Rector’s Messages

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What Would Jesus Do?

In some Christian denominations there is a tradition of moral discussion based on asking the question, “What would Jesus do (or say)?” Unfortunately this question in most cases is focused on individual, personal situations such as how to deal with an angry spouse, a disobedient child, finding a purse or wallet in the street, or faith-challenged friend in the hospital. These are all good considerations, BUT! We have to remind ourselves that in the Old Testament and much of the New Testament, the moral focus was not on individual morality, but rather on the actions and decisions of the whole community of Israel, of the nation, the culture, the people as a whole. Through action or inaction Israel had forsaken the Lord and turned to false gods. Judah had abandoned the covenant. Hosea’s message was that the whole nation had become an unfaithful wife and sharing her favors with other nations through unreliable treaties and worthless alliances. In the New Testament, Jesus accuses the whole party of Pharisees with hypocrisy, whitewashing the tombs of the prophets while acknowledging that their fathers had murdered them. Jesus proclaimed a New Covenant community, not just individual salvation. He came to initiate the new Kingdom of God, not merely to help you or me change our foolish ways. His kingdom was “not of this world,” but he was killed because it interfered with and challenged the values of the powers of this world, as when he overturned the tables of the moneychangers or required that people choose between what belonged to Caesar and what belonged to God. His disciples had to decide whether to follow the laws of Rome and the Temple hierarchy or the law of God as renewed and interpreted through the love of Christ.

Members of the early church could have escaped persecution if they had stayed at home to pray, quietly signifying a belief that “religion was a personal thing.” But no, they felt compelled to join in communal worship, gathering together to break bread and offer common prayer and thanks to God, as Jesus had commanded them to do, and praying “thy kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven!” Therefore, today, I want us to think of asking “what would Jesus do?” as a community, His church, His kingdom in the midst of the kingdoms of this world. What tables of moneychangers should we as a Christian community be trying to overthrow? The tables of Wall Street and the Banks too big to fail? The tables of the “one percent?” What work of the Good Samaritan, of those who helped “the least of these,” should we be concerned to continue through our voting and protests? The goal of universal health care for every citizen of our earthly nation? How, today, should we enable little children to “come to Jesus?” By helping them to discern right from wrong using mass media and social media? But perhaps also, showing our concern for their future by providing all social classes with debt-free, quality education not only through high school, but beyond. Perhaps, collectively as Christ’s church, we should affirm the message of his parable of the laborers waiting to be hired in the marketplace, and provide job opportunity and training for all, especially disadvantaged groups, in spite of the complaints of those who have worked harder or longer that “this is unfair!”

Finally, perhaps, as members of a diverse, worldwide Christian Community, we should insist that all our earthly kingdoms strive to actualize Jesus’ message to the Samaritan woman, that racial and religious divisions of the past shall become meaningless as we learn to worship God “in Spirit and in Truth,” not on this or that mountain, acknowledging “being made of one blood, to dwell on the face of the whole earth.” If all of this smacks of mixing “politics with religion,” I reply that together we should read, mark and inwardly digest our Scriptures, recognizing that as a “people of God,” as well as individuals, we hear a calling to be active, not passive, in bringing in God’s Kingdom, to strive – with Christ’s help – to transform the kingdoms of this world, not to withdraw from them or make false peace with them.

Yours in Christ,
The Rev. Dr. Tom Bauer

Do you want to know more about being a candidate for Confirmation or Reaffirmation?

Dear Manakin Family,

Nearly every one of you was baptized as an infant or young child at Manakin or another church. (If there is anyone who has never been baptized, or is in doubt about when or where this took place, we have a short rite of “Conditional Baptism.” Ask me or the office about this.)  Your parents and godparents made baptismal promises in your name to renounce evil and “accept Jesus Christ as Savior.”  They also promised to be responsible for seeing that you would be brought up in the Christian faith and life. Normally, in the Episcopal Church, this means that when someone is old enough to make mature promises, that person will renew his or her baptismal commitment to Christ in the presence of our Bishop and receive the “laying on of hands” in Confirmation, with prayer for help of God’s Holy Spirit.  Others may have been confirmed elsewhere and are received into the Episcopal Church by the Bishop.  Still others may have been confirmed at a young age, been away from an active faith and church life for some time, and may want to “Reaffirm” their commitment to God.  This also takes place in the presence of our Bishop.  Finally, there are some who are questioning about making such a reaffirmation, or want to know more about how the Episcopal Church understands the Christian faith and what it teaches.

