Saturday, July 31, 2010

Ascension & Outpouring of the Holy Spirit--Homily by Jan Robitscher

“...[B]ut I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice...”
(Jn. 16:22)

Friday in the Sixth Week of Easter,
LFF 80

Ezekiel 34:11-16
Psalm 98:1-4
Acts 18:1-8
John 16:20-23a

May 14, 2010
Jan Robitscher
All Saints Chapel
Church Divinity School of the Pacific

Come, Holy Spirit.
Fill the hearts of your faithful people
and kindle in us the fire of your love.
Send forth your breath and we shall be created
and you shall renew the face of the earth. AMEN.

I have very few books from what was my father’s extensive library. One is a
copy of T.S. Eliot’s Four Quartets.

One of my favorite quotes is this:
What we call the beginning is often the end.
And to make an end is to make a beginning.
The end is where we start from.

So here we are, at the end. It is the end of the week, the end of the semester, the end of the school year, and, for some, the end of your time here at CDSP. With our celebration of the Ascension of Our Lord last night, it is the end of the time when Jesus appeared to his disciples in his resurrected, glorified body. The disciples must have ached with loneliness all over again, not knowing what would come next. Perhaps they were not able to hear or understand
the words Jesus spoke to them before:
So you have pain now; but I will see you again,
and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take
your joy from you. (Jn. 16:22)

Our readings are curious ones for this day. They seem to be alive with activity: tending sheep (literal and allegorical), traveling, preaching the Gospel, baptizing, and Jesus’ cryptic words about pain now and joy later. I think these readings won’t make much sense unless we take a step back and get a different perspective.

Just before his Ascension, Jesus left some instructions, which St. Luke records in the first chapter of Acts:

While staying with them, [Jesus] ordered them not to leave
Jerusalem, but to wait there for the promise of the Father… (Acts 1:4)

They had to WAIT. If I could borrow the line from Fr. Tom Brackett’s sermon-story that we heard just a few weeks ago, it was one of those “STOP EVERYTHING” moments. Before they could go out and preach and teach and heal and grow the Church, they had to WAIT:
…constantly devoting themselves to prayer, together with
certain women, including Mary the mother of Jesus, as well
as his brothers. (Acts 1:14)

Only in waiting could the disciples and the women come to terms with the pain of their (seeming) double loss of Jesus. Only in waiting could they empty themselves, making space for the Holy Spirit to come. Then, as Jesus said when he tried to prepare them before his Passion, then they would know a joy that no one could take from them. On that day—the Day of Pentecost—they needed to ask nothing of Jesus. Only after they had received the Holy Spirit could they ask for what they needed of the Father, so that their joy could be complete.

Is it any different for us? We are now in that liminal space between Jesus’ Ascension and the Day of Pentecost. What would happen if we laid aside everything that was not absolutely necessary and devoted ourselves, as a community, to prayer, readying ourselves to receive the promised Holy Spirit? What if our parishes did this? Our dioceses? The Episcopal Church? The whole Anglican Communion? What would happen if we were to WAIT to discern what it is that God really wants us to do? Discernment is, after all, one of the gifts of the Spirit. What if we prayed the ancient prayer with which I began, and what if it were really answered?

We do have some idea of what it is Jesus wants us to do. From the moment of his Ascension,

Jesus made clear what Teresa of Avila would later say so well:
"Christ has no body on earth but ours, no hands but ours, no feet but ours. Ours are the eyes through which the compassion of Christ looks out upon the world, ours are the feet with which he goes about doing good, ours are the hands with which he blesses his people."

We are now to be Jesus’ hands and feet and heart in the world. If we read a few verses beyond our Gospel reading, we know that Jesus wants us to have eternal life; and he wants us to be one, as Jesus and the Father are one. Jesus makes all of this possible by the gift of the Holy Spirit, leading us into all truth.

But that is only the beginning. We are constantly nourished and strengthened by Jesus’ giving us himself in Communion each time we come to this Table. Then, when we receive Jesus, we become “Christ-bearers”—empowered by the Holy Spirit to bring Jesus into a wounded world.

So this is a time of endings and T.S. Eliot is right:
What we call the beginning is often the end.
And to make an end is to make a beginning.
The end is where we start from.

It is from here, at the end, that we must start. But it is also a time of beginnings, of commencement in the best sense of the word. It is a time to prepare for a fresh outpouring of the Holy Spirit, so that the Church can begin anew, and we can do the first Apostles did—preach and teach to anyone who would listen, and to baptize in Jesus’ name and in the power of the Holy Spirit. Then we will have—as they did--the joy that Jesus promised: “…and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you.” AMEN.

