Monday, March 30, 2015

Passion Sunday Now and Then

Passion Sunday then and Now

At the moment of his death Time stands still!

The Sunday of the Passion of our Lord, Palm Sunday, has always meant a great deal to me. I loved getting my Palms as a child, the festive procession into the church, the wonderful music, and of course the dramatic reading of the Passion Narrative. It is a moment in the church year when time itself stands still and we contemplate the mighty acts by which our Salvation is given unto us.

It is also the Sunday I asked Cindy to marry me. I have often thought of how appropriate it was that we would happen to become engaged on that particular Sunday; Passion Sunday.

To tell you the truth there was a lot on my plate that year as there is every year for a parish priest. I was preparing all the Holy week services and I just didn’t need one more thing piled on. 

And so I said; “Just let me get past Easter and I’ll ask you then.”
To which she said; “A little less talk and a little more action!”
At which point I remembered the old English proverb; “The faint heart never won the fair lady.”

So I took the train to Boston and it was during that ride that I was shaking like a leaf. And I remember taking the escalator up to the 5th floor of the old Jordan Marsh department store where the wedding rings and the engagements rings were on display.

And I remember this all like it was yesterday. Behind the counter there was a diminutive lady by the name of Kelly, and I asked to look at the engagement rings.

She said; “Oh Father, you don’t want to be looking at those rings!”

Realizing then that I was wearing my clerical collar I said; “Oh this,
don’t worry about that, I’m an Episcopal priest.”

Mrs Kelly crossed herself and said; “Thanks be to God!” and breathed a generous sigh of relief and helped me find a nice ring.

I made a reservation at the Cafe Budapest, at the time, one of the finest restaurants in the City of Boston. I asked Cindy to go to dinner with me after church on Palm Sunday, and I think by now, she had a good inkling of what was a in the offing. 

And so it was, that after church that day we drove into the city and there was a lovely table set us with candles and a bud base and a red rose to greet us. We ordered dinner and a violinist came to the table and played exquisitely for us. 

I had put the ring into a Diamond match box so there wouldn’t be a bulge in my jacket pocket. Then I produced the ring and told her of my love and asked her hand in marriage. 

There was no hesitation, but a simple and uncomplicated declarative; “Yes.” We ordered a bottle of wine; “Egri Bikaver”, a popular Hungarian wine, the name of which means “Bull’s Blood”. I had  the Hungarian Goulash and the whole meal was a marvel.

When we got back to Cindy’s home to break the news to the family, Cindy’s little sister, Susan, just over 10 years of age at the time was alarmed at the news and said; “Oh no Cindy! Does that mean you’re going to be Irish now?”

That was 36 years ago.

Time stood still for us in that moment and for me, that moment still stands as the signature moment of my life. And the Passion we declared for one another bound ourselves to one another that day and since.

And we’ve seen each other and many others through many moments of joy and suffering since. As many of you have, through life and death, marriage and divorce, well being and illness. We stood with our son during his stroke and in the aftermath of his recovery. We’ve stood with parents at the death of their children. And life with all its joy and all of its suffering goes on. 

Time stands still for all of us with a love like this.

And Time stands still when we look to Jesus and a love like his.

We look to Jesus today and remember his Passion a latin word whose root meaning is to suffer, in the sense of a very intense feeling of devoted love. No doubt in his Passion you will see how much he loves you. It is a love so intense that we are bound to the Beloved in this Passion for all time. As two young lovers may do in their youth, or when they nurture and rear their children and then send them off into the world and then grow old together and eventually commend one another to God.

Time stands still for us in our Passion for God and God for us and in our Love for one another.

This Passion of our Lord binds us together forever.
Yes he suffered our of his love for us.

Yes he died.
Yes he is risen
Yes he will come again. 

And until he does we will come to this Table week in and week out where the candles are lit, the flowers are set and the music plays on. We will break this Bread and pass this Cup.

His Body and His Blood.
Received into our Body and our Blood
And we are bound together as those who love one another.

Hosanna Lord hosanna!
Blessed is he who comes in the Name of the Lord.
Hosanna in the Highest.

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of The Holy Spirit. Amen

Fr Paul

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Holy Week and Easter

Holy Week and Easter

We come now to the Holiest time in the Christian Year: we enter Holy Week. On Palm Sunday we greet Jesus with Palm Branches and joy at his triumphal entry into Jerusalem. And then moments later we read the Passion Narrative and contemplate the mystery of his life and death.

