Sermon – Easter 2
The Rev’d Lynda Hurt
April 11, 2021
I speak to you in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
Good morning! And welcome to the 2nd week of Easter…Christ is risen. We are in the preeminent season of hope and renewal and the high point of our liturgical year…we’ve unearthed our Alleluia’s and proclaimed the resurrection of Christ with pure, unbridled Easter joy…a welcome kind of joy after the desert time we spent in Lent not to mention the kind of year we’ve all experienced. This entire year has sometimes felt like Lent that has lasted 365 days, yet as Christians, we are an Easter people, and we live in the hope that loss leads to something new. So, I will say it again, Christ has Risen, indeed.
I am a little ashamed to admit that growing up as an on and off church goer, I was not familiar with the period of Eastertide…the forty days before the Ascension. In my mind, Jesus rose from the dead and went straight to heaven. I was raised in a Protestant church, and not to disparage them, am not real sure I ever heard the word Ascension, or if I did, it didn’t hold a lot of meaning for me…not until I became an Anglo-Catholic and learned about the importance of the forty days after Easter. The post-resurrection stories of the Risen Christ walking among the people were arbitrary to me…like separate little unconnected vignettes. When I recited the Apostles’ Creed and said Christ died, was buried, rose three days later and ascended into heaven, I assumed this was a pretty quick process…it was one day and that was it. But that is not how it happened. Although details of the time are far less well-known, we do know that Jesus spent forty days (fifty if you’re Orthodox) walking and talking in places where he had ministered before, performing miracles, and healing many, and on the whole demonstrating to His followers that He truly was alive. This post communion time was not for Jesus simply to celebrate the resurrection, but he had work to do…work to restore his disciple’s faith through the evidence of the resurrection and to “bring peace to counter the turbulence of his death” He had a clear mission of preparing his disciples to continue the work that he started.
In our Gospel reading today, we learn about two of these appearances, both in the presence of Jesus’ disciples in a locked room, and each occurring on two separate occasions about a week apart. The Apostle Thomas was not present for this first encounter between Jesus and the disciples. So, when they go to Thomas to tell him that Jesus is living and walking among them, he doesn’t believe them and then audaciously demands proof…he is quoted as saying "Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe." That does not sound like an unreasonable request. People did not just rise from the dead. Jesus’ death was a shock, not just to Thomas’ but to all of the people he appeared to. But this moment of skepticism earned Thomas the moniker “Doubting Thomas,” which evolved into a term for anyone who needs proof before they believe something. As a young Christian, I was taught explicitly that being a Doubting Thomas was wrong. He was deemed a scoffer and someone with weak faith. And when the passage is read out of context, it might seem that way, but throughout his time spent with Jesus, we know that he was a devoted and loving follower of Jesus who wasn’t going to settle for someone else’s experience of the resurrection. We all come to believe in our own way, and blind faith is not always how we get there. Thomas was grieving…his Master had died and his hopes of a Messiah had been shattered. How many of us in our sadness and despair give in to doubt? We are human and just like Thomas and the disciples, we don’t understand when where God is in our sorrow. Unlike Thomas, we have the benefit of eyewitness stories that have been given to us in Scripture. Centuries of illumination of our sacred texts have helped modern-day Christians to live out the story of Jesus’ death and resurrection time and again…so none of this is news to us. We are much more prepared to accept the reality of the Risen Christ than were the early followers. But, as we contemplate this passage, we may hear that Jesus’ is rebuking Thomas for his doubt, and we, for centuries have been fixated on that fact. What we miss is the Good News… Thomas asked for proof and Jesus lovingly and graciously offered him what he needed to believe. We need to lean into the reality that Jesus opens a way for all of us to believe.
Although countless sermons have been written about this Gospel lesson admonishing doubt, the greater message is a message of assurance that doubt is realistic in matters of faith and perfectly human. Doubt can bring us to wholeness. When the label of doubter is used as an insult, we are implying that it is incompatible with faith, when in fact is simply signifies uncertainty, perplexity and irresolution.  This is an accurate description of what Thomas was feeling.. I’m actually skeptical of people that are resolute in their beliefs in an uncompromising way. I think we would all do well to believe in the transformative power and depth that doubt, and critical thinking brings to our faith life. So, in defense of Thomas who may have been unfairly portrayed, I would like to re-dub him Determined Thomas, or Discerning Thomas (you might have your own names). But, even if the Doubting Thomas label sticks, which it will…it needs to be understood that God holds space for our questions and doubt that will lead us to a stronger faith.
Perhaps the bigger story in our Gospel reading today is not about Thomas the Doubter, but a phrase he uses that compresses the life, death and resurrection of Jesus in five short words…”my Lord and my God”. We are not explicitly told that Thomas touched Jesus’ wounds, but there was a something…a metaphysical change in what Thomas experienced in that moment when he uttered those word…My Lord and my God…It is considered the highest confession of Messianic faith in the entirety of the Gospel. Thomas recognized the Risen Christ as God and began to understand the broader meaning of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection. In the Christian church, we have come to define these moments as a visible form of invisible grace…a sign of a sacred thing.  This was a sacramental moment for Thomas and his stunning declaration of faith is inextricably tied to the sacramental rites of our own Baptismal and Eucharistic experiences. In Baptism, we become participants in Jesus Christ’s life and his redemptive ministry.
We experience both the death and resurrection of Christ, taking part in the whole story of God’s people. As baptized Christians, when we partake in the Eucharist and eat the bread and drink the wine, we encounter the Real Presence of Jesus Christ and are inwardly transformed by the power of the Holy Spirit that unchains us from doubt and empowers us to be Christ in the world.
