Pentecost and Catechesis

Atrium 2014 001The Feast of Pentecost is Sunday, May 24th.  It’s one of seven Principle Feasts of the Church and it brings to a close the Great Fifty Days of Easter.  It’s a day when baptisms and confirmations are most appropriate.  This Jewish feast for centuries celebrated the Jew’s birth as God’s Chosen People and the giving of the Law to Moses at Sinai. This ancient Feast reached it’s fruition when the Father, through the Son, poured the Holy Spirit on Mary and the apostles and through them on the Church in every age.

The gift of baptism gives a child a profound familiarity with the Holy Spirit.  The Catechesis of the Good Shepherd is “Christocentric” and “Trinitarian.”  It’s structured to open windows for children to encounter the work of the Spirit in their spiritual formation.  Children discover that their heavenly Father sends to them the gift of Christ’s presence.  The Father is always sending today “messengers” just as He did at the Annunciation.

Children connect to the Holy Spirit through the historical life of Jesus.  They see how the Spirit was with Jesus when He was born and was raised from the dead.  They discover the Spirit at work in the celebrations of the Church and learn to listen with their heart to the sacramental words and the liturgical actions.  This shows the children how the Holy Spirit worked in the person of Jesus Christ Himself and in His ministry and how the Spirit continues to work within the Church today and in their lives.

The Feast of the Ascension

The Feast of the Ascension of our Lord into Heaven was May 14, 2015.  It comes during the 6th week of the “Great 50 Days,” being 40 days after Easter Morning.  We find this historical event recorded in Mark 16:19, Luke 24:50-53 and Acts of the Apostles 1:6-11.

On this day Jesus’ bodily entry into Heaven. This means that He took human nature into heavenly glory. This means that our Lord has taken into the glory of the Godhead our wounded redeemed human nature.  So now, as we live in this world “dimly” (1 Cor 13:12) we know that this heavenly tie with the ascended Jesus allows us to live by grace that can move us from the inclination toward evil and darkness and into the mind of Christ. (Eph 5)

So at the Ascension all of creation has entered into “the last hour.”  We live now on the “final age of the world” or as some have termed “the last day.”  This is a primary teaching from Paul’s letter to the Romans.  What this means is that the renewal of the world is irrevocably under way.  This renewal and new creation is even now anticipated in a certain real way, for the Church on earth is endowed already with a sanctity that is real but imperfect. Christ’s kingdom already manifests its presence through the sacramental life and miraculous signs.This helps us develop the right habits that move toward the good.

So we read of this historic moment…

… and lifting His hands He blessed them. While blessing them, He parted from them and was carried up into Heaven. And the eleven apostles returned to Jerusalem with great joy. … (Lk 24:51-52).

His physical departure makes way for His promised gift of the Holy Spirit.  By means of the Holy Spirit Jesus remains “manifested” with the Church throughout her earthly ministry (Jn 14:18-19). This gift of the Spirit also enables the Church to be a faithful witness to the ends of earth (Lk 24:48-53; Acts 1:8-11; Mt 28:20; Mk 16:16-14).

So Jesus ascended into Heaven. He is glorified with the Father and He glorifies us along with Himself (Jn 17).  But His Kingdom which is operating in His Church is slowly bringing to fruition the fullness of the Kingdom and our Lord’s return.

Jesus has “prepared a place” for us!  That place is before the blessedness of God s presence. That “place” is in the Church now as we live before the Eucharistic Lord. That “place” shall also be our heavenly home.  He is our “way, our truth, and our life.”  Jesus is “… Light to enlighten the Gentiles, and glory for the people Israel.” (Lk 2:32)  He brings salvation for all who choose His way, His truth, and His life.  (Matt 7:14)  Amen.