On Maundy Thursday we commemorate the Institution of the Lord’s Supper and reenact the “maundy” or the foot washing of the disciples’ feet by Jesus. Here Jesus turns the world upside down by telling us that the greatest among us is also to be the servant of all. The “Jesus Theme”; the first shall be last and the last first is acted out before our very eyes. And then the church is put into darkness as we strip the altar and prepare for the reality of Good Friday which no one will ever escape.

The Cross stands before us on Good Friday as a stark and yet glorious reminder of God’s power over sin and death which Jesus accomplishes in his Passion. The Love of God is triumphant in the Cross of Christ, as the haunting melody repeats itself each year; “Were you there when they crucified my Lord?”.

At the Great Vigil, we watch with all those in every age have watched with those who have died in the hope of the Resurrection. Jesus is the first fruits of that hope. The Paschal Candle is lighted and carried into the church. From this single candle the Light then fills the church with its radiance and then bursts forth with a blaze of glory. 

Easter Day! Jesus Christ is Risen today! Welcome Happy Morning! And the host of saints in heaven and on earth break into song. 
Alleluia, Christ is Risen!
The Lord is Risen indeed, Alleluia!

Our Holy Week schedule is as follows:

Palm Sunday Services
5pm, Saturday, March 28
8am, Palm Sunday
10am, Palm Sunday

Maundy Thursday
7pm Holy Eucharist, Foot Washing and Stripping of the Altar

Good Friday
Noon; The Way of the Cross
7pm: Solemn Collect and the reading of John’s Passion Narrative

The Great Vigil of Easter
7pm: The Lighting of the Paschal Candle and Celebration of the First Eucharist of Easter

8am Easter Day Eucharist with Choir and Music

10am Festival Holy Eucharist

Everyone Invited!

Many of you know of somebody who has not been to church recently. Here’s an idea. Extend a simple invitation. Tell someone how much you love your church and of how important this time of year is to you. Extend a welcome invitation to someone in the family, among your friends or a neighbor.

If ever there is a time of the year to open the door of our hearts and our church this is it!

There are many ample opportunities for us to gather for worship this week. Make sure you take advantage of those opportunities.

And Happy Easter to one and all!

Fr Paul

Sunday, March 15, 2015

The Conversion God Requires

The Conversion God Requires
By Fr Paul Bresnahan

Yesterday was an epic event for mathematicians at precisely 9:26:53am. That’s because when you place the numbers 3.141592653 you describe a mysterious number in the mathematical world and because yesterday was 3/14/15, the number only happens once in each one hundred years. MIT sent out notifications of acceptance yesterday at precisely that moment by email. Harvard kids held Pi parties. Mathematicians were beside themselves with delight. The number Pi represents the ratio of the radius of a circle to its diameter and is referred to an an irrational number in mathematics, since an irrational number is any real number that cannot be expressed as a ratio of integers. Wrap your head around that one. No matter how many times I read the words, my mind tumbles in humility before the concept. And yet without the concept we would be unable to calculate many essential equations and thus have our hands tied behind our backs in some rather fundamental human endeavors. After all, any homemade pie would be impossible without the number and that is an obvious and everyday application. The history of Pi is found in ancient Greece, India and the Muslim mathematicians allowed irrational numbers to be treated as algebraic objects an important step forward in the world of calculus. 

I find it interesting that Pi is thus called a transcendental and algebraic irrational. The very universal application of the number intrigues me. Its purity and mystery hold humankind under its authority and as a theologian I am intrigued by the very idea of the thing. I cannot help but wonder what it is that dwells in the Mind of God particularly when we try in our own meager way to plumb the depths of God’s being in any comprehensive way.

It makes me smile at the wonder of it all.

What then does God require of us all, in a universal way? That question cannot be answered quite so simply with either mathematical precision or purity. It is easy for us to get bogged down in our specific religious traditions and then maintain that we are the only way to the truth the way and the life.

Micah took a good stab at it when he said “And what does God require but to do justice, love mercy and to walk humbly with your God” ~Micah 6:8

But humankind doesn’t seem to warm up to such universal claims that God makes upon us.

In following the trial of the Boston Marathon bomber we read with interest the misguided words of the young man whose brother he says looked down the barrel of a gun and did not see death but heaven.

Talk about religious delusion!

On the other hand he does lament the death of the innocents, the victims of warfare inflicted on the Islamic world by the west. Yet, there is no such compassion or mercy in the heart of this young man for the innocents he wounded, maimed and killed by planting explosives in the midst of a festive unarmed crowd. What of that act of violence and terror? And such acts of terror are on the rise around the world.

It made me wonder what God thinks about the bloodshed inflicted by Christians, Jews, and Muslims on one another in the name of the one and same God. Sheiks and Hindus oftentimes do likewise and all of human history is stained with such religious fervor and in its wake leaves many souls so broken with grief.

