Isaiah 43: 16 – 21
Philippians 3: 4b – 14
John 12: 1 – 8
Some of you will remember that in the old daysthis Sunday in Lent went by the title of Passion Sunday. It was on this day that the liturgical colour changed from purple, or Lenten array, to red, but not the fiery red of Pentecost, rather the deep, dark, blood red of Passiontide. At the same time, the focus in the readings changed and they began to point, not to what Jesus was doing, and the miracles he was performing, but what would happen during that last week of his life.
In many ways, while the liturgical colour has not yet changed, and today is no longer called Passion Sunday, the same shift has happened, and the readings invite us to ponder the way of his suffering. They do that by pointing us to the day of [his] burial.
The gospel for today is for me, one of the most tender of passages. It puts us back in the home of Mary, and Martha, and Lazarus. It is this family, you will remember, whom John tells us that Jesus loved.It’s important to remember when thinking about this family in Bethany, that it is about this family that we hear for the first time, in John’s gospel, that Jesus loved someone. Yes, we hear in other places in the gospel of the love of the Father for the Son, and the Son for the Father. And we will hear about the disciple whom Jesus loved. But it is only when we arrive in this home at Bethany, on the occasion of the raising of Lazarus in the previous chapter, do we first hear that Jesus loved another person.
Dear Members of the Fellowship of Saint John and other Friends,
When people first come to know our community, they are often surprised to discover that we Brothers – who gather to pray five times a day, every day – also go on retreat! “Don’t you already pray all day?” they ask. Of course it’s more complicated than that, which is one of the reasons that even monks need to set aside times for retreat. As a community, we take a yearly retreat every summer, as well as a retreat day each month. And individual Brothers have further times of retreat throughout the year.
Now I’ll confess that, depending on how I feel, I tend to use our annual retreat time for a number of different purposes. Sometimes it’s an occasion simply to catch up on my sleep or my reading. Other years I’ll use the retreat to spend significant periods of time in the garden. Yet what sustains me in the weeks or months that follow our retreat is not what I have accomplished, but who I have come to know.
I remember one evening after supper sitting in the Chapel. We had gathered to spend some time in prayer before the Sacrament and in the midst of our silence we could hear the chorus of birds singing as dusk fell. I remember being in awe as the song of the birds gave voice to the song of creation as it joined with us in praising the Creator.
I remember Sister Rosemary SLG inviting us one year to experiment with praying in the middle of the night. I got up at 2 am and made myself some hot chocolate. I wrapped myself in a blanket and sat in the rocker. I then had an incredible hour of prayer as I held before God all those who were in any danger at that very moment. I had the physical and emotional experience of literally standing between people and danger, of being their intercessor in the fullest meaning of that word.
I remember gathering one morning in the Chapel for the Eucharist and being overwhelmed by an awareness of the presence of Jesus in the gathered community; for “where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them” (Matt. 18:20). As I sat in my Brothers’ presence, I was deeply aware of the presence of Jesus, not simply in our midst, but embodied in my Brothers.
Retreat times sustain me for weeks and months – and sometimes even years afterwards – because of the memory of the One I encountered. Our founder, Richard Meux Benson puts it this way: “in the retreat you want the real surrender of your soul with all the affections of the heart to God” (Instructions on the Religious Life, 2). Surrender to God rekindles our love for God and renews our experience of God’s love for us. This surrender is the heart of retreat. “We have meditated well if in our meditation we have loved much” (3).
Retreat is a time to become lost in love with God. We hope this issue of Cowley will invite you to consider how God might be calling you to explore a time of retreat. Throughout these pages, Brothers share different approaches to retreat, as well as ideas for ways to weave retreat into our lives and daily routines. Whether we come away with God for a week or an hour, we know that when we truly look and listen for God, God will indeed reveal himself to us, for “none ever come unto God and are sent away empty. None come to God ever without receiving far more than they spend. Only come to Him, wait upon Him, look to Him, listen for Him, rejoice in Him. Put away everything else which can stand in the way of His being the simple joy of your heart” (9).
Yours in Christ,
Br. James Koester SSJE
Four days ago we finally began our Lenten pilgrimage after a long Epiphanytide. For a solid eight weeks following the Epiphany we have celebrated all the ways Jesus was made manifest as the messiah to the world and have studied how these stories help us recognize how Jesus is made manifest in our midst today. Wednesday, we received our invitation to a holy Lent, had ashes placed on our foreheads to remind us of our mortality, and we are now at the first Sunday in Lent.
As you might have gathered from our gospel lesson from Luke this morning, things have gotten really serious, very quickly! No sooner has Jesus come up from the waters of his baptism, he hears an affirmation of his identity from his Heavenly Father, and the Holy Spirit descends upon him. In a sense, Jesus has an epiphany and is filled with the Holy Spirit, which then leads him into the harsh Judean desert where the gospel writer says that he was tempted by the devil for forty days. Now, think about that for a moment: even though only three of Satan’s challenges are recorded in the lesson, Luke is quite clear that he is tempted for forty days, all the while with no provision of food or sustenance.