Let us pray,

… Almighty God, whose blessed Son our Savior Jesus Christ ascended far above all heavens that He might fill all things: Mercifully give us faith to perceive that, according to His promise, He abides with His Church on earth, even to the end of the ages; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen  (BCP 226)

Christian Formation for Children

The Catechesis of the Good Shepherd is the Christian formation program that is used at St. John’s for our children ages 3-12. It follows the educational principles of Maria Montessori. The children gather in an “atrium”, which is a special room prepared for them, which has beautiful handmade materials and items to teach our faith.IMG_1844

This is a true formation program for kids that focuses on growing a child’s relationship with God through a purposeful engagement with Holy Scripture and liturgies of the Book of Common Prayer.

The atrium environment is a prayerful “working space” that brings the Holy Spirit who is within the soul to direct children in growing a unique relationship with their heavenly Father.

The program brings together two great tools of Anglican Christian formation: the Holy Scriptures and the Book of Common Prayer and our liturgical traditions.  Anglicans are “liturgical Christians.” Our Christian life is nourished and developed using these tools of our faith.

As adults we hear the scriptures on Sunday morning. We often take the scripture inserts in our Bulletin home so we can read them again and again, to more slowly hear and inwardly digest the Word of God. This method of learning allows adults time to meditate more deeply upon the life of Christ and perhaps speak to God in a thankful or hopeful prayer.

But young children need their own way into God’s Word. The atrium serves this purpose. It provides the child space and special materials to ponder a biblical passage or become familiar with prayers from the Prayer Book.

For example, children place wood figures of sheep in a sheepfold of the Good Shepherd and in doing this identify themselves as one of the sheep gathered with their Shepherd, or they set the apostles around a Last Supper table, or prepare a small altar with the furnishings used for the Holy Eucharist, or work with vestments and liturgical colors.

Older children who do read will copy parables from the Bible, or lay in order written prayers from the rite of Holy Baptism, or label a long time line showing the history of the growth of the kingdom of God.

Forming children and families in the historic faith is a principle goal of St. John’s Church, Fort Worth. Join us on Sunday morning and talk with one of our catechists about our program.

Divine Mercy! The Heart of Easter.

Alleluia! Christ is risen!

We have just completed some extraordinary worship here at St. John’s. I’m referring specifically to Holy Week and especially the Easter Triduum: Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter Day.

Now “The Great Fifty Days” has arrived. I’m referring to the season of Easter and liturgically these next eight weeks are treated as one great day.  For eight weeks we will stand in the glow of the glorification of Christ as we allow The grace of the resurrection to transfigure us slowly from the inside out!

The Great Fifty Days are important because they teach us about divine mercy!

Listen to the words of St. Paul.

“We all once lived in the passions of our flesh, following the desires of our body and mind, and so we were by nature children of disobedience, like the rest of mankind. But God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead through sin, made us alive with Christ, and raised us up… to sit with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus.” (Eph 2:3-6)

Over the next eight weeks we will explore the depth and wealth of God’s mercy and how grace and virtuous striving are the means to achieve a faithful Christian life.

Is it any wonder that on this first Sunday after Easter Day has come to be known as “Divine Mercy Sunday!”

Is this new to the Christian calendar. No. The theme of mercy belongs to the whole biblical story. The word in Hebrew (hesed) and the Greek (eleos) translated “mercy” together occur nearly 300 times through-out the Bible.  It most always refers to God’s love, to His goodness, kindness, to His faithfulness and favor. One example is with Psalm 89 when God is speaking of His commitment to the human race, “My steadfast mercy I will keep for ever, and My covenant stands firm.” (Ps 89:28).

When mercy refers to a person it often times is found in the language of prayer, such as, “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life; and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord for ever. (Ps 23:6)  Psalm 136, is called the “mercy psalm” and we are told 26 times in the form of a litany that our heavenly Father’s “mercy” endures forever.

