Thursday, February 28, 2008

The Bread of Life: The Heart of Ecumenical Ministry

Homily for Ecumenical Lenten Series
Sunday, Mar 2nd 2008
Preached at Thornhill Presbyterian Church
By the Rev. Daniel F. Graves, Assistant Curate,
Holy Trinity Anglican Church, Thornhill, ON
Texts: Exodus 16:2-4,9-16; John 6:25-35

“I am the Bread of Life.”

The consensus of the Hebrew people wandering in the wilderness was that the experiment had failed. The memory of the tyranny of their Egyptian masters, their past oppression, their utter and inhumane subjugation was now being eclipsed by the hunger pangs they felt as they traveled through the wilderness. The pain of the present made the injustice of the past seem but a distant and fading bad dream. They had needs that must be met now. And like many great leaders who remain in power beyond the initial revolution, the lustre of Moses’ leadership was beginning to fade. Hence, the people cried out in anger, “If only we had died by the hand of the LORD in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the fleshpots and ate our fill of bread; for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger!” How quickly their tune had changed. Things eternal had given way to things temporal.

In St. John’s Gospel we are told of a Messiah who knows the depths of the hearts of those who encounter him. Under the fig tree he peered into the depths of the soul of Nathaniel; in Jerusalem he unlocked the mysteries of heaven to a Pharisee named Nicodemus; to a Samaritan woman by a ancient well he saw into her past and offered her a future filled with living water; to all who encountered him he offered the gift of himself and abundant life. He offered to mend their brokenness, touch their hearts, and most poignantly, give them food that would fill them more deeply and with greater sustenance than any earthly food. But even with the heavenly food in sight; even having tasted it themselves, longing for multiplied loaves, they sought after things temporal rather than things eternal.

It is by the mercy of God, though, that their needs were met. Although the Hebrew people needed first, and foremost deliverance from slavery, oppression and subjugation, they were not left bereft of physical sustenance; for they were given quail to eat and manna from heaven. And although our Lord Jesus Christ offered living water and bread from heaven, he also multiplied loaves and fishes in order that none might go hungry in body, much less spirit.

But how do we respond to such graciousness on the part of God who meets our physical needs? In the meeting of our practical needs do we then take for granted the graciousness of God who offers to meet the needs of our hearts, who applies salve to the wounds of souls, and who mends the confusion of our minds. Do we choose to live by bread alone? And more importantly, do we choose to teach our children to seek after things temporal, to the exclusion of things eternal?

In the early nineties, when I was doing an undergraduate degree in religious studies at York University, I first heard of the ecumenical movement. I was enrolled in a secular Church History class. The professor was a member of the Orthodox Church of America, and most of us were of different denominations. Indeed, I was a cradle Anglican, and in this class I met my wife, a Pentecostal. There were Baptists, Lutherans, Presbyterians, members of the United Church, Roman Catholics, non-denominational Christians, and even an agnostic or two thrown in for good measure. At the beginning of the year, our Professor told us that the academic thinking of the day was that the glorious hope of post-war ecumenism had now failed, and that the ecumenical movement was virtually dead in the water. As someone who had lived through the optimism of the former days, this deeply troubled him. However, he said that he was convinced that ecumenism was not actually dead, but taking on new shape and new hope. By the end of the course, this eclectic group of people, in a secular university, had formed a tightly knit community that academically explored the question “what is the Church?” Our Professor suggested to us, and we found this to be true, that in exploring the question together, we had in fact, been the Church together, in spite of all the practical things that separated us from one another.

Well since those days, I have heard time and again the death knell of the ecumenical movement being sounded. It is certainly true that if we look at a number of issues on which we spend a great deal of time as Christian people in ecumenical conversation, things look pretty grim. I think that we should not be afraid to name them: There is the question of recognizing each others’ ordinations and orders of ministry; there is the question of shared communion around our altars and communion tables; and what exactly is this thing we call the Eucharist, is it a memorial, a sacrament, a sacrifice, and what about the real presence? Are women recognized in holy orders? What is our position on the inclusion of gay and lesbian people in the life of the Church? These issues present difficulties and questions not only for the ecumenical movement, but also in the internal theology and politics of our own denominations. It may seem to us that what divides us is greater than what binds us. It may seem that the centre does not appear to be holding. It may seem that we are growing farther apart, rather than closer together.