Therefore, we are preparing for one of our bishops to come during April, 2018, two or three weeks after Easter Day which comes on April 1st.  We want those adults who would like to prepare for confirmation or any of the above-mentioned purposes to meet with me and Dr. Julia Eliades, our Christian Formation Director, to discuss possible times for preparation sessions and an inquirers class to begin in the Fall, or to discuss questions about being confirmed, reaffirmed, etc. We have chosen to meet after church at 11:00 a.m. on Pentecost Sunday, June 4th (for no more than 20 to 30 minutes) and hope you will attend.  If that is not possible, and you still want to be received or reaffirmed in 2018, please call Wendy in the office to give her that information, 794-6401 or to indicate that you will be present on June 4th.  Thank you, and God’s peace be with you.

Yours in Christ,

The Rev. Dr. Tom Bauer

 

The Ministry of Hospitality

Dear Friends,


Many Christians do not know that throughout history the religious orders in the church, monks and nuns, considered hospitality as a key responsibility of the religious life. Monasteries always included a guest house and were the only safe medieval overnight lodging available to travelers and pilgrims. The sick and crippled were also taken in, sometimes for long periods. In England today, nurses are still called “sister” as a holdover of terminology from past centuries of religious orders’ healing ministry and hospitality. The Gospels clearly state Jesus’ call for us to “take in the stranger” and visit the sick. The parable of the good Samaritan illuminates this aspect of the Christian calling. And do not forget how in the Old Testament we are taught by the story of Abraham that through hospitality to guests and strangers we “may be ministering to angels unaware.” The fate of Sodom was Gods’ retribution for its failure to show hospitality to the sojourners who were welcomed by Lot. We could find many more examples in Holy Scripture.

 Today, we Christians must find new ways to express and embody this tradition. Certainly it is a main reason why most Christian denominations support our active ministry to refugees and those who have been persecuted and driven from their homelands. Likewise, our parish churches are involved in programs to feed the hungry and provide overnight shelter to the urban homeless and troubled in mind or spirit. It is a ministry that has led to Ecumenical sharing, since in any given town or city one congregation seldom has the resources or manpower (usually mostly lady-power) to provide meals or lodging on a continuing basis, so, in most localities seven or more churches share the weekly round of hospitable service. Our churches need to consciously be places of hospitality on Sundays. Most congregations have breakfast or coffee hours, and everyone, not just appointed greeters, must show a welcoming attitude to visitors no matter what their race or social class. Do we only talk with our friends on such occasion or do we try to bring those we don’t know into our circle of fellowship?

Finally, hospitality is not merely doing nice things for strangers and visitors. The attitude we show to each other and to outsiders is of critical importance. It must be an attitude of kindness, not fault-finding or indifference. I will always remember the first time I heard a performance of Handel’s Messiah. It was at the Naval Academy Chapel, and right afterwards a young lady, who was a friend of those I was with, came up with a copy of the oratorio’s score and announced, “they made six mistakes,” while the rest of us were thinking of all the beauty we had just heard. Some of us seem to come to worship God with the same attitude, looking for mistakes in the bulletin or music we don’t like. I hope we can all show more kindness to each other in this regard; giving compliments and suggesting things that we would like, rather than looking for things we don’t like (which may be things someone else does like). If such an attitude of mutual kindness could pervade our gatherings, the atmosphere would be noticeable and attractive to visitors and newcomers. Episcopalians at large don’t do as well as some other denominations in creating an atmosphere where both grief and joy can be shared and where mutual kindness and real caring are evident and experienced. Some have called Episcopalians “God’s frozen people.” It is the ordained pastor’s job with the other church staff to join in and foster a positive welcoming atmosphere but it must be in cooperation with every other member of the community of faith, not as “professional” substitutes for a comprehensive spirit shared by all our members.

Remember the last worlds of our Maundy Thursday Gospel.   Jesus said, “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another: Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another: By this everyone will know that you are my disciples; if you have love for one another.” That is the true meaning of Christian hospitality.

