Archive for May 2018

Pentecost 5/20/18 Epiphany, Norfolk

This morning we celebrate “The Day of Pentecost.” If you are new to our liturgical calendar, Pentecost is 50 days after Easter. It celebrates the events described in our 2nd reading this morning. The writer of Acts, who was also the writer of the Gospel of Luke, tries to describe this mysterious event with its violent wind, and tongues of fire, and people speaking in tongues and becoming empowered to go out into the world and spread the love of Christ.

Before Jesus ascended into heaven on the Feast of the Ascension, 40 days after Easter, he promised his followers that they would not be left alone. He, through the Father, would send them an advocate,
a sustainer, the spirit of truth, a holy wind, a Holy Spirit to support them and send them out. The Day of Pentecost is seen as the fulfillment of that promise. The Day of Pentecost is now celebrated as one of the 3 most important feasts of the church, along with Christmas and Easter.

Episcopalians didn’t celebrate Pentecost until 1979 when the present Prayer Book was published. I was an active priest at that time, and we really didn’t know what to do with it. So, a whole bunch of practices were introduced. Some stuck. Some did not. We tried releasing red helium balloons, but it was discovered that when they lost their helium and lift, they fell back to earth and birds were attracted to the color red and ate the balloons and died. That practice went by the way, quickly.

We tried wearing red, representing the tongues of fire that appeared among the disciples and rested on their heads. “Wear Red” stuck and has been very popular.

Some places celebrated with a birthday cake for the institutional church, observing the empowerment of the disciples, and their going out into the world. Many parishes still do that. There will be a lot of cakes this morning.

And then there is a whole bunch of local customs that have developed from congregation to congregation. We chant the hymn, “Veni Creator Spiritus” as our processional hymn. Not all places do that. It’s just a custom that’s developed here at Epiphany. And other places have their unique ways of celebrating. But in the almost 40 years that we have been celebrating the Day of Pentecost, it has taken on increased importance throughout the church.

I should mention that the Jews have always celebrated their Pentecost 50 days after the Passover. So this is another example of traditions borrowing from each other, and weaving themselves together.

Well, as we celebrate the Day of Pentecost, I hope you had an opportunity to watch the Royal Wedding yesterday, and especially Bishop Curry’s sermon. This is the only time in history that I’ve heard sound bites of a sermon played over and over by the media. The man can preach!

I thought it was a great sermon, but I was especiallyinterested in some of the responses of commentators. One commentator said thatshe was appalled that the bishop made the Queen uncomfortable in her ownchapel. My thought was, “If it made the Queen uncomfortable, then it must haveneeded saying.” The Queen did grimace and “adjust herself” during the sermon, andthe cameras caught her. But I think it was the hard pew that was making her uncomfortable,and not the bishop. She’s 92 years old, and they need to get her a cushion soshe can enjoy her chapel.

The commentators kept saying that Bishop Curry was from Chicago. He was born in Chicago, but grew up in Buffalo, and was Bishop of North Carolina before being elected Presiding Bishop. Right now, as Presiding Bishop, he’s really “at large.”

Some of what he said he said at our Fall Clergy Conference this past November, with a different twist. He has a gift for “staying on script” and adjusting the script to fit the occasion. But he’s very good at it. I really think he won over the English. One commentator said that he had attended many, many weddings, with “dusty old wedding sermons”, and Bishop Curry was very refreshing.

If you weren’t able to watch the wedding, try to catch a replay of the sermon. It lasts eleven minutes, and it’s all over the internet. It’s worth giving eleven minutes.

One of the things that he said that I really liked, and this is a paraphrase, was, “Our job is to take sin and “me” out of the center of the world and put love and Jesus into the center of the world.” I’d heard him say that sort of thing before, and I really like it.

And he talked about what a different world it would be if we could just love and respect each other. You can’t argue with that. It would be a different world. I can’t even imagine. But that’s what the Day of Pentecost is all about, empowering us to do exactly what Bishop Curry was pleading.

Some of you will remember Mary Anne Wilson who was avery active member of Epiphany until she and her husband moved to Tennessee. Shewas on Face Book last night and wrote the following: “A fresh breeze fromheaven is fanning the fires of love. Pentecost is at hand.”

Ooooh I like that. It’s interesting that Bishop Curryalso talked about fire. I guess that part will be his Pentecost sermon thismorning. But he linked the two together; fire and love. That’s what Pentecostis all about.

You know, it all sounds so good. And maybe it did makea few British aristocrats uncomfortable, yesterday. But if just a few of us, likeyou and me, could catch the passion for what he’s talking about, at least inour little corner of this world, things could begin to change. The world is nota very happy place, right now. We’re not a very happy nation, right now. But itdoesn’t have to be that way. Things need to change. And change usually happensslowly.