And yet, we must ask, what is the centre? What is it that binds us rather than separates us? What is it that we hold in common? What is the miracle of which we so often lose sight? What is it that sustains us as a family as we threaten to go our separate ways? Or more properly, who is it?

Sometimes we seek a miracle at the expense of recognizing the miracle in our midst. This was certainly true of the Hebrew people freed from their bondage. They were free, and yet they remained slaves to their pessimism. This was true of those around Jesus: The bread of life was in their midst, and yet they asked for bread to eat, blind to the true bread from heaven. Overwhelmed with disappointment – disappointment about their leaders, about themselves, about the world – people of any time can fail to see the gracious touch of salvation and blessing of hope amongst them. It is often easier for us to cry aloud as the Hebrew people did so long ago that it would have been better never to have even tried, than to be in this mess that we are in now. Or as with the disciples to moan and cry that we do not have enough to feed the faithful. It is all to easy to give up when we lose sight of the centre; when we lose sight of what truly sustains; when we lose sight of the bread of life, when we become obsessed with things temporal at the expense of things eternal.

It seems to me that as Christians we spend a considerable amount of time focusing not on the centre, not on what binds us, but on what separates us. In no way do I mean to suggest that the things that separate us are simply periphery. There are many important issues about which we disagree, but shall our disagreement pierce the heart of God? Shall we choose to turn our backs on the centre, our Lord and Saviour, by seeking after the lesser of breads?

The forty years of this Lenten series serves as a resounding “no!” to that question. For forty years, Christians of this community have come together to worship, pray, and learn together, because of what binds us together rather than what separates us from each other. For an even longer period of time, clergy and lay workers of this community have come together in fellowship and Christian brotherhood and sisterhood, with a passion for the sharing the Good News of the Gospel of Christ and living out our call to be partners in that Good News for this community. In this neighbourhood, for as long as many can remember, Christian brothers and sisters of so many branches of this wonderful family have reached out to the community and the world in love, service, compassion and charity. And how has this been possible? Is it because we have chosen to focus on what separates us? By no means. Rather, it is because we have chosen to focus on what binds us and sustains us – Our master and our friend, the Lord Jesus Christ. We seek first the things eternal, the living water, the bread of heaven. In seeking first things eternal, our Lord himself -- as he did so many years ago, both in wilderness and in ancient Judea -- attends to things temporal. And our needs are met.

It is only too easy for us to cry in the wilderness or long for the multiplication of loaves. It is only too easy for us to believe that only when issues around the periphery are solved that we can sit down together as brothers and sisters. It is only too easy to look to what separates us and lose hope and sight of what binds us together. A great songwriter once wrote these somewhat discouraging words:

You say potato, I say potahto
You say tomatoe, I say tomahto
Potato, potahto, tomato, tomaho
Let’s call the whole thing off.

Sometimes it seems that this is where the ecumenical movement has taken us. Sometimes it seems that the differences in the way in which we pronounce our faith distance us greatly from each other. But let us not forget the experience of these forty years. They have not been a wilderness, but a time of great exploration, friendship, companionship and hope. It has been the best time to be the Church together. Has there ever been any other age in which Christians of such diverse branches of the family have worship, prayed, learned and served together. What a wonderful time to explore our life together. It would be easy to look at what separates us and “call the whole thing off,” but oh, when we look at what binds us, what exciting times we have had, and what exciting times lie ahead! Let us not forget that the songwriter continued the song with the following words:

But oh, if we call the whole thing off, then we must part
And oh, if we call the whole thing off, then that would break my heart.
So we better call the “the calling off” off.

