I don’t know what keeps you going these days. The recent mass shooting of 19 students and 2 adults at the Robb Elementary School in Uvulde, Texas, was another punch in the gut, coming, as it did, just 10 days after ten Black people were shot to death at their neighborhood supermarket in Buffalo, New York. Both mass shootings were carried out by 18 year-olds, with legally purchased assault weapons. We are just five months into this calendar year and already we have witnessed 214 mass shootings in this country. Our leaders cannot seem to find a way to put an end to it. Other nations have found ways to stop the senseless killing of innocent human beings, but we cannot.
We are suffering. Handcuffed by partisan politics, unable to take any effective action, completely out of patience with sentiments like ‘our thoughts and prayers are with the families of those who died,’ and sick to death of the senseless killings, we… are… hurting.
Century after century, generation after generation, we human beings continue to find endless ways to inflict harm upon one another. Suffering – so much of it completely senseless – seems to be woven into the very fabric of our existence; none of us escapes its effects.
In your days I am doing a work you will never believe, even if someone tells you.
Whoever has seen me has seen the Father.
Easter has always captivated my imagination—even in my days as an angry atheist, convinced that such miraculous events are of course impossible.
Yet, in this season of my life, marked as it is by bereavement, scarred by the awful and unanticipated absence of my late parents, Easter—with all its accompanying hope and joy—has been less a consolation and more a taunting insult, a vexation, a catalyst for all kinds of cynicism, doubt, and anger.
Of late, I have refused to be comforted, closing off the precincts of my heart to any touch of joy or hope. I have refused to be comforted, content only to bear my tears, anguish, and sense of injury. In your days I am doing a work you will never believe, even if someone tells you.
How does Jesus show us the nature of God? One resounding answer is: as Light. Reflected light, shimmering into the world we see and know, igniting into conscious awareness. The primordial light shining in the darkness of John’s Prologue; the light that replaces that of sun and moon in the eternal city of the Revelation to John; the light of Christ we kindle at Easter; the “light of the gospel of the glory of Christ.”
Philip says to Jesus, “Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied.” Philip is done with all the poetry; all the elusive and allusive imagery John’s Jesus has woven to evoke, to awaken, to captivate, to bestow the relational knowing of God found in and through himself. Philip wants a clear shaft of light outlining a straightforward vision. Before Jesus leaves them, Philipp wants just a single flash of definitive truth.
But this is not the way John’s Jesus reveals God. Instead, the words and the works of this Jesus are like the sides and angles of a prism. The clarity of a prism enables a beam of invisible, light to pass through. But it also refracts that light into something new: the visible color spectrum. “No one has ever seen God,” we read again in John’s Prologue. “It is God the only Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, who has made God known.” Jesus refracts the Father’s invisible light, scattering constellated colors that draw our eyes toward their source. It is the interplay of the pattern that beckons us – through dots we can connect, the words and works of Jesus that reveal the truth in the measure we can receive it. Receiving the light is the long slow work of conversion, not epiphany.
John 20: 19-31
The story of Jesus’ appearance to Thomas is one of the most moving in all the Gospels. And for me, the most powerful evocation of the scene is found in that amazing painting by Caravaggio, called, ‘The Incredulity of St Thomas.’. If you don’t know it I really recommend it for a meditation. Jesus is standing in the room with Thomas and two other disciples. He has just said, ‘Peace be with you’. And now, in the painting, (although the text does not tell us whether this happened), Jesus grasps Thomas’ hand and thrusts it deep into the wound in his side. Thomas and the other disciples stare with utter astonishment. But Jesus looks tenderly at the amazed face of his friend, as he first uncovers his wound. As Jesus pulls back his robe to show the wound, it catches a ray of brilliant sunlight, and the whole scene is bathed in this light. It is a poignant moment of enlightenment, and of coming to faith for Thomas.
