Thursday, April 28, 2011

Br. Andrew's Sermon for Br. James' Life Profession - 28 Apr 2011

Holy Cross Monastery, West Park, NY
Br. Andrew Colquhoun, OHC
Br. James Michael Dowd's Life Profession - Thursday, April 24, 2011

Acts 3: 11-26
1 Peter 1: 3-9
Luke 24: 36b-48

What a great time for a Profession of the Vow for Life! The octave of Easter.
This holy time when life is at the highest point of triumph. Death has tried its best and has been defeated. One Sabbath day of rest between crucifixion and resurrection and all fear is beaten down. Life blossoms and fruits. God has said “Yes!” absolutely to life.

There’s an image that has kept coming to me as I have been praying about this sermon and I have to tell you about it… when I first started my CPE (Clinical Pastoral Education) residency I was on call one night. That involved making rounds on all the floors. I got to Obstetrics and checked in. “Anything going on?” The nurse said “There’s just one woman in labor… it won’t be very long now.” I remarked that I had never seen a birth. She said “Wait a minute” and left. Pretty quickly she came back with a scrub suit and said that the patient’s husband wasn’t willing to go into delivery with her and she would like the chaplain! Oh!!

I did as I was told and trembled my way to the mother’s bed. She grabbed my hand, kissed it and thanked me. “I don’t want to be alone and my husband is afraid.” I thought “you think he’s scared?” Just then they came to wheel her into the delivery room and I was dragged along ruing my bravado.

Well, she did great. I didn’t faint. The baby was born. on the 25th of September… the mother’s own birthday, the doctor’s birthday and my younger son’s birthday. So we all sang Happy Birthday and the baby responded…. He howled and then he peed all over us!

I know that’s a pretty earthy story for this solemn occasion. But so is our Gospel reading. Jesus tells the disciples to look at his tortured flesh and believe. He then asks for something to eat because ghosts don’t do that. This is a living Lord… not an ethereal concept. There is no mistaking the reality of his appearance. No chance is given to explain it away to themselves as a wishful thought or a grief conjured manifestation. Here is the Lord embodied and transformed. New life. Earthed yet transcendent.

And from Acts we read that Peter and John react to the surprise of the crowds after they had healed the crippled man by asking why the crowd is surprised. What did they expect? What else could life in Christ bring but immersion in the living of life and its restoration to wholeness?
Our faith is not a philosophy, not a finely worked out way of walking through life unscathed, sheltered and immersed in one’s own spiritual development. It is rooted in the earthiness of the Incarnation. It is humanity glorified but still human.

And although much of the world will ask why you, James, want to “bury” yourself in a monastery, we all know better. Today when you make your profession you do not die to life, you do not remove yourself from the pain of your fellow human beings; you do not become indifferent to the world God has planted us in.

Making your commitment does not mean retreating from life – dying to self, yes! Giving up your own willfulness and selfishness, yes! Monasticism is a call to enter fully into life with all its joy and all its grief. What happens today is that the labor you have been going through for fifty years will come to fruition finally. And just as that mother’s labor I spoke about was inexorable, irreversible, so is yours now.

James Michael you are being born yet again. Not into a sheltered existence but into a life that will take you deeper into the joy of your humanity and yet render you more and more vulnerable to the sufferings God’s children undergo. If you are faithful there will be no escape.

Benedict tried to escape at first. The cave at Subiaco seemed like a good idea for a while but the more he tried to withdraw the more the poor and the lost beat a path to his door. And finally, there at Montecassino his monastery guarded the road to the city he had fled from. It became a shelter and a beacon to the weary and the wanderer.

Benedict’s story is a great one. And it is the story of every monk. It is the story of being drawn by God’s love until the heart fills and overflows and the cloister cannot contain it. It’s not a story of escape or gentle piety. It’s a story of walking on into the full, messy humanness of life. It’s about perseverance and not turning back. It’s about trying to incarnate the love of Christ in this earthy mess we call life.

James, no one needs to teach you to love the poor. You are no stranger to the streets. And yet you give yourself to a life of seeking God that requires stability and labor. Today you claim a life that will be so abundant, so earthy, and so blindingly full that you will never rest again if you listen.
Today you are being born as a finally professed monk of the Order of the Holy Cross. Our roots are not genteel. Our Founder stood against the injustice which grinds down the poor. We don’t draw back. We keep our doors open, we venture out, but we always come home…home to our community, to our life together rooted in Christ.

