The psalm appointed for today, Psalm 62, includes the phrase: “For God alone my soul in silence waits”; however another translation of this text is: “Before God, I am silence.” Not, “I am silent”; but rather, “Before God, I am silence.” And therefore, when God speaks, I am silence: I am an empty, open vessel to receive. Our life’s invitation is to learn to “be silence” so we have space to receive the work and words of God. It is a good thing to cultivate stillness and silence within ourselves.
But for many people, life seems to lose its cultivation because of suffering. We witness, and we may personally experience, tremendous suffering, loss, fear, grief, despair that may simply leave us or others speechless and empty, feeling very much alone and abjectly vulnerable. This is the silence that visits the elderly who have lost their health, lost their companions, lost their meaning in life; the silence of those who are very sick with no help at hand and the silence of those who are very sick with help at hand; the silence of those who are imprisoned because of prejudice and racism, and those imprisoned behind bars; the silence of those who live with inexpressible shame. So many people experience a silence that is unbidden and which may seem to them so vapid, despairing, orphaning.
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.
Growing up as I did, not far from the geographic centre of North America, I was completely unfamiliar with tides. I was unfamiliar with them that is, until I went swimming one day in the Pacific Ocean. I had taken off my sandals, shirt, hat, glasses, and put them carefully under my towel, to be retrieved when I came out of the water. Eventually I did, and returned to reclaim my things. Except they weren’t there. I looked up and down the shore, thinking I had gotten out in a different place, or that someone had stolen them. It was only after several minutes of scouring the beach that I realized the people who had been sunning themselves were still in their same spots, except that the water was now much closer to where they were lying. That’s when I realized I had not forgotten where I put my things; nor that someone had taken them; but that the tide was coming in, reclaiming, and renewing the shoreline. When I phoned the diocesan office to begin an insurance claim, all Betty could do was laugh and say, oh James, you really are a prairie boy.
Since then, I have been cautiously fascinated by the tides as they ebb and flow, back and forth, in and out, day by day, year by year, eon by eon. Over time it is possible to note changes, as the ebb tide reveals what lies hidden, and the flow tide covers what is familiar, and creates something new.
This act of revelation and renewal, uncovering and covering, unmaking, and making, destroying, and creating, however is not an act of gently lapping waves. It is an act of force, even of violence, as surging waves crash upon the shore, moving boulders, reshaping rivers, tearing out trees, lifting buildings, pushing them inland, or sucking them into the ocean, until at last what once was, is no longer, and coastlines are reshaped, made new.
It is no accident that I have been thinking about tides a lot these last two years. Many of you have heard me reflect on how this season in our lives has been a tidal season, as our lives have been unmade by forces beyond our control, and what was once covered is now uncovered. Like the ebbing tide which leaves behind the detritus of rotting seaweed, garbage, and dead fish, we see around us the detritus of injustice, inequality, environmental destruction, nationalism, and greed as the ebb tide of the pandemic recedes. The smell of dead fish left behind by the ebbing tides, or caused by the pollution of our earth’s waters, is no different. Disparities revealed in restrictive voting rights, or vaccine availability are no different. They stink just the same.
Today we look out at a world that stinks of injustice, inequality, environmental degradation, nationalism, and greed. Two years of the ebbing tide of a global pandemic have revealed a host of things now uncovered, or which before we had chosen to be too blind to see.
In the same way, the events of that first Holy Week uncovered the stinking detritus of human greed, pride, and arrogance. Like an ebbing tide, that first Holy Week revealed the injustice and jealously that infect human hearts. It was into that stench of injustice and jealousy that God chose to walk. As R. S. Thomas, the Welsh poet described it in his poem The Coming:
And God held in his hand
A small globe. Look, he said.