It was seeing Jesus’ body, in all its brokenness and woundedness which brought Thomas to belief. But this beautiful story is not a story of proof but a story of love. For me, the story of Thomas is not primarily a story of a sceptic who comes to believe because his list of doubts is answered; not an intellectual assent to something proven. The story of Thomas is rather the story of a man who comes to believe not because he has enough proof, but because he has actually touched the mystery of divine, self-sacrificial love.
I have always loved these two days, All Saints and All Souls. They evoke something deep within me, that I often have difficulty putting into words. This is especially true as I get older. Somewhere, deep in my soul, I feel as if I am letting out a great sigh, not so much of contentment, although I am content, but of consent, because these two days put into words, what I believe to be true in the very depths of my being.
The history of these two days is actually quite fascinating. It takes us from the earliest days of the faith to the magnificent Hagia Sophia in Constantinople, from the Pantheon in Rome to the trenches of France. Since the earliest days of the Church, Christians have attempted to put into words not simply what we know from experience, but what we know in the very depths of our being, to be true.
What we know from experience is that death is real. Yes, we do our best to deny it, delay it, and pretend it didn’t happen. We mask it with make-up and hide it away with polite euphemisms. Yet in the end we cannot outrun it, and like Jesus, can only weep when faced with it. Once however, our tears are dry, we are left trying to put into words another reality: having lived and loved on earth, do the dead continue to live and love in that place where they can no longer be seen?
For some the answer is a resounding ‘no’. Death is the ultimate disaster because it is the end of all things. All that is left are our memories, like the lingering scent of someone’s cologne. Anything else is wishful thinking.
For the Christian, the resurrection of Jesus challenges the notion that death is the ultimate disaster, for in Jesus, life is changed, not ended, and death becomes not the end, but a door, not a wall, but a gate, not the end, but a new beginning. It is this which we proclaim on these two days, as we put into words our belief in the intercommunion of the living and the dead in the Body of Christ.
We do so, not as wishful thinkers denying, delaying, and pretending that death does not happen. We do so with the stink of death in our nostrils. Jesus said, “Take away the stone.” Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, “Lord already there is a stench because he has been dead four days,” or, as the King James Bible puts it, “Lord … he stinketh.” She says this, having just made her great confession of faith, “Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world.”
Martha’s great confession that Jesus is the Messiah, is an affirmation that the long-awaited messianic age, when the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, [and] the poor have good news brought to them, has arrived, with the coming of Jesus into the world.
In the face of so much contradictory evidence, such a claim is bold, brash, and incredibly audacious. Yet that is the claim we make as Christians. Evidence to the contrary, these are the very things we see happening today. The blind do receive their sight, the lame do walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf do hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them. If these are not true, then Jesus is not who Martha claimed him to be, and we of all people are to be pitied, for if Christ has not been raised, then our proclamation has been in vain and your faith has been in vain. We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified of God that he raised Christ—whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised. If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have died in Christ have perished. If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.
And we make this claim, not for ourselves alone, but for all those whom we love, but see no longer. And that is the crux of these two days. We are making a bold, brash, and incredibly audacious claim, not simply for ourselves, but for countless women and men who have lived lives of faith, or even just attempted to, in ages past.
Like Martha, we too confess that [Jesus is] the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world. In making that confession we say something specific about the dead. We boldly, brashly, and with incredible audacity claim that the dead are raised to life. This does not deny the reality of death. After all, even Lazarus stinketh.
Such audacity claims for the dead, and for us, that death is not a disaster, nor a wall, nor the end. It claims that death is a door, a gate, and a new beginning.
And so, we come to these two days, All Saints’ and All Souls’. While the stink of death is in our nostrils, we say: I believe in the resurrection of the body. In the face of overwhelming grief, whether it be from COVID, or the trenches of France, we say: I believe in the resurrection of the body. When someone we love dies, at a great age, or a young age, ripe in years, or full of unrealized promise, we say: I believe in the resurrection of the body.
