The Fifth Sunday in Easter: The Rev. Katharine Flexer

Kate Flexer headshot
The Rev. Katharine Flexer

Peter was himself disgusted by the vision, so maybe that’s the point, to give us a sense of how strong a reaction he had to hanging out with those Gentiles. Fine. We get it that we stink. But Acts has to go through the whole story not once but twice: first it happens in all its gory detail in chapter 10, and then Peter has to tell the whole disgusting thing over again in chapter 11, today’s reading. How about a nice salad for dinner then?

So, a show of hands: Is anyone else grossed-out by the story from Acts? Peter the apostle gets the message that all are part of God’s people, Jew and Gentile alike. Great message, and it led to us all being here today – but I wish the message came another way: Peter has a vision of a whole lot of animals, snakes, and birds in a sheet and hears a voice telling him to kill and eat them. Yuck. Ok yes, I was vegetarian for many years and still mostly avoid meat, so I’m a special case, but I’ve had a visceral reaction to this story since long before that – it’s just a disgusting image, a big white sheet with panicked cows, crocodiles and slimy lizards, ostriches with feathers flying, wildebeests, all jumbled up together and trying to escape, and Peter the apostle wading in with a fork and taking a big bite. If it had to be a vision of how dietary laws don’t have to limit our lives, why not just a ham sandwich on a plate and a glass of milk? Or some mussels and fries? But no.

Especially because ‘get up, kill, and eat,’ is just about the opposite set of instructions than we need today. Americans already eat way too much meat. And it’s one of the reasons our planet is dying. But, some Christians say, that’s ok! After all, like Revelation today tells us, God will create a new heaven and a new earth after we’ve finished off this one and killed the sea. So taking care of this planet doesn’t really matter. Let’s go ahead and polish off those reptiles.

Now I suspect that we don’t have many here today who think along these lines. I don’t know many New Yorkers who argue about the facts of climate change. Some of you probably even recycle more than you used to, though this West Coaster can’t help but be amazed how many don’t bother. You might save up your food scraps for the NYC compost bins and carry a reusable bag to the grocery store. You might already have LED light bulbs, and maybe you’re eating less meat than you used to. Every little bit of our consumer choices and actions makes a difference, as we all hear over and over again, and we might be finally paying more attention to that in these last few years.

And I know that many of you have talked about how you experience God sometimes even more in nature than in church – that there is something about the sunset and the ocean waves, or the birdsong and the green woods, that stirs you to awe and wonder. Even if you’d never in a million years go along on a St Michael’s church hike in Harriman Park, you enjoy your walk through Central Park and the freshness of the air there. You already feel some sense of God being revealed in creation. You know that caring for our creation is important.

But here’s where I’m going: God used the image of a sheet full of animals as a sign to get Peter to see that the divisions of in and out, people chosen and people scorned, was not God’s desire for the world. And for us, mass extinction, extreme weather, and rising sea levels are a sign too, a sign that something is terribly wrong…all of it a disastrous symptom of our disordered existence. It’s not just about how we feel about sunsets and trees. The sickness of our planet in the 21st century shows that our presence in this world continues to be a problem. We still can’t get right our connection to and relationship with all that God has made.

There was an article in the NY Times the other day about communities in America’s heartland responding to climate change. In places like Davenport, Iowa, and Clarksville, Missouri, where the rivers have flooded this spring, cities are taking steps to protect against and plan for climate change – but without saying the words ‘climate change.’ Because saying those words is deemed too political. One mayor said that taking a stand on climate change would be too divisive. So instead they’re dealing with it, but just not calling it by name. I suppose that’s better than actively attacking attempts to save our planet, as some others are doing. But the whole thing boggles my mind. Why on earth did climate change become a topic for partisan debate? I cannot see how anyone benefits from denying that it is real, except probably the executives of oil and gas companies – who actually have been planning for climate change for years themselves. Maybe someone can explain it to me after the service.

But maybe people’s resistance to this science is more personal than that. Maybe it’s simply that to accept our role in the environmental crisis asks too much of us to be comfortable to most people. It requires us to make too great a change in our own lives. To acknowledge that the way we live is harming our planet is to acknowledge that our lifestyles are harmful and sinful and out of control – and that those of our parents and grandparents were too. Maybe that’s just more truth than we want to deal with – and more change than we want to make.

