I remember my grandmother talking about going to prayer meetings. Some faith traditions still hold them, and maybe some Episcopal congregations do too. It’s a wonderful concept, coming together to pray in community, possibly over something specific.
A recent Forward Day By Day meditation by The Rev’d Scott Gunn, Forward Movement Executive Director, offered a good reminder that any Vestry or other church meeting can turn to prayer when the way forward seems unclear. He realizes this might seem a bit odd as leaders take seriously their responsibility to find solutions:
“Indeed, we should do our due diligence to ensure we make wise decisions. It’s also true that we need to listen for God’s call to us, whether we are deciding things for ourselves or for our church.”
You won’t find it in the Guinness Book, but we’re setting a world record that hopefully won’t be repeated. Normally the season of Lent lasts for forty days, after which we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus on Easter. But what I see is that Lent began on February 26, 2020 and never finished. We’ve been locked down in the pandemic for a whole year, and it hasn’t let up yet.
The Book of Common Prayer tells us that for more than a thousand years “it’s been the custom of the church to prepare for Good Friday and Easter by a season of penitence and fasting.” (p. 264) Lent is a time for stepping back to take a look at our lives, often giving up a comfortable habit for a while to see how that feels. In doing that, we’re following Jesus on his forty-day vision quest in the desert, when he was tempted by Satan and waited on by angels. Then after the darkness and agony of the crucifixion the glorious resurrection comes, as reliably as the sun rising in the east.
Laughter, games, art activities, punch in little dixie cups, and cookies with cream fillings are what I remember most about Vacation Bible School (VBS) on the Navajo Nation. Churches came in droves to visit and minister to the children and families. It was the place to be for Elementary and Middle School kids. We loved to see all the smiling and welcoming faces of new people from the big cities willing to play with us and read, sometimes ready to teach some kids how to play the piano or the ukulele. The partners all loved to sing bible songs - so loud it seemed the windows would burst.
I was a baptized Episcopalian but VBS and Holidays were mostly the only times I went to church as a child. My parents and most of my relatives in my community follow the ways of Navajo teachings, ceremonies, and prayer. My mother was devout about prayer. Each morning, before the sun began to light up the horizon, she would start her daily prayers.
I spent Valentine’s Day weekend surrounded by more love than I expected.
My husband bought flowers, and we spent the day together doing some of our (new, pandemic) favorite things, and it was a wonderful day. The surprise came on Saturday afternoon.
The Daughters of the King, a churchwide organization of women committed to a Rule of Life and a path of faithful discipleship, held a “Conversations with Daughters” meeting. The topic: the Good Book Club and the Gospel of Mark. They had encouraged their 20,000 members to participate in the Good Book Club and wanted an opportunity to come together to talk about the experience and the message of the gospel. They asked if I would participate, and even though I don’t love Zoom meetings on Saturday afternoons, I accepted the gracious invitation. And goodness am I glad that I did.
Jesus's last living moments are described in the Gospel of Mark, "When it was noon, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon. At three o'clock Jesus cried out with a loud voice, 'Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?' which means, 'My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?'...Then Jesus gave a loud cry and breathed his last."
I imagine that many people have cried out these words over the last 365 days. Perhaps out loud. Perhaps in the depths of their souls.
There are lots of words to describe what has happened over these many months. But no words to accurately depict the experience of individuals. Particularly those occupying the trenches of tragedy.
Just two days ago, I stepped into the dining room where my father, a priest, was leading a virtual evensong service for his parish. Him and my mother are here with us, as my wife and I have just welcomed another child to our household. I had entered during the time of the Prayers of the People, and a petition had come from someone, imploring God to “make us stewards of the Earth.” I heard the gathered share the response, “Lord, hear our prayer.” This exchange has lingered with me over the past couple of days. I thought of what we Episcopalians are invited to share, namely, “lex orandi, lex credendi,” and amplified with “lex vivendi.” That which we pray, is what we believe, is what we live. In essence, we become what we pray.
We’re almost through with the Gospel according the Mark, this year’s selection for the Good Book Club. This Gospel gets right to the action, forgoing the sheep and the mangers to instead launch us into the life and ministry of Jesus with the prophet calling us to prepare the way of the Lord. In other words, this is the “let’s get down to business” Gospel.
We’ve seen Jesus’ healing miracles. We’ve seen Jesus eating with sinners. We’ve heard Jesus’ parables. We’ve seen Jesus transfigured. We’ve seen Jesus riding into town on a colt.
And now we hear Jesus telling us about the end of the world.
Rejection is painful. To be rejected means to be not accepted, believed, or approved. It can seem even more painful when people you know, discount you. Not only does rejection involve discounting, but it often involves hurtful comments in an attempt to convince you of others demoralizing judgment of you. Jesus experienced this very thing when he went back to his hometown.
Jesus came back to Nazareth and taught on the Sabbath in the synagogue. As a matter of fact, he astounded those who heard him. But their astoundedness quickly turned into disbelief, because they knew him; apparently before his public ministry. Mark 6:1-2 states, “He left that place and came to his hometown, and his disciples followed him. 2 On the sabbath he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were astounded. They said, “Where did this man get all this? What is this wisdom that has been given to him? What deeds of power are being done by his hands!”