Does God want everyone to be Christian? And if so what kind of Christian; Roman Catholic, Orthodox, Anglican, Lutheran or my own personal favorite, Episcopalian?
Or would God rather we all be Muslim? And if so which kind? Sunni or Shia? 
Perhaps God would rather we all become Hasidic Jews, or Ultra Orthodox, Conservative or Reformed?
Then again, like so many in our modern world, God may be fed up with the whole bunch of us and like Richard Dawkins or Christopher Hitchens decide it is not worth the risk of all the warfare, violence and terror to have any God at all to worry about and trust the world to the hand of Science and Secular Humanism.

That is a tempting alternative and many of our contemporaries have turned to it. As tempting as it may be for God to consider washing his or her hands of the whole thing, God cannot leave us merely to our own devices. For I believe with all my heart that when we turn our backs on God we turn our backs on the essence of human nature itself. For who is more at the center of the human heart than God?


The conversion God wants can be seen in all the great prophets. Again and again God has called us to return and then in the fullness of time we believe that God did something quite decisive in Salvation history.

In our tradition, it is seen most vividly in the person of Jesus whose claim on our conversion rests quite simply on the one essential Gospel Proclamation.

“Love one another.”

And then as is so exquisitely stated in today’s Gospel, “ When I am lifted up upon the cross I will draw the whole world to myself”
After all, in that cross is God’s forgiveness of us and God’s mandate that we forgive one another. That’s the only possible way forward.

When Jesus said “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father by by me,” many take that to mean that there is no salvation outside those two syllables “Je-sus”. Frankly, that just doesn’t quite have the ring of truth to it.

But if you were to say to me that the way of God and the way to Salvation is through the kind of life taught to us by Jesus
Love one another
Love your enemies
Be reconciled
Be forgiven and forgive
Then I would say, “You are not far from Heaven”.

Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness to remind the people that God brought them out of slavery in Egypt into freedom in the promised land. Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness to remind the people that the Evil One is still everywhere.

Mohammed, may peace be upon him, taught that is God is the All Merciful, so we are to have mercy and "Thou shalt not kill".

In the words of the Holy Koran we read as follows; "anyone who murders any person who had not committed murder or horrendous crimes, it shall be as if he murdered all the people. (5:32)
"You shall not kill any person - for God has made life sacred"(17:33)

Therefore the Conversion God wants is not so much a conversion to or from Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism or Atheism and so on, but to stop the violence in the Name of God, or Science or any other ideology.

Stop the violence.
Stop the warfare.
No more terror.
But instead
Quieten your hearts and be silent before God
In the Name of Justice and Peace
Feed the poor, visit the sick and those in prison, bind up the brokenhearted. And if you discover that you are persecuted for doing so, give thanks to God and rejoice, for great is your reward in heaven.

The struggle we face in our modern context is indeed a “holy war”; a “jihad” and our young people are being drawn to decide between the extreme of the so-called “Islamic State” or the way that leads to Peace with Justice without violence.

Many fall into the hands of the Evil One who seeks only to kill and destroy.
So too we in the west must turn our backs on so much warfare on foreign soil.

When Jesus tells me to turn the other cheek that’s where I get stuck. How can I thus defend myself?

That’s why this conversion is so urgent. 

Unless we find a way to Silence the human heart and bring justice and peace onto the stage of human history, then history merely teaches us that non only will the bloodshed continue, it will ultimately bring us all to naught. For as Gandhi is reputed to have said “The only thing that an eye for and eye and a tooth achieves is to make the whole world blind and toothless.”

This is why the only way to the Father is the way of Jesus. Shhh…not in the name by itself but the way of life for which that Name is shorthand. 

Therefore you shall 

"Love one another."

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

Fr Paul 

Monday, March 02, 2015

God's Laughter: God's Tears

Abraham Laughed

Happy St. David's Day by the way to all my Welsh and Celtic friends.
As you and I take up our cross to follow Jesus each day, no doubt we know of the laughter and the tears that life brings us.

It is, of course, a great joy when a baby is born and for us today when a baby is baptized. I rejoice with you all today as you do with me at the baptism of Bryson Fredrick Scott. This is a day of great joy for the church and for God in heaven above. And while it is unusual for us to baptize folks in Lent, it will not surprise you to learn that I am doing something unusual.

We are told in our first lesson today that Abram was an old man when his first child was born. To tell you the truth the story, as the bible tells it, is quite a funny one.

When he is 99 years old, God renames Abram which means “honored father” in Hebrew and names him Abraham which means “honored father of many nations”. God also renames Sarai to Sarah for she shall be the honored and blessed mother to many nations.