Indeed, in Christ, we, like those lovers who fought over pronunciation, have more in common that what separates us. Let us not break our own hearts, much less the heart of God, by “calling the whole thing off.” Instead, let us stay focused on the centre, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, on the miracle in our midst. And finally, as we seek to pass on the sustenance of our faith, let us pass on to our children what we have believed, known and experienced together as brothers and sisters in this community, the bread of life, our Lord Jesus Christ, in our midst.

Text copyright the Rev. Daniel F. Graves, 2008. This sermon may not be reproduced or redistributed, either in whole or part, by any means without the express written permission of the author. "Let's call the whole thing off," by George & Ira Gershwin.

Friday, February 22, 2008

The Healing Ministry: Living Water

Sermon for Lent 3, Year A, 2008
Sunday, February 24, 2008
Holy Trinity Anglican Church, Thornhill, ON
The Rev. Daniel F. Graves
Text: St. John 4:5-42

“Sir, give me this water, so that I may never be thirsty…”
John 4:15

Today’s text from St. John’s Gospel tells the stories of individuals who were seeking something more. On the surface, the were concerned about meeting their basic needs of survival – water to drink and food to eat – but at a deeper level, they knew as we know, that we do not live by bread alone. Thus, at some deep, intrinsic level, they knew that being alive, being human, was about more than meeting their basic needs, but also about satisfying a hunger for God. And in today’s text Jesus recognized those hidden needs, educated those who came to him, and offered to meet the deepest longings of their hearts. To those who received him, he gave them the gift of his divine presence. The depth of their understanding was expanded and the longing ember of their heart was ignited to share the good news with others.

Many of you will know that for some years, I have served as a member of the Bishop’s Committee on Healing. As next Sunday is the week in which we anoint for healing and highlight the Church’s healing ministry, Canon Greg has asked me to reflect, on the healing ministry here at Holy Trinity and share some of my observations and reflections.

On the surface, our passage from St. John’s Gospel does not appear to be a text about the healing ministry, and yet, I think that if we look more closely, we can draw some important conclusions about healing ministry from the text. Primarily this text tells us that things may not always be as they seem. By this I mean that often in healing we seek one thing when we really need, and deeply long for, another. This was certainly the case with the woman at the well. On one level she sought to have her bodily need for sustenance met, and yet, on a deeper level, she longed also for another kind of sustenance – for living water.

In the healing ministry, we do, without a doubt seek after physical healing, which we call “cure.” However, in spite of technology, and anti-aging formulas, we must face the reality that human bodies simply wear out. Complete physical health is a bit of an illusion given this fact. Now, do not get me wrong, it is my firm belief that there can be physical healing from ailments and disease, and yes, I do believe in miracles, but I have also been aware that many times, when we pray hard, desire faithfully, and live wholesomely, there is no physical healing. Thus, while physical cure is important, I think that the healing ministry must not stop there or become obsessed with physical cure, but probe more deeply into the health of the whole person – body, mind, spirit.

I am pleased to minister in a church in which parish nursing is so strongly embraced. We have in this parish a talented and passionate parish nurse who exercises care for the people of God with holy compassion and spiritual gentleness. In counseling, advocating, advising and educating, she, along with a supportive health and wellness committee, responds not only to the concerns of parishioners about their physical health, but also to concerns about their emotional and spiritual well-being. Parish nursing ministry is a ministry that understands healing in its broadest sense and seeks to incarnate the healing ministry of Jesus in the everyday life and concerns of Christian people.

Growing out of our parish nursing ministry is the prayer shawl ministry. Prayer shawls are knit in love and prayer and offered to someone with a physical need, emotional or spiritual need. Those who receive them feel enfolded in the love of God and the prayer of this community. This ministry is growing and we wish to highlight it as part of our healing ministry. On the first Sunday of the month at the 10:00 a.m, beginning next week, prayer shawls collected over the previous month will be offered up in prayer at our monthly healing service, as part of our offertory prayer. The prayer shawls will be brought up and presented by an individual who participates in this ministry.

