That Blessed Dependancy

"There wee leave you in that blessed dependancy, to hang upon him who hangs upon the Crosse…" -John Donne, "Death's Duell"

Tag: Evensong

The Resurrection was BODILY

Each week in Eastertide, at Trinity Cathedral’s 4:00 p.m. Sunday evensong, my colleague the Rev’d Canon Emily Hylden and I will be preaching a series of brief homilies exploring different aspects of the Resurrection. The series began yesterday evening with the affirmation that “The Resurrection was BODILY.” I will continue to post my own future sermons in this series, and will also link to Emily’s sermons over on her blog (assuming she posts them!).

A Sermon Preached at Evensong on the Second Sunday of Easter, April 12, 2015

by the Rev’d Canon Dane E. Boston, Trinity Cathedral, Columbia, South Carolina

Hymns at Evensong: Hymn 412, “Earth and all stars”; Hymn 196 “Look there! the Christ, our Brother”

May I speak in the Name of Christ Jesus Crucified and Risen. Amen.

Evensongs in Eastertide will include a series a brief homilies on the Resurrection. In discussing the central, glorious mystery of our faith–the axis upon which the Church turns, and the astonishing fact around which our lives as Christians are oriented–it seems appropriate to focus first on the most practical, physical, down-to-earth details. So it is that we begin our series this afternoon with the affirmation that the Resurrection was bodilyThe person Jesus of Nazareth really and truly died. The person Jesus of Nazareth really and truly rose.

This may seem so obvious that it should hardly be worth stating. But the fact is that, from the very earliest times right down through the present day, the earthiness–the physicality–of the Resurrection has caused scandal. It has been a stumbling block (which is actually the root meaning of that word “scandal”). It has been downplayed and held at a distance. It has even been denied. Because the Resurrection is so earth-shaking–so profoundly difficult to wrap our minds around–there has always been a desire to spiritualize it, to push it into the misty realm of metaphor and metaphysics, to make it something light and airy–dealing with minds and souls, perhaps, but surely not with the heavy, clunky business of bodies.

And so today there are some people who say that the Resurrection wasn’t a real, physical event, but instead was just a new hope born in the minds of the disciples. Some people say that the Resurrection wasn’t about Jesus bursting from the tomb, but was in fact about his followers rising out of their post-crucifixion depression. Some people say that the Resurrection wasn’t anything to do with the body of Jesus, but rather was about the spirit of Jesus, the essence of Jesus, the undying immortal teaching of Jesus living on in his Church.

This tendency to spiritualize may well be encouraged by the fact that Jesus’ resurrected body was, indeed, different. All four Gospels agree that the risen body of Jesus is a transformed body. It can enter houses when the doors and windows are locked fast. It can appear and disappear in ways that normal human bodies cannot. It can even befuddle close friends and followers, preventing them from recognizing just who it is they are walking with, talking with, and sitting down to table with.

And yet, even while affirming the strange truth that Christ’s resurrected body is a transformed body, the four evangelists are also at pains to demonstrate that Christ’s resurrected body is a real body. It is a body that eats broiled fish and takes and breaks bread. It is a body that breathes real breath and bears real wounds. It is a body that can touch and be touched.

In light of this witness, we face a two-fold challenge. We must resist the urge to spiritualize, to transcendentalize, to explain away or apologize for the bodily Resurrection of Jesus. In the words of John Updike, “Let us not mock God with metaphor.” But the wonder of the empty tomb calls us beyond negatives–beyond things we ought not to say. The Resurrection also calls us to speak positively–to affirm what it is that God does by raising Jesus from the grave.

Scripture also calls us to affirm that what God accomplishes in the Resurrection is not merely the recovery of the old creation, but is instead the beginning of a new creation. When we affirm that Christ’s Resurrection was bodily, we say something about the created order–about this physical world of atoms and molecules, of “earth and all stars…[of] hail, wind, and rain…[of] daughter[s] and son[s]…[and even of those] loud boiling test-tubes”–through all of which seethes and breathes the very life of God. We say something about ourselves–about these bodies beautiful and broken, these bodies strong and weak, these bodies old and young, these bodies vital and vitiated–these bodies that live and these bodies that die.