This is your monastic day of birth. I trust you will be more circumspect in your response to the gift of life than that baby boy was those years ago! You will undoubtedly howl. But know you have come home. Alleluia!

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Easter Sunday -24 Apr 2011

Holy Cross Monastery, West Park, NY
Br. Andrew Colquhoun, OHC
Easter Sunday - April 24, 2011

Colossians 3:1-4
John 20:1-18

On Palm Sunday as we began this Holy Week, Brother Robert preached and in his sermon he said something that hit home with me… talking about the Apostles’ Creed he called it “…the barest outline of a cosmic drama that will take us an eternity to comprehend.” I’ve thought about that all week.

This morning we have done some numinous things – standing in the cloister where so many have prayed for more than a century, lighting the new fire, stealing the flame and passing it along. We’ve listened to eternal promises; words that are evocative and almost magical. Words that have sprung from the mouths and hearts of people of vision and rare understanding of the ways of God. We began with the story of the creation of the cosmos and our place in it and proceeded through our wanderings and fallings to this time of mystery and miracle.

We sang a love song to the Light – an ancient melody that recounts God’s chasing after a people and a universe that so often turned away – a song of love bounding back and forth from God to us and back again.

And after the sun rose, we’ve renewed our promises of baptism and washed our faces in the holy water we made when we plunged the Light into the same water and called on the Holy Spirit for sanctification.

Not all of the above are rational acts! We’ve stopped short of painting ourselves blue and jumping over the fire! But we have recognized powerful holy images and memories that go far beyond what our minds can easily grasp. We have allowed our longing for beauty and union with God to soar beyond West Park and Holy Cross Monastery, beyond diocese and Church, beyond the skies and the stars into the cosmic wonder of God’s creative longing that we call Trinity.

Heart boggling as well as mind boggling! Who can plumb the depths of all this?
None of us, I feel.

I love all that wonder, all that connection like a river that flows through the cosmos. I am speechless in the face of that power of the love of the Creator. I am amazed that it is so. And that should be enough for anyone.

But it’s not sufficient for me. Wonder, silence, amazement are not enough. They give me chills but they don’t take me far enough. They can let me off the hook.

They don’t put food on the table of the poor; they don’t penetrate the loneliness of the widow; they don’t push me beyond the mystery to the new Life Christ brings to all by the Resurrection.

That’s why I love this story from the Gospel. A story of another garden and a broken hearted woman and a working man. A story about a cry of emptiness and longing and a fear that grief will never be relieved. A story of a spoken Word that brings more wonder than we can ask or imagine. The man speaks a name and all the cosmos reels with new life.

The Christ speaks and in his speaking he says the right thing. The thing the woman must hear. The thing all of creation longs to hear. He speaks her name and she is recognized and restored.

This is the beginning for us of the Holy – this is when we hear beyond the stars and the galaxies and the seas and the winds, this is when we hear who we are and who we are to be. And hearing, this is when we know Christ lives and we are alive in him. And the call goes further and further. If I am risen in Christ then I must speak the name; the name of love to all the unlovely; the name of nourishment to all the hungry; the name of recognition to the anonymous lost. The name of God to God’s beloved. That is wonder, that is awe, that is love. That is enough! Alleluia!

Good Friday - 22 Apr 2011

Holy Cross Monastery, West Park, NY
Br. Adam D. McCoy, OHC
Good Friday - April 22, 2011

Isaiah 52:13-53:12
Hebrews 10:1-25
John 18:1-19:37

Every year on Good Friday I look out at the congregation and hope that there is someone there who is hearing the Passion for the first time. I wonder what it would be like to hear it as something completely new, to be caught up in its drama with no preconceptions, to meet its characters and hear its words and feel its emotion completely fresh. Is that person here today?

