Faithful Thomas

The gospel for the Second Sunday of Easter is the familiar story of the disciples in a locked room after Christ’s Resurrection. The Apostle Thomas is skeptical that Jesus is alive after witnessing his painful death. It is because of this story that Thomas is often called “Doubting Thomas.” It is an unfair characterization for the disciple. We should remember that it was only Thomas who was willing to follow Jesus to the cross and to be killed alongside him. Thomas’s disbelief in Jesus’ Resurrection is not due to his lack of faith, but to the pain, trauma, and grief he has experienced. We would do better calling him “Faithful Thomas,” who after seeing and touching Jesus’ wounds, falls to the ground and worships his Lord.

What has struck me most about this story is the account of Jesus’ wounds. Even after his resurrection, Jesus bears the marks of his shameful death. A friend and colleague shared this reflection from Richard Rohr writing on exactly this subject in his July 2014 Daily Meditation. Rohr writes:

The significance of Jesus’ wounded body is his deliberate and conscious holding of the pain of the world and refusing to send it elsewhere. The wounds were not necessary to convince God that we were lovable; the wounds are to convince us of the path and the price of transformation. They are what will happen to you if you face and hold sin in compassion instead of projecting it in hatred.

Jesus’ wounded body is an icon for what we are all doing to one another and to the world. Jesus’ resurrected body is an icon of God’s response to our crucifixions. The two images contain the whole message of the Gospel.

In this Easter season, may we be like Faithful Thomas, eager to see our Lord’s wounds and to be reminded that transformation in Christ is possible, for our sake and for the sake of the world.

The Reverend Jacob E. Pierce, Associate Rector

Love will not Fail

In Holy Week, we witness our Lord’s suffering and death, the darkness and abandonment of the tomb, the despair of sin, rejection, and betrayal. Easter, however, leads us out of despair and into hope, out of the tomb and into new life. The Resurrection of Jesus is more than a commemorative event, it is the very meaning of God’s love. Through our Lord’s Resurrection we know that destruction and death will not have the final word. By the Resurrection of Jesus Christ the whole world witnesses God’s plan of salvation: “that things which were cast down are being raised up, and things which had grown old are being made new, and that all things are being brought to their perfection by him through whom all things were made…” (Book of Common Prayer, 280.)

Several weeks ago, the St. Peter’s Choir sang an anthem composed by Harold Friedell with words by Edith Williams, Jesus, So Lowly:

Jesus, so lowly, Child of the earth: Christen me wholly, Bring me new birth.
Jesus, so lonely, weary and sad; Teach me that only Love maketh glad.
Jesus, so broken, Silent and pale; Be this the token Love will not fail.
Jesus, victorious, mighty and free; Teach me how glorious death is to be.

Edith Williams’s words are so haunting because they exemplify the depth of our Easter faith: Death is not the final word for those who follow in the way of Jesus. Our Lord’s victorious triumph over the grave is not a sentimental symbol, but a clear and distinct sign of this simple Easter truth: Love will not fail.

Happy Easter,

The Reverend Jacob E. Pierce, Associate Rector

Come to Holy Week. Journey with us.

When I was growing up in a small town in rural Western North Carolina even the Episcopalians and Presbyterians were culturally Baptist. Every year when Holy Week came around the oddity of our Episcopal tradition became obvious to our religious neighbors. Our priest would reassure us by saying, “Baptists have revivals, but we have Holy Week. Be sure to come to church, because this is who we are.”

As Christians in the Anglican way, Holy Week is an essential part of our faith story. We reenact and participate in beautifully ancient rites and traditions as we trace the final days before our Lord’s Resurrection. The liturgies of these days are called the Triduum. For at least 1,700 years Christians across the globe have observed Holy Week through walking with Jesus to the garden, to the cross, and to the tomb.

