Ancient Text Discovered!

johnpapBREAKING NEWS — An ancient Biblical text was recently discovered in the Egyptian desert that debunks a controversial piece of Christian Scripture. Scholars have been left scrambling how best to interpret a papyrus fragment containing a single verse — John 20:19.

This verse has long been a sticking point in Christian-Jewish relations. It reads as follows:

Then the same day at evening, being the first day of the week, when the doors were shut where the disciples were assembled for fear of the Jews, came Jesus and stood in the midst, and saith unto them, Peace be unto you. (John 20:19 — King James Version)

Liturgical Christians traditionally read this passage on the Sunday after Easter at the start of the story of “Doubting Thomas” (John 20:19-31).

The line “for fear of the Jews” has led to instances of anti-Semitic behavior perpetrated by Christians at various points in history. This, coupled with the Passion Narrative from John’s gospel, has led some Christians to the conclusion that it was “the Jews” who crucified Jesus. Indeed it wasn’t until the 1960′s that the Roman Catholic Church officially repudiated this assertion.

This newly discovered fragment appears to further dispel the notion of Christians being afraid of “the Jews” following the resurrection. Translated into English from the original Greek it reads:

Then the same day at evening, being the first day of the week, when the doors were shut where the disciples were assembled for fear of the juice…(italics added for emphasis).

In other words, the early church was not afraid of “the Jews” at all but of “the juice.”

Scholars are currently holed up at the Vatican attempting to determine whether the offending juice was orange, apple, or pineapple. One viewpoint has emerged 3trbfxarguing that it was not fear of juice per se but rather of co-mingling combinations such as cranberry-grape or mango-guava. We also understand, from an anonymous source, that one prominent scholar is pushing a theory that the early Christians were not afraid of “the juice” at all but lived in dread of “the Juice” aka O.J. Simpson.

Attempts to contact Jose Canseco for his opinion on whether this may involve Performance-Enhancing Drugs (aka “juice”) have been unsuccessful.

While we all await the final verdict, network television executives in America have, in an attempt to distance themselves from juice, banned advertising from Capri Sun, Tropicana, and Welch’s. Complicating matters for liturgical leaders of denominations such as the Methodist Church is their use of grape juice at communion. When asked about their serving of juice during services, Methodist headquarters issued a blanket “no comment” statement.

Stay tuned as this controversy continues to unfold.

***********

This is, of course, no laughing matter and as Christians we cannot simply ignore these inferences when they arise in our Scriptures. My assistant, the Rev. Anne Emry, has written a brief blurb we like to run in our bulletins on this Second Sunday of Easter (see below). Feel free to use or adapt it in your own congregation or if you use something similar, consider sharing it. Thanks and continued Easter blessings to all.

“The doors were locked for fear of the Jews.”
Christianity has a difficult history which includes terrible persecution of Jewish people. It is important to clearly address how wrong it is, and how far from the teachings of Jesus. Know this: Jesus was a Jew and his followers were mostly Jews. The people he preached to, taught, and healed, were mostly Jews. He taught from the Jewish Scriptures and was executed by the Romans. Later historic struggles between Christian and Jewish communities, reflected in the Gospels, allowed anachronistic transfer of blame from the Romans to the Jews. Anti-Jewish violence and prejudice is intolerable. We must not force the Jews to lock their doors for fear of the Christians.


Hunting Season

easter-egg-hunt-game-photo-420-FF0407EFAA01In my monthly “In Good Faith” column I talk about the theological implications of Easter egg hunts (sort of) and why Holy Week is so awesome. Blessings to you all during these next Three Great Days.

Hunting Season

I like Easter egg hunts and I play to win. Actually, I haven’t been allowed to participate in one for quite a number of years, which is clearly a form of age discrimination. Just imagine the number of plastic eggs I could amass competing against a bunch of four and five-year-olds. I would dominate like LeBron James playing hoops against the local High School Junior Varsity team.

