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
or Psalm 119:9-16
We are in the deep end of Lent now, the far side of the wilderness. The forty-day path of prayer, fasting, and acts of mercy, is drawing ever closer to the cross. It’s like the last few miles of a marathon; the last set of finals before the end of term; the last month of a pregnancy; all yearning and aching to end well but not quite there yet. Too far to go back, and so we continue to strain forward. There are so many ways that life in the world in general these days has been like a long journey. You would be forgiven for feeling a little or even very weary. But, take heart, because there is hope on the horizon although, it may not be readily apparent.
The Jesus whom we encounter in this 12th Chapter of John has also set his face toward Jerusalem and the completion of the race marked out for him. In fact, Jesus is more aware of this unravelling than most. When Philip and Andrew go to tell Jesus about a whole new group of people that want to see him you can feel a sense of eagerness and enthusiasm at beginning to know Jesus. His fame is spreading. “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified!”
Oh, but glory looks different than fame and notoriety, which is why Jesus immediately begins to explain what it means for him to be glorified. It’s like a grain of wheat that falls to the earth and dies so that it may bear much fruit. Without descent and death, there can be no new life. Without transformation and conversion, it’s just a lone grain of wheat, small and ineffectual. Without being broken open, it remains closed and unto itself.
Cognitively we know that seeds produce plants. But, it’s a hidden process that takes place in the darkness of soil and isn’t immediately apparent to the eye. Planting a seed in the hope of new growth takes trust and patience. Experienced gardeners and farmers grow in that trust but planting is never without risk. What if the seed doesn’t grow? What if something goes wrong and it’s all for naught? That waiting in the dark can be terrifying when a crop is badly needed.
These days of sowing the seeds of renunciation and penitence can feel exhausting when spiritual fruit is hard to see and only the darkness, fear, and pain of death are near. Our rule of life describes the nature of this kind dying, “Hardships, renunciations, losses, bereavements, frustrations, and risks are all ways in which death is at work in advance preparing us for the self-surrender of bodily death. Through them we practice the final letting go of dying, so that it will be less strange and terrifying to us.” (Ch. 48, Holy Death)
At this point in our Lenten journey, Christ points to a glimpse of the glory we await because seeing is part and parcel of God’s glory. The root words in Greek and Hebrew that are ascribed to God both take on the meaning of visible splendor, power on display. Glory is outward. Jesus is the visible image of the invisible God and displays God’s power in his life. The death he was willing to die, like a grain of wheat falling to the earth, has produced great fruit for us to see.
I can still recall the wonder of the childhood experiments where we would place little beans against the side of a clear plastic cup lined with just some wet paper towel. It seemed like overnight we would come back to find that the outer casing had cracked open and little shoots were coming out, top and bottom. Before long, that original little bean was hardly recognizable as the plant grew right before our eyes. It was quick and gratifying to young attention spans and it gave me the visual confirmation of the process that typically goes on in secret in the soil. I could see with my own eyes how the death of that seed produced new life.
But the stakes are higher with a human life. The fear and uncertainty of death are magnified. And they get personal when Jesus tells us to follow him into a death like his. Thanks be to God, Jesus was willing to feel this, and to make it evident. “Now my soul is troubled. And what should I say—‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it is for this reason that I have come to this hour.”
Faced with death, and the ignominious death of the cross, Jesus goes to great lengths to encourage us along. “Father, glorify your name.” Show them what I have seen! And like, thunder the voice replies, I have glorified it and I will glorify it again. The signs and wonders of Jesus were all God’s visible splendor. The work of the cross is God’s power on display. “When I am lifted up, I will draw all people to myself.”
Christ was lifted up in his obedience to the Father as the letter to the Hebrews says. His obedience and submission to the Father has become the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him. As Jesus calls us to follow him, to serve him, to lose our life like him, we are inexorably drawn to him like a strong magnet. Pulled inwardly to remain with him.
And we have seen this glory.
Who in your life has drawn you to Jesus?
Can you see them? Name them?
Do they know what fruit has been born of their dying to self?
They may not know it just as we may not know who is being drawn to Christ because of us.
The good news is that is has happened, it is happening, and it shall happen.
