Sunday, April 24, 2011

"Why are You Weeping?" - A Homily for Easter, 2011

Homily for Easter, 2011
Sunday, April 24th, 2011
Trinity Anglican Church, Bradford, ON
The Rev. Daniel F. Graves
Text: John 20:1-18

“Woman, why are you weeping”

I have seen the Lord.

The Beloved Disciple simply looks inside the tomb, without entering, and sees the graveclothes and believes.

Peter has to enter the tomb, hold and touch the graveclothes.

Mary has to have an experience of the Risen Jesus; she needs to speak with him, she tries to lay hold of him, in order to believe.

In another week we shall hear about another disciple, Thomas, who insists on inspecting Jesus’ wounds.

Some must see, others must understand, some need to touch, others need to feel – but there is one common denominator in all of these stories, and in our Christian faith, the presence of the Risen Jesus our midst. With Easter, we experience a new reality. It is a reality that transforms minds, raises fallen spirits, and mends broken heart. It is an experience that turns the sinner from their sinfulness. It is a reality that changes the way men and women live.

Mary Magdalene weeps and then is filled with joy. The disciples who doubt are inspired by faith.

The resurrection of Jesus is not simply and event in time long ago, it is an event our lives. The Risen Jesus is not only encountered at the mouth of an empty tomb, in middle-eastern garden, on the Emmaus road, or behind the locked door of a house in the Galilee. To be sure, our mothers and fathers of old met him in these places, but down through the ages he has been met, and has met us, again and again. Through the dark valleys of our lives, he meets us. In sickness and in health, as children are born and loved ones die, he meets us. In the angst of all that troubles us, the Risen Jesus meets us.

Oh, we may not know him at first. Like the disciples of old, we may at first fail to see him in our midst. We may only detect an empty tomb, we may see his garments and the place where he once rested, we may mistake him for the gardener, or a strange on the road we may mistake him for another simple fellow-traveler. He may come to us at unexpected times, in unexpected way and in unexpected places. Perhaps, like Mary our eyes will be opened in time to see him, or perhaps like the disciples on the Emmaus road we will only recognize that we have met him after he has disappeared from our sight. In either case, he has been and ever shall be present; and when the reality of the Christ Event touches us, our hearts burn within us with great joy!

Days will come and pass when this seems not to be true. Time will come when we again feel alone. We shall all journey through valleys in which we feel lost and abandoned. There shall be moments when we shall feel lifeless and it seems as if God himself is lifeless, hanging on a tree. But when all seems lost, he confronts us again, he appears and stands before us and asks the age old question, “Why do you weep?”

There shall be no answer to the question for the answer is unimportant, it is simply enough that the question has been asked, for it means he has not left us. As we hear those words we know he is with us and like Mary, we exclaim, “Rabbi,” and like Thomas we proclaim, “My Lord and my God!”

When we hear his voice and his words of comfort once again, “Why do you weep,” it means God is not dead. It means that the end we thought was the end is not the end, but rather the beginning of something new. It means he is raised, and it means we, too, are raised.

Do you not know that all of you that have been baptized have been baptized into his death? Surely then, if Christ is raised from the dead, do we not also share in his resurrection?

Signs of the Resurrection are everywhere to be found: for the disciples it was an empty tomb and strewn grave clothes, a man mistaken as a gardener, or a stranger along the road. Who knows where we shall meet him, we only know that we shall, again and again as our spirits falter, as we again turn to sin, as we again lose hope. We shall meet him, whether he touches your mind, your heart or your spirit, wherever he takes your hand or wipes your tear, you shall see him risen and know that we share in that glorious resurrection from the dead.

