Death and Life – Br. Lain Wilson

Acts 5:27-33
Psalm 34:15-22
John 3:31-36

Have you ever faced a life-or-death situation?

For many of us, the honest answer will be no. Proportionally few of us serve in the armed forces, or are subsistence farmers, or fetch water by walking down long, dangerous roads. Or do as Peter and the apostles did, defying the authorities to preach in the name of Jesus, witnessing to the truth and risking death for it (Acts 5:28-29).

What allows those facing such danger, such precariousness, to go on? Need, for sure—the need to act or harvest or fetch or preach that impels them forward. But more than that. Trust. Trust in training and comrades; trust that the earth will bear fruit; trust that the spring will provide water. Trust, as the psalmist sings, that God is near to the brokenhearted, that God will deliver the righteous out of all their troubles and will keep safe all their bones (Ps 34:18, 19, 20).

And while we may not face life-or-death situations, trust is still embedded deeply in our lives. Trust in government and economies, in safety nets and supply chains, in smartphones and airplane doors. We trust these things will always exist, that they will provide or support or protect. We trust, until something shakes that trust and reveals that we may be closer to life-and-death situations than we think. The chapter in our Rule on “Holy Death” gets at this: in our “hardships, renunciations, losses, bereavements, frustrations, and risks . . . death is at work in advance” in our lives.[1]

But if what results when trust fails—all the bad and scary parts of life—can point us toward death, so can trust that succeeds, trust in what won’t fail us. And that trust points us to a death that is not final but transformed: “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life” (Jn 3:36) and “has passed from death to life” (Jn 5:24). If our daily experiences of loss and failure and frustration prepare us for the certainty of our deaths, our daily experiences of trust—and the hope and joy and love that accompany them—do so as well. The also prepare us for death, show us how death is at work in advance in our lives, but a death transformed by Jesus’s saving work: “In Christ we are still one with [the departed],” our Rule goes on, and we believe, we trust, “that we will be reunited when Christ gathers all creation to himself, so that God may be all in all.”[2]

You may not face a life-or-death situation every day. But our trust that “God is true,” that God hears our cry, that God is near to us, that God saves us, makes every day a death-and-life proposition.

Amen.


[1] The Rule of the Society of Saint John the Evangelist (Lanham, MD, 1997), 97.

[2] Ibid.

Meeting Us Where We Are, and Sending Us Out – Br. David Vryhof

Br. David Vryhof

John 20:19-31

Has the Risen Christ ever come to you when you were in a place of need?  If so, how did he come?

I’m moved by the resurrection accounts in the Fourth Gospel, in which Jesus returns to his broken-hearted disciples as the Risen One, meeting them just where they are.

Early in the morning of the first day of the week, he appears to Mary Magdalene just outside the tomb.[i]  She is confused and desperate, weighed down with grief and loss, and can only imagine that someone has, for reasons incomprehensible to her, removed the body from the tomb and laid it somewhere else.  Her teary eyes fail to recognize the One who speaks to her.  She assumes he is the gardener and pleads with him to tell her where they have laid him.  Then Jesus speaks her name.  “Mary.”  And her world immediately brightens.  Instantly, the weight of grief is lifted from her shoulders; hope springs anew; her teacher is alive!

Recall how Jesus appears to Peter, the faithful and devoted disciple who, swept up in a moment of fear, denied knowing his Lord three times.[ii]  Now he meets Jesus on the shores of Lake Galilee, where he has been fishing with the others.[iii]  Jesus speaks to him so tenderly.  “Peter, do you love me?”  Never a word of blame is spoken; Jesus does not criticize or shame. Three times the question is asked; three times Peter affirms his love for Jesus; three times the charge is given, “Feed my sheep.”[iv]  Jesus offers forgiveness, accepts Peter’s pledge of love, and restores him to a position of leadership among the disciples.  So kind, so tender, so sensitive to Peter’s pain, Jesus absolves him. Read More