In a few minutes, we are blessed to be baptizing baby Lorelei. Now, she may not remember this occasion, and won’t understand the promises that her parents are making on her behalf. But the communal nature of Baptism gives us all not only the privilege, but the responsibility of participating in the faith development of this child. I encourage you to immerse yourself in words of the baptismal liturgy this morning…let them be a reminder of your renunciation of evil and your promise to live a life modeled after Jesus. Lift Lorelei in your prayers and welcome her as our new sister in Christ. And many you come to the fullest realization of what these words mean to you in your life of faith in the Resurrected Jesus. Amen and Alleluia.
 (O'Day 2015)
 (O'Day 2015)
 St. Augustine
April 4, 2021
The Rev’d Charles W. Everson
St. Mary’s Episcopal Church
The scene that St. John sets before us in the gospel lesson we just heard has all the features of a good movie: vivid detail, gripping suspense, and powerful human emotion. More importantly, it tells a down-to-earth story about something with which all of us struggle: the odd claim to have a relationship with Jesus Christ, even though he has never stood before us physically in the flesh. But even more bizarre is the Christian claim to believe that he rose from the dead, for we know that dead people don’t rise from their graves and walk around.
Like most Christians, we Episcopalians believe that our relationship with Christ begins with baptism. In the baptismal rite, the priest asks the Candidate or the parents and godparents, “Do you turn to Jesus Christ and accept him as your Savior?” It’s very easy for most to respond, “I do.” It’s also easy to say, “I believe in one Lord Jesus Christ,” as we will in a moment when we recite the Nicene Creed. Speaking these words is quite simple, but is often done without much emotion or thought, and doesn’t indicate that we’ve necessarily had some sort of personal encounter with Christ.
In today’s Gospel, we see a very different kind of encounter with Jesus. This encounter isn’t only tangible and physical, it’s emotional and deeply personal. For Mary Magdalene, her encounter with the risen Christ involved her eyes and her ears and a person standing before her. It is very real.
After the events that lead to Jesus’s arrest, torture, and death, she comes to his tomb only to find that someone has presumably stolen his dead body. She is so caught up in her raw emotion that she doesn’t even recognize Jesus when he’s standing right in front of her. When she responds to him, assuming he is the gardener, Jesus doesn’t offer some sort of generic response. He says, “Mary.” He uses a word that applies to her and her alone, a word that captures the particularity of her individual life – her name. His response was deeply personal.
You and I don’t have the benefit of seeing the resurrected Jesus in the flesh as she did. How can our faith in Jesus be as real as Mary Magdalene’s faith?
While we don’t see him in the flesh, in the waters of baptism, God used ordinary water to grant us grace, despite the fact that we didn’t earn it or deserve it. According to our catechism, at baptism, God adopted us as his children and made us members of Christ’s body, the Church. At baptism, we were united with Christ in his death and resurrection, born into God’s family, forgiven of our sins, and given new life in the Holy Spirit.
Children. Life. Members. Family. Born. Forgiven. These words reflect a deeply personal relationship between us as individuals and God, a God who calls us each by name, just as he did Mary Magdalene. At baptism, the candidates are baptized not anonymously, but by name. God’s interest in us is deeply personal – his interest in us is just as real as it was when he said to her, “Mary.”
I’m not sure about you, but if God were distant and far away, like a clockmaker who sets his clock in motion and leaves it alone to operate without any further interaction, I wouldn’t have the slightest bit of interest. But a God who sees and knows the most intimate parts of my life – my body, my past, my dreams and disappointments, my future – a God who loves and cares deeply about all these intimate aspects of my life? That’s the sort of God we see revealed in Jesus Christ.
Like with Mary Magdalene, Jesus comes to us not as a zombie, or a ghost, but as a person. He doesn’t come to us as a disembodied spirit, but as a whole, integrated person – body, mind and spirit. He didn’t just come to save our souls, he came to redeem our minds and our bodies as well. He cares about how we spend our money, and what we do with our time, and how we treat the bodies God gave us, and how we treat the poor person we encounter, just as much as he cares about our thoughts and prayers. Jesus doesn’t just come to us in our hearts, he comes to us physically: in the waters of baptism, in the bread and wine at Holy Communion, in the physical intimacy between spouses, and so on.
We don’t get to see Jesus in the flesh like Mary did. The resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead…it’s not an easy thing to wrap our heads around as dead people don’t generally rise up from their graves and walk around. I’m not sure about you, but to me, a God who is interested in both the spiritual and the physical realms...a God who loves humanity enough to become one of us in order to redeem the worst parts of who we are…a God who loves me enough to care about the intimate parts of my life…a God who loved the world so much that he not only gave his Son for our sake, but promised us that he would be with us always…a God who lavishly pours out his love for us physically again and again in our world today…that’s the kind of God that sounds interesting to me.
This Easter Day, as we encounter the risen Christ at this altar, let us pray for the grace to recognize him in the breaking of the bread. Let us renew our faith in the One who loves us so deeply that he gave up everything for us. And let us rejoice that he has called each of us by name into a deep and personal relationship with him. Amen.
 David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, eds., Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary (Louisville (Ky.): Westminster John Knox Press, 2011), 376.
 Feasting 378.
 Catechism of the 1979 BCP..
The Easter Sermon of John Chrysostom
(circa 400 AD)
Are there any who are devout lovers of God?
Let them enjoy this beautiful bright festival!
Are there any who are grateful servants?
Let them rejoice and enter into the joy of their Lord!
Are there any weary with fasting?
Let them now receive their wages!
If any have toiled from the first hour,
let them receive their due reward;
If any have come after the third hour,
let him with gratitude join in the Feast!
And he that arrived after the sixth hour,
let him not doubt; for he too shall sustain no loss.
And if any delayed until the ninth hour,
let him not hesitate; but let him come too.
And he who arrived only at the eleventh hour,
let him not be afraid by reason of his delay.
For the Lord is gracious and receives the last even as the first.
He gives rest to him that comes at the eleventh hour,
as well as to him that toiled from the first.
To this one He gives, and upon another He bestows.