Well Abram/Abraham took a good look at himself and then at Sarai/Sarah and it tickled him to consider this promise of God. After all how was he going to break this news to his wife? 

"Sarai/Sarah, it looks like were going to take a long walk, lets say about 500 miles to the land of Canaan. So I’m 99 years old! And so you’re and old woman too. Come with me to the land of Canaan.”

“Why?” she may have quite reasonably shot back at him. After all this kind of journey at that age requires a great deal of effort. 

Not to mention all the packing. Cindy and I have to pack the car every week to just to travel between Sandwich and Lynn, and the conversations between us are always a bit funny as we consider what to take and what not to take.

“So why are we going to the land of Canaan?” she may have asked, again quite reasonably.

Ah then comes the poetry the beautiful Hebrew poetry; 
“And look at the stars in the sky and count them too if you can;
“Look at the grains of sand on the earth and can them if you can;
“So shall our ancestors be!”

Sarai/Sarah may have been a practical woman capable of bursting the inflated notions of the old man, the noble dreamer.

“So who have you been talking to?” 

Abraham fell on his face and burst out laughing at that point as the scripture says ~Genesis 17:7

The Hebrew word laughter is “Yitzhak” or Isaac. And so the child born to him, his only child was Isaac. God tickles us with so much laughter and joy in life. 

To be sure, there are the dirty diapers, the sleepless nights, and the ear infections. But the joy and the antics of a child so often tickle us with laughter.

Please remember to treasure these moments and be watchful too because the Evil One always seeks someone to devour.

I’m not kidding. We hardly missed a Sunday with our children at church. I wanted them to have the advantages I had as a child. I wanted them to know that at the very center of our souls there is a living God who loves and cares for us in every way. 

We were fortunate because our children went off to college and have become very fruitful in their adulthood. One of our young men got in with a crowd for a while and it was touch and go with the drugs for a while. There was an unforgettable night where the threat of an overdose nearly took his life.

But my children knew of God. The one who creates us.
They knew of Jesus. The one who saves us.
They knew of the Holy Spirit. The one who is there with us in every breath we take.

And because they know of all this they also knew of the faith of Abraham and this is what is counted to us as righteousness. It is not a thing we achieve. It is a free gift of God. God knows it is not the messes we make but the way we care about one another that redeems so much of life.

There is great joy and even laughter in that gift.
Do not deny that gift to your children.

God is the beginning and the ending; the Alpha and the Omega.
The joy of it is today with this baptism.

But Wednesday morning I was at the grave of a soldier unknown to me or to the church. But he asked for an Episcopal service in his will and I gathered with a few family and friends on a lovely snow covered hillside at the National Cemetery.

I said the ancient words “I am the Resurrection and I am the Life”. I read the burial office of the church. A soldier played the plaintive tones of taps. And a grateful nation gave the soldier’s son a flag.

God is there in the beginning with the child.
God is there for the old man and woman who bring that child into the world.
And then God is there for the old soldier who just seems to fade away.

Harder to take was the news that a friend died yesterday. Mark had been sick for only a short time and we knew it was serious when he was admitted to ICU yesterday, but we had no idea that it would come to this. I saw the news on Facebook. What is there to say?

I called his wife Nancy. Her voice had the sound of shock in it. I said I did not want to burden her with yet another phone call, but she said that a call from me would never be a burden.

She was not ready for this. She has no idea how to be a widow. All this had happened much too soon.

And here it is again. Like with my dad at Christmas so many years ago, like the time with my beloved grandmother at Thanksgiving, like the hundreds of times as a parish priest we are reminded that all our days are numbered. Then we are gathered to our ancestors and ultimately we are all gathered to You my God.

Yes to You. I am now talking directly to You. This wonderful and blessed child, the unknown soldier on the snow-covered hillside and my friend Mark. 

I call my blog Heaven and Earth and so it is. We know of earth all too well. We are rudely reminded of Earth day after day. 

But there are those who lay claim to Heaven as well. We lay claim to God’s Holy Word.
God’s Holy Word lays claim to us. 
And every week we gather to hear God’s Holy Word and then to embrace it in our Baptism. 

Mark embraced it.
Bryson embraces it today for the very first time in a very special way. 
How in the world can I understand the mystery of it all?
Obviously I cannot, but I can proclaim it. God’s mystery. The One who lays claim to us on Earth but not only there but in Heaven as well.

And so I am not here with you today to wonder about Heaven and Earth but to embrace them both as God seeks to embrace us all.

This is all I seek to do every day as God looks on. As You look on. And so let us take up our cross and follow Jesus.

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Fr Paul