You Are My Sunshine! – Br. Jim Woodrum

Br. Jim Woodrum

John 20:1-18

When I began to pray with this morning’s Gospel lesson from John, I was struck at first by two sentences: “Then the disciples returned to their homes. But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb.” The feeling these sentences evoked for me was kenopsia. In his book of neologisms, author John Koenig defines his word kenopsia as: “the eerie, forlorn atmosphere of a place that’s usually bustling with people but is now abandoned and quiet—a school hallway in the evening, an unlit office on a weekend, vacant fairgrounds—an emotional afterimage that makes it seem not just empty but hyper-empty, with a total population in the negative, who are so conspicuously absent they glow like neon signs” (from Greek, kenosis “emptiness” + opsia “seeing”).[i]

Have you ever experienced kenopsia or “emptiness-seeing?” The sense of kenopsia often takes me back to a memory from April of 2019. My father had just passed away, following my mother’s death 11 months earlier. As the extended family left, leaving me behind after the funeral, I found myself sitting alone in the den of my childhood home. Surrounded by the echoes of my upbringing, I listened to the air conditioner cycle on and off, a sound all too familiar. The house smelled just as it always had, and atop the dryer lay a stack of bath towels, neatly folded, waiting to be placed in the linen closet upstairs—a task meant for a day that never came.

Despite the comfort of familiarity, an overwhelming difference cast a shadow over everything: the absence of my parents. Gone were the aromas of dinner cooking on the stove. The evening news or my mother’s favorite true crime shows no longer filled the air with sound. Though the house was crowded with remnants of my parents’ lives, it felt profoundly empty. This emptiness wasn’t just a lack of presence; it was an active, almost tangible void. The experience was as fascinating as it was sad and unsettling. Read More

The Last Breath of Jesus – Br. Keith Nelson

Good Friday
John 18:1-19:42

lanterns, torches, & weapons
a sword
a severed ear
a charcoal fire
a crown of thorns
a purple robe
a cross
an inscription
an untorn tunic
a jar of sour wine
a sponge
a branch of hyssop
a spear

These are the non-human witnesses of the passion of Jesus Christ. Most are what a materialist culture would call inanimate objects, witnesses without agency, intention, or sentience. But these disparate, created things have been joined in the devotional mind of Christians over the centuries under the banner Arma Christi – the weapons of Christ, the things he uses to conquer death. They are listed in litanies, depicted on altarpieces, and cluster around roadside shrines. The cross is given the central place, “an instrument of shameful death” transformed by Christ’s passion and resurrection “to be for us the means of life.”

In a lesser fashion, these other created things also share participation in Christ. Drawn into the purposes of the prince of Peace, these so-called “weapons” become by his passion implements of peace and Life. By their strange constellation in the same place, at the same time around Jesus of Nazareth, their Maker has conspired to set us free. Read More

It’s good to think of others – Br. Jack Crowley 

Br. Jack Crowley headshot

Br. Jack Crowley

Maundy Thursday 

John 13:1-17, 31b-35 

Well good evening everyone, it’s so good to see you all. Tonight we start our celebration of a glorious long weekend.  

I’ll start this long weekend by asking a simple question. Who’s ready to get their feet washed? Or should I ask, who got their feet ready to be washed? 

If you are anything like me, at some point every year on Maundy Thursday, I become self-conscious of my feet. I took a good hard look at my toenails. I ask myself questions like what if my feet smell tonight? Do my feet look weird? What does a normal foot even look like? I know these questions sound ridiculous coming from a man who wears sandals year-round, but it’s what I do.   

There’s just something about foot washing that’s provoking. It causes a reaction in us. Knowing our bare feet are not only going to be exposed but also handled by someone else makes us feel vulnerable. These moments of vulnerability can be powerful.   Read More

God is Reigning from the Tree – Br. Lucas Hall

Br. Lucas Hall

Palm Sunday

There’s no such thing as a tree.

I’ll explain.

