The Third Sunday of Easter
St. Mary’s Episcopal Church
Fr. Charles Everson
April 23, 2023
I’m not sure about you, but my social life isn’t what it was before March 2020. Before most people knew what a coronavirus is, back when pandemics were mostly talked about in horror movies, Jay and I were in the practice of entertaining at our home several times per month, breaking bread with friends and family alike. Fast forward three years, and we seem to share a meal with friends less frequently than before. I was talking with one of our parishioners the other day, and she too commented on this phenomenon and how isolating and lonely it is. It seems to be a common experience for single and married people alike.
Of course all of this began with an abrupt and sudden upheaval of the world that resulted in not only the isolation and loneliness that has lingered so long, but despair. But even the darkest despair we may have felt during that first year of the pandemic can’t have been as deep as the despair felt by the two disciples in the gospel lesson we heard today.
On the afternoon of the first Easter Day, these two disciples are walking on the road to Emmaus from Jerusalem, the place where they witnessed the torture and execution of Jesus, the one they hoped would redeem Israel from all of her troubles. They heard that some women had claimed that an angel told them he was alive, but these two aren’t buying it. They are sad, confused, and full of despair.
As they are talking and discussing the fateful events they witnessed, Jesus shows up, but for some reason, their eyes are kept from recognizing him. He asks what they’re talking about, and they respond by telling him about their shattered expectations. Jesus then begins to teach the two travelers and explain to them how the crazy events they had experienced were the fulfillment of the scriptures of old.
They still aren’t convinced, but when Jesus tries to leave and head another direction, the two disciples urge him strongly to stay with them. Even though they still don’t recognize him, his preaching and teaching from the scriptures apparently have had enough impact on them that they want to spend more time with him. When they sit down at the table, he takes bread, blesses and breaks it, and gives it to them, and suddenly their eyes are opened! They realize that the man standing before them is the one in whom they placed all their hope. The women who experienced the vision with the angel weren’t insane after all. He is risen indeed! Jesus finally makes himself known to them in the breaking of the bread.
Now don’t mishear me. As a priest, my duties include preaching and teaching the scriptures as I’m doing right now, and that certainly has its place. But preaching and teaching only reach so far into the depths of one’s being.
From about age 11 to age 24, I was Southern Baptist, and was taught that the normal way to commune intimately with God is by having what is called “a quiet time,” time by yourself in a room with a Bible, praying and studying the scriptures. Also important was being in corporate worship and listening to sermons much lengthier than the one you’re enduring right. For me, anyway, there was something missing that I couldn’t quite put my finger on…
…until one day that when walked into an historic church Paris, France. I was living in Paris and working as a Baptist missionary, and I sang in a university choir that allowed anyone to try out and join. My first concert with them was in the 13th century church called St. Etienne du Mont, St. Stephen of the Mount. We sang a choral Mass setting – I forget the composer – in this amazingly gorgeous and historic church that was served by Maurice and Marie-Madeline Durufle as staff musicians for many years, and it dawned on me that we were singing a Mass setting in a church in which the Mass had been celebrated daily for at least 475 years (with a slight pause at the French Revolution). I had seen their service times on the way in, and decided to attend their simple daily Mass the next morning at 8:30 a.m., and it was at that service that I literally recognized the Lord in the breaking of the bread. When Fr. Stéphane elevated the consecrated communion bread for all to behold, my eyes were opened, and I recognized Jesus and knew what it was I had been missing.
Part of what hit me that day is that salvation isn’t merely a spiritual redemption of our hearts, it’s almost a physical redemption of our bodies. God’s grace is more than a feeling, and thank God, because sometimes I wondered whether the funny feeling right here is the voice of God or indigestion. God’s grace is more than a feeling, and God sent Jesus to redeem our whole selves – heart, soul, mind, and body. He doesn’t only share his love grace with us by intangible means like quiet prayer and reflection, but perhaps even more importantly by tangible fruit of the earth and work of human hands, the simple creatures of bread and wine. God didn’t send his son to redeem us as a disembodied spirit, but as a human being with flesh and blood and bones. He doesn’t send his Holy Spirit to us and leave us wondering whether the voice we’re hearing is the voice of God or a ghost; he has given us the sacraments of the church – especially Baptism and Communion – as “a sure and certain means” by which we receive God’s inward and spiritual grace.
As soon as their eyes were opened, the first thing the disciples did – the same hour, they got up and found their friends to joyfully tell them that the Lord has risen indeed and that he has been made known to them in the breaking of the bread.