Many Americans witnessed the siege of the Capitol building on January 6th, just as Congress was certifying the electors in our most recent Presidential election. Irrespective of where you place yourself on the American political spectrum, it was shocking, and a horrible scene of violence. And yet, it must be said, that the insurrection of January 6th 2021 by domestic terrorists was the logical culmination of four years of dehumanizing rhetoric and actions. As the majority religion of the United States, we Christians are culpable and complicit, because far too many of us did not exercise our political values in concert with our baptismal faith to speak out against the President’s reckless words and behavior. Far too many of us preferred to remain silent through these tumultuous four years, and that silence has come home to roost.
I have always been taken with Mark’s account of the miracle of the loaves (Mark 6:30-44.) Multiplying bread and fish in order to satisfy people’s hunger spoke to me from an early age. I could never understand why anyone went hungry. As I looked at the world around me, I saw that there were those with so much as well as those with nothing. Why couldn’t those who had plenty simply share with those who were in need?
To set the stage, I am a believer in miracles. I believe in the virgin birth, healing prayer, the real presence of the body and blood of Christ in the Eucharist, the bodily resurrection of Jesus, and, as an Anglo-Catholic, the assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
We need the miraculous in a world of the mundane, and, as of late, the insane.
Every month ECFVP offers resources on a theme. This month we've asked our own Dr. Sandra Montes to choose resources from Vital Practices to highlight. Please share this email with new members of your vestry and extend an invitation to subscribe to ECF Vital Practices to receive Vestry Papers and this monthly digest.
In the gospel of Mark 2 1:12, the story is recounted of a paralyzed man who is healed and forgiven by Jesus. The account begins with Jesus preaching to an extremely large overflowing crowd in Capernaum. Four friends of a paralyzed man, determined that their friend would see Jesus, dug a hole in the roof and lowered the man on his mat. Jesus impressed by the faith and tenacity of the paralyzed man and his friends said “Son, your sins are forgiven”. The teachers of the law took issue with the words of forgiveness Jesus used believing that they were blasphemous. Jesus expressed to them that as the Son of Man he had the authority on earth to forgive as well as heal. He then told the paralyzed man “…take your mat and go home” and the paralyzed man walked out in full view of all and everyone was amazed and praised God.
I didn’t think we’d still be here. Back in March, I thought we’d have Covid wiped out in a few weeks, maybe before Easter. March rolled into April, then May. Surely by the summer, right?
I couldn’t imagine we’d be planning Advent and Christmas under a pandemic; actually, looking at rising numbers and a winter surge. I didn’t think the talk of virtual Annual Meetings was going to be a thing, but it definitely looks that way.
My entire relationship with Covid-19 and this global pandemic, you see, is built on my experiences. Even my rough-hewn optimism is founded on what I’ve experienced, what I’ve known. Back in January 2020, I remember talking about this strange virus – it was breaking into news cycles around that time – but the conversation was heady, intellectual; talking about something other people deal with, not us. “Do you remember SARS?” my conversation partner asked, “It’ll pass by soon enough. It won’t impact us.” The problem was that I believed that statement. I believed it because in my lifetime, to date, I’d never been impacted by something like that. It couldn’t happen to me because, well, it’s never happened to me.
“The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” – Mark 1:1
This is not a headline nor a subtitle. It is a proclamation that the stories about to be related are about THE savior, God’s own son.
Biblical scholars tell us Mark was writing for Christian believers living in Rome, the epicenter of an empire that recognized the emperor as a god. It was good news indeed to be assured that this Jesus for whom they were risking their lives was truly God, not another human invention.
“I am going to start with the main point,” Mark seems to be thinking as he picks up his writing instrument, “The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.”
Abuse. We see it within our perspective communities and we typically speak up about it when it’s obvious and lives are in danger. Sometimes we fearfully and selfishly shrink away from the situation in hopes that we are misinterpreting what we are witnessing. Other times, we fake politeness and say to ourselves, “Well, it’s none of my business.” But in Genesis, there’s One who not only sees the situation, but speaks to it; and their name is, El-Roi.
Hagar appears in Genesis 16 as Sarai’s “Egyptian slave-girl” who Sarai gives to Abram to sleep with, in hopes that she would have a child by way of Hagar. Rabbinical tradition claims her to be the daughter of pharaoh. In Islamic tradition, Hagar (Hajar) is never mentioned by name in the Quran, but is alluded to. One stream of Islamic tradition believes her to be the daughter of King Maghreb who was killed by pharaoh Dhu l-'arsh, and thereby was captured, ending up in the household of pharaoh. Another stream within Islamic tradition believes Hagar to be the daughter of an Egyptian King who is given to Abram as compensation for approaching Sarai, as Abram's sister, instead of his wife.
Many folks feel all of the above during the holiday season from Thanksgiving to New Year’s Day. Sadly, these are the terms many clergy persons use to describe themselves during the entire season of pandemic.
“Almighty God, give us grace to cast away the works of darkness and put on the armor of light…”
Book of Common Prayer p. 211
It’s important for us to recognize the power of darkness and evil in our world. We see it in our own lives. We see it in young adults struggling to find their way. We see it in our politics and government. Darkness and evil are at work all around us, and we need to respect their power.
Our people taught me that if we can overcome our fears, if we can acquire understanding and wisdom, we can carry light through the darkness. This is the same as the teaching of Jesus, “Let your light shine…” The power of the Creator and the life-giving Spirit will be with us as we confront the darkness.
Every month ECFVP offers resources on a theme. This month we've asked ECF's own Dr. Adriane Bilous to choose resources from Vital Practices to highlight. Please find her choices below. Please share this email with new members of your vestry and extend an invitation to subscribe to ECF Vital Practices to receive Vestry Papers and this monthly digest.