Most kids can’t imagine Easter Day without an Easter egg hunt. I used to love the adrenaline-pumping thrill of the hunt — and that was just last year. Actually we do hold an annual Easter egg hunt at St. John’s following our 9:00 am Family Service on Easter Day. A few parents organize it with help from some eager teens – which means I occasionally stumble on unfound eggs in mid-August. There’s no better reminder of the resurrection than encountering a gooey four-month old melted mixture of chocolate bunny and purple jelly beans inside a plastic egg.

I know that in some religious circles Easter egg hunts are anathema – something about being pagan in origin. And, yes, the egg as a symbol of rebirth and new life pre-dates Christianity. But I like Easter egg hunts and not just because free jelly beans are the best kind. I love watching a young child’s face light up with the thrill of discovery. Nothing beats it.

And that thrill of discovery was precisely what took place on that first Easter morning. No, I’m not comparing Christ’s resurrection to an Easter egg hunt but there is something wonderfully exhilarating about the moment of discovery. The disciples experienced it when they came upon the empty tomb and children experience it when they find an egg. The hope is that kids will find that same feeling of discovery as they mature and move ever deeper into relationship with God.

This week Christians throughout the world will be marking the events surrounding the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The liturgies of Holy Week allow us to fully participate in this, not as passive observers but as active participants. For the stories of this week are our stories; the drama is our drama; the victory is our victory. But we must be fully engaged in order to be fully transformed. You can’t experience the breadth of Easter joy without first experiencing the agony of the cross, or at least reflecting upon it. Otherwise you end up crashing from the sugar high – as if Easter morning was spent downing Peep after Peep with no genuine sustenance in sight. Which sounds dandy until the inevitable crash.

Wherever you worship this year, I encourage you to embrace the Christian “High Holy Days:” Maundy (Holy) Thursday, Good Friday, and the Easter Vigil as we move from the Upper Room for the Last Supper to the Crucifixion to Resurrection. At St. John’s we offer evening services at 7:30 pm on all those days as well as liturgies specifically geared toward children (in particular our 4:00 pm Children’s Good Friday service). Of course we also have services on Easter Sunday at St. John’s — three of them to be precise.

So consider this an invitation — to my own church or any church this week. You won’t be disappointed and your faith will surely be deepened along the way. I know how difficult it can be to enter the doors of a church for the first time. “Will they be annoyingly hard sell? Will I be smothered with pleasantries? Will I know what to do? Will they make me stand up and introduce myself?” But I bid you to overcome the feelings of vulnerability and uncertainty. You’ll be glad you did and there is no better time of year to “try out” a new church. Know that you’ll be warmly welcomed and never judged for kneeling at the wrong time. Wherever or however you worship this year, I wish you a very blessed Easter.

The Rev. Tim Schenck is Rector of the Episcopal Parish of St. John the Evangelist. For a full list of Holy Week and Easter services visit www.stjohns-hingham.org.


The Thrill of the Hunt

In my latest “In Good Faith” column I talk about why I love Easter Egg hunts and lament that I’m no longer allowed to “compete” against four and five-year-olds.

A blessed Easter to everyone!

The Thrill of the Hunt

I like Easter egg hunts and I play to win. Actually, I haven’t been allowed to participate in one for quite a number of years, which is clearly a form of age discrimination. Just imagine the number of plastic eggs I could amass competing against a bunch of four and five-year-olds. I would dominate like LeBron James playing hoops against the local High School Junior Varsity team.

Most kids can’t imagine Easter Day without an Easter egg hunt. Whether it’s in the backyard organized by the older cousins or in a neighborhood park set up by parents, the reward is sweet. I used to love the adrenaline-pumping thrill of the hunt. And that was just last year. Actually we do hold an annual Easter egg hunt at my church following Easter services and while I’ve always thought its start resembled the Running of the Bulls at Pamplona, to my knowledge there have never been any egg-related injuries.

A few parents organize the hunt on the front lawn of the church with help from some eager teens – which means I occasionally stumble upon unfound eggs in mid-August. There’s no better reminder of the resurrection than encountering a gooey four-month old melted mixture of chocolate bunny and purple jelly beans inside a plastic egg.