Another important healing ministry at Holy Trinity is that of intercessory prayer. Two important ways in which we do this are through the “prayers of the people” in our liturgy and through the confidential prayer chain. In each case, we remember those close to us who are in need of any sort of healing – body, mind and spirit. We encourage you to provide names for the intercessor that he or she may pray for those in need, but more importantly, we encourage you also to name those known to you in the silence provided during the Intercessions. God knows the needs of God’s people, but simply naming them aloud gives each of us the chance to stand together in loving care for those who seek God’s healing touch. You may be a bit nervous about it at first, but go ahead, give it a try, you will feel warmed by the knowledge that you have stood with your brothers and sisters in loving prayer. The prayer list continues to grow and we are considering reading some of the names at the early service, some at the later service and some on the Wednesday service. In addition to our public intercessions, we encourage you to make use of the confidential prayer chain. You make contact its coordinato to request confidential healing prayer for yourself or loved ones.

Finally, I am delighted that the ministry of anointing continues to be lovingly offered at Holy Trinity. I have been involved in the training of anointers for a number of years and this ministry is close to my heart. I wish to remind you also that if you find yourself sick at home, in hospital, preparing for an operation or procedure, this sacramental ministry is entirely appropriate and one of the clergy would be pleased to visit you both for anointing and the Church’s primary sacrament of healing, the Holy Eucharist.

Anointing is open to all persons, regardless of whether or not they are baptized for God’s healing touch is offered to all. Anointing with oil is a rich and ancient symbol. In the ancient world oil was treated as a medicine to be applied as a salve to wounds, burns and other physical ailments. In the tradition of the Church is has been seen as a sacramental sign of Christ as medicine to soul. Like any sacrament it is the outward visible sign of the inward spiritual grace. And like any sacrament it is to be received only by the person seeking the sacrament only. This is why the Church does not allow anointing by proxy, or on behalf of another person. Indeed, our diocese has a policy to this effect. I recognize that there has been some confusion around this point, but remember, one does not receive communion on behalf of another, one is not baptized on behalf of another, and one certainly does not get a stand-in spouse when they are getting married. Anointing is for your healing, your wholeness, your need of God’s healing touch. Intercessory prayer, as part of the prayers of the people or privately with a partner or through the prayer chain are appropriate ways for praying for loved ones in need of health and wholeness.

So as we have seen, the healing ministry is being carried out in so many ways in this place. We are partners with the living Christ in his healing ministry and we continually seek new ways to be faithful proclaimers of the Lord who mends not only broken bodies but broken hearts and spirits. May each of us find living water to quench our thirsty souls and bread from heaven to sustain us on our journey.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Do Not Lose Heart

Homily for the Feast of SS Cyril & Methodius
Wednesday, February 13th, 2008 (translated from Feb 14th)
Holy Trinity Anglican Church, Thornhill
The Rev. Daniel F. Graves
Text: 2 Corinthians 4:1-6

“Therefore, since it is by God’s mercy that we are engaged in this ministry, we do not lose heart.” 2 Corinthians 4:1

Cyril and Methodius, who died in AD 869 and 895, respectively, have come to be known as the apostles to the slavs. It was Cyril and Methodius, two brothers of the Byzantine nobility, who brought the Gospel into Moravia and other parts of Central Europe. As we learn from Fr. Stephen Reynolds in For All the Saints, they were sent to this area because of their fluency in Slavonic. As a result, Cyril developed a writing system so that the native Slavs could write in their own language. As Fr. Reynolds explains, this led to the translation of Scripture into the native tongue of the people as well as the development of a unique Slavonic liturgy, which continues to be influence both Eastern Catholic and Orthodox liturgy to this day. And of course, the contribution of the Cyrillic alphabet has been far-reaching.

After Cyril’s death, the Franks attempted to undo much of his work and it was through the perseverance of his brother Methodius and subsequent followers that the work took root and endured. It would have been easy for the brothers and their followers to lose heart, but surely they must have meditated on today’s text from 2 Corinthians, “Therefore, since it is by God’s mercy that we are engaged in this ministry, we do not lose heart.” Surely, it was by God’s mercy that they engaged in their ministry and surely it was God’s will and God’s purpose that they should succeed. Against the gravest odds they did not lose hope. Even after the loss of his brother, Methodius knew that God was faithful and through the faithfulness of God, he persisted in his task and call to ministry.