Maybe we can each feel those flames, and hear thatrushing wind, and adjust our own scripts to work on one or two little efforts thatremove sin, and remove “me” out of the center of the world, and bring love andJesus into the center of the world, and into the center of our lives.


Posted May 23, 2018 by Church of the Epiphany in Epiphany Moments

Rogation Day 5/5/18 Epiphany, Norfolk

One of the neat things about the Christian Church in America is that it is a melting pot of religious traditions from all over the world. The Lutherans trace their traditions back to Martin Luther and the German and Scandinavian lore, including the Vikings and the Visigoths. The Roman Catholics trace their traditions back to what is now Italy, and the early Christians mixing their Christianity with their Pagan gods and traditions. The Greeks and Orthodox Church blend their early Christianity with their ancient gods and traditions. The Presbyterians come to us from the Protestant Reformation, and its turning away from what were considered “Romish excesses.” They were looking for a more austere expression of their faith. The Baptists, Moravians, and Pentecostals, and a whole collection of other denominations in America, trace their roots to what is now being called “the Radical Reformation.” They took the elements of the Reformation and carried them a step further, in whatever direction felt right to their membership.

And then we get our own Anglican Church. It draws its roots from the early Christians who settled in the British Isles and Gaul, which is now western France. Tradition says that Joseph of Arimathea, after taking Jesus body for burial, fled the Holy Land, and with some early Christian followers, fled to Gaul and the British Isles. That is debatable, but popular Anglican lore.

Whatever – early Christians landed in Gaul and the British Isles fairly soon after Christ’s death. They found four significant pagan cults. The largest of these were the Druids. And in an effort to assimilate, the early Christians adopted and adapted many of the Celtic practices and rites into their early Christian traditions. And this became the roots of what we now call “Our Anglican Heritage.”

And one of those old Celtic rites was “Rogation.” Before the spring fields were planted the people with a priest (Pagan or Christian), would process around the boundaries of the towns and fields with banners, and incense, and sometimes a singing choir. And they would beat the land with sticks to chase out the demons that might infest the fields and give them a bad harvest. Then there would then be a big bonfire, at which time the sticks would be burned – hopefully burning the demons, as well, and there would follow a feast. Then the fields would be planted. The early Christians didn’t want to mess with something like this. If there was a bad harvest, they would be blamed. So they adopted it.

Later, the Romans invaded the land. They, too, adopted it and took it back to Rome as the Feast of Robigalia. Rome added the sacrifice of a dog. Thank heavens the Anglicans didn’t do that. I’d have to turn in my keys if we did any such thing.

Well, Rogation has continued as part of our heritage, our tradition, although with decreasing attention. I just hate to see us lose some of this old heritage. I don’t believe in demons and all that stuff, but I like the historical, cultural, and theological connection to our heritage.

The Book of Occasional Services, which is an authorized supplement to the Prayer Book, provides for celebrating Rogation. I stick pretty closely to what they prescribe. But like most things in the church, Rogation has taken on additional meaning. In our Church Calendar, Rogation is linked to the Ascension. The Ascension is when we celebrate Christ’s Ascending to Heaven with no more Resurrection Appearances. The Ascension is always 40 days after Easter. Remember that 40 is the mystical number for “purification.” We get 40 days of Lent, 40 years in the wilderness, etc. So the Ascension happens 40 days after Easter, bracketing the 40 days of Lent before Easter. This Thursday will be Ascension Day.

Now, the Sunday before the Ascension is always Rogation Sunday, the 6th Sunday of Easter. And the three days following Rogation Sunday are Rogation Days. So, if you have a lot of fields to cleanse, you have four days to do it. And of course, Rogation in the spring brackets Thanksgiving in the fall. One prepares the fields for planting. The other celebrates a successful harvest.

Riding back in the car from Clergy Day, Julia mentioned that she has always liked celebrating Rogation. She said that for her, it closes out winter and refocuses us to planting, and new life, and a new season.

I think she’s exactly right. We need those seasonal rhythms and cycles in our lives. They sort of tell us where we are in space and time. And as we become less and less linked to the land, we can forget that there are seasons and times into which we were created and need to fit ourselves. Our lives are becoming more and more of an “a seasonal continuum” that just flows along. We have heat when it’s cold. We have A/C when it’s hot. We can easily get strawberries in the middle of winter. With very little effort, we can live a life very unaffected by what is going on in nature. But as that happens, we lose our “sense of place” in the seasons and cycles of life.

So I appreciate it when the church helps us “reconnect” and find our place in the rhythms of life, especially when it carries us back to another time, another place, another people, where we find our roots. The church is really good at doing that.

And so today we celebrate Rogation Day. We will bless our churchyard, and plant some grass seed, and have a cookout, sort of like our Celtic ancestors did centuries ago, in another place, and another time. That’s just who we are, and from where our roots come.


Posted May 8, 2018 by Church of the Epiphany in Epiphany Moments

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