Climate change shows us, I believe, that we cannot keep objectifying others for our own use. We’ve allowed ourselves to settle into an ‘I-It’ relationship rather than ‘I-Thou’ – where I relate to the other as an object, not as another being with whom I am in relationship. We live as consumers, not as members of community. I’m not connected to you, I’m the only one whose desires matter, I can take what I want unless you fight to stop me. It’s the world according to Thomas Hobbes – nasty, brutish, and short. There’s a reason, I think, the show ‘Game of Thrones’ is appealing to so many – the fight for power and resources is our basic sense of the world. We do this in our jobs in the pursuit of money and legal victory, in our schools in the climb up the ladder and the ranking of who is better than whom. We do this in our relationships, where my pleasure and my happiness are paramount, greater than such things as fidelity, duty, placing the other person’s needs before my own. We do this even with our own bodies, trying to plump them up and slim them down for our next selfie profile shot. And we do this above all in our treatment of the whole of creation beyond ourselves. We act like it’s all there for the taking – even as mass extinctions and ecological devastation take it forever out of our reach.

Jesus tells his disciples that the one commandment they have to follow is to love one another as he loved us. It’s the one thing he expects of us. So simple. And yet to love as God loves – to love the creation just as the one who created it loves all that she made; to love in a way that means pouring ourselves out for another, laying down our life for the other; to love knowing that our very breath is a sharing in spirit with one another – that’s not so simple; that is everything. And if we understood that love as something to share with all of creation? Because we all, plants, birds, animals, all, are created and loved by God? What might that change in how we live?

I’m sure you’ve all seen lists of ways to live more lightly on the earth, which require paying attention to what we buy and what we throw away, and yes, eating less meat, whether it comes in sheets or not. I won’t go into all that here. But consider – or be reminded – that doing so is not just a good civic duty, but is truly a faithful way to live. Living as stewards of creation, all of it made by God in its wonderful complexity. Living as part of creation, interconnected by our very breath with one another and the Spirit that moves through all. Recognizing in each creature the hand of God at work, for us to respond to with love. All of that is worth more than the convenience of a single-use plastic bag.

And as a faith community, we can and will do more as well. We already take in food waste from our neighboring stores and give it out again to people who need it at our Saturday Kitchen. Our facilities manager Raj is on a mission to change every lightbulb at church to an LED bulb. We’ve signed on to using 100% green energy in the last few years for our buildings. We have labeled recycling bins and food scraps pickup and sometimes we remember to use them properly. But we still use way too much throwaway plastic in our kitchen and maintenance, we’re inefficient in our purchase and use of supplies, and I’m sure further attention to energy use would show us what we have yet to do, and so on. Maybe you’ve noticed some of these initiatives, maybe not. If you’ve got a passion for this, I hope you’ll help us do more. Because again, it’s important for us to do this as a Christian community. It’s how we live out who we are meant to be.

Maybe that disgusting vision in the book of Acts got us somewhere, as Peter began to see that God’s world was bigger than he had thought, that he needed to change his whole life and leadership in the community. And maybe our shock and fear at the disasters unfolding around us can open our eyes too – not to the stupidity of the partisan debate, but to who we are created to be as part of God’s world. It should just change our whole lives too, and our leadership as people of faith in a world that seems so without hope. Love one another as I have loved you, is God’s one commandment – God’s one commandment to all of us, God’s creation. That’s love as an active verb. So let’s follow that.

Let us pray.

O God, the ground of being…forgive us from viewing ourselves as separate from and dominating creation; give us instead a humble sense of ourselves as belonging to the earth so that we use our skill and power as stewards of the land from which we come and to which we return, through Jesus Christ who took on our flesh, and with you and the holy Spirit lives and reigns, forever and ever. Amen.

The Fourth Sunday in Easter — The Rev. Leigh Mackintosh

You’ll never guess who I’ve been thinking of all week. Well yes, Jesus of course! But someone else…she’s always saying things like supercalifragilisticexpialidocious! – oh yes, this Mother’s Day I’m going there. Mary Poppins!

This week, I watched the new sequel Mary Poppins Returns. The film picks up 25 years after the original; the Banks children Michael and Jane are adults and the family is going through another crisis. One year has past since Michael lost his wife, his three children their mother; and now the family faces another tragedy – the potential loss of their family home, Number 17 Cherry Tree Lane. And so the magical, mystical nanny, Mary Poppins returns flying in on the end of a kite to guide them through the valley of deepest darkness back into a world of joy and laughter and love.

With all the trouble and tragedy going on in the world and in our lives, wouldn’t we all love Mary Poppins to pop in on the end of a kite string and offer us a bit of wisdom and fun? To show us once again how hope, love and imagination can free and shift our attitude towards life’s hardships.