What is the power of the Passion story? Is the power in the retelling of the final moments of Jesus of Nazareth, with its memorable characters, words and actions? Is the power in its superb narrative, stripped to the bone, so to speak, stark and plain, leaving, as the best stories do, room for our imagination to insert ourselves into the action? Is the power in the figure of Jesus, at once humble and exalted in John, whose words and deeds reveal more than just glimpses of the presence of God? Is the power in that man, whom we have grown to love, brought to a grisly and terrifying end, which cannot help but move even the stoniest heart? Is the power of the passion in the art of the story? Or is its power in something greater than art? Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, and ... yes.

Because this is a story of power. It is a story with power, and a story about power, and a story that confers power.

What sort of power would an early Christian find in this story? Imagine an early Christian assembly, before the Gospels were published, before St. Paul had written his letters, before the stories of the disciples were gathered into collections and shared, in a time when the community was telling the story to itself from memory. The Lord is risen, His life is the life of our community. We really don’t know how. We hardly have words to describe why we believe, although Isaiah is a good guide. But at the center of our faith is this mystery: Jesus showed us the power and the wisdom and the life of God and died precisely because of who he was and what he did: God was in what he did and was in him. And the death he died was not the end but the beginning. What he said and did is still alive and growing, and in ways we have a hard time putting into words, there is a new power loose in the world because of him. The story of his death is the story of life. And it transforms the lives of those who begin to live in the power of his story.

As early Christians we would also understand that the story is about power. Power is real in the world. We all live with it every day. But the reality of power has been transformed by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. In the Passion narrative, the world’s power realities are personified by Pilate, but they are true of power the world over. The world’s power is a hierarchy, up and down. The one with the power is above, and acts upon those with less power. It is his business to get up in the morning, hear cases, make decisions, and supervise their implementation. Power, in fact, is work, in all its scheduled banality. It is the work of deciding things about other people according to the larger story of power of the system this person represents. It is also the worry that it will lose its place if it slips up. Today’s agenda is the same as every day’s: Public tranquility so that money may be made so that taxes may be collected so that the powerful may be glorified. Really, there’s nothing personal here. In the Passion story Pilate is urbane, even witty. He enjoys a bit of banter with Jesus, and at least at first doesn’t seem to mind much that Jesus gets the better of him. But the obscenity of this urbane chatter is in the fact that it doesn’t matter: There is a loser and a winner here, and the loser will be dead before sundown. Cat and mouse. Clever word games in the antechamber of death.

Except to the early Christian, the joke is on Pilate, the joke is on all the holders of the world’s deadly levers of power. Because God’s power is not like theirs, and God’s power will win. We do not need to be without hope as we are used by the powerful of the world for their gain and for their glory. There is another glory, another use to which our lives can be put: we are not raw material for the exploitation of our betters, but each of us is made for God’s glory, for a life in God beyond human imagining.

And because the Passion is a story of power and a story about power, it is also a story that confers power. People who have heard about, seen and understood what God’s power is and how it works and what it is aiming for are no longer easily fooled by the other kind. When told to bow down to that power as if it is God, they will ask rather what is the good it confers on its subjects. When told to pay taxes without murmuring, they will ask what public benefit public money is used for. When advised to reverence persons in high places, they will inquire of their virtuous life and whether they dispense impartial, righteous justice. In other words, they will give to the power of this world its rightful place: an instrument of God for the good of all, not a means for the glorification of those who possess it. When people begin to live in the realm of God’s power, we cast off the fear that poisons self worth, and stand and walk as God wished us to from the beginning.

You will notice that my pronouns are shifting from they to we. We are not early Christians. We don’t have to be. The power of the Passion story is still as much at work in our own day as it ever has been. In fact, it is hard to find anyone at all, Christian or not, who does not already know the outlines of this story. And why is that? Because the power of this story is that it is true. The power of goodness, righteousness and justice rests on a stronger foundation than greed, violence and tyranny, whether goodness, righteousness and justice are labeled “God” or not, and that’s the truth. And at a very basic level the world has learned this truth. It springs up in unlikely places and does inconvenient things to people who thought they were born to rule. The weak who die for good are never lost in God. The Passion of Jesus Christ is truth for everyone.

So we listen to the words of Jesus to Pilate once again this year, fearing what is to come, feeling the pain and the suffering he will shortly endure, but also knowing the truth about power. Oh the irony of the eternal dialog of the Word of God with the word of the world: "You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice." And the one who does not belong to the truth has only a witty question in reply: "What is truth?" And then, as a detectable anxiety creeps into Pilate’s voice, as he perhaps senses something else is going on here, and tries to get others to take the responsibility from him, he finds he really has no power except the power of death, unless he wants to betray his masters. Which he will not do. Which is his tragedy, and the tragedy of all in power who follow Pilate’s path.