We may never be called to create and alphabet so that Scripture might be read in a native tongue, or devise a liturgy for the faithful of a particular nation (although we have such saints in our own Church of Canada, such as Bishop Horden who did much the same work amongst the native peoples as did Cyril and Methodius amongst the Slaves). However, each of us is called to a particular ministry. Perhaps it is to care for a loved one as they age or experience illness. Perhaps it is work with those in need in your neighbourhood. Perhaps it is to walk with a friend in their grief. You alone know the ministry to which God calls you. Whatever this ministry may be, there will be times when it will be difficult to fulfill it, when the task seems overwhelming, when it might seem easier to give up. Yet, we know that the ministry is not our own, but God’s. We are but partners in the sacred task, and the real minister is God, who through his mercy will not forsake us, abandon us, or forget us. Rather God will walk with us and indeed, go before us. The faithfulness he offered to Cyril and Methodius is a faithfulness he offers to each of us. Therefore, we do not lose heart for we know we walk with a faithful God.

Text copyright the Rev. Daniel F. Graves, 2008. This homily may not be reproduced or redistributed, either in whole or part, by any means, without the express written permission of the author.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

A Holy Lent

A Sermon for Lent 1, Year A
Sunday, February 10th, 2008
Holy Trinity Anglican Church, Thornhill
The Rev. Daniel F. Graves
Text: Matthew 4:1-11

“I invite you to keep a Holy Lent.” These words are spoken by the Celebrant in the Ash Wednesday liturgy. The word “Lent,” itself, is derived from a middle-English word meaning “spring.” Thus, when we speak of Lent, we speak of a springtime in which what was once dead is now coming back to life. Well, in Canada, at least, it is difficult to imagine the season through which we now journey to be a season of springtime. There are no flowers or buds or returning birds, nor have the hibernating animals begun to wake up. We are decidedly in the dead of winter. However, if we take a closer look around us, we will come to realize that all is not dead; even in the chill of winter, there are signs of life. Some birds still sing, some squirrels still scurry, and even beneath the mounds of snow, seeds wait quietly to burst forth. There is life, perhaps it is fleeting, perhaps it is drowsy, but there is indeed life.

And so it is with our Christian faith. Lent appears to us, to be a time of death. Traditionally, Lent has certainly been a time of doing without. I suspect, in many cultures, and indeed in our the early days of our pioneer culture here in Canada, a Lenten fast may have been as much out of necessity as out of piety. In a world in which we have whatever we want, whenever we want it, it is difficult to imagine a day in which some things, some foods, resources, medicines, even contact with other people, were simply not available, all because of the prohibitions of the winter environment. Thus, I suspect that the discipline of giving up something for Lent is indeed a good one, for it reminds us that there are others who do without, and it reminds us that there are some things that we simply do not need. And ultimately, it reminds us that what we truly need might not be things at all but something much deeper, much more profound, much more eternal. Sometimes, though, the presumed austerity of the season might seem to speak more to death than to life, and more to darkness than to light, more to wintertime than to springtime.

We seem to forget that the season of Lent is actually a springtime season and that spring is a time of gradual awakening, of gradually putting down roots, and gradual blossoming into beauty. I must confess, that the contrast between Lent and Easter has always seemed to me quite stark. There is Lent, which is all about darkness, winter, coldness, austerity, and then there is Easter, which is all about light, spring, warmth, new life, and overflowing abundance. Upon closer examination, though, the seasons of the year change slowly, do they not? Surely, we have examples sudden snowfalls, flash floods, and unexpected heat waves. But for the most part, our seasons slide into one another, and we rely on newscasters to tell us that it is now spring, or summer, or winter, or fall, and for the most part we say either, “It doesn’t seem much like winter yet,” or “Wow, I thought it was fall already!” This is all to say that our movement from season to season is a gradual one. And so, I say, is our movement from Lent to Easter. The movement is gradual, and the signs somewhat deceptive. Yes it is dark, yes it is cold, but lo, there is life.