This sharing of the faith, sometimes called evangelism, conjures up images of street preachers with megaphones and door-to-door missionaries in foreign countries. But evangelism at its best is the natural sharing of the faith with those you already know and have a relationship with. While it should be intentional, evangelism should not be judg-y or pushy or disrespectful. When we encounter God in our lives – through prayer, through the hug of a friend, through the scriptures preached and taught, and through the bread and wine of Holy Communion – it’s natural to want to share the joy of that encounter with others in word and deed.
And this leads us to the blessing of the new shrine of St. Luke “the Evangelist.” When this parish church began in 1854, we were called St. Luke's. The Vestry voted to change out name to St. Mary's nearly twenty years later to avail itself of the provision in Mary Ann Troost's will that a plot of land at 13th and Holmes be given to an Episcopal parish called St. Mary's. If you've ever been here on St. Luke's Day in October, you've heard me do my best to keep the stories of our forbears alive - the key people, some of the events, and the spirit of reckless abandon in which the clergy and people spread the gospel in the fledgling "Town of Kansas" (now Kansas City) following the example of St. Luke the Evangelist.
St. Luke, the apostle who is traditionally known to have written the gospel of Luke and the Acts of the Apostles, was a companion of St. Paul on some of his missionary journeys, and he was also a physician who used his medical skills to heal people’s bodies as well as their souls. As you’ll see in the details of the icon itself, Luke is also honored as patron of artists. According to tradition, he was the first person to paint an icon of the Blessed Virgin Mary which he is holding. We return to our roots today by dedicating this new shrine which invites us to connect with the apostolic witness of St. Luke and his writings, inspires us by his example of evangelism and healing and artistic beauty, and invites us to ask for his prayers and protection.
Dear friends, as we break bread together in a moment, let us ask the Lord to open the eyes of our faith. You may have heard the scriptures preached and taught throughout your life and you mentally assent to belief in Jesus, and yet something seems missing. You may recognize Jesus in the breaking of the bread as you have for the past several decades of your life. You may think the whole resurrection of Jesus is a load of hogwash. No matter how isolated or lonely or full of despair you may feel, no matter how your hopes may have been crushed, like the two travelers on the road to Emmaus, you are invited to recognize Jesus in the breaking of the bread. We break bread not in isolation, but in community with one another. And here at St. Mary’s Church, we affirm that God meets you where you are, no matter where you are in your journey, no matter your station in life.
At St. Mary’s, we have services every day, and I end up celebrating the Eucharist 2-3 times a week. Twenty years later, it is quite common for me to elevate the consecrated bread and be taken back to that time when I was a Baptist missionary in Paris at the age of 23…when I first recognized Jesus in the breaking of the bread. As we break bread together today, may you and I behold Jesus in all his redeeming work. Amen.
Matthew 28:1-10, Acts 10:34-43
Fr. Charles Everson
St. Mary’s Episcopal Church
April 9, 2023
On many Sundays throughout the year, it would be commonplace for the average person to come to church not knowing what the theme of the liturgy will be. Today is not one of those days. On Easter Day, we know what to expect.
On this day, we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead – body, blood, soul and divinity. We hear the story of Mary Magdalene and the other Mary at the tomb of Jesus. An angel appears dramatically like lightning, rolls away the stone, and proclaims that Jesus has been raised from the day as he said. Faced with the angel and the revealing of the empty tomb, the guards were terrified. The angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid.” Then, Jesus greets them– body, blood, soul and divinity. The two women take hold of his feet with their hands and worship him. He says, “Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers and sisters to go to Galilee, and there they will see me.”
Mary Magdalene and the other Mary didn’t show up at the tomb and encounter what they expected to see, nor were they anticipating what would happen on their way to tell the others what they had seen.
In the epistle lesson from the book of Acts, we heard a post-resurrection sermon preached by St. Peter just after the dramatic conversion of the Roman centurion Cornelius. (Cornelius is a Gentile but worships the God of the Hebrews.) As he is saying his evening prayers, he experiences something he certainly wasn’t expecting to experience. Cornelius has a vision in which an angel instructs him to go and call for Peter, who is an observant Jew. While Cornelius’ men are on their way to him, Peter has a bizarre vision in which a voice tells him to kill and eat animals considered profane under Jewish dietary law. He is shocked and doesn’t know what to make of this. Cornelius’ men show up, and Peter accompanies them to meet Cornelius who had gathered his family and friends. Peter acknowledges to the group that as a Jew, he isn’t lawfully permitted to mingle with Gentiles, but because God has shown him that he shouldn’t call anyone profane or unclean, he agrees to come to see him. He asks Cornelius, “Now may I ask why you sent for me?” Peter is beginning to get the message but isn’t quite there yet. Cornelius describes his vision, and as we heard in verse 34, the light finally clicks with Peter and he understands what God is trying to say to him. He says, “I truly understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him.”