The son looked. Far off,
As through water, he saw
A scorched land of fierce
Colour. The light burned
There; crusted buildings
Cast their shadows; a bright
Serpent, a river
Uncoiled itself, radiant
On a bare
Hill a bare tree saddened
The sky. Many people
Held out their thin arms
To it, as though waiting
For a vanished April
To return to its crossed
Boughs. The son watched
Them. Let me go there, he said.
Let me go there, and into a world stinking with war, aggression, religious intolerance, political power games, and military occupation, the Word was made flesh and lived among us. It was this same world littered with greed, pride and arrogance, injustice and jealousy, and everything which infects the human heart, that was shaken to its foundations that first Easter as the stone was rolled away, revealing a tomb empty, unable to contain the life which had been sealed into it.
For Mary Magdalene, Peter, John and those first followers of Jesus, the resurrection was good news, not because it covered or masked the stink of death. The resurrection was good news for them, not because it covered over the stink of war, aggression, religious intolerance, political power games, and military occupation. The resurrection was good news for those first followers of Jesus because it gave them hope. It gave them hope in the midst of a world that stank of death, for if God can give life to the dead, then God can mend, heal, and cleanse a broken, stinking world. If God can raise Jesus from the dead, then all things can be made new, not by masking them, or covering them up, but by recreating them, and making them new, even as they bear the wounds of the cross.
The resurrection of Jesus was good news to those first followers, because it gave them hope.
We come to Easter this year exhausted, not by our keeping of Lent, but by our keeping on, keeping on. We are exhausted by two years of uncertainty, sadness, and anxiety brought on by a global pandemic. We are exhausted, by two years of blatant inequality and injustice. We are exhausted by fear, that what is going on in Ukraine, will plunge the world into even more chaos, and uncertainty. We are exhausted, by the stink of these past two years, as the pandemic tide ebbs out revealing, what has long been hidden.
But if the resurrection was good news for Mary Magdalene, Peter, John and those first followers of Jesus who lived in a world stinking with war, aggression, religious intolerance, political power games, and military occupation, then the resurrection is good news for us, not because it covers the stink of these past years, but because it gives us hope. It gives us hope that in the midst of a world that stinks, God can give life to the dead. If God can raise Jesus from the dead, then God can mend, heal, and cleanse a broken, stinking world, making all things new, not by masking them, or covering them up, but by recreating them, even as we bear the wounds of the cross.
If the resurrection is not good news to a Covid world, then it was not good news to a few dozen people who lived under the heel of a brutal Roman occupation. But the resurrection was good news to them, and it is good news for us.
The resurrection is good news for us, because by it we live in hope, that our broken, stinking world is being mended, healed, and cleansed as the flow tide comes in, not covering the stench, but recreating and renewing the shore.
The resurrection of Jesus is good news for the whole world, because the promise of God for life, is a promise for all creation, and not simply for certain individuals.
In a world that stinks with the detritus of rotting seaweed, garbage, and dead fish, of injustice, inequality, environmental destruction, nationalism, and greed, we see a world not so different than the one those first followers of Jesus saw, that stank of war, aggression, religious intolerance, political power games, and military occupation. In a world that stinks, the resurrection of Jesus is good news to all, because it is a promise of life that is mended, healed, cleansed, and restored.
It is that world, a world mended, healed, and made new by the flow tide of Jesus’ resurrection, which will bring hope to the people of Ukraine and Russia, just as it will bring hope to us, just as it brought hope to Mary Magdalene and those first followers of Jesus, living under the brutal heel of Roman occupation.
The good news of the resurrection is not simply a promise to you and to me. It is a promise to all creation, that all things will be made new. Behold, I am making all things new. That is God’s promise to us today in the resurrection of Jesus, even as the surf surges and pounds, moving, reshaping, tearing, lifting, pushing, and sucking, until at last what once was, is no longer, and all things are made new.
The promise of the resurrection is not a promise of gently lapping waves, but a promise of force, dare I say, a promise of violence, which heals, mends, and cleanses our world.
