Sunday, December 4, 2022

Advent 2 A - December 4, 2022

Holy Cross Monastery, West Park, NY

Br. Luc Thuku, OHC

Advent 2 A - December 4, 2022

We gather again with joy this morning to celebrate the second Sunday of Advent. Advent as we know is a season in the church calendar dedicated to the hopeful anticipation of the arrival or ‘coming’ of Jesus. This advent can be a commemoration of his coming as a baby, 2000 plus years ago, which culminates with Christmas; or the second coming in glory that we hope and wait for, our salvation. During this period, as a young Christian, we were encouraged to engage in meditation, prayer, and scripture study that emphasizes hope, peace, love and joy.

From the first story in the Bible to the last, we see narratives, poetry, prophecy, biographies and personal letters that inform our understanding of the Advent of Jesus in unique ways.

One such passage is what we heard from in the first reading today. The prophet Isaiah speaks of a Messianic King who will manifest the characteristics of the great people of Israel up to David. It claims that life will spring forth from the injured stump of Jesee and a branch shall grow out of his roots. This reference is very important to Israel’s history because of the many exiles they had experienced, although the text specifically speaks of or imagines a new beginning for the monarchy of Judah. 

In this hopeful future, the Spirit of God will descend upon the ruler resulting in Justice for the poor and lowly of the land as we hear in verse 4 of the text. The text also speaks of the re-ordering of creation’s priorities in verses 6-9, where life emerges from death and a return to the original harmony of Paradise.

The concrete expression of this new future is a person, a ruler on whom the Spirit will rest; a human being who embodies what is best in the traditions of Israel. This ruler will be wise and understanding, powerful and effective in war, able to judge for the benefit of the poor, and obedient to God. So glorious is the reign of this king that he is literally clothed in righteousness and faithfullness.

As Christians, it is not hard to see ourselves as the nation ruled by this monarch, Jesus of Nazareth, the Jewish descendant of Jesee through David. A close comparison though, between the expectations of the king described in our passage and the ministry of Jesus reveals some strong differences. Jesus had a strong ministry and continues to minister graciously in the present through Word, Sacrament and through works of mercy carried on by his faithful disciples. However, evil still flourishes in the world, the poor and meek remain afflicted, predators continue to kill their prey and violence is still done on God’s Holy mountain. The earth is still very far from being full of the knowledge of the Lord. Christ’s victory therefore falls short in human terms; it remains a hidden victory or an unacomplished victory which is disappointing at times.

Bruce Springsteen in his song “Reason To Believe”  expresses this disappointment in song….
Seen a man standing over a dead dog
By a highway in a ditch
He’s looking kinda puzzled
Poking that dog with a stick
Got his car door flung open
He’s standing out on highway 31
Like if he stood there long enough
That dog’d get up and run

Struck me kinda funny
Seemed kinda  funny, sir, to me
Still at the end of every hard day
People find some reason to believe

Now, Mary Lou loved Johnny
With a love mean and true
She said, “Baby, I’ll work for you every day”
And bring my money home to you
One day, he up and left her
And ever since that
She waits at the end of the dirt road
For young Johnny to come back

Struck me kinda funny
Funny, yeah, indeed
How at the end of every hard-earned day
People find some reason to believe

Take a baby to the river
“Kyle William” they called him
Wash the baby in the water
Take away little Kyle’s sin
In a whitewashed shotgun shack
An old man passes away
Take the body to the graveyard
Over him they pray

Lord won’t you tell us
Tell us-what does it mean?
At the end of every hard-earned day
People find some reason to believe.

Congregation gathers
Down by the riverside
Preacher stands with a Bible
Groom stands waiting for his bride
Congregation gone and the sun sets
Behind a willow weeping tree
Groom stands alone and watches the river rush on
So effortlessly

Where can his baby be
Still, at the end of every hard-earned day
People find some reason to believe 
Can we therefore conclude that Jesus was a failed Messiah? I would say No…but we need to agree that his ministry is still fundamentally incomplete. It is fundamently incomplete mainly because we misunderstood the message and failed to see our role in it. We took it literally that when he comes things will change and decided that we are passive observers rather than active participants. The mess in the world is mostly of our own making either by omission or by commission, through blatant disobedience, ignorance or misinterpretation of scripture.