This past week, on social media, I came across a meme which consists of images of Jesus washing various peoples’ feet, including Joe Biden, Donald Trump, a gay man, a prisoner, a Ukrainian mother and child, a young black man, an exhausted nurse, an orphaned toddler, a police officer, Pope Francis, and a young woman ignoring Jesus and focusing on her phone. It is a grouping of images that is designed to trigger each of us in some way or another. While the message seems easy enough to understand – Jesus shows no impartiality and is the servant of all – I began to see people saving and reposting the images but having first deleted the images of Jesus washing the feet of those they don’t like. Oh, the irony.
Like Mary Magdalene and the other Mary, Peter was stubborn, and it took more than God’s still, soft voice in his ear to cause the scales to fall from his eyes and realize that Jesus’ resurrection from the dead truly means that “God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him.” Fearing God and doing right echo the ancient Jewish summary of the law: the first and greatest commandment is to love God and the second is to love your neighbor as yourself. In the resurrected Christ, the old law has been fulfilled. The old boundaries that separated ancient Israel and her neighbors that once were important were destroyed when Christ was raised from the dead.
We are often like Mary Magdalene, the other Mary, and Peter. When we perceive that God is leading us somewhere that is unexpected and uncomfortable, we are terrified, and because of our fear, we cannot hear the message God wants us to hear. Despite God’s impartiality being a part of the DNA of the Christian faith from the very beginning, we Christians, as a whole, are not known for freely and authentically accepting those who are different than we are into our faith communities primarily, in my opinion, because of fear. Fear of impurity, fear of how we’ll be perceived by others, fear of the hard work that is required to be in relationship with someone who makes us uncomfortable.
At Easter, we hear the Scripture readings and sing the hymns and see the beautiful flowers we expect to see. We celebrate Christ’s resurrection with all the joy we can muster in the beauty of holiness, with the finest music, with all of the expected things. But of all the things we do this morning, the most awesome and terrifying is coming face to face with our resurrected Lord in the bread and wine of Holy Communion. The same Jesus who rose from the dead on that first Easter Day is the same Jesus - body, blood, soul and divinity – who meets us at this altar in the simple creatures of bread and wine. We kneel at the altar rail next to someone who looks and dresses and perhaps smells differently than we do; someone who, no matter their station in life, God loves with no partiality. We all kneel at the same rail and encounter the same risen Christ, and we all eat and drink that our sinful bodies may be made clean by his body, and our souls washed through his most precious blood.
Dear friends, as we encounter our risen Lord at this altar, let us heed the words of the angels: do not be afraid. And as we come face to face with those who are different than we are in the most triggering way, here in church and out in the world, let us remember that “there is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all are one in Christ Jesus.” Thanks be to God, we have nothing to fear – even death itself – for Christ is risen! Alleluia!
 Prayer of Humble Access, 1928 BCP.
 Galatians 3:28, NRSV.
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!
St. Mary’s Church
The Rev’d Charles Everson
Last night, we began the Sacred Triddum of Easter with the Mass of Maundy Thursday. The theme of yesterday’s celebration was Jesus’ institution of the Eucharist at the Last Supper. The setting of the Last Supper in Matthew, Mark, and Luke is during great Jewish festival of the Passover which celebrates the Israelites’ escape from slavery in Egypt. In the synoptic gospels, the Passion and death of Christ happen after Passover. In the gospel of John, however, the Last Supper is not presented as a Passover meal, and the timeline is moved up a bit. The Last Supper happens on the night before he dies, and Christ’s passion and death are set during the Passover. Scholars debate the precise reason for this apparent chronological discrepancy, but in any case, in St. John’s gospel, Jesus dies during the sacrificing of the lambs in the temple.
As we heard in last night’s reading from the book of Exodus, at Passover, the Hebrews were to slaughter a lamb, smear some of its blood on the doorposts and lintels of their houses, and then eat the lamb. When God passed through the land to slay the first-born sons of the Egyptians, he would pass by the Israelites’ houses and spare their first-born sons, delivering them from death by the blood of the lamb.
This sacrificing business was a bloody, gruesome affair. Last night, I had the privilege of singing in the choir, and during the reading of that passage from Exodus, when the stuff about the smearing of the blood and the way the lamb was to be roasted and eaten were described in gory detail, several of the choristers developed a slight look of disgust on their faces – well, disgust and maybe a little giggling.
And yet here we are on Good Friday, face to face with the bloody, gruesome death of Our Savior. In his passion narrative, John gives two connections between Jesus’ death and the Passover.