Yours in Christ,

The Rev. Dr. Tom Bauer

 

 

 

Can There Be Any Day But This . . .” Part 2

Dear Friends,

Our Episcopal Church along with our Roman Catholic, Lutheran and Eastern Orthodox brethren has attempted to bring back the ancient tradition of making the Great Vigil of Easter on Saturday evening the first and most important service of Easter Day (like Christmas Eve).   In most churches that I have served, many people have come to love this service, even though it may be long if Baptism and Confirmations are part of it. The most joyful and wonderful experiences have been when two or there parishes can get together to plan it and have a bishop present for the service. In New York City, my church (Good Shepherd) teamed up with Transfiguration and Incarnation parishes so we could have a full choir, a bishop, candidates for baptism, confirmation and a full church. Maybe your new rector can get one of our bishops to come next year and make it our largest attended Easter service. This year those of you who want to come with me will participate with the Church of the Redeemer in this beautiful service (beginning at 5 PM). You must remember that in Jewish tradition the new day did not begin at midnight, but at sunset. For the early church, Easter Eve was the ideal time for new converts and families to be baptized and confirmed as Christians; to begin their new lives in the church on the day Christ was raised by God from death, vindicating his ministry of love and forgiveness as God’s anointed Messiah.

The service starts with the lighting of the New Fire (Agios Theos). This goes back to very ancient times (documented in 162 AD) when the Patriarch of Jerusalem would enter the Edicule, the tomb where Jesus was buried (now a free-standing chapel inside Constantine’s Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem) which had been sealed shut with wax. He would (and still does today) await the miracle of Holy Fire. All the crowd outside waits in darkness until the Patriarch shouts “Christ is risen,” and appears with candles, lit from the miraculous fire. Everyone else lights their candles from his, passing the light throughout Jerusalem, and sending it by messenger to the rest of the Christendom. Today, in the Orthodox church, messengers take the light by airplane to Greece, Russia, the Balkans, etc.

In the West, we also begin our liturgy by lighting new fire and from it a paschal candle symbolizing the risen Christ. We bless new water in the font with the candle, then we carry it into the church singing “The Light of Christ” with the response “Thanks be to God.” Next, the deacon sings a wonderful song called the Exultet, traditionally ascribed to St. Ambrose in the mid 300’s. The words recall the Biblical symbol of the pillar of fire which led the children of Israel through the Red Sea to the promised land and similar deliverances. The largest paschal candle recorded was 36 feet tall in Salisbury Cathedral during the middle ages. From the candle, all lights in the church and candles of the congregation are lit. Vigil lessons recall the mighty acts of God, from creation to Jesus’ resurrection, catechumens are baptized and confirmed by the Bishop and, with shouts of joy and ringing of bells, the Eucharist of Easter begins and Christ banquets with us in his new kingdom, renewing his pledge to us of everlasting life.

Since we will not be having an Easter Vigil here, our morning services will begin with a brief ceremony of lighting and blessing the Paschal candle (Prayer Book, page 284) The priest will sing, “The light of Christ” and people will respond, “Thanks be to God.”  (Hymnal S68). Instead of the peace we will shout “Alleluia, Christ is risen” with the answer “Christ is risen indeed, alleluia,” and also “Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death, and giving life to those in the tomb” (Prayer Book, page 500). That is the Orthodox tropairan sung in Greek and Russian churches. Another difference in the Easter service is that even though we do not have a baptism, we will reaffirm our baptismal promises in place of saying the creed (Prayer Book, page 292). Another ancient Christian custom is for a deacon or the priest to sing a special “Alleluia” after the Epistle reading, this is found in our hymnal #570. The people will repeat it back again. It is my fervent hope and prayer that as we reenact the events of Holy Week together it will become a powerful reality in our lives today and not just a charming story from long ago. I believe the words of the old spiritual “If you don’t bear the cross, then you can’t wear the crown.” Or if you prefer something more English and traditional listen to the words of George Herbert’s poetry:

Since we will not be having an Easter Vigil here, our morning services will begin with a brief ceremony of lighting and blessing the Paschal candle (Prayer Book, page 284) The priest will sing, “The light of Christ” and people will respond, “Thanks be to God.”

(Hymnal S68). Instead of the peace we will shout “Alleluia, Christ is risen” with the answer “Christ is risen indeed, alleluia,” and also “Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death, and giving life to those in the tomb” (Prayer Book, page 500). That is the Orthodox tropairan sung in Greek and Russian churches. Another difference in the Easter service is that even though we do not have a baptism, we will reaffirm our baptismal promises in place of saying the creed (Prayer Book, page 292). Another ancient Christian custom is for a deacon or the priest to sing a special “Alleluia” after the Epistle reading, this is found in our hymnal #570. The people will repeat it back again. It is my fervent hope and prayer that as we reenact the events of Holy Week together it will become a powerful reality in our lives today and not just a charming story from long ago. I believe the words of the old spiritual “If you don’t bear the cross, then you can’t wear the crown.” Or if you prefer something more English and traditional listen to the words of George Herbert’s poetry:

The Sun arising in the East,

Though he gives light, and th’ East perfume;

If they should offer to contest

With thy arising, they presume.
 