For to affirm that the Risen Jesus was raised a new, a transformed body is to affirm our faith that the God who formed Adam from the dust of the earth and breathed into him the breath of his own Spirit will not abandon any part of us to ultimate destruction. It is to affirm God’s purpose, God’s intention, God’s power to “preserve thy body and soul unto everlasting life.” It is to affirm our gift and call, as Christian women and men, to meet the needs of the bodies around us, even as we meet the needs of the souls: to feed hungry stomachs even as we heal wounded hearts–to clean cracked feet, even as we bandage broken spirits. It is to affirm that Christ our brother, about whom we will shortly sing with overflowing joy, is our brother indeed: he has known every sorrow that wrings the human breast–he has felt every pang that our bodies can endure–he has carried all that we are and all that we have to his cross of shame, and he is now gloriously risen in the fullness of his humanity, and ours.

And it is to affirm one thing more. If Christ is raised, then we have hope at the end of our lives and at the hour of our death. St Paul the Apostle, who vigorously opposed any attempt to turn the Resurrection into a mere metaphor, says this in his First Epistle to the Corinthians: “If Christ be not risen, then is our preaching vain, and your faith is also vain…And if Christ be not raised…ye are yet in your sins. Then they also which are fallen asleep in Christ are perished. If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable.”

The faith fails, says Paul, if Christ has not really and truly been raised. But from this grim prospect, Paul continues in triumph: “But now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the firstfruits of them that slept. For since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam in all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive.”

In the bodily Resurrection of Jesus our Lord, beloved, we find hope for our frail and feeble bodies. For this mortal must put on immortality. This corruptible must put on incorruption. My body, your body, this human body, even though it dies, yet shall it live. “For now is Christ risen from the Dead.” AMEN.

The Daily Office and “the Fear of the Lord”

In a few hours, I’ll leave Columbia for a week in Newport, Rhode Island. My dear friend The Rev’d Fr Blake Sawicky and I will be serving as chaplains to the 2014 Newport Course of the Royal School of Church Music in America. Blake is the Curate of S Stephen’s Church in Providence, and also serves as Chaplain to both Brown University and the Rhode Island School of Design—a busy man!

I’m looking forward to a wonderful week of beautiful liturgies and phenomenal music. I’m excited to share teaching duties with Blake, whose knowledge of and passion for the worshipping life of the Church is singular. I’m eager to get to know the other talented members of the course staff.

But most of all, I can’t wait to live the rhythms of daily prayer in company with a great group of choristers, adult singers, and other musicians. We will pray Morning Prayer and Compline each day, in addition to singing two choral Evensongs (on Wednesday and Friday) and a choral Eucharist (on Sunday). This means that all of the good music and thorough training of a very full week will be anchored and oriented by the solid framework of Anglican prayer. What a gift to the participants, and what a privilege to be taking part in it all!

Below is a little blurb I wrote for the inside cover of our Morning Prayer bulletins. The theme of the course this year is “Wisdom,” and my goal was to show how the Daily Offices are the best means the Church has devised for becoming wise—for growing in the knowledge and fear of the Lord.

“But where shall wisdom be found? And where is the place of understanding?”

Those questions were posed many thousands of years ago in the Book of Job. In that same book (in that same chapter, even) they find an answer:

“Behold, the fear of the Lord, that is wisdom; and to depart from evil is understanding.”

“Fear” is not a word we usually associate with God. But the first thing to realize is that “the fear of the Lord” does not mean the feeling we get from “ghoulies and ghosties, and long-leggedy beasties, and things that go bump in the night.” Rather “the fear of the Lord” means reverence and awe: the humble recognition of who God is, coupled with joy and wonder in all his mighty works.