I know that in some religious circles Easter egg hunts are anathema – something about being pagan in origin. And, yes, the egg as a symbol of rebirth and new life pre-dates Christianity. But I like Easter egg hunts and not just because free jelly beans are the best kind. I love watching a young child’s face light up with the thrill of discovery – nothing beats it.

And that thrill of discovery was precisely what took place on that first Easter morning. No, I’m not comparing Jesus’ resurrection to an Easter egg hunt but there is something wonderfully exhilarating about the moment of discovery. The disciples experienced it when they came upon the empty tomb and children experience it when they find an egg. The hope is that kids will find that same feeling of faithful discovery as they mature and move ever deeper into relationship with God.

The original “Aha moment” that took place over 2,000 years ago forever changed the world by proving that hope and faith and life conquer sin and death and the grave. We discover that out of darkness is light, out of pain is joy, out of death is life. This is the miracle of Easter; the reason we even bother with egg hunts and fancy hats and celebratory feasts and Peeps.

You could say that the disciples’ discovery of the empty tomb is inversely proportional to the disappointment of biting into an empty chocolate egg. Okay, that’s a dreadful analogy as one leads to new life while the other simply brings a return trip to the Easter basket. But this year I encourage you to think about the thrill of discovery on that first Easter morning. I guarantee that placing your celebration into a more spiritual context will make that Cadbury egg taste even sweeter.


Sitting in Judgment

For the second year in a row I have been asked to serve as a “celebrity” judge in the Diocese of Maryland’s All God’s Peeps contest. I am  judging an amazing array of Peep-themed Biblical dioramas in a variety of categories. And, as I reflect upon this weighty assignment, I realize that this ministry really defines my priesthood. It is the view from the Judgment Seat of Peepdom that offers me a stunning vista of God’s mercy and grace. Or at least a large dose of Yellow #5.

Being a celebrity judge is harder than it sounds. First, the pressure is enormous. People are constantly trying to sway my vote by bribing me with stale Easter candy. Plus I get recognized a lot in public which is an annoyance but also the price of fame. Okay, they clearly have a loose definition of “celebrity” in Maryland but it’s the only time of year I can claim celebrity status. Look for me in a tabloid at the grocery store; I’ll be the one trying to adopt one of Angelina Jolie’s children. 

2009 Winner -- Youth Category

The Rev. Canon Mary Glasspool, Bishop Suffragan-elect of the Diocese of Los Angeles, and the two bishops of Maryland make up the rest of the Peep judging panel. So it is an august group. I wonder if they also don long white wigs when they judge the photos? That’s how they arrive, by the way. I get a host of e-mails with pictures of the dioramas attached. I’m surprised my computer didn’t crash this year (and a word to the wise for future contestants..stop with the Noah’s Ark dioramas already!).

All God’s Peeps is the brainchild of Sharon Tillman, Communications Director extraordinaire in the Diocese of Maryland. It’s even officially sanctioned by Just Born, the makers of Peeps, so it’s all above board as long as they use the little trademark logo after the word “Peeps.” I’d use it myself but I can’t find it on my computer. So sue me.

Anyway, the results will be announced at this weekend’s diocesan convention. Which means two things: the tension is mounting and my celebrity status is about to be revoked.


A Jelly Bean Wars Truce?

I’m calling for a truce in what history will remember as the Jelly Bean Wars. It started innocently enough with the Jelly Bean Prayer and my Anglicanized version. Then Fr. Scott Gunn — blogging colleague, pseudo-Bay Stater, and former friend — upped the ante with a Catholic version which called into question the smells and bells of my piety. I responded in kind with the Holier Than Thou version which smeared Fr. Gunn and accused him of seeking a purple shirt (a truly low and false blow, I freely admit). And that only unleashed more of Fr. Gunn’s diabolical genius with a new version that somehow rhymed the words vernacular and craptacular.

So I’m calling for a truce. The damage has been done — I’ll never again be able to eat a simple jelly bean without recalling the mayhem of the Jelly Bean Wars. And besides, I can’t think of any other creative use for the color orange.