Right before his death on the cross, Our Lord says, “I am thirsty.” His friends put a sponge full of wine on a branch of hyssop and hold it to his mouth. The hyssop branch was readily available because hyssop was used at Passover to smear the blood of the Passover lamb on the lintel and doorposts of the Hebrews’ houses and was used ceremonially in the temple during Jesus’ day. And just after the passage we heard, the solders broke the legs of the other two men crucified next to Jesus to speed up their death. But by the time they got to Jesus, they saw he was already dead and saw no need to break his legs. John explains that this occurred “so that the Scripture might be filled, “None of his bones shall be broken,”” a reference back to the Passover instructions not to break any of the Paschal Lamb’s bones.
The parallel is poignant: Jesus hangs on the cross at the same time that the Paschal lambs are being slaughtered in the temple. Once a meal to connect the Hebrews to their covenant with God, Jesus made the Passover lamb into the sacrifice to end all sacrifices. Jesus’ death on the cross would accomplish once and for all what the blood of thousands of lambs could never do. Jesus was the perfect Passover lamb who ended the need for animal sacrifices and changed the meaning of the Passover itself.
While the Passover lamb itself was not for the atoning of sins, the sacrificial system of Judaism included the sin offerings of goats and lambs and bulls and doves. In these rituals, the life of the animal was given as a sacrifice to atone for the sins of the people.
On that cross, by his blood, Jesus did away with the need for animal sacrifices. Jesus is truly the Lamb of God, the ultimate Passover sacrifice.
The Church talks about the Eucharist as a bloodless sacrifice. Yes, we believe the consecrated wine is Christ’s precious blood, but none of us believe that we are drinking human blood. I think tawny port has a more pleasant taste than blood. But the sacrifice that Jesus made for us on the cross was a bloody, gruesome affair and involved real human flesh and blood.
Why did God send his own son to die for us? Why the need for all this blood? While there are many atonement theories and just as many criticisms of each of them, there is no getting around the fact that the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross was a sacrificial atonement for our sins.
The first bit of Eucharistic Prayer 1 in our prayer book sums up the whole affair quite nicely. The Celebrant prays,
All glory be to thee, O Lord our God, for that thou didst create heaven and earth, and didst make us in thine own image; and, of thy tender mercy, didst give thine only Son Jesus Christ to take our nature upon him, and to suffer death upon the cross for our redemption. He made there a full and perfect sacrifice for the whole world;
Just after Jesus received the wine on that branch of hyssop, recalling the blood of the Paschal Lamb on the lintel and doorposts at Passover, Jesus said, ““It is finished.” Then he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.”
Dear friend, Jesus is the Lamb of God who taketh away the sins of the world. We sing or say these words at Mass to signify the end of the consecration of the elements and that Christ is truly present in the consecrated bread and wine. In other words, “It is finished.” At every Eucharist, we celebrate the Passover anew in our own day and time, renewing our covenant with God, and continuing a perpetual memory of Jesus’s death on the cross for our sins. As we receive his body and blood into our own bodies, we renew our commitment to Jesus Christ as our Savior and Lord, who, in the words of our post-communion hymn, “died that we might be forgiven, he died to make us good, that we might go at last to heaven, saved by his precious blood.” Amen.
 NRSV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible, 1864.
 Ibid 1869.
 John 19:36.
Sean C. Kim
St. Mary’s Episcopal Church
6 April 2023
The dysfunctional family bickering at the dinner table during Thanksgiving has, unfortunately, become a kind of American tradition, one to which many of us can probably relate. Today, in our Gospel reading from Luke, we see some dysfunction in Jesus’ family – his spiritual family, that is, his disciples. Gathered to celebrate the Feast of the Passover, the disciples exhibit some bad behavior. One of them, Judas, is about to betray his friend and master to the authorities. And the others are arguing with each other about who is the greatest among them. And all this in the context of the sacred moment when Jesus institutes the Sacrament of Holy Communion, the central act of Christian worship!
The Gospels don’t paint a very favorable portrait of the disciples. In spite of all the time that they spend with Jesus and the friendship and intimacy that they enjoy with him, they often fail to understand his message. They just don’t seem to get it. And this isn’t the first time in the Gospel of Luke that they are arguing over who is number one. Earlier in the book, they had the same argument. Jesus responded back then by placing a little child next to him and telling the disciples, “Whoever welcomes this child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me; for the least among all of you is the greatest” (Luke 9:46-48). But the disciples obviously didn’t know what he meant because here they are again arguing over the very same issue of who is the greatest. So, Jesus repeats the message: “the greatest among you must become the youngest, and the leader like one who serves” (Luke 21:27).
