On Good Friday

AT THE FOOT OF THE CROSS

Good Friday, March 30, 2018

St. Mark’s Episcopal Church, San Antonio, Texas

 

Here we are, gathered together at the foot of the Cross, gathered as one branch of the whole human family. Throughout the world, this day Christians gaze at this Jesus who has been pierced. And we allow him to gaze back at us with love, with mercy, with gentle compassion, even as he dies. A deep silence begins to fall, a silence that will hold until Easter dawn.

            This year, our Holy Week began with two different feasts happening to fall on the same day: Palm Sunday, when we remember Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem, and the Feast of the Annunciation, which always falls on March 25, nine months before Christmas day. On Sunday, we were standing in a peculiar tension that tells us the truth in love. The gospel for Annunciation offers us the angel Gabriel saying to Mary, Jesus’ mother, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus.” (Luke 1:30) The Passion Gospel we heard on Palm Sunday morning, and again just now, led us through the passages of betrayal, abandonment, trial and crucifixion.  Both feasts are true. Both give us guidance and hope, particularly as we gaze upon the cross.

            On the one hand, we recall that Annunciation moment of eternal glad tidings. On the other, the Palm Sunday liturgy carried us into the dusty streets of Jerusalem, following Jesus on a donkey, shouting hosanna, leading us to today, Good Friday.

            What’s to be afraid of? What would cause us to tremble? Did not the angels sing “Glory be to God on high, and peace to his people on earth?” Did not the shepherds come to kneel and adore that tiny baby?

            Yet here we are. At the foot of the cross, beholding Jesus crucified. Who could have foreseen, at the moment of the Annunciation, that we would end up moving from Bethlehem to this site of execution? Who could have guessed that what began with stars shining in the black velvet winter sky would lead to three crosses silhouetted against the hills?   

            Today we are in the company of John and Mary and Mary Magdalene  and Mary the wife of Clopas. With them, we watch and wait as Jesus dies.

            And we hear, if we are still, if we wait: Do not be afraid. We receive the gift of Jesus making all of us family in his life and in his love. He gives John and his mother Mary to each other. He gives his life that we may be knit together in one human family. He chooses this journey to Jerusalem that we might awaken from our sleep and remember that real love, true mercy, is always willing to offer life for others.

            Today, we behold this physical death on a cross. Father Curtis Almquist, a monk in the Episcopal order of the Society of Saint John the Evangelist, has remarked that Jesus died many deaths before this day. He experienced those diminishments that are always a part of life. He was misunderstood. He discovered that his family did not always support his vision.  He found himself summarily ushered out of places that would not receive his life giving words and actions. He was haunted and hunted by the actions of pompous and vicious politicians and religious authorities. And perhaps worst of all, at the end, he dies those deaths of watching his disciples fade away, of knowing that Peter will betray him, of wondering if anything he offered will bear fruit.

            As we gaze on the cross this day, we remember that the baby in the manger does indeed grow up, does live a life whose very existence is a direct challenge to powers and principalities. Jesus knew the heartache and deep distress of the deaths within life. He endured grief, and he lived with pain. This death on a cross is strangely congruent with Jesus’ choosing to walk the life of living the truth in love. He would not be king. He would not be the magician who fixes everything. He is vulnerable. He is real. He does indeed die.

            When God takes on our human life in Jesus, God lives that life from the inside out, from conception to birth to babyhood to adolescence to adulthood, and yes, to death. Once that baby is conceived, death is eventually going to follow. That’s the way of mortal life.

            How strange this journey of faith is. So full of juxtapositions that are the dream of the God who loves us and gives us life. So full of paradoxes—two things that seem to not be true at the same time.

            And yet. In a moment we will pray together: “We adore you O Christ and we bless you, because by your holy cross you have redeemed the world.”

            This journey takes us from womb to tomb, and beyond. The gospels tell us in so many ways that we are ever accompanied by the God who breathes us into being and receives us at the end. The gospels challenge and shatter our puny notions of God’s ability to bring life out of death, and hope out of despair.

            Irish theologian Padraig O’Tuama, who grew up in Belfast in Northern Ireland, and is well acquainted with political and religious violence, tells us that we need to be able, in the worst of circumstances, to say, “Hello to here.” Hello to what is right before us. Hello to the wrecked body of Jesus. Hello to the little band of four who behold his dying. Hello to the soldiers who cast lots, and who pierce his side. Hello to the awful sight of divine love dying.

            To call this Friday good is to say hello to here.