He accepts the works as He greets the endeavor.
The deed He honors and the intention He commends.
Let us all enter into the joy of the Lord!
First and last alike receive your reward;
rich and poor, rejoice together!
Sober and slothful, celebrate the day!
You that have kept the fast, and you that have not,
rejoice today for the Table is richly laden!
Feast royally on it, the calf is a fatted one.
Let no one go away hungry. Partake, all, of the cup of faith.
Enjoy all the riches of His goodness!
Let no one grieve at his poverty,
for the universal kingdom has been revealed.
Let no one mourn that he has fallen again and again;
for forgiveness has risen from the grave.
Let no one fear death, for the Death of our Savior has set us free.
He has destroyed it by enduring it.
He destroyed Hell when He descended into it.
He put it into an uproar even as it tasted of His flesh.
Isaiah foretold this when he said,
"You, O Hell, have been troubled by encountering Him below."
Hell was in an uproar because it was done away with.
It was in an uproar because it is mocked.
It was in an uproar, for it is destroyed.
It is in an uproar, for it is annihilated.
It is in an uproar, for it is now made captive.
Hell took a body, and discovered God.
It took earth, and encountered Heaven.
It took what it saw, and was overcome by what it did not see.
O death, where is thy sting?
O Hell, where is thy victory?
Christ is Risen, and you, o death, are annihilated!
Christ is Risen, and the evil ones are cast down!
Christ is Risen, and the angels rejoice!
Christ is Risen, and life is liberated!
Christ is Risen, and the tomb is emptied of its dead;
for Christ having risen from the dead,
is become the first-fruits of those who have fallen asleep.
To Him be Glory and Power forever and ever. Amen!
"What is happening? Today there is a great silence over the earth, a great silence, and stillness, a great silence because the King sleeps; the earth was in terror and was still, because God slept in the flesh and raised up those who were sleeping from the ages. God has died in the flesh, and the underworld has trembled.
Truly he goes to seek out our first parent like a lost sheep; he wishes to visit those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death. He goes to free the prisoner Adam and his fellow-prisoner Eve from their pains, he who is God, and Adam's son.
The Lord goes in to them holding his victorious weapon, his cross. When Adam, the first created man, sees him, he strikes his breast in terror and calls out to all: “The Lord be with you.' And Christ in reply says to Adam: ‘And with thy spirit.’ And grasping his hand he raises him up, saying: ‘Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give you light.
‘I am your God, who for your sake became your son, who for you and your descendants now speak and command with authority those in prison: Come forth, and those in darkness: Have light, and those who sleep: Rise.
‘I command you: Awake, sleeper, I have not made you to be held a prisoner in the underworld. Arise from the dead; I am the life of the dead. Arise, O man, work of my hands, arise, you who were fashioned in my image. Rise, let us go hence; for you in me and I in you, together we are one undivided person.
‘For you, I your God became your son; for you, I the Master took on your form; that of slave; for you, I who am above the heavens came on earth and under the earth; for you, man, I became as a man without help, free among the dead; for you, who left a garden, I was handed over to Jews from a garden and crucified in a garden.
‘Look at the spittle on my face, which I received because of you, in order to restore you to that first divine inbreathing at creation. See the blows on my cheeks, which I accepted in order to refashion your distorted form to my own image.
'See the scourging of my back, which I accepted in order to disperse the load of your sins which was laid upon your back. See my hands nailed to the tree for a good purpose, for you, who stretched out your hand to the tree for an evil one.
`I slept on the cross and a sword pierced my side, for you, who slept in paradise and brought forth Eve from your side. My side healed the pain of your side; my sleep will release you from your sleep in Hades; my sword has checked the sword which was turned against you.
‘But arise, let us go hence. The enemy brought you out of the land of paradise; I will reinstate you, no longer in paradise, but on the throne of heaven. I denied you the tree of life, which was a figure, but now I myself am united to you, I who am life. I posted the cherubim to guard you as they would slaves; now I make the cherubim worship you as they would God.
"The cherubim throne has been prepared, the bearers are ready and waiting, the bridal chamber is in order, the food is provided, the everlasting houses and rooms are in readiness; the treasures of good things have been opened; the kingdom of heaven has been prepared before the ages."
April 2, 2021
The Rev’d Charles W. Everson
St. Mary’s Episcopal Church
When I give tours of the church, I usually start in the back, and move my way toward the high altar. This entire space is built in such a way that the focus of the eye is always drawn to the altar. I begin with describing the women saints that adorn the front of the altar, then point to where Fr. Jardine is buried underneath the horn of the north steps. Before I can get to the rest of it, I’m often interrupted by some version of this question: “What is that box for?” The box in question is directly above the altar in the center, and in it, we keep the reserve sacrament, the leftover communion bread that was consecrated at a previous Mass. Today is the one day in the calendar when the Sacrament is not reserved. Normally, we would pay Jesus homage by bowing or genuflecting toward this holy place, perhaps catching a glimpse of the sanctuary lamp that burns as a reminder of his presence. But not today. The lamp has been extinguished, the doors thrown open, the tabernacle emptied, the sanctuary stripped. As Mary Magdalene said when faced with the empty tomb, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” The empty tabernacle declares to all what happened on this day: our Lord has died to save us from our sins.
The tabernacle, in the Western tradition, is, among other things, analogous to the Holy of Holies in Judaism. The Holy of Holies was the holiest of all places on earth for the Hebrew people. It was in the innermost part of the Temple in Jerusalem, and it was only in the Holy of Holies that God’s presence appeared. Once every year, the high priest, and no one else, lifted a corner of a curtain that shielded the Holy of Holies to go inside and make a blood offering for himself and for the sins of the people. The curtain kept God hidden; only the high priest could pass through the curtain once a year and be in the intimate presence of God.
What curtains do we have in our lives that keep God hidden? What curtains keep us separated from God?