This passage from today therefore reminds us Christians that we should still long for the Messianic completion of creation, the so called second coming or parousia. We therefore should not judge the Jews who have historically struggled to see Jesus and his ministry as Messianic because we too are looking forward to it’s completion. Our waiting for the second coming, however, should be an active waiting. Since it will be a kingdom of Justice, we must right now work for justice…it will be a Kingdom of equality, so we must now work for the equality of all…A kingdom of harmony, then we should right now strive to live in harmony with one another…a Kingdom of friendship, then right now we must try to become each other’s true friend in the Lord…a Kingdom of brothers and sisters, then we must right now start coming closer and closer to our neighbors. This in other words means that we must reform our lives for the Kingdom of God is at hand.

We are invited by this text to celebrate the ministry of Jesus in the past, and especially in the present, but also keep in mind the important place of intercession and work so that creation may arrive at its promised destiny as a place where peace, Justice and grace have the final word. 

Advent is about hopes and longings. We all yearn to be with people dear to us and especially with Jesus, whose second coming we so look forward to. This is because the world we live in is fractured and needs healing and peace, a healing and peace that only he can give. 

The delay of something much longed for can result in angst and pain but when the desire is fulfilled, it is like we have accessed the tree of life, an oasis in the desert, something that allows us to feel refreshed and renewed.

During the waiting and longing times, praying and pondering the wisdom of the Bible has at times helped me greatly as a person. Paul reminds us in the second reading that we heard from Romans 15:4-13 that whatever was written in the scriptures is for our instruction so that by their steadfasteness and encouragement we may find hope. That is why I recommend the wisdom of our religious educators that I mentioned at the  beginning, that we read scripture texts that emphasize hope, peace, love and joy.

Some of our hope and desires might not be fulfilled right away. Some, in fact, might only be met through God when we die. Whatever our longing, we can trust in Him knowing He loves us unceasingly, and that one day we will be reunited with Him, behold Him as He truly is, and praise Him with Thanksgiving. “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit”[Romans 15:13]

Let us pray:
God our creator, you fulfil our deepest longings. We give you our hopes and our desires, asking you to grant them according to your wisdom and love
Though Jesus who comes.

Sunday, November 27, 2022

Advent 1 A - November 27, 2022

Holy Cross Monastery, West Park, NY

Br. Randy Greve, OHC

Advent 1 A - November 27, 2022

We begin the liturgical year at the end of the age. This is profound, because the narrative of holy scripture is urgent to set before us our end and the world’s end as we have known it.  God’s good creation, marred by sin and evil and groaning for its liberation, is comforted in hope that new creation is our end and home.  The whole Christian revelation falls apart without the promise that the world will ultimately be set right, suffering and death vanquished, and our own selves, resurrected in bodies incorruptible and perfect, will enjoy the direct and unmediated presence of the Lord forever.  

All of the life of discipleship is informed by and moves toward that hope.  Evil and suffering are real, but will not ultimately triumph.  Death and the grave are the next to the last things that happen to us.  The declaration of the nature of Christ’s coming again in glory is not a far away wispy dream, not a threat of violent revenge on the disobedient, but the bedrock of why and how to bother with following Christ at all.  How we live in the present, what we believe about our service and prayer and love for one another is inextricably linked, whether we are conscious of it or not, to what we believe is coming for us and for our world.  We know God is God because God is a God of promise and God keeps promises.  Our hope for the future is grounded in our memory of God’s saving acts.  I am not a Christian in order merely for the afterlife payoff, but I cannot remain a Christian without the promise that the world toward which I work and pray and groan is surely to come. 

That is the liturgical prelude. Now a prelude on this gospel reading: the Jesus of Nazareth whom we read about in the gospels is jarringly present and open.  He keeps showing us and telling us who he is.  He is also a mystery because we cannot fully comprehend his identity.  He acts in surprising, even shocking ways. He does not bend to our ideas of Messiah, or even much care about our ideas.  He is simple, but never easy.  Spend a lifetime pondering and living his words, and you will barely scratch the surface of their meaning.  From beginning to end, he does the Father’s will by modeling and proclaiming God’s love for all. He announces that this kingdom and way of love is alive in God’s covenant faithfulness in a way of being human and in a community that loves neighbor as self. The triumphant justification of us and the world in a new heaven and a new earth is coming, so our vocation is to live now in anticipation of what is to come.

