Archive for March, 2016

“A woman in a garden,” (Easter Vigil Sermon, March 26th 2016)

Note: The community in which I serve uses a much abbreviated version of the Easter Vigil which leans more heavily on the vigil/Holy Saturday tone than the full-on Easter celebration, which it reserves until the morning. The Gospel reading for this evening service as the current rector has chosen it is the following incredibly truncated passage:

Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb[.]

John 20: 1a

It all comes back to this: a woman in a garden. The cool of twilight. The in-between time, the balance between light and dark.

Beneath the story of salvation that we just heard runs a shadowy thread: the thread of our Fall in that lost garden of Eden. Beneath the image of Jesus’ beloved lost sheep, weeping outside his tomb, another image lies in secret: innocently naked Eve, reaching out to a forbidden tree.

It all comes back to this: a woman in a garden, standing on the precipice of something inescapable and irrevocable. Things are about to change.

Two women, leaning toward a promised wisdom, walking a shared path into history, and the path suddenly splitting in two. One walks into a thick tangle of angry thorns, blamed and shamed and painted forever as the millstone weighing down the human family. One walks into an earth made completely new, an earth still humming with the echo of shattered manacles, Love’s great exodus from the world beneath our feet.

Two women sharing twin experiences. A brand new heart, learning a new existence – outside of him, without him. An invisible thread, pulling each one in to remind her of the new limits she faces. A lack of knowledge. A turning around. New eyes, new focus, new vision, fresh tears.

A woman in a garden. The cool of twilight. The in-between time.

The cool of twilight; fragrant grass bending under holy feet that somehow walk on the earth, pressing impossible footprints into soft soil – once, the soil of Eden; now, the soil of this latter garden, and indeed the soil of humankind’s grieving flesh. A veil of mist parts along a brow that has no business being there. Silent stones share secret surprise, sputtering stars go out, one by one, mute to us, but singing beyond the expanse of space and time, underneath the range of the ear, hovering in the range of the heart. Written into our cells, our bones, our sinews, held hidden, waiting for the inevitable turning of the earth into dawn.

A woman in a garden. The cool of twilight. The in-between time.

A liminal time, held in tension, the eternal space between the hand and the object of desire, the sacred dance between seeker and wisdom, the thin surface of energy blanketing each living thing blending, seeping in, becoming one…but never further, always in process.

This is the truth of our kingdom, our new reign of love. The already and the not yet. The joy of the unfulfilled lover, dreaming of the beloved. The yearning of the heart that yet sings shy on the threshold. The searing bliss of peering through the lattice and leaning into the voice, “Rise up. Rise up and come away – the winter is past.”

A woman in a garden. The cool of twilight. The in-between time.

The slow pulse of a bleeding heart, raw with the ecstasy of grief, leaving the breast warm and crimson with spent ardor, kept there as memorial to what once was and can never be again, and yet destined to be burned away in the tender new sunshine of once-familiar nut brown eyes that should not be open, should not be, because how could God have eyes like a man’s eyes, how could God have feet to walk in the cool of the evening, how could the one who swooned with love onto the hard, splintered wood of the Tree and died there be the one who now waits for the moment when his lost sheep is ready to hear his voice speak her name into the fading dark?

How could this be?

It cannot.

And yet.

A woman in a garden. The cool of twilight. The in-between time.

A woman in a garden, Church Triumphant, a bride waiting under a veil of early morning shadow, bedecked with the glory of spring and carefully silenced bells, holding her breath.

A woman in a garden, holding out her hand.

“The Hidden Light,” (Sermon, March 22nd 2016)

Now among those who went up to worship at the festival were some Greeks. 21They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and said to him, ‘Sir, we wish to see Jesus.’ 22Philip went and told Andrew; then Andrew and Philip went and told Jesus. 23Jesus answered them, ‘The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. 24Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. 25Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. 26Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also. Whoever serves me, the Father will honour.

27 ‘Now my soul is troubled. And what should I say—“Father, save me from this hour”? No, it is for this reason that I have come to this hour. 28Father, glorify your name.’ Then a voice came from heaven, ‘I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.’ 29The crowd standing there heard it and said that it was thunder. Others said, ‘An angel has spoken to him.’ 30Jesus answered, ‘This voice has come for your sake, not for mine. 31Now is the judgement of this world; now the ruler of this world will be driven out. 32And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.’ 33He said this to indicate the kind of death he was to die. 34The crowd answered him, ‘We have heard from the law that the Messiah remains for ever. How can you say that the Son of Man must be lifted up? Who is this Son of Man?’ 35Jesus said to them, ‘The light is with you for a little longer. Walk while you have the light, so that the darkness may not overtake you. If you walk in the darkness, you do not know where you are going. 36While you have the light, believe in the light, so that you may become children of light.’