It’s quite easy for us to see ourselves as defective and thus unworthy to be in God’s presence. Even those human beings who were blessed with good looks go through times of feeling physically unattractive – even ugly – and project these views on God, leaving us with the feeling that God feels just as disgusted with our bodies as we are. We see ourselves as “less than” in all sorts of ways, perhaps especially when we’re self-evaluating our prayer lives. In this way, our defectiveness becomes a curtain, keeping God hidden and far away. In the same way, we often erect a curtain between us and God when we throw in the towel because we’re sick and tired of repeating the same sins over and over again. Each of us has specific tendencies to sin – for some, it’s greed, for others it’s gluttony, for others it’s fornication. By God’s help, we will try to stop, but it’s likely that we’re going to continue to have the same tendency to sin tomorrow, 10 years from now, perhaps until the day we die. It’s easy to put up a nice, thick curtain between you and God and stop trying to resist that particular temptation altogether.
On this day so long ago, the curtain separating us from God was forever torn in two. The author of Hebrews says, “Since we have confidence to enter the sanctuary by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain (that is, through his flesh), and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us approach with true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.”
Any good Jew would have been scandalized to hear that they might be able to intimately know God in the same way the high priest did – to enter into his presence. Just as the tearing of the curtain in the temple made the Holy of Holies visible, so that all could freely enter, so Jesus, whose flesh is torn open upon the cross, unveils the God of heaven so that all may enter in to relationship with Him. On that cross, God himself bowed his head and submitted to death, suffering for us. Veiled in flesh, God himself is torn open on the cross to remove anything that might inhibit us from coming into God’s presence. While all human beings are made in God’s image, the pure water that washed us at our baptism restored us all the more to the way we were supposed to be before Adam and Eve ate from that tree so long ago, and continues to give us the grace to see ourselves not as defective, but as beautiful and wonderfully made. The grace given to us at baptism continues to give us the strength we need to strive for holiness day in and day out and strive to resist committing those stubborn sins we continue to struggle with day after day.
Friends, let us give thanks to almighty God that Jesus set his passion, cross and death between his judgment and our souls. Let us give thanks that in Jesus, all the fulness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him God was pleased to reconcile all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross. Let us give thanks for the empty tabernacle, for on this day, our Lord has died to save us from our sins.
 John 20:13.
 https://www.thecatholicthing.org/2011/04/22/the-empty-tabernacle/. Accessed March 23, 2021.
 David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, eds., Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary (Louisville (Ky.): Westminster John Knox Press, 2011, 299.
 Hebrews 19b-22
 1979 BCP p. 489.
 Colossians 1:19-20.
March 28, 2021
The Rev’d Charles W. Everson
St. Mary’s Episcopal Church
Today, we began with the story of Jesus’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem with shouts of acclamation and an adoring crowd. But then just a moments later, we heard the long, agonizing story of his betrayal and torture and death. How jolting it is to go from crying “Hosanna” to “Crucify him!” Some might describe what we’re experiencing as “liturgical whiplash.” How do we make sense of today’s liturgical drama? In the Liturgy of the Palms, we hear that many people had come to love Jesus. They spread their cloaks both on the donkey and on the streets to make way for him. They shout “Hosanna in the highest…Blessed is he who cometh in the name of the Lord”…or, in more modern language, “God save the King.” Jesus then rides in royal fashion through the midst of the adoring crowds. Fast forward a few short minutes in the liturgy, and we’re hearing about Judas Iscariot’s awful betrayal of his Lord, and the first Eucharist that ties the Jewish Passover sacrifice to the imminent sacrifice of Jesus, and the crowds crying “Crucify him! Crucify him!”, and then the death of Jesus on the cross at Calvary.
The liturgical whiplash we experience today points to a deep truth that all human beings can relate to: joyous professions of loyalty can turn in the blink of an eye to betrayal. We see this not only in the adoration and subsequent rejection of Christ, but also in he who Gregory the Great once called the “prince of the apostles”, St. Peter. When Jesus asked Peter, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?”, he answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” But as we heard today, moments later, Peter denied Jesus three times.
Let’s face it: we human beings are fickle. We swear allegiance to something, and then within a matter of moments, we’ve moved on to something else, having forgotten our vows. If I were to ask you, “Who do you say the Son of Man is?”, especially in public, I’m fairly confident you’d say “He’s the Son of God,” or “he is second person of the Trinity”…or, perhaps, “he’s fully human and fully divine.” But then tomorrow, it’s quite possible that you’ll not recognize Christ in the poor person you encounter. Or you’ll be faced with another human being at work who drives you crazy, and in the midst of your emotional response to his or her dysfunction, you’ll forget that he or she is made in God’s image and is worthy of love and respect.
It is human nature to say that we’re followers of Christ one minute, and then make choices as if we hadn’t ever professed faith in him. Put another way, we often say that we’re Christians but then decide to do something that completely contradicts that profession of faith. Like Peter, we are prone to deny the Lord we love.
And like us, the original audience of this text knew that Peter and the other disciples were ultimately restored into close relationship with Jesus. St. Mark doesn’t provide closure by finishing the story about their restoration. He implicitly leaves this question with his readers: will they ultimately be faithful to Jesus?
I leave you with that same question as we begin the holiest of weeks: will you be faithful to Jesus?
 This concept was coined by The Reverend Kara Slade on a Facebook post in 2018 which I cannot now find.
 David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, eds., Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary (Louisville (Ky.): Westminster John Knox Press, 2011), 183.
Fifth Sunday in Lent
March 21, 2021
Hebrews 5:5-10; Jeremiah 31:31-34
The Rev’d Charles W. Everson
St. Mary’s Episcopal Church
Before I left my job at the bank last August, when someone asked me what I did for a living, I said, “I’m a banker.” Obviously, depending on the conversation, I might have also mentioned that I’m a priest. But now, that’s the only answer I have. And I’ve been surprised how many times I’ve been asked, “Why do Episcopalians call their ministers priests and not pastors?” Surprisingly, they don’t teach you how to respond to this question in seminary. Over time, my somewhat overly simplistic response to this question has become, “Because priests make sacrifices and pastors don’t.”