Now to the reading itself.  Our finitude and that of the earth forces the questions of meaning.  The spiritual value of apocalyptic speech is the seriousness of choice, the necessity of awakening to reality - to look, to see.  We wake up especially to those realities we would rather avoid, that make us uncomfortable, that confront us with our duplicity, our double-mindedness.  Christ believes in our power more than we do.  He sees our freedom at times when we would rather escape it.  He is not going to force us onto the ark of salvation, but it is there and we have to make a choice.  Jesus continues to be the great Illuminator still.   To the receptive and willing, the good news is their greatest joy and hope.  To the resistant this same good news stirs confusion, misinterpretation, opposition, and hate.  This language does not condescend to our categories of analysis.  

Part of why beginning Advent with the apocalypse is so powerful is that we enter right away a realm where time gets bent, answers become questions and questions become answers, and our safe and small categories of truth and security are shattered in the light of God’s wild and wide passion for the whole universe.  In Advent we do away with the introductory pleasantries and plunge right into the nature of the paradox of the words themselves:  we are waiting for Christ. Christ is already here.  We long to see the promise of our hope. We already see it.  The hope of Advent is born in the meeting of our desire and God’s desire; we send our waiting from the present into the future.  God sends the kingdom of peace from the future to the present.  We believe they meet and that meeting is called hope.  

The waiting is the surrender.  This kind of waiting is not like waiting for the train.  Advent waiting is the active, open-ended expectation of the real but unknown and unknowable.  For Christ, the human vocation is to enter into this disequilibrium, not avoid it or explain it.  We are most fully human when we know ourselves as creatures and entrust our mortal creatureliness to the one who made us and will remake us anew.  The good news is that the waiting is already the very offering that forms in us the eyes to see and the ears to hear Christ’s coming among us.  

When we lapse into passivity and indifference, may Christ the Prophet break in and steal our apathy and stir in us the cry, “Come, Lord Jesus.”  When we are overly impressed with our own power and believe we know best how to fix the world, may Christ the Savior break in and steal our pride and groan within us, “How long, O Lord?”

I conclude with this beautiful quote from Megan McKenna: “Advent is about judgment and standing in the presence of the thief, the Son of Man, not flinching, looking God straight in the eye, and rejoicing…  The Holy One is coming to visit and is intent on stealing us away from all we are attached to and binding us to one another in peace.” Amen.

Friday, November 25, 2022

Feast of James Huntington - November 25, 2022

Holy Cross Monastery, West Park, NY

Br. Ephrem Arcement

Feast of James Otis Sargent Huntington - November 25, 2022

Thee, mighty Trinity! One God! 
Let every living creature laud;
Whom by the Cross Thou dost deliver, 
O guide and govern now and ever! Amen.

The former Abbot Primate of the Benedictine Confederation, Notker Wolf, had this to say about the call to monastic life:

"At first we feel called by God and attracted by him. We grow in our vocation and get the impression that God has gripped us and will never let us go. We want to withdraw from him in order to escape his grasp. But he loves us too much to allow us to fall. He holds us fast." 

One of the most common and recurring motifs of Sacred Scripture is the call narrative.  We hear God’s call to Abram, Moses, and Joseph; to Samuel, Isaiah, and Jeremiah; to the Virgin Mary, Peter, and Paul.  These and so many more have their lives suddenly interrupted and are overwhelmed by the sense that their lives as they know it is no longer possible because of this divine interruption.  A new path opens up which wasn’t seen before and a voice beckons to follow.  

And this vocation to leave all and follow continues to be heard by some people long after the pages of the Bible have come to an end.  Antony, Benedict, and Romuald hear it.  Francis, Clare, and Dominic hear it.  And even after the vocation to religious life was discredited by the Protestant reformers, God’s voice to leave all and follow was still heard resulting in the Community of the Sisterhood of the Holy Cross, the first women’s Anglican religious order, the Society of St. John the Evangelist, the first men’s Anglican religious order, and James Huntington’s Order of the Holy Cross, the first men’s religious order of the Episcopal Church.  