Jesus rejects the disciples’ desire for personal honor and status. That is the way the world thinks. Jesus presents a new and different way of life, one that is not motivated by greatness and glory for oneself but rather by humility and service for others. And this is the life that we are called to live as followers of Jesus. But, as we know, this is easier said than done. We live in a society in which the game of status seems inescapable. Whether it is the neighborhood we live in, the car that we drive, or the clothes that we wear, we display our status. Our jobs and professions have their hierarchies, and we work hard to rise up the ladder of promotion and authority. Even the Church is not immune from the competition for status. Have you heard the phrase “purple fever”? It refers to a priest – or perhaps even a seminarian – who does little to hide the fact that they want to become a bishop.
Reining in our personal ambitions presents an extraordinary challenge for us. It goes against society. It goes against our human nature. For most of us, it will be a lifelong struggle. But we have help – divine help. Our Lord Jesus sets an example for us of humility and service for others. Today, immediately after the sermon, just as Jesus washed the feet of his disciples at the Last Supper, we, too, will wash each other’s feet. When the service is ended and we go out into the world, we will carry in our hearts a memory of this powerful symbolic act. And we will strive to live it out in our daily lives, serving in humility those with whom we live and work, as well as those for whom we pray: the aged and infirm, the widowed and orphans, the sick and the suffering, the poor and the oppressed, the unemployed and the destitute, the prisoners and captives.
In the struggle to overcome ourselves and live for others, we also find help in the Holy Eucharist. As we receive Christ’s Body and Blood into our own bodies in the mystery of the Blessed Sacrament, we unite with him and become one with him. And His Presence in the Eucharist grants us the strength, the spiritual nourishment, to carry out his work in the world.
In spite of all their faults and blunders, Jesus’ disciples eventually got it. They went on to embody the life of humble service that Jesus preached, and it is on their apostolic foundation that our faith rests. This evening, we join the disciples at the table that Jesus has prepared for us. We come to be fed with the holy food and drink of new and unending life. We come to be transformed that we might live no longer unto ourselves but for him who died for us and rose again, Jesus Christ Our Lord.
Sunday of the Passion: Palm Sunday
Sean C. Kim
St. Mary’s Episcopal Church
2 April 2023
Palm Sunday is one of the most festive celebrations of the church year. Waving palm branches, we process outside the church, and we have glorious music to accompany our worship. But today, you may have noticed on the service leaflet, is also called the Sunday of the Passion. Our Gospel reading from Matthew takes us through what will happen to Jesus the rest of this week – the Passion or the suffering of Jesus as he is arrested tried, and executed. During this holiest of weeks of the Christian faith, our liturgy invites us to enter and experience the drama of salvation that took place two thousand years ago. As we speak and reenact the events, we become the crowds. We become the disciples.
Today, we join the crowds that welcome Jesus as he enters Jerusalem. The city is full of pilgrims who have come to observe Passover in the holy city. And the crowds are excited to see in person the famous preacher, healer, and miracle-worker. We read that some spread their cloaks on the road, others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road, and they shout, “Hosanna to the Son of David!” (Matthew 21:8). Through their words and actions, the crowds proclaim Jesus the king, the messiah, the fulfillment of prophecy.
But then as we turn to our Gospel reading, there is a dramatic shift – no longer the joy and fanfare of Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem but the sorrow and tragedy of His Passion and Death. We have a kind of preview of what will happen the rest of this week. What begins as a royal welcome for Jesus will end with his death on the cross as a criminal.
And, through it all, we become part of the events that lead to Golgotha. On Thursday, we will join the disciples at the Last Supper when Jesus instituted the Sacrament of Holy Communion and when he washed the feet of his disciples. Then we will follow Jesus and the disciples to the Garden of Gethsemane to pray and keep vigil in Jesus’ moment of agony as he prepares for the supreme sacrifice that he will make on the cross. It is in the garden where Jesus will be arrested. And what do his disciples do? One of them, Judas, who has betrayed him to the authorities, comes to identify him, and the rest of the disciples desert Jesus and flee into hiding for fear of their lives. And later Peter, one of the main disciples, denies even knowing Jesus.
On Friday, we will join the crowds again. But their mood will have changed. When Jesus entered Jerusalem, they shouted, “Hosanna to the Son of David!” Now, at the time of his trial before Pilate, they scream “Let him be crucified!”