The power of the Passion story is not the power of public order and exploitation administered with the threat of death, but the power of truth: Power, real power, is from God, does God’s will, and builds God’s kingdom. God’s power is built from below and side by side, not from above. Those with the least are the favored of God. The one who told us and showed us and then died for us when we started to hope we could live in God’s kingdom is the one with the power, power so different from what we are used to we can hardly find words for it. We can’t really define it, or even describe it. And since we can’t reduce it to a set of propositions, that’s why we tell the story.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Palm Sunday - 17 Apr 2011

Holy Cross Monastery, West Park, NY
Br. Robert Sevensky, OHC Superior
Palm Sunday A - April 17, 2011

Isaiah 50:4-9a
Philippians 2:5-11
Matthew 21:1-11

Next week at about this time we will gather around a bowl of water in our Chapter Room and be asked several questions:

Do you reaffirm your renunciation of evil and renew your commitment to Jesus Christ?
Do you believe in God the Father?
Do you believe in Jesus Christ, the Son of God?
Do you believe in God the Holy Spirit?

And we will answer the first question with the words: “I do.” And the others we will answer with the words of the Apostles’ Creed, which constitutes the ancient baptismal confession of the Christian faith. They also constitute the first part of what we have come to call the Baptismal Covenant, about which we hear so much nowadays in the church. Unfortunately, most of the time the Baptismal Covenant is discussed, these first four questions that comprise the greater part of that covenant are ignored in favor of the final questions about what we shall do and how we shall live, thus ignoring the fact that our actions are based on and are a response to our faith, rather than vice-versa, though of course the influence ultimately goes both ways.

We have had a bit of a conversation over the past few years here at the monastery about what exactly this sixth Sunday in Lent, this last Sunday before Easter, is and how we ought to observe it. There seem to be varying or competing emphases. On the one hand, we all know today as Palm Sunday, the day that celebrates the triumphal and rather ironic entry of Jesus into Jerusalem several days before his death. He does enter triumphantly, acclaimed by the populace, but riding on an ass…not your usual imperial symbol of authority, though one freighted with prophetic meaning. It is an ancient commemoration.

But today is also known as the Sunday of the Passion, the day on which the narrative of the suffering and death of Jesus is solemnly read in the churches. This, too, is an ancient observance. And as is often the case in the history of Christian worship, meaning gets layered onto meaning and ritual onto ritual. The strong emphasis on the entry in Jerusalem can be traced to the churches of Gaul and Spain. The equally strong emphasis on the solemn reading of the Passion story goes back to the Roman church. Over the course of centuries, they were combined into what is, for some, a profoundly moving emotional juxtaposition and for others, an impossible liturgical conundrum.

Let me suggest yet a third way to approach this day that inaugurates our entry into Holy Week. It too is ancient, so ancient in fact that it has pretty much disappeared. It goes back to the early days of Christianity, when converts to the faith were prepared for up to three years for Holy Baptism, which generally took place at the all-night Easter service. In those days, worship was usually secret or at least guarded, often for very practical reasons given the real threat of persecution in a hostile world. Only baptized Christians were admitted to the weekly Holy Communion service itself. And even those preparing for Holy Baptism would be dismissed immediately after the biblical readings and sermon. Only the faithful were to be present for the celebration of the sacred mysteries.

After a very long and demanding process of screening and instruction, those ready for Baptism would gather on the Sunday before Easter—today—and would be formally taught the Apostles’ Creed in a ceremony known as the traditio symboli, the delivery of the creed. The text of the creed was carefully guarded in those days, and there were all sorts of prohibitions against writing it down or sharing it with the uninitiated. But on this day, the bishop would teach it to the baptismal candidates phrase by phrase and expound on its meaning, so that when next week came, they could make their public profession of faith and be baptized.

What I find interesting is that this is likely the one and only time that most of these converts to the faith would ever hear the creed said aloud. The creed was not a part of the Sunday gathering or daily worship. It was, if you will, too sacred. The candidates were expected to commit it to memory then and there and then meditate upon it daily henceforth in their hearts. It was to be the framework by which all their subsequent life experience was to be understood.