Our Triduum services at St. Peter’s will begin on Maundy Thursday: we remember the last meal Christ had with his disciples; we remember the institution of the Eucharist as a recollection of God’s saving acts in Jesus; and we remember Christ’s new commandment, the mandatum, that “you love one another as I have loved you” as we wash each other’s feet. At the conclusion of the Maundy Thursday service, the church is darkened and the altar is stripped in preparation for Good Friday.

On Good Friday we will hear meditations, readings, and music which reflect on Christ’s passion on the cross. Those in attendance will have an opportunity to venerate the cross, an ancient practice of touching or kissing the instrument of our Lord’s death but also the instrument of our salvation. On Good Friday, we will receive the Eucharist from the sacrament reserved on Maundy Thursday and the clergy will consume all consecrated elements in the church, leaving the church bare of any symbolic presence of Jesus. We will also walk the way of the cross by remembering the various events that took place as Jesus journeyed to Calvary.

At the Great Vigil of Easter, we will light the new fire in the churchyard, process into the dark nave with the Paschal candle, recount the history of our story as God’s people, baptize the newest Christians in the Church, and proclaim that Christ is risen with much fanfare and celebration.

These ancient practices of the Triduum are so very important because they are at the heart of what it means to be a follower of Christ. Our journey into Holy Week begins on Palm Sunday, but our journey with Christ to the garden, to the cross, and to the empty tomb begins at our baptism. Maundy Thursday will begin our Triduum observance, and as we journey with Christ deeper into the mystery of his death and resurrection our guide will be his words: “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.”

Come to Holy Week. Journey with us. Discover the love of God which cannot be contained on the cross or in the tomb. Be sure to come to church, because this is who we are.

The Reverend Jacob E. Pierce, Associate Rector

Our Relationships Build God’s Kingdom

Fr. Richard Rohr reminds us,

“the Holy Spirit is the love relationship between the Father and the Son. It is this relationship itself that is gratuitously given to us. Or better, we are included inside this love.”

God, in the Trinity, models for us how to live in relationship with each other. As a Vestry member liaison to the Congregational Development Team at St. Peter’s, our group focuses on the part of our church vision becoming “a place known for radical love and welcome.”

Payson Adams, a new parishioner a St. Peter’s, reminded our team that Jesus describes the Good Shepherd as one that “calls his own sheep by name.” A good place to begin relationship is to call someone’s name. Having implemented permanent name tags over the last several months for all those who come to St. Peter’s, our group has witnessed a blossoming of connection among parishioners, excitement for new relationships, and furthering the work of God here in our church. I have seen that excitement in Newcomer Coffee Hour where new and long time parishioners have answered the question “What is your passion?” and quickly discovered someone who shares that with them. New creation (God’s Kingdom) is formed with each relationship and with God’s blessing. I see this happening all over at St. Peter’s.

Meister Eckhart, a theologian and mystic, said “in this life we are to become heaven so that God might find a home here.” We have much work to do in this world and even at St. Peter’s to heal broken relationships, form new relationships, and build the God’s Kingdom, now, as we are called. I was inspired this week in reading about an effort to heal racial divides by asking folks to invite a family of another race into their home for a meal. At St. Peter’s, we have begun a monthly potluck lunch series on the second Sunday of each month. I encourage you to join and begin a new relationship. You might be surprised at the blessing it brings.

Peace.

Cooper Morrison, Vestry Member for Congregational Development

Holy Pilgrimage for our Teens

 

Our Youth Formation program’s mission is to provide St. Peter’s youth with opportunities for spiritual growth, personal development, and Christian fellowship in a caring, safe Anglican environment. Our vision has four parts: to strengthen their relationship with God through Christ; to build community; to foster appreciation of our youth and their gifts; to increase their involvement in parish life; and to teach them responsibility for society through outreach. We accomplish this mission for those who participate regularly through the Journey to Adulthood program, a comprehensive curriculum that nurture’s each teen’s spirituality, knowledge of scripture, love and care of self, and of society.