And when we see it that way, we find that our Daily Offices are all about wisdom. At Morning Prayer, Evensong, and Compline, we grow in “the fear of the Lord.” We learn who God is through reading or chanting Psalms and hearing Holy Scripture. We praise him in canticles. We proclaim God’s self-revelation in Jesus our Lord by the words of the Apostles’ Creed. And all this, in turn, leads us to prayers of repentance and petition and thanksgiving—of joy and wonder, of awe and reverence.

So welcome, you who hold this little book in your hand, to the place where wisdom shall be found. Welcome to the place of understanding. As we sing and read and pray and enjoy fellowship together this week, may we find ourselves growing in the love and fear of the Lord. By God’s grace, may we depart from evil and walk before him in holiness and righteousness all our days. “Behold…that is wisdom.”

“According to thy word…”

Last February, it was my honor to accept the invitation of the Rev’d Karl Griswold-Kuhn, my dear friend and seminary classmate, to be the guest preacher at Solemn Evensong and Benediction for the Feast of Candlemas.

St Paul’s Church, Kinderhook, New York, is a warm, faithful congregation on fire with the Gospel and committed to sharing the Good News in the Hudson Valley and beyond. My family and I have always found it a place of joy and refreshment. It was a special delight to hear Evensong sung by the talented boys of the Cathedral Choir of Men and Boys from The Cathedral of All Saints in Albany, and to preach to a full church (on a Saturday night!) for this holy feast.

A Sermon Preached on the Presentation of Our Lord Jesus Christ in the Temple (Candlemas), February 2, 2013, at St Paul’s Church, Kinderhook, New York

by the Rev’d Dane E. Boston, Curate of Christ Church, Greenwich

Texts: Malachi 3:1-5; Luke 2:22-40

“Lord now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace,
according to thy word…”

In the name of Almighty God, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost. Amen.

It is an honor and a joy to be with you at St Paul’s Church as we keep the holy feast of Candlemas. Of all the great days in the sacred year of the Church, few are so rich with stirring imagery, and no others are so intimately associated with one of the great hymns of the faith.

For centuries now, the holy words of holy Simeon—“Lord now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace”—have marked the close of day for Christians around the world. Whether in the uniquely Anglican glories of choral Evensong, sung so beautifully this evening in this place, or in the contemplative offering of cloistered Compline, or in the solitary murmur of said Evening Prayer, this song—the Song of Simeon, the Nunc Dimittis—is how the Church says “good night.” And so it is fitting that we have gathered this Candlemas evening to keep this feast with its appointed rites: with the solemn blessing of candles, with hymns in praise of the light of God revealed in Christ Jesus, and with the reading of Scripture’s record of that first Nunc Dimittis.

Yet it seems to me that there is a risk for us as we keep this feast; as we remember that holy meeting of Mary, and Joseph, and the baby Jesus, with the aged Simeon in the Temple at Jerusalem. The image of the encounter itself is so dramatic, so filled with joy and hope and promise, that we might almost forget its significance. The words of Simeon’s song of praise are so well known—we have become so accustomed to giving thanks that his old eyes “have seen [God’s] salvation, which [he] has prepared before the face of all people”—that we risk letting them wash over us without hearing them. And yet if we allow the beauty of the scene, and the thankful, poetic words, and the candles, and the incense, and the choir, and the music, all dominate our focus, we are in danger of missing the best part of Simeon’s song and the great truth proclaimed in this feast. “Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace,” sings the old man, and our hearts are gladdened by his pious hope for holy rest. But the most important words are the four that follow: “according to thy word.”

“According to thy word.”  All that we remember this night; all that we celebrate and give thanks for and rejoice in; all the great glory and wonder of Candlemas; it all comes down to that phrase: “according to thy word.” Those words are the key to understanding this feast, and indeed it might be said that they are the key to understanding and living the Christian faith.