We’ve come along way from that ancient practice. We say the creed daily, we print it in our service books and leaflets, and of course you can Google it and read all about it. I suppose that’s a good thing.

But the truth is many folks just don’t like creeds. They find them intrusive or exclusive, and perhaps they make them uncomfortable. Many see them as tests: you sign on here, you assent, or you don’t belong. And that, I think, is an unfortunate, and at best, a partial understanding.

Our friend Martin Smith in his book Compass And Stars has a wonderfully brief and solid reflection on the nature of creeds. I have shared it with countless people.

In the first place, he reminds us that the creed is the baptismal symbol, a Latin word that means a token or counter: “…like the stub of a theater ticket which is not the performance but will take us to where the performance is” in the words of Northrop Frye. The creed may be the entrance ticket to the Christian world, the Christian life, but we must not confuse the ticket with the performance itself. At best it is a good reminder of just what play we’ve chosen to be part of and what theater and what stage is ours.

Secondly, Martin suggests that the creed can be best understood as something like the list of first lines that you might find in the table of contents of a book of poetry, a kind of collection of first lines or chapter headings of our faith. They are not the final words, but the first words, words that have the power to set us off on a remarkably creative journey of spiritual discovery.

Finally, as Martin says: “The creeds are not official confessions of faith or catechisms so much as songs of defiance and the jubilant celebrations of tremendous mysteries.” In that regard, creeds are better sung than recited.

Today is the Sixth Sunday in Lent, the beginning of Holy Week, the Sunday of the Passion, Palm Sunday. But it is also the Sunday of the Creed, the day when our ancestors in the faith were given the words of the baptismal profession to memorize and then to use as the container and interpretive framework of the new life into which they were being ushered. We today could do worse than to enter this Holy Week with the words of the Creed that we will profess next Sunday echoing in our ears, opening us to their fulfillment in our individual and shared experiences during this Holy Week and in the coming years. They are words that give us the barest outline of a cosmic drama that will take us an eternity to comprehend. They are the first lines of a story that we will be editing and revising throughout our lives this week and the next and the next. They are our song.

And since they are our song, please stand now and join me in rehearsing again and singing aloud our baptismal faith. Harmonize if you’d like. And know that God will bring us to his Easter. He always does.

The Apostles’ Creed
I believe in God, the Father almighty,
creator of heaven and earth.
I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord.
He was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit
and born of the Virgin Mary.
He suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died, and was buried.
He descended to the dead.
On the third day he rose again.
He ascended into heaven,
and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
He will come again to judge the living and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the holy catholic Church,
the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
and the life everlasting. Amen.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Lent 5 A - 10 Apr 2011

Holy Cross Monastery, West Park, NY
Br. Scott Borden, OHC
Lent 5 A - April 10, 2011

Ezekiel 37:1-14
Romans 8:6-11
John 11:1-45

This Gospel story of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead is a challenging story in a number of ways. There are any number of miracle stories in the Gospel, and they are usually told in a specific way – the miracle occurs and then there is a discourse about it – in modern parlance, we get to process it.

In this story, we get all the discourse before hand, then the miracle happens. The ending of the story is abrupt and unsatisfying. There is no processing. Lazarus comes out of the tomb... the end... It appears we are meant to “pre-process” the miraculous raising of Lazarus.

Jesus is informed how sick his dear friend Lazarus is, but in spite of the fact that he loves Lazarus very much, he is unconcerned. The illness does not lead to death, he says. Eventually Jesus decides to return to Judea, where Lazarus lives, or by now we should say lived... All the disciples know its dangerous. Thomas offers the helpful suggestion that they should all go to die with Lazarus – foreshadowing? Sarcasm? Gallows humor? Or just a way of adding to the uncomfortable nature of this story...

We arrive at Bethany to learn that Lazarus is not just dead, he is, as the Munchkins say in the Wizard of Oz, really most sincerely dead... 4 days dead. The common cultural understanding at the time was that the soul departed the body on the 4th day, so John is making sure we understand that not only is Lazarus dead – his soul has gone to heaven. He's completely gone.

