Bestowing Life – Br. James Koester


Romans 6: 3 – 11
Psalm 114
Matthew 28: 1 – 10

I’m sure that we all know someone like this. Maybe it’s even yourself. We all know someone who isn’t very good at telling jokes. Sometimes that’s about timing. Maybe their timing is off. Perhaps they don’t have a sense of irony, and take everything too literally. Then again their humour might be too clever, or too dark, or too dry, for you to find funny. Sometimes if the punch line is too obscure, and the joker has to explain things, the joke falls flat, and no one finds it funny, except perhaps the teller. And some jokes, are just really terrible, or even cruel. There is a lot to making a good joke funny, especially if it is one that is retold over and over again. While some jokes never seem to be funny, other are funny no matter how many times they are told.

These last few weeks, I have the feeling that I have been trapped in the middle of a really terrible and cruel joke. This physical distancing, quarantine, self-isolation is wearing really thin. I am so done with it all. I want it to be over. If this pandemic is someone’s idea of a joke, it’s not a very funny one. If COVID-19 is someone’s idea of a joke, it’s a pretty cruel one. Things aren’t funny anymore. They aren’t even fun, and the novelty, or entertainment factor, lost its charm a long time ago. Read More

The Hope of Heaven – Br. James Koester

Br. James Koester

The Great Vigil of Easter

Romans 6: 3 – 11
Psalm 114
Luke 25: 1 – 12

Some of you may remember me saying on other occasions that, as I child, I was always wishing for things. And if I wasn’t wishing for something, I was wishing for the next thing to happen. I wished for all sorts of things. I wished for all the usual things, like the summer holidays to come, or the first snow to fall. I wished that I would get this book or that toy for my birthday, or for Christmas. I wished for the end of exams, or that a certain event would, or would not happen. At one point, I even remember wishing that my fish tank full of guppies would have their babies while I was watching, so that I could see the miracle of birth for myself, but also so that I could see the adult guppies trying to eat the baby guppies as they were born!

In that department (the wishful thinking department, not the guppy one), I don’t think that I’m alone. Our culture is full of wishful thinkers, wishing for all kinds of things, from good grades, to new jobs, to winning the lottery, to finding a parking lot, to loosing ten pounds. If America Runs on Dunkin’(as in doughnuts and coffee), then many parts of the world run on wishful thinking, and whole industries exist to fulfil some of that wishful thinking, in one way or another, either through the latest self-help book, diet fad, or new gadget. We are a culture of wishful thinkers.

Somewhere along the line however, in amidst all this wishful thinking, we have become confused. What was once hoped in, we now wish for. How many times have we hoped that it wouldn’t rain on Holy Saturday, so that we could light the New Fire in the guesthouse garden, rather than in the back of the church; or that we could get a good seat and see all the action, rather than be back behind a pillar in the Lady Chapel? How many times have we hoped for something in the same way that we hope to win the lottery, even though we never buy a ticket? For many of us, our wishful thinking has distorted our understanding of hope, so much so, that our sure and certain hope of the resurrection to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord[1]is little more than wishful thinking in some fairly tale. In this world of wishful thinking, the resurrection has becomes something that is wished for, at some future point, and not a present reality we live in today.

But if that is all the resurrection is, some kind of wishful thinking about some sort of future idyllic existence, then I don’t know why I got out of bed this morning. I may as well have slept in, and gone into the Square for brunch at a decent hour, and bought a lottery ticket while I was at it. 

For the Christian, hope is not about wishful thinking. Wishful thinking is a fantasy It is a fairytale. It is a day dream. Wishful thinking will probably never come true, and if it does, you simply move onto the next one on your list. Hope, on the other hand, is about living into a present reality that we cannot yet fully see.

It is this, that we mean when we say Sunday by Sunday, and day by day, as we have just done in the renewal of our Baptismal Covenant, I believe in the resurrection of the body. The resurrection is not some bit of wishful thinking, which may or may not happen, probably isn’t true, but is fun to imagine anyway. The resurrection is something we hope in, knowing it to be true, because it is the reality in which we now live, but cannot yet fully comprehend.

This is what Paul means in the epistle this morning when he says [do] you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.[2]Paul is not speaking here of some sweet by and by, pie in the sky, wishful thinking, about something that may, or may not happen, or even be true. He is speaking of something that is true. He is speaking about something that has already happened. He is speaking about something into which we live more fully day by day. He is speaking about something that only at the end of time, will we fully comprehend.

When we say that we believe in the resurrection, or hear Paul say [but] if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. The death he died, he died to sin, once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus[3]we are not simply speaking of the future. It is not simply about that day when[Christ] will gather us for the eternal banquet that will unite all God’s people in the joy of the Kingdom.[4]This life we live in God through Jesus Christ is happening now. Just as it willbe our life, so it is our live now.

