The Angelus

Volume 17, Number 35

FROM THE RECTOR: ANXIOUS CHRISTIANITY

 

On Wednesday, July 22, we celebrated the Feast of Saint Mary Magdalene. It’s one of two days in the church year when the Prayer Book requires us to proclaim, if there be a Eucharist, John’s account of the Risen Jesus speaking to Mary Magdalene—the other day is Tuesday in Easter Week. Note: neither of these days is a Sunday.

 

In the 1979 lectionary, this passage, John 20:11–18, is also an optional addition to John 20:1–10 for Easter morning in Year A. In our Revised Common Lectionary John’s full account of the morning of the resurrection (John 20:1–18) is an option all three years, but it is never required. It’s worth noting that our Roman Catholic friends—the majority of Christians—don’t have permission ever to include the Risen Jesus speaking to Mary Magdalene on Easter morning or a Sunday.

 

In my preparation for preaching on Easter morning last year I realized for the first time what had been going on with the Easter Day lectionary—for ever. I haven’t been able to let go of this. It’s led me to look with, what I sincerely hope, are fresh eyes at the gospels. It’s led me to try to imagine how Christianity might have evolved differently from what it is today.

 

Equality among God’s children remains a big issue for the great majority of us who confess Jesus as Lord. Going back to the time of the New Testament, there’s a lot of anxiety about the place and role of women within the community of the faithful—see the letters of Paul. If one goes to the Hebrew Scriptures, one can find this anxiety there as well.

 

This anxiety seems to me to explain how we Episcopalians still live with a lectionary that makes it possible for a congregation never to hear from John the full story of the Risen Jesus on Easter morning. However, we are required to hear the only other words of the Risen Jesus at the Easter Vigil or on Easter Day. They are found in Matthew 28:10: “Then Jesus said [to Mary Magdalene and the other Mary], “Do not be afraid; go and tell my brethren to go to Galilee, and there they will see me.” No male apostles are in Matthew’s Easter morning. The two women don’t speak—keeping our anxiety low?

 

Now, in John the Easter morning story is central to the narrative of the gospel. When Jesus healed the man born blind—rejected by his family, his community, and his religious leaders before and after his healing—the man was again cast out of the temple, and Jesus sought him out (John 9:1–41). Then Jesus explained to the Pharisees who saw this that he, Jesus, was the Good Shepherd. His sheep know him and follow him, and he calls them all by their own names (John 10:1–6).

 

On Easter morning the Risen Jesus makes himself present to Mary Magdalene, calls her by her own name, and sends her to tell his “brothers and sisters” that he is “ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God” (John 20:17).

 

In the prologue of this gospel, the evangelist proclaims, “But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God” (John 1:12). On Easter morning when Mary Magdalene says, “Rabboni,” she is no longer just Jesus’ disciple or his friend; she is his sister.

 

Here’s another recent example, I think, about how this anxiety reshapes three of our four gospels. Our gospel on Sunday, July 5, was the story of Jesus’ rejection in his hometown (Mark 6:1–6). This is the verse from Mark that I think reshaped the final texts of Matthew, Luke, and John:

 

Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon, and are not his sisters here with us?” (Mark 6:3)

 

In Matthew, where Joseph has been given a prominent role in the birth narrative, Jesus is no longer himself the carpenter, but “the carpenter’s son” (Matthew 13:55)—and not simply “son of Mary” as in Mark. In Luke, when Jesus goes to the synagogue in Nazareth, the people ask, “Is not this Joseph’s son?” (Luke 4:22).

 

When the subject of Jesus’ parents comes up in John, “the Jews” (let’s not avoid the anti-Judaism present in the text) ask, “Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know?” (John 6:42). Despite the in many ways inclusive nature of John’s community, John never names Jesus’ mother.

 

John, unlike Matthew and Luke, did not have Mark’s gospel in front of him when he wrote. That said, there are many parallels between Mark and John—they both knew similar traditions about Jesus. Question: Why was it important for John to name Joseph as Jesus’ father but not name Mary as his mother?

 

I wonder if this same anxiety is reflected in the birth narratives and genealogies of Matthew and Luke. Matthew begins with the genealogy of Jesus (Matthew 1:1–17). In addition to kings and patriarchs, only five women are in the list. Tamar was widowed successively by two sons of the patriarch Jacob. She disguised herself as a prostitute and had intercourse with her father-in-law, Jacob (Genesis 38:1–30). Rahab was the harlot in Jericho who sheltered the spies Joshua had sent. She and her family were the only ones who were saved alive when the city was destroyed (Joshua 2:1–24; 6:15–27).

 

Ruth was a Moabite, not Jewish. When her Jewish husband died, she followed her mother-in-law to Bethlehem. After meeting Boaz while gleaning as a poor person from the unharvested remains of his fields, she is told by her mother-in-law, “ ‘Wash . . . anoint yourself . . . put on your best clothes . . . when he lies down, observe the place where he lies; then, go and uncover his feet and lie down; and he will tell you what to do’ ” (Ruth 3:1–4). The wife of Uriah the Hittite is mentioned but not named. King David arranged for Bathsheba’s husband to be killed in battle so that he could marry her (2 Samuel 11:1–27). The genealogy ends with these words, “Jacob the father of Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom Jesus was born, who is called Christ.” Stepping back, the genealogies of Matthew and Luke (see Luke 3:23–38) tell us no more about Mary than Mark did. Why did they spend so much time on Joseph when the point of their narratives was the virgin birth?

