Written By Cassandra Golondrina
Warning -- This reflection contains sensitive topics which might be triggering for some.
As I went through the readings for today there were many things that stood out to me, but one has been calling to me over, and over, and over again.
That woman in the Gospel (specifically Mark 5: 25-34). This almost side note in the story spoke volumes to me. The blind faith and trust that just a touch of Christ’s robes would heal her form years of torment. This was not just a hope for this woman, this was a risk, because in that time a woman who was bleeding was considered unclean and forbidden to touch sacred things.
What could be more sacred than God made flesh in Jesus Christ? But her trust and her agony, or her agony and trust, merged and she took a leap of faith. I say it this way because we don’t know what her most pressing thought was or if it alternated between the two although in the end all that matters is that our loving Saviour made her whole and right with herself and with God.
He gave her peace and demonstrated his grace.
This has been quite an emotional week for me, many ups and downs. A lot comes from this tale and where it takes me in my own life, past, present, and future. I have been blessed with a lot of faith and found my own grace from God on may occasions. These moments solidified my faith and I like to think not many have shaken it. This week, however, I have felt a sense of helplessness that almost feels like it shook my resolve. Although, it did help carry me back to a dark place in my past.
I went into the filing room that I call my memory and pulled down a few boxes. They were buried way at the back as I am doing pretty alright in life, so I often go back there to look. I wiped of the dust, it’s been a while, and opened it up. I shut the lid really quick as I was not quite prepared for the flood of emotions that came out. I felt a need to look, but I didn’t want to.
And then came the subtle, and not so subtle, messages, that I needed to look because there was a message to share. No matter how I tried to twist it something keeps telling me that I need to speak up. Some may not know; some may have their own doubts; or some may have lost hope.
I heard my Creator so, I dug deeper, here is what I found:
To set the stage, I have raised 5 wonderful and amazing individuals, mostly on my own. I say mostly, as there has been some assistance along the way, but I am the only constant (but not always reliable) person in their lives. I come from a loving family, my parents separated when I was young, and we had our own level of dysfunction. I am a sexual assault survivor, a recovering addict, and I have not always managed my mental wellness. Yet I am still here to tell the tale.
My children, as glorious as they are, all came with and encountered their own challenges. The responsibility for those little lives is tremendous and WHAT, No Instructions? I have been parenting since I was 18 (I am currently 47) so they also came along on my roller coaster life, which I know has impacted them, thankfully not all negatively. And then there is the influence/impact of people and life along the way. This all plays out in our physical and mental health as well as our behaviour.
When this all spirals together, it is chaos.
Yelling, screaming, fighting.
Rules written all over the walls because no one can seem to remember them, at least that’s what they said.
Just me and the kids on welfare, living in Manitoba housing as no one is well enough for me to be leaving the house to go to work. Even if they were, a grade 11 education was not gonna earn enough to pay the bills.
Weekly calls to mobile crisis and from the school.
Doctors and counselling appointments for me and them.
No car, so we are tackling all of this on public transportation and limited income.
I tried to access resources for my family and, while I was unwell, it was always seen as I was reliving my own trauma and seeing it in my children.
No one would hear me.
My trauma triggering their behavior or their behaviour triggering my trauma.
I don’t know what came first or if it alternated between the two but in the end it all spelt doom.
This brings us to one of the hardest decisions I have ever had to make in life…
asking for help.
It took every ounce of courage that I had to admit that I was not able to do it on my own. That I was not capable. If things kept going the way they were there was going to be irreparable damage done, and me likely being the doer.
I had to take the biggest leap of faith in others and trust them with some of my most precious gifts.
Two of my children were really struggling with all that was going on, their behavior was out of control and understandably so. They were hurt and broken and been through so much in their young lives, they all had. I was so afraid that I was going to lose my patience and hurt one of these beautiful boys, and I love them so incredibly that I could not bear the thought of that. I spoke to my Child and Family Services (CFS) worker that had been working with me for some time. I asked her if someone could care for my son’s and help with their healing, while I worked on my own.
I felt so weak, like such a failure. Then there was the guilt, so much of it in so many ways, probably the heaviest baggage that I still carry with me to today.
It took every ounce if strength I had to allow someone do what I could not.
Bring on the fear.
My experience being in CFS care was less then stellar.
I just needed to reach out…and believe.
I took two weeks to get them ready. I had to make sure that they would have everything they needed, and that they knew I loved them, and I would be thinking of them while they were away. We got teddy bears to sleep with, I wrote them little notes and put them in their new bags with their new pillows. I asked the church we were involved in for bibles for the boys and to keep us in their prayers.
I wish I had done more to prepare the children who stayed home.
As we said goodbye, I asked my middle child to look out for his little brother, an 8-year-old is a lot of responsibility to put on a 10-year-old. (Add a few more dashes of guilt, then a couple more cause it really hurts). I watched them drive away with the CFS worker I had know for 3 years. I was not allowed to know exactly where they were going just that their first stop, in our four-month plan, was a shelter.
I think I had to wait a week or two before I was able to see them again for a visit, and three weeks in I was informed that I had a new CFS worker.
