Tag Archives: Gospel

Easter Flowers

IMG_0485 (2).3The glories of Easter and Eastertide lift me into familiar joy, one that I expect each year. And yet this joy surprises me with its nuances, colors, and music: the lilies on the altar, the flaming candles, the removal of the purple coverings, the triumphant hymns and processions.

Easter often signals the arrival of spring, and the natural world reflects the supernatural with sunshine. This Easter in the Bay Area a long desired rain descended from the heavens, splattering our dry California soil. It was a too-short rain that came and went quickly, but it peaked Easter morning. Still we were dry inside the ark of the church.

After the Scripture lessons and Creed, and before the sermon, the children flowered the thick white Easter Cross placed at the foot of the altar steps. They shoved bright blossoms into the deep holes, and watched the wood of the cross come alive. Just so, I thought, Mary Magdalene came to the empty tomb and found the living Lord walking in the garden.

The Gospel appointed for Easter Day, the highest holiest day of the Christian Year, details Mary Magdalene’s visit to the empty tomb in a manner found in histories, not myths or legends. These specific details had been passed from one generation to another orally in the early Church, and were recorded decades after the event. So it is not surprising that the accounts vary a bit, but in the essence they are the same: Jesus, their Lord, had risen from the dead.  

The accounts agree on another key fact, that the women, not the men, made the discovery. Had these resurrection stories been invented, those who found the empty tomb would have been men not women. And yet, remarkably, the apostles did not find the tomb first; they didn’t even believe the women when they ran back to their hiding place and told them. It is Mary Magdalene who makes the discovery, and at first she doesn’t understand what has happened either, thinking the body has been stolen, a detail that could not have been invented. 

In John’s account, Peter and John return with her to the tomb and see the linen cloths lying to the side. John understands: he remembers the scripture foretelling his rising from the dead. Peter does not understand and they return home, leaving Mary Magdalene to encounter the “gardener.” 

Picture 089Unique to John’s account is this moving conversation between Jesus and Mary Magdalene: 

But Mary stood without at the sepulchre weeping: and as she wept, she stooped down, and looked into the sepulchre, and seeth two angels in white sitting, the one at the head, and the other at the feet, where the body of Jesus had lain.

         And they say unto her, “Woman, why weepest thou?”

She saith unto them, “Because they have taken away my Lord, and I know not where they have laid him.” And when she had thus said, she turned herself back, and saw Jesus standing, and knew not that it was Jesus.

         Jesus saith unto her, “Woman, why weepest thou? whom seekest thou?”

She, supposing him to be the gardener, saith unto him, “Sir, if thou have borne him hence, tell me where thou hast laid him, and I will take him away.”

Jesus saith unto her, “Mary.”

She turned herself, and saith unto him, “Rabboni.” (Master)

Jesus saith unto her, “Touch me not; for I am not yet ascended to my Father: but go to my brethren, and say unto them, I ascend unto my Father, and your Father; and to my God, and your God.”

Mary Magdalene came and told the disciples that she had seen the Lord, and that he had spoken these things unto her.        (John 11-18, KJV)

The risen Christ makes numerous appearances on earth before his ascension to Heaven, but even with these accounts, many today do not believe in the resurrection of the Son of God. Some of us need help, it seems. I was one of those. 

I was converted by reason, arguments I read when I was twenty, made by C.S. Lewis in Mere Christianity. I made that first step of faith (I didn’t feel I was leaping) and found an Anglican church (Lewis was Anglican) to find out more. Experiencing my first Anglican liturgy in the spring of 1967, I was entranced, overwhelmed by beauty. I began the dance of a lifetime, weaving Heaven into my earthy world. 

I am still dancing, learning new movements and new steps, and enjoying the many other dancers in the Body of Christ, the Church, who dance with me and alongside me, helping and teaching me. 

And so, each Easter as the dead wood of the white cross comes alive with reds and blues, greens and yellows, pinks and purples, flowered by the children of our parish, I am thankful. I am thankful for Mary Magdalene and her faith and her witness to the glorious Resurrection of Christ; I am thankful that I could tell her story in my novel, The Magdalene Mystery, and in the telling understand how truly historical those resurrection accounts really are, deepening the belief I found forty-seven years ago, strengthening Lewis’s reasonable reasoning.

But most of all I am thankful for the Son of God among us, having risen on Easter morning, having walked the earth to appear to many, and with us today in the Eucharistic gifts of bread and wine. I rejoice in God’s great love: to be born among us, to live, die, and rise again, to take us with him into eternity in this world and the next.

Friends

I am often struck by how unique each of one of us is, and the miracle of this truth occurring again and again and again…. into infinity. 

It is like the prism of color we find in light, the colors that aren’t actually colors, but merging into those on either side. Where is green? Where is red? Where is blue? And yet every shade is there, to an infinite degree. It is like the perfect note soaring into a blend with other perfect notes in a string quartet, notes creating melody creating song, a song that echoes in your minutes and hours and days. It is like beauty, this unique person in a unique body. 

And so when I gaze at my friends, ordinary folks chatting around tables and milling in our undercroft after church I am often stunned by the glory of God’s creative power. I heard in a sermon once that each person is like a universe with its own planets and suns and moons revolving around one another. And yet the universes come together at times to form society, to gather in gatherings, to befriend in friendship. 