“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such hostility against himself from sinners, so that you may not grow weary or lose heart. In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood.” (Hebrews 12:1-3)
Take heart, dearly beloved of God. The path we walk with Christ will lead us all the way to through death until our baptism is complete. “Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain” Unless we lose our life in this world we cannot keep it to everlasting life. Unless the bread is broken it cannot be given. Bind yourself to Christ in his passion. Pray for the consolations of Christ in this home stretch of our pilgrimage. Be nourished by the prayer, Anima Christi, in poetic translation by John Henry Newman:
Soul of Christ, be my sanctification;
Body of Christ, be my salvation;
Blood of Christ, fill all my veins;
Water of Christ’s side, wash out my stains;
Passion of Christ, my comfort be;
O good Jesus, listen to me;
In Thy wounds I fain would hide;
Ne’er to be parted from Thy side;
Guard me, should the foe assail me;
Call me when my life shall fail me;
Bid me come to Thee above,
With Thy saints to sing Thy love,
World without end.
John 10: 22-30
‘It was winter, and Jesus was walking in the temple, in the portico of Solomon.’ ‘It was winter.’ I have been to Jerusalem in the winter, and there was snow on the ground, and it was bitterly cold. We think of Jesus in light, flowing robes and sandals, preaching in warm and sunny climes. But not in our Gospel today. John tells us very specifically that ‘it was winter.’ Usually John marks time by referring to the Jewish religious festivals, but here, very pointedly, he tells us that it was winter. As so often for John, seemingly insignificant words carry a profound, symbolic meaning. ‘It was winter, it was night…’
This story at the end of chapter 10 marks the climax of several chapters describing the increasingly hostile controversies between Jesus and the Jewish leaders. Here on this winter’s day, in the very temple itself, the words become ever more cold and bitter. Jesus finally seals his fate by declaring unequivocally, “The Father and I are one”, and the Jews pick up stones to stone him to death.
It was winter in Narnia, when those children in C. S. Lewis’ much-loved stories, first entered through the wardrobe into that magical land. Lucy went first. ‘She was standing in the middle of a wood, with snow under her feet and snowflakes falling through the air. “Why is it winter here?” “The witch has made it always winter and never Christmas. But Aslan is on the move.”’
Hebrews 10:11-25; Mark 13:1-8
I suspect like most good Episcopalians, apocalyptic literature and signs of the end of the world make me a little anxious. To be honest, the other morning when I began exploring the texts for today’s sermon, I just wanted to crawl back into bed. Ever since I was a kid growing up in the Baptist church, I have always been fearful of what “The Rapture” would be like and if I would be one of the unlucky ones to be left behind on the earth as it met its doom.[i] Rather, I prefer a good uplifting message. As a good Anglo-Catholic, I love the passages in Revelation chapter five about the glorious worship in heaven by the elders and angels that number myriads and myriads singing: ‘Worthy is the Lamb that was slaughtered to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honour and glory and blessing! Amen!’[ii] But all the stuff about wars, beasts, whores, plagues, famine, death, dragons, and creatures that I imagine resemble the Nazgul from Tolkein’s Lord of the Rings, you can keep that. For me it is what nightmares are made of. So what are we to make of our lections this morning?
In our gospel lesson from Mark, in a section from the thirteenth chapter known as “the little apocalypse,” we observe a disciple of Jesus marveling at the magnificence of the Jewish temple in Jerusalem. Considering the architectural feats that surround us in our modern age, this disciples’ astonishment might be lost on us. But it is important to note that the second Temple, completed by Herod the Great, was constructed on a scale comparable with the great Pyramids of Egypt. Part of Herod’s legacy was the massive building projects he undertook during his reign: the port at Caesarea Maritima, the fortress at Masada, the Herodium, and the second Temple.[iii] How the large stones that made up the supporting walls of the Temple were placed atop each other without the help of machinery we would use today, is an architectural wonder! “Look teacher,”the disciple says, “what large stones and what large buildings!” When Jesus responds: “Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down,” his disciples are stupefied. How could that be possible? Certainly, nothing could bring down this monstrosity. Perhaps we can relate to this when we remember that fateful September day in 2001, when we witnessed the twin towers of the World Trade Center topple to the ground. Who could have predicted that, and who would have ever believed that prediction?
Feast of the Baptism of our Lord Jesus Christ
Take a moment to remember the last baptism you witnessed. Perhaps you can recall the proud parents and godparents, dressed in their Sunday best, standing around the baptismal font. In their arms they hold their young, freshly-bathed child, hoping that she won’t create a fuss. Before them stands the minister or priest, neatly dressed in suit and tie, or robe, or colorful vestments. The font stands ready. The congregation looks on with curiosity and pleasure, wondering how the child will respond to what is about to happen. The atmosphere is peaceful and serene. It is a family occasion, a beautiful moment that will long be remembered.