Easter in the Age of COVID-19

This Easter was bittersweet.

Easter in a liturgical tradition like the Episcopal Church is a beautifully joyous experience – the white cloth draped over the cross, the return of “alleluias” to the liturgy, the choir singing “Chris the Lord Is Risen Today” and “Crown Him With Many Crowns” and the Hallelujah Chorus – and, well, it’s just not the same watching a livestream on TV.

In many ways, it feels like Easter hasn’t really arrived yet, like we’re still in the interminable Saturday. All of us are trapped inside, through no fault of our own, awaiting our own resurrection of sorts.

But of course Easter has arrived; it arrived 1,990 years ago, give or take a few dozen months. It’s stronger than coronavirus, stronger than stay-at-home orders, stronger than conspiracy theories, toilet paper shortages or smelling your own bad breath while your glasses fog up every time you exhale behind an ill-fitting mask.

Jesus is risen. He is risen indeed. Alleluia.

Many priests, preachers and pastors said as much last Sunday, in thousands of languages across hundreds of countries. They said it over microphones in drive-in theaters, over livestreamed feeds in empty sanctuaries, on rooftops, in truck beds, straddling road center lines.

I loved this Atlantic slideshow of Easter in an era of social distancing. I’ve pulled a few photos from it and included them with this post.

To me, they provide proof of the ultimate triumph of Easter.No matter how pulled apart we are, no matter how fallible churches and their leaders are, no matter how wrapped up in our own traditions and doctrines and comforts and certainties we are, God’s Spirit moves across the world, affirming over and over again: Jesus is alive. And so, therefore, are we. Truly alive, no matter what happens.

I wish we could have celebrated that fact in a bright room with a soaring A-frame roof, beautiful stained glass and a huge empty cross draped in white while a chorus rains down hallelujahs and we take communion as the ultimate sign of our unity with each other and with the risen Christ.

But that’s the thing about Easter: It doesn’t need our trappings.Resurrection from the dead has always required tremendous faith; if it requires a little more this year, separated as we are from the emotional props to which we are accustomed, then we are merely joining a long line of people for whom Easter has always been something to cling to rather than something to feast over.

If Saturday feels especially long and especially dark this year, Sunday is coming.

Because Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again.

Grant Us Wisdom, Grant Us Courage

Image result for harry emerson fosdickHarry Emerson Fosdick’s words, which were part of the lectionary last Sunday, remain vital and needed 82 years after they were written:

God of grace and God of glory,
On Thy people pour Thy power.
Crown Thine ancient church’s story,
Bring her bud to glorious flower.
Grant us wisdom, grant us courage,
For the facing of this hour,
For the facing of this hour.

Lo! the hosts of evil ’round us,
Scorn Thy Christ, assail His ways.
From the fears that long have bound us,
Free our hearts to faith and praise.
Grant us wisdom, grant us courage,
For the living of these days,
For the living of these days.

Cure Thy children’s warring madness,
Bend our pride to Thy control.
Shame our wanton selfish gladness,
Rich in things and poor in soul.
Grant us wisdom, grant us courage,
Lest we miss Thy kingdom’s goal,
Lest we miss Thy kingdom’s goal.

Save us from weak resignation,
To the evils we deplore.
Let the search for Thy salvation,
Be our glory evermore.
Grant us wisdom, grant us courage,
Serving Thee whom we adore,
Serving Thee whom we adore.

“Save us from weak resignation,” indeed.

On Confirmation in the Episcopal Church

542429_115537645244031_1405666807_nSo, obviously, I’m a history nerd. Which is why the most meaningful thing about being confirmed today was the laying on of hands by David Reed, bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of West Texas. That’s not a super comfortable thing for me – touching was not a part of the religious tradition in which I was raised – but sometimes the best things are those that push us out of our comfort zones.

The principle of apostolic succession was a big deal in early Christianity, and it remains a big deal today, especially in liturgical traditions like the Episcopal Church. When a priest is ordained, the bishop lays hands on her or him. That bishop was ordained and received blessing from hands from a previous bishop, and so it goes back, hands upon shoulders or heads, all the way back to the earliest church leaders – apostles like Paul, Junia and other women and men who shepherded a small Jewish sect that insisted the savior of the world had come, and that his kingdom would set to right in a new heaven and a new earth all that had gone wrong.

