Monday, April 6, 2015

I have no proof...

Sermon for Year A Easter Vigil
April  4, 2015
The Cathedral Church of St. Paul, Burlington, Vermont
The Very Rev. Jeanne Finan

I have no proof....

Scholar, poet, professor,
a very faithful Christian.

He was baptized and confirmed
as John Ronald Reuel Tolkien.

We know him better today as
J. R. R. Tolkien,
the author of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings trilogy.

Tolkien loved words.
If he couldn’t find just the right word
he would invent one.

One of his invented words is the word EUCATASTROPHE.


It means: the moment when the light of deliverance 
breaks through the darkness of despair.


When evil falls and righteousness suddenly triumphs.
That moment we feel overwhelmed by joy,
“a catch of the breath, a beat and lifting of the heart,
near to or accompanied by tears.”


Tolkien formed this word by affixing the Greek prefix EU—
meaning “good”—
onto the word CATASTROPHE
which classically means “unraveling.”

EUCATASTOPHE: An unraveling that brings good.

We heard eucatastrophe throughout the readings this night,
the readings of the Vigil.

Tolkien referred to the life of Jesus
as a eucatastrophe.
Tolkien saw Jesus’ story
as one that began and ended
with joy.

From the joy of his birth to the joy of his resurrection--
but the middle?

Oh, the middle.
We all have a middle.

The middle is all about the unraveling.

We understand unraveling,
some of us know catastrophe only too well.

It is much more difficult to believe that good
and joy can emerge from the unraveling.

We can believe in Jesus’ life,
but believing in resurrection is much more challenging.

No one saw the actual resurrection,
though a number of artists have given us their view
of what it might have been  like.

People saw many events
that happened throughout the life of Jesus.

People saw the betrayal and the torture and the crucifixion.
People saw Jesus laid in a tomb.

But then Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of James
and Salome—
women—-find the stone rolled away.

How was this possible?
How did Jesus go from a very real, very violent death,
recorded in history as well as in scripture,
witnessed by his disciples--
and now--
his physical body is gone.

I have no proof of the resurrection.
But I believe it is very real.

I have no proof that we are changed
when we come to the font of baptism.
But I believe we ARE changed,
marked as Christ’s own forever. Forever.

I have no proof that when a bishop lays his hands upon our head
for confirmation or reception or reaffirmation,
that our path in life will be different.

But I believe if we listen to our hearts,
our feet will be guided to a path
that is more than we ever asked or imagined.

I have no proof that when we come forward
and stretch out our hands
to receive the bread and wine
of communion
that we are transformed.

But over and over,
I see people’s lives changed.
I see my own life changed--
just by showing up,
just by taking a piece of broken bread
and a sip of wine
from a cup.
Just by showing up for a blessing.

We put aside our differences
and gather as God’s people,
passing the peace,
remembering one another in our prayers,
we are changed.
We are not the same.

The light breaks through the darkness.

How does it happen?
I do not know--
any more than I can explain how love happens.
But I know love is real.

I know love is real.

When Gandalf fears that Frodo is dead,
Aragon asks him, What does your heart tell you?

Gandalf replies, "That Frodo is alive.
Yes. Yes. He is alive."

…you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. 
He has been raised….

What does your heart tell you?
What does my heart tell me?

Yes. Yes.
He is alive.

+    +    +

Mark 16: 1-8

When the sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, so that they might go and anoint him. And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb. They had been saying to one another, “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb?” When they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had already been rolled back. As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man, dressed in a white robe, sitting on the right side; and they were alarmed. But he said to them, “Do not be alarmed;; he is not here. Look, there is the place they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you.” So they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.

This Holy Bulb of a Morning

Holy Saturday
April 4, 2015
Cathedral Church of St. Paul, Burlington, Vermont
The Very Rev. Jeanne Finan

This Holy Bulb of a Morning

Today is Holy Saturday.
What this means is that today, this morning,
on our journey through Holy Week
we are standing at the tomb.

Christ has been crucified.
His body placed in the tomb.
Everything we hoped for and dreamed of is over.
And yet....

Holy Saturday, to me, is like a bulb.

Many of you know this even better than I do.

A bulb is not very attractive by most standards.
It’s dry and brittle.
It looks dead and lifeless.

Except you and I know the truth.
You and I know the rest of a bulb’s story.
We know that when this bulb is laid in the ground,
if we are patient,
if we wait,
this bulb will explode into life
and beauty.

This is resurrection.
When all that seems dead is alive again.

We have all been through those “dead” times in our lives.
Times of loss and grief and emptiness.
Times when we felt--or may feel right now--
that we are as dry and brittle as this bulb appears to be.

We all face times when there is really nothing we can DO
to make things better--
all we can do is wait.
Be patient.
Hope and believe that life will come again.

Holy Saturday is the day we remember what it is like to wait.
What it is like to not know
what the future holds.

Holy Saturday is a day of waiting
but we are called to wait with faith, with hope
believing in the deepest parts of our being
that life will burst forth again.

Resurrection will happen.
Resurrection does happen.
Over and over.

But sometimes,
like this morning
we are given the task of waiting.

Many of us cannot just sit still all day.
We have things that must get done.
Flowers to put in place.
Altars to set.
Sermons to be edited and polished a bit.
Cooking and cleaning
in preparation for visitors that will soon arrive.

