Wednesday, Four Lent

After fretting, editing, rejecting, fasle-starting, staying up too late and getting up too grudgingly, I put together a few minutes’ worth of homily for this morning’s service. I’ll tuck it below the fold, as it were, in the extended portion of the entry.

Now, I have to mark out a heap of papers (I’ve already marked them, but I need to explain what my cryptic annotations mean, and what grade the paper amounts to), catch up on emails on which I’m culpably behind, catch up on certain other correspondence on which I’m criminally behind, and whip up a final exam for the New Testament class — at which point I’ll be pretty much done for the term, apart from grading the exams, determining final grades, and everything else. . . .

Anderson Chapel of St. John the Divine, Seabury-Western
Isaiah 49:8-15/ Ps 145:8-19 / Jn 5:19-29
March 9, 2005


Just as the Father raises the dead and gives them life,
so also the Son gives life to whomever he wishes.

In the Name of God Almighty, the Blessed Trinity on high – Amen.

In times of stress – and I dare say some of us have felt a heightened degree of stress over the last ten days or so – in times of stress, clergy sometimes feel appropriately hesitant to say anything cheery. We’ve learned to listen, we’ve learned not to apply smiley-face Band-Aids on deep spiritual wounds, we’ve learned to respect the truth that evil tells us about our limitations, about our mortality. We’ve know better than to offer celestial pie to terrestrial starvation. We train ourselves to sit patiently with suffering, and in these stressful times we gain the benefit that if we never make any promises, we will never be caught short-changing anyone.

We hesitate for appropriate reasons, because we can’t deliver on promises that things will be all right; we can’t explain how this contributes to a best of all possible worlds. We endeavor so diligently to steer clear of false hope, cheap illusions, that sometimes – perhaps especially in stressful times – our caution mutes the melody of truth. Our honest humility itself fixes our attention on what we can’t accomplish, and distracts us from the fact, the fact, the reality that all the embarrassing miracles, the outlandish promises, the extravagant expectations we’re avoiding depend not on us but on the power of God.

As they say in the comic pages: “Oops!”

Listen, I know how frightening those promises sound. I’ve winced when preachers scolded congregations for not trusting God to provide miracles. The arrogance we’ve seen in some super-apostles turns us off, and it obscures the gospel, and we will have no part of it. We’ve looked into the eyes of suffering and we will not trivialize grief and affliction with happy talk and exhortations to “Just cheer up.” I’ve looked into your eyes, and have shuddered at the wear and tear that flicker in your spirit, that fray the seamless love that holds us in communion. You share, and I share, in a desolation made visible in the eyes of our sisters and brothers, and that very sharing, that solidarity, prevents our dispensing facile assurances of impossible happy endings.

For that reason, for precisely and explicitly that reason, for that unendurably grave reason, we may not stop at the boundary markers of frustration, of grief, of pain. The very same solidarity that obliges us to stand up for the truth that suffering speaks, obliges us also to bear witness to the promises that suffering does not speak the last word. Our solidarity with our wounded sisters, our sharing with brothers at St Leonard’s House, our communion in your own baffled pain: they open the way that leads beyond exhaustion to a grace promised us not by virtue of our holiness or our understanding of psychology or our medical expertise or even our theological, Scriptural precision, but because we have united our lives with the life of the Son. We have heard his word, and we believe the One who sent him. We have been astonished by the gift that humbles our determined efforts to make things better, and when the Word of promise speaks, we step out of the way so that the prisoners can hear God say, “Come out,” and those in gloomy obscurity can hear God say, “Step into the light”; we hasten to pass along the food and drink that God graciously provides for every living creature. The hour is coming and now is here, when in our solidarity, in our communion, we share in the miraculous restoration, the impossible healing, the extravagant fulfillment of the promises that our frailty cannot impede, that God’s grace will not withhold.


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