In the history of the Church, Lent, as with springtime, has been a time for putting down roots. Lent is the time for catechesis, that is, for learning about the faith, for deepening our life of prayer, and for disciplining ourselves, or regulating our lives, that we might grow. We do all of this so that at Easter we can glory in the flower of our faith in bloom.

Again, the celebrant in the Ash Wednesday liturgy outlines what a Holy Lent might look like, namely a time of “self-examination, penitence, prayer, fasting, almsgiving, and reading and meditating on the word of God.” It is tempting to look upon Lent simply as a time of “giving up” something in order that we might experience what it is like to “do without.” I do not want to disparage this practise or its piety, but I suggest that our Lenten Spring should be something more akin to the cultivation of a garden. It should involve the care and quality of the soil, the quality of its tilling, its location with respect to sun and shade, the planting of the vegetation and the subsequent care and tending to its growth and blooming.

With this image in view, I think I am discovering that the Lenten Spring is a time of discipline for growth. This is why Lent has traditionally been a time of Christian Education and Baptismal Preparation programs. This is why Lent has been a time of regulating our diets and tending to the care of our bodies. This is why Lent has been a time for looking to our past failings and false self-expectations and readjusting our hopes and dreams and expectations. This is why Lent has been a time for examining the injustices of our society and our world and seeking to assist others out of our abundance so that the unjust chasm between rich and poor might be closed in order that the world might more closely resemble the kingdom of God in which there is neither rich nor poor. This is why Lent has been a time to read and meditate on God’s word in order that we might more closely align our lives and wills to the divine life and the divine will. Each of these aspects of Lent speaks of discipline, and not the kind of discipline that breaks us, but the kind of discipline that gives us growth. These are the disciplines of spring.

And what of the forty days faced by Jesus? Forty days in the wilderness. Forty days of discipline. Forty days of temptation. It is easy for us to imagine the austerity of Jesus. It is easy for us to imagine a dirty, broken man, emaciated by the elements a lack of food. It is easy for us to imagine a man overwhelmed by the darkness of the cold desert nights. Instead, St. Matthew gives us the opposite image – a man truly alive; a man who, having journeyed through his own Lent emerges mature, blossoming, resisting the temptations of the devil; a man with a wellspring of depth and confidence and reliance on his Father in Heaven, a man who could not and would not be broken by temptation.

What also emerged was a man who wanted more. He was famished, but not for things temporal, but longing with an increasing hunger for things eternal. Just as the forty days strengthened him against his enemy, the forty days deepened his appetite and longing for God. God was faithful, for we are told that when all was said and done, the angels came and ministered to him.

May this forty days be for each of you a time of self-discipline, of self-discovery, a time of deepening your faith, and a time of growth in your love of God. Remember it is the springtime of your faith. May you meet the bright Sun of Righteousness at your joyful Eastertide, with a renewed hope, a strengthened resolve, and a hunger in your heart for the living God. And may the angels of God minister to you on your Lenten journey.

Text copyright 2008 by the Rev. Daniel F. Graves. This sermon may not be reproduced or redistributed, either in whole or part, by any means, without the express, written permission of the author.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

To Turn Again: A Homily For Ash Wednesday

Homily for Ash Wednesday, 2008
Wednesday, February 6th, 2008
Holy Trinity Anglican Church, Thornhill
The Rev. Daniel F. Graves
Text: 2 Corinthians 5:20b-6:10

“See, now is the acceptable time; see, now is the day of salvation!”