You see, when Simeon asks to depart in peace “according to [God’s] word,” he makes an extraordinary proclamation. First, he announces that God makes promises: that God is living and active in the world. Second, and even better, Simeon’s song proclaims that the God who makes promises also keeps those promises. Those four words declare that the God whom Simeon serves, the God whom Simeon has worshipped and adored these long years, is faithful. The God who gave the Law, whose holy commandment calls Mary and Joseph to present their precious baby boy in the Temple, is true. The God whom Anna praises for the edification of all those awaiting his salvation is steadfast. The God whom Malachi prophesied “will suddenly come into his Temple” is trustworthy. The God who promised through every prophet, in every time, and by the very Law that he gave, that he would come and save his people from their sin: that God is faithful.

Tonight, we rejoice with Simeon that God keeps his promises: that he has accomplished all that has been foretold, according to his word. Indeed, he has accomplished all that has been foretold in and through his Word: the Word of God made flesh, Jesus our Lord. And with our hearts set on that promise, with our ears tingling with Simeon’s wondrous praise “according to thy word,” we begin to see this feast aright. This is a feast of the faithful God; of the God who keeps his promises; of the God who acts in this world “according to [his] word.”

And yet there is even more to celebrate in this feast. This night declares to us God’s great faithfulness, but it declares something else, too. In this feast of Candlemas, in that phrase “according to thy word,” we see that the God who is faithful is also surprising, mysterious, and sovereign. In the tenderness of this scene, in the fragility of the baby, in the decrepitude of Simeon and Anna, in the amazement of Mary and Joseph, we are reminded that God is faithful to his word—but not to our expectations.

God does not come to his Temple in power and might, in glory and majesty. But still he comes, in the weakness and vulnerability of human flesh—according to his word. Simeon does not look upon the Messiah with the eyes of a young man: vigorous, eager, ready to follow him and aid him and serve him as a disciple. But still his eyes, aged and worn out with waiting, behold the Christ—according to God’s word. Mary and Joseph do not understand all that has been promised of this child. But still they are obedient, even as they marvel at the dark and wondrous words here spoken, carrying out their place in God’s plan—according to God’s word. The God who has promised salvation to his people and who brings light to the whole world will not act according to the expectations of disciples, or Pharisees, or chief priests, or scribes. But still, as he announces Good News to the poor, as he heals the sick, as he forgives the sinful, as he drives out the demons, as he cleanses that very Temple, as he climbs the hill of Calvary, and as he dies upon the cross of shame: still, in all this, God acts—according to his word. And finally on the Day of Resurrection, on the Day of his triumph over the powers of Sin and Death, he shows himself faithful—according to his word.

Dear friends, we need the message of Candlemas. We need to hear again the proclamation that God is faithful—that God keeps his promises, that God acts according to his word. We need, as well, the reminder that God’s ways are not our ways: that his actions will not always conform to our expectations: that he is faithful—abundantly, eternally faithful—not to what we desire in our ignorance, nor deserve in our sinfulness, but to what he has promised in his holiness. Candlemas holds before us our faithful, surprising God. This feast bids us, with Simeon, to look upon him, to gaze upon him in the person of Jesus Christ, and to glimpse him at work in this world and in our souls by the power of the Holy Spirit. This night calls us to hold him in our hearts just as Simeon held him in his arms, and to follow where he leads, though the course be unexpected and the way unknown.

Beloved people of God, may our praise this night and always be of our faithful, surprising God. May the obedience of Mary and Joseph shape our lives. May the unexpected, unlikely gift of Jesus, the Word of God in human flesh, enlighten our darkened hearts. May we who have worshipped the faithful God this evening, and who have looked with the eyes of faith on the promised Savior of the world, go forth from this place with the words of Simeon on our lips: “Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, according to thy word. For mine eyes have seen thy salvation, which thou hast prepared before the face of all people, to be a light to lighten the Gentiles, and to be the glory of thy people Israel.”

AMEN.