If you had been here

Fifth Sunday of Lent; 29 March 2020; Lent 4A (RCL); Ezekiel 37:1-14; Psalm 130; Romans 8:6-11; John 11:1-45.

This is puzzling episode in John’s Gospel. Why does Jesus delay two days? Why does Thomas say, “Let us go die with him?” Is he speaking about Lazarus or Jesus? Why does Jesus grandstand for the crowd? There is so much misdirection in this passage, it will require digging to figure it out.

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Virtual worship

This past Sunday (22 March 2020) was my first experiment at virtual worship. As the leader, it felt odd to stand in an empty church, and read all the words. I don’t know what the experience was like on the other end (and I haven’t got the courage to go watch myself!). Preaching was a very different experience. Usually, it feels like a dialog, as I follow the reactions on the faces of the people present. Without that, I was much more dependent on my manuscript.

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Who sinned?

Fourth Sunday of Lent; 22 March 2020; Lent 4A; 1 Samuel 16:1-13; Psalm 23; Ephesians 5:8-14; John 9:1-41.

Greek drama works a bit like Shakespearean drama – the critical bit happens in the middle scene. This chapter and the next forms the center of John’s Gospel, so it feels like something really important. And right in the center of this chapter comes the crisis.

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Drive-by communion

In this weird time, I’ve heard people asking about the possibility of drive-by communion, ya know, like Ashes to Go. Theologically, I have some real issues with the idea.

In the tenth century, a major shift took place in Latin Christendom. A ‘debate’ took place between Paschasius Radbertus and Ratramnus of Corbie. Up until that debate the phrase ‘corpus verum’ (the real body) referred to the Church, and the phrase ‘corpus mysticum’ (the mystical body) referred to the bread and wine of the eucharist. After that debate, those referents of those phrases switched: corpus verum began to refer to the bread of the eucharist (cf. the hymn ‘Ave verum corpus’ – a twelfth century hymn), and ‘corpus mysticum’ began to refer to the Church.

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COVID-19

Bishop Duncan-Probe of the Diocese of Central New York has asked us to suspend in-person worship after services yesterday (March 15, Third Sunday in Lent). As I stood at the altar giving voice to the eucharistic prayers of our little congregation, I caught my breath a couple of times, thinking this would be the last time we would break bread together for who knows how long.

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Living water

Third Sunday of Lent; 15 March 2020; Lent 3A (RCL); Exodus 17:1-7; Psalm 95; Romans 5:1-11; John 4:5-42.

This is one of the most complex dialog scenes in John’s Gospel, and rather befuddling. By the time we arrive at the end of the scene, Jesus has not received his drink of water, and the woman has left her water jar there at the well. Clearly, John is pointing us beyond the initial exchange.

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To be like God


First Sunday in Lent; March 1, 2020; Lent IA (RCL); Genesis 2:15-17, 3:1-7; Psalm 32; Romans 5:12-19; Matthew 4:1-11.

I have been reading N. T. Wright’s Paul and the Faithfulness of God, and I am convinced by his argument (summarized in his commentary on Romans in the New Interpreter’s Bible) that in the background of much of Second Temple Judaism lay the expectation of a completed return from Exile, or even a restoration of the cosmos.

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And now, for something completely different.

Last Sunday after Epiphany; 23 February 2020; Last Epiphany A (RCL); Exodus 24:12-18; Psalm 2; 2 Peter 1:16-21; Matthew 17:1-9.

The church calendar always gives us an account of the transfiguration on the Sunday before Lent begins, as the collect says, so that we may be strengthened to bear our cross, and at Easter be changed into Christ’s likeness. And the account of the transfiguration does feel like a resurrection appearance retrojected back into the earthly life of Jesus. But it is about much more than nerving us up for Lent.

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A greater righteousness

16 February 2020; Sixth Sunday after Epiphany; Epiphany 6A (RCL); Deuteronomy 30:15-20; Psalm 119:1-8; 1 Corinthians 3:1-9; Matthew 5:21-37.

Both the Deuteronomy and Sirach passages use a form of ethical instruction called ‘the two ways.’ The Psalms are replete with examples, beginning with Psalm 1. The Didache is a prime example. Matthew seems to use it for his own purposes. Rather than setting out a contrast between the way of life and the way of death (the usual pattern), Matthew sets out a contrast between the old way and the new way.

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Righteousness as salt

16 February 2020; Fifth Sunday after Epiphany; Epiphany 5A (RCL); Isaiah 58:1-12; Psalm 112; 1 Corinthians 2:1-12; Matthew 5:13-20.

We’re reading in course from Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount. We missed the beatitudes last week, because the Feast of the Presentation preempted the Fourth Sunday after Epiphany. And this week, the passage we hear opens with Jesus saying about salt, and ends with him saying that unless our righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, we will never enter the Kingdom of Heaven. This is a rather serious departure from the way Mark treats the Pharisees.

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