C.2011, the Rev. Daniel F. Graves

Fear Not - A Reflection fo the Great Vigil of Easter 2011

A Reflection for the Easter Vigil, 2011
Saturday, April 23rd, 2011
Trinity Anglican Church, Bradford, ON
The Rev. Daniel F. Graves
Text: Matthew 28:1-10

At the tomb of Jesus, the women heard these words: “Do not be afraid.”
Oh, how there is much to frighten us in this life. We fear the unknown. We fear the future. We fear for our loved ones when they are out of sight. We fear death. Fear has a way of capturing us, laying hold of us, crippling us, enslaving us.

But this is the night the Jesus Christ breaks the chains of all enslavement, shatters the bonds of death, and delivers us from all fear. This is the night that Christ our God tramples down death by death. This is the night that stone of the tomb rolls away. This is the night when we are delivered from darkness into light, from death into life. This is the night in which fear is destroyed.

Early, as the third day dawned, two Marys went to the tomb of Jesus, and the earth shook, the stone was rolled away, and an angel of light appeared and proclaimed, “Fear not!” But they did fear, for they could see that the body of their Lord had been stolen. No. Not stolen, but gone. “I know what you are looking for,” said the angel, “Jesus of Nazareth. He is not here; he is risen, as he said!”

In one instant, in one moment, their fear disappeared, and as Christ himself had slipped the surly bonds of death, so too, did the women find the fetters of their fear loosed. In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, they knew themselves to be delivered from fear, to be ransomed from death.

With great excitement, they ran, their fear turning to joy, they ran to tell the other disciples that their Lord was alive. Without seeing him they believed. Yet with their minds intent on the task before them and their hearts strangely warmed, he appears before the women and greets them. And what are his first words? “Fear not.”

Can we hear these words enough as the troubles of life unfold before us? Thanks be to God that they are ever before us. Again and again we meet our Risen Lord on the road of this life, and again and again he comes to us with these words, “Fear not!” Do not be afraid, for I am with you. Do not be afraid for I love you. Do not be afraid for I shall be with you to the ends of the earth and to the end of days.

When all seems lost, when fear seeks to grip us once again, when we are feeling enslaved to fear, when the stone seems too large to roll away on its own, listen; listen, and you will hear those words, “Fear not!” Behold, and watch, and you will see the stone rolled away; you will find the tomb empty, and you will meet your Risen Lord on the road yet again, who, ever and always, greets us with the words, “Do not be afraid.”

c. 2011, the Rev. Daniel F. Graves

Friday, April 22, 2011

"Woman, Behold Your Son" -- A Homily for Good Friday

A Homily for Good Friday, 2011
Friday, April 22nd, 2011
Trinity Anglican Church, Bradford ON
The Rev. Daniel F. Graves
Text: John 19:26-27
“Woman behold your son”
-John 19:26

Confronted by the cross of Christ, we are changed. At the foot of the cross, beneath the feet of the crucified Jesus, a new family is born – the Christian community. As Mary his mother wept and the disciple he love best mourned, Jesus comforted them with these words, “Woman, behold your son; son, behold your mother.” But these were not simply words of comfort, but rather a radical reordering and recreation of community. Confronted by the cross, confronted by the death of a son, of a friend, of the leader of their movement, these two individuals who might be abandoned, forgotten, left alone, are knit together into one family. The widow and the orphan are drawn together into a new family, the Christian community. “From that hour,” we read, the beloved disciple to the mother of Jesus, “into his own house.”

And so it is, our movement, our religion, is one in which the edges are constantly being challenged. Our family is constantly being transformed and recreated, as others, who might otherwise feel lost and forsaken, are drawn in. Confronted by the cross of Christ, we are called again and again to re-creation, to envisage our family in new and creative ways. We are called again and again to include those whom the world forsakes as part of our family, in our company of friends.

When the family changes, we change, too. It is not always easy to be part of a family. There may be those with whom we disagree. There will be those who challenge us. There will be competing ways of doing things. Yet, there is something greater than our differences that binds us together. What is it? What is the force that makes us one, even when we differ in so many ways? Even when we come together with all our brokenness and sinfulness exposed?