While during their few months in the shelter there was some great staff who cared for my children, there was a severe case of untreated impetigo that spread form one son to the other. There were some issues with them being able to attend school and apparently playing outside because of the neighbourhood they were in. I even found out way later that they were separated at first, which boke my heart.
We had to be on our second or third CFS worker when foster care was mentioned.
Here comes the danger.
My stint in a foster home, and most definitely with my foster father, was one of those significant traumas I mentioned earlier.
Am I really going to risk it?
It took a lot of convincing, and a ton of faith, but I rolled the dice.
And it could not have turned out better.
Even though there were still some big hurdles to over come, my boys were in the right place to begin their healing. This peace gave me the space I needed to work on becoming whole. As I started to manage my mental heath my voice was beginning to be heard. I was able to start coordinating resources. The foster family was amazing. This was awesome… and guilt producing all at the same time.
My boys would come home for visits and talk about all the neat things they were experiencing. Family outings and organized sports. A calmer home environment, two parents, and they even got a regular allowance. My youngest son begged to go with them.
Should I have given all my children an opportunity for this life?
I am so thankful for the specialized training the foster parents had and that they had excellent respite resources. Definitely surpassed my parenting classes and respite that either fell asleep or sat in the mall texting while my kids played video games in the store. It was just me, a work in progress, with limited family and recreational activities.
What kind of parent was I to bring them back to this life?
The weight of the guilt and shame was brining me to my knees.
But these were my children.
The Creator gave them to me to care for, and I needed to have faith I could.
So, I got up.
It took about a year and a half, and several more CFS workers before my boys came home. I had to go through some dark valleys to find my way to well, or honestly, well enough. If there is anything this tale has taught me, is that the journey to wellness never ends. My boys too, had to do some work and healing. We all will, for quite some time. We also needed to learn how to work as a family unit again.
But we have come thorough and doing pretty alright in life.
I have been working as a civil servant since graduating college in 2013, I got my grade 12 diploma in 2011, and I am a proud homeowner. I have successfully gotten my children to adulthood. They have all graduated high school, and a few have finished college. I have 4 glorious grandchildren that have the privilege of having well rounded and resilient parents, aunts, and uncles.
We are so blessed.
I am pleased to share that the foster parents continue to be in my son’s lives, they boys both still hold dear the pillows they received from them before coming home. I still struggle to think about their time away, and it is hard sometimes when we all gather, it stirs up lots of emotions. But I wouldn’t have it any other way. I learn so many new things, including the depth of their own faith and the blessings my children bought into their lives.
The love runs deep.
Oh, the grace of God!
Please hear me when I tell you that you are not alone. You are not fighting this battle with just your strength, there is a glorious great power that walks with you, is in you, and provides not only the answers but the way.
We just need to open our hearts and minds and know that we will have all that we need and can get though. This does not mean that we just sit and wait for the good to come, we need to do out part and put in the work. We also need to accept that the answers, or way, may not be what we want or asked for, but we are not always aware of the grand plan.
The way forward may not be as simple as a perfect conversation on a beach, but it could be an opportunity or an open door that may lead to another door or to the right person to provide some guidance.
There is no promise that this is going to be an easy journey, just that we are not alone and that we have/or will have all we need.
Every thing that we gain or overcome along the way just prepares us for what lies ahead.
Thanks be to God.
By Wilson Akinwale
based on Text John12:20-21
I can still recall way back in 2015 when I perused through my class readings during Dr Fleming Rutledge's series of lectures delivered at St Margret's Anglican Church here in Winnipeg. That same year, Rutledge had just written a book entitled: “The Crucifixion: Understanding the Death of Jesus Christ.” In this book, I came across one particular version of her article which was presented as a lecture at Wycliffe College earlier in 2011 titled: “Sentences and Verbs: Talking About God.” The American writer Annie Dillard was asked by someone at a lecture, “How do I know if I can be a writer?” She replied, “Do you like sentences?” Obviously, this is a “A Question-Answer Response.” We sometimes unconsciously answer questions with questions when seeking answers. Although the aforementioned question elicited another question, the answer is given in a way if we would say. It is a fact in our daily interactions with other people that there might be some convictions in our hearts that are positive response to our questions that makes us feel good. Are our comments kind and our personal inquiries loving? Or do we pass along with our own jumble of thoughts, unconcerned with another's load? Obviously, we would never intentionally leave behind an essence of harshness, but let us be careful not to thoughtlessly disregard
anyone. In today's Gospel, among those who came for the feast of
Passover in Jerusalem were certain Greeks. They came in response to
what they had seen or heard about Jesus. They came seeking answers to
Written By Wilson Akinwale
Key Text: John 2:19
Has God left the building? Has God left His Church alone during this period of the Pandemic? Has God left His people because we cannot gather in-person to praise and worship Him the way we’d love to do? No, I don’t think so! God is always at work; He is always present. Perhaps we might be asking ourselves these questions to get that sense of connection with what God is up to in our lives these days. In fact we might be looking for signs as well asking where God is leading us. To some a sign is something they look out for when they ask or seek answers to questions. As a young boy who grew up in the rectory, my brother and I saw a gift of artwork that was presented to our Dad from the National Association for the Blind in Nigeria. It was a beautifully crafted piece of hand-made artwork with some soft wood cut into different measurements, and glued together to match in order to make an inscription about the word JESUS. This artwork was hard to read! It was a very daunting task for me and my brother to understand what was inscribed on this artwork. So in our curiosity, we tasked each other to unravel the meaning. At first, we were looking for signs pointing us to where we could get answers to what was inscribed on this artwork. Second, we both asked our Dad what this was all about, but he wouldn’t want to disclose anything except for him to encourage us to pay a “close attention to every detail” on this wooden artwork. So, for several days we were relentless to figure out the meaning on this artwork. But one thing stood clear in our search: we never moved closer to this artwork to get a glimpse of what it was all about. And worst still at some point we both gave up! However, one mid-morning, my brother came to me and said: ‘Wilson, I can now “see” the meaning of the inscription on the artwork.’ I was expecting him to interpret the word from a Greek, or a Latin word or any other language that we were never familiar with. My brother turned to the back of this artwork (which we never examined during our search) and read tiny words written there: “JESUS! It’s not everyone that takes time to seek Him, but if you look long enough you will ‘see’ Him.” After days of our searching and looking for signs, my Dad was so glad we could figure out the message. For me as young boy it was a lifetime lesson learned through a personal experience of searching, seeking, and asking to get right answers.
