fruit: glory.
Revelation too heavy for our hearts and too befuddling for our minds,
As St. Paul says, “a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to
(I Corinthians 1:22).
At the Cross, however,
Jesus pours forth “attractive” light and love to overflowing
—so that death, which normally brings them to a screeching halt,
no longer bring them to a screeching halt.
Jesus doesn’t say,
“I will draw all people to myself after the Cross, when this mess is
We sell Jesus short when we only think of the Resurrection as the
The Cross as historic event is tragic.
The Cross as mystery is the communication of victorious light and
The Resurrection makes this reassuringly manifest.
As mentioned, then Jesus then reveals
that we are called to participate in the mystery of the Cross.
We don’t simply consider the historic event and hope to be moved.
We are to receive this light and love, eternally poured forth,
and to be instruments of it—to overflowing.
And, this is only possible by complete surrender,
put in frankly frightening terms as “hating one’s life”!
I don’t know about you but, without Jesus,
there is no way I can lay down my life for others.
If only we understood what God wishes to accomplish in and through
we would unclench our fists and receive more light and love.
Let us surrender to Jesus
—including the difficulty that we have to surrender to Him!
He is one step ahead of us.
He is not just on the back end of successful surrender.
We must indeed freely choose to surrender, but
Jesus is quietly bestowing grace on the front end of our surrender.
Hear the poignant question of Saint Jane de Chantal,
widowed at age 28, in 1601, with four children,
a broken-hearted French baroness who took a vow of chastity for
and eventually founded an order of nuns for women in poor health.
When shall we cast ourselves undeservedly into the arms
of our most loving Father in Heaven, leaving to Him the
care of ourselves and of our affairs, and reserving only the
desire of pleasing Him, and of serving Him well in all that