One of my favorite examples is found in the Old Testament book of Lamentations. This is a collection of five poems lamenting the destruction and ruin of Jerusalem in 587 BC. The sacred Temple has been destroyed and its worship has ceased. A great famine now ravaged the people and the spirits of the faithful are broken as they are carried off into exile.  It could not have been worse for the ancient people of God.  Yet the sacred writer concludes, “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, His mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; O’ great is Thy faithfulness. The Lord is my portion, says my soul, therefore I will hope in Him. (Lam 3:22-24)

No, mercy is the theme of the Bible. Mercy is that golden thread that is woven through-out the Bible holding together the story of salvation history. For a person who knows the love and mercy of God, life is never so dark that the glimmer of God’s light can’t be seen.  Everyday we are blessed with renewed mercy and this is a gift from the Holy Spirit.

This renewed mercy is encouragement from God. It should be the source of our motivation to do good, to act kind, and to be firm in faith. Jesus makes this part of His disciples life, “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.” (Matt 5:7)

Blessed are those whose heart is lived open before God, he or she shall become an instrument of God’s peace and mercy. Jesus has showed that love is present in the world in which we live. Our mercy can ignite that love. When this happens opportunities like repentance, suffering, injustice, and poverty of body and spirit can be transformed into moments of redemption by God’s mercy. Mercy and love make present God who is Father of love and mercy.

Today we see Thomas putting his hand inside the wounds of Jesus. Jesus uses His sacred wounds as evidence of His love and mercy. That’s why they didn’t disappear after His resurrection and glorification. But in fact remain quite visible as a source of blessing the world. These five wounds healed Thomas’ struggle and gave him the faith to believe. These five wounds released water and blood for the cleansing of souls and the birth of new life. That new life we live in each day.

The Church was born from the side of Christ. From these five wounds we find the living source for the water of baptism and the blood of the holy Eucharist. The wounds actually are reaching out right now to any person who wants to draw near to God in Christ.

Souls are justified by the water and the blood. Souls are born to new life by the water and nourished by the blood. From the five wounds Thomas found mercy and a unity of heart and mind with Jesus.

The Great Fifty Days is the season of mercy. We are being called by the Holy Spirit to first receive God’s gift of mercy for our own soul’s health; and then to become an instrument of mercy for others.

Let this great season unfold and let us live the faith that conquers the world, the faith that makes us children of mercy.

Remember, each day mercy is renewed to give you always the best day of your life. May God’s peace be with you.

Amen

What… or better “who” do you lack in your life?

This is Friday in Easter Week and our Gospel lesson comes from John 21:1-14.  This is the third post-resurrection appearance of Jesus to His disciples.  John writes, “Jesus revealed Himself again to the disciples by the Sea of Tiberias; and He revealed Himself in this way. Simon Peter, Thomas called the Twin, Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two others of His disciples were together.  Simon Peter said to them, “I am going fishing.” They said to him, “We will go with you.” They went out and got into the boat; but that night they caught nothing.”  (Jn 21:1-3)

Look at John’s details.  Peter is with seven disciples.  The number seven is important.  It is the biblical number for “fullness.”  Peter explains what he plans on doing and the seven follow.  They toil all night and disappointed.  Was this just a bad night for fishing?  What are they lacking?  The answer is not “what” do they lack but “who” do they lack.  They lack Jesus with them.

Later, as the sun was rising Jesus was seen standing on the shoreline.  He explains to Peter what he must do to catch a large amount of fish.  John writes, “He said to them, “Cast the net on the right side of the boat, and you will find some.” So they cast it, and now they were not able to haul it in, for the quantity of fish.” (Jn 21:6)

The amount of fish was overwhelming and yet the net did not break.  John looks to the shore and is about to identify Jesus standing on the shore.  Peter drags the net ashore and lays the whole catch of fish before the feet of Jesus. By this time everyone recognized it was the Lord.

Jesus take a fish and bread and makes breakfast.  Feeding everyone.  Is that single fish that Jesus used to make breakfast with a “sign” of Himself?  The Church may have a fullness with good leadership, gifts, supporting members and resources at her disposal.  But without Jesus and His directions; and without Him feeding His flock in the Holy Eucharist, the Church will always toil long and hard in this world producing little or no results.