As our readings and liturgy lead us through these events, we are more than spectators. We may not have been physically there two thousand years ago, but we are no less part of the story of Jesus’ Passion and Death, for it is our sins and transgressions that put him on the cross. As we read in the book by the Prophet Isaiah:
All we like sheep have gone astray;
we have all turned to our own way
And the Lord has laid on him
the iniquity of us all (Isaiah 53:6)
Like the disciples and the crowds, we, too, are guilty of betraying, denying, and abandoning Jesus. How many times have we, while calling him Lord and Savior, let our egos drive our actions? How many times have we conveniently hidden our Christian identity for the sake of acceptance by our peers? How many times have we failed to be faithful in our prayers and devotions? How many times have we disobeyed the command to love God and neighbor?
During this Season of Lent, we have been reflecting on our sins. That does not stop with Holy Week. In fact, the reflection on our sins intensifies as we speak and reenact the acts of betrayal, denial, and abandonment. We lay bare the worst of what lurks deep in our hearts and minds. As human beings, all of us have a bit of Judas in us. All of us have a bit of Peter in us. All of us can be fickle like the crowds, quickly turning from love and adoration to hatred and violence.
So, toward the end of this week, on Friday, we will join the crowds one final time, this time at the foot of the cross, to gaze upon the body of Jesus. At the foot of the cross, we will confront the paradox of our salvation. Jesus was condemned that we might be forgiven of our sins. Jesus died that we might have life. But, as we know, the story doesn’t end there. Death will not have the final word. For the rest of the week, as Jesus lies in the tomb, we will wait. We will wait for the promise of resurrection.
Fifth Sunday in Lent – Year A
The Rev’d Charles Everson
St. Mary’s Church
“I am the resurrection and the life,” saith the Lord. “He that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live; and whoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die.”
Since before medieval times, these words have been said at the beginning of the burial rites of the English Church, and post-1789, of The Episcopal Church. And this is a meet and right thing so to do as these two verses encapsulate the Christian view of both life and death.
In today’s lengthy gospel reading, we hear the story of the raising of Lazarus from the dead. As the story begins, we hear that Lazarus, a close friend of Jesus, has fallen ill. His sisters, Mary and Martha, send word to Jesus, hoping that he will come and heal their brother. But Jesus delays, on purpose it seems, and by the time he arrives, Lazarus has already died and been buried four days. When Jesus arrives, he is greeted by Martha, who says to him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” Jesus responds by saying, “Your brother will rise again.” Martha, responds by saying, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” But Jesus has something else in mind. He says to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.”
What does it mean for Jesus to be the resurrection and the life? For Jesus to be the resurrection means that physical death has no power over those who believe in Jesus. Our future is determined by our faith in Christ, not by our death. For Jesus to be the life means that all of our present reality is also transformed by Christ’s resurrection. In other words, at our baptism, we begin to experience eternal life here and now. 
Next, he asks Martha, “Do you believe this?” Martha responds with a powerful confession of faith: “Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world.”
With these words, Martha affirms her faith in Jesus as the one who has power over death and the one who has come to bring new life. This new life we began to live at our baptism is not devoid of drama and high emotion as we see in Jesus’s encounter with Martha’s sister Mary. When he sees her weeping, he is “greatly disturbed in spirit and troubled” with the RSV’s translation being a bit tame. The text isn’t saying that Jesus is with in compassion with Mary in her grief. The Greek word translated as “greatly disturbed in spirit” connotates anger and indignation, and the word translated as troubled also can mean agitated. Later at Lazarus’s tomb, he is “deeply moved” or “disturbed” again. Jesus is angry at something, and Mary is beside herself with grief. While biblical scholars disagree on why he is angry, the Greek text is clear that Jesus is indeed angry. His weeping is in the midst of his anger. It’s painful to envision Jesus wailing and crying out in anger. Yes, Jesus raises Lazarus from the dead, but he doesn’t shy away from expressing the deepest of human emotions.
I think it might be helpful for us to remember this the next time our emotions get the best of us, and even more importantly the next time someone else’s emotions seem way over the top. Because we have chosen to follow Jesus, death no longer has ultimate hold over us. But we who are above ground breathing in this world – we who experience, like our Lord, the drama of everyday life with its highs and lows, the dark anger and ridiculous joy – we who live and believe in Him will never die. In the resurrected life we begin to experience in the here and now, our priorities are changed. The rich are sent away empty and the hungry are fed; the mighty are cast down from their thrones and the lowly are lifted up. We try to live our lives focused on others, especially those most in need, but sometimes, unlike Jesus, our deepest emotions overcome us and we forget that we have died to sin and been raised to newness of life.
