“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.
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.“
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!
I have noticed a couple ladybugs on the Glenwood labyrinth this last week, but they always seem to fly away or hide under a weed before I can take their picture. Instead, I have included a picture of a thirsty ladybug on the baptismal font at the Bishop’s Ranch. Like the ladybug, I have also been extra thirsty this week. Perhaps this is because the weather is getting warmer and drier or perhaps this is because I have been ruminating on John 4, in which Jesus himself experiences thirst and asks a Samaritan woman for some water. Last Sunday, we explored the gift of listening in the context of Jesus’s conversation with Nicodemus (in John 3). This Sunday, we will explore the gift of tasting, drinking and quenching one’s thirst in the context of Jesus’s conversation with the Samaritan woman (in John 4). I invite you to consider times in your life when your physical thirst was most powerfully quenched; as well as times when your spiritual thirst felt most satiated. Also, what do you think it is that you most deeply thirst for?
For those interested in learning about a Feminist Reexamination of the Authorship of John’s Gospel, click on the link below to download a PDF of an article by Sandra Schneiders, which suggests that the Samaritan Woman of John 4 (our Gospel reading for this Sunday) is the textual alter-ego of the author.
Sandra Schneiders, Because of the Woman’s Testimony
This is a picture of the outdoor prayer labyrinth at the Bishop’s Ranch in Healdsburg, where I stayed on my birthday for a personal retreat in preparation for Lent, particularly in preparation for our Lenten “dive” into the Gospel of John. I prayed, hiked, wrote, meditated, and read some commentaries on John as well as a book by Jon Kabat-Zinn titled Coming to Our Senses: Healing Ourselves and the World Through Mindfulness. Throughout Lent, we will be focusing mindfully on each of our five senses: hearing, tasting, seeing, smelling and touching. This Sunday, we will focus on the gift of listening as we consider Jesus’s words to Nicodemus: “The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit” (John 3:8). As we discussed last Sunday, the most important prayer in all of Judaism is the Shema, which is Hebrew for “Listen!” As I listened to the wind blowing through the trees and the forceful streams gushing, I reflected on the Spirit’s presence in the sometimes gentle and sometimes wild wind and waters. I also remembered that in Hebrew, the word for “Heaven” is shemayim, which is a combination of the words shema (again, “listen”) and mayim, which means “waters.” So according to the Hebrew language, listening to water is heaven! I relished the brief moments at Bishop’s Ranch when I experienced a taste of heaven in the rolling streams and the pouring rains. I hope you also find time to taste heaven in the simple act of listening to the wind blowing and water flowing around you today and throughout this season of Lent.