Many of you, I suspect, will be familiar with that wonderful story of extravagant love by O. Henry, called The Gift of the Magi. The story centers on a young American couple, Della and Jim, who are very poor but very much in love. Each of them has one precious possession. Della has exceptionally beautiful long hair, which is her glory. Jim has a gold watch, given to him by his father, which he cherishes above all things. It is the day before Christmas and Della has exactly one dollar and eighty-seven cents with which to buy Jim a present. She so badly wants to express her love for him that she goes out and sells her beautiful hair for twenty dollars. With the proceeds she buys a platinum fob for Jim’s precious watch. When Jim comes home that night and sees Della’s shorn head, he is speechless. Slowly he hands her his gift, a set of expensive tortoise-shell combs with jeweled edges for her lovely hair. He sold his gold watch to buy them for her. Each had given the other the most precious gift he or she had to give. The story is a lesson of love, love so deep and so extravagant that it does not hold back or count the cost, but rather gives all that it has.
One of the many highlights of my life in the last dozen years or so has been my ability to travel to Jerusalem on a number of occasions. If you have never been, I can’t encourage you enough to seize whatever opportunity arises and go. Your life will be immensely enriched, your heart broken and broken open, and your faith challenged and changed. If you have been, you will know what I say is true.
This week, there is a great festival taking place, drawings tens of thousands of people. It’s not a pop concert, or a political rally. It’s taking place in Marondella, Zimbabwe. For this week marks the anniversary of the death of Bernard Mizeki, who gave his life as a martyr, serving the Shona people of Africa.
We brothers of the SSJE have a special devotion to Bernard because he became a Christian through the ministry of our brotherhood in Cape Town, South Africa. We used to run a school there and as a young man Bernard attended night classes. It was through meeting and talking with our brother, Frederick Puller, that he became a Christian – and was baptized on March 9, 1886.
“Then he began to teach them…”
It’s a bit surprising, isn’t it, to find these words at the midpoint of Mark’s gospel. The fact that they occur here is a sign to us of an important shift in emphasis. Up to this point, the accent has been on Jesus’ power and authority; from now on, the emphasis will be on his rejection and death. Up to this point the gospel has witnessed to Jesus’ messiahship; now it will begin to explain its meaning.
“Then he began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. He said all this quite openly.”
Today has traditionally been called “Shrove Tuesday.” The word “shrove” is derived from an Old English verb “to shrive,” which means “to hear confession,” or “to grant absolution.” To shrive is about cleaning out the cobwebs in the closets of your soul – things done and left undone, things said and left unsaid – which may clutter or weigh heavily on your conscience. And so this word “shrive,” from which we get the traditional name for today, Shrove Tuesday, is buttressed right next to Ash Wednesday, which marks the beginning of season of Lent, a season of penitence and abstinence.
Some of you may have grown up with the custom of a pancake supper on Shrove Tuesday, which is no accident. Going back to the Middle Ages, the custom of eating pancakes and sausages had a practical purpose, since eggs and fat were used, and eggs and fat were forbidden during the fasting of Lent. In one fell swoop, the larder is cleared out and you have one last blowout meal before you face (tomorrow) Ash Wednesday. In Germany, today is traditionally called Fetter Dienstag (fat Tuesday). Likewise in France and here in the States in New Orleans, this is traditionally called Mardi gras (fat Tuesday), which is a day of feasting and merrymaking marking the climax of the carnival season. Play hard today because tomorrow’s down to serious business: Lent.
1 Kings 17: 8-16;
Hebrews 9: 24-28;
Mark 12: 38-44
One of the most brilliant and talented of the first generation of Father Benson’s spiritual sons, Arthur Hall, who later served as Episcopal Bishop of Vermont for 38 years, was also a gifted spiritual director. When Jack and Isabella Gardner moved their membership to the Church of the Advent on Bowdoin Street in 1873, Mrs. Gardner sought him out for counsel and Hall very shortly assumed the responsibility for her spiritual formation. At the time Hall was 25, attractive and a recent graduate of Christ Church, Oxford. Mrs. Gardner was mourning the death of her only child.
2 Kings 4:42-44; Psalm 145:10-19; Ephesians 3:14-21; John 6:1-21
Our worship of God finds its fullest expression in the celebration of the Holy Eucharist. It is the offering through which we return thanks for all that God has given us in creation, and in our redemption through the pouring out of Christ’s life-blood on the cross. In this sacrifice of bread and wine all that we do and are is joined by the Holy Spirit to the eternal offering of Christ on behalf of the world. It is the meal which intensifies our union with Christ, draws us together as a community, and nourishes us with the grace needed for our transformation and our mission. It is the mystery through which we are caught up into the communion of saints on earth and in heaven, the mystical Body of Christ. It is the gift through which we experience a foretaste of the life to come.
The Rule of the Society of St. John the Evangelist
I Corinthians 1:18-31
It was said of St Francis of Assisi that “the crucifix was his Bible.” I suppose that what was meant by this was not that Francis did not read or highly regard Holy Scripture (there is plenty of evidence to the contrary), but that, for him, the message of the Bible was expressed most clearly and forcefully in the figure of Christ on the Cross.