If you think about it, the magic of Mary Poppins is not a flying talking umbrella, a bottomless carpetbag or the ability to jump inside chalk drawings, bath tubs and painted bowls and have marvelous adventures. Her true magic is her power to love everyone and be loved in return. That kind of selfless love does not deny another’s suffering, stress, or grief – that kind of love transforms, opening new doors when we are feeling lost or sad or afraid – opening us to see the world through God’s eyes – to believe everything is possible, even the impossible. The good news of the gospel today is that magic does not stay with Mary Poppins. We have this magic too – to love and transform our suffering world.

“When you change the view from where you stood, the things you view will change for good.” (“Turning Turtle” – Mary Poppins Returns)

This is what Easter is all about. This is what Jesus’ resurrection and return from the cross is all about! The grief and wounds may still be there, but they are transformed.

The suffering and struggles we experience in life may stay with us. But we can learn to live with them and relate to them in different ways. Grief and suffering do not have to claim all of who we are forever.

The goal of the Christian life is not to ignore or erase or move past the pain. “For pain that is not transformed will certainly be transmitted.” (Richard Rohr) The goal is to look upon the wounds with love and see God there.

This is what discipleship is all about – to lovingly pop in on someone’s life amidst their grief and struggles until the door opens to rediscover joy, love, creativity – until one is able to freely embrace a new life, new beginnings.

For the love born from the resurrection does not stop with Jesus or his disciples – it pops in to embrace those who suffer and grieve and struggle in all times and all places. We see this love popping in the Book of Acts, when Peter moves through his grief to courageously continue the work of loving, liberating and raising others to new life. We see this popping into Scripture in practically perfect ways like Psalm 23.

And when I look back on our four years of ministry together, this selfless Christ-like love is popping in this community. How we strive to help one another see and know that we are loved unconditionally. How we open each other to grow in freedom and joy in the midst of life’s sorrows and adversities. If you think about it, we’ve all been Mary Poppins-es to each other.

As Mary Poppins says, “Don’t stay too focused on where we’ve been that we forget to pay attention to where we’re going. Let the past take a bow, the forever is now and there’s nowhere to go, but up!” (Mary Poppins Returns)

The Third Sunday of Easter — The Rev. Richard P. Limato

Simon, Son of John, do you love me?

Recently as I was having some doubts about being up to the task of being in God’s service, I found myself rummaging through some papyrus scrolls of old.  I found solace in one that has never been released before.  In fact, you might call what is about to happen  “deacon – leak”.

It’s a memorandum to Jesus, Son of Joseph at the woodcrafter shop in Nazareth, from the Jordan River Management Consultants in Jerusalem.

Dear Sir:

Thank you for submitting the resumes of the twelve men you have picked for management positions in your new organization.  All of them have now taken our battery of tests; we have not only run the results through our computer, but also arranged personal interviews for each of them with our psychologist and vocational aptitude consultant.

It is the staff opinion that most of your nominees are lacking in background, education and vocational aptitude for the type of enterprise that you are undertaking.  They do not have the team concept.  We would recommend that you continue your search for persons of experience in managerial ability and proven capability.

Simon Peter is emotionally unstable and given to fits of temper.  Andrew has absolutely no qualities for leadership.  The two brothers, James and John, the sons of Zebedee, place personal interest above company loyalty.  Thomas demonstrates a questioning attitude that would tend to undermine morale.

We feel that it is our duty to tell you that the greater Jerusalem Better Business Bureau has blacklisted Matthew.  James the son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus definitely have radical leanings.

One of the candidates, however, shows great potential.  He is a man of ability and resourcefulness, meets people well, has a keen business mind and has contacts in high places.  He is highly motivated, ambitious and responsible.  We recommend Judas Iscariot as your controller and right-had man. 

We wish you every success in your new endeavor.

(Qualifications for Disciples, Stories for Preaching.Com)

Truth be told, Jesus knew exactly what he was doing placing the Church into the hands of his imperfect disciples.

He knows exactly what he is doing placing the future of the Church into our imperfect hands, even when we have doubts about our own abilities to respond to his call.

In today’s Gospel we find the disciples gathered before nightfall at the Sea of Tiberius (also known as the Sea of Galilee).  In a spot near where Jesus fed the 5000, Peter     leads the disciples back to what is familiar, fishing.

Perhaps we can’t blame him.  Like us, Peter and the other disciples, are on post Easter sensory overload. 

After the triumphal entry into Jerusalem, the soul wrenching Passover meal, witnessing Gethsemane, Christ’s betrayal, arrest, and Crucifixion, the disciples are numb, crushed and rudderless. 

