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.


Ode to a Copier

As we begin Holy Week, Christians throughout the world will journey from the agony of crucifixion to the joy of resurrection. It is, of course, the most significant time in the liturgical year and the very heart of our faith. Yet we must also pause and give thanks for the unsung heroes of this whole operation: the hardworking parish copiers and those who dutifully operate them.

When the copier inevitably jams or runs out of toner or stops working altogether in the midst of cranking out the Easter Vigil bulletin, it is the parish secretary who stands on the front lines of Holy Week. He or she lovingly coaxes this essential machine or screams at it or sings incantations over it. While it’s true that Easter never failed to arrive on account of a broken xerox machine, these beasts of burden will be taxed to the limit this week. And in the process, much hair will either turn gray or be yanked out by the roots.

Thus, as I have in years past, I offer a poem in honor of these vital machines in hopes that they will be up to the task. Sure Christians survived without copiers for nearly 2,000 years. But let’s face it — without the bulletins they produce most of us would be left in the liturgical dark. Oh, and don’t forget to thank the parish office staff (though I recommend doing so next week after things have calmed down).

Ode to a Copier
A Prayer for Holy Week

Holy Week, dear friends, will soon draw nigh;
From Trinity, Boston to All Saints’, Tenafly.

Parish secretaries and their rectors, too,
Thinking of the bulletins that will ensue,

Drop to their knees and begin to quake,
Praying their copiers will stay awake

Through Maundy Thursday and the rest;
Without behaving as if possessed.

Rectors wonder with uncertainty,
“Should I have purchased the extended warranty?”

Misfeeds, toner woes and a paper jam
Always seem to accompany the Paschal Lamb.

Why this happens is a great unknown,
A mystery worthy of the bishop’s throne.

So stoke the incense, say your prayers;
anything to stave off copier repairs.

As the dark shadows of Tenebrae now approach;
may your copier behave without reproach.

And as we begin the Good Friday fast,
May it wait ‘til Low Sunday to breathe its last.


Stabat Mater: A New Translation

Lamentation Beneath the Cross -- Cranach the Elder (1503)

Sometimes I’m blown away by the creativity and giftedness of others. A parishioner of mine named Tom Barber, a physician, has written a new translation of the Stabat Mater, the medieval poem that reflects upon the suffering of Mary during the crucifixion. Tom is a member of the St. John’s choir and an insightful and wise soul — and no I’m not just saying this because he was on the search committee that brought me here. For those of you who “habla” click here for the Latin translation.

What follows are Tom’s reflections upon the process of writing this and then his new version, titled “His Mother Wept.” I commend this to you as a fruitful devotion in the days ahead.

The medieval poem Stabat Mater, has been attributed to Pope Innocent III (1160 or 1161 – 16 July 1216) or to Jacopone da Todi, a Franciscan friar from Umbria, Italy (1236-1306).  This beautiful meditation imagines the sorrow of the mother of Jesus as she witnesses His death. Its author seeks solace and healing through his entreaties to the Virgin Mary. The poem has inspired many pieces of music, and it remains in use as a devotional prayer in the Roman Catholic and Anglican traditions. The title is taken from the first line: Stabat mater dolorosa, usually translated as “The sorrowful mother stood.”

There have been many translations from the Latin into English, some of which translate the text literally, and others which attempt to replicate the meter, rhyming scheme and spirit of the original poem. Several of these translations can be found easily on the Internet. The original poem consists of 21 stanzas of three verses each, except for the last stanza which contains two verses. The poem’s basic meter is trochaic tetrameter, with each line constructed on 8 syllables. The first and second lines of each stanza rhyme, and the last verse of the stanza rhymes with the last verse of the following stanza.

This structure is very difficult to replicate in English, especially if the translator wishes to express the deep emotions of grief and the hope for consolation that are present in the original. The following “interpretive translation” is an attempt to honor the straightforward, declarative language of the medieval poem using contemporary language. I have relaxed the meter and chosen more subtle rhymes than appear in the original or in several other rhymed translations. I have also opted to echo the sounds at the end of every other stanza for the first half of the poem, and then sequential stanzas for the second half of the poem. But structure must serve meaning, and the meaning here is that for the faithful, meditation upon the death of Christ and the love of his mother is a transformative experience leading not to despair but to hope, love and life.            Dr. Tom Barber 2010

His Mother Wept

His mother wept. She stood
beside the cross. Upon its wood
hung the body of her Son.

Her spirit moaned
with sadness, pained
and punctured.

How grieved and lost,
and yet how blessed,
childless and alone

In sadness,
trembling, witness
to His despair.

Who would not ache
to see such pain?
Christ’s mother –

Imagine any mother –
the loss of any other
mother’s love… 

She beheld his torment,
Punishment — 
for us, for sins. There

She stayed. She was there
in that place where
he gave his spirit up.

Mother, source of love,
join me when I grieve –
mourn with me.