            The theologians of the early church beheld this cross and saw a new and different tree of life. One wrote, “The fruit of this tree is not death but life, not darkness, but light. This tree does not cast out of paradise, but opens the way for our return.”

            Despite the appearances, we are on the edge of the realms of glory.

 In Jesus, God is telling us: I am ever with you. There is no place where I am not. There is no horror in which my broken body is not present. There is no travail that I do not indwell. There is no estrangement, no alienation, no heartache that is beyond my love, my mercy, my compassion, my indwelling, my healing.

            We sit with the cross. And we wait, allowing the angel’s strange and eternal, “Do not be afraid,” to speak unto our own sufferings, our own deaths. We exhale, and we breathe in a hope rooted and grounded in love. We allow our bodies to receive this gift: Jesus tells us in his dying that sacrificial love is the way of life.

            Hello to here. Hello to our own lives, and to our fractious and violent times. Hello to the many ways in which the living Christ says to us, “This is my gift to you. My own peace I leave with you.”

Seeing Anew

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Several years ago, during a regular eye exam, my doctor mentioned to me that my cataracts were growing pretty quickly. While I heard what he was saying, I was in no mood to schedule an elective surgery. And while I could tell I was losing some depth perception, in general I did not think my vision was that compromised.

That doctor retired, and my husband and I began seeing Dr. John Campagna here in San Antonio. The first time he looked at my eyes, about a year and a half ago, he said, “You know, these cataracts could come out any time.” I sort of yelped, and said, “No!” He kindly smiled and said, “Well, you will know when the time is right.”

Last June, Doug and I were having lunch at Teka Molino, a favorite Mexican restaurant. I was facing the windows, and the sunlight was creating a glare. A friend approached us, and when he said hello, I had to confess that I could not see him. I knew my cataracts were getting in the way. I had not recognized him in the bright glare. This friend had just had cataract surgery, and encouraged us to do the same. His euphoria was contagious.

Over the last several months, both Doug and I have had both eyes set free from cataracts. The surgery was so easy, and the staff at Methodist North Central Ambulatory Care Center proved to be both professional and personable.

Now I am seeing through new lenses—not glasses—lenses implanted in my eyes. I am astounded by the radiance that I now perceive. So much luminescence! So much beauty! Colors and textures have a depth and a richness that I’d long forgotten. I have a lot of peripheral vision again, and catch glimmers of movement off to the side, glimmers that I would have missed before the surgeries.

And, we did not have to have our white kitchen repainted! I had thought that the paint had yellowed quickly. The kitchen had been painted only two years ago, and I had been fussing about the quality of the paint. How could it already have gotten so dingy? Two cataract surgeries later, and I know that I was looking through the yucky yellow grey of the cataract. Now the kitchen looks bright and shiny—no painting necessary.

I’m giving humble and hearty thanks for modern medicine, and for our physicians. We are the beneficiaries of so much research, and so much technical skill on the part of those who measure the eye, create the lenses, prepare the eye drops that facilitate the healing.

I’m also reflecting on the ways in which my sight may have dulled in other ways. What might I have missed because of some cataract-like tissue on the soul? A gentle nudge toward awareness. A kind invitation to be mindful of my limitations in every regard.

More than anything, I’m enjoying the feast of truly being able to see, and beholding the garden, the border collies, the fat cat, Doug, the household, with delight in seeing them all anew.

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Slow Summer Time

  Thank God, we are now in what is known as “ordinary time” in the liturgical cycle of Christian faith and practice. We just observed Trinity Sunday on June 11. For the next six months, our Episcopal altars will be draped in green, and we will reflect on ordinary, daily living of life, a life of faith, hope and love. A life that chooses to be alive, aware of the beauty of this world.

    For this household, early summer means moving from active gardening to harvesting. Doug is bringing in bowls of bright yellow Sungold tomatoes and Ichiban eggplant. We weed a bit, and water as needed. We are also pulling up the plants that are suffering from the heat. But mostly, we are savoring the fruits of the garden, breathing in the heady aromas of copper canyon daisy and rosemary and oregano. The hot weather flowers (cosmos, hibiscus, bouganvilla, rock rose, salvia, lantana, Pride of Barbados) are bursting with color. Summer mornings and evenings, when the southeast wind comes off the Gulf of Mexico, the air has a distinctive softness.

    When I was growing up, many weekends were spent at my Kopecky grandparents’ place in the country. There was no running water, no indoor toilet. It was almost like camping, but not quite, because we slept in beds in simple cabins. Summer days were a feast of the senses. Simple peanut butter and onion sandwiches made by my grandmother. Swimming in the creek. Catching perch and striped bass with a cane fishing pole. Watching turkey vultures circle overhead in the deep blue vault of the Texas sky. Reading Marvel comics during quiet time in the heat of the afternoon.