In the Gospel we have two things that happen that we must imitate.  The first is we must know that Jesus always reaching out to us to provide direction for us.  And Jesus will feed us as often as we want to be fed.  But secondly, like John, we must open our eyes to recognize Him and see how He is reaching out to us; and like Peter we must prepare ourselves and come to Jesus, we must be willing to swim against the tides of the culture in order to bring to Him the fruit of our labor.  Amen

The Great Fifty Days!

A beautiful celebration of Easter Day has come and gone. But part of our Good News is that Easter is not over! This one beautiful and meaningful day is actually fifty days long! Alleluia! In the Anglican Church Easter is a season that extends from the Great Vigil of Easter through the last service on the Day of Pentecost. Up to around the 4th century the “Great Fifty Days” was actually called Pentecost. These days were treated as ‘one great day’ of rejoicing with no fasting and no kneeling.

As the Church grew in her faith the Lord’s Day was realized as both the first day of the week but also the Christian’s ‘eighth day.’  The ‘eighth day’ referenced the eschatological beginning of the new era when Christ shall make all things new. (Rev. 21)

As the Church matured in teaching its theology it was realized that the newly baptized needed specific teaching on the sacramental faith and how to live their life in Christ. Bishops and theologians like St. Ambrose and St. Cyril have left us amazing sermons on the meaning of the sacraments and the new life in Christ. Here is an example: The Power of the Waters of Baptism St. Ambrose.

Instruction centered more and more on the themes of the paschal mystery of Christ, the Resurrection and baptism which gave reason to having a season focused of the Easter mysteries.  In time this pushed the themes of Pentecost into a new season of its own.

Today what you find in the Book of Common Prayer is the Great Fifty Days of Easter with the Day of Pentecost (Whitsunday) as the Eighth Sunday of the Easter season.

The paschal candle burns at every service during the Great Fifty Days of Easter. (BCP, 287)  Previous Prayer Books allowed for the extinguishing of the paschal candle on Ascension Day which is the 40th day of Easter.  This practice was to respect the biblical moment when our Lord ascended into Heaven and the apostles were left to vigil for 9 days waiting for the promised gift of the Holy Spirit. But this practice also obscures the unity of the Great Fifty Days and even suggests that Ascension Day began a new season.  So that practice has ended and the paschal candle remains lit through the Day of Pentecost.

From this event developed the prayer “novenas” (from the Latin ‘nine’) imitating the apostles waiting and praying the nine days between the Ascension of our Lord and the Day of Pentecost in prayer.  Novenas became a practice of many Christians to devote nine days in prayer for a special purpose.

We read a lesson from the Acts of the Apostles each day during the Great Fifty Days including at every Sunday Eucharist. This replaces the Old Testament readings. The Gospel of John is used each Sunday with the exception of the third week of Easter which uses a reading from Luke.

So the Anglican Church celebrates Easter this year through the last Mass on May 24, 2015.  The last Mass on the Day of Pentecost marks the close of the Great Fifty Days of Easter. At which time we begin the season of Pentecost celebrating the outpouring of the Holy Spirit.

The Great Vigil of Easter, April 4, 2015

Tonight at the Great Vigil of Easter the baptismal themes that were explored during the season of Lent reach their logical conclusion in the words of this prayer, “Through the paschal mystery, dear friends, we are buried with Christ by Baptism into His death, and raised with Him to newness of life.” (BCP, 292)

As Christians we participate in the dying and rising of Jesus. This we call the paschal mystery and it’s the heart and soul of the Christian faith and life. St. Paul writes of this participation as a “grace” in Romans 5:2, “Through [Jesus] we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in our hope of sharing the glory of God.”

The paschal mystery is the heart of the liturgical year. The dying and rising of Christ and how to apply this mystery to our lives undergirds our weekly celebration of Sunday and explains why we so dutifully participate in Lent and Holy Week.