In today’s lesson from the letter to the Hebrews, Jesus Christ is referred to as a high priest. In the early history of the Hebrew people, Moses ordains Aaron as the first high priest, the one charged with entering the Holy of Holies on Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, to make atonement for his sins and the sins of the Israelites by offering sacrifices to God on an altar. There were bloodless sacrifices of grain and wine, and more importantly, animal sacrifices.
At first in Israel’s history, the high priest’s status was secondary to that of the king, and his authority was limited to the religious sphere and specifically to the liturgical and sacrificial work in the Temple. Later, the authority of the high priest extended to the political arena. The office of the high priest and that of the monarch effectively became one and the same.
The author of Hebrews does something remarkable, not only in this chapter, but throughout his letter. He links Jesus not to Aaron, the first high priest of the hereditary Levitical priesthood, but to Melchizedek, a mysterious figure from the book of Genesis who pre-dates Aaron by six generations. Melchizedek is only mentioned twice in the Old Testament, but in short, he is described as having been anointed by God as both a priest and a king, offering bread and wine to God.
In the late 1940’s, when scholars discovered the Dead Sea Scrolls in the desert caves of the West Bank, they came across a manuscript from the 1st century BC that shows that the figure of Melchizedek had developed considerably in Jewish thought by this point. He was depicted as a heavenly redeemer figure, a leader of the forces of light, who brings release to the captives and reigns during the Messianic age. The author of Hebrews knows that his audience is familiar with both the Old Testament and intertestamental traditions of Melchizedek when he declares that God appoints Jesus as high priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek.
The priests of Aaron became priests by their lineage, but for Melchizedek, there is no record of his lineage. He was appointed a priest by God to an order that had no beginning. Jesus is a priest forever in the order of Melchizedek; thus the order has no end. The word order doesn’t mean Franciscan or Benedictine, it means after the manner of Melchizedek's priesthood. Later in this letter, the author goes on to make a sharp distinction between the Levitical priests who continue to offer these animals in sacrifice. They had to offer. They had to kill. They had to sacrifice millions of sheep, millions of goats and millions of cattle with millions of gallons of blood running down through the temple. Why? It was because of the Golden Calf – before that event in the life of the Hebrews, there was a clean priesthood that Melchizedek represents, and as we hear in the book of Genesis, Melchizedek’s priesthood included offering bread and wine.
Since very early in the Church, a connection has been made with the bread and wine offered by Melchizedek as foreshadowing the bread and wine offered by Christian priests at the Eucharist. When Jesus was sacrificed on the cross, the priest and the offering were the same. But at the Eucharist, the priest and the offering are different, as it was with Melchizedek. The once-and-for-all sacrifice of the eternal great high priest on the cross is continued through Christian priesthood, a priesthood prefigured by Melchizedek’s offering of bread and wine on the altar to God, and perpetuated by hundreds of thousands of priests throughout history who have offered the same gifts on the altar in the name of Christ. This point was driven home to me personally when I was ordained priest and opened so many cards of congratulations that said, “You are a priest forever in the order of Melchizedek.”
What sort of sacrifice do priests make today?
St. Paul encourages the Christians at Rome to “present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship” (Rom 12:1). Likewise, the author of Hebrews uses sacrificial language to call on Christians to offer God both praise and a life of love for others (Heb 13:15-16). The early church saw all prayer all prayer as a sacrifice of praise offered to God, with the Eucharist as the fullest expression of Christian sacrifice; a sacrifice that requires repentance of sins leading to praise and thanksgiving.
As I said earlier, we call our ministers priests because priests make sacrifices. The Church doesn’t teach that priests re-sacrifice Jesus on the cross at the Mass. The crucifixion happened one time in history and can never be repeated, but we know that Jesus was appointed high priest forever. At the Eucharist, the priest offers to God a sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving on behalf of the people, a bloodless sacrifice of bread and wine as foreshadowed by Melchizedek. This sacrifice makes the once-for-all sacrifice of Jesus on the cross present for us in our day and time. In the Eucharistic sacrifice, time stands still as earth and heaven are joined, we are united to Christ’s once offering of himself on the cross. And when we receive our Lord into our bodies, our sins are forgiven, our union with Christ and the Church is strengthened, and we experience a foretaste of the heavenly banquet which is our nourishment in eternal life.
As you receive communion today, I invite you to offer yourself – your soul and your body – as a living sacrifice to the one who offered himself in sacrifice on that cross so long ago. As you receive this pledge of your salvation, I invite you to hear anew the beautiful and tender words of hope we heard God speak to his people in the first lesson from Jeremiah: “I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people…they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, for I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more.”
 Jewish Annotated Bible, p. 470.
 Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible, p. 38.
 BCP 860.
 Jeremiah 31:33-34.
Fourth Sunday in Lent
March 14, 2021
Numbers 21:4-9, John 3:14-21
The Rev’d Charles W. Everson
St. Mary’s Episcopal Church
Rejoice with Jerusalem and be glad with her!
The Mass for the Fourth Sunday in Lent begins with these words that we heard the cantor sing during the Introit. Rejoice in Latin is Laetare, hence the name Laetare Sunday. While last Thursday was technically the middle point in Lent, the Church gives us a bit of joy on Laetare Sunday, at least in comparison to the other Sundays in Lent. The clergy wear rose colored vestments, and the musicians have a bit of pep in their singing and playing, giving us some encouragement in our penitential journey through Lent.