Biologically, we tend to group living creatures, different species, together with their closest relatives. Take birds, for example. There are many different birds, ostriches, hummingbirds, penguins, vultures, the list is vast. But every bird is more closely related to every other bird, than they are to any creatures outside of that group, “birds.” It’s a neat, tidy category.

But that’s not true of trees. When we look at plant genetics, when we look at the fossil record, we see that what we commonly call “trees” isn’t a neat, tidy category of close relatives. Instead, the development of trees, of tall, massive, woody plants, extending up above other plant life, is a strategy, a structure, a way of being, that emerges again, and again, and again, in different plant families over many years. Our much-vaunted palm trees are more closely related to grass than they are to, say, a pine tree.

But, come on. Of course trees are a thing. Of course there’s such a thing as a tree. They’re just not a neat and tidy biological category. Instead, we should think of trees as a phenomenon, a dynamic happening, bubbling up from the substrate of the natural order, erupting forth in any place where this particular mode of being can gain purchase, and thrive, and live. Read More

Passion – How Love and Suffering Coexist – Br. Curtis Almquist

Br. Curtis Almquist

John 12:20-36

“Jesus says, “Very truly I tell you…” This is like a teacher getting the attention of the class by saying, “Listen up!”[i]  Various other versions of the Bible translate Jesus’ attention-grabber here as “Believe me,” or “I assure you,” or “I can guarantee this truth,” or “I tell you for certain…” Does Jesus have your attention? We are primed to know this is very important what Jesus is about to say; however we have to do some homework to make sense of its importance.

Two things. Jesus describes how a grain of wheat must die to bear fruit. A farmer would tell us that as long as a tiny grain of wheat keeps on being a kernel in the head of a stalk of wheat, it remains just that: a lone kernel of wheat among many such kernels. It’s only when a grain of wheat is detached from the head and buried in the ground that it can germinate and produce a whole stalk of wheat. Jesus describes this process as a grain of wheat “dying.” Of course Jesus is speaking metaphorically. What does Jesus mean? Because he has signaled that this is very important: a grain of wheat needing to “die” to bear fruit? Jesus is speaking both about generosity and about suffering. Read More

Christ died for you – Br. David Vryhof

Br. David Vryhof

John 11:45-53

The gospel passage we have before us today wraps up the greatest miracle story in all of the gospels: Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead.  Other miracles pale in comparison to it, but still, as is so often the case in the gospel accounts, the reactions to this astounding miracle are mixed.  Many of the Jews who witness the miracle come to believe in Jesus.  But others report Jesus’ words and actions to the priests.

Their report prompts an interesting discussion:  Jesus’ increased popularity poses a threat to the chief priests and Pharisees because it risks drawing the attention of the Romans, who, they fear, will crush this populist movement, destroying both their religion and their nation.  There’s no reason to doubt the genuineness of their concern for their faith and for their country, but we must note, too, that the chief priests and Pharisees derive what power they have from Rome, so the threat to their livelihoods, their influence and their social status is real.

Caiaphas, the high priest, has a solution:  Let this one man, Jesus, die for the nation.  The death of Jesus will squelch the movement, he argues, and it is better to have this one man die than to have the whole nation come to destruction.  The evangelist John is quick to point out the irony of the high priest’s statement.  Caiaphas is speaking from a political point of view when he speaks of Jesus dying for the people, suggesting that Jesus die instead of the people.  John, however, understands Caiaphas’ words from a theological point of view.  For John, Jesus dying “for the people” anticipates the voluntary offering of his life that will further God’s plan to save both Jews and Gentiles through Jesus’ death and resurrection.  He will die on behalf of the people, rescuing them from the power of sin and death, and obtaining for them the precious gift of eternal life. Read More

Closer than Our Own Selves – Br. Lain Wilson

Jeremiah 20:7-13
Psalm 18:1-7

What do you do when all options in front of you are bad ones?

This is the situation that Jeremiah finds himself in this morning. God has called him to his vocation as a prophet, to proclaim God’s word. In doing so, Jeremiah is mocked and plotted against, even by those close to him. In not proclaiming God’s word, though, he experiences pain, “something like a burning fire” (Jer 20:9).

