“Arise, my love, my fair one, and come away…the winter is past…the time of singing has come!” (Song of Songs 2:10-12)
Tomorrow, Ashley and I leave for Virginia, where we will commence our Honeymoon Road Trip through Maryland, Pennsylvania and New York. We will be visiting friends and family in the area as well as St. Thomas Episcopal Church in Whitemarsh PA, where I will be guest preaching. I love the fact that the lectionary readings for this Sunday include a portion of the great love poem, the Song of Songs, the same portion that was read at our wedding more than a year ago. I was initially hoping to preach on this biblical love poem myself, but when I realized that I would be away, I asked the Rev. Dr. Arthur Holder to preach in my stead. He has taught graduate-level courses and translated ancient commentaries on this mystical text, so you are all in for a real treat. The biblical poem has been a major source of inspiration for artists and mystics over the centuries, including my favorite artist Marc Chagall, who painted a series of pieces on the Song of Songs (including the one above). I encourage you to read it before Sunday – it’s only 8 short chapters. Perhaps the Song of Songs will inspire you to create something new, holy and beautiful.
My favorite artist is the 20th century Russian Jewish artist Marc Chagall; and I’m grateful that I have had the opportunity to visit the Musée Marc Chagall in Nice, France twice. The last time I visited, I asked Ashley to take a picture of me by one of his works, partly to show how enormous his paintings are. This painting, which is from a series called Message Biblique, portrays the Binding of Isaac or the Akedah (which is Hebrew for “Binding”). It is one of the most powerful, challenging and disturbing stories in the entire Bible and perhaps in all of Western literature in which Abraham is called by God to sacrifice his beloved son Issac. And I get to preach on it this Sunday! Yipee! Marc Chagall’s painting has been helping me ruminate prayerfully on this text for a while and I’m looking forward to hearing what the Spirit will speak through me about the Akedah this Sunday (:
After this Sunday, you will get to hear the Rev. Dr. Arthur Holder preach on the Song of Songs (the great love poem of the Bible that also inspired several Chagall paintings) and then a sermon from Br. Jude from the Society of St. Francis while I’m away on vacation for the next two Sundays, traveling through New York, where I will hopefully be able to view some more Chagall paintings at the Met.
After basking in the glory of the Resurrected Son during the seven weeks of Easter and then teeming with the creative power of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost and then most recently laughing and dancing with the Triune God during Pentecost tide, we now move into what is called “Ordinary Time.” This is a time when we are invited to see the presence of God in our everyday, ordinary lives; and I can’t imagine a better way to move into this time together than by discussing something as ordinary as bread. This Sunday, the Rev. Elizabeth DeRuff will be our guest preacher and she will talk to us about the holiness inherent in growing wheat and making ordinary bread, which we together make sacred every Sunday at the altar, through the power of the Spirit. The question for us to consider is: would we like to grow wheat on the property of Redeemer, wheat which we could then give to our excellent bread bakers (Joan and Carol Ann) to make into our Communion Bread? How amazing and wonderful would that be? Think about it. Pray about it. And just as God asked us Sarah in our reading from last Sunday, so I ask us, “Is anything too wonderful for the LORD?” (Genesis 18:14).
Do you remember what it means? It is the Greek word that I have referenced in my last three sermons. It is the word and image used by the Cappadocian (Cappa-doh-sh-ian) Fathers of the 4th century to describe the Trinity. It means “Circle Dance.” There is an Episcopal church in San Francisco that actually incorporates a circle dance into the Eucharistic liturgy. Appropriately, this church is named after one of the Cappadocian Fathers: St. Gregory of Nyssa. Perhaps someday we can perform a circle dance together on our outdoor prayer labyrinth. In the mean time, we will continue to form a circle around our indoor altar and participate in the Trinity through the power of the Holy Spirit, who makes us all sons and daughters of the Father. We will continue reflecting on the inexhuastible mystery of the Trinity this Sunday in the last of a series of sermons that I like to call the “Circle Dance Sermons.“
Last Sunday was such a joy! I particularly enjoyed the presence of so many children and even a doggy. I’ve been reading Richard Rohr’s new book on the Trinity and he talks about how naturally children and dogs exhibit what he calls the Trinitarian flow. He writes, “Children and dogs are filled with natural hope and expectation that their smile will be returned. They tend to make direct eye contact, looking right into you, just grinning away. This is pure being. This is uninhibited flow. Surely, this is why Jesus told us to be like children. There is nothing stopping the pure flow in a child or a dog, and that’s why any of us who have an ounce of eros, humanity or love in us are defenseless against such unguarded presence. You can only with great effort resist kissing a wide-eyed baby or petting an earnest dog. You want to pull them to yourself with love because they are, for a moment—forgive me— “God”! (Rohr, The Divine Dance, 81). Learn more about the Trinitarian Flow this Sunday, which is Trinity Sunday.
This Sunday we will celebrate the Feast of Pentecost with baptismal water, balloons, birthday cake, a bounce house and more. Be sure to wear lots of red as we commemorate the generous outpouring of the Holy Spirit and the birth of the Church, which will turn a whopping 1,984 years old! If you want to know what the word “Pentecost” means, scroll down to the bottom of this email. If you want to know what “Pentecost” means for you as a baptized (or soon-to-be baptized) member of the Church, come to Redeemer this Sunday!
What does the word “Pentecost” mean?
On May 30, 31 and June 1, many of our Jewish brothers and sisters celebrated the feast of Shavuot (pronounced “Sha Voo Oht”), a holiday that commemorates the giving of the Torah to the people of Israel, exactly seven weeks after God liberated them from slavery in Egypt. The name “Shavuot” is Hebrew for both “seven” and “week,” referring to the 49 days (the seven weeks) between the Passover and the receiving of the Torah. During Jesus’s day, the Jewish people often referred to the Feast of “Shavuot” by a Greek name that emphasized the Torah being given on the 50th day after the Passover. The Greek name they gave to Shavuot was “Pentecost,” which means “fiftieth day”; and it was while celebrating Shavuot (or Pentecost) that the Jewish disciples of Jesus received the Holy Spirit of God. Just as the people of Israel received divine wisdom in the form of the Torah 50 days after the Passover so too did the Jewish followers of Christ receive divine wisdom in the person of the Holy Spirit 50 days after Christ’s Resurrection (Easter).
In some ways, I’m still flying high from the graduation celebrations last week. It’s an appropriate feeling for me to have since yesterday (May 25) the Episcopal Church celebrated the Feast of the Ascension. If you look carefully, you can see Jesus ascending above Bishop Curry and me in the graduation picture to the left. This Sunday, we will learn about the spiritual meanings and implications of Jesus’s Ascension as we prepare for the powerful Descent of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, which we will celebrate next Sunday (June 4), with fire, water, barbecue, a bounce house, art (see Paula’s message below) and more. And since my graduation robe is red, I think I’ll be wearing my academic regalia as my religious vestments!