Monday, March 14, 2016
The Only Constant
The Only Constant
The Collect of the Day uses the turn of phrase; "that among the swift and varied changes of this life, our hearts may be surely fixed where true joys are to be found." If ever there were a fact of life that would be it! Life goes by so quickly. As my grandmother always said the older we get, the faster time goes by. That's why we stop today to notice something that doesn't change, that place in our hearts and souls where true joys are indeed to be found.
For Christians the world over the signature moment down through the ages is the moment we celebrate week in and week out: it is the Holy Eucharist. The Holy Eucharist is a living reminder that the Risen Christ is always among us. It is a reminder of that moment when Jesus and his disciples gathered in the upper room and broke bread together and after supper shared in the drinking of the common cup. Here we are two thousand years later doing the exact same thing as Jesus and his disciples often did and most particularly on that night before he died for us.
Something happened that caught our attention in the person and life of Jesus. Who, I wonder is this Jesus of Nazareth, for you, for me and for us? At the very least, he is the healer, the teacher, the one who goes to the outcast. He is the one who suffers and dies that others may live.
For Mary, Jesus was the one who touched her life and made her understand how much God loved her. God touched her life again the day he raised Lazarus from the dead. And here in today's Gospel Mary touches Jesus' life when she anoints his feet with very costly perfumes.
The fact that Jesus allows this to happen seems somewhat over the top for the one who went out among the poor and the outcast, Mary herself being one of those questionable sorts Jesus reached out to. Such was her love and affection for Jesus that she extravagantly and intimately expressed that devotion by washing his feet with her hair. She offended Judas we're told. He thought that the money could have been spent among the poor. Mind you, the Gospeller notes parenthetically that he really didn't care about the poor. In fact there were questions about how honestly he handled the common purse which he held on behalf of the disciples.
We are told that the Passover was approaching. They were at the home of Lazarus; the one Jesus raised from the dead. Good Lord, here he is throwing a dinner party for Jesus in Bethany just a stone's throw from Jerusalem. Jesus told these people that he was going up to Jerusalem where he would be killed by the religious and state authorities. They didn't really want to face the facts. For them the swift and varied changes of this life were very much upon them. So preoccupied were they with their lives that they really could not notice that the love of God as fixed in Jesus was the only true constant joy in their lives. The love of God and his power over sin and death was about to be revealed. But they were too busy to notice. I suspect the same is true for us much of the time. After all, the stresses and strains of modern life are very much upon us.
Such were the swift and varied events leading up to the cross; that they were hardly able to notice that the one thing that remains unchanged and unchanging is his love, his enduring, forgiving and reconciling love. I suspect that Mary had an inkling into this enduring truth. It was because of what Mary saw in Jesus that she washed his feet with her hair. She wanted Jesus to know how much she loved him.
The Holy Eucharist is a sign of this love. It is a love that goes both ways; God's love made known to us in Jesus and our love made known to Jesus and to one another in the breaking of the bread.
You will notice that the breaking of the bread takes a prominent place in the Eucharistic drama. The breaking of the bread is the liturgical act in the Eucharist that recognizes that we are all broken in one way or another and yet we are all healed as well by the ever fixed, constant and eternal love of Jesus Christ our Lord. Our relationships with God are broken as are our relationships with one another.
The breaking of this bread allows us share in the love of God even in the midst of all the swift and varied changes of our history. The breaking of this bread allows us all to "forget what lies behind and to strain forward to what lies ahead, as we all press on toward the prize of the heavenly call of God that we have heard in Jesus Christ our Lord". That's how Paul puts it in today's Epistle. And that's why we break this bread. That's why we drink this cup. The grace of this Eucharist gives us the wherewithal to press on.
Jesus becomes present to us in this meal, as does his love for us. Here we can come to the altar rail and pour out our hearts. We can share our fears and ourworries with God. We can share our gratitude and our thanksgiving. We can express our hopes and our joys. We can offer ourselves to God for the purposes of God in our lives. We can kneel there and ask God, what do you have in mind for me next? God know's I ask that question at this altar in these last few weeks I have with you here at St. John's. Here at this altar rail we can be reconciled to God and to one another.
The breaking of this bread reminds us too that we are all one family on this day, whatever else anyone can say, today we are one family under God. And we can thank Julia Caroline Whte for making this day possible. It's not just your family that is gathered here. It is all of God's family. You are very special to us today. This is a very special day for you but not you alone. This is a special day for all of us. Sorry for centering you out Julia, but it is you who make this day so very special indeed. Thank you.
We admit you this day to the Eucharistic Fellowship of the Church. This is the one fixed unchanged and unchanging fact of our life. You will have heard it said time and again:
"Christ has died.
Christ is Risen.
Christ will come again."
That's it! This is the very core of our faith. The unchanged and unchanging fact of faith. And our very lives remain fixed on this one fact. Empires come and empires go, but the Risen Christ remains true and fixed in our hearts. It is there with the Risen Christ that true joys are to be found. Fix your hearts there. Nothing can ever change that one fact, because nothing can separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. Yes, the Apostle Paul said that too.
I want to extend a special welcome to your family gathered here today, and welcome back everyone in the family to this very special moment in your life and in the life of this congregation. We welcome you all because we believe that God is about to do something new here. God is about to touch Julia's heart in a whole new way. Do you not perceive it?
In today's first lesson the prophet Isaiah insists;
"Do not remember the former things,
or consider the things of old.
I am about to do a new thing;
now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?"
As that applies to me, so too it applies to us all.
Do you not perceive it? At every moment of our lives, God is about to do something new.
Julia, as you come to the altar rail today with your family, may God's spirit touch you in a very special kind of way.
I feel so privileged that you have asked me to do this particular thing today for you and your family. It pleases me to know that such is the bond of affection that we share that we can also share this moment.
Ah but something else is about to happen within a few short weeks. I wish I could be part of it. But alas God wants me to move on to something else. I'm not at all sure what that something else is right now but I do know God wants something more out of me. God is nowhere near done with me yet. I will take a few weeks off to watch the tide come in and go out from my perch on my porch in Lynn. But as sure as there are varied and swift changes afoot in life at large, so too there are swift and varied changes afoot in my life as well and it is the Living God who is stirring within me, and not just me but all of us.
I hasten to add that I will not be able to come back when I leave. Just ask Fr McGin about that one. When your new rector comes he will be your new rector. Fr Paul and Fr John will both be part of your history. And that's just the way it is. If you want, you can come and visit me in Lynn, or meet me in Boston and we can have a bite to eat for lunch or I can take you on my nickel tour of the city. But we cannot talk St John's church business. We can only talk about our friendship and our shared journey in Christ. That's where our true joys are to be found and we can always talk about that.
That's just one of the facts of life in all the swift and varied changes that come and go. There are many joys and God knows some sadness, and pain in all this too.
But for today, we celebrate this moment, this one joyous, unforgettable and glorious moment. Julia we admit you to the fellowship of this Holy Eucharist here and for all times and in all places. The one universal constant source of joy in all our lives:
Christ has died.
Christ is risen.
Christ will come again.
In the Name of God, the most holy, undivided and eternal Trinity.