So what does this Gospel reading tell us this morning?
The sign of the temple is the location of Christ’s Body. In our Gospel reading this morning, the people had an encounter with Jesus. Jesus Himself having driven out the people buying and selling in the temple, He declares “Make not my Father’s house an house of merchandise” (verse 16). In other words, make this place a house of prayer to a living God. And they were also asking Him about what He is saying about this place, the physical temple. To them, the temple is a symbol of their devotion and worship. The Jews have long history with the temple. The temple is so important to them that they are thinking what Jesus said about it might invalidate all what they know about their worship and existence. Like many other pilgrims, Jesus Himself has come to Jerusalem because of Passover and he comes to the temple. According to John, Jesus presents Himself to the people beyond the signs people are seeking on this occasion. He presents Himself as the temple, the sanctuary of God’s presence, not the centre of the temple which once held the ark of the covenant. John re-echoes Jesus is the location of God’s glory rather than the temple building in which he stands, and where they stand. Jesus’ connection to the temple in John 2 is a thorough-going Christological position that begins in Chapter 1. According to John, Jesus is the embodiment of God’s Word, whose dwelling with humanity enables them to see God’s glory and who continues to show humanity the way to the Father. Jesus’ words with the Samaritan woman at the well (John 4:21-24) also reinforces this idea. When Jesus also tells Philip that seeing Him, the disciples have seen the Father, we shouldn’t be surprised (John 14:9; cf. 1: 18). For John, when people focus too much on a physical location, they miss out on God’s glory standing right in front of them. Therefore, whether we worship in the church or we are restricted to the corner of our room due to the Pandemic, God is not located in one place. We cannot seek the sign in one place. God is located everywhere we find ourselves, be it in our own wilderness experience He is there with us during our moments of reality or anywhere we could think of.
The Temple: Irony of the Body of Christ.
When the religious leaders in Jerusalem worry about the fate of the temple (John 2:20; cf. John 11:45-50), the Gospel this morning again re-focuses our attention to when Jesus speaks of the temple as His body (John 2:21). Jesus has not come to destroy the temple but to let people see that He is the temple where people can dwell and fellowship in their moments with Him. His cleansing of the temple demonstrates to us the reason He has to make His place holy to dwell. The destruction of the temple and in three days raising it up (John 2:19) indicates Jesus is giving up of Himself on the cross through His suffering. This time of Lent reminds us to reclaim our identity from how he has presented Himself to us and
through His victory at resurrection. From this, we have a clear testimony of what we see in Him as the best gift ever to humanity for our salvation. In our second reading this morning, Paul said, “For Jews demand signs and Greeks desire wisdom, but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God” (1 Corinthians 1:22-24). God wants us to look long enough, to move closer to Him beyond the signs. This season of Lent is that perfect moment we can do that!
Today is the third Sunday in Lent. As we continue to reflect on this season Alicia Myers said: “we walk the path to Jerusalem during Lent, we join crowds of pilgrims from millennia before preparing for festivals remembering God’s salvation. But we, too, should be careful lest we miss God’s earth-shattering Word in our midst. Rather than coming to a physical temple, or church building, we need instead to come to Jesus (John 12:9, 20). Worshipping in Spirit and truth wherever we may be, we see God’s glory by remembering God’s love made manifest in Jesus—even when he disrupts our usual plans.” As we continue on the path to Easter, this is another week for us to look beyond the signs and try to get a glimpse of what this season could resonate for us in our spiritual journey with Jesus.
Thanks be to God!
Mark 9:5 - “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here.”