After Jesus had said this, he departed and hid from them.

John 12:20-36


I have this friend. He’s what John O’Donohue would call an “anam cara,” a “soul friend.”

We met at a Goth club I used to go to every Sunday evening. (If you’re curious about that part of my life it’s actually a lot less exciting than it sounds; just spectacular outfits, very loud music, and a lot of pierced and tattooed people more likely to spend their hard-earned cash on corsets than any of the illicit substances my mother thought they consumed in the bathroom.)

My friend is older than me, he’s gay, and identifies as Pagan but was raised Plymouth Brethren. When I met him he also attended a Presbyterian Church, and is a faithful member of the late-night Compline service congregation at Christ Church Cathedral. He’s got a rich spiritual heritage and temperament.

We began our relationship with a conversation about religion, and have continued in that vein for several years. We exchange books. We share in each other’s struggles.

His Plymouth Brethren background, his spiritual practices, and his sexual orientation mean that he currently has a familiar but uneasy relationship with Christianity, freely admitting that leaving it was the hardest but most necessary thing he has ever done. The Plymouth Brethren are a nonconformist offshoot of the Anglican Church which can be traced back to mid-seventeenth century Dublin. They reject the concept of clergy leadership, are theologically conservative, and are liturgically very Protestant, without much music or embellishments.

Although most of the time my friend was open and humourously self-deprecating about his birth faith, it occasionally shone through in interesting ways, most notably one year when I encouraged him to come to Cathedral services during Holy Week.

“Oh, don’t give me that,” he said, in a dry, scoffing tone I can hear ever so clearly in my head right now, “It’s no more holy than any other week.”

Is Holy Week more holy than any other week?

I suppose technically it isn’t. We’re looking forward to some really important things, but for most people I imagine it doesn’t feel that different.

Especially on the Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday, before we get to the good stuff on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday. Why would we mark this entire week? Why do these first three days get their own pages in the BAS? Why do we get to change colour to red? There’s nothing about these days that stands out the way the palms or the foot-washing or the Cross does. Aside from these cosmetic changes a lot of it probably feels pretty mundane.

I can understand that. It’s not like the world stops when we mark this time.

But maybe that’s where the wisdom lies.

Chapter 12 of the Gospel of John is the beginning of what scholars call the ‘Book of Glory,’ because ‘glory’ is mentioned so many times. Our narrative moves into a constant song of Jesus being ‘lifted up.’ That phrase is a hint that our evangelist probably spoke Hebrew, because the Hebrew word nasah means both ‘glorify’ and ‘lift up.’ If the earlier Book of Signs (which begins with the wedding at Cana and ends with the raising of Lazarus) is about the descent of the Word into the world, this book is about the Word’s ascent out of the world. In the Book of Signs, Jesus gave everyone a chance to see and believe who he really was. In the Book of Glory, all of the things he tried to explain are about to come to fruition. If you don’t get it now, it’s too late. You will be left in the dark, like Nicodemus. Like the Pharisees who didn’t believe the blind man in Chapter 9. Like Judas.

In the passage we just read, our patron saint Philip is approached by some Greeks. It’s unclear as to why they approached him, although it could be because they knew him – Philip is, after all, a Greek name, and Philip was from the cosmopolitan city of Bethesda. Philip gets Andrew, and they both go to Jesus to let him know he’s got fans to talk to.

And then what? Some weird noises, something that almost sounds like it could be another long-winded discourse but is surprisingly short and curt, and then Jesus hides.

Because, verse 37: “Although he had performed so many signs in their presence, they did not believe in him.”

And so the Light of the World becomes hidden.

How could this be? It’s like the worst timing! Jesus just made a huge deal coming into Jerusalem. The Pharisees say to each other, “Look, the world has gone after him!” And it’s true, because here are some Greeks, some Gentiles. You don’t get much further from the family than that. And then Jesus says, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Soooo bye!”

What kind of glory is this that must be hidden from those who seek it out? How can the Light of the World be a hidden light, when we are told by our brother Matthew to let our light shine before others?