    Time slowed down. Time became oriented toward natural rhythms, rather than the clock. We stayed up later and caught fireflies, listened to stories with whippoorwills calling in the background.

    As the liturgical calendar leads us into the slow time of June and July, before the planning activities of mid-August, even our beloved animal companions move into more relaxed patterns. Leftovers, our 22 pound cat, lolls in the grass or on the deck. He appears to be completely enjoying the balmy, warm mornings. Graford and Fiona, the border collies, choose to chase the tennis ball, but for half the time. Good naps on the cool Saltillo tile make up the bulk of their days.

    And the humans? We are savoring siesta. Eating vegetables still warm from the sun. Reading and going to movies. Slowing and remembering, entering the reverie of remembered times on the Guadalupe River and Canyon Lake, noticing our own deep craving for time that opens out, time that is easy, time that is no time.

 

Celebrating the 40th Anniversary of Ordination of Women in the Episcopal Church

On Sunday, January 22, 2017, seven women priests gathered to co-celebrate at the altar at the Episcopal Church of Reconciliation in San Antonio, Texas to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the ordination of women in the Episcopal Church. What a glorious and joy-filled eucharist!

This is the congregation that sponsored both my husband Doug and me in the process to become priests in the Episcopal Church. (Because we were the first clergy couple in the diocese, I was also required to have a second congregation sponsor me, Trinity Episcopal Church in Victoria, TX.) The gathering was baptized by tears of joy and wonder. We remembered the Philadelphia Eleven, and the bishops who ordained those first women despite threats to the bishops’ lives. We beheld the faces of the Rev. Katy Riggs, first woman ordained in the Episcopal Diocese of West Texas and women clergy who had served at Reconciliation in various capacities.

And we delighted in the celebration of so many strong women lay leaders in that parish. Those spiritual mothers were crucial to my own journey. Women like Abbie McLennan and Stella Brown, Betty Storrs and Saradell Crawford. These were women who never blanched at the thought of clergy couple, and who fully embraced the possibility of women presiding at the eucharist, preaching and blessing.

When Doug and I arrived at Reconciliation in the summer of 1979, it was Abbie McLennan who immediately spotted us during worship, then later introduced us to other members and made us welcome.

I was 31 at the time; our sons Jason and Bryan were 3 and 6.  I was teaching Spanish at the University of Texas at San Antonio. I was in the beginning steps of what I later realized was a path into contemplative prayer. Some of the spiritual mothers at Reconciliation knew of this improbable call of mine to holy orders. And so, they began to bring it up. They claimed it for me before I could fully claim it for myself.

And here's the amazing thing: while our dear bishop and the archdeacon and the members of the Standing Committee and Commission on Ministry were all sort of baffled by the idea of a clergy couple, these spiritual mothers at Reconciliation never faltered. They could SEE it. They knew it was possible. They held a vision that Doug and I could never have held by ourselves.

One day, after Doug had been accepted to seminary and I was going to be working as the parish secretary at St. George's in Austin (after teaching at UTSA), Betty Trail, (one of those beloved mothers) and I were in the sanctuary together, oiling pews. Betty was an RN, a divorcee, and pretty outspoken. She was instrumental in getting Reconciliation involved in early hunger ministries and the Battered Women's Shelter. Betty turned to me, and said like a prophet, "You will become a priest. I know this. And I can imagine that day!" She said this with a twinkle--a little like a fairy godmother. And then she went back to oiling the pews. I was stunned. From time to time another spiritual mother would either send me a card or say something in person. They began speaking my priestly vocation into being out loud, unapologetically, when I was still scared of saying it for myself.

On the institutional side of things, it is certainly true that professors at the Seminary of the Southwest, our bishop and other male clergy shepherded my process toward ordination. On the maternal, feisty, hopeful side of things it was Betty Trail and other spiritual mothers of mine who held the hope, when I figured I'd be teaching the Spanish subjunctive for the rest of my life. It just goes to show how significant community is, and how we are all woven together. 

Many of those spiritual mothers of the parish are now among the community of saints. On Sunday, as six of women clergy stood beside the Rev. Judith Rhodes as she presided at eucharist, I felt their presence and joy so strongly. It simply took my breath away. As living members of the Body of Christ, they have helped birth new life, and dared to believe the gospel includes us all—every single one of us. They delight in our ongoing embodiment of the dignity of every human being.