Written by Wilson Akinwale
During my early period in the seminary sometime in 2017, I came across a story of a group of fellow seminarians who travelled to Israel and Palestine on a spiritual pilgrimage. According to one of them, Tyler Mayfield he said: “The first day and half of the trip were spent along the Israeli coast admiring Caesar’s buildings programs. We were all tolerating these sites well, but I could tell that many other seminarians had growing concern that we had not yet seen any sites connected to Jesus. Then, on that second afternoon we drove East finally toward the Galilee area and took our bus up a high mountain, Mount Arbel. After a short hike on foot to the very top of this mountain, we all froze suddenly in our tracks. There on the horizon was our first glimpse of the waters of the Sea of Galilee; there was Capernaum and the Mount of Beatitudes. Before our eyes were the very places where Jesus taught and healed. It was a profound spiritual experience for all of us; we had been preparing and reading for months about the Holy Land and now, in a moment, atop a mountain, it became alive. Eventually we had to walk away and board our bus, …to find our lodging along the sea. But our group remembered often our experience on Mount Arbel. Our collective silence and the sense of awe that filled each of us on that mountain were truly transformative for the group’s sense of community. It was a defining moment of the trip. But it was only one moment and didn’t last forever.”
Moses waited on the mountain for forty days (Exodus 24:12, 18) and God revealed to him in the appearance of His glory. God answered him. Moses had his own defining moment with God at the Mountain top. Elisha had his own defining moment with Elijah when his master was about to be taken up to heaven in a whirlwind. Elisha said, "Please let me inherit a double share of your spirit." That was his defining moment.
Now, what is your own defining moment?
I. Transfiguration Experience:
In our Gospel reading this morning, Peter, James and John had their own defining moment of their spiritual trip. Jesus thought they needed such moment to experience His presence with them in a particularly powerful way when He took them to the mountain top. Each of them might have interpreted this experience in their own different views, but the whole event is so overwhelming for excited Peter that he opens his mouth to say, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here.” Peter recognizes his own defining moment; he seems to want to stick around for a while, get comfortable, settle in, and have a nice talk with Jesus, Moses and Elijah. The appearance of Moses and Elijah with Jesus at this point in time says a lot about who Jesus is in fulfilling what has been said about him in the Scriptures. This moment is for them to bear witness to this encounter with their own very eyes. What an emotional and spiritual experience this could have been for those disciples! And for us today as we approach the Lenten season in our own personal or corporate experience, we should also expect to have such moments, moments that are still important and meaningful but might not contain the flashy lights and sounds. And as we await for such moments we need to slow down, stop, listen, and pray. When we slow down, God can talk to us about very specific areas in our individual lives. During the Lenten Season, we are encouraged to pray, fast and wait on the Lord to reveal Himself to us in a new way. Waiting is not always easy, but waiting with God to listen to what the Spirit is saying to Church is such a rewarding moment, especially for us during this moment of the Pandemic.
II. The Invitation:
In our invitation over the next six weeks of the Lenten Season, we are encouraged to take another opportunity of time to reflect and hang on to that moment, to have that glimpse of what the future will hold for us. How we might want to live our lives moving forward in pleasing God. It that moment to try to balance our words with actions in the way God is leading us in hope of the future, even though we might not know how that future would look like.
We are encouraged to listen to what God has to tell us during this season of lent. Our spiritual lives are ones of mountains and hills and valleys and plains where there are voices speaking. But which one do we listen to? Which voice do we heed? How do we discern the right voice? The disciples heard a voice from the cloud saying to them: “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!” (Mark 9:7). As Christians, which voice to we listen to? Sometimes we may have such moments in our lives when we need spiritual clarity where we need to sense God in a particularly powerful way. Or we may have moments when don’t even seem like life can even get any better, especially with the COVID-19 experience that we have been grappling with over the last one year. As followers of Christ, when we expect to get some clarities about where God is leading us but we don’t get such at the moment does not mean that God is not up to do something in our lives. I think all we need to do is to discern and listen to that “voice.” We need that moment to slow down, stop, listen and pray. Stop from the hustle and bustle of our everyday lives in this noisy world and take a moment to just listen! Listen to that inner Spirit to hear what He is saying to us. And pray that God might reveal Himself more fully to us in a new way. The Psalmist also declares, “Out of Zion, the perfection of beauty, God shines forth. Our God comes and does not keep silence, before him is a devouring fire, and a mighty tempest all around him” (Psalm 50:2-3).
Let us slow down for a moment, take a deep breath and listen to what God has to say. It will be a time of refreshing for us. Perhaps it might be that moment God has been waiting for us to transform our lives in the way we could ever imagine. Jesus told His disciples not to tell anyone what they have witnessed with Him until He has been raised from the dead. He wanted them to take that moment to wait, to watch and listen so that they will understand and discern where the Spirit of God is leading them. We later see a testimony of Peter, who became a leading voice and witness for Christ in Acts. He heard God's voice on the holy mountain (Cf. 2 Peter 1:17-18). He obeyed and became a witness to God's voice.
As we approach the Lenten Season this week, let us try to get a glimpse of what this season could be, when actually it has been all along we take that moment to wait and listen to what God has to say. This is important. This might be that moment that we might not want to get holding on to things of letting go, letting go of our self will and self-righteousness. Letting go of hate, division and exclusion of all sorts that currently pervade through our world. Letting go of uncertainties and doubts that might rub us off of God's future blessings. But in earnest expectation of that moment, letting God's love radiate in our hearts to embrace the World with Christ. ‘For it is the God who said, "Let light shine out of darkness," who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ’ ( 2 Corinthians 4:6).