Make my heart strong
in love of Christ. I long
to please.

Holy Mother, help me understand
the meaning of the wounds. 
Help me to believe

All injuries,
all penalties
are His, for me.  

Let me ever share
the weight you bear,
the crucifixion.

Let me also stand
beside the cross, in
witness to His passion.

Woman among women,
mother, also virgin,
please be kind.

Let me also know His death,
hear with you his parting breath,
healed, no longer blind.

Scales lifted from my eyes,
mind open, alive
for His love’s sake.

Spread light, sow love,
Virgin, lift me up
in my last days.

Let the cross protect
by faith, in life and death,
with grace.

And when my body dies
grant me paradise!
A new beginning, not an end.

Amen.

Amen forever, Amen.


Ode to a Copier

Ode to a Copier
A Prayer for Holy Week

By the Rev. Tim Schenck

Holy Week, dear friends, will soon draw nigh;
From Trinity, Boston to All Saints’, Tenafly.

Parish secretaries and their rectors, too,
Thinking of the bulletins that will ensue,

Drop to their knees and begin to quake,
Praying their copiers will stay awake

Through Maundy Thursday and the rest;
Without behaving as if possessed.

Rectors wonder with uncertainty,
“Should I have purchased the extended warranty?”

Misfeeds, toner woes and a paper jam
Always seem to accompany the Paschal Lamb.

Why this happens is a great unknown,
A mystery worthy of the bishop’s throne.

So stoke the incense, say your prayers;
anything to stave off copier repairs.

As the dark shadows of Tenebrae now approach;
may your copier behave without reproach.

And as we begin the Good Friday fast,
May it wait ‘til Low Sunday to breathe its last.


Hooray for Holy Week!

vestments4At the downright evil (though deliciously inspired) suggestion of Meredith Gould, I’ve written lyrics for “Hooray for Holy Week.” It is, of course, sung to the tune of “Hooray for Hollywood.” Think Doris Day combined with Dorothy Day and you get the idea. Don’t know the tune? Click to hear Doris Day sing it on youtube.

I’ve only met her once; how in the world does Meredith know what buttons to push with me?? And what would possibly possess me to take time I don’t have on Maundy Thursday to write this? Like I said: evil.

Hooray for Holy Week

Hooray for Holy Week
That unnervingly liturgically Holy Week
Where every acolyte and young curate
Hopes to endure it, without undue repression
Where any verger can make a merger
If he processes without transgression.

Hooray for Holy Week
If Church annoys you, turn the other cheek
Where anyone at all from TV’s Osteen
To the Pope’s rood screen, is so equally unique
Go out and try your best, before the Christ’s arrest
Hooray for Holy Week.

Hooray for Holy Week
When all the clergy always like to speak
They come from all the seminaries
With their breviaries, as if by divine right
All dolled up in very fancy vestments
the holy aura of their halo bright.

Hooray for Holy Week
“Hosanna,” “Crucify,” then wash those feet.

If you can cross yourself and genuflect
You’ll join with the Elect, and liturgical elite
And then come Sunday, you’ll want to go hide away
Hooray for Holy Week.


Holy Week, Batman!

Well, it took until Wednesday in Holy Week for someone to wish me a Happy Easter. I appreciate the sentiment — I really do. I just don’t quite know how to respond. So I generally grit my teeth, put on a forced smile, and mutter “Almost!”

Not to be too much of a liturgical Pharisee, but it’s just difficult for me to think about  Easter greetings while writing my Good Friday sermon. And I realize this morning’s coffee shop salutation was genuine. The woman in question was wishing me a Happy Easter. But when you’re so invested in Holy Week, Easter seems light years away. Or at least a foot washing, a garden, a crucifixion, and five-services-in-between away.

Holy Week is a profound, emotionally rich journey. And walking with Jesus along this path each year takes energy and investment for everyone involved — those leading the services and those attending them. I have tremendous respect, admiration, and love for my parishioners who walk the entire journey. It’s takes great dedication, devotion, and commitment to do so. Heck, at one level I’m in awe of these folks — as much as I assume I’d be there right along with them (well, maybe not at all three Good Friday services), I’m paid to show up.

In my early days as a rector, I used to get annoyed that relatively few people took this journey. Partly because of the numbers thing but mostly because I wanted more folks to experience the power that comes through this journey of discipleship. I keep talking it up and continue to impress upon people that it’s impossible to know the full power of the resurrection without experiencing the agony of the cross. But I’ve also come to revel in the small band of pilgrims that travel through the last days of Christ’s life from the Upper Room to Gethsemane to Golgotha. Their faith inspires and informs my own. And I thank God that I am blessed to walk this particular leg of the Christian path with them.

And, of course, none of themwish me a Happy Easter until after the Easter Acclamation at the Great Vigil. The precise moment where it means, quite literally, everything in the world.


