Turn Aside and Behold a Great Sight – Br. Sean Glenn

Turn Aside and Behold a Great Sight - Br. Sean Glenn

Br. Sean Glenn

Exodus 3:1-15
Luke 13:1-9

It is a cold November evening. The city streets outside your home are silent. The chill in the air is accompanied the thick feeling of foreboding. The silence of the empty streets breaks first as clocks throughout ring their peels to mark the 7:00 o’clock hour. Ten minutes later, the silence gives way a second time—not for the benign chime of mechanical clockwork, but for the sound you and your neighbors had been dreading for days: the distant rumble of military aircraft. You hold your breath for a moment. Perhaps they’re ours, you hope. But your hope dissolves into the sharp sour taste of adrenaline as the sound of the civil defense siren begins its dreadful wailing. They’re here, you think, God have mercy.

For the next twelve hours, you and the handful of your neighbors who made it to the safety of the bomb shelter huddle in terror as the night above you booms and the earth around you quivers. When the night passes and you emerge from the bomb shelter, the scene upon which you emerge is one of horror and devastation. A third of your city’s factories lay obliterated. The medieval streets you know so well are hardly recognizable—almost every building destroyed, the sandstone brick of structures that still stand glow red from the heat of incendiary bombs. And the building you perhaps hoped might have been spared—your town’s fourteenth-century cathedral, stands as but a shell of itself as the remaining wooden elements of its construction burn away.

Such is the scene that would have met the residents of the town of Coventry in England on the morning of 15 April, 1940. The night before, the Luftwaffe had littered this industrial center in the heart of England with hundreds of tons of explosives and incendiary bombs. Hitler’s goal had been to cripple England’s aviation production and chip away at the morale of the civilian population. The bombing lasted for 13 hours, spending, in total, some 30,000 incendiaries along with 500 tons of high explosive bombs. In one night, more than 4,300 homes in Coventry were destroyed and around two-thirds of the city’s buildings were damaged. 568 people lost their lives in the chaos.

Adjacent the bombed-out ruins of Coventry Cathedral’s fourteenth-century footprint stands the twentieth-century Cathedral. Although consecrated in 1969, plans for the cathedral’s rebuilding began the day after her destruction—not as an act of defiance, but rather as a demonstration of hope. Hope that a day would dawn when such violent conflict would be unimaginable. As a part of Bishop Walter Hussey’s aim to renew the arts in the Church of England, the new cathedral nave features exquisitely colorful abstract stained glass windows.

Yet as one enters the new cathedral, this glorious sea of color is not immediately apparent. Indeed, if one simply stands at the liturgical west facing the high altar but advances no further, there is almost no indication that the building has any stained glass in the nave at all. We have to move our perspective in order to detect this particular beauty. If we make the journey to the high altar and turn around, only then does the building seem to fall into place—for this beatific vision in glass is only visible from the liturgical east end, looking west.

I don’t think it is any accident that this particular aspect of this sacred space requires a definite turning. The act of turning aside from the paths we think we know is a theme that runs right through every invitation of the spiritual life, and Lent is a perfect season in which to practice this subtle but life-changing posture.

When Moses first encounters God in the resplendent flames of the burning bush, he has to turn aside from the path he had chosen for himself that day.

Moses was keeping the flock of his father-in-law Jethro, the priest of Midian; he led his flock beyond the wilderness, and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. There the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a flame of fire out of a bush; he looked, and the bush was blazing, yet it was not consumed. Then Moses said, ‘I must turn aside and look at this great sight.[1]

“I must turn aside and look at this great sight,” says Moses. We hear a distant echo of these words in this morning’s gospel, but we might miss what the author of Luke is inviting us to do—especially if we carry the kinds of baggage I know I certainly do around the word “repent.” In my own experience, this baggage—no, let’s be real, it is more like freight—this freight convinces me that repentance is something dreadful and scary. There are historical reasons for this, to be sure, and the church has had her own part to play in the ways we sometimes incorrectly receive Jesus’ call to repent.

But the word used here by the author of Luke—μετανοιετε (metanoiete)—is a surprisingly light word; it does not drag the kinds of freight with which my own fears so often burden it. Metanoiete means, very simply, change your mind. Or, we might even say, consider things from a different perspective.[2]

Before we do anything else—before we act or try to amend our lives—we need to try to see things from a different perspective. This is precisely what Jesus invites from his audience this morning.