Thanks be to God!
Written By Ryan Turnbull
John Appeared in the Wilderness
One of the things Mark’s Gospel retains from the Hebrew scriptural tradition is a stark narrative style. There are no unnecessary words in Mark’s descriptions, the Word leaps forth in a plain and straightforward manner, confident in the power and truth of its divine message. It is fitting then, that John the Baptist appears in the wilderness. As if walking straight out of the prophecy of Isaiah, John appears in the wilderness with wild animals hung from his body in place of clothes and fruits of the wild as his only food, proclaiming the way of the Lord.
That’s often how things of God begin, suddenly, and in a place nobody expects. In our OT reading we hear of how God, in the middle of nowhere, suddenly created the world, and it was good. Later, as Moses led his flocks out to graze in the wilderness, he came upon a burning bush – God’s holiness breaking forth in the middle of a place that had hitherto not been much of a place at all. Centuries later, the prophet Samuel would show up at the house of Jesse to anoint the next King of Israel, and where was David? Out in the wilderness with the flocks.
Today, most New Testament scholars believe that Mark’s gospel is the earliest gospel, largely because it is the shortest and most straightforward. There are no shepherds or angels or magi in Mark’s story of Jesus’ origin. Mark writes in the tradition of the saints and prophets of Israel – all of a sudden, in the wilderness, God is at work again, and there he is, John the Baptist, the forerunner of the one who is to come, in all of his wild glory, pointing, gesturing wildly even, at the coming Lord whose coming “shakes the wilderness of Kadesh.”
The One More Powerful Cometh After
Who is this one that John points at? Who is this one whose sandals John is unfit to untie? Who is this one who brings Holy Spirit baptism? Could it be the same one in whose presence the oak trees wither and strips the forests bare? He whose voice splits the flames of fire and shakes the wilderness itself? That same voice that spoke and formed the cosmos, drawing forth light and darkness and calling them good?
Mark’s Gospel isn’t messing around. Like the wild baptizing prophet, Mark is desperately pointing us to the coming Lord that the Scriptures of Israel have repeatedly told us to expect. But then, after a sudden and dramatic opening, Mark plays it straight, and much like the narrative style of the Hebrew Scriptures, he just blurts it out: “In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan.” The coming of the one we were told would shake the very wilderness itself is proclaimed with about as much fanfare as an hourly weather report.
The other gospels have choirs of angels, guiding stars, and foreign sorcerers, but not Mark. Jesus shows up and “was baptized by John in the Jordan.” But why is Jesus baptized? John’s baptism, as we heard in our lesson from Acts, is a baptism of repentance. What is going on with Jesus’ baptism, what, exactly, does he hope to accomplish thereby? Jesus’ submission to John’s baptism is the revelation of his unreserved solidarity with humanity. As the great Swiss theologian, Karl Barth, put it, “He who as God’s Son was very different from all men, being one with the Father who sent Him, and therefore Himself God, negated this difference, this distance, this strangeness between Himself and others, even to the last remnant.” (CD IV.4, 58)
Jesus, as Son of God and very God himself, is “the One who is more powerful” that is to come after the Baptizer, and insofar as this is true, the Baptizer is correct in his assessment that he is unfit to untie his sandals. But precisely because Jesus is this One, this One more powerful, whose coming shakes the wilderness itself, that he is therefore not other than the One who became one of us, for it is surely within the power of this Almighty One to take on the beggars garments of our fallen and sinful humanity.
Christ’s submission to the baptism of John is the full revelation of how deep this solidarity goes. For Jesus is not merely God masquerading as a man. Humanity is not a guise put on by the Son. John’s baptism is the baptism of repentance, but what repentance does the Son of God have to make in his infinite perfections? It would seem that Jesus’ baptism is mere theatre, perhaps a good example for us, but ultimately a sham if there is no real repentance involved. But this is the proof of Christ’s solidarity with us. As Barth puts it, “With them He thus confesses his sins. His sins? If we do not say this, we question and even deny the totality of His self-giving to men (sic), and therewith the totality of His self-giving to God” (CD IV.4, 59). So, we must say that Jesus enters John’s waters of repentance, not as one merely feigning guilt, but as the One who comes to those waters most burdened of all. For in the Son’s obedience to the call of the Father, he submits to all the many burdens and sins that accompany human existence. In the waters of John’s baptism, therefore, Jesus is shown to be not just truly the Son of God, but also the Son of Man.
