I have been given the remarkable opportunity to look through boxes containing the sermons of the late Archbishop Morse, to possibly be published by the American Church Union. They were written on loose sheets on lined yellow legal pads. Some were jotted on hotel stationery. Some had their own colorful pocket folders, faded and spotted with time, water, and tea, and some were bunched with others by topic. Many were written in purple ink, his favorite, earlier ones in black ballpoint. There were even some typed from his seminary days, with notes in the margins from homiletics professors.
I hadn’t expected to find such treasures since he usually preached without notes.
I soon sorted them into seasons of the Church Year, but many sermons could have been preached anytime anywhere, and often were, as noted by his wife in the top corners in her neatly penciled script: date, feast date, parish. Some were added to, so that a sermon from 1961 lived on in 2006, having journeyed through half a dozen congregations, each time changed slightly according to hearers and season.
I began to type, words of hope, words of mystery and miracle, words of love. There was always a sense of happy wonder at the works of God among men and in his own heart and life.
At St. Thomas Anglican Church in San Francisco on February 18, 1990, Sexagesima Sunday (today’s Sunday in the Church calendar), he preached something like this:
“We are in that wonderful three-week period of preparation for Lent, defined in the Prayer Book as the Pre-Lenten Season. These three Sundays are a period of reflection, and expectation for the severity of Ash Wednesday, the 40 days of Lent, Passiontide, and Holy Week. They are sort of hinges on the door that swings between the joyful mysteries of the Epiphany and the sorrow and suffering of Lent – the recalling of the passion and the death of Jesus Christ.”
Hinges on the door swinging between seasons. He was a poet. And, it occurs to me as I type his words, and now these words, that we are all poets searching for meaning, reaching for words to describe our human existence, to understand who we are. That is what poetry does, in the end, for it uses intense imagery to evoke sensory perceptions that will help us make sense of life. Christians have found such ways and such words in Sunday worship and so live poetic lives. We pray, and with prayer we use words to meet and touch the infinite, eternity, the source of all love, indeed, Love itself. We pour water in baptism to fill the reborn with God’s Spirit. We consecrate bread and wine to fill us with Christ in the Eucharist. We fill the finite – our own flesh – with the infinite. And we do this through the consecration of matter.
Sacramental Christians do not separate spirit and matter. The union of soul and body is the profound sacrament of Creation. In Michelangelo’s painting on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, the hand of God touches Adam, filling him with life, the life of His Word, God the Son, the Christ, the Logos. All creation reflects this sacramental action of love.
It is a beautiful day in the Bay Area today, this middle Sunday in Pre-Lent. This creation around us is windswept and cold, the air washed by last week’s rain. Puffy white clouds slip through pale blue skies, winter skies hoping for spring. The green hills reflect the glory of God, for they are indeed his creation, just as we are.
The Church Year reflects the natural year in many ways. The date of Easter follows the vernal (spring) equinox (nearly equal days and nights), for the Jewish Passover was celebrated on the first full moon following the vernal equinox, and it is recorded that the death and resurrection of Christ occurred following Passover. And so our days lengthen, become Lenten, moving toward that date of the Sunday after the first full moon following the vernal equinox, March 27, 2016, Easter, Resurrection Day.
The door of the season opens to preparation, penance, and hope. We scour our hearts and invite Almighty God in to dwell. We sing and we dance the liturgies of the Church to unite matter and spirit, time and eternity. Soon we hear the song, feel the rhythm, the poetry of words made flesh.
My calloused fingertips have been hard at work, carrying words and throwing them onto the keyboard, words that scurry across the screen and, I understand, rest in a memory chip or megabyte, to be invited one day to re-appear on screen and paper.
And so the bishop’s purple ink on the yellow papers, water marked and parched and smudged, moves from his fingers to mine, from his heart to yours. This seems right, for the recurring theme I have found so far in these joyful sermons is Love. That God is Love. That is why the Christian life is so love-ly, so full of love, so full of joy, of color, of music, of beauty, and of truth.
Christians, if they are faithful, touch Love itself.