All this because of who God has called him to be.

Is it any surprise, then, that Jeremiah hurls against God one of the bitterest invectives in Scripture? Different translations have different force—“O Lord, you have enticed me,” “you have seduced me,” “you have deceived me” (Jer 20:7)—but the basic accusation is that God has broken trust, that God has forced the prophet into submission.[1]

This is an accusation you can only hurl against someone you deeply love.

And it is, perhaps, something that we can relate to.

God calls each of us in ways that we may not understand, that we struggle to accept, that we may rail against. Our vocations, our experiences, our very lives may be excruciating mysteries to us. For reasons beyond our understanding, we may, like Jeremiah, end up in places and at times asking ourselves, “how did this come to be,” able only to cry to God, “Is this what you intend for me?” Read More

Faith and Fate – Br. Curtis Almquist

Br. Curtis Almquist

Genesis 17:1-8 

The ancient land of Canaan, promised by God’s covenant to the children of Abraham, includes modern-day Israel and Palestine and territories beyond: a huge swath of geographic, cultural, and religious diversity, then and now.[i] Christians, Jews, and Muslims alike claim our heritage in the Abrahamic covenant.

A covenant is not the same as a contract. A contract is a transaction; a covenant is a relationship. A covenant presumes a transformative change can and will happen in all parties if we respect our common heritage and listen to one another. And for the world today, the stakes are so very high, don’t we know? Christians, Jews, and Muslims do not share the same faith; however we do share the same fate.[ii]

The English word “religion” comes from the Latin, religare, which means “to hold fast,” to be steadfast. Religion is a spiritual “ligament” which holds the parts together. The word religion also comes from the same etymological root as our word “rely” – rely not just on God, but rely on one another, for the love of God. I’m speaking about appropriating this “vertical” covenantal relationship with God also in “horizontal” ways with one another: to share our needs, hopes, and fears in faithfulness to one another, to do together what we cannot do alone. It is to share the Abrahamic covenant with the other Abrahamic traditions.

We here are far from Jerusalem, what the psalmist calls “the center of the world,” and right now the center stage with so many world onlookers, some of them malevolent.[iii] What are we to do? I suggest two things:

  • Listen to the other. Wherever we find ourselves in an oppositional posture, to lower our own “dividing wall of hostility” so as to be able to see and listen to the other.[iv] Not to correct them, or to change them, but to listen to them, which bequeaths dignity.
  • Pray for peace. It’s to take Jesus at his word that he has given us his peace, from the inside out.[v] Where we experience absence of peace:

Breathe in the strife; breathe out peace.
Breathe in the strife; breathe out peace.
Breathe in the strife; breathe out peace.
Breathe in the strife; breathe out peace…  

Breathe in the fear; breathe out peace.
Breathe in the fear; breathe out peace.
Breathe in the fear; breathe out peace.
Breathe in the fear; breathe out peace…

“Come, Lord Jesus.”[vi]


[i] The ancient land of Canaan includes modern-day Israel and the West Bank of the Jordan River, much of Lebanon, and portions of Syria, Jordan, and the Sinai Peninsula (now controlled by Egypt).

[ii] I am drawing on the teaching of Sir Rabbi Jonathan Sacks (1948-2020), “The Relationship between the People and God,” presented by Rabbi Sacks at the Lambeth Conference of Anglican bishops in July 2008. Rabbi Sacks served as the Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth 1991-2013.

[iii] The Holy Land is a tiny pinpoint on the world map; however the psalmist proclaims (48:2): “Beautiful and lofty, the joy of all the earth, is the hill of Zion, the very center of the world and the city of the great King.”

[iv] In Ephesians 2:14-17, we read that Christ Jesus “is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us…”

[v] John 14:27.

[vi] From 1 Corinthians 16:22, the Aramaic word Maranatha: “Come Lord Jesus.”