We’ve just heard the original and paradigmatic call narrative…the call of Abram.  Abram was a wealthy man living a comfortable life.  He had everything going for him.  He wasn’t engrossed in sin, nor was he crying out to God to be saved from an encroaching enemy.  He was simply living his life as was the custom of his day when suddenly God stepped into the routine of his life and revealed a plan for Abram that Abram could never have imagined for himself.  Abram’s good wasn’t good enough for God!  And in that moment, it’s as if Abram becomes so intoxicated with the vision of God that the most daring, the most reckless behavior follows: he leaves country, kindred, and home…all that defined him and all that he knew and loved…with only the voice of God as guide and the promise of God as inspiration.  What results is a whole new way of being in the world that would allow for God to be revealed without the encumbrance of the old ways of Abram’s thinking and being.  Now, Abram wakes up each morning not just with the day’s routines ahead but with a divine purpose and a divine mandate and the blessing of God begins to overflow in all he says and does.  

St. Paul’s equally dramatic interruption accomplishes the same effect:  the old man is stripped off and, impregnated with divine vision of the new creation, Paul boldly follows the call of God with faith alone as guide and reimagines what life in this world can be like lived fully united to God in Christ.  And the world will never be the same because of it.

This same spirit that demands all and summons with urgency to follow possessed Antony which drove him from the comforts of life on the Nile into the solitude of the desert, possessed Benedict which drove him from the mediocrity of life as a Roman student to the meaningful life of seeking God with all his heart, and possessed Francis to strip himself of all worldly possessions and live in stark imitation of the poor Christ.  And this very same spirit also possessed James Huntington to face the ridicule and opposition of a church highly skeptical of religious life to create a community of monks anyway…monks devoted to imitating the crucified Christ who bore the cross for love of the world.  

Like Jeremiah experienced long ago, some people find themselves seduced by God, so overwhelmed by a beauty, so overcome with a purpose that all freedom to choose otherwise seems lost.  Nothing else but obedience and faithfulness to this vision will let one find rest.  “You seduced me, Lord, and I let myself be seduced; you were too strong for me, and you prevailed.”

Each of the God-possessed founders and foundresses of new religious communities, while all daring to follow God to a place they know not and at the cost of immense sacrifice, bore their own unique expression of the Kingdom of God.

In the case of James Huntington and the Order of the Holy Cross, this aspiring member is particularly struck by one quality above all that, at least from my perspective, makes Huntington and the community he founded especially attractive.  Even above his courageous spirit and fortitude is his personal love for Christ and his cross that suffuses his spirituality and the very wise rule he left for the monks in his charge and on which the Holy Cross monks of today continue to stand.  

For Huntington, all the elements of the religious life point to Christ and to the cross which reveals the passion of God’s divine love for the world.  The line O Crux, Ave, Spes Unica (O Cross, our one reliance, hail!) from the hymn Vexilla Regis opens his rule and situates all that is to come.  The life of prayer, which forms the first part of the rule, brings one face to face with the cross…in the liturgy, in obedience, in meditation, in the pondering of Sacred Scripture.  The cross is born in one’s own ascetical life as one appropriates it in the dying to self and in the service to God and one’s brothers in community, which forms the second part of the rule.  And, in the third part, the fiery love encountered in this divine appropriation of the cross manifests the fruit of the cross: a love which must act and a fire which must burn and a Christ in each of us which must bring healing and salvation:  Crux est mundi medicina (The cross is the medicine of the world).  

The life of Father Huntington and the vision for his order of monks is one of total integration into the life of Christ crucified–at once possessed by the love shone forth on the cross in prayer and worship and simultaneously and because of this possessed by the power of the Spirit released from the cross to love without limit.  The dichotomies of the spiritual life fall by the wayside, and all that is left is one consumed with love and fire which must act and burn.

Brothers, we too have heard this call from the cross.  We too have left all behind to journey together with faith alone as our guide, and our hearts burn with this same fiery love.  On this holy day, let us recommit ourselves to stoke this flame in each other through our daily sacrificial acts of kindness and love until each of our hearts burns with the fire that burned in the heart of our founder whose heart burned with the fire that burned in the heart of our Christ.