Lectionary Year and Proper: Year C, Easter Vigil
Solemnity or Major Feast Day: The Great Vigil of Easter
 The city of Centre ND claims to be the centre point of North America and is about 330 miles SE from Regina SK.
 R.S. Thomas, The Coming,
 John 1: 14
 Revelation 21: 5
Out of the depths, the Psalmist and we cry, from the deep, unseen, chaos, from the pit, feeling overwhelmed by grief, guilt, and death. “Out of the depths have I called to you, O Lord. … hear my voice.” Have mercy.
“If you, Lord, were to note what is done amiss,” were to see and respond that is done and left undone, no one could stand. Our sin matters, and God forgives. Both truths prompt reverent fearful awe of God.
I wait for the Lord, my soul waits. In God’s word is my hope. I wait with expectation like those who watch through the night wait for the morning. Yes, I wait like that. Not just for the night shift to end but with trust that light will break through the darkness.
Have you heard the news? That question often makes my heart sink, because it’s usually bad news! The year started with the violent attack on the US Capitol. Then all those cataclysmic climate events, racial attacks, mass shootings, a deeply broken and divided nation and world. And perhaps most disheartening of all, the devastating effects of the Covid virus. Such a diet of bad news, day after day, can profoundly affect the way that we see our own lives. We can look back over this year and see only the bad news: bad news for ourselves, our families, our lives.
And if certain newspapers, eager for a story, honed in on you, wanting to dig up some bad news about you, that you’d rather the public didn’t know, I wonder what they would find? They would likely find something sooner or later, because there is bad news about all of us, if you look hard enough: things we have done or said, which we maybe wished we hadn’t, and which we’d hate to be made known.
But today is Christmas. We are here to celebrate GOOD NEWS; wonderful, joyful good news. Not make believe, or wishful thinking. The good news is this: that ‘the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.’ Yes, there is darkness – God knows there is darkness, darkness and all sorts of sinful, hurtful, shameful things in all of us and in our society. But the good news is that when God looks closely at you and at me, he is not like that newspaper looking for bad news. When God looks at us he looks at us with the eyes of love. Just as when you look at the person you love, you see how lovely they are: all that is beautiful and good about them. And when the person we love – our spouse, our children, our partner, our brother – when they are in trouble, or mess up, or fail an exam, or lose a job, or do something stupid or wrong, we don’t point the finger at them, or condemn them, or tell everyone about it. No, we love them even more, and we do everything in our power to help them – because we love them. And when things go wrong we love them all the more.
I don’t spend a lot of time reading for pleasure, but when I do, I usually gravitate towards mysteries. I love the way skilled mystery writers can weave together a complex plot involving a whole cast of characters, somehow leaving us hanging at the end of each chapter, eager for more. The situations the detectives find themselves in are always so complicated – there are numerous suspects with possible motives and pieces of evidence that don’t seem to fit, and we’re wondering how this tangled situation will ever be resolved. But, invariably, in the final pages the truth comes out, the villain makes a fatal mistake, a key piece of evidence comes to light, or the detective has a brilliant flash of insight, and the whole complex situation finds resolution. 95% of the book is spent weaving the complicated plot, and the last 5% is spent resolving and explaining the mystery.
Most of the time I find these kinds of stories satisfying. (I do like a tidy ending!) But at times the ending feels too neat and I think to myself, ‘that’s not how life works.’ Situations in life that are as tangled as this don’t resolve themselves quite this conveniently, most of the time.
Julian of Norwich
Amid the swirling death and anxiety of pandemic, amid the social and political upheaval of today, we remember Julian of Norwich, who as James recently told us Brothers, is a good companion because she lived in a similar time. The late fourteenth century had much anxiety, death, and change. The Great Famine killed many and about twenty years later when Julian was born, the Black Death began killing millions. Then there were social and political revolts and beginnings of church reform.