It is the sacrifice of Christ our God on the cross. Jesus said, “When I am lifted up I will draw all people unto me.” At the heart of that sacrifice is the longing of God, longing for all his people, and longing that we may be one. Before he was handed over to death, that was indeed Jesus’ prayer, “Father, I pray that they may be one, even as you and I are one.” And to that end he breathed upon us his Holy Spirit that we might be knit together as a holy and sacred people, who in spite of all our differences, our brokenness, and all our challenges, that we may be one, even as Christ and the Father are one.

To be one may not necessarily mean that we will agree in all things, for some things are indeed a matter of indifference; but do we not agree in this, that Christ died that we might live? Do we not agree in this, that the offering that hangs on the cross is the God’s deepest self-offering of love for his own people? No greater love hath this, than a man should lay down his life for his friends!

“I have called you friends,” says Jesus, and that is what we are, a company of friends, a new family, that seeks to make known to each other, and to the world, the deep compassion of our God through the proclamation of his self-giving love in the cross. We seek to make known in thought, word, and deed the love that knows no boundaries, the inclusive embrace of God in God’s family for all who choose to receive it. We turn one to another in mutual brokenness, each of us knowing loss, exclusion, and forsakenness in some way, and we hear the words of our Lord, “Woman, behold your son,” and “son, behold your mother.” And all things are made new.

c.2011, the Rev. Daniel F. Graves

Sunday, April 17, 2011

"Then Crucify is all their Breath" - A Homiliy for Palm Sunday, Year A, 2011

Homily for Palm Sunday, Year A, 2011
Sunday, April 17th, 2011
The Rev. Daniel F. Graves
Trinity Anglican Church, Bradford ON

He enters in triumph, amidst shouts of “hosanna,” and is proclaimed as a great prophet, but the shouts of “hosanna” quickly give way to the cry of “crucify him!”, and to the derision that he should save himself if he is truly the son of God.” The dramatic sweep of Palm Sunday is summed up so eloquently and poignantly in the exhortation, “we follow him this week from the glory of the palms to the glory of the resurrection, by the way of the dark road of suffering and death.” And although our Lord told his followers again and again, that he was going to Jerusalem to suffer, although he told them again and again, that if they were to be his disciples they must take up their cross and follow him, time and again they could not see it. They chose not to believe it.

Who can really blame them, though, that they looked forward with joyful expectation? Who could blame them when they thought that Jesus would lead them in revolt and overthrow the oppressor who occupied their land? Even though he entered Jerusalem not as a mighty warrior king, but as a lowly king riding on the foal of a donkey, they chose not to see what they wanted not to see. They were looking for instant glory and oh, how their hopes were dashed.

Although this story is one that unfolds in a distant time and foreign place, in a world that seems unimaginable to us, is this story really any different from the story that unfolds before us, the story of our lives? Do we not hope for instant glory? Are we not prone to a sunny optimism about the world, and our lives before us?

This week I heard an interview on the CBC with an author who was speaking out against the myth of eternal youth, and how the post-war generation has somehow come to believe that aging can be beaten, and indeed that death can be beaten, that somehow we can and live forever, if only we buy the right anti-aging products, live to a certain standard, and have the right mindset. If we rebrand the word “Boomer” with “Zoomer” the inevitable reality of aging, and yes, of our eventual deaths, will suddenly disappear, no longer a possibility on the horizon of our existence, and we shall become the first generation of ageless immortals.

We may convince ourselves of this alternate reality, and even live in this alternate universe for a time, but what happens when reality breaks through the veil? What happens that phone call comes, what happens when we get tragic that tragic news about our own health or the health of a loved one? What happens when a cloud descends and blocks the rays of sunny optimism? What happens when the crown of gold is revealed to be a crown of thorns? What happens when “Hosanna to the king,” becomes “crucify him”?

And thus we find ourselves,when stark reality destroys the dream. We find ourselves fragile, we find ourselves alone, mournful, perhaps even angry, but most of all deeply vulnerable. When all our dreams are crucified, wherein shall we seek our hope? Has hope been destroyed?