Holy (Jelly Bean) War

First there was the Jelly Bean Prayer*. Then I rewrote it to create the Anglicanized version**. Next Fr. Scott Gunn rewrote it into a High Church version***, falsely accusing me of low churchmanship which I consider both slanderous and libelous.

Now, Fr. Gunn is clever. If you read his blog, Seven Whole Days, you know this. Unfortunately for him, I’m even more clever, gifted, and downright holy. I’ve re-re-re-re-written the Jelly Bean Prayer to reflect my superiority.

The Jelly Bean Prayer (Holier Than Thou Version)
Red is for Fr. Gunn’s face as he stands in shame,
Green is for his envy since I’m better at this game.
Yellow is the color of Scott’s “bravery,”
Orange is for sherbet he finds unsavory.
Black is for his preaching that keeps us in the dark,
White is for the flag we wave at his remark.
Purple is for the shirt he wishes he had,
Pink is the closest color in which he’ll be clad.
Jelly Beans are short and sweet,
Fr. Gunn is tall and likes to Tweet.

*The Jelly Bean Prayer
Red is for the blood he gave,
Green is for the grass he made.
Yellow is for the Sun so bright,
Orange is for the edge of night.
Black is for the sins we made,
White is for the grace he gave.
Purple is for the hours of sorrow,
Pink is for a new tomorrow.
Jelly beans, colorful and sweet,
a promise, a prayer, and loved one’s treat.

**The Jelly Bean Prayer (Anglicanized)
Red is for the Holy Spirit blowing ’round,
Green is for God’s blessings that abound.
Yellow is the color of Easter dresses,
Orange, used liturgically, merely distresses.
Black is for our clergy’s attire,
White is for robes worn by the choir.
Purple is for bishops who like to look fancy,
Pink is only worn by women named Nancy.
Jelly Beans, colorful and yummy,
They’re just candy, you evangelical dummy.

***The Catholic Jelly Bean Prayer
Red is for the Precious Blood,
Green is for Rogation’s spring buds.
Yellow reminds us of golden things,
Orange is for candle-lit bling.
Black is cassocks, right and mete,
White is an amice tied and neat.
Purple is for stoles worn in confession
Pink is laetare, gaudate, copes in procession.
Jelly beans point to Mother Church,
they’re sweet and, like her, won’t leave you in the lurch.


Jelly Bean Prayer

This was passed along to me by my organist, Dr. Fred Guzasky. So you can blame him. Actually, Fred’s always good for churchy blog fodder. God knows where he comes up with this stuff.

The Jelly Bean Prayer

Red is for the blood he gave,
Green is for the grass he made.
Yellow is for the Sun so bright,
Orange is for the edge of night.
Black is for the sins we made,
White is for the grace he gave.
Purple is for the hours of sorrow,
Pink is for a new tomorrow.
Jelly beans, colorful and sweet,
a promise, a prayer, and loved one’s treat.

Nothing like sucking the joy out of an Easter Egg Hunt. What a buzz kill! And, to paraphrase Dr. Freud, sometimes a jelly bean is just a jelly bean.

Well, fear not. I’ve taken things into my own hands and rewritten “The Jelly Bean Prayer.” I started to write the Mel Gibson version in order to one-up the original killjoy (“Red is for the blood dripping down the cross, Green is for cookies that he did toss”) but decided on an Episcopal version.

The Jelly Bean Prayer (Anglicanized)

Red is for the Holy Spirit blowing ’round,
Green is for God’s blessings that abound.
Yellow is the color of Easter dresses,
Orange, used liturgically, merely distresses.
Black is for our clergy’s attire,
White is for robes worn by the choir.
Purple is for bishops who like to look fancy,
Pink is only worn by women named Nancy.
Jelly Beans, colorful and yummy,
They’re just candy, you evangelical dummy.


Death by Peep?