Well, the problem, for John, lies here: If the Light of the World were easy to see, there would have been no need for a Messiah figure in the first place. John’s whole story is about Jesus calling people to remember a truth they have forgotten.

I have more sympathy for the forgetful than John does. I forget little things all the time. I can imagine it would be just as easy to forget something huge like your own self-worth and agency when you’re being trampled by so many foreign Empires. I can imagine that, having forgotten, one might misremember, and believe that salvation comes through a sword. That was, after all, what the Roman Empire taught.

The hidden light of self-sacrificing love of your enemies would be really hard to see at that point. In fact, it would probably look like complete nonsense.

But it wasn’t. It isn’t.

I’m going to show you the way we show our children here at St. Philip’s, when we tell the Godly Play Baptism story. After explaining what baptism looks like, we light the light of Christ, and then each child receives a candle to remind them of their baptism. We reflect on how amazing it is that so much light can grow from just one light, and the one light not be any smaller for it.

And then, we say this:

“There comes a time when the light is changed so it is not in just one place anymore. It can be in many places all at once. Watch.”

You snuff the candle. It’s important to snuff rather than blow it out, because when you snuff, the smoke is held and can be released in this way.

We say, “The Light that was just in one place at one time is in all places in all times. So the Light can be everywhere in this room, and even in other places. Everywhere you go in this room, you will bump into the Light.”

There is a hidden truth here. It’s hidden because…well, think of trying to explain to someone how this works. “You make the light bigger by extinguishing it.” It’s nonsense.

And yet.

In these few red days, know that the light is hidden in these simple acts of meeting, telling stories, forgiving and proclaiming, eating, and sending each other out.

Know that the light is changed, passed from one body to yours, and is now hidden by your flesh…and waiting to be lifted up.

“To conquer Death,” (Palm Sunday Sermon, March 20th 2016)

Palm Sunday and the beginning of Holy Week, the most sacred time of the Christian year, are incredibly awe-inspiring to me. And yet what always comes to mind, year after year, is Jesus Christ Superstar. Love it or hate it, this musical, and particularly its 1973 film adaption, was hugely influential to my Christology and life of faith.

Luke is the only Gospel that mentions the interaction between Jesus and Herod. I love Superstar’s take on it. I think I’ve started loving it more recently because for some reason it seems terribly relevant. See, Herod kind of reminds me of Donald Trump.

maxresdefaultIf you’re remembering the same slightly tubby white-Afro-sporting yellow-shaded cavorting beach boy in sparkly white shorts that I am, understand I’m still being serious. He’s florid, crass, complacent, ostentatiously wealthy, and above all, deeply cynical. The fact that Herod is surrounded by hangers-on mirrors the popularity of the Donald, and cements my belief that there is nothing new under the sun. People of all stripes have always been attracted to swaggering loudmouths; it seems to be deeply written into the human psyche.

Hey, maybe the serpent was the first one. “Listen, baby, who are you going to believe: the joker who invented the platypus or me? This fruit? Best fruit. I know this stuff, I’ve eaten like every fruit in this garden. And since when does God have the right to tell you which trees you can eat from? Wait, don’t answer that. Naw, I didn’t say that. Don’t recall.”

I feel like now every time I think of the serpent I’m going to hear the voice of Donald Trump – a swaggering loudmouth shilling snake oil statecraft, and booking it out of there when it gets real.

The biggest difference, of course, is that the serpent never told Eve to punch Adam in the face if he tried to stop her from taking that fruit. Trump, however, had a planned rally in Chicago canceled because of escalating violence outside the venue. This isn’t surprising, considering the footage that has surfaced from two other earlier rallies that clearly shows elderly white men physically assaulting young African-American protestors. Trump’s stupefying response to this was a lament for the “good old days,” when, I quote: “There used to be consequences for protesting.”

When he said that, I remember thinking, “Which good old days is he talking about? Is he talking about the ones where, yeah, there were consequences for protesting? Like…fire hoses and attack dogs? Like ‘This summer I hear the drumming, four dead in Ohio?’”

First of all, that’s awful. Which I feel like I really shouldn’t have to say. Second of all, come on, man – there are still consequences for protesting. It just depends on who and where you are.