Peter seeks comfort in the familiar. Even though the disciples have never really been successful at fishing without Jesus.

It’s a good thing that Jesus makes a post resurrection appearance.

It all seems like an ordinary moment, business as usual for this impulsive group of Christ’s followers.

The beloved disciple blurts out, “It is the Lord.”

Ever the impetuous Peter jumps into the sea.

While the others appear dumbfounded.

It all seems so ordinary, just another moment when the apostle’s need Jesus to tell them what to do.

Yet it’s rather extraordinary.

In this Gospel story, Peter and the “beloved disciple” stand in contrast to one another, and to the other disciples who stand around watching. 

One recognizes Jesus’ presence, one acts, while the others take it all in.

These allegorical examples seem to suggest that ministry includes all three, life – giving abundance flows from each, /our understanding of Jesus as Lord, /our willingness to act on our belief, /and our ability to keep watch for God’s presence in our lives.


Clearly leaving the empty tomb and notions of failure behind, the Risen Jesus is interested in getting everyone back to work.

He challenges the apostles; he beckons us, to show our love for him by caring for his people in the world.

To make miracles happen, /to offer gracious hospitality, /to gather all around his table, /to be generous purveyors of his redemptive grace.

After walking the length and breadth of Galilee and Judea with him, after witnessing his teaching, his healing, his sacrifice, his resurrection, the Risen Jesus beckons Peter, and the apostles to go forth in service.

And he invites those of us who have walked the journey,  – the length and breadth of Holy Week to this glorious Eastertide, to do the same, with a simple, holy interrogative.

Do you love me?

If we are ready to respond like Peter, we must be willing to act,  – to feed and to tend like Jesus.

We must be willing to proclaim like the “beloved disciple” that Jesus is Lord!

And we must be willing to watch, to discern God’s presence in our lives, to seek opportunities to convey God’s grace.

Responding yes means that we are willing to ratchet up our ministry, to take our service beyond our church, /to put our own understanding, /our own desire to seek opportunities for grace  – into action.


Understandably, there are many obstacles that seem to get into our way, obstacles that might leave us knowing and not acting, or acting without actually being able to share what we know.

This happens when our faith is over intellectualized, when we fail to understand and express our faith in the context of our own emotions and feelings.

Obstacles that become excuses, when we let busyness and the everyday distractions of life, the comforts of routines, provide a safe haven, so that there’s little time to tend and feed anyone other then ourselves.

Occasions when we find ourselves like the disciples on the shore too slow to seek or to recognize Christ’s presence at work in our own lives.

Times when we let our own doubts, insecurities and fear, keep us from God’s service.

After all, there is little if any security in unconditional loving. Jesus calls Peter to love and care for his followers and predicts a violent ending.

Yet, this Gospel changes it all.

Today’s Gospel puts the challenge clearly in front of us.

On the shore that day, Jesus encountered the disciples and accepted them, as they were, physically, spiritually, intellectually and emotionally barren.

He accepts us in the same way, wherever we are on our journey.

And invites us to discern how he is at work in our lives, to recognize the unique gifts that we bring to ministry, especially the ones discovered in moments of fragility.

He asks, do you love me?

Then feed.

Do you love me? Then tend.

Do you love me? Then proclaim and act.

Then proclaim and act.

Easter has changed everything. 

The mission begins.

Let’s look to Peter.  He obviously learned a lesson on the shore that day.  Here is advice from his first letter in Morning Prayer today.

“Maintain constant love for one another, be hospitable to one another without complaining.  Like good stewards of the manifold grace of God (my personal favorite), serve one another with whatever gift each of you has received.  Whoever speaks must do so as one speaking with the very words of God, whoever serves must do so with the strength that God supplies, so that God may be glorified in all things through Jesus Christ.”

(1 Peter 4: 7-11)

We encounter a Risen Christ who asks each one of us, Beloved Son, Beloved Daughter, do you love me?

The Feast of the Resurrection – The Rev. Katharine Flexer

But these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them.

Or as Pontius Pilate said to Jesus in his trial, ‘What is truth?’

A few days after the release of the Mueller report, these words take on another meaning. What is truth, anyway? When lies are just ‘slips of the tongue’ and we’re all hurried past with a ‘nothing to see here, move along!’ Maybe we’ll just shrug and go back to our phones. News good and bad all seems unbelievable these days.