The opening prayer for the Great Vigil sets the tone.  “Dear friends in Christ: On this most holy night, in which our Lord Jesus passed over from death to life, the Church invites her members, dispersed throughout the world, to gather in vigil and prayer. For this is the Passover of the Lord, in which , by hearing His Word and celebrating His Sacraments, we share in His victory over death.” (BCP, 285)

This is a power service, and there is a simplicity of interplay between darkness and light that is found through-out the evening. In the darkness of evening a  fire is blessed and the paschal candle is lit from it. This candle is then lifted high and processed down the center aisle with the priest chanting “the light of Christ.”  And the people respond, “Thanks be to God.”  The purpose is to show how the light of Christ dispels the darkness. Darkness has no power over Christ.  From this ‘paschal light’ other candles held by the faithful are lit so this New Light of Easter, reminiscent of “the true Light that enlightens every man” (John 1: 9) is seen as spreading over the whole body of the faithful. (BCP, 286)

The Liturgy of the Word

“Rejoice now, heavenly hosts and choirs of angels, and let your trumpets shout Salvation, for the victory of our mighty King!”  (BCP, 286)  “Darkness is vanquished!”  These and other paschal themes of Lent are joyfully sung in the ancient hymn “the Exsultet” and they prepare us to hear once again the story of salvation history.

These seven readings woven together provide “the record of God’s saving deeds in history.” This is our story!  This is the story that brought each one of us “… to the fullness of redemption” (BCP, 288).

  • The Creation Story.  Genesis :1-2:2.
  • The Story of the Flood.  Genesis 7: 1-5, 11-18; 8: 6-18; 9: 8 -13.
  • Abrahams Sacrifice of Isaac.  Genesis 22:1-18.
  • Israel’s Deliverance at the Red Sea.  Exodus 14:10-15:1.
  • God’s Presence in a Renewed Israel.  Isaiah 4:2-6.
  • Salvation Offered Freely to All.  Isaiah 55:1-11.
  • A New Heart and a New Spirit.  Ezekiel 36:24-28.

This is the night when all of these plans and purposes of God come true.

This is the night, when all who believe in Christ are delivered from the gloom of sin, and are restored to grace and holiness of life.

This is the night, when Christ broke the bonds of death and hell, and rose victorious from the grave.

This is the night, when wickedness is put to flight, and sin is washed away.  The mystery couched in this night restores innocence to the fallen, and joy to those who mourn.  It casts out pride and hatred, and brings peace and concord.

We say, “this is the night” because the activities of God are never constrained or bound by chronological time. God “moves and has His ways” present and efficacious for all in every age. The sacramental theology of the Church explains this so carefully.

God’s grace-filled Providence makes this night “the night” when earth and Heaven are joined and man is reconciled to God.

The Renewal of Baptismal Vows

Our baptismal pledge is to keep the truth of this night continually shinning in order to drive away all darkness. When Christ returns in glory we pray that He will find this truth ever burning in our soul and influencing our life.

So tonight the liturgy gives us opportunity to recommit ourselves to living our life in Christ into which we entered at our baptism. We do this by renewing our baptismal vows. The Resurrection makes all things new. We are so blessed to have this opportunity to renew our participation in the paschal mystery. On the Cross our Lord triumphed over the forces of evil, trampling down death-by-death and winning salvation for us! Sin and death have no claim over us.  We are free!

The Easter Gospel

Tonight the Easter Vigil Gospel is Matthew 28: 1-10.  This is the Resurrection narrative. Matthew writes, “After the sabbath, toward the dawn of the first day of the week. . . .”  St. Matthew is speaking about the dawn of the New Day. The Resurrection of Jesus Christ has changed everything.  All of Creation was affected by it and is now being healed as we worship tonight!  Things which were cast down are being raised up… and things which had grown old are being brought to their perfection by Jesus… through whom all things were made!  (BCP, 291)

We hear the words of the angel, “Do not be afraid!  I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. He is not here; for He has risen, as He said.  Now go, quickly, and tell…” Twice in this Gospel we hear the command “Go and tell. . . .”  Let the truth of this night burn in you deeply, then go, and do not be afraid. Jesus has gone ahead of you. Go and tell the world about Jesus.  This is the mission of the Church.  Amen