If you’re a young white kid in Victoria, BC in 2003 at a huge march condemning the US war in Iraq, as I once was, there aren’t any. If you’re a young black kid protesting at a Donald Trump rally in 2016, though, video evidence shows you can expect to be sucker-punched by a known white supremacist and immediately arrested on the spot – while the guy who punched you in full view of stadium security will be ignored for a couple of days and then finally brought in once video of the incident goes viral online.

If you’re a young Jewish man in first century Palestine, riding on a donkey…well, we know that story.

Just imagine things from the perspective of the people in power: Here comes this hayseed Galilean, surrounded by a bunch of other hayseeds and a pack of local troublemakers, not just walking into the city but riding into it on a donkey surrounded by adulation and palm branches. The religious leaders would have known the passage from Zechariah:

“Rejoice greatly, O daughter Zion!
Shout aloud, O daughter Jerusalem!
Lo, your king comes to you;
triumphant and victorious is he,
humble and riding on a donkey,
on a colt, the foal of a donkey.
He will cut off the chariot from Ephraim
and the warhorse from Jerusalem;
and the battle-bow shall be cut off,
and he shall command peace to the nations;
his dominion shall be from sea to sea,
and from the River to the ends of the earth.”

This is not a neutral act, friends. In fact, biblical scholars Marcus Borg and Dominic Crossan even wonder if there were two processions into Jerusalem occurring simultaneously: one, Jesus and his disciples, and the other, Pilate and his guard. It was barely a week before the Passover, you see, and it was common for governors to arrive in style at places like Jerusalem during great religious festivals to make sure everyone knew their place.

I actually feel great sympathy for the religious leaders in Jerusalem. Although the Gospel writers mostly exonerate Pilate by making him out to be an indecisive dupe, according to the history we have, Pilate was actually a petty tyrant. First-century Jewish historian Josephus writes that Pilate once spent Temple money to build an aqueduct, and when informing the people of this, hid disguised soldiers among the crowd, who killed protestors. The scholar Philo describes Pilate as having “vindictiveness and a furious temper.” Pilate’s term as governor ended shortly after an incident in which he had a group of Samaritans visiting Mount Gerizim massacred in a conniving sneak attack.

You can imagine why the religious leaders would be suspicious and hostile toward Jesus, arriving in the Holy City accompanied by zealots, the latter of which regularly stirred up trouble against the Roman state and eventually helped instigate the First Jewish-Roman war, which destroyed the Temple.

But Romans, Pharisees, and zealots alike misunderstood Jesus’ message.

As Jesus Christ Superstar hauntingly puts it, “To conquer death you only have to die.”

It might seem weird that we just celebrated with such pomp, only to move straight into the stark Passion account. Who and what exactly are we celebrating here? Certainly not the one we would expect. This is why I think it’s so important to combine Palm Sunday with Passion Sunday. Our celebrations should not be for the ones who insist they are entitled to them, or the ones who respond to the violence of Empire with calls to crush and maim, or even the good-hearted powerful ones who stay silent while the weak fall around them.

Our celebrations should be for the ones who walk into hostile territory exposing the folly of Empire with their own poverty.

Our celebrations should be for the ones who embrace weakness in order to shame the toxic misuse of strength.

Because the world, right now, today, needs to know this story. The world needs to know that our God is a god of action as well as a god of the Word. The world needs to know that our God wouldn’t preach resistance to life-denying forces if God hadn’t done it first. The world needs to know that God wouldn’t tell us to die to ourselves if God hadn’t done it first. The world needs to know that when we say “Death is not the end,” we really believe it.

Most of all, the world needs to know that our God remembers.

Our God remembers covenants and abandoned slaves. Our God remembers wayward nations and fallen sparrows. Our God remembers us, and calls us to remember.

There is a Greek word, anamnesis, which refers to a part of the Eucharistic prayer. It ostensibly means ‘to remember’, but it doesn’t refer to quiet reminiscence. It is always linked to action. It bears witness to the past and incarnate it into the present, because God’s work occurs outside as well as inside the walls of time. In the Bible, when God remembers, God delivers. God saves the world from bondage and isolation. God literally re-members.

On this day, and throughout Holy Week, we will re-member, in story, song, and sacrament. What we do together matters here. We are the broken, triumphant, incarnate Body of Christ, forever nourishing ourselves and each other through the unifying mystery of the sacraments.

Blessed are we, who come in the name of the Lord.