Our challenge is to not let busyness and worldly responsibilities
overwhelm us this day.
Out task is to keep at least a little corner of this day Holy.
As we work,
we are called to remember why we are doing these things that need doing.

We do this work because we know
there is something beyond the tomb.

I wanted to have a bulb to hold in my hand
as I preached this sermon,
to pass around so you, too, could feel
its dry and seemingly lifeless form.

So I went to Aubuchon Hardware near by home in Shelburne,
and I bought a packet of Stargazer Lily bulbs
(my favorite of all flowers).
But when I opened the package,
this is what I found....

Not dead and lifeless
but sprouting.
Resurrection already in process.

We have seen the face of resurrection before,
and we believe that we will see it once again.

We do this work to the glory of God.
In thanksgiving,
Whether we are working or waiting,
weeping or celebrating,
we know that God is with us.

On this day,
on this very holy Saturday.
On this holy bulb of a morning.

The Fullness of Emptiness

Sermon for Maundy Thursday
April 2, 2015
Cathedral Church of St. Paul, Burlington, VT
The Very Rev. Jeanne Finan

The fullness of emptiness

We are gathered around these tables
to remember.
To remember that Jesus gathered with his disciples,
with those he loved,
even when he knew that suffering and heartache was ahead.

Maybe Jesus gathered with those he loved BECAUSE he knew
or at least suspected what was ahead.
Maybe he knew that time was short.

Jesus gathers with some of his closest friends
and gives them a mandate--this is what the word “maundy” means--
Mandatum is the Latin word.

Jesus says,
I give you a new commandment, that you love one another.
Just as I have loved you,
you also should love one another.

Jesus gives a mandate. An order.
Today is not “Suggestion Thursday”;
today is Maundy Thursday.

Love one another as I have loved you.

I want to draw your attention to this icon.
It is best known as “The Last Supper”
but I like the Orthodox name,
which is the mystical supper or the supper of mystery.
A friend here in this parish gave me this icon from Greece.
it is a treasure to me.
It sits in my office here at the Cathedral
to remind me of the importance
of gathering together around the table.

Right next to the icon in my office sits a small wooden bowl
and a wooden spoon.
They were given to me by the Jubilee Justice ministries
on the day of my installation as your Dean.

The icon reminds me that our call is to gather around the table.
The wooden bowl and spoon remind me that we are also called
to go out into the world.
To feed the hungry and comfort the suffering.

Now there is an interesting story--a true story--
about this icon and this little wooden bowl.

I told you they sit together in my study--
on top of a low bookshelf.

One day a parishioner came by to speak with me
and she had her little granddaughter with her.
The granddaughter was around 4 years old.

So  we were talking, the grandmother and I,
when the little granddaughter hops up, races over to the bookshelf,
and flips the little wooden bowl upside down.
She then hurries back to the couch
and sits down next to her grandmother.
The little girl says not one word.

The grandmother apologizes,
I say it’s okay,
and the grandmother very patiently and politely goes over
and turns the bowl right side up.

We talk.
Again, the little granddaughter hops up,
goes over and turns the wooden bowl upside down.
yes, the grandmother gets up, goes over and turns the bowl
right side up.

This keeps happening.

Finally, the grandmother,
after turning the bowl right side up for about the seventh time,
“I think it’s time for us to go.”

We say goodbye and as they are heading out of my office,
the little grand daughter darts back in,
turns the bowl upside down--AGAIN--
and then stops and looks right at me,
pointing to the icon.
The little girl says,
“All their bowls are upside down on the table.”
And out she runs.

I look at the icon
and my eyes are opened to something I had never noticed before.
The little girl is absolutely right.
The bowls are all upside down on the table in front of Jesus
and his disciples.

But why?
I tried to find more information about this icon
but nothing was mentioned about the bowls.

It may be just an insignificant detail--
a random element of the icon--
though in truth there is seldom if ever anything random in an icon.

Is the meal over
and the bowls turned down
to say, “We are done” ?
Our time together is over, finished.

Or is the meal just beginning
and the bowls are waiting,
waiting to be turned
so that the bowls might be filled.
This is only the beginning of our breaking bread together.

Holy Week seems to me
the epitome
of simultaneous emptiness and fullness.

Jesus empties himself of everything.
His position, his power, his control--even his outer robe.

In letting go of his fullness,
Jesus releases everything---
he turns the bowl of his life upside down--
because he is filled
with all that really matters.

I see these upside down bowls
as the need we all have to let go, to empty ourselves.
When we let go,
when we empty ourselves,
there is hope that we, too, will be filled
with all that really matters.

By emptying ourselves of judgment or the need for revenge,
there is then room
to forgive others as we have been forgiven.

By letting go of our stubbornness, our pettiness, our self-righteousness,
space is created for love and for generosity.

We turn over the bowl that holds all our past hurts,
resentments and resistance,
so that we might be free
and filled with God’s mercy,
that amazing grace that God offers to each of us.

Every time I look at this icon,
I am grateful for a little girl, a child,
who showed me
the way it is this night,
gathered around a table for a mystical supper.

A little girl
who showed me the importance
of an upside down bowl.
Of letting go.
Of being empty so that we might be filled.