We gaze upon the hope that is nailed to the tree and weep. We weep over our broken dreams, and we weep to think what we have lost. We weep over our foolishness in thinking that we might be masters of our fate, that we might somehow defeat death on our own, and we weep over our false pride, now a lifeless consolation.

In our vulnerability at the foot of the cross, we realize though, that those things that veiled our vision have fallen away. We come to see, and what is more, to feel, what it is to be truly human. In accessing our deepest pain, in beholding it nailed to the tree, we can at last let go of those thing which we have clung to out of fear, for they have been crucified with our Lord.

As the layers of protection against suffering and death with which we have clothed ourselves fall away into the mists of nothingness and we stand exposed, we contemplate the exposed figure on the cross, stripped, beaten, and lifeless. But he had no false layers to be cut away, nor did he have false dreams that needed to be broken. His vision was ever clear and he was ever meek and humble. His gentleness, his authenticity, his vulnerability was an offering that we might find these very things in ourselves and that our pride and vainglory might be unmasked.

In one short week we shall gather to share the rest of the story, and in between, journey together in the removal of the layers that we have placed upon ourselves to protect ourselves from pain and hurt. In one short week we shall know that to live forever does not mean cloaking ourselves from pain, from suffering and from death, but indeed, eternal life is embraced in the midst of the valley of the shadow of death. Eternal life, the resurrection from the dead, is found when we stand exposed at the foot cross and we behold true hope in the exposed lifeless figure, whom we know and believe shall live again.

c.2011, the Rev. Daniel F. Graves

Sunday, April 3, 2011

The Lord is My Shepherd - A Homily for Lent 4, Year A, 2011

Sermon for Lent 4, Year A, 2011
Sunday, April 3rd, 2011
Trinity Anglican Church, Bradford, ON
The Rev. Daniel F. Graves
Text: Ps 23

The Lord is My Shepherd
-Psalm 23:1

If our memories failed us and we could only remember one piece of Scripture, one word of comfort from our God to us, that would carry us through our earthly days, through each triumph and tragedy, I have no doubt that for many it would be the twenty-third psalm. This psalm speaks to our deepest fear and to our deepest angst. It is a part of our human condition that we fear that we will be left alone, forgotten, forsaken. And we fear that we will not only be forsaken by those who love us, but also by God. This is a fear to which even Jesus succumbed on the cross in his own cry of dereliction. Thus it is to this psalm that we turn at our darkest hour. It not only comforts us when all seems bleak, but challenges us to believe in the midst of our doubt. It challenges us to claim the reality of the Good Shepherd, our Risen Lord, who neither forsakes us nor forgets us, but walks with us and holds us close, even as our faith wavers and our hope falters.

It is a powerful piece of Scripture to which even the un-churched turn in times of crisis. I have a friend whose ministry is almost exclusively a ministry to the bereaved. He officiates at Christian funerals for those whose faith is but a distant memory. He often asks them if there is a particular Bible verse that they would like read as part of the service Invariably they pause for a moment and then say, “Oh yes, do you know that one about the shepherd?” He responds gently, “Yes, I think I know that one… Does is begin, ‘the Lord is my Shepherd?’” “Yes,” they respond, “that’s it!” If they want nothing else, they want Psalm 23. This has certainly been my experience, as well, in working with families with tenuous connections to the Church. Thanks be to God that there is a piece of Scripture that does call to them.

