Yesterday, I concluded our five-week Wednesday Evening Lenten Series. This year's program was exceptional, and I want to thank all parishioners who participated in person and online. Sincere thanks to Ellen Hoke for her leadership, the Spiritual Life Commission for their hard work, and the different ministries which provided rolls, salad, soups, and dessert, among others. I also want to thank Bishop Ihloff, Deacon O'Leary, Reverend Krantz, and Reverend Ellison for providing us with deep insight.
What follows below is an excerpt of my presentation.
Take your palms and join them together as in a prayer, ready to receive a gift of water from a faucet. Hold them together so tight that you wouldn’t want any of the water to drip.
Look in your palms and remember the God who created you and gave you as a gift to your parents, family, and friends. Look in your palm and ponder all of God’s creation - animals, plants, trees, mountains, rivers, and every living and non-living part of God’s creation.
As I, myself, think about the stillness of the first day of creation, I am reminded of this hymn:
Morning has broken, like the first morning.
Blackbird has spoken, like the first bird.
Praise for the singing, praise for the sweetness.
God’s recreation of the new day.
Ponder on the gift of your own presence and the gift of a new day and new beginnings.
Place one hand in the palm of your hand-creating the letter X. Ponder on the gift of salvation that's made possible by Jesus Christ. Think about the life and ministry of Jesus Christ. Think most especially about the cross-the brutality and rejection that the cross represents. Think about Jesus hanging on the tree, sandwiched between two thieves.
Think about his experience on the cross, for your salvation and mine.
These words come to mind when I think about our salvation, a love that will not let me go:
O Love that will not let me go
I rest my weary soul in Thee
I give Thee back the life I owe
That in Thine ocean depths its flow
May richer, fuller be
Looking at your palm, one in another, one palm resting on another, providing comfort, providing security, holding it like an egg. Providing a kind of assurance that is rooted in trustworthiness.
I invite you to think about Easter morning... the joy and disbelief of the women, the joy and disbelief of the disciples, and the promise that death cannot hold sway over life.
The joy that fills your heart and mine as we ponder on the blessings of Easter reminds me of this hymn:
Deck thyself, my soul, with gladness,
Leave the gloomy haunts of sadness;
Come into the daylight’s splendor,
There with joy thy praises render
Unto him whose grace unbounded
Hath this wondrous banquet founded:
High o’er all the heavens he reigneth,
Yet to dwell with thee he deighneth
Easter leaves us with the sacrament of thanksgiving. Each moment we gather before the Altar table, we remember not our sins but the gift of life that has been made possible by the glorious resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Each time we receive the sacrament of the blessed Body and Blood of Jesus Christ, we remember not our brokenness but the gift of mending that has been made possible by the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Each time we receive the blessed Body and Blood of Jesus Christ, we acknowledge our incarnational identity - that is, people in whom God dwells, people who see God in others, and all of creation.
Each moment that we receive the broken Body and Blood of Jesus, we affirm that God, in his infinite goodness, has made us fit for purpose. It is an acknowledgment that it isn’t by our own individual merit but it is God who makes it possible for us.
The most profound of all - when we receive the blessed Body and Blood of Christ, we acknowledge that we know where we are but not where we are going. The gift of receiving the blessed Body and Blood reminds us that although we do not know where we are going, we are all going to the same place.
We wouldn’t be with each other if we had different destinations in mind. But we all have one destination in mind; that’s why we are here, and that’s why we strive to be with each other even when we vehemently disagree with one another.
Looking at your palm, I need you to hold them out wide open as if you are ready to offer the Lord’s Prayer or to catch a gift falling from above. Look at all the lines in your palm. Look at them intently. Look at how some are connected to others. And look at how different they are.
Now, look at the palm of the person standing next to you. They may be your spouse, or they might be a stranger, but it doesn’t matter. Look at how different theirs are from yours.
I have no idea what these marks mean, or what they do - heaven knows I didn’t study medicine like Ellen or Charlie!
But what I do know is that when I see these lines in my palm, I am reminded of the work of the Holy Spirit - one of empowering us for the work of ministry in the Church and outside the church.
To undertake this kind of ministry, we first need to be empowered by the spirit. The spirit is the energy, the drive that moves us into places and situations.
The apostles were able to do the work that they did because they always felt empowered by the Holy Spirit.
That power of the spirit reminds me of this hymn:
Spirit of the Living God,
Fall afresh of me,
Spirit of the Living God,
Fall afresh on me.
Break me, melt me, mold me, fill me.
Spirit of the Living God,
Fall afresh on me
The prayer is one where the writer beckons the spirit to not only fall afresh but to break, melt, mold, fill - in order words, a total makeover, a complete remaking of this individual by the spirit.
This complete makeover is supposed to empower this person to do the work of ministry... to be an instrument of God.
The Holy Spirit is the interior power that empowers us to continue the work of Christ.
If you take a look at the palm of your hands, you don’t see only one palm line, but several. Those palm lines reflect, for me, the fruits of the Holy Spirit - love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.
And these fruits are meant to sustain each and every one of us - especially when we all bring our fruits together. That is the moment when everyone gets a piece of the big pie.
But how can I share my fruits with you if I am not at peace with you?
The Eucharist table presents us with a clue - if you come to the table of the Eucharist, you don’t come by yourself alone. You come with others because the food or the sustenance is not meant for one person alone. In fact, it used to be that folks could even ask for a private Eucharist, but I am glad the church has moved away from such practice.