Thanks be to God, as we heard in the opening collect, God can bring into order the unruly wills and affections of sinful men (and women). Even those of us whose dark emotions sometimes get the best of us, and perhaps even those of us who judge those whose emotions don’t always stay within the neat and tidy confines of polite society.
As Lent grinds to a close, we continue to ask the Lord to order our unruly wills and affections. But five weeks in, we know full well that our wills and affections, marred by sin, aren’t easily ordered by anyone, God included. It won’t be until Resurrection at the Last Day that we will fully love “the thing that God commandest and desire that which he dost promise.” Like Martha, it’s easy for us to believe Jesus when he says he is the resurrection, but today he reminds us that he is also the life. For Lazarus, his newness of life begins not in his future, but his present. The point of this story is not that Lazarus was raised from the dead, for not long after this story, he dies again, and this time he stays dead. The real point is that Jesus is Lord of both the living and the dead and that his voice carries through even the walls of the grave. Even through our tears and emotional outbursts. Even when we fail at keeping our Lenten disciplines. Even when we are faced with the gruesome torture and execution of our Lord as we will be during Holy Week.
“I am the resurrection and the life,” saith the Lord. “He that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live; and whoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die.” May these words of Our Lord sustain us through the gate of death at Calvary to the joy of the empty tomb at Easter.
 John 11:25-26
 New Interpreter’s Bible 585.
 NIB 586.
Fourth Sunday in Lent
The Rev’d Charles Everson
John 9:1-13, 28-38
March 19, 2023
Have you accepted Jesus Christ as your personal Lord and Savior? Are you saved?
This is a question many of us have been asked, and some of may have asked it of others. In certain corners of the Christian faith, it is taught that this is how you become a Christian: at the moment in time when you admit to yourself and to God that you are a sinner, and you ask Jesus to come into your heart, you are “saved” and then are guaranteed a spot in heaven.
When I was 11, my step-dad got transferred to Texas, and once we got settled there, some friends at school invited me to a youth group gathering at Trinity Oaks Baptist Church in Red Oak, Texas. It was there I had such an experience. And wow, was it an emotional experience! I felt closer to God than I had ever been – as if I had met him for the first time and all of my spiritual and emotional wounds were healed! I was convinced that what they were telling me was true. Finally, I knew I’d get to heaven!
The youth pastor and other, having heard about my experience, encouraged me to be baptized. For the Baptists, baptism is something you do in response to the purely inward and spiritual act of accepting Jesus Christ as your personal Lord and Savior. No grace is imparted in the waters of baptism. You get baptized only out of obedience as an outward sign of what has already happened in your heart.
In the passage we heard from the gospel of John, we see the conversion story of a man who was born blind. Jesus brought about healing and wholeness to the blind man not by teaching him what to pray or what to believe, but by spitting on the ground and making clay with the saliva and spreading it on the man’s eyes, then saying, “Go wash in the Pool of Siloam”. So he went and washed and came back able to see. This man’s conversion involved clay from the earth, Jesus’ saliva, the touch of his hands, and the words he spoke.
It wasn’t until years after my “conversion experience” at age 11 that I learned that this is exactly how the Sacraments of the Church work! By the power of the Holy Spirit, Jesus infuses and transforms the simple creatures of water, bread and wine, and oil in order to communicate his grace, his healing, his wholeness to us. Salvation isn’t just something that happens in the secret places of our hearts, it is also something that happens to the body. There really isn’t any room in Christianity for separating the two.
This passage also exposes another unhealthy dualism that was as common in Jesus’s time as it is in our own. As Jesus passed the blind man, his disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Many of us get it in our heads that if things are going well for me, God must be happy with me. On the other hand, if my life is going to hell in a handbasket, God must be unhappy with me. I must have done something wrong.
Friends, that isn’t Christianity. God’s grace and favor toward us are by definition unearned and undeserved and not related to anything we may have done or left undone.
Rather than treating the human body and soul as separate things, from the earliest of times, the Church has taught that we are one, whole, fully integrated person that is, in a sense, born blind. We are all born with the tendency to sin, and once we’re old enough and have the ability to choose right from wrong, we often choose to engage in sin.
This past Friday night, Bishop Bruce was here and she baptized and confirmed a young woman named Jordan (Jordan works on Sundays, so she’s been coming during the week), and she confirmed eight others: Jami, Aaron, Kait, Monica, Abby, Matthew, Cat, and Minor. Using the tangible elements of water, and the bishop’s hands, God’s grace was bestowed on these nine persons. Each of them acknowledged in their heart and publicly before this faith community and the Almighty that he or she is a sinner. By water and the Holy Spirit, God bestowed the forgiveness of sins on Jordan. The others renewed the covenant they made at their baptism (or was made on their behalf when they were infants) and by the laying on of the bishop’s hands and the Holy Spirit, they were strengthened with God’s heavenly grace and empowered to do the ministry God has called them to do as mature Christians.
