Sunday, April 30, 2017

A Sheep of Thine own Fold

Yesterday, I attended a funeral. It was a celebration of the life of the Right Reverend David Standish Ball, seventh Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Albany.

The entire service - readings, music - had been selected by Bishop Ball himself, and, as the preacher told us, we needed to pay attention to the readings and even the words of the hymns. They all spoke of Bishop Ball's great faith and trust in his Lord Jesus Christ. The Gospel lesson was about Jesus as the Good Shepherd, and the homily included references to sheep, bishop's staffs resembling shepherds' staffs, and more. As I listened, I found myself looking forward to one of my favorite parts of an Episcopal funeral. I know it's strange that I have a favorite part of funerals, but here it is:

The Celebrant, facing the body, says
Into thy hands, O merciful Savior, we commend thy servant
N. Acknowledge, we humbly beseech thee, a sheep of thine
own fold, a lamb of thine own flock, a sinner of thine own
redeeming. Receive him into the arms of thy mercy, into the
blessed rest of everlasting peace, and into the glorious
company of the saints in light. Amen.

"...a sheep of thine own fold, a lamb of thine own flock, a sinner of thine own redeeming." Honestly, if I could figure out how to turn this into a t-shirt or coffee-mug slogan, I  would use it. The problem is, any change I could imagine that would make it meaningful to someone who doesn't already understand it - well, any such change would ruin the sheer poetry. But I know that I am a sheep of Jesus's fold, a lamb of His flock, and a sinner of His redeeming. I don't have to wear it on a t-shirt. It was written on my soul at my baptism. It is who I am. It was, of course, who Bishop Ball was. May his memory be a blessing, and may he rest in peace and rise in glory.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Something New about Easter

I was visiting one of my doctors, a faithful Muslim, and told him how wonderful Holy Week and Easter had been.

My doctor asked me what I learned about Easter that was "new". I was taken aback. I know the Easter stories pretty well, and it would be hard to say what is new, though each year I probably focus on something different. So I talked about the Harrowing of Hell, how Jesus "descended to the dead" during the time between his burial and resurrection. He brought Adam and Eve and Abraham and others out of Sheol so they could enter heaven. I said that I hoped that Sheol was outside of time, so that all those who die without encountering Jesus in their lifetime could be liberated. (Of course, that is not - as far as I know - part of Christian doctrine.)

What was new about Easter this year? Perhaps, in struggling to explain Easter to someone else I enriched my own faith. And perhaps I should make a point, each year, of finding the "new" in Easter.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Now We Wait

Today is Holy Saturday, a day of waiting, of holding our breath, of standing on one foot and trying to keep our balance between the tragedy of Good Friday, and the coming joy of the Easter Vigil.

I've read that the Tridium -- the days of Maundy (or Holy) Thursday, Good Friday, and the Easter Vigil on Saturday evening -- are all a single liturgy, a single event, experienced in three parts. How must it have felt for Jesus's closest disciples, going through these three days without (as we do) knowing there was going to be a happy ending? There they were, in what should have been the joyful season of Passover, suffering through an agonizing loss: suffering grief, and doubtless guilt as well. Should I have died with him? Why did I deny him? Couldn't I have shouted louder at Pilate when he asked if we wanted Jesus or Bar-Abbas? and even How could I have betrayed him? 

They didn't know about Easter, yet. For them the waiting was a time to grieve, and also to try to figure out what to do next. Go home? Hide? Split up? Every step at the door was terrifying. Just speaking in a Galilean accent was incriminating. They must have been beyond hope.

But we are not. We can look forward to the amazing encounters - Jesus in a locked room, Jesus by the seashore, Jesus on the road to Emmaus. I wonder, if only, if only Judas had waited a couple of days before taking his own life, and had given himself a chance to encounter the risen Jesus, what kind of saint he might have made.

This evening we will light candles, ring bells, and sing Alleluia with a full heart. But today, during the day, we are waiting. We are spared the terror of the first disciples, but not the waiting. The time drags on, and the waiting takes as long as it takes. But we know that in the end we will be able to release our breath, stand on both feet and rejoice.

So today, let us honor the waiting. And clasp the joy, when it comes, like a long-lost friend.