Amid of all this, Julian received a series of visions and committed herself to a life of prayer, lived in a church, listening to and praying for many who came to her, and wrote a significant book reflecting on her experiences.
Julian’s life and writings embody our text from the Letter to the Hebrews. She encourages us to persevere because of who we know God to be. “Therefore, my friends, since we have confidence to enter the sanctuary by the blood of Jesus … let us approach … with faith … let us hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering … and let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds … .”
Julian lived that faith and hope confident in God’s abiding love for all of us. Robert Ellsberg wrote: “Her central insight was that the God who created us out of love and who redeemed us by suffering love, also sustains us and wills to be united with us in the end.”[i] May we join our prayers with Julian in response to God’s creative, redeeming, and sustaining love, confident in her words that “All shall be well, all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well.”
“His disciples did not understand these things at first; but when Jesus was glorified then they remembered that these things had been written of him and had been done in him.” (John 12:16)
Beloved, today we begin a second Holy Week in COVID-19 pandemic time. We have prayed for God’s merciful assistance to enter with joy upon the contemplation of those mighty acts whereby we have been given life and immortality. (cf. The Book of Common Prayer p. 270) We pray as we do on every Lord’s Day for the showing forth of the Lord Jesus’s death until he comes among us again in glory. (cf. 1 Corinthians 11:26) As disciples in ages past have beheld in awe God’s ‘tender mercy love for the human race’ (BCP p. 219) in Jesus’s suffering and cross, so we do this Palm Sunday.
We continue at present separated in longing by disease and death, grief and loss, fear and uncertainty. Yet we join in hope with those who went out of the holy city of Jerusalem to greet the humble Savior. We raise our cries, “Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.” Together we hail Jesus, the Victor over death and evil, present among us now. Our pilgrimage through suffering is in company with that of God’s beloved Son, Jesus. Though scattered and terrified we are being healed, saved, and the whole world transformed and renewed by his glorious cross and resurrection.
As is always so in the power of the Holy Spirit, this evening’s scripture readings address the present moment in surprising ways. This occurs somewhat serendipitously as we read the story of Jacob’s courtship of Rachel on the eve of the Valentine’s Day celebration of romantic love.
However, after nearly a year of pandemic loss and isolation, I would like direct our prayerful reflection on the present moment, on God’s eternal ‘now’, through the story of Jesus’s encounter with the blind beggar Bartimaeus.
Mark’s Gospel narrative has reached an important juncture here. Jesus and the disciples have journeyed away from Galilee where great hope and joy have been generated among the people by Jesus’s ministry of teaching, healing and proclaiming the Good News. The travelers have now come to Jericho from which they are turning toward Jerusalem for the celebration of the Passover festival, joined by a great crowd of expectant pilgrims. Yet on the road Jesus’s disciples have been deeply disturbed by his repeated disclosure of the purpose for their journey: at Jerusalem Jesus is to fulfill his identity and mission as the martyr-messiah of God’s kingdom. In misunderstanding and fear at the prospect, the disciples have retreated into deep denial. Thus when Bartimaeus raises his loud cries, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”, the disciples, in their alarm, join the festal crowd in attempting to silence the poor man.
Luke 2: 1-14 (15-20)
I want to begin this evening by acknowledging all who are watching this livestreamed Christmas Eve Eucharist, either in real time, or in virtual time. Your prayers, your support, your friendship have been important sources of strength and grace for us Brothers over these last 10 months. We miss your physical presence here in the chapel. We long for the day when we will be able to reopen and greet you in person. At the same time, we are excited that the wonders of technology have enabled many, who for whatever reason are not able to be here in person, and are now able to join us, from next door and across the world.
I also want to assure you that we are all well and safe, and that we pray for your health and safety on a regular basis. We are especially praying for medical professionals who are working hard to bring the vaccine to as many as possible, as quickly as possible. We also hold in our prayers the various essential workers who ensure that life can carry on despite this pandemic. Please know that we value your service and dedication.