Opening/Holy Day/Week

palm-crossThe palm branch may be the ultimate “liturgical party favor.” It’s no secret that church attendance spikes on days when we give things away. Like ashes on the forehead or flowers on Mothers Day or Candy Canes at the children’s Christmas Pageant. People like stuff; especially free stuff.

Sure, we’re always giving away things at church — like grace freely offered. But you can’t stick that  under the sun visor of your Honda or fold it into the shape of a cross. Receiving “grace upon grace” won’t prove to anyone that you’ve been  to church at least once in the past year. And the bread and wine we’re always handing out in the name of Jesus gets immediately ingested. No, you can’t take it with you (and please don’t try). So we’re left with the rare liturgical party favor to look forward to.

I guess this all makes intuitive sense. It’s why attendance is always higher on Hat Day at the ballpark. Yes, I have baseball on the brain — it’s an interesting confluence of events this year: Monday of Holy Week and Opening Day. You can always get an $8 hot dog and a $9 Bud Light (the actual “new” Yankee Stadium price) but the hat, like the palm, is something special. Sure it has the Verizon logo  emblazoned on the side (which may as well say: “I got this at Hat Day and I’m too cheap to buy a real one”). But it’s free — or it least it comes with your $150 ticket — and it proves you’ve been there.

Enjoy Holy Week. Enjoy Opening Day. And please say a prayer for my Orioles as they go against the Great Satan, I mean the Yankees, this afternoon. Play Ball! Let Us Pray!


Ode to a Copier

As the Church throughout the world prepares for Holy Week, I offer you a “prayer” that I wrote a few years ago. As anyone who has ever worked in a parish office knows, anything that can go wrong does so in the days leading up to the holiest (and busiest) time of the Church year.

Blessings to all of you who are editing bulletins, writing sermons, riding the copy machine, or are otherwise engaged in helping to make this a most meaningful time of year for your fellow pilgrims on the journey. Enjoy:

Ode to a Copier

A Prayer for Holy Week

Holy Week, dear friends, will soon draw nigh;

From St. Mark’s-in-the-Bowery to Christ Church, Shanghai.

Parish secretaries and their rectors, too,

Thinking of the bulletins that will ensue,

Drop to their knees and begin to quake,

Praying their copiers will stay awake

Through Maundy Thursday and the rest;

Without behaving as if possessed.

Rectors wonder with uncertainty,

“Should I have purchased the extended warranty?”

Misfeeds, toner woes and a paper jam

Always seem to accompany the Paschal Lamb.

Why this happens is a great unknown,

A mystery worthy of the bishop’s throne.

So stoke the incense, say your prayers;

anything to stave off copier repairs.

As the dark shadows of Tenebrae now approach;

may your copier behave without reproach.

And as we begin the Good Friday fast,

May it wait ‘til Low Sunday to breathe its last.


Last Supper(s)

star-wars-last-supperMike Love, the owner of Coffee Labs, shared this with me. Sacrilegious? You could argue. But on the other hand the religious themes in Star Wars practically scream out for this depiction of the Last Supper.

Luke, of course, is the Christ figure; Darth Vader is Judas. Beyond that, I’ll leave it to you to determine whether R2D2 is Bartholomew or James.

For the sake of comparison, the Da Vinci painting is below. Just don’t ask me to wash Chewbacca’s feet.

da-vinci_last-supper_1


A Good Friday

cross.jpgI always find it peculiar that more churches don’t offer children’s services on days like Good Friday and Ash Wednesday. Kids are so drawn to the mystery and ritual and stories of our faith and yet we often exclude them from such experiences. However, forming them in the liturgy of the church at a young age can deeply impact their spiritual lives as adults. Wouldn’t that seem to be one of our greatest responsibilities?

No, a six-year-old isn’t going to sit reverently and patiently through an hour-long Good Friday service. But they still need to be brought into the story of the Passion. And this can be done in a variety of ways. So a parish can still hold the traditional Good Friday service in addition to a children’s version of the Stations of the Cross or even a simple telling of the story with props and music. It just takes energy, foresight, and commitment.

I was reflecting on this today as I tried to find a Good Friday service appropriate for Ben and Zack. There was practically nothing anywhere near us. And being on sabbatical I couldn’t take them to my own church (where, yes, we offer a Good Friday service for kids). So I decided to take them to Maryknoll in Ossining and walk the outdoor Stations of the Cross. I printed out a version of the Stations that I like to do with kids — complete with a “15th Station” that includes a bit about the resurrection. This is kind of like the 19th Hole back at the golf club; it doesn’t really exist. But I like kids to walk the way of the cross in the context of Easter rather than leaving Jesus in the tomb. And, hey, it beats showing them Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ.”

It was a blustery morning out there — 35 degrees and windy. But the boys were great taking turns reading the stations. On the way home Ben said, “Dad, can we do this every year on Good Friday?” Um, I think that could be arranged.

I later went to a noonday service by myself at local church. It was simple, quiet, and contemplative. But the one I’ll remember in years to come had already taken place earlier in the day.


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