Continue reading On Confirmation in the Episcopal Church

One Year and Counting

Today is the first day of class, which means I’ve now been in grad school for a full year. I have no idea how that happened.

It also means I’ve been blogging for more than a year – I started this thing in late July 2011, and here I am, somehow still trucking along. In celebration, here are the top 10 posts by pageviews this blog has had since its inception. If you’re newish, maybe you’ll find something you like; if you’ve been here from the beginning, thanks! Maybe you’ll find something you missed or forgot you liked. Or maybe the fact that these posts are the most viewed here will make you once again wonder why you’ve wasted so much time reading this blog.

Without further ado:

Continue reading One Year and Counting

Crankiness in the Church

Thank God for crayons.

I think this most Sundays. Our 3-year-old daughter doesn’t like going to the in-service Sunday school class, so for the past year or so, she’s been sitting with us all the way through the service. That’s not a good idea. But part of the rules is that if she wants to sit with the grown-ups then she needs to act like one and be quiet – and, in a classic case of proving that sometimes our kids will actually live up to our expectations if we set them high enough, she’s done a great job.

Of course, she’s helped a great deal by a little purse full of toys, two snacks (one for when the singing starts, the other for the sermon) and the Sunday Scribes bags the church provides, each with a pad of paper and baggie of crayons. J quietly sits on the floor and creates page after page of crayon drawings and hands them to me while I worship, pray, take communion and listen to the preaching.

To me, that’s a win-win-win. She’s learning how to be quiet for extended stretches of time when silence would be truly necessary (a funeral or wedding, for example), my wife and I get to fully engage in worship, and the folks around us aren’t distracted by toddler shenanigans.

For others, apparently, this is not the ideal situation.

Continue reading Crankiness in the Church

Poverty: Is the Church on the Wrong Side?

The blog’s gotten pretty political lately, so let me steer the conversation back to something I tackled very early in this site’s life: What role, if any, do Christians have in a secular, often corrupt, never particularly efficient political process?

A USA Today article (h/t Scot McKnight) indicates that Christians are becoming increasingly disenchanted with the hope of using government action to pursue religious objectives.

In a refreshing departure from the culture war mind-set that has come to characterize this and other recent elections, some of evangelicalism’s leading thinkers and spokespeople are trumpeting an important insight: Christians too fixated on politics are bound to end up frustrated and tarnished. And politics is not the only way to create positive change.

I can’t speak much to being tarnished, but certainly anyone who follows politics will become frustrated. Listening to activist Supreme Court justices consider rejecting the two democratic branches of government and overturning 70 years of precedent – and, more importantly, removing the promise of health insurance to tens of millions of people currently without it – over the past three days has not been good for my blood pressure.

But I would argue that, frustration aside, it’s quite possible that religious and political conservatives – i.e., evangelical Christians – are losing interest in political fights for their religious values because the values they pushed were not, in fact, those of Christ, and that is becoming abundantly clear as they hemorrhage congregants among younger generations focused far more on social justice.

After all, what is the overriding message of the Bible?

Continue reading Poverty: Is the Church on the Wrong Side?

A Psalm of Lament for a Boy Now Gone

If there is anyone in the world who knows about undeserved pain and inexplicable suffering, it is Glenn.

Glenn was a normal, healthy middle-aged man until a couple of years ago, when his feet began sending pain signals to his brain for no reason at all. The result, despite long months filled with surgeries and medication, is that Glenn frequently must use a wheelchair and have a constant flow of pain relievers. 

A couple of weeks ago, Glenn hobbled up the steps at the front of a church auditorium, relying heavily on a cane, placed a piece of paper on the podium and began to read this prayer during the memorial service for a 7-year-old boy. I post it with his permission and the permission of Liam’s parents.


For Liam – January 28, 2012

Lord, you have always been our dwelling place;

before the mountains were formed

or the first stars danced with light,

from everlasting to everlasting,

you have been our God.


But Lord, it wasn’t supposed to end like this,

gathering to sing a few songs, tell stories,

and share memories of a little boy,

his smile, his art, and his love

for his mom and dad and sister.


So I hope you do not expect us to act

as if nothing has happened,

as if we are not disappointed with you.

How can we help but say,

“If only you had been here Liam

would not have died?”