Jesus meets Martha – the active sister of the Mary/Martha duo, who has, true to form, come to meet him. Mary, true to form, has stayed home... Martha pretty much accuses Jesus of letting Lazarus die. “If you had been here, he would not have died... but nonetheless, we're happy to see you...” And in case we didn't get it the first time, Jesus has the same conversation with Mary when she comes to him.

The disappointment, the anger, the frustration of this encounter just keep growing. Jesus seems to have wanted a private time with Mary, Martha, and the disciples. But instead he now has a crowd of strangers following Mary to share this intimate moment. And, as they say... it will all end in tears... Mary is crying... the crowd following her is crying...

It gets to Jesus. In the translation of the Bible we use, we're told that Jesus is greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved. In most English translations the nature of Jesus' disturbance appears to be sorrow – after all his beloved friend has died. But if we were German Lutherans, we would be learning that Jesus became angry and indignant, not sorrowful. Roman Catholics would be learning that Jesus was perturbed and troubled.

Jesus wept – that much we know. But what was the nature of those tears?

Jesus knows that Lazarus will live. When he was telling the disciples that Lazarus was dead, he said he was glad for their sakes – this was a chance for their faith to be strengthened. Tears of sorrow for Lazarus don't make sense.

John, adds another detail that argues against a sentimental interpretation of those tears. The crowd that has gathered around Mary, John calls them “the Jews” – though we must remember everyone in this entire story is a Jew – the crowd says “see how he loved him.” They interpret these as tears of sorrow for Lazarus – and for John, the crowd always gets it wrong, always misinterprets, always misses the truth. If they believe that Jesus is crying because he loved Lazarus, who is now dead, then we can be pretty sure this is not what John wants us to believe...

Jesus wept. As I reflect on this, the shortest sentence in the Bible, I find another thought enters my mind: Jesus still weeps. I may not know exactly why Jesus wept with Mary and Martha and the crowd, but I know lots of reasons why Jesus still weeps. Many of them were in the litany that opened our service.

Jesus weeps because after 2,000 years of Christian worship, we are still fighting wars, still beating our plowshares into ever more fantastic swords, still making war, not peace.

Jesus weeps because we are still neglecting widows, orphans, the unwanted, the marginalized. Jesus weeps because justice is denied to many of God's children, education is denied to many of God's children, medical care is denied to many of God's children, food is denied to many of God's children.

Perhaps Jesus looks at the tomb and measures the crowd around him, including his disciples and his dear friends Mary and Martha, and thinks “these people just don't get it, they do not know my ways... they are too attached to the things of this world.” And he weeps bitter tears, tears of frustration and anger... the same tears that Jesus still weeps.

There is a hymn, one of my favorites, “O Master let me Walk with thee.” We sang it here just a few days ago. But the version in our hymnal has been sanitized... four lines have been omitted:

The first two:

O Master let me walk with thee before the taunting Pharisee;
Help me to bear the sting of spite, the hate of men who hide thy light.

Well that is a pretty good hymn verse – at least I think so... but its not so different from many others. It don't mind that it gets omitted. But the next two:

The sore distrust of souls sincere who cannot read thy judgments clear,
The dullness of the multitude who dimly guess that thou art good.

This verse, especially the last line, arrests me: who dimly guess that thou are good. This dull multitude that has gathered around Mary and Martha have made some guess about Jesus, about God, but they don't really know. They are not prepared to change their lives, let alone lay down their lives, for the Gospel of Jesus. Those souls sincere, that multitude – that's us... that's me...

When Martha and Jesus have their encounter Jesus assures Martha that Lazarus will live. And Martha says, sure, in the resurrection at the last day. Jesus responds “I am the resurrection and the life...” I hear that as a compound thing, but its really two things. Jesus is future, the resurrection, and present, the life. Martha is trying to look ahead to the future, to resurrection, and Jesus is bringing her back to the present, to life; just as Jesus is bringing Lazarus to life.

Certainly a great deal of Christian thought is tied up with salvation, with resurrection, with the future. Jesus is the resurrection. Jesus is also the life, the here and now, the present. We do OK with the resurrection part... its life where we get into trouble.