Can there be any day but this,

Though many suns to shine endeavor?

We count three hundred, but we miss.

There is but one, and that one ever!

 

Yours in Christ,

The Rev. Dr. Tom Bauer

 

“Can There Be Any Day But This . . .” Part 1

Dear Friends,

Holy Week and Easter are drawing nigh, the exact dates which are determined, as always, in relationship to the full moon date following March 21st. There are many ancient Christian customs connected with this Holy Week that help us understand and participate in it with deeper meaning and benefit.

For starters, most of the world uses a version of the Latin Word Pascha (Greek—Paskha, French—Pâques, German—Paisken, Russian—Paskha, Spanish—Pascua). All these are derived from the Hebrew word Pesach, the Passover, because the basic meaning of the feast is that the Day of Resurrection is the Christian Passover, and much of its tradition is meaningless, unless we keep this thought in mind. Passover is the anniversary of the great event when God delivered Israel from slavery and bondage in Egypt. Easter is the anniversary of the day when God delivered all humanity from slavery and bondage to sin and death. God demanded that the Jews sacrifice a lamb and smear its blood on their door posts and the angel of death would passover those households delivering them from His judgment on the Egyptians. Likewise, Jesus Christ’s blood on the cross and in the sacrament delivers us from judgement for sin and eternal death, giving us hope in our resurrection with Christ to eternal life.

How did we get the word Easter? Easter was a pagan Anglo-Saxon Goddess of the sunrise and the spring. The word East also is named for her. In the northern hemisphere, the spring comes close to the time of Jewish Passover and all European Christians regarded the East — facing towards the Holy Land and Jerusalem — as a sacred direction since the sun arises and the Son (of God) arose there. The festival color for Easter is white, and the Latin word for white, alba, is also the word for sunrise. In the Frankish tongue, the word for sunrise is Ostern, so that is another way we inherited the Easter instead of Pascha for this greatest day of the year.

The purpose of our worship from Passion (Palm) Sunday through Easter Day is not just to learn about the events that have saved us from eternal damnation, but rather to reenact those events in symbolic ways so that they become present realities to us and in our lives. Religion is not a spectator sport, we are all players on the field. The old spiritual asks the question “Were you there when they crucified my Lord?” and after a good liturgical Holy Week, we should be able to answer “Yes I was!”

That is why Palm Sunday is now known as Passion Sunday, because it is a kind of “preview” of the whole week ahead, with its main focus on all of us reading the Passion Gospel together (Matthew, Mark or Luke) taking the parts of Jesus, the Priests, Peter, Pilate and the crowd. We all are guilty of Jesus’ death as we cry out together “crucify him!” The rubrics request that we gather outside of the church and have a procession to the church door which represents the gate of Jerusalem reenacting Jesus entrance accompanied by children and others bearing palm branches.

On Maundy Thursday, in many churches, they hold a Passover dinner with all the traditional Jewish foods and ceremonies before (or after) the reenactment of the last supper, complete with Jesus’ washing of his disciples feet. This year, I will ask to wash the hands of volunteers, which in our culture has the same meaning as washing feet (think of the hotel restroom attendant offering you a towel.) We hear Jesus’ new Maundy (commandment) “Love one another as I have loved you!”

We share the offering of his life in the consecrated bread and wine and we go with him, symbolically, into the Garden of Gethsemane where his betrayal and arrest are reenacted by stripping the altar and sanctuary of all beautiful and dedicated things. In many churches, people volunteer an hour at a time to hold prayerful vigil before the remaining blessed sacrament reenacting the disciples who were asked by their God “could you not watch with me one brief hour?”

On Good Friday, we reenact the journey of Jesus from his scourging to the cross both at noon, in an Episcopal version of “the way (stations) of the cross”, and later at 7 PM as we read St. John’s Passion Gospel and then venerate a rough wooden cross, similar to that on which Jesus died. We feel loss and sadness; we do not know that there will be any resurrection. We leave in silence and sadness and fear, just as “all his disciples forsook him and fled!”

(Part 2 will appear in our Easter Messenger)

Yours in Christ,

The Rev. Dr. Tom Bauer