You Are My Son, the Beloved
While we have noted the paucity with which Mark treats the appearance and baptism of Jesus in the Jordan waters of John’s baptism as soon as he arises from those waters Mark turns the narrative drama up to 11. Here is the wilderness shaking God we have been expecting – the heavens are torn apart, the Spirit comes down as a dove, and out of that rend in the fabric of the heavens, a voice booms out “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”
He’s here. That is what the season of Epiphany is all about, the radical declaration that the One long expected has come and that he is none other than this One, Jesus of Nazareth. Mark’s proclamation of his arrival is marked by hesitation, understatement, reversal, and sudden dramatic revelation. The God who once spoke everything into existence, who spoke from a burning bush in the wilderness, has spoken once more, declaring definitively that this man Jesus, and he is no less than a man, having submitted to the waters of John’s baptism of repentance, is at once God’s Son. The ministry of Jesus has begun with startling clarity, that one who appears in our midst, in radical solidarity with all we are and do and suffer, is the same one who is the Beloved of God, and the one who unites the baptism of repentance with the baptism of Spirit empowerment that the apostles perform in his name throughout our lesson from the book of Acts.
After the service today, Bishop Geoff, Wilson, and I will be leading a seminar about living into our baptismal covenant. Our baptismal covenant asks many things of us, some which we might find to be too hard to say yes to on our most honest days, but the response to each article is a gift of grace; we say, “I will, with God’s help.” This isn’t some abstract claim about a powerful far-off God that can hypothetically help us keep our baptismal covenant. No, it is a concrete statement about the One who, as we have learned from our Scripture lessons today, has wholly embraced our frailty and inability to say, “I Will” and submitted himself to baptism on our behalf. Our baptism is nothing less than our entrance into the saving work of the God who has always and will always go before us, enabling by the Spirit, our participation in the Kingdom of heaven. Despite our many faults, missteps, and inadequacies, Jesus of Nazareth is there with us, and by being so close, in such utter solidarity with our human condition, he therefore negates our distance from God such that we hear the voice from heaven saying, “With you I am well pleased.”
Introduction: Let it be with me according to your word
Written By Ryan Turnbull
We’re almost there. Here on this 4th week of Advent we stand on the very precipice of the changing seasons, from fall to winter, Advent to Christmas, 2020 to 2021. On Wednesday we watched as Manitoba front-line workers received the first dose of the new Covid-19 vaccine and felt, for perhaps the first time since March, that there just might be an end to this time of pandemic after all. The time we are in is pregnant with anticipation, so it is fitting that our gospel reading today should rest on the story of Mary and the pregnancy that would forever change the world.
At the beginning of Advent, I pointed us to our end, to death, and here at the end, I point to our beginning. We stand with our neighbours, with our city, with Mary, with all Israel; here at the end on the precipice of life. But we stand on this precipice with a good deal of uncertainty yet ahead. The angel Gabriel’s words to Mary rush to meet us on this precipice, “Do not be afraid!” For there is surely much to fear or be anxious about in the time ahead, indeed, the transition from endings to new beginnings is always marked with ambiguity and confusion. Mary’s response to Gabriel’s annunciation of her pregnancy gives voice to this confusion with her question, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?”
Gabriel’s answer is mystifying yet strangely comforting, “nothing will be impossible with God” and “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you.” Is this an explanation or merely an acknowledgment that what is taking place defies explanation? Regardless, Mary responds with a simple, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.”
It would be a mistake, I think, to hear Mary’s quiet response as mere resignation to forces of fate. Mary is not a stock example of “good” female docility under the patriarchy. Mary’s response is the response of the prophets and leaders of Israel. In Mary’s “Here am I” we hear the faithful response of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Mary’s “Here am I” is the tentative response of Moses before the burning bush, of young Samuel in the night, of the great literary prophets Isaiah and Jeremiah, responding to the Word of the Lord. In short, Mary’s response is the faithful summing up of all the faithful responses by the Children of Israel to God’s gracious call.
Mary’s response comes at the precipice between the end and the beginning of history. She is the inheritor of all the faithfulness and failure of Israel, but in her, the power of the Most High has come. The question, long ago put to King David “Are you the one to build me a house to live in?” is answered in Mary’s “Here am I” as indeed it was promised by the Lord so long ago, “I will appoint a place for my people Israel and will plant them, so that they may live in their own place and be disturbed no more.” That place is here, now, in the wombed child, and Mary is here, saying, “Let it be with me according to your will.”
We have followed Israel, this autumn season, from the Mount of Sinai at the giving of the Law, into the land of Israel before Joshua’s armies, and on down through the history until now, here, at a time when Israel, while in the Land of Promise, is once more dominated by foreign powers and the prophets that once led and gave hope to Yahweh’s people have long fallen silent. But here, at a time nobody could have predicted, through the narrow gate of a virgin’s womb, the Messiah is entering history.
We’ve been warned through the voice of the prophets this Adventide that the coming of Messiah would entail a reckoning. The mountains will be brought low, the valleys filled, the paths made straight. It should be no surprise, then, that Mary gives voice to the prophetic tradition in which she stands, breaking forth in the song we have come to call the Magnificat:
My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord,
my spirit rejoices in God my Savior; *
for he has looked with favor on his lowly servant.
From this day all generations will call me blessed: *
the Almighty has done great things for me, and holy is his Name.
He has mercy on those who fear him *
in every generation.
He has shown the strength of his arm, *
he has scattered the proud in their conceit.
He has cast down the mighty from their thrones, *
and has lifted up the lowly.