The lessons for Laetare Sunday under our current lectionary begin with one of the most bizarre passages in all of Scripture. This is the last of the stories in the book of Numbers in which the Hebrews, wandering about in the wilderness, complain against their leaders Moses and Aaron. Up to this point, when they’ve complained, God punished them for their sedition, Moses interceded on their behalf, the people repented, and the Lord showed Moses how to make things right. But this time, they complain about God as well as Moses, and not only is their complaining seditious, but it’s also ridiculous. They say, “For there is no food and no water, and we detest this miserable food.” What food? Are they hallucinating? Perhaps they think they’re hallucinating when they see poisonous snakes crawling around. But no, these snakes are real. When they bite people, the people die, which is a wakeup call to those around them. The Hebrews repent of their sin, pleading with Moses to intercede for them to God. Moses does, and then God tells him to make a poisonous serpent, and set it on a pole, and everyone who is bitten shall look at it and live.
Such a strange story, but it strikes me that it would not have been unusual for the Israelites to see snakes in the wilderness of Egypt. They know what these snakes are capable of, even before they start biting people. Humans are generally scared of snakes, so much so that St. Francis Day has become interesting around here since the addition of two pet snakes to the extended parish family.
Italian artist Giovanni Fantoni created a sculpture which you can see on the front of your service leaflet. The sculpture commemorates the bronze serpent from the Israelites’ time in the wilderness in Egypt, but the sculpture is not in Egypt, rather it’s on Mount Nebo in Jordan. From there, you can see the Promised Land – specifically Jerusalem! – on a clear day. It was from Mount Nebo that Moses later was given a glimpse of the Promised Land, though he was never allowed to enter. After he saw the Promised Land, Moses died. But the sight had given him hope, even as he faced death.
Seeing the Promised Land has become a metaphor for anticipating deliverance and arriving at salvation. For the Hebrews in the wilderness, the serpents represented death as many people were bitten and died, and this horrific scene changed their hearts. The text says,
“The people came to Moses and said, “We have sinned by speaking against the Lord and against you; pray to the Lord to take away the serpents from us.” So Moses prayed for the people. And the Lord said to Moses, “Make a poisonous serpent, and set it on a pole; and everyone who is bitten shall look at it and live.”
God took the instrument of fear and death– the serpent – and turned it into a symbol of their repentance and their deliverance to new life. When you look at the sculpture of the bronze serpent on Mount Nebo, it’s clear that the artist isn’t just memorializing the bronze serpent from this story. Notice how the body of the snake, looped around its own head, also looks like a human head, and the pieces sticking out resemble outstretched arms. The artist connects the ancient Hebrew story with Jesus’ words from the gospel reading: “Just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up,” hinting at Jesus’s crucifixion on a cross. Just as snakes evoked fear in the hearts of the Hebrews, so did the cross evoke fear for those in Jesus’s time, for in first-century Palestine, anyone who dared challenge the Emperor would be executed on a wooden cross. In Christ, God took an instrument of fear and death – the cross – and turned it into a symbol of our repentance and our deliverance to new life.
The Lord promised Moses that everyone who looks upon the serpent will live; Jesus promises that those who believe in him will have eternal life. Looking isn’t enough. Believing is required. In John, “believe” is always an action verb. It’s something you do, and can’t be reduced to giving mental assent to the fact that Jesus is the Son of God. The nature of “belief” becomes clear later in this chapter when Jesus says, “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever disobeys the Son will not see life, but must endure God’s wrath.” Throughout John’s gospel, the opposite of belief is not unbelief but disobedience. To believe, therefore, is to obey! And not just one time and be done with it, but obey from now on. John uses “eternal life” in the same way the other gospel writers use the phrase “kingdom of God”: the coming of the kingdom of God isn’t about humans being snatched up from earth to heaven, but instead about heaven coming down to earth. God’s promise of eternal life to all those who believe in Christ begins in this life, here on earth, and with it comes an expectation that we actively choose to believe in Christ. Believing in Christ means committing ourselves to a new life of obedience to God’s will rather than our own. It means facing our deepest and darkest fears as the Hebrew people had to do when confronted with the serpent, and as the first century Jews did when confronted with their Messiah on the cross. Believing in Jesus means that when we sin, we repent and return to the Lord. Believing in Jesus means taking up our cross daily and following him.
In so doing, God invites us to live out the eternal life given to us right here, and right now. We are invited again and again to cooperate with God’s grace given to us in the Sacraments and serve as Christ’s hands and feet in the world, in both the large and small things in our daily lives. We are invited to make sacrifices and make choices that honor God and others rather than ourselves. We are invited to live our lives in such a way that God’s kingdom comes from heaven to earth through us.
That said, John said that those who believe in Christ will not perish. This passage, while being primarily about eternal life on earth, also points us to eternal life in heaven. It isn’t an either/or but is a both/and. The hymn we will sing after communion, “Jerusalem the golden,” reminds us of what we have to look forward to on the other side of the veil. A land flowing with milk and honey where joys await us! What radiancy of glory, what bliss beyond compare! The halls of Zion will be jubilant with the songs of the angels and martyrs and those who feast…those who with their Leader have conquered in the fight, forever and forever clad in robes of white.
Friends, at this point in our Lenten journey in the wilderness, we find ourselves on Mount Nebo like Moses was with a glimpse of the Promised Land just visible on the horizon. When we fall into sin, we repent as the Hebrews did, and gaze upon that terrible instrument of death that God has transformed into a symbol of life and love. We gaze upon the One who is lifted up, and more than just look at him, we choose to believe in him. Unlike Moses, we get to enter into the Promised Land for all of eternity, partially now, and more fully at the Last Day. While we are still on this side of the veil, our viewpoint into heaven is clearest – like a clear, sunny day on Mount Nebo – when the Church celebrates the Holy Eucharist. At this altar, we are joined with angels and archangels and all the company of heaven as heaven comes to earth, and earth is lifted to heaven, and the Son of Man is lifted up at the elevations. On this altar, God gives us the Bread that came down from heaven, that Christ may live in us, and we in him.