At that very time there were some present who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. He asked them, ‘Do you think that because these Galileans suffered in this way they were worse sinners than all other Galileans? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish as they did. Or those eighteen who were killed when the tower of Siloam fell on them—do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others living in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish just as they did.’[3]

His hearers have come to him with their own concerns and fears brought on by a reality of this world that the residents of Coventry knew; a reality that we, too, know. Terrible things happen—towers collapse and crush people, rulers intimidate and murder, the powers and principalities of this world attempt to lighten the darkness of life with the flames of their own power. But these flames only consume and destroy, for we “have no power in ourselves to help ourselves.” When presented with an opportunity to explain the problem of theodicy—of why bad things happen to innocent people—Jesus doesn’t follow through and provide a cut and dry answer for us. Unless you repent, you will all perish as they did.

And so I invite you to pray with those parts of your own experience where a change of perspective has brought a new radiance to otherwise dark and dreadful things. Where have you heard the spirit bid you “turn aside, turn around,” so that you might behold the glow and vivid colors of stained glass you hadn’t seen before? Or to encounter a new kind of light emanating from the flames of a fire that doesn’t consume the creatures of creation, but rather makes them more resplendently what they are?

Holy Spirit, inspire us with your holy and immortal fire, and grant us grace to change our minds and put on a new perspective, that we may more fully behold the radiance of God’s mercy and charity in all we encounter or experience. Only then can we amend our ways. Only then, by your power, can we be helped, can we be saved.

Amen.

 


[1] Exodus 3:1—3 NRSV.

[2] Or, as Terry Holms has named it, “God’s gift of space to turn around in.”

[3] Luke 13:1—5 NRSV.

Remembrance – Br. Geoffrey Tristram

Exodus 3:1-15, I Cor. 10:1-13, Luke 13:1-9

Br. Geoffrey Tristram

“I am who I am.  I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.  This is my name forever, and thus I am to be remembered throughout all generations.”

This, the great climax of that wonderful story of Moses and the Burning Bush. Poor Moses, hiding his face in sheer terror from the God who now calls to him out of the bush.  The God who now reveals to Moses his sacred identity: God’s NAME.  In Hebrew, four letters, the Tetragrammaton, YHWH, “Jehovah” – so holy that their true meaning is unknown, and many will never pronounce them.

They are often translated “I AM who I AM.”  I AM the one, the eternal I AM.  But God is clear: My name is to be remembered from generation to generation.

I want to talk this morning about remembering.  The command to remember is one of the most important themes running through both the Old and New Testaments.  Yet it is not easy for us to understand what the Bible means by remembering because it is very different from what we usually understand it to mean.

“Do you remember last Christmas?”  “Do you remember that restaurant we went to last week?”  We think of remembering as simply recalling something that happened in the past.  But in the Bible, remembering has the full semitic sense of recalling in such a way that the event of the past is actually made present once again.  This sense of remembrance is all but untranslatable into English.  But it is fundamental to understanding God’s actions throughout scripture.

Remember the Lord your God. Rememberthe marvels he has done.  Remember the Sabbath and keep it holy.  Remember that you are but dust and to dust you shall return. Don’t just call them to mind, but by remembering, call on their power, that you too may experience now God’s marvels, God’s holiness, God’s power to raise you up from the dust and ashes of death.

To remember in this way is really to literally re-member, in the way that a surgeon may put a broken body together again.  What was in the past has taken form and has become fully and powerfully present now.

I had one of the most precious and wonderful experiences of this some years ago.  My father had had a stroke and he was dying.  I managed to fly home and by the grace of God saw my father just a few hours before he died.  I sat with him and I didn’t think he knew who I was.  But at one point his eyes rested on me.  I said, “Dad, do you know who I am?”  After some time, staring at me, he said, “Geoffrey Robert.”  After saying my name his whole being seemed to be radiant and he smiled broadly, and I knew that at that moment the whole of me, from my birth onwards, had suddenly become present to him – and he had become present to me. I felt an incredibly close and intimate connection.

I think when God says, “This is my name, and this is how I am to be remembered throughout all generations,” it’s something like that.  God longs to be so present to us, that God’s life irradiates our own.

And this biblical understanding of remembrance parallels the New Testament as well.  So when Mary cries out in joy in the Magnificat to the Lord “who has remembered his promise of mercy to Abraham and his children forever,” it is not that God had forgotten for a while, and then remembered again.  It is rather that in the act of remembering, that promise becomes fully present in the child in Mary’s womb.