I love these two days, not because I am a romantic, lost in wishful thinking, pretending that death is not real, but because I am a realist, who has smelt death. I am a realist who has smelt death, and who with Martha knows Jesus to be the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world, even while someone I love, but see no longer stinketh.
The world stinks right now, and the answer to that stench is not wishful thinking. The answer to the stench is Jesus Christ, the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world, who cries out in the face of all the stench and grief of the world, “Take away the stone … Lazarus, come out! … Unbind him, and let him go.”
Today and tomorrow, as we remember the countless saints and souls, known and unknown, who have lived lives of faith, or simply tried to, we do so with the echo Martha’s confession, and the sound of Jesus’ command, ringing in our hearts, as we proclaim boldly, brashly, and with incredible audacity, in the face of all the stench, I believe in the resurrection of the body, and once more Lazarus emerges from his tomb, and we take from him the rags of death.
I love these two days, because somewhere deep in my soul, I breathe out a long sigh of consent, as I say once again, I believe in the resurrection of the body.
Solemnity or Major Feast Day: All Saints’ Day (Transferred)
 John 11: 35
 Episcopal Church, Book of Common Prayer, Church Publishing Incorporated, 1979, page 382
 Episcopal Church, Lesser Feasts and Fasts, Church Publishing Incorporated, 1997, page 410.
 John 11: 39
 John 11: 27
 Luke 7: 22
 1 Corinthians 15: 14 – 19
 Episcopal Church, Book of Common Prayer, Church Publishing Incorporated, page 504
 Episcopal Church, Book of Common Prayer, Church Publishing Incorporated, page 96
 John 11: 39, 43, 44
or Galatians 6:14-18
Psalm 98 or 98:1-4
I was a teenager when I found it. A simple silver cross only about an inch and half tall. Plain, unadorned, simple slightly rounded arms smooth and finely wrought. I found it in a little silver shop in an old mining town in Colorado. I wore it for years, first on a little box chain, then re-strung a few times, leather cords, braided hemp, wooden beads, but always that simple silver cross around my neck. It was, beyond language, a token of great importance for me. Something that I couldn’t articulate at the time, an attraction, a reminder, an anchor. This constant companion that would make itself known to me on a cool day when I might slip it under my shirt and I feel the cold metal pressed against my breastbone. Or in a daydream I’d find myself toying with it with my fingers, sometimes compelled to bring it to my lips for a kiss. It was precious to me.
And one day, after returning home from travel I noticed it wasn’t around my neck anymore. It wasn’t in my pockets or my suitcase either. It was gone. I had lost it. And, truthfully, I was heartbroken. For months I checked other coat pockets, inside shoes, anywhere it might have ended up but I never saw it again. Now, it’s not that it was such a costly item that I missed it; nor was I somehow superstitiously clinging to it for luck. It was simply because of the joy and delight I had found in it, all the things that I couldn’t speak it spoke to my heart in close proximity. Ineffable strength and peace. That’s perhaps one of the first times I found the power of the cross.
We would be hard pressed to find anyone in scripture who suffered more setbacks in life than Joseph. His brothers were jealous of him and, finding an opportunity to do away with him, sold him to slave traders who were passing through the land. He was brought to Egypt and purchased by Potiphar, a wealthy and powerful Egyptian, who eventually recognized Joseph’s intelligence, honesty and hard work, and put him in charge of all that he had. Potiphar’s wife tried to seduce him and, when he refused her, she accused him before her husband and he was imprisoned. Even in prison his character and his deep insight continued to impress others. He interpreted the dreams of Pharaoh’s servants and was promised freedom, but was then forgotten and left to languish in his prison cell. Finally he got his opportunity, when Pharaoh himself had a troubling dream and Joseph was called to interpret it. This he did, saving the land and its people from a deadly famine. He rose in Pharaoh’s eyes and became a powerful ruler, second only to Pharaoh himself.