The Great Vigil of Easter-The Rev. Leigh Mackintosh

April 20, 2019

Genesis 22:1-18
Romans 6:3-11
Psalm 114
Luke 24:1-12

Radio telescopes around the world allowed us to see a black hole for the first time. To look upon darkness 6.5 billion times larger than our sun immersed in spirals of light. To look upon the center of our galaxy (of every galaxy) and know that this dark mystery holds a universe of life in balance. Alleluia a world learned and grew and stood in awe together.

Out of the flames and ashes of Notre Dame Cathedral rose an altar, cross and candles unscathed. Alleluia, a world weeps together and waits in hope.

Last year, a heroic cave rescue gathered people around the globe to save a youth soccer team from a watery grave. Alleluia, a world prays and serves and rejoices together.

Out of black holes, dark caves, and fiery inferno, rises hope, rises love, rises community, rises new life. All of these are living examples of resurrection.

Alleluia for the dawning of resurrection in our day. Alleluia for the dawning of resurrection in your life.

This is the night we remember God’s power is greater than the powers of death and darkness and destruction.

This is the night we celebrate that God’s love is stronger in our hearts than hatred or fear.

This is the night we trust that God’s goodness is greater than the evils of this world.

This is the night we reclaim our true humanity. This is the night we strengthen the bonds of community as we welcome the newly baptized. This is the night that births the dawn of new hope, new creation.

This is the night of Jesus Christ, the risen one who lightens our every darkness, who saves us from every trial, who binds us together as one for the good of all.

Wherever you find yourself in this moment, whatever suffering or grief or struggles you are going through, whatever cross you are carrying, know that you are not alone. Christ Jesus the risen one walks with you. And he will guide you out of the depths into the dawn.

All our problems

We send to the cross of Christ.

All our difficulties

We send to the cross of Christ.

All walls of hostility and works of evil

We send to the cross of Christ.

All our hopes

We set on the risen Christ. (Kenyan Rite)

Alleluia Christ is risen. The Lord is risen indeed, Alleluia.

Good Friday — The Rev. Katharine Flexer

On Palm Sunday during morning services, a fire broke out in the Cathedral of St John the Divine. Fire fighters contained it to one room in the crypt, but for a brief while, the fear was real. And then the next day, Holy Monday, a fire broke out in the attic of Notre Dame in Paris. That fire burned for 12 hours and consumed all the wooden structure of the roof and spire, dropping fire into the interior of the church and burning there as bystanders watched, horrorstruck. No one will be worshiping there this Easter. People around the world are grieving the loss of that beautiful cathedral.

A few weeks ago dumpsters were parked outside of my parents’ house, our family home of 53 years. We had all been there a week before to pull things of importance out of the house, but even so, the haulers sent my mom a box of family memorabilia that we’d missed. My dreams are haunted by what else we missed, and by the potential future of the house, a dilapidated 1960s model in a neighborhood of quick sales and tear-downs. Most likely, we will never be in that house again.

Some fifteen years ago or so they tore down my 1950s era elementary school and put up a new modern school; around that same time the church I grew up in was torn down, as the congregation built a new, larger sanctuary in its place. I still remember being a kid in both places, and still feel sad that they are gone.

If you live long enough, buildings you love will be destroyed. And after years of telling myself the buildings shouldn’t matter, it’s really the people and the memories, I’ve finally allowed myself to grieve the buildings too. People around the world are grieving Notre Dame; I’m grieving the home I grew up in. The physical reality of our lives and stories matters.

Jesus told the religious leaders that if they tore the Temple down, he’d rebuild it in three days. But he wasn’t talking about the temple building – he was talking about his body. And on this Good Friday, we grieve the suffering and death of that body, Jesus’ body. The physical death of our Lord Jesus matters.

In some ways it’s strange that we grieve in such a physical way for a body that lived thousands of years ago. The actions we do here today, kneeling and touching and kissing the cross, receiving the blessed bread and wine in communion, moving around the space as we follow the stations of the cross, are physical, bodily actions. Christians of other faith traditions do this even more, as I saw in Jerusalem – prostrating themselves weeping on the slab where it is said Jesus’ body was washed, bending themselves double to reach down through the floor to the rock of Calvary. There is real grief as we do these things, sometimes surprising grief to us rational western types.

And we might say it’s strange that we grieve so in light of what we believe about the resurrection – that this battered body laid in the tomb is not there a few days later, that instead Jesus, changed and radiant, is back among his friends, that he is among us now, waiting to join us again in the joy of Easter. During his lifetime Jesus used the image of a grain of wheat falling into the ground and dying – which makes it seem as though the physical form that dies is simply cast off, unimportant, not something to grieve. The Greek philosophy that became part of Christianity early on taught that the physical body, matter itself, is but a pale shade of the spiritual realm; the soul is what is important, not the shell of the body that carries it. We’ve believed something like that for most of Christian history.