 

I can recite the Apostles’ Creed and the Nicene Creed without crossing my fingers. That said, I don’t want to have to cross my fingers about what the Bible says and does not say. I think we are better off as a community of believers by trying to live into the truth with all of its mysteries as revealed to us in Scripture. —Stephen Gerth

 

YOUR PRAYERS ARE ASKED FOR Mary, Kenneth, Yves, Heidi, Nancy, Rasheed, Dorothy, Toussaint, Linda, Renee, John, Steve, Thomas, Judi, Sam, Victoria, Catherine, Mazdak, Trevor, David, Abalda, Takeem, Arpene, Christopher, religious, Deborah Francis, religious, Pamela, religious, Rebecca, deacon, Paulette, priest, and Harry, priest; and for the members of our Armed Forces on active duty . . . GRANT THEM PEACE . . . July 26: 1870 Harriet Amelia Barras; 1896 Bettie Cooper; 1924 Florence Rayner Brinke; 1961 Dudley Cozier; 1962 Genevieve Carpenter Morrison; 1971 Janet Dix.

 

THE ORDINARY FRIDAYS OF THE YEAR are observed by special acts of discipline and self-denial in commemoration of the crucifixion of the Lord.

 

THIS WEEK AT SAINT MARY'S . . . The church and the parish offices are open on the regular schedule . . . On Saturday, July 25, confessions will be heard by Father James Pace. On Saturday, August 1, confessions will be heard by Father Stephen Gerth.

 

STAFF TRANSITION . . . As announced, Business Manager Aaron Koch will be leaving Saint Mary’s in August to take a position at another parish here in the city. His last day with us will be Friday, August 7. The job announcement and position description have been posted on the parish web page here. Please let anyone you know who may be interested in this position know about the job opening. Thank you. —S.G.

 

AROUND THE PARISH . . . Sr. Deborah Francis, C.S.J.B., is back in residence with us. It’s great to have her home . . . A new religious order for women has been established. It’s called the Companions of Mary the Apostle. Your prayers are asked for the founding sisters, Shane Phelan and Elizabeth Broyles . . . Father Smith returns to the parish on Sunday, August 2 . . . Attendance: Last Sunday 203.

 

SAINT MARY’S AIDS WALK TEAM SAYS THANK YOU . . . We have good news to report about one of Saint Mary’s major outreach efforts. Thanks to parishioners and friends, the 2015 Saint Mary’s AIDS Walk team was more successful than ever in fundraising this year, our tenth year of walking. Our 18 members raised an amazing $56,813 and ranked No. 7 of all teams walking, up from No. 11 last year, No. 13 in 2013 and No. 32 in 2012. The Walk raised more than $4.88 million. We can’t thank you enough. Our team received 398 contributions from parishioners, family, and friends and from people all over the country. AIDS Walk 2016 will be on Sunday, May 15, Pentecost Sunday. We will be there, and we invite you to join us. —MaryJane Boland and Clark Mitchell, co-coordinators

 

MUSIC THIS WEEK . . . Leonard Bernstein (1918–1990), the great American conductor, teacher, and composer, was in the final throes of orchestrating his Symphony No. 3 (The Kaddish Symphony) when John F. Kennedy was assassinated. Bernstein dedicated his symphony to the late president, which seems particularly fitting given that the Kaddish is the Hebrew prayer of mourning. With the completion of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C., in 1971, Bernstein was asked by Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis to write a major work for the dedication of the center. The resulting work, a complex theater piece for singers, instrumentalists and dancers, Bernstein entitled Mass. In Mass, Bernstein explored his life-long interest and intrigue with the Roman Catholic Mass, which he found, in its original Latin text, moving, mysterious, and eminently theatrical. His piece follows the liturgy exactly, but it is juxtaposed against frequent interruptions and commentaries in English. On the narrative level, the hour-and-a-half-long piece relates the simple faith of the Celebrant, which gradually becomes unsustainable under the weight of human misery and corruption. At the ministration of Communion on Sunday, we hear baritone Clark Baxtresser sing “Simple Song” from this complex work. —Mark Peterson

 

OUTREACH AT SAINT MARY’S . . . Need help finding food or know someone who does? Call 1-800-5-HUNGRY (Why Hunger Hotline, Monday–Friday 9:00 AM–6:00 PM EST) or 1-866-3-HUNGRY (USDA National Hunger Hotline, 8:00 AM–8:00 PM EST) . . . We continue to collect nonperishable food items for our outreach partner, the Food Pantry at Saint Clement’s Church, 423 West Forty-sixth Street . . . If you would like to find out more about the work of Saint Vincent’s School for Handicapped Children in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, please speak to Father Gerth.