How are we to get over the death of a child?

At least you got to see your son grow up.

No, everything is not okay. Not with us – or you,

not now, maybe not ever. Continue reading A Psalm of Lament for a Boy Now Gone

Class Wrap: How Should We Worship?

I spent a lot of last week talking about the things that interested me most about each respective day’s session of my Worship class. Which means I spoke about history and social justice, but those weren’t really where the professor focused, so I’ll try to summarize his thoughts about worship itself – as opposed to its historical roots.

One thing that struck me is how conservative he was on this topic despite his progressive views on pretty much everything else – yes, he tied worship explicitly to social justice and argued effective worship should be forming us in the image of Christ, but his view of what kind of worship would do that was certainly not liberal by any reasonable definition of the word.

The model he uses for worship comes from Isaiah 6, which is the story of Isaiah’s calling to be a prophet:

In the year of King Uzziah’s death, I saw the Lord sitting on a high and exalted throne, the edges of his robe filling the temple. Winged creatures were stationed around him. Each had six wings: with two they veiled their faces, with two their feet, and with two they flew about. They shouted to each other, saying:

“Holy, holy, holy
is the LORD of heavenly forces!
All the earth
is filled with God’s glory!”

The doorframe shook at the sound of their shouting, and the house was filled with smoke.

I said, “Mourn for me; I’m ruined! I’m a man with unclean lips, and I live among a people with unclean lips. Yet I’ve seen the king, the LORD of heavenly forces!”

Then one of the winged creatures flew to me, holding a glowing coal that he had taken from the altar with tongs. He touched my mouth and said, “See, this has touched your lips. Your guilt has departed, and your sin is removed.”

Then I heard the Lord’s voice saying, “Whom should I send, and who will go for us?”

I said, “I’m here; send me.”

If that doesn’t sound much like a worship service to you, you’re not alone.

But in this story, he and others see the template for worship – a four-part movement through which every worship service should take us.

Continue reading Class Wrap: How Should We Worship?

Class, Day 4: The Chasm

From December 1811 through February 1812, a series of earthquakes ripped through the Mississippi River valley in what is today southern Missouri. The earthquakes, not measured at the time but estimated by modern-day geologists to measure between 7.0 and 8.0 on the Richter scale, were felt as far away as New York, Boston and Canada.

They destroyed the town of New Madrid and, for a brief time, sent water flowing upstream on the Mississippi and changed the region’s geological characteristics so greatly that it created Reelfoot Lake in western Tennessee. Eyewitnesses at the time said water flowed backward on the Mississippi for more than 10 hours, helping to fill the lake.

Our world is experiencing a change no less significant.

“We have experienced a massive earthquake,” my Worship professor said in his lecture yesterday morning, “that is changing the course of the river. “We live in a world marked by a gaping cultural chasm – the kind of chasm that only happens every 500 years.”

That’s right. Not since the Protestant Reformation has Christianity and the social structures underpinning it been so violently shaken as is occurring right now. His explanation is a key that unlocks the reason for the increasing polarity of our political debates, our theological discussions and our everyday lives. He argues we are witnessing another battle in the millennia-long war between the followers of Plato and the followers of Aristotle.

Continue reading Class, Day 4: The Chasm

Class, Day 3: The Magic of History

Through the early centuries of the church and into the Middle Ages, evolution took its toll on the Eucharist.

What originally had been a somewhat mysterious belief that Christ was actually present during communion had morphed into an increasing belief that he was actually present in the communion elements themselves. This led the parishoners to increasingly decline the elements altogether out of a belief they were not worthy to handle the physical body and blood of Christ. What if they spilled it? Abstention from the Eucharist got so bad, the church had to mandate at least annual participation.

When the west rediscovered the philosophy of Aristotle and his belief in the separation of the accidents of an item (the look and feel) and its substance (the essence of it), the pieces were in place for the doctrine of transubstantiation, that the bread and wine miraculously became the actual, physical body and blood of Christ. The Fourth Council of the Latemer formalized this belief in 1215.

This led to other changes, foremost of which was the church stopped offering the communion cup altogether – if Christ’s physical body is in the bread, then so must be his blood, so the wine was unnecessary. Further, what can only be described as the idolization of the bread increased.

Continue reading Class, Day 3: The Magic of History