He has filled the hungry with good things, *
and the rich he has sent away empty.
He has come to the help of his servant Israel, *
for he has remembered his promise of mercy,
The promise he made to our fathers, *
to Abraham and his children for ever.
Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit: *
as it was in the beginning, is now, and will be for ever. Amen.
Mary sings because the Almighty has remembered the promise he made to our fathers, to Abraham and his children forever. The Lord who could not be contained in a house of cedar has indwelt the virgin’s womb, taking on our flesh, our blood, our frailties, failures and follies, and in so doing, has cast down the mighty from their thrones and lifted up the lowly.
It is the tradition of the Church to sing Mary’s song, the song we call the Magnificat every evening as part of the service of Evening Prayer. But in these last days of Advent, this time on the precipice between endings and beginnings, it has been the custom of the church to add to Mary’s song all the reverberations of her faithful declaration “Here am I”. For in these last days of Advent, the church rehearses yet again the many names by which God has revealed himself to the long list of Israelites who also responded, “Here am I.” In this final week of Advent we pray the ancient O Antiphons, each one drawn from the history of Israel, each one a window onto that moment at the end of history when Messiah might come.
O Sapientia, we pray, the “Wisdom, coming forth from the mouth of the Most High, reaching from one end to the other, mightily and sweetly ordering all things: Come and teach us the way of prudence.”
We call out, O Adonai, that Lord “and leader of the House of Israel, who appeared to Moses in the fire of the burning bush and gave him the law on Sinai: Come and redeem us with an outstretched arm.”
O Radix, thou “Root of Jesse, standing as a sign among the peoples; before you kings will shut their mouths, to you the nations will make their prayer: Come and deliver us, and delay no longer.”
O Clavis, that great “Key of David and scepter of the House of Israel; you open and no one can shut; you shut and no one can open: Come and lead the prisoners from the prison house, those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death.”
O Oriens, that eastern Morning Star of old, “splendour of light eternal and sun of righteousness: Come and enlighten those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death.”
O Rex Gentium, you “King of the nations, and their desire, the cornerstone making both one: Come and save the human race, which you fashioned from clay.”
O Emmanuel, God with us, “our king and our lawgiver, the hope of the nations and their Saviour: Come and save us, O Lord our God.”
Conclusion: Ero Cras
So “Here am I” and here we all are at the end of Advent, pregnant with anticipation for a Christmas that we are still unsure of whether and how it will arrive. Yet arrive it will, for as our Holy Mother sang, God keeps his promises to Abraham and to all of Abraham’s children. And it is through one of Abraham’s children, that child that swells the belly of the blessed Virgin, that we Gentile Christians come to be grafted-in children of Abraham as well and heirs of the promise. As we pray the O Antiphons in these last days before the Nativity, we discover that there is a place for us that has been established forever. For the God who would not deign to dwell in houses of cedar, preferring instead a tent made of skins, has taken on our skin and is Emmanuel, God with us. God is with us here, here we are, standing at the precipice between endings and beginnings, but as we declare our hereness, our place here, we rehearse again the many names of the God who wills to be with us here. And in that great rehearsal of names, we find a promise, for the names, taken in their Latin form, create an acrostic poem, and as the great mystic monks of old discovered, this poem contains for us one last message of hope, Ero Cras, tomorrow, I come.
Written By Ryan Turnbull
In My Beginning is My End
The famous poem, “East Coker” written, in the early years of the Second World War, by the great poet laureate, TS Eliot contains a stanza most fitting for our service today:
Do not let me hear
Of the wisdom of old men, but rather of their folly,
Their fear of fear and frenzy, their fear of possession,
Of belonging to another, or to others, or to God.
The only wisdom we can hope to acquire
Is the wisdom of humility: humility is endless.
We come to this first Sunday in Advent, the first day of the Christian Calendar, in the midst of a pandemic that is raging out of control. Over 1.4 million people have died already of this disease, 12 thousand of those deaths have been Canadians and over 250 of those are here in Manitoba. Large numbers of deaths are hard to comprehend, rather than tragedies we experience them as statistics. But 250 dead Manitobans is as if my entire hometown had been wiped off the map this year. That is a lot of pain, a lot of grief, and a lot of people who have had to bear that suffering alone for the sake of the safety of others.
Today is the first day of Advent, and as I noted, it is the beginning of the Christian year. Some of you may only know Advent as the time when you get little chocolates from an Advent Calendar (which I hasten to emphasize, there is absolutely no shame in!). Often, churches engage in a practice of lighting candles and hearing reflections on Love, Joy, Peace, and Hope, which is a powerful ritual of welcoming these gifts of the spirit into the life of the church as we await the great gift of the Christ child. But today I want to turn our attention to a more ancient advent tradition. As Eliot goes on to say in the poem I opened with, “in my beginning is my end” and it is that insight, that endings and beginnings are always tied together, that the ancient Church intuited when it developed its tradition of observing the Four Last things during this liturgical season.