I can't help but reflect on the other Lazarus – we meet two in scripture. The other Lazarus is the miserable beggar outside the rich man's house. He has nothing but suffering in this life, and is rewarded in the next. Its easy to dimly guess that things will be made right in the next life and so we can slide a bit.

But that is not what the other Lazarus is telling us. The other Lazarus is telling us that how we live our lives is terribly important. That other Lazarus is directing our thoughts toward how we live in this world. It is not OK that we allow our present-day Lazaruses to suffer assuming that they will be rewarded in the next life.

This Lazarus, the one we meet today, is pretty much absent from his own story – he's dead for most of it, right up to the end... but its life, not resurrection, where this Lazarus is directing our attention. It is the living who give God praise, and at the end of this story, Lazarus is again among the living.

I find Ezekiel pointing us in the same direction. He prophesies to the dry bones and says God will open the graves, breathe life back into the bones, and they will become not just living people, but God's people – as Ezekiel says, “you shall know that I, the Lord, have spoken and will act.” If God will act, than so must we. We must act in ways of Godliness and righteousness.

The future is never in doubt – not for Lazarus and not for us. Jesus is the Resurrection. But Jesus is also the the life – will we live in that life? Will we do more than dimly guess that God is good?

The season of Lent is about asking questions, about examining ourselves, about challenging assumptions. It is through introspection, through self examination, through honest prayer, and through community, that we can step out of the dim multitude weeping with Mary and stand with Lazarus, alive in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Br. Charles/Julian's First Profession - 06 Apr 2011

Holy Cross Monastery, West Park, NY
Br. Robert Sevensky, OHC, Superior
First Profession of the Benedictine Vow of Br. Julian - Wednesday April 06, 2011
Br. Julian Mizelle was previously known as Charles

In just over two weeks we will celebrate Easter. There are, of course, many ways to celebrate that great feast, from sunrise services at the Hollywood Bowl to ancient and competing liturgies in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem.

Here at Holy Cross we will celebrate it, as we always do, with the traditional Western liturgical rites. It will begin in darkness with the kindling of a new fire and the lighting of the Paschal candle.

Just before that great wax pillar is lit, the celebrant inscribes a cross on the candle and says the following words:
Christ yesterday and today, the beginning and the end, Alpha and Omega. All time belongs to him and all the ages. To him be glory and power through every age forever. Amen.
It is, for me, a deeply moving moment, the very sum and substance of the Easter proclamation.

Our lives, our vocations are each written out over a brief period of years, but it is a time, a period, inscribed in a larger drama, in that eternal span of time that goes from everlasting to everlasting and which belongs wholly and entirely to Jesus Christ. It is with the proclamation of this truth that we begin our Easter observance.

Timothy Radcliffe, OP, once commented that:
The religious life [the monastic life] is perhaps in the first place a living Amen to that longer span of time. It is within the stretch of the story from Alpha and Omega, from Creation to Kingdom, that every human life must find its meaning. We are those who live for the Kingdom when, as Julian of Norwich says, ‘All will be well, all manner of thing will be well.’
And so it is for you today, Charles. Today, this day, this event, this hour finds all its meaning within that greater time and that greater story that is Jesus Christ’s and Jesus Christ’s alone.

And what a wonderful day it is. It is a day when so much of your fifty-four years comes together in a new and exciting way, in a way wherein nothing is lost and all is redeemed and set upon a yet firmer foundation and a renewed path. It is a day when all those graced choices and experiences that make up your life, that are you, are now offered to God to be transformed yet more: that experience as a young man welcoming Christ into your heart as Lord and Savior, that day where you were plunged into the cleansing waters of baptism, that day when you first fed on the Bread of Life, when you were confirmed, when you claimed the truth about your adult self, when you reached out to others in ways that went beyond your accustomed ways… and found God reaching back.

And these are only the public moments. How many more hidden, private, graced events do you bring with you to this ceremony? Each is an Easter moment, each a little resurrection. Indeed, the God who chose you long ago has done great things in you, and he is again doing something new in you… and through you, in us as well. In you, each of us is reminded of similar graced moments in our own lives, similar eastering times of resurrection and new birth. Today is a feast day for all of us.

Br. Julian signs the Benedictine Vow written in his own hand

But as we know, Easter comes only after Good Friday with its focus of the mystery of the holy and life-giving Cross. It is an event that is too little understood today, yet it is a reality that is widespread, indeed one that is everywhere.