But our faith is incarnational. Right from the first story of Genesis, all creation is called good. We believe that God became incarnate in human flesh. Jesus tells us to eat and drink that flesh in communion, take in that very bodily substance, make God one with our bodies. Matter and bodies have meaning.

And so all the physical details of the story today matter: the crown of thorns and the purple robe; the striking and flogging; the hard wood of the cross; the sponge full of sour wine. And the sting and pain of Jesus’ wounds, his exhaustion, his thirst, his choking death. Jesus suffers and dies on the cross. We don’t gloss over it. Because the realness of it has meaning not just for our ritual today, but for how we live.

Not glossing over Jesus’ death means that we don’t have to gloss over our own suffering and pain. Some of us act like we do – we walk around with the stiff upper lip of our Anglican forebears, ignoring our bodies’ signals of distress and disease, and we pretend that’s a virtue. As if getting enough sleep and having regular checkups is the work of amateurs, not busy important people like us. If we’re stressed and exhausted, it means we’re living right. I speak from some experience here: I spent most of my first pregnancy trying to live as though it weren’t happening, unwilling to accept this new set of physical limitations on my energy and ability. And my past winter’s bouts with pneumonia had me irate for some time. It is no surprise that people like me don’t adjust well when we get a negative diagnosis. We don’t want to acknowledge our own mortality. But Jesus died – and so will we. Good Friday makes us look that squarely in the face.

Not glossing over Jesus’ death means that we don’t gloss over others’ suffering either. As some parishioners were noting in our Job Bible study, often people don’t know how to comport themselves when they visit someone who is suffering, someone who is sick in the hospital. We can all name together the ludicrous lengths people go to to cheer a patient up and assure them of their quick recovery – and all the ways they unintentionally make it seem like the illness is actually the patient’s fault.  C’mon, this is temporary! Stay positive, or you’ll get sicker. We find it so difficult to simply be in the presence of suffering, to accompany our loved ones in a dark and painful time. Jesus’ friends found that difficult too, the story tells us. In our ritual today, we commit ourselves to staying to the end – something the disciples could not do. We walk all the way with the cross – that might soften us to walk with others as they bear their cross also.

And not glossing over Jesus’ death also means that the suffering of the world matters – in God’s eyes and in ours. On our streets and on the other side of the world, people are suffering from poverty, disease, war, abuse. Suffering has been woven through the history of the world from time immemorial. Most of the time it is senseless suffering, not suffering we can claim as redemptive; most of the time it does not lead to a happy ending, at least not one we would write. But that suffering is not overlooked by God; and it is not to be overlooked by us. We see it and do not look past it; we have a responsibility to others in their suffering. When we pass someone in pain, we can’t just wall ourselves off; when we see the eyes of the poor, we can’t just look away. We may not be able to fix the problem and make the suffering end, we probably won’t find a neat explanation for it in our theology or philosophy. But we see it; we honor and acknowledge it. Jesus’ suffering is real – and so is the suffering that is even now being experienced, all around the world. Today we hold that too.

Ultimately, not glossing over Jesus’ pain and suffering is what makes our faith in the resurrection mean something. His resurrected body still bears the scars inflicted on him on Good Friday. The memory and reality of that suffering is not erased. We don’t get to Easter by jumping over Good Friday – Easter only comes as a result of Good Friday. This is not pie-in-the-sky wishful thinking, pretending that the bad thing never happened. Death happens. And death leads to life – we see it in all of creation in the cycle of every year, and we see it on this day. We look the reality of suffering in the eye and see beyond it all the same. Suffering is not discounted; pain is honored; and yet death is not all there is. Even on Good Friday, Easter is coming.

Good Friday is a day for mourning our losses, our real, physical losses – people and places we have loved and held and touched and which are no longer. We feel our own anguish, the pain and illness we carry in our own bodies. We hold the weight of the world’s suffering, all those in senseless pain even at this very moment. And all of that, all that real pain and grief, we bring to the cross as we watch Jesus hang there in agony. God holds Jesus in his suffering death; God holds us and all the world in our pain and loss. Good Friday is a day to be real. Good Friday is good.