“The truth will make you free,” (Sermon, March 16th 2016)

Before we look at this tiny puzzle piece from the Gospel of John, we need a pair of glasses. These glasses have a special set of lenses: IRONY lenses. They inform everything we read in this Gospel – everything.

Let’s look at this little piece: “The truth will make you free.”

It’s such a rich phrase, classic John. It has grown a life quite divorced from its original context. Jesus has been speaking to a group of clueless people about who he is. These people are identified as “Jews.” This is a highly problematic term in John, implying that the Evangelist was not also Jewish. I could preach a whole sermon on the damage wrought by this term, and on past and current scholarly debates on more appropriate translations of the term. But right now the label is important, because of the response to Jesus’ pronouncement.

‘We are descendants of Abraham and have never been slaves to anyone.’”

Really? I guess we’re writing off that whole Egypt thing?

Jesus doesn’t mention it. Our lenses add that extra layer – like seeing him roll his eyes. And he tells them they are slaves to sin.

Aren’t we all.

So how can truth make us free? Maybe it’s better to ask Pilate’s question: “What is truth?”

I think there are two different kinds of truth: small t truths, and Capital T Truth.

Small-t truths we discover throughout a lifetime and either disavow or ascribe to them. Many of them are so widely accepted that they become proverbs – “What goes around comes around.” “The apple never falls far from the tree” “Absence makes the heart grow fonder.” The ones that aren’t true for you are true for someone else. Other small t truths are personal to you and your story, and might be difficult to put into words.

I call them small t truths not to denigrate them, but to say that their verity often depends upon personal experience, and they are not really universal.

Then there is capital T Truth, which is God, the Creator of a universe that runs on love and self-sacrifice, what Paul calls “kenosis,” or “self-emptying.”

Capital T truth is not merely a Christian truth. This is something that is present in pretty much every established religion, and, to some extent, science as well!

I believe that our capacity to produce small t truths is part of what the writers of Genesis meant when they talked about being made “in God’s image.” God makes patterns and we seek them out, drawn toward the light because it feels like home.

I only think there’s a problem when a small t truth counter to the manifestation of the holy in the world becomes louder than Capital T Truth.

That’s what happening right now, not just in the States with Donald Trump, but around the world. There is a global movement hearkening back to a more brutal, proto-fascist way of being in the world. I don’t use the term fascist lightly. Fascism is defined as “radical authoritarian nationalism,” and is characterized by constant references to humiliation, a villainous “other” who seeks to undermine the virtuous majority, and referring to “the good old days.” Our friend Donald Trump does that a lot.

The small t truths of this increasingly popular worldwide movement as I see them are as follows:

  • Once upon a time, the world was as it should be, but within the last generation it has gotten immeasurably worse.
  • This is because a group of undesirables are undermining the power base of the strong and humiliating them.
  • If the strong want to regain power and re-create the world to which they are entitled (that’s key), they must erase the undesirables by any means necessary, because diversity promotes weakness, and weakness is suspect and contagious.

Those are their small t truths.

To Christians, this should be blasphemous.

The Gospel of John is explicit. It’s not just about Jesus being the Messiah. The real message of John is that Jesus is enthroned not by violently deposing the Emperor – as the Zealots wanted him to do – but by being “lifted up” on the cross. This is why there’s no Garden of Gethsemane for John’s Jesus. John’s Jesus knows that his crown is one of thorns, his throne is a cross, and his triumph is defeat. That’s why our irony lenses are so important: that moment where the guards mock Jesus by dressing him as a king is a masterful piece of storytelling, because they don’t even realize what they’re doing. John’s a spooky, dangerous Gospel in that regard, because the Resurrection is really an epilogue to the crucifixion: It’s important, but less important than the moment of glory, where Jesus says: “It is finished.”

Friends, Lent is about divesting ourselves of small t truths that do not serve the Capital T Truth: the universe runs on love and self-sacrifice. We give things up to say to God, “I lay comfort at your feet.” We take things on to say, “True comfort is in you.”

On Palm Sunday, we’ll stand together and lift Capital T Truth up – not just in our hearts but also our bodies. We use our voices to sing it, and our hands to hold up little thrones. We tell each other the Truth through story: the enacted Passion. It will only get louder as we continue on through Holy Week and into the joyful dawn of celebrating that Truth with a word we can’t say yet.

Right now, let’s have a small celebration of this truth.

“Draw near and take the Body of your Lord, and drink the holy blood for you outpoured.”