In Good Faith: Extending the Joy

My latest “In Good Faith” column reminds us that it’s okay to keep downing Peeps — the advantage of living into the 50-days of Eastertide.

Extending the Joy

peepsFear not. For behold, I bring you tidings of great joy: Easter is not just a single day but a 50-day season of resurrection glory! Thus, you can keep the jelly bean sugar high going with reckless abandon. Grab those Peeps (which taste better when they’re slightly stale anyway). Finish the giant chocolate bunny you’ve already decapitated. Live into the joy without guilt.

You can always start the diet the day after Pentecost (June 8th this year), the last day of the Easter season. The wise reader, or the one studying for the SATs, will make the connection between 50 and the pente root of Pentecost (think pentagon — five sided). Pentecost literally means fiftieth day in Greek.

Etymology lesson aside, the Church has celebrated Easter as a 50-day season for generations. This tends to be forgotten in our Hallmark skip-ahead-to-the-next-holiday culture, but it’s important to take some time to bask in the warm glow of the resurrection. After all, it’s the seminal event in the Christian faith so what’s the rush?

Plus, living in the Boston area, we could use that extra dose of joy. I was particularly struck this year that the Boston Marathon took place the day after Easter. To varying degrees we were all affected by last year’s tragedy and Patriots Day 2014 turned into one long day of regional catharsis, which we all needed. I ran the race in 2008 and at one level I couldn’t even imagine what last week’s event was like. The crowds, the emotion, the global news coverage were all unprecedented.

But at another level, I knew exactly what it was like. Not because I once turned that corner onto Boylston Street and dragged myself the last four blocks to the finish line amid throngs of cheering spectators — I barely remember that. But because the 118th running of the Boston Marathon was a tangible sign of resurrection. Each footstep, each cheer allowed the finish line in Copley Square to be reclaimed as a place not of tragedy but of triumph.

And as Christians will tell you, we know something about transformation and new life. On Easter, the cross is transformed from an implement of torture and death into an instrument of resurrection glory. Hope and meaning emerge out of chaos and we are transported into a new, life-giving relationship with God.

But we also know something about death — faith doesn’t make us immune to the painful realities of life. We lose someone close to us and the pain can be searing; a relationship fractures and it leaves us reeling; we lose a job and we’re left seeking an identity; an institution we’ve always loved closes and it leaves a void; we feel betrayed by a friend and it stings.

When we talk about resurrection, we first must confront death since you can’t share in resurrection joy without first experiencing grief. Indeed, the road to Easter goes straight through Good Friday. And yet Easter reminds us that despite the tragedies and trials we all face in this life, death doesn’t get the last word. We don’t remain on Heartbreak Hill; death doesn’t win.

Life does. Because when Jesus emerges from that tomb life wins out over death and that false boundary between life and death is breached once and for all. That’s what the celebration is all about.

As people who have come through a dark period in our collective civic lives, we have earned the right to extend the celebration. So grab a handful of jelly beans. If you’re like me you’ll want to avoid that horrid buttered popcorn-flavored Jelly Belly. But enjoy the rest of them. It’s okay to let the joy sink in for awhile.


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.


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