None of us knows fully what the resurrection life will look like, because we cannot yet fully comprehend it. But we catch glimpses of it all around us, even in this moment. We say in our Rule of Life that [this] gift of hope is woven into the texture of our daily life as a community. Living, working and worshiping together as one body, calling nothing our own, we learn to anticipate the glory of the communion of saints, in which all joys are shared. The gift of hope is present whenever we minister to one another and to those whom God gives us to serve. Christ has promised that we shall bear fruit that lasts if we abide in him. Hope assures us that every act of witness, prayer and service that draws others into the life of divine love builds up the eternal city of God.[5]

For many the idea of the resurrection is simply a fairy tale. It is wishful thinking. It is a day dream. It is a lie, a fable, and a myth. It has nothing to do with reality, or experience, or the present moment. But we do not come here year by year, Sunday by Sunday, day by day, to celebrate a lie. We come here to celebrate what we know to be true. Yet this truth that we know, we do not yet fully comprehend. 

Like Paul [we] know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him,[6]and with Paul we know ourselves to be dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.[7]It is this life we share with Christ today, now, this instant, and all the promise of healing, forgiveness, and wholeness Christ gives us not only the courage, but also the hope and trust to say, I believe in the resurrection.

We are here this morning, not because we are wishful thinkers, dreaming of a better life sometime, somewhere. We are here this morning because we know something to be true, even though we cannot yet fully comprehend it. The something, is the promise of life already given to us by Christ, and which he proclaimed as he burst out of the tomb that first Easter Day.

Our acclamation Christ is Risen! is not some figment of our imagination. It is not a bit of wishful thinking. It is not a lie, a myth, or a fable. It is true. And we know it. And we see it. We know it, and see it, every time we have the courage to say I am sorry. We know it and see it every time was have the generosity to say I forgive you. We know it and see it every time we have the heart to say I love you

To be alive to God in Christ Jesus is to live the life of God right now. That life was given to us in the waters of Baptism, and is renewed in us through the hope of the resurrection that we celebrate today.

I don’t know what the resurrection will look like at the end of time, but I do know what it looks like today. And because I know what it looks like today, I have a sense of what it will look like tomorrow.

My friends, Christ is risen is not a bit of wishful thinking. It is our hope. It is our hope, not only because we know it to be true, but because see it in our lives. We know it and see it in times of courage, in moments of forgiveness, in acts of love. Christ bursts out of the tomb and embraces us with the life of God, not because we are wishful thinks, but because we have the hope of heaven.

[1]Book of Common Prayer, 1979, page 501

[2]Romans 6: 3 – 4 

[3]Romans 6: 8 – 11 

[4]SSJE, Rule of LifeThe Hope of Glory,chapter 49, page 98

[5]SSJE, Rule of LifeThe Hope of Glory,chapter 49, page 98 – 99 

[6]Romans 6: 9

[7]Romans 6: 11

Prisoners of Hope – Br. James Koester

Br. James KoesterThe Great Vigil of Easter

Romans 6: 1 – 13
Psalm 114
Mark 16: 1 – 8

Every once in a while I’ll be minding my own business, and suddenly, in the middle of Morning or Evening Prayer, something is read and my attention is instantly arrested. A word, or a phrase, or an image from Scripture leaps out of the appointed reading at me, and for the next hour, or day, or week, it returns to me over and again. That happened a week ago, on Palm Sunday, at Morning Prayer, and suddenly what we say in our Rule of Life became immediately true. We read there that in our worship the Spirit sometimes touches us immediately through a word, an image or a story; there and then we experience the Lord speaking to us.[1]

Keith had been reading from Zechariah, where the Prophet proclaims that the coming ruler of God’s people will arrive humble and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.[2] It’s an all-too-familiar passage that I have read, or heard, dozens of times, and because of its association with Palm Sunday, we heard it again last Sunday at Morning Prayer. In spite of having heard that passage countless time before, I have actually never heard it. Or, at least I have been so caught up with the image of the king coming, humble, and riding on a donkey, that I have never heard the rest of the lesson. As for you also, because of the blood of my covenant with you, I will set your prisoners free from the waterless pit. Return to your stronghold, O prisoners of hope; today I declare that I will restore to you double.[3]

It was the phrase prisoners of hope that arrested me. Suddenly, I was no longer thinking about kings and donkeys, palms and processions, but prisoners, freedom, and hope. I was thinking what it might mean to be a prisoner of hope. In a sense, while everyone else was celebrating Palm Sunday, and beginning to enter with joy upon the contemplation of those mighty acts, whereby [God] has given us life and immortality,[4] I was already at Easter, thinking about the gift of freedom and hope that comes to us through the Resurrection of Jesus. And that is where I have spent this week, living the events of Holy Week through the lens of being a prisoner of hope. Read More

Ring Your Bells! – Br. James Koester

Br. James Koester

Romans 6: 3 – 11
Psalm 114
Matthew 28:1 – 10

There was a dreadful custom at one time practiced in some Anglo-Catholic circles, including in a certain monastery on the banks of the Charles River. For the last two weeks of Lent, beginning on the Fifth Sunday in Lent, (which used to be called Passion Sunday), and carrying on until Holy Saturday, after each of the Offices, Psalm 51: Have mercy on me, O God, according to your loving-kindness; in your great compassion blot out my offenses[1] would be mumbled in unison. Our brother, David Allen remembers this going on here when he made his first visit to the community in the late 1950’s. He thinks it came to an end sometime in the mid-1960’s.[2] You can just imagine the effect of a dozen or so men, sitting here in the Choir, mumbling the psalm in unison. Have mercy on me, O God, according to your loving-kindness; in your great compassion blot out my offenses. Read More