“Look upon him and be radiant, and let not your faces be ashamed.” Psalm 34:5
At the Easter Vigil, during the pre-dawn darkness, we announce Christ’s resurrection by first kindling a New Fire, lighting the great Paschal Candle, and proclaiming repeatedly: “The light of Christ!” “The light of Christ!” “The light of Christ!” Fire is a powerful symbol. Fire provides warmth for the body and a hearth for food. Fire provides light, and without electricity, fire and light are both alike. In the scriptures, the symbols of fire and light are often used interchangeably. The psalmist writes, “Your word is a lantern to my feet and a light upon my path.”[i] And, “The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear?”[ii] For the people of Israel during the years of Exodus, the glory of the Lord, shone in the Shekinah: a pillar of fire which guided the people by night.[iii] In the ancient Jewish Feast of Booths, a great candelabra was lighted in the Temple at Jerusalem on the first day, and there followed great processions with the faithful carrying torches in hand, not unlike what is done here and in so many places early Easter morning. We do this in memory of God who is light, in whom there is no darkness at all.[iv] And so, it is no surprise that the long-awaited Messiah was anticipated as a light-bearer.[v] Jesus even said of himself that he is “the light of the world”: the fire of light, the fire of love.[vi]
O God, you have caused this holy night to shine with the
brightness of the true Light: Grant that we, who have known
the mystery of that Light on earth, may also enjoy him
perfectly in heaven; where with you and the Holy Spirit he
lives and reigns, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen.
This great olive-wood crèche scene which trails down the center of the chapel came to us through the craftsmanship of Palestinian woodcarvers in Bethlehem. Aside from the baby Jesus, whom we’ve all come to adore, my favorite piece is the biggest camel, with its majestic green saddle skirt, and the wise man at its side. The Gospel tradition tells the story of wise men, living in Arabia, who brought treasure chests full of gold, and frankincense, and myrrh to present to Mary and Joseph, parents of this infant child Jesus, who was prophesied to be the Messiah.[i] There’s no record that the wise men were Jewish. They were among the many, “outside the household of faith,” who were awaiting the coming of the Messiah. They reportedly followed the sign of a star which led them to Bethlehem. Today we would probably call these wise men “astrologers” or “shamen” or “soothsayers.” There’s very little recorded about their encounter with the Holy Family. We read that they shared in the homage and joy of all those around that original crèche. However there’s no record that they “changed religions” upon meeting Jesus. (Maybe so; maybe not. We know even among our Jewish and Muslim sisters and brothers that Jesus is revered, and so, perhaps this was the case for these “wise men.” We don’t know.) We do know that King Herod was quite threatened by the birth of this so-called infant king, a potential rival. And Herod wanted a full report from the wise men after they had visited the newborn child. Herod was up to no good, a realization the wise men woke up to in a dream. The Gospel record reports that they avoided Herod by changing their course of travel, and “went to their home country by another way.”
Habakkuk 2:1-4; Psalm 126; Hebrews 10:35—11:1; John 20:24-29
The days are getting longer. At 11:47 AM yesterday the earth’s axial tilt reached its furthest extremity from the sun: the annual winter solstice. In this brief moment something big happens. The days stop getting shorter and start getting longer—light begins to return to the northern hemisphere after months of increasing darkness.
Christmas is placed just a few days after the astronomical event—long enough that we can say for sure that light has returned! We can see with our own eyes that the days are beginning to get longer; there is light in the world. The day of the solstice, the moment of doubt we give to St. Thomas. Light should be returning now, but we’re not absolutely sure. Calculations show that the solstice should have happened yesterday (Thomas’s actual feast day), but we need concrete evidence. By Christmas Day keen observation will confirm that, yes, beyond a doubt, light has returned. There is light in the world, darkness has not overwhelmed it.
The lesson this morning from the Letter to the Ephesians speaks of our need for spiritual armor. This is so we can withstand evil forces, “for our struggle [in this world] is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places…” For many people, perhaps many of you gathered here, “spiritual armor” is not something quite in vogue. That’s my hunch. You probably have up-to-date anti-virus software on your computer; you will take seriously your doctor’s recommendation to have an H1-N1 swine flu vaccination this fall; you wash your hands before you eat; you accept our country’s need for military defense to guard us against adversaries… All of these are protections to ward against enemy forces, whether armed confrontation or in the form of viruses and germs. But your sense of need for “spiritual armor” may not garner much of attention. It should.
Jacob was a rather shrewd scoundrel. His latest coup was to trick his father. Jacob knew it was the father’s prerogative and power to bestow a blessing upon his eldest son, such a blessing, highly significant and irrevocable. By means of deception, Jacob himself co-opts the blessing intended for his brother, Esau. Jacob receives the blessing, but it comes at a near-crippling cost because he does not have the stature to carry the blessing.
Acts 2:29-42 (or 49)
This is the final sermon in a five-part series we have offered here at the monastery during Eastertide. Throughout this series, we have sought to offer hope by examining the experience of resurrection in the early Christian community, as recorded in the book of the Acts of the Apostles, and by applying its lessons to our own time. Each sermon has focused on a key word. Tonight the key word is “believe.”
We continue this evening with our series “A World Turned Upside Down”—a series inspired by an uproar in the city of Thessalonica nearly 2000 years ago. The Book of Acts tells how Christians were accused of turning the world upside down with their witness to the resurrection.
The resurrection of Jesus was indeed the galvanizing experience of the first Christians. And it has been at the core of the Church’s proclamation down through the ages. But, as Br. Geoffrey so eloquently pointed out last week, resurrection is not only for that great day when we awaken to life in heaven; resurrection life is here and now.
Eastertide Preaching Series: A World Turned Upside Down
Jesus said, “I came that you may have life, and have it abundantly.” (John 10:10)
During these weeks of Eastertide, on these Tuesday evenings, we are preaching on what it was which ‘turned the world upside down’ at Easter. For me, the good news of Easter can be summed up in one word, and that word is ‘Life. Jesus came that we may have life. Because of the death and resurrection of Jesus, we have been given the gift of life – eternal life.
Mark 9:2-9; Matthew 17:1-8; Luke 9:28-35
In early February my brother Bruce and I were on top of Mount Tabor where this event, Jesus’ transfiguration, took place. We were traveling with a group of pilgrims following the path of Jesus’ birth, ministry, death and resurrection in Israel/Palestine. Mount Tabor is north of Jerusalem, and about 11 miles west of the Sea of Galilee. Mount Tabor is forested with pine trees and offering stunning, panoramic views.