And perhaps the most mysterious yet wonderful place where God’s remembrance is made powerfully present is in the Eucharist, which we celebrate today.

“On the night he was handed over to suffering and death, our Lord Jesus Christ took bread, gave thanks, broke it and gave it to his disciples and said, ‘Take, eat, this is my Body which is given for you. Do this for the remembrance of me.”  The Greek word used here for ‘remembrance’ is the word anamnesis.  In the Church of England prayer book, the phrase is translated, “Do this in remembrance of me.”  The American prayer book’s translation, “Do this for the remembrance of me,” although it is slightly clumsy English, is actually a better, more literal translation of the Greek eis ten anamnesin, and I think helps remind us of the special semitic meaning of the kind of remembrance going on here. At the Eucharist, we are not simply recalling, or calling to mind an event that happened two thousand years ago. When we say these words, a true re-membering is happening.  God’s saving deeds in Christ are being made present, so that the fullness and power of those deeds of the past – Christ’s life and death and resurrection and ascension – take effect in our lives here and now.  In the sacrament of bread and wine, the Lord is truly and really present in all his strength and power, and we receive him into ourselves.  We are irradiated by the real presence of the Lord.

“Do this for the remembrance of me.”

But if to remember in this full biblical sense is so incredibly powerful, imagine what the opposite would be: NOTto remember.  In Jeremiah 31:31, God says these words: “The days are surely coming when I will forgive their iniquity and remember their sins no more!”  Amazing words of grace!  For if to remember in the biblical sense is to make something truly present and real, then not to remember is to truly and really take something away, so that it is no longer real or present.

The Good News of the Gospel is precisely that. Because of what Jesus Christ wrought for us on the Cross, God will remember our sins no more.  It’s not that God is “forgetting” or pretending he never knew – but rather that God, through love and mercy, chooses not to remember: those sins are taken away, removed, no longer present.  

I wonder if you may have something in your life, some sin, some action of which you are ashamed and which you keep remembering, replaying, going over again and again.  Maybe God is longing to reassure you that God remembers your sin no more, and you should stop remembering it as well.  You may not be able to forget, but you can stop remembering and trust God’s word.

And what about your relationship with others?  That person who has hurt you terribly. “I’ll never forget what you did to me!”  No, you can’t forget it ever happened, but you can— and I believe, to be set free, you must— choose not to remember – not to constantly re-enact, “make real” the offence, so that it is an ever-present reality and a perpetual barrier and blockage.

“Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who have sinned against us.”

“Remember our sins no more, as we no longer remember the sins of those who have sinned against us.”

In a few minutes, we will hear those words again: “This is my body, this is my blood. Do this for the remembrance of me.”  As we remember, Jesus will be made real for us.  When you receive his body and blood, you will truly be receiving his power and his strength, wonderfully present to us.

In that power, in that strength, offer to God the burden of sin which you may be carrying, and hear again those gracious words of forgiveness: “I will remember your sins no more.”  Then offer to God that person whom you find it hard to forgive, and ask for the grace to be able to say about them, “I will remember your sins no more.”

And there will be rejoicing in heaven – in the glorious Name of our loving, holy and gracious God, whom we remember, and will continue to remember, throughout all generations.

Are You Hungry Yet? – Br. Jim Woodrum

Br. Jim Woodrum

Luke 13:1-9

Many of you know that I was born and raised in a town on the Virginia/Tennessee border right where the Blue Ridge Mountains meet the great Smokey Mountains.  Among my favorite aspects of the region I come from, besides its stunning beauty, are the smells. Because it is a rural setting, agriculture plays a prominent role in the region’s economy.  The mountain air, especially in the springtime, is clean and scented with the aroma of freshly cut Tennessee sweet-grass which is oftenmixed with the pungent smell of cow manure being turned into the soil for fertilization.  It may seem odd to wax nostalgic about the smell of grass and manure, but since it’s an odor that you experience in Appalachia with regularity, you lose the notion of its peculiarity and begin to experience it as a sign of joys of the approaching summertime:  Such as the delicious food that will soon accompany Sunday dinners and weekend cookouts;-+ Homemade green bean casserole, summer squash gratin, hamburgers garnished with homegrown tomatoes and paired with grilled corn on the cob that tastes as sweet as sugar. Are you hungry yet?  Read More