What is it about this simple Hebrew canticle that continues to resonate even with those who have little or no faith. I believe that it is simply this, that our Lord never forsakes us… we are not alone, have never been alone, and never will be alone – even if all others around us fail, God does not fail us. In the words of the psalm, God is reaching out to us, even when this same Lord seems absent from our midst. It is a means through which we can hear the voice of God, feel’s God’s warm embrace, know God’s strong and loving comfort, even when all hope and joy seem but a phantasm beyond our grasp. Thus, it is no surprise that people turn to these words in their deepest moments of loneliness, and particularly in moments in which loved ones are seemingly lost forever to us; when our world has become a lonelier place. For it is not us reaching out for God; rather it is God reaching out for us in our grief and our pain in timeless words of comfort and challenge. I have often wondered if this was one of the Scriptures to which the disciples turned after the crucifixion of their Lord. Was it a Scripture that relentlessly pursued them in their sense of abandonment? After all, Jesus had told them that he was the Good Shepherd, that he would not abandon even one of them to wolves, that if even one of them was lost, he would go searching and find them. Were they able to seek comfort in the Shepherd Psalm when they had lost their Shepherd? Could they find hope in the words “Surely your goodness and mercy shall follow me,” or “thy rod and thy staff they comfort me?” Could they understand that in these words their Shepherd sought them still?

I knew a man who carried a clipping of Psalm 23 in his wallet, throughout his entire life. It was, for him, a tangible way of expressing the reality that God never left him, that the Good Shepherd was daily leading him beside still waters. He knew the psalm by heart, but he could take it out when times got tough, read it, and form those familiar words on his lips, “The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want,” or “Thy Rod and thy Staff they comfort me.” When it seemed like his Shepherd was out of his line of sight, he took out the words, read them, and knew that while the Shepherd might be out of his sight, he was not beyond the sight of the Shepherd. He knew that he was not alone.

For the disciples, after the death of Jesus, perhaps Cleopas and the others along the Emmaus Road, it must have seemed like their Shepherd had abandoned them. Where now was his rod and staff? And yet, along the road they met a stranger who opened the Scriptures to them, broke bread with them, and then their eyes were opened. Had not their hearts burned within them on that road? The stranger then disappeared from their sight, but this time, they knew that they were not abandoned – no! Christ was Risen! He was with them! Their hunger and thirst were met, their tears were wiped away! Their Shepherd was indeed with them, even though removed from their sight, guiding them to springs of living water. As they broke bread with him that day, their wanting and lamenting turned to feasting and joy. Perhaps, just perhaps, the words he spoke when he was with them echoed in their ears, perhaps, just perhaps, his sheep once again heard his voice … “no one will snatch them from my hand.”

A couple of years ago, I was called to the bedside of a dying man. His family asked me to say prayers with them, and with him. I could tell by his breathing that he was moments from death. I began to read the prayers appointed for the time of death. I arrived at the part of the service in which it says “the 23rd psalm may be read,” I did not turn to it, but recited it from memory… until suddenly I drew a blank. An embarrassing pause that seemed like an eternity was broken by the man’s wife taking my arm and saying “I think it’s, ‘yea thou I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,’ dear.” Everyone smiled gently, and we all continued together, “I shall fear no evil, for thou art with me.”

“For thou art with me…” Even in the fumbling of a young inexperienced minister; even in the grief of a family losing their husband and father; even in the moment of our own death… Thou art with me.” I shall fear no evil. Even if I cannot see the Shepherd, I know, Thou art with me. Even if I cannot hear his voice, I know, Thou art with me. Even if it seems all have forsaken me, even you my God, my God, I shall cleave to the truth, Thou art with me.”

Why is it that these words ring so true in the midst of our loneliness and loss? Because they are true. God does not forsake us or abandon us. While all seemed lost on that Emmaus road, along which the disciples walked in sadness and fear, they were pursued by their shepherd, who, in the breaking of bread turned their longing into joy. And while the pain and grief and loss we experience on the road of ithis life is real, so too is the presence of God, the presence of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, whom we meet as we break bread together. For that great Shepherd of the Sheep walks with us through the valleys of our angst and shares with us in our feasts of joy.

c. 2007 & 2011, the Rev. Daniel F. Graves (a version of this homily was preached on Easter 4, 2007 at the Parish of Sharon & Holland Landing)