And then we read that his brothers, experiencing famine in their own land, came to Egypt seeking food. Joseph recognizes them, but conceals his identity from them. He sends them home with food, but arranges for his younger brother to be brought to him. In the touching passage we read today, he finally breaks down and reveals his true identity to them. “I am your brother Joseph, whom you sold into slavery,” he says; “And now do not be distressed, or angry with yourselves, because you sold me here; for God sent me before you to preserve life” (45:5).
2 Corinthians 4:1-6
One of my favorite places on the playground at school was the swing set. Today, I still enjoy the gentle sway of the swinging bench in the cloister garden. But, back then, I was interested in a more high-octane version of swinging. I loved to push faster and higher to see how high I could get. I tried on several occasions to swing all the way over the bar and have always been disappointed that physics just weren’t on my side in that endeavor.
As much fun as the swinging itself was, I also discovered the excitement of the dismount. You could just let yourself come to a gradual stop, or drag your feet on the ground to slow things down quicker. Or, you could time it just right and jump! The thrill of being propelled into the air and landing what felt like several yards away was such a rush! But it took a fairly careful calculation to get it just right. Too soon and I’d skid to a halt and faceplant in the gravel, which happened. Too late and I’d just kind of fall straight down and crumple to the ground, which also happened. The best was when I was when I found that sweet spot and launched in a graceful arc and touched down like an eagle. I had to be ready, I had to have momentum, and I had to have the courage to make the leap.
We remember two apostles today, by definition two who were “sent.” We know a few things about Philip and James, we know less… James was the son of Alphaeus and he is always listed among the twelve. Tradition has distinguished him from James the Great, the son of Zebedee, and it’s unclear if he is the same James as in the book of Acts, son of Clopas, the so-called brother of Jesus. But, his relics arrived from the East in Rome at the same time at St. Philips and so they have been joined in remembrance.
Joseph is one of those biblical characters who exists mostly in the shadows. He emerges just a handful of times, only to disappear once again, more or less for ever. Today in this account of finding the boy Jesus in the temple is the last time we see him in person. But what we have from this handful of references, is enough to weave together a portrait of a man who is good, and kind, loving, and compassionate. The thing is, he didn’t need to be, and no one would have thought any less of him.
Perhaps my favourite image of Joseph comes from the icon of the Nativity. There, away from the action, sits Joseph, with his head in in hands. Probably wondering what on earth was he going to do. Having sat this way more times than I can count, I have great sympathy with Joseph. Standing before him are two men, perhaps shepherds, obviously addressing him. Iconographic tradition calls this scene, Troubled Joseph. Matthew’s gospel tells us what is troubling him.
Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly.
Had he done so, no one would have blamed him. No doubt, having heard the revelation of Mary’s pregnancy, Joseph was scandalized, appalled, embarrassed, worried about his good name. He was perfectly within his rights to wash his hands of the whole sordid mess. And no one would have blamed him.
Much of God’s provision for us is mysterious, dark, and frustratingly hidden. I know this has been true in my own life, and I suspect it is probably true for many of us. Times when it’s hard to take Jesus at his word when he says, “Ask, and it will be given you.”
Not only now, in this time of seclusion, isolation, and separation, but in many parts of my life it has been tempting (and I use the word tempting with all of its sinister weight) to read the world and not see God’s provision whatsoever. I admit that this is frighteningly easy, at least for me.
Yet, in hindsight all of these situations that I have read as set-backs or crises—graves for my soul and my character—have really in fact been rich times of provision. And always right under my nose. And I am put in mind of these temptation as we continue our Lenten walk together.
It occurs to me that so often it is easy for us to talk about the disciplines we engage during Lent as “curbs”—to use a word that we brothers have used in our Rule to contrast the living reality of our life and the disciplines that form it. We say that the disciplines of our life are not mere curbs. And so then, what are they?