Evil Easter Bunny Was Here

More reflections on Easter Day…Following our 9:15 am liturgy we hold an Easter Egg Hunt on the church’s front lawn. This is nothing unique among churches, of course, although some clergy/congregations see this as anathema or worse. Something about being pagan in origin (as opposed to a vast number of Christian traditions that have been overlayed over pagan ritual including the date of Christmas!). Nothing like sucking the joy out of Easter.

I’m of the mind that, as long as the hunts are done in the context of the resurrection (ie. we just came out of church), they’re great fun. Who doesn’t get jazzed seeing the thrill of discovery on the face of a four-year-old?

Anyway, this particular Easter Egg Hunt is pretty popular in Hingham. We set the younger kids up in the Memorial Garden and they toddle around with great glee. It’s a relaxed affair with parents helping out their kids while chatting with one another.

The hunt on the front lawn is quite another matter. When the signal is given hordes of elementary school-aged kids race for the eggs. The lawn is on a downhill slope so it adds a slight element of danger. As I witnessed this for the first time on Sunday, one image came to mind: The Running of the Bulls in Pamplona. I was just glad I didn’t get trampled by a bunch of well-dressed children or gored by a wayward Easter basket. Death by Peep is not how I want to exit this mortal life.

I’m thinking that next year I should find a ceremonial way to start the hunt. I’m not sure how it started this year — I think a parent yelled “Go!” or something. I might invest in a Paschal Air Horn though perhaps Sanctus bells would better fit the tenor of the day.

I was glad to see that the kids were all very respectful. We gave them a limit of three eggs to make sure everyone got enough. This was not the competitive blood sport I’ve seen at some “community eggs hunts” in years past. Thanks be to God.

I fully expect to find a few leftover eggs sometime in mid-July when the contents have melted into a gooey mess. It happens every year — especially when teenagers do the hiding. But what better way to be reminded of the resurrection than by a melted Peep/jelly bean combination in the heat of the summer?


Christ is Risen! The Clergy are Dead!

As happens every Easter Monday, I’m nursing an Easter hangover. It’s a hangover that has nothing to with alcohol and everything to do with eleven services in five days. I’m sermoned out, incensed out, liturgied out, and bulletined out. And yet the warm glow of the resurrection and sharing the journey with the people of St. John’s leaves me feeling fulfilled, if exhausted.

It is a privilege to lead a congregation through the Christian “High Holy Days.” It is a gift of priesthood that I cherish even as it sucks all the life and energy out of me. In baseball (and since yesterday was Opening Day as well as Easter I feel justified in using this analogy) ballplayers talk about “leaving it all on the field” to describe an effort where they gave their all. I like to think I left it all in the sanctuary. And most clergy I know feel the same way — the hours of preparation and intense planning eventually come together in meaningful, profound, dramatic, and joyful liturgy. But it’s a lot of work.

One of the aspects I love about Holy Week is that I try to keep my calendar. I don’t schedule meetings (if I can help it) so that I can focus exclusively on the liturgies and the pile of sermons that need to be written. Things always arise of course — that’s Murphy’s Law of Holy Week: Things will not go according to plan. This usually means that the copier will stop working just as the Good Friday bulletins are ready to print or, as happened this year, two people died during Holy Week. This is the stuff of life that gets interposed on top of the liturgical year. And all you can do is be present pastorally and/or curse the copier and move on.

This was a particularly meaningful and intense Holy Week for me being in a new parish. In a sense I felt as if I was just trying to stay one service ahead of the curve. It makes a big difference when you plan out all the liturgical details in a new space. The comfort of being in the same church for a number of years is that you know the traditions, you know where the large wooden cross for Good Friday lives, you know who will set up the flowers for Easter, you know where to put the foot washing stations for Maundy Thursday, you know where you’ll have the choir stand at the start of the Easter Vigil, etc. If you have any control issues at all (and what rector doesn’t?) you have to give some of them up and rely on your key parishioners to assist with the details. I’m lucky to have a number of folks at St. John’s who are just as passionate about liturgy as I am.

