Have you all had a good week? This has been a fairly difficult week for me for many reasons. I spent a good deal of time wrestling this week with today’s scripture—the first and second lessons especially. Perhaps I am reading too much into them—though I don’t think so—but both what Peter says in Acts and John’s words seem even more theologically complex than I felt capable of preaching about at first. I wished at least that we were further along in I John, at Chapter 4:1-8 because then I could have talked about my call story.
So I read lots and prayed and I found some great ideas—I envisioned this great, very scholarly and powerful sermon. I could talk about this being Eastertide (I love the old Anglo/English ways of naming time) and that we’re not not finished with Easter by any means just because we’re now two Sundays out from the celebration of Christ’s resurrection. I though about connecting that idea to the Jewish spiritual practice called Counting the Omer, where they count 49 days from Passover to Shavuout, the day upon which the Israelites received the Torah, thus becoming spiritually liberated through God’s grace. I could see connections between the Jewish observance, today’s readings with their references to the laws of Moses and the fulfillment of scriptures, and of course, the fact that we observe 50 days between Easter and Pentecost. Pentecost—when the apostles are given the blessing of the Holy Spirit and are liberated from the command to stay in Jerusalem and sent out so that they may spread the news of Christ and salvation—themselves liberating all those who hear and believe. I even thought I could be clever and tie in this week’s episode of 30 Rock, which was especially meaningful to me.
I had ideas about how the Revised Common Lectionary has jumbled the narrative arc of the Book of Acts. The lessons during Eastertide show us the effect, but not yet the cause, of the apostles’ works. The gift of the Holy Spirit takes place in Chapter 2, but the lessons we read between now and Pentecost are from later chapters. I wondered why, and was reminded of Steven Spielberg, whose movies frequently contains scenes showing the effect before showing the cause (I’ve been showing War Horse to my Comp. II students this week).
So I sat down yesterday after a good morning at the Food Bank, intending to put all these ideas into a coherent form, which I could almost see. And then I couldn’t write because life happened (my brief reference to 30 Rock). A friend had called and left a voicemail, asking for some powerful pain medication, which I had from a recent surgical procedure. My friend didn’t have any, was in moderate pain, and for some reason couldn’t get the prescription refilled for a couple of days. I was even offered money for the pills. I felt put in a bad position in so many ways—ethically and because I have a hard time saying “no” and standing up for myself, especially with people I love. I also felt slightly put out because I was trying to work on my sermon and didn’t need an interruption, which made me think about a different friend and understanding. It also made me consider that this is what I’d face as a priest—juggling life, pastoral care, and sermon-writing—which led me to consider clergy I’ve known and gave me a greater appreciation for them as well as making me wonder if I can do that. Many thoughts, spiraling down.
I did say no to this person, who didn’t totally understand and who thought I was worried about my possible future as clergy, but I was trying to follow my ethics and not enable what seemed to be to be an addiction (there is more to this story than what I’ve told here). In any case, though I knew I did the right thing, I still felt bad for the rest of the afternoon because I care about this person and didn’t want to lose a friend. I let my anxieties get the best of me and wasn’t able to finish my sermon. I went to bed later in the evening after watching TV and set my alarm so that I would get up early, praying for peace of mind so that I could put my ideas together, because I wasn’t truly feeling it and worried about doing a poor sermon.
At about 5:30 this morning, before sunrise, and before my alarm went off, I was awakened by the song of a white-throated sparrow—the first bird to sing in my yard this morning. Usually, it’s a robin or a cardinal. I don’t know if you are familiar with these birds, but right now a small flock of them has adopted a pile of dead branches in my yard as their shelter. I’ve been enjoying watching their antics as they do the finding food dance in the mornings and evenings when I leave and come home. And in that simple, cheerful song (my fave after that of a chickadee), I heard God saying, “Peace be with you.” And just like that, I knew how to approach this sermon, that things were going to be okay, don’t be afraid. I even considered truly winging it this morning—to just use a few notes and have faith in God and myself for the rest. But, as you can see [holding up handwritten papers], I didn’t quite do that; I just listened to my heart and started writing.
“Peace be with you”–Christ’s words in today’s Gospel. Words spoken to the agitated, excited apostles, who weren’t quite sure yet that Jesus had truly risen from the dead as he had promised them. These words have become one of the centerpieces of our liturgy, probably one of the favorite parts. In quite a few Episcopal churches I’ve attended, the passing of the peace has always taken a fair bit of time as folks range around to greet each other. And while I know that some priests get frustrated by this tendency, that’s it’s time to get back to the service, I believe that this part of the liturgy serves as important reassurance that we are a community of Christ-followers, simply that we are a community. Saying “peace be with you” to each other is our continuing in our belief that we should act as the hands and feet of Christ in the world by offering comfort to each other from the agitation of the cares and worries of the world that we each experience. It isn’t merely a social opportunity for us to greet folks we love or we haven’t seen in a week or longer. It’s a spiritual practice through which we repeat Christ’s words and remind each other that we are, as John says, God’s children, known to him through Christ. We are loved and we need not be afraid. We are joined in the breaking of the bread.
My prayer this week is simply that when you are worried or anxious, you will think about, or say to yourself, or to someone else who needs it, or even hear God saying these words and have faith that all will be well. “Peace be with you.” Amen.
–given at St. James Episcopal Church