The Four Last things of Adventide are Death, Judgement, Heaven and Hell. Therefore it is fitting that the beginning of our Advent season, a season in which we wait for new beginnings in the anticipation of the birth of the Lord of Life, is the time when we take a moment to reflect on the first of the Four Last Things… Death. Death is hard to talk about, and it’s harder still when we are surrounded by so much of it. At the best of times, death is ubiquitous, but during a pandemic, we are daily bombarded by images and reports of death. There is an irrationality to it, we try to say something, but ultimately we find that we are left, as Eliot says, “with the intolerable wrestle with words and meanings.” There is a reason we talk about the silence of the grave, it is not that the dead do not speak, for indeed their voices cry out to us loudly. The silence of the grave is primarily that we are reduced to an inarticulate silence in the face of the horror of death.
The Faith and the Love and Hope are all in the Waiting
Returning to Eliot:
I said to my soul, be still, and wait without hope
For hope would be hope for the wrong thing; wait without love,
For love would be love of the wrong thing; there is yet faith
But the faith and the love and the hope are all in the waiting.
Wait without thought, for you are not ready for thought:
In order to arrive at what you do not know
You must go by a way which is the way of ignorance.
Advent is a season of waiting. Our Scripture readings reference waiting on the day of the Lord’s coming. Isaiah anticipates quaking mountains, burning brushwood and boiling waters. Mark warns that neither angels nor humans know when the day will come, but advises us, much like the 10 virgins from a couple weeks ago, to remain awake and vigilant.
I remember an occasion in seminary where we were talking about how Christians deal with suffering, and one overly zealous student asked, “So, the church seems to always grow historically when it suffers, do you think we should start praying for more suffering?” Heads started to nod around the class from the other students, but at that moment, the professor interjected with a loud, “NO! We do not pray that suffering will come. Suffering always comes, we do not need to be busying ourselves with asking God for more of it. The question is, how we are going to respond to it when it does come.” I should say, this was not some pie-in-the-sky academic talking, but a man who had known more than his fair share of struggles, and had, in his work as a pastor, walked alongside the sufferings of many of his parishioners. He knew that when it comes to suffering, we do not know what we are talking about, and that it is sometimes for the best that what cannot be spoken should be passed over in silence (cf. Wittgenstein, Tractatus, 23). I’ve reflected a lot on that exchange over the years, and especially this year during the pandemic. Nobody prayed for this to come, but we were warned that things like this would come before the end.
The Day of the Lord, Mark’s gospel tells us, is a hidden event because it is arrival of the One who is the Hidden One. In my first sermon to you this fall, I used Robert Jenson’s description of God, that God is “Whoever raised Jesus from the dead having first raised Israel from Egypt.” If you listen carefully to that formulation, you realize that the operative word is “Whoever” God is precisely not named or identified in a way that might make us think that we have figured God out. God is the great I Am who I Am, or I will Be who I will Be. “Whoever” names a God that makes Godself known in salvific acts for us but is not known as a someone that we’ve “figured out.” Thus, Mark’s warning to stay awake. Who can know the time or date of this God’s coming? The Magi, those great learned men of the east, they watched the heavens for signs and were prepared for the coming of the Lord when none of the great men of Israel were, but even they were caught unawares by the manner of Christ’s coming. Who brings those kinds of gifts to a boy in a feed trough?
So, in Advent, we learn to accept a posture of waiting and wrestling. Death and suffering may surround us, but the day of the Lord is not yet here. We might scream our questions of WHY, WHO, WHAT, WHERE and WHEN to the heavens, but God, in God’s gracious mercy will not become the Object of our questioning, for God always wills to meet us as the Subject who is for us. And so we wait.
Into a deeper communion
We begin this time of waiting by attending to our ends. But in so doing, we discover that there are limits to our powers. Our inarticulacy in the face of death, our inability to know when, or where, or how the end will come all reinforce the fundamental fact of our existence that we are not gods. Humans occupy a sort of middle space in the cosmos. We have great power to transform the world around us, for good and for evil. We can work for the good of our city, and we can be the very source of the ills of that city. But our middling view also means that our existence has some very real limits. I have repeatedly quoted Eliot’s admonishment to wait without faith or hope or love, not because these things are bad, but because it is our lot not to know how to direct these gifts.
This, finally, is the grace of Adventide. Advent is a time to wait, to wait without hope, faith, or love, because they would ultimately be for the wrong things. But in the waiting, in the watching, in the careful attentiveness to fig leaves and the movements of stars, we discover that in fact there is a more excellent gift of faith and hope and love to be had. In advent, we enter into the way of ignorance, for of ourselves, we cannot know God. We cannot know God, but our God is the God who wills to be known. Our God is the God Who Will Be Who He Will Be. In taking time to wait, to accept the way of ignorance, we can make room for that great “Whoever” to make itself known to us. And at the end of all our waiting, we discover that the God who is for us, is the God who makes such an intimate communion possible that he becomes Emmanuel. O come, O come Emmanuel, we sing as we wait, in anticipation of the time when we might rejoice in the right use of all the hope and faith and love that we store up in this time between times. O come thou Rod of Jesse, and give us victory over that silent grave. O come, Key of David, close the path to misery, that finally at the end of all our waiting and striving we find that indeed, God is with us.
To read the full text of the poem "East Coker" by TS Elliot please click on the link below