So it was a lot and I’m feeling the effects — never again will it be my first Holy Week and Easter at St. John’s and next year, God willing, I’ll have a curate in place to share the burden and the joy. But it was also a wonderful journey. Attendance at Holy Week services was higher than it’s ever been and between the Easter Vigil and the three Easter Day services we saw 700 people. A great opportunity to share the gospel of the risen Christ in this community. There is much to build upon and, with God’s help, I look forward to doing so.

In the meantime, I cringe to think of  all the things I put off “until after Easter.” But they can wait until tomorrow. I have a hangover to nurse.


Easter Peep — Easter Miracle

Here’s my latest In Good Faith column for the Hingham Journal. I explore the miraculous nature of Easter Peeps in the context of the resurrection.

IN GOOD FAITH

By the Rev. Tim Schenck

Easter Miracle

It’s not about the Peeps. It’s a fringe benefit, of course. But Easter is not about the Peeps. Now, don’t get me wrong; I consider Peeps to be an Easter miracle in and of themselves. How else do you explain the popularity of those delectable chick-shaped marshmallow novelty treats? How else do you explain the unnaturally bright yellow of the classic Peep (well, besides a heavy infusion of Yellow Number #5). How else do you explain the incredibly long shelf life of your average Peep? As long as you don’t open the plastic packaging, it may well last until the Second Coming.

But as I said, Easter is not about the Peeps. I realize there’s confusion around this issue, however. Walk into any drugstore and the entire Easter display is highlighted by rows and rows of Peeps. And not just the classic yellow Peep – you can now get them in lavender, pink, blue, and white. Call me a Peep fundamentalist but these are all anathema to me. Give me yellow or I’m switching to jelly beans!

Now I’m not sure how or when the Peep became linked with the marking of Jesus’ resurrection in America. And the minor “miracle” of Peep technology set within the context of the truly miraculous Easter story pales in comparison. But once we recognize the real miracle of Easter: the empty tomb, Christ’s victory over sin and death, and our own redemption, we’re better attuned to the minor miracles that abound in this life. Once we recognize that through the resurrection of Jesus we are forgiven, healed, redeemed, and loved, we can move on to see the minor miracles that surround us. And there are many – the reconciling of a broken relationship with a friend; taking the dog for a walk and reveling in the beauty of the spring weather; or walking into a church and recognizing for the first time in awhile that, yes, God is in relationship with me. That God loves me for who I am rather than who I seek to become.

This week, throughout the world, Christians will be marking the events surrounding the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The liturgies of Holy Week allow us to fully participate in this, not as passive observers but as active participants. For the stories of this week are our stories; the drama is our drama; the victory is our victory. But we must be fully engaged in order to be fully transformed. You can’t experience the breadth of Easter joy without first experiencing the agony of the cross. Or at least reflecting upon it. Otherwise you end up crashing from the sugar high – as if Easter morning was spent downing Peep after Peep with no genuine sustenance in sight. Which sounds dandy until the inevitable crash.

Wherever you worship this year, I encourage you to embrace the Christian “High Holy Days:” Maundy (Holy) Thursday, Good Friday, and the Easter Vigil. Of course we also have services on Easter Sunday at St. John’s — three of them to be precise. So consider this an invitation — to my own church or any church in Hingham this week. You won’t be disappointed and your faith will surely be deepened along the way. I know how difficult it can be to enter the doors of a church for the first time. “Will they be annoyingly hard sell? Will I be smothered with pleasantries? Will I know what to do? Will they make me stand up and introduce myself?” But I bid you to overcome the feelings of vulnerability and uncertainty. You’ll be glad you did.

One final word about Peeps. Last year I was a “celebrity” judge in a contest called “All God’s Peeps” that took place in Maryland. Besides playing fast and loose with the word “celebrity,” the organizers encouraged people to submit photos of shoe box dioramas depicting scenes from the Bible using Peeps. There was a Jesus Peep walking on water, a David Peep slaying a giant chocolate Easter bunny Goliath, etc. You quite literally had to see this to believe it. But perhaps there is a more significant role for Peeps on Easter than I give them credit for. Or maybe my own sugar high is one Peep away from delusion. In any case, I wish you all a most blessed Easter.


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