Let us rejoice with Jerusalem and be glad with her! Let us rejoice that God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but have eternal life. And let us rejoice that Easter joy is just around the corner. Amen.
 David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, eds., Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary (Louisville (Ky.): Westminster John Knox Press, 2011), 101.
 Verses 7 and 8.
 Much of this paragraph comes from Fr. Stephen Holmgren’s sermon: https://tinyurl.com/6rd3km3e.
 John 3:36.
 Bartlett 119.
 N. T. Wright, The Lord and His Prayer (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1996), 13.
Third Sunday in Lent
March 7, 2021
The Rev’d Charles W. Everson
St. Mary’s Episcopal Church
Hearing the Ten Commandments read elicits some strong memories and emotions in my heart. My family moved to Texas when I was 11, and a friend invited me to join him at a youth group event at a Baptist church. As I got more and more involved, I became aware that most of the other kids had memorized so much scripture at church camps over the years and I felt woefully behind the curve. One of the first things I memorized was the Ten Commandments (also called the Decalogue), and I remember thinking, “Good Lord, it’s so easy to follow these. I’ve never been tempted to murder someone, or worship another god, or steal. I mean, the whole “honor thy father and mother” might be difficult from time to time, but otherwise, I think I’ve got this.”
Fast forward a decade when I was preparing for the Sacrament of Confirmation in the Roman Catholic Church at the age of 24. It is customary to go to confession before being confirmed, and in preparation for my first confession, the priest advised me to use the Ten Commandments as a guide in examining my conscience. Suddenly, the Ten Commandments became much more than a list of rules to follow. Each one suddenly exploded with meaning: “You shall have no other gods before me” was like a seed, that when watered, grew into a list of questions. What other gods am I worshipping? Money? Power? Sex? Myself? Alcohol?
While I still think that using the Ten Commandments as a guide examining one’s conscience is helpful, the traditional interpretation of the decalogue as a list of rules might be a bit misguided. Rather than a series of rules, the Ten Commandments is a proclamation by God’s own mouth of who God is and how God should be “practiced” by this community of liberated slaves.
The commandments were given to the Hebrew people just as they had been liberated from slavery in Egypt and set out into the wilderness. The people were hungry and thirsty, and God has provided sweet water and manna from heaven to sustain them. They had been attacked and came out victorious, and they have finally reached Mount Sinai. There, in the chapter before this one, God makes a covenant with Israel: Israel will be God’s treasured possession, a priestly kingdom and a holy nation, if the people keep their end of the covenant. Unlike the previous covenants with Noah and Abraham, a mutual covenant is established: Israel must follow God’s commands if they are to remain God’s people.
The Decalogue is the listing of these commands. The commandments are arranged in two groups, the first of which is about our relationship with God. One commentator notes that the formulation of the first commandment is not “Though shalt not,” but rather “there will not be to you.” The verb used isn’t an imperative command, but rather an indicative, whereby God, in light of the Exodus, declares the banishment of all other Gods. In other words, this is less of a commandment than it is a declaration of theological emancipation in which God proclaims Israel’s freedom to love and serve their God without compromise. “You shall have no other gods before me” is not a command to follow, but a joyful declaration that God has triumphed over evil and set them free. The second group of commandments is about our relationship with our neighbors. Murder, adultery, stealing, lying, and coveting are forbidden as God wants the Hebrews to trust one another, whether that be with words, relationships, or possessions.
Despite the rather obvious groupings of the ten commandments in two, they are very much intertwined. Our relationship with God shapes the way we treat others. In other words, good theology leads to good ethics. For example, having “no other gods before me” means that by God’s help, we are to choose not to allow money, power, and sex to control us and thus exploit others. Not bearing false witness means that we should build up the community by speaking truthfully of our neighbors. “Not taking the Lord’s name in vain” invites an attitude of praise and thanksgiving toward God, rather than anger and cynicism.
When asked about the greatest commandment, Jesus summarizes the law by uniting the love of God and the love of neighbor: “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all they heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. And thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.”
The Decalogue provides healthy boundaries for our relationship with God, and our relationships with our neighbors. When we worship idols, or covet our neighbor’s fancy car, or cheat on our partner, or tell a lie, the foundation of our relationship with God and one another is shaken. As the Ten Commandments were given to the Hebrew people to joyfully proclaim that God has set them free, Lent gives us an opportunity to delve into the freedom God has for us. At our baptism, we were set free from the bonds of sin by Christ’s death and resurrection. Each time we encounter Christ in the Sacraments of the Church, we are given the grace we need to resist evil, and whenever we fall into sin, to repent and return to the Lord.
When I hear the Ten Commandments today, I am less confident than I was in my teens that “I’ve got this.” I still think that reflecting on them to examine one’s conscience is a good and holy thing. In fact, I encourage you to take your service leaflet home with you or open up your Bibles this week to Exodus chapter 20, and sit down in silence for a few minutes and do just that. But as you’re examining your conscience, rejoice in the freedom you were given at your baptism. For just as the Hebrews were set free from captivity in Egypt, so too have we been freed from our captivity to sin in Jesus Christ. Rejoice that God has freed you to be in relationship with him and with your fellow human beings within the healthy bounds of the Ten Commandments, and ask God for the grace to build strong spiritual habits during this Lenten sojourn in the wilderness. Amen.
 New Interpreter’s Bible 841.
 Much of this paragraph is from https://www.workingpreacher.org/commentaries/revised-common-lectionary/third-sunday-in-lent-2/commentary-on-exodus-201-17.
 David Lyon Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary, Year B (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2009), 72.
 Mark 12:29-31 as printed in the 1979 BCP on page 319.