Friendship, our preacher said today, is something one works on. It is also a key and valued component of a good marriage. In friendship we look after one another, we sacrifice for one another, we celebrate and mourn with one another. We are not alone when we have friends, and to have friends one must be a friend, one must be-friend.

In our Gospel reading today Christ heals the man with palsy, who is dropped through the roof on a pallet into the crowd. His friends organized this operation, having faith that the Galilean prophet would heal their sick friend. Somehow, they open up the roof of the house and lower him in. They have faith. 

They have faith that the Prophet will respect their friend’s presence, lying on the pallet. They know that Christ will see this man as beloved and unique. They know that Christ will, in effect, see him. They are right.

Christ does see him. He sees inside of him, all of him, every shadowy corner. He says, Your sins are forgiven. He sees the man fully for who he is, good and bad. He loves him. He redeems him.

I have a number of friends who are crippled, or palsied, or maimed in some way. For that matter, everyone I know is maimed in some way, be it spiritual or physical, including myself. Yet the love of God sees us and holds us close, each of us. For we are created in his image, unique and miraculous beings placed in our moment in time. And we are given the power to love as he loves, respecting and cherishing all human life, from the womb to the grave.

I have been watching the video, War and Remembrance, a TV drama which reenacts the horrible holocaust of World War II. Here we see individuals who did not respect human life, who did not cherish each and every person created by God. It is a chilling reminder of a slippery slope.

To say we are part of the human race is not enough. We are much more than that. We are brothers and sisters, befriended and cherished by God Almighty, and we go through our time on earth breathing his breath, the power of his Holy Spirit.

My sister, the poet Barbara Budrovich, sent me one of her delightful poems, which, while this one is about punctuation, it is also about friendship, for our language reflects our deepest desires:

Who Am I?
Barbara Budrovich
 
I’m Comma’s identical twin.
 
With s by my side
I make others multiply.
 
Like our Ellipses
I stand for the missing.
 
I dwell in the sky
And bring–to the lonely–companions
Worth holding.

On Truth and Lies

I am nearly finished typing up The Life of Raymond Raynes, copying with minor changes the original work by Nicholas Mosley (thank you, Lord Ravensdale, for your blessings on this project). Those fortunate enough to have read Father Raynes retreat addresses, given in Denver in 1957, The Faith, will have a sense of what dipping into his biography would be like. Much of the three hundred pages comprises direct quotes from letters and speeches, so the text is largely Father Raynes’s words.

I am so honored to type these words. It is as though as I type the words enter my heart and mind in sacramental fashion. So I have spent a lot of time of late with Father Raynes, with him in South Africa, with him when he was Superior of the Community of the Resurrection in Mirfield, England, with him as he chatted about the faith in some of the great homes in rural England. (“House parties,” one retreatant called them, “all gin and confession…. they were wonderful…”)_

Our small publishing group hopes to produce more of these out-of-print books that tell of our Anglican way of Christianity. The more I live and experience Anglo-Catholicism, the more I am fulfilled by its rituals, sacraments, theology, and the more I appreciate our place in history and the telling of the Gospel.

Which brings me to interpretations, and ways of expressing the Incarnation and what it means. It brings me to the Gospel – what is it, what does it mean for me, for my family, for my community, my nation, the world. There are numerous answers to these questions, numerous interpretations.

Just as there are many interpretations of sacred texts. There are, our preacher reminded us today and I had to smile at its appropriateness for me at this time, interpretations of interpretations.

And this all leads to the question of truth. Can we know it, does it exist, are we merely beings of impulses and instincts. Is science so very incompatible with religion. I think not. They support one another.

My fifth novel, I hope and believe, will be released in May. The Magdalene Mystery asks these questions of interpretation, of truth. Can we know Mary Magdalene? Can we know who she really was? This question leads to the next, can we know what happened in that first century of the Early Church? Which of course leads us to Holy Scriptures and the challenge posed by many doubters in the last fifty years, can we know that a man named Jesus of Nazareth rose from the dead? Indeed, can we even know that Jesus of Nazareth ever lived and walked the earth?

I suppose much of this quest for truth is personal for me, since my father left his Christian faith and his pastorate in the sixties’ upheaval of doubt. He believed what he read, what so-called New Testament scholars were writing. The Jesus Seminar soon “validated” his new creed of unbelief. American culture, drunk with freedom from moral restraints, and celebrating the birth control pill, launched into a party that is still going on (the devastation caused by the sexual revolution is a topic for another day). My parents read themselves out and away from their living faith and into something sterile and self-serving.

So today I type quickly, my fingers tapping the keys. Father Raynes’s telling of the truth will be one more expression that will feed a culture starving for the real thing. Of course each of us must read, evaluate, and judge. That’s what free will is all about. But this biography that seems to be emerging through my fingertips, like The Faith, encourages each of us to decide on our own and not be swayed by media and false testimony. Father Raynes’s words point to true authorities, not bestselling journalists and sensational novelists and fads. His words inspire us to embrace the traditional morality of the Gospel, to see that right and wrong do exist, that selfishness is not an admirable trait. His words encourage us to have backbone, to stand up and be counted in our world today. His words encourage us to meet God and enjoy him forever.

And my little novel, soon to be in print, hopefully will do the same thing in a different way, with a love story set in Rome and Provence, and a mysterious quest with clues in breathtaking basilicas. A predator stalks, and folks spread lies like spiders spinning webs.

So I must get back to my typing and back to the joy of telling, retelling, and telling once again, making all these words come alive on the page.