I do not know about you, but I am not encouraged by starting out on these forty days of Lent with a story of Jesus being subjected to mental and physical abuse by the devil! This may explain why Lent is not at the top of my list of favorite Liturgical seasons, especially since my track record with temptation is pretty dismal. I know you may find that hard to believe, but I am the guy who gives up craft beer for Lent and by week two I have succumbed to the desert heat and am quenching my thirst with a cold, refreshing IPA straight from the devil’s hand! In my frustration and disappointment with myself, I try to make myself feel better by thinking of something I can give up the next year where I might actually have success, like perhaps, asparagus. Nothing banishes temptation quite like asparagus. Yet to give up something that would not be challenging is to set out on an ‘adventure in missing the point’; the point being that temptation is a part of our everyday experience. Saint Antony, one of the first of the desert monastics was recorded as saying: “This is the great task of man, that he should hold his sin before the face of God, and count upon temptation until his last breath.”[i]
“The deep roots of our Christian tradition may offer just such a path. For centuries, monastic communities have shaped their lives around rhythms and disciplines for following Jesus together. Such a pattern is known as a “Rule of Life.” . . . The Way of Love: Practices for Jesus-Centered Life outlines a Rule for the Episcopal branch of the Jesus Movement.”
Turn. Learn. Pray. Worship. Bless. Go. Rest.
SSJE is delighted to make an appearance in the promotional video for “The Way of Love,” which you can watch below. We hope you’ll check out this wonderful program.
There is still time to register for the following programs being offered at the Monastery at Emery House:
- Saturday, February 10: “Centering Prayer Workshop” with Br. Keith Nelson (9:00 am to 3:00 pm)
- Saturday, April 21: “Completing God’s Work” (a workshop on Creativity) with Br. Mark Brown (9:00 am to 12:00 pm)
- Tues-Sun, March 27-April 1: “Holy Week at the Monastery” (stay for part or all of the week)
- Fri-Sun, March 23-25: “Palm Sunday Weekend at Emery House”
- Tues-Sun, March 27-April 1: “Holy Week at Emery House”
Learn more and register for these programs here.
God’s peace is not achieved by the strong dominating the weak; such domination may bring a temporary end to conflict and war, but it will not bring about true peace. The kingdom of God is a peaceable kingdom, a transformed society in which each member is valued and treated with dignity. The weak and the strong live together in harmony, each caring for the other. There is no true peace without justice.
-Br. David Vryhof, SSJE
The Gift of Peace
This offer and promise of Christ’s peace is here for the having. Receive it. Take it in as regularly and necessarily as you breathe. Breathe out fear; breathe in peace. Breathe out anger; breathe in peace. Breathe out sadness; breathe in peace.
When I try to think of a phrase that sums up my year with SSJE, the words that come to mind are thank God.
I came to this internship year with the expectation that I would show up, meet the Holy Spirit, be filled with a sense of destiny regarding my career choice, and finally walk off into the sunset with the whole rest of my life figured out. Needless to say, this somewhat absurd image was done away with shortly after I arrived. Thank God I not only met the Holy Spirit, I also met Jesus, and the Father. I met some wonderful SSJE brothers. Brothers who have made me laugh, called my bluffs, and listened to me with open hearts. I met my fellow interns, who have inspired me by their example. It has been so life-giving to meet other young people who are also so dedicated to the life of the Church. I met my beautiful and beloved hospice patients, for whom it has been a privilege to volunteer. I met myself. I found, to my surprise, that I could like myself.
The year has brought its fair share of challenges. Finding a rhythm in a new context with unfamiliar words and a new schedule while surrounded by strangers was a difficult process. Thank God I did so, because I came to experience such a depth of well-being here. It was discovered that I needed months of physical therapy to overcome the remaining symptoms of a brain injury I sustained years ago. That was challenging, but thank God I had the time and support necessary to do that here.
I am most grateful, I think, for a new attitude to silence. When I first arrived, I confessed rather frankly that I didn’t get it. “Why would anyone want to just sit there and be silent, when they could be doing something?” I could not then conceive of silent contemplation as at all worthwhile. It has since transformed my life. In those moments of waiting upon God, and especially the few times I have experienced God directly in indescribable ways, my whole life has been flipped right side up. Knowing more about who God is has allowed me to claim with confidence the truth about who I am, who I truly am: God’s beloved child. Thank God.
I do not mean to say that I have the whole rest of my life figured out. The sunset does not yet beckon, no end credits are imminent. I only know what the next step or two will be. With my life flipped right side up and centered around God, that’s all I need.
I’ll end this reflection with a direct message to the community that has so loved and supported me this past year – thank you, brothers of SSJE. Thank you for creating this program, for accepting me and my fellow interns into it, and thank you for loving us through it. You have changed our lives by your welcome, your teaching, and your example. Thanks especially to Brs. John, Curtis, and Nicholas for the many ways you made living at Emery House a joy. Most of all, though, thanks be to God!