Maundy Thursday – The Rev. David Rider

As the power and mystery of Holy Week intensifies, we gather this evening to recall Jesus’ final night with his disciples

All four gospels depict what we now call Maundy Thursday, yet they tell the story in strikingly different ways

Mark, Matthew and Luke all re-enact the Last Supper—John does not—yet only John gives witness to Jesus’ washing the feet of his disciples and commanding—mandatum, in Latin—his disciples to love one another

All four gospels tell about the Garden of Gethsemane, but only John captures Jesus speaking about his glorification—maybe the sleeper idea of this entire week—more than 10 times in our Holy Week readings

Maundy Thursday embodies a unique combination of intensity and serenity as Jesus prepares both to depart from his disciples and to mount the cross on Good Friday

On four Sundays during Lent this year, a group of our parishioners reflected sequentially on each of the four gospel accounts of Holy Week, including Maundy Thursday

In Mark and Matthew—the two most similar—we noted the stark nature of the events, of Jesus’ aloneness and god-forsakenness as key ingredients of his identifying with our human nature

Also in Mark and Matthew, the pessimism about our human condition is most poignant, as the disciples—our proxy—deny Jesus, fall asleep at the switch tonight, and scatter in terror

Luke’s account, which we heard last Sunday, might be called the kinder, gentler version of Holy Week, where Jesus remains in continuous and intimate prayerful conversation with the Heavenly Father, gives the disciples the benefit of the doubt when they fall asleep because they were exhausted, and cries out tomorrow, “Forgive them, for they know not what they do.”

In a wonderful tradition that now is embedded in our current Prayer Book, we read from Mark, Matthew or Luke—the so-called Synoptic Gospels—in a 3-year rotation on Palm Sunday (four days ago, we heard from Luke)

After Palm Sunday, however, for the remainder of Holy Week we always read from John’s Gospel, including Maundy Thursday and Good Friday

In John’s account, Jesus never is victim nor overwhelmed by the events of Holy Week; he freely lays down his life as an act of generous love, and he freely takes up his life again (JN 10:17-18)

In John’s Gospel, Jesus is conscious of his pre-existence that dates back to the Big Bang—In the beginning…—and Jesus remains fully in charge of every step, including our reading tonight

In Gethsemane (John 18:1-12), there is no prayer for the cup to pass: Jesus drinks this cup to glorify God’s purpose

Jesus does not lie or kneel on the ground—prostration would be inconceivable to John

As we heard a few minutes ago, Jesus is not surprised by Judas and the arresting party—in fact, Jesus goes out to meet them

Jesus and the Father are one—there is no abandonment or forsakenness or dereliction in John’s account

Jesus remains eager to drink the cup the Father has given him (JN 18:11)

Jesus already has conquered the world: John mixes this intensity and serenity like no other gospel writer

As I mentioned at the outset, John—and only John—gives us tonight’s story of foot washing

It starts with an assertion of Jesus’ knowledge and power: he knew, John tells us, that his hour had come to depart from this world—departing becomes a larger motif than struggle

During supper—it might be the Last Supper, but John does not go there—Jesus gets up for a final teaching that radically upends traditional notions of power and authority

Jesus strips down, begins to wash the disciples’ feet and wipes them dry with the towel that is still around his waist—an incredible example of servanthood and intimacy

When Simon Peter once again goes into his Ready, Fire, Aim mode, Jesus rebukes him and demands that he wash Simon Peter’s feet as a requirement of their relationship—by the way, that sounds like very conditional love

In doing so, Jesus embodies a core value of Christianity: that we must serve one another in ways non-believers fail to understand

If that’s not outrageous enough, Jesus delivers his final paradoxical challenge to his disciples: Jesus does not admonish but mandates that we love one another

Talk about a paradoxical, counter-cultural command that remains as applicable today as when Jesus first uttered it

I do not suggest, Jesus says, but I command that you love one another—not simply familiar friends, but strangers, enemies, recalcitrant eccentrics, the repugnant, and everyone else who walks this earth

This mandate alone brings new vision and faithful perspective to today’s intractable debate on the stranger and immigrant at our border

Maundy Thursday brings together three key pieces of the Holy Week narrative, stories that bind together Holy Week itself but also point to the core of our Christian DNA throughout the year

  1.  Servant ministry that includes the mandatum to love one another
  •  The Last Supper and our core faith in a Eucharistic theology of Christ’s presence among us when we break bread together in faith
  • A night spent in the Garden of Gethsemane, watching and waiting with Christ in ways we often re-enact when we sit at the bedside of a dying loved one and pray for his or her holy death

In our worship tonight, we re-live all three as we wash one another’s feet, celebrate the Eucharist, and keep watch throughout this night in quiet, prayerful serenity

While the original events no doubt had angst, a dose of cluelessness, and even terror among the disciples, John’s witness shows Jesus fully in charge with clarity and deep serenity as he prepares for his final act of sacrificial love before departing this world

In this spirit, I invite you to a continued night of mutual servanthood, Eucharistic fellowship, and quiet watching and waiting with Jesus in his final hours.