To these ends, we spend the year in classes Sunday mornings in a 6-year program and we take trips to build fellowship, to retreat, to help others, and to learn. Our ultimate trip is a Holy Pilgrimage, taken in their 10th/11th grade year, to a place where they will walk in the footsteps of the saints of our faith, and where they can see and feel their faith, writ large on the canvas of an ancient city. As a Class, they choose their destination and then spend three years (after their two years of Rite 13) learning about and growing into this special journey of faith. Our Pilgrim Class of 2017 decided on a pilgrimage through Rome, Assisi, and Milan. As the group travels together, staying in convents, using public transportation and feet (a lot), visiting churches and holy sites, this group of communicants will pray daily for their St. Peter’s community who have made this journey possible. Please email prayer requests to lholt@st-peters.org and the group will offer your prayers at St. Peter’s Basilica, The Basilica of St. Francis, and the Duomo in Milan. In this way, we will have the parish with us and will share the blessing of this faith adventure with you.

Lyn Holt, Director of Youth Formation

Feasting on Prayer and Reflection in Lent

In Lent Christians are invited by the Church to observe a holy season of “self-examination and repentance, by prayer, fasting, and self-denial; and by reading and meditating on God’s holy Word.” (Book of Common Prayer, 265.) Though many of us might understand Lent simply as a season to fast, to give up something enjoyable in our lives such as dessert or television, the reality is that Lent is also a season in which we can deepen our prayers and study of scripture. Lent is an opportunity to feast on prayer, reflection, and meditation.

There are many opportunities to feast this Lent at St. Peter’s. Throughout the season of Lent our Parish Hall Forum, at 9:30 a.m. on Sunday mornings, will engage conversations around the theology of Holy Week. You might consider attending the Parish Hall Forum as way to prepare for Easter and feast on study and reflection.

Every weekday morning at 8:00 a.m., Monday through Friday, parishioners gather for Morning Prayer in the Chapel. The Anglican tradition of the Daily Office of Morning and Evening Prayer can introduce a rhythm of prayer and scripture into your daily routine. You might consider joining us for Morning Prayer one day a week this Lent, as an opportunity to feast on prayer.

There are various other opportunities, such as “Mystical Food for Thought,” which you can read about on the parish website or in our Life at St. Peter’s magazine. You might consider any one of these opportunities to deepen your own prayer and study of scripture this Lent.

The modern era has given us even more opportunities to feast this Lent. If you can’t join us for Morning Prayer, you can pray online through the Mission of St. Clare or one of the various Daily Office apps for a tablet or mobile device. There are also various daily prayers and reflections offered by Forward Day by Day. One of my personal favorites is a Lenten series offered through the Society of St. John the Evangelist in Boston, Massachusetts. “The Five Marks of Love” is a daily devotion sent directly as an email every morning, or it can be read or viewed as a video from the Society’s website. This daily reflection seeks to answer the following question: “If we are ‘marked as Christ’s own,’ what are the ‘marks of love’ that characterize the Divine Life abiding and at work within us?” You can sign up for “The Five Marks of Love” by visiting this link.

Though these various opportunities and resources will not appeal to everyone, we are all called to observe this season of Holy Lent. You might try several before you find one that works for you. May this Lent be a season to feast as well as to fast.

Peace and Blessings,

Jacob+

 

The Reverend Jacob E. Pierce, Associate Rector

What are you giving up for Lent?

Last week, on Ash Wednesday, someone asked me, “What are you giving up for Lent?” I didn’t have an answer in that moment but, after some thought, I realized that I’m not giving up anything. I am taking on something–the spiritual discipline of simplicity. Lent is a season of reflection, contemplative prayer, and solemn preparation leading up to Easter.

This question made me think about how the language that we use has the power to create a negative or deficit mindset, in which one has to deny oneself of something in order to seek a closer relationship or be in conversation with God. During the season of Lent,  many are engaged in Lenten practices such as giving up sweets, red meat, or wine;  fasting from worry and fear; or abstaining from judgmental behaviors. These practices have merit; however, they often cause us to focus on the negative. We spend so much of our time and our energy focused on avoiding these things that we end up creating negative self-fulfilling prophesies.