Artwork: Descending like a Dove

My art emerges from the intersection of the deepening of the personal spiritual life and participation in the communal life of faith. Through photography, I retrace the footsteps of Christian pilgrims and record the vestiges of their journeys, the shrines, altars, and thin places where they meet God. My art is both my spiritual practice and an invitation to others to awaken to the mystery of God, risk holy encounter, and cross the threshold of their heart's deep hopes.

As seen on Episcopal Church Visual Arts here.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Easter 2 Evensong, 2010--St. Mark's Church, Berkeley

“Blessed are they who have not seen
and yet have come to believe.”

(John 20:29)
Year A: Easter 2

Genesis 8:6-16; 9:8-16
Psalm 118:19-24
John 20:19-31

Jan Robitscher
St. Mark’s Church

April 11, 2010

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

This day has several names: It is Sunday, the Lord’s Day. Sometimes it is called “Low Sunday” because of low attendance after Easter. But it is also known as the Second Sunday of Easter, or “Thomas Sunday”, in honor of our Gospel reading, which is always heard on this day.

Maybe it should be called “Doubting Thomas Sunday”. After all, it was Thomas who insisted on seeing and touching Jesus for himself if he was going to believe that the Lord was truly risen from the dead. But I think Thomas gets a bad rap. Doubt--the ability to ask questions (or even to demand signs) is not the same thing as unbelief--willfully rejecting one’s faith. The opposite of faith is fear--not doubt.

Which reminds me of an occasion some 30 years ago. I can still picture the scene. While a student at the University of Notre Dame, I sat in the office of my spiritual director, the Dean the Episcopal Cathedral. We were talking about perceiving Jesus’ presence in Communion and in our daily lives and I blurted out, I WANT TO SEE JESUS!”

This was my “Doubting Thomas” moment. Wisely, the Dean did not panic! Instead, he remained calm and I still remember what he said:
“I understand that you want to see Jesus, but
it is not given to us to see Him physically in
this life.”

Perhaps that is what Jesus meant when he told Thomas:
“Have you believed because you have seen me?
Blessed are those who have not seen and yet
have come to believe.”

Jesus’ words came at the end of the story, but let’s back up a bit. Thomas, who was not present the first time Jesus appeared in resurrection form, wanted to be sure that the Jesus he was now seeing was the same one whose Passion he had witnessed. And he was looking for something quite specific; the wounds of Jesus. Why should this make a difference in his ability to believe?

The only way for him to tell was to see and touch the wounds. He did indeed see them, though the Scripture never tells us that he touched them. Perhaps it was enough for him to hear Jesus’ invitation to do so. Thomas response was to acclaim Jesus’ divinity--that God was in their very midst.

All well and good for Thomas! But I wanted to say as a retort to the Dean’s gentle reply, “IT’S NOT FAIR! THOMAS GOT TO SEE JESUS!”

Like Thomas, we want to see Jesus; to relate to him physically as our earthly Master. But if Thomas is our model in doubt, he must also be our model in faith. Thomas was invited by Jesus into a transformation as remarkable as Jesus’ own resurrection.

Moreover, Jesus wanted to relate to the disciples, to Thomas--and to us--in a spiritual way, as a friend, even as he said (seemingly) so long ago:
“I do not call you servants any longer, because
the servant does not know what the master is doing;
but I have called you friends, because I have made
known to you everything that I have heard from
my Father.” (Jn. 15:15)


“Blessed are they who have not seen, and yet
have come to believe.” (Jn 20:29)

So what are we to do? We must come to faith the same way Thomas did, except that we do not have the benefit of being able to see Jesus. How do we do this?

First, we must KNOW the wounds of Jesus. This is not as easy as it sounds. We seem to be much better at keeping the disciplines of Lent than the joys of Easter, but I am not sure we can really celebrate Easter if we do not really KNOW the wounds of Jesus; meditate on them, look beyond our own roundedness to them. Remember, it was by his wounds that Thomas recognized Jesus.

We don’t hear much about sharing in Jesus’ sufferings in our own roundedness. This is a hard process, but a vital one if we are to know Jesus as a friend--and this is important. But looking beyond our own wounds, both individually and as a community, will lead us to share in Jesus’ sufferings as we share in the sufferings of others, whether family or friends, the hungry we feed here at St. Mark’s or those who are suffering around the world. Perhaps the most remarkable reversal of all is that we cannot look beyond our own wounds to KNOW the wounds of Jesus unless we allow him to touch them. Jesus must be able to touch our wounds in order for us to touch his--or at least to hear his invitation as Thomas did.

Then we can--we must--allow the risen Christ to raise us up after we have known the wounds (that is, God’s pain) and felt them in ourselves and in others. Then we can acclaim with Thomas:

May this Easter Season be a time for us to risk doubt that we might come to a deeper faith; to know God’s wounds that we nay be healed; to be willing to share in Jesus’ sufferings in ourselves and in the sufferings of others; to come to believe without having to see Jesus--and all that we may have life in His name. Amen.