While I know some of them better than others, it is certain that they all came to God for his grace on Friday from very different upbringings, experiences, and having made very different moral choices throughout their lives. Jesus met each of them where they are, and using physical elements transformed by the Holy Spirit bestowed his grace on them, not because they were worthy because of their own merit or success, but because God lavishly bestows his grace and love to those who don’t deserve it at all.
That powerful moment at Trinity Oaks Baptist Church at the young age of 11 was certainly when I realized for the first time that I was a sinner and in need of redemption. But I had been baptized as a young child at Village Presbyterian Church in Mission, Kansas. While she may not have had the theological language to explain why, my mother knew that baptism was once and for all and did not want me to get baptized again. I was a persistent and unruly child and ended up wearing her down, so she relented, and I ultimately got dunked by the Baptists. But in hindsight, I don’t think that was the moment I became destined for heaven, nor was my baptism when I was a child for that matter. When asked now if I’m saved, I respond, “I was saved, I am being saved, I will be saved.” Salvation isn’t a one-time event, but rather the culmination of a continual cycle of death and resurrection – of falling to sin and repenting and returning to the Lord – that begins at baptism and ends at the resurrection of the body at the Last Day, peppered with spiritual highs and lows and everywhere in between, littered with good and bad choices, and continually nourished by God’s grace given to us freely and undeservedly in the Sacraments of the Church.
And now, as we do week after week, we come to the altar of God and ask the Lord to bless and sanctify, by his Word and Holy Spirit, the simple creatures of bread and wine, receiving God’s pardon and peace in our bodies and in our souls, and eating of that foretaste of the heavenly banquet, giving us hope that just as Christ was raised from the dead, so we will be raised at the last day. Dear friends, let us run with haste to this altar as the wise men did to Bethlehem to greet our Savior Jesus Christ who came down from heaven to be the true bread which gives life to the world, confident that he will evermore give us this bread, that he may live in us, and we in him. Amen.
Wednesday, March 8, 2023
The Rev’d Charles Everson
1 Thess. 4:13-18
When I was 32-years-old, I began to discern a call to ordained ministry in The Episcopal Church. The call previously manifested itself in a Southern Baptist context, and it never really left during the time I was Roman Catholic and eventually Episcopalian. During the interview process with the Commission on Ministry in Kansas, I was asked the typical questions: “Why do you feel called to be a priest” and “What excites you most about the thought of leading a parish” and so on. One question I hadn’t thought about before then was, “What causes you the most fear and anxiety when you envision life as a priest?” The answer came to me immediately without any additional thought: “I am afraid of dealing with death. The thought of being pastoral with those who are dying, and with their families, is scary to me.”
Death is not something we deal with very well in our day and age. When this building was built in 1887, life expectancy in the United States was 41.1 years of age and by 2020, it had climbed to 78.81 years of age. When the average person dies at the age of 40, death is part of human existence from a very early age. I didn’t experience death of a close family member until my grandmother died when I was 20.
Not long after that Commission on Ministry interview, I was called on to officiate a funeral of the 17-year-old son of a co-worker at the bank who had hung himself from a tree. Two years later, the bank owner’s son died at the age of 20 of a drug overdose. My second funeral here at St. Mary’s was for now parishioners Erika and Bryan Atkins’ daughter who died tragically at the age of 18, and just this week, my step-dad’s best friend’s 33-year-old son named Tim died suddenly and I’ve been asked to officiate his funeral.
I no longer fear death. No matter when death occurs – tragically at a young age, or after a long and fruitful life full of love – fear is no longer part of my experience. But sadness and grief certainly are. As Paul says to the Church at Thessalonica, we Christians do not grieve as others do who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have died. This isn’t an intangible hope that we just feel in our hearts, it is palpable and manifested perhaps most fully in the gritty elements of bread and wine. In the Eucharist, we are given a foretaste of the heavenly banquet when we will be united with Jesus and those in Heaven in a way we can’t even begin to fathom. When we receive the bread and wine, we are given a sure and certain hope that one day, we will be reunited with those we love but see no more.
Dear friends, as we celebrate this requiem mass, we grieve and mourn our beloved dead, but we do so without fear. For Christ has conquered death, and through these simple creatures of bread and wine, we have hope that we will feast with them in heaven where there is no death, neither sorrow nor crying, but the fulness of joy with all the saints.
The sermons preached at St. Mary's Episcopal Church, Kansas City, are posted here!