In his poem cycle, Ash Wednesday, T.S. Eliot uses the metaphor of a spiral staircase to evoke the concept of conversion to the Christian life. Recently, Karen Armstrong, in her autobiography, The Spiral Staircase, appropriated Eliot’s image to speak of her own climb from the darkness of depression. On a spiral staircase one is continuously turning and continuously ascending. And yet, one experiences a sense of déjà vu; one finds oneself in a remarkably similar place; similar and yet not the same. It is a forward and upward motion in which one's eyes are continuously fixed on where one has gone before, all the while steadily moving beyond where one has been. And to this pattern Eliot sets the words,

Because I do not hope to turn again
Because I do not hope
Because I do not hope to turn

These words evoke the motion of the spiral staircase. In each turn we are reminded of what is left behind, even as we move toward a distant goal. Eliot’s poem may be read as a reflection on his own conversion to Christianity. He turns, and turns, and turns again – longing to leave behind the things of the past, and yet, with each turn, he glimpses them once again. The turn of the stair is difficult and frightening because all of our past is constantly in view, the good, the bad, and the ugly. With each turn one hopes for something more, and yet with each turn the sum of who we are, what we have been, the choices we have made are ever before us.

My sin is ever before me.

But when all is said and done it is in looking back that we meet our hope. In looking back we see not only the worst of who we have been, but the also providence of God in each turn. Is it not true that in any given moment we pine to see that hand of God at work and we lament when we cannot glimpse it? But how many of us looking backward catch that glimpse of the divine in retrospect? What we could not see before, we can see now: There was God. Now I know how God acted in the midst of all that pain, that sorrow, that disappointment. Now I know. Now I have eyes to see and ears to hear. And therein lies our hope. The backward glance from the spiral staircase enables the forward movement of hope. The backward glance enables us to turn again, against all fear, against all hope, against all trepidation. The backward glance illuminates that moment on a hill outside Jerusalem when a man hung on cross unto death. What seemed like the end was but the beginning. For as the disciples turned again and again round that spiral staircase, closer and closer into the presence of the risen one, with each backward glance, that frightful moment in which their Lord died, became for them the moment of hope for new life. With each turn they understood that moment more and more and more.

Our conversion into the Christian life may be likewise understood. Our journey is a spiral staircase, with each step and each turn illumined by a glimpse backward and a movement forward. We turn again, and again. Each turn may be frightful because our entire lives are ever before us, but each moment is a call to keep on turning and journeying toward the consummation of life in Christ. It seems to me that conversion can never be simply one moment in our lives. The one moment is reserved for Christ alone. It was that single moment on that hill when darkness descended. It is the moment of his crucifixion and resurrection that transforms the world, that transforms us. And it is to this moment that we turn again and again. Whenever we sense ourselves stopping on the staircase, overwhelmed, or God forbid, backing down the staircase into the abyss of our fear, we are called to turn again and continue the ascent under the strength of the one who beckons us forward, confronting both our past and the potential with us.

As the clock of the liturgical year comes round and here we turn again and meet our Ash Wednesday, shall we hope to turn again? Shall we dare to turn again? Can we dare to find the hope in the backward glance and our forward movement? Can we recognize in the turn and the step the sacred “now”? Each moment, each turn, each step, is a sacred “now” – a holy present moment in which past and future are confronted in a moment of choice. As St. Paul said, “now is the acceptable time, now is the day of our salvation.” Whether we have turned before is, in a way, irrelevant to the choice before us now. Can I hope to turn again? Do I dare to turn again? Shall I, in this moment, turn again? The late archbishop of Toronto Lewis Garnsworthy was fond of saying, “In the Anglican Church we have an altar call each week. It’s called the Eucharist.” Each year in this season of Lent, we dare to turn again and glimpse our past in all its glory and all its failings in order that we might take another step. Each week, as we approach the altar of grace, we glimpse back through our week in order that we might move forward into the new life. We do hope to turn, because we know that with each turn we meet again and again the acceptable time and the hour of our salvation. In each turn we meet the sacred and holy “now”, the moment of our conversion. With each turn we are called to turn to our Lord, meet our Lord, and cast all our burden on our Lord. In the spiral turn and the glance backward we see him with us in each turn and know that he shall be with us in each turn and step we take, and ultimately, be with us and welcome us home when our journey meets it holy end in its final glorious ascent.

Text copyright 2008, the Rev. Daniel F. Graves. This sermon may not be reproduced or redistributed, by any means, in whole or part, without the express written permission of the author.