Sean C. Kim
St. Mary’s Episcopal Church
28 February 2021
The exchange between Jesus and Peter in today’s reading from the Gospel of Mark is one of the most shocking scenes in the Bible for me. Jesus calls one of his beloved disciples, someone in his inner circle, Peter no less, “Satan.” In the Gospel of Mark, Peter is the only person who is reprimanded by Jesus in such harsh terms. It doesn’t get any worse than being called “Satan.” Peter must have been utterly stunned, confused, and hurt. What could he have possibly done to provoke such a strong indictment? Is Peter possessed by the Devil? Or perhaps he’s the Devil in disguise? But we all know it’s not Peter who betrays Jesus; it’s Judas. On the surface, it seems that Peter is just looking out for Jesus. When Jesus tells his disciples that he must suffer and die, Peter, out of his concern for the well-being of his master, naturally protests. He doesn’t want Jesus, his teacher and friend, to suffer and die.
Then, why does Jesus rebuke him? When we read on, Jesus explains that Peter is setting his mind not on divine things but on human things. What does Jesus mean by this dichotomy between “divine things” and “human things”? To place this incident in context, the disciples have been riding high on Jesus’ successful ministry. Huge crowds have been following Jesus to hear his preaching and to be healed of all sorts of diseases. The disciples are basking in the light of their master’s fame and glory. And right before the incident with Peter, Jesus has revealed to his disciples that he is the long-awaited Messiah. Jesus asks them who the people say he is, and they answer that some say Elijah and others, John the Baptist. And it is, in fact, Peter who makes the confession of faith: “You are the Messiah” (Mark 8:27-30). But then far from being praised for his recognition of Jesus as the Messiah, he is soon reprimanded. Peter is confused. So are the rest of the disciples. What is going on?
Jesus rebukes Peter because he and the other disciples have it all wrong about the nature of the Messiah. They envision Jesus as an earthly king, who will use his power and authority to drive out the Romans and the corrupt Jewish leaders, and establish a new kingdom. And the disciples see themselves on the verge of obtaining honor and glory themselves. In the following chapters of Mark’s Gospel, the disciples will argue about who is the greatest among them (Mark 9:33-34), and a couple of them, James and John, will ask Jesus for the privilege of sitting at his right and left hand in his kingdom (Mark 10:35-37).
Jesus calls Peter “Satan” because this way of thinking, seeing the kingdom in terms of earthly power, honor, and glory, is precisely what Satan had used to tempt Jesus in the wilderness. Satan takes Jesus to a high mountain for a view of all the kingdoms of the world in their glory, and he tells Jesus: “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.” To which, Jesus replies: “Away with you, Satan! For it is written, ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him” (Matthew 4:8-10). When Jesus rebukes Peter with the words, “Get behind me, Satan,” he is drawing a direct parallel with this earlier incident, in which Jesus rebukes the Devil with the words, “Away with you, Satan.” So, unknowingly, Peter had become a tempter, like Satan, presenting Jesus with earthly glory and threatening to derail his divine mission.
Jesus rebukes Peter for setting his mind on the “human things” of personal glory, power, and honor. And then he calls the other disciples as well as the crowd to explain the “divine things.” He tells them: “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it” (Mark 8:34-35). Jesus paints a radically different picture of the Messiah than what the disciples had expected. The Messiah will suffer and die, and he expects his followers to do the same.
In spite of the initial confusion and resistance to this message, the disciples did ultimately take up their crosses and give up their lives for the sake of Jesus and the Gospel. And so have countless others in the two millennia of Christian history. One of the great benefits for me of the Daily Masses that we have here at St. Mary’s is the observance of the feast days for the various saints. It is an inspiration to learn about the lives of the faithful down through the ages. And when we look at these saints, the examples that we hold up for following Jesus, not all of them were martyrs. Some of them lived to a ripe old age, including one of the twelve apostles, Saint John. The saints show us that martyrdom is not the only way to give up our lives for the gospel. We can offer ourselves as a living sacrifice to God. Think of the missionaries who gave up their lives of comfort, security, and privilege to venture out to distant and dangerous lands to proclaim the Gospel or the monks and nuns who gave up their lives of creature comforts and luxuries to dedicate themselves to prayer.
I find great inspiration in the life and witness of the saints. But these past few weeks, I have also found inspiration closer to home. As you have probably heard or seen on the news, the pandemic has greatly increased the number of the homeless as well as the food insecure. And several of our St. Mary’s staff and parishioners have taken up the challenge of providing food and other necessities. In case you’re not aware, we have a nice pantry downstairs in the basement. Check it out sometime if you have chance; we would be glad to give you a little tour. These past few weeks, we’ve had many volunteers who have brought food and other goods, made sandwiches and bags of food, or helped to clean up and organize the pantry. And one parishioner even loaded a truck full of food and took it to the doorsteps of those in need.
We have living saints in our midst today, faithful followers of the Lord Jesus who give up their time, energy, and resources to serve the poor and needy in our community. The work that we do in serving the needy is especially meaningful during this Holy Season of Lent. Almsgiving, or charitable work, is one of the three main disciplines or pillars of Lent; the other two are prayer and fasting.
Lent is a time of self-denial and reflection in preparation for the Passion, Crucifixion, and Resurrection of Our Lord Jesus Christ. We usually think of the self-denial in terms of giving up meat or chocolate or alcohol. But the self-denial is not just about food. Jesus calls us to deny ourselves in all aspects of our life. He calls us to transcend the worldly temptations of power, honor, and glory, and to lead lives of self-denial, humility, and service. Following the example of Jesus and of all the saints past and present, let us take up our cross and walk the path to Calvary.
 C. Clifton Black, “Commentary on Mark 8:31-38,” Working Preacher. https://www.workingpreacher.org/commentaries/revised-common-lectionary/second-sunday-in-lent-2/commentary-on-mark-831-38-4
 Ira Brent Driggers, “Commentary on Mark 8:31-38,” Working Preacher.
The sermons preached at High Mass at St. Mary's Episcopal Church, Kansas City, are posted here!