Even as a symbol, the power of the cross is easily lost on us. Because it is everywhere around us, on our walls and towers and necks, it often becomes invisible. We get used to it. We fail to see it for what it is. We lose out on its power to shock, to challenge, and to convert.

One example. Just a few weeks ago the European Court of Human Rights ruled that crucifixes are acceptable in public school classrooms throughout the forty-seven countries that comprise the Council of Europe (an international organization with a broader membership than the European Union). The reasoning they gave for this decision is, to say the least, troubling. Quoting from the Guardian:
The European Court of Human Rights has ruled that crucifixes are acceptable in the continent’s state school classrooms, describing them as an ‘essentially passive symbol’ with no obvious religious influence. In its judgment… the court found that while the crucifix was ‘above all a religious symbol’ there was no evidence that its display on classroom walls might have an influence on pupils.
One is left breathless or despairing—or both—at this claim. But the sad thing is: it may be true.

I think of the story that circulated a few years of the English girl who went into a jeweler’s shop seeking to buy a cross for her necklace, at that time an essential element of punk rock couture. She was shown some very simple crosses in gold and silver. But she demurred. She wanted one, as she put it, “with the little man on it.” That little man… Jesus.

We have in many places and in many ways entered into the post-Christian era.

And yet the cross of suffering is everywhere, and it is everyone’s lot. It has been yours, Charles, as you well know, as it has been mine, and it has been and is that of every person present here today. And yet we know that our Lord Jesus accepted the cross—his cross and ours—so that he might taste most deeply our human pain and bear the shame, and take away the sin and redeem the suffering. How he does this is, of course, the great mystery of our faith. That he does it is the great hope on which all our other hopes are founded.

In the intersection of those arms of the cross, all contradictions meet and are reconciled: time and eternity, the vertical and the horizontal, here and everywhere, past and future, now and eternity. But it is a reconciliation that is bought at great price, where the old is sometimes gently, but no less often vigorously, refashioned and sometimes yanked out, where our many defenses are disarmed and the heart is opened to the endless work of reformation. It is frequently dirty work, hard work, humbling work, amazing work. It is God’s work in us and through us. It is the precious fruit of our obedience and surrender to that eternal story that stretches from Alpha to Omega.

In his Rule written in 1900 for the Order of the Holy Cross and referencing the story of Jacob’s dream in Genesis 28, our Founder says:

The ladder of the cross is planted firmly within the walls of a religious house and angels pass up and down that stairway. Our house is a house of God; let us strive to make it for ourselves the gate of heaven.
What a wonderful image. The cross as ladder, as stairway, as bridge, as passageway, as a royal road, indeed the royal road. Angels are indeed on it, but oh, in what strange and often disturbing disguises. And there too is God, waiting expectantly and patiently and joyfully for you and me and each of us here today to climb that ladder. Let us climb it together. Let us climb it as brothers and sisters.

One more thing. Charles, you have elected to adopt a new name. In the community from now on you will be known as Br. Julian, at least after we get the hang of it… though I imagine you will always be Charles to your family and old friends. Taking a new name is a sign, a sacrament, and a reminder of the change and growth that God is working in you and through you, a sign of a new emerging identity. Many cultures and societies and faith traditions do this. But always remember: this is not your final name or even your true name. Hold dear the words of Revelation 2:17: “To everyone who conquers I will give some of the hidden manna, and I will give a white stone, and on the white stone is written a new name that no one knows except the one who receives it.” God, and God alone, knows your true name, and in God’s good time that too will be revealed to you.

So we receive today your solemn vow to follow the monastic way of life for one year. But of course your intention—like ours—is that, unless it becomes strikingly clear over the next several years that this is in fact not your path, we are headed together for life. Bound for life. Life with Christ. Life in Christ. Life through Christ.

Charles/Julian… God is with you in this adventure. Your family is here with you. Your friends are with you. Your brothers are with you.

Come, let us climb that ladder. Let us together embrace that cross. Let our faces and our hearts be turned toward life… fullness of life, life lived in faith and joy and courage and peace and risk.

The Father delights in such a life. So do we all. May it be yours and ours, each of us here today. Always.