This season let us add a positive approach to our Lenten practice by engaging in the spiritual discipline of simplicity. By simplifying our lives, we are able to cultivate an inner voice that allows us to be in conversation with God through meditation, contemplative prayer, and solitude. Join us for a follow-up conversation on Simplifying Your Life, during Adult formation on Sunday, April 30 from 9:30–10:30 a.m. Come and share about your journey, while developing a sense of gratitude for everything we have, finding joy in our hearts, and showing kindness to others.

Thank you,

Dr. John G. M. Frederick, Vestry Member

“Ashes to Go” in the News

St. Peter’s popular “Ashes to Go” sidewalk ministry on Ash Wednesday earned a nice feature in news coverage this week. Father Keith Lane, Assisting Priest at St. Peter’s, provides an impromptu interview and explanation of the symbolism of the ashes and the importance of the Lenten season we are beginning.

Watch online by following this clicking here.

Reconciliation: All Sorts in All Seasons

The season of Lent invites Christians into an unusually intentional stretch of self-examination and repentance; prayer, fasting, self-denial; reading and meditating on God’s holy Word; and making right beginnings. Beginning on Ash Wednesday with the sobering words said during the imposition of ashes on foreheads, “remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return,” we begin anew our journeys with God. Indeed, we are reminded that we are interconnected to “the other,” whomever the other may be, in the way that particles of dust cannot be separated.

Considering the fractured world in which we live, I am prayerfully reminded that we are called to the ministry of reconciliation. The mission of the Church–the body of Christ–is to restore all people to unity with God and each other. Thus, reconciliation is when persons make right or harmonize around a difference or situation that has caused hurt, conflict, or separation. It involves different parties coming to a good, healthy, and mutually agreeable position, and it always involves change. One person can forgive; it takes two to reconcile. Ultimately, it reflects the fulfillment of God’s dream. Much of my life work includes learning as much as possible about this common call, and I am glad that others share this passion to be explored together.

Reconciliation is bound to make humanity whole as equally beloved children of God. During my March 6–May 31 sabbatical, it is moving to know that both the Rector and Parish of St. Peter’s will delve deeper into the purpose and implications of reconciliation through prayer, worship, formation, conversation, fellowship, and service opportunities. With God’s help, faith, and courage, we are bound to create the beloved community and be changed to the glory of God.

God’s blessings as we pray and try,

The Reverend Ollie V. Rencher, Rector

Becoming The Beloved Community

 

On the Last Sunday after the Epiphany, February 26, the Church begins the transition to Lent through the observance of Ash Wednesday. We pray, “O God, who before the passion of your only­ begotten Son revealed his glory upon the holy mountain: Grant to us that we, beholding by faith the light of his countenance, may be strengthened to bear our cross, and be changed into his likeness from glory to glory.” Three days later, we pray, “Almighty and everlasting God, you hate nothing you have made and forgive the sins of all who are penitent: Create and make in us new and contrite hearts, that we, worthily lamenting our sins and acknowledging our wretchedness, may obtain of you, the God of all mercy, perfect remission and forgiveness.”

While I find it hard to believe that we are this close to Lent, I also am reminded that in every day of the Church year, we are afforded the opportunity to glorify God in thought, word, and deed. Epiphany is about Christ, who revealed his glory upon the holy mountain. Lent is about centering on and nourishing that Light within our own being to be and spread that Light with our lives.

With God’s help, may we respond radically to the Light and the Ash Wednesday invitation to observe a holy Lent “by self-examination and repentance; by prayer, fasting, and self-denial; by reading and meditating on God’s holy Word; and by making a right beginning of repentance, and as a mark of our mortal nature, let us pray before our maker and redeemer.” In our doing, both we and the world are bound to become who God calls us to be as the beloved community.

God’s blessings as we pray and try,

The Reverend Ollie V. Rencher, Rector