The Fifth Sunday in Lent — The Rev. Leigh Mackintosh

We Christians love our Protestant work ethic and we New Yorkers love to fall over ourselves competing for whose life is the busiest! Whose to-do list is the longest?

In our technologically savvy world, we no longer value space and time for transitions. We live in the immediate now and the what’s next. As beginnings and endings blur together…rest is needed more than ever in our society! We need practices that help us transition from one thing to the next – ways to contemplate and celebrate the movements of our days and lives so that we can be fully present to the joys and challenges God has in store for us.

One rich experience of rest was worshipping with the Romemu community at their weekly Jewish Shabbat service. Gathering on a Friday night, I was struck by how this beautiful ritual of prayer and fellowship freed me from the burdens of a long stressful work week. It gave me space to let things be — whatever was done or left undone — and to recognize it’s not all up to me. It’s not all about me!

What a wonderful way of resetting our expectations and remembering who we are and who God is.

Rest is not just a religious ritual or getting enough sleep. Rest can take many forms such as watching the sunset, taking a long nap on a rainy day, curling up with a good book, taking long hot shower, sipping a cup of tea with a friend, walking your dog through the park in springtime glory…

Rest is all these things and more. Whatever makes us stop and savor the graces and gifts of life. A practice of receiving the gift of God’s grace, peace and restoration.

Judas was resourceful, efficient, hard-working – he was a man-of-action. He had to be if he was Jesus’ treasurer! Can you imagine what it must’ve been like to be treasurer on Jesus’ vestry? Jesus trusted Judas with an incredible amount of responsibility and leadership — perhaps more than any other disciple. It must have been both exhilarating and exhausting to be in Judas’ shoes. Trying to balance budgets, pay bills and be a good steward of resources all for the glory of God on earth.

Why then does Judas, a faithful disciple turn thief?

Maybe he couldn’t resist the temptation. Or maybe he couldn’t deal with the pressures of discipleship and life on the road. Maybe he was drowning in debt or had a gambling addiction. Or maybe he wanted a raise. After all, he was the one counting the coins and paying the bills while the other disciples kicked back and had fun.

Whatever the reason, Judas stealing from the community is a clear sign that he trusted in his own resourcefulness rather than rely on God and his friends.

How often do we live out this same mentality — trusting in our own resourcefulness rather than God and community. How easy it is to think this way when we do not take the time to rest, reflect, renew.

I wonder if Judas had stopped and savored the meaning and joy of his life and work, would he have made different decisions?

Mary – the one who does not balance the budget; the one who doesn’t notice Martha needs help with the cooking and house chores; the one who pours a year’s worth of wages onto Jesus’ feet — this disciple understands the value of rest. While Judas is busy criticizing Mary for her excessive waste of valuable resources that could be spent on better causes, Mary offers Jesus an opportunity for rest.

Pouring a jar of pure nard upon his feet, Jesus is lost in the fragrance of flowers from the Himalayas — for a brief moment, Jesus forgets the trials ahead. He is able to stop and savor the fullness of life’s graces with friends and family.

Jesus who offers so much to others, Jesus who receives so little in his lifetime. Mary’s gift is all the more priceless.

Where in your life do you need to make time to stop and savor the graces? Where do you need rest, reflection and renewal so that you can be present to the joys and challenges ahead? How might you offer a gift of Sabbath rest to someone you know?

The Fourth Sunday in Lent — The Rev. Katharine Flexer

Kate Flexer headshot

The Rev. Katharine Flexer

The Fourth Sunday in Lent: March 31, 2019

Joshua 5:9-12  |  2 Corinthians 5:16-21
Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32  |  Psalm 32

Preacher: The Rev. Katharine Flexer, Rector of St. Michael’s Church

I’ve just come back from helping to clear out my parents’ home, the house they lived in for 53 years. They moved a month ago to a senior living place, and this last weekend my two brothers and I met at the house to gather things we each wanted to take. It was, as you can imagine, not an easy trip, old family dynamics mixing in with grief and sadness. So how interesting for me to have this parable of the Prodigal Son to work with today, with all of its family drama and complexity. (more…)